Void 7.9

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Isadora looked much as she had when I’d seen her on the balcony, but she’d taken more measures to make it look more like she was human.  More of the winter clothing including scarf and hat, fashionable in a way that suggested she wasn’t paying that much, but still had an uncanny awareness of what would suit her and go well together.

Paige was different from the last time I’d seen her.  The clothes weren’t a new style, but I had the uncanny impression that she’d taken one step along the road to being more like Isadora.  Same thing with the clothes.  Her hair was styled differently.  She stood straighter, more poised.

They stopped at the entrance to the living room.  Paige’s eyes roved over everything.  Ty and Evan were sitting on the floor, Ty unwinding cables he’d neatly bound with twist ties, and Evan perched on the game controller that had been set on the ground, one foot on each thumbstick, wings extended for balance.

The others were on the couch or in the dining room.

“Your T.V. sucks,” Evan said.  “My mom and dad have a better T.V. in their kitchen, and it’s as old as I am and it’s smaller than the…”

He trailed off as he saw Isadora and Paige.

“…microwave.”

The appearance of strangers changed the tone of things right away.  Only some of my friends had seen and met Isadora.

“I remember you,” Joel said.

“Yeah,” Paige said.  “Thank you for being so patient with me and pointing me in the right direction.”

“Not a problem,” Joel said.

Others, including Alexis, Ty, Tiff and Evan, were looking at me for a cue.

“I suppose introductions are in order,” I said.  “But before I launch into those… I have to ask, Isadora, does she know?”

“She knows some,” Isadora said.  “Almost enough.”

“That’s pretty vague,” I said.  “Dangerous, even.”

“I know,” Isadora said.  Then, after a pause, she prompted me, “Introductions?”

“Most of you know Isadora.  Joel, Goosh, this is the woman who cut me open the other night, nearly killing me.”

I saw Paige’s eyebrows go up.  She glanced at Isadora.

Isadora didn’t offer an explanation.

“Beside Isadora, we have Paige.  My cousin.  Last in line to be heir to the Thorburn property and all its misfortunes.  No, I don’t know why she’s with Isadora.  Isadora, Paige, these are my friends and allies.  Alexis, Tiffany, Joel, Goosh, Maggie, Ty, and Evan.”

I pointed to each in turn.  Evan flew up to my extended finger as I finally reached him.  I moved him to my shoulder.

“Isadora told me ‘there are no coincidences’,” Paige said.  “Evan?  As in the kid you were accused of murdering?”

“Your cousin is sharp,” Ty said.

“That means I’m right?  It’s not a coincidence?” Paige said.

“Not helping, Ty,” I said.

I looked between Paige and Isadora, hoping to make the connection.  I settled on speaking to Isadora.  “What’s this about?  Is she a hostage?”

“No.”

“Why is she here?”

“I chose to come,” Paige said.

Alexis spoke up, “You couldn’t choose to come unless she gave you the choice in the first place.  I think he’s asking why Isadora gave you the choice.”

“Yeah,” I said.

Having someone speak up and help clarify this situation and help me feel a little less off-balance made a world of difference.

Isadora spoke up.  “We were talking, I said I had something to do, she asked if it had to do with this world.  I said yes.  She asked if she could observe, as per our prior agreement, made a few days ago.  I said she could do more than observe.”

“What are you doing?” I asked.  “She knows some, but not enough?  She’s a danger to herself, to the innocent, and to the rest of us, if the wrong thing gets said.  She’s a walking minefield.”

“You just asked a question and answered it in the next breath,” Isadora said.

That took me a second to wrap my head around.  “You want her to act as a walking hazard?”

“The sorority, the astrologer, your friends from the convenience store and the drunk, among others, will be arriving within the next twenty minutes, by my best estimate.  Tensions are liable to be high.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I’d said something only a few bit ago about possibly being shot through the window.  No surprises with that pronouncement.

“This will go more smoothly with her here.  Everyone will have to carefully choose their words, and nobody will pull out weapons with a relative innocent in the way.  Peace, after a fashion.”

Because cluing her into the world behind the curtain means taking on some responsibility for whatever happens to her.  I looked at Paige.  She’s here because it means possibly finding answers.

This was a disaster waiting to happen.

“Did you find her, or did-”

Paige cut me off.  “I found her.”

“She investigated on her own,” Isadora said.  “Word was getting around about the altercation at the University, you and the drunkard’s friends.  She heard, discovered it was you, and asked around.  I was one of the people that she asked.”

“That seems like an awfully contrived series of events for someone who was just saying there are no coincidences,” I said.

Isadora smiled.  “It illustrates my point, as a matter of fact.  Paige?  Remember what we talked about earlier?  Rephrase it in your own terms, show me you understood the idea.”

Paige blinked a few times.  Then she took the challenge.  “Imagine a stone, the stone is tied to other stones, all arranged around the edge of a pond, or on the side of a bridge.  Throw it in, and what happens?”

Maggie answered, “That’s a stupid hypothetical.  It depends on the strength of the rope.  The size of the stones, the number of stones…”

“And the strength of the throw,” Paige said.  “Exactly.  The stone could dangle, safely suspended above the depths, all other things being standard.  If the stone is particularly heavy, however-”

She paused a half-second to glance at me.

“-Then the ropes could break, if the ties are weak enough, or, conversely, it could drag the other stones down with it,” Paige finished.  “Our hypothetical stone had momentum, a stone was already gently rolling in that general direction, and-”

“-That stone, named Paige, followed the path of least resistance,” Isadora finished.  “Good.  Eerily accurate, as a matter of fact.”

Paige smiled, and that response bothered me more than I cared to admit.

I bit my lip.  “I told you not to press, Paige.  To let this be.”

“I did.  For two days.  I wrapped up all but one of my exams, but I hate leaving things unfinished.  Our cousin died, and you had something to do with it, you were related to at least two murders, and I’m supposed to drop it on your say-so?”

“Yeah,” I said, and I sounded angrier than I should have.  “Now you’re all wrapped up in this, and the S- Isadora is trying to convince you it’s ultimately my fault.”

“A great deal of this is,” Isadora said.

“Fuck that,” I said.

“A lot of what comes next will depend on your ability to accept that fact and pay attention to what’s happening and why.  Tell me, Mr. Thorburn, why are the connections between you and the people close to you so strong?”

I glanced at Alexis and Tiff.

“I don’t know if they are.”

“If the connections were weaker, then they would break, and you’d spiral headlong into the murk, almost entirely alone,” Isadora said.

I thought of Joseph, who’d left rather than stay.

A weaker connection?

“Wow,” Ty said.  “That’s fucked.”

“As I’ve been repeatedly trying to inform Mr. Thorburn, as ‘fucked’ as that might be, the alternative is uglier,” Isadora said.  “In terms of how it involves those he’s tied to, and how it involves everything and everyone else.”

“I don’t want to plunge into any ponds,” I said.

“Yes,” Isadora said.  Her gaze was level and intimidating.  “You wanted to avoid the plunge, to avoid being stripped of everyone you hold dear, Evan excepted.  Which, I presume, is why you murdered a man earlier?”

I didn’t flinch, but I could feel the attention of everyone else on me.

Murder.  Not fancy, not explainable by saying he was an Other.  It was just a splinter of wood to the throat, an awful lot of bleeding, and a slow death of blood in the lungs or blood loss.

I wasn’t proud, and I couldn’t explain without getting into stuff I was even less proud of.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I guess so.”

“Holy fuck,” Paige said.  “Really?

The oven beeped.  Joel looked startled.

He still made his way over.  My oven’s door, the racks and the warped baking sheet made for a fair bit of noise as he got the frozen pizza out.

I approached him, then stopped halfway.

“Can I offer you anything to eat, Isadora, Paige?” I asked.

“It’ll be a minute before it’s cool enough,” Joel said.

“You’re talking about pizza not two breaths after we were talking about murder?” Paige asked.

“In this instance, Pizza could well be more important than one man’s life,” Maggie commented.

Paige spun on her, giving the girl an incredulous look.

“To answer your question, I’m rather particular about my diet,” Isadora answered.  “And I ate recently enough.  Just alcohol, if you have any?”

“Beer,” I said.  I still had some in my fridge from a week ago.

“Now you’re putting me in an awkward position,” Isadora said.  “If I act picky, I’m being rude, but if I accept blindly, I run the risk of being offered the swill that the students at my University call ‘beer’.”

“It’s decent enough,” I said.  “Not swill.”

“Then I’ll gladly accept, thank you.”

“Can we get back to the topic of murder?” Paige asked.  “Is this hypothetical murder, or-”

“Paige,” Isadora said.  “Everything in its proper order.  You were asked a question.  Do you want anything to eat or drink?  Be honest.”

Paige frowned, as if this were some kind of moral quandary.

“A little bit of pizza and some water?” she finally asked.

I nodded.

These unexpected, uninvited guests were going to eat the pizza Joel had brought.  I put the water on the stove for oatmeal, resigning myself to a less than exciting meal, to be sure I had enough to offer.

I could hear them in the living room.  Alexis was talking.

“…Hurts, I can’t really stand up or bend over without help, but it didn’t hit anything vital.”

“I’m not surprised.  A shame that Malcolm Fell wasn’t rescued as well.”

I looked over my shoulder at Maggie.

Was the Sphinx sowing doubt, or was that a subtle reminder?

Joel leaned close, “Should I go?  I’m not much different from Paige.  I know some, but not nearly enough.”

“You know to not ask questions,” I murmured, as I opened the silverware drawer and found a serrated knife to cut the pizza with.  “She’s more dangerous, because she’s unprepared and she’s still walking headlong into this.  Because that thing is leading her headlong into this.”

Thing?

“Nevermind.  Go if you need to, but I don’t know if anything’s going to get mentioned in front of Paige that would be a problem for you too.”

He nodded.  “I’ll stay then, for moral support.”

Doubling down on Isadora’s gambit.  Our meeting would take place with innocents in the room.  Say the wrong thing, or use powers in an obvious, aggressive way, and we risked becoming responsible for those same innocents.

I brought Paige’s pizza and water over.  Isadora was sitting in the armchair that Ty had been planning to sit on while gaming, and Paige leaned against the wall to Isadora’s right, arms folded, expression troubled.

“Isadora, glass for the beer?”  I asked.

“No need.”

I removed the cap from the beer and handed it over.  She took a drink and smiled.

“Laird Behaim is dead,” Isadora said.  “The Behaims will claim and cremate him, I expect.  I wouldn’t anticipate legal problems.”

I nodded.

“Casualties are to be expected.  It’s not part of my makeup to mourn the dead, even the deaths of children or the deaths of thousands.  So long as it happens at the right place and time, cleanly.”

She looked directly at me as she said that last word.

“I can guess what your concern is,” I said.

“Yes.  The weather cleared up, and virtually everyone knows you’re all here.  All of you, including him.  You can imagine our collective curiosity and concern.”

Including him.  She meant ‘including Conquest’.

