Void 7.8

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I sat there, cold, hurting in too many ways to count, enjoying the fact that I had just a few minutes before someone tried to kill me or do worse.

It was like waking up, and feeling a kind of tranquility where I was warm, comfortable, and all of the negativity of the past and responsibilities of the future had yet to spring to mind.

There was just the moment.

Evan’s body expanded and contracted by the smallest discernible fraction as he inhaled and exhaled in my cupped hands.  He was healing fast, and seemed to have largely shut down or fallen asleep while he put himself back together.

I stared down, half at him, half at the ground.

Success.

Not victory, but success.

As was always the case with this sort of thing, reality began to sink in.  I remembered Duncan and the kids.  The effect that had kept people indoors would be fading, and it was only a matter of time before Toronto woke up and resumed business as usual.

My eyes roved over the street.  Houses stood like tombstones, blasted with snow to the point that brick and siding were dusted white, and the space between the houses was an uneven plain of snow, rising and falling, with a vague trench in the middle where the snow had piled on the road, rising where snow had been shoveled onto lawns or pushed there by the plows.

“Are you okay, Rose?” I asked.

Not supposed to ask that, I remembered.  But I didn’t feel very verbose.  Talking was the last thing I wanted to do, because it only served to banish the lingering calm.

“He was focused on me, I was focused on making him lose his bearings.”

I searched around until I found where she was speaking from.  A larger piece of my pendant-mirror, lying in front of me.  I couldn’t imagine it gave her much room to stand.  Maybe all the pendant-shards together?

“You’re okay, though?”  I asked.

“Yeah.  You?  How are you managing after all that?”

I couldn’t sum up the words needed to explain it.  How did I convey how not okay I was, without inviting pity or giving her the wrong impression?

“I killed Laird, I think,” I said.  “Fuck, I said I wouldn’t hurt him too badly if I could help it, and- fuck.”

“You broke a vow?”

“I’m not sure,” I said.

She didn’t respond, I didn’t volunteer anything, and a few moments passed.  The momentary tranquility of earlier was swiftly giving way to anxiety.  I’d known it would, I just didn’t like how firm a hold that anxiety had on me.

Evan began to pull himself together.  He was still bloody, but he seemed largely intact.  He experimentally fluffed himself up, relaxed, then fluffed up again.

“Problem?” I asked.

“Blood in my feathers.  Feels weird.”

“A bath might fix it,” I said, glad for the change of subject, the simple, implicit question I could actually answer.  I was doubly glad that Evan was talking more or less normally to me.  “That is, if being magical doesn’t fix it before then.”

“That’d be weird,” Evan said.  I raised my hand to my shoulder, and he hopped onto his perch there.  I moved my scarf so he could take shelter.  “Can I give myself a bath?”

“Probably,” I said.  “Not sure if it’ll come off, might have to wait until you molt.  Again, allowing for being magical.”

“Uh huh,” he said.  “Or it could be my thing.  Evan Matthieu, blood sparrow, biting out chunks of eyeball and fighting monsters!”

Thinking of blood made me think of Maggie, odd as it was.  I looked in her direction, and saw her sitting on the tire that was mounted on the back of the sports utility vehicle, a matter of feet from the circle.

“Chances are good that you’d influence your natural properties, if you made a habit of getting that bloody,” Rose said.

“Huh?”  Evan asked.

“Soak yourself in blood probably would give you power of a sort.”

Cool.

“I think some Others and practitioners do that sort of thing… but if I’m remembering right,” Rose said, “There are drawbacks.”

“Aww.”

“I’m going to vote against the blood-bath strategy,” I told Evan.

Awww.  Why?

“To be safe.  And because we need to wrap this chat up and get down to business.”

“Aw-” Evan started.  He cut himself off as I angled my head, bumping him with my jaw.

“I’m not objecting,” Rose said.  “But are you alright to move?”

“I’m not sure,” I said.  “I need a second opinion.  I swore… fuck, I can’t remember the exact wording.  I wouldn’t move until this was decided.”

“I think you’d be lying if he broke free and the fight continued,” Rose said.  “I’d say this is pretty decided, but if you want to sit there and wait-”

“No,” I said.  “I feel like if I don’t get moving as soon as humanly possible, I’m just going to stop.”

“Suit yourself,” she said.  “I’ll be over by Maggie.”

“Sure,” I said.

She was gone before I even started pulling myself back up to a standing position.

Too many close calls, situations where I was potentially breaking vows.

This whole dynamic, it was perfectly suited to the cool customer, to the men and women, boys, girls and Others who were coldly calculating, unflinching, with strong memories and keen attention to detail.

That wasn’t me.

“Hey,” Evan said.

We were alone.  A quick check verified that none of the Behaim kids had approached.

“Hey,” I said.

“About before?” Evan asked.

I felt the emotion like a weight on my chest.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Is that a serious rule against me doing the blood sparrow thing or is there wiggle room?”

I let out a small half-laugh.  “No rules.  I said it was a vote, because it is.  We’re partners.  You make the choice, ideally with my input in mind.”

“Uh huh,” he said, his tone suddenly cheery, “So… that means I can do it?  Or I go do it and then say sorry after?”

I sighed.  “Rose and I are rubbing off on you.”

“Seriously though,” he said, his tone changing.  I knew exactly what he was referring to.  He didn’t finish the thought.

“Seriously,” I said, “You’re… putting me in a tough spot.  I want you to enjoy the stuff you should be enjoying, as a kid-”

Dead kid.”

“Yeah.”

“Who’s a magic bird.”

“Yeah.  My point stands.  I-”

“A magic bird who could be a terrifying blood sparrow,” Evan said.

Evan,” I said, and my tone was harsher than I meant it to be.  Sharper than it should have been.

I kind of regretted doing that.  I might have sworn I wouldn’t do it again, just to give myself a serious reminder, but I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t slip in the heat of a moment, and the heat of the moment was the only time it was liable to come up.

“Sorry,” he said.  “I’m nervous and I don’t know how to act, so I’m trying to be me, but I guess I’m being a nervous me.”

“I’m sorry too,” I said.  “I’m- I guess I’m trying to be careful about what I say and how, and the interruptions aren’t helping.”

“Okay, I’ll shut up, then.  You, um, you know I wasn’t really asking about the blood thing, right?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I wasn’t talking about it either.  I want you to enjoy being a kid, whether you’re a bird or a kid or whatever else.  You’re doing an awesome job so far.  A ridiculously good job.  But there’s stuff we’re dealing with that isn’t pretty, and that-”

Memories flashed through my mind’s eye.

“-That-,” I stumbled, my train of thought interrupted.  “was some of them.  The stuff we’re not exactly talking about.”

Not what I’d been meaning to wrap up with, but I’d rather finish the thought somehow than keep stumbling.

I was purposefully taking my time trudging through the snow to Maggie and Rose, watching my back in case the kids emerged.  My jeans were soaked up to the knee already, and the cold just passed right through it.

“I’m kind of glad I didn’t have to grow up if that’s the sort of thing you have to deal with,” Evan said.

I let out another small laugh, more as a response than out of any genuine humor.  I didn’t feel up to saying anything in response, and the alternative to laughing was letting the floodgates open, and I needed to stay functional.

Unhealthy, maybe, to bottle it up and slap a thin veneer of cheer over it, but I wasn’t sure there was a healthy way to deal with stuff of this caliber.

“I don’t think you should assume my life was typical in any way,” I said.  “And you really shouldn’t say that.”

“I got stuck in the woods because a giant monster and his ghost chew toys trapped me there.  I’m not typical either.  Life can suck, and mine sucked toward the end, and I’m sorta glad it stopped sucking.  Not totally glad but sorta glad.”

“Evan-”

“No, nuh-uh.  You said I shouldn’t interrupt you while you’re all borked.  You also said we were partners, so that goes both ways.”

I sighed a little.  “Fine.  Say what you want to say.”

“You told me I shouldn’t say that I’m kind of glad.  But I have to because I’m supposed to tell the truth.  I miss my parents and I miss parts of my old life, the video games I never got to finish playing, and sometimes I do something awesome and I think I should tell my friends, and then I remember I can’t.  Because dead.”

True to my word, I didn’t interrupt his spiel.

“But I am glad that I get to do stuff now instead of being alive and waiting for the next crummy thing to happen, or being dead and not getting to do much at all…”

I’d arrived at the end of the driveway by Maggie and Rose.  Maggie sat on the back of the car.  She held a mirror, presumably from the side-view mirror.

Rather than approach them, I cast a glance backward, making sure there weren’t pursuers, then held up a finger for their benefit.  I walked a short distance away from them, keeping them out of earshot of Evan.

“…I’m a freaking kick-ass magic bird.  Most of the time the worst that can happen is you go kaput and I gotta go head off to the land of the dead.  I don’t have to worry about stuff the usual way.  Only thing I gotta worry about is helping you with the stuff that you worry about.”

“The way you phrased that makes me feel kind of conflicted,” I said.

“It’s true!  That’s the deal, isn’t it?  You make my life better, you stop monsters with my help, and I help you through stuff.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “That’s essentially it, I guess.”

“So,” he said, and his tone shifted.  More careful.  “That stuff.”

“I’m not majorly comfortable talking about it,” I said.  I stuck my hands in my pockets for warmth.  “It was what it was, and I can’t shake the feeling that people think less of me when they know, and I’d much rather be the guy with the cool friends and the motorcycle than… what you saw.  And don’t tell me it didn’t change how you think of me, because it had to, and you can’t lie.”

“I can’t,” he said.  “And even if I really want to tell you I think you’re more amazing…”

He trailed off.

It hurt.  I had to admit it.  It hurt.

I respected him for being mature enough to say it, but it hurt.

“That one vision-”

“Evan,” I said.  Interrupting him, despite myself.  Reflexive.

“Being beat up?  Seeing you sleeping on the streets, all dirty?  Not so amazing.  I don’t blame you, but it’s not so amazing.  I do think those guys suck for being cowardly and attacking you by surprise, all as a group.  I thought I should say that.”

“Okay,” I said.  “As much as you want to comment-”

“I need to comment,” he said.  “Because we’re stuck together.  If I don’t say something, then it becomes this thing we don’t talk about, like the time my mom and my dad separated for a while when I was really young, and my mom had a boyfriend right away after my dad left, and my parents got back together and nobody ever talks about the guy that was around back then, like they think- thought I didn’t remember.”

“You want to keep channels of communication open,” I said.

“Yeah, that.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Channels of communication are open.  Thank you for being honest.  We should really hurry to the others and do what we can-”

“Not yet.  That other one, the second vision memory thing?”

Evan,” I said.

“I didn’t understand it.  I mean, I got it, sort of.  I- I can pick up on how unhappy it made you.  I can put the pieces together.”

“This is one of those things where talking about it doesn’t always make it better,” I said.

