Void 7.5

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The snowstorm raged all around us.  Progress was slow, hampered by weather and the increasingly inconsistent rules of the city’s layout.  We could somehow still get turned around by walking in a straight line, and there were threats everywhere.  Many minor.

We waited while one threat lingered.  It wasn’t one of the minor ones.

A fat man, with two women and a man in his company, occupying a bus shelter when the buses had stopped traveling their routes days ago.  All four wore winter clothes, but they had a demeanor like some of the sketchier homeless I’d run into, once upon a time.  Little details that made me think of meth-zombies, cokeheads, or anorexic people.  There was a kind of look in their eyes, as far as I could make them out, a dark gleam that had a way of working its way into people’s eyes when one single idea dominated their existence.

Except these things were Others.  Their purpose was simple enough.

The fat one carried a dismembered arm, raising it to his mouth periodically to take a bite.

“Ghouls are supposed to be thin,” Rose said.

I heard pages turning.

“I played a video game with ghouls in it once,” Evan said.  “They were a level up from the regular zombies.”

“That’s not what this is,” Rose said.

“It’s just an idea,” Evan said.

“It’s not… damn it, ghouls are supposed to be thin.  The three hanging around him are thin.  Why is that one fat?”

The fat one turned, eyes scanning the curtains of snow that were falling.

“Maybe it isn’t a ghoul,” I said.

“All the other signs are there.  It fits.”

“It’s really not the focus right now.  Assuming it’s a ghoul or it’s ghoul-like, what do we do?  I’d really rather not take the long way around, get lost and run into something else.”

“Ghouls are individuals who’ve interrupted the circle of life and death, usually by eating the dead, coming back from near-death one too many times, or practicing necromancy.”

“Black magic?” I asked.

“Yeah.  Maybe I should amend that to say ‘practicing necromancy badly‘.  Using terms we’re mostly familiar with, they’re individuals who are out of balance.  They’re the spinning plates that are only just hanging on, and that means they need a fine touch to keep going.  They do that with periods of convalescence, like hibernation, and bursts of… hunger is the wrong word.  Life or death voraciousness.  Maddened with a need for sustenance.  More like a rabid dog than human.”

“So they are basically super-zombies,” Evan said.

I heard Rose sigh.

“Sustenance?  Feasting on human flesh,” Maggie added.

“The go-to way, yeah,” Rose replied.  “If they have their wits about them, then they can use the necromancy they knew in life, or they just move between areas with an awful lot of death or life energy.”

“But they mostly manage by eating human flesh,” Maggie said.  “Right?”

“Essentially.  No warning, three hour window to find food or perish, rest for months or years.  Depending on where their personal balance is sitting, they eat either corpses or they scarf down bits of still-living victims they’ve found in isolated spots.”

“Can we not be the still-living victims?” Evan asked.  “I don’t have much meat on me.  Look at me…”

He got out from under my scarf and puffed up.

“I weigh as much as the battery from the remote control, and a lot of that is feathers.”

“I don’t know if that’s a concern.  These guys don’t look maddened with hunger,” I commented.

“The contraction of the city is pushing locals out of their usual haunts,” Rose said.  “They’re probably trying to find their way back, maybe grabbing some food to keep nearby while they’re at it.”

“If that’s the case, shouldn’t they pass?” I asked.

“They’re dead.  They don’t feel the cold, they don’t get tired, the only thing that drives them is a need to gorge themselves with flesh.  They aren’t going to move until they have a reason to move.”

I stared across the road.  My leg was cramping from crouching behind the snowbank.

“We can’t afford to go around,” I said.  “We need to hurry this along, before the window of opportunity disappears.  How do you stop ghouls?”

“Conventional wisdom is that you stave them off by reintroducing them to the cycle of life.”

“Meaning?” I asked.

“The go-to answer is menstrual fluids,” Rose said.  “Drawn on their forehead, fed to them, ‘poison’ a weapon with it.

“Huh?” Evan asked.

I glanced at Maggie before I realized what I was doing.

“No sir,” Maggie said, deadpan.

“Damn,” I said.

“There’s one benefit to being a vestige,” Rose said.  “My body doesn’t change.”

“I don’t get it,” Evan said.

“You don’t want to know,” I said.

“I helped against that black demon in the factory.  What could be worse than that?”

“Other options, Rose?”  I asked, ignoring him.

“Some plants are tied to the cycle of death and rebirth.  Holly.”

“We used holly against the Hyena,” Evan said.  “See?  I know stuff.  You can tell me stuff.  No need to leave me out because I’m a kid.”

“No holly near here, as far as I can tell,” I said.  “Not sure how that would work, either.”

“Funereal icons,” Rose said.  I heard her turning a page.  “Either done over the ghoul’s prone body or you can do it from a distance if you have the full name of the ghoul.  Not going to work.  Don’t have any of that.”

“Just tellll me,” Evan said.

Maggie glanced at me.

“I’m not going there,” I said.  “‘You don’t want to know‘ is generally something you should take at face value in this world, he needs to learn that, but he’s not going to learn from me.”

“Coward,” Rose said.  “Come here, Evan.”

Yes!

He strutted, wagging his tail-feathers in the general direction of my face before flying down to my hand, which I was holding next to the mirror pendant.

Rose murmured her explanation.

No.”  Evan said.  “My mom told me about that!  No!  Don’t- What’s wrong with you?”

“Shh,” I said.  “Let’s not get their attention.”

“You make the super zombies drink it?”

“Shh,” I said, again, a little sharper than before.

“There aren’t any other options listed,” Rose said.  “They’re apparently hard to put down, I wouldn’t want to pick a fight.  I think these books assume you’re not a matter of minutes away from dealing with the monster in question.  They figure you’ll be able to ask around or call favors.”

“Damn it,” I said.

“Ugh,” Evan said, then before I could reprimand him, he said, “What about eggs?”

“What?” I asked.

“When my mom told me about that stuff, I remember not getting it, and she said something about it being like chickens laying eggs.  It confused me more.

“Rose?” I asked.

“You want to egg the cannibalistic monsters?”

“I never liked eggs after that,” Evan added.

“We need to move before they do,” I said.  “We backtrack to the nearest convenience store, grab supplies, then we egg the cannibal super-zombies, including our mysterious obese cadaver, and if that fails, we use weapons instead.  We have your summonings.”

“We do,” Rose said.  “Go.”

It was a ten minute round-trip, extended to fifteen minutes when one tall, slow-moving Other rounded a corner, trudging along, taking its time in disappearing from view.

Cartons of eggs collected, we made our way back, ducking low to hide behind the snowbank as we got near.

Aside from devouring the dismembered limb, the ghouls hadn’t budged.  They sat in the bus stop, not talking, only their heads turning slowly as they searched the area.

I drew June, and used her blade to crack an egg, smearing her with it.  The whites froze in a heartbeat.  Maggie did the same with the Hyena.

I didn’t like her having it, but taking the thing back would mean leaving her unarmed, and I didn’t like that either.

We moved as a pair.

The ghouls noticed us, stirring.  The fat one had been gnawing on the arm, and when he turned his attention to us, I saw the gleam of white fangs stained with blood.  The bone of the arm had been gnawed, a little more pointed.  Maggie wouldn’t necessarily have a problem, but the makeshift knife coupled with his natural reach threatened to let him fight me with more reach.

Moment of truth.

I whipped an egg at the first one to step outside of the bus shelter.  I missed, hitting the edge of the glass enclosure.

The ghoul stopped in its tracks, and the one behind it collided with it.

It was hard to say whether it had worked.

Maggie landed a dead-on hit.

It seemed to startle them more than anything.  Part of it might have been our relative lack of fear.  I imagined ghouls had decades or centuries of experience dealing with prey who were isolated, scared, and more focused on escape than confrontation.  People ran, the ghouls didn’t get tired, and they eventually caught up.

This was unfamiliar territory.

The skinnier male ghoul grasped in my direction, trying to get a grip on my coat, baring his fangs.  I leaned out of the way.  He stumbled forward, and I caught his neck with June.

The wound froze as I cut through flesh.

Maggie took a moment longer with the other ghoul.  Her arm must have been getting tired, I realized.  She circled it, waiting for it to make a mistake, then deftly cut through its knees.

The four glass walls of the bus shelter shattered as Rose’s minions appeared.  The Tallowman, Mary, and ‘J.P.’ Corvidae.

The fat one struck the Tallowman and Mary aside.

Mary didn’t hit the ground.  Somewhere in transit, she became muddled, as if all of her features existed as one amorphous mass, and then she shifted to another form, slipping away from reality, unable to hold herself together.

The fat one stalked toward us.  J.P. Corvidae didn’t get in its way.  Our bogeyman companion stepped back, arms raised, clearly not intending to fight.

Bastard.

I would have done the same, arguably, but it didn’t help matters.

Maggie egged the thing, holding three eggs in one hand and whipping them at him one after the other.

“It’s not really working,” I said.

“I think it’s working a little,” Maggie told me.  She flashed a grin, not taking her eyes off the Other.  “He doesn’t like it.”

The Other stopped in its tracks.

It drew a charm from its pocket.  A necklace or macabre rosary, dangling with finger bones.

It pointed at the ghoul lying on the ground, the one I’d cut with June.

The body moved.

Maggie stepped forward, swinging the sword, taking the head of the ghoul before the undead necromancer could do anything with the corpse.

Without waiting, she swung again, the blade biting hard into the pavement, and she took the ghoul’s head.

The braver of the two remaining creatures stared at us.  The fat one, still bearing stubble on its face.

“If you attack,” I said, “We take you to pieces.  If you run, I’ll come after you and take you to pieces.  Can you communicate?”

It nodded.

“Do you know any critical names, here?”

It shook its head.

A rumble caught me off guard.  My head turned.

A car approached.  I felt a tertiary sort of connection to the occupant.

The thing hadn’t taken advantage of my distraction.  Maggie still had it at swordpoint, an egg held in her free hand.

“Your choice,” I said, one eye on the car that was struggling to make it through snow that was piled higher than the car’s underside.  “Can’t let you continue like this.  Going after people.  You choose.  You go after one of the enemies I designate and then return to me for further instructions and possible binding and execution, you agree never to harm another living soul, or you die.”

“Bound for future use,” Maggie murmured.

“Or you take on a convenient form for later deployment, I do you a favor in turn, and we negotiate terms of your release after the fact.”

It held up two fingers.

“Second choice?” I asked.  “Agree never to harm another living soul?”

“I swear,” it managed.  Even from ten feet away in the blistering cold, I could smell the breath.  It was the aroma I might expect from a coffin being opened.

I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.  It was the least advantageous to me.

All the same…

“Go,” I said.

“Don’t feel bad,” Evan told the ghoul.  “This is a lot better than the other idea they were talking about.”

It turned and left, half-running, half-jogging.

The fourth ghoul turned to go.  Maggie stepped forward, swinging the sword with both hands.  She took its head.

I met her eyes.

“It was a danger too, and weaker ghouls can’t communicate on that level.”

“What was that thing I just talked to?” I asked.