Conquest, who was in an ignoble location, in the bottom half of my double-decker toolbox, not five feet from me.  Anyone who tried to get him out would have to undo the clasps, discovering the lock I’d worked into the clasp at the back, unlocking and removing it, and then lift off the upper section with all the attendant tools, bits, and pieces.

Virtually every step would be a noisy one, somewhat time consuming.

One clasp had a piece of paper with a rune on it hidden just beneath.  The inside of the box, too, had a rune set in place.  The runes, too, would delay anyone from trying to steal the mirror with the incarnation bound within.

“Explanations will have to wait until everyone’s arrived,” I said.

“Of course.  I already suspect I know what unfolded.”

“Can I trust our other guests to not blow up the building or kick the door down and attack on sight?”

“They can’t kick the door down if you leave it open,” Isadora said.

I started to head for the door, but Joel was already going.

Weird, that there was more security in an open, unlocked door.

Isadora leaned back, relaxing, beer held in both hands.  On a level, it made sense, the reclining cat, on another, it didn’t fit the noble sphinx’s image.  “The little bird is doing well, I see.”

“I’m doing pretty awesome,” Evan said.

“He’s been a huge help,” I said.  My hands were jammed in my pockets.

Paige was observing everything, watching, silent, trying to put two and two together.  She spoke, “How?”

“You could say I’ve been kicking ass and taking names,” Evan said.

Paige didn’t react.  Evan’s voice went in one ear and out the other.

“Moral support,” I said.  “Backup.”

“A bird?

“We egged super-zombies,” Evan said.

“A bird,” I said.  “I thought you said you had been filled in.”

“In abstracts,” Paige said.  “Metaphors about masks and icebergs, and the progression of man from being heavily confined by their own limitations and driven by base needs to being driven primarily by ideas, and how everything casts a shadow.  Even man and what man is doing at the time he casts a shadow.”

“Ah,” I said.  “So you haven’t been filled in.  Just the opposite.”

Her gaze was intense.  “I have almost no details.  I want any you can give me.”

“I don’t think you would, if you had a better sense of things,” I said.  I looked to Isadora.  “Please forgive me for saying so, but I have a hard time believing this isn’t you trying to extort me, or hurt me in some backhanded way.”

“I don’t blame you for feeling that way,” Isadora said.  “It’s neither.  Think back to Paige’s metaphor of the rock, lashed to other rocks by the pond.”

“I’m thinking,” I said.

She raised a hand, and in the moment she turned it over, the light in the hallway formed a backlight against her hand, and I saw a flicker of what might have been claws in her long fingernails and the position of her hand.  “Imagine that I’m holding firmly to a rock named Paige.  When your stone tumbles into the water, dragging all the rest with it, Paige remains firmly in my hand.  Maybe the other rocks dangle.  Maybe the rope breaks, and they all fall.  In both cases, there’s less of a splash, less upheaval, one less stone in the water.”

“You’re laying claim to her,” I said.

Paige shifted position, clearly uncomfortable, even though she was getting what she wanted.  She wanted information, but the moment I dropped a hint, she couldn’t make eye contact?

“Close enough,” Isadora said.  “A strong connection that won’t be easily broken.”

“What, then?  This becomes some partnership?  Master and apprentice?  Something like I have with Rose?”

“Rose?” Paige asked.

“Or Evan?” I asked.

“That’s twice now you’ve-”

“Shush,” Isadora said.  “I can’t stand interruptions.”

“Right,” Paige said.  “I’m sorry.”

“I believe you,” Isadora said.  “Mr. Thorburn, the closest parallel would be to you and Evan, yes.”

I could see it.  Paige as a practitioner, with a freaking powerful familiar.

But wasn’t there a danger there?

“So she’s going to be-”

“Before you go further and inadvertently insult me,” Isadora told me, “Paige would be the ‘Evan’ in the partnership.”

I blinked.

“Huh?” Paige asked, forgetting her promise not to interrupt.

“A pet?” Tiff asked.

“Kinky,” Alexis said.

I could see Paige going stiff, clearly uncomfortable, entirely off guard for the first time I’d seen her in… since she’d fled Grandmother’s room after their private interview, now that I thought about it.

“I’m not a freaking pet!”  Evan piped up.  “I’m a kick-ass, eye-biting, giant-tripping, life-saving familiar.”

“Not entirely inaccurate,” Isadora said.  She seemed too happy, smiling, relaxed.

“I don’t get a vote here?” Paige asked.

“You do,” Isadora said.  “But I think you’ll accept the offer.”

Paige was flushed red.

As things went, it was affecting her too much.  She was too bewildered, too upset, given her usual composure.

Unless…

Right.

Right.

“This is why grandmother refused you the inheritance,” I said.  “Put you dead last?”

Paige’s head snapped around, and she stared at me in shock.

“I’m not following,” Evan said.

“You’re gay, Paige?” I asked.

“Ohhh,” Evan said.  “Wait, nope, still not following.”

“You can’t or won’t have kids, so you can’t or won’t continue the family line?” I asked.  “Peter found out and told her?  Or did he find out part of it, and grandmother figured out the rest with questions and an eerily accurate ability to tell if you were lying?”

I could see the pain on Paige’s face as she averted her eyes.  “You’re an asshole, just bringing it up like that.  Show some damn class, Blake.”

“You caught me on a bad day.  I’d be more gentle, otherwise,” I said.  “Isadora, I’m pretty sure, wants you as a kind of slave.  You’ve wandered into this mess, and you still have room to back out now.  Get the fuck away from the pond, so I can’t drag you in, no matter how deep I sink.  Leave all this behind.  Fucking run.  Be glad you can’t get the house and all the enemies it comes with.”

Paige stared at me.

“Paige,” Alexis said.

“What?” Paige asked.

“Do what he says.  Blake’s been sliced, cut open, beaten, frozen, and nearly killed.  All of us pulling together have had to fight and make huge sacrifices to keep him going-”

Don’t put it like that, I thought.

“-and I know he cares about you.  He’s told me about his childhood.  Time spent with his cousins.  When he tells you this, I’m convinced he’s getting the words from a good, well-meaning place, okay?”

Those words seemed to reach Paige where mine hadn’t.

She looked at Isadora, and I could see a hint of doubt in her expression.  “Slavery?”

“No,” Isadora said.  “No, not really.  But it’s a kind of relationship that’s just as old, dating back to the earliest days of mankind.”

“Prostitution?” Paige asked.

“Again, the same era.  You have the pieces necessary to figure it out, if you really want to.”

“You’ve… you’ve hinted you’re older than you look.  Blake’s reaction before, the way he thought you’d be like Evan… you’re more special than you look, too.  You’re not human.”

“You’re thinking along the right track,” Isadora said.  “Assuming you’re right, what sort of relationship would harken back to humanity’s earliest days?  Think about how you’re feeling.”

“Feeling?”

Isadora took a drink of her beer.

“I’m… the first place my mind is going is to a very confused neanderthal man making an appeal to the gods, in an effort to make sense of it all.”

“Very, very close to the conclusion I was hoping you’d reach,” Isadora said.  “You’ve got a keen mind for logic and details.  This calls for you to tap into something else entirely.”

“Faith,” Paige said.

“Close enough.  You can make that leap, or can you summon the courage to leave.  But you should decide one way or the other soon.  I’d remind you of the proverb of the ass, who died hungry and thirsty because it couldn’t choose between the water and the grain.  If you don’t decide in, oh, the next three minutes, the decision will be made for you.”

“I either stay with you and worship you?  Serve you as a pet?”

“Both right and not right.  People like you once bowed and scraped for favors from sorts like me.  Something between the master-slave relationship, the master-apprentice relationship, and the stricter rules of hospitality.  A form of sheltering, if you will.  I’ll point you to the right reading material when the opportunity arises, if you choose to accept.”

“Oh gee whiz,” Paige said.  “Because it sounds so tempting.”

Sarcasm was so refreshing, I had to admit.  Lowest form of wit or no.

“Chances are good that you’d be happy, in the long term, I’ve done this with a great many of my students, and every single one of them that you might track down and ask would tell you they’re happier as a result.  I could feed your natural curiosity with more knowledge than you could get by conventional means, raise you up to be someone stellar, and even break the ties to your family, so you can leave them and the problems they pose well behind you.  You might find yourself at odds with Blake, Rose, and their allies, but I don’t sense a great deal of connection between you and them.”

“You keep mentioning Rose.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said.  “Stop focusing on the details.  Go back to normal life.  Isadora isn’t mentioning that she kills the people who don’t work out.  That’s why all her past subordinates are all happy.  The unhappy ones get swallowed, they’re dead, they don’t exist anymore.”

Paige was frozen.

I could sense the other connections converging on our position, and I realized what it meant.

I saw Rose in the window.

She stepped into the TV, appearing on the unlit, concave screen.

She looked at me, and I nodded.

The TV broke.  Not an explosive shattering, but a crack, loud, with the sound of glass falling.

Paige startled.

Rose and I had both hoped for the same thing.  That Paige would run.  That she needed only a push to go.

We’d misjudged where she stood.

She spun around, instead, reaching for Isadora’s hand, half protecting her, half seeking reassurance.

I could feel it, as we passed the point of no return.  The other connections were drawing nearer.

“I’m sorry, Paige,” I said.

“Sorry?”

“Looks like you made your choice.”

“I suppose I’ll be taking responsibility for you,” Isadora said.  She squeezed Paige’s hand, then let go.  “If we aren’t lucky enough for some dumb soul to do so before the night is over.”

The Shepherd entered the apartment, and my focus shifted away from Paige.

He looked older than the last time I’d seen him, but that might have been the dark clothing and the better lighting.  He didn’t have his crook-staff, and wore only a navy-blue sweater and black jeans beneath a black coat.  His face was a little red from the cold, his eyes narrowed.  He smelled like horses.

“There are innocents present,” Isadora said.  “Talk only.”

The Shepherd, who didn’t talk at all, as far as I knew, nodded and entered.

I held out pizza and a glass of water.  He shook his head, refusing both.

I moved one of my dining room chairs to the living room.  The Shepherd sat with his arms folded across his stomach, back straight, hair tousled by the weather.  He looked intense, and somehow a little mad, in the less-than-sane sense.

“With that TV cracking all of a sudden like that, I’m thinking I should go,” Joel said.

“Okay,” I said.  “Thank you for the pizza.”

Joel smiled, but the expression was tight.

Goosh followed him out, wordless.

Diana the Astrologer was the next to enter, pausing momentarily as she saw me standing at the end of the entryway.  Silent, she removed her shoes and entered.

“Hungry?” I asked, “Thirsty?”

“Something hot,” she said.

“Coffee?  Tea?”

“Tea, please.”

I prepped the coffee at the same time I put my oatmeal together.  By the time I’d scraped the bowl clean, the tea was steeped.

She lingered in the doorway of the kitchen even after I handed it to her.

“I’m sorry I shot at your side,” she said.

“I believe you,” I said.

“My arm was twisted, so to speak.  But… I told my Perseus to avoid killing if he could help it.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Thanks, I guess, for trying.  I’m trying not to hold onto grudges, so I consider you absolved, as far as I can do that.  There’s a girl in the other room, on the couch.  It would be more appropriate to apologize to her.”