“I’m- okay.  Right.  But if you ever do want to talk abut it, we can, and the channels are open.”

“I don’t think I ever will,” I said, “But thanks.”

“And-” he said.

I tensed.  Please stop talking.

“-I sorta get why Alexis is extra important to you.  If something happens, and if I can, I’ll look out for her.”

I let out a breath I’d inadvertently been holding in, and a small part of it was relief.

“That’s it,” Evan said.

I nodded.

I headed back to Rose and Maggie.  While I did it, I adjusted my scarf, making sure Evan had enough coverage that cold air wouldn’t leak around him.

“That was good wording, by the way,” I said.  “That promise?  I’m happier hearing you be careful like that than I am hearing a straight-up oath.  Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

We reached the circle.

The Behaims were moving around more, according to the connections, but not in our direction.

“What was that about?” Maggie asked.

“Needed to finish a discussion,” I said.  “Nothing that should negatively affect you guys.”

“If you say so.  He’s inside.  I can see him moving around.  Now what?”

“Now for the hard part,” Rose murmured.

I could make her out, and it was my first real clear view of her since this skirmish had started.  Her hair had been cut short enough that it hung only to the nape of her neck, and it wasn’t an even cut.  Styled, it might look good, but it wasn’t.  The bits at the back were shorter than the bits closer to the front of her face.

In a way, it made me think of a bird’s wings.

“Well,” I said, shaking my head until I was more focused, “Not the hard part quite yet.  We just need to bind him without his cooperation, and without letting him go.  Then we get to the hard part.”

“I meant ‘now’ as in the next leg of this.  I’m open to suggestions on how to do this binding.”

“Let me try,” Maggie said.

Maggie reached into her bag.  She pulled out Black Lamb’s Blood, and the remains of the cord that had bound the text.

Using her athame, she held the cord out, so only the blade extended past the edge of the circle.  She deposited the string within, then rearranged it with the blade, walking around it and poking the cord into place.

When the cord formed a circle, the ends overlapping, she stuck her athame in the ring of crimson snow, cutting it in half.

“The hair?” Rose asked.

“I should be able to use what’s here,” Maggie said.  “If I can’t, you do have more on your head.”

“I’d rather not,” Rose said.

“You could use hair from elsewhere,” Maggie said, arching an eyebrow, athame raised.

I shuddered a bit.

“Couldn’t resist,” Maggie said, as she got back to work.  “That really bothers you?”

“She’s me.  It’s like you’re talking about doing something rude to my sister.

Maggie began pushing the crimson snow into a tighter ring, one small enough to just encircle the mirror.

She began moving the pages, each of which had snow on it, the snow pushed down into a trench-like depression, with the hair within.  The process was slower.  She did three, adjusting the trench as she went, then circled around to do the opposite three, keeping it relatively symmetrical, moving each page as far as it would go without breaking contact with the ones on either side.

On the other side of the street, two houses down, the Behaim kids emerged.  Duncan was leaning on the tallest one, his arms wrapped in bandages that were already crimson with blood where they had been cut to the bone, his hands dangling limp.

I was frozen as I watched them make their way over the snow, their attention on the snow immediately underfoot.

I could practically count down, their pace was so measured.

They reached the end of the path, stopping at the foot of the driveway.

They see.

Laird lay face down in the snow.

I swallowed hard.

“Blake,” Rose said.

“Hm?”

“About what you said before, theatrics are important.  I don’t know for sure, but if the spirits are on the fence, and if I’m not sabotaging you by telling you this, well, it seems like they would be more inclined to take your side if you acted like you were right.”

I nodded slowly.

Maggie was still going, the papers halfway to the inner circle of blood.

“Can we leave you to it?” I asked.

“You can.  Should you?  Don’t know.  Those kids are going to be upset.”

I nodded.

I crossed the street, approaching the kids.

They hadn’t budged from where Laird lay, Duncan now standing between the two teenagers, who worked together to support him.  The younger ones stood on either side of Laird.

One was one of his sons, if I remembered right.

The younger girl was crying, hands to her mouth.

They tensed as I drew near.  I raised my hands.

“It’s over,” I said.  “Please don’t make this any worse than it’s been.  I’m… pretty fucked up, but you guys have Duncan to look after, I…”

I was having trouble articulating why they shouldn’t hit me with their worst.

Seeing the expressions on their faces, I wasn’t fully convinced, myself.

They looked to the oldest teenager for guidance.

Eyes lowered, still propping Duncan up with one arm, he very deliberately let go of his implement, letting it drop into one pocket.

The others relaxed, or they didn’t look poised to jump me.

“You know what gets me?” he asked, tone dull.  “English.  The language doesn’t do us justice in situations like this, does it?”

He met my eyes.

Being so close to where I’d relived the memories, I felt like my mind was some sort of minefield.  If I thought the wrong thing, or thought in the wrong direction, I might crack, or snap, or get pulled back into recollections.

People suck, my own words to Evan, in my head.

“You’re right, sometimes there aren’t the words to say what you really want to say,” I said.

“There are a lot of things I could call you,” he said.  “But I couldn’t call you a motherfucker without lying, and it doesn’t feel like the word has enough force to it, does it?”

“I promised you I’d avoid hurting him too much,” I said.  “Not to kill him if- I think I said I wouldn’t kill him if I could help it.”

“My uncle is dead.  It doesn’t look like it was clean,” he said.  “I could call you forsworn.  The spirits will get around to it if it’s deserved, but I could call you on it right here, decide how it plays out.”

I nodded slowly.

The older girl said, “Nothing to say?  No words in your own defense?”

“If you’d name me forsworn,” I said, “I’d challenge you to walk through the last ten minutes in my shoes.  See what I saw, feel what I felt, and then decide I was out of line and that I didn’t try.”

“The wording was, with minor differences, that you’d avoid hurting him too much, full stop.  You’d avoid killing him if you could, circumstances allowing, full stop.”

I did what I could to avoid flinching or showing doubt.

I even did what I could to avoid thinking about my doubts.

I needed to sell this, not just to them, but to the spirits that were observing.

“In terms of quantity of blows, it was only the one,” I said.  “In terms of the pain inflicted… I think it was a very low number on a scale of one to ten.  I offered him some help after the fact.”

The teenage girl beside Duncan spat on me.  I was pretty sure she was aiming at my face, but she hit the coat I’d borrowed from Ty instead.

I didn’t move.  I held their gaze, steady.

The spitting, the seconds of silence that passed, it was a tacit acknowledgement that I wasn’t entirely wrong.

“Go,” I said.  “Get Duncan there some help.  Do what you need to do, family-wise.  I’m guessing I’ll see some of you soon.”

The teenagers led Duncan off, the little girl following.

The youngest boy stayed, staring at me.  His face was drawn, his features tight.

“What?”

“Trying to remember what your face looks like,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s worth the effort,” I said.  “A whole lot of Others and powers that be who can see the future are telling me I’m due to bite it sometime soon.”

“The Faerie told my father that one of his sons had only one year of life remaining,” the boy said. “And he was told he had thirty more years.  Things can always be fudged.  I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

“How does that work?” I asked.  “How were things fudged?”

“Use of real time magic, just to be safe,” the kid said.  “The family held a meeting, they voted and signed off on it.  My father wrote terms into his will and sealed them with the appropriate magics.  He and mom are giving us their remaining years if they die, half to me, half to my brother.  Or my dad is going to try to.”

It looked like it was getting harder for him to speak.  He was very deliberately avoiding looking at his dad.

It struck a chord in me, how I didn’t want to think of the wrong thing.

“I’m glad you’ve got that,” I said.

Fuck you.  You shouldn’t be,” he said.  “We were enemies before, because of what you are and the family you come from.  Now, after this?  Like my cousin said, English doesn’t give good enough words, sometimes.  What’s worse than enemy?”

I didn’t answer the question.  “He knew what he was getting into, he knew what he was getting you into.”

“You killed my dad.”

“He pushed me into the worst sort of corner,” I said.

My tone was eerily flat.  It sounded disconnected, unconvincing even to myself.

“You killed my dad,” he repeated himself.

“He was setting me up for a fate that could be worse than death.”

“You killed-”  he stopped himself.

It was an eerie parallel to Evan.  The singlemindedness.

“Maybe I can’t call you forsworn,” he said.  His voice was small, and it sounded like it might break.  “Don’t want that backlash.  But I can say I wish you suffer everything bad that’s coming to you.  I can appeal to the greater powers and the least powers, and tell them that if you have upset things, if you’ve got something bad coming your way, then they should make you lose whatever it is that made you feel happy and- and safe.”

With that last word, his voice finally cracked.

Fuck you,” he said, as soon as he could speak straight, punctuating his statement.

Spat on, sworn at on two different levels…

“We can’t take him with us.  Don’t you dare touch the body,” he said.

“I won’t,” I said.

“If you’re wrong, and you don’t die soon, then I’m going to come after you.”

I nodded.

“No fancy comeback?  No threats?”

I swallowed hard.  “I don’t blame you.  I blame him, because I think he’s given you a pretty one sided version of things, but I don’t blame you.”

“Fuck you,” he said.  “Just… whatever you killed him to avoid?  I hope you get worse.”

I nodded.

There was nothing more to be gained here.

I turned to go.

Fuck you!” he shouted at my back, and his voice cracked again, worse than before.

I rejoined Maggie, avoiding looking their way.  Evan perched on my shoulder, watching my back for me.

Maggie had the circle closed, now, and was rearranging the cord yet again.  “I need something else.  Can you bring the Hyena?”

I glanced at the monster’s corpse.  It was easy to miss, half-buried in snow.

I started to speak, but my throat was tight.

It was Rose who spoke.  “Hyena, you’re done.  I, um, bid you to collapse and be bound again, for it is a simpler form, and one you’ve committed to.”

Nothing happened.

Then, after seconds had passed, the Hyena moved.  The snow fell, covering the remains of the body.  When it settled, close to the street, the sword stuck out of the thickest part of it, broken.

“What the hell books have you been reading?” I asked.

“I pulled that one out of my ass,” Rose said, “so to speak.  Borrowing from you, really.”

I nodded.

I extended the handle of the sword in Maggie’s direction, but she shook her head.  “Much as I want it, best you do it.  You have a role here, since you freed the people.”

“Makes sense,” I said.  “What do I do?”

“I’m going to hold the paper down, and try to angle things so I can use the point of the athame.  Use the sharpest point of the broken blade.  We’re going to use two blades and work together to tie a very simple knot.  Don’t put your hand inside the circle, or you might not get it back.”

“You’re kidding,” I said.

She shook her head.

I didn’t touch the handle, instead resting my right hand on the distorted wolf-skull emblem on the hilt, and my left on the cluster of bone at the pommel.

It was harder than it sounded, and it sounded very, very hard.

I almost didn’t mind.  Ten failures, then twenty.

