Signature 8.1

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Buttsack had this down to a science.  Once they were inside the building, the humans were supposed to be safe.  The doorframes, the windows, the plumbing, all were made of refined metal, ‘stainless steel’ they called it.

‘They’ were fuckholes, as far as he was concerned.

Goblins as a whole came in all shapes and sizes.  Some were fat, some were skinny, some were furry, others scaly, others still had skin.  They could be no larger than a squirrel, or five times the size of a man, in all colors.

Certain rules held true, though.  All were ugly.  Buttsack was no exception.  His loose skin maintained an appearance and smell like the body parts that were his namesake, and he was grotesquely fat for his three-foot frame, giving him an uneven, ungainly appearance.  His legs were like overstuffed sausages sticking out from the stolen, piss-stained pair of shorts he wore.  Among the goblins of the area, he was just small enough to evade the attention of the Wise, the humans that knew.  However, that also meant he was also big enough to bully the other goblins hereabouts.  Some were quick enough or clever enough to stay out of his way, but the ones that weren’t paid up.  Some gave food, or gifts, some gave tips, and others gave him knowledge.

Metal door, metal frame, pipes… he was aware of all of them, as he might be aware of a flame by reaching out and feeling the warmth from it.

One piece of knowledge Buttsack had picked up had been from a scrawny little bitch of a goblin that called itself Scuzzwick.  Lick both hands, lick the back of the knees and elbows, the back of the neck.  The licking didn’t matter so much as the wet, and it was easier and more comfortable to use his own tongue than to use the snow.  He scratched his forearms deep enough to get his fingertips wet with blood.  Once the wet patches and blood were there, he could reach each arm out to either side, feel the wet patches grow cold from the force of the winter breeze.

Move with the wind, letting the arms move as the wind did.

A fatass of a man sauntered right past him.  Buttsack could feel the movement of air, clutch it with bloody fingertips, and follow it.

Catch the wind and ride it through the door the man was opening.

Drifting inside.

“Do you smell something?” a bystander asked.  The dumpy looking fuck shut one of the metal cabinets, then hooked a lock onto it.

Buttsack hurried off to take cover before he became fully material again.

This wasn’t a proper boundary, no power had sealed it, but it was still uncomfortable.  The things that gave the goblin power and energy were cut off here.  It was a bit like suffocating, a bit like being cold.  He always felt it a little, the sensation of dying, the spark within him going out by the smallest degrees, bit by bit, but here, like this, he felt it happening faster.

The goblins shared stories between one another about what goblins were and why metal was so problematic.  The usual story was that when a Wise man drank from a cup while dining, the bits of food that got into the cup and lingered after the drink was done accumulated.  Except it was workings, not drink, and bits of self, not food.  Greasy fingerprints left behind when touching something beyond the veil.  Bits of skin that should have grown and the hairs that should have fallen from one’s head, that didn’t, because they were wearing different skin or hair, and the stuff that wasn’t had to end up someplace.

There was another story that said that the unfair folk were people once, and they chopped off all the bits they didn’t like, and those bits became goblins, but Buttsack didn’t like that version.

Fuck the unfair folk.  Being magic hairballs for humans, fabricated of their dust, scum, grease, pubes, and stress, that was one thing.  Being of faerie?  Fuck that idea sideways and backward.

Whatever the case, many stories had one or two common elements.  The goblins were leavings, discards, scrap given form.  The earth called to them, to decompose them like it was meant to devour and decompose all leavings, and the metal was the earth in distilled form.  Or maybe the process that made goblins was

All the same, this wasn’t a place he was willing or able to stay.  He had to make the most of his time here.

Moving around was easier than in most places.  Here, the humans were insecure. He could see it in the shifting patterns around them, where their focus was falling.  He’d seen the roving spotlights in the movies and video games.  In most places, the attention of people was like those spotlights, roaming, cast out from their eyes, a dull glow emanating as they listened.  Here it was different.  The focus was largely on themselves, only periodically casting out at specific targets.

Not always, but enough.  Buttsack cloaked himself thoroughly against the insensitive, and for extra measure, he was careful to watch where they were paying attention and nudge it aside when it veered his way.

A satchel, sitting at a young man’s feet as he talked with a friend.  Buttsack smelled money, and reached inside, picking through contents, nostrils flaring as he sniffed away.

A wallet, fake leather, in the front pocket of the satchel.  The goblin stowed it in a pocket for later investigation.

“Oh man,” the boy that stood above him whined, “I just got a whiff of something rank.”

“You’re too close to the bathrooms,” his pal said.  “You’ve gotta change lockers.”

Buttsack moved on.  A phone, left at the bottom of one metal cabinet, pocketed.  A metal case sticking out of a purse… he opened it, and found cotton sticks with strings dangling from the bottom.  He stuffed them into the bag of a boy.  She’d have to do without, and the boy looked like the bigger pussy anyway.

Moving out into the main hallway, there was more foot traffic, and attention was harder to divert.  He waited, instead, lurking beneath a colorfully decorated display with false leaves and berries and a snow idol stuck to the surface.

A bell dinged, and the number of people in the hallway began to thin out.

The changing room that reeked of girl-sweat… no luck.  The door was shut, and he didn’t want to spend power walking with the air again.

Washroom was a yes, opposite the changing room.  The door was propped open.

He slipped inside.

Some bitch sat on the windowsill, while her cankled friend smeared powder all over her face.  The one at the windowsill wasn’t looking at anything, and her lack of focus was exactly the sort that could see something that was walking the fine line he was, wanting something to catch her attention.

He detoured right, instead, taking cover beneath the sinks and the oversized bag that cankles had left by the wall.

Rummaging, he discovered a wallet.

Nothing else to do, he picked his way through it.

Nothing.  Not a single coin or piece of paper.

Bitch.  Poor-ass cankled pasty-faced bitch.

He took the shiniest cards and stuck them through the ventilation grate by the sink, replaced the wallet, and then went through the bag.

A small pouch with writing tools – he broke the nicer looking ones, and scattered the remains inside so they’d leak their ink.

Another pouch?  He unzipped it slowly.

Syringes.  A little glass bottle.

Not the fun kind of syringe-stuff.  The kind that the human’s doctors gave out.

She wanted to short him?  He made the effort of coming here, and she didn’t have shit fuck all?

Fuck her.

He unscrewed the glass bottle, then reached into a pocket.  A sealable bag with white powder.

The fun stuff.

He busied himself emptying some powder into the glass bottle, carefully.  He knew where to get more, and this would be good.  Not right away, but in time.

Buttsack considered making it a regular thing, even.  If he could somehow get his hands on her stuff…

His thoughts were cut off when the door behind him opened.  He moved his hand, ready to turn the attention aside.

The bitch focused on him right away.  He moved his hand, ready to divert her attention and head in the other direction, but she didn’t budge.

Blond hair, long and silky, a nose ring and more rings in her ears, with bright green paint around her eyes.

He stared at her, she stared at him.  His gut was cold and hollow with fear, and fear wasn’t far removed from anger.  If she made a problem for him, what could he do to her in return?

“What?” the cunt at the window asked.

“Nothing,” the new bitch said.

One of the Duchamps.  She wouldn’t say a thing.  The goblins left the families alone, kept it all on the down-low, the families left the goblins alone.

That was the deal.

The girl headed to the furthest bathroom stall, giving him a warning look.

He had to admit disappointment, and briefly considered peeking all the same.

He finished lacing the medicine and then put everything away.

Fuck her, cheap cankly slut.

He picked through the bag, curious if there was anything else he could fuck with.  Condoms and the pill-cases were fun, but the bitch didn’t have any.

He settled on papers.

Almost smug, he thought, lesser goblins wouldn’t know how to do this.

Look at the papers, figure out the names.  Stuff with red markings and circles all over it was useless to mess with.

Find the papers with no markings, toward the end.

Find other papers to get clues.  Best if he did it clever-like.  Make it make sense.  Sometimes a nice colorful threat to the teacher, referencing an old mark if they were low, or drawing a picture at the edges of the ages,

Allusions to violence and guns worked well.  Something suitably strange, even, like a bit of blood used to draw a heart, and a line written within saying something like ‘I like to cut myself where nobody can see the marks.’  Get dumb humans sent to doctors to have their brains poked and prodded and their bodies looked at.

Except he’d done that one not so long ago.

But here she gave him nothing.  A simple, stupid, boring bitch.

One of the papers in the booklet had two people’s names at the top, two different kinds of writing.  Working together?

He went back to the unfinished work and erased the name at the top, copying down the other, mimicking the writing style.  Two copies might be turned in.  A stupid mistake.  Eyebrows would raise.

He put it back, and then stowed the little bag of powder at the very bottom corner of the bag, inside a fold.

Mix things up a bit.

Buttsack didn’t always understand their ways, the language or the changes from yesteryear.  He did understand the ugliness that came natural to them, and he could figure stuff out fast when it made him better at what he did.  He understood how easy it was to mess them up, to push them off course.  One incident, an oddity.  A string?  A bit of drugs, a cheating allegation?  People would worry, they would stay away from her, they would-

He grabbed the pipe beneath the sink and pulled his feet away from the floor, hiding in the shadows as Cankles collected her bag.

If she was still coming into the bathroom with a friend to keep her company a week from now, then he’d find something else to do to her.  He’d find her again, find where she lived, and he’d make a campaign of it.  He’d convince her she was doing it to herself.  Isolate, with a few other tricks, dismantle, destroy.

She’d suffer.  His grin was toothy as he watched her leave.

What now?  He had to wait until the hallways were empty before he could crack open the machine of food and cash.

Two stalls were occupied.  There was one he didn’t dare touch.  That still meant one possible view.

He smiled wide.

There were a number of fun things he could do here.  Scare them at the right time, snatch their bag and run, spit a loogie into their pants or panties…

This one wore hose, which he could scratch, or he could dig in his pockets for something to drop inside.  He kept a lot of things.  A live roach, two centipedes, a bundle of flea-infested hair, fresh shit in plastic wrap-

He’d decide depending on what she looked like.  Maybe do all of them.  Then he’d make a marking so the fear would stay, the bad feelings, but the impressions would linger, staying with her.

He ducked his head low to crawl under the stall door.

A chain settled around his neck.

“No!” he shrieked, clutching at the metal loops.  “No, no, fuck you!”

“Shh,” the practitioner said, tightening the chain.  Her dark brown hair was cut short, pushed out of her face by a metal hairband.  She still wore her winter coat, alongside a checkered scarf.

He could feel his essence draining out of him, bleeding into the metal.

This was what dying felt like. Except he wouldn’t die.  He’d become less, he’d take years to recuperate.

