Signature 8.4

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Sunlight streamed through the windows where curtains hadn’t been drawn.  Probably intentional on Sandra’s part – an unobtrusive alarm of sorts to ensure the guest wasn’t up too late.

The girl in the checkered scarf -she did still wear the scarf, having fallen asleep in the armchair- was already wide awake.  A blanket had been draped over her, tucked in at the shoulders and by her hips, and she left it where it was, joining her scarf in half-covering her face.

Her eyes were fixed on her knees, her mind as active as her body was still.  Her thoughts walked the razor’s edge of inspiration and there wasn’t much footing to be had, if any.  A misstep meant succumbing to panic.

Through the kitchen doorway, she could see Sandra walking through the kitchen, and raised her head a bit to get a better look.  A portion of the blanket fell aside as she reached up to push a lock of hair out of her eyes.  She didn’t fix it.  Out of sight, plates clinked.

That ferret-thing passed across the narrow slice of the kitchen the girl could see, running along the edge of the counter.

A moment later, it passed the other way, roughly half of a package worth of bacon clasped in its jaws.

All of the remaining bacon, Hildr?” Sandra asked.  Her voice was barely audible.  “Give me half of that and I’ll get the sausage out for you.”

A pause.

Sandra stepped into view, meeting the weasel and collecting the requisite bacon.

The woman’s head turned toward the armchair.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll cook it in a separate pan from yours.  Hildr and I are practically family – a little bit of troll spittle won’t kill me.”

“Uh, sure,” said the armchair’s occupant.  She stood and stretched, unwinding her scarf a bit where she was too warm.  After a moment’s consideration, she took off her winter jacket.

“The bathroom is that way,” Sandra said, pointing.  “Do you have a preference for what you drink with your breakfast?  Tea?  Coffee?”

“Do you have cranberry juice?”

“Yes.  I’ll get it out.”

“And, uh, I don’t know what to do about clothes.”

Sandra gave her a once-over, a careful, searching look, before deciding, “Wear what you have for now.  You won’t be too badly off if you wear those clothes for one more day.  When you’re done eating, you can use my shower and dry off before you set out.”

“Thank you,” she replied, laying her jacket over the arm of the chair.  The plate and glass from last night were already gone from the little table.

She took her time going through the bathroom, her mind still darting through possibilities.

Go to Toronto?  No.  Padraic was right.  A bad idea on a number of levels.  Padraic could return, and she needed to look after her dads.

She washed her hands and then her face, using her wet hands to push her hair back.  As usual, it immediately rebelled against her attempts to get it in order.

After sniffing her clothes to judge her body odor and resigning herself to a maybe, she headed to the kitchen.

Hildr was devouring a raw sausage roughly a third her size, while Sandra was setting the table.

Croissant, crepes with blueberries and strawberries, bacon and a glass of juice.

“You didn’t have to do this,” she told Sandra, sitting down.

“I didn’t.  But I like to eat well, and it’s hardly hospitable to give you gruel while I prepare this for myself,” Sandra said.  She tapped the spoon of icing sugar to lightly dust her crepe.  “While you washed up, I was thinking about the clothing situation.  I do have clothes from when I was about your age.  I grew up in this house and left it behind when I moved to Toronto.  I’ve never had cause to get rid of it.”

“That could be good,” the girl replied.  She took a bite.

“I’m not sure it would be.  You’re coming unraveled, so to speak, and you’ll want to hold tight to those things which tie you to your identity.  Physical objects or otherwise.”

Like going to see Molly?  She made a note of that.  She also noted that she still had her scarf on – she had been wearing it for a large portion of the winter.   She downed a mouthful of the cranberry juice.

She sputtered, covering her mouth before she could cough it out on the table.  That only served to get it in her nose.

Her hand pounded the table a few times while she fought to regain her composure.  The ferret thing was hissing at her, baring vicious looking teeth.

Sandra barely flinched.  “It shouldn’t be off.  It’s fairly fresh.”

“Bitter.”

“Oh.  When you asked for Cranberry juice, I thought you meant real cranberry juice.  The stuff you usually find in stores is primarily apple or pear juice, with a bit of cranberry added.”

The girl with the checkered scarf sputtered a bit.

“You can get used to it,” Sandra said.  “I prefer it mixed with a bit of orange juice.  Should I get you a glass and orange juice?”

“Please.”

While she did so, Sandra said, “I’m assuming you don’t know how to put together a model?”

“Depends what kind.”

“It’s a technique enchanters pick up when first learning.  Sometimes you try to manipulate a connection and it goes poorly.  When that happens, it can help to have a sense of what exactly has happened.  I’ll show you after.”

“Thank you.  Kind of going above and beyond the call of… well, it isn’t even your duty, is it?”

“No.”

“What’s the catch?”

“No catch.  Please eat.  Rules for the hosted are simple – that you graciously accept what is freely offered.  I didn’t poison anything here.”

The girl in the checkered scarf ate.

“Laird, as I told you last night, went to Toronto.  He’ll be one of the champions opposing Mr. Thorburn.  Opposing Mr. Thorburn and Maggie Holt, that is.”

The girl in the checkered scarf nodded slowly.

It felt weird, hearing the name spoken like that.  It should have felt weird because it was familiar to her, but it wasn’t.

“I’m not quite sure how to phrase this without missing the mark.  Need?  Wish?  Desire?  Not quite any of those.  I would very, very much like to be lord of Jacob’s Bell.”

“No offense, but this isn’t exactly news to me.  I’m a little out of the loop, but I’m not that out of the loop.”

“Let me continue.  I once wanted to be Lord of Toronto, but things didn’t go the way we’d hoped.  I made a bid for power, I lost, and I hoped this would be my consolation prize.  Then Laird made it clear he wanted it.”

The girl nodded, eating.  The cranberry juice in orange juice was just barely drinkable.  She didn’t complain.

Sandra continued, “We fought, then we struck compromises, to keep things in balance.  The marriage was one such compromise.  Laird hopes to go to Toronto, put himself in the good graces of the lord of the city, and leverage that when he returns here.  I’m suspicious that won’t happen.”

“How come?”

“Laird has a very particular personality.  He comes from a particular lineage.  I grew up a number of years behind him, and he was always someone I paid attention to, because of his position in his family, the favor that the head of the Behaim showed to him, and because my mother told me to.  I know him fairly well, all things considered.”

“My condolences.”

“The knowledge is a good thing.  That it’s Laird… I don’t think it’s a bad thing.  He was groomed from a young age.  Less able practitioners in his general age group were punished by having to give him power as penance.  He was tutored, even sent away to the United Kingdom for a time.”

“Lucky guy, getting all the breaks.  A little spoiled, a little messed up because of how one dimensional his social circles were?  I think I get it.”

“I don’t think he was lucky at all,” Sandra said.  “Others in his family have to pay a share of their power, and are restricted in what they can do, as far as the practice goes, but they are free.  Laird has had firm hands gripping him by the arm every step of the way.  Even now, he’s bound and shackled, playing his role in schemes that were set up before he was born.”

“So he convinces me that Molly Walker is an inhuman monster and gets me to sic my goblins on her?”

“Yes.  And he’s done several other things, some recent, some not.  He puts on a good face and smiles, he sees to his duties as a police officer and a keeper of the peace in town, but I wonder sometimes if he isn’t screaming inside his head.  That’s why I gave him a nudge, prompting him to go to Toronto.”

“I just woke up, I’m not exactly on the ball.  I might have missed something you said, or I didn’t catch the logic there.  Don’t get it.”

“The Lord of Toronto is an entity that doesn’t live or die, but ebbs and flows in power.  As of right now, he ebbs.  He’s fighting for a foothold.  Laird, by contrast, is fighting the course of his own destiny.  In the doing, he might be adhering to it, like an animal that struggles against the net that binds it might only trap itself further.”

“Uh huh.”

“Did you know he gave up a share of his lifespan to his children?”

“No.”

“I believe he’s been setting his affairs in order.  The tone of our last conversation suggested it.  It didn’t take much of a push to get him to go to Toronto.  He asked me to look after the Behaim family in his absence.  Are you seeing where I’m going with this?”

“You’re talking about the Lord and Laird in the same breath.”

“Which is amusing when you think about the link of his name to the title.  Maybe Destiny has her way after all.”

“One and the same?” the girl asked.  “Oh.  Oh.  You think he’s going to sacrifice himself to give the Lord of Toronto a foothold?”

Sandra put down her fork, meal finished.  “Yes.  His personality would fit, and maybe he’s been thinking about this for some time, altering his own perspective, preparing for this.  An Incarnation is a representation of that which it represents, in a circular fashion, but it builds its image from pieces given to it.  Men that sacrificed themselves, as Laird may hope to sacrifice himself.  Laird would give the Lord a more modern perspective, clearer knowledge, and freedom to act outside the confines of its being.  In the long term, he would be trapped, largely dead, but in the now, well, he might shake himself free of Destiny’s firm grip.”

“He’s going to become an Incarnation?”

“Who knows?  I do suspect that he won’t return, one way or another.  I doubt Blake Thorburn will either.  Where does that leave us?”

“Well, I’m still here, nameless and kind of screwed.”

“And I’m still here as well, very, very much wanting to be Lord, with one potential rival potentially out of the way, and one dangerous element pinned down in Toronto, with signs and portents saying he’s unlikely to return alive.  I have to deal with Johannes, as well as other locals.  I might need help.”

“Ahhhh.  You must be desperate if you’re coming to me.”

“There are very few pieces on the board here.  I can call in favors from branches of my family, but that draws attention, and we aren’t at a stage yet where drawing attention would be good.  Understand?  I could twist your arm, make demands, and extract oaths from you, but I don’t know what specifically I would ask for right now.”

The girl in the checkered scarf put down her utensils, chugged the last of her juice, and then leaned back.  Try as she might, she couldn’t think of anything to add.  All of the gears that were turning in the back of her mind were presently busy trying to find solutions to her own predicament.

“There isn’t a catch, not really,” Sandra said, “My niece called you a wild card, didn’t she?”

The girl in the checkered scarf nodded.

“You could side with anyone here.  You could very well side with Johannes, if he has a solution.  I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have any clever ideas on how to salvage your Self, and I wouldn’t blame you.  But if you do side with Johannes, I’m hoping you won’t side against me in the process.”

“I can sort of see that.”

Sandra collected the dishes, rinsing them off in the sink before putting them away.  She didn’t turn around as she said, “He could and may well force you, if he has a solution.”

“Maybe.  Is that your subtle way of reminding me that you could have forced me to turn on Blake in exchange for sanctuary?”

“Yes.  In fact, as I first spoke to you, I was already working out this conversation for this morning.  Bookending ideas.”

“Clever.”

Sandra half-turned, revealing a slight smile.

“Here’s my chance to be clever – I think you said that the people that were strong enough to help me should know that it’s a bad idea to?”

“Yes.”

“Johannes is one of the exceptions to that rule, I take it?”

“Yes he is.”

“Is this a nudge?  Is this one of those nudges, like you gave Laird?  To go see Johannes?”

Sandra smiled, picking up Hildr.  The girl in the checkered scarf could see how the fur at one side of the ferret’s head had been braided and clasped in place with a tiny metal clip.  Sandra said, “It could be.  Nothing mystical about it.  The question would be why.”

“Yeah,” the girl in the checkered scarf said.  “I guess so.  Would I upset you if I said I don’t want to go see him just yet?”