“I’ll find her.”

“There’s also Fell…”

“He told me to kill someone, or else, and I did.  I made a call, and Fell was the one I knew best.  The most disposable.”

I nodded.

She didn’t seem to have anything else to say.  Silent, awkward, she backed out of the kitchen and made her way around to the living room.

I wondered if she’d just needed to justify what she’d done to someone.  If I remembered right, she didn’t have a coven or a circle.  She had only her master, and he’d died for her sake.

Lonely.

Three of the Sisters arrived at the same time the Astrologer disappeared from view, their Elder Sister first among them.  All dressed up, looking like they were ready for a day at the office.  They refused both food and drink.

They were followed by the Drunk, and I felt a measure of trepidation.

All enemies, so far.

He’d brought four people with him, with very much the same vibe as I’d seen in my run-in at the University.

Food, drink, a warning about the innocents.

The sidelong glance he offered me gave me chills.  The creatures he had with him doubly so, now that I had an idea of what they were.

The drunk’s underlings, I noticed, went straight for the shittier beer in the fridge.  Maybe they had good manners as party guests, maybe they didn’t care.

Almost immediately behind them were the Knights.  Nick reached out to clap one hand on my shoulder, but I ducked out of the way.

“Um, sorry.  Just a little gunshy, after the last twenty four hours.  Beer in the fridge,” I said.  “Beer from a party at the front, good beer for friends, and people I don’t want to offend at the back.  Don’t have much else to drink except questionable milk and tap water.  Pizza is on the counter.”

“First thing you say is about beer and pizza?” Nick asked, giving me a hard look.  “You don’t think we have other, more serious concerns?”

“My gut told me beer and pizza first,” I said.

“No kidding?”  He asked.  He gave me a funny look.  “Fuck, if only you were born a woman, I’d trade in my wife for you.  I’m still trying to get her to think like that.”

His wife elbowed him, but she didn’t look too annoyed.

I neglected to mention my real female alter ego, and focused on staying out of their way as they moved through the kitchen.

The Behaims were among the last to arrive.

Duncan led the pack, looking grim, fresh bandages visible underneath his sleeves as the older teenager helped him take his coat off.

“Hospitality has to be observed,” I said.  “Food and drink in the kitchen, help yourselves.  Make yourselves comfortable.  I have no grudge against the kids, and no reason to act against you, Duncan.  Everyone’s meeting in the living room, past the kitchen.”

There were no answers as they walked past me.

I was ready to shut the door and return to the others when I saw a woman walking down the hall.  Older, with a kid in tow, like a grandmother and child.  I assumed they were neighbors.

But she met my eyes, and something convinced me they weren’t.

“Can I ask who you are?”

“This is Emily, and she’ll be standing in for Malcolm Fell,” the old woman said.  “I’m her bodyguard, and that’s all you need to know right now.”

I looked at the little girl.  “I’m sorry about Fell.”

Her expression was stark, without warmth or softness, as she stared up at me.

“Maybe you should be,” the old woman said.  “We’ll see how this situation is handled before I hand down any verdict.”

I glanced in the kitchen to verify that I wouldn’t be lying.  “There’s pizza and tap water.  I’m afraid I don’t have much else.”

“We’ve eaten,” the old woman said.

She stalked off to the living room.

By the time I rejoined everyone, the tension in the air was palpable.  Sisters and Diana, and the Corvidae-inspired issues there.  The Shepherd and the old woman stared me down.

In fact, it was easier to point out those who weren’t on edge.

Alexis and Tiff still occupied the couch, most likely because Alexis couldn’t move so easily.  Had they been able, I could imagine we would have set up at my dining room table, which wasn’t big enough for everyone.  As it was, we were lined up against the wall, Maggie by the toolbox at the dining room table, with one eye on the kitchen, Alexis and Tiff at the couch, and me between them.  Ty had taken a seat at the end of the table, perched there like he was ready to spring off and leap to my defense, or the defense of Alexis.  That was sort of how he always was.  Restless, eager.

“For those who don’t know,” I said, “The Lord of the City is bound and securely in my possession, but not beaten or broken.”

There was virtually no reaction.  Most already knew, it seemed.  For others, it was only clarification.

The Knights, though, seemed a little surprised at the declaration.  Paige’s attention was on the rest of the room, trying to decipher what was going on with the locals, their attitudes.

My friends weren’t so different.

“What we have now is a stalemate,” I said.  “One I aimed for, almost from the beginning of this contest.  I didn’t want to win, not explicitly, I didn’t want to lose either, obviously.  Both involve ugly consequences.”

“This won’t?” the Elder Sister said.

“It might,” I said, “But it seemed safest.”

Isadora spoke, “Do you know why he holds the position he does?”

Is this a softball question?  Is this Isadora ‘helping’ me again?

“He’s a figurehead,” I said.  “He’s disposable, but tough enough he doesn’t get disposed of.  He’s easy to manipulate, and that means you can generally get what you want without having to stick your neck out and draw attention.”

“Let me take your question from earlier and turn it around on you.  Are you extorting something from us, Mr. Thorburn?”

“No,” I said.  “I don’t think I’d get out of that alive.”

“Do you want to depose him?”

I glanced at the old woman with Fell’s relative in tow.

“I wouldn’t mind,” I said.  “I think he’s pretty toxic, pretty damn ugly, in terms of how he operates.”

“As opposed to working with what are very nearly the worst sorts of ally?  Leveraging them as tools?”

“You know what I mean,” I said.

“I think I do, but perspectives will vary,” Isadora said.  “Do you want to rule, then?”

I almost laughed.  “No.  Definitely not.”

If looks could kill, I might die ten times over from the various glares that were directed my way.  It jarred with the ridiculousness of the question.  What kind of lunatic would I have to be to want to be in charge?

“What do you want?” Isadora asked.

“I want to be left alone,” I said.  “This needs to end, but I’m not the person to end it.  People have made that clear.  I’m too… too questionable.  So I’m leaving it up to you.  I would hope that you decide on a new leader, someone who wants to be in charge badly enough to stick their neck out and risk getting hurt, but whatever you decide, I’ll hear you out.”

“Will you do what we ask without hesitation or objection?” the Elder Sister asked.

“No,” I said.  “Because that takes me back to square one.  I’m sitting this one out.  I’ve earned a break.  I’m going to use that break to do some reading I’ve fallen behind on, I’m going to look after my circle, and when that’s done, when I feel ready, I’m going back to the factory.”

There were a few exchanged glances, murmurs.

Paige looked a little bewildered.

“That could be construed as a threat,” the old woman said.

“It could be,” I said. “But it’s not intended as such.  If I have to capture, I will.  I’d rather eliminate the problem altogether.  Scour the buillding.  I’d appreciate help, but I’m not going to expect it.”

“We’ll do what we can,” Nick spoke up.  “From a distance.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“That’s it?” Duncan asked.  “You throw everything into disarray, lure us all here, and then announce that you’re shirking the responsibilities that come with victory?”

“I take it you don’t have any conception of what’s in that factory,” Nick said.  “He’s not shirking responsibilities at all.  He’s picking his battles.”

“If it was so easy to put in someone disposable as Lord,” Isadora said, “We would have done it already.  People have tried, and I was among the people who helped shut them down.  Wasn’t I, Jeremy?”

Eyes moved to the Drunk.

He didn’t answer.

“Rhetorical question,” she said.

Yes, then,” the drunk said.

“Nothing more to say?  I thought you would be making a bid for power here.”

“No.  Not like this.  I know how things function, I am interested.  In my own way, in my own time,” Jeremy said.

“One contender,” Isadora said.

“If you can call it that,” Jeremy said.  He had a beer bottle in hand, and stared down the neck at the liquid within, rather than at the room.  “And no, I’m not implying I’m weak.  Only that I’m not joining the fight just yet.”

He took a drink.

“We can’t have someone who’s just going to die five minutes after he takes power,” Isadora said.  “Or we would have let Jeremy take the position when he last tried for it.  We need people who will secure the city, maintain an equilibrium.  Even one that’s latently unpleasant.  Because chaos and upheaval are worse.  Anything new demands that it be tested by outsiders, and we can’t weather that sort of test.”

“Allow me to disagree,” the old woman said.  “You’re the most comfortable person in this room, lounging.  Drinking without a care in the world, because you know you’re just about untouchable.  You haven’t been on the unpleasant end of the lord’s attentions.”

Isadora smiled, “No, I suppose not.”

“Emily will be assisting anyone who looks like they can securely take the position,” the old woman said.

“We’ll be making a bid,” the Elder sister said.

There was no surprise on her subordinate’s faces.

“I’d say it’s been nice knowing you,” Nick commented, “But… well, no.”

“Behaims?” Isadora asked.

“No bid,” Duncan said.  “I’m not insane.  But we could provide assistance, for a favor in turn.”

His eye moved, then he shut them, stopping short, as if he’d only started to look at me, then cut himself off.

“The Shepherd, I presume, will be backing the Lord himself,” Isadora said.  “Opposing Thorburn and attempting to wrangle the Lord’s release or kill Thorburn?”

The Shepherd nodded.

He’s a champion of Conquest, and the contest isn’t technically over.

Fuck.

“I may do the same, we’ll see,” Isadora said.

Fuck!

I remained still.  It helped that I was tired.

The questions went around the room.

Nobody else was willing to say whether they were making a play for the Lordship or not.

“Outsiders will turn up,” Isadora said.  “It’s the way of things.  But I suppose that doesn’t concern you, does it, Thorburn?”

I shook my head a little.

“Then I suppose that’s enough for now.  We’ll cease intruding.”

Just like that, they did.

They were gone in a fraction of the time they’d taken to arrive.  Only the Knights didn’t leave right off the bat.

“Sorry to leave you out of it,” I told Rose.

“It’s fine,” she said.

“See anything interesting from the glass?”

“Not so much.  I was mostly watching for trouble.”

I nodded.

“The factory demon is next?”

“Maybe,” I said.  “There’s stuff to wrangle.”

“Like?”

“Like working around the no-magic limitation, for one thing, in case this stalemate lingers,” I said.

I turned my attention to the Hyena’s broken sword.

The Hyena was dead, the face on the hilt a skull now.

“And,” I added, “If I can manage it, I could really do with an implement.”

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271 thoughts on “Void 7.9

        1. Neanderthal sometimes gets capitalized because its name comes from a proper noun – Neander, the valley where the original skeletons were found. Whether or not you should do this depends on the style guide you’re using.

    1. “I could see Rose going stiff, clearly uncomfortable, entirely off guard for the first time I’d seen her in… since she’d fled Grandmother’s room after their private interview, now that I thought about it.”

      Should be “Paige” rather than “Rose”.

      “I prepped the coffee at the same time I put my oatmeal together. By the time I’d scraped the bowl clean, the tea was steeped.”

      Change “coffee” to “tea”?

      His eye moved, then he shut them, stopping short, as if he’d only started to look at me, then cut himself off.

      Change “eye” to “eyes”.