“Please, give mercy,” he said, lowering his voice, pretending to comply with her wish for quiet.

She smiled, showing her teeth, her eyes crinkling a little with mischief.  “What makes you think I’m the merciful type?”

Buttsack started shrieking, full-volume, lashing out with his claws.  She kicked the wind out of him, pulled the chain tight enough that he had to grasp at it to try and spare his throat, and then wound the chain around his head, into his mouth and around his hands, binding them in place.

Shit fell out of his pockets as she hauled his feet up, bending them brutally backward.  A second chain came out of her bag, winding around his feet and through his elbows until one was bound to the other.  Each loop of chain took a measure of his strength, until he was too feeble to work his hands out from under the metal.

He’d never live this down.

Maggie finished tying up the goblin, then dragged it out of the stall, slinging it over so it skidded off to one corner of the bathroom, chains scratching against the tile.

“You’re one of the gross ones, aren’t you?” she asked, as she bent over the sink, washing her arms up to the elbow.

The goblin grunted in a way that very strongly suggested he was cussing at her.

“Yeah, well, same to you, Wrinkles.”

The other stall door opened, and the Duchamp girl stepped out.  Lola Duchamp, was it?  It was hard to keep track of them all.  They looked so similar.

Lola went to the sink two spaces away from Maggie and began washing her own hands.

The goblin, unable to speak, resorted to pelvic thrusts in their general direction.  Lola glanced down, then looked away, disgusted.

“Quit it, goblin,” Maggie ordered, her tone sharp.  “Or I’ll step on it.”

The goblin went still.

“Sorry,” she said to Lola.  “Problem of dealing with goblins.  They have a way of bringing you down to their level.”

“There’s a deal in place,” Lola said.  “We don’t mess with the goblins, they leave us alone.”

You guys have a deal in place,” Maggie said.  “I never agreed to anything, and I don’t benefit.  Am I missing something?”

“It’s the way things are done here.”

“Consider me an anarchist,” Maggie said.  She finished washing her hands and shook them dry.

“Anarchy doesn’t work,” Lola said.  She picked at a fleck of black near one eye with a fingernail.

“It doesn’t work for countries.  As personal philosophies go, it’s fantastic.”

“Until you realize you’re utterly alone,” Lola said.  “Are you happy being alone?”

Maggie shrugged.  She walked over to the window, tested her ability to touch the metal, then used the scarf to insulate against the cold as she hauled it open.

Fuck, that’s cold,” Lola said.  “What the hell are you doing?”

“Putting Mr. Wrinkles away until later,” Maggie said.  “Unless he gives me a nod right now to tell me he’s cooperating.”

Both Maggie and Lola looked at the goblin.

He thrust his pelvis into the air once.  Quite amazing, even, given the chains that bound him.

“Right-o,” Maggie said.  She grabbed the chains and hauled him off the ground.  “Heavy little snot, aren’t you?”

The goblin’s retort was muffled but his glare said enough.

She held him above the open window.

Behind Maggie and Lola, the bathroom door opened.  Maggie still held the goblin out the window.

A teacher.

You two should be in class,” the woman said.

“I’m new,” Maggie said.  “Still learning my way around town.”

“I know for a fact that isn’t true,” the woman replied.  “Your name is making its rounds around the staff room, Maggie.  We do talk about our students.”

I am new, relatively speaking, Maggie thought.  And I am still learning my way around town.

Still, she made a show of looking suitably embarrassed.

“I have to assume you’re using the windowsill as an ashtray.  Please tell me it’s a cigarette, and not something you could get suspended for.”

The goblin squirmed, fingers reaching out in an attempt to scratch at Maggie’s hands.  Maggie shifted her grip so the goblin couldn’t touch her.

The woman couldn’t see, of course.  The goblin had cloaked itself, and something told Maggie that the woman was one of those people that could look right at an Other and walk away none the wiser.

“It’s neither,” Maggie said.  “Want to do a breath test?”

“Yes, I’ll call that bluff,” the woman said.  “Whatever you’re doing, please close that window first.”

Maggie nodded, turning her attention to the window, “Just trying to see if there’s something on the outside… ah.”

She balanced the goblin on the very edge of the window, then hooked the metal clip at the end of the chain to the raised lip of the window frame.

A nudge, touching the chain alone, and he tipped over, screaming.  A moment later, he jerked to a stop, screaming in pain, this time.

That only lasted a second or two.  He started screaming in rage as he realized what she was doing.  The chain swayed as he struggled, swinging left and right.

Maggie shut the door, only to find the teacher a foot behind her.

“Breath test,” the teacher said.

Maggie huffed a breath in the teacher’s face.

“Hands too.”

“You might not want to-”

Hands,” the teacher said, firmer.

Maggie held out her hands.  “I’m telling you-”

The woman took a sniff, then recoiled.  “Good god.  Wash your hands.”

“I did.”

“Wash your hands again,” the woman said, irritated, “Then go to the office, get a late slip, and get yourself to homeroom.  Lola Duchamp?”

“Same thing, I get it,” Lola said.

The woman turned to go, pausing at the door.  “Maggie?”

“Yes ma’am?”

“Consider seeing a doctor.”

The woman slammed the door.

“Goblin stink,” Maggie commented.  She took a tentative sniff of her own hands, then screwed up her face.  She started washing her hands again.  “I don’t think I even touched him directly when I was sticking him through the window.”

“It’s probably in your clothes,” Lola commented.  “Mine too.  Come with me to the office?  I’ve got something to bring up.”

Maggie nodded, giving her hands a quick rinse to get the soap off.

Lola held the door for her as they made their exit.

“Are we friends now?”  Maggie asked.  She let her shoulder bump Lola’s.  “Partners in crime?”

“No,” Lola said, without humor.

“That’s cold,” Maggie said.  “Shutting me down.  You could at least play along, or give more material so this conversation keeps moving.”

“Anarchists can be too dangerous to befriend.”

“Sticking to the Duchamp party line there, Lola?  What is it they tell you?  Stay away from outsiders, they’re dangerous and they’ll fudge you up?  Stick with our cult of black widow enchantresses, marry the disgusting old dude we tell you to, squirt out some Duchamp clone, drink the kool-aid…”

“If we’re talking about dangerous company, practitioners that make stupid mistakes like giving away their ability to swear have to rate somewhere up there.”

“That’s not exactly what I did,”  Maggie said.  “But hey, excellent banter.  I could convert you yet.”

“Oh?  Do tell.  How long do I have before I’m killing people in cold blood, Maggie?”

The words were like a physical blow.

Maggie managed a fake smile, “As banter goes, that’s a little too direct-to-jugular to fit in with the flow, FYI.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.  While we’re trading tips, if you want to pretend my words aren’t affecting you, you can’t have that telling pause before you respond.”

Despite herself, Maggie hesitated before speaking again, trying to find her mental footing.  “You think you’re better than me?”

Stupid.  If an argument was an exchange of blows, she’d just given up her opportunity and stuck her chin out for a hit.

Sure enough, Lola seized the chance, “We’re civilized, we’re building something.  You’re, what, doing the metaphorical equivalent of grubbing in the dirt for cockroaches?  I can’t even think of a good metaphor for what you did to the last Thorburn heiress, but it’s lower than that.  The fact that it needed to be done doesn’t diminish the ugliness of it at all.  We’re not ever going to be friendly, understand?”

“My metaphorical cockroaches could slit your throat and drop a dookie in the wound,” Maggie said.

The look Lola gave her was priceless.  Shutting up a Duchamp?

“Could, not will.  Just saying,” Maggie said, before Lola could decide on a retort, or escalate this into a problem.  “Not to worry.  You might not be friendly, but I’m a lot nicer than I look.”

Even now, Lola didn’t have the words for a reply.

Which worked.  Going back to her exchange of blows metaphor, she’d just picked up a chair and slapped Lola across the back of the head.  It wouldn’t make her friends, but she’d won the argument.

“You’re more energetic than usual.”

“It’s the end of the semester, and I’m pretty happy things have gone as well as they have, believe it or not.”

“You’re in Jacob’s Bell.  You murdered a girl.  You’re happy?”

Lola kept bringing that up.  Lola had to know the effects the words had, and it rankled.  She had no idea what was involved, the sleepless nights, the shame, and yet she threw it out there.

Which made Maggie’s mood worse and made it more likely Maggie would say something they’d both regret.  ‘I’ll have a goblin cut your throat and crap in the wound’ wasn’t her worst.

Maggie took a breath, then exhaled slowly before replying.  “Pretty happy, for lack of a better term.  I’m in a better place mentally and emotionally, even literally.  The damn nightmares have stopped.  I’m meeting people and making sorta-friends.”

“Sorta-friends like Mr. Wrinkles, the bathroom goblin?”

“No,” Maggie said.

“Because he’s a better choice for a friend than Blake Thorburn.”

“Blake gets a bad rap.”

“Maybe.  But I still don’t know how you can interact with him.  Aren’t you scared?”

“Nah.  Look at where we are right now.  What could be worse than high school?”

There was a pause.  Lola ventured, “On a related note, there’s something I wanted to bring up.”

“We’re almost at the office,” Maggie said, pointing.  “Dratting shame.”

“Where’s your homeroom?”

“Geo.  It’s in the-”

“I know where it is.  Whoever finishes first waits for the other, we walk back together.”

“Going back on the ‘never be friends’ bit?”

“No, but I need to run something past you, and-” Lola paused as someone walked by, “we can’t do it here.”

“I dunno, they check the times for the slips, and it’s a huge hassle if I have to go back to the office to explain why the walk took me-”

“At the back of the school after school then.  This is serious.  I need a few minutes of your time.”

“This is serious?  Traps can be serious too.”

Lola sighed.  “I promise no willful harm, direct or indirect, premeditated, present, or future, will come from me to you, as a result of this.  You have my protection, up to the point that you abuse it.”

Maggie considered, then said, “Okay.”

Lola nodded.

Maggie stepped in Lola’s way, cutting her off, before the girl could cross the distance to the front office’s door.  She opened it herself, holding it.

Equity.  You hold the door for me, I hold the door for you.

Lola didn’t break eye contact as she passed, intimidating as all get out.  Even her walk was graceful.  Take away the makeup and the piercings and she was such a Duchamp.  It was so disappointing.  The style could have been a small rebellion, but… no.

Can’t help but wonder how that works with the whole arranged marriage thing, Maggie thought.  Is it by choice, and she goes back to normal when the Duchamps want her to, does she define herself the way she wants, and they find a partner willing to take her, or is that look purely because the Duchamps wanted a girl with a particular style for a particular husband?

Whatever the choice was, it was gross.

Maggie followed Lola into the office.