“No.  Can I offer you anything else?”

“I’m done,” the girl replied.  And the juice sits heavy in my gut.  “Thank you.  I haven’t eaten a breakfast that good in a while.  One of my dads is on this health kick.”

And I might never get to eat a crappy vegan tofu salad or granola-milk slop breakfast if I can’t get my name back.

“Are you okay?” Sandra asked.  “All things considered?”

The girl looked up.

“You were somewhere else for a moment.”

“I’m… yeah.  Like I said before, I’m not so functional when I’ve just woken up.  I’m ready to get down to business.”

“Use my shower.  I’ll get things ready so I can teach you what you need to know when you’re out.”

She decided to pull on clothes rather than use the offered bathrobe, feeling fabric stick to skin where she hadn’t quite dried off enough.  For much the same reason, she hadn’t used the offered shampoo and conditioner.  Shampoo tended to leave her hair more unruly, so she tended to do one day on and one day off.  Her hair going unwashed a day was more her than it was smelling like the wrong products.

She donned the hairband, pushing her hair away from her face, and stared at herself in the mirror.

Was it just the more intense lighting above the bathroom mirror that made her look paler, her eyes lighter, her hair darker?  Starker?

She wound the scarf around her shoulders, loose.

When she emerged and stepped into the living room, she saw a sheet of parchment had been laid out.  Not paper.  Old fashioned stuff, a little uneven at the edges.  Another scrap sat at the base of the coffee table, mostly rolled up.  Thin ink marked it.  Lines and scribbled words.  Testing pens?

Sandra didn’t look up as she drew a circle in the middle.  “Write all personal details you can inside.  Everything about yourself you can think of.  You can’t include your name, but you can and should include other things.  Try to think of things that Padraic wouldn’t necessarily know about.  Things he wouldn’t have taken or claimed for himself, as part of his identity, that make you unique.”

I have three parents, but I think Padraic thinks it’s just the two.  I don’t sign my name with a heart over the ‘i’, but I do a little squiggle at the middle part of the M to make my signature mine when I’m signing something like a cheque.  I like salty foods way too much.  I don’t actually love regular pizza, but I’ll eat anchovy pizza and I’ll tolerate other stuff.  Both of the boys I’ve really liked much at all turned out to be gay.  It’s very rare for me to cry or sob when I’m upset, though I might get tears in my eyes but sometimes after a really long day, I’ll just break down and cry into my pillow for no reason, like I save it all up for that.

“More?” she asked.

“All you can,” Sandra said, eyeing the list.

It bothered her that Sandra was reading these small, personal things, but she wasn’t in a position to complain.

I’m pretty sure I’ll die young.  Polar fleece fabric gives me the heebie jeebies so bad I can barely sit still after touching it.

She hesitated.

I love my parents more than anything, and they’ve done better jobs than most.  I mean it.  But sometimes I wonder if the reason my priorities and feelings are messed up are because my surrogate mom wasn’t around enough and my dads just aren’t that emotionally sensitive.  I know it’s stupid, I know it’s wrong, and I tell myself every time that I’m just looking for a broad-strokes answer to it all, but I still think it sometimes.

She stared down at the words, pen still in hand, for a long minute.

“A little bit of blood,” Sandra said.  “I have a needle-“

The girl was already biting the end of her thumb.

“Or you can do that.”

“Used to it,” The girl said.  “Center circle?”

“You have the right idea.  Good.  Now draw more circles,” Sandra prompted her.  “Around that one.  Things you’re connected to that are important to you.”

Dad.  Father.  Mom.  Home.  The house.  My room.  My title as a goblin queen.

She paused at that last one.

“That’s fine,” Sandra said.  “Being a student?”

“I’m not much of one.”

“Okay.  Anything else?”

She wrote Blake, then Molly.

“Good.  This is something you can do again when you feel the need, to figure out where you stand.  When we do it, we use a board, pins and threads, so we can practice illustrating webs of connections and manipulate things more.  That isn’t what you need, so we’ll take the simpler road.  Draw lines from you to each of these things.”

The girl in the checkered scarf did, drawing a line between the circle with the confession, little secrets and blot of blood, to the circle with ‘goblin queen’ within.

The pen was nearly out of ink.  The line came out spotty, half of it was just the pen nib digging a groove into paper.

“That’s supposed to happen?” she guessed.

“Yes.  Keep going.”

Between herself and her parents.  Worse.  Two thirds of it was only scratches.

Herself and the house?  Worse still.

Mom?  Better again.

Dads?  The worst yet.

Her room?

She suspected she knew the answer before she tried.  The pen scratched paper, but no ink came out.

Padraic had made his claim to it.

Blake?

The sole bit of line was so short she could cover it with her fingertip.

Molly?

One of the stronger connections.

“If these were threads, and we were applying stress, you would be seeing how frayed they were.  You could gauge the health of the connections.  Keep this in mind.  Check again later today.  Figure out how this condition of yours is progressing.”

“Okay.”

“You have options.  There’s one obvious one I can’t and won’t outline to you, out of concern that Padraic would be upset with me.”

“And you need all the friends you can get, with so few pieces on the board.”

‘Yes.”

“I’m assuming that one option is that I have to go head to head with Padraic.  Take it back.”

“You said it,” Sandra said, smiling a bit, “Not me.  Another option would be to draw things out.  Faerie get bored, and if you can survive in the meantime, it’s possible he would take pity on you and return the name.”

The girl stared at the woman, unimpressed.

“Possible, but not likely,” Sandra amended.

“How do I survive, though?”

“Forge new connections, hold tight to the connections that do exist, tenuous or otherwise.”

“Oh god.  You’re telling me that I have to work for my salvation by making friends?”

“That’s one way to forestall the inevitable,” Sandra said.

“I’m liking the first option more,” the girl said.  “It allows for shoving of a stick up one of Padraic’s nether orifices and attaching it to a lathe.  I don’t make friends easily.”

“Other connections, then.”

“Other connections.  Making a mental note.  Got it.”

“The third option… well, I suppose it isn’t easy either.”

“Third option?”

“Accept that he’s won.  Make peace with it.”

“Oh helllll no.”

“Yes,” Sandra said.  “There’s a running theme in dealings with Faerie.  Trust me, I’ve dealt with them enough to know.  As a general rule, it’s not worth it.”

“What’s not.”

“It.  Whatever you’re striving for in dealing with them?  Whatever they’re offering?  It isn’t worth the trouble.  Rescue someone from Faerie clutches, and they’ll play along, acting like everything’s good, only to go back to their old masters.  You can win, but you might well fall prey to a trap in the process.”

“Blake kicked a Faerie’s ass the day he invited me into my house.”

“Yes he did.”

“So… that rule has its exceptions.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.  I don’t know the particulars, so I can’t comment.”

The girl in the checkered scarf narrowed her eyes.  “So I’m supposed to give up?”

“It’s a possibility.”

“Yeah.  Right.  I’m not about to lie down and get replaced, thank you.  Not my style.”

“Of course.”

“Anything else?”

“Not so much.  There are other tricks, but everything has its own gravity, and so long as he has your name, there will be a natural pull, drawing that which is Maggie’s to him.  If you were to reclaim your name, I’d think a confrontation would be inevitable.”

“What if he bites it in the meantime?”

“You would have to be careful with the timing and mechanism, lest you inherited a name with the notion of death attached to it and took that death for yourself, but I would be surprised if it even came to that.  I’d sooner expect him to simply get bored with this game and return your name to you.”

“You’d-” the girl in the checkered scarf started.  “Fuck, really?”

“Careful with the swearing, remember.”

“Swearing in very particular circumstances that call for it.  How is he not going to die?”

“He’s been around for centuries, leading an exceptionally interesting life.  Add up his experience, and he’s developed a degree of familiarity with most types of Other that are close to the sixteen or seventeen years you’ve spent getting to know your own family.  He’ll avoid situations where victory isn’t in the cards for him.  Faerie like to pick easy fights for themselves, but impose challenges on themselves to keep it interesting, always holding on to the idea that they can abandon the challenge and cut loose if the situation calls for it.”

“So that’s it?  No chance?  If it even comes down to a contest-”

“If it were Essylt?  She’s more one-dimensional.  Padraic?  I would consider your loss a foregone conclusion.”

The girl looked down at the map of connections, fists clenched at her sides.

“What happens?” she asked.  “Later on?”

“He’ll take and borrow to create his new identity.  Connections will find less traction with you.  Even simple connections.  The ability to open a door involves a connection, however basic.  In the end?  It depends on what the two of you do.  You might be reduced to a glimmer, held together by the little that Padraic didn’t take, unable to act or even function.”

“An echo.”

“Close enough.  More likely, you’d start coming to pieces.  You might find that spirits occupy the hollow spaces that are created, which would accelerate the decay.  You might go out in a blaze of spiritual activity.  Conversely, your body might simply be ground down into your constituent elements, the spirits would nibble on the exposed edges of the girl who was once Maggie Holt, and gravity and connections would pull the half-eaten, half-faded husk to pieces.”

The girl in the checkered scarf felt her heart pounding as if she’d just run around the block.

“I should go,” she said.

“I think you should.  That line connecting to Blake looks less solid than it did a minute ago.  While you’re here, I can help reinforce things, but I can’t stop Padraic from taking things from his end of this struggle, leaving you less to work with.”

The girl grabbed her coat, pulling it on.

“Where are you going?” Sandra asked.

“Don’t know.  Maybe the Briar Girl.”

“If she were strong enough to do something substantial, I would be very surprised,” Sandra commented.

“Maybe that’s true.  But she and Blake had a connection, and maybe I can establish one with her.  She doesn’t seem like she’d be impossible to get along with.  And I can ask.  Get more info on where to go next.”

“Maybe, instead of doing that, you should tackle the more dangerous possibilities while you’re still strong enough.”

The girl in the checkered scarf paused midway through doing up her buttons.  “You’re trying to nudge me to Johannes again.”

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea.”

“Maybe, maybe not.  And I do owe you one… but… what about her?”

She is… not your best bet.”

“She could have an answer.  She’s been around for a freaking long time.”

“True on both counts.”

“So?”

“I suppose if you’re going to talk to her, you should be as strong as possible.”

Great.  Unless there’s something I should know?”

“You know who she is?”

“Yeah.”

“You know what she is?”

“Pretty sure.”

“So long as you go in armed with knowledge.  She can’t hurt you unless you give her the chance.”

The girl with the checkered scarf nodded.  “Just in case, could I- do you have a weapon I could borrow?  I know it’s more valuable and permanent than food, but…”

“I have a number of weapons.  Metal?  I assume you’re still worried about them?”

“Not unworried.  They’re impatient, not exactly the type to wait all this time, lurking outside and attack me in broad daylight.  But one of them did promise to come after me, so…”

“Any preference in terms of what you’d want to wield?”

Bigger and sharper the better, the girl thought.

Then she reconsidered.

“My implement is a knife.  I’ll take something in that vein, if that’s okay.”

Sandra walked over to a bookshelf.  She withdrew a case and opened it.  Three knives sat within.  She placed the knife on the arm of the armchair.

The girl picked it up.  A stiletto, long and narrow, with a sheath.  “You sure?”

“As with my childhood clothes, it’s one of those things that’s been around for some time.  I have no particular attachment to it, and I’m happier it’s seeing use.  You’ll find Mara’s place due west, after the buildings give way to forest.  Stick to the hardest path.”