I’d heard stories about how scientists gave games like Tetris to the recently traumatized, to force a change in brain patterns and keep the trauma from getting its claws in the psyche.

I suspected I wasn’t so fortunate as that, but it was almost meditative.  Not at all bad.  I didn’t have the energy for impatience.

By the time we got it done, the sky was growing darker, and paradoxically, the city was waking up.

We finished about ten seconds before my hands and knees started to go completely numb, one minute before someone happened to walk outside and see us kneeling in the driveway.

My ears were ringing, my eyes had been so focused the rest of the world looked distorted, and I was cold and hurting.

I didn’t even hear the questions the bystander asked.

We’d tied the knot, Maggie reached in to cinch it tight, and we pulled the mirror from the circle, bound in bloodstained paper and cords that had been soaked in blood.  Maggie tied the knots with locks of Rose’s hair.

We hadn’t conversed while our focus was on the knot, and I wasn’t even sure if Rose was even around, or if she had sought refuge somewhere where there were books and modern conveniences.  Evan was resting, his thoughts elsewhere.

Even with the mirror bound, we were silent as we headed off.  We didn’t have a specific reason to be silent, but we didn’t have anything more to say either.

I wanted food, I wanted sleep, and I doubted I’d have time for both.

The hard part came next.

The mirror clattered on the dining room table.

My apartment, as it happened.  No reason to hide anymore.  Not exactly.

Something had changed.  The connections around the city, the tone of things.  It was like the world had been cast in a stark contrast before, and it was only now letting up.

Even the connections that radiated from and to me were less intense.

Conquest’s champions knew he was bound, and they weren’t acting.

Goosh and Joel arrived, Joel carrying food.  Freezer pizza.

Freezer pizza sounded damn good, frankly.

Alexis, Ty and Tiff arrived not long after we did.  I had the kitchen sink filled with warm water and a drop of dish soap, and Evan was doing his best to give himself a bird bath.

“Hey,” Ty said.  “Hey little bird.  I’ve got my console and some games in my backpack.  Blake said that this next stretch might involve waiting?”

“It might,” I said, “It could just as easily arrive in the next minute.  A Sphinx crashing through my window, or an arrow, or the building burning down…”

“I’m… not sure I want to hear this,” Joel said.

I nodded.  “Sorry.”

“Do you have Salv?” Evan asked.

“I do, as a matter of fact, have Salv,” Ty responded.

“Do you have a save file at the crash?”

“I do.”

“Are- are you willing to watch a bird struggle to use gamestation thumbsticks and press buttons when he says?”

“Willing?  I don’t think you could convince me not to.”

Sweet!

Maggie had settled in at the end of the table, her arms folded.

I had questions, but… even now, was it time to ask?

Beyond her, practically everyone I trusted was here.

Which made it very concerning when I heard a knock at the door.

Only the people I didn’t trust were left.

I opened the door.

“Paige,” I said.

“Hi, Blake,” she said.

I looked at the woman behind her.

“And Isadora?”

The Sphinx nodded.  “Everyone else will be on their way soon.  May I?”

Too speechless to respond, confused, I nodded and stepped out of their way.

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210 thoughts on “Void 7.8

    1. And it’s about time too. She’s perhaps the best built for getting off on the right foot, as a practitioner. She’ll need guidance, and if Blake/Rose can finagle a deal with Isadora to take Paige on as an apprentice/hostage, that may be the best way to call armistice.

      1. She’s the furthest from the inheritance and thus the least likely to bite it any time soon. She should be clued-in, but getting her an ‘in’ with the Other that just maimed him isn’t exactly a smart call.

        1. Why not? The point of her being awakened “early” is so that she can have a chance to avoid the stinking, gaping pit that is diabolism. Being apprenticed to a master (or in this case, mistress) who is tied to Balance can only help with that. And Isadora, for all that her moralizing grates on me, is fairer than most.

          1. I have nothing against her learning just how screwed up her family is based on Blake’s word about her. Let her awaken, as long as she doesn’t maliciously abuse her power, for all I care.

            What I do have an issue with is the amoral Other who focuses on the Balance before the Individual.

            For starters, what can Isadora teach her? She’s not a practitioner, but an Other, and her ‘apprentices’ are all students who were clever enough to garner her interest. Not practitioners.

            1. Perhaps this is why Paige is last on the list.
              Paige was meant to build the power to challenge the Diabolism that plagues the family line, before it could reach her.
              The rest of the heirs AREN’T an ablative shield against murder by enemies – they’re an ablative shield against the LAWYERS.

            2. She can teach Paige how to avoid mistakes. What to use for power besides blood. How to make a proper Balance meter. How to adapt. Isadora doesn’t really need to “teach” Paige anything, per se. She just needs to be a mentor in practitioning, and perhaps life.

              Also, I’m fairly certain she knows runes, and knows the spirit world better than most humans do.

            3. Maybe if I had any idea beyond the obvious of what ethics classes actually taught, I could answer your question.

            4. “Ethics” is about Right and Wrong, “morality” is about Good and Evil. It was made pretty clear in the text that Isadora is an innate expert in the former and does not give two shits about the latter. I actually thought her job choice was perfectly suited to her description.

      2. I think Paige being here with Isadora means she’s already the sphinx’s apprentice. Remember, Isadora has a habit of finding college girls every once in a while and taking them in. With her love of semantics Paige is a natural choice.

    2. It is possible that Paige has been Isadora’s student all along, and that is why Grandma Rose said she was out of the running and put her last in line. We really don’t know much about what any of the family member’s personal stories.

      1. Well, IIRC, we know that Paige is going to that university, so it’s definitely a possibility. Especially since Isadora and Paige are apparently coming to Blake’s place at the same time.

    1. I wonder if Isadora has chosen Paige to be her favoured student, tested and granted karma by the forces of balance exerted through the Sphinx?

      1. Now that is an interesting idea. We know Paige went to the university, so this could indeed be possible.

        That would mean that Isadora is trying to introduce positive karma in the family line. I wonder if being a creature of balance is the reason she is doing so, or if there are other reasons.

        1. There are plenty of potential reasons, chief among them being that the lawyers will have a lot less sway over Blake, a potential diabolist, if his karma isn’t so abysmal.

  1. Well, what a mess. The won, but made sure the Behaims hate them extra good. I’d would have called them out on them picking the fights. They came to Chicago, they reap the pain of that.

    And called Paige showing up.

    On the plus side, ain’t no way Isadora will attack Blake in the near future, what with hospitality and all.

        1. That is probably where the Chicago came from, that and they are both big cities north of me that I have never been too.

            1. You wanna know how to get Behaim? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Toronto way! And that’s how you get Behaim.

    1. I’m not sure how young Craig is. There’s a kid that could be him in 6.10 that’s described as on the cusp of teenagerhood, but I’m not sure? And the guy with the sunglasses, the oldest one who extracted the oath from Blake, is named “Gav” in 6.10 and “Owen” in 6.12, so…could be different kids.

      Owen/Gav must feel pretty crappy now, though. He let Blake through with a promise and it got his uncle killed. It might also have saved his cousin’s life, but…

      1. Blake was nice enough to not call a Blood feud over Molly’s death, and I suspect it was a lot more painful and a lot less deserved than Laird’s. Of course Laird wouldn’t have been a total bastard to his own kids. But when you go to war, you must prepare not only for your own death, but of those that go with you.

        1. So, what you’re saying is that karma might favor Blake’s side for once.

          (Or, at least, disfavor it less.)

  2. How do you manage to make me want more so quickly every time??? I feel like I barely started reading. Gonna have to reread the last few chapters to really get a good feel for how conquest was bound…

  3. Either “Everyone else” refers to the powers of the city, or the rest of Blake’s cousins. I suspect that it will be the city’s hidden powers, but could easily see a reason for bringing the cousins in.

    Personally, I suspect that powers of the city might be moving in for a chat on what’s going to happen because Blake has completely and utterly fucked the power balance of Toronto. Even if they release Conquest, he’s going to be broken, by being the conquered.

    On the other hand? Mass introducing the Thorburns into magic to bring balance back to the line seems just like something that Isadora MIGHT consider doing in her balancing act.

    1. Oh God no. Have you forgotten exactly how screwed up his family is? Giving them magic would make for more ammunition during their little spats. Paige gets a pass because she’s in Toronto, Blake sees her as one of the few trustworthy family members, and she’s a student at Isadora’s university, but the rest not so much.

      1. +1. Remember what Blake said of the other heirs? Kathy the control freak, Ellie the hair-trigger, Roxanne the brat, Ivy the two year old? That plus the s**t we saw at the will-reading, and I’d be very leery of offering the kind of power the practice does to anyone besides those vetted by several others (capital letters optional).

        1. And remember, when you involve someone and awaken them, you eat part of the Karma they incur. No reasonable being is going awaken someone who has a legacy as a diabolist if they can help it.

          1. As pointed out by Granny Rose in Aimon’s Histories, the family karmic debt only activates for someone when they inherit it. Paige is not yet the active heir, she isn’t going to be weighed down by massively bad Karma for a while.

          1. Give her time to grow up, best case scenario. Also because Ellie and Roxanne would blunder into a trap like -that- and wouldn’t have so much as a fairy going “Hey, Listen!” to help them.

    2. I really doubt it refers to Blake’s family. I can see Isadora inviting them to a dinner with her family, as snacks, but her bringing them to a chat would be the opposite of maintaining balance almost regardless of situation. Hell, most of them probably wouldn’t survive her asking them somewhere.

      I’m voting for the “city’s powers”, though I’m not sure if she meant “everyone” as in all of them, or “everyone” as in “the rest of those I asked to come”; I can see her neglecting to invite some of them (like the Eye), if she considered them a destabilizing influence.

    1. Not a typo, and not even entirely sure if it’s wrong, but

      “You’re kidding,” I said.

      should weaken Blake or make him forsworn, and I’m not sure if that’s what wildbow is shooting for.

      1. Ughhh. Being incorrect does not make people foresworn. At all. You have to make a promise, really mean it, and then go back on it. “You’re kidding” isn’t a sworn oath. It isn’t a promise. It’s barely even a statement and maybe just a question.

        1. Given the setting I guess we should be more careful of our wording, in that I agree.

          But I suspect Philip meant “lying” rather than “being forsworn”, which doesn’t require actually promising, just saying something untrue. The canonical example is sarcasm, which did bite Blake in the ass (the lawyers mentioned it in their first encounter, and I’m pretty it was about Blake saying “that’s not omnious at all” in response to something quite omnious), and this “You’re kidding” is quite close. (Though it might be OK if said in a clearly interrogative intonation.)