When she’d moved here, Maggie hadn’t been able to shake the idea that she’d go to school and there would be only a handful of classrooms, with one classroom for each grade.

As it happened, St. Sebastian’s wasn’t that small.  Eight hundred students, give or take.  All of the trappings of a usual high school.  The only caveat was that it was the only real high school in Jacob’s Bell.

Maggie waited patiently in line, trying to zen away the frustration and the urge to say something.  That would be giving them what they wanted.

If a student was more than five minutes late for class, the school rules said they had to go to the office and get a slip.  The backlog of students meant that there were twenty or more every morning around this time.  Making the trip to what was bound to be the furthest point from the classroom, waiting in line, giving a reason, waiting for the secretary to write it all down, going back, it made everyone more late.

They wanted to frustrate.  To think they were being clever, driving the point home with this ‘subtle’ time wasting monotony when they really, really weren’t.

Maggie’s interest was diverted by the arrival of another practitioner.

Her head wasn’t the only one that turned.

Blonde, but with features too sharp to fit a Duchamp, not pretty and maybe a little underweight, she was dirty to the point that you could tell from the other end of the room.

“Fuck me,” Lola said, under her breath.  She stepped out of the line, hurrying.

But the principal was closer, and reached the Briar Girl first.

The tone of discussion in the room changed.  From conversation to restrained questions and answers.  It seemed like half the people in the room had no idea who the Briar Girl was, and the other half were eager to share the details, and all were trying to be quiet enough to overhear.

Maggie had another advantage.

She reached into her pocket, and gripped a pointed, leathery object.

Listen,” she whispered under her breath.

The goblin’s ear in her hand got warm.

The principal eyed the crowd.  When he spoke, Maggie could hear through her hand.  “Step into my office?”

“No.”

“You haven’t attended school all semester.”

“I’m not attending school now.  I want to meet someone.  If you can tell me which class-”

“If you’d please step into my office-”

“No,” the Briar Girl said.  “I don’t like confined spaces.  Stop asking.”

“I’m going to call the CAS, given your situation-”

Lola approached the principal and the Briar Girl.  She met Maggie’s eyes, then moved one hand to her own ear.

The goblin ear in Maggie’s hand went cold.

Then Lola said something to the principal.  Enough power was spent in the process that Maggie felt jealous.  If she had that much power… she’d hoard it.  She’d have no choice.  But Lola could fritter it away.  Maybe under the expectation that someone would pay her back, maybe because she really did have power to spare.  The Duchamps really were a step above.

The principal turned to the Briar Girl and said, “I am going to talk to you as soon as this is over.  Please wait here.”

Then he was gone, out of the office.

The connection that extended from him went nowhere, like a ribbon with a frayed end.  A wild goose chase.  He’d reach the end of it, then find himself unable to recall why he’d left in the first place.

Maggie watched Lola’s furtive discussion with the Briar Girl, their furtive glances her way.

“Your name?” the secretary asked.

“Maggie Holt.”

“Reason for being late?”

Problem with being unable to lie, situations like this call for snark.

“Well, it’s that time of the month-”

Or time of the week, that Mr. Wrinkles shows up.

The secretary gave her a very unimpressed look.

“Bathroom concerns,” Maggie said, her voice low.

“If this trend continues, you might need to do some volunteer hours.”

“Volunteer hours?”

“Practical detention.”

Gah.

“Go to class,” the secretary said, handing Maggie a slip of paper.

Maggie did, glancing over her shoulder at the Briar Girl and Lola, who were still chatting.

When she was safely in the hallway, she used a kleenex to wipe the blood from the goblin ear off her hand.  Maybe one more good use out of it before it was spent.  It had been a bribe from a goblin, to get her to release it.  If she wanted another, she might have to harvest it herself.

Reaching homeroom, she held up the slip, which the teacher didn’t even look at, then found her desk.

The class was quiet, and everyone was working on some worksheet, writing periodically.

The teacher appeared by her desk, leaning down to be quieter, as she handed over the worksheet and a marked test.  “You’d be doing far better if you showed up to more classes.  I can only give you so much leeway, given your circumstances.”

Maggie nodded.

The test sported a big underlined D.

There were two Duchamps and one Behaim in her class.  She could feel their stares, each carrying the weight of Lola’s words, compounded by the grade and the fact that they probably knew what the teacher had said.

Accusatory, condescending.  All thinking the same thing.

Murderer.

That thought led to the next, Blood, darkness, and fire.

She fidgeted with her pen more than she followed through on the worksheet.  With the mention of the murder, the Thorburn thing, and her recent goblin capture, they all distracted.  The capture was a good distraction, Blake wasn’t a bad distraction, and the murder was.  Killing Molly was like all of the horribly embarrassing and hurtful things she said and did when she was a kid, bundled up together in one.

She’d been the middleman, passing on instructions from Laird to the goblins, but it still left her with a shame like a tender wound, aching constantly, all the worse when she was trying to find sleep, hurting ten times more when she or somebody else prodded at it.

Which was why she was missing class, in a roundabout way.

It wasn’t that she wasn’t going to school, it had more to do with what she was doing when she did arrive.  She was content to hole up in the stairwell, stay out of the way, and work on her stuff.  If she had a goblin stowed, she could miss a class to bring it out and do some bargaining, offering freedom for a little technique or trick, or a bit of explanation about how things worked.  The really stupid ones could be caught over and over again, bled for everything they were worth.  She could read in the library, she’d practiced techniques on the school roof when it was only fall, and she could make notes and plan.

In the process, she maybe missed each of her classes once a week, but she was still keeping her promise.  Still going to school, like she’d promised her dads.  Technically.

Anything more than that was impossible.  She was sleeping better these days, but ‘better’ didn’t mean well.

Taking time out of class meant she could prepare herself, make herself a little and preparing helped her relax.

In a way, it was a long journey to take to feel at ease, and it didn’t last long.

But it was getting better.  She had an ally now.  Allies.

Sorta-friends.

Blake was one.  He could still offer her books.  Even though he’d just left, dashing off to Toronto, he was bound to come back.  When he came back, fixing his problem with the barrier, he’d give her access to books, with access to the books, she’d step up her game and prepare for trouble, and she’d beat it and everything would be okay.

“Thorburn probably isn’t coming back,” Lola said.  “I can’t tell you the key details, but four separate divinations or powers are saying so.”

Lola was here, a senior, one year older than Maggie, joined by Penelope, Joanna, Chloe and Lea.  Not all of the school-age Duchamps, not even half, but enough.

Gavin, Owen and Craig Behaim were here too, as were the Briar Girl, Patrick, Evonne, and Keller.

Plus the wrinkly goblin, bound in chain, which she’d retrieved and brought with her now that the school day was over.

Maggie looked at all of them in turn, for a hint, a clue.

They were deadly serious, and whatever they’d discussed, they’d shared with each other, but they wouldn’t share with her.

“You guys are jerks,” Maggie said.  “Why would you tell me that?”

“You’re on the verge of becoming a problem,” Gavin said.  “That vote during the council meeting was supposed to be a warning.  A very firm suggestion that you’re supposed to shape up or ship out.”

“Gotta say,” Maggie said, sticking her hands in her pockets, “didn’t appreciate you voting yes on my execution.”

“I was trying to make a point, a tangent to the greater point.  You came after me-”

“I played a prank.”

“You came after me,” Gavin said.  “You sent goblins after me.”

“I played a prank to equalize things because you assholes felt like the new girl needed to know her place or some shit like that.”

“I was asked to test your measure, see how you operated, what kind of practitioner you were.  I did as I was asked.  Whatever your excuse, you came after me with excess force, and you needed to know that when you make enemies here, on top of crossing lines and drawing interest from non-practitioners, you put yourself in a dangerous position.  So I voted.  Others will do the same until you clue in.”

Yawn,” Maggie said.  “Is this the only reason you reached out?  I knew most of this already, and if we’re rehashing old arguments-”

“Maggie, that’s not it,” Penelope said.  She was the oldest human present, and wanted to think she had more authority as a result.

Maggie remained silent, waiting for more of a response.

“With the Thorburn thing happening, we can’t have too many wild cards in play.  This thing, right here?  It’s the next generation of practitioners.  Except for your goblin there, and Patrick and his group who invited themselves-”

“You make us sound so unwelcome,” Evonne chimed in.

“We’re part of the next generation, and we’ll be part of the generation after that, and so on, barring strange circumstances,” Patrick said, “and believe it or not, we’re relatively young.  We’re perpetually current.  I’d like to think we count.”

Penelope hesitated.  Her canary gave her a look that a bird wasn’t supposed to be capable of, and Penelope continued as if Patrick hadn’t interjected.  “The current generation are doing their thing.  We’re doing our thing.  We’ve talked it over amongst ourselves, us practitioners.  On the assumption that you’re not planning on leaving Jacob’s Bell anytime soon…”

A pause, giving Maggie an opening.

“No plans to leave anytime soon.  Moving is a pain in the butt, and my parents really want to stop somewhere and get over what happened back home.”

“…Yeah.  Well, since you’re sticking around, and you’re almost an adult, we thought we’d count you in our number.  In a decade or so, we’ll be the council, or some of us will.  We’re extending an offer of peace.  Separate from the official council business, but honest, and it carries over as we move on.”

“Peace?”

Penelope continued, “We leave you alone.  We leave your family alone.  What Gavin was saying, in his roundabout way, is you could be our enemy, and stuff like the vote will edge closer and closer to putting you in a bad situation, or you can take this deal.  You do what you need to do, and you do it without any hassle from us, provided you keep to the terms.”

Maggie pulled her hands from her pockets to fold her arms.  “Lola said something like ‘we’ll never be friends’.”

“We won’t,” Lola said.  “But we can leave each other alone, and we can exist in the same sphere without being at each other’s throats.

Penelope spoke up, “It’s not going to change things overnight.  It might be a little clumsy, while we work out the details, but we can keep our parents from giving you a hard time, stop further execution votes from coming to pass.  As our parents retire and we take our spots on the town council, we can raise you up with us.”

“With enough time, you’d have as much of a say as the Crone, the Faerie, Briar Girl or any other local powers,” Lola said.

“I don’t like you either,” Gavin said, “But I can play ball if it means you don’t screw everything up.  We can send help your way.  Resources, knowledge, individual lessons, if people feel up to it or if you want to bargain for it.  If you want to focus on the goblins, we can change the way things are done.  Powerful goblins go to you instead of getting killed, we tell you if there’s something going on goblinwise.”

Maggie double checked there were no funny connections.  No obvious manipulations at work.  “But there are conditions?”

