Void 7.2

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My backpack, sitting at Ty’s feet, produced the gate for travel to the spirit world.  Tyler did the ritual, for the practice.

I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d gotten to the spirit world earlier when I’d entered the police station.  I really hated having a gap in my memories.

Entering the spirit world, as it happened, wasn’t much of an improvement or a help.

I’d suggested the detour as a way to stay off the radar without straining Fell’s reserves, but the slips of paper with the eyes on them were visible here too.  They fluttered in the strong wind like ungainly bats, and went out of their way to catch on light poles, windows and walls.  The eyes, drawn on the papers in the real world, were visible here, fully detailed, complete with eyelids, the pink at the corner, and the tiny veins on the surface.

I could see the connections tying the eyes to the people who’d drawn them.  Most were inactive, lazily looking over the city and the shadowy silhouettes of people or watching where they were drifting.  When the connections flared to life, though, the eyes were alert, and they had a way of finding us.

It was like being caught in a net.  Struggling meant getting caught faster.  Moving around, we put ourselves in a position to be seen by more eyes.  They were communicating, I suspected, using something as mundane as phones, and reporting what they saw so others could do the meditating thing, get their eyes to focus, and track us.

Problem was, even if struggling did get us more tangled up, staying put and doing nothing left us in the same predicament, caught in the metaphorical net.

Snow came down hard and wet, and the wind was so chaotic that there was no protecting ourselves against it.

We headed straight for the nearest group of Sisters, and I was all too aware that others were making their way toward us, some from maybe halfway across the city.  The net was closing.

Our only option was to cut the net.

I had nothing against the sisters, but they’d joined this fight, and even Laird’s kids had to accept that picking a fight might mean you’d get hurt.

We rounded the corner as a group, me in the center, Maggie in front, her athame in hand, bag slung over one shoulder, hanging just beneath her free hand.  Her black hair and the ends of her scarf whipped in the wind.

I wasn’t sure if it was uncharitable to say, but she looked most at home in this chaos.  Here, as we walked into the wind, she was moving faster than any of us, determined, and the human veneer was giving way to the Other with the force of the wind and the traces of the spirit world.  I apparently looked like a heroin addict when I was infused with too much in the way of spirits.  Maggie was a little more elemental, a little more natural.

Fell held himself together better than any of us.  His flesh and hair were largely untouched, but his eyes and clothes periodically showed traces of the smoke and dust that he so frequently used.

“Evan,” I said.  “Scout, that way, see if you can’t stop them from running.”

“On it!”

He took off, and tumbled head over talons as the wind caught him off guard.

Some wing flapping and experimental twists and turns later, he figured out how to fly into the headwind, using twists and turns in the alleys where the walls broke up the wind.

“Good kid,” I muttered.  The air whistling past us made my nearly inaudible.

The weather was steadily getting worse.  My clothes were soaked, and the cold was seeping into me.

“Is this something important?” I asked, raising my voice.  “The weather?”

“It’s important,” Fell said, raising his voice to be heard.

“What is it?”

“No idea!”

We were drawing closer when Evan returned.  I nearly dropped the object he deposited in my hand.

A keychain.  A set of keys, a car key, and a USB stick connected to a fish-shaped carabiner.

Evan moved his wings over his head, and my first impression was that he was trying to shield himself against the wind.

It was only after he’d taken off again that I realized he’d been trying to salute.

“Stealing is bad karma, right?”

“Yes.  Implements more than regular things,” Fell said.  “But even stealing a regular thing is bad.”

“What if I throw it away?  Still bad if I don’t have it?”

“You moved it from where it’s supposed to be.  A little bit of a problem.”

I nodded.  “I can deal with little problems.”

We caught up with the two Sisters at their car.  They were out of focus, clearly in the real world, but they did see us.  Both had identical tools.  Rings on their fingers, burning bright in the spirit world.

They could have left the car behind.  They didn’t.  Rather than give us access to it, they’d decided to hold their ground here.

Evan was perched on the hood of the car.  They didn’t seem keen on ignoring him, so both stood close together, taking a position that let them keep Evan, me, Fell, Ty and Maggie in sight.

I twirled the keys around my finger for a moment, waiting.

There were more Sisters coming.  By unspoken agreement, we held our ground.

“Can you hear me?” I finally asked.

One woman nodded.

“Can we chat?” I asked, “Or have you sworn something or been bound in a way that makes it impossible?”

“We could talk,” she said.  Her voice was muffled, and it wasn’t the wind.  This particular spot was in the middle of the city block.  The wind that did make it into the open space where the alleys converged swirled more than anything.

“Your boss, the Elder Sister… how’d she get you roped into this?”

“We volunteered,” the woman said.

The third Sister entered the… whatever this space was.  The cul-de-sac of an alleyway.  She stopped partway down, looking at the scene.

I waved at her, beckoning her over.

She approached, taking hesitant footsteps.  Her hand was clenched, her thumb held between the middle and ring fingers of her right hand, so it touched the glowing ring that marked her as a Sister of the Torch.  As an Elementalist.

She was older than the other two, and wore a small leather jacket over business casual clothing.  With us in the spirit world and her in the real world, she was harder to make out, a little more vivid, as if she were standing under blacklights and we weren’t.  She was either stronger than the others, or she was a little more Other.

She took us in.  Fell and Maggie were standing off to one side.  Ty stood next to me, holding the backpack in both hands.

“You guys volunteered to join the war effort, help the Elder Sister,” I said, to bring the new arrival up to speed and give them a nudge to maybe offer more details.  “I wanted to make sure you weren’t lied to.  This is dangerous, and you might reconsider if you had all the facts.”

“We know it’s dangerous,” the older woman said.  “It’s an insurance.”

“An insurance?” I asked.

“We invest our time, two hours a week, while we’re in University.  Learn the ropes, learn the basic spells, do the rituals until we can do them from memory, offer an animal in sacrifice to the spirits, and eventually forge our rings as we enter the inner Sisterhood.”

“And you give up the ability to lie,” I said.  “You face greater risk from Others and predatory practitioners.”

“Yes, and we serve Conquest in exchange for his permission to do business in Toronto.  We each make several Terracotta Soldiers -dolls- every year, we attend meetings in a rotation, paying fealty.  All of this is a kind of insurance, and an investment.”

“For what?”

“Knowing you have the ability to set someone on fire is an edge, when you work in a high-stress environment, it gives you confidence.  We can walk down a dark street in a bad part of the city, and you can be confident.”

“Until a goblin comes after you,” I said.  “Seems like a pretty bad tradeoff.  A lot going in, but the results aren’t all there.”

“Goblins burn just like people do,” she said.

She paused.  I suspected she’d noticed what I’d noticed a moment ago.  A carload of Sisters was drawing closer.

“Goblins can slit throats just like people do,” Maggie commented.

The Sister ignored her.  “The other benefit is the Sisterhood.  Contacts, the undeniable ties.  We join, and we can’t step away, not completely.”

“That’s a good thing?” I asked.

“I think it is absolutely a good thing,” she said.  “We’re a second family, we rise and fall as a group.”