    2. “Chances are good that you’d be happy, in the long term, I’ve done this with a great many of my students, and every single one of them that you might track down and ask would tell you they’re happier as a result.

      I think the comma after “long term” should be a full stop.

      1. Well, it’s not like she’s going to be tracking down the ones it didn’t work out for. Like the earth just opened up and swallowed them whole.

    3. “You can make that leap, or can you summon the courage to leave.”

      Should be “you can” instead of “can you, I think. Unless that’s intended to be a question, which seems unlikely.

    4. Chances are good that you’d be happy, in the long term, I’ve done this with a great many of my students, and every single one of them that you might track down and ask would tell you they’re happier as a result. –> period after ‘long term’

    1. Blake can use the corpse/broken sword as raw materials for an implement but I think he could still do gathering other suitable materials & then have them re-forged into a suitable Implement.

      1. I suggest reforging, along with stuffing it full of weak Others, or otherwise imbuing it with power (Blood or otherwise).

            1. I sort of wondered why no-one has made a charm bracelet their implement. Add charms when you can get a good bound Other or create a good enchanted item, tap them for power as needed. Basically, an extensible, flexible implement where you can lose parts of it without damaging the whole. Even if only the chain is considered the implement, it should give them a good bonus to create charms (control Others and/or enchant items).

    2. Somehow, I don’t feel good about the implications of using a sword made from an Other, dead at your command and carrying out your commands. “Look, people who would serve or ally with me! I chose as my implement a broken sword forged from the body of a subordinate I conquered, bound, and commanded to die for me!”
      Actually, that’s kind of badass.
      In the “What kind of idiot would let themselves get bound by him?” way.

      1. Someone from Spacebattles made this analysis about using the goblin sword as an implement:

        “It’s a dead goblin that he bound in order to stop the horrible things it did to the living and dead, the kind of enemy that he’s sworn to his familiar to defeat, broken in self-defense against an incarnation of that same kind of senseless violence… In the process removing it as a threat. The Hyena was a useful tool, true, but in the long run it’s much better for the Hyena to be dead than alive.

        So the broken Hyena sword is a symbol of defiance against pointless violence and against the monsters and the monstrous, but it’s not an actively violent symbol in the way that an intact sword would be. A broken sword isn’t a tool meant to be used in an active struggle. Rather, it’s a trophy–a mark of a past victory, and of a promise fulfilled. Furthermore, it’s a tool that requires a degree of self-harm to use, due to the spikes on it, symbolizing resolution to fight the good fight even if it comes at a personal cost.

        This is a really good implement. You don’t usually get that many layers of appropriate and useful symbolism in one object, and Evan is evidence enough that a personal connection and a strong symbol go a long way, even if you’re working with weak base materials. And a powerful goblin whose powers centered on ghosts? It has an inherent power well in an area he’s already dabbling in! That’s a pretty good working base, even before you consider that his familiar is a super-ghost with a personal stake in the aforementioned defeat of the Hyena.

        Like, damn. I fully expect Blake to kick ass with this.”

        So, if it used as an implement, it’ll be a good one.

        1. ‘Course with Blake’s luck what everyone will take away from this is “I will bind and use even the most violent and cruel of others for my goals. I will use them unto destruction… And then use them even more. I’m tottally evil.”

    3. Other implications aside, a broken sword would be an ironic symbol of how Blake’s body is completely shattered all the time, yet he keeps fighting. Jury’s out on whether that’s a good way to present himself to the world, however.

      1. Tbh that’s something we see about Blake a lot, he tends to pick things which have personal meaning to him rather than bothering about what others think of them. Taking Evan as a familiar for example….I’m sure there’s people out there who do murder children then enslave their spirit and it be mistaken as that. It’s not of course, but it could be.

        Since Blake doesn’t care about symbolism, from his perspective it probably just represents his first real victory over something bad which needed to be bound and his promise to Evan to keep going after similar. A servant (albeit semi-unwilling) who died for Blake whose death deserves meaning beyond “not quite good enough”.

        How others might see it negative implications aside: Both his familiar and soon-to-be implement helped him well in their “life” so he bound them to him to let them continue “living”. Sentimentality, not letting go of people he values after they fail. A broken sword is less threatening than a whole one. Err….probably more.

        1. Yeah, Blake has bad PR. Then again his family alone would give him bad PR. Well if everyone want’s Blake to be bad, I really hope they won’t cry foul should he ever decide to be bad.

            1. Though I would much rather Blake never turns evil, and things end with everyone realizing he’s good and stop thinking he’s an acceptable target to try and fuck over. Though that would be the biggest surprise ending Wildbow could go with.

        2. “Since Blake doesn’t care about symbolism”

          Actually, I’d argue that symbolism is the lens that he looks at magic through. He been shown to care less about (magic) words and actions than the meaning behind them.

          He does go for things with personal meaning to himself, though. That’s a good point about him not caring about how he presents himself to others.

      2. There’s a lot of good symbolism to the sword. Specifically in its role as a weapon, I think it encompasses “I didn’t come here to fight” and “if you start shit, you’d better finish it fast, or else I’ll keep coming even if I have to drag myself with one finger”. A broken sword is the tool of someone who will face any odds, not for love of battle, but because they don’t know how to surrender.

    4. Agreed – several commenters did. I didn’t think so when it was alive because it was too opposed to Blake and Evan wouldn’t like it.

      If you judge by the magical things it has been used for it should make a nasty implement:
      —Started off as a warped goblin so nasty and powerful some took it for a demon.
      —Ended as the implement used to help seal an Incarnation.
      —The symbolism of a demonic (?) being that was bound, brought to its death by the command of a diabolist, and then turned into an implement would be a pretty powerful statement about Blake’s aims for demonic beings. (Commenter Michael beat me to part of this opinion.)

    1. No, he can win. It’s just that when he wins he still looses. Plus much like the Hulk everybody is too dumb to understand what “LEAVE ME ALONE!” means, even when getting punched out of state. So to speak.

  1. Go and cut the lawyer out of another of the big three, Blake, nice going. All three with no Lawyers and you start something for sure.

    Poor, foolish Paige. Maybe you will do well. We will see.

  2. Upon more thought I can get behind Blake with a dead Hyena sword as an implement, it declares the he is trying to be a threat and that he would bind and kill the darkness as he can.

      1. Especially if he decides to use the broken sword (the end with the hilt) instead of repairing it. Hopefully it represents peace rather than defeat.

        Honestly, I really like the idea of the Hyena sword as implement. Like you say, it can represent his attitude toward demons/evil, especially if he’s forced to bind them: he’ll use them to fight other things until they’re broken/dead. And the spikes on the hilt might relate to the unavoidable backlash or the sacrifices he makes, etc, etc.

        1. I dislike the broken sword as an implement. Broken things have no use. We’re not just looking for a metaphor for Blake, he needs a tool that works, that has a point. The Shepherd’s crook actually guides ghosts past barriers, what could a broken sword do? Break stuff? Get a pair of bolt cutters.

          1. I think the point of a broken sword is that it can be reforged. Pour enough goblin blood into it, get a smith working on it, that Hyena could be brought back to life and Blake could be the new king of twisted, well, I’ll let your imagination fill in the details.

            I think something else would be a far better implement. Perhaps magically melting down that broken sword into a handlebar that snaps into a full motorcycle. Then he has all the stuff that goes with “rod” plus all the stuff that goes with “travel implement” which all seems good to me. Besides, anything that boosts Evan’s movement powers can only be for the best, right?

            1. Melt it down into a big Peace Symbol medallion, so it declares “Dudes, I’m trying to be peaceful here, don’t be dicks and keep picking fights with me, damnnit” In fact engrave that around the edge.

          2. Tbh the implements work BECAUSE of metaphors. The question you should be asking is whether the user of it or the society who views has the bigger influence on what it’s a metaphor for.

            Blake probably views it somewhat similar to Evan in that he doesn’t want to let it go even after his original use for it has ended. etc.
            Society….well, there’s plenty of speculation this week and previous about what it could mean ^_^

          3. Broken things have no use.

            I disagree. Blake has killed an enemy wizard with a splinter of wood, and even LIAB and June could we described as “broken things”. Hell, half the danger of Hyena itself consisted of the broken ghosts and others it surrounded itself with. Even the broken sword was already used in binding Conquest.

            Usefulness is not a property of the tool, it’s a relationship between the tool and the user. It depends on how inventive the user is, and Blake is pretty good at making use of things pretty much everyone would scoff at. Hell, who’d have thought a sparrow would be such an awesome familiar?

            1. Not to mention, of course, the broken nails he used in his first real fight as a practitioner. In fact, I wonder if that sort of thing is a microcosm of Blake’s career as a practitioner. That would imply that he’s going to step ever closer to the abyss, and when it comes time to take the final step, he’ll say “Nope” and let his enemies careen off into the abyss themselves. Bonus points if these enemies are the lawyers.

            2. Totally agree that the broken sword would be a fitting implement. I’m just wondering how he’d actually physically wield/use it. Firstly it has spikes all over it (it still has those, right?). Secondly, How would you use it symbolically? You can’t really point with it like a wand, slice with it like a sword, etc. Magic calls for dramatic gesture – what can you actually do with a sword hilt?

            3. It’s not just the hilt, it’s the hilt plus a nasty shard of the blade. The natural verb for using it is neither “slice” nor “stab”, but “maim” 😉

            4. Additionally don’t discount the dramatic figure he would strike, posing with one hand on the hilt. I could also see drawing it ever further from the sheath as a representation of unleashing more power or summoned/bound beings.

              Battle is going poorly, “Evan, withdraw and return” as he shoves the sword from quarter drawn to fully sheathed, then draws it to the halfway point again “Screwloose, Pauz, I release you according to our existing contracts to sow discord among my foes.” Draws the sword fully: “ErasUrr, I’m release you to rend and destroy, for the duration of this fight, until the foe is silenced.”

  3. Man, Blake is just the nicest guy recicling the hyena like that. Let’s hope he chooses his implement well. A sword is just so pebleian.

    If Blake goes against the factory demon again and gets erased I will be very very sad.

    A nice calm chapter. A much needed breather for the Blakeguard.

      1. Conquest won’t be suddenly be unbound just because no one can remember Blake, and everyone else will probably just think Rose and Maggie managed to bind him by themselves.

  4. Hmm. When it comes to the Big Three, Blake is a bit of an opportunistic scavenger, isn’t he? He seems to just latch on to whatever’s at hand. First Evan as his familiar, and now he’s eyeing the Hyena’s sword and talking about implements. Evan turned out to be a great choice for him, but I have my doubts about a sword’s suitability for him as an implement. Hopefully he doesn’t wander into an abandoned shack in the woods and decide to make it his demesne!

    Not too many big happenings this chapter, mostly buildup. I include Paige being a lesbian in the “not a big deal” category, which says good things about Wildbow’s stories.

    Erm…absolutely unrelated to this chapter, but I think readers who came here from Worm would love to see a goblin named Shitcrumb.