Gavin shrugged.  “Nothing too difficult.  First off, you can’t mess with the whole thing going on with the contested Lordship over Jacob’s Bell.  I’m hoping you’re not insane enough to think you can even make a play there.”

“Nah.”

“It benefits you,” Penelope said, “Letting things progress.  If we or our families become Lord, we can give you your due.  We’ll swear it.  We become Lord, you become…”

“Subordinate,” Maggie said.

“I’d rather say you become more powerful, with our backing,” Lola said.  “We’re not asking for slavery.  You’d have free will.  You could be a pain in our backsides and vote against every idea we raise, so long as the core rules are maintained.  So long as you’re hands off when it comes to the ‘throne’ and letting Jacob’s Bell become something better.”

“And?” Maggie asked.  “Those can’t be the only conditions.”

“It’s not a condition, since Briar Girl didn’t agree,” Lola said, “But we’d very much appreciate it if you didn’t mess with the wedding.  It’d be interfering in the Lordship game in a general sense, if not technically.”

“Fine,” Maggie said.  “Get to the meat of it.”

“You can’t go and help the enemy,” Gavin said.  “If someone intervenes at the right time, then things get more complicated.”

“Ahh,” Maggie said.  “That’s what you’re worried about.”

Penelope said, “We talked it over, it’s not hard to figure out what he’s offering you, and we decided we’d top the offer.  The resources of two families, Briar Girl will teach you some stuff in exchange for us doing her favors.  I can’t imagine you’ll get a better deal.”

“Not anytime soon,” Maggie said.

“The only lump knowledge Blake can offer that we can’t is knowledge on diabolism,” Gavin said.  “And if you’re going there, we’re going to have a problem, I’m sure you understand.”

Maggie nodded slowly, considering.  “Meaning that if I can’t come up with a good argument as to why I’m not accepting your deal, you’re going to assume I’m a wannabe diabolist, and I’m public enemy number two, after Blake himself?”

“No,” Penelope said.  “I can’t speak for the others, but I wasn’t after that sort of ultimatum.”

“I was.  Her answer should clear stuff up,” Gavin said.

“Okay,” Maggie said.  “Patrick?  Are you part of this deal or something?”

“It’s interesting,” he said.  “But I’m merely here as an observer.”

“Let me give this a shot, then,” Maggie said.  “Arguments why I shouldn’t take the deal?  If you guys came up with it on your own, I could fall for a bait and switch.  Your parents step in, they act without your knowledge or assent, and I lose all the benefits while still having to pay the price.”

Craig raised a hand, as if asking for permission to talk.  He was one of the youngest present, alongside Joanna, middle school or so, and blocky in terms of how he was put together.  Not muscular, not fat, just something in between, with a very typical Behaim square jaw.  Laird’s son.

“Go ahead,” Gavin said.

“I told my dad, Laird, and he said he’d see how viable it is.  I’m not sure, but he talked to Sandra,” Craig said, glancing at Lola and Penelope, “And everyone else that’s important, to make sure it’s okay.  He said it should be fine, and he’d step in if things got messy.”

Laird.

Maggie wasn’t sure if that helped or just made her more uneasy.

“They’re giving us slack,” Gavin said.  “Probably watching to make sure we don’t screw it up too badly, maybe meddling a bit behind the scenes.”

Penelope nodded, “This is genuine, coming from us.  It’s accepted by them.”

“It’s a load of hooey,” Maggie said.

“How is it hooey?” Joanna asked, the youngest Duchamp present.

“You want to know why I sided with Blake before?  Because he’s made wads more sense than a hundred Lairds or Lolas or Patricks have.  He’s fudged up, sure, but as I see it, that only makes him more legit.  I see people who are ‘normal’, and you know what?  I don’t respect them.  Either they’re oblivious and useless to me, or they’re just plain lying.  We’re all a little twisted.”

They were staring at her.

She hadn’t meant to say all that, but she had, and now she sounded paranoid.  There was nowhere to go but forward.

“The abnormal stuff isn’t deep inside Blake.  It’s exposed to the world.  Everyone with a clue knows why, mostly.  Demons and black tomes.  Anyone who’s spent more than an hour with him, me included, can figure out most of the rest.  He came from a bad family and a bad place in life, and at the end of the day, I think he’s more genuine than any of you.”

The others stared at her, intense, divided between those who seemed like they couldn’t comprehend what she’d just said, and those who thought they understood.  And were probably wrong..

“Sorry, but I have to ask.  Is this a romantic attachment?” Penelope asked.

Maggie shook her head, “If I had to put my finger on it… he’s like a dog you find by the side of the road.  Scruffy, quirky, you know it’s got a story.  It’s nice enough, plays fair, and I’m not about to let a bunch of idiots say it’s dangerous when they don’t know.”

“I sort of know,” Penelope said.  “He hurt my sister’s familiar.”

“You think the scruffy dog isn’t going to bite back when threatened?  No, you’re not being fair.  That dog had no dratting choice in what happened to it, and I respect it for not being worse than it is.  I’ve seen stuff too, and, well, that so-called dog has every right to hate me, and it was darn fair.  But even if I respect it and don’t mind its company, there’s no frigging way I’m taking the pretend dog home with me, you get what I’m saying?  I’m talking about a whole bundle of issues.  Fleas, dirt, bad habits, I dunno.”

“Yeah,” Joanna said.  “He could have been meaner, when he beat Letita.  He scared me though.  Him and the woman he was with.”

“He’s allowed to be scary,” Maggie said.

“Then I take it you’re going to side with your metaphorical dog over us?”  Gavin asked.

Maggie drew in a deep breath, then exhaled.  “Write up a contract.  If it’s everything you’re presenting it as, no tricks or anything that I can see, and you guys sign, I’ll sign too.”

“After saying all that?”  Penelope asked.

“He’s in trouble like you said?  I’m not interested in sticking my hand into the middle of a dogfight.  I’m not interested in acting against him, either, but I’m not under any rules or oaths that say I have to help him.  You guys studied me, you figured me out.  What I want above all else is power, knowledge.  I’ll take what you’re offering, if it’s legit.”

“It is,” Gavin said.

“Then yeah,” Maggie said.  “Is that everything?  We done?”

“For the purposes of this meeting?  Think so,” Lola said.

Maggie gave the group a bit of a salute.  “Run it by me when you’re done.”

“Will probably be a few days,” Gavin said.

Maggie shrugged.  “You know where to find me.”

She grabbed the chain that bound the goblin, then dragged the struggling creature in the snow behind her as she made her way off the school grounds.

Patrick fell into step beside her.  Evonne and Keller weren’t around.

His skin stripped away like autumn leaves in a strong wind, revealing a face beneath.

This was the face she thought of as Padraic.  Leader of the local trio of exiled faerie.

A teenager’s face, decidedly Faerie with a slant to his features and ears, wild dark hair, and a sly, almost condescending half-smile perpetually on his face.  There was an art to it all that was pure design, raw nurture, with no nature in play.

This was the face he wore for her.  Every part of him promised a subtle sort of danger, and even now, Maggie couldn’t tell if it was the sort of danger someone experienced while skydiving, controlled, measured, or if it was the sort of danger one experienced when they leapt out of an airplane without a parachute.

She wasn’t sure which idea appealed more.  The former was tantalizing, the latter offered a kind of freedom.

They walked together in near-silence for twenty minutes or so.

She was halfway through a thought about how long the silence would go on before it was awkward when he spoke.  That simple fact sent a thrill of fear through her.

“If Blake is a stray dog, what am I?”

Jealousy?  Feigned jealousy?

Where did the game end and the reality begin?  Or was he all game?

The worst part was, she enjoyed the lack of commitment, the fact that she only had one toe in this water.  Telling herself that she was safe, that there would never ever no way no how absolutely not be a relationship between them.

And that in itself could be part of the lure, the bait being set.

“Good question,” she hedged.

“Take a stab at it,” he said.

“You’re… the kitten in the shelter.  Giving me that big-eyed look.  And I know it’s calculated.  Everyone and everything is telling me it’s a bad idea, but here I am.  I haven’t walked away.”

He smiled.

And if I ever took that kitten home and let my guard down, it would kill me in my sleep, then curl up on the corpse.

She had no illusions about the monster Padraic was.

Even if he was damned attractive.

“Like the cat, I know you’re prone to doing what you want to do, regardless of the wishes of others, but-”

“You want me to wait here.”

Maggie nodded.

“I can,” he said.  “But I have to demand a favor, in compensation.”

She tensed a little.

“When you’re done, you let me teach you another trick with glamour, convincing spirits, and the objects they represent.  It has its uses in a melee, and I know you like the ones with uses in a fight.  I’ll even forfeit the glamour you need to practice.”

This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, she knew.  What he was offering now was more bait.  This was something he’d anticipated handing over to her to keep her interested.  Keep her around.  He would have had this in mind for months, even.

“If it sounds uneven, remember, I need your continued silence about the lessons I’m offering.  If we get caught, we’ll have the Queen’s Riders after us.”

He managed to make it sound so alluring, the idea of them sharing a secret.

The kitten’s wide-eyed plea?  Please.  She was staring into the serpent’s eyes while the coils surrounded her.  She knew, and he knew she knew.

He knew, too, that she would accept.  She had to.

“Okay,” she said.  “I’ll take you up on that deal if you watch the goblin.  Watch and nothing else.”

“Of course,” he said, smiling.  She was careful to look away before the smile could get its hooks in her heart.

All glamour, she told herself.

She quenched the buzz of adrenaline and other excited, warm feelings with ugliness.

The path down the hill was a steep one, though it had been traveled some.  Footsteps had tromped snow down until it was almost smooth, and she had to move slowly to avoid falling over while Padraic watched.

There were flowers, odd as it was, in the middle of winter.  Pictures and arrangements, cards, all sitting on a wooden platform that rested in the snow.

Maggie drew her Athame.

She pricked herself under the fingernail of her pinky finger, and watched as the blood filled the little concave of her overturned pinky fingernail.

Tilting her hand, she let blood drop.  She repeated the process of letting the blood well up and then drop a total of three times.

The ghost absorbed the offered energy, growing strong enough to be seen.

The echo of the departed Molly Walker stood amid the token offerings that family members and various residents of Jacob’s Bell had left near the site of her death, hugging her arms to her body, face hidden by hair.

The boards that kept all the little offerings dry and safe from the elements were inscribed with a circle, to prevent interference.  It wouldn’t do if a goblin desecrated the little shrine.  But Molly’s echo had drawn a crude circle too, Maggie noted.

Maggie’s inverse.  Molly had never fought.  Maggie saw no option but to prepare for war, to face it head on.  Even as an echo, she continued to defend herself, retreating from this hostile, unfathomable world.

