Void 7.4

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“Welcome back,” Rose said.  She closed her book, setting it down across her lap.

My attention was on Corvidae.  He was within the full-length mirror, standing in front of and to the right of Rose, a small notebook in one hand, an old-fashioned pen in the other.

He was an Other who had been scary enough he could be mistaken for a demon, much like the Hyena had been.  Seventh choir, the abstract, easy to underestimate.  They played subtle games, standing at the opposite end of the spectrum from the first choir, which simply took the most direct route, devouring.

Except he wasn’t a demon.  He was a less-than-garden-variety Bogeyman.

His eyebrows were thick, his teeth a fraction too wide.  He had a hook nose, and his long hair was slicked back, tied into a ponytail that didn’t stick out, but draped down over one shoulder.  His skin was a dark brown, like a supple leather, but his eyes were pale.  When I wasn’t making eye contact, it looked like his eyes were white from corner to corner.  When I was, his narrow pupils bored into me.

He wore a dress shirt with a tie, a vest, and slacks, and threads stuck out here and there, the cuffs of his shirt and backs of his pant legs abraded, the knees threadbare.  His fingers were long, the nails in need of a cut, a little chipped and frayed, as if he had been scraping at a hard surface.

Had I passed him in the street, I might not have given him a glance.  The more I looked, though, the more I noticed the oddities.  His features, cheekbones and the lines of his chin, the shape of his ears, the structure of his neck and shoulders, it all was slightly off, almost as if he’d been drawn by someone who’d never seen a grown man before.  It quickly became unsettling.

I looked away.

We were in the furnished apartment from the other day.

“Alexis?” I asked.

“She’s okay,” Rose said.  “Well, as okay as you can be after being stabbed.  Nothing vital.”

I relaxed some.

“Tiff, Ty?”

“They’re here,” Rose said.  “Look.”

I turned over, and found it easier than it should have been.

Tiff and Ty were lying on thin mattresses on the floor, with blankets drawn up over them.  Circles had been drawn on the ground, and the design had the same elaborate flair as the concentric circles Rose had suggested we draw for Laird and Pauz.  Was Rose developing a signature?

Odd to think about, when she wasn’t the one drawing the circles.

I didn’t miss the use of blood in the diagram, dried to a dark brown in the midst of the white chalk lines.

I touched my chest, and found a great deal of it numb.

When Mrs. Lewis had suggested they were reviving me, two ugly possibilities had sprung to mind as far as how they might do it.   Both had come true.

Ty and Tiff had given blood, for lack of better terminology, to revive me.  The same way I’d given blood to revive Rose.

But reviving wasn’t enough, was it?  You could fill a broken glass all you wanted, the liquid would still flow out.

My shirt had been removed, and I had a heavy pile of blankets on top of me.  I removed them to verify what I was touching.  I’d been plugged up with wax.  It was a pale beige-brown, out of contrast with my skin, the skin around the injury still red and angry, though not necessarily infected.

It matched the contour of my chest and ribs, soft enough to expand as I breathed.  A little cooler than the rest of me.  I could scrape off wax with my fingernail, so it peeled away in a curl.

On second thought, maybe it was better not to do that.

I moved my hand to get the wax out from under my fingernail, and I found another patch of wax there.  The damage from wielding the Hyena.  It had mostly healed.

“Healing?” I asked.

“Maggie’s been using a trick she learned to patch you together, do away with the wax and smooth over the skin.”

I experimentally raised myself up, and accidentally shifted Evan from where he was snuggled up against my neck.

“Unh,” he said.  His eyes were closed.

“He’s asleep?” I asked.

“My recommendation,” Rose said.  “He can’t go all that far from you without wanting to return, I’m not sure if it’s familiarhood or sentimentality.  He was frankly driving us up the wall, wanting to be entertained or involved.  I told him that you might rest better if he rested too.  He doesn’t have to sleep, but it seems he can do it if he wants.”

“Sorry about this, little man,” I said.  “Keep sleeping for a little bit.”

“Buh,” he mumbled, incoherent, tiny eyes still closed.

I checked I was wearing pants, then swung my legs over the side of the cot.

“It’s been slow work, giving you new flesh, undoing the damage.  Apparently Maggie could do it fast and give you gnarly scars, but she wanted to do it slow and leave you looking normal.  I thought you’d want normal – you’re already fighting to keep your identity from slipping away, with everything else that’s going on.”

“You thought right,” I said.  “Thanks.”

“How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Eerily good,” I replied.  I extended my arm.  My left arm’s movements felt a little more limited.  One of the scratches extended from my right nipple to my left shoulder.  There was wax there, not matching the skin.  Numb.  “But definitely not perfect.”

“Perfect would be expecting too much,” Rose said.  “We had to knock two people out to get you up to par.”

I glanced at her, trying to ignore Corvidae.  He disturbed me on a number of levels, one being his appearance, the other being the fact that he was here.

At the same time, I didn’t want to do what Rose had done to me earlier, now that our roles were reversed.  Maybe there was an explanation.

“Two people bled out to bring me back?” I asked.

“Yes.  We talked it over, they don’t want to fight, but things are getting uglier, time’s run out, and you weren’t waking up.  We need you active and able to fight, especially since we lost Fell.”

I shut my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose.

“Sorry,” she said.

Fell wasn’t someone I loved, and even my ability to like him had been strained, but I’d respected him, he’d been competent, he’d even gone out of his way to help.

But I’d gotten him caught up in this, and now he was dead.

“The Shepherd collected his soul,” Rose said.  “Not just the echo, but the soul.  He got in touch with us yesterday, offering a trade.  Laird for Fell.”

“He made this offer on the Lord’s behalf?”

“Not explicitly,” Rose said.  She paused.  “I said no.”

“What?”

“I thought about it for a while, and we talked it over.  Maybe in another situation, we’d be able to stick him somewhere, put the soul in a vessel, bring back Fell in some capacity.  But they wouldn’t give us Fell if we could still use him.  By getting Laird back, he kind of counteracts your victory earlier, and it’s maybe the last hold we have on them.”

“If we’re counting points, then any points I got for getting Laird are probably matched by points they got for collecting Fell,” I said.

“Exactly,” Rose said.  “And if we give up Laird, along with any points we earned there, the Shepherd releases Fell, and then Fell’s soul moves on…”

“They have more points in the end,” I said.  “Fuck, no, you’re right.  That might have been the right decision.”

“It wasn’t a hard one to make.  They’ve been making a number of plays, trying to subvert the advantage we had.”

“He’s been busy, then,” I said.

He has been very, very quiet, actually,” Rose said.  “He’s staying out of the way, giving you your three days.”

“You said things were getting uglier?”

“He’s staying out of the way, but he’s doing that whole thing where he’s technically following the rules, but he’s not forcing others to do it,” Rose said.

I nodded.  “How bad is it?”

“Pretty bad.  He’s ‘protecting’ the city by maintaining the snowstorm, keeping people out of harm’s way by keeping them indoors.  His people have been telling local Others that there may be a change in the way the city operates, and this is the time to get in good with the lord of the city, be in his good graces when he moves up.  The ones that aren’t smart enough to understand are still happy there are no people around, so they’re roaming, looking for trouble.  If I’m being open about what’s happening, then I’d have to tell you that people are getting hurt.”

I hadn’t thought it would get this bad.

She continued, “The news is saying it’s a bunch of kids and thugs capitalizing on the snowstorm.  The last big fight at the police station?  The cars got totaled?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well, the real cars caught up to their spirit world equivalents.  The damage is being blamed on vandals.  Arson, looting, beatings with very little information about the alleged attackers, speculation about a new drug on the streets…”

“Okay,” I said.  “Stop.  This isn’t helping my conscience.  This was a dumb idea.”

“It was a good idea,” Rose said.  “It got us out, it gave you the upper hand… it just went badly.”

“If a plan turns out badly, can it really be called a good one?”

“I think so.”

“Because when I think of things backfiring and schemes with horrific collateral damage, I think of family.”

“I do too.”

“The stuff that mom pulled?  The dormitory thing?”

“The dormitory thing,” Rose said.  “Yeah.  Most definitely remember that.  One of her… less human moments.”

“Yeah.  That.  I don’t know how many students were left without a place in the middle of the semester, but it was a thoroughly shitty thing to do, and it was a whole lot of wrong just to inconvenience a potential heir.”

“Yeah,” Rose said.