          1. Honestly, the rule of thumb for practitioners should be “get used to talking in questions”. “Are you kidding?”, “Well that’s not ominous at all, is it?”, “If I don’t move 10 paces from this spot until this is all over, would that be acceptable?. Not 100% sure about that last one, it might be considered a contractual offer – but technically you haven’t agreed to do anything. Fell pulled a similar trick with his “Would you like me to wait with the car?” thing. There’s also a decent chance Conquest would’ve picked up on that one – but maybe not, he was pretty distracted…

  4. “Blake, you just bound the Lord of the City. By right of conquest (of Conquest, no less) all of his shit is yours to deal with. I hope you enjoy the title and the minimum power we can release to you, because it’s the only positive thing happening to you for a long, long time.”

    1. If that’s the case, then he also gets Conquest’s tower + all of the power within + all of the souls/spirits/assorted Others that Conquest has subdued over centuries, essentially giving him a not-so-small and relatively powerful army.
      +The allegiance of the major players in the city, being the new Lord of Toronto, and the right to kick any of them out of HIS city as he wishes.
      Somehow, I don’t think they’d like that very much.

    2. Well, Blake & Co. could demand to the other Powers that he’d be allowed to do unto C-word what the British East-India Company did to non-western nations by right of conquest (hopefully without it backfiring similarly) .

      He could also ask the Powers to answer truthfully with a yes/no if he had won the contest to cement his victory to the karmic spirits and maybe a power boost from the prestige.

  5. Oh fucking hell. Yet another cliffhanger. Thanks Wildbow.
    Anyway, let’s discuss what we see here:

    First part is obvious: Isadora seems to have called a big meeting with all the big players around the city to discuss the Conquest/Blake situation. We seem to be headed to a very tense scene where everybody will be shitting on Blake for binding Conquest and leaving them without their precious puppet figure leader. The Astronomer and the Sisters in particular will be royally pissed at him for obvious reasons. At least, now Blake has some clear influence, despite not having the Thorburn voice. A side effect of getting picked on by everyone, and winning almost every time, I suppose. Plus, he pretty much has Conquest under his thumb now, a weak Incarnation, but an Incarnation nonetheless, and that counts for something.

    Also, Paige? With Isadora? I can see two probable scenarios here, and neither are good: Isadora contacted Paige, or Paige somehow managed to get in touch with the magical side of Toronto while investigating what the fuck Blake was doing. If Isadora contacted Paige, then that’s A LOT more worrying. Is she looking for a bargaining chip? Someone who knew Blake well enough to be able to push his buttons? Can’t be good. Paige seemed pretty glacial when she greeted Blake (I am getting this from the comma in “Hi, Blake”). Is she mad he hid the magicky stuff from her? And how the hell will the inheritance system work if Paige (last in line) already knows about the magical stuff before getting into it for real? The lawyers will probably not like that very much…

    1. Well, if the Astrologer and High Drunk are being fair (and with Isadora on the case they probably will be), they would at least consider the pros and cons of having Blake or one of his relatives in charge.

      Also, I doubt they didn’t have a contingency plan in case Conquest ever picked a fight with something he couldn’t handle. It was bound to happen eventually.

  6. “Evan Matthieu, blood sparrow, biting out chunks of eyeball and fighting monsters!”

    Well, you might as well just end Pact there. Never going to top that.

    1. Anyone else is reminded about that passage in Worm where they talk about all the bird-themed capes, like Iron Falcon, stuff like that?
      Can we make a bird-sized mask and cape for our very own Blood Sparrow?

    2. I can just imagine the entry in a book about him.

      Evan Matthieu, the blood Sparrow: This other first rose to prominance as the familair of the infamous Blake Thorburn. No one really know his origin. Several have speculated due to his Thorburn connections that he is of Diaobolic origin, but he seems to lack the sheer malevolence, and coruptive influence of a demon. The name “Blood Sparrow” comes from his preffered form, a sparrow, and his habit of bathing in the blood of enemies. His other known form is a spectral child. If summoned his aid can be aquired by others of Video Games, Motorcycle rides, and other things an young boy might like. He also will not aid in any endevors that would cause great harm, or unleash more monsterous others.

    3. This is also why Evan is the best character, in anything, ever. I almost teared up while he was doing his spiel.

  7. Yeah, if Paige is with Isadora I imagine she’s aware of magic. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s why she was last in line.

    1. But why wouldn’t she hint that to Blake after he got the inheritance?
      Maybe it’s got something to do with her accompanying Dora.

  8. Isadora is one of the least predictable characters in this whole story. No one even knows what she’s thinking right now, in her crusade for Balance.

    I really hope Blake survives this somehow. Since 3 is a magically strong number, would it mean that having three active Thorburn demon-slayers might actually be enough to push the family line out of decades of bad karma?

  9. I know these questions may be a bit late, but…
    Molly Questions:
    1) How did Molly survive 4 whole months? Blake has survived for (less than?) two weeks, and that’s been hard won, and only with the help of Rose.
    2) Did Molly accomplish anything of note during her 4 months? None of the other characters seem to reference any interesting interactions with her despite the fact that she was a new Thornburn heir. Also, she must have at least shown up for the monthly meetings right? Did anything happen during those?
    3) Did she ever call the lawyers or do anything of note involving diabolism? (assumedly not, but then it makes you wonder what she did do during that time). If she did call the lawyers, what did she yield as payment(s)? if not, then why didn’t she call the lawyers (and why doesn’t Blake)?
    4) If she wasn’t causing any disturbance, and Laird still wanted a passive Thornburn in charge, than why did he try to get rid of her for a potentially unknown quantity?
    5) Did her family bother her at all during that time?

    Other Questions:
    

    1) Did Blake get his unearthly stamina/ability to keep going from: a) a beneficial other that possesed him after he bled himself out that temporarily lent him power for a chance to get a foothold in the world/feeling mortal? b) A boon from a former bound demon from an ancestor that provides him (or maybe all of the awakened Thornburns) with extra stamina. C) He just has insane endurance levels somehow? D) other reason?
    2) What are the different Benefits Laird (got) from his familiar and his Implement? Were their any bonuses that came from one and not the other that were mentioned?
    3) Why is Evan, just a super amazing, talented uber-ghost/soul that is considered “weak”, so much more powerful than any of the Behaim’s (or others) familiars?
    4) Are implements really that much weaker than familiars or Demesnesses?

    1. Some of it is from Evan, cause he is so awesome it leak out. Some is from Wildbow, cause if Isadora chooses you either get a good life or disappear. If Wildbow chooses you you get an interesting life, and can’t escape even by death.
      Some of it is from his family who taught him how to manipulate to the point he would choose the terrible life as a homeless over the corrupting homelife.

    2. Let’s see if I can field these with my limited knowledge:

      Molly holed up in the house and knew a few defensive charms, so she wasn’t a threat and could be brushed aside until Laird decided to have her crippled but got her killed instead. It’s not mentioned why he did it, but he did set Maggie up to defer responsibility. She stayed away from the Lawyers and Demons, I’m assuming.

      As for the other questions:
      1.) Nothing mentioned about that. He’s just hanging on really and his friends bled out to bring him back, so he was coasting on that for a time.
      2.) Never mentioned.
      3.) Typically speaking, Familiars are a cornerstone of power and Ghosts are usually expendable and easy to deal with via a circle and salt. The Shepard just got creative. Evan’s not much in a fight, but he’s geared towards escaping while Spirits of Time are probably utilized as familiars to manipulate time more efficiently so they don’t eat the backlash for botching it. He’s not more powerful, he’s just a practical choice and considering that he’s been killed at least three times as a bird, and it would have been more at times, you can’t judge him as more powerful.
      4.) No, the three cornerstones have varying strength depending on the owner. Typically speaking, you sacrifice one to be weak so you can get stronger and make the other two stronger. We’ve never even seen an Implement being used proper except the Shepard using his Crook to damp the weakness to salt for his ghosts.

    3. That’s a lot of questions. I’ll take a shot at it.

      A1)Molly stayed mostly in the house during that time. She only really started going out close to the end. I think there’s more to the story, but that’s all we know.

      A2) We don’t know yet. According to Maggie, Molly had some healing magic. (Could that be where Maggie learned her healing tricks?)

      A3)We don’t know. As mentioned earlier, I think there’s more to Molly’s story than we know.

      A4) I believe Laird was trying to use Maggie to scare Molly into submission. Maggie just messed it up and her goblins killed the girl. Or inversely Molly was planning something evil that Laird wanted to stop.

      A5)Her family moved to Jacob’s Bell months before Granny Rose died for a better shot at the inheritance. They evidently still live there. I’ve gotta assume they tried to either get in her good grace or pressure her.

      B1)at least for today, Tiff and Ty bled themselves to give Blake extra power. He was feeling stronger at the beginning of this arc than for most of Pact. He has been weakened from his first day of being a practitioner. Back then he used his own essence to power everything and almost immediately took a power hit for lying. Don’t forget that the powers of Love, Friendship and Joy have also built Blake up. I’ve said in the past that, once Blake’s at full (or at least not weakened) power, we will be impressed. This arc has Blake in a (relatively) unweakened state, and he has been quite impressive.

      B2) The benefit is simple enough. He got time magic. Perhaps having the dual inplement/familiar combo provided double the power?

      B3)Evan provides tenacity and escape for Blake. That’s perfect considering the situations Blake constantly gets into. I don’t know how to compare Familiars though. Other Familiars we’ve seen are whatever Briar Girl has, Letita, who supplies a constant supply of glamour and wields a giant sword, Tromos, the lord of nightmares, Johannes’ dog, and Laird’s Grandfather Time, who helped make the time distortion ring around the house. I don’t think Evan is more powerful than the other Familiars. He’s just exactly what Blake needs.

      B4) Did they say that somewhere in the text? Each is a major source of power in different ways for the Practitioner.

        1. Thanks for trying to answer my questions, IronSI, BOP, and Sir Fuente.
          Thank you (extra) BOP for helping answer the question about Evan’s power levels vs. usefulness, and the Behaim’s familiars.
          Sir Fuente, I made the assumption that Implements are weaker, because the Familiars mentioned have been very useful so far, and the desmesnesses give you a safe(r) haven, and a stream of good karma, which is also very useful. For Implements, some can store power temporarily, or focus your magic a little more, or do similar things, which while still helpful, seem less so than the other two.

          I still am confused about Molly, and how she could have maintained any level of sanity with no interactions with anyone (not even a vestige) for 4 months (under the stressful circumstances), why she didn’t call the lawyers more, and how she made such a low impact on the community despite being a Thornburn, but I guess I’ll just have to keep wondering until we find out more.

  10. …Huh. I wonder if Paige is studying business law at the university where Isadora teaches.

    She seems like someone that could use a burst of good karma in exchange for running the risk of being eaten.