“Cool,” the girl said.  She paused.  “I won’t say thank you.  That’s sort of useless.  You helped me out.  I’ll… I’ll try to thank you with deed, not word.”

“I appreciate that.”

The girl nodded, then opened the front door, took a good three steps back from the force of the wind and snow, then plunged into the elements.

Take the hardest path.

Story of my freaking life.

The hardest path, as it turned out, meant not walking down the path people and their dogs had carved into the woods.  It meant going uphill, through snow that soaked her jeans in an instant.

Pushing through the thickest growths of branches, rather than walk around.

Maybe Sandra was nice to me just so she could get me to buy this crummy advice and laugh to her creepy children of the corn family about sending me off to stumble through deep woods.

Even as she mulled over the idea, entertaining the surprisingly infuriating mental image of Sandra and her ferret-troll both laughing with one hand over their mouths, she had a sense that this was a bit too troublesome.

There was always an easier option.  Always a seemingly valid route around that outcropping of stone with a tree growing out of it.

Was this a spell of sorts?  A way of turning ignorant people away, keeping one patch of wilderness in a reasonable walking distance from town away from prying eyes?

Or, given that Mara had been around for a while, was it by design?

Had Mara planted and cultivated trees or moved stones to generate this effect?  A simple, steady, relentless building of this discouraging barrier over the years?

The girl in the checkered scarf pressed on.  She told herself that the resistance the branches gave to her pushing hands was another design.  Branches left scratches on her hands and face.  One copse of trees tried three times to scrape her hairband away from her head, then snagged on the button-hole of her jacket.  Not actually moving, but simply happening to catch her clothing.

She couldn’t see any rune or trick, but maybe it was a harder thing to see.  Maybe the tree had been planted in the middle of a rune, so it manifested certain snatching, scratching qualities as it grew.

Maybe every tree this deep in the woods was like a full-sized bonsai tree, guided by Mara’s hand.

There were probably a lot of really cool things one could do when they were effectively immortal and largely removed from everyday human concerns and habits.

The cottage, as it turned out, looked fairly normal, if old fashioned.  Over one rock, and there it was.  Squat, probably no more than four rooms, all wooden logs, planks, and stones with a coarse looking mortar.  A fire somewhere within gave the thick, dusty glass a faint orange-yellow tint.  Thick smoke rose from the chimney at one side.

It wasn’t made of gingerbread, at least.

“This was probably a really bad idea,” she told herself.

Her voice didn’t help to reassure herself as much as she might have hoped.

A vague sense of danger made her double check where she placed her feet, every place where there was a gap in the branches.  No traps, no dolls or totems, no apparent runes or anything of the sort.

No options left, she knocked on the door.

She heard metal scraping on stone.  It reminded her of the goblin with the tools.  A shiver ran up her spine.

The door opened.

Not Mara.

A child, maybe twelve, aboriginal, with a chain shackled to her wrist.

The child didn’t meet her eyes.  Her shoulders were drawn in, eyes fixed on her feet.

“I’m looking for Mara?”

“Crone Mara doesn’t like the white people,” the child said, in an accented voice.  “I do not like the white people.”

“I’ve always cared less than most people do when it comes to being liked,” the girl in the checkered scarf said.  “I’m interested in dealing.  Negotiations.”

“Then come in and wait.  Crone Mara will speak to you very soon.”

Again, that vague sense of danger, a trap.  The metaphorical lion’s den.  “I have safe passage?  You can give me permission to enter?”

“Yes.”

She’d halfway expected the interior to be a demesne, but there was no guarantee that Crone Mara would hold to any recent traditions.  The notion of the demesne had come over from Europe with the settlers.  Crone Mara predated them.

No, the interior was cramped.  Warm, with thick walls and no leaks, but cramped, with a floor of stones that fit together like jigsaw pieces, grooves worn along the most traveled paths.  She suspected it predated the log and wood construction of the walls themselves.

The two bedrooms to the one side had no doors, only a bed and just enough space to stand between bed and wall.  Shelves above the bed held clothes.

It was all so utilitarian.  Only that which was absolutely necessary was within the building.  Of those necessities, the kitchen stood out as the largest room in the small building.  Containers held food, reeking of meat, and a fire burned under a large pot of stew filled with large chunks of vegetables.

There was only one nod to anything resembling entertainment.  All around the uppermost edge of the kitchen, high enough up that one would need to stand on a table or box to reach, were dolls.  Crude, made of raw materials, features made misshapen by the damage done to leather and woven grass by age.  There was no organization.  The very oldest stood beside more recent creations.  The newest dolls were crafted of reed and hide.  The oldest had started to come apart, hide degrading, reeds long since eaten away, revealing slivers of bone within.

The girl in the checkered scarf took a seat at the kitchen table.  A tree had been cut straight down the middle, flat end turned up.  The table was three such half-trees.

The chain at the younger girl’s wrist dragged on the floor as she made her way to the pot, stirring slowly.  Each motion of her arm made the chain tap against the stone housing of the broad fireplace.

Minutes ticked on, and the girl in the checkered scarf became acutely aware of the passage of time, the lack of time she had before she became some kind of glimmer or husk.

“What do you do here?”

“I am cooking blood stew.”

“When you aren’t cooking, I mean.”

“I will chop firewood.”

“Okay, sounds like indentured servitude.  Let me rephrase.  What do you do when there aren’t chores?”

“There are always enough chores to fill the day.”

“Always?” the girl in the checkered scarf asked.  “Every day, it’s just waking up, doing chores one after another, until you’re ready to go to bed?”

“Every day.”

The rhythmic clink of chain against stone continued, alongside the scrape of the large wooden spoon against the bottom of the pot.  The child’s flesh was raw around the shackle.

That looks like it hurts like crazy.

This sounds like it would drive anyone insane.

“It sounds lonely.  Never having fun.  Do you talk, at least?”

“There are lessons.  Basic things.  How to do this or how to do that.  How to maintain the hut”

“Uh huh.  And games?”

“No games.”

“Stories?”

“Few stories.  Only sometimes, to remind of why we are to fear and distrust the white people.  Better to be in here.”

“Um, okay.  What about singing?”  How bad can singing be?

“Crone Mara does not sing very often.  They sing when the quiet is too deep, or when I ask.”

The girl in the checkered scarf followed the pointing finger.

The dolls.

“Oh heck no,” she said.  “Point taken, no need to demonstrate.”

But the dolls were already singing.

Faint at first, like rustles through the trees, whispering, reedy voices, they found the high notes.

Children’s voices.

A foreign language, some voices better at the singing than the others, some halting, creating a vaguely discordant sound, like a children’s choir where there hadn’t been enough practice.

“Alrighty,” she said.  That does nothing to convince me you wouldn’t absolutely lose your mind in here.  “Can we stop?”

“They will stop when they are finished.  It depends on their mood.  They sing more when they are sad.  Lately they sang more than they have been silent.”

“Great, great.  Any idea on when Crone Mara will return?”

The little girl shrugged, giving the door a momentary glance.

Discordant voices, scraping spoon, clink and scrape of chain against stone.

The chain was fat, coarse, old fashioned, a little rusty.  It might well have predated Jacob’s Bell.

Her eye fell on the point where it had been banging the stone.

There were flecks on the ground.

The chain was being worn down, as was the thick stone that bordered the fireplace.

No way the chain had been that worn down in this generation alone.

The scraping of the spoon had stopped.

The little girl was looking her in the eyes for the first time.

The little girl looked old.  Weary.

“Can you break the chain?” the child asked.  “Crone Mara has the key.  For you to free me, you would need to break the chain.”

“I’m really not looking to make more enemies,” the girl in the checkered scarf replied.  “You’re putting me in an awkward position.”

“Can you break the chain?  It is damaged, you see, right here.  Can you show me that the white people are not so bad?”

“You’ve got to give me a chance to answer before-“

The child stepped closer, and chain scraped on floor.

The singing of the dolls grew louder.

The child’s hands clutched at the end of her jacket.

“Will you help me, white girl?  You can, if you act now.”

“I’m thinking.”

There were tears on the girl’s face.  “Please tell me you will help me.  Please.  Just say it.”

“I-“

“Please!”

The word was ragged, as if the child wasn’t used to anything but a dull monotone.

It was too much, the smoke in the hut, the singing, the pleas-

“I think-“

The girl’s hands clutched tighter.

“-That I’ve read too many fantasy novels to fall for this,” she finally managed to say.

A moment passed.

The singing quieted.

“Crone Mara,” the girl in the checkered scarf said, meeting the child’s eyes.

Crone Mara stood a little straighter.  Tears still marked her cheeks, but there was a flinty look in her eyes.

“What would have happened if I’d said yes?  How would I ‘help’?”

“You would be compost,” the girl said.

“Got it.  No.  Bad.

The child reached into her shirt for a key on a string and undid her shackle.

“Will you negotiate with me?” she asked the child.  “I need a hand with something.”

Never.  Not ever,” the child said.

“Got it,” the girl with the checkered scarf said.  She stood from the table.  “Had to ask.”

She stepped out into the cold.

One down.

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229 thoughts on “Signature 8.4

    1. Typo thread.

      Typos:
      – “And I might never get to eat a crappy vegan tofu salad or granola-milk slop breakfast if I can’t get my name back.” -> “never again” or “breakfast again”
      – “Old fashioned stuff” -> “Old-fashioned”
      – “Between herself and her parents. Worse. Two thirds of it was only scratches.” -> Maggie draws lines between herself and her parents, and then separately between herself and her Mom and herself and her Dads. Seems like an accidental repetition. (Also, only one line for both her Dads?)
      – “What’s not.” -> “What’s not?”
      – The word “Faerie” is frequently capitalized here, but I don’t think it is elsewhere. Though if “Others” is capitalized, I guess “Faerie” can be, too.
      – “if old fashioned” -> “if old-fashioned”
      – “made her double check” -> “double-check”

      1. “Blake kicked a Faerie’s ass the day he invited me into my house.”
        Is this supposed to be ‘his house’?

      2. As a general rule, it’s not worth it.,
        The ‘i’ in it is not italicized.

        “There are lessons. Basic things. How to do this or how to do that. How to maintain the hut”
        -missing a period.

      3. But sometimes I wonder if the reason my priorities and feelings are messed up are because my surrogate mom wasn’t around enough and my dads just aren’t that emotionally sensitive.
        reason (my priorities and feelings are messed up) is
        OR
        reasons (my priorities and feelings are messed up) are

      4. vicious looking teeth
        vicious-looking teeth

        and yes, my track record with hyphenation isn’t good, but this seems a clear case

  1. I’m almost disappointed in the obvious bait and the fact that the trap didn’t act regardless of whether or not Scarf took it. But I guess it was a test of Scarf’s savvy as a practitioner.

    1. I am fine with Mara being unforgiving, but not unfair. A different flavour of Isadora, if you will. Maybe it’s a common trait of millenia-aged creatures.

      I am now curious about the girl, since Blake could see both during the brief clairvoyance. Maybe Mara is both the crone and the girl, and the clairvoyance powerful enough to split the two facets apart.
      Did she leech children’s lives (and stuff their remains into dolls) to become that much Other ?

      1. maybe at that time, there was a girl and Mara. Now there is only Mara (or the girl was not there and Mara disguised herself)
        That may be the way Mara got that old: possesion of a younger body, again and again.
        Or some wired body exchange. Then, the “old” Mara body would die and the remains fit into dolls.
        But in the matter of the dolls I prefer the “missing” children theory.

