Void 7.7

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The splinter found its way to a spot just below Laird’s Adam’s apple.  When I pulled it away, it broke, the narrow end of the splinter disappearing beneath welling blood.

Laird dropped to his knees, holding his hands to the wound.  I met his eyes as he stared up at me – one was almost crimson, with a bead of red on it.  Not from the splinter – something else.

I felt like I wanted to throw up, scream, swing punches and curl up into a ball, all at once.  I felt betrayed, if you can even feel betrayed by your enemies.

All of the emotions were at odds with one another, and I was left there, shaking, trying to put the pieces together and remind myself of where I stood.

My thoughts ran backward.  From the stabbing to the visions, Evan, Laird grabbing me, Conquest speaking, then I began to wrap my head around the whole situation.

Rose was summoning Pauz.  Maggie was… I didn’t know where Maggie was.  Somewhere outside.

“Even something so small as a rat can bite, when sufficiently cornered,” Conquest said.  “You might want to step forward and help Mr. Behaim.  Certain deals were made, and those deals are void if he passes.”

I stared down at Laird.  He was covering the wound.  I wasn’t sure how you could put pressure on your own throat without strangling yourself, but he seemed to be doing okay.

Until he coughed, hacking out, and a cloud of blood sprayed out with the spit and air.

Not so long ago, Fell had told us to move the bodies of the fallen Sisters so they wouldn’t suffocate on their own vomit.

Once vomit or foreign matter got into the lungs, finding its way past the little valve that decided whether stuff made it to the lungs or the stomach, it became a problem.  People could manage fine, or they could die a rapid death.

If he was coughing up blood like that, there was a good bit of blood leaking from the wound, straight to the windpipe.

I bent down.

“Blake,” Evan said.

“Turn over, Laird,” I said.  “Face down, better it flows out and up, than inside and down.”

He didn’t move.  He stared at me with one bloodshot eye.

“I’ll help,” I said.

I hated touching him.  Touching people wasn’t my thing, and touching people who were bigger and stronger than me…

My hand shook as if I’d been electrocuted, as the thought ran through me, clenching even though I hadn’t instructed it to.

“Okay,” I muttered, and I wasn’t even sure Laird heard me.  “I can’t help that way… just promised.  I’ll…  Evan?  Help him.”

“Um,” Evan said.

“Please,” I said, quiet.

I half-turned, watching Conquest.

Laird grunted, then started coughing violently as he flopped over, the sparrow playing a role with a bit of a push.

He was face-down, now.

The blood flowed more freely, and leaked between fingers as he clamped his hands to his throat, forming tendrils as it dribbled onto snow.

I reached out, stopping just shy of touching his gloved hands with my own.

It would have made sense, to do it, but I couldn’t bring myself to.

“If I grant you another stay of execution,” Conquest said, “It would be the third.  I would be in my rights to demand a favor of you.”

I shook my head, not really in any headspace to form the words.  No stay of execution.

I wasn’t in any shape to fight.  Physically, I was fine.  But every non-physical part of me was in a bad place.

I was shaking, and it had nothing to do with the cold.

Not in any shape to fight, but I didn’t really have a choice.

He held his bayonet rifle like a spear.

My instincts were all wrong.  When I’d dealt with Pauz, I’d thought about how skewed my impulses were, especially when by boundaries were breached.  This was the same, but it was far more pointed.

My instincts were telling me to go after Conquest, to throw myself at him in an effort to hurt him like I had Laird.  To get rid of all of the negative feelings, venting the outward-pointed ones on Conquest, silencing the inward-pointed ones by taking that bayonet to the chest or throat.

It was the simplest, easiest way to make it all stop.

He was approaching, and I was frozen in place, trying to get my mental bearings, to convince myself to move.

Thinking of everything I had to fight for.

But all I really wanted was peace.

The two ideas conflicted.

Conquest took a step forward.  Steady, no hesitation, but not rushing either.

A war was going on in my head already as I tried to sort out my thoughts, reaching for some idea that wouldn’t fall apart as soon as it was fully formed.

Alexis, Tiff, Ty, Goosh, Joel.  No, I’d done more harm than good.

“Um,” Evan said.

Evan?  I couldn’t find a way to complete the thought.

Molly?  I’d just avenged her in a way, maybe.  There was more to be done, but I’d done something.  If I ran into her after I moved on, I could say that much.

No, wrong train of thought.

Conquest drew closer, snow forming clouds around the base of his feet as his weight came down.  He was three times my height.

I wouldn’t be able to fight like this, not with my head and heart all mixed up.  I couldn’t convince myself to do this smart, instead of doing it reckless.

Rose?  I didn’t trust Rose.

Family?  No.

The next thought outside family was the lawyers, the nebulous idea of dying and going straight to some miserable afterlife, simply because of the karma that dragged me down.

That was a bit more of a push.  The concrete idea that I wouldn’t find peace, going down that road.

I took a step back, slowing the rate at which Conquest closed in.

I didn’t want to go to hell, or whatever equivalent I was due.

Even simpler than that… I didn’t want to die.

That was the idea I needed to move, to act.

He was still closing faster than I could retreat.  Only natural.

He drew his weapon back to thrust.  I cast my arm out.

I was almost too slow.

Laird’s blood, caught in my cupped hand, spattered the snow.  I held my hand out, more blood dripping from the fingertips.

Conquest stopped, weapon poised.  The blood formed a line between us.

Blood of a free man.  I thought, still backing away.  Once captured, rescued and given liberty.  By you, no less.

This is why you wanted to find Behaim?” Conquest asked.

I was silent as I continued backing away.

“Freedom may run contrary to my nature, but blood doesn’t,” Conquest said.  His deep, eerie voice felt like it could carry across the neighborhood, over a good portion of the city, even.  “Suffering doesn’t.  Death and dying don’t.”

He stepped over the line of blood.

I was too messed up in the heart and in my head to even swear or feel panic.

He stabbed with the blade at the end of his gun, and I threw myself out of the way.

One action, one response, and it basically illustrated how the fight would go.

He barely had to try, while it took everything I had to get out of the way in time.  I hit the snow, and had to fight to get the right position and find traction so I could move fast enough to avoid a second thrust.

The blade raked along my shoulder.  I felt pain as blade parted flesh, then felt the cold seep in, swift.  The two things put together were pretty indicative of there being something terribly wrong.

I stumbled.  Evan caught me, a bit of a push at the right moment.  I found my balance and stumbled a few more steps.

It was only a scratch, I realized, the cold air leaking in through a tear in the fabric.

“Um,” Evan said.  He took to the air, circling me, drawing higher.

I looked to see why he was agitated, and saw Conquest lowering his gun, barrel pointed at me.

“Wait,” I said.

Evan flew past me, giving me a bump, as Conquest pulled the trigger.  I didn’t move a muscle of my own volition, but Evan pushed me out of the way.  I felt the wind move as the bullet whistled past my arm.  Even through my coat, I felt it.  I caught my balance, a couple of paces to the left of where I’d been standing.

Wait?  If you want another stay of execution,” Conquest said, “I’ve already said what that entails.  A favor.”

I didn’t respond.  Maintaining eye contact and speaking felt like a foreign concept, and I wasn’t about to take a submissive action like lowering my gaze.

“Beg me,” he said.  “Kneel.”

Beg?

I realized I was hugging my arms against my chest.  I hadn’t been aware.  It made me look weak, but I felt weak.  I’d been scraped raw, and all I wanted to do was break down.  Shut the world away.

There was a chasm between where I stood and where I wanted to be.  I’d just dealt with one person who was responsible.

Dealing with Conquest, though?

I’d known from early on that winning wasn’t really in the cards.  Even if I did win this battle, I’d lose in the long run.

I was so sick of all this.

When the words came out, they came out as a torrent.  I couldn’t stop once I started, so I put my focus on forming the words properly.

“Why the fuck would I beg?” I asked, and there was venom in my tone.  “You’re petty, Conquest, you’re small in every way that matters, you’re a fucking pretender, trying to cover up for the fact that you don’t have as much power as you’re pretending.  Practically everyone in this city that matters knows, they look down their noses at you.  You’re a fucking joke!  The metaphorical small-dicked, overcompensating, pathetic joke of Toronto.”

The wind blew hard, stirring more snow.

Conquest raised a hand.

The wind shifted, abrupt and strong enough to nearly lift me off my feet.  I was left momentarily blind as snow found its way to my eyes, my weight no longer solidly on hard ground.

I caught myself and shielded Evan.

As quickly as it came, the wind stopped.

A cracking sound marked a tree reaching the breaking point, and a large branch crashed to the snowbank beneath it, crunching ice.

The houses and cars along the street were painted with snow and frost that crusted the windows.  I had little doubt the same was true across the city.

It was quiet.

“Empty words,” Conquest said, “When you insist on retreating and running.”

Had I pushed him to his breaking point?

Had I challenged his authority enough?

It was impossible to keep it all in my head.  Conquest, the fight for survival, the absolutely black well of emotion that had boiled over when he’d shoved the echoes at me.  There was no way to wrangle it all, to keep it in mind, so some of it was bleeding out.

That odd feeling of betrayal had become indignance.  It felt like such a small word to be labeling my feelings with, but how was I supposed to parse it, otherwise?  I wanted justice.

This world had been unfair to me from the beginning.  I’d paid for my victories thus far.

He stabbed.  Evan helped me avoid it this time.

Two near-misses that only Evan had saved me from.

I hadn’t missed the pattern.  I’d sensed it when we’d fought the oblivion demon, and Fell had put words to the idea.  Evan’s ability to help me escape harm had its limits.  Illusions had a way of cracking on the third attempt.  Evan’s ability to save me from harm had a way of failing on the third try.

There was an underlying logic to this world.

“Go check on Rose,” I murmured.

“Are you sure?”

Not answering, I touched him, he hopped to my finger, and I flung him out.

Evan gave Conquest a wide berth on his way to the open garage door.

“Doing away with your familiar?”

I opened my mouth to speak, found the words out of reach.  He took that moment of bewilderment to advance, swinging the spear.

I stumbled back out of reach.

He aimed, to shoot, and I let myself lose my balance.  The shot passed over me.

I flipped over and half-crawled, half ran to the nearest parked car.

A car wouldn’t actually stop a bullet, as I understood it, but the engine block was dense enough.

“Still running,” he commented.

I found that spark of anger again.  “Are you that weak, Conquest?  That you’re bitching about someone keeping his distance?  You sound like the sort of kid I used to play with in elementary school.

“You twist my words.”

I did.  I could interpret most things he said or did to attack him.

It was something I’d learned to do long ago, when I still lived at home.  When the fight over the inheritance and the general atmosphere was still ongoing, toxic and unpleasant.

I said, “They’re coming out of your mouth.  You’re an incarnation of Conquest in a country and city that barely has any!  I almost pity you.”

My words came out a little ragged.  There had been too many bursts of action, too many bits of running and fighting, moments of high adrenaline.  My head was pounding from the stress of emotion running too high for too long.  I needed to maintain my attack.

“Perhaps the mental strain is getting to you?” he asked.

“You sound scared,” I said, raising my voice.  “No flourish, no stylish finish.  You’re down to the point of stabbing and shooting, waiting until I get tired and can’t stay out of reach.  You just pulled out your trump card, and I’m still fucking here!

“Not a trump card.  Merely a card among many,” Conquest said.

He raised his gun, but he didn’t aim at me.

It was Maggie, on the far side of the street, crouched by a snowbank.  She was more exposed, now that the snow had stopped.  Her face was intact, now.  The same healing she’d granted to me?  Faster, clearly, with no scarring.

He fired, and Maggie moved her hand.  The bullet hit snow.

He fired again, but she was already moving her hand in the other direction.  The bullet hit snow on the other side.

Goblin magic?  They work with and against metals.

Maggie ran for cover, hiding at a spot I couldn’t see.

Cowardly, I thought.  I said, “I thought this was between you and me.”

“Then you’re an imbecile.  The contest was for us to battle with the aid of champions.  She remains yours.  I’ve disabled your Rose, killed young master Fell, slain your Hyena.  Without your Rose, you can’t use the imp.”

“And yours?” I asked.  “Somehow I don’t think it’s confidence that has you here alone.”