Maggie stared at the ghost, trying to interpret details, to come to grips with what it meant and represented.

She’d been in a bad place, scared, out of her element, desperate.  The arguments had been persuasive.

Could she really sign that contract?  Sign on with them?  Knowing that Laird was a part of it?

Could she, conversely, really side with Blake, letting guilt and shame make the decisions for her, and render herself weaker?

Maybe she’d decide by the time she was done.

She began what she considered her penance.  A way of reminding herself of what she’d let happen, so she wouldn’t do it again.  Every day, an offering to help keep the echo alive, and-

“It was a pretty slow day, I guess.  I captured a goblin, but I’ll get to that in more detail in a bit…”

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156 thoughts on “Signature 8.1

  1. Hmm. Timeline wise, this would fit somewhere right after Blake went to Toronto but before he started his war with Conquest? The fact that Laird seems to be alive and she remembers Blake seems to imply as much, since I’m sure that Duncan would have told the families immediately if they couldn’t tell themselves.

    1. There are 3 days from when Blake left to Toronto to when the contest starts. We should have plenty of time to see this develop into something ugly before Maggie comes.

  2. Huh, this was deeper than I thought. Maggie is not only attracted to the evil fae, but is torn between becoming more powerful or her guilt and humility.

    And Briar Girl can fit in as a student? I thought she was like 20 something?

  3. Typo thread…

    kool-aid
    Kool-Aid (brand name), but also used generically, so OK

    kleenex
    Kleenex (brand name), but also used generically, so OK

    Or maybe the process that made goblins was
    missing terminal period

    And oh, how the spellchecker lloovveedd goblin names and slang.

    1. “Find other papers to get clues. Best if he did it clever-like. Make it make sense. Sometimes a nice colorful threat to the teacher, referencing an old mark if they were low, or drawing a picture at the edges of the ages,”

      Should be pages I think, rather than “ages” and maybe a period rather than a comma.

      Also, the next chapter button links to the next chapter, which it shouldn’t till thursday or saturday. (Hopefully thursday)

    2. “Washroom was a yes”
      ‘W’ isn’t italicised.

      “Or maybe the process that made goblins was”
      Cut short… the more it happens, the more I feel it’s deliberate of wildbow to do those.
      Erasurre shenanigans everywhere. Call the police, our poor fourth wall is being abused something fierce.

    3. fresh shit in plastic wrap-

      The paragraph ends on a hyphen?

      Then he’d make a marking so the fear would stay, the bad feelings, but the impressions would linger, staying with her.

      This sentence isn’t very clear in my opinion. I think this is a wrong use of “but”.

      ‘I’ll have a goblin cut your throat and crap in the wound’ wasn’t her worst.

      Missing closing quotation mark. The first quotation mark is a single quotation mark, not sure if that breaks with the style.

    4. I don’t know if its just me, but these three sentences feel weird somehow:

      “Stuff with red markings and circles all over it was useless to mess with.”

      “With the mention of the murder, the Thorburn thing, and her recent goblin capture, they all distracted.”

      “make herself a little and preparing helped her relax.”

    5. Maggie saw no option but to prepare for war, to face it head on. Even as an echo, she continued to defend herself, retreating from this hostile, unfathomable world.
      -misplaced antecedent for “she”

    6. He detoured right, instead, taking cover beneath the sinks and the oversized bag that cankles had left by the wall.
      -Cankles

      The one at the windowsill wasn’t looking at anything, and her lack of focus was exactly the sort that could see something that was walking the fine line he was, wanting something to catch her attention.
      -What is wanting something to catch her attention? Need clarification.

    7. Typos:
      – “However, that also meant he was also” -> maybe remove one “also”?
      – “Or maybe the process that made goblins was” -> paragraph cut off
      – “or drawing a picture at the edges of the ages,” -> paragraph cut off
      – “Then he’d make a marking so the fear would stay, the bad feelings, but the impressions would linger, staying with her.”
      – “he’d give her access to books, with access to the books,” -> “he’d give her access to books. With access to the books,”
      – “And were probably wrong..” -> “wrong.”

      And I don’t understand this part: “her lack of focus was exactly the sort that could see something that was walking the fine line he was, wanting something to catch her attention”

      1. her lack of focus was exactly the sort that could see something that was walking the fine line he was, wanting something to catch her attention

        I understood that as “diverting someone’s attention (at least using goblin magic) is easier when they’re already focused on something; if their attention is wandering, they’re more likely to notice a hiding goblin”.

        We’ve seen something similar already in Pact: there’s a point where a passenger noticed Rose reflected in a train window; he got confused when he saw Blake, but apparently focusing on Blake hid Rose.

    8. Or maybe the process that made goblins was –> needs period or conclusion of the sentence

      And were probably wrong.. –> double period

    1. Meant to post that one, but forgot by the time I finished reading. It appears that she does say “shit.”

      “I played a prank to equalize things because you assholes felt like the new girl needed to know her place or some shit like that.”

    2. yeah, the
      “I played a prank to equalize things because you assholes felt like the new girl needed to know her place or some shit like that.” – we’ve got an a** and a s*** there, spoken by Maggie.
      Wildbow will probably fix it when he’s back, I guess.

        1. Maggie did mention that she didn’t exactly give away the ability to swear. There are a few different ways that could be interpreted, but there’s definitely something going on.

          Maybe accidentally swearing is going to weaken her later on in this arc.

          1. I was under the impression she couldn’t do it even accidentally.

            From 6.7:

            <

            blockquote>“Well,” Maggie said.  She grinned.  “Speaking as the resident expert in the nast-”

            She stopped short.

            “Really!?” she asked.  “I did not mean anything rude!  Not even close!  And how does that count!?”

            <

            blockquote>

            Seems like something is actively stopping her.

          2. Well, but remember in one of the early chapters she was physically unable to swear? She was trying to say something, but discovered it counted as profanity because she couldn’t (or maybe she can somehow sense what counts, but that’s not how, say, being untruthful has worked for Blake).

            So it seems to me like there are some really weird conditions on her ability to swear.

            1. Considering that she works with Goblins and most of the have names that require her to swear, she’s limited in options if that happens. So yeah, some condition.

      1. I had always assumed it was an accidental promise to her dads, but if it did involve Paedric, maybe the fact that he was present removed her restriction?

    1. It seems fairly clear that the Behaims and Duchamps aren’t operating on anything resembling conventional twentieth century morality, here. I guess that’s what being raised on Karma gets you.

    2. The Behaims and Duchamps strike me as the sorts that look down on their garbage men, and plumbers, considering them dirty and unpleasent, never understanding how important they are to keeping things going. Or put it this way. Congress shutting down for a week or two, or your sanitation shutting down for a week or two. Which one is actually worse?

  4. So Maggie is making deals with Padraic.He offers her help to keep her interested. So Padraic took away Maggie’s ability to swear like he tried to take Blake’s apologies.

    Earlier when Blake thought she was possessed, I wonder what she gave up or if she let something in because of Padraic.

    Will we get her pov for Blake’s last battle?

    Why would anyone agree to not break up the Behaim/Duchamp marriage/alliance. When voting on the council they can just gang up on people and blindside someone like on Survivor. Controlling the vote basically makes them lords of the city.

    1. May be some kind of taint, too… perhaps something from this glamour he’s giving her? A side-effect of trying to weasel out of whatever restrictions they place upon her?

    1. I kind of get this vibe that they’re doing the opposite of “following orders” – it’s not the being responsible for the death that bothers them, it’s the getting one’s hands dirty. And that’s all kinds of fudged up.

      1. Nah, that’s just values dissonance, like how ‘Gentlemen’ didn’t work – at least not in ‘trade’ which was anything to do with manufacturing, selling etc. during the Regency/Victorian era.

      1. Laird said that he wanted her to attack Molly, not kill her. It’s most likely that she botched it and she’s responsible. Of course, Laird was capable of Augury so we know he skirts the line.

  5. It’s kinda adorable seeing all the junior magicians having their club meeting. Too bad they come from creepy-ass families.

    And isn’t Maggie just lovely? And yet she has that prophecy over her head. Man, is there any practicioner that I like that is not doomed since the start?

    1. I personally like the astrologer… that aside, I guess either one comes from an old family (and to become an old family in the Pactverse, it probably has had to become a fudged-up family), had a meteoric rise to power (eg Johan – that probably also means they’re ash holes) or are new and lost (and thus doomed from the start). Wildbow stories: no hope for you today!

        1. True.

          Well…the Knights had some losses in the past, but it looks like that’s behind them now. I mean, unless something happens that destroys the whole nation, but that’s a given.

    1. “Echo” as in “ghost”, ie, a strong psychic impression left upon the world (for example, when being chased by goblins). Maggie, is, in a way, keeping alive and talking to a metaphysical representation of her sin. Probably not very healthy, psychologically speaking – it means she can’t let it go yet (which, in turn, means she’s not a complete psycho).

  6. Very sweet Maggie-Molly moment… Also, interesting to see a goblin in action. It makes me think it’s kind of hypocritical, that practitioners flip out at the mere mention of someone who might one day maybe sorta deal with demons, but can sign a nonaggression pact with Others that get random girls hooked on cocaine for the lulz on a tuesday.
    How many human ruins are they condoning with that? Not sure Pauz managed to ruin more lives than that goblin there. And that’s not even dealing with stuff like the Hyena… just think of what a greater goblin with Buttsack’s inclinations could get up to. Strong kool-aid indeed.

    1. Pauz, while dealing with Blake, sort of causally tried to cause a car crash. Pauz regularly dooms whole neighborhoods. How many of those animals had rabies you think? There were bears let loose on a neighborhood. Plus his very presence contaminates things. Pauz is tearing down the world.

      Buttsack is messing up one girl, and scaring a few more. As a project taking maybe weeks. Pauz is so much worse than Buttsack.

      Of course, they aren’t fighting Pauz either, so its not like they really seem to care.

      1. “but can sign a nonaggression pact with Others that get random girls hooked on cocaine for the lulz on a tuesday.”

        Makes me feel better about Blake letting Dickswizzle wreak the house.

        Look at it this way. If Demons are nukes in terms of damage, then Goblins are car emmissions. Not too bad individually, but let it go on long enough and you’ll fuck things up pretty badly anyways.

          1. It was a Behaim, but I figure they either have the same deal or one like it as the Duchamps. And the families are getting very close to being one.

      2. Seems to be just one bit of his typical day. Within the course of a few minutes, he screws with several people. Hard to say how many people he makes the lives worse of each day, how many lives he ruins each month, but this probably isn’t a one-time thing. Certainly, the goblins aren’t concentrating their efforts in one area.

