Signature 8.3

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“Motherfucker!”

She could swear.

Maggie Holt had made the deal.  Maggie Holt was bound to it.

Maggie isn’t my name anymore.

The cold was a bit more bitter than it should have been.  Wind that had barely caught her notice earlier was now making her stumble.

The clumsiness had nothing at all to do with the tears that insisted on sitting at the corner of each eye, not large enough to come free with a blink, yet re-emerging if she scrubbed one away with her hand.  She set her jaw, clenched her fists, and marched.

Jacob’s Bell was easy to navigate.  There were three major roads, Harcourt running from North to South, dividing the city in half, while the other two ran from West to East.  Sydenham ran parallel to the highway, curving only to avoid the marshland near Hillsglade House, while King George ran through downtown.

While the smaller stores and restaurants sat on King George, deep within Jacob’s Bell’s downtown area, essential institutions like the hospital and the school sat up on or near Sydenham.  One such building served double duty as a train station and bus station, and could be referred to as one, the other, or simply ‘the station’, depending on need or preference.  While the train’s horn could be heard a half-dozen times a day, it only stopped twice in a given day.  The buses were more frequent.

Padriac, she was almost positive, didn’t have a car.  It wasn’t like a Faerie to grub under the hood and keep the thing running, it was even less like a Faerie to take a car into a shop for general maintenance, forking over hundreds of dollars or wasting the time to get around the repairs.  Besides, being an exile meant Padraic couldn’t go anywhere.

If he was heading to Toronto, and he wasn’t using her parents to get a ride, there were really only three options.  Bus, train, or walk.

Walking would take too long.

Only one destination made sense.  The station.  The train schedule had been timed to allow for commuting to and from Toronto, arguably the minor tweak that had enabled Jacob’s Bell to start growing, prompting this war over the Lordship, but the returning train would be gone, this late in the evening.  Only the latest bus to Toronto would get him out of here in any reasonable span of time.

“Padraic,” she said.  “Or Maggie Holt, if you insist on using that name, you prickletFucker.  Where the dog-diddling fuck are you?”

As if by answer, she heard a scuffling noise behind her.

A shadow moved in the darkness, dodging out of sight, as if barely staying out of her field of vision.  That would be design more than it was luck.

The wind wasn’t even blowing her way, but she still scented the faintest whiff of something rancid.  Not even the good kind of rancid, where it started off savory and went bad.  This was the kind of smell that started off as something offputting and went worse.  Like… ball sweat or that black mucky crap she’d once horked up after a really bad sinus problem, a few years back.  All wrapped up in a bouquet as though said foul-smelling object had spent far too long dwelling amid bathroom smells and warm garbage.

Or, to put it in simpler terms, it’s a bad smell that’s finding me despite the wind direction.

“Hey, goblin,” she said.  “It would not be in your best interests to mess with me tonight.  I’ve got places to be and Faerie to-”

A loud bang made her spin in place.  The ice tried to catch her foot as she moved it, but she caught a crusty bit of snowbank with her hand, instead.  Soaking her hand with bits of ice and snow to keep from falling over… hard to say it was good, but it was better.

Hissing cut through the quiet as a car across the street resettled at a slight angle. one back tire thoroughly deflated.

Her heart pounded.  The noise had been large enough for her to feel it, like a surprise attack.

Goblins were always easier to deal with when she had the advantage of the first move.  She really only had two experiences to date, in dealing with goblins without that advantage.  One where she’d fucked up, a clever little bastard of a goblin had slipped out of her trap, only to come after her with a vengeance.  It had been cunning than it was capable, being no bigger than a bar of soap, possessed of more animal instinct than actual wit, but that hadn’t been a fun week.

The other instance had been the first instance.  Her hometown.  Her home, she still thought of it sometimes.  Even if she’d left it behind, unsalvageable, thoroughly ruined.

Fucked.

Being able to swear wasn’t nearly as fun or relieving as she might have hoped, considering the cost.

Even though she wasn’t entirely sure what the full cost would be, the cost was too high.

The station.

She had to get there before the bus left.

The one eye that appeared beneath the car with the popped tire was a yellow slit, just barely catching the light.  It was wide, focusing on her, then narrowed, as if the face was contorting with emotion.

The wind blew with enough force to make flecks of snow break loose from snowbanks, and the glimmer of light from the eye joined the flecks of snow in drifting away.  It was gone, slipping away by some angle she couldn’t track.

Move faster.

She picked up her pace, moving as fast as she could without risking falling.

Another shape to her right, lower to the ground, moving on all fours for more speed and stealth.  This one had lanky hair and tiny sagging tits on a scrawny frame, a scrap of bright colored cloth clutched in hands too small for its body.  The overlarge claws on its feet were long and strong enough to scratch through the snow and catch on pavement, as the goblin dove into the snow that covered the expanse of lawn in front of an old house.  There was a cloying smell like blood and black licorice.

The girl in the checkered scarf felt an ugly feeling stirring in her gut.

She recognized that one.  Appearance and smell both.

Without slowing, she spoke loud enough for each of the goblins to hear, “What’s up?”

She was glad her voice hadn’t betrayed her nervousness.  She couldn’t even clear her throat without the possibility that one of the goblins would hear it.

“You told us the game,” a voice sounded, from higher up.  There, a tree not far away, further up the road.  The voice was high, with a ragged edge, like it belonged to some rejected chain-smoking muppet.

It wasn’t a voice that would belong to the goblin she’d seen beneath the car, nor the one in the snow.

That makes three.

A game?

“Let’s go over the rules one more time, or are you so stupid you’ve forgotten already?”

“Fuck yourself bloody,” the words were spat, virtually a growl by the time the final word was spoken.

She couldn’t see the source of the voice, but she saw branches bob as the goblin in question leaped off.  Ice broke away and fell in jagged clumps, disappearing into softer snow below.  Snow fell from the edge of one garage, knocked loose.  Then, one half-story up, more from the roof of the house.

She wanted to run now, but she’d already picked her pace.  Showing fear would be a mistake.

The only option was to keep moving forward.

The sound of her feet crunching in the snow was joined by the sound of something dragging behind her.

One was across the street to her left, if it hadn’t circled around, the tire-popper.  The female one would be in the midst of the snowbanks to the right, another atop the houses and garages, staying ahead, ready to trip her up if she tried to make a break for it.

And one behind her made four.

Every afternoon since Molly Walker had died, without fail, she’d made one trip to talk to the girl’s ghost.  The idea was to confess, to tell stories about stupid day to day stuff, to lay herself bare.  Every day, she’d made a point of reminding herself of what she’d done.  What she’d helped bring to pass.

In the process, she’d reminded herself of what goblins were capable of.  That wasn’t wholly unintentional.  It meant she wouldn’t let herself forget about home, about Molly.  About these creatures she was dealing with every single day.

It meant, unfortunately, that the memories weren’t easy to shake.  The knowledge of just what the goblins had done to Molly Walker.

The scraping, dragging noise made her think of tools.  Corkscrews, spoons, doorknobs taken apart into their constituent pieces.  Strips of wire that had been cut free from older chain-link fences, coarse enough with age to saw, flexible enough to wind around a body part and cut off circulation.

Was this divine retribution?  She wasn’t one to believe in god.  Less so since learning about the existence of gods, odd as that might be.

But the god-bothered were pretty good at the whole guilt schtick.  That whole eye-for-an-eye deal.

Her fingernails very nearly dug crimson crescents into the skin of her palms.  The only thing that stopped her from puncturing the skin was the knowledge that the goblins would smell the blood.

Being surrounded meant that no matter which way the wind blew, she could smell some trace of them.  Sometimes it was faint, sometimes it was almost a slap in the face.  The wind was blowing in her face, which slowed her down and made her scarf whip behind her.  The cold gust threatened to make her eyes tear up, so she squinted.

Squinting meant she didn’t have quite as good a view of the ground in front of her.  One hump of snow caught the underside of her foot mid-stride.  She stumbled a little.

There.  Fermented testicle sweat, fecal matter and hot garbage, right in her face, in the moment she looked down to catch her balance.

The wind direction and smell combined-

Yes.  Buttsack stood in the middle of the sidewalk.  He looked like a cross between the worst features of a small child and a very old man, simultaneously lumpy, misproportioned, hairy, wrinkly, gnarled beneath his too-loose skin.

He was bigger than most of the local goblins, tougher.  He didn’t shiver, despite the cold, even though he had only coarse body hair, a pair of shorts that reached his ankles, a pair of panties on his head, scrunching up loose flesh around the elastic.  A scrap of paper in his hand, fluttering in the wind.

His face was bulldoggish, his one visible eye a yellow slit, brimming with simmering emotion.

For all the drama he’d displayed on their first meeting, where she’d caught him with the chain, Buttsack’s face didn’t twitch.  He stared at her with a degree of emotion that she couldn’t even identify.

Hate?

She’d never really seen someone’s expression distill hate before.  Not real hate.  Not like this.

It unsettled, seeing him like this.  Even with a pair of underpants pulled tight over his head, the crotch covering one eye.

Her underpants, as it happened.

As if he’d noticed her noticing, he used his one free hand and reached up to grabbed one side of the undergarments.  He pulled them down further, as if giving himself a reverse wedgie, his asshole of a face contorted into something uglier in the process.

The front of the fabric bulged as his tongue traced a line down the front, slow, from top to bottom, then back again.

When he let go, the elastic snapped back into place with a force that made her flinch just a bit.

“Do you really want to go for a round two, Buttsack?” she asked.  “I seem to recall you begging and pleading.  Shall I tell the others here just how you sounded?”