  11. If he get all the sweet loot (which I doubt) he should probably parcel stuff out to pacify his peers. The Eye to the sister to replace what the lost (even better if he can lend it such that he can recall it, surety against betrayal). The spirit of the Astrologer’s mentor to the Astrologer. A bound ErasUr to Isadora, with a note saying something along the lines of “Could you help balance the city with me?” A threat to Shepard to give Fell back. A molotov cocktail to the Drunk, idk about that one.

    1. That seems like a pretty good plan. The Eye is awfully destructive though. I don’t think we know much about their previous fire spirit, but I’m imagining a Prometheus sort of deal and if the Eye is too different, it might affect their rituals/results somehow.

    1. Yeah, I can see that happening. Maybe even including some insurance that the 16 years (1+15 extra) can’t be cut short by outside influences.

    2. That would make Laird’s actions make a whole lot more sense. He is supposed to be able to see the future. He wasn’t looking for a way to win. He was looking for a way to die.

        1. And he does it in such a way that Blake will be hated by his whole family, ensuring that their will never be peace with the Thorburn’s and the Behaim’s. Even when doing a sacrifice, he’s a little bit of a bastard.

  12. Oh, such Evan!

    I’m a freaking kick-ass magic bird

    Yes Evan. Yes you are.

    Blake must come off as so evil to others, especially the Behaims. They get a call that the big bad Demon Summoner started a war in Toronto and come to help. The first fight ends with their leader kidnapped. Then the respected is freed and they find that this Big Bad is with a minion, holding an uncle and his fiance hostage. The hostage taker proceeds to strike their uncle in way that’s fatal without assistance. After making sure that the uncle doesn’t die, they return to the fight to see this Evil Overlord standing over his victim, having just killed their beloved leader. When questioned he gives cold responses. Blake really needs to start caring about how his actions look to other people.

    So Isadora and Paige are together. Is Paige aware about the world? Is she aware about Blake? Is Isadora in naked sphinx form or clothed professor form? These questions must be answered.

    This kinda makes sense. Paige was in school, right?

    So, wild guess here. Is Salv about the adventures of Clair, the bio scientist in university? It would make sense assuming salv is like salve. Also, how much does the current Gamestation cost? I had a portable one when I was a kid, but it didn’t even have color.

    So Rose is like a sister to Blake. Interesting.

    I am afraid. I fear we will be left with this cliffhanger for the next month while we get the side arc and Wildbow does real stuff. Of course, if the side arc is awesome, that won’t be a problem.

    1. Evan does mention “the crash,” though, with the implication that it’s a major story element. That says “SciFi” to me.

      1. IIRC, “Salv” was one of the possible stories that Wildbow had up on the Worm FAQ before he finished Worm, along with Pact, Face, Body, Peer, and a couple others (“Nine” was one, and a few others). I think it was described as science fiction, but I’m not certain.

    1. Life and Death seems to be a big grey area for practicioners and Others. It’s entirely possible that if they feed him enough power and have the sword reforged, he’ll emerge almost as good as new, or perhaps as some sort of zombie-goblin or something.

      1. The sword was already misshapen and Blake described the Hyena as something that started bipedal twisted into a quadrupedal stance. If it feeds from its own irregularity, maybe have the broken blade worked by gremlin smiths ?

  13. Bringing in Thorburns could cause more damage. Paige really wanted the inheritance and Rose said she was part of the power struggle in the family. How long before they start fighting over the Thornton inheritance again.

    Could it be that Laird switched fates with his son? He would die within the year so his son would die in 30? The Behaims are the worst. They pick fights then complain when it doesnt go their way.

    Will the High Drunk make his move to try and rule the city?

      1. True. The USA has never strategically won any war it started unless it broke certain treaties first as Horrible Histories can attest to.

  14. The fact that Evan is getting to play a videogame he never finished from a save file right at the point he left off feels like a karmic reward from the universe after his little monologue. Good.

    Sad about Laird fully biting it, I’d really like to know what got such a hair up his ass about seeing the Thorburns burn. Seems like there must have been something more personal to it than just generalised antipathy toward diabolists. Still, he was the aggressor in this, could have been a very different story if he hadn’t gone straight for the “Hey kid, I know you’re freaking out right now and could do with someone to help you through all these revelations, buuuuut… gonna have to kill you soon. Lolthanx, bye.” line right away.

  15. Wish Blake had had enough wherewithal to offer Isadora some food. Good to see the family getting back into the picture, though less so when considering that it’s probably some dickmove of Dora’s against Blake.

    1. It goes both ways. If he offers the various people who’re going to show up hospitality, he won’t be able to threaten/hurt them during the impending massive clusterfuck.
      Leaving the door open for hostilities is fine too, methinks. Or maybe offer a seat, as Conquest did the first time they met.

    2. I don’t understand why people keep saying this. The chapter literally ends before Isadora or Paige step into the apartment. Blake still has plenty of time to show hospitality.

  16. I love how Wildbow always addresses our questions in the story eventually. Makes me wonder how much of that was previously planned and how much of that happens as a consequence of us pointing it out.

    I am still unhappy with Blake’s wording, and everyone’s justification. When I say someone is hurt I don’t mean that they suffered damage /over a long period/ or in /many/ subsequent strikes. I mean that they are either physically or emotionally damaged, that they have been harmed. Similarly, when I say I hurt someone badly I don’t mean I caused them a lot of pain (unless it is emotional pain). If I kill someone, maybe I didn’t torture them and I delivered the kill with one blow, but I hurt them enough for their body to stop working. They have been hurt bad enough that they can’t do anything anymore… because they are dead.

    I’m not denying that others’ interpretations are wrong, no. Nonetheless, I have never seen the phrase “to hurt someone badly” used to express the amount of pain or blows that someone received.

    Maybe you could argue that Blake followed the letter of the law if not the spirit of it, but there has to be a line somewhere. I couldn’t say where that line is, but there has to be a limit to how much freedom of interpretation one has. I think this particular case dances around that line.

    You might say I’m arguing a triviality, but this has had a big impact on the story. Blake was nearly forsworn. I do like how Wildbow managed the situation, with the spirits being unsure and Blake’s attitude helping decide the outcome of things.

    1. I don’t think there’s an actual line as such. From what we’ve seen of magic and wording, it’s more like a hundred-kilometer-wide sand beach anyone’s always busy running around and dragging their feet in the sand, drawing and covering lines all the time.

      1. The way I see it, Blake took his words and interpreted them in a way that is technically correct but far, far from the original intention. The characters in the story, Blake included, and I all thought that Blake would only cause Laird a limited amount of damage. However, Blake interpreted his actions in such a way that doesn’t contradict his previous promise. For one, I think his interpretation is plain wrong.

        But the argument I am trying to make about there being a line is this:
        What Blake did, effectively, strips away meaning from his words. The more interpretations a phrase can have, the less information it actually contains. This means that common language is… not very useful or safe. Everyone can twist everyone else’s words around however they want if they put on the right face. Even very specific contracts can become imprecise because you are defining it with a language that is imprecise by definition.

        I think Wildbow managed this situation in a satisfactory manner, but at the expense of the consistency of the universe. That is okay, though. The universe doesn’t have to make perfect sense, and that works very well because the spirits don’t need to agree with each other. However, if the reader and Wildbow disagree with the intended meaning of a phrase, it can take away from the reader’s experience.

        1. I think that one might also make the point that in some things, the world is ancient, immutable, like rules of hospitality.

          In other things, like what one said yesterday, or last week, the interpretation of the owner of the words, the one who uttered them, trumps the interpretation of what others think them to mean, provided that the phrasing can reasonably be interpreted as what the owner says they meant.

          This seems to be strongly tied to how glamour works. The one who says the words, or who imbues the glamour, has a great deal of power over how it is perceived, providing that they have sufficient belief in their own interpretation of the words or glamour.

          Blake is apparently extremely good at internal justification. Good enough that he can force his interpretation of things extremely powerfully, and just logically consistent enough that he makes few statements that get him into positions that he cannot justify his way out of.

        2. “Don’t give me any money; I don’t want to feel indebted to you.”

          “Alright, I won’t give you a dime.”

          If the person later gives the person a quarter, spends a hundred dollars on the person, or dumps their entire life savings on them, they’re following their words – they didn’t give them a dime.

    2. I kinda agree, I felt for certain that Blake was going to get forsworn there and have to find some new protection. But it seems the Pact universe isn’t quite as bound up by legalese as many other settings with similar rules. The rules aren’t being enforced by some abstract infallible force of pure law but by the peanut gallery of goldfish-brained and entertainment-craving spirits who will totally side with the guy who looks right over the one who is right, as long as there’s a smidgen of ambiguity. That ambiguity comes from Blake promising he wouldn’t kill Laird if he could avoid it, but given that he acted purely on reflex at that moment and tried to staunch the wound after the fact it’s not clear that he could have avoided it. Weasely, perhaps, but good enough for the spirits.

    3. Re: Wildbow, I’m pretty sure he’s planned out the story fairly rigorously, but when reader comments demonstrate that something in the story isn’t as clear as intended then he’ll clarify it.

  17. OK, so they got a sword-corpse as loot. How’s that for an implement?

    The Declarative. Like swords in general, it suggests aggression when drawn and readiness for violence when just held. It is the bound form of a monster, which indicates willingness and ability to use deadly others as weapons. But the monster is dead, which declares the wielder’s will use his tools to destruction rather than shirk conflict and hoard power. The owner’s workings might be expected to involve effective control of dangerous and violent Others, though at their expense, leaving those Others diminished.

    The Authoritative. But the sword was uncomfortable and even painful to use even when whole; it is less a tool of aggression than a brutal weapon of last resort. It says the wielder is not eager to wield it, but also liable to lash out with violence if pushed, aware and accepting the cost to themselves. It is a corpse bound even in death, which suggests the user prefers controlling rather than partnership with such beings. A broken blade does not cut cleanly, so others will find it and its workings bloody and brutal.

    Socio-Cultural. Usually a Sword is the choice of a boisterous, hormonal young man, impractical in older age. But this case requires a subtler analysis: It is not a pretty instrument, nor a comfortable tool, nor sleek weapon. This is the implement of someone with few choices, none of them good, someone who’s concerned practicality over aesthetics, someone who picks up the bricks life throws at them and throws them back. A subtle observer might also conclude that someone who picks a broken weapon for a life-time implement expects to need it, but for long.

    1. Laconic version: I don’t like violence, but violence likes me. I’ll probably die soon, but I’ll go down fighting. And if you push me, I will mess you up.

        1. Thank you! I keep wondering if Wildbow sets things up intentionally to fit this well or if we just read too much into every coincidence.

    2. I like your analysis.

      Only two things I disagree on: I’m pretty sure the Hyena isn’t dead, considering it just followed an order (albeit with some difficulty), and I don’t think the Hyena would be a very good fit with Blake, so making it his implement might involve a power loss instead of a power gain.

