Void 7.10

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The sudden shifts in weather had made for some spectacular changes in the environment.  Ice had melted and refrozen into spiky groupings on branches, tree branches hung low, and a mist hung over much of the area.

The factory loomed before us.

“This is it?” Ty asked, as if we hadn’t been staring at it in silence for several minutes.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I don’t expect or want you guys to go inside.  It’s as bad or worse than anything we’ve run into so far.”

“Brr,” Tiff said, rubbing her arms through her coat.  “I get a bad feeling, standing here.”

“That’s not a bad thing,” I said.  “You should, and that’s the kind of instinct I feel like you should hone.”

“Uh huh,” she said.

“How do we do this?” Alexis asked.

“Carefully,” I said.

Ty smirked.  “I think I was five the first and last time I found a line like that funny.”

“It’s not supposed to be funny,” Rose said.

“That’s good then,” Ty said.  “Because it wasn’t.”

“It eats existence?” Alexis asked.

“It eats your hand,” I said, “Then as far as you and the rest of the world are concerned, you don’t have a hand, and you never did.  The past doesn’t get rewritten, but your brain will do its best to make sense of it, filling in the gaps.”

“What if it can’t?” Tiff asked.  “Make sense of it, I mean.”

“Might be that you just don’t make sense of it.  It eats away at you, this thing that’s wrong in your understanding of the world.  You might go crazy,” I said.

“No offense,” Tiff said, “But I’m not going to argue over you not wanting us to go inside.”

I don’t want to go inside,” I said, “But this needs doing, and I said I would.”

“I like seeing you with more conviction in what you’re doing,” Alexis said.  “I just wish it wasn’t with something this dangerous.”

“You and me both,” I said.

She fidgeted, then tossed her cigarette aside and started on another.

Alexis was smoking far more than she had before my bathroom mirror had broken and I’d made my trip to Jacob’s Bell.

I didn’t begrudge her the vice.  Smoking was ugly to me, but sometimes I liked a bit of ugliness for contrast.  Ty had a set of knives that he’d made together with a friend some time before I’d met him, reforging them out of scrap metal – the blades themselves were nice enough, but the backs of the knives, the parts furthest from the blades, hadn’t been polished.  They still had a gritty and raw sort of texture from whatever chunk of car frame or furniture they’d been taken from.

I liked those knives.  They were crap for actual use, apparently, an early experiment on Ty’s part with too low a concentration of something or other, but they were beautiful.

Alexis was the same way, kind of.  Not in terms of being crappy.  The other part.

My hands clenched the spine of Black Lamb’s Blood.  The pages we’d torn out were now set in place, corners sticking out where the angle didn’t fit a hundred percent.  I’d finished it on the drive over, after an evening and morning spent reading it off and on, going between it and a few books Rose had picked out and propped up by a mirror.  I might have gotten even more reading done, but we’d started feeling restless, electing to move out and get something concrete done, and Black Lamb’s Blood was the only physical text I could read in the car.

Too much to do.

Pauz was out there.  I fully intended to find and recapture him.

Things were moving behind the scenes, factions moving against one another, and I was staying largely out of it, hands off, while the locals decided what they’d do.

There was still Jacob’s Bell to handle, the inheritance, the families there, and the resentment.  Laird was dead, and he’d died by my hand.

Then there was this.  One was the simplest and most pressing tasks of them all.  All the more important because of how easy it was to convince myself to ignore it.  The oblivion demon.  We were scouting the location, considering what needed to be done.

“I’m thinking,” Rose said, very carefully, “That the graffiti surrounding the building is important.”

I looked at the graffiti that extended around the base of the building.  There was a lot of it, covering every surface that was in reach, or in reach of something that could be climbed.  Some was simple, letters spelling out some acronym or slang word I didn’t know.  Some was elaborate, with stylized letters, gradients and sharp edges.

“A binding?” Alexis asked.

“Maybe,” Rose said.  “Maybe there is graffiti largely hidden in the midst of all that.  But that might be a reason the demon is staying inside the building, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the demon’s origin point or egg or whatever it is.”

“Hey,” Ty said, “That’s fantastic.  We can just ignore it, and it’s stuck there, right?”

“People are going inside,” I said.  “Someone drew the binding and they aren’t around anymore, so they might have gone inside, only to be eaten.  The building was built in 1910, and it’s only been vacant for forty years or so, but if you compare it to other buildings that have been abandoned just as long, it looks like it’s in worse shape.  It’s degrading.  You can’t see it from here, but a portion of the roof has already collapsed.”

“The binding isn’t perfect,” Rose said.  “It’s radiating out, eating at its environment.”

I nodded.

Tiff craned her head.  “It’s not as isolated as I thought it would be.  There’s a park nearby.”

“Ergo, the fence,” Alexis commented.  She was hunched over a little, her gloved hands folded inside her sleeves, except when she wanted to remove her cigarette from her mouth to talk.  Each hand got its turn in venturing out into the cold.

Her nose was red from the cold, I noticed.  She saw me looking and smiled.

“Fence for the mundane, and practitioners put up wards to shoo people away,” I said, forcing myself to avoid staring.  “Runes that would make people more inclined to take detours, or just avoid or ignore the area altogether.  They had it for the parkland where the Hyena was lurking.  Except here, I don’t think it’s working.”

“Might be because of the radiation,” Rose said.  “Eating away at the protections, so they don’t last as long as they should.  Windows of opportunity are created.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “Or maybe it’s the metaphysical equivalent of a vacuum.  Nature abhors a vacuum, or something like that?  He eats reality, stuff gets drawn in as a matter of course.  Or it’s just a failing of the modern age.  The era of the internet.  You can divert people who might happen across the place, but when it’s featured on ‘abandoned building’ websites and the practitioners aren’t invested or savvy enough to take down the website or stick a big fat rune on the site’s homepage…”

“We can’t and probably won’t ever know just how many people have been caught by that demon,” Rose said.

“Any number is too many,” I said.  “This isn’t today’s project, but it’s a project.  Rose has access to the books.  We can prop one mirror up by another to read them through the surface.”

“Provided I’m willing to keep going from person to person, turning pages on demand,” Rose said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “It’s good these guys have a chance to wrap their heads around this, and I like having a chance to look at it from a distance without rushing.”

We stood there, watching.  Our breath fogged in the air, joining the heavy mist and Alexis’ cigarette smoke.

Evan returned from the air.  I held my hand over my head to give him an easier landing spot.

“Good flight?” I asked, holding him out in front.

“Yep!  I still like the motorcycle more, though.”

“That’s weird,” I told him.

“Nuh uh.”

“Flying has to be better.”

“No it doesn’t.  I’m small.  Imagine riding on top of a motorcycle the size of a train.  Makes my bones shudder and the wind blows through my feathers, and-

I shook my head a little as he went on.

“Did you see anything interesting while you were up there?”  Tiffany asked.

“A big bird screamed at me.  I think it might have been a hawk.  I screamed back, and he left me alone.”

My hand found its way to my face.  “Yeah, don’t get caught by a hawk.”

I couldn’t shake the mental image of the hawk taking Evan to pieces, and the effect that might have on me.

“Actually, it wasn’t so much me screaming back.  More just me screaming.  You don’t expect something to come after you like that when you’re all the way up there.  I was surprised, and then I realized what it was before I’d finished the first scream, and I kept screaming, and I didn’t stop until he went away.”

“Be careful,” I said.  “Be aware, and don’t get caught by a hawk.  Or a cat for that matter.”

“I think a cat would stop if I screamed at the top of my lungs.”

“If a hawk or a cat hit you full-strength, you might not be in any shape to scream,” I said.

“Huh,” he said.  “You know, this is just one more argument in favor of giving me special powers.”

“That’s already on the metaphorical to-do list,” I said.  As I’ve said a dozen times now.  “Blood sparrow, box yet to be ticked off.”

“Maybe you should put it on a real to-do list,” Evan said.

“You know what could be even better than a blood sparrow?” Ty asked.  “Considering the demon your practitioner wants to fight?”

“No, Ty,” I said, before he could say anything.

Ty ignored me.  “A fire sparrow.”

Yes.

“Fuck you, Ty,” I said.

“Blake, Blake, Blake!”  Evan hopped around on my outstretched hand.  I let my hand drop, and he caught himself with a few flaps of his wings, full-intensity flying until he’d circled around to land on my shoulder.  He hopped in place there.  “Blake!”

“What?”

Fire sparrow.  Ty thinks it’s a good idea!”

“I heard it, just as you did.”

“Maybe you didn’t, because you’re not even half as excited as I am about the idea!  Imagine me doing everything I’ve been doing already, except I’m on fire.”

“Great, Ty,” I said.  “Now he’s not going to let this go.”

“It’s like all this stuff I’ve been doing with moving around and epic dodges and biting that guy’s eye, except I’m like a daredevil.  Being on fire while flying through a flaming hoop or something.”

“He’s a kid, on top of everything else,” Ty said.  “He gets bored, and he needs to get excited about stuff.  You’ve got to give him that.”

“Devil-bird?  No, that might give people the wrong idea.”

“Yeah, probably would, Evan,” Rose commented.

I briefly considered making Evan ride on Ty’s shoulder for the ride back, then thought twice about it.  Ty was liable to stir him up further.

I sighed.

“What about those flaming birds?”  Evan asked.

“Phoenixes,” Rose said.

“Yes.  I could be like one of those!”

I ignored him.  I looked over at Tiff and Alexis, only to see that Tiff was smiling.