“Process of elimination says it was a greater ghoul.”

I sighed.

My eye was on the car that was struggling to make its way down the road.

“The eggs totally worked, didn’t they?” Evan asked.

I wasn’t so sure they had, but it was hard to say.  Maybe the other stuff worked because it was human, and the ghouls were closer to humans than not.  Were eggs too far removed?

“Maybe,” I said.  “Come on.”

Ty, Tiff, Alexis and Fell were out of commission, out of commission, injured and dead, respectively.  If there was any benefit to that, it was that it was easier to operate as a group.  Me and Maggie.  Evan was easily hidden, and Rose existed on a different plane, easily brought along with a mirror.

I approached the car, which was struggling more and more.  The snow here was higher than it had been on the major streets.  I didn’t recognize the woman within the vehicle, even if I could make a guess about the connections.

“Can you see it?” I asked.

“I can,” Maggie said.  “She knows him.”

Maggie was holding the sword at the ready.

“No,” I said.

A small smile crossed my face.

This was ideal.

We approached the car from the side, and somewhere along the line, Maggie managed to hide the sword altogether.

Sure beat a poster tube.

The woman startled a bit as I knocked on the window.

She stared at me.  Did I have blood on my face?  Had she picked up on what happened with the ghouls?

The window rolled down.

“Hello?” she asked.

“Stuck?”  I asked.

“I don’t need to go far,” she said.  “Just that house over there.  If I could get into the garage, I’d be in the clear.  I don’t want to be on the street if the plow comes.”

“We can give you a bit of a push,” I said.  “Do you have a shovel?”

A smile crossed the woman’s face.  “In my trunk!  Let me do it-”

“No,” I said.  “You stay behind the wheel, get ready to hit the gas.  We can handle it.”

We walked around to the back of the car while she rolled her window up.

“Volunteering me?” Maggie asked.

“Objections?”

“If I wanted to do work, I’d be doing something different with my life.”

“Five minutes of work,” I said.

She rolled her eyes.

I beckoned the Tallowman.

Between hat and scarf, his freakish nature was largely hidden.  Only his face – a waxy orb where he should have had an eyeball, and tallow filling the scar around the eye socket, where something broad and crude had been used to destroy the contents.

He moved slowly.  I could understand that, feeling how hard the wax in my chest was.  I used the shovel to get the worst of the snow away from under the front bumper.

Three of us pushing, one inhumanly strong, and we managed to get the car moving.

She’d already opened the garage, and used her momentum to glide straight in.

She was beaming when she stepped out.

“Oh my god, thank you,” she said.  “Whoo, I should not have gone out.  Nothing in the stores.”

“Pretty brave,” I said.

“Are you in a rush, or do you want to come inside and have a bite, or warm up, at least?”

“I can’t speak for my companion here, but I’d love to take you up on that,” I said.

“Yeah,” Maggie said.  “Please.”

“I’m Joanna, by the way.”

“Hi Joanna,” Maggie said.  “I’m Maggie.”

“Blake,” I said.

A moment’s concerns were banished when Joanna smiled and led the way inside.

We were led into the garage.  I lagged behind.

“Ev,” I murmured.

He squirmed his way out from my scarf, flying to my hand.  I positioned myself so I wasn’t in anyone’s line of sight, standing by the garage door.

“You know the drill,” I said.

“What if-”

The others were already at the door.  A moment’s delay and I’d look suspicious.

“Improvise,” I cut him off.  I moved my hand, and Evan took flight.

When I’d drawn close enough, Joanna closed the garage.

In the dwindling light that passed beneath the garage door, I could see the ward carved into the doorframe.  A stylish pattern, made clearer by the stain that had been applied to the wood.

Craning my head, I took it all in, examining the connections.

Nothing too strong in the house itself.  It wasn’t a demesne.

“Alarm rune,” Maggie murmured in my ear.

Perfect.

I stepped across it, and I felt the connection pop into being.

He knew, now.

There were a variety of clocks on the wall in the bent hallway that extended between the garage door and the front door.

I saw a picture of the woman with Duncan Behaim.

“Are you married?” I asked.

“He’s my fiancé.”

The fiancé was on his way.

“Police officer,” I observed.

“A damn good one,” Joanna said.

“With an obsession over clocks,” I said.

“Yes.  Everyone notices.  Everyone has their eccentricities,” she said.  “Can I offer you anything?”

“No thank you,” I said.

Maggie shook her head.

“Any idea why he has that particular eccentricity?” I asked.

“None at all.  I think it’s cute,” she said.  “Where were you two going?”

“We’re looking for someone,” I said.  “Not a hundred percent sure where to look.  He’s proving hard to track down.  He’s the police chief in the town I recently moved to.”

“No,” she said.

“You know who I’m talking about?  Is your fiancé Laird Behaim?”

“Laird is his uncle.  A whole contingent of my Duncan’s family just showed up a few days ago.  It got to be too much, so they changed over to a hotel room.”

I resisted asking where.

“Family can be hard,” I said.

“I’m glad to deal with family,” she said.  “Makes me feel connected to him, if that makes any sense.”

“I can sort of understand that,” I said.

Joanna smiled.  “Do you mind?  I’m going to make some malted hot chocolate.  Offer stands, if you want anything.”

“I don’t mind,” I said.

She rounded the corner to the kitchen, leaving me feeling very out of place in Duncan Behaim’s living room.

Maggie seemed to be adapting better.

“What are you doing?” Rose asked.

“Testing the hypothesis,” I said.

“Dangerous way to go about it,” Rose said, just under her breath.

“Have to take risks,” Maggie said.  “Keeps things exciting, if nothing else.”

“That’s not exactly my perspective,” I said.

“Nor mine,” Rose said.

“I do think that everything has a price…” I said.

I saw a connection flash.  Our hostess was talking to Duncan.

“…And a bit of risk can be the price of opportunity,” I said.  “She-”

“She just contacted him,” Maggie finished for me.

I nodded.

“What now?” Rose asked.

“Think.  Laird slipped away a bit ago, using his pocketwatch.  Duncan isn’t using the same means to get here faster, when someone he cares about is at risk.”

The phone call finished.

“He’s forsworn, isn’t he?” Rose asked.

“That could be it,” I said.  “Could be I’m right.”

Joanna stepped into the room.  “This is embarrassing, but I just realized I forgot I promised to mail something to my work as soon as I got home.  Are you okay right there while I go handle that?  I’ll be right back.”

Running.  Duncan had told her to scram.

“I’d feel a little strange, being in your house when you’re not around,” I said.  “Should we go?”

“No, please, stay as long as you like.”

She’d been told to keep us here.  Now she was caught between two instructions.  Had he communicated the severity of the situation?

“It’s fine,” I said.  “If it’s an inconvenience having us, we could head out and get in touch with Laird another time.  We did our good deed for the day.”

“It’s no inconvenience, really.  Duncan’s going to be back any minute-”

“Oh, I definitely don’t want to be sitting in your living room without you there,” I said.  “He might be surprised and shoot me.”

True on both counts.

“It’s fine.  Really.”

Maggie chimed in, “How long have you been together?”

“I really should go-”

“It’s fine, Joanna,” Duncan commented, from the direction of the garage.

Duncan entered the living room.

I stood from the couch.  “Hi, Duncan.”

“Mr. Thorburn.  I can’t say how surprised I am to see you here.”

“I’m here all the same,” I said.  “Enjoying Joanna’s hospitality.”

I saw him frown a little.  “You offered them something to eat or drink?”

“I did.”

A light smile touched my face as I met Duncan’s eyes.  He was frowning just a little as he heard that.

Hospitality.

Few sins were as egregious as a breach of genuine hospitality.  To harm a guest in one’s own home, or for the guest to harm the host.

“Can I ask you to go upstairs, Joanna?”  Duncan asked.

“I want to know what’s going on, first.”

Duncan met my eyes.

“You have my permission to tell her,” I said.

He started to open his mouth.

“-But I’d reserve the right to tell her about you in return,” I said.

His mouth closed.

“Duncan?”

Go upstairs, Joanna.”

She didn’t move.

“I want to see Laird,” I said.  “Call him.  This can be resolved neatly.  No mess, no collateral damage.”

His hand moved over to his gun.

His other hand toward his pocket.

“Duncan?” Joanna asked.

“As far as I’m concerned,” I said, “We’re even.  You want to spoil that, draw that gun, I’m going to have to balance the scales again.”

He didn’t budge.

I continued, “I’m not even with Laird.  Not with my cousin’s blood on his hands.”

I could see Joanna react to that, visibly paling over the seconds the silence stretched on.

He lowered his hand to his gun.

“Stop,” Maggie said, before he could draw it.  She stepped out from behind me, holding a gun in her right hand, already raised and pointed at Duncan.  Fell’s gun.

I wondered if Joanna would say anything about the gauntlet, but I supposed the gun had her attention.

“Oh god,” she said.

“Two fingers, draw it, place it on the ground,” Maggie told Duncan.

Duncan placed his handgun on the floor.

“I don’t suppose you want this gun, Blake?”

“I don’t know how to use it,” I said.  “He does.  I’d rather not give him the chance to use the thing against me.”

“Whatever.  Kick it toward me, Dunc.”

Duncan did.

Maggie kicked the gun under an armchair.

I spoke, “Duncan, we have more firepower, right this moment, right here, than you do.  You can make the first move, break this tentative truce we’re both benefiting from, and I’m betting we’ll still beat you.  I’m offering to let you balance the scales.  Call in help.  Call Laird out of hiding.  Call your backup.”

“This was a damn shitty way to handle this,” Duncan said.  “Involving my fiancee?”

“She’s not involved yet,” I said.  “Not in that particular sense.”

“I’d say I’m pretty involved,” Joanna said, her eyes fixated on the barrel.

“Exactly my point.  You don’t have a damn clue what’s going on, do you?” I asked.

“Barely.”

“If that,” I said.  “Duncan… I’m trying to be civil.  I’m trying to be fair.  I did Joanna a favor, she invited me in.  Maggie didn’t threaten anyone until you touched your gun.  If you play ball, call Laird, and stay out of things, I won’t touch you or your fiancee.  You walk away from this, you can concoct some misdirection to reassure her…”

I could see her expression change.

“You know it’s not that simple,” Duncan told me.

“It isn’t,” I said.  “It’s your choice.”

He bowed his head a little, staring down at the ground.  Maggie’s gun didn’t even seem to concern him.

“Okay.”

“Good man,” I said.

“I’ll need to step into the kitchen.”

I nodded.

He rounded the corner to head to the kitchen, a cramped space with dark wood cabinets and clocks above each door, each clock a painted plate with clockwork built into it.  I followed to keep him in my line of sight.

I was watching.  I didn’t miss it.

The egg timer disappeared as he walked past it.  A little sleight of hand magic to go along with the practice.

A part of me wondered if he’d used that same sleight of hand to slip a potential criminal something more incriminating.

I wasn’t concerned.  We all had our roles to play here.