    1. There was actually a great breakdown of how well-suited the sword was as an implement in the comments last chapter:

      Bogdanulb: “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.”

      “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. The authorative part is wrong, it should be under te declarative.

        The authorative tells about how the implement relates to the practice. A chalice holds power, a sword cuts. A broken sword does…?

          1. A whole sword also stabs quite well (at least in the west). A broken sword can also cut, and can also stab, but poorly, with an inconsistent edge, and a poor weight balance. A broken sword is a weapon you use because your sword broke.In terms of the authoritative: It cuts, but erratically. With this particular sword, it will probably tear rather than cut, like most serrated or dull blades. There’s also the matter that, even when whole, this sword was designed to hurt the wielder as much or more than whatever it’s being swung at. With these facts in mind, I’d say that any workings done with this implement are probably going to be directed outward, focusing on power more than finesse, and will probably involve a sacrifice of the user. Think magic that is damaging to himself and others, with the hopeful goal being something like chemotherapy: Kill the target at a rate slightly faster than it will kill him. As such, any magic he will use it for will be his last resort.

            At least that’s what I see it as.

        1. Yeah, that’s the bit I’m having trouble with too. The primary purpose of a broken sword is to be reforged. The closest I can come is that a broken sword serves as a wellspring of potential, but…

          I don’t get it, but I have faith Wildbow will make it work.

      2. The sword is the corpse of a demonic-ish thing. Using it says “I am a person who uses demons to fight”, which is exactly the message Blake doesn’t want to send.

        1. I don’t quite agree with that. It’s the corpse of a demonic-ish thing that was free under the old regime, then bound by the diabolist, then killed when said diabolist sent it on a suicidal mission. I think it’s safe to say that it did less damage overall in the last few days of its life than in the decades or centuries of freedom that Toronto’s Others wanted to give it.

          Plus, it was only demonic-ish. Blake appears to be OK with using demonic-ish things, but would clearly rather just kill the actual demonic entities. Kill>sealing>freedom

    1. Yeah, I mean, uh, goddamn. It’s fucking 2014. And frankly, if Paige lived long enough for there to be a realistic chance of the family (and inherited the money) surviving I can only guess at the kind of technology that would be at her disposal given those resources for the purpose of continuing the line. We’ve already got a multitude of options available for lesbian couples.

      I guess Rosalyn was just a homophobe.

      1. Or the spirits don’t consider your child “your” child unless it came from your womb after a heavy session of lovemaking with the father. They’re dumb and backward in other ways besides this.

        1. To my understanding, adoption is a practice that dates back to the Code of Hammurabi, which predates Solomon by about a thousand years. If the spirits are dumb and backward then they should at least be able to recognize that.

            1. There’s adopted and then there’s Adopted. Making someone your heir, someone who will inherit all that you have built up, all that you have, and is the next in line to be exactly what you are now, is nothing new. It’s happened before in the past. I’m sure, after the legal paperwork is accomplished and someone is adopted, there’s some sort of ritual where a person could be Adopted.

            2. I think adoption has a pretty good precedent to it, all things considered. Roman Emperors adopted their successors and could be worshiped as gods (which goes all the way back to Julius Caesar and Gaius Octavius/Augustus), thus adoption was a way to pass on power to an heir. Oly Sphinxy probably liked the idea too, since it provided an orderly succession as opposed to a succession based on which general had the biggest and most loyal army.

              Some early Christians even believed in the idea that Jesus was adopted by Yahweh at some point in his life, rather than being an eternal son of the god, though this was declared heresy back when they canonized the trinity at the First Council of Nicea. Plus, prior to all that business the term “son of god” was a phrase used to refer to a particularly holy and wise prophet, at least in that tradition. Even Augustus used it to describe his own relationship to Julius, who had been deified.

              Actually, assuming an adoptive relationship to deities appears to be fairly common in general for powerful people. The Emperor of china, the Emperor of Japan, Genghis Khan, Pharaohs, Alexander the Great, so on and so forth…

              Plus, lack of blood wasn’t regarded as immunity from family-related crimes. In Hamlet, you have the constant view that Hamlet’s mother is engaging in incest by marrying her brother-in-law. Then there’s the case of Lu Bu from China’s Three Kingdoms Period. His betrayals were seen as particularly heinous considering that one of them involved an adoptive father (even though said father was so bad the rest of China united against him). Plus, think about it. you really going to let someone serve you who would betray and kill his own father?

              Hell, in a way you can see how the concept of hostages would arise from the idea of some force punishing patricide. Take a noble hostage, raise them up as your own, and not only does it provide protection from the noble’s family trying anything, but the noble himself might get Pactverse karma against him should he dare strike the person who acted as his father for those years.

              Of course, it also means a hostage taker should act ok toward the son, I’d think. Otherwise, the Others might feel a hostage like Vlad the Impaler was justified, since the person never did enough to be considered a father to them, just a captor.

          1. I think Fell’s case was pretty clear in that bloodline itself is incredibly important, though an unrelated heir may be the next best thing. He was desperately hoping that his wife would have some other man’s child instead of his. Since the odds were skewed magically rather than ignored, I think Conquest might not have been able to lay claim to his “child” in that case.

            1. It remains unclear whether Conquest was able to consider Fell’s niece his heir because she’s blood kin or simply because he loved her like a daughter. Perhaps what is actually required is a connection between the two that screams “parent” regardless of blood.

        2. Yeah, were talking about a world run by some real dumbass spirits. I’m amazed they understand modern langueges.

          1. I’ve noticed the odd double standard. The spirits can somehow remember families and karmic debt throughout the ages, but they don’t have the concept of deferred responsibility figured out.

            1. The Spirits have one and only one constant rule as far as I can tell. Fuck Blake Thorburn.

            2. And, of course, to defeat the Octopus while smooching on as many pretty ladies as he can find, including possibly the anthropomorphic personification of a city.

            3. The former only requires being able to keep a simple tally. The latter requires analysing and interpretting complex chains of causality.

              The spirits are making (imperfect) judgement calls on a case-by-case basis and keeping track of the resulting score. Seems consistent to me.

              BTW, my guess is that they’re probably not actually remembering families. Family connections probably leave a distinct spiritual imprint on people which the spirits can see and recognise (which explains Padraic knowing Blake was a Thorburn but not that he was male). I wouldn’t be surprised if Blake’s circle also reads as ‘Thorburn’ to a degree due to their connections with him. That would nicely explain him taking a karma hit for their actions…

        1. I don’t buy it.

          Firstly, as others have pointed out, Fell’s niece demonstrates that someone doesn’t have to be your child by blood to be your heir.

          Secondly, if RDT was able to work around Blake not being female I can’t see this being much of an impediment.

          1. I do not think she was HIS heir,per se.

            Conquest bound all of whats his name descendants,not only the prime heir,as long as they were introduced to magic.All Duchamps and Belhaims can also be introduced to magic with little difference.

            His niece is his brother’s daugther,so she shares the blood of the original forsworn.

            She could also fill the same niche Fell did,thus she was heir,of a short,but with different circumstances than the Thorburn one.

            1. Yeah, I got a bit jumbled there. I was thinking not of Fell’s niece but of Fell’s ancestor who tried to end-around the deal by ensuring that his wife only conceived to other men. Isadora told him “sorry, but they count as yours”.

              There is some ambiguity around whether this means that the universe considers them his regardless of their biological heritage because he raised them as his own. Some readers interpret it as meaning that they somehow magically became his biological children, either through Conquest doing something or through the universe acting to enforce the contract.

              Personally I don’t believe that, because it doesn’t seem within Conquest’s purview and the Universe seems more the sort to punish people for breaking contracts than the sort to tweak things so people stay within them.

              Seems likeliest to me that as far as the universe is concerned, ‘family’ is a matter of connections, not blood.

            2. OR the children were just his because he did have sex with his wife sometimes,and the universe/karma/a coincidence made it so his seed caught on,and other people’s didn’t.

          2. Expect if he was forced to have occasional sex by Conquest…its both the smart choice,to ensure the investment stays long term, and not against his nature,so it is logical for it to be the case.

      2. It’s probably a matter of satisfying the ‘audience’ with a marriage first, and conception afterwards. Modern technology doesn’t properly fit the ancient pacts.

        1. There’s also the fact that their power carries on through bloodline, and maybe Paige doesn’t want Children at all. Even through artificial means, the act of making a kid in itself must have meaning. Marriage is an oath on top of that, so once together a divorce isn’t going to cut it.

          1. IIRC, the Lawyers even told Blake, it would be wise if he married a man.
            So it is not just about the bloodline.

            1. Yeah, agreed. I think it’s less about passing on the bloodline and more about having to marry a man. So… wait, does this mean Granny thought Blake would be MORE suited to marrying a guy than Paige?

            2. this may be a stretch but I was thinking they maybe said that because they knew when he died, Rose would take his place (and relationships, in a funny way)

  5. About Paige/Isadora, I’m getting 50 Shades vibes here… & I also get the feeling that Paige is the type who reads garbage published by Ellora’s Cave.

    1. 50 Shades? I am getting a subverted (reversed-role), lesbian cat girl image here. Although there are a few other similar tropes that come to mind also…

      All in all, probably a good development for Paige… as long as she doesn’t blow it and become Isadara snack food. Paige now has a powerful protector who has made it her intention to break Paige away from the ridiculously nasty Thorburn legacy.

      Blake’s negative reaction seems to be a bit knee-jerk to me. Paige being under Isadora’s… tutelage seems like a better bet overall than Paige getting sucked into the diabolist legacy.

      1. Well, as he points out, Isadora talks a good talk…but she eats people. And Paige is, like, his only living family member that he actually likes.

        1. And not to forget, this puts Paige and Blake on opposing sides. Which is a development neither of them would be happy with, I guess. A confrontation between them later in the story might well end in Blake, Paige or Isadora dead, and all these scenarios would lead to further complications.

          1. Yep. Blake would really not come into conflict with his favorate living relative. Course Blake would really rather not come into conflict with anyone, but that never works out.

    1. Oh, no, I would argue the the Drunk is doing much better than anyone realizes. Isadora and Co. seem to think he wouldn’t last 3 minutes as lord. But look at things. He’s gotten everything stirred up, everyone against one another, and his powerbase has taken no hits, unlike so many others. And just with a few words. He’s like a drunk in a kung fu movie who at the end turns out to the head of the secret police, and a master of drunken kung fu. Dude’s being underestimated bigtime.

      1. I think that may be giving a little too much credit to the Drunk. There’s very little to suggest he was capable of predicting Blake’s gambit to have the contest in the first place, nor how effective Blake would be.

        1. Predicting things exactly? No. But taking advantage of things and manipulating others as the chance arises? Possibly.

    1. And earn an enemy of the only people besides the Blakeguard he’s gotten a good relationship with? I don’t think so. Besides, a demesne with greater resonance to him and therefore greater bang for his buck would be his apartment. It’s a more modest claim, too, meaning an easier fight that can be the focus of a single arc.

      1. Blake intends to leave Toronto because he can’t use magic there due to the rules of his (still technically ongoing) competition with Conquest, right? So a demesnes in Toronto would be rather counterproductive.