“Don’t,” I said, under my breath.  “If he thinks you approve, it’ll only egg him on further.  He’ll get on your case until you get on my case.”

Tiff did a terrible job of wiping the smile off her face, and settled for looking away, off in the direction of the ice-laden trees.

Alexis rubbed her hands together.

“Cold?” I asked.

“Yeah.  You?”

I touched my coat.  It was hideous, a thrift-store buy, a down-filled brown corduroy coat with a folded-down collar, but it had deep pockets, it was warm, and it had only been eighteen dollars.

“I’m warm enough,” I had to admit.  “All the same, if we’re not getting anything more out of this, we maybe should head back soon, get a move on with something more concrete.”

“Sounds like a plan,” she said.  “I’ve been reading about protective spells.  I was just thinking that if I got a picture of the graffiti-”

She patted her coat.  “Forgot my notebook in the car.”

“No prob,” Ty said.  He drew his phone out of his pocket.

I saw it, made a mental connection, and moved my hand to stop him from raising it.  In the process, I very nearly slapped the phone out of his hand.

“What the hell?” he asked, as he caught it with the other hand, stopping the phone from dropping into the snow.

“You remember the rules that Rose and I outlined before we arrived?”

“If something comes up, it’s vulnerable to fire, very possibly vulnerable to other things of creation and light.  No looking in or at the windows.  If something goes down and we’re at any risk at all, we’re not supposed to try and save each other.  We save ourselves first.”

“Remember why we’re not supposed to look in the windows?”

“Try being more patronizing, why don’t you?”

“No jokes.  Not with this.”

Ty frowned.  “Because it doesn’t follow typical rules.  If it’s reflected in our eyes, it’s in our eyes?”

“And if its image is captured in your phone?”  I asked.

He looked down at his phone, his forehead creased as he frowned.

“Oh,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Chances are low,” Rose said.  “If it was that easy, and if I’m right about there being bindings hidden among the graffiti, it would probably have escaped already.”

“Probably,” I said.  “But low chances or not…”

“Yeah,” Ty said.  “It’s a bad idea.  Unless I can get a shot that doesn’t include the windows?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “That.”

He moved the phone by milimeters at a time, until he had a shot.  I heard the artificial camera sounds as he took the pictures.

“We should meet up with Maggie, then start working on the plan to free up your ability to use magic,” Rose said.  “If we can’t come up with a plan A, we’re going to have to go with her plan B.”

“You know a plan sucks when it’s the plan B before you even have a plan A,” Alexis said.

“Give me a better one,” I said.  “Please.”

She shrugged.

“Yeah,” I said.

Ty finished taking the photos and put his phone away.

“Speaking of the one member of our group who seemed most uncomfortable with the idea of stopping by the factory…” I said, as we collectively turned to head in the direction of the car.  I paused long enough to make sure everyone was listening, “…Anyone else have concerns?”

“Don’t know her,” Alexis said.  “I don’t get a good vibe.”

“You get ‘vibes’?” I asked.

“Not really.  Not usually.  But I got one with you, I think, and I got one with her.  Good vibe with you, but she gives me a bad one.”

I nodded.

“Why?” Rose asked.

“Something’s legitimately Other about her,” I said.  “Duncan hurt her, and I saw something beneath the surface.  When I looked at her with the Sight, she looked like she had more power than she’s been displaying.  Little things haven’t been adding up.  My first thought was possession.”

“That would explain a lot,” Rose said.  “She hasn’t been sleeping.”

“Insomnia?” I asked.

“Maybe,” Rose said.  “I see her sometimes and she’s lying there, just breathing… but then she gets restless and she starts moving around.  Like she’s trying to pretend to sleep, but she can’t bring herself to do it for eight hours straight.”

“Okay,” I said.  “This is the sort of thing where it’s really useful to compare notes.  We’ve read about cases where someone lets something in and it takes over.  Or a familiar overwhelms the master.”

“You still trusted her with the binding circle.”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“Because nothing’s suggested she’s not on our side,” I said, “I like to give people the benefit of a doubt until they give me reason to do otherwise.”

“Noble,” Rose said.  “Stupid as fuck, but noble.”

“Not arguing that,” I said.  I’m the fool, after all.

“What are we supposed to do, then?” Tiff asked.

“Just keep an eye out.  Note anything unusual, report it when she’s not nearby.  For now, we’re going to meet with some dangerous people, enact our plan B, and maybe if there’s any spare time to let our minds idle, we need to think about a way to produce as much fire as is humanly or inhumanly possible.”

“Oh,” Evan said, hopping around on my shoulder.  “Blake, blake!  I know, I know!”

Our first stop put us outside a little building on the outskirts of Toronto.  Between picking up Maggie and then making the trip, we had a long enough drive that we had to stop for lunch on the way.

The drive was somewhat uncomfortable with Maggie in the passenger seat, the other three crammed in the back, but there wasn’t another configuration that would have worked.  The roads had yet to be cleared, so I couldn’t ride my bike.  I wasn’t one for being crammed anyplace, and I didn’t want to make the others sit with Maggie when we’d just been voicing our concerns over her.

Then, to top it off, she got in a long discussion with Evan about how one could theoretically pull off the ‘fire bird’ thing.  Certain kinds of goblin and elemental, and how shamans could manipulate spirits into war paint to wear them, and other inane ideas that would be floating through Evan’s head for days to come.

The building was only one floor, squat, with a sloped roof.  The snow heaped over it had greater dimensions than the building did.

I knocked.

The Astrologer answered.

“You don’t have any errant spirits on your person?  Nothing electrical or technical?”  she looked at Maggie, “No gremlins?”

“No,” I said.

“No,” Maggie said.

“Good.  Come in.  Tea?” she asked.  “I’m drinking a lot of tea right now.  I ran out of milk a good few hours ago, so you’d have to choose between green and black.”

“Sure,” I said.  “Wouldn’t complain.  Green.”

“Going to be a bit of a squeeze, but you guys should come in.”

The others gave their orders as I made my way inside.

It kind of baffled, boggled the mind even, that we were in the great white north, a place with a freakishly low population density of about four people per square kilometer, and yet I kept finding myself in places without enough room.

I took a fraction too long to decide where I could sit where I’d have enough room, prompting a, “Blake?” from Alexis behind me.

We sat, in chairs or on the edges of desks, where we could find the room.  The room wasn’t much larger than my parents’ one-car garage had been when I’d been growing up, and it was chock full of computer towers, shelves and boxes.  Where those things alone didn’t take up enough space, the place was further littered with errant books and stacks piles of paper, a lot of it from some old fashioned printer where the paper connected as a series of sheets, end to end in one long feed with holes at the side so the machine could manipulate it better.  The printouts themselves were faded, featuring reams of calculations, and many piles had words written on the sides in marker.

Diana looked so mellow and laid back, compared to the put-together way she’d looked when I’d first seen her.  Skirt over tights, slippers, and a loose woolen sweatshirt, her hair tied back in a ponytail.  She flicked on her kettle, which rested on a shelf.

“My humble abode,” Diana said.  “I do have a house, but I spend most of my time here.”

The computer monitors, even, were old CRTs, some black and green.  The place smelled like tea, ozone and mold.  The whole setup, including the vaguely rounded pile of snow above the building, struck me as being a kind of high tech hobbit hole.

Not what I might have assumed.

Maggie smirked, “This is where the magic happens, huh?”

Ty groaned.

 “I like it,” I said.  I wasn’t lying.

“I do too.  Aesthetically.  In terms of usability, though, a lot of it’s grandfathered in.  My mentor was cutting edge, but cutting edge then is archaic today.  I’m not sure if it’s easier to let go of the sentimental attachment or wizard up some kind of power up to the equipment.”

“You were close,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said.  “By the way, I really am sorry for shooting you.”

“It was nonlethal, you were trying to help,” Alexis said.

“Did you talk to Fell’s family?” I asked.  I wasn’t sure if the old woman counted, but ‘family’ could just as easily refer to the little girl alone.

“I did.  They aren’t as forgiving as miss Alexis is.”

I nodded.  “Trouble?”

Diana frowned, taking her seat.  “A lot of trouble these days.”

“Not so different from my life,” I told her.

“Maybe not.  I felt some empathy for you when I realized just how much you’d gone out of your way to stop the Hyena, imp and the demon in the machine.”

“Machine?” Rose asked.  “I don’t think there were any machines in there.  The factory was stripped bare.”

“That’s not the kind of machine I’m talking about.  I’m talking about reality.”

“Ah,” I said.

“I haven’t been sleeping, and I’m prone to go off on tangents when I’m on my own.  The sisters are attacking in shifts, and the problem with my setup is that things are spread out.  I won’t share details, I hope you understand why.”

She didn’t trust us one hundred percent.  I nodded.

“I can protect my things if I’m paying attention.  But I can’t pay attention while I’m sleeping, and they attack every two to four hours.  I’m making mistakes, and I can’t afford to.”

“You have sentimental attachments to those other places?” I guessed.

“Yeah.  He made all this fun, you know?  Geeking out, hanging on every word while this fantastic, funny, geeky man described what he was doing.  Tapping into greater things, experimenting on my own… I can remember the day I surprised him, came up with an answer he hadn’t.”  Diana had a fond smile on her face.  “Then push came to shove, reality settled in, and he cut his life short for my freedom.  Freedom I frittered away.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I know how important precious people can be.”

Alexis glanced at me.  I kept my eyes fixed on a stack of paper between me and Diana, refusing to meet hers.