“The Eye was working the storm, drawing on shifts in climate, and twists this city up to build my tower, as man disrupts his environment to fuel the growth of cities.  He’s active, but indisposed.  You’ve weakened my Shepherd, set the Sisters of the Torch and the Astrologer against one another.  Laird bleeds to death as we speak.  This is the natural conclusion.  Once I’ve dealt with the goblin queen that lacks any goblins, it’ll be only you or me, and you can only run for so long.”

As if to punctuate his statement, he stepped closer.  He thrust around the side of the car, I backed off, and he reversed the weapon, swinging it like a club, hitting the car so it rocked into me.  Both car and the snow that layered the top of the car hit me.

Wind knocked out of me, momentarily blind, my movements limited as more snow fell.  I was between the parked car and the snowbank, and was knee deep, with snow having fallen around my feet.

I saw Evan fly forth from the garage, and my spirits lifted.

But Evan wasn’t coming to my rescue.

He flew to Maggie.

Conquest struck the car again.  It slid, sandwiching me between fiberglass and snowbank, momentarily squeezing the air out of me.  I stood at a diagonal, half buried, pinned.

“A beheading, do you think?” Conquest asked.

I looked to Maggie and Evan.

No help there.  Maggie held her funny little dagger, but she was staring at me, and she wasn’t doing anything.

I had my locket, but no glamour, no spell I could rely on.

The hatchet was broken.

I was almost out of tricks.

But Duncan had been too, not so long ago, and he’d put up a fight.

Duncan.

The thoughts that reached me were fragmented ones.  Theatrics, object-

He drew his weapon back behind his right shoulder.

“Fuck you!”  I shouted.

His distorted expression showed only a permanent leer of contempt.

He swung.

I reached up and across, with my right arm, fist clenched.

Stop!” I bellowed, pulling my sleeve down, exposing the skin between glove and coat.

The blade of the bayonet, practically a sword, given our scale, struck my arm.

The arm wasn’t enough to stop it, obviously enough.  Much less my wrist.

But the Stonehenge charm bracelet was the first thing in the line of fire.

The blade cut the bracelet.  It stopped.

Everything stopped.

Maggie and Evan remained in place.  The snow had stopped falling when Conquest had ordered it, but even the snow from inside the house and the snow that fell from rooftops like a frozen waterfall had stopped in place.

When I looked with the Sight, I saw that most spirits had stopped altogether.

The movement of my arm stirred the spirits, as if simply reminding them to start moving again.

Two simple elements.

Theatrics, for one.  A good, clear shout, acting at the right moment.

Duncan had been given the bracelet as a power reserve.  I’d spent that power, rightfully taken, much as I’d spent June.

Chronomancy might be a farce, at least in part, but this had worked.  Nothing Conquest had done had suggested he was immune to the flaws of perceptions.

There had been nothing certain about it, only gut feeling.  If there hadn’t been a spirit inside, or if there hadn’t been enough power, or if Conquest had been immune…

I sank back, gasping for air.

My head touched the snowbank, and found it hard.

In the next moment, I was moving.  My arms stretched out, finding leverage on the snowbank, and I managed to pull my legs up and free.

I climbed over the back of the car.

I found secure footing.

Lines circled my wrist, like the rings of Saturn led astray, dust swirling in a corkscrew orbit.

Breaking apart, showing just how much time I had.  One or two minutes, if that.

Couldn’t hurt Conquest.  He was an incarnation, vulnerable.

I made a beeline to Laird.

The cut on my shoulderblade made itself known as I pulled off my jacket.

I rolled Laird, surprised at how easy it was.

Using my jacket as a bundle, holding the bottom corners and the sleeves, I scooped up the blood-soaked snow.

I slung the bundle over one shoulder, hurrying toward Evan and Maggie.

The line was running out.

I bent down, and began shaking the bundle, controlling the gap in the bottom-

The effect ended.  Wind blew, fierce, from the point where sword had touched bracelet, stirring snow and creating clouds of loose snow that reached as high as the houses around us.

I squinted against the wind, glancing up at Conquest, as he followed through.  The blade bit into the car’s frame.

He looked up at me.

I kept letting the bloody snow out of the jacket, drawing a thicker, clearer line.

“Blake?” Evan asked.

“Plan?” I asked.

“Rose won’t wake up.  She got shot, inside the mirror-world.  I thought Maggie could give blood, but-”

“There isn’t a strong connection,” Maggie said.  “Among other reasons.”

Like whatever it is that’s lurking just under your skin?

Arm extended, I peeked around the snowbank.  A bullet clipped the space inches from my head.

“Use mine,” I said.  “Just… don’t grab me.  Stab only.”

Maggie wasted no time in listening.  I was glad for that.  I even respected it.  After so long fighting with Rose, arguing over every last thing, it was awfully nice to have a friend that’d stab me when stabbing was necessary.

The dagger punched into the back of my hand, almost exactly where I’d stabbed myself when I’d fought the faerie swordswoman.  I bled.  Maggie drew out a line in Rose’s direction, matching the direction to the connection that stretched between us.

Maggie said, “Rose, we give you Blake’s blood and bid you to rouse.”

I added,  “We need you as we needed Laird.  This may be our last chance.  Take as much as you need.  I don’t know if I trust you, but I trust you to do that much.”

I felt the strength go out of me, as I sank to my knees.

Here we were.

He’s only about as strong as the Hyena.  I took on the Hyena with only a little help from Evan and June.

Still bent over, I resumed drawing with the bloody snow, a thicker, stronger line.

“He’s coming,” Maggie commented.

I nodded.  My hand hurt,  and holding the coat was hard, but it got lighter as I deposited more snow.

Conquest appeared, drawing close, as I had the circle three-quarters of the way done.  Maggie and Evan remained at my side.

I felt stronger with allies close.

“Blood of a free man,” I said.  “I claim his defeat for myself.  It’s blood I drew, suffering I own, my victory, my conquest.”

“It’s incomplete,” Conquest said, circling around.

I turned, ready to pour more snow, but it took him only two steps to circle around.

The bayonet blade stabbed the earth just beside the opening in the circle.

Maggie’s backpack was bloating and twisting.

She threw it at Conquest.  He swatted it aside.

Rose is back.

The imp clawed his way forth from the backpack.  He hurled the bag and its remaining contents to one side, then hopped up, placing himself on the tire mounted on the back of an S.U.V.

“Cheat me once, diabolist, shame on you.  Cheat me twice?  Shame on me,” Pauz growled, in his too-deep, gravelly voice.

“Yet you accepted Rose’s offer,” I said.

“Yes.”

Conquest glanced at me.  “What have you done?”

“Then, Pauz,” I said.  “Follow through, and you’re free.”

That last word was a heavy one.

All that trouble.

All of the danger he posed.

But I was letting him go.

I knew what was coming.

Pauz screeched.

It was that same terrible noise as before.  A rotten, venomous sound that penetrated to the bone marrow and distorted vision.

Radiation.

But it worked, distracting Conquest.

I threw the last of the bloody snow down, on and beside the blade of the bayonet.

The bayonet was a part of him, as were the bullets, apparently.  He apparently counted the snow a barrier, when it was .  He couldn’t swing over or through the snow.

He could only pull it free.  Crimson snow fell into place, closing the circle, complete.

Conquest opened fire on the imp.  The imp scrambled away.

“Blake-” Rose said, speaking through the pendant.  “Corvidae is on his way.  He couldn’t find anything good, apparently.”

I nodded, then realized she might not be able to see me.  My throat was tight.

“Blake?

“Sorry,” she said.

“Me too.  This went poorly.”

“We’re alive,” Maggie said.  “Drat worrying about how.”

“Drat it indeed,” I said.

The imp slid over the front of the vehicle, disappearing beneath the underbelly.

Conquest stabbed the car with his bayonet.  I saw him tense, and felt alarm sing through me.

“Fuck,” I said, the word escaping as a gasp.

I ran clear of the circle, and Maggie was a step behind me.  Evan fluttered, giving us a nudge.

The S.U.V. hit the dead center of the circle, then rolled clear.  The snow was largely untouched, the line mostly unbroken.

We backed into the middle of the street, while Conquest dealt with having the imp in front of him and us behind.

It’s not safe inside the circle.  Our refuge.

Conquest turned his attention to us.

Pauz attacked, leaping to the small of Conquest’s back.

A rabbit leaped from the midst of the snow to claw and bite Conquest’s arm, failing to get far with the white, leathery skin-fabric covering in the way.

I couldn’t say for sure, but a part of me wondered if a being like Conquest remained as afraid of demons as the rest of us.  He was immortal, few things could touch him on a fundamental level, but when you lived by a concept, and you faced down a being that could subvert that concept…

Conquest was twisted to begin with.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was still there in that alley, or in a room of the hostel-turned shelter for young homeless.  To let him become more twisted?  I didn’t like it.

I especially didn’t like giving the demons ground, but the alternative was losing the fight or turning to the lawyers.

The lawyers were an unknown quantity.  The deal they wanted to make with me sounded too good to be true, so I could only assume it was.

Pauz was more of a known quantity.

Conquest shook both imp and rabbit off.  He stabbed a raccoon that was making its way through the snow, then shot something in the distance I couldn’t see.

I could see the connections between imp and animal.  He was reeling them in, calling them in from elsewhere.  Rats by the hundreds.

I wondered if this neighborhood would be okay, after all was said and done, or if the vermin and mad animals would follow Pauz to his next destination.

Neither was necessarily good.

But we didn’t have much in the way of options.  The Hyena was out of commission, and I’d made promises as far as the Hyena went.

I could see Corvidae.

Empty handed, damn.

We had the numbers advantage, but things weren’t coming together.

Pauz wasn’t winning or bringing Conquest to his knees.  Corvidae hadn’t been able to find what we needed…

We moved as a group, putting distance between us and the fight, using the car that Conquest had smashed for cover.

“Check another house,” Rose told Corvidae, “tear something from the wall if you have to!”

Corvidae smiled.

It wasn’t a pretty smile.  His features were alien.

It wasn’t a nice smile either, or a respectful one.

I was reminded of Midge, the inbred redneck Other.

Contempt.

Corvidae disappeared, moving too quickly through the snow.  I looked away before he could distort in my field of vision again.

“He’s no help,” I said.

“We need him,” Rose said.

“Not much help to go around,” Maggie said.

All of the bodies on this battlefield had been nearly buried by fallen snow.  Laird was the only person who wasn’t covered.

I’d spent the past week building up allies, drawing people together, and now…

Just us.

“This grows tiresome,” Conquest said.  He held his weapon out, pointed at Pauz.  The imp moved through the snow like a crab, not taking its eyes off Conquest.

It leered, its entire body tense.

“Surrendering?” Rose asked.

“No,” he replied.

He aimed at me.

I ducked, and the bullet hit the hood of the car.

He kept firing.

We ran as a pair, Rose within my pendant.

But there wasn’t much cover to go around, outside of a handful of cars buried in snow and some frozen snowbanks.

We picked a snowbank, and Conquest fired anyway.

Evan tried to give us a nudge, putting us out of the bullet’s way.  Conquest shot him instead.

One crippling blow, removing Evan from the picture, knocking me down.

Maggie grabbed my arm before I could fall, and I fought her, struggling free.

Stupid, reflexive action.

I landed face down in a driveway, feeling like a bullet the size of a beachball had just passed through my chest.  My thoughts turned to slush.

I’d just given energy to Rose, and now Evan was claiming his rightful share.

“Luck stretches thin,” Conquest said.  He held out his rifle, pointing it at Pauz.  “The universe makes its demands.  You can only gamble so many times before the universe sees fit to give me my due.  Back away, goblin queen.”

Maggie backed away from me.  I wouldn’t accept her help anyway.

“Not having free use of my power, it’s something of a chore,” Conquest said.  “I’ll be glad when you’ve given up-”

He fired at the imp, driving the beast back.

“-and I can flex muscles that have atrophied in the past few days.”

“Sorry,” Maggie told me.

She bolted, running down the street.

Conquest raised his gun, but Maggie ducked low, and in a moment, the connection broke.  She’d cut it.

I bit my lip.

Conquest loomed over me.  I couldn’t move.

No tricks up my sleeve.

He stopped to shoot a larger animal.  One of the imp’s.

I was starting to feel the effects of the imp’s power.

That scared me more than anything.

“You’ve got the upper hand,” I said.

“You surrender?”

“I don’t know if I can,” I said.