“Paper,” Buttsack said.

He let go.  The wind carried the paper to her, too low to the ground.

He wanted her to reach for it.  She could either let it go or she could risk falling, or failing.

Simply failing here could be disastrous.  If they were dogs surrounding her, one moment of weakness could be like a snap of the fingers or an order, bidding them to close the distance and take her to pieces.

She reached with her foot instead, with no time to even make sure if her other foot had any traction.

The paper was caught between her foot and the ground.

She bent at the knees to collect it, and saw the shadow of the goblin with the sack behind her.  Squat, neckless, bug-eyed.

She recognized it as one of the ones she’d directed at Molly Walker.

Unnerved, her hands shook as she unfolded the paper.  Two papers, as it turned out, folded twice over so they formed a neat square, kept tidy with a simple paperclip.  Buttsack’s greasy fingerprints marred the outside.

The writing was florid, complete with a stylized capital letter starting each paragraph.  It was easy enough to read in the clear moonlight.

How odd, I don’t believe I’m certain who I should name in the salutations.  I trust that if it’s found its way to your hands, the letter is intended for you.

Don’t stop your reading once you’ve begun it.  I did make these foul little beings promise to deliver the letter and refrain from interfering until the reading was finished one way or another.  It’s part of the terms for a game I’ve set up, you see.  But I shouldn’t digress.  Everything in time, for niceties’ sake and for dramatic effect.

The boxes stacked in the bedroom said ‘Maggie Holt’ on them, so I went on to assume it’s my room.  A brief word with the two gay gentlemen who own the house helped clarify the matter, with both assuring me that the room was mine and it was mine for keeps.  I thought I would make sure that my room was properly aired out before I made any return.  That isn’t to say that I’m planning on coming back any time soon, or that the bindings didn’t look sufficient to keep the smell contained, but I like to be sure.  I’ve had words with the other occupant of the room and I’ll be shooing him off as soon as I’ve finished this letter, handed it to him with further instructions and gone on my own merry way.

I realize I’ve left you in dire circumstances.  As I said, no hard feelings are intended.  In the interest of fairness, I’m thinking I might flip a coin.  Heads, I’ll come back before you’re completely gone, to give you a sporting chance.  Tails, I’ll wait long enough.  Yes?  No?

I have heard the Fair Folk do like their lopsided deals, which is surely in the realm of your imagination, so you might naturally conclude that I have spent the last two centuries or so practicing the flipping of coins in such a way that I almost always get the result I want.  No, I suppose a coin flip doesn’t count for much in the spirit of things.  Let me think, let me think.

What if I were to say I will return to Jacob’s Bell, albeit with no warning, and promised that if I did, and you were still present in some capacity, I would present myself to you for a conversation?  Of course, it would be ever so tragic if I were to arrive when you were out of town.  I’d say it was inevitable, even, that the one time I returned, it would be while you were away.

I think, in the end, that I will ignore small graces and give you a gift instead.  Two, hints as a matter of fact, in this very letter, about how you might escape the predicament with the goblins.  Taking and using the hints would mean you couldn’t meet me before I departed, which might leave you feeling chagrined.  I do suppose you could follow me soon after.  But wait!  Leaving the town would mean you weren’t around in case the goblins came after your fathers.  How tragic a thing is that?  It seems you just can’t win!

I seem to be going on and on.  I’m just so very excited!  You might even say I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl!  Ha ha!

I did claim a set of gremlins bound in papers as I passed through the bedroom.  The others were unusable.  I’m not quite a practitioner, you see, and certain deals and powers afforded to mortals aren’t for my like to claim.  Certain tricks, yes, but there are rules to be observed.  Give me time to get more settled into this skin, and that may change.

Buttsack watched as she turned to the next page, her face blank.

In the meantime, Maggie Holt has formally relinquished all goblin bondage and bindings.  Any promises that goblins made to remain hands-off or leave certain individuals alone are now undone, the goblins freed.  Two goblins were bound in or near the Holt household, and I was sure to pass on instructions for our little game.  They’ll be gathering their fellows, I imagine, before they bid you hello and celebrating their liberation.

On to this game I mentioned.  I had to be clever with my wording, but goblins are stupid little things, by and large.  I had to offer something to ensure they would give you distance while you read, so I simply distributed the clothes in Maggie Holt’s dresser and laundry hamper to the goblins as a means of guiding them to their target.  They’re to find their fellows and spread the word and scraps of clothing.  They’ll be able to find the person who wore those clothes, by scent or the ties that bind.  They were a little muddled by the fact that different parts of the same threads pointed in two different directions, but they do tend to be stupid little creatures, don’t they?

They’ll be after both of us, it seems.  Not to worry!  I suspect I’m rather more elusive than you are, and the threads will largely lose their tie to me once I’ve left.  In short, you need not concern yourself with my welfare.  As for you, dear girl, rest assured, the prize we agreed on for winning this little game here is limited only to bragging rights.  I’m hardly a barbarian or blackguard in this.

As to the nature of the game itself, it is exceedingly simple.  If their quarry is able to walk, hold pen or parcel, speak or see by sunrise, the goblins lose.  If none of those things are possible, bragging rights abound for these little pests and buggers!

How interesting, don’t you think?  I know the goblins seemed eager, and I wouldn’t have you getting bored in my absence.  Rest assured, I didn’t want you to feel like it’s a priority to see me before I take my leave from this little town.

I do believe you are at the door downstairs, and I do believe there are a small few of Maggie Holt’s goblins that must be personally sprung from their more secure confinement before I catch my train.  I’ll cut myself off here.

I must be away!  I leave it to you to decide whether to curse me for the length of this thing or to forgive me for the brevity of it.  I do know the reading of it postpones the contest.

With care,
Maggie
H.

“He signed the name with a heart over the ‘i’,” she commented, staring at the page.  “What the hell is wrong with him?”

“Doesn’t matter,” a voice whispered from her right.  Not one she’d heard before.  “You’re done reading, and-”

“It matters,” she said.

She wanted to continue speaking, but she went too fast, and her voice caught.  Three or four thoughts were snapping together all at once.  The hints.  Stated twice.

In the search for the hints, she found the answer.

Her hand trembled enough to make the page shake.

“Yeah?” Buttsack asked.

“Yeah,” she managed.  “That goblin is wrong, he’s lying, because this does matter, and I’m not done reading.  I’m commenting on the reading.”

“Commenting?” Buttsack asked.

She turned back to the first page, and she started reading again.  “There’s a lot to read in the midst of this.  Details to be picked out, clues that might inform…” she stumbled, trying to scan the page and speak at the same time, “…inform my strategies against him.  For example, I can read each sentence here and try to divine if he was lying, if I can call him forsworn.”

“Who’s him?” the high, ragged voice asked.

“Nevermind.”

Right here, this was the trick.

She took a step forward, eyes still on the page.  She could tell that Buttsack hadn’t moved out of her way.  “You promised not to interfere with the reading.”

“You’re walking, not reading,” Buttsack growled.

“I’m doing both.  Will you move out of my way or will you be forsworn?”

He didn’t respond.

She kept walking, even though the position of the page blocked her view of the goblin.  The smell of him was thick in the cold air.

If she happened to trip over him, there might even be a solution in that.  The question was, how fast could she name him forsworn, demand he obey her and sic him on the other, smaller goblins?

Was it faster than another goblin would reflexively respond to her weakness and attack her?

Her hands were cold, and the edges of the paper crumpled a bit as her grip grew tighter.  If she lost hold of the page, she was dead.

She walked past the spot where he stood.  He’d shifted position, perching atop a snowbank, where the snowplow had driven the snow high.

“Hey Scuzz,” Buttsack said.

“What?”

“This isn’t going to work.  She’s going to walk to sanctuary.”

“Maybe a cloud will pass over the moon?”

“Useless fuckspittle.  We can do better than maybes.”

She continued walking.  Her eyes scanning the words.  Continued dragging sounds told her that the goblin with the tools was following behind her.  Slow but steady, matching her pace.

“Arsedrip!” Buttsack shouted, loud enough to startle her.  “Up there, go!”

“Which, the sigh-”

“Don’t say it, you pustule!  You’ll clue her in!  Both!”

They were plotting.

“Go,” Buttsack ordered.  “Figure it out or I will fucking eat your genitals raw and regurgitate them into birdy mouths and-”

“You’ll feed the birds to cats and the cats to dogs and so on, until my genitals are shit nine times over,” Arsedrip said, “Am I on the right track?”

Keep reading, don’t get distracted.  He grabbed my gremlins.  The fucker…

“If you get it, you better go!”

Arsedrip ran past her, forward, further up the street.

“Cumnugget, you- yeah, just like that!  Nice and thick!  You aren’t completely retarded!”

She couldn’t read and run at the same time.  If she tried and failed, then one of the goblins could call her on it, and this would go from bad to worse.

Just as ‘Maggie’ had said, she couldn’t give chase now.

No, she wouldn’t call him that.  Padraic was still his name, and thinking or speaking the name would maybe help hammer at the trickery and put cracks in it.

Couldn’t hurt, and she wasn’t quite willing to forfeit her old name in that sense, either.

Padraic had arranged this.  He had putting her in a situation where she couldn’t chase him.  Where she was sufficiently distracted, pinned down in Jacob’s Bell, unable to leave out of concern that he would return, or that her fathers would fall prey to the goblins.

They weren’t quite innocent of Other things, but they did have protections.

She had to wonder if it was enough.