“You asked us to come here for more than a second apology and some company,” Rose said.  “You want help.”

“I’m not twisting your arm,” Diana said, quiet, “I’ll totally understand if you refuse, and I promise no vendetta or meaningful grudges, so long as it ends at just a polite refusal.  Or even a refusal punctuated with swear words, if you decide me shooting your friend there deserves it.  But I’m very tired, the Sisters think that if they keep messing with me, they’re either going to break the machinery that their spirit is dwelling in, or they’ll break me, and I’ll find a way to return it to them.”

“They aren’t fond of me either,” I said.

“Can you try?”

“I’ll trade a favor for a favor,” I said.

“I’m listening.”

“We’re meeting the Sisters,” I said.  “If the opportunity arises, and if we can do it without undue risk or harm either way, I’ll see what I can do to alleviate the strain they’re putting on you.”

“I’d complain about how vague you’re being, but I’m happy to hear this much.  What are you asking for?”

“Permission.  I want freedom from the rules of the contest, to practice as I need to practice, to deal with the demon in the factory, and maybe the imp if the opportunity arises.”

“I don’t think I can give you that permission.”

Maggie was the one who spoke, “You’re Conquest’s champions, you’re his hands.  In his absence, I’m thinking you could collectively be his voice.  Blake would be acting outside the bounds of the contest, but this would give it tacit weight.”

Diana nodded slowly.  “Swear you won’t use any power directly gained or granted during these excursions should the contest resume.”

“Hey,” Ty said.  “We’re offering help, no need to play hardball.”

“No,” I said.  “That’s fine.  It’s in my interests to do it.  More weight, as Maggie said.  I hereby swear that I’ll put all power and weapons aside, to the best of my ability, should Conquest be freed and this contest resume.”

Diana nodded. “Tea stopped boiling, and I didn’t even notice.”

She was halfway to her feet when she saw our expectant stares.  “You have my permission, by the way.”

I relaxed a little.  I wasn’t the only one.

She bustled with cups and teabags for a moment, re-confirming a few people’s choices of tea.

“Earlier, we were talking about websites and cameras,” Ty said, with the next available moment of quiet.  “Seems like you’d be the person to ask for clarification.”

“If you’re looking for a fast power grab, this isn’t the way to do it,” the Astrologer said, without turning around.  “What I do took generations to put together, and it has its weaknesses.”

“I’m not looking for a fast power grab.”

“This is niche, unperfected, pretty out there by practitioner standards.”

“It’s like you’re speaking my language,” Ty said.

“You really are speaking his language,” Alexis said.

“I can almost guarantee that I’d bore you if you let me get going,” the Astrologer said.

“Bet you wouldn’t,” Ty said.

“You probably wouldn’t be able to bore him,” I said.  “As for the rest of us, why don’t we say we’ll stay until the tea’s done, and then we have to go?  So we have an excuse to leave if we need it?”

Diana smiled.  “You don’t know what you’re doing, giving me a chance to talk about this stuff.”

“Give me your worst geek-out,” Ty said.  “And I wouldn’t mind your email, so I don’t forget.”

Diana reached backward and grabbed a scrap of paper, scribbling her email down. “Don’t feel offended if I take a few days to reply.  My modem only does twenty-eight kilobits a second, and I only have so much patience.”

I don’t think anyone present wasn’t horribly affronted by the idea.

“Like I said, grandfathered technology and sentimental attachments,” Diana said.  “On to explanations.  It’s about math, at the most basic level.  Space, not the out-there space, but space in general.  Proportions, lines, and really big diagrams.  With this computer, I program the lasers…”

It was, in the end, not quite as boring as she’d said it would be, though it was pretty bad.

All the same, Ty hung on every word.

While I was thinking about implements, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of implement a guy got when his defining trait was an inability to commit to a path.

The Sisters had a place that was as spacious as Diana’s place had been cramped.  Diana hadn’t made her place a demesne, and I suspected I knew why.  So long as she didn’t, the building was still partially his.  Her mentor’s.

The Sisters had no such delusions, and the architecture seemed like a pointed statement to that end.  Not a homage to the past, whatever their traditions.  Only present and future, here, in a church without religion, cherry wood with traces of gold, water running along gutters on either side of the hallway, almost gold as it reflected candlelight.

Every one of the Sisters wore a deep burgundy robe with one sleeve longer than the other, their faces largely hidden, but for their lips, which were painted red.

A group of what I presumed to be initiates were in less ornate robes, sleeveless and ringless, kneeling before the altar where the Elder sister and her immediate subordinates were gathered.  All initiates were twenty-something, attractive, and wore hoods that covered their eyes.

The Sisters had welcomed us in, but they mustered against us as an army now that we were in their territory.  Their dolls were markedly better than they’d been just a few days ago.  A step up in quality that suggested they were a hair more serious.  They were more uniform in size and shape, suggesting they were being hand made or printed from some mold, and stood about as tall as an ordinary man, all with runes on their foreheads.

I remembered what they’d said about being looked down on, before.  That they were more powerful than most assumed?  Seeing this, it was easier to buy.

I wanted to think that the simple and restrained elegance of it seemed more imposing than Conquest’s alien realm, but that wasn’t quite true.

I felt like, if the Elder Sister somehow became Lord, like she’d planned, then it would be.

It was hard to breathe in here, and that had nothing to do with the ridiculous number of candles that made it seem almost brighter than daylight.

“I can’t tell if you’re brave or stupid,” the Elder Sister said.

“The two are so related you could say they’re inbred,” I said.  “Desperation is a close cousin, but I wouldn’t say I’m desperate, either.”

“What would you say, then?” she asked.

“That you’ve declared you want to rule the city as Lord or Lady or however it works.  I harbor…” I tried to think of how Diana had put it, “…no meaningful grudge.  I can cooperate, I’m willing to let bygones be bygones and act toward the greater good.”

“Define ‘greater good.’  Because we’ve had anonymous threats to our families.  Others are settling in the city, and you’ve brought nothing but pain and chaos with your arrival in the city.  To me, that kind of endemic problem suggests demonic influence.”

Radiation.

I glanced at my friends.  “You think I’m tainted?”

“I think it’s inevitable, and I really don’t like considering what that means in the big picture.  Even having you here, I feel like we’re hurting ourselves.”

“But?” I asked.

“But your grandmother has visited from time to time, and I can’t refuse you and yours an invitation, now that her titles have passed on to you, along with the according rights.”

I nodded slowly.

“I don’t think it’s taint,” I said.  “Just karma.”

“Karma is more directed.”

“Some of the crazy stuff that’s happened feels pretty directed.”

“We’re predisposed to see patterns.  One of the first things our initiates learn is how to tell the difference between a glimpse of a spirit in fire, smoke or running water, and the pattern we want to see.  Even before they awaken, we want them to have that much.”

“So, what, the universe’s vendetta against me is just a pattern I’m imagining?”

“I wonder.”

“Look,” I said.  “You want to rule.  I’m offering an exchange of favors.”

“No.  Not with you, I’m sorry.”

“I back off for as long as you allow me, and give you one less person to worry about while you consolidate power and make your play.  You just give me permission to-”

“No means no,” the Elder Sister intoned.

Her voice rang through the chamber.

Excellent acoustics, if nothing else.

“With me, then,” Rose said.

“You’re tainted too,” the Elder Sister said.

“Everyone’s tainted, if you’re going to be that general,” Rose said.

“Not by the demons.  By Conquest.”

That gave us pause.

“You spent some time in his company, he’s bled out into you.  You think it’s coincidence that you up and decided to form a killing squad of horrors?”

“What do you want?” I asked the Elder Sister.  “If we’re all tainted by something or other-”

“The new ones.”

I looked over my shoulder at Alexis and Tiff.

“Yes, them.  They’ll vouch for you.”

“Not interested,” I said.  “Been down that road, and it’s looking an awful lot like a metaphorical rabbit hole, if we keep layering conditions like these on top of one another.”

“I’m not asking for servitude.  The girl answers three questions, on top of the usual penalties, should you break the terms.  No questions that would harm them or anyone they care about if they answer, and the questions are answerable at the time we ask.”

“Deal,” Alexis said, “if and only if you back off the Astrologer, on top of the conditions Blake wants to name.”

“The Astrologer has-”

“We know what the Astrologer has,” Rose said.  “I can’t make promises, but we could see what it would take to undo the process.  If you’re willing to hear out someone who’s tainted by Conquest.”

The Elder Sister considered.  “Let’s discuss, then.”

Tainted by Conquest.

Note to self:  Keep Rose away from the mirror.

My chest was still wax, and I wasn’t the only one who was less human than when all this started.  Even Rose, who had arguably been inhuman to begin with, was traveling that road.

The sensation had been lingering since the first time I’d been told I’d die, like some sword dangling over my head, but it was growing more concrete now.  A vague, nebulous idea of impending doom.

I closed my eyes for a few seconds, blanking my mind, then turned my attention to the discussion of terms.

“It’s clear how badly you want that spirit back,” I said.  “Let me start off by asking for something you should be giving for free anyway.  We should get rid of that demon in the factory, and to those ends, we need fire.”

“A lot of fire,” Maggie said.

The Shepherd took ten hours to find, even with the ability to follow connections.

In the end, we split up, each of us picking a different hospital.  Then we waited for people to die horribly.

Once the Shepherd showed up, Maggie and Ty tailed him, and we collectively headed his way.

I was just glad that Alexis had a phone.  The lack was an inconvenience sometimes.