“I don’t want to follow in their footsteps.  In fact, that may have been one of the moments where that really dawned on me.  That I wanted to go a different route.”

I climbed to my feet.  I had to search around for clothes, and found my backpack.  I dug out a shirt.

“It wasn’t for me,” Rose said.  “It wasn’t a revelation or anything.  I feel like I reached that point a long time ago.  I got pulled into the schemes, that was an early one.”

“Early?”

“Against Kathy.”

I blinked.

“Callan, for me,” I said.

“Ah,” she said.

“But go on.”

“It’s just… I was immersed in it, I was implicated, I played roles, reported back on them if I saw them at school.”

“Ah,” I said.  Worlds different from me.  Mom and dad had essentially given up, with no real viable heir, only periodically attacking the people who looked like they might be contenders, and our family being the target more than a few times.

“I fought it, but I didn’t really have a way to break the pattern or get them to stop.  They plowed forward, I watched it like I might watch a car wreck, and it became easier to just ignore it, do my own thing.  Or so the fabricated memories go.”

“Were you in the running?” I asked.

Rose nodded.  “We all thought Paige was the top candidate, then Peter made his play and… well, the next thing I remember, I got confirmed as heir at the meeting.”

“Not Molly?”

Rose shook her head.

“I didn’t know that,” I said.

“It doesn’t really matter.  It’s just the vestige thing.  When it’s bent out of shape, reality seeks the straightest path to righting itself.”

“That can’t be right,” I said.

“Hm?”

“Molly.  You’re forgetting Molly.  If reality is seeking the straightest path, why would you be the first pick for heir?  Why not follow after Molly?”

Rose frowned.  “I don’t know.”

“That’s the kind of important detail you really should be sharing,” I said.

“Our focus has kind of been elsewhere,” Rose said.  “With the most recent issue being you in a near-Coma?  Remember that?”

“I remember,” I said.

“The discrepancy is important, but let’s not lose sight of what’s really going on.”

I bit my tongue for a second.

If I pushed on this subject at the expense of other stuff, I’d be doing what Rose had done.

“Okay,” I said.  I found my sweatshirt on the back of a chair, grabbed it, and found both the claw marks on the front and my clawed-up t-shirt beneath.  Both had been thoroughly washed, but a thorough washing hadn’t gotten all the blood out.  Unsalvageable.

“Changing topics.  What’s really going on, then?”

“The lord of the city has, through indirect means, sent Others out into the streets, searching for our hideouts.  They’re finding our hideouts, and if we’re ‘counting points’ as you said before, then we’re losing here.  The Knights aren’t responding, Fell’s dead, for all intents and purposes, the Imp is occupied keeping Laird pinned down, and the Hyena isn’t cooperating.  Your friends, I get that you wanted them here, they aren’t really potent strategic assets.  I’ve been teaching them, giving them access to books, but they’re not exactly big guns.  We’re losing.”

I pulled on the tattered sweatshirt, because going out in the cold with just a t-shirt seemed like a bad idea, and I didn’t have any more clothes.

I looked at Ty and Tiff, and I wondered if they had any clothes I could borrow.

It would be a bad idea, I reasoned, to take the clothes outright.  It could be bad karma, even if we were close enough for the sharing of said clothes to be implicit.

Or did the connections factor in?  Were the clothes okay for me to take simply because of the indirect ties I had to them?

Fuck, I didn’t understand enough about how the world worked.

“You only have two champions,” Rose said.  “You’ve got me, and you’ve got Maggie.  Maggie’s out, doing her thing.”

“Her thing?”

“Hunting monsters.  Diverting them away from Laird, our last remaining hideout.  We don’t have Fell to hide us anymore.”

“And you?  What are you doing?”

“Ah.  This is the point where I have to explain J.P. being here.”

J.P.?” I asked.

Corvidae smiled.

“Do you talk?” I asked.

“I do,” he said.  His voice was hoarse, uncomfortable to listen to.  More fitting for an old man than a young one, or for a heavy smoker.

“Primarily when asked questions,” Rose added.

“When invited to respond,” he corrected.

“Full name?”

“John Pica,” he said.

I broke from his unwavering eye contact to look at Rose, my eyebrows raised.

“We needed ammo.  They were rooting us out, they’re still using the dolls, the vessels, they’ve got ghosts, and when they get close, they bring in the Eye to start wreaking havoc.  Power goes out, fires in the neighborhood… trying to get us to pick up and move, distract us.  Astrologer has constructions at regular points around the city, it’s… it’s a mess overall.  So we called on a few more Others.  I called on a few more.”

More?”

“It’s all I can do.  I can’t match the Lord of the City in numbers, not with summonings.  I can be smart about bringing them in and pointing them places.  I can call on specific Others for specific tasks, and J.P. was one.”

“What task?”

“Distracting your adversary’s champions.  J.P. set the Astrologer and the Sisters of the Torch against each other.”

“How?” I asked.

“Apparently the sisters have this elemental they all use in their rituals.  An intermediate flame spirit, the eponymous ‘torch’ of the group, their go-to power source.  J.P. went for a walk, came back, and the elemental decided it wanted to set up shop in one of the Astrologer’s pieces of equipment, rather than the housing they’d prepared for it.  Apparently there’s a lot of power flowing through her systems at the moment, enough to bait an Elemental closer.”

“She’s not giving the elemental back, I take it?” I asked.

“The equipment was handed down to her by her teacher and master.  It’s sentimental and it’s a huge aspect of her power base.  No, she’s not giving it back.”

I’d made some headway with the Sisters, and I had questions about the Astrologer and her changing allegiance… this wasn’t something I would have gone along with.

Stupid as it sounded, I didn’t want to hurt them.

I bit my tongue.  “Where’s my jacket?”

“You’re not going outside, are you?”

“I’m not sitting here and waiting for things to get worse,” I said.  “Evan, wake up.”

Saying his name flexed the connection between us.  He roused, then did a small bird stretch, wings extended fluffing out his feathers to look bigger.  “You’re up!  You’re okay!”

He flew to my shoulder.

“Thanks to my friends,” I said.

“Ahem,” Rose said.

“I’m counting you among them,” I told her.  “Don’t be silly.”

She seemed genuinely taken aback by that.

“What are we doing?  What’s next?” Evan asked.

Already full of energy, it seemed.

“We’re meeting up with Maggie,” I said, “Then we’re putting together a battle plan for one last skirmish against the big man.”

“I don’t think that’s wise,” Rose said.

“Why?” I asked.  “We’re weaker than we were, he’s stronger?”

She didn’t respond right away.

“A… voice in my dream told me that he’d consolidated his power and he was strong,” I said.  “Are you saying there’s more to it than that?”

“Kind of,” Rose said.  “It’s better if you see.”

“That sounds ominous.”

“It is,” she said.  “I can station Mary to guard your friends, but maybe you want to leave a note, reassure them it’s all okay.  We should go meet up with Maggie.  I might not agree about going up against the lord of the city, but I do agree that we should hash together a plan.”

The snowstorm was bad.  I’d borrowed Ty’s coat, scarf and hat in the end, and the cold cut right through it.  My chest tightened as the wax filling my wounds hardened.

I’d be sensitive to temperature, it seemed.  Keeping away from direct heat sources would have to be a priority.

Hail had broken windows and damaged cars, broken branches lay around every tree, and the snow was bad enough that the plows weren’t keeping up, if they were showing up at all.

The city had shut down.  With no power, the snow, and thick clouds, it was darker in the middle of the day than some nights had been.

Minutes passed where all I could see were flurries of thick white snow, all I could hear was the sound of wind.

The Tallowman followed me.  Rose was clearer than ever as she moved within the windows, Mary, Corvidae and an oily black figure following her.

Rose was stronger.

I wasn’t so sure I could stop her if she decided to send her monsters after me.

She’d saved me, though, to her credit.  She’d also known something about me being vulnerable, what happened when I died.

She’d told Conquest.  I could put two and two together.  Conquest knew the particulars about how Rose and I functioned as a pair, including the fact that I’d be replaced by Rose if I got offed.  Rose knew more particulars than she was letting on.

I hadn’t lied when I said I considered Rose a friend.

I didn’t trust her one hundred percent, but I hadn’t lied.

At the same time, I wasn’t sure the sentiment went both ways.  What was I to Rose?

Was I a jailor?  A figure that kept her from leaving her prison of mirrors?

