Void 7.6

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“I do believe this will end here,” Conquest said.  His voice, inhuman as it was, carried.

“I’m hoping it won’t!” I had to raise my own voice to be heard over the wind and distance.  It was hard to tell with the snow covering everything and the confusing effect of the snowfall itself, but I was pretty sure they were standing in the middle of the street.  Half the street, a lawn, and a bit of house separated us.

“I offered you a peek,” Laird called out.  “You might want to duck back behind cover before you’re no longer peeking and you’re staring.”

I did.

Conquest is here?”  Maggie asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

We could say his name now.  We wouldn’t be forming any connection and cluing him into anything he didn’t already know.

“Okay, well, we knew he might come,” Maggie said.

“I’d hoped for more time,” I said.  “We need to take down Laird first.  This mixes things up.”

“Just a bit.”

Rose appeared in the glass window of a cabinet.  “Corvidae didn’t get a chance to do anything.  He was ready to, but it didn’t go that far.”

I nodded.  “Conquest is here.”

“We don’t have Laird?”

“No.”

Shit.

“Well put,” I said.

I felt connections shift, heard the muffled crunch of footsteps on snow, and called out, “Stay put, Laird!”

Silence and stillness followed.

“Seems we have a bit of a standoff,” Laird said.

“Seems so,” I answered.  “A bit like bank robbers with hostages, isn’t it?”

“I was thinking something along those lines,” Laird said.

Cold air flowed into the room through the shattered window.  Duncan’s house thrummed with the furnace working in overdrive.

“Does that make you the hostage negotiator, Laird?” I asked.

“Maybe,” Laird said.

Meaning no.  I’d called him out on whether he’d choose power or family first.  He had his kid, nieces and nephew with him, and everything he said mattered.  Being careless and throwing away Duncan’s life could look careless.  But he couldn’t commit to anything either.  Not with the lord of Toronto looming just behind him.

He’d cornered himself in a way.  Us too, but the situation he’d put himself in was the leverage I was most interested in.

If he decided on the full-on offensive, then he risked Duncan dying, he risked losing the trust of his family.  They’d probably get me in the process and win the fight, but would he do something?

He’d come to Toronto to bail Duncan out.  He was willing to use his family as pawns, but he hadn’t done anything to make me believe he didn’t care about them on some level.

When the chips were down, did he value reputation and power more, or did he value family?

I had to be strategic here, use what I had.

How did this play out?

Laird could give up, too cold and unable to take action, Conquest could lose patience.

The former put Conquest at the helm, the latter put Conquest and Laird at odds.  They might even fight.

It was more likely that they had tricks up their sleeves.

I heard more snow crunching.

“Stay put, Laird!”  Maggie called out.  “I will put a sword through this man’s throat!”

“I’m not moving,” Laird said.  “Sending the kids around to watch the exits.  I’ve ordered them not to enter or try anything.”

“Call them back,” I said.

“Too late,” he told me.

Damn.

“I know how that goes,” I said.  “You can tell them that, but you signal another, or you write it down.”

“No,” Laird replied.  “I don’t want them trying and screwing it up.  I’d rather have control over how this plays out.”

I considered.

“Okay,” I said, I couldn’t peek out, so I looked at Duncan instead.  “Makes sense.  It’s also a convenient way to get rid of them so you can pull something they wouldn’t like, isn’t it?”

“You’re so invested in finding something evil in what I’m doing.  Have you considered, Thorburn, that I might be right?  That you and your family are a stain on this world and we’re all better off without you?”

“So you want to hand us over to Conquest and let him sic demons on the world?  How is that better?”

“You tell me, Thorburn.  You started this contest, and Conquest has bent the city to its knees as a result, innumerable people have been hurt or killed, you’ve set two peaceful groups of practitioners against one another, assaulted a police station, and led this city into at atmosphere of fear, violence and confusion.”

“It’s got to be better than what happens if he gets what he wants.”

“You had a plan, didn’t you?  You weighed the risks, you made a gamble, there are elements you haven’t broadcasted to the rest of us?” Laird asked.  “Is it so hard to believe that I could do the same thing?”

“A scheme?” I asked.  “You’re admitting you’re scheming against Conquest with him standing right there?”

“Not a scheme.  A deal.  I came here to arrange for Duncan’s safety.  That wasn’t my sole reason for coming.  I was and remain interested in the long-term safety of Jacob’s Bell and Toronto.  I had a discussion with the Lord of the City, and we made arrangements for just about everyone’s long-term benefit.”

“Except mine, I assume,” I said.

“That’s why I said ‘just about’.  I don’t know what would happen to you.  You’re a bit of an enigma, you and Rose.”

I frowned.

“Surrender, Blake,” Laird said.  “Just… give up.  Stop making things worse.”

I stared down at the ground.

“I’ve stopped some pretty fucked up monsters,” I said.  “Tried with some others.”

“Maybe, but you’ve dragged your friends into this.  You dragged Fell into it, and he died as a result.  You dragged that little ghost boy into this, and I don’t think he deserves to face down the kind of ugliness we both know your family deals in.”

“Like you’re better?  You sent those kids after me at the police station.”

“I won’t say I haven’t made mistakes here and there, but I’m looking after my family in the long term.”

“Putting yourself in charge of Jacob’s Bell in the process.”

Trying to, yes.  You’re trying to make this a choice between one or the other.  Save Duncan or take power.  I think they’re one and the same.  Intertwined.  Can you confidently tell me you’re bettering the lives of your friends and acquaintances here?”

Laird was building on his dream, striving for some distant goal, becoming Lord, putting his family on the map.  My dream?  My goal?  When I floundered, trying to put my thumb on it, I kept coming back to a mental picture of the place I’d dreamed about.  The place Ms. Lewis had called my refuge, my hope.  It was the place I wanted to be, the place I wanted to reach when all this was said and done.  I fought, in part, because I wanted to get to the point where I could do that.

Get on my bike, get away from it all.  Find a place where I had peace and a nice view.

My friends hadn’t been there.

“You aren’t answering me,” Laird called out.  “Is it because you can’t answer?  Or are you pulling something?”

“Does it matter?” I called out.

“No,” he said.  I thought I heard a note of amusement in his tone.  “It doesn’t.  I’ll be right here, our metaphorical hostage negotiator.”

Conquest was quiet.  The dolls were still.  Maggie still held Duncan at sword-point, and Rose occupied the shard of window beside me.

My friends hadn’t been there, was that because I felt, deep down, that Laird was right?  That I wasn’t a positive force in their lives?

“Rose,” I said, lowering my voice so Laird wouldn’t   “How much did you tell Conquest?”

“You’re wondering if he told Laird this?”

“Or overheard or something.”

“Nothing this specific.  I told him about your hangups, and some observations about your character.  He came to this on his own, I think.”

“Okay,” I said.

“He’s not getting to you, is he?  This garbage isn’t hitting the mark?”

“It is,” I said.  “He’s partially right.”

“The diabolist sees the light,” Duncan commented, his voice low.  “Could it be a miracle?”

“Shh,” Maggie said.  “This thing isn’t easy to hold.”

I looked at Maggie and Duncan.  She still covered part of her face, and the sword did look hard to hold with one hand.

Rose spoke, her voice gentle, “Focus, Blake.  We went into this with a plan.”

“The plan is out,” Maggie said.  “It was simple.  We get Laird, we use Laird to screw over Conquest.  Now Conquest is here.”

“We have options,” Rose said.  “We came into this with a strategy.  So did they.  Let’s be smart about it, plan, counterplan.  You can’t get fucking down in the dumps because they’re attacking your character and Evan isn’t around to stand up for you.”

I grit my teeth.

“Isadora called you a warrior,” Rose said.  “Your friends bled to get you back in the game.  Don’t just sit there and take Laird’s word for it.  Fight.  You made promises to a lot of people.  All the people you respect in the midst of this, Fell, Evan, Maggie, hopefully me, you gotta keep going for our sakes.”

“That wasn’t a question,” I said.  “I can fight and do justice while feeling crappy for letting things get to this point.”

“I don’t think you can,” she said.  “Dealing with the family, I learned how distracting feeling horrible could be.”

“Take it from me, if you frame it right, feeling like shit can be a good motivator,” I said.  Before she could argue further, I asked, “Corvidae is upstairs?”

“J.P.?  Yes.”

“Got anything else to summon?”

“Not really.  A few of the ones I tried to summon were off on other errands.  A few more felt like Midges, or the text was iffy enough I wasn’t sure if they were real demons or not.”

I nodded.

We needed to win with the assets we had right here.

“How does Corvidae work?” I asked.

“Strictly physical objects or people.  Switches the connections around.  Things and people find their way to new owners, but old attachments linger.  Emotional ties…”

“We need Laird, we have Duncan.  Is it possible Corvidae could swap one for the other?”

“I don’t think it works that way, and there’s a conspicuous lack of information in the book about practitioners using Corvidae to their own benefit.”

“Radiation?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something like radiation,” Rose said.  “There has to be a reason people don’t use Corvidae to hook them up with their crushes and unattainable loves.  Besides, I don’t think anyone owns Laird, and it’s a transfer of ownership, even with loved ones.”

I nodded.  No using the magpie man to trade one hostage for another.

“I’m glad you’re thinking, Blake,” Rose said, “But I don’t think the answer is as easy as that.”

I nodded.

“We have the Hyena,” Maggie said.

“If I release it, I think Evan will have command of it,” I said.

“I know how goblins operate,” Maggie said.  “Asking me to be your champion and then giving the goblin beast to Evan isn’t good strategy.”

“Let me rephrase.  If I release it, Evan will have command of it, circumstances allowing,” I told her.

“Cold,” Maggie said.

“I made promises,” I said.

“Still cold.  You sortaowe me one, after I’ve come all this way.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “If I was certain I knew who you were.”

She snapped her head around, staring at me.  “Huh?”

I met her eye, the other one covered by her hand, blood leaking down her arm.  It looked like it hurt.

I could have asked her to lower her hand, to give me a better look at her eye, where Duncan had clocked her, but there was a very good chance that doing so might mean I had one less ally here and one more enemy.

“Nevermind.  I’m getting distracted from the subject at hand,” I said.  “I shouldn’t have said that.”

“No kidding,” Maggie said.  “Are you losing it?”

The question sounded so natural, but the fact that it was a question and not a statement only added to my doubt.

“You’re only now starting to doubt him?” Duncan asked.

“Hush,” Maggie said.  She rested the tip of the sword on Duncan’s collarbone, the sword’s point pushing against his skin to create a faint depression.  The smallest push could break the skin and a more serious push could slide the blade right into windpipe, artery or jugular.

“Laird’s an augur,” I said.  “He can see the future.  Now that we know the time magic is mostly bullshit and bullshitting, I’m suspicious that the ‘seeing the future’ thing is one of their more costly activities.  I’m not sure how it works, but he might be working out the best plans of attack.”

I watched Duncan as I said it, and I saw his expression change just a bit.  Not a smile, not a frown, but a very neutral tug of the corner of the lips, out to either side.

I wished I knew why, but it was good to know that I’d provoked some reaction from him.  I made a mental note.

“While I’m brainstorming, we have another option,” Rose said.  “Well, we have two, but one you’re more likely to consider.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“June.  We can use June.”