He was waiting for us when we arrived.

How did one negotiate with something that didn’t speak?

“Whatever you’re doing,” I said, “I presume you’re loyal to Conquest.  But… there’s a story behind all that, isn’t there?”

He didn’t move.

“You deal with memories.  Echoes, permanent impressions.  The creature we’re talking about, it eats memories.  It eats everything about a person, including the connections.  So if you had someone die, driving you to-”

He was shaking his head.

“No?” I asked.

He shook his head again.

“All the same, if it keeps doing what it’s doing, it means less ghosts, less power to you.”

He shook his head again.

How the fuck was I supposed to argue with this bastard?

“Conquest wanted to stop it, I want to stop it.  Are you telling me you want it to keep doing what it’s doing?”

He didn’t move.

This weary man, restless in his pursuit of ghosts, willing to torture and mutilate those ghosts to make wraiths… I couldn’t appeal to empathy.  I apparently couldn’t appeal to power, when death was the most abundant, endless resource around.

What leverage did I have?

“You’re the guy that didn’t collect me,” Evan said.  “You just left me there.”

The Shepherd didn’t answer.

“You’re a pretty shitty person,” Evan said.  “And you know what?  You didn’t get me.  You won’t.  I’m an undead sparrow, I’m awesome, and you suck.  You’ll keep sucking unless you listen to Blake, because he’s kinda awesome in his own way.”

The Shepherd didn’t budge.

Too much to ask for?

“I won’t come after you,” I said.  “I won’t do anything direct, unless you give me reason or excuse to.  But so long as I’m around, so long as you’re stonewalling me?  I’m going to screw with you.  I’ll take your ghosts out from under you.  You’ll have competition, which is something I’m thinking Conquest was helping you with, giving you a monopoly.  And if there’s a ghost you’re looking for, if there’s something you want?  You’ll have to worry now.  Maybe there’ll be other Evans…”

He stared.

“Or you can give me permission to use magic outside of the bounds of the contest, and I won’t.  And there’s even the chance that I could die and be erased…”

I trailed off.

He was already writing.  Using his stick in the snow.

I barely recognized it as a signature.

He walked away.

“Can we use that?” I asked.

“We’ll have to,” Rose said.

The Hyena’s hilt was a weight at my side.

We have a majority opinion, no use asking the Eye.

“Let’s get me my implement,” I said.  “And then we’ll get in touch with the Knights and talk about the attack on the factory.  No holds barred.”

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219 thoughts on “Void 7.10

  1. Was distracted for this one. Lots going on right now IRL, people passing through. I opted for something quieter, showing more of the characters. One more chapter to close the arc, then Maggie arc and me being away a lot until mid-July.

    1. 7.11? Or Histories 7? Because Maggie’s already got a Histories and she’s getting that side arc coming up. I don’t know if the rules from Worm apply or anything.

      1. “Maggie arc” makes me think it’ll be a full 6-12 chapter deal, focused on Maggie. She’s apparently got weirdness going on worth exploring, and Wildbow does seem to enjoy giving us the set-up, like a certain arc in Worm. If this’ll be anything like that, I can’t wait.

        Also, woohoo to No Holds Barred! I’m talking everyone packing caster guns and fire mannequins!

        1. It sort of reminds me of that one line in the Matrix:
          “Okay, what are you gonna need?”
          “Guns. Lots of guns.”

          Also, w00t for no holds barred! The expression that always sorta kinda bugged me off (hehe) about Skitter is back in Blake (hehehe)!!!

        2. A Maggie Arc might imply it is about her this one is called Void but no one entered a void – yet. Makes me wonder if 7.11 will end with Maggie in Void created by the machine daemon and then Ty’s new infatuation with the Astrologer will help Blake/Rose rescue her. I expect the Maggie Arc to transition Blake back to Jacob’s Bell but there is no basis for this.

          As a side note, I wonder if Laird died as part of karmic equilibrium; Conquest killed Fell, so Blake had to kill one of Conquest’s champions. If this is correct, does that protect Blake from retribution? Or at least ensure any attempt will cost the person/other attempting anything?

    1. milimeters
      millimeters

      Blake, blake
      Blake, Blake

      less ghosts
      fewer ghosts, but since it is in dialog, perhaps written as intended

      wind blows through my feathers, and-
      missing a closing quote

    2. Not a homage to the past

      should be “Not an homage to the past”, since homage is pronounced “Oh-maj” and not “Home-age”, unless there’s some regional differences in pronunciation like in Canada.

  2. Well, Blake’s still carrying that Hyena hilt around with him. Based on the last fight with this demon, it seems like it will take longer than a single post for Blake to get his implement and finish fighting this demon, so we’ll probably be left hanging during the Maggie arc, whatever that is. I presume it’ll be basically be an extended History, a sidenote into Maggie’s life.

    I’m excited for that. I’d also like to see Blake’s story finish, but then I’m sure most people would also like to see George R. R. Martin finish his story as well, so we don’t always get what we want. 😉

      1. well…. three out of the four remaining champions. Laird is dead, so they probably don’t need his vote.

        1. In a world where it’s confirmed that ghosts exist and souls remain active after death, why wouldn’t Laird’s vote count?

          1. hence the “probably”, as in, chances are someone or something (most likely the shepard, whose vote we already got) claimed his soul/echo/ghost, or corrupted/compromised it to the point he can no longer be considered a champion, OR Shep has it, and he counts as both votes.

          2. Ghosts seem to be significantly different from the original person. Probably. Regardless, it’s probably okay to ignore defeated champions, if only because they don’t have much choice.

  3. Great, now I’m worried about how things are going to go horribly, inconceivably wrong.
    In all seriousness, thank you Wildbow for creating a story where I can care for these characters, and still want them to win, even though I know tragedy is inevitable.

    1. Well, we know for a fact no one is going to be erased by the Abstract Demon or we wouldn’t know they were around yet because it already happened and Blake’s story… memories…

      Let me try that again: Basically, unless they show up in a histories arc we’ve already forgotten about them and will feel nothing.

      1. Actually, it seems that everyone has forgotten about Blake’s spouse and the marriage. That’s why he’s not really with Alexis, he’s already married. They were thinking about it, but they dithered and then Blake met his spouse and things went really well… oops, spoilers?

        ((Just in case, this is speculation and as far as I know Wildbow hasn’t yet revealed that Blake already married someone who was erased by EraseUrr.))

          1. Rebekka? I don’t know if you are going alon with the ErasUrr line or I missed a character, what chapter was she in?

            1. Rebekka was last seen in 6.11 You don’t remember the massive shiptease between Blake Rose and Rebekka?

          2. I honestly can’t find any mention of this character. Can you give me a recap or a link to the specific section because it doesn’t seem to be in 6.11

    2. It’s kind of like watching the Titanic, though you know the ship will crash, one still enjoys watching the blossoming romance, and finds hope despite the impending doom. Let’s just hope that this story has enough life rafts.

  4. A nice change of pace. This is the sort of pilgrimage to the leaders the should be the proper cycle for a new practitioner in town.

    Step 1: Talk to the Lord and get his permission.
    Step 2: Talk to all the leaders in turn and give your respects to them.
    Step 3: Build your own powerbase and stuff.

    The crap that Blake had to go through to be even in Toronto was way to much. I hope to see him take down this monster and get some cred for something other being a disruptive cockroach.

  5. So Blake finally has enacted his plan from arc 4 to garnish favor(S) with the powers of Toronto. Took him long enough,

    Is Maggie still just kinda living with Blake? It’s been days! Doesn’t she have to go to school? Is she on Winter break? Is that a thing in Canada? What are her Dad’s thinking?

    “Speaking of the one member of our group who seemed most uncomfortable with the idea of stopping by the factory…”

    It’s confirmed. Maggie is officially part of the Blakeguard.

    Hmmmm. . . Blood sparrow or Phoenix? I say, why not have both. Have Evan bathe in blood to access the Phoenix force. He could be even more useful then.

    I look forward to seeing how the other members of the Blakeguard develop and their specialties. Blake: Diabolist (ghosts, goblins and demons). Maggie: Goblin Queen.. Rose: Urban Legend Horrer Summoner (so far) Joel/Goosh: Blackguards. Ty/Tiff/Alexis: only time will tell.

    My modem only does twenty-eight kilobytes a second, and I only have so much patience

    I couldn’t really see the “horror” parts of this story until I read that. I’m gonna have nightmares.

    So Blake and Rose have been becoming more and more monstrous as Pact continues. What are the chances that, by the end, one will become so monstrous they aren’t recognized as human anymore?

    Clever, getting a reprieve of the contest rules via Proxy. Hopefully it works out and Blake isn’t declared forsworn.

    1. Pfft, neither blood sparrow nor phoenix. Make Evan a bird of light, shining his radiance upon all beasts that are wrong. Let him pave the way to safety in his luminescence.

      Goblin wants to eat Blake? POW shining bird in the face

      Lost in the woods? Useful bird GPS with integrated light system

      Tentacle monster has snared Blake? Evan scourges the beast with his cleansing light!

      It simply works too well. Plus it would look pretty (and badass)

      1. Or Evan could keep some aspects of his bird form when he transforms into his intangible ghost body Having an angel on your side might mitigate the bad rep of being a diabolist.

          1. Having a GODDAMN BADASS BLOODFIRE ANGEL shining his BADASS BLOODFIRE ANGEL LIGHT to banish demons to whatever horrible place banished demons go to though? Might just scare the Karma Spirits into submission.