      2. Pretty easy fight when no one, presumably including Others can really remember where it even is to go accept Blakes ‘challenge’..

  6. Wow, I’ve finally caught up and I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life anymore.

    (Does anyone find Maggie a little bit like Riley?)

      1. Someone from Worm, who in my opinion isn’t much like Maggie. (She’s introduced as rot13(“Obarfnj”) first.)

        Znttvr xabjf rknpgyl jung fur’f qbvat jvgu gur jubyr “oybbq naq qnexarff naq sver” guvat. Obarfnj qvqa’g xabj/npprcg jung fur jnf qbvat, naq ol gur gvzr fur svanyyl abgvprq/npprcgrq vg, fur punatrq.

    1. Current Maggie? I guess. But we can’t really call her Maggie, given that she’s almost certainly been possessed.

  7. Well, this was a surprising turn of events.

    Admitting it now, I was totally wrong about Blake not taking the Hyena sword as an implement, and wrong about it not being dead. Interesting that it can still be commanded to change forms even when dead, though.

    If there’s no life in the thing, I guess it wouldn’t really be at odds with his personality, would it? I wonder if the Hyena’s ability will carry over.

    Next up: fighting the most terrifying monster in Pact (for now). Blake doesn’t have any brakes installed, I take it. Must’ve been a typo on the order form…

  8. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, but I really enjoyed this chapter. I think it’s my favorite from the whole arc. It’s nice to have a chance to draw a breath after so much adrenaline (not that I don’t like adrenaline).

      1. Isadora may have offered Blake an indirect way to resolve his problem: He has a connection to Paige. Isadora has a connection to Paige, and has said that she is going to pull Paige up. If Blake holds on without making Paige or Isadora want to get rid of him, then they can pull him up safely that way – Isadora can meet Paige without abandoning her nature, and Paige can meet Blake by the ties of family.

        Blake would need to be perceptive to see that possibility… But Isadora is a sphinx. If he lacks the will and the wit to see what she offers, then he perhaps doesn’t deserve it.

    1. You cannot put your finger on it ecause Uraser ate the best char there T_T
      (note:no spoilers,havent read ahead,but since he goes to fight him,it sounds like an appropriate joke)

  9. Good call to everyone who saw Blake using the Hyena handle as his Implement, I figured he’d be more… careful? I guess? Seems like it’s something you’d want to throw into the sea and pray nobody finds. Still, it is a bit more appropriately Metal for a diabolist than his little tweetie bird familliar, Maggie will no doubt approve – makes up for not having Melmoth the Skull-Fudger.

    1. Well, keep in mind that said tweetie-bird is the soul of a dead child. Which would be semi-appropriate for a diabolist.

    2. What makes you think that wildbow isn’t just messing with us? It seems more probable that she read the comments which predicted that and added that tidbit just to yank their chains. After all, the reasons not to use the Hyena’s corpse as an implement are obvious and overwhelming (ranging from the implications of choosing it to the issues with using it to the fact that it’s freaking obvious), while the benefits are…minimal.

      1. What makes you think that wildbow isn’t just messing with us? It seems more probable that she read the comments which predicted that and added that tidbit just to yank their chains.

        Wildbow is not a she.

        1. He is actually a prince of destruction sent by another planet to Earth in order to destroy us. His modus operandi is to generate well written but increasingly dark stories until dark becomes normal for you earthlings. When maximum darkness is reached, the humans will destroy themselves, all while Praising Wildbow for his great writing, inhuman work ethic and new found driving ability.

        2. I think I read somewhere that he is, and somehow that just stuck in my head.

          Well, on the Internet, everyone’s androgynous until otherwise corrected. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

          1. I wasn’t around in the early days of Worm, but I think Wildbow kept every aspect of his identity secret back then. I don’t remember the reasoning. But now we know more about who he is.

            1. Reasoning is just that knowing something about the author colors one’s thoughts. A woman in my writer’s circle thought I did a poor job of getting into a girl’s head, while readers without the knowledge of my gender assumed I was a woman. I’d rather readers interpret the story on its own, without the outside knowledge of who I am or where I come from.

              Downside is I get lunatics like the guy who thought I was a group of feminazi writers in league to a demon, who were trying to bring males down through the writing of Worm. Or the person who assumed I was an early-twenties asian female only child (wrong on every count).

  10. “I’m not a freaking pet!” Evan piped up. “I’m a kick-ass, eye-biting, giant-tripping, life-saving familiar.”

    And if Evan ever gets a boost from defeating Others & claiming bits of their power as prizes, he’ll become a Sexy Shoeless God of War!

        1. Speaking for myself personally, yes he did. I am passingly familiar with OoTS (enough to recognise the name ‘Belkar’) but not familiar enough to recognise the quote…

          1. If you wish,it gets much better (and less reliant on D&D jokes,though they still happen a lot,it is a D&D based universe)after the first 100-150 strips.

            Actually,whats with webcomics having bad begginings compared to the rest of the work?not even the absolute mmasterpiece that is Homestuck escapes a boring beggining,even though it was intentional.Only Girl Genius and second works of an author escape the mediocre beggining,and GG wasn’t a webcomic at first,I think.

    1. Actually, I’m thinking Evan’s more rowdy attitude in these last couple chapters may come from Pauz’ screech/radiation/fallout.
      Isadora also was pretty lenient this time considering Blake and Maggie probably stink of it… oh well.

      I was actually expecting something worse (like when he switched the Blake/Rose power flow without any visible cue), still waiting for the next sandal to drop.

  11. The hyena-blade as an implement? I think… probably unwise.

    The best that can be said for it, first.
    It is what remains of a dead demon, no longer causing pain to the world, with even some of the pain it did cause being overwritten with something new and better in Evan. It is a blade – a declaration of attack upon what it is turned against, and a simple one… And simple may be useful for Blake.

    But the worst that can be said for it is worse.
    It is a broken blade, whose hilt harms the holder. It is the corpse of a demon of pain and aggression – the only way it could possibly live again is if it were used to cause more pain and misery. It declares that whatever Blake does, he does with a demon – perhaps he turns demons upon their kin, but that is not what the implement says. The implement says he turns demons on everything, because he chose to make that his means of acting upon the world.

    The Hyena is dead, and that is good and right. The Hyena died being useful, and that is useful but no more. But if Blake takes it as his implement, that could be a resurrection.

    What Blake could use instead? How about the chain which he first used to truly STOP a demon? There could be problems with the symbolism of carrying chains, but… still better than that sword.

    1. The hyena was a goblin not a demon.

      Using a dead demon as an implement would be terrible, because it implies a willingness to work with demons. Using a dead goblin still implies a willingness to work with nasty Others, but at least it’s not a demon.

      The hyena was a Goblin who purposely hurt and maimed Others. Perhaps that will give Blake an edge (geddit?) against some of the nasty Others he means to take down.

      1. I don’t think that using the sword-corpse of a twisted goblin that he defeated implies a willingness to work with nasty Others. I would think it would more represent his desire to fight them.

    2. A mirror maybe?
      It might forge the connection between Rose and Blake closer
      and give Rose more ways to act in the physical world maybe.
      This might help Blake weaken the danger of an upcoming Blake vs. Rose
      conflict in the future and might be well worth it just for that.
      It also says very clearly: you will get exactly what you are trying to do to me.

      For practicality, he could look up what tools get used to hunt
      demons and Others and use that, if traditionality makes it stronger.
      If not, maybe something along a net-thrower, that throws binding-circles?

      Or just go for a gun.
      Not very deep or metaphorical or with much hidden meaning,
      but depending on how the implement gets its specific powers,
      trading symbolism for “I can shoot you from across the room and insta-bind/incapacitate you” might win out.
      He does want to remove demons and dangerous Others from the world, so
      a tool of a hunter, while not perfect personality wise, would still have some meaning.

      1. Tools of a hunter, eh? Then how about a bow. Then he can have a special attack where he fires Evan from it, and we can call it “Sparrow Arrow!”

  12. Evan is easily the best character ever.

    But yeah, Isadora’s ‘owning’ of Paige really doesn’t sit right with me. Then again, that sort of relationship hasn’t since I read the Wheel of Time series.

    I swear to God and all his angels, if Isadora is anything like the Seanchan Empire, she will die before this story is over.

    1. Since we have yet to see, what angels are like in Pact,
      I would wait before swearing to them.
      They might turn out just along the same lines as demons for
      all we know 😛

    1. I get a more “Homosexuality can get you eaten” vibe myself. 🙂

      Or rather, stupidity can get you eaten. Stupidity is the mother of all evil, after all. Just look at the Adversary – any Adversary; how dumbass does one have to be to pick a fight with an all-powerful, all-seeing immortal Creator with zero possibility of success?

        1. I don’t mean that in an offensive way, I mean that as in perhaps he (whichever he we’re talking about) believes there is another way it should be done for whatever reason, and is willing to stand up for that way even if he’s guaranteed to lose.

          1. Agreed. Have you read Pratchett’s The Last Hero? The main character has similar ideas. He (rot13) tbrf hc ntnvafg gur tbqf. Jura gbyq ur vf thnenagrrq gb snvy ur fnlf (cnencuenfr) fbzrbar unf gb fgnaq hc gb gurve ohyyfuvg naq vs ur fgnegf, znlor fbzrbar ryfr jvyy qb vg orggre arkg gvzr.

          2. Having a good working knowledge of the Old Testament…I agree that principles can be an excellent reason to fight against an omnipotent being, should He exist.

      1. Unless your creator is evil, a bieng who created only so that he could lord over all, and inflict suffering on his creation for his own enjoyment. Then an adversery who fights him, even knowing how futile it is becomes a noble a couragous figure, fighting a fight he knows to be impossible, but doing so anyways because it is right.

        1. Is that really evil? It is what every storyteller does(especially for this author). For an omnipotent and superior being, characters in a story is all we would be(I think. I can’t really know).

          Stories usually only get really interesting when conflict is introduced. It doesn’t seem evil to make a good story. Just amoral.

      2. No. That’s only the Christian Adversary.
        Satan in jewish myth is working at God’s direction. He’s just not YOUR friend. He’s there to tempt you (and let the truly good guys show off how awesomely pure they are).

      3. Well if your lesbian lover ISN’T going to eat you then that’s not good, either.

        And as to Adversaries, you do it because that’s the job the Creator gave you. Somebody needs to provide an option so that people choosing to be good anyway would have value.

  13. I’m kinda dissappointed that Evan didn’t have a couple of paragraphs of telling everyone how much they sucked, sitting around doing nothing while kids get killed by monsters, letting a monster run the city, and fuck over others, and claim his tyranny is better than change, because they figure they are secure enough to not be made his bitches. Then when someone decides they don’t want to be fucked over, and actually make things better, they get all pissy because someones rocking the boat.

    1. That would be assuming everyone’s stupidity quotient was low enough to understand the rant in the first place. Since it obviously isn’t and Evan is awesome enough to realize that, he just doesn’t bother.