“How?”

“Let her go.  It’s her medium.”

“You mean we…”

“Same we did with Leonard.  One last expenditure of power.”

“Leaves Blake unarmed,” Maggie commented.

“Yeah,” I said.  “But I see where Rose is coming from.  If we don’t get out of this in one piece, then there’s no point to holding on to June.”

I felt the weight of June in my hand.

Neither Rose nor Maggie said anything.

Out there, in the midst of the snow, I heard Laird talking.  From the one-sided nature of the conversation, I suspected he was on the phone.

“What’s the second idea?” I asked.

“We let Pauz free.”

I didn’t move.

“No objection?”

“I’m waiting for you to elaborate,” I said.  “You wouldn’t just suggest this out of nowhere.  You probably considered the objections I’d raise and came up with answers.  What’s-”

Music.

Loud, throbbing music cutting through the whistle of the wind.  The bass was turned up too high, the entire thing undercut by the hiss of static, a radio station that was tuned slightly off.

“Car stereo,” I said.

We’d taken too long to deliberate, and they were making their first move.

The music stopped.  It was only eerie silence.

I glanced over my shoulder, and saw the same scene as before, but Laird wasn’t there, and the car on the street had its headlights on.

“Maggie, draw the gun,” I said.  “I need the Hyena.”

“It’s just over there.  Pass it to me,” she said, “Take the sword.”

I glanced over my shoulder again, making sure I wasn’t putting myself in the line of fire, then hurried over.

I grabbed the gun from the ground and reversed it for her, as was my habit, learned over many hours of handyman work.  Our attention split between Duncan and the possible threat outside, we fumbled a bit, but Duncan didn’t try anything.

Then Laird’s soundtrack started playing.

Words in Arabic, punctuated by a soundtrack of ticks, tocks, and audible gear shifts.

“Fucker,” I said.  I raised my voice to be heard.  “Laird!”

He didn’t respond.

“Laird, you fucker!  This isn’t in Duncan’s interests!”

“You said it yourself,” Rose commented.  “The Behaim family peeks at the future.  You’re dealing with a hostage negotiator who can see the outcomes of his actions.”

“Or make an educated guess, at the very least,” Duncan said.

“Quiet,” Maggie said.

“Or what?  You can cut me a little with the sword, but the gun is either fired or it isn’t.  There isn’t a lot of middle ground.”

Maggie kicked him in the head.  Duncan toppled from his kneeling position, hard.

“Or that,” she said.

Duncan didn’t move, hand to his mouth.

The music was ongoing, building in tempo.

I covered my ears with one hand and the wrist of the hand that held June.

As defenses went, it was weak.

“Rose,” I said.  “Let the Hyena loose.  Order it to obey Evan and us.  Hit the car.”

“Hyena!”  Rose raised her voice.  “The seventh-youngest Thorburn bound you, and the seventh-youngest Thorburn bids you to listen!  Accept our order, obey Evan Matthieu, the ghost and the bird, agree to do us no harm.  Do this and you may step forth, wreak havoc, strike down our enemies!”

The sword began to come undone, twisting in my grip.

I heaved it through the window, spinning hilt over blade.

I could only see bits in my peripheral vision as I ducked back behind cover.  I could see the lighting in the living room change, as though a heavy cloud had passed over the sun on a sunny day, but it was overcast, and the shadow was thicker, deeper, and harbored a fair bit of darkness inside it.

“Corvidae,” I said.  “Stall for now, try to find a good opportunity to use him if you can.”

Rose didn’t respond.  She shouted something I couldn’t make out.  A line in another language.

Glass broke somewhere upstairs.

A body landed in the front yard.  Corvidae, almost the same as I’d seen him earlier, but he wore a coat.

“Corvidae, guard us!” Rose ordered.

“Not where my talents lie,” Corvidae commented.

“Deal with it!” Rose called out.

The Sister’s dolls advanced across the front yard.  I saw a glimpse of the Hyena assaulting them, biting and tossing them free, before he changed direction, moving for another target.

I could see the wounds, the elemental energy bleeding forth.

Conquest passed into my field of view as he stepped back, both hands on his old fashioned bayonet rifle.

When Conquest’s eyes fell on me, I ducked behind cover.  I had only a fleeting glimpse of him raising his weapon to his shoulder, the barrel pointed at me.

“Down!” I shouted.

Maggie threw herself to one side, landing on her side so she wouldn’t take the gun off Duncan.

I dropped to the base of the wall.

Conquest was big, the rifle disproportionately large.  The shot blew a chunk out of the wall by where my arm had been.  Another hole appeared in the wall on the far end of the room.

Rose was saying something, but my ears were covered.

“What?” I asked, lowering my hand.

The music was almost drowned out by the sound of the Hyena tearing into the car.

“Corvidae is down,” Rose commented, sounding very calm.  “Wait, nevermind, he’s back up.”

“Duck, Rose!” I said.  “Those bullets could hit you!  Conquest has done it before.”

“I am,” Rose said.  “But he’s trying to stop you, you know?”

I did know.

He wanted to take me out so Rose was easy pickings.

But he’d aimed for a spot that would have hit my arm.  Assuming supernaturally good aim, was he shooting to wound?  Did he want to break me?

Another shot passed through a spot slightly higher than the last.

Maybe not.  That seemed aimed at hitting head or neck.

It all seemed to be playing out in slow motion.  The way the splinters and plaster flew through the air, the chunks of brick arcing toward the floor.

Everything mattered, missing something vital could ruin us.

But my perceptions were the key thing here, and I was perceiving things in an odd way.

The music?  The individual elements were piling on one another now, building up to something.

I could cover my ears to stop that bit of perception alteration from getting to me.

Maggie couldn’t, not with a gun in one hand.  Not if she wanted to aim at Duncan.

This wasn’t a glamour, not exactly.  It wasn’t countered by someone recognizing it for what it was.

I’d argued with Rose before, saying that magic was an art form, not a science.  That it was about symbols and interpretation, and just as we focused ideas through words and images, the rules of this world could be altered by way of incantations, rituals and symbols.

Time as we recorded and tracked it was a construct, attitudes toward it changed from culture to culture, person to person.

He was altering that attitude.

Things were slowing down, in action and thought, and it was getting worse.  I knew my actions were slowed, but my thoughts were gradually catching up.

Why?

What did he gain, slowing everyone down?  What did it do except give us more time to think as trouble arrived?

Duncan shifted his weight, back away from Maggie at first.  Innocuous.

“Touch your ears…” Maggie said, and the words were slightly drawn out, distorted by the music, “…I shoot!”

Maggie didn’t see how he was getting his feet under him.

The music shifted, the effect doubling down.  Duncan moved as if he’d expected it, choosing that moment to spring forward.

Maggie stepped back, adjusting the angle of the gun, gauntleted hand closing on the trigger.  Excruciatingly slow.

Duncan moved faster.

His hands moved faster.

The runes he’d drawn on his wrists in marker.

I could remember when I’d tested the slow time field around Hillsglade house.  Dropping something, watching it move slower in my perceptions as compared to reality.

I moved, not drawing my arm back -there was no time- but simply hurling it forward.

I threw June.

The music could affect my body, convince it to move slower, it would have a harder time doing the same to a hurled hatchet.

Duncan’s hands reached the gun.  Maggie managed to pull the trigger, but Duncan was already turning the gun around, one hand on the back of it, the other on the side of the barrel.

The gun shot passed over one of his shoulders.

He twisted the gun around until it was pointed at Maggie, her finger sliding out of the trigger-guard as the gun rotated.

The hatchet hurtled past him, handle striking his elbow.

He moved, holding the gun with one hand.  His body was as affected as mine was, but his hands and his arms weren’t.  He looked at me out of the corner of one eye, aiming-

-and there was nothing I could do about it.  Even covering my ears wasn’t making a whole lot of difference.

Rose was saying something, but her voice was distorted.

Then I heard fluttering right in my ear, and the entire world shifted into focus, in the chronological sense.

Evan.

Good kid.

I threw myself to one side, and Evan gave me a push to help.  In the doing, I put myself behind Duncan, where it was physically impossible to aim at me.  The shoulder couldn’t bend that far back.

“Good job,” I said, putting my feet under me.

“Hyena’s down!” Rose said.  I put two and two together and realized she was repeating her line from earlier.  “Corvidae is gone!”

The music still played.

Conquest moved, stepping to a point where he and his rifle were visible through the window.  Basic logic said that if I could see him, he could see me.

Evan’s wings sounded I lunged to one side, trying to use Duncan as cover, hoping Conquest had made some deal-

No such luck.  Shots rang out.  The damage was exaggerated as it hit various objects and surfaces within the house, causing plaster to rain down, loud and violent enough to make my vision distort.  He didn’t need to reload.

He was the assailant, I was the civilian, or the man on the battlefield who was out of ammo and praying not to get hit.  That was the aura he had, the atmosphere that he carried with him when he was on the offensive.  It stripped away rational thought, shifted the ‘fight or flight’ decision making into pure ‘flight’.

It was like being the kid in the classroom, homework unfinished, praying the teacher wouldn’t pick you to answer the question.  That was the closest comparison I could make, tying it to reality, except being ‘picked’ was being hit by the bullet.

And you knew the fucking teacher had it in for you.

I found the hatchet in my scramble.

Time seemed to slow as I ducked low, grabbing the handle, and put inadvertently distance between myself and Evan.

I thought of moments I regretted.  Moments where I looked back on them and wished I’d done something different.  Moments I’d been attacked.

I found something there.  Anger, a need to not feel like that again.

I’d fight back, lash out blindly if I had to.

Evan found me again, no doubt trying to help me avoid the next bullet.  In the moment I found the regular flow of time, I swung the hatchet, aiming for Duncan’s wrists.

It was about as grisly as one might expect.

Blood, a scraping that felt incongruous with everything else.

I’d only hit one wrist, but that was enough.

I pulled it free, expecting resistance, found none, and let the hatchet fly into the air.

Rose was watching, waiting.

“June!” she shouted.  “We release you from your binding!  All at once now!  The snow!  Nothing but snow!”

Conquest shielded his face as the hatchet detonated, the ghost appearing as she’d been the first time I’d seen her, clear as day.

Bye, June.

Snow filled the room, thicker than any snowfall.

I ran, and by the third step, my feet were padding on snow.

The house was filling with it.

Russian winter to stall the Conqueror, I could only hope.

I ran around to the side of the house, the exit in the garage.

I stopped, caught between Conquest, who might be following, and Laird, who would be near the car at the front.

Maggie had slipped out the front.  I could feel the connection moving.  I wasn’t sure why Laird wasn’t going after her, but she had slipped out, which was all I could ask for.

“You okay?” Evan asked.

“You’re a hero,” I told him.  “I’m unhurt.”

“Because in the movies, people get shot and they don’t realize, and it’s all-”

“Evan.  I’m okay.

“For now.  We can’t stay here,” Rose said.  “Go for Laird.”

“Don’t have any weapons,” I said.

“We do,” Rose said.  “It’s the last big option you have, but…”

I heard a crash from the direction of the kitchen.

Conquest was making his way to us, too big for the room.