“The alternative is death.  I strongly suggest surrender,” Conquest spoke.  “Laird is dead.  I promised him that I would wait two centuries before I used the Thorburn power.  The threat would cow those beneath me, I would gain in power, simply having you in my grasp, and he can build his kingdom in the meantime.  Keeping you alive was only a way to delay your counterpart’s manifestation as something real.  It simplifies things.”

“My counterpart-” I started.  My mouth was dry.

“Yes?”

“I don’t know if I can surrender, because Rose and I are a unit, two sides of the same thing.  We’re both the Thorburn heir, as I understand it.  You might need to get her to surrender.  You’ve bested me, I won’t move ten paces from here until this is decided.”

Rose spoke, “Fuck you, Blake.  Sticking this on me now?  It’s-”

“It’s base trickery,” Conquest said.

Shocked at the words, I swallowed hard.

“Rose told me you were hard to get along with.  That you and she had a flawed, distorted relationship.  I’m to believe the tie between you two is so strong that you can’t surrender without her consent?  That when you promise to refuse any use of magic, she isn’t bound by the same promise?”

“It’s complicated,” I said.  It sounded feeble.  “We’re ying and yang, two sides of the same coin.”

“It’s not that complicated at all,” Rose said.  “I haven’t used any magic.”

Conquest turned his head.

“I haven’t.  Just like Duncan did when he was spent of power, just like Blake, I’ve been using the power Maggie and Blake’s friends set up.  They drew the circle, they set the things up to be summoned when an object was broken… we picked objects on my side of the mirror.”

“Thin.”

“As for my other power, to break mirrors, it’s innate to me while I’m an Other, a distorted reflection.  Besides, the deal was not to use power in Toronto.  This mirror world… it’s not Toronto.  It’s a vestige of Toronto.  It’s like comparing Disneyland and Euro-Disney.  It’s my world.”

“Questionable,” Conquest said.  “All the same-”

He lunged.

He passed into the pendant.

I flinched as the glass shattered.

The window of the S.U.V. broke next, then the windows of the house.

A battle waged over the reflective surfaces.

I could only wait.  I’d done what I could.

Pauz approached me, grinning.

No.

“I beat you once,” I said.

“Yes,” he said.  “Shall I take my revenge now?”

If he did – if he stopped me before Conquest could…

The contest would end.  A draw at best.

But it would be a horrible way to go.

No, I had to trust that this would work out.  Trust in the others.

Even if my companions here were reduced to the ones I trusted the least.  Maggie with some wild thing lurking within her, Rose with her questionable motivations, Corvidae, the impof things feral and foul.

I closed my eyes.  “No.”

He had a mocking grin on his face.  “You said you wouldn’t move.  Shall I drag you aside and watch what happens?  I can reign over the chaos that follows.”

“Or you can go,” I said.  “Did you think I didn’t plan contingencies?  That I don’t have a way to capture you right away?”

His eyes narrowed.  “Tricks.”

I remained still.

Glass continued to break here and there.  I could feel the strength going out of me.  Rose was spending power, and she was using the conduit of blood Maggie had drawn out, to keep her reserves up.

“I am Blake Thorburn,” I said.  I shifted position, cupped a limp Evan in my hands, then found my feet.  I stood as straight as I could manage.  “Custodian of Hillsglade house, overseer of the Thorburn’s diabolic library.  I come from a long line, and you’ve caught me at a moment when I’m very tired and very pissed off.”

“Poor mortal,” Pauz said.  “I can smell your pain.”

Time to draw from the same well as Rose.  “If you cross me here, I will bind you again, Pauz, I swear it on my name and my blood, and I’ll stick you somewhere where you won’t be found until humanity is long gone.”

“Your words don’t have the power that hers do.  You’re not the real heir, not the heir intended.”

“No,” I said.  “Do you really want to risk it?”

He narrowed his eyes.

He disappeared in a flurry of flies and darkness.

I sagged, the strength going out of me.

I’d never acted so much in my life.  To pretend I had strength when I felt more powerless than ever.

I carefully measured my steps, taking only five, to get past the driveway.

Corvidae appeared, a small oval mirror in his arms.

There we go.

He held it up, walking slowly.

I could see when the presence moved into it.

Corvidae threw the mirror.

It landed in the snow, one end buried.

He can’t turn down a fight, I thought.  He has to crush the weak.

The mirror stuck in the middle of the circle I’d drawn.  The blood of a free man, Laird.

The circle would be lined with Rose’s hair.  Hacked off.  Caught by Conquest, freed by myself.

Maggie had torn out the pages of Black Lamb’s Blood, weighing them down so they wouldn’t fly away.  I couldn’t afford to lose them.  The pages that had bound an Other, now free.

Thrice bound.

“It’s done,” Rose said.

I slumped to the ground, exhausted.

“We did it, Evan” I murmured to Evan.

“Woo,” he mumbled.

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325 thoughts on “Void 7.7

  1. There we go. Hoping it’s ok.

    I’m thinking I’ll do a brief blog post soon with an update on what’s up, what’s going on with Worm editing, etc. Nothing major, no big announcements, but just letting you guys know where things stand and where they’re good/not good. I’ve got a wedding I’m helping with that’s starting in just under a month, and it means a few weekends away from home, dogsitting, guests, and various preparations. I don’t know how things will be with Thursday updates, but I kind of want to do one this week if I can manage it. No promises, but I’m going to try. I think this may be the busiest I’ll be with IRL stuff in the next two years.

    Vote on Topwebfiction, if it’s no trouble – Pact is sinking.
    http://topwebfiction.com/

    And again, thanks for reading. I appreciate you guys.

    1. There was a recent thread pushing Worm on /r/fantasy. I recommended people wait until there’s an official ebook (rather than an unofficial one, obviously people who can hack the web serial format should read it there, then again), but I would greatly appreciate an update on how that’s going, that I might provide more accurate and Wildbow-boosting info to others. Appreciate you. I’ll leave it at that until I’m less drunk, aside from “GREAT chapter!”.

    2. Out of curiosity, and maybe you’ve mentioned it before, but how far ahead do you actually plan on any individual scene? With the way Pact is structured, I get the feeling that you’re planning at least 2-3 weeks ahead (Erasur, this whole fight with Conquest), but I’m curious how much of this is off the cuff.

  2. Hmm. Gonna have to reread this a couple times to try and get an stronger overall grasp of what exactly happened, but.

    Tricking Conquest into walking himself into a binding ritual? Sounds just like Blake’s overall strategy of stealth and trickery.

    1. Looks more like using Rose as bait to draw C-word into the Mirror World, then with every other reflective surface broken in the Mundane World, throw the last surviving mirror into the binding circle.

      1. There are almost certainly still unbroken mirrors around, but the circle exists in both the mirror-vestige and the real world so he can’t get out in either.

    2. I think what happened was:

      While Conquest chased after Rose in the mirror world, Blake and Maggie prepared a trap with three freed things, and conquest was lured in to get bound.

  3. The middle section of this chapter is very choppy and hard to follow. It might help to lay out where everything is better, so that the reader can get a better sense of the size of the battlefield and Blake’s progress around it.

    Well, it’s a first draft. Obviously, some parts. will need more editing than others. Speaking of editing, I’d definitely be interested in a Worm update.

    1. I think, like some of the choppier moments in Worm, it’s a device being used to communicate to the reader how confused and drained Blake is. I liked the writing.

  4. Starting the typo thread… if someone doesn’t ninja me.

    shoulderblade
    usually shoulder blade

    beachball
    usually beach ball

    ying and yang
    yin and yang

    impof
    imp of

    Couldn’t hurt Conquest. He was an incarnation, vulnerable.
    Couldn’t hurt Conquest. He was an incarnation, invulnerable.

    1. Typos:
      – “Couldn’t hurt Conquest. He was an incarnation, vulnerable.” -> “invulnerable”
      – “I rolled Laird, surprised at how easy it was.” -> “rolled Laird over”?
      – “He’s only about as strong as the Hyena.” -> “He was only”
      – “It’s blood I drew, suffering I own” -> possibly: “suffering my own”? This might not be a typo.
      – “He apparently counted the snow a barrier, when it was .” -> “as a barrier”?; “when it was complete”?
      – ““Blake?” -> closing quotation mark is missing
      – “The Hyena was out of commission, and I’d made promises as far as the Hyena went.” -> That sentence seems strange. Typo?
      – “Empty handed” -> “Empty-handed”
      – “and he can build his kingdom in the meantime” -> and he could build”

    1. As far as I can see, the score at the end is Laird dead, Pauz free, Conquest bound. Blake the de facto winner, tho not by the terms of the agreement.

        1. With Conquest bound, they’re in a pretty good situation to get him to surrender if that’s the route Blake/Rose want to go. But, given Blake’s comments to Isodora about taking a third option, I imagine they might just leave Conquest bound.

      1. Interestingly enough, doing so seems to have cost Blake a bit of respect. That’s not something I was expecting.

        It would be tricky to get Conquest to agree to any sort of contract, and he probably couldn’t even consider one if it counted as a concession or surrender…

    2. Seems like they got Conquest to follow Rose into the mirror world, then threw the last reflective surface into a circle made of three overlapping layers of FREEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOM. Last ditch effort to not defeat, but BIND the bastard.

      1. And, by the definition of being an incarnation of Conquest, getting yourself conquered via a binding is quite possibly the most extreme power penalty he could face, short of being forsworn.

    3. Conquest apparently stepped into the mirror world to get at Rose, who then shattered mirrors which would be exits. Then they threw a mirror into the circle formed by:
      – the blood of a free man (Conquest freed Laird from himself)
      – pages of a book which had bound a now free Other (Pauz)
      – hair of an imprisoned person, now freed (Rose)
      The freedom items work as bindings for the incarnation. Quite well done!

        1. Bindings work by similarities, if very weak, or opposition, if not super-weak. Conquest isn’t nearly as strong as he pretends, but he’s not super weak. He hopefully can’t cross a triple-layer of opposing concept. I doubt this is the true end, however. Now is the time for The High Drunk to strike.

          1. I don’t see that the drunk will strike; he has promised to keep Blake in Toronto and let Conquest pursue his demon thing and therefore has no obligation to go after Blake at the moment.

            1. except that blake knows that the forcefield around the house is bullshit and will probably go to the library soonish.

    4. That broken-off sliver of wood in Liard’s throat needs to be cut out due to what it had been used for & it’s symbolic value.

      Liard’s body needs to be gotten rid of, maybe it’s time to go into business with that ‘greater’ ghoul?

      Pattern emerging, Universe will seek to set up Blake to fail on the third victory he needs so he needs to obtain the 3rd victory immediately on the second round.

    5. Laird was a free man, and so his blood was (weakly) anathema to Conquest, one who enslaves others. Blake used it to make a binding circle. Rose’s hair, once Blake extracted her back in Conviction, obtained the same quality, and she made her circle during her “fight” with Conquest in the mirrors. Also her part of the plan was to rocket through all the available reflective surfaces and smash them. Once Pauz was freed from Black Lamb’s Blood, the pages of that book took on the same anti-enslavement quality. Maggie made that final circle. Last but not least, Corvidae found a small mirror, held it up long enough for Conquest to move into it, and then threw it into the three layers of binding circles, thus springing the trap.

      1. I think that Corvidae might also have used his power on the mirror, to get Conquest to come to it. It’s not stated, but makes sense and goes with Blake thinking that Conquest can’t resist a challenge right after. Corvidae tying something to him is a challenge, or making it part of a contest between them, perhaps.

    6. ““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.”

      … And He’s 100%, Grade-A Forsworn.

        1. Sadly no way the Behaim’s are going to see it that way. Yeah Blake bound Conquest, but in no way, shape, or form is this going to feel like a win in the long run.

          1. It doesn’t matter how the behaims see it, it matters how the karma gods see it. Blake said “if I can help it,” and he had no other option

            1. Doesn’t help Blake if the Karma Gods think it’s cool, and a Behaim just shoots him dead.

            2. They already want to kill him, nothing has changed, except now they will be less patient

          2. Behaims can go gently caress themselves and then do the same to their opinions for the good measure. A fair number owed Blake their lives by now, and they were still trying to kill him. They’re fanatics, and you can’t cure a fanatic.

            1. Funny how fanaticism tends to be contagious. If you accept that you can’t cure a fanatic, they make a fanatic out of you.

        2. Yeah, Blake’s had a well known instinctive negative reaction to anybody touching him before all this, probably made worse by having to relive the same sorts of memories that got him to that point.