      1. Yeah, I see your point. I’m pretty sure it’s dead, particularly because Conquest explicitly said “I’ve […] slain your Hyena”, and he seemed careful about lying even if he’s maybe not the brightest bulb in the box. I’m just not sure what “dead” means when talking about something like that. (Hell, I’m not even sure what it meant if the Hyena was alive before today.) But in a setting with ghouls, ghosts, and a dozen spirits in every pencil, just because something moved or morphed doesn’t mean it’s not a corpse.

        Your second point hits closer. I’m not sure how the fit would be in terms of magic and power, but I guess Evan might be a bit pissed about having the Hyena around forever, even if it’s dead. (The choice of implement was said to be for life, just like the familiar.) Though he did seem a bit less reluctant to use him the second time, and I wouldn’t mind reading his insults towards it for the rest of Pact…

        1. Lies are tricky. If Conquest honestly thought he had killed the Hyena, would it be considered a lie even if it wasn’t factual? I’m not sure, to be honest. The way I’m reading it though, it looks to me like the Hyena was only mostly dead and just pretended to be the rest of the way dead, which would’ve been a very smart move because it would allow whatever things he had maimed previously to continue fighting while still taking the heat off him. Which we saw, when the dolls where all fighting amongst each other. Assuming his enchantment ends on death…

          Actually, I’m assuming an awful lot here: assuming that Others vanish on death (which is further based on the assumption that a slain other won’t leave a soul behind), assuming that previously cast spells end with the caster’s death, etc. Not a whole lot going for my argument there.

          1. I agree, lies are tricky. Well, the other Pact rules are also tricky, so maybe that’s too specific a complaint.

            I usually prefer SF to fantasy because SF has some actual underlying rules that the characters (and readers) might discover. (Or at least decent SF is supposed to, whence the “S”.) Much fantasy annoys me because the author can always just pull something out of their ass to justify mostly anything. Though now that I think about it Pact is actually fits SF, considering that there are actually supposed to be rules there, and much of what Blake&Co. do is explicitly related to figuring them out via experimentation. Which is probably part of why I like it so much 🙂

            On the specific subject of lying, it seems believing something might be a defense against lying, as suggested by some comments about glamour. Although those could also be explained as simply fooling the “judging” spirits, or belief actually making some things true (there are in-world statements supporting each of those views by people who should know).

            Interestingly, if saying untruths counts as lying even if you don’t know they’re not true, you can use that to determine the truth of yes-no sentences: get a coven, specialize yourself in seeing subtle changes in karma (like that lawyer lady), and have one of your acolytes say one possible answer to such a question. If you see the effects of lying, the answer was false, otherwise it was true. Then the rest of the coven protect the guy from the consequences until they recover. (This might work with Sphinxes as well, but that method is less efficient in terms of acolytes/question…) It’s probably not very useful given that actual augury exists in Pact, and there are probably Others that are even better at this, but still. It’d be fun to see a circle of mage-mathematicians using something like this to figure out if P=NP or if some conjecture is true 🙂

            1. I think you’re being unfair to the fantasy genre.  Good authors in any genre, including fantasy, go to a lot of effort to create internally consistent settings. Magic has underlying rules too.  Pulling solutions out of thin air is bad (and annoying) writing in any genre.

              Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is a good example of a fantasy series with self-consistent magic.

              There’s an interesting discussion on how rigorous the fantasy genre is at http://io9.com/the-science-in-fantasy-novels-is-often-better-than-in-s-1590070621 .

              Tvtropes also has some examples at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MagicAIsMagicA .

              Personally I prefer the term Speculative Fiction for SF&F because there’s so much overlap between fantasy and science fiction. Is Steampunk science fiction or fantasy? What about any setting with psychic powers? Star Wars is ostensibly Sci-fi but what’s “The Force” if not magic?  Star Trek has inexplicable godlike beings like Q. etc. etc.  Heck, arguably anything with a faster-than-light drive is closer to fantasy than science. And that’s without even looking at deliberate genre benders like Piers Anthony’s Proton/Phase series where the protagonist travels back and forth between a magical universe and an SF one.

            2. I’m pretty sure we agree more than we disagree here. Most of your criticism is probably because I’m using a specific definition of science fiction, which is concerned less with what happens in the story than with how and why it happens. (I first saw it in some of Eric Raymond’s blog posts, and he explains it better than I can.)

              So we’re probably saying similar things with different terminology. For instance, I mentioned I consider Pact closer to SF and just fantasy, because you can, to a point, apply science to it: its world has (as far as we can tell, mostly) consistent rules, the characters try to discover and learn them by experiment, and the readers can follow through all that using logic. (In my head, that’s whan SF is about; in particular, it’s not about having rules that plausible in our universe.) I also said “decent SF”, and I meant much of it isn’t.

              I haven’t read Piers Anthony or Sanderson, but I consider Star Wars fantasy (you can’t even really call it futuristic, since it’s supposed to have happened a long time ago). Star Treck is not excellent SF, but even Q has some rules, and the characters learn (some of) them and apply that knowledge to solve problems. (Due to how it’s made—it doesn’t really have an author as such—Star Treck is not terribly consistent, but at least within the bounds of each episode it mostly tries to be SF.) Steampunk can run the entire gamut.

              I’m not saying that fantasy isn’t consistent, either, just that it’s allowed not to be (since, again, according to my definition, it’s not about that); it doesn’t even need to have unambiguous rules. And there is a lot of very good fantasy, and even very good fantasy that is ambiguous and “rule-less”. There’s just more of it that annoys me, I guess.

    3. The sword, a tool of conquest, has been broken.

      As in, Conquest can’t get his conquest on anymore. The tip’s broken off. He can’t bring his sword to full length. He has difficulty stabbing people anymore. This isn’t just having a limp sword arm. You can’t take a pill for this one.

      Now that he’s bound, Conquest is impotent.

  18. Comments:
    1) Why the hell do Blake and Rose trust Maggie to deal with the binding circle, given that she’s almost certainly possessed or worse? Or, put more simply: Blake’s thoughts repeatedly stress that he doesn’t trust Maggie, and yet he does, actually, entrust his life to her over and over again.
    2) Why do the Behaim kids swear vengeance, rather than just kill Blake then and there? I mean, they more or less intended to hinder, harm or kill him even before Laird died! And Blake has never been more vulnerable than right now. Why let him go? Well, I guess they aren’t exactly in top condition themselves, and Duncan is seriously injured. But is that really enough of a reason? I mean, if a single one of them lost their cool and just jumped Blake, they’d already win…
    3) Evan is pretty awesome.
    4) Oh dear, things are calming down in the story. That’s not a good sign.

    Favorite lines:
    – “enjoying the fact that I had just a few minutes before someone tried to kill me or do worse”
    – “So… that means I can do it? Or I go do it and then say sorry after?” – Plenty of people in both Wormverse (reminder: do not post plaintext spoilers) and Pactverse suffer from that particular personality fault…
    – “I pulled that one out of my ass,” Rose said, “so to speak. Borrowing from you, really.” – I love how that “so to speak” part is necessary in Pactverse…

    1. 1) I presume the same reason he entrusts his life to Rose. While he doesn’t completely trust either of them, an untrustworthy Maggie and Rose are still his best allies (excluding Evan, of course) and have both saved him multiple times. He’s cautious, but (rightly) still will use them.

      2) They had to tend to Laird. Duncan was weak and lost a lot of blood. The universe probably would be more entertained that way. And finally, Blake’s scary. Would you try to take Blake on now? He would probably cut your tongue out, release a demon/goblin and harm someone close to you (speaking from the perspective of a Behaim or anybody that just has heard of Blake’s new reputation or the things he’s done).

      3) Best character in Pact ny a large margin.

      4)Unless the story is going into it’s next phase where Blake starts having a legitimate shot at surviving and changing things. Surely Wildbow wouldn’t just keep topping on the horrible to Blake. Right? . . . Right?

        1. Laird’s dead. Duncan (and maybe others) does need help, though.

        2. Cue Endbringer.
          …Actually, that would be kinda neat. I wonder how the Pactverse would react to Behemoth tearing up a city. Or how the Wormverse would react once its Thinkers and whatnot noted a bunch of circles inexplicably transported across the Earths.

        1. “I wonder how the Pactverse would react to Behemoth tearing up a city.” For those of us who have been magically initiated, we know the truth about the recent typhoon that hit India. It wasn’t really just a natural event.

        2. Something like the Simurgh would definitely be worth saying ‘Ornais’ a few times to take care of. Imps and the other aftereffects of exposure to a greater demon are arguably less dangerous to humanity than Endbringers. Unless Wildbow has been downplaying how bad the summoning of a greater demon might be.

          At the very least it would almost certainly be an impressive fight, but I’d put my money on the being that helped create stars.

          1. Cities can be rebuilt. Technology can be rediscovered. People, well, given enough raw materials and ambition, we can always create more of those. A diminishment of the heat that all fires and all burning things will create for the rest of time and eternity? There’s literally no way to recover from that without a true act of creation. Traditionally, angels are incapable of that and while I think they are in real life (or would be capable of it), it seems like you’d have to find God or something in the Pact universe to come back and that might be rather difficult to do. I think an endbringer is preferable to calling Ornias.

            1. If everyone is dead, and negative impact of Ornias’ visit will be meaningless. If Ornias can be summoned, then returned, then it’s easier to deal with the fallout of his actions than the end result of Endbringer activities.

              They are both endgame. You can, potentially, send Ornias back where he came from.

              That’s my take on it anyway.

            2. Now I wonder if that decrease would be measurable in the scientific sense. If it would, there would certainly be some reactions when the same finely-tuned reactions in the smelters and chemistry labs would suddenly differ (statistically) significantly from the last time the measure were taken. Muggles might become aware of something being off.

          2. Not sure if this is spoilery enough to encrypt or not, but just in case:

            V guvax V’q org ba gur Fvzhetu sbe guvf bar. N orvat gung urycrq perngr naq neenatr gur fgnef gurzfryirf zvtug or vapbaprvinoyl cbjreshy, ohg gur Fvzhetu jvyy, ng gur irel yrnfg, xabj ubj gb trg bhg nyvir. Naq nyy gur cbjre va gur havirefr vf zbbg jura lbhe bccbarag xabjf rknpgyl ubj gb chyy lbhe fgevatf.

            Orfvqrf, fur bayl unf gb unat nebhaq whfg ybat rabhtu gb frg hc n avpr, urnygul punva bs qvfnfgre qbzvabrf. Gur Fvzhetu’f tbny vf arire gb qrsrng gur fhcre-cbjrershy bccbaragf gelvat gb svtug ure, vg’f gb fcernq greebe fvzcyl ol rkvfgvat.

    2. As odd as it is to say, just because Maggie’s possessed doesn’t mean the possessor need be explicitly malicious. I’m willing to bet whatever the heck it is, you don’t wind up with something like that by accident. It was probably more by arrangement, and Maggie does seem to have some experience with summoning/binding. Or, maybe that’s the possessor’s experience we’re seeing (in which case it’s time to worry).