A distant crash and the sound of metal creaking marked goblin activity a block away.

She forced herself to return to the reading.  Her eyes fell on the line, ‘It seems you just can’t win.’

She reached an intersection.  Buttsack’s yellow eyes were on her, dancing in her peripheral vision as she strained to see the crosswalk sign without taking her eye off the page.

No crosswalk sign.

A shadow moved.  A goblin was perched on the crosswalk light, blocking her from seeing the ‘walk’ or ‘don’t walk’ signs opposite her.

The same was true on her left hand side.

She couldn’t see the light either.  She knew goblins could produce opaque bodily fluids in great quantities.  Shit, vomit…  They could break glass.

If she just looked up, she would see the light peeking through the smears or past the goblins.

She kept her eye on the page, and she took a leap of faith, stepping out onto the street, her attention on cars and their headlights instead.  Traffic was light in this town, with as much traffic on the main roads as there was traffic on side roads in other cities.  There was one car two blocks over.  Too far away to be a problem.

Except it didn’t stop at the one intersection.  The sigh?  The sign.  The goblins had taken down a stop sign, or enchanted it, or both.

She paused in the middle of the street as the car skidded to a stop.  The driver hadn’t seen her, and the hard packed snow wasn’t so different from ice.  Wheels skidded, and the rear end of the car wavered, fishtailing slightly.

The car stopped at the intersection with the blacked-out lights, nose jutting through the passenger crossing.  If she hadn’t stopped, it would have knocked her over, maybe broken her legs.

She walked around the nose of the car, reading.  The goblins were chattering, setting up the next bout of interference.

“Can’t stop her reading, but we can make someone else stop the little bitch from walking.  Good enough.  Um, um.  Hey, Cumnugget!  Get over here!  Even half a brain can help brainstorm!”

Celebrating their liberation…

Where the hell was she supposed to go?  She had no home to go to.

No friends, not really.

The closest things she had to friends were Blake, who wasn’t even here…

Padraic came to mind, which would be a laugh if it wasn’t so fucking tragically sad.

Who else did she have a connection to?

Molly’s ghost?  Did the mute, unresponsive creature even count as a friend?

That thought led to another.  There was a protective circle around Molly’s shrine.

But what happened after that?  She’d die all the same if she stayed out in the cold all night, standing there.

No.  What other options were available?

Laird?

She couldn’t say yes, not in good conscience, not so soon after thinking of the ghost as something resembling a friendly face.

Not with everything else the ghost represented.

“Wait, wait,” Cumnugget said.  “Why can’t I attack her?  I didn’t swear nothing.”

“You swore implicitly,” Buttsack said.  “You took the clothing we used to find her, after hearing the terms of this game.”

“What if we get some jerkbutt that didn’t swear nothing?” Cumnugget asked.  “Who isn’t playing the game?”

She felt a chill.

“That’s interfering,” Buttsack said.  “Isn’t it?”

“What if- what if I just happen to walk by some place near here where some horny suckerbutts hang out, on my way to scout the way, and they just happen to follow me back?  I’m not doing nothing ‘cept walking.”

“I think it sounds like you need to go for a walk, doesn’t it?” Buttsack said.

“Think it does.”

Her eye found the line,they do tend to be stupid little creatures, don’t they?’

Where was she going?

There weren’t many options remaining.  She turned left.

Harcourt ran North to South, dividing the left half of the city from right.  Half the streets in the city transitioning from ‘Street Name West’ to ‘Street Name East’ as they passed the dividing road, or the other way around, depending on the direction in question.

The houses in Jacob’s Bell ranged from ‘shitty and dilapidated’ to ‘used to be really nice and are currently alright’, and Danvers Avenue West was one of the areas which tended to the latter.  Houses here were old houses, dating back as much as a hundred years, suffering from less than perfect maintenance and all the vagaries that old buildings were prone to.

She didn’t know the streets exactly, but she was fairly certain she was in the right area.  These houses had more presence, being larger.  They loomed shadowy and grim like tombstones dwelling at the edge of her vision.

Her eye tracked the page, barely taking in the words, even as her mind turned over her options.

Still reading.

She didn’t know exactly where she was going.  If she spoke in an attempt to find a connection to follow, this fat wrinkled goblin that followed her might accuse her of being finished.

Each footstep was careful.  Her feet and hands were cold and numbness was seeping in.  It might have been the cold, true.  Still, there was a connection of sorts between that chill and the quiet horror that had seeped into her the moment she’d lost her name, yet to leave her.

Buttsack moved suddenly, waving.

Beckoning.

Cumnugget was here with the other goblins in tow.

The girl in the checkered scarf ran, thereading abandoned.

Her focus was warped, after so much attention given to the page a matter of feet from her face.  The world appeared distorted, darker in contrast to the paleness of the page under the strong moonlight.

The houses all looked the same.

She could have kept running, maybe continued down the block for another minute or two, but the house to her right had a wrought metal railing.

She grabbed the railing, using it to arrest her forward momentum, turning to face her assailants.

Buttsack moved faster than he should have, given his bulk.  A trick, maybe.  Something.

Teeth found her shin, hard against bone, and teeth found her calf.  Nothing hard there.

She fell backward, and she twisted over, falling on her back.

The pages fluttered free of her hand as she reached out to try and grab at his eyes.  Too far down, the narrow eyes too recessed.

Buttsack grabbed at her leg, trying to find a grip.  He was heavy, large.  Bigger than he should have been.  But in that scrabble for a grip, he gave her one chance.

She didn’t kick so much as she levered him back, like one might balance a baby on their shins, holding the infant’s hands.

She didn’t hold Buttsack’s hands.  The wound in her leg screamed at her as she half-twisted, driving him into the railing.

Something hard in the goblin met the hardness of the railing.  Metal sang its sweet song.

She reached into her pocket and found her keys, saw the goblin’s bulldoggy face, and realized there wasn’t a weak point to strike at, then thought twice about it.

Precious seconds disappeared as she used the railing to find her feet.  Buttsack recovered just as quickly.

Other goblins closed the distance.

One, squirrel-sized, pounced onto her shoulder, a fork in each hand.

Small as he was, he was strong enough to drive the tines into the edge of her chin and through her jacket, into her shoulder.

She shrieked in pain and grabbed him, tearing him away, and jammed him through a twist in the railing, then wrenched him, so the inflexible metal twisted him the wrong way.  Back or neck broken, easily.

She pulled one fork free of her shoulder.  The one that had scraped her chin had fallen free and disappeared amid snow.

Half the tines had been broken off, giving it more penetrative power.

She held it out, threatening, her wounded leg nearly buckling as she put weight on it.

The goblins approached.

Half had scraps of her clothing.  They wore them as trophies or clothing, or had desecrated the items with filth, or largely destroyed them.

If Padraic had been done this to make her feel more violated, it worked.

They weren’t approaching any further.

A sneak attack?

She half-turned.

A hand settled on her shoulder.

The girl in the checkered scarf looked up at Sandra Duchamp.

Her relief was powerful enough to wipe out the brief surge of strength adrenaline had given her.  Her leg did buckle.

Sandra helped keep her from falling, two hands catching her around the middle to prevent both knees from cracking against frozen-over sidewalk.

“Sanctuary,” the girl in the checkered scarf said, her voice low, eyes on the ground.  She was close enough to kneeling for it to count.

“She’s our quarry,” Buttsack growled.

“I could ask for concessions,” Sandra said.  “Blake Thorburn-”

“I’ll make-”

“Shh,” Sandra cut her off, the sound surprisingly sharp.  “I could, but I won’t.”

“Because you’re leaving her for us?” one goblin asked.

“No,” Sandra said.  “I’ll grant sanctuary to this stupid little girl.  You goblins will either disappear promptly or you’ll become troll food.”

Her weasely familiar unwound itself from around her neck, darting along one arm, stepping on the kneeling girl’s back-

“Oof,” the girl in the checkered scarf grunted.

The familiar hopped down to the ground, and the resulting sound resembled a falling sack of potatoes more than a large rodent dropping to the ground.

“I’ll be looking for you,” Buttsack said.

That was answer enough.

The goblins disappeared.

For long moments, the scene was still.  Sandra bent down and collected her familiar from the ground before helping her supplicant stand.

“I don’t have to swear anything?” the girl asked, wavering on her feet.

“No,” Sandra said.

The girl nodded slowly.  “I… I didn’t know where to go.  I thought about asking Laird, but-”

“Laird is gone.”

“Then it’s an extra good thing I didn’t go to his place.  Ow, frick- fuck, hurts.  Would’ve died.”

Sandra put one hand on the girl’s chin and used the leverage to turn the girl’s head, peering at the wound at the corner of her chin.  “Oh my.  What did you do to yourself?”

“I got forked.”

“Not what I was talking about, but yes, we’ll need to clean that promptly.  Goblins like to taint their weapons.  We’ll hope it’s only feces.”

The statement only got a weary nod by way of response.

“Rest your weight on me.  My house isn’t far.  Just over there.  The smaller house.”

They limped on for several seconds, spending more time working out a rhythm and figuring out how to progress than they did covering any ground.

“You know who I am?”

“I can put the pieces together.”

“Oh.  Well yeah.  Doesn’t look pretty, does it?”

“When I was teaching my nieces to drive, I told them they won’t learn proper respect for the road until they had an accident of some sort.  Maybe that’s silly, but I think the notion applies to the practice, too.”

“‘Accident’ sounds like it’s too mild for this degree of fuck up.  Oh god, ow, shit, my leg hurts.”