“Use the egg timer,” I said.  “Why don’t you pull the same trick Laird did to slip out of the circle we had him in?  Can’t you stop time?”

He glared at me.

But he didn’t stop time.

“Why, Duncan?” I asked, my voice low.  “That kind of magic only affects you.  It’s far from doing something negative to me and breaching hospitality, if you slip away.  Joanna isn’t watching.  You could grab her and get her to safety…”

“Shut up, Thorburn,” he said.

“Tell me it’s because you’re forsworn, even.”

“I think you and I both know it isn’t that,” he said.

“Ah,” I said.  “Then get rid of the timer and make the call.”

He did, tossing the egg timer into the sink.  He dialed.  “Uncle?”

I waited.  Duncan gave directions.

“Blake, Maggie,” Duncan added, in the midst of the stream of instructions, “Plus the mirror and-”

I hung up the phone, jabbing the button on the receiver to hang up the corresponding cordless phone.

“Back to the living room,” I said.

The gradual compression of the city was more intense than I’d imagined.  Laird made good time.

Good enough time that I was left with doubts, even after the near-confirmation from Duncan.

This was it.  Two big steps to walk away from all of this in essentially one piece.  Step one.

Laird.

The man arrived in the neighborhood, and he brought the cavalry.

No sooner had he arrived than a dozen dolls did too.  Each squad with a Behaim kid at the helm.  I watched out the window, staying close to the curtain so I wasn’t visible.  Seventeen or eighteen individuals in all, nearly impossible to make out in the heavy snow.

“If you promise to stay out of this and do me no harm, I’ll let you and Joanna go,” I said.

“If you have to hold on to us, it’s harder for you.”

“Your call,” I said.

He pursed his lips.

“Come on, Duncan.”

“Can you let Joanna and only Joanna go?  She can go upstairs, out of harm’s way.”

I glanced at Joanna.  She sat on the arm of the armchair, both hands around her mug.  She looked up and nodded.

I couldn’t trust ordinary humans.

Then again, she liked Duncan, of all people.  How normal could she be?

But it was a kindness, and I was starting to think I needed to be more kind, especially after my last visit with Mrs. Lewis.

“Go, Joanna.”

She fled, running up the stairs.

Laird was approaching.

First Laird, then Conquest.

The dolls were a complication.

Here we went.  Laird was drawing closer-

And in the moment my attention was on the world outside the window, Duncan moved.

Grabbing the cup of hot chocolate, flinging it at Maggie, all before she could shoot.

She barely flinched.

But Duncan’s hand reached forward, across the gap, his wrist catching the very edge of the barrel, pushing the gun to one side.

He turned it into a grip, grabbing Maggie by the wrist and waistband and heaving her into the air.  Before she had her bearings, he was flinging her, hurling her into the armchair.

The armchair titled, and he was reaching for his gun.

I closed my eyes.

Stepped on his hand, walking, the position of things fixed in my mind.

I kicked the gun further out of reach, sending it skittering along hardwood

My balance was gone in the next moment as I was tackled at the knees.  I fell hard.

Duncan hit me, two clean hits to the face before I could bring my arms up.  Then he was on top of me.

I had a moment to wonder if Conquest had passed on that tidbit.  The weakness, the fear.

Fight or flight kicked in at full force, and it was all the wrong instincts at the wrong moments.  Freezing up, recoiling when I should be attacking.  He was bigger, stronger.

“Duncan!” Maggie shouted.

Duncan whirled, and he hauled me around to serve as a human shield.

I fought, rather ineffectually.

“Blake!  Stop squirming!  I can hit him if you stop!”

I couldn’t, not really.

An awful lot of bad memories, inarticulate.

I did go limp, so Duncan had to fight to keep me upright and serving as a shield.

I could see Laird outside the window, looking in.  The golden pocketwatch raised…

Evan fluttered past me a heartbeat later, followed by a blast of cold air.

The scene had changed.  The main window at the front of the house had been shattered.  Two monsters advanced on Laird.  The tallowman and the black oil strangler.

Duncan wasn’t holding me.  He was a step away, pistol in hand.  Maggie was on the ground, disarmed, holding one both hands to her face.

I felt a surge of victory.

I’d been right.

Perception.

The Behaims didn’t alter time itself.  That would be insane.  It would require more power than they could feasibly manipulate, to alter reality on a fundamental, core level.

They manipulated other people’s perceptions of time.

The coffee shop, I hadn’t been frozen.  I’d considered it odd, had wondered why the staff hadn’t noticed me.  But they’d been included in the midst of it too.  Bending perceptions, tweaking details, so I could sit there in a kind of unwitting stasis, completely tuned out.

The circle around the house, it was a trick, a vast, complex trick.  I’d seen two very different images when viewing it in the real world and with my Sight.

The way Duncan had turned back time at the station… I’d sat there in my cell, thinking I was waiting for events to play out, for rescue from the Knights to come, but I was really just revising memories to experience the morning all over again, while catching up to the real present day.

Had he turned back time once more, I might have done the same thing, or something close to it, not taking any action until the mid- or late afternoon.

A third time?  Maybe not until the late evening.  I would have run out of time, passed my midnight deadline without any attempts at capturing the eraser demon.

I had little doubt they could really manipulate time, but it was undoubtedly expensive, a real investment.

Shutting my eyes and being oblivious helped against the little tricks.

Against the big ones?  Laird’s use of the golden pocketwatch?  Keeping Evan out of the way, ready to break the spell with his natural inclination to freedom and escape, Rose prepared to break the window and let my favorite bird in the world in.

Laird was fending off the Others, falling back and preparing something while the dolls stepped forward.

Duncan had his back to me.

I drew June.

I struck him in the hip, hard, with June reversed, so I was striking with the blunt end.

He screamed.

I struck his hand, knocking the gun free.

He stopped struggling when I moved the hatchet blade to his throat.

Maggie, still holding her face, blood seeping through the segments of the gauntlet, struggled to her feet.

“Grab the gun,” I said, my voice low.

Her head was bowed, and I saw a glimpse of something inhuman in her expression when she changed hands, shaking the blood free of her gauntlet.

She was possessed?  Was that what was going on with her?

She’d let something in?

A moment later, she had the Hyena in hand.  She held the point to Duncan’s throat.

“Or I’ll take the gun,” I said.  “That works too.”

I grabbed the gun from the floor.

Laird saw me.

Golden pocketwatch raised…

Theatrics, show.  Rose and I had drawn those conclusions at the start.

I lowered my eyes, closing them.  I heard Evan fly past me.  I’d lost no more than three seconds.  Laird had moved.

I heard Evan pass by twice in close succession.

I knew it was costing Laird more than it was costing Evan and me.

I moved, putting my back to the wall by the window.

“Rose,” I said, hoping there was a large enough pane of glass for her to speak through.

“Yeah?”

“We should wrap this  up.  Where’s Corvidae?”

“I told him to stop Duncan.”

“Did you tell him how?

“No.”

I thought for a second.  “Go upstairs, now.  Stop him.”

I heard a faint footstep from Rose.

The wind whistled into the house through the open window.

“Are you okay, Maggie?” I asked.

“He hit me.  He pistolwhipped me.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, all things considered.”

“Good,” I said.  “Stay alert.  Time to end this.  Laird!”

My holler carried.

“Thorburn!” he answered.

“I’m under the impression that Rose is upstairs with Duncan Behaim’s wife-to-be and a particular Other.  I didn’t want this, but it’s happening!  Stop fighting!”

There was only silence.  Everything had gone still.

Had Rose’s Others listened to me?

Handy.

“What Other?” Laird asked.

“I don’t think you’d know him,” I said.  “Let me reduce this to a very simple question.  What are your priorities!?”

“Priorities?”

“If this goes any further, people will get hurt.  Duncan Behaim might lose someone precious to him!”

I heard a sound from Duncan.

“Shh,” Maggie said.

“Not death,” I said.  “Something worse.  She’ll be lost to him forever, in a particularly twisted way.  The Other that does this… it’s been mistaken for a demon from time to time.”

“Corvidae,” Laird said.

I felt a chill.

Well, he had access to the same books.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Your call.  Do you want to carry out this favor for Conquest and watch your nephew lose everything precious to him, or do you want to worm out of it, do me one favor, and let all this end?”

“One doesn’t disappoint Lords,” Laird said.  “I think you’re framing that in a pretty skewed way.”

“What does it come down to, Laird?  A grab at power, or family?  Your kid, nieces and nephew are here.  Are you going to tell them that when the chips are down, you’re going to choose-”

Evan fluttered by.

I’d barely lost a half-second there.  I couldn’t see the watch, and the trick was losing cachet.  I grinned.

“…status and the power grab?  You can stop trying, Laird.  It’s not working anymore.  Not really.”

“I think I’ll do what I can,” he said.

“It’s a simple choice.  Family or power?”

“Family is power,” Laird said.  “And corrupt powers make for a broken family, as the Thorburn line has demonstrated so well.”

“Sounds like you’re dodging the question.  I guess you can’t admit to your kid that you don’t give a damn about him.”

“No, Thorburn, that isn’t it at all.  I’m buying time.  Even-”

Evan fluttered by.

I heard gunshots and flinched.

“…Damn.  Even small amounts for exorbitant prices, like that.”

“Pretty stupid, firing a gun with Duncan at swordpoint here.”

“Don’t hurry to use up your bargaining chips, Thorburn,” Laird called out.  “Your situation isn’t as favorable as you think.”

I remained silent.

“If you want to peek your head out and see, you’ll get the picture.  I swear no harm will come to you from us.”

I did.

My heart sank.

The plan was fucked.  Laird was right.  Even knowing how to deal with it, I’d let him buy time.  Reinforcements had arrived.

Conquest stood in the swirling snow, tall among the various dolls and young Behaims, triumphant over the crumpled bodies of Rose’s summonings.

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263 thoughts on “Void 7.5

  1. This date marks the anniversary of the very first day I scheduled a chapter (admittedly a little in advance of said chapter going up) of a serial, the first chapter of Worm. Technically the day I started my first serial.

    Three years of steady writing. Thought I’d share. Thanks for reading, guys, you’re awesome.

    Final round, start!

    1. Engaging in sucking up to the author mode in 3, 2, 1:

      Thanks for reading, guys, you’re awesome.

      No Wildbow, you are awesome. 3 years of regular quality content? That’s pretty awesome. Really if your writing wasn’t awesome, I wouldn’t be here. I don’t even like this genre.

      1. I don’t know how true it is, but I have heard enough stories to believe that very few authors can stick to a deadline. That is not a slam – I personally have problems with deadlines of all sorts. But here we have an author who submits high-volume, quality work on-time regularly for three years. F***ing amazing Wildbow.

    2. … It’s been only THREE YEARS?
      That’s astonishing. The sheer amount of content – and the high quality of the content! – made be genuinely believe that you’ve been around for much longer.

      Congratulations and Happy Writing Anniversary.

    3. Out of curiosity, did you plan it or was it a serendipitous coincidence?

      Congratulations, Wildbow! The quality of your work is incredible and your ability and responsibility to publish so much content so often is admirable. Makes me want to start writing myself.