      Except maybe for Isadora. She sows the seeds that might turn the Thorburn legacy around, totally manipulates everyone in the meeting, promotes her cause of Order and stuff, educates Blake and Co in a friendly enough way so that her words will be heeded even if not ultimately accepted, drops in a warning for Blake to cover his ass in so obvious a manner that nobody realizes it is a friendly warning even though it’s the second or third time she’s done so, and gets a new multi-purpose toy for herself. Talk about covering all your bases.

      1. Excellent summary. Isadora is looking more and more like a smart mastermind. Too bad she doesn’t want the actual Lordship, but she sure as heck looks like she wants to be the power behind the throne.

          1. “Cats are too lazy to rule.”

            That gave me this bizarre mental image if Isadora curled up in a Lord’s lap like the stereotypical evil overlord’s cat.

    2. Evan seems like a nice kid. He hasn’t been dead long enough to have enough pessimism or pent-up frustration to deliver that kind of rant.

    3. I believe I have a new candidate for Lord of the City. Evan, Boy Wonder. Can’t be killed, is adorable, is badass, and can easily escape sticky situations.

  14. “I would hope that you decide on a new leader, someone who wants to be in charge badly enough to stick their neck out and risk getting hurt.”

    Sandra DuChamp? Sandra is already leader of her clan, who already has major ties to multiple cities and Other power bases. Jeremy would back her and she represents enough stability for Isadora to give her the nod, giving Sandra the backing of two of the strongest powers in Toronto. She can hold her own in a straight fight due to her familiar and abilities and is twisty enough thinking to survive multiple negotiations with the Faerie. Brains + power base + local knowledge + proven negotiator + backing of local powers + packs a punch (literally). Plus, it would totally f*** Blake and Rose over having an enemy as the Lord of the territory they are in.

    There’s my bet.

  15. “Isadora told me ‘there are no coincidences’,” Paige said. “Evan? As in the kid you were accused of murdering?”
    This could get…complicated.

    “This will should go more smoothly with her here. Everyone will have should to carefully choose their words, and nobody will should pull out weapons with a relative innocent in the way. Peace, after a fashion. If nobody does something they shouldn’t.
    FTFY.
    Isadora seems to trust the magical inhabitants of Toronto more than I would.

    “In this instance, Pizza could well be more important than one man’s life,” Maggie commented.
    Paige spun on her, giving the girl an incredulous look.

    Maybe this would be a good time to point out that the murdered man was responsible for the murder of Molly.

    “It’s not part of my makeup to mourn the dead, even the deaths of children or the deaths of thousands. So long as it happens at the right place and time, cleanly.”
    Okay, at least Blake, Maggie, and perhaps Tyler aren’t the only ones Paige is going to think are varying degrees of psychotic.

    Paige didn’t react. Evan’s voice went in one ear and out the other.
    I wonder how long it’ll take Evan to realize that most people can’t hear him.

    “You’re gay, Paige?” I asked.
    Yeah…having trouble thinking of worse circumstances to come out of the closet that don’t involve your immediate family being homophobic fundies.

    “Rhetorical question,” she said.
    Yes, then,” the drunk said.
    Someone’s feeling contrary today.

    I turned my attention to the Hyena’s broken sword.

    “And,” I added, “If I can manage it, I could really do with an implement.”

    Five bucks says the juxtaposition is just a way of messing with the fans who think the late Hyena would become Blake’s implement.

    wildbow, you managed a mixture of serious drama and light-hearted comedy that didn’t seem awkward at all. Nicely done; keep it up.

    1. Hm. Code screwups, both with the lack of strikeouts and forgetting an /i. Shame WordPress lacks an edit function…

      1. Putting asterisks around a phrase usually works as italics shorthand: like this. However, it can get confused if there are multiple instances of it.

            1. Stupid word press. Use >< in opposite order with del tag inside. Use a / before the closing del tag.

    2. Damn, he SHOULD have said that the murdered guy was the murderer of Molly. Not that it would have helped anything or changed anything except Paige’s opinion, maybe, but… still seems like something he might want to clarify.

      1. Technically Maggie was the muderer. It would have been more accurate to say that Laird was behind the murder, and was trying to let someone do very unpleasent things to him. But this Chapter shows us, Blake isn’t very good explaining and justifiying things to people.

      2. Well, changing Paige’s opinion would be pretty helpful. And you never know; that might have helped her see that the world Blake was forced into is pretty kill-or-be-killed, might have been enough of a push to have her reject Isadora’s deal.
        Of course, with their luck (and karma), it would have probably ended badly for both of them.

    3. Five bucks says the juxtaposition is just a way of messing with the fans who think the late Hyena would become Blake’s implement.

      Yeah, I though about that as well. I mean, Blake is probably thinking of it, but it’s almost too obvious, and Wildbow likes keeping us on our toes.

      1. Aww but the symbolism is just too perfect 😦

        The broken husk of a dead creature being bound and used for power. A powerful tool but one spiky enough to harm its user.

        Blake’s doing to the Hyena what the Hyena did to its victims! With the added suggestion of self harm for immediate power, which has so far been Blakes most used power source.

    4. I don’t think Jerry was just being contrary. If Isadora asks you a question and you don’t answer to her satisfaction she gets to eat you. Jerry is justifiably wary.

      I suspect Maggie’s point was that pizza = hospitality = meeting not turning into a bloodbath. Had that happened the consequences would be worse than one man’s death. Which all went completely over Paige’s head, of course…

  16. “‘No kidding?’ He asked. He gave me a funny look. ‘Fuck, if only you were born a woman, I’d trade in my wife for you. I’m still trying to get her to think like that.'”

    So… is Nick marrying Rose, now? Sticking his wife in a mirror?

      1. I’m surprised know one’s saw the broken sword as a sign of defiance and tenacity.
        Compare Isildur defeating Sauron with his father’s shattered sword.
        Plus I think even without Evan and Hyena’s history, the sword fits well with Evan’s powers

        1. “the sword fits well with Evan’s powers”

          I’m having some trouble seeing this one. Is there something I’m missing?

          1. Soup said the broken sword could be seen as a sign of defiance and tenacity. That would fit Evan to a ‘T’.

            Whether you think a broken sword actually symbolises that is up for debate, however.

  17. “Your T.V. sucks,” Evan said. “My mom and dad have a better T.V. in their kitchen, and it’s as old as I am and it’s smaller than the…”

    Yo, Evan. I know you were recently torn apart by a horrible ape-dog monster, stuff into the body of a bird, sent into life and death battles with demons, morlocks and crazy magic people, and will very possibly lose the person who saved you, but check yo privilege!

  18. After thinking about it for some time, I realize that Blake has been bled out and had spirits infest him twice now, once willing, once unwilling. So far, apart from a significant recovery time and looking like a drug addict, there have been few lasting repurcussions. Does this mean that the next time he gets bled dry there will be more lasting repurcussions, such as posession, or is he just going to die next time?

  19. Wow. I was not expecting a Tuesday chapter. I thought those were on hold for a while. It doesn’t really matter as this was a solid chapter.

    Evan is awesome. I know this. We all know this. It seems that Evan knows this too. I fear this may lead to the universe trying to humble Evan.

    I wonder where the Paige/Isadora partnership will go. Will they back off only to have Paige save Blake later? Does Isadora laying claim to Paige automatically disqualify her as a Thorburn heir?

    Blake needs to find a way around not using magic in Toronto. My suggestion is that he tries some sort of Magiteck. Use the Hyena as a base/power source and have Ty create a magical outfit for Blake that would allow him to do magic without “using power” in Toronto.

    “No bid,” Duncan said. “I’m not insane. But we could provide assistance, for a favor in turn.”

    His eye moved, then he shut them, stopping short, as if he’d only started to look at me, then cut himself off.

    Has Duncan finally (properly) learned to fear Blake?

    So it seems Blake only goes to Jail for murders he didn’t commit. The murders he do commit don’t bring forth jail time. Funny.

    I’m a little confused. According to Blake, Paige was put last because she’s gay and won’t/can’t continue the bloodline. That makes sense until you consider who’s in line before her. Rose’s body “doesn’t change” and so she doesn’t menstruate. I’m not legally a doctor, but I’m 87.992% sure that means she can’t have kids or continue the line. There’s also Ivy, who also can’t have kids. I’m thinking there may be more to this than reaches the eye.

      1. I feel dumb now. I guess that’s what get for commenting directly after a 15 hour shift (I don’t normally work that long in a day). Kids, don’t comment while tired. You’ll confuse days.

    1. Rose’s body right now doesn’t menstrate. However, she’s going to overlay Blake. Who also doesn’t menstrate, but two individuals who don’t menstrate, when combined together through the power of Heart, creates an individual that does. Probably. Unless I got my arcano-biology wrong.

      Ivy can have kids later in life, starting from 10-15 years of age, depending on the child. Unless I got my arcano-biology wrong again…

      1. I think it’s more that Rose is going to overlay Blake, whose body does in fact change. So once she takes over, she can menstruate and all that.

  20. Am I the only one who find paige and Isadora weirdly adorable? Isadora does come off more than a bit predatory, but I don’t think she’s capable of not being predatory, and all of the Little gestures of affection between the two of them are really cute.

    1. Isadora does come off more than a bit predatory, but I don’t think she’s capable of not being predatory

      Well, considering that she literally eats people…

  21. There’s GOT to be more to do with Paige being last than just being gay. Otherwise I’m going to be sorely disappointed in Wildbow :/
    1) If RDT had a problem with her not being able to continue the bloodline, she should have been placed first/second. This is the point where her relatives have not had the chance to weave any webs and is the position where she is most likely to die. For example, without Rose to get him moving, Blake would have died before reaching the house.
    2) It’s already stated pretty clearly that you shouldn’t marry someone you actually love. These are political marriages, marriages of convenience. You don’t want to have kids with him? Suck it up. The heir already has to get married by 25 (or something), so RDT could just has to add in that blurb where the heir must continue the bloodline after X years of taking office.
    3) If you use (2), then you want someone after the lesbian to make sure that if she does default, then you have someone else to take over. If Paige defaults on that, then that implies that she’s survived for several years and will have had time to prepare for the next heir, especially if that next heir was Molly or Blake, who she actually liked and might prepare defenses for.
    4) Practically ever chapter includes foreshadowing, plot twists, and other nefarious PoV tomfoolery that go way over my head on the first read. I’ve got complete faith in Wildbow to continue to impress me. I wonder what will be revealed with Isadora’s eventual interlude? Did she make any agreements with the late RDT? Any…pacts, so to speak?

    1. You very valid points, but part of the theme here is the impact of antiquated attitudes on how practitioners and spirits interact. RDT could just have a very old-fashioned view of homosexuality, or the spirits she has to deal with have some influence over the deal.

      However, that doesn’t explain your point 1… unless you assume that RDT wants to end the blood line. Then, sticking the most apparently competent member who is also less likely to have an heir last is not a bad tactic.

      1. You’d better give me points for 4 as well xD

        I don’t think that’s the problem. They may recognize the importance of the marriage oaths, but even the more sapient ones mistook Blake for female. Gender’s just not that much of an issue with them when it’s all mutable.