Sandra offered a look of surprise.  “I didn’t think you could swear.”

“I can now.  Silver fucking linings.”

“I’d strongly suggest you keep to old deals and promises.  Negative or not, you’ll want to hold on to what you can.  You’re coming apart at the seams.”

“Okay.”

They made their way to the front door.

“Lean more heavily on me there,” Sandra said, “I need one hand free for the key… here.”

The door opened, and they made their way inside.

“Why help me?”

“You might call it an urge to express a frustrated maternal instinct,” Sandra said.  “Have a seat in the armchair there.  I don’t have a couch for you to sleep on.  This is my refuge, so to speak, from incessant company, and couches only invite company to stay.”

“I didn’t take you for a loner.”

“Not a loner, exactly.  I revel in politics, in family business.  Dwell too long on such things, however, and I risk losing perspective.  I have to step away from it all.  The only company I would comfortably invite here is temporary company, like yourself, and one man who is presently in Toronto.”

“Blake’s in-” the girl started, before she stopped herself.

“I know exactly where he is, not to worry.  Not the man I speak of.”

The house was smaller than most on the block, and there was a kind of elegance to the setup.  Everything was narrow, everything had a place.  An old fashioned cornucopia took up space between sets of books that were pressed to either side of the shelf by bookends.

Books on herbs, cookbooks, wine guides, Tantric sex guidebooks, books on weaving and threads.

Spellbooks.  Two matching tomes, one in some Nordic language, the other apparently a translation, reading ‘Trollkind’.

A small glass of wine and a plate of bread and cheese were placed on the stand by the armchair, eliciting a look of surprise.

“While you’re present, you have my promise of safety.  You may take of my food, water and wine with no expectation of repayment,” Sandra said.

“I don’t know the proper response.  But… I won’t betray this hospitality.”

“One night, for the time being.  Faerie are dangerous business.  A bad kind of accident to decide to have.  If I give you more shelter than this, I risk getting on the bad side of their plots.”

“He’s gone too.  With my name and a glamour that makes him look like me.”

“He’ll return.  When the court gets wind of this… escapade, they’ll step in.”

“Could I reach out to the courts?  Get their help?  If I turned him in, I could f- mess with him.  Throw a wrench in the works.”

“Oh,” Sandra said.  It sounded like pity distilled.  With one hand, she brushed at the girl’s hair.

The girl stared down at the ornate rug in the middle of the living room.  “Yeah, frying pans and fires.  That was a stupid idea.”

“You have a hard road to travel, and it’s one I can’t and won’t help with, except for what I’m offering tonight.  Most individuals strong enough to help know well enough not to.  The exceptions to the rule… well, you’ll find out.”

“I imagine I will.”

“Let me get the first aid kit, and you can explain what happened tonight.”

“Oh, I can explain right now.”

Sandra raised an eyebrow.

“I earned my bragging rights.”

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132 thoughts on “Signature 8.3

  1. Heya. I’m back.

    Pretty tired. The whole wedding shebangza is ongoing, even if the wedding itself went off with nary a hitch. Bunch of my brother’s friends/groomsmen/new sister-in-law’s bridesmaids showed up without warning, directed to my place by my brother, and ditto with his dogs (minimal warning). It’s been like this on and off for a bit: lots of people staying at my place, shuffling of folks and dogs around, lots of broken cars. Chaos.

    All the same, barring extraordinary circumstance, Thursday chapters should resume this week. I’ll also have a comment up probably alongside Thursday’s chapter, with updated donation thank-yous and tallies.

    1. I think we need a WildbowsGuard. “The master is writing. You shall not interrupt!”

      Good chapter though. Any hints on how long this arc will run?

        1. So is it essentially a temporal parallel to Void except from Maggie/the girl with the checkered scarf’s point of view?

      1. So elated, I really need these Thursday chapters, make me happy to go to work with something to read for lunch! Thanks so much Wildbow.

        1. So what happens when the chapter is a dark and deppressing one? Since your reading it at lunch, have you ever spat out your drink in shock at what has happened?

          Incidently, I read during breakfast. I haven’t ever spat out my drink, but I have nearly choked a few times, or been asked why I just cursed.

          1. I once read something funny while brushing my teeth. Had to clean my monitor and keyboard afterwards.
            Staying away from the funnies while brushing teeth doesn’t help either though. Sometimes you have to sneeze.

            1. Try staying away from computers when brushing your teeth, unless they’re hand-held 😉

    2. Welcome back, Wildbow! Glad to have you back. I hope you get some rest soon, but I also hope you enjoyed your time with your family. I am greatly looking forward to read this chapter!

    3. Any wedding must properly have one hitch, and hopefully only one. Otherwise it’s not really a wedding, is it? 😛

        1. ‘Hitch’ has two meanings: (1) ‘to connect (as a trailer to a pickup or a carriage to horses or a horse to a post or a woman to a man)’ or (2) ‘to halt/stop/pause (generally because of a problem)’

          Wildbow meant the second, and I tried to make a joke on his phrasing by using the first. And now I’ve ruined the joke by explaining it. 😛

    4. i think it’s absolutely badass how you wont break your schedule even if you literally cannot be there to upload the chapters. Great work!

  2. Being Typo thread:

    “It had been cunning than it was capable”
    I would assumed the word ‘more’ is missing.

    1. “Was this divine retribution? She wasn’t one to believe in god.”
      “But the god-bothered were pretty good at the whole guilt schtick”

      the Judeo-Christian deity is called by capital G ‘God’, not god.

        1. Possibly… I don’t think it materially changes the story either way. Especially since she’s met “gods.” The idea of “god” as supreme being vs. “gods” who are “merely” powerful beyond imagining seems valid in this context.

          1. Yeah, it doesn’t really matter all that much.
            At that point, though, if it’s the idea of god as a supreme being, it’d be a pronoun and should be capitalized.

    2. More typos:
      – “Padriac, she was almost positive” -> “Padraic”
      – “That would be design more than it was luck.” -> “by design”? Not sure about this one.
      – “stupid day to day stuff” -> “day-to-day”
      – “before they bid you hello and celebrating their liberation” -> “and celebrate”
      – “goblins that must be personally sprung from their more secure confinement” -> confinements?
      – “He had putting her in a situation” -> “put”
      – “The sigh? The sign.” -> Intentional?
      – “The closest things she had to friends were Blake” -> singular/plural mix-up

      1. Padraic mentions “your fathers” in his note, which seemed out of character for the way he’d been referring to Maggie’s things as his. Unless it’s intentional.

      2. confinements

        I don’t think that’s used in the plural in this case. (It refers to the goblins’ state, which is shared—they’re all in confinement, even if in separate places—rather than the actions or instances of confinement, where a plural would be appropriate.)

      1. “Which, the sigh-”

        “Don’t say it, you pustule! You’ll clue her in! Both!”

        I think she first repeating mentally what she heard, then figured out what the goblin said before it was interrupted.

    3. offputting
      usually off-putting

      snowbank (4)
      usually snow-bank

      angle. one
      angle, one

      muppet
      Muppet (brand name), but also used generically, so OK

      schtick
      shtick

      Nevermind
      usually Never mind

      thereading
      the reading

          1. That was an error – should just be snow bank. And I am trying to be a little smarter about it after being corrected previously.

    4. Like… ball sweat –> not a typo, but I would love to know where Maggie learned what ball sweat smells like

      It had been cunning than it was capable, –> needs a ‘more’ somewhere

      He had putting her in a situation –> had been putting or had put

      thereading abandoned –> the reading

  3. I’d say weasels are mustelids and not rodents, but I doubt Maggie would care about the difference, especially in her condition.

  4. Aw, Sandra, I knew I liked you for a reason.

    Maggie got herself some sanctuary for the night, which is more than I expected for her to get. Not-Maggie will remain some days in Toronto having fun with Blake and company ’till Blake stops being.

    I want Maggie to rain fire and darkness on that little faerie prick. I hope her revenge is the one plan that goes well and doesn’t get ravaged by karma. I just want Maggie gloriously shoving a paper containing Arsedrip and Buttsack into Padraic’s mouth. Then telling everyone about it. Yes, that would be nice.

    1. All though so far as we know Sandra is still one of the major players is the “Kill all Thorburns” plan. So far she’s just been less of a bastard than Laird.

      1. Probably true (I feel she still wants to take over the world or has some ulterior motive), but really, did people dislike Laird because he wanted Thorburns dead or because of his smug, jerky demeanor. I’m more inclined to say it was the latter. There hasn’t been the same dislike for Briar Girl, Random Gremlins or Isadora (when we thoughts she hated all Thorburns) though all of them have (seemingly) tried to kill Thorburns.

        1. The Thorburns and Duchamps have had a rivalry since before the 1930s and that crap has been passed down through the rest of the generations. Before Laird the Behaims just avoided them while Amon had a thing for Roselyn, but they still disliked them. What we hate is the double standards and how they come off looking like they were in the right despite the unholy amount of crap they pull..

          Sandra is showing Maggie some kindness, but if her last name was Thorburn we know it would be a different story. Remember, while Laird set things up he mentioned that she received the knowledge of storing Goblins in papers from Sandra in exchange for the “Favor” he asked, meaning she was an accomplice. Sandra also had her kids take a potshot at Blake while he was still vulnerable.

          1. It’s still not clear if the younger Duchamp was operating off her own bat there. Or if she instructed her familiar to kill or just mess with Blake.

            “Poke the local diabolist with a stick” is exactly the sort of stupid crap kids are likely to dare each other to do…

      1. Bit of a pain, that. Between name-stealing and cosmic retcons and such, I’m wondering how much wildbow is just trying to screw with the people trying to puzzle things out.