Had I been that jailor from some point very early on?  I could remember how she’d acted, on our early mornings in the house.  Sudden shifts in attitude, harboring knowledge, hostility without rationale…

…I could remember her reactions.  The way she’d acted almost offended when I’d been nice, reached out, tried to make amends.

Almost as if she wanted to hate me, and I was making it harder.

Had she known?

I felt Evan shiver beside my neck, tugged Ty’s scarf tighter, to bring the my familiar closer.

If Rose had known, how had she found out?  Had she been reading something I wasn’t aware of?  Had the lawyers reached out to her by some arcane means, like Mrs. Lewis had found me in some buried part of my psyche?  Or had she known from the beginning?

Or was I something else to her?  If not a jailor, could I be something else?  Molly had been a sacrificial pawn.  Was I the same?  Was I simply chosen because my mirror-world alter-ego was the most competent, or because I was most likely to help the family’s overall karmic balance before I died?  Was she only helping me because it bought her more time before she had to brave these dangers herself?

No.  She’d put herself at risk, being shackled by Conquest to spare me from being tortured.

I had to remember that.

She might have come to regret the decision, but I had to remember that sacrifice.

Her reactions to so many things like the taking of a familiar and the binding of my friends, it all made more sense if I thought that she didn’t want me connecting myself to this world, making myself harder to dislodge.

But I had to remember that she’d made the big sacrifice.  There was no explaining that away.  She cared on some level.

“Heads up,” Rose murmured.

I looked, and I saw a homeless man in a puffy jacket making achingly slow progress through the snow.

When I looked at him with the Sight, though, I saw something else.

In the sliver of his face I could see, I noted no nose.  His mouth had no lips, only obvious, yellowing teeth.  His skin was a bruised green-purple color, his eyes hidden by shadow.  Almost like dessicated corpse given life.

The window beside him shattered.  Rose’s oily black creature pounced from the midst of the flying glass to tackle the big brute.  Long fingers circled its neck.

“Keep moving,” Rose said.

I couldn’t shake the mental image of her sending the black thing after me.  It was eerie in appearance.  If Corvidae was the kind of Bogeyman that preyed on adults, powerful people –white men, if Rose’s accounting was right- then the black strangling thing was a baser kind of monster.  One that would be perfectly at home under a child’s bed or in a dark swamp, waiting for the right foot to be placed down in its reach.

We didn’t get half a block before she was sending Mary out to attack two more bystanders.

I hadn’t even realized they were there before blood was being spilled.

Rose’s expression was hard and unreadable.  What was going through her head?

I didn’t want to be second-guessing my allies when I should have been going after Conquest, but I was.  My head was whirling with questions long before I saw what Rose had wanted to show me.

Then I had more.

“The hell?” I asked.

Streets that should have been straight were curved.

They were shorter, the dimensions warped.

It was even true when I didn’t use the sight.  The snow made it less obvious, shifted to more aggressive patterns to blind me, flakes stinging my eyes, or moving in such a way that I couldn’t notice.

But, all that in mind, the reality was that in both the spirit and the real world, the city was being drawn together in a spiral.

Like spaghetti around a twirled fork.

The fork, I realized, was Conquest’s tower.

He was drawing up the city, altering geography and everything else.  The spirit world was the most obvious victim, and the real world was following suit in its own way.

It was his city.  Now he was restructuring it.

Or, more likely, he was having a minion do it somehow, just like I’d had Evan act as an extension of myself for the purposes of freeing the Hyena.

“What the hell is he doing?”  I asked.

“Giving us less places to hide, while pushing out the monsters from their roosts, driving them out to roam.”

Squeezing us out.

“You think he’s pretending to be stronger than he is?  When he’s doing this?”

“I want to think so.”

“If you’re right, and that’s you’re as in you were, not you are, things might be different now.  Look at this.  Think about the power being spent.”

I took it in.

I looked away, for much the same reason I’d looked away from Corvidae, earlier.  From ‘J. P.’

It was unpleasant to consider the implications.

That Rose was shrugging off the one stipulation I’d made.  That Conquest really was this much stronger.

“It doesn’t change anything,” I said.

“He’s a monster.”

“I’ve committed to the duel.”

Stay committed.  But let’s do this smart.  Think less about battle plans, more about playing it smart.  Give me time, let me summon more Others.  We can raise the stakes, raise an army, up the strength of what I’m summoning…”

“Until you summon another Midge?” I asked.  “Make another mistake with collateral damage?”

“That was one mistake,” she said.  “My first summoning.  Absolve me of that like I tried to absolve you of guilt for starting the contest.”

I glanced up at the tower.

Work with me, Blake.”

“I want to,” I said, “But I’m afraid he’s going to get stronger faster than we do.”

Rose didn’t have an answer for that.

I turned away, trudging in the direction the connections were pointing.

Past a husk of a car and a patch of blood that had frozen and been nearly covered by snow.

“Let’s go find Maggie.”

Maggie was embroiled in a fight when we arrived.

Rose had made another call I didn’t necessarily agree with.  Maggie wielded the Hyena, a gauntlet on her hand, sporting a very similar design.  The gauntlet served to protect her hand from the worst of the spikes, I assumed.

Three wraiths had her cornered in a looted store.  Floor to ceiling display windows had been shattered, the shelves largely cleaned out, and snow had drifted within.  Maggie was nearly invisible in the gloom, prenaturally pale in the midst of it.  A bit bedraggled.

Three wraiths.

Three monsters.

Rose’s creatures were stronger.  As rescues went, it wasn’t a dramatic one.  Two wraiths were torn apart.

Corvidae intercepted the third, a man that had burned to a crisp, apparently, gripping him by the wrists.  He’d spoken something in french, and then released the spirit.

The spirit flew away as if it had a goal in mind.

I shivered a little.

“You’re alive, Thorburn,” Maggie said, when we reached her.  She was bleeding, and her lips were too red.

“You’re holding my sword,” I replied.

Our sword,” Evan corrected, hopping forward so he was clear of the folds of my scarf.

“Our sword,” I amended.

“Rose gave me permission,” Maggie said.  “You were unconscious.”

“You could have asked me,” Evan said.  “I could have woken up to say it wasn’t cool.”

Or, I thought, she had you go to sleep so she was free to lend out the weapon.

“How are you managing?” I asked, changing the subject.  As if to make it clear what I was doing, I adjusted my scarf.

“Hoping they aren’t missing me in Jacob’s Bell,” Maggie said.

“Could really do with an explanation of how you slipped away,” I commented.  “But for now, let’s talk about the contest.  Sooner it’s done, sooner you can go back.”

“I’m not complaining,” Maggie said.  She flashed a smile, and there was blood in the spaces between her teeth.  She’d been hit.

It was disconcerting.  For her to be, what, excited, while I was feeling so grim about this?  So guilty?

I felt like all I was doing was suppressing my feelings.

“The perimeter?” Rose asked.

“Having a bit of trouble,” Maggie said.  She wiped at her lip, and her fingers came away crimson with blood.  “Things suddenly picked up about half an hour ago.  I think the Lord is awake, alive and well.”

“Define a ‘bit of trouble’,” Rose said.

“I kind of failed.  It might be a good idea to check upstairs.  See how old Behaim is managing.  Can’t really guard against attacks from all directions when you’re all on your lonesome.”

“Something slipped past you?” I asked.  “They have access to Laird?”

“There’s a guard,” Maggie said, “But yeah, maybe.”

“I asked if you needed help,” Rose said.

“I didn’t when you asked, when I did need help, you weren’t available.  It’s not like I can call you on a cell phone, not really.

Two people, or a person and a vestige, struggling to do the job that we’d had a hard time doing as a group.

Two people I didn’t necessarily trust at this point.

I wanted to trust them, so much it hurt, but I had too many questions and not enough answers.

“Let’s move,” I said.

We were forced to take the stairs.

“It’s wraiths,” Maggie panted.  “They don’t need to use stairs.”

I redoubled my efforts, taking stairs two at a time, leaving Maggie and the Tallowman behind.

I reached the apartment and kicked the door rather than wait for Maggie to show up with the key.

I rounded the corner at the end of the hall, and I found myself facing Laird, still in the circle.

Pauz was crouched there, grinning, his back to Laird.

Two Wraiths flanked the circle.  The new Other Rose had left behind, a woman with a Glasgow smile and surgical mask pulled away from her face, lay unmoving on the ground, clutching her chest.