      1. If I can help it. Laird’s injury was integral to his death, and Blake did his best to make it not lethal. Combine that with how much the world works on appearances and belief, if he acts like and believes that Laird’s death was unavoidable enough, I would say that it will be treated as such.

        As you say, however, it may depend on the interpretation of the recipient of the oath.

  5. I really thought Blake was done… Then he pulled a chessmaster again. Intimidation, attrition, trickery, dem hax. Go team Thorburn! Just hope Rose is ok…

  6. Well, f***. Laird dead and Conquest bound, all in one chapter.

    Blake, you don’t play around.

    Just in case that sounds too good to be true…
    … Isadora hasn’t sworn off the war.
    … Laird’s son will want vengeance with a vengeance.
    … This will convince the Behaims that Blake/Rose are a threat.
    … Sandra is going to be displeased.
    … Jeremy is still one of the strongest practitioners in the city, possibly the next Lord, and an enemy.
    … Blake’s allies, friends, bound items, and familiar are gone or at the end of their strength.

      1. Whatever’s in Maggie is probably what kept her alive through this ordeal, what with the regeneration factor and enjoying the danger as opposed to fear or panic. Whatever its nature is (good/bad/etc), she’s certainly taking advantage of it.

        Also, it’s very interesting that Conquest himself named her a Goblin Queen. I guess the title wasn’t just something she made up.

        1. I agree with this theory. I’m thinking it’s linked to the “No! All of us live! All of us!” that initiated the oath. It probably feeds from the ambient blood/darkness and fire, and she gets more Other with it.

          Possibilities:
          a) this effect reverts as the round of BDF ends, and she gets back to her previous self until the final round, where things won’t be as easy to contain.
          b) it doesn’t revert, and the inner psycho queen tugs her ropes to cause the third event in a particularly horrible fashion.

          Final boss ?

          1. Maybe not the final boss, but a major boss fight nonetheless. Would be amusing if said fight ends in marriage with Blake. That would certainly fit well with this line from 1.03: “I reckon many of the best partnerships in the recent past came about when our family married bastards rather than gentlemen.”
            (Minus the “Marry a man” stipulation, of course…)

          2. So far, we haven’t seen anything to say that Maggie’s Other is an enemy. Blake doesn’t trust it, because he’d be stupid to go around trusting anyone and anything, but it hasn’t attacked him and did save his life.

            1. Wouldn’t you agree that now would be the best/worst time for the 3rd round of blood and darkness to appear? Both storytelling wise and plot wise – I mean, Blake’s at the end of his rope, he is gonna die soon, one major battle finished so nobody is expecting it. WHAM. SOMETHING RUNS BLAKE THROUGH THE HEAD WITH A SWORD.

    1. Jeremy will take this opportunity to strike Blake down now that he’s tired. It’s a win for him since he’s not tied down in direct conflicts with other powers and opportunity now presents itself.

      1. Jeremy will probably make a deal with Blake. Blake beat Conquest, and that means Blake can jack what he wants from Conquest, and in turn give it to the drunk. That’s a win.

        1. Jeremy’s forsworn if Blake leaves the city, isn’t he? He has no choice but to go all out against Blake.

            1. Can Lords leave their cities ? If not (probably dangerous, out of it their power reserves could disappear and leave them vulnerable to another Lord-wannabe), the Blakelord theory gets a bump.

    2. But Isadora promised that she would attack him “the next day” right? Didn’t she already finish and win? (Also what happened to Blake dying and Rose’s revenge?) and when he wins doesn’t he get something? Winning conquest is a big thing, yes? (Though we haven’t been told that he won so I don’t actually believe it)

    3. I think Isadora is probably going to be pissed at Blake now. He just released Pauz, who is anti-balance incarnate.

      Actually, that’s kind of important: Blake’s stated goal was to capture and bind the demons/big nasties, and put them away so they can’t cause any more harm. I feel like this is going to bite him in the ass later.

      Pauz is free. That by itself qualifies as nightmare fuel.

      1. He had to free him to fuel the circle with the pages of “Black Lambs Blood”.
        As for Isadora hating Blake for freeing him… he was the one binding him in the first place. No-one cared/dared to do something about the imp before him.

        In a parrallel universe, there is a small building in th outskrits of Toronto, full of mirrors and a growing library. With a small copper/iron plate on the door:
        Blake and Rose Thorburn
        Lord and Lady of Toronto

    4. … He just used and let loose an Imp, making convincing people he’s not some psycho Diabolist impossible.
      … Said Imp is out there wanting to get even with him.

      Blake doesn’t win. He just ends up in deeper shit. Sigh.

  7. Up next: Sifting thru the ashes of a city that got Thorburned. What to do with all the actors left running around: Pauz, ErasUr, the Sisters, Isadora, the Drunk, the Behaims, the Knights, the Eye, the Shepard, Maggie, Rose, the Blakegard, and all the Jacob’s Bell Actors.

    What a mess.

    1. Pauz: Leaving Toronto
      ErasUr: He can wait
      Sisters: Occupied with the Astrologer
      Isadora: Has no Reason to kill Blake and won’t without one as a being of balance
      Drunk: Promised to keep Blake in Toronto and not to interfere with Conquest’s demon plans, so has to reason to pick a fight with the scary diabolist
      Behaims: Just lost their leader who may be the only one clued in on diabolism
      Knights: Still on amicable terms with Blake
      The Eye: convalescing, but there’s no telling what he will get up to without Conquest’s direction
      Shepard: weakened, per Conquest’s word. Couldn’t take Blake down before, not likely to try again
      Maggie: Not really Blake’s problem
      Rose: complicated
      Blakegard: What?
      Jacob’s Bell: most of them will stay home, Duchamps don’t really have much to gain by going after Blake now that Laird is dead and Blake is cozy in Toronto

      1. The Blakegard need to regroup and train. They will be a drain on Blake’s scarce time and energy as much as the others will. Not every complication is an enemy, friends take work too.

      2. Pauz: Visiting family in Los Angeles.
        Ur: Wonders if he’s got Alzheimer’s because he can’t even remember what he had for breakfast.
        Sisters: The Sisters never laid a finger on Andy ever again, and Boggs never walked again.
        Isadora: Sitting in a chair somewhere, stroking her own backside while she hatches an evil plan.
        Drunk: Body shots with Bambina
        Behaims: Fought like cows; have been cowed.
        Knights: The Knights are on fire with passionate love. The neighbors complain about the noises above.
        The Eye: Flying back to New Zealand to resume filming the third Hobbit movie.
        Shepard: Grunt
        Maggie: Trying to convince a goblin named Dickspew that a vibrator is not an appropriate bound form for a goblin.
        Rose: Feelin’ thorny.
        Blakeguard: Guarding the produce section, having heard that orange is the new Blake.
        Jacob’s Bell: heard Salem’s Lot just moved into town and felt like meeting the new neighbors.

  8. Pretty awesome work. I’m glad to see Blake actually had a plan the whole time. Was Rose playing along or legitimately pissed?

    1. Probably both. Blake & Rose are very good at working together while pissed at each other. I mean, we’ve had 7 arcs of them being pissy and kicking all sorts of ass.

  9. Soo… Conquest is defeated? How does that even work on an Incarnation? If Conquest in conquered, what happens to the one who conquered Conquest? Massive power boost? Overall badassery? I’m saying that because I’m sure we’re all eager to see Blake become someone you do not want to fuck with. It must be getting annoying for him, getting attacked all the goddamn time!

      1. I just thought about something: Conquest has been conquered, so he’ll be severely weakened at best, but Blake might use that to strongarm him into a (very advantageous to team Thorburn) contract that would let Conquest go so Blake can use him as he pleases in the future, giving him an Incarnation to his beck and call. And, as we have seen, even a weak Incarnation is pretty damn strong.

  10. Conquest seems incredibly handicapped by his need to subjugate others. If he had the mental flexibility and agency to conceive of ‘death’ as a form of subjugation, and just killed Blake, he’d be much better off. He can’t take his wins and go home, instead constantly pushing forward, never consolidating his gains. Predictably, this is his downfall, but it seems to be more of an accidental mistake than a compelling ‘Just as planned!’ moment from Blake.
    His strengths have been stated to lie in improvisation and instinct, but the resolution here looks like the result of Conquest overreaching and the universe handing Blake the win on a silver platter, making it a convoluted and frustrating conclusion to a much-hyped antagonist. In keeping with Conquest’s nature as a charlatan, perhaps, but not satisfying for the readers.

    Or maybe I’m wrong and the circle won’t hold, or Conquest subjugates Rose in the mirror-world, or something else happens that means this isn’t the end.

    1. I dunno, Rose seems capable of travelling to mirrors further away leaving C-word trapped in the mirror stuck in the circle.

    2. He can conceive of death = subjugation. It’s just that he likes it when they grovel and he can torture them for eternity and a day, because it’s a power source that keeps on giving.

      1. Also, he appears to have an allergy to dissatisfying endings, hence why he didn’t just shoot Blake while he was mid-sentence last chapter.

    3. That’s not how Pactverse seems to work. Blake CAN win; it just can’t be worth it. And Conquest has been stated to be weak. Like Blake has been learning, theatrics are important.

    4. Eh, the materials used are very weak, at best. Blood spatter on snow, scattered pages, hair clippings? They’re just not going to stick around. I guess it depends on what exactly carried over to the mirror-world, and how those rules work compared with the real world.

      1. True. The logistical problems of maintaining the binding are a problem when the city is experiencing a city-wide snowstorm-induced shutdown, and become impossible once things are brought back to normal. Unless they get a couple of enchanter/illusionists to help hide it and redirect traffic, or something. Where would they get one of those?

          1. Nah, Blake had to get the Hyena to agree to submit by threatening to let its victims torture it in return for all the pain it gave them. Barbatorem lasted months before it agreed to be bound by the Seal of Solomon. Sandra’s familiar took a long time to submit once she’d hunted it down in the wilds of Europe and beaten it up.

            1. Hmm, stubbornness seems to be an issue.
              Barbatorem is mute, which made binding him a little bid hard I imagine.

              Renember, the ogre/troll bound by Sandra Duchamp was not bound at all. She convinced/coerced the troll to become her familiar. If she simply wanted to bind it, that propably wouldn’t have taken that long.

              To summarize, all binding we witnessed in Pact were either bound by contract between more or less equal parties (i.e. first binding of Pauz), luring them into a vessel by words and or promises (i.e. the Ghosts) but this can be interpreted like the former, bound by beating it into submission and surrendering (i.e. the Hyena), or the Other/Practitioner was weakened enough to be bound by force (i.e. Fell’s ancestor).

              The latter one is up to discussion, because Fell’s ancestor was accutally declared forsworn, which basically makes you a powerless Other. The “Bound by Submission” seems the most reasonable choice when dealing with goblins and other lower Others.

              The only hint on how to bind an elemental so far are the Sisters of the Torch. They are mentioned to have set up a vessel/home for their fire spirit, propably luring it there and then tapping into it. Probably in exchange for fuel to keep the fire running?

            2. She probably had to get it with a binding circle first, though; Something tells me a Scandinavian troll doesn’t like to stay in one place for long, or at least one place that isn’t “home.” Furthermore, if I remember my Finnish mythology correctly, they turn to stone in the daylight. Another thing Sandra could have used to set a time limit on the “negotiation.” Heh, I can just see her standing with arms folded, declaring an ultimatum: “Become my familiar with no BS, and I won’t leave you here to petrify.”

      2. Once Conquests submits to the binding, the spirits will consolidate the materials into a more durable form around the mirror, I think, like how Pauz was bound into a book a circle made of string, and the spirits wove the string into a complex weave around the book. Most likely, the mirror will be covered by the pages, with blood acting like glue and the hair being woven into thread, or acting to reinforce the blood.

      3. But Blake and company know that the materials are temporary, which means they’ve taken it into account.

        In the worst case, the circle holds for a matter of minutes. With the spatial distortion, that’d be enough time to go to to his tower and steal or destroy his trophies, permanently dropping his power level. (Maybe send Corvidae? We might actually want the items to be connected to Conquest instead of Blake. Rose would know.)

        In the best case, binding Conquest is an instant win. Blake believes this to be the case.

        In the actual worst case, it didn’t work at all.