        Which is why we need to make standards. Padriac kept his old name so he’s still Padriac, the Practitioner Formerly Known as Maggie goes by some clear title such as the one I just used.

  5. Okay goblins aren’t as funny anymore. That thing with the underpants was … unpleasant. Good thing Maggie is smarter than me, because I would have missed the paper grab and the hints and been hit by the car.

    Sandra is new favorite character.

    Glad you’re back. This is just the right arc to get back to Thursday updates with.

    XD.

    1. at least, Goblin general sense of humor (I’m not even sure if they ever take anything seriously or beyond anything superficial) will never cease to make local rednecks turn pale in comparison, amazingly distasteful but practically plausible, if not flat-out repulsive

  6. Now that we really know that Maggie is not Maggie in Toronto, and can congratulate Blake on noticing that Maggie wasn’t Maggie, and also pointing that out to weaken Padraic’s glamour, thus probably sending Padraic back earlier than Padraic had undoubtedly wanted… with Blake gone now, having been erased out of existence, and Rose having counted on Maggie’s help and embraced it, will the same thing have been said? Have those cracks in Padraic’s glamour now been filled back in?

    1. It was noted that demons don’t make things, they break things. Similarly, it’s likely that the cracks weren’t fixed–if anything, their connection with Blake made them shift and crumble a bit more. But probably not much.

    2. Thing is: we never read “And the demon tore my arm” or something to this effect. The demon, effectively, bit through his connections, he destroyed the connections. Can we be sure that Blake isn’t in a similar situation to Maggie now, with all connections erased, falling through the cracks? This arc may be a foreshadowing or a precedent to explain how Blake ‘survived’.

  7. I’m still having trouble connecting with this character compared to Blake, but then again, I am far more similar to Blake than to Maggie anyway.

    One line that struck me as weird was nameless-Maggie’s “okay,” after Sandra suggested she keep old oaths. It seemed too passive, and didn’t really have any explanation. Might just be me, though.

    1. She’s scared into passivity. She’s lost her identity and she was almost ripped apart by goblins. She’s not going to get snippy with an authority figure taking a protective role.

    2. Well, we’ve really only started getting inside Maggie’s head. Give it time.

      Although I guess I know what you mean.

  8. And this further confirms that Sandra >> Laird.

    Gotta love Scarf Girl though. She’s injured, had her identity stolen right from under her, a long dangerous journey ahead of her, but hey, at least she’s earned her fucking bragging rights.

  9. Padraic took possession of her first and last name, but she should still own her middle name shouldn’t she? I wonder if that will come up at all.

    1. The name in question was in the backpack of the Practitioner Formerly Known as Maggie. Padriac could choose anything in the bag; he chose the name. Thus, he gets the whole name.
      Look at it like this: If he chose a pen, would he have to leave the cap behind? Of course not. If he chose a binder, would be need to leave the paper inside behind? If he chose the name, would he need to leave the middle part out? Why would he?

      1. I don’t know anyone who puts their middle name in their school papers. And I don’t think giving it implicitly would be strong enough either.

        1. It wasn’t implicit. The Practitioner Formerly Known as Maggie explicitly agreed to Padriac taking whatever he wanted from her bag. The name was in the bag. Padriac took the name. The Practitioner Formerly Known as Maggie might be able to argue that, but she’d have a hell of a time.

  10. Ulala, we saw some other side of Sandra Duchamp twice, when she was dealing with faeries back then, she was pregnant, wasn’t he?

    When something is too good to be true, there must be some following traps or expectation leading to concession, but, is it really Sandra Duchamp just being a mama bear, with internal instinct rushing in, or else?

    Coming up next; the war of the Elves, and some classy court drama.

    1. Sandra Duchamp may be a more complex character than perceived at first glance.
      She may or may not be a nice person, but being helpful at someone in peril, without getting on the bad side of someone you do not hate anyway (i.e. exiled Faerie), smells like massive Karma.
      The karma game is a crooked one: have resources, you may help other people with those resources, and reap karma. This karma helps aquiring more resources, and the spiral continues. Unless, of cource, someone in the family, with access to the karma trust funds, dabbles in diabolism.

      1. I dunno that it’s crooked, it sounds like how “trickle down” is supposed to work. You get great benefits, but you can’t enjoy those benefits without sharing them with others, so everybody makes out.

        It’s only crooked if you’re an enemy of the high-karma guy (so you don’t share in the party) and you have totally trashed karma (so you can’t try the same trick yourself). So from the protagonist’s perspective, maybe, it’s crooked, but I think many readers are blinded to the truth of the setting by looking at things too much from the protagonist’s perspective. The Behaims, the Duchamps, The Sphinx, they all will have a much more mainstream view of how the world works, not twisted through the lens of diabolism and massive karma debt.

        1. I don’t think there’s anything mainstream about the way Isadora views the world, unless lots of cities have a balance-protector (which is very much not an impression I have so far). And to be fair, Laird Behaim often comes off awfully crooked about the karma (“I’m doing this stupid little thing to appease the local spirits, and in return I get to be an unmitigated asshole to you”) (although maybe that’s as much to do with “twisted through the lens of diabolism and massive karma debt”…).

          1. Also, it’s because Laird’s a jerk who knows how to game the system. In fact, I’d say it’s primarily because he’s a jerk who knows how to game the system.

            Really, that’s the problem. It’s not so much that the system is biased towards those who already have karma and other resources, so much as it is that it’s fairly easy to game the system if you understand the rules.

    2. is it really Sandra Duchamp just being a mama bear, with internal instinct rushing in, or else

      Besides her mama bear instincts—which are plausible, especially since she expected bearing girls—there could also be that she’s generally happy to mess up faerie plans, at least if she’s likely to get away with it. She didn’t seem to be aware, at first, why Scarf was in trouble, but she’s a subtle and experienced practitioner, she’s likely to have good instincts and a great poker face.

  11. Goddammit Padraic, You so evil.
    Isn’t it ironic that the all the “fair folk” we have seen yet are massive assholes (except maybe penis-envy-sword familiar) but insist on maintaining their prettiness through glamour and such while the goblins are ugly, dirty and really fucking evil, but at least are completely honest about it?
    The only real difference between Faeries and Goblins is that faeries are hypocrites as well as assholes.

    1. That’s pretty much always been the case. The fair folk are called fair since everything else enrages them. They have never been pleasant.

    2. “Fair Folk” was originally coined because they didn’t want to insult the spiteful bastards, while still being sarcastic. Like calling someone who opens the door to let you in wearing dirty underwear and a wifebeater a classy fellow.

        1. Yes, but if enough non-practitioners begin referring to them as the Fair Folk it begins to become more true, doesn’t it? That’s the nature of glamour.

          Maybe originally they were all ugly and terrible like goblins, but enough sarcasm by the unawakened actually made them prettier…

    1. Neware of Diarhea man,his diarhea is never stoppinglettinghim drown you in it!Do not try to run from the pisser,he can piss on you from any place in earth,if he wants!who can forget the booger man,he can throw boogers with the force of a canonball!

  12. I’m starting to think we may have overestimated Maggie/Scarf. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still awesome in her own way, but she is looking more and more like a novice that’s in over her head, even more so than Blake.

    Pre-Toronto Maggie had showed that she had captured a few goblins. That, along with the fact that she survived and her attitude caused us (or at least me) to think her awesome.

    Its when Maggie came to Toronto that she started doing really awesome stuff with Blake. Showing herself capable in a fight, deflecting bullets, helping in summonings, taking hostages, etc. Now we know that the Maggie we saw in Toronto is not the same Maggie we came to know earlier in the story.

    Either way, I look forward to seeing the maturation of Scarf into a powerful and Respected Practitioner (or at least becoming as scary as Whatshisface towards the end of his era).

    1. Maggie’s only got a six month head-start on Blake. Before then she was just an average girl who was fortunate enough to survive her town going to hell and back.

      She doesn’t have a familiar or any access to anything but the evil little butt-scratchers she catch and whatever knowledge they provide, and only minor goblins are allowed in Jacob’s Bell. Her amassed knowledge is in a binder and the people who can offer it have screwed her over or, in Blake’s case, erased from existence.

      The fact that she’s still alive is miraculous and if Sandra didn’t take her in the story arc would end.

      Blake got more enemies right off the bat, but Roselyn gave him Rose, her books, the laywers, and so on. He’s dead now, so that’s pretty much telling you that she’s going to be in for a rough time.

    2. She is a novice. Moreso than Blake. I mean, sure, she’s been at this longer than him, and has more Others under her command, but she has no real knowledge. No books, no tutors, no lawyers, and no mirror-selves that can acquire info for her while she sleeps. She only has scraps and hints she cobbles together in her one-sided deals.
      The only ones she can actually make deals with for info/power are goblins (Who don’t have much of either, except in small or unhelpful areas… ) and Padriac (who just so happens to be a Dick. One who has been giving her enough to lure her into a trap for his benefit/enjoyment. Like this)

      Sure, Blake may be a bit worse, as not everyone’s trying to kill her, just use her and cheat her out of all they can, and no one besides Johannas and maggie will even consider an attempt at a deal with Blake, HOWEVER, If you take into account actual experience fighting…. Blake and Maggie seem tied
      Blake has a lot more experience in fights/struggles than most practioners with really nasty things, and maggie has just had with unintelligent goblins- the only two times she wasn’t doing an ambush and catching one include a mess-up and Blood&Darkness.
      Take THAT into account with Blakes books… he’s a less novice than she is. Hell he even had a circle!