        Besides, he’s not saying that goblins are worse than demons He’s saying that if you’re going to consider killing someone because they’re maybe sorta going to deal with demons, it’s a bit double-standardy to offer half an alliance with someone you know regularly deals with goblins as her main source of power.

        1. They were killing him because they wanted to distract the city from putting a stop to their plans. They say “Look a demonologist!” and then elope while everyone is cowering in fear.

          Although the kids aren’t in on that. But there is still a difference. Maggie beats up goblins to take their stuff. Demonologists have a couple key differences. First demonic power damages the world when used. Beat up a goblin and take its ear? A goblin has one less ear. Victory for good. Beat up Pauz and take his ear? Great now you have a radioactive ear, not much of a victory. Second deals with demons seem to work via offers to help the demons out in exchange for demonic power. Pay the Barber in blood, and get sharp blades. The demon is stronger now. And the sharp blades are probably tainted.

          Maggie’s use of goblins does in fact weaken goblins. Use of demons at the very least spreads fallout, and at worst helps the demons along.

          1. Two important notes.

            One, it should be obvious that not all interaction Maggie has with goblins is negative by the fact that the tougher ones haven’t ganged up on her and killed her. Sometimes, she takes an ear; sometimes, she strikes a bargain.

            Two, while Blake could have hypothetically summoned demons, he had no desire to and even made it clear that he wanted to not do so. The only reason he even dealt with Pauz was because he was forced to by Conquest…which he wouldn’t have had to do if he wasn’t driven out of Jacob’s Bell. If the Jacob’s Bell practitioners were more welcoming to the possibly-eventually-a-diabolist, he probably wouldn’t have so much as seen a demon. Yet, they decide that Blake’s a threat that has to be eliminated, even if the attempts drive him closer and closer to what they want to eliminate him for. Aside from the near-innocence of Blake at the beginning, the self-fulfilling prophecy aspect isn’t helping their case any.

            1. Goblins don’t seem like the type to be won over by diplomacy. They seem like the sorts that in order to do anything with you had better prove your hard enough. If you want to work with goblins, you’d better crack some skulls and make them know your mean.

              Of course they would argue that it was just a matter of time before Blake slides down the slippery slope, and they had best deal with him first.

            2. You can say the same about anyone. That doesn’t mean that it’s possible to rule over anyone without some element of diplomacy involved (barring a massive power disparity, which Maggie doesn’t have over every single goblin, let alone all of them in Jacob’s Bell together). If the goblins don’t get something they want out of it, they won’t do it; if the thing they get out of it is the ability to continue their lives in relative peace, sooner or later Maggie will have to deal with revolting goblins. The other kind of revolting goblins, I mean.

              Sorry, pun was too good to pass up. Anyways…

              They would argue that. Does it make them right? Does it make their actions justifiable? Does it eliminate any of my arguments? No, no, and of course not. That position would be indefensible, especially since they were pushing him towards the slope.
              Let me put it this way. The world will be worse-off if a person in front of you slides down a steep snowy slope, but if he stays where he is or dies everything will be fine. Do you try to coax him away from the slope and give him something to hold onto, or do you hit him with a stick and hope he dies before he slides down the slope?

            3. Goblins so far are violent mean fuckers. They don’t seem to be the type who’s respect you earn by being nice. The ones around Jacob’s Bell don’t seem all that bright, nor all that strong. Nothing on par with the Hyena at least.

              And I would definitly say try to draw them back from the slope. Aside from the moral reasons, if you fail to kill him with your strike, and he instinctivly steps back, then he goes down the slope, and it is because of your choices.

            4. Nothing on par with the Hyena isn’t saying much, since the Hyena is not only the single most powerful “goblin” we’ve seen (not really fitting the classification well), it’s one of the most powerful beings we’ve seen (aside from Conquest, demons, and the like). And remember, a few of Maggie’s servants killed Molly easily. Don’t tell me that the local goblins and such couldn’t kill her if she made them want to.
              Besides, you don’t need to be the type to have your respect earned with kindness to want to work with someone who gives you nice things when you work with them, or to not like people just bullying you.

              My point.

          2. That ear was gained through a bargain and there’s no telling if it would grow back again or not considering some of the stuff we’ve seen pulled out.

            Besides, it’s been made clear that working with Goblins brings you down to their level. They’re too unpleasant by nature and only understand force. You want something or to get them in line, you put a choke chain on them and beat them until they submit.

            Can you honestly say all the ones we’ve seen so far don’t deserve it?

            1. Can you honestly say all the ones we’ve seen so far don’t deserve it?

              …well, maybe not as such, but I can sort of doubt they do. If the stories about their origin we’ve seen have a tiny kernel of truth to them—and they probably do—then

              They’re too unpleasant by nature

              might not be quite true, in the sense that they might be that way because of someone rather than nature. This isn’t the place or the time to discuss the nature of free will and philosophize about blame and responsibility (and it’s even too soon to tell what exactly “by nature” means in Pactverse), but one can at least honestly doubt that goblins deserve their fates.

            2. I’m not saying any of them should even be in the same sentence with the word “decent”.

              But if I caused you to be a horrible psychopath, unable to do anything but evil (or created one), and you did lots of awful things, then yes, some awful fate is earned, but it’d me me who would deserve it, not you.

              It could be that the only way to stop you from doing horrible things would be to get rid of you, and yes, that would probably be the right thing to do, but that would be a necessity. IMO what you (or that hypothetical psychopath I’d created) would deserve would be healing, although there’s little chance of that in a Wildbow story…

      3. Pretty sure Buttsack isn’t otherwise just hanging out watching TV over those weeks. I’m sure he has dozens if not hundreds of ‘projects’ on the go at any one time…

        You’re probably right. Demons probably are generally worse than goblins. Goblins still don’t seem like something that should be just tolerated when you have the power to do something about it.

    2. You’re assuming that the girl is going to be alive. He dumped cocaine in a medical bottle that required a syringe, possibly Insulin or something else.

      There’s no telling if that mixture is going to kill her outright.

      1. The text says goblins are fast learners when it’s about doing evil. Buttsack is even smart enough to convincingly fake written essays to inflict psychological torment via the reactions of others to that essay, which is more than I expected of a goblin. If he doesn’t want to kill her, he probably won’t.

    3. Well,thereis a difference.

      Goblin’s are like bombs,they cause damage,but thats that,they are purely destructive and unplanning,the worst a planning one can do is destroy thel ifes of some humans,and even then things can be built on the ashes.They are destructive and murderous,but they do not fundamendally lessen reality,only society.

      Demon’s,on the other hand,are like nukes,they cause both damage and radiation,even the unplanning ones have some cunning,and they can set chain of events where it will require much practitioner effort to make things not worse.It would take an army of goblins with a relatively cunning one on the top to destroy a small town,and kill everyone,but in the future,the town can be rebuilt,but it would take one intermediate demon (if Ur is intermediate)to lesser creation in a way so fundamendal it can never truly recover.A demon’s effects are eternal,or very very difficult to heal,a goblin’s are potentially healable,even if there are lifes lost.Demons are entropic instead of destructive,and they deal in oblivion and fates worse than death.

  7. Weeeeellllll… A bit of perspective is kind of in order here. Goblins do screw around with people as their main schtick, yes. Nobody argues that. But they don’t go around unmaking bits of the universe, material or otherwise. The damage a goblin does can be fixed, if perhaps at great cost. After all, look at what happened to the forest after… somebody bound the hyena.

    Demonic damage… Doesn’t really heal. It’s a very literal, very permanent taint upon the foundation of the universe. What is one mortal’s ruined life to the utter snubbing of the laws of physics regarding matter and energy?

    1. True. On the other hand Pauz had plenty of time to do small scale damage, limited by his power level. What irreparable snubbing did he do to be considered a demon?

      1. From Histories 7.x:

        the nature of the First Choir [… is …] They devour. They take. The vectors by which they act take all forms that we know to destroy things […] The thing to note, however, is that these beings annihilate. In this, they are distinct from the other choirs.

        Note the last sentence quoted. It’s only the First Choir, of Darkness, that annihilates, not all demons.

        Collateral 4.5:

        “I suppose it’s up to you, imp of the fifth choir,” Rose said. [Then a bit later:] “I’d ask the big names,” Rose said. “Shall I say them? Shall I speak the names of the higher members of the fifth choir?

        Pauz is not of Darkness, he’s of the Fifth Choir, the Choir of the Feral. (If she were wrong then Pauz would have taken advantage of it.)

        At the same time, it could be that the damage he does, the loss of reason his victims suffered, is irreparable as well. Labels are dangerous after all.

        But note he’s not called a Demon, but an Imp. Ur didn’t seem that much bigger at first, but that was camouflage, and he’s probably one of the “big names”. A fifth-choir demon of Ur’s level would probably cause something like a whole army turning to cannibalistic practices in a civil war.

  8. Maggie’s moment here was very sweet. I am liking the development we are getting of her.

    One line made me very, very deeply sad. “When he came back, fixing his problem with the barrier, he’d give her access to books, with access to the books, she’d step up her game and prepare for trouble, and she’d beat it and everything would be okay.” :’C

    I also found it interesting how goblins are so self-centered. What interesting, repulsive creatures. They think the world is theirs and everyone should bow down to them even though they are mostly very lowly.

    Overall, great chapter! :3

    1. Goblins are kinda the mean street thugs. The Fairie are the asshole aristicrats. So what would that make people like the Behaims and the Duchamps?

  9. I enjoyed the goblin POV. After the last two chapters, it added some needed levity to the story.

    So what’s gonna happen to get Maggie to turn and come to aid Blake in Toronto? We know that, in a few days, she’s gonna come to Toronto and get brutal with Behaims and closer to Blake.

    So is Padraic offering to teach Maggie her bullet deflection technique?

    “I sort of know,” Penelope said. “He hurt my sister’s familiar.”

    That’s what you took away from meeting Blake, Penny? At least Jo, was left with a better impression. Maybe Blake shouldn’t have left them directly after spitting Faerie blood.

    The younger generation does seem like it’s more willing to play ball. I wonder how things will turn out.

    Gavin was one of the Behaims that attacked Blake at the police station, right?

    I wanna see more goblin hunting?

    Poor, poor Maggie. Girl’s got depth.

    1. Penny is attempting to manage a coalition that includes Behaims, who are present. She is further attempting to get Maggie to agree to to a “no helping Blake clause” in the non-agression treaty she is negotiating. Regardless of what she took away from her encounter with Blake, saying nice things about him would be a pretty impolitic thing to do at that particular time.

    2. “I sort of know,” Penelope said. “He hurt my sister’s familiar.”

      Yeah! How dare that asshole not stand there and let it maim, torture and possibly kill him! Geez some people are just so mean!