      Thank you for your work. Here hoping to get to read many more of your works in the future!

    4. If you get the chance, can you update the table of contents? It’s how I get to the current chapter, so I’m having to click through.

      As always, can’t wait to stay up way past bedtime to read the next chapter.

    5. Congratulations, sir! 🙂 Keep up the good work, but remember to stay well-rested and hydrated.

      Also, FYI: I don’t think Skart-Scratchins has advertised his art on the site (although someone called rlabsss was kind enough to post some links back in chapter 6.5), but anyway – if all you fine fellows haven’t checked out his Tumblr yet, you should consider doing so:

      http://skart-scratchins.tumblr.com/

      He’s posted a really nice rendition of Alexis, as well as several pictures of Rose, Blake and Evan.

      (By the way, Wildbow: Is there any chance that there will ever be an official Pact Gallery page on the site, here? It wouldn’t necessarily have to take up much of your already extremely limited time, since you wouldn’t have to curate it or post the pictures themselves on the site, the way you did with the Worm gallery; just a central place where people could post links to their stuff – possibly with SPOILER warnings, if needed – and your other fans could go there if they wish to see how other readers have imagined the characters’ appearances.)

    6. Congratulations! And may your writing continue for many more years still!
      Wow. In terms of sheer wordcount, you’ve probably already written more than many other authors have in their lifetimes…

    7. Three years of steadily making the readers more and more frustrated by watching the main characters have everything go wrong for them!
      I mean, the last four chapters ended with Blake getting swiped by Isadora, Rose getting all the scary motherfucker Others to the fight, Laird escaping his circle and Conquest defeating all the aforementioned scary motherfucker Others in instants.
      When will anything ever go right for them?

      1. Honestly it’s the chapters that seem to end well that you have to watch out for. They always end up being the calm before the storm and things about to get much worse for the protagonists next chapter. So if we get Blake having beaten Conquest, Isadora backing off, and the Behaim’s agreeing to leave him alone for a while, be very, very afraid.

        1. Yeah, like that time in Worm where Skitter had found peace of soul, morally defeated all her bullies, pacified the city and then BAM Dragon and Defiant in your face. Or when an Endbringer died, and two others popped. Or when they took down Jack Slash and OH SURPRISE APOCALYPSE !!!

          1. um. . . spoilers! Seriously, I think we set up a working anti-spoiler system last chapter or the one before that. There really shouldn’t be Worm spoilers like that here, especially in standard text.

          2. And that is so getting changed to Sesame Street. But yes, I imagine that if things wrap up looking okay now, either Jacob’s Bell is going to get invaded by that Goblin or Inquisitiors will show up gunning for Blake. Probably both, with a side of horrible mirror monsters for Rose to deal with.

    8. Cheers to Wildbow McCrae, quite possibly the only man in the world with an entire career in serial web fiction!

    9. Happy anniversary dear Wildbow!
      I don’t have much money, but if I did, I’d buy you a big house so you could write from it.

  2. Congrats, Wildbow.

    Violence, madness, and insanity incoming. Expecting Maggie to go all out at this point, Rose is probably gonna summon something dangerously stupid, and its nice to see the real trick to the amount of power that Laird has been throwing around.

    Poor Evan though. He so did not deserve that life lesson that he got at the start of the chapter. That whole scene with Evan, Blake, and Maggie was… just a little bit disturbing, but mostly hilarious.

  3. Twice now the Behaims have abused hospitality with Blake. Third time and he should call them on it public, that should be a nice to to their rep and Karma. Gotta think to the future, cause the present is no time to be in.

    1. Yeah, the Behaims are just chunking their Karma. Also isn’t this the third time? The first time they tried to screw over a guests house, the second, Laird broke Blake’s binding of Pauz, and the third time they tried to kill him!

      1. The Behaims are falling into a normal villian sinkhole. Becoming so determinind to take down the one that bested them, that it is determental to their long term goals and success. David Xanatos they ain’t.

    1. Possibilities:

      The real Maggie is here, but possessed.
      “Maggie” is a glamoured-up Faerie, which would make ‘her’ not his champion.

      I am sure there are other possibilities, but with her being involved with Padraic, there are bound to be some Faerie games going on.

      1. She may have been aware of her conduit status and asked Padraic some tricks to keep the inner psycho queen under control.
        Whatever that was, doesn’t look like it’s holding against physical violence. Maybe a kind of glamour.

      2. Ooooh. Or it might be a Faerie ‘disguised’ as Maggie. Something that’s been glamoured to be exactly as Maggie is, personality and maybe even knowledge included. It’s starting to fall apart a bit, but it’s less of “Maggie is possessed by an Other” and more of “an Other is possessed by Maggie”.

  4. Typo thread….

    pocketwatch (4)
    usually pocket watch

    tallowman
    Tallowman, although in context it could be generic

    pistolwhipped
    usually pistol-whipped

    1. “Maggie stepped forward, swinging the sword, taking the head of the ghoul before the undead necromancer could do anything with the corpse.

      Without waiting, she swung again, the blade biting hard into the pavement, and she took the ghoul’s head.”

      I was a little confused here. Are you referring to 2 different ghouls or did you accidentally write something twice?

      “I lowered my eyes, closing them. I heard Evan flew past me.”

      Should be “fly”.

      1. “The go-to answer is menstrual fluids,” Rose said. “Drawn on their forehead, fed to them, ‘poison’ a weapon with it. -end quote missing

    2. The armchair titled, and he was reaching for his gun.
      The armchair tilted…

      Maggie was on the ground, disarmed, holding one both hands to her face.
      one hand? both hands?

      1. Mrs. is used for married women. Miss is for unmarried women. Ms. (pronounced “miz”) is agnostic with regard to marriage.

  5. Ah, crap, who did JP give Joanna to? My guess is Blake. Cause that would really suck.

    And what was Blake’s plan for conquest after he beat Laird? Get Laird to help him disappear?

    And if Duncan didn’t rewind time, just mess with perceptions, then what made Isadora dislike them so much as to give Blake a free shot?

    1. J.P. could probabbly give Joanna to Duncan’s boss, his partner or Liard for maximum NTR burn.

      Even percepations of what is and what should be is bart of the balance, messing with it like a House of Mirrors is probabbly like waking up with a hangover for Isadora.

    2. He seems to have not just messed with Blake’s perceptions, but also those of the Knights-recall that they remembered the second timeline, too. If I had to guess, he reset the perceptions of everyone that either of them had interacted with during those hours, which would, for Duncan, be the majority of the police station. If he added knock-on effects to prevent people that knew the people he was interacting with from realizing something was amiss, then he might have affected a significant portion of Toronto. That’s still a hell of an upset.

      1. Actually, I don’t think they did remember the timeline. At least the Blackguard didn’t. Blake only found out she was involved because she would have been the one to act if they had done that sort of thing.

        Then again, Isadora did mention that his magic affected himself, Blake, and everyone to three degrees of relation to the two of them. It doesn’t seem as bad now as it did then.

        1. They mentioned that they went to the station and Duncan turned them away, which is what happened in the second timeline.

          What confuses me more is how everyone got reset back to their previous positions. Isadora said they moved somewhen, and they did, mentally, but they also moved somewhere.

          1. Oh. I see what you mean. I was under the impression that it was the first timeline that never happened. Then again…hm.

            Let’s say Dunc only messes with perception. Well, it would be to his benefit to immediately hit Blake after the first one ended. He did not, but he obviously wasn’t out of juice. He doesn’t strike me as the kind to be careless, but Blake might have caught him off guard by bleeding himself out and slipped away before he could administer the Second Dose.

            Now, Dunc also fired his gun at Blake as he was losing the second round before trying to rewind time. This implies that he thought he could get away with it, which means that he could either 1) also rewind time or 2) undo the memories of those present and retcon the environment via the Others at his disposal so nobody would be the wiser.

            Isadora was upset because Dunc’s magic worked on everyone thrice removed from himself and Blake. I think it threw them into practical stasis while they mentally worked out what would happen. This way he would know how the Knights would act and could counteract their Blackguard. This would also upset a sphinx, since anyone interacting with those people would not be able to do so while their brains were busy. This would throw off events all over the place, especially when cast on a central office like a police building.

            I’m tired. I’m going to go have nightmares about this and get back to it in the morning.

            1. It’s possible that the messing with perception means that all the timelines he reset are actually a kind of Schrödinger’s illusion, where they all exist but when the period of illusion ends, only the important one actually happened – even though everyone has memories of all of them.

            2. I’m not sure about the Schrodinger’s illusion. The biggie with Schrodinger’s quantum stuff is simultaneous events. In circuitry terms it’s the difference between parallel and series. In the Schrodinger’s version (parallel) you need to win all of the possibilities to defeat the trick. In the other (series), you just need to stop them from using the magic and perpetuating the loop.

          1. Woah, woah, woah. We don’t want to get too carried away here. Some things are never worth doing, no matter what happens. What were you thinking?

            1. The situation isn’t THAT bad yet. I mean sure the lord of Toronto is an asshole, but most of the populous doesn’t even know he exists. No reason to punish the innocent and the guilty.

            2. While we’re at the Godzilla Treshold, what would happen if someone in the Pactverse says the name of the King in Yellow three times?

  6. Sooo… if this is the final bout, it will have taken Blake and Rose what? Four weeks to become a massive source of destabilization in the world.

    Worm time may have passed slower, but if they manage to defeat Conquest here, they definitely have an edge on Taylor in terms of social ladder kickers.

    Is that a thing? Social ladder kicking?

      1. Closer to 2.5-3 weeks, I believe.

        He was in Jacob’s Bell for a week. (7) Once in Toronto, Blake net conquest and slept. (1) He spent the next 3 days capturing monsters. (3) The next day, the war started. The Blakeguardran for a day, then rested. (1) The next Day Blake was told his fortune by Isadora (1) and the day after he got torn apart (1). He’s been sleeping for about 3 days to the point we are at now. (3)

        7+1+3+1+1+1+3=17 days. I could be counting wrong, but that’s what I think it is. Also it’s worth noting that the story has taken more time, both in universe and out, in Toronto than it has in Jacob’s Bell.

  7. Oh how Blake has grown. In arc 1, I wouldn’t have expected Blake to be in this position, holding a police officer hostage in his own home, facing off against an army of powerful time mages and Others.

    I like this confident, aggressive Blake we’ve been seeing recently. Scaring a uber goblin into submission. Attacking without fear when knowingly walking into a trap led by Time Mages. Kidnapping the head of said group. Easily taking out small armies of elementalists. Attacking a Sphinx with a goblin sword. Scaring ghouls into submission. Walking into the home of a local enemy and using the entire family of that enemy as leverage. I’m really liking Blake more and more. Hopefully he keeps this up (if he survives).

    So it’s Blake and Maggie up against the World. They work so well together. I love it. I hope they become partners.

    Hopefully JP didn’t do his thing with Joanna yet. Probably not the best idea to give JP a general task like that, without specific instructions.