      Blake always had weapons and tools with him in case of ambushes, she has none. She wasn’t even carrying dickswizzle with her at the time of signature-ception, just her Anthame.

      It’s when you see her like this you really appreciate what she meant when she was first seen-
      I believe it was something along the lines of, I hope it’s another newbie, I’d like to have a upper-hand for once, and even during that dialogue, getting further into Patrick’s trap.

  13. I’m not quite a practitioner, you see, and certain deals and powers afforded to mortals aren’t for my like to claim. Certain tricks, yes, but there are rules to be observed. Give me time to get more settled into this skin, and that may change.

    Could this actually work against Padraic? If he stays as Maggie long enough to become mortal and a practitioner, won’t that open her up to attack. Would Maggie keep all her glamour after the thirty days with the ring? It would be amusing if, at the end, Scarf and Whatshisface return as Others and change the world by killing Maggie and Rose, who at this point are both mortal, human practitioners.

  14. Some people were saying that Padraic reminded them of Regent. I would like to say this. With this chapter he reminds me of Jack Slash.

  15. From the comments of 6.4:

    Wildbow: I’m thinking I might write something in the way of a side story. Maybe a Maggie Holt arc or two? Something I can do in advance without losing my stride.

    Sir Fuente: A Maggie Holt Arc would be awesome. Would this take place alongside Pact, in the past, or an alternate universe?

    Wildbow: Yes.

    Clever, Clever Wildbow. I didn’t imagine you were serious with that Mathematician’s answer. Yet, we’ve already seen how this arc affects the present and the past of Pact. If this arc leads us to the Faerie realm, Spirit realm or any other realm, all three conditions will be satisfied. Bravo, Wildbow. Bravo.

    1. Technically, we’re in an alternate universe where Blake still exists, whereas Pact seems like it’ll take place in a world WITHOUT

  16. Comments:
    – If contest!Maggie could relinquish all goblin bindings, then she must also be the one cursed by “blood, darkness and fire”. (Also, contest!Maggie seemed to relish the notion of “blood, darkness and fire” – presumably because Padraic finds the scenario in general interesting, and it probably helps that it involves war against goblins, the ancient enemies of the faeries.)
    – Now we’ve had at least three scenarios in which potential oath breakers needed to be named foresworn (the Histories chapter with Conquest, Blake after Laird’s death, and this one). So apparently, breaking an oath isn’t enough to be foresworn, you really do need to be called out on it.
    – Sandra’s appearance in this chapter was unexpected, but I like it. Yes, she’s Blake’s enemy, but in contrast to most Jacob’s Bell practitioners so far (the next generation very much included), she’s at least done something good where we see it. Reminds me of Isadora: fair even though she’s not an ally. I wish some of the Duchamp and Behaim youths were more in this style.
    – Scarf is in sanctuary, but her dads may not be sufficiently protected.

    Most individuals strong enough to help know well enough _not_ to. The exceptions to the rule… well, you’ll find out

    Heh. That reminds me of the nameless practitioner in Scarf’s Histories chapter… and of Blake.
    But I don’t see why this should be a general rule. For instance, why haven’t we seen any big (say, nationwide) practitioner alliances yet? So far, the largest organizations we’ve seen are the Duchamp and Behaim covens. Does one of the many weird karma rules discourage this?

    1. We haven’t seen any because the story is centered around Jacob’s Bell and Toronto. Practitioners only get together when they share a common goal, like the Sisters of the Torch, or there’s a really big threat to deal with, like Demons.

    2. “So apparently, breaking an oath isn’t enough to be foresworn, you really do need to be called out on it.”

      Not quite. From what I can tell, being called out just accelerates the process. From Void 7.8:

      “‘I could call you forsworn. The spirits will get around to it if it’s deserved, but I could call you on it right here, decide how it plays out.'”

      1. But the spirits still need to do it. Which is interesting. Most of the time they are neutral arbiters, but what about in an area where all the spirits are biased, twisted, bound or otherwise unfair? Like Conquest’s Tower, a Demesne or the Hyena’s forest? What if someone started intentionally corrupting the spirits?

        I suppose it also means if you can convince the spirits you didn’t make certain oaths you have no need to follow them. Which is what Padriac is trying to do I take it.

        1. The way I read it till now is, that Karma is not an intrinsic quality of the universe, but a set of rules, every Other and Practicioner agreed upon (or at least was made to follow) a long long time ago and those rules didn`t change till then.
          (Seal of Salomon? Or was that something different?)

          That would indeed mean, you can do pretty much anything, as long as you can convince everyone watching (spirits or entities that can see things even when not present, like Isadora with time-magic, included), that you aren`t breaking any rules.

          It would also mean, you can do pretty much anything, as long as you can make them think you DO follow the rules, which might go a long way explaining the power of bullshitting others into accepting you statements and the rule of drama.

    3. There’s just something that bugs me. Like the Pact universe punishes those who try to make it a better place for those not immediatly related to them. Something I’m still trying to puzzle through.

  17. Thinking by typing…

    “A brief word with the two gay gentlemen who own the house helped clarify the matter, with both assuring me that the room was mine and it was mine for keeps.”

    Sounds suspiciously like he got the dads to agree to something that lets him keep property later.

    “They weren’t quite innocent of Other things, but they did have protections.”

    So, Nameless had already thought that through and put defenses in place. That mitigates one major worry.

    “You swore implicitly,” Buttsack said. “You took the clothing we used to find her, after hearing the terms of this game.”

    I suspect this applies to practitioners also – you can get sucked into a bargain just by knowing the terms and doing things the bargain applies to. Yet another new practitioner trap. There ought to be a phrase for that that is distinguishable from gaming terms. YANPT?

    “He signed the name with a heart over the ‘i’,”

    I wonder if that is a way to hammer at the name-stealing / glamour? Point out the ways in which Padraic is not acting like Maggie Holt to force a wedge between Padraic and the stolen name?

    1. I think you’re on to something, but its more than just actions I think.

      I’d be willing to bet she could claim “Margaret Holt” as her name now, or “Maggie middlename holt”. The full name wasn’t in the bag, so he couldn’t claim it by the terms of the deal. She’d probably have to call him on it explicitly. No one has just one name. The name is not the same as the person. If agreements were made with her, and didn’t specify “Maggie Holt” as part of them, those agreements shouldn’t automatically shift with a particular name being stolen.

      Maggie could have hurt padraic in the last chapter. “Sure, you can have that little scrap of paper with my name written on it, but that’s all. That’s not the same as my name itself. You did swear just one thing.”

      Even if these distinctions wouldn’t totally kill the glamor, drawing attention to them may weaken Padraic’s glamor.

      1. Sure, you can have that little scrap of paper with my name written on it, but that’s all

        No, that wouldn’t work. She had already agreed he could choose something inside the backpack. She couldn’t have changed the deal after without being forsworn.

        It might have been possible to argue that her name wasn’t really there (say, by claiming it was only ink in the shape of her name or something), but she is young and inexperienced, it’d have been hard to figure that out on the spot even if the spirits could have been convinced.

        1. If an incomplete symbol representing her name counts as her metaphysical name itself, then giving someone a picture would give them ownership over you. I think that this is kinda bullshit, but then agin, the spirits often go with pretty bullshit interpretations.

          1. then giving someone a picture would give them ownership over you.

            It depends on the wording. If you promise them a picture, then give it to them, they can only lay claim to the photograph itself.

            Think of it this way: I promise you that you can pick and take something from my backpack. In the backpack there’s a notebook containing a story I wrote (and thus own, even according to most real-life law courts).

            You can pick the notebook, in which case the physical object is yours: you can write in it, erase words from the story, burn it, etc.

            Or, you can pick the story, and claim it as your intellectual property. I can’t refuse giving you the rights to it without reneging on my promise. (And, depending on jurisdiction and how the promise was made, it’s even possible that real-life courts may actually judge in your favor, if you were to sue me.)

            On the other hand, if I promise you something that I will pick something from my backpack, I can choose to give you either the notebook or the story, and (at least in real-life) you won’t have any rights to the other.

            (Of course, powerful people or tricky lawyers can influence real-life courts into reaching a wrong decision, and similarly practioners and Others (and demon lawyers) probably can influence the rules in Pact. But Padraic’s rationale doesn’t seem at all extreme to me. Especially since we had at least two other examples of similar things in Pact already.)

            1. That interpretation doesn’t work either. The copyright assignment isn’t in the bag, only a single copy of the story. In fact, the copyright assignment is an abstract – merely the fact that the laws, based on previous actions, recognize you as the copyright holder – hence most definitely not in any bag.

              Both the name “Maggie Holt” and the assignment of that name to scarf girl are similarly abstract, hence, again, not in any bag.

            2. The copyright assignment isn’t in the bag

              I didn’t say “you can pick the copyright assignment”, I said “you can pick the story”. There’s a subtle difference there. I might agree that the former is not in the bag, but the to claim the story is not at the very least requires some convincing.

              Analogously, Padraic didn’t claim that the ownership of the name was in that bag. He claimed that the name itself was in the bag, and since he was allowed by the agreement to take the name, the rights (ownership) of the name moved to him, regardless of where that ownership was, or even if ownership can be said to be somewhere.

              Real-life courts might not agree to the validity of such a contract, but it’s Pact’s spirits are not real-life courst.

              the name “Maggie Holt” [is] abstract, hence, again, not in any bag.