It seemed Duncan wouldn’t have a house when all of this was done.

“Do it,” I said.  “Clean and fast as you can.”

I heaved the garage door open, then slipped under.

I came face-to-face with a Behaim kid.  The older teenager.

He held a golden disc like he might hold a weapon.  He was looking around, searching for something.

Did the disc need a vehicle?  A power source?  A target?

It didn’t matter.

“Duncan is inside,” I said, my voice low.  “He’s bleeding badly, maybe to death.  Get inside, stop the blood flow.”

I could see the horror on his face.

“Please,” I said.  “I promise I won’t hurt your Uncle Laird too badly.  I won’t kill him, if I can help it.  But Duncan may well die without help.”

He wasn’t moving.

Go!” I shouted.

He went, running.

I didn’t move as fast. Snow still billowed out from the living room, like smoke from a fire, thicker than the snowfall that still plagued the city.  Even on the driveway, which had been shoveled in the not-so-distant past, pushed down by the passage of Joanna’s car and tires, it was nearly knee-deep.

The Hyena lay on its side at the end of the driveway, collapsed, snow already thick in its fur.  It didn’t breathe.  Blood pooled around it.

The dolls the Hyena had gotten its teeth and claws on were acting erratic, conflicting with other dolls or staggering in Laird’s general direction.

One staggered in mine, making slow and uneven progress through the deeper snow of the yard itself.  Evan circled it, and it spun in place, trying to clutch him, before it lost its balance and collapsed.

A moment later, it erupted in a small explosion.  Evan was clear.

Laird was standing just outside his car, surrounded by four more injured dolls.

He fired his gun, and one staggered back before breaking into individual pieces.

If I could get my hands on him…

But I couldn’t get past those dolls without risking it.  Couldn’t risk getting shot.  For now, he was prioritizing

The garage door opened.

Conquest.

The snow didn’t even impede him, out here.

“This has gone on long enough,” Conquest said.

I didn’t open my mouth.

If he shot me-

He didn’t.

The butt of his gun struck the snow beside him, barrel pointed skyward.  He held it like he might a cane.

“We’re not fighting?” I asked.

Fighting implies a kind of equality, doesn’t it?” he asked.  “One person fighting, the other fighting back?  I’m not so fond of level playing fields.”

I nodded slowly.

I had a very bad feeling.

“I saw your Rose preparing to call the imp.  She won’t be finishing the task anytime soon.  Laird is occupied.  This is between you and me.”

“And me!” Evan said.

I wasn’t sure if it was the contrast to Conquest’s voice or fear, but Evan’s voice was a squeak, it was so high-pitched.

“Ah, of course.  You have support.  Shall I call mine?”

I tensed.

The Shepherd?  The Eye?

Conquest spread his arms.  As if stepping out from behind the curtains on either side of the stage, two figures emerged.

Two men, a bit of scruff on their cheeks, they wore utilitarian clothes, dirty, one suited more for spring or fall, the other for winter.  Heavy layers.  They had wavy blond hair of different lengths.  One was slightly shorter than the other.  Fractionally.

“Blake?” Evan asked.  he looked up at me, then over at them, confused.

“Yeah,” I said, as I stared at them.  “He found them.”

My heart pounded.  I knew exactly what was coming.

They were me.

“Echoes,” Conquest said.  “Images, memories and emotions that left a mark on the surface of reality, on the spiritual plane.  Much like yourself, little bird.”

“Fuck you,” I told him, and my voice was strangled.

“Allow me to reintroduce you,” Conquest said.

The younger one rushed at me.

There was no avoiding it.  In a way, it was mine.

The rain fell hard.

It wasn’t one of the nights where sleep came easy.  Most nights, I could get five hours, in the right place, if I’d eaten, if everything was okay.

But I itched.  I suspected I knew why, and shame gnawed at me.

One night in the shelter, when the rain had been worse, I might have caught them from the cot.  Lice, bed bugs, fleas, something.

There was no getting rid of them.  I had a hundred tiny bites on me, and all I could do was suffer in silence.  I’d known sleep was going to be hard to come by, so I had picked a less desirable spot, where I had more of a view, where the rain only fell on me when the direction changed.

I was fully prepared to spend the night awake, enduring discomfort on a number of levels, lost in thought and introspection.

I was almost ready to go back.  To just duck my head down and see my parents.  To bite the bullet.

I didn’t expect sympathy.  If they had any to spare, they would have found me already.  I’d stayed with friends for a while, couch surfing, then the periodic night on the streets when I’d been unable to find a couch became the typical night on the streets.

I didn’t even expect blame, exactly.

When I contemplated the situation, I was trying to find arguments that I could make, that would keep my parents from shoving me right out the door again.  I wasn’t young enough to demand they take me back.  They weren’t required to by law.

I seethed as I recalled memories, trying to think of every major wrong they’d done me, so I could tell them they owed me a few nights of a bed to sleep on, a shower, some food.

By the time I heard the footsteps, it was too late.

This isn’t the worst one.  Or even the second-worst oneNot the one where I was shot and beaten.

Kids with makeshift clubs.  Sticks, something that might have been a ski pole without the plastic bit on the bottom.

Of course, ‘kid’ was relative.

Teenagers, big enough to be almost-adults, little enough to lack the full-sized brain that let someone make the right judgement calls.

In a way, it’s why I don’t blame Maggie more than I do.  Because I’ve spent too long trying to frame this.

The first hits were aimed at knocking me out, or at least leaving me senseless.  Aimed at the temple, hitting my ear instead, cutting it.

Another blow, aimed at the same spot, maybe by the same person, hitting the edge of my eye socket.

A jab at my ass with something long and sharp, raucous laughter.

I fought, lashing out, hurled the first thing my hand could find.

They fought back, focusing mostly on my head, until they saw a chance to grab my arms, holding me down, my legs kicking.

It didn’t matter, the struggling.  They took turns.  Aiming at the head, aiming at the stomach, legs, groin, knees.

End it.  Please.  I can feel it allHow much experience can an echo cover?

The emotions- hatred, confusion, mindless animal terror.

It was like each hit beat me down a little more.  Pushed me further back.  Put me in the mindset I’d had when I was just a little younger.  Being a teenager, so frustrated, hurting in ways I couldn’t put words to.

Being a small child, wanting his mom.

They were slowing down.

I was left with only the hurt.  Feeling like I had as a kid, in some after school activity, after some older kids had mocked me in the changing room, chanting at me “you suck, you suck!”  Just as unable to comprehend how people could do something so cruel.  Making the connection between things I’d read about and the fact that it could really happen in reality.

They stopped.

I wasn’t even a four or five year old, in terms of where I was mentally or emotionally.

Four or five year olds could move of their own volition.

I was left to lie there, in a spot that most people wouldn’t go to, beside the road, overlooking the water.

They must have seen me take the path down.

My eyes fell on a sparrow, sitting on a short sign.

“I can’t do anything here,” Evan said.

Yeah.

“Yeah,” he agreed.  “I’m really sorry.”

I wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for.  For being unable to help?

For having seen it?

The echo didn’t stop.

The scene became fractured, skipping across the highlight reel.  What I had anticipated as one night of mild discomfort would be a few days.  The highlight real treated me to all of the most emotional moments in those days that followed.

I’d been considering going home, before that.  Stupidly, stubbornly, I’d told myself I would wait until the cuts and bruises were gone.

I inhaled as if I were coming up from underwater.  I took a step back, forgetting that there was snow blocking my range of movement, and I stumbled.

“You and I both know what this next one entails,” Conquest said.

“Fuck you,” I gasped out the words.  “Fuck you, Conquest.  You shitstain!  You think this makes you look strong?  Your worst doesn’t even compare to what petty humans do to each other!”

“Are you sincerely asking me to do my worst to you?”  Conquest asked.  There was fucking amusement in his voice.

“I’d ask you to fuck yourself, but I doubt you’re that well endowed, if you’re pulling this petty fucking shit!”

“It seems to be having an effect on you,” he said.

I shook my head.  The scene was replaying in my head.

“It wasn’t real,” I said.  “It… that wasn’t exactly how it happened.”

“Close enough to matter,” he said.  “Holes had to be filled in, gaps covered.”

“Fuck you,” I said.

“Let’s see how accurate this next one turned out,” he said.

The echo didn’t rush.

It limped.

Eyes downcast.

Just looking at it was as bad as everything else Conquest had put me through.

I backed up.  Even in the snow, I was faster.

Until hands gripped my upper arms.

For a moment, I thought it had me.  Fear overtook me.

“This is for the best,” Laird said, in my ear.

I tried to retort, but the words didn’t find their way to my mouth.

I struggled, and he held me fast.

Evan flew between us, breaking Laird’s hold, and I heard him fluttering in my ear as Laird screamed all of a sudden.

I was free.

But the echo was too close now.

I turned, thinking I could move away faster if I wasn’t walking backward, and I felt it seize my wrist.

No.

One man, this time.

His features were distorted, but I’d been messed up enough after the fact that it might have muddled the memories, distorted the echo.

No, no, no.

“What’s-” Evan started.

“What can I do?” Evan cried out.

Nothing.  It’s a scene, it wants to play outJust talk to me, distract me, okay?

“It can’t be that simple!”

It is.  It’s as simple as it gets.

People suck.

“What about your friends?  Your friends don’t suck!  Ty is cool!”

And Alexis, and Tiff, and Joel, yeah.  But I really don’t want to associate them with thisSomething else.

“This thing is a ghost?  The echo?”

Yeah.

“Then, like me?  Are there ghost weaknesses?”

Not like you.  It’s a replay.

“Fast forward!  Stop!  Pretend it’s a video, like it’s art, and change it like you would the video, right?”

Like June?  Calling events to mind?

Yeah.

Skip to the end.

Alexis sat in front of me as I woke.

“Shh,” she said.  “I’m here.  I’m not doing anything, I’m not going anywhere.  Just rest.  Feel better.”

I let my head down to the ground.

“If you need anything, no matter how minor, stupid or hard to get?  Ask.  I’ll figure it out,” she said.

“Just stick around,” I muttered.

“I can do that.”

A burst of gratitude, big enough to leave a mark, alongside all the other crazy, mixed-up emotions.

I stirred, but this time I didn’t gasp.  Laird had backed off a little.

Silently, quickly, I grabbed the splinter of wood I’d been given to find the eraser demon.

I stabbed it into Laird’s neck.

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211 thoughts on “Void 7.6

  1. Sorry, my internet cut out just as I reached for the button to submit the completed draft, took five minutes to reset the modem and get it back. Chapter up.

    1. Some of these are probably duplicates, given that I am doing this almost a day later than I normally do:

      “Shit.”
      closing quote is in opening quote style

      into at atmosphere
      into an atmosphere

      hangups
      usually hang-ups

      Nevermind (2)
      Never mind

      Evan asked. he looked
      Evan asked. He looked

      judgement
      judgment

      well endowed
      usually well-endowed

      The highlight real
      The highlight reel

      1. I keep seeing these and I have to speak up. When a phrase like “well endowed” is used before a noun, as a double adjective, it is always hyphenated. When that double adjective is on its own, it is not hyphenated. For instance, “well-endowed boobs” has a hyphen. “She is well endowed” does not have a hyphen. You can say “usually well-endowed instead of well endowed” because a simple Google search might well pull up more of one than another, but that doesn’t necessarily say which is the correct form here, as you have to consider the term in context. In this particular context, since the phrase in the story is standing on its own and is not a double adjective, it is correct to not use a hyphen in the term “well endowed”. The same goes for virtually every other hyphenated phrase or phrase that you think should be hyphenated — it has to be considered in context and not as a stand alone phrase.