        1. Blake could try pulling the exact same thing Conquest always does and be like, “You can swear to serve the Thorburn heirs forever and never rebel against or harm them. Or I can give you to my demonic lawyers, who are in the service of powers far greater than you, as a bargaining chip, whereupon you’d probably be treated as a plaything or a magical battery for eternity. You have exactly ten seconds to decide.”

          1. I don’t think Conquest can agree to that. Blake said he’s like a machine. He has to behave in certain ways. That’s the only reason the plan to bind him worked. Because he had to crush the challenge Blake presented about Rose. Since by his very nature he is the dominator, not the conquered, I don’t think he can agree to that.

            1. Hasn’t it been said that Conquest builds up power that he expends to not blindly follow his nature?

              Either way, forcing Conquest to that deal would leave Blake with a very weak incarnation in his possession.

            2. Conquest would be able to do more conquering by being Blake’s prisoner than demons’. And even if he refuses and Blake hands him over, he’s still out of the picture (probably).

            3. @Sir Fuente: Well, there’s nothing saying Blake can’t feed his pet Incarnation every now and then…

    5. Death isn’t subjugation. It is an end to your interactions with the mortal world, certainly – but don’t forget, the afterlife is real, so death is freedom.

      1. Strictly speaking, depends on the afterlife. Most afterlives out there are pretty crappy places to exist. Too bad for him that Laird couldn’t take it with him, because now there’s Hell to pay…and they don’t accept credit cards. Cash or check only, unfortunately, and not an ATM in sight.

    6. Wildbow said he was getting tired of this arc and wanted to wrap things up. I doubt he’s gonna pull a last minute “hahaha actually nope this is gonna drag on for another twenty chapters”

      I… I’m inclined to agree. This has been an important arc in terms of the protags powering up into actual players. but Conquest was an unsatisfying villain all along and the Behaim involvement felt constrained. It was hard for me to feel emotionally invested in the /conflict/, not just the development.

    7. Keep in mind, that silver platter cost Blake a man’s life, and releasing something that would be better off trapped at the bottom of a well somewhere very remote. This wasn’t a free win.

      No matter how big of a dick Laird is, he didn’t deserve to die. The circumstances were completely reasonable and Blake wasn’t intending to kill him, but this wasn’t a life for a life. Blake even tried to save him to the best of his ability and failed.

      As for Conquest, by all appearances an Incarnation is more an act in progress than an individual being. It’s simply a concept given legs and direction. Diverting from that takes away from its “self”, and acting in tune with that adds to its “self”. Each act of subjugation refills his fuel tank, I think. Considering he was roughly as strong as the Hyena when he and Blake finally went face-to-face, he needed all the fuel he could get.

      1. Yeah, it’s fairly constant that Blake’s “wins” are actually going to end up making his situation worse. Part of one of the problems in the series for me, since no matter how good he is, or how hard he tries, the universe will force him to do bad things, and fuck him over worse. Unlike Worm, I can understand if some people get darkness induced apathy here.

      2. “he didn’t deserve to die”
        He got Molly killed. His motives were prejudice at best, punishing another for a crime he only expects them to commit. He tried he damndest to have Blake enslaved. So I disagree.

        1. Plus, I don’t think there would be much of a karmic backlash here. Laird has tried to get Blake killed times infinity, /and/ Blake explicitly declared war on him. Your enemies are /supposed/ to kill you.

      3. Laird’s not just a dick, remember. He had Molly murdered and has tried to get Blake killed as well. It’s good he died.

        1. Molly’s death was an accident. When did he try to get Blake killed? He pretty loudly was trying to keep Blake alive.

          1. Technically he hasn’t been trying to get Blake killed. Just foresworn, or made Conquest’s bitch, or stuck in a slow time effect until he’s foresworn for not meeting requirements, or crippled…

    1. C-word said that he was dead, unless he was wrong or intentionally weakening himself…. lets wait for the next chapter.

    2. Laird got stabbed in the throat. Blake did his best to roll Laird over so that the blood drained out of instead of into his throat, but Conquest intervened. That was when the time-stop happened, at which point Blake “made a beeline for Laird.” Once he got there, he turned Laird over again, with his hands (no squeamishness this time), and scooped up the bloody snow. Conquest dropped out of time-lock 2 minutes from the freeze, and Laird the corpse is never mentioned in the narration again.

      He’s dead.

  11. What’s the deal with Laird’s red eye? Also how did he bleed so much if Blake stabbed him in the space below the Adam’s apple? From what I know there aren’t major blood vessels there. (The carotids are off to the side, the superior/inferior thyroid aren’t that large and the jugular is also off to a side.)

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

        I stabbed it into Laird’s neck.

        That was from last chapter.

        The splinter found its way to a spot just below Laird’s Adam’s apple.

        And this was the first line. Not knowing anything else I’d have guessed that it poked laird through his trachea under the Adam’s apple.
        Of course, nothing says that he couldn’t have gone through the carotid to get there but nothing implies that either…

        And as for his eye, yeowch. Thanks for the nightmare wildbow.

    1. Laird screamed when Evan divebombed him, last chapter. I thought it was just from the unexpected force, but it seems Evan actually hit his eye as Unmaker guessed.

    2. He screamed right before Blake got hit by the Conquest’s second ghost. From the description, I guess Evan pecked him in the eye.

  12. Assuming Laird is dead, should Blake not get a power hit because of this statement?

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

    If we deconstruct that, the second part is not a lie. He couldn’t help but kill Laird. However, he promised to not hurt Laird too badly. I think killing someone, assuming Laird is indeed dead, constitutes as hurting them badly.

    You know, Wildbow, I love the way you explain the narrative as part of the universe. In any other story, it really makes no sense that the main character has so many things happen to them, and that somehow they get away with it. But in this story, there is an element of “karma”. Bad things happening to Blake is part of the natural laws of the Pactverse (but this implies similar stories are happening to other people we don’t know about). Why Blake gets away of bad situations, why he and his enemies bloat (which would be for the benefit on the reader in any other story) is because the universe itself enjoys that.

    It’s interesting to imagine the spirits of Pact as spectators and the universe as the director of a play. Blake’s family did atrocious things so the spirits want bad things to happen to Blake and the universe responds. But they don’t want bad thing to always happen to Blake, that would not make for an interesting story, so he gets a win every now and then. Besides, who doesn’t like the underdog to rise into power? But if Blake wins too often and too much, it will be a boring story again, so the universe must have bad things happen to Blake in-between wins to please the spirits.

    I wonder if, perhaps, the spirits are us, the readers, and the universe itself is Wildbow. Okay, I’ll stop it with my fauxlosophy.

    As always, thank you Wildbow for the fantastic story. Remember to take breaks if you need them!

    1. If the spirits are us, Laird would have burned his karma stockpile down to the ground and into the negatives. He has good karma, remember – so in theory, the universe wants to see people like him and luck come his way, so it arranges for that. Given that we DON’T like him, we’re probably not a part of that. At least directly.

    2. I stand by what I said last chapter. “Too badly” could be taken to mean “in excess of what he deserves”. And pinning Blake so he could re-experience a brutal beating and a rape justifies a killing in my book. But then, I’m a strong 2nd Amendment kind of guy. The Karma Spirits may have a different take, but I honestly kinda doubt it.

      1. … 2nd amendment in which document? If it’s the U.S. Constitution, I don’t see what the right to bear arms in a well-organized militia has to do with any of this.

        1. US Constitution. Meant to imply that I support defensive force up to and including lethal in the case of violent attackers or rapists. Other people may disagree that the latter category warrants lethal or potentially lethal force.

          1. Strictly speaking, you support “Stand Your Ground” laws, not the 2nd Amendment, as the 2nd Amendment is about militias that are well regulated, and stand your ground is a loosening of the regulations surrounding the determination of responsibility after someone has been shot and possibly killed because some people didn’t feel they needed to prove it was self defense.

            1. That’s incorrect on both counts. The militia clause is offered as explanatory, but as phrased is in no way a restriction on the rest of the description. And “Stand Your Ground” is about a “Duty to Retreat”, or to make a (maybe)reasonable attempt to flee rather than face an attacker. Once an attacker has you pinned (such as Laird on Blake), that duty is voided even in places that don’t have any kind of SYG law or that have a strong duty to retreat. If you’re basing your understanding there on a certain famous US case from a few years ago, basically everything you heard was most likely ignorant or dishonest propaganda. SYG never even came up in the actual trial.

            2. The reason why it so rarely comes up in trial is because dead people don’t have legal standing to sue. Instead, if it makes it to trial at all, it’s for murder. And the times it has gone to trial as such, they tend to let people off, even if the person who “stood his ground” chased an unarmed person down in the process.

            3. *stands back and grabs a bag of popcorn to enjoy while watching for the inevitable internet fight that’s starting.

              *throws out popcorn when he remembers that sour neon gummy worms are the far superior theater snack.

            4. I suggest gummy worm eggs. All the taste of gummy worms, but with the sensation of a hatching worm in your mouth!

              Just be careful if you should text or type, especially if it’s to check on your babysitter. Unarmed people have been shot and killed in movie theaters for that, and not by the wife.

              Still, I think the reaction most people would have to this whole discussion around here is more like this: http://weknowgifs.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/boo-bitch-gif.gif

      2. Remember that Laird’s words have meaning when he says over and over again that he no longer believes Blake and Rose will show restraint. He honestly believes it, given their line’s history. It’s not just posturing.

        He also mentioned he swore to do no direct harm. This fits in well with Laird the law enforcement officer, as he has a large power-base that he can use as the hammer he can’t officially wield. Here, he doesn’t have access to that.

        So what does he do when he’s the only Champion available and believes he has to stop the diabolists, but can’t actually injure him? He tries to put him out of the fight non-violently in the only way available to him (supporting Conquest). Conquest is attempting to break his will, and even if Laird were aware of what, exactly, he was making Blake experience, he can’t feel like he has much choice.

        Is he a dumbass? Yeah. Is he completely wrong? Yeah. Is he making mistakes that we might make in his situation? I think so. So no, I don’t think he ‘deserved’ death, but he DID seem to put Blake in a situation where his only option was delivering it.

    3. He didn’t hurt him too badly. He was in great pain for a short time and then died. He didn’t suffer for long at all.

        1. That just gave me a thought. Maybe Laird really is a good guy, and Blake has royally screwed the pooch by killing him.

          Laird obviously screwed up too by pushing Blake into that position, but I wouldn’t be surprised if creating a power vacuum in Toronto opened the door to demons and more.

    4. “I wonder if, perhaps, the spirits are us, the readers, and the universe itself is Wildbow.”

      That… would be a very amusing twist.

    5. Blake’s phrase was vague- he didn’t define what hurting someone too badly meant. At worst it would be a half truth and lose him a little power. He made a good faith effort to reduce his pain too. Laird refused to follow his advice, but he tried hard and that’s important in this world.

    6. Blake promised not to hurt Laird too badly, but he didn’t promise that he definitely wouldn’t kill Laird. The end result is that Laird was killed quickly– it didn’t hurt too badly when he died.

    7. “However, he promised to not hurt Laird too badly. I think killing someone, assuming Laird is indeed dead, constitutes as hurting them badly.”

      “Too” is being used to mean excessively. Laird did not get hit with Pauz, the Barber nor the Eraser demon. Laird suffered no long torture as he inflicted upon Blake. Laird’s soul was not picked up and used as a power source by Blake. Blake provided what care he reasonably could.

      Laird was not hurt too badly.

  13. wow, if laird is dead this story’s momentum has shifted /dramatically/. i can’t even imagine what comes next.

  14. Aw Blake, you went and killed Laird, ruined Duncan’s future marriage and freed an Imp. But hey, you got Conquest!

    So there’s that.

    Now you have to worry about the high drunk, the eye, getting Fell’s soul back and probably dealing with Isadora. This victory may seem like a nice thing karma did for you, but I think with all the enemies you made this is actually karma screwing you up.

    But no one can say you didn’t earn this victory. Revel in it. Evan proved himself to be a wonderfull familiar and your (human) champions did their job well. Indeed, I would say that you owe them a great deal.

    Now just punch Corvidae in the face, pet Evan and go ride in your bike.

    1. Corvidae didn’t have the time to actually do anything to Duncan’s finacée… Their couple may face some troubles, but given that Blake killed Laird Duncan shouldn’t have a problem convincing her that Bake was the bad guy and he’s the good guy.

      1. There’s still the entire thing where he was concealing the whole “My family is fighting a secret war with diabolists, and some of what we do is technically illegal because it involves murder and covering up for murder” thing. That’s a problem in any relationship.