              Even in real life, if you allow me to take from your backpack a CD containing proprietary or classified information, especially because you expect something of value from me in return, and then tried to argue in court that the information is an abstract and thus was not in the bag, you’d probably still go to prison.

              On an unrelated note, given your username, I’d have expected you to be more receptive to my arguments 🙂

            3. I didn’t say “you can pick the copyright assignment”, I said “you can pick the story”. There’s a subtle difference there.

              That interpretation is actually even less valid: you cannot own or “take” a story. (Indeed, it doesn’t even make sense to do so, the story being another abstract.) You can only be assigned a copyright that limits what other people are allowed to do with that story.

              Unfortunately, in the current public sphere, the myth that abstract ideas are takeable “properties” is the conventional interpretation, even though it’s completely wrong. What actually happens is that copyright, secrets law, etc bars certain people from doing certain things with those ideas – the ideas themselves, being abstract, are not affected.

            4. you cannot own […] a story. […] it doesn’t even make sense to do so, the story being another abstract.

              I think you’re confusing logic and semantics with law and custom here. “Ownership” is human concept, and what exactly can be owned is decided by what human agreement, it’s not an intrinsic property of those “ownable” things.

              Different cultures can and did decide differently on the question. For example, there can and have been differences of opinion, custom, and law about whether or not things like land, grazing areas, industrial means of production, natural resources, people and even other animals, river water, ideas, innovations, or art, can or should be treated as property.

              Whether or not “being able to take a thing” is a necessary, sufficient, or relevant condition for ownership depends on the laws and customs (e.g., you can’t “take” real estate, but in most areas you can own it; you can “take” a child or a nuke, but in most areas you can’t own them.)

              Just because our currently prevailing legal and philosophical opinions hold that some things cannot be owned, or that it’s in some way wrong to allow it (and by the way, I probably agree with you on most of those), doesn’t mean that the spirits and the laws of Others in Pact say the same thing.

              For example, for most practical purposes, Fell and a certain part of his family were effectively owned by Conquest, which is not lawful in real life, nor even considered “things that can be owned” by us. It was still enforced by the spirits.

        2. Ah, but he kept the scrap of paper. If he took her name as such, keeping the paper was a violation… although I suppose since it had what was now his name on it, he could then take it anyways.

          1. Technically speaking, once he became Maggie, he could have taken the entire page. It said right there that it was hi— er, hers 🙂

            (S/he did take her own wallet, by the way.)

    2. It isn’t stolen. She gave it to him.

      I’m definitely supporting the practitioner trap acronym. Maybe just YAPT (Yet another practitioner trap) since it can be pronounced as a word easier. (Like trapped with a y. Yapped.)

      Well. Now we know why Maggie didn’t need to worry about staying in Toronto. I wonder if any of the players in Toronto were aware that Maggie was fae. I assume not, since most of them were against Maggie and probably would have called her/him out on it in order to weaken Blake’s team.

      Also, I am pretty sure Whatshisface is coming back. There are too many similarities between him and Whatshername to be coincidence.

    3. Regarding getting sucked into bargains: Laird took great care to reject Blake’s offer in 2.07:

      <

      blockquote>“I tell you this with no expectations. I do not want or desire what you have offered in any deals you’ve proposed, and I have sworn not to accept any such offers.”

      The words had a bit of substance to them, a care that woke me up a little from my general exhaustion.</blockquote

    4. “They weren’t quite innocent of Other things, but they did have protections.”

      So, Nameless had already thought that through and put defenses in place. That mitigates one major worry.

      I think she’s referring to the standard protections the unawakened get (as well as protections from door frames, plumbing). I’m pretty sure if she had actually set up protections Maggie would have disabled them before leaving.

      The wording when he mentioned her room was odd, I agree. Reminds me of the rules regarding inviting vampires into your home. While it’s unlikely the room will belong to him when all’s said and done, he’ll have the right to enter whenever.

  18. So if Padraic makes some deals as Maggie Holt…if she ever gets her name back, will she be at risk of being forsworn if she doesn’t know about it?

  19. “As to the nature of the game itself, it is exceedingly simple. If their quarry is able to walk, hold pen or parcel, speak or see by sunrise, the goblins lose. If none of those things are possible, bragging rights abound for these little pests and buggers!”
    first of all, how am I suppose to sleep ever again? seriously, EVER AGAIN.
    and also – can “bragging rights” mean “making a name for yourself”? if so, can the nameless girl use those rights… literally?

    1. Actually, it’s not quite said that the quarry can claim bragging rights. The goblins can, and if they don’t they loose, but it’s not explicitly said that the quarry can win anything.

  20. Been re-reading some stuff.

    Blake marked a hammer with a wind rune in 6.3, lost it in the non-existent 6.11, and remarked on its abscence at the start of the 6.12. It never got used in the narrated part of the story. I think I skipped those sentences when I was reading through the first time.

    Also, you guys should totally try this ( https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Apactwebserial.wordpress.com+hammer ). Blake has talked about “hammering” things out four or five times, and glamours have been “hammered” repeatedly. The comments section also likes that verb.

    Waiting for that moment when Blake returns from the grave and asks his cabal how they are doing … and they all say: “Hammered.”

  21. Wildbow, please don’t bring Blake back. We’ve only just got rid of him.

    That said, the following is quite sincere, and only incidentally sycophantic: I greatly admire your creativity (none of this material ever occurred to me) and your perseverance (I’ve never written that much in my… entire…life..). I read and enjoy your work for your concepts, story-telling and world-building, and that’s quite enough to keep bringing me back. Your writing’s made an addict out of me!

    But I don’t read your work for the protagonists (Taylor, Blake). Generally, I can’t stand them….

    I do enjoy some of your supporting characters ( the recurring characters with lesser roles in the story); in Pact, they’re Evan the Astounding Blood-Sparrow, Eater of Eyeballs, and Fell, the Practitioner-Who-Doesn’t-Treat-the-Hero-Like-a-Player-Character. Wonderful, lively characters, convincing and quite distinct from one another (and from Blake); I may not like everything about them, but I do like most things.

    Conversely, I really dislike the character of Blake, with (what I see as) his constant self-indulgent wallowing in memories of the BAD THINGS that happened to him. Blake seems to believe that having experienced said BAD THINGS somehow makes him more noble, more righteous than anyone else; he acts as if he’s entitled to all the benefits of reciprocal obligations — like friendships — without ever honouring his part of the responsibilities.

    Witness his actions towards Joel, for example.

    Blake just doesn’t seem to want to resolve those dreadful memories OR let them go; to me, it seems that Blake’s basing his entire sense of self on them. He behaves as if having memories of those wretched experiences is his trump card, his irrefutable excuse for not learning, not growing, not changing… for not even trying to act like a human being. For me, there wasn’t much else to him beyond that.

    And unfortunately, Blake comes across as fundamentally very much like Taylor (the Worm-protagonist), sharing her most egregious failings: Both characters seem to have that unquestioning sense of privilege, the attitude that “because I have suffered terrible things, I am exempt from all standards and limits of human behaviour.” Both Blake and Taylor have active double standards — one rule for Blake (or Taylor), and one for everybody else — with associated self-justification and utter egocentrism… “I am special and unique and the world revolves around me.” Blake and Taylor both believe they’re vital and indispensable — that no-one else could possibly do what needs to be done — and they act accordingly. And this is only exacerbated by the willingness of other characters to praise and admire them for it, even hailing them as heroes despite the way both characters generally triumph despite their stubbornness… and sometimes outright stupidity.

    Wildbow, I think you need a different default for your main characters. To me, they seem too similar and too unsympathetic.

    1. So, before I begin the rant- I am a writer as well, and have had a life with a LOT of different experiences, so it’s not like I’m just a random person commenting on things he knows nothing about

      Also, I agree with everything you said about Taylor. Really. She was a nice character to read about, but not so much as a protagonist.

      Blake on the other hand, is a different story…
      I’ve been through similar stuff, in my life, and while I am nothing like him, I get why he is the way he is.

      His life as he knew it was destroyed. In fact, the day he started living on the streets can be called the day his new life started and the day he was born. The day he had the “baddest of bad things” happen to him can be called the day he turned 18 and became a man, in the same vein. Nothing he ever does or says, with the scant exceptions of a story or two he compares with rose about his old family life, isn’t about his homeless-past. It’s now apart of him and will always be. Sure he can be a different person, but that will take a very long time (arguably, it’s happening now, as he seems more like a leader and less like the blunt pansy he was at the start)

      It’s a bit easier to think of Blake like Tarzan, from this point. He barely has any of the same morals, values, or ethics normal humans have, and can’t fit in society because of this. Blake’s friends are Tarzan’s Jane- the ones who saved him from his old life and still accept him even though it will always be apart of him. Resolving, moving past, or forgetting their respective pasts seem like losing parts of themselves, parts that honed their instincts and kept them alive this whole time.
      They don’t think themselves as better in any aspect. The opposite, they think themselves as aliens from others. This isn’t a justification, but simply a reason to do what they do. They do things simply because they do it, no one else has, and/or it needs to get done. They don’t care about have justifications or entitlement, just as long as it’s something they can reason with themselves enough to do it- that’s good enough for them.

      As for the things with Joel…. When you are that close to a friend, who has been there in the shit-storms with you and stuck by your side, there is no such thing as reciprocation. Joel himself was close to reality when he mentioned it, but still wrong in a sense. With ties that strong, those people are something beyond “family”. They become like parts of yourself. He shouldn’t feel bad about how he acted towards joel, and visa versa- their bonds haven’t weakened and they still love and care for eachother. No need to give thanks, or repay favors, or any of that stuff, as long as both are aware of the other person’s intentions (as in- not intentionally taking advantage of the other person without regard towards the other).