  10. I really want to see something from one of the Duchamp girls’ perspectives. Not necessarily because I think it would be of literary value to the story, but because I’d love to see how someone can rationalize complaining, “he hurt my sister’s familiar” after being present while said familiar was told to attack someone. Being fed propaganda by the elder Duchamps and Behaims is one thing, but Penelope was there in person, and therefore should have been privy to a relatively objective view of events.

    1. You shouldn’t forget that those elder Duchamps were nothing more but younger Duchamps too once upon a time. There is no calculating cult leader drawing people in.

      So probably one of the first things these girls learn is to twist and turn the events in such a view that suits their world view and then spread the word.

  11. I find it hilarious that the Goblin is more honest than the Duchamps about things. He attacks, and expects to be attacked in return if he gets caught. They attack and act offended when they get attacked right back. Whats worse is that they are both similar in that they both attack anything that is not them. Attacking someone to test them out isn’t really different from attacking someone for shits and giggles. You still attacked someone that did nothing to you. Still attacking someone with no idea what they can do is the height of stupidity.

    The goblin point of view was interesting and I find them darkly hilarious. Based on what he likes, it seems she can trade alcohol and drugs to them for favors. The nastier the drugs, the better. Maggie making meth or something else homemade might come in handy to sell to goblins for information and favors.

  12. Awww Mags, you make everything better after the sad I had from the Blakerasing. You may be a bit of a Holden Caulfield but… really, this lot really are phonies.

    I’m getting a bit of a “Ghost of Regent” vibe from Padraig.

  13. Building on the multiverse theory lmago 21.4 mentions a man joining the ambassadors. A man named laird. Given the ambassadors bosses mindset it makes you wonder how long wildbow was planning lairds character.

    1. Probably just a coincidence. Although I do wonder which of the names got which of the powers; that could be neat.

      Interesting, out-of-context quote from that chapter:
      “Power isn’t magical,”
      Context makes it less amusing.

  14. Fuck the Duchamp’s. Serously fuck them. Goblin doing it’s best to ruin peoples lives? Meh not my problem. Someone actually trying to help people? Stop that Shit right now, your wrecking the natural order! Serously I somehow dislike them and the Behaims worse than fucking Urr!

    Calling it right now. Maggie let herself get possessed so she could help Blake. Remember in Aimon’s histories where Rose suggests having something possess him so he would be able to act without worrying about his families promises? I suspect something similar here. I also would have a lawyer look over any contracts the Duchamps and Behaims offer. Sadly I don’t think Maggie can afford Blakes.

    Sometimes the Anarchists have a point. Revolutionaries rarely exist in a society that doesn’t have serous problems.

    And that’s both sad and heartwarming at the end where Maggie is visiting Molly’s ghost. I’m not sure you recognize it under your own fear and desperation Maggie, but that’s guilt.

    1. Calling it right now. Maggie let herself get possessed so she could help Blake.

      Dude, no. She’s already infected/posssessed by something goblin-y, as established by what Blake saw of her inner face and this chapter right here. Goblinfected, if you will.

      She walked over to the window, tested her ability to touch the metal,

      It’s a goblinfection from her old hometown, presumably. Their equivalent of demonic radiation.

      1. One that probably got worse at some point between now and then, from what we’ve seen. Something sure happened between when Blake headed for Toronto and when Maggie followed, and it probably wasn’t a gradual shift.

        And seriously? That pun is terrible on so many levels.

        1. Pun? Its just combining two words. Like going from ant infestation, to antinfestation. Combining Gobl and infection is pretty reasonable if someone has been infected by a Gobl.

    1. I highly, highly doubt it. One why would it possess her? Two, if it did, why would it cause any of the effects we saw?

    2. not at all official lol. nothing about it fits in any way whatsoever. (spirit world goblin traits? her weakness to metal being seen while the ghost is obviously still independent? weird eye ect)

      besides the ghost is purely defensive even as an ecco

  15. Woww the Duchamps are even more obnoxious than the Behaims! I hope these little shits all end up forsworn or facing the wrong end of an ofuda

    1. To me it’s like their the Old Money. They don’t like anything changing since it threatens their comfortable posistions. If you use this anology, then Johannes is the new money. The guy who suddenly became rich. Not just rich, but richer than both the other families combined, the upstart. Maggie is the eyesore. She’s the poor kid who somehow moved into the neighborhood, and is bringing the tone down. At least Crone Mara and Briar Girl know enough to stay out of sight, but Maggie keeps making herself known.

      I think something else that’s important to note is this. What’s the worst thing that ever happened to them? Maggie and Blake have truly awful shit that happened to them. Hell Blake just set a new bar. But if you asked the Behaim and Duchamp kids, what could they say? I doubt their is anything even close in magnitude to what Maggie and Blake have had happen to them. Aimon saw war, and had a rotting hand to remember it by. But these kids have been sheltered. Now that isn’t to say you have to suffer to be a decent person, or that someone who hasn’t known hardship can’t be a good empathic person. But if you asked a Duchamp what the worst thing they ever had happen to them is, they’d say something equivelent to breaking their ankle skating. If you asked Blake or Maggie, it’d be more like having to climb a mountain on a broken leg to escape the ethnic cleansing of their villiage.

  16. Maggie remains awesome, the Duchamps and Behaims remain arrogant morally deluded, horrible people.

    Padraic remains utterly terrifying.

    I mean, the skydiving comment reminds me of what he said in 1.5

    “Sublime things, everything you thought you might enjoy, and everything you never even considered. There’ll be so little left of you when it’s all done that it won’t even matter where you’re going.”

    “I can flense your skin,” the other man said. “But without pain. The movement of air as someone enters the room will have you arching your back, whimpering in anticipation.”

    It takes a hell of a character to make your own destruction sound attractive. Reminds me of that ridiculous meme.

    “do not fall in love with people like me.
    i will take you to museums, and parks, and monuments, and kiss you in every beautiful place, so that you can never go back to them without tasting me like blood in your mouth. i will destroy you in the most beautiful way possible. and when i leave you will finally understand, why storms are named after people.”

    Except he makes it sound appealing, as opposed to abusive and Nice Guy like. I dunno, maybe it’s just me and Maggie who are vulnerable to things like that.

  17. Wow, Upper middle class teenager obnoxiousness aside. Penelope and Co’s deal seems… fair, like they’re actually trying to prevent conflict. I wonder how their parents will fuck it up.

    1. I’m confident that they’ll screw things up just fine on their own. The best-laid plans of mice and men pave the road to Hell or something like that.

      1. Notice how Gavin and Lola undercut Panny’s attempts at being diplomatic at pretty much every opportunity.

  18. Huh. A Maggie chapter. A start to the Travelers arc of this story, perhaps.

    I’m interested in when, exactly, this fits into the timeline. I’m also intrigued by the low number of comments–I could actually read them all!

    1. “Even though [Blake]’d just left, dashing off to Toronto” indicates that this is happening shortly after December 16th, and obviously before she gets called by Blake for the contest in 6.4 (December 21st).

  19. In this post, Maggie mentioned several times what a lifeline Blake’s offer was, etc. Now he won’t have existed. When Maggie offered Blake a free shot at her, maybe Rose (instead of Blake) bound her — maybe Rose is now to Maggie as Conquest was to Fell. Maybe Blake’s undoing will soon have been enough to really push Maggie off the deep end.

  20. caught on her duff. .. wlll the fact that she’d left or Isidora’s “need” to tell Paige catch Maggie in the fallout? Or is Maggie low enough on the totem pole thàt the new base will support her being instrumental in bringing back enough connectiins to Blake to really mess him up?…

    1. Yeah, Wildbow said it’ll happen because the chapters are already uploaded just not released until the normal times. So you’ll be seeing 404 errors until the normal time you see a chapter go up.

    2. See Wilbow’s commentary for the previous chapter – to make it easier for chapters to go up properly even when he wasn’t monitoring them he had to set dummy chapters up.

  21. I wonder, is this whole arc an excerpt from the Maggie books the guys in Worm read? And does if so, were those written by Wildbow in the Worm universe?

    1. Probably not and possibly.

      One wonders if in one of the universes, he’s writing about something that happened here.

      1. One wonders if in one of the universes, he’s writing about something that happened here.

        God I hope not. I wouldn’t last a week in a Wildbow story 🙂

        1. Well, as long as you don’t live in Brockton Bay or the path of a Class-B or above threat in the Wormverse, or you aren’t a practitioner or extremely unlucky in the Pactverse, you’d be as good there as you are here.

          Not enough data on the other potential stories to tell, but it would probably be similar (except for Peer, but that’s still about as safe as the Middle Ages).

          1. Well, as long as you don’t live in Brockton Bay or the path of a Class-B or above threat in the Wormverse

            That isn’t saying much. Several large metropolises were already destroyed, and that super-villain prison was well populated, even before the beginning of Worm. Also, abg bayl 98% bs gur jbeyq qvrq, ohg n ybg bs arneol havirefrf jrer qrfgeblrq before the end.

            or you aren’t a practitioner or extremely unlucky in the Pactverse, you’d be as good there as you are here.

            I seem to remember Maggie wasn’t a practitioner before pretty much her entire home town got very, very unlucky. I rather suspect the most atypical thing about her situation was that she survived. Toronto inhabitants seemed very unlucky as well. And I have the impression Canada is one of the less dangerous places in our world, so unless there’s something very particular about it in Pactverse, the rest of the world should be worse.

            1. Not everyone lives in big cities. In fact, most people don’t. Sure, the biggest cities are very, very big, but there are only a handful of them, and there are a lot more people outside major cities than within. And don’t exaggerate; bayl gur crbcyr jrer xvyyrq, gur havirefrf jrer svar. Orfvqrf, V svaq pynvzf gung Fpvba xvyyrq 98% bs nyy uhznaf ba nyy Rneguf gb or nofheq naq cebonoyl vaqvpngvir bs vtabenapr ba gur cneg bs gur punenpgref. Gur ahzore bs havirefrf vf fgngrq gb or terngre guna gur ahzore bs ngbzf va nal bar havirefr; guvf chgf n ybjre obhaq ba gur ahzore bs havirefrf nebhaq 10^80. Rira vs bayl bar havirefr va n zvyyvba unq na Rnegu, naq bayl bar Rnegu va n ovyyvba unq uhznaf, gung’f fgvyy 10^65 vaunovgrq Rneguf. Rira vs ur qrfgeblrq gur cbchyngvba bs bar Rnegu n frpbaq, vg jbhyq fgvyy gnxr uvz jryy bire 2*10^47 gvzrf gur ntr bs gur havirefr gb qrfgebl gur cbchyngvba bs 98% bs gur Rneguf. Rira sbphfvat ba gur zbfg-cbchybhf Rneguf, vg jbhyq gnxr sne, sne gbb ybat…naq V’ir orra znxvat trarebhf nffhzcgvbaf.
              Ohg sbphfvat ba Org va fcrpvsvp, lbh’ir fgvyy tbg n orggre punapr gb yvir guebhtu Tbyqra Qnja guna zbfg ncbpnylcfrf. Jbefr guna gur erny jbeyq, V’yy tenag, ohg tbbq abaguryrff.