“Took you long enough,” Laird said.

“Laird.”

“I’ve been trying to communicate with your imp, despite the fact that you forbade him from speaking.”

Rose and Maggie caught up with us.

Rose’s eye fell on the fallen Other.

Laird held up his implement.

How?

The Wraiths had tossed the thing to him?

“Basic rule,” Laird said.  “When a malevolent being is released from its binding, it goes after the one that bound it.  Isn’t that right, imp?”

Pauz shrugged, but he was grinning.

“I noticed you coming,” Laird said.  “I thought I’d wait for you so I could watch it happen.”

He broke the circle, flinging water across it.

Pauz was free.

Pauz took a step towards me.

Then, a moment later, Pauz was a book again, pages and cord fluttering into place, trapping him, then taking form.

Laird watched as the book hit ground.

“A bluff,” he said.

“We’re better than you think,” I said.

“So am I,” he replied.

He clicked his watch.

A moment later, he was gone.

My heart pounded.

“We lost,” Rose said.  “Down one champion, your friends are out of commission…”

“No,” I said.  “I don’t think this is a loss.

She looked at me.

“Just the opposite, almost,” I said.  “If we can pull this off…”

“What are you thinking?” Maggie asked.

“It’s time to test my theory on the Behaims, and make the decisive play.”

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189 thoughts on “Void 7.4

      1. “When invited to respond,” Joshua corrected.

        Joshua is never named prior to this.

        Potentially not an error, given Rose’s ambiguous situation, but she says that she was confirmed as heir at the meeting in this chapter. However, in 1.2, she says:

        “I was home, with mom and dad. They’re mad, you know, obviously, because I didn’t get Hillsglade House, and they thought it was as close to a given as you could get. Mad at me, especially. I was in bed, mostly asleep, and then I was at the house. I remember everything about my life, but I don’t feel like I experienced any of it. You know?”

        1. Good catch! Two other possible explanations if this wasn’t an error:
          The less plausible one: Rose seems to have come into existence when Molly died, and she said these lines only a few hours after being ‘born’, so to speak, so her memory may have been jumbled or something. Or there were some retcon-like shenanigans à la ErasUr or timetravel: Rose’s past and/or memory really did change for some reason.
          The more plausible one: Rose simply lied. In fact, up to her awakening in 1.07, every one of her lines could have been a lie. (Same with Blake, of course, but we read the story from his POV.)

    1. I experimentally raised myself up, and in the doing,
      -> “in the doing” sounds weird?

      Sorry about this, little man,” I said. “Keep sleeping for a little bit.”
      -> Missing opening quote

      “If an plan turns out badly, can it really be called a good one?”
      -> a plan

      “Something slipped past you?” I asked. “They have access to
      -> Incomplete line

    2. He was within the full-length mirror, standing in front of and to the right of Rose, a small notebook in one hand, an old-fashioned pen in the other.
      the context suggests Corvidae has the pen and notebook, but it probably is Rose – should say “… Rose, who had a small notebook…” if it means she had it

      near-Coma
      near-coma

    3. Corvidae intercepted the third, a man that had burned to a crisp, apparently, gripping him by the wrists. He’d spoken something in french, and then released the spirit.

      Change in verb tense between sentences.

    4. to bring the my familiar closer. –> redundant ‘the’

      Almost like dessicated corpse given life. –> ‘a’ desiccated corpse

  1. Damn this formatting issue! Whole sections just have their paragraph breaks removed.

    And I forgot to copy-paste the doc before submission, like I’d planned. Banging my head against the wall.

    Need to spend the time researching to find out how to get it to stop. Sorry for the just-after-midnight-readers who ran into it.

    1. If the fix doesn’t prove easy to find, maybe describe your workflow in a comment (or on your blog) and let readers have a shot at suggesting fixes? I’m sure people would be more than glad to help.

  2. Don’t sweat it. I don’t think anybody holds you accountable for typos or formatting issues the second you release what is more or less a first draft. In your position, I’d be sorely tempted to post the thing, get some sleep, and check my handy crowd of editors for issues in the morning. Your writing is good enough by far that a small issues don’t throw me out of the story.

  3. As far as the story goes:

    Not Fell. 😦 I’ll miss the bastard.

    As far as Laird disappearing, I can think of several ways that it happened.

    1. Accelerating his local time so he can just walk out at a pace fast enough Blake and the others can’t tell.
    2. Slow down Blake and the others in the area so he can just walk out and they don’t notice.
    3. Somehow step forward in time and just leaves the room then.

    As far as not attacking Blake and the others, he may well not have the Power available to him anymore after getting his ass kicked up, down, and sideways. Even if he’s pulling from banked time as some commentators think, pissing the universe off too much will surely create a bigger draw per action.

    Now to see how Blake takes advantage of Chronomancy.

      1. Kiritsugu is more the “double accel” type than the “time stop teleport” type. That’s Homura’s department.

    1. Theory: Laird’s tool has nothing to do with time, actually; the watch-shaped familiar is just a deceptive ploy. Laird specializes in mass amnesia and the removal of short-term memories, which would relate well to the possibility that Laird would be the one to break pre-existing traditions/wars – optimism and hope being borne out of a certain degree of forgetting the past. Laird walked out, then had everyone forget, the same way that time passed for Blake in the cafe – Blake continually forgot that he was waiting.

      1. Mentalism illusionist. You will forget me
        (as opposed to Essence Illusionist, who actively bends light and is vulnerable to lightning).

  4. The thing with the Astrologer & the Sisters….. Is Rose writing the book “How to Lose Allies & Alienate People” or something?

      1. Point. But the Astrologer is doing so under duress & I’m not sure if moving this shit onto her lap counts as karmic payback form her constructs ending up hurting Alexis.

          1. To win a war you require allies and you use propaganda to change the allegiances of your enemies, which was what Blake was trying to do. Rose took a more direct approach to getting rid of their enemies, but effectively killing their chances of getting new allies.

            1. They’re at a point where both sides have made it clear they can’t or won’t change sides. To that end, they became obstacles and ended up causing Blake to loose a champion. They had to go.

            2. Them sharing tactics and tricks was adding a whole new level of difficulty onto the entire process as well.

              Do we have any reason to believe that the affected parties know that this was done intentionally at all, let alone who did it?

            3. They also don’t realize just how much worse off they will be if they have to deal with Rose. She won’t be so damn determined to not FUCK. THEM. UP. Blake wants them to just leave him alone, and is trying the approach of “If you stop trying to kill me, then I have no reason to fuck with the scary shit. I am actually a nice guy.” Rose’s approach is more “Mess with me and I will retaliate. You don’t want that.”

            4. To win a war, you take away your enemy’s willingness or ability to fight. This sometimes involves actually having to fight the enemy. Sun Tzu’s all about fighting as a last resort, but he mentions you actually have to know your enemy and yourself to get good results, and put in the leg work so that you only go into battles you’ll win if it comes down to fighting.

              Blake rejected Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in favor of Zap Brannigan’s Big Book of War.

        1. It may be moral payback, but I think the whole point of Corvidae’s power is to go around karma. (It changes things’ owners, but makes it so the universe agrees with the change.)

          1. I’m kind of interested to see if this is the case. Seems kinda op if so, but I guess his power doesn’t make much sense otherwise…

    1. The Astrologer and the Sisters aren’t allies, though.

      Like, seriously. Three days ago the Astrologer killed Fell and took Alexis out of action, and the Sisters are firmly behind Conquest so long as he holds Elder Sister. Rose using Corvidae to do that to them was pretty brilliant, since they’re Conquests most versatile remaining champions.

      1. Then Blake’s theory obout the Behaims had better be right or he may just as well throw himself into Erasur’s maw.

    2. Do the Sister of the Torch and the Astrologer necessarily know that this was all J.P’s doing, though. Rose gave a reasonable explanation and everything.

      1. Rose seems stealthy enough to get away with it. Even if they do know, what can they do about it?

        A demon’s effect doesn’t wear out with its death or sealing, it’s one of the reasons they’re feared.

    3. I wasn’t aware the Astroler and Sisters were allies. It almost looked like they were enemies who were now distracted fighting each other and thus unable to attempt to kill Blake.

  5. This. . . this is brilliant!!! Does anybody remember all of the horrible blizzards the northeast United States and Canada had this past winter? I literally had snow piled higher than my SUV. Come to find out now, the real horrible winter and storms have a Pactverse explanation. It’s all the effects of wars between Lords and Practitioners!