            1. Oh, gods, YES. I am totally on board with Project: BADASS BLOODFIRE ANGEL SPARROW CHILD.

            2. And since I didn’t notice it until I posted, it’s abbreviation is Project: BBASC (bask) in it’s badass awesome.

      2. I’m thinking Evan picking up the Wind Element for greater speed boosts, repelling stuff, stealth (see Type Moon Wiki for Invisible Air) & doing to Blake’s 1950 6T Thunderbird what Saber did to her Yamaha V-Max.

      3. Forget angels, blood, and fire. What’s the word? Thunderbird! We graft one of those onto Evan, maybe feed him some birdseed laced with laxative, and we send him out as… Shitstorm!

      1. I doubt it, because Ty’s whole schtick is not sticking to anything, yet being proficient at odd and niche practices. I see him becoming an eclectic sorceror. As long as he doesn’t die of best character disease before he gets to powerful, which, knowing Wildbow and his inclination towards pain and suffering, he might.

      2. I’m more expecting Ty to use a Transformation Trinket (i.e. Digivice) as an Implement, sealing various Others into cards and doing a reverse possession on them like Ainsworth Holy Grail War Class Cards. Since he can’t stick to any one thing, he might as well BE All-That-He-Can-Be literally.

        1. My take on types is he will take a desmense first.

          Blake is defined by his relationships, Alexis by her tools, but typically might be defined by his workshop

    2. Without spoilers, the whole getting more and more monstrous thing is a theme with Wildbow. In order to save humanity, sometimes the first necessary sacrifice is our own humanity.

      1. Gee, thanks Armin Arlert.

        I agree, but both Blake/Taylor have been forgiving of past errors and their policy is more proportionate sacrifice. Like if someone stops being civil, hero goes equally crazy in order to bury them.

        I… I can’t stop imagining grandma Taylor with a cup of tea and a whip for rascals.

      2. Wildbow is an author with only one finished work. It’s a bit early to say if anything is signature Wildbow at this point-he could have completely different plans for Pact than he did for Worm.

        1. Worm was an endeavor spanning over 2 years, which in a way chronicled wildbow’s own development as a writer. While it is not necessarily true, considering it is a theme of both his stories over multiple years, the data does tend to indicate that this is something that is a theme of his writing.

          1. While Worm did indeed take years to complete, it’s still only one data point. When Wildbow wrote it, he had at least a fairly good idea where he was headed with it – there are minor hiccups but it reads like a unified whole. You can’t say the creator of “The Walking Dead” has depressingness as a personal style just because Season 2 of The Walking Dead wasn’t suddenly a comedy. 😛

            Personally I think you’re right – there are particular themes that seem important to him. But I would hate to see him pigeonholed. That would mean he no longer has the capacity to surprise us, and I don’t believe that to be true.

            Worm was his first major project. Pact is exploring similar themes in a different setting. I wouldn’t be surprise to see him try something completely different for work #3…

            1. I’m not saying that, or at least I wasn’t, that comment was months ago. I believe at the time it was meant more as a prediction for the path the story would take, rather than a judgement on
              Wildbow’s writing in general.

            2. Fair enough. 🙂 Yeah, I’m still a fair way behind. I was late to Worm and hoped to catch up to Pact, but I’m beginning to think Wildbow can write faster than I can read! xD Well, Wildbow + comments, anyway.

            3. Good on you for catching up. The more people there are to comment and give different views on the latest chapters, the better.

    3. My Modem rarely does more than 40 kps…. So I felt a grim satisfaction about someone having a slower connection.

      1. How is that even possible? In a city nonetheless. I live in a village on an island and I get 6+ Mbps. And we haven’t even upgraded our connection in the las few years. Is ISDN still a thing in North America?

        1. I’m in a rural area. They don’t run cable or fiberoptic out where I am. I’m just outside of any cell range to be able to get enough of a connection for a cell modem. My brother lives half a mile down the road, and he can use a cell modem, but when they brought their laptop to my house once, no bars. I can get satalite, but at the cheapest its still four times what I’m paying now, and I might not be able to afford it. Their may be some hope of Wi-Fi being run out in my stretch of the county, a company got the grant to do so, but with my luck they’ll decide the population density on my road isn’t worth it, and again I’ll be a mile or so in the wrong place.

        2. She’s using dialup. And she indicated that she’s sticking with the old tech for personal reasons – it’s not that she couldn’t get a faster connection if she wanted.

          Incidentally, the name “modem” is properly only applied to dialup technology. “DSL modems” aren’t really modems but the name seems to have stuck.

  6. I have to admit I’m excited for the implement ritual. All the related fluff for rituals and bindings so far has been great.

    And Maggie arc coming soon!

    That will end in tears for everybody.

    1. And Maggie arc coming soon!

      That will end in tears for everybody.

      You were expecting something different from a Wildbow story?

  7. Fire, huh?

    How’s that going to work out, with all the wax in him? Or is Blake not going to realize it until it’s too late?

  8. Quick question, what chapter did someone give Blake a Tarot card reading? I know it was early on, but I can’t remember who did it and when.

  9. When Blake finally takes care of the Oblivion demon, here’s what should happen:

    The Universe sends out a representative entity to Blake, to say “Ohhh, son, you straight up DESTROYED that demon! All that bad karma you had? It’s done. It’s all good now. Here, take this huge reserve of power, and some healing magic, so you don’t look like a decorated candle. Go out there, be free! And keep slaying more demons! So long, and farewell! Oh, wait, here’s some handy tricks and tips while fighting demons, and a set of Good Side Lawyers who won’t force you into a demonic internship.”

    And everybody lived happily ever after.

    Except Conquest. Because screw that guy.

    1. That’s what we call “pact fanfic” because that is WAY too much Good to happen to a protagonist in a wildbow story.
      and IF that did happen, you can expect some ….. How did the commenters put it last time? “equivalent exchange…. before the f*cked up sales tax”. Expect that by the bucket-load.

      1. Lol… “Sales Tax”!

        Damn.. And I was even planning for a show called Demon Slayers, kinda like Power Rangers, except they go around slaying demons, bringing in The Light, and being much less lame than the Power Rangers in general.

      2. Yeah, it would probably be more like “You’ve destroyed that demon, so clearly you are even more dangerous than it was, and now we’ll be sending an angel after you every 4 hours.”

        1. On the plus side, bound and conscripted angels are probably really helpful against demons. And making them fall gets you new minions!

            1. Maybe I’m just a cynical asshole…ok, so I’m definitely a cynical asshole…but perhaps it’s because the protagonists seem to be poor and evangelists are powered by hookers and blow?

              Still, if you ever want one known to mystically slap the shit out of people, there’s always Benny Hinn. Get over here, granny, it’s time to heal that arthritis. Slap!

              That’d be an awesome reputation to abuse. “Why did you slap that woman’s ass, sir?”

              “She was having trouble having a baby and I figured I’d help her out.”

              “God bless you, Healer McSlappyHands.”

              “Bless you too, ma’am. Now come over here, I’m going to slap that ugly off your face!”

              By the way, if I ever get to play a cleric in D&D, that’s who I’m basing him on.

          1. The new Thorburn heir… What’s he like?
            Oh, he’s much like his predecessor… except he also turns angels into fallen, and has made slaves of angels, demons, and the previous Lord of Toranto…

            …so he’s worse? KILL HIM WITH FIRE!

            ….I wouldn’t do that if I were you. His familiar is a fire-blood sparrow. Imagine a phoenix and bloodsparrow hybrid that eats eyes.

            ……………………………….. So the new thorburn is a monster who needs to be stopped. Got it.

            1. I’m not sure I would try doing THAT either if I were you, considering pretty much everybody’s tried before (so to speak), from an Incarnation to an honest-to-the-Gods Evangelist. Plus a town’s worth of established chronomancers and sorcerers, God’s Eraser tool made real and the Lord of Toronto’s entire court.

            2. And even one of the last living sphinxes failed to kill him! Said sphinx also praised him as a warrior…

              Mind you, this is TWO WEEKS from when he first found out about magic.

              I wouldn’t want to mess with him. Why would anyone?

            3. Because everyone seems to be convinced he’s the new dark lord of darkness, and if they beat him, it’ll be the best thing ever. And now he’s asking them to not try and kill him please, he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt, he has freezer pizza, the inhuman fiend!

            4. When he becomes so powerful that he gets his own chapter entry in one of the magic-books, his entry would probably note something like “Throughout all encounters where this being is the host for hospitality, during his more human years, he has always offered freezer pizza, regardless of the fact that is the worst possible thing to offer beings of balance or to chronomancers. Ths speaks highly of his disregard for the norms, his lack of care of his personal image,, and his bravery. Thus, even though there are no recorded instances of anyone brave enough to attempt a summoning, this Author recommends attempting the use of offerings of freezer pizza, motorcycles, mirror shards, and quite possibly a virgin, for good luck.”

            5. In their defense, While freezer pizza can be good, it is but a pale shadow of any decent pizzaria pizza.

              And if you use a Virgin to summon Blake, the first thing he’s going to want is the Virgin safely released.

        2. Of course, then Blake would be inundated with Angelic taint and turn into a radioactive font of karmic virtue. So to balance this the Demons would have to be sending their armies after him between angel invasions. Otherwise it’d be too easy.

          1. Ooh… just had a thought. If Wildbow is going with classical angels, that could be downright terrifying. Evangelists would be legitimately badass.