“And when your Elder Sister is conscripted by the Lord of Toronto… wouldn’t it make more sense to preserve the group and let her fall, than to take the risk.”

“Not if it means angering the Lord of Toronto.”

“Not really buying it, Sister,” I said.  “A tiny bit of magic and a close-knit sorority, in exchange for having to march off to war?”

“Once every few generations?  Yes.  A tiny bit of magic?  Many people seem to think we’re weak because we aren’t practitioners first and foremost.  We’re businesswomen, lawyers, mothers and wives.”

She looked at Fell as she said ‘people’.  She turned her attention back to me.  “Conquest picked us for a reason.”

“He did,” I said.

The car with the other Sisters arrived.

The silence lingered, cut only by the sound of doors opening.  The Sisters at that one car got out, watching from a distance.

The older Sister looked at her charges.  Herself, the two who Evan had stolen the car keys from, and now four more.  “We’re not as weak as people think,”

“Maybe not,” I said, “But I don’t think that’s why he picked you.”

I saw her expression change a little.  Concern?  She didn’t look that comfortable in the cold wind.  Her cheeks were red.

“Why, then?” she asked.

“Because he’s worried you’ll see through him.  Practitioners in Toronto fall into categories.  There are the ones who are oblivious, too small or minor to have really clued into the way things really work-”

“And how do things really-”

I talked over her.  “-Like the Knights and you.  There are the ones who know but couldn’t do anything about it, like Fell here… the ones who know and don’t care, perfectly happy to maintain the status quo, and there are the ones like me.  Who know and can announce it to the world.”

“You’re not making sense.”

“The Lord of Toronto is weaker than he lets on,” I told the Sisters.  “He’s a pretender.  He uses theatrics to seem like he’s more than he is, to get people like you to bend the knee.  He’s a false Lord, a figurehead.”

Her eyes narrowed.

I saw some other Sisters exchange glances.

I spread my arms.  “Would I really challenge him if he was as powerful as he pretended to be?  The Sphinx knows, but she doesn’t care, because apparently having something as messed up as that guy is better than sticking her neck out and being Lord herself.  Fell knew, but he’s obligated to serve and keep his mouth shut.”

“Why tell us this?”

“What I was originally getting at was, well, if I’d brought you on board, there was a chance you’d clue in.  Even if he wins, he sort of loses, because you come to resent him, or he loses respect and loses power as a consequence, on multiple fronts.  By telling you now, I get the same result.  Thank you for sitting still and listening.”

“This doesn’t change anything.”

Think about it, take a minute, consider what it means to the Sisters and to your Elder sister.”

“She’s still in his clutches,” the Sister said.

“My companion Rose was too,” I said.  “She suffered, but she did get out.”

“Our Elder Sister could be tortured if we don’t toe the line,” a woman said.

The older Sister -not the Elder Sister, who wasn’t even present- frowned.  “The other option is that we deal with you right now.  The crisis ends, we have Conquest’s favor, whatever he might be, and things go back to normal.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “I can also kind of imagine Conquest killing all of you, rather than risk letting this information spread.  Think about that, weigh the same arguments we raised before.  The benefits versus the losses, when you’re dealing with all this.”

“I’ve already thought it through.”

“In twenty seconds?  While we exchanged words?”

She nodded.

“Damn,” I said.  “I don’t suppose you’re going to turn around, say I’m right, and agree to let us go?”

“No.  Putting you before the Elder Sister?  No.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“So am I,” she said.

“Should we call an end to the discussion?” I asked.  “Resume hostilities?”

“I expected you to try and worm out of this one.”

“Should we?” I asked, again.”

“Yes,” she said.

The word was barely out of her mouth when I pointed.  “Leonard!”

The Sisters tensed.

But Ty was already responding.  He dropped the backpack, holding Leonard so the bag dropped away and Leonard remained.

“Might be flammable!” I called out, before the Sisters could react.

Ty whipped the bottle in their direction.  It hit the wall behind the closest car.

Leonard appeared, smoky, stronger and clearer than the last time I’d seen him, but this was a one-time appearance.  He had an overgrown beard, a receding hairline, a worried expression, his eyes sticking out slightly, his expression sad.

I could smell the gas, sharp enough that I thought it might affect my sense of smell for the next while.

They coughed.  We backed up before the gas could reach us.

One had drawn a gun from under her coat.  Evan flew by her, but didn’t move the weapon aside.

I looked at her and shook my head, raising my voice to be heard. “I don’t think you’ll die unless you pull that trigger.  Anything that fires a bullet could ignite the gas.”

She was coughing so much she couldn’t really aim.

The older Sister was trying to draw something on the back window of the car, but she wasn’t getting very far.  She startled a bit.

Rose at work?

Bloody Mary, even?

Rose was supposed to be with Alexis, or at least spending much of her time there.

The older sister looked at me with red eyes.  Her nose was already running, partially from the fumes, partially from the coughing.

The strength went out of them, one after the other.

Leonard, too, faded in his own way.

His power had been spent in one burst.  I’d been waiting for this kind of situation.  Dealing with practitioners, humans.  This was the first time I’d been up against them and fully armed at the same time.

I stepped forward, paused as I smelled the gas, and then held my breath, pressing on.  The impression of the gas was fading with every second, faster than it might otherwise dissipate in air.

After a moment, I bent down to check the older Sister’s pulse and breathing.  The others joined me, dividing up the workload.

I very nearly jumped out of my skin when Fell slammed a car trunk.

I heard banging.

“Dolls,” he said.  “Almost slipped out.”

I nodded.

When I stood up from the second woman, I saw Rose in the mirror.

“What’s going on?” I asked.  “Where’s Alexis and Tiff?”

“They’re safe, but it’s getting ugly, and they’re a little spooked.  Might be time to regroup.”

I nodded.  “We’ll head your way soon, get them prepared.”

Rose disappeared, stepping out of sight.

It only took a moment to check everyone.  Evan was the last one to finish, his tiny head pressed against the woman’s throat, wing extended over her mouth.

“Recovery positions,” Fell said.  “If they vomit, we don’t want them to aspirate.”

We turned them over as Fell instructed.

More were on their way.

“Drive?” Ty asked.

I looked at the keys I had in hand.  I shook my head.

I bent down to put the keys in the hand of the woman Evan had taken them from, then closed her fingers around them.

“They may shoot first, next time,” Rose said.

“They might,” I said.  “But Grandmother told us we needed to get our karma up, as one of her rules, and this feels right.”

“Dunno how right it feels.  It’s getting colder, the wind’s getting worse,” Maggie commented.

“We should hurry,” Fell said.  “There are more coming, and that trick only works once.”

“Getting criticized from all sides,” I muttered.

“Not from me,” Evan said.

I drew a marker from my pocket.  I moved the older Sister’s head.

It only took a moment.  A dotted line.

Words:  I could have cut your throat, above the dotted line.  Below: Conquest would have.

“Let’s hurry then,” I said.

We left on foot.