    So Toronto is literally becoming a sort of hell on earth. I know where I’m not going on vacation to! (Even if they do have Glory Hole Donuts)

    Blake is becoming more of a monster every arc. . . I love it.

    I’ve been waiting to see what Blake figured out about the Behaims.

    How is Maggie gonna explain her week long trip to live with the new 20 year old neighbor? She’s pretty much tied to Blake at this point. They should make some sort of mutually beneficial pact between the man and the woman.

    As always, I like how Wildbow acknowledges the prevailing fan questions and theories in the story. Pity we didn’t actually get answers.

    I enjoyed this chapter so much I won’t even mention the huge block of text (third times the charm, right?).

    1. “How is Maggie gonna explain her week long trip to live with the new 20 year old neighbor?”

      Meh, imply they are boyfriend/girlfriend. Its significantly better than telling the truth at least.

      1. Maggie really needs to get out of this habit about lying by omission to her dads about the practitioner biz, though. For one thing, she murdered someone. And that someone was part of an incredibly vindictive family that has the resources to ruin a couple of middle-lower class guys if they find out as collateral damage. That’s before what’s going to happen if one of the heirs after Blake is feeling inclined to take out one of the ones that killed a predecessor.

        1. Bah! Fell’s soul is probably reasonably intact. Enough to be an Evan-style ghost, at least! Blake/Fell remains alive and well!

          1. So sad that Fell is dead. Wildbow isn’t one for Disney Deaths, but perhaps the Shepherd still has Fell’s soul… There is still hope, no matter how small it is. Should have made that Laird Fell trade, though, in retrospect now that Laird’s escaped anyways. Fell/Blake 5eva!

            1. Laird escaping is way better than surrendering Laird, given the nature of the contest and their opponent. Also, Blake apparently has something up his sleeve that makes this a good thing?

            2. Blake seems to have quite a few unspoken plan guarntees going on right now. At least the one with the Behaim’s secret, and one with the lawyers. Which he’d better let Rose know about, since she’s the one who actually has to summon them.

            1. Uh, BlakeXFell isn’t the ship I was talking about. My preffered ship is BlakeXMaggie. Sorry.

            2. My preffered ship is BlakeXMaggie.

              That’s good. Its the best one, followed by BlakeXTiff, BlakeXPenny, and then BlakeXRose.

      2. Last time I checked, her fathers are pretty aware of the magic shenanigans and are rather protective of her – better tell them she went to improve the situation instead of building a lie.
        The boyfriend talk has always been a father’s nightmare. Goblins are easier to handle.

    2. Blake becoming more of a monster?

      Maybe physically, I guess. In terms of how he’s acted, he’s about as vicious as a kitten cuddle pile. Seriously, he needs to have a maniacal pillow fight if he wants to up his street cred.

      1. I think they are embodiments of fear & loss, J.P. for loss of that which is valued, Joseph’s familiar for the loss of identity.

        1. I’d still go with embodiments of fear, but I think you have the wrong fear. Crow is the idea that you’ll lose something you love to someone you hate. The Face familiar is the fear that someone you think you know isn’t who you thought they were/might harbor malicious intentions toward you secretly.

          I think we should name that guy Capgras.

          A lot of the others are just the fear that there’s something monstrous hiding inside your closet or under your bed.

          1. It seems like Crow is more the fear of losing something you love to someone close to you–a fear of betrayal from those closest, mayhap.

      2. From 6.7, when Rose is describing J. Crow:

        “I guess, if you had to stick a label on this one, I’d say ‘Bogeyman’. Which seems to be a convenient practitioner label for ‘loner Other with a penchant for terror or murder’.”

  6. No offense or anything, but my first thought at the end of the chapter was “Holy hell, a chapter that didn’t end on a depressing note?” That seems…indicative of something.

        1. See, we’re learning! On the other hand Toronto is going to hell, Blake is effectivly down to Maggie and Rose for champions, Laird got away, and Conquest is apparently stronger than they thought. That’s enough bad stuff that we should be feeling good about Blake’s chances.

          I’m confused.

          1. Pauz is still around in book form, he’s just not currently pinning Laird. I don’t think there’s anything saying Blake couldn’t make another contract with him, and he’s been awfully cooperative lately.

            The Hyena may not be cooperating right now, but it’s possible Maggie could coax something out of it. Letting Maggie use it may have been against Blake’s principles, but it’s probably the best thing that could’ve happened in this situation.

            Of course, it doesn’t matter how many remaining champions Blake has if Rose can call up something really nasty, or at least something that can turn the situation to their advantage.

            1. There are a few things that are probably causing problems with what Rose can call up. As stated, Conquest is doing better at bringing out monsters right now. Other than that..

              -Every time one of Team Blake’s monsters gets beaten, Conquest will get stronger, because that’s a conquest for him.
              -Stronger monsters would cost more, and be harder to bind. And the really big guns that they have access to as Thorburns, well they are both too tricky, and too dangerous. They don’t want to get rid of Conquest and have a worse problem running wild.
              – Now one possibility that I’ve thought of is to try and get an opposing incarnation summoned. Something like liberty or rebellion. The downside is it would probably be very weak incarnation, and if Conquest wins against an oppisate, then that would be a huge boost for him.

  7. Oh Fell.

    I just wish I had gotten to know you better.

    Seriously, though. I hope they can rescue him from the shepherd, because that’s a really crappy way to spend the afterlife.

    And Maggie, daaaang. You’re just a regular medieval freaking warrior, aren’t you?
    I suppose she has to get ready to pay for her promise.

    Also I think Rose is becoming the queen of monsters. Blake might not trust her but even he has to admit that she’s really cool. Like drowning in a freezing lake.

    Let’s just hope she doesn’t make another mistake summoning another other. It’s the kind of thing the universe would love to exploit.

  8. Bit of a theory- Rose was the actual Heir the whole time, and is a way of subverting the inheritance thing without breaking the explicit rules- deferring responsibility. Rose is old rose, and will gradually become more and more like Old rose until she becomes heir, as a ploy by Old Rose to live again. Ergo, final boss is Rose (either of the two, or both.)

    1. The more I read Pact, the more I like the theory someone posted a few chapters back. The basic theory was that Granny Rose had kidnapped Rose from an alternate Dimension.

      Given new information, I would like to propose a similar theory. Granny Rose used one of Barbie’s boobs to “cut a reflection” of Rose. However, I don’t think Rose is merely a vestige. She’s from another world/timeline where she was born instead of Blake. Our Granny Rose took Alt. Rose and used Barbie to bring her to the main Pactverse as a “reflection”. She also contacted the Law Firm for the necessary sacrifice to pull it off.

      And if that doesn’t make sense, I’ll try to explain again after some sleep.

      1. That’s exactly what I thought reading this chapter. The memories seem too… flawless, too intricate to be fake.

      2. I was thinking something along those lines. My thought was Granny Rose cut out her own reflection, then set something up so that it’d be connected to whoever her heir was at the time, as part of the inheritance. And, being a reflection, it would necessarily take on the properties of whoever it was bound to, to a certain extent. For example, being a reflection of Blake causes it to be a reflection of Blake, as in a sort of opposite, while still being Rose’s own reflection. Thus, her heirs are protected by something with all the powers and capabilities of Rose Sr, but in such a way that they still have to learn and figure stuff out on their own.

      3. It was basically stated outright that she’s an alternate Blake. “Alternate Dimension” is the obvious immediate thought, given the author. Which makes me suspect it’s not that simple.

        I guess we’ll see…

  9. Rose seemed like she was expecting Blake to wake up. Could she have possibly called the lawyers to wake him up before War: Round 2? If so, are they in even more debt to the law firm? Would both bear the cost, or just Rose? Could it specifically have been Ms. Lewis that the deal was with and not the firm?

    1. I think that was what the “your friend’s gave you power till they passed out” thing was all about. They gave Blake enough power to wake up again.

  10. Laird… didn’t expect that from Blake? Truly?
    Interesting.

    BLAKE! YOU HAVE LEARNED A WAY TO COMMUNICATE POLITELY AND KINDLY TO ROSE!
    THREE CHEERS FOR BLAKE FINALLY GETTING SOME DIPLOMACY WITH HIS PARTNER!
    HOORAY!
    HOORAY!
    HOORAY!