      But at the end of the day, I love the character blake. Ironically, probably for the reasons you dislike him- Blake isn’t nice, smart, or even a good guy. He isn’t a noble character with valid justifications that anyone who had a soul would agree with and want to support.

      There is a show called “Zetsuen no Tempest”, with a character called “Mahiro” who is similar in this way. Mahiro is essentially a bastard. He’s a jerk who will openly headbutt someone who is literally in their way (because he doesn’t feel like he should go around them, when he could go through them). The world is about to be destroyed, and he is literally the only person who can save it- BECAUSE of how selfish he is. His sis was murdered and wants to kill the person responsible, and THAT is his motivation. The good character says she’ll help if he saves the world, which is fine with him.
      Come to find out, the antagonist says that he is wrong, and the person helping him is wrong, and if he continues to oppose the “bad” guys, he will destroy the world. He laughs, because he didn’t care in the first place- and still proceeds as if nothing changes.

      THOSE are the types I love. The reason is simple- We ALL know the standard protagonist that is the go-to “good guy”. Essentially the “superman” type, someone who is good hearted and always has noble intentions, and can’t be swayed by the dark side, not even a little, unless outright tricked.
      That’s stupid.
      Humans aren’t like that. Even the purest human can and will be tempted in one way or another. Pure-heroes don’t exist, and cant.

      Blake and Mahiro are essentially the same thing, just reversed. They are still the straightforward “I’m working toward this goal and I have my reasons for it” protagonist, just like the standard goodguy types, and have actions like good-guy types, BUT they are essentially on the same line going in the opposite direction.
      They AREN’T good guys. They are guys. Broken people, with broken motivations, who aren’t bad people, and wind up doing good things for….. not-bad reasons. Not noble reasons, but definitely not-bad.

      It’s more realistic, even if less relatable. These types of characters can very easily be people in real life, as opposed to the standard hero-type, as well as the standard anti-hero and/or evil-villain types of characters.

      People today are wanting characters to look up to less and less, and are transitioning to those they can look beside them towards.

      I know you dislike blake, and in real life- I probably would as well (he IS obnoxious hand hard to deal with), but he’s a good protagonist for this story. Evan would be…. good, for a shorter story, and fell would be boring as piss. Maggie would get annoying after a while, and Rose is WAY to dramatic- flipping on her own convictions way too quickly (start out not even wanting to open the RTD books and not even awaking, just being a witch hunter, to wanting to summon discount-demons and beings who get confused for others because she “needs herself to be strong”. The fuck?

      1. Imma gonna contest both of you

        Seriously?you want an uncoruptible pure pureness guy for a hero,and everyone else is not a good guy?I’d argue that one can be a good guy while having commited evil things,and vice versa.Thats not a contradiction,thats not having unreal standards.

        Both Blake and the other protagonist were good guys.At worst,they have some messiah complex,but neither ever acted smug,every person tries to justify himself to himself,in fact ,I’d argue that a person who occasionally fails,and resolves to change,is better than a guy who doesn’t.Both of them are good guys because they try.

        You seriously think a person thinking “only I can do this”is not a good person,and,in a sense,he isn’t,but thats not what they are thinking,they are thinking “if not me,then who?”thats how a good guy think,they keeep trying,they push themselves to their limit for others,they act basically altruistically,and they are not good guys?you two seem like the high and mighty snobs,not them.

        Sure,you can make a case for (rot 13)Gnlybe orvat n ulcbpevgr,be znxvat terl qrpvfvbaf,ohg fur arire jnf n ulcbpevgr,fur bayl jnagrq pbzzhavpngvba,fur arire ybbxrq bguref sebz nobir.Fur qvqa’g ungr Pnhyqeba sbe gurve fvaf,ohg sbe gurve pevzvany vanovyvgl gb pbbcrengr.Nyy ure npgvbaf jrer jvgu urebvp vagragvbaf,rira gubhtu fur jnf bsgra fb tbny bevragrq fur hajvggvatyl pnhfrq zber qnzntr.Rira vs fur vf n ulcbpevgr,V’q pnyy nal crefba fb frys fnpevsvpvat n tbbq thl,naq V pbafvqre ulcbpevfl gur uvturfg fva,gungf ubj zhpu V nqzver ure fgehttyr

        And Blake?all his actions were altruistic or self defense,period.

        This guys are good guys,because they try.Try to see the evil in everyone,and all you see is darkness,but once we understand one cannot be perfect,we can see his heroism besides his imperfections.Blake is severely traumatised,so what?he always acts altruistically,never hypocrytically,and the world was way too unfair to him,this is ot wrong.You should use your words to offer support torape victims,Barrendur.

        Heroes are not perfect,the God is,if you believe in Him,and his Son is,if you are Christian ,but no hero is perfect,and thats what makes them heroes.The traumatized guy who cannot stand human contact?he tries to help.The severely bullied girl who was stunned socially?she tries to help.And not with an “I am always right philosophy”,they both doubt themselves and judge themselves,heck,they cannot defend themselves over some people judging them for doing tottally justified things.

        You too?you just find persons not good because they cannot uphold an unrealistic standard.

        1. I have a long response, but before I send it, please read the entirety of my post. You specifically mention things that actually agree with what my overall point is, and I’m betting that you just skimmed my comment and replied before reading it, which would explain a lot and make this a miscommunication. So, please re read my comment in full and let me know when you do so, and if you want to change your opinion, so I know if I should post my long response or not

          1. I actually agree on some of your points,didn’t skim your comment,I just bundled my responses to both of you in one comment

            Mostly,it was vs Barrendur,not vs you.But on a few points,like saying Taylor and Blake aren’t good guys,just good protagonist,I felt like I had to contest you both,so I replied to you instead of Barrendur.

    2. You made a very good point about one thing: both characters are realistic. Orr you will tell me that people don’t act like this in real life? How many peopl you know act like theyr experiences in the past is a trump card. People justify theyr vices and habits with their experience, I do this, you probably also do this. Now, if yoy don’t like seeing this in a protagonist that’s another problem, but it is not a flaw in them, it’s a flaw in humans. I like the fact they they are realistic like this, they lie to get what they want, they manipulate people, we do this too!

    3. I disagree with your view of Blake’s view of reciprocation-it seems to me that he has a strong idea of the need for reciprocation, given how he treats his friends (needing to offer them something in exchange for something, being unwilling to ask for help and bring them into the world of practitioning), and he desperately wants to avoid being selfish and asking them for something without offering something at least equivalent.

      Similarly, I don’t think that Blake thinks of himself as more noble or righteous than others so much as wanting to do some good in the world, as repayment for the good that’s been done for him. I thus think that your comparison of him to Taylor is somewhat unfair-where Taylor went out and actively did what she thought needed to be done, Blake is a much more reactive character, who for the past seven arcs has been motivated by immediate threats to his life and safety, with only his going after the oblivion demon after winning against Conquest a decision that he made, which I think was more the result of his awareness of his own mortality thanks to Isadora, leading to a desire to do as much good as he could in the time he had left, which is why his big plan to take down the demon put only himself, the doomed one, at risk.

    4. Others have addressed a lot of this, in some cases better than I could, but here goes:

      PTSD is not “self-indulgent wallowing”.

      Your ideal, that people have free will and can just choose to move past their mental problems and be someone different, is a nice one and even has a truth to it. But it just isn’t as simple as you make it out to be.

      The problem is, it it’s not just your conscious mind that makes that choice – it’s also your subconscious mind shaped by the experiences, beliefs and habits of a lifetime. And science tells us it’s actually the subconscious mind that’s the 800lb gorilla in the relationship.

      The fact that you believe it to be simple (or even possible) to choose a better life and that it works for you indicates that you’ve lived a life which enabled and supported you to build that belief. That’s a great thing. People whose subconscious has learnt to cripple them to one degree or another aren’t as lucky.

      Different people find it much easier or harder (or nigh-impossible) to do the same things. And often it’s not their fault or choice – it’s just genetics and/or the life they happened to be born into that constrains their minds to certain patterns. In many cases it’s not completely inescapable but it’s insidious – their strength to escape the mental trap is exactly what the trap weakens and damages no matter how trivial it looks to escape from the outside.

      Someone with depression doesn’t have the capability to just ‘get over it’ and the same is true for many other mental issues to varying degrees.

      If you can’t understand how debilitating that can be, then you’re probably best off counting your blessings that you can’t.

  22. if this is all it takes to break oaths that weren’t even explicitly built around referring to herself solely in the third person the entire time then i have a hard time believing blake couldn’t just legally change his name and duck karma or something. the name seems to be treated as the identity which shouldn’t be the case. before that could be considered plausible at best it seems like it would have to be considered owning the individual instead but it clearly isn’t that.

  23. It occurred to me, after I’d slept, that The Girl Once Named Maggie has said, without referring to herself by name, that she doesn’t make deals without some profit to her. She ought to mention this to Padraic, and say that he had best repay her fairly for her generosity to The Fairy To Whom the Name of Maggie Holt Belongs, or face the consequences of unjust theft of this level, which may well be comparable to being forsworn. If she does it right, she could probably make him repay her threefold at the end of thirty days, when the ring should rightly return to Padraic.

    1. I think Padraic would argue that he made it very clear it was an unbalanced bargain, and Former Maggie agreed to it anyway!

      (He mentioned multiple times that it was unbalanced, just never said in whose favor.)

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