By the time we reached Alexis, Rose and Tiff, we’d crossed paths with another group of Sisters, successfully distracting them by pointing them to the others, only a minute or two behind us, and Fell had used more of his power to help us disappear into the midst of the weather.

The snowstorm had locked down the city, alternating between wet, heavy snow and freezing rain.  When I looked, I could see that the real world looked almost as desolate as the spirit world.  In spots, the ice and snow had brought down branches from overhanging trees, blocking off streets.

Some blocks had power, others didn’t.  Power lines were down somewhere, I was betting.

The gap between the two worlds was swiftly closing.

Darkness, I thought.

It was eerie that Maggie had suggested it before other parties had brought it to pass.  I wondered if the violence or pseudo-violence against the Sisters counted as the ‘blood’, or if we could expect more bloodshed in the hours to come.

I was shivering.  My constitution wasn’t all there, and the cold and wet was getting to me.

The connections said they were close.  We were unable to see more than ten feet in front of us in the real world, where things weren’t as obscure as they were in the spirit world.  Their sudden appearance from the falling snow and fog was a bit startling.

“Geez.  Give us a bit of warning,” I said.

“Sorry,” Tiff said.

“You guys okay?”

“Bit spooked.  The power went out.  The candle man-”

“Tallowman,” Alexis said.

“The Tallowman, he made candles, but that mostly made it worse.  His candles cast pretty spooky shadows.”

“I can imagine,” I said.

“It took us a bit to convince ourselves the power going out wasn’t the start of some attack plan.  You get paranoid,” Alexis said.  “Rose left to let you guys know, but… not having her around, it’s tough.”

I nodded.

“What’s going on?” Alexis asked.  “This is crazy.”

“It’s the work of the Lord of the City,” Fell said.  “He’s increasing the pressure.”

“We’re stepping up our offensive,” I said.  “We just took down one group of Sisters, and it looks like we took the meat out of their surveillance system, though it’s still there.”

“Definitely still there,” Fell said.  “I can see them looking.  They’re making stilted, periodic progress towards us.  Looking for us, finding us, getting ready to move through this mess, and then traveling for five or ten minutes before they stop to start looking again.”

“The snow’s hurting them as much as it’s hurting us?” I asked.

“Maybe,” Fell said.

I nodded.

“We stopped a good few of them, maybe their leadership, Elder Sister excepted.  I’m hoping the headaches they get will keep them out of the fray for the next bit.  If the weekend ends and they have to go to work, and if my arguments had any effect, maybe that’s enough doubt to make them reconsider what they’re doing.”

“He still has the Shepherd, the Eye, the Astrologer, and he should have the support of the lesser Behaims, if he’s convinced them that helping him is the only way to rescue Laird,” Fell said.

“I know,” I said.  I shivered, a sudden, jarring movement more than a gentle tremor.  It seemed to startle Evan, who shuffled around some where he was tucked in between my neck and coat collar.”Fuck, can we get inside?”

“Joel sent a text before the phones died,” Alexis said.  “There’s a place a block and a half this way.  I’ll show you.”

We marched off as a group.  I could see how the others crowded around one another, shoulder to shoulder.  Only Maggie, Fell and I stood apart.

It bothered me that I wasn’t part of the huddle, but I was willing to trade the physical discomfort for the psychological security.

I rationalized it by thinking that I was wet and snow-covered enough that I’d just get them wet and more covered in snow.

It was feeble, but I’d put up with it.

Nobody was talking, and the- it wasn’t silence, with the wind howling and the nearby trees creaking as they blew, but it was a lack of conversation.  I spoiled it by speaking up.  “In terms of territories, how many do we have?”

“We left our mark at the garage, three apartments if we include that last one, and your place,” Alexis said.  “A bit of graffiti, kind of saying ‘we live here’.  I don’t know if that counts.”

“It’s pressure,” I said.  “He’s lost soldiers, he’s getting meaner.  The snowstorm may be a part of it.”

“We’re winning?” Alexis asked.

“We’re not losing, and that’s the important part,” I said.  I was mumbling, my lips were so cold.  “It’s a matter of time before he gets more involved.”

We passed a grocery store.  There were people crowded inside.  Taking shelter, and stocking up on supplies, it seemed.

“Joel didn’t say how stocked this place was,” Alexis said.  “Should we grab stuff?”

I stopped.  I could see Rose in the window.  Where our hair and coats were flapping from the cold wind, Rose was still, her hair in place but for a few strands that had slipped through.  Her face wasn’t as red as ours were.

Mary Francis was beside her, knife in hand.

She looked imperious, and it wasn’t just because the Bloody Mary made for an excellent contrast.

“We could,” I said.  “I don’t think any place is delivering.”

“We shouldn’t,” Fell said.  “Look.”

I looked, and I saw.

Ghosts.  They were more monstrous than most I’d seen.  Twisted, influenced by outside sources, maybe.

The Shepherd had our location.  The ghost-keeper.

The ghosts were entering the grocery store from the far wall, mingling with the crowd.  Searching among the vague silhouettes that represented people in the real world going about their business.

They weren’t looking for us.

One ghost stepped forward, crossing paths with an old man.

Another, a woman, walked forward, while a small boy ran from another direction, his head turned, oblivious to her, a plastic container of candy in one of his hands.

They stepped forward, overlapping.  As ghosts were prone to do in the movies and tv shows, they dissipated, breaking up and becoming fog on contact, then began to draw back together.

But they weren’t walking through the people.

When they congealed, they congealed around or in the people.

The child continued on his way, but something stayed behind, a woman who’d bled.

The result was a mingling, with traits of both, a bleeding hermaphrodite woman-child.

More physical.

“Wraiths,” Fell said.

Wraiths.  Ghosts twisted by negativity and spirits.  Some, like Leonard, faded with time.  Others found sources to tap to fuel themselves, but became twisted.  More like the Mary Francis summoning that was keeping Rose company right now.

These were the twisted ones.  I could imagine they were the Shepherd’s special reserve.

The old man and young man mingled to become a shadow bent by disease.  The old man didn’t continue on his way.  He fell like a rock, his features clarifying as his emotions grew stronger.  Others leaped to his side to help.

The ghost had taken something from him, and he hadn’t had much to give.

I saw as another ghost found another victim.  A ghost of a woman slender, finding a heavier man who looked all the heavier in full winter gear.

My view of the heavier man faded until he wasn’t visible at all, no matter how I focused my vision.

Not someone of much substance, it seemed.

The three ghosts headed straight for us.

“They know exactly where we are,” Fell said.  “They’ve known for a bit.  We just- this is a trap.”

“Drat and dagnabit,” Maggie muttered.  “I wish I could swear properly.”

Fell looked around.  “I don’t know how those scrying papers can even see us.  This snowstorm-”

“Maybe the scrying papers aren’t what found us,” I said.  I pointed.

It was a shape.  A man, half again as tall as any of us, naked, his hair long and curly, a thin beard on his face.  He carried a sword and a round shield that was broad enough to cover him from knee to shoulder.  The snow piled on his shoulders, dusting his hair and pubes white.

Where he was supposed to have eyes beneath his eyelids, he had only shafts of light projected from some inner luminance, extending out in our direction.