        1. Thanks – I had read that rule but it was a long time ago, so I needed a refresher.

          And my first pass is with a spelling and grammar checker, which is what flags most of the hyphenated and non-hyphenated words, but does appear to have its own problems.

          I do realize the limitations of Google.

        2. Interesting and informative, thank you.

          One minor correction to your correction of the correction. 😀 “Well-endowed boobs” isn’t right – “endowed” means possessing a quality or asset and being “well-endowed” means that you’ve been blessed with a lot of it. So you can describe a woman with large breasts as “a well-endowed woman” but the breasts themselves are not well endowed.

    1. For the first time in a while there’s no wall of text… but instead we have half-eaten portions… I can feel the everyone’s screams of frustration from where I am.

      1. Typos:
        – “Evan’s wings sounded I lunged to one side” -> missing word
        – “and put inadvertently distance” -> “inadvertently put”
        – “For now, he was prioritizing” -> that sentence seems incomplete; maybe “prioritizing his own safety”?
        – “There was no avoiding it. In a way, it was mine.” -> “mine” seems to have no referent

      2. Not sure if it counts as a typo, but:

        “windpipe, artery or jugular.”

        One is not like the others. Substitute artery with carotid.

    2. “The plan is out,” Maggie said. “It was simple. We get Laird, we use Laird to screw over Conquest. Now Conquest is gone.”

      Should probably be “here.”

        1. I think “when” would sound even better. Though regional English often surprises me, and I don’t know much of anything about Canadian usage.

    3. Wondering whether there should be another line between:

      “What’s-” Evan started.

      and

      “What can I do?” Evan cried out.

      Feels like maybe there should be something there, some reason for Evan to change what he is saying?

      1. Nah, the first line is Evan wondering what the ‘man’ is doing. Then he understands and wants to help.
        We don’t really need more details to know what is happening, do we ?

        Anyway, “For now, he was prioritizing” cuts off rather abruptly.

        1. What’s the whole line?

          “For now, he was prioritizing” sounds complete to me, other than the lack of punctuation.

          As in “For now he was (doing some) prioritizing”

    4. Don’t know if these count as typos but the following sentences are a bit awkward to read:
      “Being careless and throwing away Duncan’s life could look careless.”
      “They’d probably get me in the process and win the fight, but would he do something?”

  2. Is what? IS WHAT?

    IIIIIIIISSSSSS WHHHAAAAAATTTTT!!!!!

    In all seriousness, though, typo thread here, starting off with a doozy.

  3. I haven’t read the chapter yet, but I’d like to point out how Blake is having trouble being heard now, while before, the wind carried his voice. Nice exchange of power there.

  4. Jeez Blake. Chopping off Dunc’s hands, going stabby stabby on Laird. I think you musta taken the Skitter school of Combat Cruelty and Rumble Ruthlessness.

      1. Well lets face it, having just relived a pretty bad memory, and apparently just avoiding his worst… Blake has finally had enough of Laird’s shit. Poke the bear with a stick while it’s sleeping, don’t be surprised if it wakes up and bites your head off.

  5. Liard is trained in Diabolism, the splinter is linked to Erasurr…Isn’t putting both of them together a really bad idea?

    1. Yes, PLEASE, let’s have Laird SUMMON A DEMON in front of everyone – one he can’t control, far from its home, when it’s likely to die come morning! We could have a horrible monster AND Erasurr gone both at once!

    1. Evan is the most adorable little thing.

      Also pretty damn heavily implying Blake was a rape victim. You know, hates being touched & having tats in an effort to reclaim control of his body.

      1. “Heavily implying” was a few updates ago, when all we knew was “hates being touched,” “has tats,” and “was on the streets for years.” This is PG-13 rated confirmation, and even then only because the narration is mercifully elsewhere.

        1. Agreed. The implying started in 1.1. The heavy stuff came later. Knowing Wilbow’s tendency for “colorful” descriptions, I’m fine with the echo narration skipping ahead. That being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to a simply bit of dialogue confirming to kill that tiny bit of doubt in the back of my mind that the big traumatic event is actually something completely unexpected.

          1. Nah, color in Wildbow’s descriptions usually comes about during body horror things e.g. creative use of insects. I can only think of one other rape scene in his body of work, and that one was told second-hand through a funhouse mirror and averted to boot.

  6. So, what will that stick of wood do to Laird? Kill him? Summon Urr-aser? Nothing? What about Conquest? Having found those echos, is he out of tricks now or… ah, the agony of having to wait more days. 😉 Yeah, yeah, first world problem, I know.

    1. I think C-word made a major mistake here, given that Blake was ”empty” when he bled himself out at the police station, isn’t filling Blake up with ghosts of ‘himself’ no matter how negative & traumatic makes Blake more ‘whole’, restoring his depleted power reserves?

      1. Not to mention there is always something I wonder when someone tries to destroy someone else by making them relive the worst moments of their life. You survived it. You endured it. It couldn’t destroy you the first time. You are strong enough to take it. And if that is the best they can do… Then they can never destroy you.

        1. I don’t like the idea that “whatever doesn’t kill you , makes you stronger”. It’s so naive.

          Yeah, he survived it, in the same way that a building “survives” being bombed, the building might still be there, but no one would say it’s stronger for the experience, or more likely to survive being bombed again.

          1. Well Blake himself doesn’t believe it, and it isn’t always accurate to say that surviving something makes you stronger, the devil, as they say, is in the details. In this case Conquest isn’t beating the shit out of him, or raping him. Conquest is forcing him to relive things he’s already survived. They left scars, sure, but Blake wasn’t destroyed. You used a bombed building as a metaphor. Sometimes it’s like that. But sometimes it’s like a broken bone. If it’s properly set, and allowed to heal, it becomes stronger. Of course you’ll never want to do the thing that broke it before again, but you know the bone will heal. It’s not the end of the world.

      2. On the other hand, he’s filling up Blake with Blake-at-his-lowest. Sure, it gives Blake more Blake to burn, but it also lowers the overall quality of Blake. After all, as Blake refilled naturally, it would be whatever quality of Blake Blake was at the moment. Basically, while Blake’s extra Blake is good short-term, it’s hurting him long-term.

        Blake is starting to not look like a word.

        Blake.

  7. “I promise I won’t hurt your Uncle Laird too badly. I won’t kill him, if I can help it.”

    Huh… Now, I don’t know exactly how stabbing Laird in the neck will interact with this promise, but I don’t think it’ll be good. The wording may be light enough that he gets away. He might end up forsworn. Waiting for the next chapter is going to suck.

    1. Aside from the great glee I take in saying the following “Fuck Laird”, I suspect that intent matters here. If Blake’s feeling stuck in a situation where he sees no other way out, then he’s fulfilling his promise. As far as he can help it, there are no other choices that will work, short of being killed… which kinda makes getting forsworn a moot point.

    2. At this point I don’t think he gives a damn really. Look at it from his point of view, they forced him to live through the worst moments of his life, he knows he’s going to hell either way, and they’ve screwed him over.

      What happens when you push someone to the breaking point and they have nothing to lose? They either breakdown crying or they start fighting back.

    3. Pretty sure this is all part of the plan. Pretty sure that if Blake was going to kill Laird he would have done it when he first captured him. In this chapter they keep cryptically referencing how much they “need” Laird, and they all seem to be acting to stall Conquest so that they can get to Laird first. Blake seems to be acting calmly at the end – the stabbing is not due to rage – so I reckon he is carrying on with the original plan.

      1. Good point. I hadn’t considered that. I just assumed Blake was reacting. It does answer the obvious question of “why does Blake suddenly have the Erasurrr wood in hand”.

        1. …. Or, Blake has been traumatized by what Laird and Conquest are willing to do, but then Evan helps him escape his issues to do what he thinks ought to be done for Alexis and his friends.
          Which is unlikely to involve sitting down to a tea party with Laird.

    4. “too badly” as opposed to what? What is too much hurting? So long as Blake believes he is reacting appropriately – not even reasonably, but just appropriately – that should be okay.
      Attempting not to kill him if he can help it means that Blake isn’t allowed to finish Laird off unless that’s too difficult. He can probably at least almost-kill Laird and leave him to die.

    5. Take it pretty literally, and it means “hurt him beyond what he deserves or is appropriate”. Laird just pinned Blake so he could re-experience being raped. Being set on FIRE wouldn’t qualify as “too badly”, imo.

    6. Being stabbed in the neck with a splinter of wood isn’t an automatic instant kill either. It depends on what it hits, and even something like the Jugular isn’t necessarly fatal, if the object is left in the wound until proper medical care can be administered. Honestly I’m hoping it hits Laird’s layrenx so as to shut the smug asshole up.

    7. Key word being “If I can help it.” After re-living his worst memories, Blake can honestly say that he immediately couldn’t help but to hurt Laird badly (but not too badly) & kill him. He actually kept his promise there.

  8. Oh boy, looks like they’ve finally pushed Blake to the point where he no longer gives a fuck about morals.

    Conquest wanted demons? Well, I think he’s going to get them.

      1. Looks more like Blake is using Liard as a walking/bleeding payphone to dial for Erasurr.

        Rose is freeing Pauz, the Hyena is down for the count but still ‘alive’ since it’s effect on the dolls are still ongoing, I suppose Erasurr will be arriving soon and this is the part where Blake/Rose fuses the 3 Others into 1 & sics it on C-word?

        The Lawyers want Blake to call for Infernal help so that he will owe them & they can manipulate him to walking the path of a Diabolist, calling for Infernal help from Others other than them would derail their plans and buy Blake some slack to mollify them somewhat.

  9. Not sure how to react to this one. Still not sure if the chapter has actually ended yet.

    A fighting Blake is an effective Blake. Up until about day 2 in Toronto, I thought Blakes skills lay in deception and espiononage. I now see that Isadora was right. Blake is a warrior.Hopefully he’ll live to go from a “little warrior” to a big one.

    So Blake is basically using up all of his gained tools in this final fight. I am OK with this. In a sense, Blake is at his most powerful right now. If he survives this, I look forward to seeing the current Blake take charge and gather better tools.

    Evan’s the best. I just love the scene playing out of a Rifle Wielding Giant and The Soon to Be Evil Overlord calling each other out for a final encounter, only for a tiny spearow to yell out “and me!” In the voice of an 8 heard boy. Also, pretty smart, getting Blake to fast forward thru the echo.

    Assuming Laird isn’t trying to stealth mentor Blake here, he should really back off. His only sort of win against Blake was the time dilation ring around the house. The other encounters have left him accused of murder, accused of child abuse, doused in Goblin urine, kidnapped, and left with a stake in the neck. Blake is not someone you want to mess with.

    1. Even if Laird is trying to stealth mentor Blake, he should really consider backing off, because it’s really not working out too well for him, and only marginally better for Blake.