    Apologies for the capital letters, but besides whatever Blake may know about Laird and gaining Evan’s partnership as a familiar, I think Blake being able to work better with Rose – and vice-versa – may be the single most important thing to happen in Blake’s favor for the entire story so far.

    1. Actually, people are often more polite around people they’re suspicious of but want to appear unsuspecting towards. until recently, Blake has mostly trusted Rose and largely acted without any particular carefulness.

      Blake is now suspecting the motives of the two strongest allies he’s met within the practitioner world. He has what appear to be good reasons to suspect their motives, but I like the idea someone proposed earlier that the spirits infusing Blake are throwing off his suspicions and/or giving him paranoia.

    2. “And vice versa” is the key. Unfortunately I suspect Blake deciding “I will try to be more accommodating of Rose” strongly correlates with Rose deciding “Screw Blake anyway, I’mma do what I want”. Not a great combination.

      Also it looks self-serving that Blake has become more accommodating to Rose just as she is starting to exceed him in power. We know he’s being genuine, but it’s probably a case of “too little, too late”, unfortunately.

  11. “The Shepherd collected his soul,” Rose said. “Not just the echo, but the soul. He got in touch with us yesterday, offering a trade. Laird for Fell.”

    How? The Shepard doesn’t talk. Was it in writing? Isn’t written word non-binding in the Pactverse? Perhaps he had a ghost do the talking for him.

    1. Presumably, the deal to trade would fall under the heading of a major event, so he could speak to swear the oath. In the meantime, writing would convey the intent. Or he could deputize a Sister of the Torch.

    2. The Shepard was suggested to talk for rituals only. A formal trade might count. But “got in touch” probably doesn’t mean paying them a visit nor a phone call, so most likely it was a note or a messenger.

      And written word can be binding. See the contracts signed with Pauz, for example.

      1. And written word can be binding. See the contracts signed with Pauz, for example.

        But Iirc, those contracts were only binding because of vocal oaths. The vowed aloud to go by the terms of what was written. That would imply that the important and binding things are what is spoken and not what is written (at least not automatically).

        1. RDT’s journal in Gathered Pages had a specific disclaimer that these are not meant to be binding. The fact that it was necessary implies that writing can be binding under at least some circumstances.

            1. The fact that it doesn’t help the situation at all doesn’t mean there isn’t a situation to worry about. If writing was never binding unless specifically stated, it would never have occurred to anyone to include that disclaimer any more than it does in real life.

            2. Black Lamb’s Blood. It mentions that certain facts were obfuscated to conceal the writer’s identify at the risk of being forsaken, or something along those lines. Nothing in a book like that could be believed if writing a lie didn’t draw the same risk as speaking a lie.

            3. Nothing in a book like that could be believed if writing a lie didn’t draw the same risk as speaking a lie.

              I’m not going to say you’re wrong, but I will make a counterpoint. Who’s to say we can believe what’s written in Black Lamb’s Blood. Both Blake and Rose have both acknowledged that the book was propaganda and not to be trusted (though it looks like Blake pretty much accepted what he had skimmed over).

    3. I’m pretty sure writing is binding in Pact. I could be wrong about that, I don’t remember it every being explicitly said, but the way characters act about it is telling. Rose Sr. wrote a disclaimer at the top of (almost) every journal that what was written there was only for her eyes and thoughts, but her father still told her to always write the truth just in case. Pauz was bound by a written contract, though admittedly both he and Blake agreed verbally to be bound by it. And, if written words aren’t binding, a lot of things lose impact, like the entirety of the library, Blake’s written “I could have cut your throat; Conquest would have”, Rose’s letter to her heirs, and Blake’s letter to the later heirs are all examples that come to mind.

  12. “John Pico” sounds like a name with a story behind it. Google suggests that Pico is from the Iberian peninsula or Italy. Mexico, perhaps? But that doesn’t line up with Rose’s suspicion that the First Nations created him, though she may have been using that as a catch-all term for native ethnic groups as a whole and not just the ones in Canada. We don’t know his favored hunting grounds beyond it being in the New World.

    Furthermore, how does one start with a name like “John Pico” and end up with an alias like “James Corvidae?” That part would probably be deliberate, but why, just to make it harder for people to summon him?

    1. It’s just going with the bird theme. “Pica” is a genus within the family “Corvidae.” It’s magpies instead of crows, but it’s still J. Birdman. I wonder if his behavior is any different this time.

      1. And now both Thorburn heirs have their birdman sidekick.
        I suspect John will prove less endearing than Evan, though.

        1. One for sorrow
          Two for mirth
          Three for a funeral
          Four for a birth
          Five for heaven
          Six for hell
          Seven’s the Devil his own self

          1. one for sorrow, two for joy
            three for a girl, four for a boy
            five for silver, six for gold
            seven for something you’ve never been told

            Funny how these variants go.

  13. Somehow the Corvid’s naming patterns remind me of Jim Crow. Or at least till now the name always seems to be J. [some kind of corvid].

  14. Darn, I’ve been wrong three chapters in a row. I should cut back on the end-of-chapter guesses; I don’t appear to be very good at them. I’m a bit surprised that Laird wasn’t found for three whole days.

    1. He probably got more karma that way. Using the spirit bystanders’ point of view:
      Captor: I have you now my pretty, you can’t move from here.
      Captive: I will escape even if you stand right in front of me.

      Theatrics. He waited to show Blake/Rose they couldn’t hold him, so he probably laid low or openly asked any of Conquest’s allies not to help him.

  15. Laird shows that he’s an hypocritical bastard again. What happened to the “using demons is bad, we can’t get back what we loose to them” moral issue ?

    1. As per last conversation with Laird, releasing a resentful imp near its target is different… karmatically?… than commanding the imp’s nature. Plus I think Laird can’t remove the imp until its contact with Blake is over.

      Actually, that makes no sense. You’d be an unstoppable diabolist by making unending contacts.

      I guess after “three days ” next to the imp he thought breaking the barrier to Blake is far better than breaking the barrier to Laird or trying to close the barrier on the imp and finding out the crew made more traps in it.

      1. He’s probably rules lawyering. He didn’t actually deal with the imp, he just pointed out a way it could attack Blake. Still not going to cry too much when something awful happens to Laird. Or if it happens to Pauz.

        1. Pauz only agreed to be bound to Blake long enough to get to Conquest, only to be either permanently bound or a trophy. He’s going to jump the bastard who sealed him away before anyone else.

    2. Nah. Laird knew the water wouldn’t work, but he was able to talk to Pauz enough to make it think it would. He tricked Pauz into attempting to cross the circle and being bound once again, unable to affect Laird while he did things.

      He bluffed Pauz, not Blake.

      1. Actually, I think Blake (or maybe Pauz) bluffed Laird. I don’t think Pauz didn’t know what would happen, because it had to know the terms of all involved contracts (that’s kind of essential for its kind, isn’t it. For example, it accepted the contract in the sealed envelope, and it knew the contract allowed him to speak until Blake forbid it, and anyway, given how careful it was during the initial contract drafting with Blake it’s clear it wouldn’t accept a contract without knowing the terms. Pauz might not have lots of patience or long-term perspective, but it knows the rules very well.

  16. Comments:
    – Wow, Corvidae is powerful. I hope he’ll survive the current battle – I figure Rose could use him to great effect in the power struggles in Jacob’s Bell. He’d be so useful against the Duchamp enchanters, if nothing else…
    – I did not expect Rose to get such an insane powerup in this arc. Hm. It feels rather insanely sudden. Or did she have this power all along, and just lacked access to a real-world body (and enough desperation or danger) to complete her summonings? But I assumed summoning anything took a power source, presumably from the summoner, in which case I don’t see where Rose gets hers, or how Rose can possibly be a normal vestige (who would grow weaker with time). Or is the reputation of the Thorburn diabolists a power source one can draw upon? Hm. Probably not.
    – I very much aprove of this coma ‘timeskip’. When Rose was captured by Conquest, Blake got a familiar and cabal without her say. This situation reverses Blake’s and Rose’s earlier roles. And it makes it easier to understand why Rose was so unhappy about Blake’s new companions…
    – Also, given that Blake suggested this contest, a significant fraction of the consequences fall on his head: injuries, property damage, whatever; also the need for Rose to summon an army…
    – Rose most definitely has ulterior motives, but it’s rather amusing to see Blake’s complaints à la ‘Stupid as it sounded, I didn’t want to hurt them.’ during a war he started, or at least escalated to this point…

    My favorite part in this chapter was this, by the way:
    “Thanks to my friends,” I said.
    “Ahem,” Rose said.
    “I’m counting you among them,” I told her. “Don’t be silly.”
    She seemed genuinely taken aback by that.