        1. Yes, that’s a problem, but as I said he should be able to spin it as “we’re the good guys, and I didn’t tell you because those things are dangerous and can come after you once you know”.

  15. Wow Blake, that’s quite the slippery slope, here. Voluntarily releasing demons from binding? Good luck convincing Isadora you’re not food.
    Using the Hyena as he did in the previous chapter to mangle elemental spirits and turn them against one another (or against Laird) also probably counts as creating imbalance. As does using Corvidae.

    1. Not to mention it comes dangerously close to violating his promise that he would try and stop and bind things like demons, letting Pauz go.

      1. He’s only violating the spirit. He stopped AND bound Pauz. Success! He never promised not to use them. Or release them after feeding them.

        1. Blake freed Pauz as agreed. Without seeing the actual contract, there’s no reason Blake can’t track him down and bind him again. Assuming he gets time between crises, of course…

      2. He did so in the process of binding Conquest, though. Like loosing a fox to catch a lion. I expect he’ll get away with it.

    2. Well, he has to stay alive and free to bind demons, so he can tell Isadora that.
      As for imbalance, aren’t demons the balancing counter force to Creation, or is this a different balance from that of Faerunish druids?

      1. What demons take can never be reclaimed, so while they may be the counterpoint to Creation, I don’t think it likely that we are getting any more Creation any time soon so maybe it’s better if we don’t give it away all willy-nilly

      2. Demons may be the counterpart to Creation, but Creation in this case seems to have created Balance… That is to say, Demons are not natural destruction or natural creation, but that which disrupts Balance.

  16. Something that nobody seems to have mentioned so far. Blakes already almost on the tipping point with the lawyers. Now he’s taken the book he was supposed to read and used it to form a binding circle. How’s he going to finish it now? Doesn’t that break his promise to the lawyers? When will they start coming for him and demanding that he pay what he can no longer deliver on?

    1. Pauz is out (may or may not have left little surprises in the text) and Maggie weighted down the pages. The book can still be finished.

    2. Also, he can use his favor from the lawyers to ask for a second copy of Black Lamb’s Blood. Following the letter of the agreement perfectly, but utterly ignoring the spirit.

      1. Alternatively, instead of asking the lawyers for it, ask literally any other diabolist. It’s (supposedly) a fairly common book.

        1. Like who? Which other diabolist do we know that Blake knows? Besides, It’s a fairly recent book, as it was being written at the time of Granny Rose’s death, or was published so closely to her death that she didn’t have a chance to put it in her library.

    3. From 7.7:
      “Maggie had torn out the pages of Black Lamb’s Blood, weighing them down so they wouldn’t fly away. I couldn’t afford to lose them…”

      I assume one of the reasons he ‘couldn’t afford to lose them’ is because he still has to read it.

  17. Wow. . . I go to bed early one night and awaken to find Laird dying, Pauz free and Conquest bound. I think this was an important chapter.

    So Blake is officially a practitioner worth fear/respect. He’s crippled enemies, scared Others into submission, Killed other enemies and bound the Lord of Toronto. As demonstrated with Pauz, even without the full Thorburn clout, Blake’s words now have quite a bit of power.

    Is the story going to shift back to Jacob’s Bell? It may be unwise to stay in Toronto. The Drunk may start making plays, the eye may be vengeful and nobody knows how Isadora will react.

    Ty, Alexis and Tiff will be in for quite the shock when they awaken to find that Blake has killed his enemy and subjugated Conquest. Will the Blakeguard also come to JB? It’s probably not safe for them in Toronto either.

    Once word gets around, I’m sure the Knights will be happy that they put themselves on Blake’s good side.

    When the contest started, I suggested that Blake and Rose bind Conquest instead of killing him or forcing a surrender. My reasoning was that by doing this, the contest would go on indefinitely, only without Conquest as a threat. That way, Fell (RIP) and Rose would be able to stay free from Conquest. Now that Blake has actually done that, I must wonder if my assumption was correct. Is the contest still technically going on, or did Blake just win?

    So Void. The void left in the Behaim hierarchy now that their head, Laird, has been killed. Clever.

    Blake should keep an eye on JP. I don’t trust him. I get the sense that he will try to pull a Pauz and subtly screw over Rose at the next opportunity. Rose should’ve been nicer to her monsters.

    So Maggie, Blake and Rose is the Pact trio of power? We already know Blake is the Batman (or maybe the joker) of the group as he already has a bird themed boy sidekick. Does that make Rose the wonderwoman and Maggie the superman? Is there a better trio to compare them to?

    1. At the very least, they should acquire the Eye from Conquest and ship it off to deal with ErasUrr before they go. Sever that loose end nice and clean.

      Comparing Maggie with Superman… that’s an interesting one. While in a team and fighting an enemy he can’t just punch into submission, Superman tends to take advantage of his invulnerability and high mobility to keep the baddies occupied. Maggie is a tough-as-nails summoner who can provide an endless stream of cannon fodder with a dash of improvised explosives to keep big Others tied up, or just zerg rush the little ones into submission. She might even be able to quash a small city by herself if she gets strong enough. I don’t know if Goblins are versatile enough to let her stand on her own, though. Of course, the same could be said of bugs…

      I don’t know enough about Wonder Woman to get that comparison. So far, Rose is the one dealing the most direct damage in a fight and quickly eliminating threats. Could Wonder Woman be classified as a sweeper?

      Blake is definitely Batman: A quick and resourceful problem solver. Very much an asset to the team, despite not having quite as much raw power as the other members.

      Come to think of it, a team of what is essentially three summoners is about as non-standard as Worm’s team of three masters, a non-damaging blaster, and an abstract thinker. Not that Blake’s been doing a whole lot of summoning.

      1. The Undersiders did basically have the theme going of “common phobias,” at least to begin with. Bugs, Dogs, the Dark, everything with Regent.

    2. Rot13:
      Ebfr vf Nyrknaqevn, jvgu vafgnag npprff gb gur yvoenel naq vaihyarenoyr gb zhaqnar zrnaf orpnhfr fur’f va gur zveebe jbeyq.

      Oynxr vf Rvqbyba, irel irefngvyr, pna vzcebivfr naq yrneaf irel dhvpxyl n jvqr inevrgl bs fxvyyf.

      Znttvr vf Yrtraq, n ybg bs enj svercbjre. Abg fb zhpu ntvyvgl gubhtu.

      1. Uh, I should have mentioned: Mild Worm spoilers, reveals details of powers that aren’t revealed until later.

    3. Blake &co. don’t want the contest to last indefinitely. Blake can’t use magic during the contest, and Conquest’s champions can still fight for him if they choose to.

    4. I’d just like to say, you should go to bed sooner next time :3

      And I’m not sure Blake has won yet. He has captured Conquest, but the rules of the game were that you had to subdue your enemy. Conquest has to give in and give up.

    5. Technically, Blake’s the Superman, Rose is the Wonder Woman, and Evan is the Batman.

      It’s because they’re a trinity of sorts. A father, a mother/companion, and a son/man.

  18. Tbh the fight isn’t over. Conquest is trapped but he’s not BOUND. Unless you force surrender from Conquest he’s just gonna sit in the circle until someone breaks it.

    Shame though, now that this is wrapping up I’ll never find out whether Conquest could conquer itself and escape the need to continually take everything. Ah well shoves the philosophical question back in the bag

    1. Yeah, I’m curious if those ties are broken or if whoever binds Conquest obtains his subsequent bindings as well.

      1. The lazy bastard who wouldn’t even stand up to a Ghoul?

        Even if they fudge the connections, he only works with objects and people. Blake and Rose know better than to trust him when it comes to having him give them a connection to anything, and where can they send it that won’t cause a problem down the line or have it destroy?

        1. And Others. Remember how he did that lets-you-and-him-fight thing with the Sisters and the Astrologer? The elemental that was the Sisters’ power source just happened to jump into the Astrologer’s heirloom.

        2. Corvidae effectively defeated the Astrologer and the Sisters by taking them out of the fight, all without throwing a punch. It’s not a matter of him being lazy. It’s a matter of his area of expertise. Take the gun from a soldier and give him a sword, he’s probably not going to do so well against a knight. But let him keep his equipment and he’d gun down half the Middle Ages with no problem.

  19. Next chapter will be Laird’s interlude, showing us what he has actually been doing this whole time when it seemed like he just wanted to destroy Blake but really he was Blake’s greatest ally. We shall all be stricken with sadness that this was the last we get to see of his character (outside of one or two interlude cameos).

    1. Wildbow might be able to make me understand Laird, but that’s as far as I can go. Whatever his reasons may have been, he’s done too many things I won’t forgive.

    2. Yep, pretty much.
      Laird is the only person in the world who knows a certain really important secret. Probably something really terrible about the basic nature of Pactverse
      Annnnd now he’s dead.

      1. Though in this story dead might not mean gone. We’ve had ghosts, Souls that didn’t move on, Revenants, Fell’s soul being caught by the Sheperd, and who knows what else. We may not have seen the last of Laird.

        1. I was thinking along the same lines. Blake should pick up Laird’s soul and use it as either a battery or a mentor. Now, Laird may only be able to become Lord of Toronto br proxy thru Blake.

      2. Which really important secret was that exactly? How to protect against demons? Blake and Rose can find that from the same books their grandmother left them. The fact that Barbatorem can cut someone’s reflection away from them? Helpful to know, to be sure, but not exactly “need-to-know” stuff. Something Wildbow throws in as a cliffhanger? I have much more faith in his abilities than that.

        1. Only Laird knew the secret of his prize winning Chili.

          If we do get a Laird interlude, I’d like to find out who they voted to execute previously at a town meeting.

          1. Getting a jump on that betting post: $1 says it was Molly, who was absent because she was too afraid to leave the house.

    3. Or inversely, next chapter may be Molly’s Histories in which we find out she actually was trying to summon demons and wasn’t the innocent victim that we assume she was. After all, we’ve only seen a few minutes of preawakening Molly directly. We don’t know a lot about her. Most of what we know about Molly comes from Blake’s memories as a kid or second hand.

      1. Or we see that Molly, took the release option in the contract and sent it on to Blake, and is still very much alive. Or she dumped her soul into a body or something similar. And to be fair, Blake has already used demons. On fundamental pieces of reality.

  20. Comments:
    – I still don’t get Conquest. Last chapter, Conquest tried to traumatize Blake with his past memories, failed due to Evan, and yet… in this chapter, he doesn’t even seem to acknowledge that, nor use his superior position to crush Blake right after Laird is stabbed. Why are we even talking about a “stay of execution”?
    – If Conquest is alone and this weak, how did he manage to down Rose’s remaining Others when he appeared?
    – I’m fine with this finale between Conquest and Blake, but I don’t get whatsoever how things could ever get to this point. I don’t get the concept of making a very long story arc focusing an antagonist who seems strong yet is weak and absurdly easy to manipulate. Blake didn’t win this fight; Conquest lost it; and that reflects badly on both of them.
    – Concerning the binding: Conquest is in a mirror inside the circle, right? So can’t he escape the binding with similar arguments to Rose’s “this isn’t Toronto” line, and for the same reason she can still access the Thorburn manor?
    – When Conquest was first introduced, he seemed to have some kind of familiar-like insect thing. A scarab or something? Did we ever find out what that was? Blake might have misunderstood which concepts Conquest actually stands for. That could screw over the binding.
    – Rose is talking at the end of the chapter. I assumed no reflective surfaces would be left for her to do that.
    – Concerning Laird: The way I see it, he either planned to die or isn’t actually dead yet. Three reasons: 1) I just don’t see a chronomancer die like this without any contingency plans or reverse-my-death spells or the like. 2) Laird’s line “This is for the best” last chapter, which makes no sense if Laird just wanted to traumatize Blake, but does if Laird planned his actual or staged death. 3) The line “I met his eyes as he stared up at me – one was almost crimson, with a bead of red on it.”, which could indicate him being possessed or fake, or turning into an Other.

    Favorite line: “Maggie wasted no time in listening. I was glad for that. I even respected it. After so long fighting with Rose, arguing over every last thing, it was awfully nice to have a friend that’d stab me when stabbing was necessary.”

    1. When Conquest was first introduced, he seemed to have some kind of familiar-like insect thing. A scarab or something? Did we ever find out what that was?
      Several people have commented that they, like the slaves chained to him that appeared a couple times, are part of his ‘body’, i.e. figments/motes of Conquest, not familiars. They take the shape of invasive species able to properly represent his concept in the animal kingdom.