When I changed my focus, viewing him with the Sight, I saw sun flares and bright spots.

“The Astrologer,” Fell said.  He was backing up.  He’d already drawn his gun.  “She’s making a play.”

“Fuck,” I said.  I shivered.  “Can’t accuse him of not holding to the idea of the challenge.  He’s playing the general, timing things to corner us.”

The glass window of the grocery store broke.  I saw people shriek.

Mary Francis stood in the shattered window frame, but she wasn’t why they were screaming.

No, the screaming had started earlier, but it had been muffled by the distance between us and them and by the glass.

Someone was kneeling on the ground, bleeding openly.  The silhouette was no longer vague, but was showing glimmers of something that might become a ghost.  A psychic impression on the fabric of reality.  Vague as the person was to my senses, the blood was very real.

More ghosts were finding victims in the chaos.  I saw one ghost pass by several subjects before choosing another.

Picking hosts, complimentary souls to leech from, who shared some common element.

There was blood elsewhere.  Spatters, further from the wraiths.

It took me a second to make sense of the storm within.  Dark shapes that had been people were gathering and mingling like waves in a storm, crashing against one another.

The wraiths seemed to be getting stronger, feeding on the negativity and violence.

The people were rioting, and the Wraiths were both feeding on it and lapping it up.

I clenched my teeth.

An eye for an eye, Conquest?  I went after the very core of his being, attacked his ability to be Conquest and subjugate others by putting him on his back foot, and he was returning the favor.  Attacking my conscience and my drive to fight.  This violence and these deaths were on my hands.

With no cars on the street, we were free to back away.  I took a step back, and virtually everyone else in the group took my cue.

Fell didn’t.

“No,” Fell said.  “Stop.”

I’d seen a lot, but with the mounting pressure of the advancing wraiths and the imposing figure of the naked swordsman promising imminent attack, it was hard to convince myself to stand my ground.

“He wants us to run,” Fell said.  “We’d be running right into a waiting trap.”

“We’re supposed to stay and fight?” Ty asked.

“Do you want to die?” Fell asked.

“No, don’t want to die,” Ty said.

“We have to pick one and go through them,” I said.

“Yeah,” Fell said.

A wraith staggered toward us, going from a meandering approach to a sudden run.

Fell’s advice forgotten, we collectively backed away.

“Ty, salt,” I said.  “Throw it.”

“Won’t work so well,” Fell said.

“Throw it anyway,” I said.

Bloody Mary slashed at a wraith.  She drew blood, but the blood didn’t spatter anywhere.  Spectral, imaginary.

I grabbed the tube that hung across my back and pulled the toque off the handle.

“Evan,” I said.  “Ask the Hyena to come out to play.  Same rules as before.”

The Astrologer’s creation hadn’t moved an inch.  It could have been a statue.

“Hey, uglymutt,” Evan said.  “Come out to fight, listen to me, don’t hurt anyone living.”

Ty threw salt at the wraith closest to us.

It smoked, staggered back, blinded, but it didn’t perish.

Superficial damage at best.  A momentary setback.

“Said it wouldn’t work,” Fell commented.  “It’s not entirely a ghost anymore.”

“Mary!” Rose called out.  I didn’t hear the next thing she said.

Mary stalked toward us, breaking into a run.  She didn’t stop, simply stabbing the wraith in the back, crashing into and through it.

Blood spilled, a hole opened in its middle, but it didn’t stop.

The Bloody Mary climbed to her feet.  She stabbed herself a few times in the thigh in irritation, contemplating her next move, or waiting for the Wraith to make it’s next move.

“Hey, goblin,” Evan was saying.  “Listen.  You come out right now!  I order you and Blake orders you!”

The sword didn’t change.

“He’s not listening!”

That fucking goblin.  I’d bound it, after a fashion, but it had bound itself.

It was apparently content to stay bound and let us deal with the current situation, and I couldn’t do anything to change that fact.  If I could use my own talents, my own power and words, maybe I could have forced something, but that didn’t fit with the nature of the contest.

“We run,” I said, glancing over my shoulder.  “Fuck it, we can’t go through them.”

Fell didn’t respond.

“Fell?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “We run.”

“Evan,” I said.  “Go.  Scout.”

He took off.

This was it.  I’d aimed to unsettle and upset Conquest, to hit him where it hurt.  I’d done it.

He was pulling out all the stops.

He could keep up the pressure like this, and the snowstorm alone would do us in.

The sidewalks and streets were alternately covered in mounds of snow and freezing puddles that had a way of getting past the tongue and lace of my boots to transfer freezing cold to the tops of my feet.  The street was more puddle than anything else, but the puddles masked potholes and other hazards.

We turned our backs to the scene, hurrying as well as we could across the hazardous terrain.

Evan returned.  “The Eye.”

“That way?” I asked, pointing.

He was already gone before my finger could extend.

A glance behind me indicated the wraiths were making good headway over snow and ice, unhampered.  There were a good seven of them outside the grocery store.

I drew June.

If Mary could hurt the wraiths, then maybe June could too.

Maybe if they got that close, it didn’t really matter.

The wind howled.

Tiff shrieked.  It sounded far away, with the way the wind stole the sound.

I turned, and all the strength went out of me as I saw the damage.

Fuck, fuck no.

Alexis was down, and she had an arrow as long as my arm sticking through her stomach.

In the same moment I looked to see what direction the arrow had come from, another one appeared out of nowhere.  It didn’t fly through the air, I didn’t see it.  I only saw the aftermath.

An arrow simply appeared, sticking right through Fell’s collarbone.

I saw the Astrologer’s creation, sword and shield abandoned.  The naked warrior held a bow.  I saw light cross, making an effect very much like a lens flare, and he drew another arrow out of the air, nocking it.

I dropped to my knees, my arms going around Alexis.  I held her tight, trying to pull her back and out of the way.  Her body felt alien and limp in my grip, the contact uncomfortable, but not acting was unimaginable.

At least around the nearest corner.

The Astrologer’s creation wasn’t shooting.  The Wraiths were in the way, closing the distance.

“Blake,” a feminine voice said.

I looked.

The Sphinx blocked our path, large enough to take up the entire sidewalk.

“Please,” I said.  “Let me help my friend first.  She’s-”

“Shhh,” the Sphinx said.  Her large, human hand reached down, a fingertip touching my lips.

Her lion’s paw moved, a little lower, claws appearing and disappearing.

Shredding my jacket, my sweatshirt, t-shirt, and laying the ribs beneath bare.

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145 thoughts on “Void 7.2

    1. black lights
      usually black lights

      “Fuck, can we get inside?”
      No paragraph break ahead of this.

      to make it’s next move
      its

      “Should we?” I asked, again.”
      extra closing quote

      Picking hosts, complimentary souls to leech from in the course of
      truncated sentence

            1. Yeah. Aspirate is when you suck something up and usually refers to sucking something into your lungs that shouldn’t be there. If they vomit into their mouth, breathing that vomit into their lungs would be bad, likely cause pneumonia, and could kill them. Fluid in the lungs is a bad thing.