    1. Well from the sounds of things they didn’t exactly have friends growing up, and with the shenanigans their parents got up to. And since Rose stayed, she may never have actually had a friend.

      I also like Blake noticing a plot hole. What about Molly? Where is she in Rose’s memories… Hmmn, signifigance sense tingling.

    2. Yeah, Blake, Rose and Maggie really need to work on their trust. Maybe spend a few days locked in a pocket dimension together. Then afterwards they can make a Maggie sandwich.

      Get your minds out of the gutter. A Maggie sandwich is three different kinds of meat, one of which must be Bacon, three different kinds of cheese, and three different kinds of mustard, all in between two waffles.

    3. “I figure Rose could use him to great effect in the power struggles in Jacob’s Bell.”

      Use J.P. Corvide to link them to the Ur-Shadow’s factory. Bye-bye target.

          1. Deferred responsibility works, even more so for Ur…: I didn’t kill them. I didn’t link them to that factory. Who is “them” anyway? What factory?

    4. I totally call Blake using his behavior at this juncture to win an argument later. “Remember how Conquest put you out of commission for a few days, I got some new allies, and you totally freaked out on me because I did it without your say-so? And then the same thing happened to me and you summoned a boatload of scary stuff without me and when I woke up I was totally cool with it?”

    5. “He’d be so useful against the Duchamp enchanters, if nothing else…”

      IMO not really. To win you don’t set strength against strength, you set strength against weakness. Connections are the strength of both JP and the enchantresses – what JP can do the enchantresses can probably undo. The only way JP could beat them would be to bind a male to them and break their only-female pattern, but the main characters don’t know that would work and the enchantresses would probably have time to break it before it broke them.

      “I did not expect Rose to get such an insane powerup in this arc. Hm. It feels rather insanely sudden.”

      It does feel sudden, but makes sense in context. Ms. Lewis stated Rose would have more power when she could affect things directly. Now Rose has practitioners to make the circles, which reflect into her realm, and she can then use the Thorburn clout to finish the work. Although why she didn’t do that with Blake already is unknown.

      “But I assumed summoning anything took a power source, presumably from the summoner, in which case I don’t see where Rose gets hers, or how Rose can possibly be a normal vestige (who would grow weaker with time).”

      Good damn question – where is Rose getting the mojo?

      1. Well Blake is feeding her power, and Blake just got fed enough power to knock two people out, plus a bunch of tallow. Plus three days of recovering. Anyway, I think its pretty clear Rose isn’t a normal vestige FFS, she’s going to replace Blake.

      2. You know, we keep assuming Rose is a vestige because everyone in-story who expressed an opinion seems to think she is. But both the lawyers and the Sphinx said that she will take Blake’s place if he dies, and although Granny Rose seems OK with putting each heir in the line of fire, expecting them to die until hopefully one sticks, it doesn’t seem like she would waste power to add a heir with an intrinsic expiration date.

        I think either Rose the younger is not a vestige, but something camouflaged as one, or there are measures in place to give her enough power not to evaporate.

  17. Did anyone else immediately think of Heath Ledger’s joker in the nurse costume when wildbow was describing the unnamed summon with the glasgow smile and surgical mask at the end of the chapter?

  18. I’ve been reading Worm and Pact for the past few months now, but I’ve only just caught up. I like the theory that Laird has an amnesia thing rather than a time one. It makes sense. Also, I’m probably a horrible person for saying this, but a part of me sort of wants Blake to die just to see what happens. I don’t really want him to die though.

    1. If your a horrible person it isn’t because part of you wants Blake to die. If you’re a horrible person, it’s because you aren’t committing. You have to go all the way! You can’t just start and then pull out. It will only leave you and everyone else dissatisfied.

      Don’t be horrible. Go full force and never look back.

      1. Well prior to finding out Blake is going to hell or something last chapter, his death arguably could have been considered a mercy since the Universe wants him to suffer as much as it can arrange.

        1. You’re probably right, but I hate thinking of it that way. Technically Rose and the subsequent heirs would be in the same situation though, so by your logic they might as well all die.

          1. Nah, I like Blake, and want him to live long and prosper. It’s just he gets lots of shit from so many in-universe, telling him how much better it’d be if he just died, I was amazed that no one actually said that it’d be a mercy for him to die.

            1. Huh. I thought someone had, but I may just be misremembering something else.

            2. I wonder; along this vein would it be possible to accrue so much bad karma that the universe keeps you alive so it can hurt you more? If you combined that with Skitter-level power and competence, you’d get…

              Well, Skitter, actually. The only difference is that the universe would have a good excuse for all the horrible shit it puts her through.

    2. Eh, Blake’s being an idiot. In the middle of a war, doesn’t want to hurt his enemies, and he’s too busy second guessing his most important ally. He’s not even just asking. Like “Hey, I know we’re busy, but I have a few concerns that are making it hard to focus and I’d appreciate if we could go over them, air some grievances, and try to come to a better working relationship around here. Would you care for a donut?”

      Communication, ladies, and gentlemen, is important. It’ll break up friends, guilds, and relationships all because people think “Show, don’t tell” applies to real life along with writing. Well let me tell you something: crapping on his car doesn’t make him realize he needs to stop reading at the dinner table!

      Also, Blake’s really got to get in the habit of hating people. I say we get him a service sector job. Retail, fast food, maybe insurance adjusting.

      Blake, it’s time to give in to the dark side of the force…you know, the part where you kill people who are doing bad things in order to protect yourself, save your life, and give the rest of your family a chance to not get fucked up by an ear-raping cock demon.

  19. Rose summoned Kuchisake-onna? The wraiths and Laird probably didn’t answer when she asked if she was beautiful. Poor thing.

  20. Thinking by typing…

    Dammit, Fell didn’t escape Conquest. The Shephard works for Conquest, Fell is controlled by the Shephard, and the Shephard would probably hand over Fell’s soul if asked. That is too bad – Fell’s one real goal in life was to get him and his family out of Conquest’s grip but that didn’t happen.

    Speaking of which, who wants to bet that Conquest will throw Fell’s niece, who is now forced to work for Conquest, in the line of fire to get Blake to flinch?

    If Conquest is screwing with the city, isn’t that breaking the rules? If not, who has the power to do that? Technically, since Toronto is his, Conquest could loan the city to someone and let them do the effect, but even a loan isn’t in his nature, and few Others should have that kind of power. Something is screwy there.

    Couldn’t Conquest have pulled his stunt with the city any time already? By exerting control he reaffirms he is Conquest and thereby gets more power… a positive feedback loop that should work within his territory anyway. Why hasn’t he? Maybe he is weakening the territory overall in order to get more personal power. Even a being as limited as he is should be able to see the trap in that.

    Anyone have theories about the Behaim’s powers? We clearly have some of the important clues but there is probably a pivotal fact or two missing. The only point I have noted is that numbers have been important twice – first because of the candle binding done on Blake and second because Aimon Behaim said they were important. But how do you screw with enumeration?

    “I looked at Ty and Tiff, and I wondered if they had any clothes I could borrow.”
    He and his friends have been forgetting the friend they had who took off and said they could raid his apartment. I wonder if that is oversight or if they were forced to forget.

    Rose is getting vicious. Hopefully she is attacking Others rather than humans, but preemptive attacks without warning seem to be bad karma in this world.

    “Almost as if she wanted to hate me, and I was making it harder.”
    Well, to me it seems that if she remembers being named heir, and then is suddenly shunted into a world in which she is trapped in mirrors, not the heir, and she is just a reflection of Blake, she is going to resent and hate someone and Blake is the easy and obvious target. Just because he is also an unwilling victim doesn’t make such feelings go away – reason and grudge rarely have the same aims. So, IMO, Rose is still hiding things, but her feelings are relatively natural… not justified, but at least within the realm of normal human reactions.

    “But I had to remember that she’d made the big sacrifice. There was no explaining that away.”
    Yeah, but there could be an alternate explanation, and it might be nasty.