        1. in the matter of the dolls I prefer the “missing” children theory

          You know, if Mara keeps possessing children, and uses bones from the “expired” bodies for the dolls… that’s pretty much the same theory, arguably in a creepier version:

          Children still go missing, and then their bones are still used to make the dolls. There’s just about a life-time delay between the two steps.

          The arguably creepier part: the dolls might be singing because the bones are still attached to pieces of the children’s souls. Which might mean that the souls are trapped in the possessed body even before it expires. “My-mouth-is-not-mine-anymore-and-I-must-scream”, if you’ll pardon the paraphrase.

  2. Wildbow, I’ve read your writing. I’ve stuck through giant monsters, goblins, ghosts, ghouls, demons, goats, loss of identity, betrayal, death, rebirth, redeath, smaller monsters, bugs, arachnids, darkness, fire, water, pain, blindness, disembodied heads, ugly hags, kidnapping, murder games and old people. This chapter, with the little native girl and the singing dolls, is the first chapter to legit creep me out. So. . . Congrats, I guess.

    1. I’m not even gonna pretend I wasn’t creeped out by this chapter. Crone Mara eats fairy tale witches for breakfast.

      1. And in the end, it wasn’t Scarf, or Whatshisface or even Rose that won out. In the end, it was Google+ that saved the day.

        1. Actually,personas aren’t demons,even if there is a demon with the same name and characteristic for each persona.

          And demons in SMT follow the old greek meaning of the word (daemons would be more appropriate?)so rather than all of them being demonic,or evil,they are essentially Others (I didn’t believe I’d say this for a SMT game,but they are Others light,even).

  3. On the brighter side of things, it was pretty interesting seeing some low level enchantment techniques being taught. I find the various practices pretty interesting.

    So has Laird officially made a heroic sacrifice for the sake of changing things? If so, awesome.

    So the Maggie Holt series is actually about the quest of one girl to find what she never really had – friendships.

    So Scarf’s connection to Blake (not Whatshisface yet) is being stolen by Maggie and soon Whatshisface will lose his connections. Hmmm. Whatstheirface lives!

    1. It seems like, whatever Laird may have planned or been expected to do or been destined to do, it may not have worked. It sounds like what was intended was that Laird would be absorbed by Conquest like that one guy in the Fell Family Histories. Laird just died, pointlessly, cold and alone, achieving nothing.

      1. Nah, he bought his sons fifteen additional years of life. That’s probably about on par with what Blake was able to accomplish, all things considered.

        1. In the end what did Blake accomplish beyond starting a war in Toronto? He killed the Hyena, I guess. You could argue regime change in Toronto is worth a war, but it’s Laird that’s supposed to be America, not Blake.

          1. He saved a few lives, got multiple malicious Others to swear not to harm anyone ever again (at least one of which was a generalized oath instead of an oath to him, so it might stick), and kept Conquest from getting his hands on demonic power that would extend his reign another two centuries, leading to who knows how many practitioners falling into his clutches. It’s arguable whether he left the world a better place than he found it, but he certainly made an impact.

            1. Preventing Conquest from summoning demons, is worth a lot – but that’s more “not leaving the world worse off”, rather than “leaving the world better off”, as he desired.
              And while he was fated to die, fighting ErasUr was a particularly bad end from this POV. His erasure screwed many things up, e.g. the Astrologer is in a worse position because of him (well, Rose was the one to use Corvidae, but Blake wouldn’t have survived the contest if the Astrologer and the Sisters had still been in play) – and now the Eye is unbound and active, too. And Laird is dead, which was good or acceptable from Blake’s POV, but isn’t necessarily good from the POV of the majority.
              From that perspective, it’s easily possible that he left the world worse off.

            2. If his death was somewhat cleaner then I believe things would have been better off, but things aren’t that much better off. He’s done good, but his death and the way it screwed everything up set the status quo back to the way it was.

              He was a tragic hero who wanted to do the right thing, but ultimately it amounted to very little.

              This is the story wildbow has written in the deconstruction phase.

            3. Not mention a few times Blake seems to say that being totally forgotten and having left no mark whatsoever on the world is his worst fear. Brutal Wildbow, brutal.

            4. Well, Blake killed Laird, and Laird’s son (?) cursed him to exactly such a fate. Not that there was much Blake could have done differently.

    2. Laird may have tried to make a sacrifice he thought was heroic. Success and heroism are…debatable.

      Yes, it’s possible that Maggie will slip through the cracks and Blake was tossed through them after being nommed. I’m sure they’ll have lost of fun shippable activities in the neverworld.

      1. Though the connection was shrinking, and considering how close Madriac was getting… Sigh you think I’d learn to not get on any ships what with all the sinking.

  4. A classic trap, none of the fey gambits, no demons attempting to gain a foothold in the world. Just one angry woman testing a potential enemy.

    The “Not now, not ever comment” is unsuprising in its existence, though suprising in its earnestness. This gives a significant insight into Crone Mara’s character, namely that she holds the rest of the Jacob’s bell practitioners, and perhaps non-natives, in such contempt that she will specifically never help one of them. She will even not stand against demons to protect them from non-existence. She is likely going to be unable to act in a serious battle over the town.

      1. Or she sings the demon a lullaby and it goes to destroy another continent or two as far away from her as possible.

        She survived that long. Not cutting deals with the recent pests doesn’t mean she doesn’t have powerful backup with older things. She probably could ask the earth to swallow someone whole to get rid of any threat.

        1. I’m doubtful of her having malice towards those continents, or being able to order the Earth itself to do anything, but yeah, she’ll be fine.

      2. I’m reminded of a quote from a Native American, though I can’t remember the context. It went something like “We were here before you came to this land, and we will still be here when you are gone.” It’s debatable whether this will be true in the sense that the Earth will still be habitable when white men are no longer in the Americas, but it’s pretty dang likely to apply to these individuals. How many generations of Thorburn diabolists has she survived, one way or another?

    1. Well we know she hates white people. Not so sure about Blacks and Asians. And midway through Sandra’s conversation with Scarf Girl I realized that Crone Mara was going to be a sort of fairytale witch.

      1. considering how non-westernized asians deal with others I’d be safe and assume she hates them too…we haven’t seen anything about african or voodoo magic so can’t say as to blacks.

    2. Imagine that an alien race came to Earth. Preceding them were plagues, which you know they brought, not caring the devastation that they wrought on your people. Then they came, and killed or enslaved the survivors who didn’t run from their homes or hide in the wilderness fast enough. They proceeded to take not only your land and your family’s land, but the entire world plus more worlds full of people who also got infected, killed, or enslaved…and then they had the gall to call it their own. The free survivors were eventually allowed to live on what land the aliens didn’t want, and it took generations upon generations for them to get civil rights.

      I think I can see where the Crone is coming from on this one. “Oh, a white girl got herself into trouble? I’ll give her a little test, and if she passes I won’t deny whatever it is the pleasure of finishing her.”

      1. in your metaphor theres been centuries of extensive interbreeding(voluntary, not this abduction and cloning stuff) to the point pretty much any human is going to be something like 80% alien making the grudge a bit silly (since you’d have to bleed yourself out to get rid of them and look as human as that guy at the end of district 9)

          1. True. But native American and Europeans (and all humans) share a common ancestry and are fundamentally much more alike than they are different. To genuine aliens, humans fighting over their ‘differences’ would be absolutely hilarious.

    1. It makes him a bit more understandable. I don’t know about sympathy. He clearly took some pleasure in being an asshole.

        1. Perhaps a counter-example could provide a bit of a rebuttal.

          Imagine that a supervillain heavily aided a takeover of a fairly major city, then lead its underworld once cemented in power. She maimed quite a few people in her time in power, attacked more than a few heroes, and–okay, you know I’m talking about Skitter by now, right?
          From an outsider, her actions are downright heinous. It’s easy to see her being the villain in someone else’s story, if the cards had fallen differently and one of her successes became a failure. Yet, we understand not only the actions, but “the background behind them”. “Actions didn’t change,” but how we looked at them did.

          Now, I’m not saying that Laird’s actions are so justified. I’m just saying that you didn’t do a good job of explaining why they aren’t. The real reason would be, of course, that we don’t agree with Laird’s judgement of the situation.

          1. It’s pretty obvious when a character is trying to act good- they seek to limit collatoral damage, they fight against obvious monsters, they offer to end conflicts with people.

            Laird has repeatedly egged on combat, made no effort to stop monsters like the goblin in the woods, he’s willingly thrown his children into combat. He’s not acted like you’d expect someone good to act. Those details are important.

    2. This resembles the case of a particular chirurgeon from Pact. (I hope this isn’t considered a spoiler.)

        1. I feel more sympathy for that Worm character than Laird. Aimon had less freedom than Laird, but he was less of an asshole. Laird is taking it out on those he can. In short Laird was a bully. Yeah he and Conquest were perfect for one another.

        2. I thought that after her interlude she was much more sympathetic than Laird has been – simply because what her family did when adopting her.

          1. More important, as far as the character post-adoption goes, is that she tried to redeem herself. Kinda. The essence is there, anyways; Laird went to his grave convinced that he was right and not bothering to try and redeem himself.

            1. Though disregarding everything else, the notion of bestowing your remaining lifespan on your children in case you die prematurely was pretty awesome. Would have been more awesome if Laird hadn’t put himself into that danger, though.

    3. I have a lot of sympathy for Sandra, but very little for Laird. They both want things from the people they interact with, but Sandra does it with kindness, compassion, and grace whereas Laird threatens and bullies.

      1. Is manipulating people so much better than bullying them? Different methods to reach the same goal. It could also be a ploy by Sandra to avoid making more enemies because she’s so nice about it.
        Personally, I doubt that being stabbed in the back or lured into a trap feels any better because the person doing it is kind and compassionate.
        Words are important but deeds are more so.

        Don’t be deceived. Sandra didn’t act because she’s nice and good, but because she wants to further her own interests. Now the girl in the scarf owes her a favour and if she manages to get her name back, Sandra might have won an ally at the low cost of a meal.

        It wouldn’t surprise me if Sandra was able to trace the weapon she gave to the girl, so she would know where the girl is going. It’s what I would have done, especially if I’m good with connections.

        1. The meal may be a low cost for Sandra, but info and rescue from goblins is high value for Scarf-her-face. Getting what you want out of people by helping them when they need it really is better than bullying people, whatever equivalences you may try to draw.

          I would say the cooperative strategy was never really on the table for Laird re: Blake though. Blake was a diabolist, and you just don’t deal with that sort of person. Laird would have lost too much moral authority by helping Blake to make it worth any gratitude Blake could have given in return.

          1. Blake only became a diaboloist because all other venues were closed and the lawyers were very helpful when he had no allies and needed advice. He probably could have gotten a ton of karma by turning him to another path, but after he revealed he ordered Molly’s death and set him up to run into Padriac there was blood in the water.

            1. “Tell that to Karma,” Laird would say if he wasn’t dead and fictional.
              And without knowing more about how all this works, we can’t tell how right he is.

              Did Blake deserve being treated like that? Of course not. Was Laird as polite and nice as he could be, given the circumstances? Of course not. But his actions were merely unkind, not unreasonable.