      1. Stealth Mentor my rear. He just has a grudge against Blake’s family and was trying to force him to relive something we interpret as bad enough to warrant Blake trying to run in terror from. There’s defeating someone and then there’s what they did, so he got what he had coming.

        1. Honestly I was kinda hoping that Laird was going to get thrown into the echo and get to relive Blake’s worst memory.

          1. That would be step one in understanding him and defusing their conflict so it’d never happen (or Laird would see it as justified for the karma that the family worked up over the years and be apathetic).

            1. never going to happen. Laird, to be Blunt, has never shown the Empathy that would require. all he is worried about is his reputation, if that was off the cards he’d have his own children and relations outright suicide-attacking. if he had either empathy or any real smarts, he’d have backed off the moment things started going wrong. hell, he wouldn’t be in the middle of a killing spree.

      2. It can be said, though, that Blake is arguably at his strongest so far. While he has exhausted his tools, he has more skills, abilities, clout and achievements than before he returned to Toronto.

        Before he couldn’t get a mere wisp to listen to him. Now he scares goblins and wraiths into submission, has minions, commands lower level enemy practitioners, can move between worlds pretty much at will, and is considered a threat and warrior by Greater Others. If Blake gets out of the current situation alive, he will be at a much more advantageous situation to gain power, survive and possibly change the system. Laird is directly responsible for pushing Blake to rise to this level. The question is: was it intentional on Laird’s part.

        I do agree this does seem to be taking quite a toll on Laird,

        1. “I do agree this does seem to be taking quite a toll on Laird,”

          That’s an understatement. Laird has a punctured neck.

    2. And even the time-dilatation ring is not nullified now that Blake figured out the trick. If anything, it’s even a cool defense against most Others who can’t even get to the backyard now.

  10. I may or may not have punched the air when Blake got around the second echo. This is what Conquest does? Canada’s s**tiest home movies? A fear aura? That doesn’t scream “conqueror” to me. That sounds more like “bully.” And bullies only work as long as no one says no.

    As for Laird’s splinter to the neck, he had that and a lot more coming. Go Blake! Rah rah rah! I dare anyone to say anything that would make me feel sympathies for Laird, the conniving, two-faced, SOB who was given the world and attempted to squander it on one diabolist who is less monstrous than he ever was. And, not to appear disrespectful, Wildbow, but that goes for you too. You’ve done well with Interludes that suddenly turn monsters into pitiable creatures (spoilers encrypted with ROT13: N pregnva puvehetrba pbzrf gb zvaq vzzrqvngyl) but you’d be hard-pressed to do so with Laird, I believe.

      1. ROT13: V abgvpr gung lbhe anzrfnxr arire orpnzr flzcngurgvp orsber uvf hagvzryl, tehrfbzr, naq nygbtrgure gbb fngvfslvat qrngu.

    1. I, on the other hand, have generally been able to find pretty much everyone at least understandable, if not sympathetic. Usually even before any interludes. Maybe I’m just strange that way, but Wildbow’s characters tend to have viewpoints that I can grasp, even if they are completely different from my own and lead to horrible actions. There’s rarely a time when someone does something and I can’t even begin to fathom why they would do that.

      Laird is a pretty easy example. I’ve found him understandable and rather sympathetic for the entirety of Pact. He’s an antagonist from Blake’s viewpoint, which is what we see, but he’s not a particularly horrible guy from his own viewpoint or even that of his family.

      1. Omg!!! Where were you a few chapters back, when Laird Hate was at a high and people were saying he was a pure evil monster that was trying to unleash demons on the world? It’s refreshing to see someone who acknowledges that, while Laird is the “bad guy”, he’s not automatically a horrible monster.

        1. I mostly read only a little bit of the comments, because there’s way too many. But I’ve commented on the Laird-hate on the early chapters at some point.

          See, if I were in Laird’s position and believed what he does, I’d probably act in a similar manner. I expect more intelligent decisions of myself, but I also don’t know his exact circumstances so I am not sure I’d do better than him, despite believing so. Regardless…

          Laird has his own ambitions. That isn’t a bad thing. He wants to rule his town and see it grow, which is perfectly fine. The issue to most seems to be that he is very hostile against Blake at every turn and refuses to make peace with him. But given that diabolism is so dangerous as to be not just possible, but likely to result in things that are as bad or worse as nuclear detonations, it’s perfectly understandable to me for a person to be willing to go to extremes and to be unwilling to accept that peace is possible. In addition to the clear and present danger that he perceives Blake as, Blake is also in the way of his other ambitions. As long as Laird believes himself capable of eliminating the Thorburns without too much collateral to things he cares about, he has absolutely no reason not to do so.

          Imagine a five-year-old playing with a detonator that can eradicate your entire hometown in a nuclear explosion. You know it won’t trigger if you shoot the child. Or you could try talking, to convince them to put away the detonator, and risk losing everything. And in this case, you can’t get rid of the detonator, except by killing the child – there is no way to separate the two.

          I’d shoot.

          1. Sounds more like Isadora than Laird-if it was as you said,he wouldn’t be such a jerk about it,he would be more like “I hate doing that,but alas,I must”.Nor would he just tell him to stay there and die ,he would try to kil him right away,not try to keep him alive in order to have a nuclear detterent.(rot13 rira Fnvag naq Gntt qvqa’g npg fb ulcbpelgvpnyyl naq arrqyrffyl wrexvfu,naq gurl jrer obgu znwbe ba obgu bs gurfr qehtf)

            Also,sounds like you underestimte 5 year olds intelligence.

      2. “[Laird]’s not a particularly horrible guy from his own viewpoint or even that of his family.”

        Of course not. The first is called hypocrisy, which Laird has in spades, and the second is called good PR, which, again, Laird has in spades. Let’s look at what he has actually done, again. 1) tricked a minor into siccing goblins onto the Thorburn heir, with the result of the heir’s death. 2) Abandoned the next Thorburn heir to Faerie after swearing to provide protection. 3) Actively worked to starve the Thorburn heir (remember the altercation at the convenience store?), after he escaped the first ambush. 4) Froze time around the Thorburn heir’s only sanctuary in Jacob’s Bell, forcing him to return to Toronto. 5) Relayed instructions to his nephew to frame the Thorburn heir for murder or insanity. I could go on, but it gets murkier after that, and I believe my point has enough evidence to be going on with.

        1. I could still argue that none of that makes Laird a horrible person. These aren’t random things He’s done to innocent muggles. They’re attacks he’s made on enemies. He basically declared war on Blake the first time they met.

          Considering the diabolic horrors that Granny Rose no doubt trained him to protect against, it’s understandable if he 1) has a grudge against the Thorburns or 2) constantly sees the worst case scenario of having a budding Diabolist in town. The fact that Rose and Blake have actually proved themselves dangerous, willing to use imps, formerly assumed demons, the worse kind of goblins, and cause (in one way or the other) countless deaths and injuries in Toronto kinda shows that the idea that the “Diabolist is a threat and an enemy” is not without merit.

          I’m only going to give counter arguments for your 1st and 5th example because the others really aren’t that bad IMO.

          1) tricked a minor into siccing goblins onto the Thorburn heir, with the result of the heir’s death.

          I think you may be wording this in a misleading way. I read your statement as implying that he sent an innocent kid to murder the heir. We know that’s not true on 2 fronts. 1) The attack was not meant to kill Molly. Maggie messed up. The people (it wasn’t just Laird remember) that got Maggie to perform the attack were displeased with the results. 2)Maggie isn’t an innocent child. Shes a year (give or take a few months) from 18, not a little girl. As a comparison, Gnlybe fcrag zbfg bs Jbez ntr 15-17. I think the last 2 arcs have thoroughly shown that the girl isn’t innocent. She is the same girl that was, just these last 2 chapters, holding swords to throats and aiming guns at people.

          Relayed instructions to his nephew to frame the Thorburn heir for murder or insanity

          All Laird told Duncan to do was to neutralize Blake for a day and gave him some tools. It was Duncan himself who decided how to go about doing it. I think we all, Laird included, would agree that Duncan handled it horribly. That still doesn’t reflect horribly on Laird.

          Now let’s go on the opposite side. Remember that time Blake beat back faerie to unconsciousness? What about the time he tricked a(n actual) innocent little girl in order to infiltrate her home? Let’s not forget about him setting a Goblin loose in the little girls house. Who can forget when he tried to set Laird up to be arrested for child abuse? If you want to get more recent, let’s remember when Blake purposefully let loose Goblins against kids and had one hurt Laird. We could also point to the time he kidnapped Laird and kept him at threat of torture by a demon. Or we can look to the time he held Duncan and Joanna hostage. This chapter we see him slash the wrist of Duncan and stab Laird in the neck.

          So after looking at what Blake’s done, are we simply going to say that he’s a horrible person? The answer, of course, is no. We excuse these things because we like him and these are his attacks against his enemies. I think the inverse is true of Laird. The commenters tend to dislike him because of his smug way of doing things. Its worth saying that attacking your enemy in a smug way does not equal being a horrible person. I just wonder if we’d be saying the same about Blake if the perspective was reversed.

          I personally dislike Laird and want to see him fail (or switch sides). I find that for me personally, though, to say that Laird isn’t understandable and is wholly unsympathetic is without basis.

          1. Perhaps I worded the first example wrong. Regardless, if Maggie wasn’t innocent, she certainly didn’t want the act of third-degree murder dogging her conscience or her karma. Laird facilitated that, and we’ve seen how he plays up Blake’s threat (Blake hasn’t helped in that regard, true, but he’s still far less of a threat than Laird says he is). And he still moved to keep Blake from resupplying at the convenience store, which is tantamount to siege tactics in their private war. (I believe it’s slightly disingenuous to brush that off as “aren’t that bad”, but that’s my opinion)

            Half of your list of Blake’s crimes are without context, (beating on the faerie was in the context of a duel, he tricked the girl in order to escape from the party, he set up Laird in order to save his house, to name but a few) and the others are things that we the commenters have called him out for (I agree that the goblin in the study was a dick move, for instance).

            I’ll give you the Duncan one, but the question is never if he would be understandable or not. The question is whether or not I would sympathize with him. And it will take a great deal of sympathetic backstory to make me view him as anything other than a “conniving, two-faced SOB.”

            1. Laird instigated, and he escalated more than Blake. He made it clear from the begining that he want’s Blake to be a pawn, then die. And when Blake has the termerity to fight back, he declares him less restrained than Grandma Rose. Blake has at multiple points offered peace to Laird, and at multiple points Laird has refused. That is the single most telling thing to me. Yes, Blake is stuck with a horribly dangerous legacy, and seven lifetimes of bad karma. But to any observent human being it’s clear he has no desire to ever use them. Blake left the family behind. Laird could have offered to help Blake avoid going down that path, or offered a peace, as long as Blake made certain oaths to prevent him from using diabolism. Instead it was “I’m going to use you as a Johannes buffer until I don’t need you anymore, then you and your entire family shall die”. It’d be like if America told the president of some small country “We’re going to use you as a buffer against the Soviet Union until they collapse, then we are going to wipe you out, and no one will care because the previous rulers of the country had so many human rights violations, and we don’t care if you might be able to turn things around.”