    So, as one idea of what is really going on (guess only, probably inaccurate):
    The idea was Blake was the mirror image (other commenters have speculated on this) and he would take her place in the real world so he could soak up some damage and improve their karma. Basically, he was the expendable meat shield. But Blake kept surviving ridiculous odds, which at best delayed Rose’s return but at worst made it possible that Rose would never reclaim her place in the world. If Conquest had shackled Blake, it might have brought her out immediately, or perhaps Conquest would have known as his controller that Blake was the image.

    1. Here’s a nastier thought along the same lines:
      RDT didn’t make one mirror image, she carved out mirror images for every last grandchild as expendable meat shields for her primary candidate. Rose is the primary candidate, but she gets to see how the meat shields handle things before she has to go to the front lines. Reality rearranges every time so that the image temporarily is the heir. So Molly’s image goes down first, reality rearranges, and Blake’s image is up to bat. But he keeps surviving and changing things, so Rose is afraid he will somehow make this arrangement permanent. That would explain why RDT had to see every last grandchild to decide – that’s when she was carving out images.

    2. “If Conquest is screwing with the city, isn’t that breaking the rules?”

      Technically I don’t think it is. IIRC, the rules say they can’t use their power to attack one another, Conquest could just say he was redecorating while waiting for Blake to get back into action.

      “preemptive attacks without warning seem to be bad karma”

      It’s not without warning when they’re champions in a formal duel, and it’s not preemptive if they attacked first. (I assume you’re talking about the Astrologer and the Sisters, but basically everyone attacked Blake & Co already.)

    3. and the Shephard would probably hand over Fell’s soul if asked.

      The Shepherd owns all the souls and ghosts in the city. He would likely be very resistant to surrendering them.

  21. I’m more interested in the tallowman upgrade he received. The effects of topping it off with glamour, believing it’s real skin, bone, and flesh… I wonder what would happen?

    1. He doesn’t have anymore glamour since the hair got tossed in the forest. Even if he did, it’s not an upgrade. The glamour would overwrite the wax into being real skin and flesh and bone, the same way he did after he got maimed by a bunch of rabid animals.

      It just sounds like Maggie knew some way to heal him slowly.

      1. I’d really like to think that since Blake still had the locket on, it would regrow into having more glamour in it.

          1. What is this heart you speak of? Blake won the hair from beating Letita with a rusty pipe. Ms. Lewis mentioned she would rather eat the Faerie’s heart, but Blake took the hair instead. I don’t know or remember what heart you are talking about.

            Also, I don’t think we can make judgements about the Pactverse based on decisions Blake made that early in the story. Then, he was even more a novice than he is now. He obviously didn’t know how to make the best use of his Glamour when he spoke with Briar Girl. Since then, we’ve seen the glamour constantly grow and adapt to wherever it lay.

            Finally: He doesn’t have anymore glamour since the hair got tossed in the forest.

            Please refresh my memory about this. I remember he had at least a little bit of Glamour left by the time he formed the Blakeguard. After that regarding the glamour, I’m drawing a blank. When did he lose his glamour?

            1. No, I mean the main hair kept inside the locket. He always cut the excess off to use as ink and left the main amount off to not use it up. Duncan dumped it in the forest while arresting him.

              He doesn’t have that power source anymore and without the hair any left of glamour that he didn’t use, which I’m drawing a blank on, will eventually be used up.

  22. Hmm. I wonder if the J. Corvidae/Jim Crow connection is intentional? Did sweet J.P. maybe cause the civil war and/or segregation?

    1. Jim Crow was post-bellum there, but it is possible he started the Civil War under a different name.

      After all, his M.O. is to make sure property winds up in someone else’s hands, and court cases made it very clear that slaves were considered property.

      He doesn’t even have to mess around with Toronto, either. Good guy for doing that on his own time. That particular Other is a reality TV star. Storage Wars, Pawn Stars, Wife Swap…

  23. “Stupid as it sounded, I didn’t want to hurt them.”

    Good thing Blake wasn’t commanding at Normandy. The Nazis would have had a hard time dealing with all the pillows and chocolate candy he would have been tossing at them.

    “Colonel, we’re pinned down, and my Teddy Bear bayonet has lost all its fluff!”

    “Don’t worry, son, I’ve called in air support.”

    They both look up in time to see bombers dropping a bunch of marshmallows on the Nazis.

    Come on, Blake. We need a little wrath here. It’s fine to play pacifistic when no one’s attacking you, but this is basically a war you’re in. That’s when it’s time to bring out the big guns and fuck someone up so bad, no one else wants a piece.

    This, Blake, is the day you learn to shove your hand up an enemy’s ass, rotate it 63 degrees on a random axis, and then release. This is the day you embrace…your destiny.

    Just not with that hand, or at least wash it first.

    1. Disagree, personally. Being a merciless monster is what people expect of a diabolist. Add to that the fact that half the city’s support for Conquest is ambivalent and his best bet may well be to reach his opposition on a human level. For the most part they’re not Nazis.

      Blake is outnumbered and outgunned. “Moah dakka” is unlikely to be the answer here.

  24. Blake needs some lessons from the girl who made a dragon’s dangly bits rot off on her first night of vigilantism.

  25. “And now…it’s time, for Toronto to drown…in the sweet sorrow…of CLASH. AT. DEEEMONHEEEAD!!!”

    I might have been watching too much Scott Pilgrim. On the other hand, any chance of some kind of “no harm” focused practitioners that would use Vegan Powers?

      1. I’ve said before that Blake should bind a Dragon into his motorcycle. I had imagined him going out and hunting one down. I forgot that you can summon Dragons simply by playing a keyboard (although previous experience had to people involved).

  26. Has anybody noticed the growing parallels between Blake/Rose and Aimon/Granny Rose? This chapter’s opening kinda parallel’s Aimon’s Histories chapter. Both begin with Aimon/Blake waking up after some vigorous activity with Rose waiting with a book in hand. Both have Blake/Aimon (who I shall now simply refer to as Rose’s counterpart) feeling apprehensive, defensive and entrusting towards Rose based on her actions.

    Perhaps the theory that Blake reminded Laird of his father has some merit. Do we know how Aimon died, or even when he died? This might shed some insight into both Blake’s future and the Blake/Laird/Rose relationship that has been growing.

  27. “I fought it, but I didn’t really have a way to break the pattern or get them to stop. They plowed forward, I watched it like I might watch a car wreck, and it became easier to just ignore it, do my own thing. Or so the fabricated memories go.”
    I keep wondering…how many of these differences between Rose and Blake are intentional?

    Almost as if she wanted to hate me, and I was making it harder.
    Yet another thing Blake shares with Taylor: Everyone tries to hate them, but they have trouble once they get to know them. I guess that’s what happens when you humanize a supervillain/diabolist.

    Rose had made another call I didn’t necessarily agree with. Maggie wielded the Hyena…
    I hope Rose didn’t just give Maggie the Hyena. Even so…I really hope that that’s actually Maggie.

    Time for another cunning plan; here’s hoping it doesn’t turn into too big of a disaster.

  28. Kill Count 2014: It Hits The Fan

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

    Isadoras Isoutathere!: 1 (but not isadead)

    Conquests’ Keisters Kicked: 0


    Roses Pruned: 0
    Bloody Marys Drunk: 0
    Tallowmen Banished Til The Sequel: 0
    Corvidaes Eating Crow: 0
    Boogeymen Boogied Out: 0
    Glasgow Smilers Given A Columbian Necktie: 1
    Fells Felled: 1
    Hyenas Hunted Down: -1
    Pauzs Oozed: 0
    Maggies Halted: 0.5
    Douchegargles Spit Taked: 0
    Screwlooses Screwed Up: 0
    Midges Mashed: 1
    Dickswizziles Killizled: 1

    Alexises Accosted: 0.5
    Tiffs Stiffed: 0.5

    Blakes Bitchslapped: 0.5

    Well now, Laird’s on the loose again, Blake’s being held together by wax, and Rose has unleashed a few more monsters. And now Conquest looks like he’s more powerful than ever. Emphasis on looks. Ahem…now, THIS particular song might just be appropriate, in terms of Conquest apparently spending lots of mana so he can look like he lifts, bro. A dandy little song called “Hand of the Almighty”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMbRuqOHTfU

            1. Take it from a Greek,we create them by an underground factory and with workers dealing with Barbatorem,thats why they are so good.

  29. Does Blake come off as whiny or is it just me? Complaining about Maggie using the Hyena sword when he’s too much of a pussy to use it himself and put it to good use.

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