      Rose is talking at the end of the chapter. I assumed no reflective surfaces would be left for her to do that.
      Blake’s necklace-mirror.
      Rose wasn’t the one breaking the windows in that last step: Conquest did it to rob her of her mobility. It fortunately gave enough time for JP to place a mirror inside the Conquest-specific binding circles, causing them to appear inside the mirror world as well.
      Then Rose (unaffected by them) just warped to Blake’s side, and Conquest can’t move from his spot in mirrorland, regardless any surviving windows.

      1. “causing them to appear inside the mirror world as well”
        Oh. I’ve been treating the mirror world like a convenient teleportation device, but as you point out, one can only jump between edges of reflections, not within a single mirror. And if the circle is reflected…huh. Good point!

    2. [i]”I still don’t get Conquest. Last chapter, Conquest tried to traumatize Blake with his past memories, failed due to Evan, and yet… in this chapter, he doesn’t even seem to acknowledge that, nor use his superior position to crush Blake right after Laird is stabbed. Why are we even talking about a “stay of execution”?”[/i]

      Isn’t it obvious? Because the universe likes it when people act like Bond villains!

      1. Since grinvader answered 2 of your points,I’ll answer the other 2
        1)conquest is weak for an other and an automaton who acts based on impulses,but “weak for a lord of the city” is like saying “weak saiyan”.I doubt any Other who isn’t in the council can outbrute force him,and since he is immortal he can probably beat them on one on one head on fight.On a guile fight?he would have a problem,but it is exactly why he is predictable that he is handed this position,and,as we have seen,anyone who would try to attack him (like,say,the Astrologer)would have to content with everyone who wants him to stay in power (like ,say,Isadora).He is lord specifically because he is a more anticlimatic fight than his followers,and it has been said multiple times.Based on what Blake had to give up (Pauz),it is not even an anticlimax,its just that it is more like fighting a Hyena like boss than a Pauz type boss.
        2)Aren’t you overestimating chronomancers?Augury is really expensive,slow,and Laird only uses it for worst case scenarios,it is very far for knowing the future,it is catching glimpses from it (rot13 Ur nva’g Pbagrffn,ur nvag Qvanu,ur nva’g Pbvy,urpx,rira Gnggyrgnyr,jub unf ab shgher frrvat novyvgvrf,pna cebonoyl cerqvpg gur shgher orggre guna na rkcrafvir,fybj,tyvzcfr pngpuvat bayl zrgubq bs nhthevat).Most of chronomancy is smokes and illusions,do not assume it is more op than it is.

    3. Since grinvader answered 2 of your points,I’ll answer the other 2
      1)conquest is weak for an other and an automaton who acts based on impulses,but “weak for a lord of the city” is like saying “weak saiyan”.I doubt any Other who isn’t in the council can outbrute force him,and since he is immortal he can probably beat them on one on one head on fight.On a guile fight?he would have a problem,but it is exactly why he is predictable that he is handed this position,and,as we have seen,anyone who would try to attack him (like,say,the Astrologer)would have to content with everyone who wants him to stay in power (like ,say,Isadora).He is lord specifically because he is a more anticlimatic fight than his followers,and it has been said multiple times.Based on what Blake had to give up (Pauz),it is not even an anticlimax,its just that it is more like fighting a Hyena like boss than a Pauz type boss.
      2)Aren’t you overestimating chronomancers?Augury is really expensive,slow,and Laird only uses it for worst case scenarios,it is very far for knowing the future,it is catching glimpses from it (rot13 He ain’t Contessa,he aint Dinah,he ain’t Coil,heck,even Tattletale,who has no future seeing abilities,can probably predict the future better than an expensive,slow,glimpse catching only method of auguring).Most of chronomancy is smokes and illusions,do not assume it is more op than it is.

      1. damn no no no,it was supposed to be in rot 13,Wilbow,if you see this,please erase it.sorry sorry sorry

  21. So, I’ll be the glass half empty guy… Let’s look at all the ways this win has been tainted.
    -Okay first off Blake did bind Conquest. But that doesn’t mean the asshole is gone for good, and there will be a power vacancy in Toronto, and possibly a war over who the new lord is.
    -As Born of Prayers said what’s keeping the Eye under control now?
    -Pauz is freed.
    -Blake and Rose burned through many of their stockpiled weapons. June, Leonard, a whole ton of summoned others, and now Blake is bled dry again. Honestly Isadora or someone could just sweep down on Blake and off him right now.
    -Blake has put his friends in danger, and nearly gotten Alexis killed. At the very least he will feel guilty about this. At worst this will badly damage their freindships.
    -Blake is falling further down the path of the Diabolist. The possibility of Inquisitors going after him is greatly increased, and someone might decide to notify them of Blake if they don’t already know.
    – Now any chance of the Behaim/Duchamp’s being persauded to back down and stop trying to destroy Blake and the Thorburn’s is gone. With Laird’s death, they will be convinced he is a murdering psycho. Yeah, we can argue it was justified/self defense/ bastard had it coming, but I doubt the Behaim’s and the Duchamp’s will see it that way. Lets hop the two families don’t have enough votes to swing a vote of execution at the next town meeting.
    – Rose might want to dismiss Corvadae. That whole Contempt expression… Well he sure ain’t trustworthy now.
    -Blake still only has shit-tons of enemies left. And I’m not expecting they’ll all just wait for him to regain his strength before attacking again.

    1. I’m the least worried about Blake and Rose being out of tools. They lost many great tools (and I am especially sad to see the time-stopping charm gone :< Such a fantastic power gone so quickly) but Blake is a hundred times more capable and respectable as a practitioner now, and I don't think I am exaggerating. He can getn get better tools easier.

      1. I completely agree. He almost enslaved a greater ghoul (or necromancer or something) last chapter armed only with eggs and a hatchet. Just imagine if the story started with the current Blake instead of chapter 1 Blake .

        1. It would be funny if Conquest or Pauz comes back in a later arc, and is all “Now I will have my revenge!” and Blake just effortlessly seals them and is all like “I got important things to deal with, so I can’t play with you.”

    2. Good thing that’s a glass of shit. I’d hate to drink a whole glass of shit.

      Personally, I prefer the Joker’s take on this…

      Joker: “Y’know, there are three kinds of people in this world: The optimistic who find the glass half full, and the pessimistic that see it as half-empty. Then there’s the paranoid; they just think someone’s drinking out of their glass.”

      Corrigan: “Which one are you?”

      Joker: “I’m the one that knocks the glass over.”

      1. Then you have Batman, who drinks from a non spilling pouch, and laces his drink with a tracking isotope, just in case.

  22. Conquest is beaten, and that’s a victory, sure. But how Pyrrhic is it? Fell is dead, Maggie is possessed by something, Blake and Rose aren’t in a good place as far as their partnership goes, they had to go into Duncan’s house and scare his magic-ignorant wife and then Blake ended up killing Laird and Wildbow only knows how much trouble that’s going to generate, Pauz is free once more, there’s still Jeremy and possibly Isadora to deal with, ErasUrr is still sitting in its abandoned factory, and the universe is still out to kill him. Tomorrow is just another Tuesday for Blake Thorburn.

    Yeah, gotta agree with Evan’s half-hearted “Woo”.

    1. Maggie arrived possessed, so that one wouldn’t count as a loss I think.

      But yeah, Blake and Rose just lost a whole ton of accumulated power over this. They could probably reverse that if they manage to conscript Conquest, because apparently even a weak Incarnation is still pretty damn strong, but that’s going to be kind of difficult. At the very least he should claim something from Conquest, like that sweet-ass rifle. Make it his implement or something.

      Blake could really use a masterball right about now.

      1. The problem is he’s going to need to recover his strength. Right now, I don’t think he’s got any power pour into a implement, and he definitly isn’t up to wrestling with spirits for his Demense. The only reason I can see for anyone else who is an enemy to not immediatly attack him and take advantage of his weakened state is because it would be bad Karma. And he’d better get out of there before the Behaim kids see what he did to Laird, because they probably won’t be in any shape to care about karma, and will just shoot or stab him.

        1. I think if we ever see Blake wait to do something until he’s ready or until the circumstances are favorable, it’ll be in the epilogue. As a joke.

    2. The problem with Conquest being beaten is that the circle he is bound in is temporary at best. So all Conquest has to do is sit and wait and he will be out. JP might be used to forge a connection that would be more permanent, but JP is apparently less than reliable right now.

      So, not only is the win Pyrrhic, it is temporary and fragile.

      Or, as you said, just another Tuesday.

      1. Course if people start taking Conquest’s stuff while he’s sealed, he will be vastly weakened when he is released. I’m sure the Astrologer at least would like to free her mentor’s spirit.

    3. If I count right, ‘tomorrow’ whould be Sunday, December the 29th, 2013.
      We should start a betting pool on whether Blake will survive until his birthday (21 days) or not.
      And then, another pool on whether he’ll survive his birthday.
      The amount collected would be donated into extra chapters as appropriate.

      The universe has made a cake for you, Blake. Stop what you are doing and assume the party escort submission position.
      … oh good, you are already in the correct position. A party associate will arrive shortly to collect you for your party.

    4. I thought Evan’s woo wasn’t half hearted, I thought he was exhausted from being shot.

  23. The “this isn’t really Maggie” moment for me was when she deflected bullets with a hand gesture. Everything up to that point was questionable, but that was really over the “something is wrong here” line. Glamour, perhaps? Believe it and it is so?

    1. From all the possession-related hints in the story, and the fact that she promised to her parents to go to school, I suspected she actually sent her secret Fairy helper in her stead, glamoured to look and act as her. It doesn’t even conflict with the contest’s rules. Her new powers would be well explained by Fairy-grade glamour.

      But her eagerness to pass through a fire-and-blood episode conflicts with that theory, so Wildbow probably cooked something more messy than that.

      1. A visage, maybe? With enough directing intelligence and Faerie glamour behind it to work? There has been a recurring theme of pieces of a person being magically enhanced to be separate beings.

    2. Conquest may not be the strongest Incarnation, but I don’t think you can just illusion supernatural bullets out of the way like that. Whatever pulled that off thinks its Darth Vader or something.

      Pity she lost the Hyena, I was starting to like her with it.

        1. Some Others have tried. Newwave tried to destroy the metal, but the metal had its way. Grunge then tried to dethrone the metal, but metal was in the way. Punkrock tried to destroy the metal, but metal was much too strong. Techno tried to defile the metal, but Techno was proven wrong.

    1. Yrg’f whfg ubcr uvf qrngu qbrfa’g pnhfr fbzrguvat nf fuvgfgbezvp nf Rpuvqan’f enzcntr, yvxr Pbvy’f qvq. Guvf vf fgvyy Nep 7!
      Ohg, guvaxvat nobhg vg… Jbez’f Nep 7 raqraqrq va n “jubbcfvr, Raqoevatre va gbja!”.

      1. Ohh, good point.

        There’s one thing I can think of that might need Laird’s continued existence to function: the giant time-slow around the Thorburn land. Hopefully that spell suddenly cancelling doesn’t screw up Barbatorem’s bindings…

          1. If it was purely illusion, the time slow would kill him. People would wonder why he was wasting away, not eating, as he slowly walked toward his house. Given that Wildbow is the god of the Crapsack dimension, they’d then pelt Blake with feces.

            Though it gets slightly more complex with all the physicists jacking off to the notion that time is an illusion, a masturbation that would be impossible if all things were currently as they ever had been and ever will be, but let’s not get into such technical matters. That way leads to frustration and a lack of satisfaction. This may explain why physicists are so poor in bed, or at least that’s what I hear from the neurophysicists. They say their comrades lack spine, or get their nerves all worked up.

            1. Yeah, but neurophysicists don’t really have the MA or MV to keep up with us physicists. You gotta put in the (int(Fdx)), you see.