              Why would Canada be one of the less dangerous areas in the Pactverse? I mean, aside from the whole “it’s not a Third-World nation” thing. As to the rest, the fact that there’s still a masquerade suggests that you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than to go through what Maggie’s going through, while the fact that the world functions pretty well suggests that what Buttsack does and what happened to Maggie’s hometown isn’t much more common. Yes, if you’re one of the people unlucky enough to get hit by a magical disaster, it sucks, but hey–it sucks to get hit by a natural disaster, too. Or to have you nation’s economy collapse. Or whatever. It’s maybe a little worse than the real world, but not in a significant or even a statistically significant amount.

            2. Not everyone lives in big cities.

              Yes, but I do. In fact, two cities where I’ve lived more than half of my life have been hit by Endbringers even before the the shit hit the fan.

              pynvzf gung Fpvba xvyyrq 98% bs nyy uhznaf ba nyy Rneguf

              I meant Earth Bet, not the entire multiverse. Sorry, I thought that was obvious from the wording.

              bayl gur crbcyr jrer xvyyrq, gur havirefrf jrer svar

              I don’t find that very reassuring.

              lbh’ir fgvyy tbg n orggre punapr gb yvir guebhtu Tbyqra Qnja guna zbfg ncbpnylcfrf

              Nor that. It’s a bit like saying you’ve got a better chance of living in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime than on you would in Florida during the Chicxulub impact. It’s true, but I still wouldn’t want to try it.

              Besides, my point was not that Worm’s apocalypse was among the most deadly statistically, but that Wildbow’s worlds seem to have a higher rate of apocalypses than I’m confortable with, and that I expect during an apocalypse to be among the less resilient fraction of the population.

              Why would Canada be one of the less dangerous areas in the Pactverse […] aside from the whole “it’s not a Third-World nation” thing

              I think you’re underestimating the “not a Third-World nation” thing. There are quite a few places on real Earth I really wouldn’t like to live in, and where I don’t expect I’d have a long life expectancy.

              But I mostly meant canon!Canada seems like a relatively benign place, even compared to First-Word nations like the US, and given the text I expected Pact!Canada to be the same.

              maybe a little worse than the real world, but not in a significant or even a statistically significant amount.

              (1) Hard to say, since things like Ur might make disasters non-obvious, but even granting that

              (2) Earth Bet was not much worse in the beginning, but things got worse quite fast. Not to mention that

              (3) That there are hints in the story that Pactverse already went through a worse-than-worm apocalypse, and the guys that did it are still trying to get those last percents.

            3. Oh.
              Sucks to be the Wormverse’s version of you, then.

              My bad.

              I actually can’t remember the context of that statement. Yay?

              Ah, I understood.
              Worlds where apocalypses happen are more dangerous than others by their very nature. You don’t compare lightweight boxers to heavyweight ones, so why compare apocalypse-worlds to others? Well, unless you drop the apocalypse.

              Oh, I’m not underestimating it, I’m just doubting that that’s all you’re saying there. Canada is, after all, a pretty small fraction of the Not-Third World.
              Well, RL!Canada’s magicians are about as dangerous as the US’s, and I’m not convinced that it’s any more dangerous to live in the US than in Canada. In both cases, there are ways that stupidity can get you killed; the US just has a wider variety of climates and subcultures (what with being less sparsely populated), so there’s a wider variety of ways that stupidity gets you killed.

              1. If such a non-obvious disaster happened, though, we’d be able to tell by its effects. Analogy: You can’t see a black hole, but you can see that the gas around it is orbiting something. If Ur– or something similar ate something important, its absence would make the world different. If it was a major disaster, it would have left a big impact.
              2. When the apocalypse came? Well, duh, that’s what an apocalypse is. Beforehand? I disagree. The effects of the Endbringers and supervillains, counterbalanced by superheroes, presumably-increased international cooperation, and the tinkers who focused their tech on making the world better, caused a much, much lower rate of going-to-hell than, say, the Great Depression or most wars.
              3. Hardly relevant. If the Apocalypse comes, an apocalypse happens, but if Earth’s survived this long it’s probably not going to hurt us now. And who cares what happened to large parts of Creation that may or may not have even existed? Certainly not a typical Earthling.
              4. I think you underestimate what “statistically significant” means. The Endbringers, demons, and whatnot are nasty to those that face them, but they don’t affect many, so the total effect is much, much smaller than (say) the difference between the best years of the Cold War and the worst years of the Great Depression, to say nothing of comparing modern prosperity to pre-Industrial life. Are there differences? Yes. Is the overall effect statistically significant? No.
            4. Not that it’s not fun, but we’re digressing. This all began with me saying I hope we’re not in a Wildbow story, because I didn’t think I’d live long in one.

              I don’t think we’re arguing about my hopes, and we already established I’m dead or worse in Wormverse. I don’t see what statistics has to do with it.

              I think you underestimate what “statistically significant” means. The Endbringers, demons, and whatnot are nasty to those that face them, but they don’t affect many, so the total effect is much, much smaller than (say) the difference between the best years of the Cold War and the worst years of the Great Depression

              I don’t know yet enough about demons, but I think you’re forgetting that in Worm vg jnf cerqvpgrq, ol arneyl-vasnyyvoyr cerqvpgvba fhcre-cbjref, gung vs gur Fpvba rirag jnf nibvqrq, gur Raqoevatref jrer nyfb tbvat gb qrfgebl gur jbeyq n srj lrnef yngre. An individual Endbringer attack might not be “very bad” on a historic scale, but all attacks in aggregate are.

            5. Perhaps the Pact universe did go through what happened with Taylor in the end? People’s perceptions (in world) of what caused it may be different.

        2. BTW, “the third world” is an archaic term we’re probably better off all ditching. It dates back to the cold war where the “first world” is the west, the “second world” is the communist bloc and the “third world” is everyone else.

          The more modern idea of the third world as impoverished and backwards is dated too. Third world countries include massive modern metropolises like Shanghai, Rio De Janeiro and Nairobi and includes some of the wealthiest countries in the world.

          It’s a useless term that just propagates old stereotypes and IMO we are better off without it.

      2. I have it in good authority he does,and its a matter of a few years only for you to become the protagonist….enjoy (if you are able)

  22. Comments:
    1) The goblin perspective was interesting. I certainly didn’t expect a video game analogy, of all things :). I guess they might represent the natural, necessary part of disorder, whereas demons are on the side of purely destructive entropy?

    2) Are all Others constantly dying, or is it just goblins? And in any case, how is this different from humans? Is it that they need a constant power supply, and die only if that runs out?

    3) Padraic is awesome in a creepy way. Maybe Maggie is going to allow him to possess her so she can help Blake in Toronto after signing the peace treaty? And conversely, in the confusion after Blake’s erasure, she might finally succumb to Padraic’s lures.

    4) Also, Padraic’s strategy of baiting Maggie with power is the same modus operandi as that of the lawyers. Though the former considers it a game, while the latter do it for more strategic reasons.

    5) Having Maggie keep Molly’s ghost echo around was a really great touch.

    6) At this point I have to wonder if Pactverse is becoming too black-and-white. Wormverse was grey in grey; neither protagonists nor antagonists ever really had a clean conscience, but both heroes and villains were usually recognizably human and had redeeming qualities, too. But the Jacob’s Bell practitioners could as well be aliens at this point, and many Others make more sense than the humans. There’s just something screwed up with teens internalizing Stone Age / biblical morality without a word of complaint or self-awareness. Aren’t they being educated in a 21st century school? What’s up with that? Maggie performed “murder”, rather than manslaughter one or two; they know she was ordered to, think the deed needed to be done, and still blame her for it (how does that even work?!); the practitioner truce with the goblins is utterly pathetic and immoral (ever heard of noblesse oblige, or “With great power comes great responsibility”?); and so on. In fact, the way the practitioners are willing to ignore the plight of the common folk calls for some ruthless diabolist to conquer them all, to force them to care.

    1. 1) What video game analogy? I didn’t catch it.

      2) This is how I see it:
      Conquest was an entity of Conquest. Conquest regained power by conquering and he would lose power otherwise. If Conquest were to “freeze” and do nothing, the things he conquered would slowly escape from his grasp and he would start losing power.

      Similarly, goblins are entities of shitty, horrible, disturbing things. If they stop doing that, or they are faced with something that opposes them, they will die a little inside. They will lose their power and become something less, if not disappear at all.

      1. Concerning the video game analogy: Would you typically expect an entity in another fantasy universe – say, a Japanese youkai, or a vampire or whatever, to have these lines: “He’d seen the roving spotlights in the movies and video games. In most places, the attention of people was like those spotlights, roaming, cast out from their eyes, a dull glow emanating as they listened. Here it was different. The focus was largely on themselves, only periodically casting out at specific targets.”
        I don’t know which games wildbow plays, but there are lots of stealth games in exactly that vein, e.g. Mark of the Ninja, Beyond Good & Evil, or the Commandos games.

    2. Maggie performed “murder”, rather than manslaughter one or two; they know she was ordered to, think the deed needed to be done, and still blame her for it (how does that even work?!)

      It’s even worse than that. Lola actually says

      I can’t even think of a good metaphor for what you did to the last Thorburn heiress, but it’s lower than that. The fact that it needed to be done doesn’t diminish the ugliness of it at all.

      So when Maggie does it, it’s ugly even if it “needs to be done”. But when Laird & co. try to kill Blake, apparently even letting a hundred girls die is better than leaving a diabolist live.

      (And why was Maggie told to send her goblins after Blake’s sister? For exactly the same reason Laird hounded him: they each inherited the exact same estate.)

      Granted, Lola is a Duchamp, they might be slightly smaller assholes than the Bechaims (and not fully aware of the “ugliness” they’re willing to go to), but still, they’re still going for the marriage. At least the adults probably know what’s what.

  23. I’d just like to point out that this chapter isn’t accessible with the table of contents link. It gives a 404 error. I could only get to it by hopping to 8.2 and clicking “last chapter”.

  24. i dont know if i can keep reading this with blake gone. i felt a real connection to that character and with him out of it i feel really discouraged to keep on reading.

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