      1. The possessor is also likely not stupidly malicious. If Maggie betrays them and frees Conquest, Conquest will almost certainly go after her too.

        1. Smart malicious is fine. Knowing how to deal with smart malicious is basically a diabolist’s entire job description.

      2. Maggie has mentioned having a relationship with a Fae. I’m beginning to suspect that the Fae actually is the being possessing her, and almost certainly the being that is moderating her speech.

        Maggie may have intentionally invited the Fae in, to mitigate the effects of being a Goblin Queen.

      1. You “trust” people you don’t trust when you have to. I’d say dealing with what is essentially an avatar of a Horseman of the Apocalypse counts…

      2. Most likely? They weren’t prepared to kill, they care about Duncan, they’re worried about the muggles noticing, and/or they’re hoping to gain an advantage this way. Remember how Blake noted that the universe rewards the Bond villain? It probably rewards the kid out for vengeance too.

      3. Yes, he is.

      4. No, it’s not.

      1. “You “trust” people you don’t trust when you have to. I’d say dealing with what is essentially an avatar of a Horseman of the Apocalypse counts…”

        The one who got dropped from the Horsement too.

          1. Actually It was either Famine or Pestilience. They booted Conquest because he was always trying to take all the credit. Also he was a loot ninja. Also he kept breaking things, then borrowing the other Horsemen’s, and breaking that so he wouldn’t have to give it back.

            1. Well, one of the big reasons Pestilence replaced Conquest was that Conquest and War overlapped so much, and there wasn’t as much of either as compared to famine and pestilence.

    3. re: number 2: I would add that, knowing what the Behaim kids know about how Blake acts under pressure (from, if nothing else, experience at the police station–repeatedly showing willingness to put himself at risk to keep the kids safe, kind of thing… even if it’s some kind of wily diabolist’s trick, it’s still relevant that it’s one he’d do in that circumstance), something which could freak him out enough to lash out the way he did with the promise he’d made standing is… well…

      “If you’d name me forsworn,” I said, “I’d challenge you to walk through the last ten minutes in my shoes. See what I saw, feel what I felt, and then decide I was out of line and that I didn’t try.”

      is a pretty effective counterthreat. Especially having grown up in an environment where “no, trust me, you DON’T want to know” usually proves out if you test it.

      Or as he went on to hint at what was going on a little more:

      “He pushed me into the worst sort of corner,” I said.
      […] “He was setting me up for a fate that could be worse than death.”

      I’ll take “Things you don’t want to vicariously experience at the hands of your beloved father or uncle” for 200, Alex…

      1. Let’s look at what the Behaim kids really know. Their trusted uncle told them about an evil diabolist who’s preventing the town from expanding and is probably about to do the worst sorts of things. So they start going after him and lo and behold, he’s actually started summoning those worst kinds of things. He even has one come out and torture/cut up a little girl when they just want to quietly bring him in and chat with him, or at least that’s perhaps all their uncle told them.

        Then they try to up the ante because seriously, cutting a little girl? Summoning those creatures? He needs to be stopped. What does he do? He looses the Hyena! Let me repeat that, he looses the Hyena! He’s got goblins doing the worst sorts of lewd and crude things. He agrees to be bound in a circle and then cleverly shrugs it off and gets himself loose again — he probably agreed to bind himself just so he could cut connections from something or maybe it was to get them to let down their guard, which they did, and they lost. He’s just that wily.

        And then he runs off, threatens someone’s unmagical fiance! Those people are supposed to be off limits, but this evil Blake guy doesn’t stop at any of the traditional limits. Then he starts hacking and slicing at Duncan, and he’s basically stripped away Duncan’s power, probably by stealing Duncan’t implement (or whatever it’s called) which he then proceeds to destroy. Seriously, he destroyed the implement. Then he basically lies and then kills Laird. Seriously, everything bad we’ve been saying about Laird all this time could probably be said about Blake as well.

        That being said, Laird was a douche (or at least seemed like one) so I’m kind of glad that he’s temporarily out of the picture for a while at least or until his ghost is brought back in.

        Also, that kid is probably feeling super guilty. He probably knows, deep down, that his own life has been extended by his uncle’s untimely death and he can’t deal with that level of responsibility, so he’s just transposing and taking his anger out on Blake. I don’t really blame him for that. I understand what he’s going through. I don’t agree with what he did or said at all, I don’t think it’s truly a responsible thing to say or do, but I do get where he’s coming from.

        1. It’s too innocent. Lairds kids know that they are not innocent in this whole debacle. They are justifying, and it helps that Blake really is doing some sketchy stuff, but both sides know that they are not totally in the right.

        2. Exactly. We mostly all like Blake and feel that his actions have been justified. However, regardless of reasons, Blake’s actual actions have been borderline evil. That’s why I think of Blake as more of a sympathetic, noble villain than as a hero.

          1. Lolwut?seriously,lolwut?his most borderline evil action,appearances nonwithstanding,is releasing the imp HE HIMSELF BOUND to defend himself and deal with a bigger monster.Everything else was either noble to the point of foolishness,or self defense.Heck,I consider Taylor a straight-up hero,apart from a few blemishes,and he is more noble than her.HOW IS HE EVEN CLOSE TO BEING A VILLAIN?

            Laird,by contrast,however justifiable,did not even try to negotiate in a setting that allows negotiation,apart ftrom asking him to be a sacrificial puppet.Thats strike one for true villainous behaviour.He blamed Blake for his justifiable reactions,thats strike 2.He ordered,at the very least,an assault on Molly and didn’t care at all to apologise to Maggie or Blake when it went sour,strike 3.He chased Blake to Toronto and kept harassing him,for no good reason,strike 4.He cares not about the already free demons,only the diabolists,strike 5.He was a coward based on his interactions in the circle,who couldn’t repent to save his life,strike 6.And he wanted Blake to relive rape,strike 7.He is fully a villain,no matter how understandable.His family,his kids,even Duncan?maybe not,they do get the wrong end of the infirmation stick.But Laird is inexcusable.

        3. I’m not saying Blake isn’t terrible, or that the Behaim kids don’t have good reason to think he’s terrible. More that… well, let’s take the situation at the station. He’s surrounded in enemy territory and under attack. He summons a demon and sets it on a little girl. O.k., well, he’s an evil diabolist. Summoning demons and doing evil with them is pretty much to be expected. But he also has the demon do minimal harm, mostly just using it to scare her. Yes, he’s probably doing that for ulterior motives rather than out of the goodness of his heart (he’s an EVIL DIABOLIST, hello), but the relevant takeaway is that he’s in control. Even as the situation gets desperate, when all the Behaims are at the “why don’t you just GIVE UP already, christ” stage, he tricks, he connives, he pulls something else out of his sleeve and he’s still able to play his fucked-up little mind games of “oh yes, I may be a diabolist, but I don’t want kids to die!” yeah SURE you don’t, you sneaky fucker. Desperate situation: in control.
          Then, after promising that if he could, he’d not kill Laird–certainly the kind of promise where being forsworn can come into play–something happens which leaves Blake “pretty fucked up” and Laird dead at Blake’s hand. And he’s confident enough in his own case to offer up the ten-minute-play-by-play (or Pensieve walk or whatever) (in a way that seems like a counterthreat to calling him forsworn, from the evil diabolist who seems to specialize in mindfucks).
          I think I’d let the spirits take it from there myself.
          (Additionally, it’s possible the Behaim kids are at least smart enough to not go “eh, I can take him” to a Wildbow protagonist to the guy who just bound Conquest and killed Laird Behaim (leaving aside previous accomplishments).)

  19. Blake and Rose are both wrong. Magic in Pact is neither art nor science – it’s law. The spirits are like a jury that can be swayed by Blake’s forcefully delivered closing arguments if the evidence presented is somewhat ambiguous.

  20. Hmm. So Maggie is finally putting her Goblin Queen hat on;

    1) She’s becoming more violent. By a lot.

    2) She’s becoming more bloodthirsty and cruel. She wasn’t like that back in Jackob’s Bell, unless it had all been an act.

    3) She’s becoming a lot more dirty-minded. Get hair from elsewhere – seriously?

    So more and more she is thinking and acting like a goblin. Give her a few more hairy situations under her belt and she’ll be indistinguishable from the Goblin Queen that destroyed her community.

    1. The Bloody Haired Woman has been heavily implied to be possessing her in the recent chapters so technically, Maggie IS the Goblin Queen that destroyed her community actually.

      1. Is it literally possessing her, or is she merely gaining characteristics of the Queen?

        Well, it’s almost certainly the former, given the speed of the transformation, but if we ignore that bit of evidence, pondering the question leads to some interesting possibilities.

    2. A lot more dirty-minded? I laughed. Are you kidding? I’m you read between her lines, Molly is the person who would be cursing the most if she were allowed. Seriously. ‘You’re leaving me blue’ was not a reference to being sad.

  21. Sigh, poor, naive, sheltered Behaim kid. You have no clue how horrible the things that your father would have Blake experience, or re-experience were. Some things you don’t wish on your worst enemy. Be glad Blake isn’t the sort to educate you on that.

    1. A certain phrase from A Song of Ice and Fire comes to mind immediately. “Oh sweet summer child, what do you know of fear?”

  22. Eerie. Halfway through this chapter I kept thinking that I wondered when Paige was going to show up, since we know she doesn’t seem the kind to just not get involved. No reason for me to think of that, I suppose, but it was awesome when she showed up at the door.

  23. Paige was studying to be a lawyer, right? Perhaps Isadora is doing Blake a favor and bringing Paige by to read the fine print in any contract drawn up with the bound Conquest. It seems like Isadora, for one, would love to see a bound Conquest back in the ruling position — all the benefits of an immortal incarnation to rule your city, none of the drawbacks of him constantly trying to conquer and torture and otherwise own everything around him.

    1. Except for how sapped Conquest must be for having been defeated by someone he time and time again implied to be inferior.

      1. So you’re saying that Blake really conquered Conquest? That’s got to be a good boost to the metaphorical ideal of conquest. Perhaps C’s “go big or go home” approach to problem solving has a two-pronged benefit. If he wins, he really wins and crushes his opponent. If he loses, he’s really promoted the ideal of merciless conquest by being so thoroughly upset and conquered. Either way, it could mostly be claimed to be a victory for Conquest.

  24. So umm… guys? Where is Corvidae? He’s not in this chapter. Where is he? He had his smile, followed by midge contempt last chapter. And now he’s missing. Not just missing, unmentioned. Like a certain parahuman from Worm.

    This is bad.

  25. I know I don’t comment as often as I used to, but…

    This isn’t a comment on Pact, though I’m decently up to date.

    This is a comment on writing, and the work in it.