  10. I’m loving the mfacetime we get with Blake’s friends. Ty, for instance- he’s awesome and great with kids apparently. And by “great with kids” I mean it in the sense that he would love to babysit, but return your kid to you hyped up on chocolate and mountain dew…..

    And with alexis too. Wasn’t much here, but it was still better than nothing. I’m sure we’ll get more of her and tiff eventually.

    Huh. Tainted by conquest. I have no idea why that never occured to me before. I mean, he already had a way of radiating wrong-nes in the form of conflicting sensations, and had a way of bringing out the worst in others/blake. Not sure why I never considered that “Radiation” could apply to all others to varying degrees, not just the demonic ones….
    It also explains Rose’s extra b*tch level when she was released from conquests grasp, and her desire to get more minions out of nowhere.

    …Actually, that makes perfect sense. She was the first one to voice her objections for even reading books on demons, and didn’t even want to awaken or deal with bad things at all, then comes up with arguments for summoning border-line demons (Diet Demons? Discount devils?) about a week and a half later.
    “I need me to be strong” indeed.

    Wow, there are tons of problems with the crowd blake’s hanging out with. I can see now what isodora was saying about all the things that can go wrong with blake making his circle…. So we have maggie, who’s been possessed-ish, Blake who has been tainted by imps, conquest, and who knows what else, Rose who has been tainted by conquest, and even, who WANTS to get a tiny bit tainted by monster-blood and/or phoenixes…..
    FLAMING BLOOD SPARROW!!!!

    Um…. was it ever explained why Laird’s eye turned red/bloodshot?
    Oh, and do we NOW get that missing chapter that got eaten, or is that gone forever?

    1. Laird’s eye was red because what Evan did to get him to let go of Blake involved doing something to his eye. From his comments to Blake on “blood sparrow,” he may have bit out a chunk.

            1. Inexpensive Imps! Low-price Lucifers! Satans-on-Sale! Popularly Priced Pishachas! Dime-a-Dozen Djins-o’-Darkness!

  11. I know it’s relitively impossible, but imagine how simpler things would be if somehow Blake managed to get the Eye to fight the Factory Demon with him?

    Or… just had the Eye as part of the blakeguard in general….

    Anyone else reminded of the Ash Beast whenever the Eye is mentioned?

    1. But talking to the Eye, a force of pure destruction who works for the guy he currently has restrained, seems like a very, very bad idea.

      1. On the other hand, it didn’t seem particularly difficult to bind. Even Fell was able to stop it in one place for a while. And an abandoned factory is totally within the Eye’s own element.

        1. Until the Eye burns down the factory and destroys the graffiti wards and Blake and company find that ErasUrr has a much wider range of taint than they thought and they all forget about it.

    2. I’m not sure if the Eye would work. If the Blakes are right that Urr is countered by forces of creation, and the Eye is a sort-of-impersonation of destruction, it might be ineffective, despite the fire.

      1. That…. is a very valid point. I did not even consider that. But then again, that’s -if- they are right about that. We know that fire works. And we know that the moonlight “circle” either didn’t work, or did not have enough power to be useful. And his makeshift reef thing didn’t work, right?

        I still would TOTALLY love to see a neon protection circle, buuuut it wouldn’t be NEARLY as hilarious now that Fell’s dead. I miss fell. Can they steal his soul-thing from shep and have ty or someone make him a familiar or something?

        1. Destruction & Creation go hand in hand. Fire is a catalyst of change: wood to ash and air etc.

          So, bringing the eye….would probably be helpful. For a start because if the demon dislikes fire, having a personification of it on your side CANNOT be a bad thing.

          1. I think I just realized why fire is so effective.

            You can bind with like, and you can bind with opposites.

            Fire is a symbol of both creation and destruction– the opposite, then the like of Urr

          2. Yes, fire is alll about change. And creation and destruction are two sides of the same coin. HOWEVER, the Eye is the embodiment of the pure destruction fire can bring, to serve as a reminder to mankind that you can’t completely tame nature, and that the force they have harneced for centuries shouldn’t be underestimated , just because they’ve been using it this whole time.

            His existence is that of destruction by natural elements/fire. Not Just fire in general, which has destruction and creation. Urr isn’t technically all about destruction, but the Choir of darkness IS.

            So, even if fire can harm Urr, that doesn’t mean you should rule out the posibility Urrs taint would resonate with the Eye and have a synergistic effect, causing either the Eye to join Urr’s cause, or te Eye doing more harm than good. Like the Eye destroying the seals, or making blake-sized smores for Urr to eat.

  12. Solid chapter, I want to know more about Diana and the Shepard now, they seem like real interesting cats. Plus more of the Blakeguard! I can’t wait for them to get some more time, I already want to hang with them, it’ll be neat to see what kind of practice they pick up what with the Thorburn diabolism off-limits. Ty already looks like he might be going into astrological technomancy.

    1. The Astrologer could do SO much better if she worked with Isadora – set her up in the uni as a an astrophysicist specialized in stellar mechanics and just let her have at tech minus the twenty year gap.

      Just IMAGINE what she could do. The Behaims would look like charlatans.

      1. But the Astrologer won’t do that until she has her mentor’s soul properly freed and respected, because it would be abandoning him.

    2. it’ll be neat to see what kind of practice they pick up what with the Thorburn diabolism off-limits.

      I still haven’t seen Tiff promise to keep her hands off the demons. The no-convenient-moment excuse doesn’t seem to apply anymore, either; they’ve got time for once.

      1. It would be pretty inconvenient to to have to need to swear off demon books when they are ramping up to fight demons dontchathink?

      2. All Tiff has to do is swear not to touch the diabolic books. With them safely locked behind lock, key, and slowdown field, that should be good enough.

        And then Tiff needs to convince Rose to let her look at, say, Dark Names.

  13. Personally, I feel that the Astrologer could do better upgrading her stuff to the next-to-latest equipment, adding to her Master’s & Craft’s legacy and lore instead of stagnating as she is out of sentimentality.

  14. Comments:
    – I really like slower-paced chapters like this. A much-needed break from the glacial pace of the Conquest arc. Also, Evan does the group dynamics a lot of good. I’ve been wishing for more scenes like this since the beginning of the story, but Blake didn’t have any normal companions back then, and his relationship with Rose was too poisoned for playful banter.

    • And at the beginning of the chapter, I was going to complain about Blake’s tendency to escalate situations even when outside circumstances don’t force him to, when he could take the time to recharge and plan and prepare instead. So I’m glad he didn’t actually try to attack ErasUr in this chapter.

    • Didn’t Alexis say something about stopping smoking after her encounter with the Shepherd’s ghosts gave her a heart attack?

    • I like how Rose’s power now allows Blake & co to read Thorburn library books in a limited fashion.

    • What happened to Rose’s menagerie of horrors? Except for Corvidae, is anybody/anything still alive?

    • I hope Blake will eventually consider the Evan-as-phoenix idea again. After all, considering Blake is fated to die (or something), having a phoenix familiar might help. (Essentially, Evan’s power would be upgraded from “escaping stuff” to “cheating death”.) Though I’m conflicted: I’m still hoping the story will eventually switch POV to Rose.

    • So Rose was tainted by Conquest? She definitely did change and/or powerup after Blake freed her. Interesting!

    1. Doesn’t glacial typically mean “at the speed of glaciers”, as in, slow? Just a bit confused semantically there about whether you thought the Conquest arc was too slow or not.

      I personally thought the Conquest arc was too fast – not in the sense that it should be drawn out more, but in the sense that I had severe feels whiplash throughout. Well done, indeed!

      I’m a big fan of the sparrow phoenix upgrade, if only because Evan is so convincing. If I ever find myself in a Pactverse, remind me not to get a child familiar, cuz I will just let them do whatever they want. HE’S SO EFFIN CUUUUUUTE.

      Also the taint was interesting. Diabolists have to watch out for that no matter who they fight, it seems. This is why I really want to see what a seasoned, non-mental diabolist might look like. Do they work up more ways to contain the taint? Are they just more cautious and only dabble in minor diabolism, despite their experience? Our only models are Blake and his grandmother at the moment.

      1. I’m thinking that, in the Pactverse, childlike Others are usually not children at all, though they might look like it. Evan is probably a very rare exception to the ‘creepy as fuck little child’ rule.

        1. If Evan manages to survive Blake’s passing, whenever that might be, he could conceivably grow to be very, very old. I would think that anyone capable of learning is capable of becoming jaded. Remember, not only is he a child, he is a young Other.

          That being said, he seems to be a spirit of optimism and freedom. He might truly never become jaded, and if he does, it might simply end his existence.

      2. Right, my sentence about the “glacial pace” of the Conquest arc was phrased poorly. What I meant was that it was drawn out: Conquest tried to dominate Blake directly in their very first confrontation, then settled for having him bind three entities as a diabolist. When that was done, he accepted the contest with Blake. And then he gave Blake another respite when Isadora attacked Blake and could have claimed the win.
        Chapter for chapter, events moved very fast and Blake got no breaks at all, but the overall Conquest arc was very long. Or to put it another way: The story has run for 59 regular chapters now (wow!), 40 of which took place in Toronto, and the Conquest arc is only now wrapping up.
        In that sense, this chapter was a welcome change of pace after tons of mostly hectic chapters.

        1. The story has run for 59 regular chapters now (wow!), 40 of which took place in Toronto

          Remember back when we thought that the story took place in Jacob’s Bell and all Blake had to immediately worry about were homonculi, Time mages and faerie? Good times.