    As always, loving Evan this chapter. Not quite sure if Evan, Maggie or Fell (RIP) is my character. As noted above, Blake himself is rising in the ranks. I hope Ty is right, and Blake becomes some sort of Evil Overlord with Evan as the innocent kid sidekick who points provides guidance and points out flaws.

    I’m with Blake on this one. I was hoping he would gain some ghoul slaves to use.

    I enjoyed the menstrual interactions between the gang. It was funny.

    1. I believe that’s the first time I’ve read the words “menstrual interactions” in immediate succession. Fewer than 1,450 hits for that phrase on Google as of this post.

      1. You wouldn’t believe the terms people can hit on my site from. Aside from a million different ways to misspell World Domination in Retrospect, some of my greatest “hits,” so to speak, include:

        “psycho domination lezdom”
        “domination girls contact number”
        “girl blindfolded friends sneak in snuff vid”
        “trailer park trash screams when intruder tied her up fuck her ass”
        “why does my muscles pull or snap in my arms and legs”
        “domination sister”
        “eat shit and die stories domination”
        “children have mom pinned while giving her a wedgie”
        “dukes of hazzard pissing through a flame thrower”
        “he’s a walking miracle torrent”
        “honky anis cup fixture”
        “how do you get rid of big, noisy gecko living on my roof?”
        “gex rangers”
        “wrinkly pickle gecko”
        “how to secure female world domination”

        …and many, many more!

        Though to be fair to that one person who asked, you could have just opened a window and asked me to move.

          1. I’m not entirely sure, but there’s probably a way. They were most likely referring to the Tokay Gecko, which has been known to live all around Asia and presumably gets near people’s houses. Soldiers from Vietnam liked to call them the fuck-you lizard because of their loud and distinctive mating call which somewhat sounds like they’re saying “Fuck You”. Presumably soldiers also called them that because the things made it difficult for them to sleep.

            Males are flamboyantly colored, probably to help pick up chicks since they aren’t poisonous and aren’t emulating similar-looking poisonous geckos.

      1. Well Rose is out of the Room, and Blake doesn’t seem to have shared that they will be calling the Lawyers. I hope they respond if he does call them.

        1. Rose’s Others responded to him, though. Dickswizzle only listened to Rose. Though I guess she may have explicitly told them to listen to him.

          1. The older or simplest of Others can’t see past his family line so they listen to Rose, as a practitioner Blake can control and command Others that he binds to himself rather than by his family name.

          2. Rose’s Others didn’t stop fighting because Blake said so. They stopped fighting because Conquest punched them into Other paste.

          3. I think Blake may just be coming into his own as a practitioner. At first, all he could do was basic shamanism. Simple ghosts and Others wouldn’t even acknowledge Blake. Now Blake has “proved his mettle”, as Isadora would say. He’s commanding, binding and interacting with all sorts of Others. Ghosts, Imps, Ghouls, Goblins etc. While he may not have the same Thorburn Presence that Rose has, I think he may be building himself as one that is personally to be feared/respected (or at least not ignored).

            Rose’s monsters did seem to listen to Blake. He got the Tallowman to help push Joanna’s car and he assumed got the monsters to stop the attack against the opposing army.

            I beckoned the Tallowman. . .

            I didn’t want this, but it’s happening! Stop fighting!”

            There was only silence. Everything had gone still.

            Had Rose’s Others listened to me?

            Handy.

            It’s quite possible she commanded them to listen to him, but I’m thinking they just reacted.

      2. Interestingly, what do they mean on their own? (Skip Mann. We all know that mann = HATS And badass Australians by the name of SAXTON HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALE!)

  8. Three years down, with more to come. I’m a little confused about the karma of things when he said they are even. Isn’t it impossible for him to be even with anyone because of all the bad karma attached to him from his ancestors? Also lets say he spends a good amount of his money on a great charity or creates one that really does change peoples lives and helps hundreds or thousands. I’m surprised he or a past member of his family has thought of that. Basically he pulls of Lairds trick of saving up good karma just on a much bigger scale.

    1. I think Blake just meant that things were even between him and Duncan. There was no imbalance that needed to be fixed specific to their relationship. Duncan attacked. Blake counted. They’re even.

      Blake still has bad Karma, but that affects him in general. I don’t see why the charity thing would help his Karma. Unless,perhaps, he made a vow to help people or something like that, doing charity work probably wouldn’t mean anything. It may be good, but it’s not a definite Right.

      1. Surely charity work, at least certain kinds of it, should have good karma though. I mean lets say he somehow has enough to send every single child in a shitty high school to college who otherwise couldn’t go. One grows up to be a doctor who cures a nasty disease saving thousands. Would he get any karma for that since the doctor would never have become one without his help? What about accidental evil? Like a prankster pulling a trick from the novel good omens and fucks with the phone network so that for a few minutes everyone’s cell service bugs out causing a few deaths from people unable to call for ambulances. How much bad karma would he get?

        1. Universe has short term effect karma memory. Ie he would not get credit for a doctor he helped saving lives. Remember, stick a person on a chair with a noose around their neck and the universe still counts it as suicide.

        2. It’s already been established that the karma spirits are dumb as bricks and have limited memories. They’ll pay him back for any mistakes or good things his friends do, probably, because they awakened and made oaths. But helping a Sleeper make something of his life? If he’s not doing it personally, I don’t know that it would stick.

          As for the second question, I think that was answered by Laird in 7.1. Deferring responsibility, indirect attacks.

          1. So wait, if we’re calling non-practitioners Sleepers now, does that mean that Karma is being handled by the Exarch of Fate?
            On the one hand, the Exarchs would absolutely karma-support Laird (corrupting the world and controlling it) and Isadora (maintaining the status quo – which, of course, is THEIR status quo) and karma-hate… Well, actually, demons (not God-Machine demons.) Hmmmm.
            … So what Ministry would Laird belong to? Hegemonic, or would he be part of a lesser ministry? (The Exarch of Time fits him both thematically and literally…)

          2. I was under the impression that the karmic spirits only pay you back for mistakes of those you introduce, since you’re responsible for keeping them out of trouble.

  9. Calling it: Laird himself is technically a demon.

    Twisting the world to be worse? Check.
    Obsession with footholds and gathering permanent, tenacious power via corruption? So many checks.
    Spreading it to those around him? Check – Family, justice system, Jacob’s Bell.
    And it doesn’t look like he plans to stop, either.

    If Corvidae counts as a demon – moving things around, exploiting loopholes to screw people over, gaining his benefits by destroying those who didn’t deserve it – then I think Laird definitely does. The line between Practitioner and Other is imperfectly defined, after all.

  10. Conversations with Evan always lead to playful banter and nice moments between Blake and Rose. He’s like the child that’s helping to bolster their failing marriage.

    1. I think it’s largely the fact that he’s willing to be happy – and even very easily is happy.
      I wonder if that’s part of the symbiosis he’s formed with Blake? Blake is able to be more decisive and stand up for himself, and Evan is able to be relaxed and happy sometimes.
      … In fact, they’re both better at both of those things, although we’ve had less chance to see Blake be happy.

      1. Evan was clearly an amazing, really fortuitous choice of a familiar. He’s much more powerful than expected, but beyond that he does wonders for Blake. Also for the story, which has gone from “dark” to “dark but adorable”.

        1. Could also make the story a little worse. When Blake dies, Evan goes too. Those people enthusiastic about Rose taking over are also planning on having the kid die off permanently. Every time Blake goes and does something stupid that could get himself killed, he’s risking Evan’s life too.

          I wonder if it’s affecting karma any. I’d think giving a kid more of a chance at life like that would seem to be good karma, so that anyone trying to kill Blake nets a little extra bad karma for wanting to hurt the kid.

          But then, karma is odd and confusing in this context, where it’s being enforced by spirits too stupid to understand deferred responsibility, but smart enough to remember the power of the Behaim family line through the generations.

            1. The Behaims have perception magic, and the Thorburns we’ve seen have been honest.
              Are the Behaims… cooking the books on Karma?

  11. I have to admit I still don’t quite get how the Behaim time magic works. >.> I get it in the context of the diner on the first day, but how did the prison resets work?

    1. Basically, nobody actually got reset in time. Blake got moved in space (or possibly moved himself, somehow) back to the same point, but the universe kept going on. Duncan’s reset also affected a bunch of people, per Isadora, presumably the ones that met or interacted with Blake, who were similarly moved/moved themselves. The magic also keeps anyone from noticing that they lost time by fudging details and making it harder to notice little things (like the sun being higher in the sky).

      So, basically, Blake thought that he had been moved back in time. The Knights thought that they were meeting with the police for the first time, etc. But actually, everyone just got moved around and had their memories reset.

      1. That doesn’t make sense, though. If that’s true, then Blake actually spent three days or so trying to get out of prison. That would have made him late in returning to Conquest after dealing with Erase-Ur, but not only did Conquest agree that he was right on time, the binding on Pauz expired when Blake expected it to. The only way I can make sense of it is if Blake’s first two attempts at breaking out were some kind of time-compressed magical hallucination.

          1. What? Maybe he somehow only lost a few hours, but I distinctly recall him getting reset twice, and then breaking out on the third try. I may have to re-read those chapters to figure this out.

            1. What happens goes like this:
              1. Blake wakes up at 8 in his cell, having slept through the night. He notices the Knights nearby. He speaks with Evan. Then Duncan Behaim arrives with his lawyer. There’s a talk with the lawyer, then they all head over to the interrogation room, where he’s informed the Knights are given him an alibi. Blake uses this to badger his way out of custody by repeatedly bringing up Duncan’s shadiness. Duncan responds by hitting the reset button.
              2. Blake wakes up at (perceived) 8 in his cell, having slept through the night. He notices the Knights nearby. Then he proceeds to start cutting himself, summon Rose, break out of the station, go back into the station for Evan’s body, get caught by Duncan, and then cast doubt on Duncan by revealing that he’s stolen evidence pertaining to Blake’s case. Duncan tries to hit the reset button, but can’t, as Evan has stolen his power source and he’s out of personal power as Blake escaped, breaking a promise he made. Blake then sleeps in his cell until six in the afternoon (you can see here how his timeline has been messed with slightly. Or maybe that he’s been staying up till midnight a lot recently) until his lawyer arrives, and he gets released.

            2. Further, the resets in the police station could have been done entirely by erasing a few people’s short-term memory within the building itself. That way, the cops don’t realize something’s up. They just blink, look around, and go back to their job, wondering what they were just doing. Except for the ones who take a confused Blake downstairs, who forgets he just forgot stuff and thinks he woke up. No need to even flashy thingy the Knights’ person. They think they helped him out and are none the wiser, so Duncan doesn’t have to account for them.

              Overall, interesting to note that they’re like regular magicians. It’s all about convincing someone that a certain premise is true, and using people’s reliance on that to trick them. Basic legerdemain, if you will. It’s another word for sleight of hand, derived for the middle french term for “light of hand”.

              And that’s why Conquest will lose when Blake challenges him to find the ball underneath one of the three cups.