        2. Beware of criticizing the manipulation of people, lest the same will be said about Blake. His relationship with Rose was often toxic precisely because of manipulation, i.e. bad-faith promises to “consider” the other’s POV, etc. Blake manipulated his enemies all the time – e.g. he infiltrated and sabotaged the Behaim residence while glamoured up; in the police residence, he made a Behaim or Duchamp girl seem like she’d slit her wrists; Blake and Rose manufactured a conflict between the Astrologer and the Sister; Blake manipulated Conquest with the terms of his competition, etc. Yes, some of the manipulated were Others, and presumably most or all deserved it, but that just goes to show that “manipulation” itself isn’t bad.

          And why should “[being] nice and good” and furthering your own interests be mutually exclusive, anyway?

          1. In all cases they threw the first punches. Ordering Molly’s death, sending kids after him who intended to capture him, Rose was the one who set up that conflict with James after one shot him and the other had her flunkies harassing him, Conquest tried to enslave and/or kill him.

            They all had it coming.

            1. From the POV of the protagonists, of course the opponents are the aggressors, and they “all had it coming”.
              From the POV of the antagonists, things are different. Take e.g. senior!Rose’s quote from 1.03: “Here, the sins of the father are visited upon the son. Or mother and daughter, rather.”
              The way the antagonists see it, they are only reacting to the initial aggression of some Thorburn ancestors dabbling in diabolism.

              Or take Diane’s POV: She had basically nothing to do with Blake, then Blake suggested the competition rules, and this made Conquest pick her as a champion. And then Conquest forced her to kill someone, and she even had to pick whom!
              And to make things worse, Blake and Rose set the Sisters on her, and she still doesn’t know this was a setup.
              She certainly didn’t have it coming, and she’s one of the most clear-cut examples of things Blake did which could easily be labeled genuinely bad. Blake wanted to make amends for this for a reason, but he was erased before he could fix this mistake. And nothing he did could have lifted Fell’s murder off Diane’s shoulders.

              Which just goes to show that, generally, “They all had it coming” or “an eye for an eye” is not a good reason to do anything.

            2. Again, Blake was unconscious when Rose set James to work and Sandra set Jeremy on Blake which led to Conquest trying to enslave/kill him, which led to Blake making the contest. The only thing that I directly blame him for is unnecessarily setting Dickswizzle on that demesne and perpetuating the cycle.

              Not saying that you’re wrong, but it all has its starting point with their ancestors instead of them simply letting it go. They threw the first shots and then it spiraled out of control. This crap has been going on since the 1930s and no one has seemed to realize there is no positive end game for the people going after the Thorburns because once all of them are dead the Lawyers get a demon foothold in the world.

              Everyone loses.

            3. >Which just goes to show that, generally, “They all had it coming” or “an eye for an eye” is not a good reason to do anything.

              Survival is a good reason. Blake didn’t use those tactics out of vengeance, he did so because he had a set of awful options, most involving his own death and/or magical slavery, and he tried to find the best path out of it.

              Blake didn’t force anyone to kill Fell, and didn’t ask Conquest to choose Diana as his champion. You can’t use that example to put responsibility for her involvement on him. Neither can Diana, without at least some unjustness.

              Blake releasing the goblin in the Behaims’ home was a move made against people who already had shown murderous intent; and it was tactical, a way to delay/distract so that he could try to improve his own chances of survival.

              And Blake’s promises to try to understand Rose’s POV and listen to her advice were not made in bad faith, nor did he ignore them. Frankly, I think she was way out of line for the way she responded to Blake, and while I sympathize with her former trapped in mirror situation, I don’t sympathize with her fits of pique. On any level.

              There’s a pretty huge difference between Blake’s ‘has it coming’ meter vs. darn near anyone else’s in this story.

              For the question of who had what coming, it comes down to motive. Intentions matter; there’s a difference between Laird acting to have Molly killed, and Maggie acting as his intermediary for doing so, vs. Blake and his contest – and that difference is intent. Laird had no imminent threat on his life, and he had a wide range of other options to choose from to achieve his goals.

              In other words, unicorns wearing bowler hats; your argument is invalid.

            4. “your argument is invalid”?
              Why the confrontational tone?

              I don’t find that chain of reasoning convincing. Seems like a double-standard in favour of the protagonist. We experience the story from their POV, so of course we are biased towards them. Most practitioners in Pactverse seem pretty horrid, even if we correct for the biased POV, but that doesn’t mean that anything Blake does it morally excusable. Before his erasure, he’d done a lot of good, but not exclusively so.

              Blake’s culpability in Diane’s situation seems completely clear-cut to me – he gambled on Conquest’s psychology when he suggested his specific competition rules, which allowed him to take his trophies back, but also got Diane involved. And remember that Blake has heaps of bad karma – he knew that if there were things that could go wrong, they likely would.
              (And incidentally, concerning intent, neither Laird nor Maggie wanted Molly killed at that point in time. Nor did Blake want Diane involved. So what? It still happened.)

              Well, I guess this is ultimately a question of the degree to which one sympathizes with Blake. I apparently sympathize with him less than you do.

            5. Also too notes
              1)the conflict between Diana and the Sisters was set by Rose,in absence of Blake
              2)his alternatives weren’t “do the competition or die”they were “do the competition or let Conquest have a diabolist”.Losing really really wouldn’t bode well for the world,and the reason Conquest has a chance at a diabolist is only because idiots never tried to negotiate.

        3. Is manipulating people so much better than bullying them?

          I don’t get what people mean by “manipulating” in this thread. I thought it meant “influencing people according to your interests”. By that definition bullying would be just a form of manipulation.

          And pretty much every human interaction would be manipulation, as well. After all, even if you do only the nicest things you can think of to anyone, it’s pretty much because one way or another you prefer the consequences of acting nice towards people, regardless of why you prefer that, and regardless of if it’s conscious or not. Tell your children not to play with fire? You’re trying to manipulate them so they don’t burn down the house and die horribly.

          Basically, the only way not to manipulate someone would be to absolutely not give a crap about the consequences of your interactions, so that whatever influence you have on people is not related to any of your interests. Which covers almost everything people do.

          But I see people getting worked up about it here. Does “manipulate” mean something else I’m not aware of in this context? (This is not a rhetoric question. I really can’t tell why that word is used.)

        1. “Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide/backed in a corner, options a few/how could it end, if not all the same.”

  5. I found a typo and something that didn’t make sense to me.

    “…for a large portion of the winter. drinking the cranberry juice.”

    I think she was supposed to cough or something.

    “Got it. No. Bad.“

    It seems to me like Scarf is saying this line, which makes no sense because that’s Crone Mara’s signature way of talking. Was there supposed to be another line of dialog around there?

  6. I’ll admit I had my doubts about a Maggie arc after seeing her in action in Toronto. honestly after what happened with Blake I nearly gave up. These last few chapters have impressed me. Restored my interest. So for that Wildbow, well done!

  7. So, here is a scary thought. Mara is like the witch in the woods. It is possible that during the hundreds of years she has been living in Jacob’s Bell, some children have become lost in the woods. Maybe Mara lured them in, maybe the children were very curious, and they arrived to her house. And this is where the dolls came from. The dolls are made of the spiritual and physical remains (bones) of children.

    That sent a shiver down my spine.

    I hope we get to see different practitioner cultures. I wonder what kind of oaths Mara and others have sworn. Maybe other practitioners can lie, but gave up other things? This would add a big (but maybe not good) twist to the story.

    1. That’s a possibility, but Mara seems too solitary to be the child-kidnapping-and-murdering type. If some dumb kid entered her hut without permission and started badgering her? Probably. But otherwise? Nah. Maybe their ghosts, though.
      Really, without more evidence, I’m not sure what the heck is going on with those dolls, and I don’t know that I want to.

      1. I don’t think she ever leaves the woods. But maybe she can guide a child every thirty or so years into the hut by messing with some connections here and there.

        1. She still doesn’t strike me as the type to try to do that.

          The new chapter does imply otherwise, but from what we’ve seen, Mara still seems more of the “leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone, bug me and you’ll regret it” type.

          1. I tend to agree, especially since the terrain is shaped to drive people away from the hut. It’s not implausible that, over the centuries, that many lost kids just made their own way to the hut.

            Bit weird that she could prey on mundanes, though – maybe they were all practitioner kids?

            1. Ah, I see. Yeah, that might be.
              I’d always thought that was mostly to preserve the masquerade, but I can see your point.

  8. Wait wait wait.

    Origimaggie was offered safe passage. And a host can’t hurt their guests. Could Mara really have hurt Maggie? Or maybe Mara is too powerful to care?

    1. If Maggie broke the chain, she’d be violating the hospitality that Mara offered her. Karmically, Mara could then do whatever she wanted.

  9. “You know what she is?”

    “Pretty sure.”

    “[…] She can’t hurt you unless you give her the chance.”

    (Then apparently Mara tries to trick Scarf into violating hospitality, but doesn’t attack when the trick fails, though it seems she’d like to, and she could have attacked before or after.)

    I’m not at all familiar with North American folklore from pre-European times, did anyone figure out what this hints at?

    From afar she kind of resembles the usual witch-in-the-woods thing, but witches in European stories aren’t commonly required to have “just cause” before hurting people. (E.g., the one in Hansel and Gretel planned to eat her guests without first tricking them into doing anything, and Snow White was pretty much completely innocent.) Also, there’s no obvious reason for witches in North-America to resemble European ones, and besides, Mara gives off very non-human vibes.

    1. We haven’t seen much of Mara yet.

      From the vision in 1.01:

      A weathered aboriginal woman, brushing a young girl’s hair with a broad-toothed comb. It might have been an ordinary scene, except it was the dead of night.

      She picked up a chain, then shackled the girl at the wrist. She noted the observer, then scattered the image with a wave of one hand.

      And from the council meeting in 2.01:

      A middle-aged aboriginal woman sat alone, and nobody sat near her. _Mara Angnakak_. She straddled the line between practitioner and Other. When Jacob’s Bell was first settled by colonists, she was already here. The notes had marked that she was very reserved, but she harbored a horrendous amount of hatred for the rest of us. Grandmother had written out suspicions that she was illiterate; arguing it would explain why her talents seem to be limited to what she could teach herself. Centuries of such teaching and experimentation, but limited nonetheless.

      Being a practitioner inevitably meant losing a bit of your humanity and becoming a bit more _Other_. My new eyesight was a part of that, one step along what could be a long journey. Mara Angnakak had nearly finished that journey before stopping. Or she had to have, if she was that old.

      She was here before Europeans came to Canada and chances were good that she intended to be here well after we were gone.

      As a Canadian aborigine, Mara’s hatred of “the white people” is easy and understandable enough. The two other things which stand out to my mind are the “weathered aboriginal woman” – she apparently isn’t Crone Mara, so who is she? – and Mara’s supposed illiteracy when combined with her line “There are always enough chores to fill the day”. Maybe she bought her immortality and Other-hood by spending all her days the same way, or something?
      And from Wikipedia: “The crone is a stock character in folklore and fairy tale, an old woman. […] The Crone is also an archetypal figure, a Wise Woman.”

      1. Oh, I have an idea after reading your post. Weathered. Then middle aged. And now in the form of a child. I think she’s stealing youth from those children, and that is at least part of how she’s lasted so long.

        1. Or she’s grown powerful enough to change appearance whenever she sees fit, but yeah, I agree with the powered by forsaken children idea.