            2. I’m actually replying to negadark, for some reason there’s no “reply” option to his post:

              Yes, Blake is stuck with a horribly dangerous legacy, and seven lifetimes of bad karma. But to any observent human being it’s clear he has no desire to ever use them.

              I read a different comment just a bit before reading this which reminded me of something: Laird mentions earlier that augury is vague and expensive, and because of that he mostly (or only?) follows the “worst-case scenario” threads.

              If he only looks towards bad futures, he’s probably blinding himself to the fact that probable futures (and Blake) are actually good. After all, like genies, augury traditionally gives an exactly true answer to your question, but exactly the answer you don’t want. Bringing your own downfall because you asked the wrong question, or misinterpreting the true meaning of a prophecy, are almost expected in this genre.

              And Laird getting to a really bad ending, because he kept messing with the new demonologist, because he thought the demonologist was evil, because he was only looking for bad futures rather than likely ones, is the kind of twisted thing I expect from Wildbow, even though I can never tell if he plans them or has just awesome narrative intuition.

    2. it gets better! quite literally the only reason Blake IS a Diabloist is to have some hope of defending himself form Lard- errr, Laird’s Vendetta. so by his own logic he should of been killed before he started murdering Rose Snr’s Descendent.

      1. Artist here. Just found that you guys found me. Was too timid to post for a long long time. Grateful for the exposure. My blog went from 100 views to well over a thousand in just a couple days. I’ve been quietly losing my mind.

        Just finished Erasurrr, if you’re interested.
        http://pactillustrations.blogspot.com/2014/06/urrrrr.html

        Isadora is getting a full-on 20 inch portrait in the next week or so. She is so beautiful and dangerous, in my mind. I hope I can accurately portray that.

        (I’m currently trying to get Blake to sit still long enough that I can get a drawing of him during his Awakening scene. He’s predictably not happy about it.)

  11. “Stay put, Laird!” Maggie called out. “I will put a sword through this man’s throat!”

    So is Maggie under obligation to at least nick Duncan in the throat with a sword in the future?

      1. Yes, the condition was implied, but does that even matter? If the spirits that govern the universe in Pact are too simple to understand concepts like deferred responsibility and sarcasm, why would they be able to understand implied deals?

        1. They can understand the spirit of promises and statements. That’s why being completely forthright gets more karma that twisted truths.

  12. Oh yeah, assaulting a police officer (Duncan) in his home. If Blake somehow wins against C-word, how will he get out of this? Every cop & law enforcement agency is going to be out for his blood now; even if karma ensures that there’re no evidence provable in the court of law, I can already see an endless streak of police harassment/brutality for Blake & Co.

    1. “He tried to shoot me in front of a roomful of officers. I’d take that into account before you go listening to his crazy stories. Also, what was he even doing at his home, if his story is true? I thought he’d be under arrest, since he, again, tried to kill me in front of a dozen police officers.”

      And similar. Duncan trying to kill Blake in front of a room full of law enforcement officers is the most interesting part of that story, and since Blake won that one three times karma might well ensure that that gets out before anything else.

      1. On the other hand (no pun intended) Blake did save the life of his cousin’s murderer (Maggie), so there may be some gain of positive karma even if it was done to preserve his own combat forces.

    2. Blake helped a stranger with her car and was then treated to some hospitality. Duncan, the same officer who shot at Blake in a rage and is accused of being in a conspiracy against him, took a gun and aimed it at his friend. Blake simply prevented his friend from being murdered.

      Considering everything that’s going on in the city and the fact that Duncan broke hospitality, I think it would be relatively easy to rationalize what happened. The hardest loose end to clean up would be Dunc’s fiance. She’s still upstairs.

    1. It (Assuming you’re talking of Canada’s S**tiest Home Movies) was cowardly, it was stupid, and guess what? It backfired. And what’s more, it was undone by the presence of a friendly voice. No expenditures of power, no showy moves. Just a simple “I’m here” in the darkness. That is why Conquest cannot last, as a Lord or a practitioner. He only understands brute power.

      And that’s why Laird’s neck has a date with a splinter.

  13. So Corvide is missing, and there is now a connection going straight from the factory to Laird. This adds up to nothing good.

    1. You beat me to it. The rules are: “Strictly physical objects or people. Switches the connections around. Things and people find their way to new owners, but old attachments linger. Emotional ties…”

      Can JP connect Laird to ErasUrr? Or to the factory? To something already erased? To the demon arm, wherever it is?

      Erasing Laird would put a crimp in a whole butt load of plans. Just the kind of tactic that would be wild enough to beat the Kobayashi Maru situation going on here. Of course, Blake could just use it as a threat and negotiating tool.

      Oh wait, even if Laird is looking at the future, he can’t look past his own erasure, or perhaps can’t see his own erasure, so he might have overlooked this possibility.

      1. Speaking of ErasUrr, where did Blake leave it’s arm anyway? Leaving it lying around somewhere without protections would be like dumping barrels of toxic waste into the water supply right?

        1. He left it in Conquest’s domain. Then he got Conquest to agree not to retreat back to said domain for the duration of the contest…

          I’m sure it’s perfectly safe.

    2. Oh wow… That’s a really good point. What will the outcome be though, surely not Laird owning Urr. Perhaps Urr owning Laird? In that case Laird must prevail or he would have been retconned. Perhaps Laird simply becomes inexplicable drawn to the building with a demon in it?

    3. Now you see, what I keep expecting is Corvidae (which is an awesome name) to transfer the city to someone other than Big C. Normally that would be a horrendously foolish idea, as Conquest would just go “Nope” and probably conquer Corvidae too, but with Conquest distracted…

      I predict in the final battle between C and Blake Conquest will suddenly freeze, look off into the distance, say something like “No! This cannot be!” and then Blake will use the opportunity to execute the now almost powerless incarnation. Or maybe just bind him or something, because I think Conquest is immortal no matter how little power he has.

  14. I wonder if they could’ve used JP C. to steal the lordship from conquest, and if they did whether that wouldve won them the war

        1. Right now I don’t think Blake is in any shape to bear the Lordship of Toronto even ignoring any Fisher King burdens the position would entail. Also from a narrative standpoint, given Blake’s trials it would seem rather anticlimactic to end the struggle with a single order from Rose to Corvidae. And unless Corvidae has been representing himself/itself as far weaker than he/it truly is (perhaps to have practitioners underestimate him), stealing the whole city and population would seem to be out of his weight class.

          That’s not to say this particular direction of thought is wrong however, perhaps an effect of similar magnitude can be produced with a more focused application of Corvidae’s abilities. Stealing the physical building housing Conquest’s Trophy Hall should certainly elicit a response, but he is already focused on Blake and enraging him further might not be the best idea. I know Blake has said that he didn’t want to set the Sisters against the Astrologer, but what if Isadora, Laird,
          The High Drunk, The Shepherd, or ErasUrr became the new owners of Conquest’s stash of trophies?

          Assuming it works, worst case should hopefully get Blake out of his current bind as Conquest goes about getting his stuff back.

          Blake gets bonus points if he can tear apart the opposing team by setting them against each other. Toss Isadora and Jeremy into the mix; Conquest needs one-sided conflicts which are harder to find in a three/four-way fight. Everyone gangs up on Conquest, Blake claims victory via manipulating everyone through the actions of his champions. Then probably runs away as all of Toronto will be less than grateful, given his family karma. Hopefully with either Laird and the Behaims out of the picture or some other way to breach the time zone of the house back in Jacob’s Bell.

          Best case ErasUrr eats all the trophies and Conquest deflates like a balloon since he is no longer connected to his past victories. He has no evidence of his triumphs, no more winning record. No longer a suitable figurehead, someone else or a coalition of Toronto powers take on the Lordship. Then they all get along swimmingly and use the Power Of Friendship to protect Toronto (highly unlikely).

    1. Could they have used JPC to move the rank of king to someone else? For instance suppose he switched out C-word to champion and Laird to king, or switched one of Blake’s friends into the role of king so that Blake is just a distraction for however long it takes to trap C-word.

      1. Or the somewhat colourful description of the death of Blake’s cousing, being ripped to parts by goblins?

        And while this is not really that dark, what about that goblin holding ammunition up his butt?

      1. Yeah, the part about pulling it out makes more sense if Dunc still has a hand.

        Man, how is he gonna explain that to the other cops ? And to his wife ? Wait, does she know he is going to end up in jail, anyway ? Man, this guy’s life is going to get pretty complicated soon.

  15. It occurs that even though Blake’s “ideal” doesn’t contain his friends, it does contain an Evan who’s still Evan and hasn’t been broken by anything awful he’s witnessed. I can’t imagine that means that his friends come to terrible ends in that future, maybe he has to cut ties to keep them safe but they live.

  16. I don’t think this counts as spoilers for Worm, but I will use rot13 anyway:

    V erzrzore Jvyqobj abg orvat pbzsbegnoyr hfvat encr nf n punenpgre’f onpxtebhaq. V erzrzore gur ernfbaf tvira jnf gung ur qvqa’g srry rkcrevraprq rabhtu gb unaqyr gung fhowrpg, naq gung vg jnf “gbb rnfl”.

    Wildbow might consider himself capable to write about rape and I think it has been managed the subject greatly. However, given the reasons above, I still have some doubts Blake was raped.

    1. Describing it further and removing your doubts could very well be falling into the “gbb rnfl” issue. Better leave it as tasteful as it can be.

      Evan helped a lot with that. What can’t he do ? Aside from knitting, I guess.

    2. How on earth can you still have doubts?

      The second memory has him being attacked by a single man (as opposed to the group in the previous memory). It’s a bad enough memory that unlike the previous one he can only manage it by Evan helping him fast forward it. What do you think he did to him?

      And it has been clearly implied throughout the story by Blake’s extreme aversion to being touched and Alexis’s attempts to help him through his sexual issues. That’s not explained by the beating scene, and the implication of this chapter is these two scenes are the two worst moments of Blake’s life, so there’s no third event.

      What is your alternate theory? I think wildbow has been pretty damn explicit for an author who always fades to black on sex scenes.

      1. Actually Blake mentions there were times he was stabbed, and one where he was shot. So the first memory might not have been the second worse thing he’s been through.

      2. My alternative theory, which I rate around 20% probable atm, is that he was the victim of something like what happened to Varys in ASoIaF, and the muggle-verse version of it that he remembers is being raped.

      3. One can suffer heavy physical and mental abuse that is not sexual, and this might very well be the case. This kind of non-sexual abuse, I am /assuming/ (no hard facts here :P), can make you very wary of sexual interactions regardless. Sex is a form of intimacy, and you are exposed both physically and emotionally during sex.

        I think rape is very heavily implied and supported by the law of conservation of detail (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheLawOfConservationOfDetail). That is to say, it would be weird for Wildbow to mention Blake’s aversion to sex if the abuse Blake received is not directly related to sex. However, it hasn’t been explicitly confirmed in the story that Blake was raped, and Wildbow has previously given a couple of reasons as to why they didn’t use rape as a plot mechanism in Worm. Thus, I think that maybe, just maybe, Blake was not raped but had something else happen to him.