            3. It’s got to include the Knights as well. Isadora mentioned everyone within three degrees of them, if I recall, and the knights still came back on the second time; they were just turned away at the door.

              I’m also wondering how they deal with written records. Do those get hit by the magic in the same way (a la Erasur) or does Duncan have to deal with those personally? So many questions…

      2. How quickly or slowly time moves is also very subject to perception. By speeding up everyone’s perception, Duncan/Laird could theoretically fit several days worth of action into a single day.

      3. I think I get it now. So, say, from 8 to noon, Blake has his first timeline in real time. Then Duncan puts the whammy on everyone, has Blake carried back to his cell, and then Blake comes back to reality at 12:30 with false memories from 8 to 10 and then experiences a subjective 3 hours (10 to 1) in an objective 30 minutes (or maybe he experiences a subjective 6 hours (8 to 2) in an objective 2 (12-2), it doesn’t matter). Then he’s caught up, experiences real time again for a few hours, then Laird puts the whammy on him and he wakes up in his cell at 6pm, thinking his timeline was reset again and he just slept really late when in fact he was hypnotized and had some memories altered.

        …yeah?

        1. I don’t think that Laird put a whammy on him, just that him waking up at 6 pm was him catching up to the rest of the world, which is in retrospect pretty obviously a bit weird, but which nobody noticed at the time.

    1. I wish Worm had gotten a TV show so that we could just put up a gif with Clockblocker on it for moments like this.

  12. Ah, Blake, Blake, Blake. Just because you figured out one of the tricks of your enemy doesn’t mean they don’t have a dozen other ways to screw you over. Don’t underestimate your enemies.

  13. So yes, congratulations on your anniversary. So glad I clicked random things on tvtropes now.

    Let’s hope that Corvidae is fine and dandy upstairs. Uh, just not close to Joanna.
    And it seems that the final round is starting now! How nice.
    I told you Blake, you can just give time to a bloody chronomancer. It’s just not a smart thing to do. Let’s hope you can get out of this, because it does not look pretty.

    1. … Say, is Joanna the first person to have cared about Laird getting Molly murdered?
      Dang it, Joanna! Stay away from the crow-themed man! YOU MIGHT BE A GOOD ONE!

      1. She’s a reasonably normal person who just discovered that her police officer husband-to-be is complicit in hiding someone’s murder (he didn’t deny it, or argue for clemency. As good as an admission of guilt). This marriage is going to be strained regardless of Corvidae.

        1. Hell, all Corvadae needs to do is “Hey, is it just me or does it seem like there’s a lot he didn’t trust you with?”

          And Blake is such a softie. Even after some of the shit Duncan did to him, he doesn’t want to ruin his life. Serously folks, stop fucking with Blake, this is the nicest Dark Lord of Darkness you’ll ever get.

  14. I’d always assumed that they altered perception of time. In fact I thought it was pointed out in-story in the diner but I must of been misremembering.
    Blake must look a lot like the evil overlord to the behaims. Insidiously creeping into Duncan’s home by tricking his fiancé with a good deed http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/VillainOverForDinner and then holding her hostage only for Laird to arrive in a big damm heros moment.

    Also enjoyed Evans reaction during the ghoul fight, it mirrors exactly how young kids act when they don’t know about it and keep asking.

    And is it just me or does rose not really like Evan that much.

    1. I’m glad you brought that up about Rose, because that has interesting implications.

      Ok, maybe it does, but it reminded me of something else that certainly does have interesting implications.

      Here’s my line of thinking…we’ve known something was up with Rose. Why she was made, how she was made, her memories. There’s a rivalry there with Blake. That we could get used to if she was just a vestige.

      There’s a problem though. She doesn’t remember Molly. I think some part of Molly, maybe even Molly’s mirror image, was used ahead of time by Granny Rose to make Rose. But that’s iffy. Either way, it suggests there’s something we’ve missed about her.

      And then there’s a new thing we learned this chapter that adds to that.

      Rose said her body doesn’t change. As in, it’s a good thing she doesn’t menstruate. If her body is stuck in that kind of stasis without a normal menstrual cycle, doesn’t that create certain issues?

      Like the implication that maybe she can’t get pregnant?

      So here we come to an question with an extremely obvious answer to suggest that Rose isn’t a vestige: Would Granny Rose go to all that trouble to make and appoint an heir that would fade away within a couple years and was incapable of having heirs of her own?

        1. Calling a spekulative bit:
          Rose is not a Vestige, Blake is. Rose was cut from the real world, stuck into the mirror-verse, to protect her. Blake is her reflection. But I guess this is thinking too small.
          The WHOLE setup is done via mirror-magick. Molly, Blake, everything is “mirrored”. It basically gives the whole line of heirs 2 chances each.
          Who said Molly was not a Vestige companion in the beginning? Perhaps Modred was first heir, getting advice from her mirror-double Molly. Then he died, rather swiftly, replaced by Molly. Everyones memories rearrange so there “never was” a Modred. And then Molly gets offed, up for round 2.

          There are 7 heirs: Molly, Blake/Rose, Kathy, Ellie, Roxanne, Ivy, Paige
          Making a deal with the barber to protect them by altering the world a little… what else would entail 6 lifetimes of debt?!?!?!!?
          drops mic

          1. “What else would entail 6 lifetimes of debt?” Six generations of diabolists living very Wrong lives would do it.

            1. Damages 2.4: “Nearly seven lifetimes worth of unpaid karmic balance.”
              one livetime for every heir. One livetime for each Mirror-companion. Molly, as stated in the same chapter, already “ate” some of the karmic debt.

        2. Don’t know. But I’m just that sort of observant person. I’m like a shark of the comments section. When I sense menstrual blood, I pounce.

          You know what they say: if the field’s wet, you can still play ball, am I right?

            1. I would suppose not.

              Menstruation is in and of itself life and death at the same time. But unlike ghouls, is a completion of a natural cycle. That is to say, it is the death of what could have become life.

              For ejaculate to have the same effect, IMO, you would need to wait for all the sperm to die. (But even then, conceptually it’s not COMPLETING the cycle (and forcing the ghouls to do the same) in the same way that menstruation is.)

      1. Rose isn’t the heir yet. I assumed that when the line passes to her, she may be able to get a human body, which will allow her to do things like sleep and menstrate.

    2. I think Evan ends up being a reminder of 1)Blake’s broken promises to her and 2)how she doesn’t get to breathe or touch or anything (but here’s this person who was a freaking ghost who gets to do that IT’S NOT FAIR!).

      Anyhow, even with just those two it seems like anyone would resent him a little. OTOH she did explain about menstruation to him, which seems like the kind of thing you might do if you resented someone but were beginning to warm to them.

        1. I assumed her irritation as simple result of a 20 year old woman being pestered by an 8 year old boy. I read Rose while interacting with Evan as friendly, just not possessed of much patience for how kids are.

  15. Huh, I figured that the Behaim time-whammy was legit, but it makes sense now given that Laird’s implement of a pocket watch is as much a symbol associated with hypnosis as it is with time.

    Time for shit to go down bigstyle, I can’t wait. We can’t be more than a few posts away from endgame on the Conquest arc.

    1. Who says they can’t manipulate time to that extent? We know Aimon can extend someone’s time, like Rosalyn. The problem is that it would be too expensive to do and waste on Blake.

  16. If Laird can alter the perception of time, I suspect that he can alter the perception of other things as well. Are we sure that Conquest is really there and all of Rose’s summonings have been defeated, or could that just be an illusion?

  17. Isn’t C-word being there a good thing? It’ll make hitting him that much easier without running across the city to beat his ass down.

    1. Also, Liard swore that no harm will come to Blake from them, Blake just has to provoke C-word into attacking him directly with overt use of his power to render both C-word & Liard forsworn.

      1. I don’t think you can swear for other people. If Conquest punches Blake Laird eats it. And Laird is presumably using possession HACKZ! to get around oaths and truth telling.

        1. My personal theory is that, like Duncan after his broken promise, Laird is just relying on the immense stores of family power to keep using magic after lying without any noticeable difference to the outside observer. Under this assumption, he’d be able to lie but perhaps not break oaths-we still don’t know the exact mechanics of being forsworn.

  18. Comments:
    – I think I still don’t get how the Behaim time power works. I guess I’d have to reread the various situations to see how they could be explained just by altering perceptions.
    – How does Blake know that Laird had access to the same books as him?
    – Laird said “If you want to peek your head out and see, you’ll get the picture. I swear no harm will come to you from us”. Is this oath somehow tied to the previous sentence? I’m still not sure about the precise rules of Pactverse, but read literally, this sentence implies Laird can’t harm Blake ever again… (Well, it might not matter, now that Conquest is here.)

    1. Wait, you can get around oaths by being possessed like how Liard did direct harm to Blake & how Maggie got around the ‘no swearing’. Their word means nothing because you never know ‘who’ is speaking.

      1. Even if he’s possessed, it was ‘us’ not ‘me’. At least it means the one who possesses and the host.

  19. I’m still not hundred’s on the Belham’s Time Shenanigan’s –

    So they don’t actually turn back time, just make you think that they have – but it must also affect everyone else in the area or things get hinky – If only Blake thought time was stepped back then it raises even more questions about police Station round 2 – How does the rest of the world explain – Blake being released, then ending up in his cell again? Unless everyone in the station who interacted with Blake were affected? I mean no one else seemed to remember the original time line either? So what exactly happened to their memories – The event’s still must have happened. So why does no one else register?

    But mostly this seems to make The belhams Illusionists rather than cronomancers which is a little disappointing.

    1. No, they are chronomancers. As Blake himself says: “I had little doubt they could really manipulate time, but it was undoubtedly expensive, a real investment.”
      Why perform an expensive act of magic when sleight of hand will do?
      And concerning their real chronomancy: Rose senior asked Aimon for time to see her grandchildren grow up, and Aimon said: “Costly. To stave off death? That’s something else altogether.”“Yes, I know.”“I’ll see what I can do.”
      So on the downside, what the Behaims have done so far hasn’t been as amazing as one might have thought. On the upside, we haven’t seen all they are capable of.
      Also from Histories (Arc 6): “I swore oaths. To preserve the stores of power my family has amassed over generations. I won’t make Laird swear those same oaths. If he needs to bring about change, he’ll have the power to do so.”
      If Laird ever accessed these stores at all, it was at most to perform the ritual on the Thorburn house. Though I’m not sure how impressive that ritual was, in retrospect: Could Blake “see through” this perception-altering effect now and access his house? Or would he succumb and walk in slow motion for days or weeks until he starved to death?

    1. After the familiar ritual?

      And it’s mentioned Craig could prematurely age someone. They can affect time, it’s just more efficient to botch someone else’s perception of it. My guess, in videogame terms:

      Changing someone’s perception = 1 KP (Karma Point) per second
      Aging an inanimate object = 5 KP per year
      Aging someone else = 35 KP per five years
      Rewinding time = 1000 KP per ten minutes

      1. Its also possible that when they age someone they are outright stealing their age. Make someone else take chronomancy backlash.