  1. Glad to see the overall formatting came out well this time. Thanks for the chapter, Wildbow. Please do take breaks as you need them. I love the extra chapters, but pushing yourself too hard for the readers is not what any of us want.

    I guess this could maybe be the typo thread?

    1. I saw (a) light cross
      My jacket, sweatshirt and t-shirt, and laying the ribs (she only shredded the clothes?)
      The wraiths were both feeding it and lapping it up (feeding on and lapping up seem to be the same thing)

    2. ‘dusting his hair and pubes white’

      Pubes are pubic hair. As in, on the pelvic bone. Do you mean ‘beard hairs’ or ‘chin hair’ or anything that doesn’t make me think of genitals?

    3. made my nearly inaudible –> made me nearly inaudible

      wouldn’t it make more sense to preserve the group and let her fall, than to take the risk.” –> I was convinced there was something wrong with this sentence when I copied it, but I can’t find it anymore. Awkward structure maybe :p

      “I wish I could swear properly.” –> same here, something with the tenses

  2. Yeah, definitely do not make this into a chore – or, rather, do, but one you enjoy. The quality of your work, with practice, can be a simple function of time and effort, but the quality of ideas comes from enthusiasm and a love for the story. Please keep loving this story.

  3. Well, Blake is 2/2 for messing with Conquest long term, and yet still loosing great short term. Seems like the Void might refer to Blake’s as he leaves the story. Of course the Sphinx shows up now, just as Blake is trying to help his friends. I wonder if she ha any idea that killing Blake may be the fastest route to upsetting the balance of Toronto. If Blake dies or is incapacitated in any way, I give Rose 15 minutes until she starts pulling out scary stuff and she might not stop at Jim Crow.

  4. That’s game I think. Or should I say, not-game. Blake is dead at the Sphinx’s hands. Conquest can’t win. Unless Blake manages a miracle, the Sphinx kills him.

      1. Does Blake have enough clout to summon the lawyers yet? Last time, he still needed Rose to call them.

        He does seem to be gaining clout, he can command Pauz and other goblins aren’t ignoring him anymore. Maybe he can even use June (if he isn’t dead, of course).

    1. It occurs to me that Alexis’s death might very well be enough to drive Blake to summon the lawyers if the Sphinx realizes her mistake.

        1. Has to be Rose. Blake should be going into shock at the very least and even if he wasn’t in the time it takes for him to get the words out three times she’ll take off his head.

    1. Yeah, I don’t see her killing Blake right now either. She’s not the sneaky assassin type. I don’t know why she’d say “shhh” and just rip through his shirt and jacket either, unless she wants to kill him in a special way that she needs concentration and/or a bare chest.

      1. I see it as “dying cleanly”. By her hand, silently, with dignity. No screams, no lashing out… well, at least that’s what it looks like.

            1. No, this author is not. Twisty and complicated, and found of hard decisions.
              Darkness is another vein entirely. Haven’t seen a scrap of sadism yet.

            2. No, this author is not. . . Haven’t seen a scrap of sadism yet.

              Define dark. I know from a previous comment-coversation (including WOG) that the line between “dark” and “sugar and rainbows” is actually kinda hard to see.

              When you say sadism, do you mean on the part of the Author or the characters? If the character’s, does the Hyenas maiming, hunting and toying with Others not count. If the author’s, does not having the universe literally conspire against the main character count?

              I am legitimately interested in your perspective.

      2. “Shhh,” the Sphinx said. Her large, human hand reached down, a fingertip touching my lips.

        Her lion’s paw moved, a little lower, claws appearing and disappearing.

        Shredding my jacket, my sweatshirt, t-shirt, and laying the skin beneath bare.

        Cue in porno music.

        1. And in the end, it wasn’t Maggie, or Tiff or even Fell that captured Blake’s heart. It turns out to be Isadora, that Blake decide to marry.

        2. I can only imagine that in a few years, if Wildbow attempts this genre again, that it stars the bastard child of Isadora and Blake, who doesn’t realize she’s part Sphinx.

  5. Trick. Has to be. Those lion claws could have torn through his innards in a matter of seconds, jacket or no. That they didn’t suggests there’s more in play here. (Before anyone thinks the words “deferment of responsibility” let me restate that Isadora is a creature of Balance, tied to the karmic scale. If anyone can break those rules, she can.) And the Astrologer’s involvement? The one who is least loyal to Conquest? Yeah, I’m not buying the Blakeguard’s deaths quite yet.

    1. Does Isadora have 4 hands? She shushed him with a human one and stabbed him with a lion’s paw? Unless it’s one a side, but I was thinking that’d look odd.

      Meanwhile maybe this is Blake’s blood and darkness? Would that count for anything? (Also wouldn’t Dora be opening herself up to being killed by Rose?) (and is Dora even in the game? Or is she flipping the chessboard?)

      Illusion? Time favor? Theories?

      1. As I recall, Wildbow’s version of a Sphinx is human from the waist up, and the body and 4 legs/paws of a lion. . . And wings I thinks.

        Pencil drew a picture of Isadora some time ago

      2. Those constellations of hers can make anything, given the right lights in the right places. I wouldn’t be surprised if those were knockout arrows instead of lethal ones, giving Isadora the time to collect Blake and get the “innocents” away.

    2. Yeah, if the Astrologer was that efficient at killing people and was truly on Conquest’s side, Blake would probably be dead now. So one or both of those assumptions is untrue. (That or a death at the hands of her construct wouldn’t “count”)

    3. From a physical sense, yes, a sphinx of Isadora’s size should have been able to gut him in one pass.

      From a narrative sense, if that actually happened there would be less dramatic tension – guts on the ground basically says dead, exposed ribs says hospital… until clarified one way or the other next chapter.

      I really don’t know – we have had Blake as the point of view character for fifty chapters (+/-) but there is certainly enough in-story evidence that he is likely to die soon, so the best I can do now is wait and see.

  6. Oh the irony of a Sphinx Haruspex utilising Anthropomancy. At least that’s what I’m speculating she’s using.

        1. I actually don’t know whether tails are limbs or not. I assume the prehensile ones are so similar to limbs (at least from an outside perspective) that it makes no difference, but I don’t know whether that applies to Ms. Phixopoulos here.

  7. Yay! More victories for Blake! Another straight out win for the Blakeguard. Also we finally get to see LIAB used.

    So Maggie got what she wanted. There was certainly blood (obvious), darkness (obvious) and fire (elementalists). Maggie will hopefully end up stronger if she somehow survives.

    Is it finally time for a setting/character change? Has Isadora release Blake from his physical body? Will we know follow the Adventures of Void Blake? Will we switch to Rose, or Ty?

    Could this be the opportunity to perform a time skip? Have the surviving Blakeguard gather power until Rose/Blake returns?

    It seems like Isadora just maimed Blake. She seemed pretty nice about it, as though she didn’t want him to suffer. Part of me still thinks that she is actually using this to wage war against Conquest. Perhaps She and the Astrologer have a plan that involves making Blake “perish” and bringing him back stronger. Another part of me feels that Blake was just mutilated and/or killed and this story is about to take a turn. A third part of me feels I misread the final section and something unexpected will happen.