        1. Remember when Rose tried to explain to Blake what she told conquest?
          “I- I speculated. I told him things that I wasn’t sure on, about why you were the way you were, on a lot of levels. The fact that you don’t like being touched was a part of it.” (6.05)
          The way he reacted he must have believed she guessed correctly, right?
          So we should be able to do the same?
          That is what really narrowed it down for me 🙂
          But I kept wondering until now…

  17. Well. What the hell did Laird really expect?
    He’s done nothing but perform evil and lie about what goodness he might have had – if there was anything good to him, he concealed it beneath obfuscation and self-interest.
    Did he think that torturing Blake would somehow make Blake agree with him, or just make Blake give up?

    Also, Evan has Duck Fate (It’s a charm from Exalted. Sidereal Dodge. Look it up if you want.)
    Evan can help Blake dodge cause and effect. Evan is the best familiar.

    Proof: Evan can help Blake evade time/perception alteration. Evan, when asking how he can help, ends up allowing Blake to dodge a MEMORY.

    1. Correction, Escape not dodge. Evan made Blake realise that he can seize control of the recording since the ghost of his trauma is still a ghost that can be controlled since he himself is most familiar with it’s ‘core’.

      1. Escape, evade, dodge… Evan has enabled Blake to evade things which were supposed to be too difficult to evade.

  18. Before anyone beats me to the joke:

    Let her gooooo
    Let her goooooo
    June’s one with the wind and snooooow

    Let her gooooo
    Let her goooooooo
    Look away, just aim and throooow

    Laird’s a jerk
    Conquest’s a dick
    Just let her gooooo
    I really hope the cold bothers these jackasses.

  19. oh god, my favorite chapter so far, no doubt. Laird finally got what was coming to him, and i have a feeling, that right at the end Blake is at his strongest in a way. Can’t wait for the next chapter! This story is starting to grown on me, like Worm. Kick ass, Blake!

  20. Comments:
    – IIRC there were only one or two confrontations between Blake and his relatives after he became the heir. And no contact from his parents. Wouldn’t they have contacted him concerning the inheritance, no matter how bad their relationship was? (Though IIRC one can’t easily call or mail to the Thorburn house.)
    – After Conquest’s arrival was announced in the last chapter, it was weird that Conquest apparently didn’t do anything in the beginning of this one. I guess he wasn’t close enough to the house yet?
    – Where are Conquest’s subordinates? Where is the Eye? Where is the Shepherd? The way I understand Conquest, he always tries to get the most distorted playing field possible. I don’t expect perfect masterplans from Conquest as a villain, but I do expect him to use all the power at his disposal. Why is the king at the frontlines?
    – Evan’s “just skip to the end” was really clever.
    – Laird’s line that “This is for the best” seems rather inappropriate in that context. I mean, even supposing Laird utterly hated Blake for some reason, in what kind of plan is making someone recall their trauma “for the best”? So is this yet another indication that Laird can lie?
    – What does the line “His features were distorted, but I’d been messed up enough after the fact that it might have muddled the memories, distorted the echo.” imply? That Blake doesn’t recall his assailant’s face? Or that he did recall it (and possibly even recognized it?), but with an inhuman expression? (Though from “People suck“, I assume the assailant was human, not like Blake’s supposed goblin assailants.)
    – The Behaims can apparently look into the future. And yet they haven’t won a single conclusive victory against Blake? Even though he only found out about this now, and still didn’t plan against it? Seems implausible. And again here: Could Laird really screw up the scenes in this chapter if he could see the future, however imperfectly?
    – I still hope Blake will finally end here. As I mentioned last chapter (https://pactwebserial.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/void-7-5/#comment-12892), I just don’t like what him being the sole point of attention of all antagonists does to the story. Even the universe itself is supposedly conspiring to bring him down, and yet he’s still alive!

    1. Hmm…

      The following contains Worm spoilers, translated using http://www.rot13.com. If you haven’t read Worm yet, you might want to skip this:

      Guvf jbhyqa’g or gur svefg gvzr bar bs Jvyqobj’f cebgntbavfgf znantrq gb orfg fbzrbar jub pbhyq frr gur shgher, be fbzr rdhvinyrag bs vg. Jbez’f Pbvy cbffrffrq gur cbjre gb “fcyvg” uvf bja gvzryvar, nyybjvat uvz gb rkcyber gjb qvssrerag cbffvoyr ernyvgvrf onfrq ba n zhgnoyr pubvpr, gura qryrgr juvpurire bar ur qvqa’g yvxr naq xrrc gur bgure. Fxvggre znantrq gb rfpncr sebz bar bs uvf gencf zrnag gb xvyy ure, fgebatyl vzcylvat gung fur orng uvz va rirel nygreangr gvzryvar ur gevrq gb bcra hc.

      So, it could just be that Blake is badass enough at this point to beat Laird in every possible way.

      Alternatively, Duncan’s reaction to Blake saying he thinks the Behaims can see the future is decidedly odd; more like how someone would react if the comment was close but not exact. So, it could be that Laird at least has an imperfect means of telling the future, and it’s either not good enough to account for all possible futures (such as Evan’s intervention) or else does not give enough information to create more than a general plan, such as saying Laird’s best chance is to pin Blake so Conquest can do his thing (but “best” does not mean “guaranteed to succeed”).

      Long story short, there’s something screwy going on with Laird’s augury skills, much like his everything else skills.

      1. Yes, I’ve read Worm.
        V jbhyq nethr gung Pbvy unq nyernql ybfg zbfg bs uvf nqinagntr ol gur gvzr bs gung svany pbasebagngvba. Uvf cbjre jbhyq unir nyybjrq uvz gb hfr uvf frpbaq gvzryvar nf cenpgvpr sbe Fxvggre’f nffnffvangvba (nzbat bguref) va gur jrrxf orsberunaq hagvy ur unq cresrpgrq vg. Gur pevgvpny reebef yrnqvat gb uvf qbjasnyy jrer 1) orvat gbb pbafreingvir jvgu uvf cbjre (ur nyjnlf srnerq uvf cbjre pbhyq znyshapgvba, fb ur arire xvyyrq crbcyr sbe cenpgvpr hayrff ur jnagrq gurz qrnq evtug gura), 2) abg abgvpvat Gnggyr’f cflpub jnesner, v.r. gung ur fhssrerq “zragny” qnzntr rira va uvf pubfra gvzryvarf, naq 3) orvat gbb yngr ng erpbtavmvat gung Fxvggre unq ghearq sebz na nffrg vagb n qnatrebhf yvnovyvgl.
        V’q nethr gung gur bar zbfgyl erfcbafvoyr sbe Pbvy’f qrsrng jnf Pbvy uvzfrys, naq gung ur jbhyq unir orra cerggl zhpu vaivapvoyr bgurejvfr.

        So I don’t favor that Blake-as-badass explanation yet – with sufficient preparation and precognition, Laird should still be able to win.
        But you are right, if I misunderstood this part of Laird’s power – good catch on Duncan’s reaction -, all bets are off.

      2. Blake has known about Laird’s ability to see the future for a long time, because Laird told him during their first meeting. The information they get is incomplete and sketchy, Laird says he only pays attention to absolute worst case scenarios as a result.

        1. Wooden splinter realted to Erasurr -> impossible to augur? Maybe he did “see” a future, but that future did not take that particular splinter into account.

        2. I said it in another comment earlier, but this thread is closer to the point:

          If Laird only looks to the worst case scenarios (in this case, where Blake goes for the nuclear options), and Blake is essentially a good guy (basically, he tries to avoid the nuclear options as hard as he can), basically that means Laird is effectively blinding himself to the likely scenarios (because Blake taking a “worst-case scenario” decision is really unlikely).

          If this theory is true, effectively Laird causes his own downfall by allowing his own flaws (his prejudice against demonologists, his arrogance, and his inclination to do nasty things “for the greater purpose”) to twist his interpretation of prophecy, all of which actually fits perfectly with most related tropes, although this is the most subtle implementation of them that I’ve seen (or at least noticed).

  21. Yeah, Conquest didn’t quite think that one through. Ghosts aren’t always just echoes of one moment – they can be a series of events. Conquest didn’t know that the second ghost ended with a memory that gave Blake strength, so he’s inadvertently helped Blake out by giving him a power up.

  22. Man I wish Evan had been there to call Laird on his bullshit at the start of the chapter. You want to paste the blame for what Conquest has done on Blake? Well why is Blake even in Toronto? Because you drove him from the house, and you have been trying to destroy him. So by your reasoning, everything Blake has done that is bad is actually your fault. You say that you want to make the world a better place? Well you want to make it a better place for you and yours. It’s telling that Blake is the one who actually went after monsters. That after barely escaping from Erasurr he wants to go back again and stop it, where all these supposedly okay Others and Practicioners just shrugged and said “Not my problem” Blake is someone who has suffered. He has experienced mans shittiness to man. And yet despite this he still wants to help people. He still believes they deserve to be saved. A truly good man is not mearly one who fights the wicked and the evil. A truly good man is not one who says it’s better if you just died. A truly good man forgives. A truly good man believes that everyone can be saved. That anyone can be redeemed.

    And I’m starting to wonder about Blake’s perfect place. The immediate interpretation is that he would be happiest in a world with no one else. But Evan is there. And a half built bridge. Bridges connect things. I think his happy place is still under construction. And that it’s less that he doesn’t want anyone else than he wants to be able to by by himself if he needs to be.

    1. Cool idea on the bridge – maybe Blake’s perfect place will evolve to have a whole bridge, i.e. a whole connection to someone else.

  23. “Evan flew between us, breaking Laird’s hold, and I heard him fluttering in my ear as Laird screamed all of a sudden.”

    So why did Laird scream? I mean Evan’s not a big bird, so I don’t think even if Evan pecked his eyes it quite warrents a scream.

    Laird was using some of his police training at the start, there, trying to convince Blake it’s all his fault, and it’s better if he just gave up now. Funny how much it resembles the additude bullies can have too. Rose did throw out her support against it though.

    And finally Conquest vs General Winter… Well considering what happened to both Napoleon and Hitler, I think that is a fight Conquest wants to avoid.

  24. I’m probably going to open up a huge can of worms here: (see what I did, there?)

    From what we’ve seen of them, I think Blake might be an INFP, and Rose is likely an INTJ. I don’t want to take the time to figure out everyone else’s personality type, but I’m sure someone on here does.

    1. When did these become so popular? Last I recall, the Myers-Briggs types did not have enough evidence to support it, let alone validate its use for anything outside amusement.

      Of course, this would count as amusement. Problem is, the type descriptions are so damn vague that Rose, for example, could fall under any of them depending on what the reasons for her actions are and the specific situation she’s currently adapting to.

      1. They’ve been popular as long as I’ve been on the Internet. The MBTI has plenty of solid backing as a jumping-off point for understanding a person. It’s not so good for identifying how to deal with a person, or how to predict how they’ll react, or how to predict who they’ll get along with, but as a STARTING point for understanding someone, it’s not meaningless.

        1. http://www.indiana.edu/~jobtalk/Articles/develop/mbti.pdf

          The statistical evidence states that MBTI doesn’t work.