      2. I think that’s gotta be how it works, Blake kinda made two contradictory statements; that it’s impossible for them to be manipulating time and that they could but it was a major investment. That probably means that for regular everyday fire-and-forget Practice they use perception-manipulation spells and on special occasions they dip into the family store of free time to bring the real time-fuckery to bear.

      3. Definitly need to look up Time magicks in GURPS. At the very least I will save the post as a suggestion 😉
        In related news, ONE (other) person expressed interest in GURPS-Pact, anyone else?

          1. send me an email: thomas dot fehmel at googlemail dot com
            I will hook you up on the mailing list (I don’t want to post the link online, since currently that private mailserver I use is nicely spam free”

    2. It could be that the age door thing was to disguise him just using an unlocking rune on the door. After all, once he was done, the door went back to how it had been.

      1. Probably more complicated than that. In the police garage he did the same to a metal door and it was explicitly said that it took longer.

  20. The more I’ve read on about Maggie the more I could associate her with delicate mixture of Taylor (worm) + Harley Quinn (Batman) + Mad Moxxi (Borderland series); enchanting female figure, somehow queer, mentally disturbed on some level, but highly functional in a pinch. Official badass of the month! Here’s the badge Maggie, don’t share it with your goblins, please.

  21. It’s also possible that some crazy ErasUrr hijinks will crop up about now — perhaps Rose is somehow immune and has been hiding stuff from Blake because it’s all part of the plan?

  22. So hopefully this will be the final confrontation between Blake and Conquest. Not that this whole thing was poorly written, or that a lot of interesting things didn’t happen, but for me at least Conquest has stretched on long enough. He kinda suffers from being a Generic Doomsday Villian, or rather a Generic Conquering Villain.

  23. “Second choice?” I asked. “Agree never to harm another living soul?”

    “I swear,” it managed. Even from ten feet away in the blistering cold, I could smell the breath. It was the aroma I might expect from a coffin being opened.
    shit
    chekhov’s ghoul
    GG is going to eat Evan

      1. could always just start grave robbing

        I think that’s where Blake was going with the proposal. It’s not nice to eat dead people, but it’s better than hurting living ones. And Blake’s trying to be nice, so he probably didn’t want to forbid the ghoul to eat anything (which basically would mean death).

  24. Oh, will you please just DIE, Blake!

    A problem I’m having with Wildboar’s long fiction is that nothing resolves quickly or simply. Every conflict seems to devolve very quickly into the “late-night commercial” pattern… “But wait, there’s more!” And more, and more…. I lose track of what was supposed to be happening (or why it matters) when the resolution… drags… out… over… several updates and multiple “twists”. It’s worse than frustrating for me as a reader — it’s infuriating!

    Perhaps this was initially due to the serial format and perceived need for cliffhangers, but it now seems to have become ingrained as a writer’s habit… and I don’t like it. The constant narrative “upping of the ante” (followed by partial or complete failure on the part of the protagonist) only frustrates and disappoints me, and sympathy for the protagonist becomes exasperation — and finally, contempt.

    So please, Wildboar, don’t draw this out any more. I don’t think it’s making Blake look heroic, resourceful or iron-willed — it’s making him look pathetic.

    1. He’s TRYING not to draw it out any further. He said so himself — but he’s not going to compromise the quality of the work by hacking together a quick ending.

    2. I don’t think it is a problem with Wildbow as an author because Worm was completely different. The flow and pacing of the arcs was so much better and the encounters with the antagonists didn’t drag out for too long, keeping them threatening, believable and more interesting, compared with Conquest who seems more like a saturday morning cartoon villain.

      To give an example: Big L. It only took six chapters (five regular plus an interlude) to deal with ‘im and despite the short run of it, this story arc proved to be the perfect end-point for all that came before AND the perfect catalyst for the things that would come after.

      Now, in my opinion, the big problem with Pact is the glacial pacing of the story and the apparent lack of resolution to the conflicts that arise left and right. I mean, since the story started I don’t think there has been a true end to any of the storylines that have popped up all over the place.

      -The Jacob’s Bell arc was left unfinished because of the Behaim’s ritual.
      -The Three Demons arc was dropped in favor of the Contest Arc, with the BIG one of the three demons having more than a passing mention (compared to Pauz and the Hyena).
      -The Jailbreak arc was overshadowed by the (imo) underwhelming finale of the demons arc. I think this was one of the best but being caught in the middle of another story turned it more into a neat side-quest.
      -The Contest arc was like World War I: trench warfare, dragging the conflict to the point of exhaustion.

      It seems, to me, that the antagonists in the whole Conquest arc (Collateral 4.1 to Void 7.5) are victims of the “Conservation of Ninjutsu”. One antagonist has the competency and threat of one antagonist; two antagonists have the competency and threat of half an antagonist each; Conquest, the Eye, Laird, the Duchamps, Duncan, Isadora, the Sisters, the Astrologer, and everyone else are just a bunch of confused toddlers at this point.

      I’m not saying Pact is bad (in my opinion, it’s even head and shoulders about the rest), but I wouldn’t want to see it fall victim of the Chris Carter Effect, where the build up was dragged for so long that the resolution, no matter how well done, ends up being underwhelming.

      1. I’m just hoping that with the ending of the Conquest saga (which I believe is supposed to end this arc) Pact will transition into a mid-game where Blake is actually able to deal with his challenges (one way or the other) and make some headway into the overall plot (whatever that is). I think the payoff should be pretty good if Wildbow plays his cards right.

        Also, Maggie Holt Arc coming up. Nothing wrong with that .

      2. I’m feeling that the problem with Pact is that Wildbow is still on the adrenaline rush from the finale of Worm. In particular, he’s mostly written the action sequences without writing enough of the buildup. Worm took off with Leviathan, but the chapters before were necessary to understand what normal life was like in the Worm-verse and to demonstrate the abilities of the main character.

        Pact could benefit, after the end of this saga, from a couple of chapters where Blake (or Rose) acquires an implement or a demesne while in a truce with their enemies, so we can experience more social interaction and politics.

        1. I agree. Some quieter arcs focusing on just Blake’s interactions with his friends and focusing on him gathering Allies and building his power base before the next storm would be good. Non stop action and danger can get a bit burning out, and it’d be nice to get more for folks like Ty and Alexis and Joel so we care a little more about them.

      3. Can’t really say the Astrologer was like a confused toddler when she attacked the last time. If C-word didn’t need a decisive victory so badly, he’d already be a winner.

      4. I read Worm only after its serialization had ended, but have been reading Pact since it began, waiting for each weekly update. In retrospect, it’s obvious that the pacing is different, but I didn’t even notice until you pointed it out.

        And I completely agree about the “Conservation of Ninjutsu” effect. My POV was slightly different: I figured Worm featured similarly challenging situations, but with the big difference that Taylor was rarely the focus of attention. So I found her victories plausible, while I’m constantly confused how Blake could continually survive being the main object of attention of first Laird (and all inhabitants of Jacob’s Bell) and then Conquest (and all his minions).

        And I think this focus of attention diminishes the antagonists in Pact in another way: In Worm, where antagonists weren’t focusing (solely) on Taylor, they could prove their prowess, cleverness or evilness via their interactions with third parties. (random examples: Bakuda, Big L; pretty much everyone)
        In Pact, in contrast, Blake is (or at least seems to be) the sole focus of everyone’s attentions, so when antagonists fail to win conclusive victories against him, it makes them seem comparatively impotent.
        And I fear this problem might not stop until Blake is finally killed.

        While I’ll grant Blake a few of his early victories when people didn’t try quite so hard to kill him as much as seriously inconvenience him, I figure he should have at least died or completely finally lost against the Hyena (and its gazillions of Other victims), ErasUr, Conquest (multiple times), and the Eye.

        1. That is a really interesting insight.

          It’s not 100% right – in the first few arcs, Blake wasn’t really viewed as the target so much as a convenient buffer against the real threat Johannes. Likewise, Conquest did not initially attack Blake, he just viewed him as a convenient pawn/agent.

          Also, I’m not sure if it’s a karma thing or what, but Blake’s opponents have been very reluctant to resort to lethal measures. Duncan could easily have shot Blake while trying to escape, for example. And Laird still seems more interested in using Blake for his own ends.

          I’m not disagreeing, though. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. So far Pact definitely has a lack of “bigger picture” in comparison to Worm.

    1. Few typos: “Cullen” Walker (should be Callan”), “Orinas” (Should be Ornias) are two that come to mind instantly.

        1. That is not a valid excuse!

          I think it’s looking pretty well, so far. Just one thing, is Blake still only “technically” a diabolist? Didn’t dealing with Pauz and (attempting to deal with the factory demon) pushes over the true diabolist side of things?

    2. Better, though not sure how factual some of the stuff is. (When was Jo confirmed as Sandra’s daughter?) If you can make the wiki a legitimate recource, as opposed to the neglected piles of decay that Wildbow wikis have tended to be in the past (with Tvtropes as the exception), I’ll be mighty impressed.

        1. It’s a wiki; interested parties should be able to edit it themselves.

          (I’m not that interested)

  25. You know, if the whole Blakeguard thing doesn’t work out, Blake can make a duo with Maggie.

    “…And a bit of risk can be the price of opportunity,” I said. “She-”

    “She just contacted him,” Maggie finished for me.

    They work so well together! They’re in sync. Blake and Maggie have even started to finish each other’s sentences.

    On the flip side, perhaps this will motivate Tiff to learn to summon forth the giant, green eyed monster.

      1. That’s the mischievous thief bird, right? I’m not opposed to Magpie, even if I’m not sure how to use it in a sentence.

        1. Not as sketchy as you think, actually. Maggie is a Junior/Senior in highschool. Assuming Canadian schools are like American ones, this puts her at 16-18 years old. Blake is firmly only 20. Not creepy as one might automatically assume.

          Also, I’m pretty sure the age of consent is 16 in Toronto. Fly on, Magpie!

            1. Yeah, but she accidentally murdered his cousin. It seems at this point, though he doesn’t trust her completely, Blake has gotten over his rage at Maggie. He’s not a spirit. He blames Laird for the murder.

              Yes the math checks out. It can be considered borderline creepy. That’s ok though. Blake is well on his way to becoming an evil Overlord in Universe and the only one he’s willing to let touch him is an 8 year old boy. He’s allowed to be borderline creepy.

            2. I’m not saying Molly’s murder is an insurmountable obstacle, just that there’s a difference between allying yourself with your cousin’s (“accidental”?) murderer and getting all romantic with her. That part actually strikes me as creepier than the slight age gap.

              Again, I wouldn’t be flabbergasted if something actually happened between them. I’m just not holding my breath.

  26. Hmm, I wonder if it’s possible to use a ghost as the base to create a different kind of Other.

    Like, pumping a ghost with enough glamour, or elementals, maybe.

    1. Wasn’t that mentioned by the with hunters in Jacob’s Bell? The fought a faerie which behaved (and appeared) as a vampire. Labels are tricky and dangerous.