  24. How does the binding and summoning work again? Everything is bound in some kind of object I guess? But Rose can summon beings she doesn’t have the objects to. So could someone theoretically have summoned Pauz out from under Blake’s nose as long as he knew the name and a fitting ritual maybe? That could really ruin stuff…
    What if you find something and you can tell someone is bound in it but not who?
    I would like that 🙂
    Well, I was just thinking about this because it would have been way safer to free something lesser that Pauz. But they wouldn’t have been able to use the object to make a circle… What about the freed beings blood, just like Lairds? No time to make a deal?
    Or are they really, truly out of stuff < Pauz? And equally strong but not as inclined to seek revenge… I'm already looking forward to Pauz showing up again 🙂
    Where does Corvidae stand? He might've given some blood for freedom.
    I'm not sure who I'd rather see free, though. Maybe Pauz. He seems easier to find again.
    Well. Rose would have tried everything there is. I didn't quite realize there are just demons left! That's tricky.
    Also I never really understood what breaking a mirror accomplishes. The shards still reflect. Does it have symbolic value?

    I had no problems following the events btw. But I was really concentrated.
    I'll be gone for a while and am really looking forward to reading several chapters in a row! Reminds me of when I found Worm. Great times 😀
    Wildbow, why do you pick four letter titles? I'm sure you have been asked this before.
    Is it the recognition value?

    A binding is not my preferred end to a fighting scene… I couldn't quite feel it. Some, through Evans last line…. I don't know. It's not a stabbing in the neck.

    1. Shards facing up will only reflect airspace, the Lord can’t fly (as far as we know) Shards facing down will reflect naught. Any remaining fragment reflections will probably not be big enough: Conquest is in his full manifestation monstrous state, three times bigger than Blake. He probably couldn’t “jump” to the smaller mirrorverse pockets and the binding circle’s was either the only one available or the closest, so he popped there.
      Hopefully he won’t get out even if another mirror is brought, because of Uncle Sam’s Triple-layered Freedom Seal(tm)

    2. How does the binding and summoning work again? Everything is bound in some kind of object I guess? But Rose can summon beings she doesn’t have the objects to. . .

      As I understand it, binding and summoning are two different things. One way to look at it, Binding involves restricting while summoning involves calling.

      An Other can be bound into an object, as was the case with June and Pauz. When in the object, they are restrict and can’t really do anything. An Other can also bind itself into an appropriate form as was the case with the Hyena.

      We then have the use of circles and seals to do bindings. These sorts restrict the target in other ways, such as not being able to move out of the circle or staying in place. We’ve seen this used on Pauz, Blake, Laird and Conquest.

      Finally we can mention being bound by words. An agreement or an oath can effectively be binding on a party. Fell’s gramps was bound to obey Conquest thru his agreement with C.

      Being bound does not equal being controlled. A good practitioner would want to make sure that they also have the target’s obedience before releasing (temporary or not) the target of the binding. Note how Blake set the terms for the release each time of the Hyena and Pauz. Barbie also took months after the binding just to agree to certain pacts. June and LIAB were already weak/obedient, so setting terms wasn’t necessary.

      Summoning can be likened to calling. Calling an Other or a practitioner by speaking his name tugs at the connection. The target may choose to ignore it, but as Fell mentioned, it’s hard to ignore multiple tugs at your very being.

      Being summoned also doesn’t automatically force obedience. Rose has been using rituals, symbols and words to summon her monsters. When done correctly, the monster is obedient like the Tallowman. When done incorrectly, we get Midge.

      That’s my basic understanding of it. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

      1. LIAB and June also don’t seem to have sentience/ higher order reasoning/ individuality. May be why there was no need to contract them.

        1. Am Normally I’d agree with what you said, but after seeing your name, I don’t trust you. Your comment is probably a trap. Nobody fools Sir Fuente!

  25. Kill Count 2014: About Fucking Time

    Eyes Poked: 0
    Shepherds Sheared: 0.5
    Lairds Late: 1
    Behaims Behanded: 3
    Astrologers Debunked: 0.5
    Elder Sisters With Gum In Their Hair: 0.5
    Regular Sisters Picked On: 3

    Isadoras Isoutathere!: 1 (but not isadead)

    Conquests’ Canned: 1


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

    Alexises Accosted: 0.5
    Tiffs Stiffed: 0.5

    Blakes Bitchslapped: 0.5

    Ba deep, ba deep, ba deep, that’s all folks. I know I’ve missed a few of these, courtesy of having a lot to do. You try keeping to a schedule when dealing with the likes of Quick Sand, Gorilla Badass, and Motley Sue.

    But what song to play to mark this event? What could possibly be a fitting song about lords, rebellion, and being someone’s equal. I mean, who is Conquest for Blake to bow so low?

    Ah well, let’s just throw this one out there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECewrAld3zw

  26. You know, if Blake is as not-evil as he claims, he will probably experience some trauma from murdering Laird.

    1. He already felt some right after stabbing Laird. I certainly hope that Wildbow deals with the Trauma from killing someone. Even if Laird was a bastard, Blake doesn’t seem like the sort who can just shake it off that he has killed someone. It’s should definitly affect him.

      1. On the other hand, Laird deserved worse than what he got. I think Blake should go Carrot Ironfoundersson here and just chalk it up to doing what he needed to do.

        Now is no time to be merciful, especially with Conquest under his heel. How do you like that, Conquest? It appears the upper hand is on the other foot!

          1. Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson. Born a human, raised a dwarf. Learned everyone’s names in the biggest city around. Cheerful. Trusting. All around nice guy who was so naive when he arrived that he tried to arrest the head of the Thieves Guild.

            Also, he’s the character this was written about:
            “If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you’re going to die. So they’ll talk. They’ll gloat. They’ll watch you squirm. They’ll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar. So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.”

          2. Also, go read Discworld. Almost any Discworld is good, barring a few fledgling wierdos at the beginning of the series, but Capt. Carrot and the rest of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch (One of Pratchett’s central casts) can be found in Feet of Clay, Thud!, and almost any story where the name “Sam Vimes” appears on the back cover. (I say “almost” because there’s a very recent story involving Sam Vimes’ countryside vacation in which the vast majority of the watch doesn’t appear)

            1. One of Carrot’s great moments there. Along with punching out a troll, how he gained access to the Assassian guildhouse, and what he did to the Armies in Jingo. Carrot is simple. Simple does not mean stupid. Plus both Carrot and Vime’s are great example of being Lawful Good without being Lawful Stupid.

        1. Blake’s not Captain Carrot though. He doesn’t seem to me to be the sort who can just chalk it up to being necissary, or just, or whatever.

          1. Also, Blake has a lot more baggage than Carrot has, and has internalized proportionately more of it than Carrot has, IIRC.

  27. I wonder something. This whole war, it involved Blake dealing with some nasty beings. But it basically destroyed the Hyena, or at least weakened it; Pauz may have screwed with Conquest and such some, but there’s no way it came out of a fight with Conquest unscathed; several of the quasi-demonic beings Rose summoned have been destroyed; and Conquest has been bound. Is this positive overall? Did the harm done to the beings dealt with balance out dealing with them?

    1. There’s also the matter of all the collateral damage to the city and its uninitiated populace to consider.

  28. No Thurs chapter this week, for those checking.

    Too much going on – yesterday I had an electrician drop by, and was helping out, and that took from 3:45 until 9:20 or so, add time to eat and some time spent working on Worm earlier in the day, and I didn’t really have any downtime to ponder today’s chapter. As a result, it didn’t come together, I didn’t get my usual errands done (food, cleaning up from writing on Monday) and I didn’t push myself to try. I used today to get a bit ahead instead, since I need some chapters done in advance before I disappear for 2 weeks to help my brother with his wedding. I’ll have people staying with me, errands to run, and it’s just miserable to try and squeeze writing into the midst of that.

    As it stands, I’m probably going to be busy for the next month or so – Tues and Sat chapters will continue, barring exceptional circumstance (bridge washes out at cottage while I’m there), but I’m pretty much postponing Thurs chapters until mid-July. If a Wednesday turns up with nothing going on, I may aim for a Thursday chapter, just to cross one off the to-do list, but I don’t want to promise one and then not follow through.

    Stay tuned for 7.8, Saturday, and maybe/probably a general status update with more details tomorrow.

    1. Thanks for the heads-up. It’s really nice to sure about this kind of thing well before 12:09 AM or so. Saves wear and tear on the F5 key, too.

      While I’m looking forward to the return of bonus chapters, I have to admit that two of your chapters a week is impressive enough, especially considering what all you’ve got going on. Wanted to let you know I appreciate what you do.

      1. They still have to squeeze the victory out of Conquest, he’s merely mildly inconvenienced right now. Plus, any additional shoe(s) as you mention. Fingers crossed…

        1. Let’s not forget where Blake is. There still is Duncan “single hand” Behaim (I’m aware that he hasn’t actually lost his cut hand yet. I just really want to call somebody “single hand”) in the house along with his newly traumatized fiance. All around are lesser Behaims and dolls to deal with. The storm hasn’t stopped yet so it’s still hard to navigate.

          This arc still needs one more chapter to resolve the issue of Blake physically leaving this area that is filled with enemies, corpses and subjugated conquerors. Unless we get another time skip, of course (which I personally am in favor of )

  29. So Maggie has 1. Her origin story. 2. Murdering Molly. 3. The ‘game’ with Conquest. That makes 3 right? So she’s free?

      1. “‘Agree… Let me think. You’ll experience what you experienced here, twice more. The rule of three, to make this stronger. Perhaps it will be me again. Perhaps no. But you will experience blood and darkness and fire, like you experienced it here. If you agree, it will be so.'”

        So, the origin story explicitly counts. The question is whether Molly’s killing actually counted or whether Laird was just using the idea that it might count to tempt Molly into doing it.

        1. I don´t think killing Molly counts.
          The scale doesn´t match.
          First round killed a lot of people and so did Toronto now.
          Killing Molly, in comparison, was just one measly human.

          1. And it didn’t bring a city to its knees, and it didn’t involve lots of fire (one element specifically named).

            So, agreed. Killing Molly probably did not fulfill the second round.

  30. It wouldn’t surprise me if, upon returning home to Jacob’s Bell, Blake finds that Ivy and their parents had taken up residence in Hillsglade House.

    It’s been a little over 2 weeks since Blake became the heir. The news had been put into local papers and posted online. Blake’s parents have probably tried to contact him. The house line had been cut early on and Blake didn’t have much opportunity to check his phone at the apartment once back in Toronto.

    If his family does show up and start residing in the house, hopefully they don’t accidentally discover some dangerous text.

    1. Would they still be alive? the Beheim/Duchamp alliance did put a bounty on all the Thorburns at the party right?

      1. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t kill muggles before they were at least aware of the magical world, judging by an admittadly small sample size. Still, if they would, why are the other Thorburns still around?

      2. There already was a bounty for Thorburns. They decided to look into neutralizing the other heirs before the house fell to them.

    2. Magically speaking, the house still belongs to Blake or Rose. Legally…it’s vague.

      I mean, sure, Blake’s dropped off the map for the most part…but this isn’t a first for him, and he’s still in contact with his landlord and other friends, most of which are still uninvolved (more or less). It’s hard to say if his relatives would know he’s still around, but I’m pretty sure Blake’s landlord would be high on the list of “Call To See If Blake’s Dead or Not”. It would be a hard sell for Ivy & co to claim the house without even basic factchecking like that…

      1. I was thinking more along the lines of, after not being able to contact Blake, they pay the house a visit and decide to stay until he returns.

        Blake couldn’t be contacted when he was at the house (phone lines down) and was too busy when back in Toronto. Also, Joel may have been letting Blake focus on war and survival instead of monitoring his phone.

        1. That’s illegal, last I checked. Not sure, but I’d say it falls under trespassing and squatting.

          Joel can let Blake focus on the war without needing to abandon his own phone. I was saying that his family would call Joel, who could confirm that, while Blake was out of the Bell and busy, he was still alive and had no plans to give up the house.

  31. So who becomes head of the Behaim family now that Laird’s dead? Of the heads we’ve seen: One was weighed down in tradition. Another had a secret partnership with the head Thorburn. The last was waging war against the Thorburns. I wonder what the new head will bring.

  32. This has bothered me in many chapters already, but in this one it was starting to break immersion for sure. No kid in the history of mankind has ever been as innocent as Evan on matters of human sexuality. I come from a culture that has a different attitude towards these matters than Anglo-Americans do, but still. The extent to what he is clueless is just ridiculous, and same could be said about the extreme prudishness of Blake & co. in the previous chapters. Are people really THAT bashful?

  33. Hmmm….something strange,If Laird died now,then Paedric’s prophecy about life remaining didn’t count violent deaths,but natural lifespans.That means his son has some sort of illness.

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