    2. Or maybe we just got Rose Sr. wrong all this time.

      Maybe she actually gives a damn about Paige’s sexuality, and so put her dead last to give her the least chance of ending up in a situation where she’d feel obligated to continue the bloodline in spite of it.

      And maybe Rosalyn really does care about the lives of her grandchildren, and so she put them in descending order of likeliness, i.e. Molly had the best chance in her eyes, Blake had the next best chance, and so on. In this way, even the least likely would have a fair chance due to the support structure/webs the previous inheritors built up. Molly did survive for a few months after all, and I’m sure Granny Rose could guess Blake could hold his own in a tussle and was familiar with hardship.

      This is all just wild speculation, though.

        1. I think Peter (Paige’s twin) spilled the beans. On the other hand, Paige did call out that he had “made up lies”, which may have either been a lie itself or implying that she may be bisexual or something. Peter claimed everything he said was true.

          The fact that RDT might have actually CARED for someone is something I had not considered. I’d been thinking it was more of a calculated decision, since you really can’t really use that as the basis for who the successor is going to be. Not in RDT’s decision. But for just Paige? Making that one exception? That’s possible.

          Also, 1-2 states that after Blake, the next in line are Kathy, then Ellie, then Roxanne, then Ivy, then Paige. Roxanne and Ivy are kids, I believe Kathy is the one with a daughter of her own, and Ellie is the screw-up. Roxanne and Ivy would probably buy Paige a good 5-15 years to pursue her life, if Kathy didn’t screw up and give the house to the Lawyers (as it was alluded). Though I wonder if RDT intended for Paige to become a good practitioner under Isadora (or someone else) in that time.

          1. I’m not sure if RDT could’ve planned for Isadora’s intervention. Did she even know about her, and would she even want to risk any of her grandchildren to the whims of what is essentially a large predator specialized in eating evil wizards? Not to mention that under normal circumstances, a being like Isadora would probably have just eaten her/Blake by now.

            The only way that would make sense is if she considered Paige expendable, which is a possibility but seems needlessly cruel. Based on that bonus chapter we got from her viewpoint, I don’t think she’s the needlessly cruel sort.

            1. She definitely did. The Head Sister mentioned seeing RDT speaking with her master, so she was occasionally in Toronto for business. Everyone there had heard of the Thorburn name as well. The Thorburns aren’t technically considered evil wizards until they take on the Family Business, hence why Isadora’s interested in Page to begin with.

              Plus, if Paige becomes the heir and Isadora just outright kills her, it would very possibly be the most clean ending to the Thorburn family. This might even be such a clean enough ending to such a dirty family that it would make it worth Isadora’s risk in taking on Paige.

    3. I always figured that it was because her twin, Peter, actively tried to screw her over. Granny was smart enough to work around Blake being male, she could certainly have worked around Paige geing gay. A twin however is a different magical creature altogether. They are most likely linked on a very fundamental level and having that connection be antagonistic will probably be detrimental to her magical ability.

      Isadora might not have gotten the toy she was expecting.

    4. Could be Paige being gay. Could just be her particular reaction to the concept of being owned, as in she might be a sub. And I can see why Rose would prefer her heir to be a Dom if at all possible.

  22. Who else thinks that the story will end with Paige, the familiar, becoming too strong and taking over her mentor/leader/whatever. becoming a God amongst the surviving Thorburns?

  23. I don’t think anyone else has commented on this. If Isadora takes Paige on as a “familiar”, then kills off Blake, et al, and the rest of the surviving Thorburns, Isadora becomes the de facto owner of the library and all that is therein. Isadora isn’t good — she’s in search of Balance. That could include sending the Barber off after who knows what as well as all sorts of other tomfoolery.

    1. The Barber is a demon. Demons stink to her. Literally. I’m not seeing that particular compromise happening. Besides, if she was willing to openly make that compromise, she would let Blake live because he’s trying to do exactly that with Others that are less ugly than the barber. As it is, I’m not certain she’s willing to keep Blake alive.

      1. Isadora doesn’t want to let Blake try to use demons to destroy demons because she doesn’t think she can trust him to do just that. Now she has a pet, one that she can command to do just that and that she can be fairly certain won’t become uppity and try to upset the balance any more than it takes to remove demons. And when Paige has become nice and stinky from removing lots of troublesome demons from the world, Isadora can hold her nose and eat Paige.

        1. I don’t think Isadora would tolerate the use of demons, even by her pet. They’re like the Monkey’s Paw myth, an artifact that will grant any wish for you but in a way that makes it not worthwhile. The demons are similar. No matter how efficient one may be at using them there’s still collateral damage and radiation to worry about. And that’s assuming that they don’t outsmart you somehow.

          1. No matter how efficient one may be at using them there’s still collateral damage and radiation to worry about.

            I don’t think that’s the case. Demons are intrinsically Wrong and hard to use, but they can be used with skill. That’s why diabolists tend to either be the skilled, long lasting sort or explode after a few uses. While it’s easy to let radiation spread and have collateral damage, it is possible to avoid with skill. Pauz demonstrated that he could keep his taint to himself. Has there been anything in the story that confirms otherwise?

            1. And if Isadora can keep any spread of taint confined to her “worshipper” (and not intrinsically linked “what she does is what I have done” familiar type of link), then she can simply eat Paige afterward.

      2. “Others less ugly than the barber”

        See, that’s a problem. The Barber is pretty freaking ugly. If Blake ever does use it, I’d say that’s a good sign he’s going bad.

      1. I say, nuke it from space. Sadly, Blake doesn’t have those kind of resources yet. However, he just needs to summon some kind of meatpuppetry demon and point it at Vladimir Putin.

    1. What, no one’s seen the movie Little Monsters? It’s time for a flashlight suit. That’s what defeated Boy at least, and his powers were perhaps on par with some of this demon’s stuff. Maybe not so much eating memories of people as trapping children and converting them to Others to the effect that light would cause deformities and/or death.

      Or, hell, park a lot of cars outside. Worked for the sheriffs who attacked Midian (where monsters live) in Nightbreed. Though beware the seductively dancing porcupine woman. Sure, she might make your spine stiff, make you a bit thorny, but having fun with her is like trying to get happy ending from an acupuncturist.

  24. So, random thought. Does anyone think we might see the rest of the Thorburn family getting involved in magic because of other characters? So far, no one else has been involved in the story, but it might be interesting to see the family fight itself.

    Besides, if Blake wants the Thorburn line to improve, he will probably have to do something about them at some point.

    1. If they can be guided like a missile, then there are a few branches of the Thorburn family tree that I’d be fine with being snipped. Callan, for instance (and don’t give me the “he was manipulated by the Duchamps!” malarkey, he was a jerkass from the start). Ellie, for another, if what Blake says about her is true.

        1. True, but we’re talking about an already vengeful and murderous circle who’s headed the Thorburns’ way. The person guiding the missile (in this case, the Behaims) isn’t the one killing them, after all. The spirits have a blind spot marked “deferred responsibility” for a reason, you know.

          1. Except that the Behaims who awaken and/or introduce them will incur the Karma for their actions as part of the responsibility mentioned. Even if they killed off the majority of the family, it would leave the worse of the worse with access to demons and anyone caught in the crossfire of their in-fighting would add to the debt.

  25. I’m almost hesitant to make this comment, but man, I wish we still had Thursday chapters every week!

    (Yes, I am one of the ones who told wildbow to stop posting on Thursday if he felt it was too much, since he’s already ridiculously prolific. Yes, I would rather have 2 incredible chapters a week forever than have him burn out in 3 months. Still though, I need my fix!)

    ((Don’t take this the wrong way wildbow, keep doing what works for you.))

    1. Less that I’m liable to burn out and more that I have family visiting and stuff to do in prep for my brother’s wedding.

      3 weeks, then everything should get better.

      1. We’ll keep you stocked on frustration-born tears in the meantime.
        I recall you being rather fond of those.

  26. Will someone kill Isadora already ?

    Seriously. What an insufferable sociopath. Stop negotiating with her. Just… have the astrologer’s pet put an arrow through her gut, or blast her head of with a shotgun, or fill her room with C4 and KILL HER NOW.

    1. Easier said than done, sadly. She’s a boss battle in and of herself, and Blake’s lack of resources ratchets the difficulty up to Dark-Souls level. Also she’s more into invasions than hiding behind a fog gate.

      1. Your reference pleases me.

        Though even the really big things in Dark Souls tend to be slow enough to dodge. Isadora is huge, strong, and fast. Blake just flat-out doesn’t have any defense against her, and certainly doesn’t have any way of mounting an effective offense.

        And if you can’t beat them, the next best thing is to bargain them and hope they’re in a good mood.

    2. Seconding this. I’ve been split on what to think of her for a while, but the whole turning Paige into a pet bit has hit one of my berserk buttons. Kill her now, because this can only get worse.

      1. Actually, I was more referring to the “I’m so superior to you in any way, you are a nuisance, never mind that I keep eating my freaking students for snack (and I’m okay with it)” part.

        Cause, you know, killing people offscreen is evil too.

        1. I figured the whole ‘no don’t need to eat right now’ thing as she had eaten somebody recently. How recently that is I don’t know.

        1. How about something like Letita or the Faerie Kingdom. I’ve gotta assume that your art style would be reflected well I’m those.

          1. I actually have something half-sketched already in that vein from a couple weeks ago (its still sitting on my desk with all the other drawings. Sigh.)

            The scene where Sandra is negotiating…

            “The landscape had been sculpted. More a painting come to life than a real place. Every tree and stone had been strategically placed, with the whole in mind. The placement of every branch… it was art. Sandra could stand virtually anywhere and see how the elements complemented each other, find hidden images and decorations in the layout of things. She had taken art classes as her electives, she knew what to look for. …

            The Faerie at the table shifted position, their expressions placid and slightly interested. She couldn’t help but feel as though they were silently mocking her for the spill. Which they were.”

            That whole scene is just FULL of wonderful detail. My fingers were itching when I read it, believe me.

            Its not explicitly stated, but I like to imagine that fall leaves are falling in kind of a slow motion, and its just past dusk, where the light is still a little golden in the treetops, but fading fast. At first glace the patio looks simple enough, but upon closer inspection, there are little designs and whorls and patterns in everything from the stone floor to the tree bark. Which on one hand, is an exciting challenge, and on another, I know I’ll be weeping before its through haha.

            I’ve just barely gotten the backdrop done in pencil and I’ve started in on the figures seated at the table. The expressions on the Faeries’ faces is going to be a tremendous amount of fun.

            Today is my first day off from work in 2 weeks… I can sketch a little more today and probably have it finished next week (ish), if all goes well. Would you like an email/notification of some kind when its posted?

            1. That whole scene is just FULL of wonderful detail. My fingers were itching when I read it, believe me.

              Its not explicitly stated, but . . .

              These, my friends, are the words of an artist. It really makes me wish I were more artistically inclined. Either way, I appreciate good art and would love to stay updated on upcoming Pact art.

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