      1. No, that’s more like one kind of Other pretending to be another kind. I’m talking about Other-Other possession. Taking away bits of one Other, while filling it in with some other form of magic.

    2. I hear that’s how they made the Ghostface Killah. It gets even more confusing if you ever meet the ghost of the Ghostface Killah, especially because he’s still alive.

    3. I believe ghosts are supposed to be pretty low on the power scale. If you’re combining Others, you may want to reverse that. Have an Elemental, Gremlin, Faerie or something of the sort as the base. Add the ghost as the supplemental part.

      That being said, aren’t Wraiths fusions of ghosts and other things?

      1. I only said ghost because it’s common. I’m suggesting ghost + glamour because the former is common and the latter is a renewable resource. Ghost + elementals if elementals are similarly common.

    4. I believe it was mentioned that some ghosts found a way to avoid fading away by acquiring a power source of some form. I think that type of ghost is called a “wraith.”

      I can’t think of a reason why one could not artificially create wraiths by altering ghosts. Honestly, that seems like kind of a cool idea.

      I also wonder if you could artificially create ghosts? I mean, if they’re just physic impressions of death, would killing people in a particularly painful fashion (and possibly using a magical ritual) create a ghost? Which could then be bound to one’s service? Honestly, that seems like the sort of thing that Conquest would be in to… pity he can’t use magic other than his inherent powers.., maybe the Shepherd does that for him (I know he did that with Fell).

      … now I’m wondering if a ghost could be generated through traumatic near death experiences. If so, a person could essentially produce multiple ghosts of themselves, which leads to all sorts of interesting possibilities.

      1. The danger with attempting to create your own ghosts is that would mean the traumatic event that the ghost represents is your fault, so it’s likely that the ghosts would be driven to hurt you. It would be harder for you to control these ghosts and very easy for one of your enemies to turn them against you. If you add the fact that Karma would consider this to be an unlawful attack on the people you are, and would also want your own ghosts to turn on you as karmic retribution, then your experiment is very very risky.

        1. Wasn’t the Astronomer’s magic described essentially as “creating ghosts” by turning on lights on her various properties in Toronto?

          1. Not really, no. The Astrologer creates something like ghosts, but that are not human in any way. Here is the relevant quote:

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

            I guess the key is that she can design the “imprint” to be whatever she wants.

  27. Just in case you’re checking – no Thurs update this week. Been distracted, scheduling/practicing for my (long belated) driver’s test, and I wasn’t happy with where the chapter was at – better to give it more time and not have it suck.

    1. 1)I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself, and safeguarding the quality of your work.

      2)qqqqq (no actually I just forgot it was only Weds/Thursday. “Well, I wasn’t reading Pact last night, it must be Friday!)”

    2. It’s best you not rush out a chapter that you aren’t satisfied with. Anyways all the Thursday updates, you’ve been spoiling us.

  28. So, I came up with a theory recently, and I haven’t seen it in the comments (although I may have missed it), and I wanted to share it.

    This theory is about the huge karmic debt that Blake is dealing with.

    Pact suggests that Blake has inherited a probably insurmountable karmic debt, but it recently occurred to me that that debt might not be nearly as large as we were lead to believe.

    The first description of the Thorburn family debt is in post 2.04. Either Mann or Levinn (it’s unclear which) says

    “There is also the matter of the debt weighing on you,” he said. “Nearly seven lifetimes worth of unpaid karmic balance. You could work hard your entire life and only make up one of those. Devote yourself wholly and singularly to that one task, and you could maybe make up a second lifetime’s worth.”

    That quote makes it sound like it would be impossible for Blake to ever pay of his debt. However, I would like to make a few points.

    1) The lawyers have a vested interest in making paying of the debt seem as difficult as possible, in order to encourage Blake to join their ranks.

    2) A “lifetime” is an incredibly imprecise unit of measure. I (probably, like most readers) assumed the lawyer meant a natural human lifespan, but that is not a given.

    3) Blake is apparently “fated” to die in the near future.

    My theory is that the lawyer technically told the truth and gave his best estimate of the amount of debt that Blake could pay off /before his destined death/. Every time Blake manages to stave of dying (something he is remarkably good at) significantly increases his life expectancy, possibly increasing it far beyond what the lawyer thought possible. Meaning, Blake might actually be able to pay of his family’s debt in the time remaining.

    Oh, and as I wrote this a second theory occurred to me.

    Are we certain the lawyers can’t lie? Human practitioners have to worry about being forsworn, but, if the Other in charge of the lawyers is willing to taken on literal lifetime’s of bad karma, who’s to say it can’t take on a bit more? Maybe the lawyers are able to lie and break oaths as much as they wan’t because their boss can just eat the ensuing bad karma.

    1. I’d like to point out that I can’t remember it being stated that Others can’t lie. It feels as though we all just collectively assumed they couldn’t. If anybody could point me to a piece of text that says otherwise, I’d greatly appreciate it.

      1. I don’t feel like looking up the reference, sorry. I can tell you from memory that essentials mentioned that most Others have come into an agreement with humanity (or something like that) that prevents them from constantly massacring regular people. The chief part of the agreement is Honesty. That’s why Others and Practitioners don’t lie. I must assume both groups can lie, they just pay a price for it. Try around 1.4 for the actual text.

      2. Pretty sure that most Others started life as human Practitioners. Certainly, ones like the Lawyers did. Thus, they’re honesty-bound either way (unless they can deal with the karmic penalties and such).

        It seems logical that the more magically-bound Others would, like Practitioners (who are a bit more Other than before they Awakened), be bound by such things.

    2. As to your fist theory: regardless of what the lawyers told Blake, we know that he has a sizeable debt. My reasoning (which is based on memory, so I may be wrong) is as follows:

      1) The debt was first mentioned by Granny Rose in her will for the heir. 2) We’ve seen in action Bad Karma’s effects on Blake.
      3) In Aimon’s Histories, Young Granny Rose mentions the sizeable debt her family has.

      As to your second theory, that’s a good point. Really, any practitioner with sizeable power backing them should be able to lie. Conquest has prooven that what is lost by lying and being forsworn can be regained with help. Perhaps the lawyers are lying.

  29. A thought occurs. Back in Conviction 5.1, Duncan mentioned that he had “a wife and kid.” Here we only see a fiancee. Another continuity error? Duncan bending the truth ala Laird?

    1. Good catch. I suspect just a continuity error. Technically Duncan could have a wife and kid but be divorced, although divorce would be tricky in Pact unless you write your own vows and are very careful about it.

      1. He needn’t even be divorced. The term fiance just means “person I intend to marry”. You can have a fiance while still married (and presumably separated from) someone else.

        The spirits are old fashioned and unlikely to have an objection to polygamy.

        All that said, yeah, it’s probably a continuity error…

    2. Actually, now that I think of it, it’s interesting that “the rules” forbid lying but allow the manipulation of perceptions. Remember how Urr… said its name but ate the end? Maybe an illusionist could say the truth but make you think they said something else. It sounds really overpowered in this universe, and at least it should make illusionists less trusted than diabolists, but who knows what Wildbow’s cooking…

      1. Assuming that such things are so easy to do. I’d be impressed by anyone who can literally twist their words quickly enough to keep up with typical conversation, without giving away what they’re doing.

        1. If you can twist perceptions enough to squeeze half a day in a half-hour conversation, or to disappear from people looking at you, it doesn’t seem like replacing a conversation with another one is that much of a stretch, especially if you can coopt the assistance of some Other.

          And cheap shots like saying “I don’t promise I’m not going to hurt you” and hiding the “don’t” from the listener doesn’t even seem that hard unaided.

          1. The trick isn’t the doing, it’s the timing and concealment. You don’t need to just need to delete the “don’t”; you need to also delete the space between “I” and “promise,” plus figure out how to not make it obvious what you’re doing.

            1. Hey, Laird made Blake see evening as daylight, Duncan made an entire police station forget he went voodoo-crazy, twice, and then they made at least Blake, Rose and Evan to loose memories again. And their entire family faked having orders of magnitude more time-manipulation power than they really afforded. How hard can it be to make someone forget one word compared with all that? You don’t need to do it in real-time, you can prepare something in advance or fix things later. And hell, they can manipulate time on short scale.

            2. How hard? Well, it’s easy, but the ability to do isn’t the problem–it’s the ability to do well, quickly, and invisibly.

              And yes, it would need to be done quickly and invisibly, unless they’re doing it on complete morons who don’t notice that the speech of the person they’re talking to is disjointed or that they’re clearly working magic as they talk. And from what we’ve seen of the Behaims’ magic, it would be hard to do quickly or subtly, let alone both, let alone keeping up with the “lies”.

            3. Thats actually a pretty natural place for a pause – especially since most practitioners would be naturally reluctant to swear such an oath.

              “I… promise not to hurt you” would just be taken as reluctance.

  30. Blake keeps going “Things are going good, I got this!” up until the last sentence of the chapter. Every chapter. I don’t see what Blake keeps getting at

      1. Ya, but even so, “I’ve worked out Laird’s trick. Now we can maybe deal with him but not Conquest, the Astrologer, Isadora, the Shepherd or a city full of annoyed Others who I’m sure wont cause us any problems while I hang around Laird’s nephew’s house calling him out to test a theory…” is not a plan that should inspire a lot of optimism even if they’re unaware they’re in a Wildbow serial.

  31. “We could somehow still get turned around by walking in a straight line, and there were threats everywhere”.

    Sounds a lot like a City of Angles.

  32. Evan, as always, is hilarious. Keep it up, little bird.

    “I’m Joanna, by the way.”
    Joanna…Joanna…that name sounds familiar…

    They manipulated other people’s perceptions of time.
    That makes sense.

    And once again, Blake appears to be screwed. Is there a bulk discount on doom? Blake should look into that.

  33. As far as quality of your writing goes? Top notch. I’m no literary critic but characterisation, plot and all that sort of stuff are really great.

    The only thing I have to complain about is that I’m getting sick of Blake losing all the time. Even when he wins he loses in the bigger picture or gets into even more trouble or something. Like his whole life is out of the frying pan into the fire. My gosh, I just want to see him get somewhere.

  34. Oh look yet again Blake makes a guess with absolutely no research no information at all and from absolute ignorance and is right…

    Also this website is ridiculously bad to browse on mobile and ridiculously inefficient in terms of bandwidth, over 70% of the tiny scroll wheel is the comments section, who’s genius idea was that

    1. Didn’t you find your way here from Worm? You should be well familiar with how the comments work. I suspect the answer to your question “whose genius idea was that?” is probably “WordPress”.

      If there’s a plugin or something that could improve that, that would be nice, but I read most of this (and Worm) on mobile and didn’t have any real problems.

    2. He had experienced it 3 times (which is better than a description)= research and infrmation.He is really good at connecting the dots and doesn’t trust the Berhaims=not ignorance. A COMMENTER GUESSED SOMETHING SIMILAR A FEW CHAPTERS AGO (though he stumbled a little on the time loop)=its not an impossible guess to make.

      gg no re.

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