    2. She sounds the most like Baba Yaga from Russian folklore. A hut in the woods, the creepy dolls, even the child stirring a pot at the fire all fit my knowledge of the legends.

    3. My guess is that hospitality as part of the “rules” came along with the settlers like demesnes did and she’s only bound by them now because she’s in that milieu. Hence, witches-in-the-woods used to be able to pull this stuff off, until the European practitioner archetype really took off and they became as bound as anyone else to this system.

      1. “Before the White Man came, I had no desire to kill children who came to my home. Now that I have the desire, the White Man has taken away my ability to do so. Life’s a bitch, isn’t it?”

    4. As far as I can gather, the spirits are everywhere on Earth in Pact. Unless their behavior varies radically from continent to continent, the rules of Karma are a universal constant. Crone Mara would be just as bound by the rules of hospitality as a European or Chinese practitioner would be, and attacking a guest could go badly for her.

      1. Previously in Pact there was quite a bit of fuss made about offering food and drink to guests. I think the rules are less strict if you’re not joining in a meal, nor sleeping over. Intent and invitation must count for something as well (if you take someone prisoner, it probably doesn’t count as “having a guest”). Scarf was only told to come in and wait.

        And besides, we’re told explicitly that powerful and careful practitioners (and presumably Others; I’m not quite sure what Crone Mara is) can live with negative karma (Rose Sr. did, after all).

        1. The distinction between “practitioner” and “Other” is nonexistent or arbitrary. It’s stated that awakening gives you Other-like traits, and that these can increase in magnitude or number until you’re a full-on Other. It’s my interpretation that few Others, if any, were not once humans, one way or another.

          1. It may be fuzzy, but I disagree that it’s nonexistent, and calling it arbitrary doesn’t fit any definition of the word I know.

            I understand “practitioner” to mean, in general, still-living humans that have underwent the awakening ritual.

            There are relatively obvious distinctions between that and incarnations (manifestations of concepts, even though they may absorb or even have started from practitioners), ghosts (impressions stamped on the world, even if usually left by humans), ghouls (apparently animated corpses, even if of human origins), faerie (Padraic explicitly says he’s not one, even though he might partly erase the difference given time), goblins and gremlins (readily distinguishable by anyone but muggles, even if they were made from the bad pieces of humans turning themselves into faerie), demons (even though they might possess a person), and sphinxes (even though they might have been created by humans), to mention just the most obvious examples we’ve seen.

            Just because one can turn into another is a pretty bad argument for claiming that the distinction is nonexistent or arbitrary. That’s like saying the distinctions between the living and the dead, or a child and and an adult, or cops and criminals, or matter and energy, is nonexistent or arbitrary. Hell, at the very least 92% of any human, by mass, was once part of star. True, there are edge cases, and some properties of one may be found occasionally in the other, and classifications might be especially dangerous in Pactverse, and for the differences might not be relevant for any purpose, but just completely ignoring the distinctions is plain silly.

            1. Yes, some kinds of Others are clearly different from Practitioners. However, Others in general are not significantly different from Others. Blake clearly stated that the Sight and other effects from Awakening were the first step away from pure human to Other, and that idea was hammered in further when Blake became less human, at first due to filling in with spirits and then with the wax.

              What this suggests (to me, at least) is that Practitioners are more Other than humans, and they can become more Other over time, but there isn’t a clear point where they stop becoming human (Blake–at first, at least) and start becoming Other (Mara).
              It also suggests, almost certainly to me and not many others, that most others are ultimately anthrogenic–they were human at some point, created by them (sometimes), or something to that effect. There are several suggestions in that direction. Ghosts and other Vestiges are “echoes” of (formerly) living humans, while ghouls were practitioners who delved into the wrong kind of magic, Incarnations are humans (with the original possibly being a Practitioner who either tried to become one or who embodied the concept well and was also immortal–that’s fuzzy). That hillbilly thing that Rose summoned was stated to have once been human. I could go on about specific examples, but the less certain ones are interesting as well. It’s easy to imagine faeries being or descending from old Practitioners who took the right rituals, sphinxes being created by or the transformed form of Practitioners, and so on. The only tough one is goblins, who are implied to be made by humanity accidentally. (It’s also possible that they are descended from “brownies” or somesuch, created intentionally but then they went bad.)

            2. Others in general are not significantly different from Others.

              I guess significance is in the eye of the beholder.

            3. That’s the best you can come up with? Not some witty retort questioning my points?

              To summarize my last post (as I remember it, at least): Practitioners often become Others, but the path away from humanity begins when they Awaken (as noted by Blake), and it’s (usually) a gradual process rather than a sudden transformation. There’s no point that someone like Mara would stop being definitely a Practitioner and start being definitely an Other.

            4. That’s the best you can come up with?

              Probably not. I just wasn’t that interested in pursuing the discussion at the moment, and it seemed impolite to completely ignore your post.

              Besides, this thread is now less about Pact than semantics and such. If you’re actually interested we might continue it via private messaging.

              Not some witty retort questioning my points?

              I can’t tell if you’re annoyed with me or if this is just friendly provocation. I’m told that I often irritate people with the way I make my arguments. I pretty much never do it on purpose, but apparently my I come off as sarcastic when I try to make good faith arguments in (to me, at least) funny ways.

              If so, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to antagonize you.

            5. I’ve also been told that people get angry at me for the way I pursue arguments, both tone and persistence.

              What bugged me most was that you seemed to be brushing off my arguments without even really trying to think about them.

            6. What bugged me most was that you seemed to be brushing off my arguments without even really trying to think about them.

              Heh, I got the exact same feeling about you on several occasions. I think we were mostly arguing about subjective interpretations, and we actually agree on most facts 🙂

              I suspect some of the things you thought I was brushing off were when I agreed to what you said, but I didn’t see the relevance, probably because I was interpreting them differently or trying to make a different point. I tend not to mention those, because our comments are long enough as it is.

            7. Yeah, I’ve been there.

              What we need is a good old forum, not one of these dinky comment sections.

            8. No! No! Stop it! Don’t you dare make up and resolve this. I want to be entertained and watch you have a fight on the internet. Bog, be offended about that thing wyrm said. Wyrm, rumor has it Bog has an issue with you.

              *sits back with popcorn

              ROUND 2: START!

            9. Not really related to the current conversation (which seems to be basically resolved), but it was you I had the conversation with the Endbringers about, right?

              wildbow e-mailed me about it and basically pointed out that even the non-rot13 stuff was kinda spoilery. So…yeah, next time something comes up like that, let’s go somewhere else.

              It was an interesting debate, though.

          2. Damn it, got it wrong again. Hopefully the rule of threes goes in my favor. Upon reflection, the lower bound for formerly-star-mass in humans should be a bit above 90%.

            1. It’s still a bad analogy no matter what the number. After all, stars don’t turn into people. A better analogy would be saying that there’s no firm line between tadpole and frog, or between sapling and tree, or (to pick one you might have used in a million years) between caterpillar and butterfly.

            2. stars don’t turn into people

              Sure they do. It’s just that not all of them do, only parts of them actually become humans, the humans also contain a small amount of stuff that didn’t come from the stars, multiple stars participate, the process is complicated, and it takes a really long time.

              And each of those caveats applies to at least some of the potential human-to-Other transformations we’ve seen hints of (albeit if in less extreme terms), and there might be cases where all apply, though I’m not quite sure we’ve seen any.

            3. No, stars simply do not turn into people. The fact that some of their matter ends up in planets, which eventually give rise to people, does not mean that stars turn into people. Arguing they do is foolish, and arguing that my description of humans turning into Others even more so, since it implies that humans have to die and their corpses go through a number of different states before part of it turns into an Other.

              Again, one of the metamorphosis metaphors would be more appropriate, because guess what? That’s essentially what the whole Practitioner-turning-into-an-Other thing is.

      2. I was under the impression that, while spirits “enforce” the Rules of Conduct, what those rules are depends more on the culture and oaths of the conductors than any universal laws.

  10. Comments:

    • I expected some plot from Laird, but I didn’t expect this specific suggestion. Apparently, becoming Lord of Toronto is (or was, until Conquest’s binding) the easiest thing in the world: just sacrifice yourself to Conquest…
    • But this was just Sandra’s speculation. If she was right, Laird’s plot failed; if she was wrong, whatever he actually planned may have succeeded.

    • Sandra’s notion of planning their morning conversation in advance reminds me of Ms. Lewis in arc 2: “Everything has a price, Mr. Thorburn. Even a leisurely walk and talk with me.”“You two are growing to like me, just a touch, because I’m one of your only allies in a sea of enemies. You’re growing to trust me, because I’m more or less trustworthy.”

    • I wonder at Sandra’s motivation. Why does she want to become Lord so much? Does it have something to do with having enough power to resist her own family, to decide her own fate?

    • The way Sandra describes faeries, you really wouldn’t think some Duchamps would have faerie familiars. And I wish she’d had a snarky response to Maggie’s “Blake kicked a [Duchamp] Faerie’s ass the day he invited me into my house”.

    • I love the notion of Sandra and her troll trolling others. Haha.

    Favorite lines:

    • “Oh god. You’re telling me that I have to work for my salvation by making friends?”

    • Take the hardest path. Story of my freaking life.”

    1. Technically, he did sacrifice himself for Conquest. So she was right. In a way
      First, because of the obvious/literal
      Second, because Conquest said there were deals in place with Laird that are Void if he dies, ones that would ensure Conquest wouldn’t use a Thorburn for a Century. I always wondered why in the actual hell Conquest, who is already weakened incredibly, would agree to such a wait. For an oath to get brand new healthy chronomancing-Body would make a TON more sense

      I think the Sandra-Faerie-Duchamp relationship thing makes perfect sense.
      She knows all about the Fair folk from her family and dealings with them. Which is why she dislikes them and took on a troll instead of one of them. She has been said to be rather unique for a DuChamp, and hating dealing with the Fair, even though her family does not share that hate, would be evidence of that

      Think about it- “Oh no, one of my lovely DuChamp Daughters don’t agree with us dealing with Faerie! Where did we go wrong! Oh- I know! Let’s send her off to marry the Drunk in Toronto. That’ll get this embarrassment out of our sights for a while!”

      1. “Conquest said there were deals in place with Laird that are Void if he dies, ones that would ensure Conquest wouldn’t use a Thorburn for a Century.”
        That was probably the deal:
        1- help Conquest win the contest.
        2- become Conquest’s embodiment, anchoring its power for some more time.
        3- chrono!Conquest can now easily spare a century before hunting a Thorburn for his collection again.

        Laird died, voiding the deal.

        1. I agree, that was probably the deal or damn close to it. Also explains why Conquest said Blake should try to help Laird/save him, and it would be in both their interest if Laird survived. Blake doesn’t get used as a nuke in flesh form unless he somehow survives 100 years, and Conquest gets a new set of practitioner-wheels.

          Then Laird got a splinter shoved in his throat, and a piece of his eye chewed out. Damn it Laird- you can’t even sacrifice yourself right!

    2. Blake won because of two things. 1- he kept it simple. No fancy games. Nothing elaborate. Just a fight. 2- Sandra said you can’t win against them. Glamour is strengthend by belief. If you believe Fairies can’t be beaten, then they can’t. Blake as the fool does not know things are supposed to be impossible. And thus for him they weren’t. Sadly that does not apply to demons.

      1. Note that the Glamour he took from the fairy failed at a crucial moment in his subterfuge, which forced him to make serious changes to his plan: promising the little girl he’d show her the secret, desecrating some books using a goblin, temporarily taking shoes (both violating hospitality).