    I just finished both writing and uploading two chapters of a story, based on an idea I had maybe two days before today. It bothered me, kept flicking into my consciousness and conscious thoughts, begging to be written, to be brought into the world.

    So I did. I birthed an idea I had, the first literary work by me in three years. It is not original (it’s a fanfic), it’s derivative in universe as well as general idea, but that doesn’t matter. I had the idea. I wrote it down. I made something. That is a good feeling, a very good one actually.

    But it is also exhausting. It is work, there’s no way around it. While I feel an immense sense of… I can’t put it down right now. A mixture of vindication, relief, pride and Who-Haw(!). Anyway, while I feel this feeling, I also feel a deep respect and recognition.

    Having written about 8k words in the span of a single day, having experience the intellectual drain and work and enrichment and thrill of this can only start to recognise the work you put up and out by writing Worm, by writing Pact, by constantly and repeatedly producing what I did once. I am hardly an author, a professional in the sense of being able to live off of my work. I would even argue my being a writer, a person who writes works others read and enjoy regularly – a definition that incidentally would include many a blogger. But I can and do write occasionally. Not often, mind you, but writing I do, and once I do I usually enjoy it. In that sense I am a writer.

    But you, wildbow, are an animal. You are a workhorse, you are a goddamn Paragon of Writitude.

    And while I knew intellectually what you put out, I now know emotionally as well. I could say “colour me impressed”, but that doesn’t cover it remotely. You can colour me artfully, bloody, completely, damn, escherianly, flabbergastedly, gratefully, humbly, intellectually, jovially, kraken-levitatingly, matronly, nigh-occludingly, patronly, quintessentially, reverentially, sharply, teasingly, unanimously, vexingly, wholly, xenogenously, youngly zeroed by what you do.

    You have my utmost respect for what you did, for what you do, and for what you in all likelihood will continue to do until you have too much stories out you need to edit so you won’t have time for actual writing anymore. I now recognise the time sink writing is, how much time I spent in reading and reworking my first draft for a simple 8k story. Before I couldn’t imagine your workload. I assumed I could, but in hindsight I couldn’t. Now that I actually have an inkling of what performance you’re doling out week after week after week after week… I can say I can imagine it, both intellectually and emotionally.

    And I say it again.

    An animal. A workhorse. A goddamn Paragon of Writitude

    Thank you, wildbow. Thank you immensely.

    1. And now you understand why we used to joke about wildbow being a literary Tinker.

      I wonder what version of that joke would work for the Pactverse.

      1. His implement is The Expanded History of Writing Techniques, Volumes 8-16, 14th Edition. His familiar is either Calliope, Melpomene, or both somehow. His demesnes is Apocrypha, which he claimed from Mora via literary combat.

        Or as a shorter version, he clearly has a muse for a familiar.

  26. “Uh huh,” he said. “Or it could be my thing. Evan Matthieu, blood sparrow, biting out chunks of eyeball and fighting monsters!”
    Ah, Evan. If only you had been around for the Undersiders after a thing that wildbow would be angry if I named but the context might help people who have read Worm figure it out. They could have used some comic relief.
    Actually, they could have used some comic relief most of the time. Regent and such never really managed much except gallows humor.

    “Life can suck, and mine sucked toward the end, and I’m sorta glad it stopped sucking. Not totally glad but sorta glad.”
    And you have a philosophical side, too. Evan always puts a smile on my face.

    “She’s me. It’s like you’re talking about doing something rude to my sister.“
    Or yourself, Mr. Doesn’t Like Being Touched.

    “You’d avoid killing him if you could, circumstances allowing, full stop.”
    Emphasis mine.

    “Fuck you,” he said. “Just… whatever you killed him to avoid? I hope you get worse.”
    Dammit kid, are you trying to unleash some kind of demon, just so it’ll kill Blake before destroying a fair chunk of the world?
    Well, he’s a dumb kid. But dumb kids really shouldn’t be allowed to play with things that cause their words to have an impact on the fate of everyone around them, if not the entire world.

    “Are- are you willing to watch a bird struggle to use gamestation thumbsticks and press buttons when he says?”
    “Willing? I don’t think you could convince me
    not to.”
    Aw, someone’s got a soft spot for adorable ghost/birds. Well, someone in-universe.

    “Paige,” I said.

    There are worse and weirder people it could be, even accounting for accompanying the sphinx. We’ll just have to wait and see…

    1. The kid’s grieving right about now, too. I don’t blame him for wishing the worst on Blake, given that he wormed his way into a relative’s house, wounded that relative, then killed his father/uncle.

      1. Wishing the worst on someone is incredibly unwise when “the worst” involves various apocalyptic scenarios.

        But yeah, he’s in a bad headspace.

    2. “Fuck you,” he said. “Just… whatever you killed him to avoid? I hope you get worse.”
      Dammit kid, are you trying to unleash some kind of demon, just so it’ll kill Blake before destroying a fair chunk of the world?
      Well, he’s a dumb kid. But dumb kids really shouldn’t be allowed to play with things that cause their words to have an impact on the fate of everyone around them, if not the entire world.

      He’s also a kid who’s father was just killed. Okay, so in a lot of ways Laird was an asshole, but it seems like he was good to his family at least. Granted the little shit has no idea what he’s saying, and no idea what daddy was trying to hold Blake down for. That is something that no one should experience. And doing so is sheer bastardy. So I won’t shed too many tears for Laird, but I can accept his family hating Blake. But if they keep pushing at Blake, and he snaps and destroys the world, well dumbass karma spirits be damned, it’s their fault.

      1. Hate? Fine. Increase the chance of unleashing a greater demon upon the world, even if it isn’t intentional? “Dumb kid.”

  27. Once more I’d like to point out that if the actions in Toronto have any fallout, the Duchamps take a hit for getting Jeremy to open up this whole conflict by outing Blake. Including Laird’s death.

    1. That was roughly a week ago, and only led to the current situation through a long, convoluted, and highly improbable series of events. I expect the spirits would have no trouble deferring responsibility on this one.

      • “Irene Thorburn nee Walker” should be swapped into “Irene Walker nee Thorburn”.
      • Considering the amount of kids Paul begot, I’d put him between Irene and Bradley, although it is just a guess.
      • Paul’s unnamed son is also likely older than Roxanne, considering there’s a 9-year gap between the twins and her.
    1. You know he’s going to die even more horribly before this is all over with. That’s the downside to having such an upbeat, cutesy character. Wildbow will bring that kid back to life if he has to just so that Evan can get his eyes gouged out, his intestines strung around a Christmas tree, his tongue shoved up a moose’s ass (Oh Canada…), and his throat mauled by a flock of wild accountants from the firm “Death and Taxes”.

      Don’t you all see?! This is what you get for being deductible, you lil son of a finch!

      1. I agree on the adorability of Evan, but they’re also both linked intrinsically. Cutting that connection is really hard by the rules of Pact, if I got that right. That connection is a lifeline.

        Of course, that hardly means it’s impossible. Crack Evan’s neck repeatedly and soon enough you have Blake on his knees, both physically and magically.
        Mayhaps doing that often enough will break the connection – making Blake forsworn in his promise to Evan.
        Maybe doing that often enough will kill Blake, simply due to strain and stress.

        Then there are some few others who work with connections and who are reasonable strong enough to be able to sever that connection so Evan can be killed without afflicting Blake too negatively. The missing Corvidae and the barely bound barber come to mind. Since the later can cut connections of the ‘soul’ to whatever counts as an afterlife, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he were able to break that particular connection.

        1. Getting eaten by ErasUrr might also sever Evan from Blake.

          That said, it’d be pretty hard to catch and trap him, or even hold him long enough to snap his neck repeatedly, considering how he’s magically geared toward escaping so well. If something does want to kill him, it’d have to be borderline omniscient just to block every possible escape route and method.

          1. Was that a challenge?

            If so: Once you’ve captured him–which isn’t unlikely in and of itself, though certainly harder than usual given his talents–you put him in a cage made of of metal. Ideally iron. And not a cage made of bars or something, but more like plates. You put that iron cage into a similar cage made of salt. Ideally that’d count as a circle as well, but if not leave enough room between cages for putting them in increasing circles, respectively.
            After a bit of grave robbery you use his physical remains (bones, ashes, whatever) as a building block for the next cage.
            The one after will be made of living wood. I fully expect this one to be the weakest cage I can spontaneously think of.
            Put this whole load of cages into a shipping container in the park he died in.
            The repeatedly drain the air in the container, or replace it with nitrogen or some poisonous agent, then replace that toxic atmosphere with one low in oxygen, but sufficient for him to live, perhaps even be awake but tired as hell. Repeat the poisoning ad nauseam.

            Though I don’t expect the asphyxiating and poisoning to work, actually, but it can’t hurt to try, right? And in all honesty, I still doubt this would hold him indefinitely. But it would certainly hurt Blake.

            Are magic users necessary to “fuel” or set magically relevant pieces? Or in other words, can only practitioners and related make a circle that would have any effect, or could a muggle take a sharpie and get to town, placing circles and willy-a-nilly?

            1. He can take the form of a ghost, though. He doesn’t like it, but he can do that any time he wants. And, while the salt might damage him, he can take energy from Blake and escape.

  28. 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?

    1. Goddamnit. Why do these comments keep appearing in chapters earlier than the one I am reading? Can be removed.

    2. I remember acting not much different around his age, at least in the presence of adults. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of the existence of much of the hanky-panky stuff, but I didn’t really understand the details and reasons behind things, and while I acted different around peers I’m sure I looked much more innocent around adults.

      It wasn’t a matter of not knowing stuff, it was just that I realized I didn’t know enough and I tried to avoid looking foolish. When you know there’s stuff you don’t get yet, it’s hard to avoid saying the wrong thing; but if you don’t say anything on a subject you can’t reveal which parts you’re ignorant about.

      I guess kids know even more these days, what with the internet and everything, but still. Smart children, and Evan is certainly smart enough, often know how to act more innocent than they really are to make adults around them reveal more stuff than they think they do. (And they don’t have to be sly about it, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly instinctive.)

      With respect to Blake, I don’t think it’s prudishness. Remember he’s (pretty much certainly) a rape victim. He likes girls, but he’s unable to act sexually because of PTSD. He probably feels like someone with impotence: it’s not sexuality itself that he feels ashamed around, it’s not feeling “able to perform” that troubles him.

  29. I’m not sure how the Binding works in Pact-verse, but noticing how Evan and Hyena was brutalized and practically killed off several times, yet to be revived again like there was no previous damage or inherited penalty left me baffled,

    is it as it was depicted here or there’s some line of subtle rule that I haven’t noticed yet?

    1. Well, in Evan’s case he’s (a) a ghost and (b) Blake’s familiar. In a pinch he can (and probably automatically does) pull power from Blake in order to survive an otherwise lethal attack.

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