    I wonder if Blake’s words have affected the Sisters. Perhaps they will become not-enemies in the future.

    Another great chapter.

    1. She opens his ribs to get to the bomb planted in his chest during the time-skip, stopping his heart in an emergency procedure as he goes into cardiac arrest. She kills him, but brings him back after supplementing his failing organs with her magic. rose can kill her while she’s focused on saving Blake but decides not to.

      Blake is rendered comatose for a bit and can only communicate via rose, as she subjugated his connections for herself via Crow to continue the fight.

    2. It seems like Isadora just maimed Blake. . . A third part of me feels I misread the final section and something unexpected will happen.

      It seems I did misread that. Isadora didn’t harm Blake, she just stripped him.

      1. I read the ribs bit as flaying him to the ribs but I see what you mean there. Sounds possible, but with the weather thus isn’t she condemning him?

        Also what will happen with Laird now that there’s nobody to call Pauz off? Oh no. Somehow I don’t feel that bad for him I dunno why. Maybe it’s his karma.

        1. Also what will happen with Laird now that there’s nobody to call Pauz off?

          It’s implied that Pauz can’t do permanent harm without Blake’s say so. If Blake is gone, it would seem Laird should be able to perform an all out attack on Pauz with the materials at hand.

          1. Rose will still be there. She can call him off…or actually let the demon finish him off. Let’s be real here, she’s far less forgiving than Blake and Laird has been a thorn in their side for ages.

  8. So here’s the plan:

    Step 1: Isadora kills Blake.
    Step 2: Blake’s soul fights off and defeats the Shepard.
    Step 3: Rose becomes the next heir and takes over Blake’s body.
    Step 4: Blake takes over the body of Dowght/makes a deal with Johannes/Padraic for a new body.
    Step 5: ?
    Step 6: Blake and Rose share a long, loving embrace as they stand together, victorious over the Masters of the Universe.

    1. I don’t think he’s reached the level of kleptomania needed to be a Bloody Magpie yet.

      When he loots Conquest’s Trophy Room, then he can call himself a Bloody Magpie.

  9. I’m confused, Is it already the next day? Since Isodota said she;s attack in the next day…

    Or did she mean “sometime between now and tomorrow”?

    There you go magggie- blood and darkness. Happy now? I’d love to see the boss-goblin from maggie’s past appear to get involved in this war!

    Can’t wait to see the kill-count for this one =)

    1. I think a day past between arc 6 and 7. Last chapter Blake said Isadora was due and the receptionist at the police station said it was the third, not second, day in a row that Blake was at the station.

  10. I think the trap may just be one big illusion. That would explain why the Hyena didn’t want to come out and play Pacman with the Shepherd. The true situation is not as it seems.

    1. Or inversely,.

      “Hey, uglymutt,” Evan said. “Come out to fight, listen to me, don’t hurt anyone living.”

      The wraiths may be technically living, so the Hyena wouldn’t actually be able to hurt anybody.

    2. I think the Hyena sensed Isadora & decided not to come out and play with a bigger predator targeting Blake and if Blake dies, he’s free.

      I still think Isadora is trying to divine Blake’s true nature by looking at his entrails.

  11. Intense chapter! As Landis963 says, I think something fishy is going on. The Astrologer was the person least inclined to help Conquest, but then she suddenly decides she’ll help him to the point of murdering multiple people? I wouldn’t expect that even if she were truly allied with Conquest, since I’d imagine that karma-wise it’d be pretty bad for her.

    As for the ending, my guess is that Isadora is helping Blake and/or trying to discern something about him. I don’t have any good guesses as to what’s actually going on, so I don’t have a good idea of exactly what Isadora might be doing or why ripping Blake’s shirt and jacket off might help.

    1. It was stated clearly that the Astrologer is only protected from Conquest as long as she serves Conquest. Thus, while we can expect the Astrologer to try to sabotage Conquest, is he gives an order, she has to follow it. Conquest may not be able to hurt her (can’t make use of his power) while the competition is running, but he could do whatever he wanted afterwards.

      1. Specifically, she was protected from him so long as she didn’t oppose him. She declared her opposition to him way back in arc 4, so that protection is no longer valid.

      2. She can serve Conquest, yes. But murdering multiple people who are not the opposing “king”? Barring direct orders from Conquest, I don’t see that as serving him, not to the spirit of any orders he’s given.

        1. “They’re involved. There’s a massive gap between not wanting them to be tied to this and them not being a part of it.” (6.08)

  12. I figured out the title of the arc! Void refers to the void Isadora is going to leave in Blake’s chest, and the void in our hearts when Wildbow ends the story there, with Conquest reclaiming Fell and taking Blake’s friends for him to torture forever.

    Yup. That is precisely what will happen.

    Great chapter as always. I thought in the end that Blake’s chest had been torn open (but nothing more), but apparently that is not the case. (Did you edit the ending? Why do I feel the wording was different? I remember the word “flailing”)

  13. Well, skin flayed from his chest, that’s not instantly fatal. So Blake may not be fully down yet.

    Or crazy theory… Isadora kills Blake cleanly… So his body is in good shape. She then takes him to her mad scientist colleuge at the university… Who revives Blake as a super powered cyborg with SCIENCE! A bug themed one with a scarf, since Blake already has the bike.

    Oh and it says lots about Blake where a sphinx who he knows is going to kill him swoops in the only thing he says is to save his friend.

    1. “Her mad scientist colleague at the university who revives Blacke as a superpowered cyborg with SCIENCE!”

      Thus transitioning the story from Pact to Boil. It turns out that all of the preview stories are getting in on the action, one after another.

  14. Possible typo:

    ‘Picking hosts, complimentary souls to leech from, who shared some common element’

    If i recall correctly, That should be ‘complementary’ not ‘complimentary’.

  15. Wildbow stated in the last chapter that he was getting fatigued with the Conquest arc. Is he now cleaning up the mess of this arc by killing characters without a future?

    I don’t think the Sphinx wants to kill Blake, I’m pretty sure if she wanted to, he would haven’t seen her coming. Maybe it’s a karmic trick from her to influence the balance. I hope at least she will save Alexis and Fell, even if she kills him.

    1. I hope not! But I sort of agree, this arc was about finished. They had two big battles, and won both. It was either a third win for team Blake which would basically seal his win, or something would finish the battle. Or Conquest would do serious damage and get lawyer dropped.

    2. She doesn’t want to. She even seems fond of him. But, she’s an Other who seeks balance above all else. Blake’s death is necessary for things to balance out, fated even, so she’s merely acting on it regardless of personal feelings.

  16. I couldn’t help chuckling at the mention of ‘lesser Behaims’, imagining a D&D-style manual entry for them. Something like:

    BEHAIM (lesser)
    Lawful neutral humanoid
    Frequency: Uncommon
    No. appearing: 1-4
    etc.

    This would of course be accompanied by the entries for greater Behaim, Behaim spawn and the dreaded Truly Horrible Behaim.