          “In summary, it appears that the MBTI does not conform to many of the basic standards expected of psychological
          tests. Many very specific predictions about the MBTI have not been confirmed or have been proved wrong. There
          is no obvious evidence that there are 16 unique categories in which all people can be placed. There is no evidence
          that scores generated by the MBTI reflect the stable and unchanging personality traits that are claimed to be
          measured. Finally, there is no evidence that the MBTI measures anything of value.”

          As a starting point it is misleading and inaccurate.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits

          The big five personality measures have more statistical validity, and is known to be stable and useful.

          I find if you add in religiosity (another measure known to be very predictive) you can get a pretty good picture of people.

  25. It may just be the rapey connotations already existing in this chapter, but:

    ““This is for the best,” Laird said, in my ear.

    I tried to retort, but the words didn’t find their way to my mouth.

    I struggled, and he held me fast.”

    reads almost exactly like rape. With the memory of what was to follow, Laird was functionally enabling rape. How does he possibly believe that he is the good guy?

    That said, it seems that the universe seems to prefer balance above all else and Laird’s behavior seems to be a rebalancing of the Beiham family’s generations of good Karma as much as it is a rebalancing of the Thorburn family’s bad karma.

    1. People can justify the most horrible atrocities with things like “It’s for the best” “It was meant to be” “They are wrong”, etc.

    2. That is actually quite a good point on karma – the universe might look for ways to screw up a stockpile just as much as it looks for ways to fill a hole.

      1. The universe looks for ways to spend a stockpile out, I think – it directs good things to a person to waste away their stored-up good karma.

        1. What have the Behaims been doing? Acting shitty to Blake for no good reason.

          What has Blake been doing? Saving Behaims from serious injury and death at cost to himself.

          So, if you want to look at it that way, the universe has connected a stockpile of karma to a karma pit and is transferring one to another.

          RDT and Aimon Behaim set this situation in motion, knowingly or unknowingly, when Aimon agreed to let Laird spend the stockpile and RDT and Aimon both strengthened the connections between the families. If I were paranoid, I would suspect RDT of plotting to “steal” the Behaim’s stockpile this way.

    3. Now that I think about, Laird might not have known it was going to be rape. Laird sees all diabolists, and the Thorburns in particular, through some sort of perception filter that makes them look like evil that needs to be stopped. So what would he think Blake’s worst memories would be? Something to do with diabolism. Karmic justice in the sense of good and evil (not Pact karma).

      Probably not correct, but an interesting thought experiment.

  26. On the subject of Duncan and Blake re: karma. It appears to me that Duncan attempts to break hospitality and gets his wrist chopped for his trouble. That sounds like a fairly even exchange, karma wise. I will re-read the chapter and see if Blake screwed up first, but on first pass it does not appear so.

    On a tangential topic, by the given rules it is possible that chronomancy might be able to get around being forsworn. It appears that karma is largely based on the perception of ambient spirits. And the two cases we have seen of someone being accused of being forsworn, the accuser called the accused out, i.e. brought the accused to more attention. So, even if all low-order chronomancy does is alter time perception and memories, if it can affect spirits also, then making the spirits forget the action that led to being forsworn is probably the equivalent of undoing the actual event. I suspect this works with karma also, but memory-fuckery on that level is probably so costly that only a big fuckup like being forsworn is worth the expense. That would explain Duncan’s actions – if he thought he could undo memories of his shooting Blake in either the police station or in his home and thereby get away with it, that would explain why he was so willing to do so twice.

  27. “You can’t get fucking down in the dumps because they’re attacking your character and Evan isn’t around to stand up for you.”
    Rose, I think you’re making it worse.

    “You’re only now starting to doubt him?” Duncan asked.

    Are you trying to get killed, boy? Is this a suicide-by-diabolist thing?

    Plausible.

    “There isn’t a lot of middle ground.”
    Maggie kicked him in the head.

    I don’t think karma’s dinging Maggie any for that.
    Now that I’m thinking of it, suicide-by-diabolist is sounding more and more plausible.

    “Fuck you,” I gasped out the words. “Fuck you, Conquest. You shitstain! You think this makes you look strong? Your worst doesn’t even compare to what petty humans do to each other!”
    That’s the spirit, Blake!

    “Are you sincerely asking me to do my worst to you?” Conquest asked. There was fucking amusement in his voice.
    I take it back, Blake!

    Ah, yes. The power of friendship, in a context which is neither parodic nor absurd. Nice change.

  28. “Evan flew between us, breaking Laird’s hold, and I heard him fluttering in my ear as Laird screamed all of a sudden.”

    Did Evan take out Laird’s eye, since Laird’s hands were occupied with holding Blake’s wrists?

    Other possibility is Laird finding out Duncan was hit, either by sight or by some sort of magical backlash, since Laird was supposed to be protecting Duncan.

    1. Evan is a bird with the impact strength of a human kid (if not even more). A tiny projectile hitting you with 50 pounds of force in the face is probably surprising enough to scream.

      Or maybe Laird impaled himself on some debris. Lots of sharp debris.

      1. Especially if it hits you in the eye. A small kid can produce plenty of force, and if its all focused into one place… boom down.

        I really hope Laird lost an eye.

    2. I thought maybe he was using short-range prevoyance (looking a few moments in the future) and felt the backlash from being stabbed in the neck. (The ghost-visions take a long time for Blake, but I think they take only moments of real time.)

  29. Oh, fuck you Laird, fuck you. I’m not one of the people who think Laird is pure evil and needs to die, but this is right up there with Duncan’s snapping of Evan’s neck that time as far as ‘instant hate’ goes.

    So – did Laird get to experience that particular memory too? Judging from previous ghosts’ effects, he could have.

    Evan is the best character. So much.

    It seems a bit of a… well, a copout, almost? That after how much Blake was afraid of the ghost, hitting the ‘skip to the end’ button was as easy as just thinking it. But I’m not going to complain that Wildbow didn’t subject Evan, Blake and the readers to a more in-depth reliving of a heavily implied rape scene. Nobody really wants that.

    1. The “skip to the end” thing is in keeping with Evan’s strengths as a familiar. He showed Blake the way out. When someone else opens an escape hatch for you, it’s rather easy to run over and take it.

  30. *I swung the hatchet, aiming for Duncan’s wrists. […]
    I pulled it free, expecting resistance, found none […] *

    It doesn’t sound like “chopping off”, more like “chopping into”. Not very nice, but not quite as grisly as that.

    1. wait for his implement. Right now my guess goes to… his motorcycle? THAT would be awesome. impractical, but awesome.

      1. It’ll either be a mirror or his motorcycle. Motorcycle in and of itself has enough cultural cachet to be authoritive, declarative, etc.

        Ironic choice for a diabolist though, to end up with a declarative symbol for freedom, ‘the open road’, etc. All those things that diabolism typically isn’t.

        1. Or his motorcycle keys. And in typical Blake fashion everyone will think that they declare and symbolize he will release all the demons from their prison and unleash the on the world. And then Blake will be all “WTF, their motorcycle keys they don’t unlock anything!”

  31. Gentlemen. Gentle ladies. Assorted gentles of all sorts.
    I have realized something terrible about Laird.
    Laird has stockpiled Good Karma, does he not? What do we know this to indicate?
    It indicates that the universe conspires for minor events to do his way… including other peoples’ impressions of him. Even that of Blake, Rose, Maggie, and the like.

    All that we have seen of Laird. Every horrible thing he’s done. Every lie and betrayal and corruptive evil he has performed.

    All of this… is the universe showing everyone Laird’s GOOD SIDE.

  32. Laird appears to be a really slow learner. He has lost something every time he has messed with Blake, and the losses appear to be escalating. Blake calls him out on this earlier and Laird still keeps coming. To use a phrase from a Shlock Mercenary strip, he is a child that needs to learn to stop touching the hot stove. I suspect there is a hidden motivation there that we haven’t seen yet.

    1. Daddy issues? If Blake is reminding Laird of Aimon, that could be part of it. Aimon spoiling him probably didn’t help any. And if Grandma Rose did train Laird in Diabolism, I doubt she put up with him being a spoiled brat.

  33. I’m curious how Conquest was able to pick up Blake’s Echoes without signaling something to Blake through his connections. I suppose there could be plenty of other methods of obscuring the connections, but that seemed like Fell’s speciality, maybe also Corvidae’s, but not Conquest’s or any of the other characters we’ve seen so far.

    My only guess is the Shepherd, but the echoes aren’t really ghosts. I dunno.

    1. I think Conquest made the echoes. He pieced together the various bits of info about Blake that he received from Rose and filled the rest with stuff from his imagination. They aren’t true echoes of the past. Just like Conquest’s subjugation aura, I feel that making these echoes are keeping the theme of Conquest.

      1. No, Blake explicitly states, that Conquest found them. Like other ghosts, they are impressions left upon the world by highly emotional events and Conquest collected them.

        1. I’m not going to bother to check, so I may be wrong. If that is the case, feel free to point it out in correct. Didn’t Blake mention that the memories were incorrect, not how events actually unfolded? Didn’t conquest reply that things had to be filled in?

          1. Blake mentions that things didn’t happen exactly like that but that doesn’t mean those are 100% a fabrication.

            I think that these echoes, as in the case of ghosts, were twisted or changed by the strong emotional response from which they were created (e.g. June remembering the fire, Evan being all about escape, the man with the distorted features).

            I’m guessing Conquest had to fill in the gaps because those echoes were too weak because there was no death involved. I mean, people mention how ghosts are already weak, so I imagine an echo that wasn’t strong enough to form a ghost is even weaker.

            As for how he got them, well, they happened in Toronto and he IS the Lord of Toronto after all. He is weak but not powerless so I think it’s pretty safe to assume he had a way to get them without alerting Blake through the connections… if connections even work like that in the first place.

    2. The echoes are definitely ghosts, as defined by Pactverse. A ghost is an impression left by an extremely emotional event, and it’s mentioned that things like flashes of brilliance count, it’s not just horrible deaths. Because of ghosts tendency to resolve themselves if they can (meaning happy ghosts probably resolve really fast), and the general heightened emotions that come with an unpleasant death, the vast majority of ghosts will probably be from unpleasant deaths, but it was definitely possible and maybe outright stated (I don’t remember) that the person doesn’t have to die.

      That argument was a lot less rambling in my head. Short version, strong emotions create ‘copies’ typically called ghosts. Death is unnecessary, but statistically favored.

  34. “I do believe this will end here,” Conquest said.

    Did anyone else notice Conquest’s use of weasel words here? He may believe it will end here but he’s not confident enough to outright say so…

  35. Rose appeared in the glass window of a cabinet. “Corvidae didn’t get a chance to do anything. He was ready to, but it didn’t go that far.”

    I nodded. “Conquest is here.”

    I don’t have much faith in my ability to predict Wildbow’s plots, but I will say that those are some very compatible assets to have in the same place at the same time- the Lord of a city, who draws strength from ownership in more ways than one, and a creepy monster who hurts his victims by reassigning ownership of their possessions. I have to admit I’ll be more than a little disappointed if Blake doesn’t at least try the Hail Mary that siccing J.P. on C-word would be in this situation.

    1. Huh. I guess that’s a pretty significant difference between Blake and Taylor, then- when you put Blake in a corner, he doesn’t think as hard. Not that I blame him, after that last echo… Dx

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