        There’s probably some other ramifications to it, too.

  11. FINALLY!

    This whole time I’ve been waiting for three things in this story. The first, Blake being a powerfull badass that could destroy anyone in jacob’s bell if they said the wrong thing, probably isn’t going to happen, baring wildbow-levels game-changers-of-doom

    The OTHER two, are learning more about the other practices and how they are used, and dealing with Johannes (as well as finding out how he got so damn powerful).

    One down, one to go!

    Unrelated note- why does everyone seem to love sandra? Or have sympathy to her? Hell, she admitted to pushing Laid to his “death” (she may or may not have known it would be his ACTUAL death, but oh well), and that she was pushing Scarf because she wants to be Lord. That’s what we call manipulation.
    Hell, even admitting what she is doing is a form of manipulation.

    Think about it. Her and her family deal with Faerie a LOT. Figuring out their insane plots, and using them to their advantage is probably included in that. No doubt she learned a thing or two over the years from the …what were they called? Bauchee or something? The Drunk’s lioness-Others. Take THAT into account with her desire to be Lord…. And I have a hard time seeing ANYTHING she does or says as something that can earn my sympathies, trust, or a spot on my “I like this person/Other” list.

    Said list is shrinking. I think. Hard to remember. I think there were more names on this list….

    1. The fact that you still trust any practitioner is amazing enough. She’s a manipulative bitch, like I’ve said before. Laird had it coming. But the fact that she nudged him means that his interference in the contest with his family, which turned the tide on Blake, also falls on her shoulders. She got two of her enemies to kill each other.

      People are easily willing to brush aside her orders to have her kids take Blake when he was alone and vulnerable because she’s acting nice to the viewpoint character, but the good doesn’t overwrite the bad. It’s fine to forgive, but never forget.

      1. She comes across as less of a douche. Serously, if given the choice of her, Laird, or Conquest for a Lord, who would you pick?

        But I also think it’s inherent in the system. I really, really am looking forward to learning Johannes take on things. It seems like the system is set up so as to punish you for trying to make things better, and as long as you aren’t working with demons, you can prey on the helpless. I can’t quite articulate what’s percolating in my head yet.

        1. Basically, if you aren’t a diabolist feel free to commit whatever atrocities you want as long as you’re powerful enough to get away with it.

          It’s not that the system punishes you for trying to make things better, it’s that if you’re powerful enough to change the system chances are you want to keep it as it is to maintain your power. The ones who want to change things are the ones who don’t have enough power and the only way to get it means conforming to sources that don’t want the system changed.

        2. The following is a quote. I can’t recall where it’s from though, but it applies-

          “Evil is evil. Greater, Midling, Lesser… It makes no difference. The degree is arbitrary, the definitions blurred…. If I have choose between one evil and another- I’d rather not choose at all.”

          Blake would probably agree with said quote. He’s all about taking binary thoughts like “this is less bad than the big bad, so that means it’s preferable” and summarily taking it and shoving it up someone’s “exit” hole.
          Less of a douche is still a douche. Sure, if I HAD to choose, conquest would NOT be anyone’s first choice at all, but I’m not fond of limiting my choices between those three, and neither is Whats-his-name.

          System is more or less circular logic in terms of blame. The system makes it so the assholes prevail, and the good-natured ones die or get the crap end of deals and wind up losing their identities just for “considering” helping a demon-hunter. However, as already stated, those who CAN change the system are only those who have power, who have gained said power by being bastards, so they, in turn, keep the system as is and often perpetuate the problem, creating more like them.

          Sad thing is- it’s eerily similar to where I grew up in california…

          1. “The following is a quote. I can’t recall where it’s from though, but it applies-”

            That would be Geralt of Rivia. A clod of the highest order who’s idea of heroism is charging into complicated situations and killing people he deems “bad” with a sword, especially when there’s the remote possibility of sex.

            Reckless though he may be, atleast Blake’s not as bad as Geralt.

            Anyway, if Sandra being a bastard can make her lord of Toronto and make Jacob’s Bell less of a playground for others then so be it.

          2. Ooh ooh, I know where the quote is from!

            The witcher 3 trailer! 😀
            Do I get a cookie!?!

            The difference between Sandra and Laird is that she isn’t smug or self-righteous about it.

            Laird tries to kill Blake. Blake sends a letter saying Laird knows what happened to Molly. Laird tells Blake “How dare you retaliate against me!? Don’t you know you should do nothing until I decide to kill you!”

            Jacob’s Bell is in the middle of a cold war. The duchamps, Behaims and Johannes are heating up for a fight for lordship of the town. They’re all going to get their hands dirty but that doesn’t excuse being a smug jerk which is the best way to turn readers against a character.

            1. She isn’t smug YET. Give it time.

              I’m essentially considering Sandra a Faerie-lite in terms of plots. amazing plotter and can predict and manipulate things to turn out how she wants, but there ARE some things out of her control (hence the “Lite” part. Patrick would just believe he won, tell everyone, and he’d win). She can be manipulative, sneaky, and crafty. Hell, she even was crafty enough to see through a plot of faerie (maybe, unless it was part of their plot that they find out their plot and plot arount the plot they let her find out in her dealings with the plotters…. My head hurts).

              So there’s no telling how much of her smugness she’s hiding until she can let loose when all the chips fall in place.

        3. Johannes may I suppose have a “fresh” take on things, but what he’s doing in/with his demesne still sounds considerably worse than anything we’ve heard Sandra or even Laird doing. So if you are looking for someone actually sympathetic I think it’s best to stick with Maggie. (Well, and the Blakeguard, and Diane. And maybe Isadora, depending on how much you think she’s actually helping I suppose.)

          1. I don’t think Johannes is going to turn out to be good/nice. But I do want to know what his motives and goals are.

          2. I guess that depends on your definition of a person. He made his demesne into (or added) a vestige of the north end, so there’s a mirror(ish) world of the north end, and the Others are messing with and eating the vestige-copies of the townspeople.
            If you consider a man-made-Other duplicate of a person still a person (or, as much as any Other is), then yes, that sounds bad.

            If you don’t then it’s not so bad at all.

            On the other-other hand, there’s another interpretation. The Vestige is the Vestige of the North end- people included. As in- it’s all one entity. All the Mirror-versions of the humans could be their own beings, as in the first two, OR everything in the Johannes-Mirror-World that’s a copy of the real North End is all ONE being/entity.

            If that’s the case, then he’s not doing a single thing wrong. He created a giant Other that serves as a playground. His playground Other includes bits and pieces that the Other modles after the humans, but are still bits of itself, and Johannes invites other Others to …..have fun?

            1. If that’s the case, then he’s not doing a single thing wrong.

              No, no, no. Remember, this is wildbow’s fiction. Take the interpretation which makes Johannes’ theme park appear in the worst possible light, and it’s liable to be worse still.

            2. Say I walk into this theme park, chase down, mutilate, and consume a vestige. Tasty. During the flight, it screamed, begged for mercy, tried to pray, and eventually succumbed to four dozen careful wounds. It was, of course, just a reflection – I didn’t gain any power from the hunt, excepting the lessening of my hunger for killing. The flesh was not real in any meaningful sense. I even lost a portion of my power as an entrance fee.

              But, damn, it was good.

              Felt just like a real person.

              Basically, my impression is that, for a given value of “person”, only totally inimical and ancient things won’t really count – and even they have the capacity for planning intelligence. Midge, the Tallowman, Crone Mara, Rose, and the bits of vestige making up the North End are all Others so close to human that only a very utilitarian morality could see them as anything but.

            3. Depends on how sentient and self aware these vestiges are. Do they truly possess awareness and sentience, or are they simply pre-programmed automatons. Sorta like a video game. I mean I rip a mans leg off and beat him to death with it in Mortal Kombat, that does not make me a muderous monster. That was not a living, feeling sentient being, just a program made to be beat up and killed. It doesn’t actually suffer, it is just made to emulate it. Course the kinds of Others that would go into this theme park for fun, are the sort that would prey on humans if they could. So the question is, is it a giant video game, or are actually sentient feeling beings being tortured and killed

              About vestiges, there is one thing to keep in mind. Our only seen vestige is Rose. And she’s decidedly non standerd.

            4. So a territory where Others can give into their base urges on vestiges all they want like a pre-Solomon nightmare land?

              Lolnope. Nopenopenope. Even if the Vestiges aren’t sentient you’re still inviting the Others to practice their skills, AND inviting them to congregate. It’s a giant FUCK YOU to humanity.

              No, blow the place sky high.

            5. Practice their skills and invite them to congregate. Perfect! Why is that bad?
              It makes the Others better, and stronger. Thus, only the better and stronger Practitioners/humans of the future will survive. Dawinism isn’t evil, it’s just improvement by survival.

              Besides, I have seen NOTHING in this story to make me think that humanity doesn’t need a giant “FUCK YOU”. With the exception of the BlakeGuard, and the Knights, humans have been shown to be terrible. The ones who messed with Blake as a homeless are an example if you don’t want to talk about the practitioners in general. The GOOD ones have all been pretty fucked up and insanely few in number.

              Screw humanity over, open the theme park, gain power, and keep Others occupied so they aren’t killing real people. Win-win-win

            6. Negadarkwing, I agree that Rose is nonstandard, but I think we have reason to believe it’s only a matter of degree here (after all, if that wasn’t the case, why call both vestiges? And why was Johannes so sure the rules of his demesne would extend to Rose just fine? etc.). And since this is a wildbow setting, I wouldn’t be surprised if Johannes has some of the vestiges made as “real”/fully as Rose.

      2. Oh, I agree! I was saying I didn’t understand why people would disagree with us and/or like/trust/have sympathy towards her.
        Even if I was in this world, and she was working with me towards our mutually beneficial goals, I would still call her a bitch to her face or anyone’s who asked, and that’s without me being a practitioner and not being able to lie.

        I was just reading the comments from this chapter and the one before, and a lot said they have renewed faith in practitioners not all being evil because of Sandra. What confused me even more is that some people are still thinking that even after she admits being a jerk and that she’s manipulating Maggie/scarf.

          1. I totally agree. But there are other “swear” words that I can make the same or similar claim about.

            Not justifying it at all, just pointing out that it would make sense if you were equally bugged out by the other words that can have the same or similar argument for.

            I didn’t call her that until I replied to someone who did. Probably for similar reasons it bugs you. But I conceded to social norms a while ago. Sad, but true. DON’T FOLLOW MY EXAMPLE

        1. We’ve seen some honestly nice and noble and good practicioners. Like that nameless one from Maggie’s backstory. Or the Astrologer. And … Uh… Maybe the Knights? And they all are people who got fucked. Damn that Karma system sucks.

          Anyways it’s not that I like Sandra, or consider her good. It’s just that I think she’s less inclined towards screwing people over than Laird and Conquest.

          1. And are they in power or close to it by any means? Nope. The whole practitioner world, incuding karma, sucks. I definitely want to put blame also on the spirits, who aren’t smart enough to realize that if someone kidnaps a person and ties them up, puts a noose around their necks, and stands them on a block of ice should TOTALLY GET BLAMED for killing the tied-up person once the ice melts and they get hung.