      1. Their intelligence is pretty high, all told. You can’t be a dullard and still be able to cast chronomancy. However, their Wis scores are abysmal.

    1. I think this authors “world-building” is excellent, this scenario would make a great pen and paper RPG wish GURPS would grab this up. This “system” would be a interesting and smart game it has more self-consistency in my opinion then others out there that try and make magic in the “real world”.

      1. He’s done it with Weaver Dice. There’s no reason why it couldn’t happen here. Possibly as a pre-existing system module, though – he’s got enough on his plate as it is.

      2. Why wait for them to “grab it”? Get the GURPS books (“Characters” and “Thaumatology” should be enough), build it, get wildbows permission to publish it -> happy happy fun time would play

        If enough people are interested, we could start a mailing list for discussion? Or set up a wiki (is the Wikia wiki the only resource for pact currently?)

          1. Actually, I just looked at the Pact Wikia. Some essential parts are outdated. And while i updated at least the chapter notes on Arc 2, I noticed things are rather terrible… what i would rather do is build a mailing list and a GitHub repository with a nice LaTex module handbook.

            @everyone interested in GURPS(4th)-PACT send me an email to thomas dot fehmel at googlemail dot com
            @Wildbow: hope there is no problem with this

          2. As I have already written (and prematurely published) the wikia is terrible to use.
            There is nothing speaking against a wiki, it would be rather helpful, but for starters and collecting stuff a mailing list and for discussions an IRC channel sounds reasonable. also, github for hosting latex files

            1. The great thing about a wiki is that, if it’s terrible to use, there’s nothing to stop you getting in and fixing it.

              I’ll probably wade into it myself when I get caught up. Until then I’m dodging spoilers… O_O

        1. I wish I felt up to the task, I haven’t played these games in years and years. I never played GURPS, but it’s antique predecessor The Fantasy Trip (TFT) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fantasy_Trip
          As for “is the Wikia wiki the only resource for pact currently?” I don’t know I’m new here only found this story/site like less then 2 weeks ago now. Like I said I’m very impressed by the world-building (so I felt I needed to post saying so), the self-consistency seems a lot stronger then often the case in even “mainstream” published writing. I especially like the balance/karma, it makes for a greater depth then is often seen.

          1. as for “resource” the tvtropes page is properly the best overview. but for a GURPS module project, something with cross-linking to specific places would be nice, at least for the online version.

  17. Calling it, Blake, Alexis and Evan remain characters from beyond the grave and Rose shall become a villain.

    1. I don’t think Blake will die out-right but in some -part-, some weird semi way yes, wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes somewhat in-human “Other” and ends up flipped places with Rose.

  18. well we can all hope this is some sort of trick on the sphinx`s part but I personally think Blake is going to resolve things himself in a really bad way.

    I read people mentioning him summoning the lawyers as an option but Id narrow it down more to that freebie demon summoning they handed him. Seeing his friend shot and being restrained from doing anything about it, were at that part where Wildbow starts sending characters on the dark path

    1. The lawyers are civil, under contract, and have at least some interest in keeping Blake alive until he gets to the deep end of the morality pool.
      Ornias, in contrast, is an unbound demon Blake got the name of for free basically because him actually using it would count as a nice win for team Evil. He’s in no way compelled to help and the only reason Blake might summon him is to flush Toronto down the drain out of spite, which I’d see as a major breach of character.

      1. Yeah, Blake is spiteful, but it’s a very directed kind of spite. He’ll go after people that he feels have wronged him, but I don’t think that he’d condemn Toronto, and perhaps with it several family members and friends, just to get revenge.

      2. I’d have to check, but I think Lewis said Ornias would help and she would take the cost. So it should still work as a weapon free of charge. But I woudn’t trust anything else out of it.

        1. She’d take the cost as long as she was acting in a mentor capacity. I.e. as long as she and Blake were walking together.

    2. Nor is there any indication that Ornias CAN help his friends. He calls down meteors and snuffs out stars. He weakens all the energy in the world if summoned. Nothing is said about healing people that got shot.

    1. Usually so do I, but I’d argument letting this one slide as prophecizing someone will die and then personally eviscerating them seems pretty sound as prophecies go.

  19. So, the Sisters.

    They’re actually pretty interesting, as practitioners go. They learn fire magic, and by learning magic they use it as a form of empowerment in other aspects of their lives. It’s straightforward using magic to gain emotional security, and helping others by bringing them into the secret. Kind of fascinating, and strange as practitioners go-most of the ones that we’ve seen have been messed up by the supernatural to make magic seem unappealing, but the Sisters don’t appear to have problems recruiting and are apparently straightforward with their recruits, especially since their upper echelons can’t lie.

    Maggie’s got a point when she says that a goblin could easily slit their throat, but then so could a person. Knowing that you can set a would-be rapist, mugger, or opposing lawyer on fire is a hell of a confidence booster.

    What Blake says to them is also pretty interesting. He’s being helpful, cluing them in on how they’ve been tricked. He’s also setting them up for trouble, if Conquest finds out that they know. The Sisters are large, and organized-the largest group of practitioners in the city, maybe as large as the Behaims or Duchamps in Jacob’s Bell. I believe them when they say they aren’t weak. It’s more than possible that they could use Conquest’s weakness against him in some sort of group working-overthrow him, if need be. It’s also possible that he might take action and set his loyal assets against them preemptively. So even if Blake dies, they’re in a pickle.

    1. The Sisters gain empowerment and belonging to a tight-knit group in return for allegiance and contribution. They also get magic, which in theory they could use to set people on fire, but they only actually use it to serve the higher-ups.

      Rather than sounding appealing they just sound like a cult to me.

      1. Unlike most cults, however, they don’t attempt to isolate them from other support groups. At least judging from what the one here said. “Many people seem to think we’re weak because we aren’t practitioners first and foremost. We’re businesswomen, lawyers, mothers and wives.”

        1. If anything, the nature of the support for each others reminds me of Mormons or Satanists. Both of those groups provide a social network for favorable advancement of members, though only the Satanists keep their membership secret. Well, LaVeyan Satanists, anyway. The Satanic Temple appears to be more like activist Discordians or followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

          1. Psycho Gecko, you Behaim, what is it with you and Mormons? Doesn’t Rotary provide that? The Lion’s Club? The Elks? Your local karate studio tournaments? Every group provides “a social network for favorable advancement of [its] members” — seriously, now, would you join a group where the members actively disdained doing business with each other?

            1. I wasn’t aware that karate studio tournaments elected people to positions of local authority where they could then turn a blind eye to public shunning of non-karate practitioners, like the sudden murders of any pets of such non-karate practitioners, the firing of a non-karate practitioner by a karate practitioner, and the founding of karate communes in Mexico in order to house American karate practitioners who want to flee U.S. law.

            2. Also, I wasn’t aware that karate practitioners’ personal views on sexuality often led to the same increase in teenage homelessness as those of Mormons.

            3. facepalm Now you’re just conflating disparate groups. This is why I’m calling you a Behaim, you’re kind of acting like Laird, at least verbally.