          1. Now we wouldn’t be surprised if he had to punch out the Devil with one hand, and with the other try to convince God he’s not the antichrist.

            1. Not exactly sure I’d call that last time a triumph for the people involved… And really I doubt Blake would want the job of supreme being. He’s not that sort.

    2. Rose’s army was defeated at Duncan’s house (where the hyena died, too).

      as re Alexis’ promise to stop smoking… have you ever met a smoker? Quitting is hard.

    3. Didn’t Alexis say something about stopping smoking after her encounter with the Shepherd’s ghosts gave her a heart attack?
      She ought to stop. But addiction is a powerful thing.

    4. Midge was mashed by Blake, Conquest burned out the Tallowman, drunk the Bloody Mary, and boogey woogied with the boogeyman. A pair of wraiths gave the Glasgow smiler nurse a Columbian Necktie. Fell was felled, the Hyena was hunted, Pauz oozed out of there, and Dickswizzle was kizizled.

    5. A lot of people have pointed out the problems with expecting Alexis to quit smoking off-the-bat, but one thing occurred to me.

      Is there some magic we know of that could help her quit? Blake should really look into that.

  15. “[…] we need to think about a way to produce as much fire as is humanly or inhumanly possible.”

    “Oh,” Evan said, hopping around on my shoulder. “Blake, blake! I know, I know!”


    Evan is the best character ever ;-).

  16. Thoughts:

    • If Ty’s defining trait is that he doesn’t stick to a discipline, I think his smart phone would be a good implement. Let’s you download apps, so with preparation you can do many different things. It’s also been mentioned in this chapter, which is good.
    • Laird’s ghost can potentially be claimed by the Shepherd. That’d definitely screw with things (also, they still need to rescue Fell before the Shepherd makes him into a wraith).
    • Blake didn’t specify his promise to the Astrologer properly. He said he’d put away his powers and abilities, not just the ones he gains from this ErasUr excursion. Also it seems like making an implement would be considered an active use of power and would be banned from future use in the contest even without this oversight.
    • More implication that ErasUr ate Blake’s phone in the previous encounter.
    • A good implement for Blake would be something that facilitates his handyman aspect, and possibly a sharp secondary use. I don’t know the name for it, but maybe one of those craft knives for precision cutting (Stanley knife, is it?).
    1. Except Smartphones become obsolete so fast it isn’t funny. And although it’s even older, the Astronomer’s gear is at least easy to code for, compared to a smartphone. Use a smartphone, and in 5 years everyone wonders why you carry around that fossil.

      1. It might be a bit abstract to pull off, but what if you made your phone number an implement, and wielded its power through whatever phone you had it attached to? If feasible, that would get around the outdated issue.

        If you actually need something explicitly physical as an implement, what about a SIM card that you then use through progressively modern phones?

    2. Thinking about technological Implements, I tend to think that anything too modern and faddy is going to be a bad, bad idea. Sure, your smartphone is the shit now and smartphones in general have a fair bit of cultural symbolic weight right now, but in a year? It’s going to be old hat, and an Implement is for life. I’m just throwing guesses around but having a good-five-years-ago but crappy now smartphone as your Implement is going to have horrible effects on your practice. Laird’s pocket watch is a good example of a technological Implement that has symbolic “stickiness” – even though few people carry pocket watches any more, they are still in the zeitgeist as gifts and universal symbols of timekeeping. Same with Diana’s spindle, which is pretty goddamn low tech but still tech, as a culturally universal symbol of weaving and the connotations with the weft of fate. It’s telling that a practitioner who works with technology as much as she does chose an Implement that is a device in use since the foundation of agriculture.

      That said, something reconfigurable and moddable does sound fitting for someone with a low attention span. If he goes into the same school of math-based astrological magic as Diana then perhaps an abacus? That works.

      1. Things eaten by Urraser are excluded from the narrative entirely. We never saw Blake’s allies from the factory who got erased, or the ones that helped him capture the Hyena (possibly the same ones), even historically, because not even the readers can remember them.

        If Urraser ate Blake’s phone then it shouldn’t appear in the narrative at all.

    3. Re: promise to Astrologer, I interpreted this as being intentional, not an oversight. He’s saying he’ll stick to the rules originally defined for the contest.

  17. “While I was thinking about implements, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of implement a guy got when his defining trait was an inability to commit to a path.”

    Something changeable. Something that can be turned from one form or state to another. I’d say something like Clay, but from the sounds of things Ty gets bored of sculpting.

    “That’s not the kind of machine I’m talking about. I’m talking about reality.”
    I find this line… Intriguing. Lets look at a few things. The Astronomer uses computers. Computers that are horribly old, but lets face it even these radically advanced physics and actual astronomy. They let all sorts of calculations and models. In short the understanding of the universe’s working greatly expanded. Now she states the universe is a machine that has a demon in it. Is this just reffering to ErasUrr, or something deeper? I wonder if she doesn’t have a different perspective where demons are concerned, and about how they must be dealt with.

    1. How about… the scrap metal from the knives?
      And then every time he gets bored with whatever shape the implement is in, he melts it down and reforges it into something else?

      …Look, it’s a better idea than what came to mind when they noted they would need a LOT of fire. (Ornias!)

      1. Not the best idea to do that, especially if you’re thinking the movie cliche of molten steel. The composition of the metal matters. He’d be making everything similar as laboriously as a katana just because of the carbon alone.

        1. I’m not sure I’m familiar with “the movie cliche of molten steel”, but while I did figure that the frequent-reforging-of-the-metal would be detrimental in terms of strength (heck, the current reforge of the scrap metal is off in terms of composition) and mass (i.e. it’d lose some with each reforging, barring the use of magic to prevent that from happening or getting it to grow or something… which would not be an unproductive research path itself), Ty might consider the flexibility (and, arguably, misdirection) afforded by this path to be worth it. Since giving up the power and stability of mastery of a field in favor of the flexibility and breadth of acquiring some competence in many fields seems to be what he’s about.
          Although laborious equipment-requiring reforging processes, not so much. So back to looking at charm bracelets, Transformers, Swiss army knives, and other examples of multi-configuration tool versatility….
          ( > Tyler: Get killed before any of the speculation about your best implement choice can bear fruit. )

          1. I’m thinking Psycho was referring to where movies often display forging things to involve melting metal and pouring it into molds, which they do do for some things but not for neat things like swords and ornate things.

            I’d rather go for something that is made to be reformed. Lego bricks sound neat, though they’d be a bit…immature. Is there a “grown-up” version of Legos?

            1. Oh, yeah, that is a dumb movie thing.

              Hmm… tinker toys? I tend to think of Lego as the grown-up version of Lego… Maybe a 3D printer of some kind…? IKEA furniture? Makeblock? Although once we start getting into robots, I tend to think more “familiar” than “implement”. Clearly Ty should have a (spirit bound to a) modularly-modifiable imperfectly-self-replicating army of clanks robot as his familiar!

            2. A 3D-printer-bound familiar would be awesome. Although 3D printing is inherently awesome, so there’s that.

            3. I’m thinking Ty’s implement should be an Etch-a-Sketch. Simply shake to eliminate whatever you’re doing and move on to the next project. Also presumably useful for geometric bindings.

  18. So it’s really going to be the broken goblin sword then? A weapon that’s awkward to wield in the first place because of the spikes, and being broken isn’t particularly useful for anything anymore?
    The logic of this choice eludes me, unless it’s a Homestuck homage.

    1. Ah, but think of the symbolism here – it’s the broken body of a malevolent Other, bound by a practitioner and forced to die in service of a greater good, the spikes spill the users own blood, blood is a source of power but a desperate one. It proclaims “I will defeat you and I will break you, even if I must break myself first” to the Others, that’s some powerful juju right there.

      1. Not to mention that reforging a deceased Other is tying in symbolically with his Familiar, a deceased human given new life. There’s also that the implement is being made of the same Other that got his Familiar killed in the first place and is now being bent to the will of said human (when you take into account Blake and Even are practically extensions of each-other). The themes of returning from death and Humanity conquering the Others that prey on them could serve him well.

        This is all assuming he’s actually making the Implement out of the Goblin Hilt and it’s not some form of red herring.

  19. So, what’s the running tally on Blake’s various taints? So far I have:

    Ornias? Maybe?
    Pauz
    The Hyena (assuming he radiates)
    ErasUr
    Conquest, if Blake interacted with him enough while running on empty
    Tallowman (that wax is very definitely going to do something to him)
    At least two unspecified possessors from those times he bled himself dry
    … Isadora?

    The problem is figuring what radiates, what doesn’t, and how/why. It’s easier now to see why diabolists end up going bad so often, demonic influence is a serious concern.

    1. There must be a “cleansing ritual” or something to that effect, right? Given that getting tainted in some way is a common occupational hazard for practitioners you’d have thought they would have come up with some way to manage it.

      1. I doubt it. That’s kind of the point of why practitioners are so terrified of demons and diabolists – they stain the world and that stain can’t ever be removed.

        The taint does seem to dissipate after a while but that doesn’t destroy it, just disperses it.

      • Ornias wasn’t actually summoned, so probably not.
      • Pauz, taint = very yes. It should be harmful, but that leaves some leeway.
      • the Hyena affects those it hurts, and Blake went through unharmed. No problem there.
      • Erasurre’s from the choir of darkness, and her taint probably extends to wherever she reaches. Blake avoided letting her in his eye, so should be fine as well (or maybe the nightmare was prophetic, we’ll see).
      • Conquest probably rubbed it in everytime he took something of Blake’s, so his influence should lessen as the physical and mental wounds heal.
      • Tallowman… if his wax grants determinator survivability, it doesn’t really sound bad for Blake. Would be good if he could glamour it back into human flesh so it loses the temperature issues.
      • Isadora could radiate balance, but I’m not seeing that work for Blake.
      1. Geh, meant shouldn’t be harmful re:Pauz. Also I’m pretty sure I replied to Aname and not Matthew… shenanigans.

  20. awwww i was really looking forward for an explination fo how the astrologer’s powers work.
    i mean, dimensional astrological magic fueled by crt monitors, lasers and old time computers that is the most awsome concept i heard in all month, screw it, im using it for a story myself!

  21. i just came up with an idea for a weapon in the pact unverse: a projector.

    the chance to project any simbol or image in any surface in merely seconds MUST have some potential use with this system of magic

    1. That is a great idea. If you can get the projection angle right you could even instantly surround an Other with a complex binding circle you prepared earlier. The downside is it’s not actually made of stuff. Ideally a binding circle should be made of something that opposes its target.

      Along that line of thought, you could probably prepare a binding circle attached to cloth, cut a hole in it and just throw it over the target Other.

  22. “So, what, the universe’s vendetta against me is just a pattern I’m imagining?”

    “I wonder.”

    From where I’m watching things, it sure does look like the Universe is out to get Blake. Or at least everything in it.

      1. It doesn’t help that Blake’s situation seems to be-
        A- Death and Damnation because Powers that be are convinced that he and his family deserve it, and he should just lay down and accept it.
        Which causes
        B- Blake is forced to use increasingly more questionable methods to prevent A, thus justifying it to those who want A.

  23. I really like the potential symbolism of Blake taking the Hyena as a implement.

    Blake’s familiar is a tortured child who refused to break, even after he died.

    Blake’s implement being the deceased form of the being that tortured his familiar when his familiar was alive is going to scream all sorts of symbolism at any Other that can see the connections.

    Evan may not like the fact that Blake retains the Hyena in any shape, but it will strengthen the bonds between them, regardless.

    Evan certainly remembers who defeated the Hyena, and every time Blake uses the Hyena as part of defeating yet another enemy that Evan doesn’t like, as part of the agreement that Evan and Blake made when Blake took him on as a familiar, it’s going to reaffirm that bond.

    At least that’s how I see it.

        1. He’s got a great diet. He even wrote a book about it, but for some reason nobody thinks it’s credible because there’s no way he ever ate any of the stuff in there.

  24. Alexis was the same way, kind of. Not in terms of being crappy. The other part. The part where she had a nice front side that would cut you if you put your hands on the points, but her backside was flat junk.

  25. Ty as the enthusiastic dabbler is amusing to me because I have a boss named Ty who is the same way. He is some form of undiagnosed ADHD and he get ridiculously enthusiastic about one topic… until the next thing comes along that he is ridiculously enthusiastic about.

    As far as fictional Ty’s implement (said it before): charm bracelet. I am trying to think of the male equivalent, but then again Ty is not bound be convention.
    Ty gets interested in technomagic –> add a USB key charm.
    Ty gets interested in spirit work –> add a rune charm.
    Ty gets interested in Faerie –> add a locket like the one Blake had.
    Ty gets interested in ghost binding –> add a bound ghost charm.
    etc.
    Ty gets disinterested in any of the above –> remove / burn for power / trade away the charm.

    That way Ty can have his implement and change things up as often as he would like. That would make a nasty enhancement to Blake’s circle’s unpredictability – with Blake you never know what he will do when backed into a corner and with Ty you never know what abilities he will bring to the game.

    1. An interesting choice if it could work. Make the base something that can freely be added to, or have things removed from. The base contains the actual power, but it’s effects can be altered by what is currently on it.

    2. I think it’ll be more something along the line of an actual Transformer toy, only magical for more options. You know, a metal robot that’s awesome to play with and you flip a few parts around and it’s a laser gun, then you flip a few more parts around and pull out some parts that were collapsed and it’s an actual full-size car and then you collapse some bits in and it’s a… actually I think a companion metal transforming golem would be a far better familiar than an implement, now that I think of it. Ok, back to the drawing board…

      I think a smartphone with apps would be a far better technological choice for someone who so obviously is both a geek and who really cares about modern technological stuff. “But what about the inevitable smartphone upgrades?” Well, upgrade the software/firmware. It’s no big deal, especially with the help of his Robot In Disguise.

      1. Rubic’s cube. Each configuration has a focus. No worries about going out of date, it is sufficiently geeky, and it shows his malleability well.

  26. Ty frowned. “Because it doesn’t follow typical rules. If it’s reflected in our eyes, it’s in our eyes?”
    Hm. That does sound a lot like the Barber. Starting to wonder again if that’s a quality of all demons, or at least all abstract ones.

    “That’s not the kind of machine I’m talking about. I’m talking about reality.”
    Interesting outlook…

    While I was thinking about implements, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of implement a guy got when his defining trait was an inability to commit to a path.
    A Lego wand? Silly Putty? A deck of cards, maybe?

    So. How long until the Void finally ceases?

    1. Deck of cards was my thought. Bind various Others to each card, and release them in safe places when they’ve gotten boring.

    2. “That’s not the kind of machine I’m talking about. I’m talking about reality.”
      Interesting outlook…”

      I noticed that too. In some ways Demons seem like a really nasty sort of computer virus.

    3. The Barber and the abstract demon are both in the choir of darkness, so I expect it’s a trait common to demons of that choir. Pauz certainly doesn’t have it at least, but then again he’s not a full demon.

      1. I can’t help but wonder what traits demons from other choirs might have.

        And that thought made me wonder if there are demons without choirs, or which fall into multiple choirs, and also wonder the origin of demons. Most Others seem to either be ultimately human in origin or simple and one-dimensional. The demons…don’t really fit into either category. (They might be one-dimensional at times, but they’re clearly cunning.)

  27. Since I have been keeping up with the series for several months now, I decided that it was time that I reread from the beginning to get a feel for the start of the story again and to remember the little details that one forgets when binge reading to catch up on a story and I happened across this detail in Bonds 1.1.

    It was well after dark when someone stepped outside to talk to me.  I closed out of the puzzle game I was playing on my phone.
    
    It turns out that not only did Blake really have a phone that got eaten by the ErasUrr, but not everything that gets eaten completely disappears from the pact story line (Something you might want to fix in an edit in the future, Wildbow)
    
    1. Or ErasUrr was going to eat the phone, but then saw this fun looking puzzle game, and being stuck in the factory she doesn’t get to play with things like that much, so she just ate everyone’s memories of the phone.

    2. Holy crap. Wait, was this why Fell asked about the phone twice? He wasn’t just being the asshole we all know and love?

    3. eaten completely disappears from the pact story line

      I figured that ErasUrr could only eat things so far back in time and had some variability in how far back things were eaten.

      I closed out of the puzzle game I was playing on my phone.

      This was also before he was awakened, so maybe it is because he was receiving the protection that is standard for the ignorant/unawakened,

      1. Another way we could see him with his phone then, but later only see the world where it was ret-gonned would be if those early events were false to begin with. I’m leaning towards the “Blake was created” theory. Barbie has the ability to “cut out someone’s reflection”. He is also in the same choir as ErasUrr, who has the power to retcon things out of existence, implying similar levels of power possible for Barbie. It also makes sense that the events that were retconed in by one First Choir Demon would resist alteration by another. I think Barbie retcon’d Rose’s reflection into existence as Blake. It explains a lot of things.

    4. The removal isn’t completely clean. We had a quick shot from Fell’s viewpoint where Blake’s first attempt on the factory included halogen lights and three goblins, but Blake and Rose remember none of that. So there may be no continuity error.

      1. That wasn’t actually from Fell’s viewpoint. It was part of a Histories update. Normal chapters are written in first person from Blake’s perspective but the Histories are written in third person omniscient narrator form. That suggests the Histories narrator is “on the outside looking in” and isn’t affected by the events of the story like viewpoint characters within the story are.

  28. Well, this is embarrassing but further up there i’m signed in with the signature from my wordpress account as ‘Shrike Frosthands* (an old D@D PC) and even here I’m not even sure Ived signed out and back in correctly…

    At least I now have something to post over there (even if it’s just to say hello) and hopefully have posts correctly attributed…

    With apologies, ShawnMorgan

    P.S would happen when replying to PG wouldn’t it…

  29. didn’t even try to negotiate an ally’s soul away from the necromantic bastard? echos are one thing, souls are something else entirely. why doesn’t everybody have even a sliver the kneejerk hostility to this guy they had to diabolist in name only blake when he first arrived and hadn’t done anything?

  30. “Swear you won’t use any power directly gained or granted during these excursions should the contest resume.”

    “I hereby swear that I’ll put all power and weapons aside, to the best of my ability, should Conquest be freed and this contest resume.”

    Blake, that is some serious overkill. She asked you to stick with your existing inventory, and you agreed to go completely unarmed?

  31. Diana reached backward and grabbed a scrap of paper, scribbling her email down. “Don’t feel offended if I take a few days to reply. My modem only does twenty-eight kilobits a second, and I only have so much patience.”

    I don’t think anyone present wasn’t horribly affronted by the idea.

    Given the magical world’s shock and disgust at Blake’s mere presence (let alone his accomplishments), I think Diana should start putting “Horrified A Diabolic Cabal By Talking About My Job” on her resume.

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