    2. Blake’s giving them a game changing piece of information. If they weren’t in on the keeping Conquest in power even though he’s weaker than he seems bit, then they would quite possibly be of the group that would want to oust him. And they are smart enough and sane enough to not want him summoning demons. So if they know that opposing him isn’t suicide, and they want to oppose him, then that makes it a problem for Conquest. Good enough doesn’t work for him. He needs total victory.

    1. Hoepfully not the Barber. They need immediate medical attention, and getting to the Jacob’s Bell and getting past the time moat, and dealing with Barbertorum and waking up from loosing so much blood you pass out would make it not immediate at all. Even if it were a case of a lingering fatal wound that cannot otherwise be cured their is still the cost of the Barber’s boon. Remember we found out it’s not actually blood, but enough to make a hole for something else to fill. So afterwards the person who made the deal may no longer be in a state to help anyone.

      1. Remember also that the time moat around the house can be used to preserve someone with serious injuries while others prepare to help them.

        The ritual, performed within the house’s Demesnes, would help to prevent outside influence, leaving either Rose or Evan to potentially fill a gap in Blake’s being. I would imagine that the Barber would be prevented from doing so by the terms of the agreement that would allow him to collect his payment.

        1. Thing is Jacob’s Bell is still two hours away. Fell might drive fast enough to get there in an hour, but he might not be doing any driving for a while. So for an emergency, the Barber is just too for away, and would take too long.

        2. Hmm… let’s see how could Rose use the Barber? Well, she can get to the house instantly. She has Bloody Mary to act for her in the outside world. If they were careful, Bloody Mary could read the hand gestures report to Rose and Rose yells through the door. Or Rose could create a binding circle where the Barber would reflect.

          The real question is what could she offer? One obvious choice would be feeding the Barber Midge.

      2. Can’t Barbatorem also perform surgery at its summoner’s behest, as well as empowering someone with medical skill? It would probably be much more feasible for Rose to call it over from Jacob’s Bell to stitch Blake up personally rather than calling one of its boons.

          1. Maybe now that they have Laird at their mercy they can use him as a bargaining chip to force the Behaims to bring down the time moat?

  20. Hmm wondering if the whole timeskip thing was Blake making Laird rewind time to before the injuries and avoiding what had originally being them all mortally wounded with zero chance. perhaps he’s about to do it once more. I would say three but narratively speaking, leaving us with the gap then using a rewind to show us and filling in the gap and then moving on normally would be more satisfying, imo.

  21. Uh huh. Sure. So that’s why the Sphinx did it. Just wanted to shush him with one hand, like “You don’t have to say anything at all.” then shred his clothes with the other like “Gimme a look at that man meat!”

    This is why Bob Barker was so insistent on reminding people to always have their spinxes spayed and neutered.

    Kill Count 2014: Caught Between A Cat And A Hard Wraith

    Eyes Poked: 0
    Shepherds Sheared: 0.5
    Lairds Locked Down: 1
    Behaims Beat Down: 2.5
    Astrologers Debunked: 0
    Elder Sisters With Gum In Their Hair: 0
    Regular Sisters Picked On: 3

    Isadoras Isadead: 0

    Conquests’ Keisters Kicked: 0


    Roses Pruned: 0
    Bloody Marys Drunk: 0
    Tallowmen Banished Til The Sequel: 0
    Fells Felched: 0.5
    Hyenas Hunted Down: -1
    Pauzs Oozed: 0
    Maggies Halted: 0
    Douchegargles Spit Taked: 0
    Screwlooses Screwed Up: 0
    Midges Mashed: 1
    Dickswizziles Killizled: 1

    Alexises Accosted: 0.5
    Tiffs Stiffed: 0.5

    Blakes Bitchslapped: 0-1 (Depending on if “laying bare his ribs” meant merely slicing through his clothes but not skin to show them, or slicing through the skin to show them, as the story does not explain which has actually occurred.)

    While not perhaps as attuned to this update, this next song seems a good one in general for Blake and the story itself. So, considering all the twists in this one, including the possibility that getting knifed in the spirit world won’t mean quite the same thing as being knifed in the real world, here we go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eP05iSzpz94

  22. Some musings about promises:

    Do promises have strength proportional to your own power? This seems supported by the unnamed practitioner in 2.x who told Maggie that her power is the oath’s power.

    Do the way things seem affect the strength of promises, such that pretending to be strong makes your promises commensurate to your supposed strength? We know that theatrics can “add power” and we know that the “audience” of spirits can be tricked or confused, but it’s not exactly clear how spirits perceive things.

    If Conquest was unable to fulfill a promise, would it hurt him more because he has less power to fuel the promise, or more because the power from a broken promise would hit him proportionally harder? I’m thinking that because Conquest pretends to be powerful, his promises will impact him almost as much as if he were as powerful as he pretends to be, which could be disastrous for him. That is, if a broken promise took 80% of your power, (I’d imagine it’s much more complicated than that) then Conquest breaking a promise would take 80% of his supposed power, which could be much more than he has. I’m thinking of it like playing high-stakes poker with money you don’t have by tricking the house into thinking you’re a high roller.

    1. As fas as I understood it: The “size” of the promise or oath is relative to the power gain/drain if it is kept/broken. Oaths are generally a stronger (i.e. more binding) form of a promise, which soley depends on the wording of the promise. A strong worded promise, by the method of theatrics, can get an “Oath” quality/quantity of power.
      Example: “I will bring you back this trinket, by whatever means neccessary” is strictly speaking a promise, but if said in the right intonation with the right pose, it may well give you more power than simply promising “I will give it back to you”.

      A promise or oath is a loan of power. Keeping it pays for that loan, and you get Karma from the action this loan gave you. Breaking it means the karmic legbreakers pay you a visit to collect the debt, with interest.

  23. The eyes, drawn on the papers in the real world, were visible here, fully detailed, complete with eyelids, the pink at the corner, and the tiny veins on the surface.
    That is creepy.

    …and he was returning the favor. Attacking my conscience and my drive to fight. This violence and these deaths were on my hands.
    That’s something that’s bugging me. It’s a long, indirect route that puts the blame on Blake, far too indirect for karma to care, and also plenty indirect to not suffer morally. I’m having trouble seeing Blake’s logic…”I’m the one who started this contest, therefore everything bad my opponent does during it is his fault”? Especially odd since said contest, if won, should prevent or at least hinder Conquest from doing more bad things.

    My. This was…quite the chapter.

    1. Yes, that is the path he’s following. If he had just rolled over, the contest wouldn’t have occurred, and those people would not have been hurt. That’s not to say that he’s actually responsible for something that an enemy does, but that is how he’s thinking, and it’s not a really unusual stance in these kinds of stories. Heroes tend to be kind of terrible at the long view, and actively protest against it.

      I also saw no sign that he cared about it in Karmic terms, just moral ones.

  24. Hmmm…generally speakin,I know when a character is meant t die in a story,and I do not feel that it is Alexis’s or Tiff’s time.

    But Wilbow did suprise me with some S9 deaths,so I cannot swear on it.

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