            Um. By what evidence? There is no telling what she’s caused, or what plots she was behind. If it wasn’t for her admitting just now, we would have no idea SHE was part of the reason Laird went to Toronto.
            She could have planned for Padriac to steal Maggie’s name. Actually…. I would totally buy that if she did. EVERYTHING she said or did since the identity theft would make as much sense if not more if you assumed she expected/wanted this to happen.

            It’s not that she is less inclined to screw people over, it’s that it’s harder to notice when she does.

            She’s been wanting to be Lord for decades. She’s powerful, smart, crafty, sneaky, manipulative, and resourceful enough to deal with a knight of a god, multiple Faerie on multiply occasions, Conquest (assuming she went to any of the meetings, which is a safe assumption), LAIRD, and more than one Thorburn and STILL come out ahead, when none of the above seem to be in a position to mess with her.

            I have seen literally no reason to trust her in the slightest. To me, she is just as likely to screw someone over as PADRIAC.

            1. I think the problem is similar to that in Glen Cook’s The Black Company. In that world, knowing someone’s true name allows you to permanently strip them of any and all magical power, so the only magic users able to rise to power without losing it all are the ones willing to be truly draconian in eliminating any trace of their true name, killing their entire family and hometown and burning it to the ground to eliminate the paper trail. The nice ones get named and eliminated as soon as they become a threat to the heartless ones. In Pactverse any shred of humanity, any temptation to sacrifice yourself for others, is a weakness that can and will be exploited by Others. It doesn’t seem so much that the system is rigged against nice practitioners, more that the decent ones will, due to their nature, fight more often to protect others, which means more risks, and more fatalities, leading to statistically less goodhearted practitioners.

              As an example, take Fell’s brother (the nameless practitioner who sacrificed himself for Maggie’s town). Decent guy, and he was actually implied to have good karma (his “slipperiness” that made him so hard for the goblins to catch). But he used most of his power and karma protecting and warning people, and he died. Either he died because he had spent all his power helping people and had nothing left to give but his life, or he was too goodhearted to let a family be butchered in front of him despite still having enough power to escape. Either way supports the argument.

            2. In short, it’s not the game that’s against decent people, it’s the players. (People who are born into bad karma are the exception, of course).

      3. People are also willing to boo and hiss at her simply because she was acting against the viewpoint character. Who let’s remember is an amateur diobolist sitting on a cache of scary demonic knowledge and therefore is a mortal threat to her and her family. Funny how POV works.

        At this point I’m expecting a bombshell to drop about Granny Rose that makes their intolerance of diabolism make a lot more sense. Or even Molly could have done something stupid that makes her death defensible.

        1. Yeah, because that’s how a story is told. It’s pretty damn clear Rose didn’t teach her children or grandchildren a damn thing at this point given how long she’s been the only known practitioner in their family. Maintaining their little grudge against the family was no more than bullying at that point.

          And are we pretending she didn’t set Molly’s family against Blake in that store?

          1. “Maintaining their little grudge against the family was no more than bullying at that point.”

            Except for the fact that Granny Rose is throwing her heirs into this situation with a shitload of karmic debt and an even bigger shitload of demonic firepower, including a frickin’ torture demon.

            Why? Who knows? But if the Behaims or Duchamps are in any way aware of the above, it’s really in their and the town’s best interests to make sure a blundering Thorburn doesn’t make a deal with the wrong demon or call down Ornias.

            Their methods are terrible, but the goal is sound.

        2. Think about it. Even if I assume I have their knowledge of the situation, and have zero knowledge about Blake or his POV except that I (they) see or hear from VERY reliable and acurate sources…. The absolute BEST and probably most obvious course of action would be, during Laird’s first “date” with the Thorburn, would be to push the conversation to something like this-

          Hey, your grandma was a little on the not-good side. She had tons of enemies, and her “allies” were either forced to help her, or demons. Literal demons. You have her.. toolbox, you could say. In theory, you could be as dangerous as her, except you would be worse, since she was at least experienced and careful. SO, yes, Molly was murdered. Not by a human- by an Other. It wasn’t her fault, not really- it was just the byproduct of being the heir to someone who deals in demon-things. I’m a cop. If I had a say, I would put the one who killed her in a cage for quite some time. As for you…. I have a proposition. Awaken, so you know what I’m talking about and that I mean it when I promise you something, THEN you and I make an oath to eachother- you don’t touch any of those books in the manor, You stay at my place for a while, which is safe, I assure you, I teach you in many different areas and practices and provide you with experts in certain fields if you wish to further your knowledge beyond what I can teach you, or you can simply leave and go back to your old life afterwards.
          After our… lessons are done, and you swear to not become a diabolist, a practitioner who deals with demons, like your grandmother was, You are not only free to do as you wish, you will have the power and knowledge to protect yourself and those you care about, or go on with your learning to gain even MORE power. The things that attacked you on the way here? I’ll see to that personally, and I will, should you accept, swear that those things won’t come after you again.
          This isn’t some hoax to kill you when you don’t expect it. I don’t want another Thorburn to meet the same fate as the departed Molly did, and I DEFINITELY don’t want you or anyone near me of my family to mess with demons, devils, or any of that stuff.

          Seriously. Hell, he could’ve done that, and while Blake was out of the house, had Sandra mess with the connections just a tiny tiny bit to have blake trust Laird. Blake wouldn’t notice it after he awakened until he was taught about it.

          Or something! I’m not used to plotting like them. I don’t have magic. But I can’t see how they, who definitely aren’t retarded, would think, in ANY POSSIBLE REALITY that the best course of action with the new Thorburn Heir, who hasn’t even awakened yet, and JUST arrived to the manor, would be to lure into a cafe, gain his trust, use magic, and abandon him to the figerative wolves, but without him dying, THEN asking him to just stay in his house until they feel comfortable with ending his life. That’s literally one of the DUMEBST plans someone who can see the future can have.

          I don’t care about the point of view all that much. I care about what someone knows, what someone thinks they know, and, above all, what they do with aforementioned knowledge. Laird and Sandra have done things that, even taking what they know into account, are wrong. That’s WITH the bombshell that explains why they hate diabolism so much.

          1. While I certainly agree that Laird handled things stupidly, there are two mitigating factors to note that would make that exact proposal unfeasable.
            1- Provisions in grandma’s will. Most signifigantly the lawyers, and I believe Blake had to stay in the house. I’d have to go back and check all the provisions.

            2-Dumb ass others. Like Granny Rose said in her note, most of them can’t tell members of a bloodline apart. That one Fairy who was with Padraic couldn’t tell Blake wasn’t Granny Rose. You know I grew up on a dairy farm, about a hundered head of milk cows, may parents, brothers, and the dogs never got any of them confused. But apparently others suck at that. So sadly they wouldn’t see it as Laird helping out a guy so he doesn’t become a diabolist. They see it as Laird allying with a diabolist. I guess when you have to suck up to stupid assholes, you become a stupid asshole yourself.

            1. 1- nope. He didn’t need to stay in the house, that was just the only place he was safe from the things trying to kill him. As for the other provisions, NOTHING in the will mentions he had to become a diabolist. Just awaken, get a demesne, familiar, implament, get married, go to council meetings, not sell the house, and reduce the karmic debt. There might have been one or two additional things, but it wasn’t anything that the aforementioned deal couldn’t account for. Just have Laird read the will, and have Laird account for those tiny things which were probably already thought of, excluding the marraige part.

              2- Others are dumb like that, yes, but Laird has the PERFECT out. When he was a kid, Granny-Rose taught him, the next Behaim Heir. So, he’s simply returning the favor by teaching Blake, the next Thorburn Heir. It’s only fair.
              Plus, doing so increases his karma in the eyes of said stupid Others.

              For the Smart Others, the ones who can tell RTD and a male Thorburn apart- he could reason with them as such- “I’m not allying with him. I’m weakening the Diabolist Heir. I’m keeping him away from the books, tools, and possible demons RDT left for him in the house, and essentially tying his hands to make it so incredibly difficult to become a diabolist that he would be doomed to die near the start of his diabolism, probably well before any damage can be done to anyone or anything besides him. My lessons are simply the price for CLEANLY getting rid of the next heir, since the last one wasn’t so clean.
              Pretty low price, considering even with my teachings, it doesn’t mean much without my family’s stores of power. And he can’t use HIS family’s stores of power. So no, this isn’t allying with him at all. This could be seen as a direct, justified, attack with minimal room for error.

            2. Haven’t gone back and re-read the chapters with the conditions, so probably your right about them. Thinking back, Blake couldn’t leave the house as it was the only safe ground avaliable to him. Sadly Laird never wanted to work with the Thorburn heir, and never wanted to help them. If they had, Blake might never have been the heir, as Molly wouldn’t have died. Or at least not in the same way. Early on I thought that at least part of the deal was the need to get the land away from the Thorburns so they could develop it and the town could grow. I’m not sure about that now. I would also imagine this could burn through quite a bit of good karma counteracting the Thorburn’s bad karma. Though Laird seemed to burn up quite a bit trying to get Blake.

          2. Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. I’ve been saying this from the getgo – People in this story keep underestimating what it means to make someone loyal to you.

            1. Right!?
              Loyalty can be incredibly more powerful than respect, and people keep thinking the latter is the most important of all, which is just plain silly.

            1. And I wouldn’t have everyone everyone and their mother wanting me dead for being such a dick to them.

            2. although I probably woundn’t make it that far- I’m totallly in favor of making a figurehead who is totally loyal to me. Which is why I dislike people putting conquest up top- he doesn’t care about them, which makes a terrible figure head, especially if you want even more power

    2. Johannes will be fun, I think. Seriously, he turned his demesnes into a pre-Solomon theme park where the old Others could screw with pretend-people like they once did? And he uses that to barter with them? That’s clever, even if it is a tad disturbing. And then there’s the fiefdom-thing he has going on. I’m interested in seeing the sort of character who would operate like that, and what else he’s come up with.

      1. That sounds like the sort of place that could be very dangerous to a poor vulnerable nameless girl. Let’s hope he’s expecting her when she gets around to him.

        1. If I recall the Others can only prey on Vestiges there unhindered. As long as she’s not foresworn, she should be fine overall. Well, as long as she has permission and a promise of safe passage.

        1. of course you wouldn’t,a simple lie causes loss of power only.To be forsworn you need something far heavier.

    3. I gotta go quickly so I can’t go into detail, but regardless of the intentions, Sandra has helped OrigiMaggie (i’m sticking to that name). Yes, it may all be a plot, but out of all the ways to obtain things from people, being nice to them is one of the preferable ways.

      1. Actions matter more than intentions some times. There was little cost to saving Orig!Maggie, but she did. I’m just saying it doesn’t make her a saint, only she had a pet the dog moment.

      2. What if Sandra intended all this name-stealing nonsense to happen? This could all be one of her plots. Padriac is pretty simple- he wants entertainment. If you know what kind he wants most, what he can do to get that, and who he can use to get it…. it shouldn’t be out of character for someone like sandra to predict and plan for him doing something like this…

        Considering she “Put the pieces together” and was outside to save scarf-girl in such a timely manner? Wouldn’t surprise me if it was intentional.

    4. IMO, Sandra is clearly power-hungry (admits it herself), dangerous, and manipulative and I don’t think she’s a nice person.

      However, I have to point out some things:

      1) She helped scarf-Maggie way more than she needed to. According to Sandra, scarf-Maggie has very few chances for survival, so a truly amoral manipulator would give her minimal help because the chances of any gains are minimal. By my count, the “better than necessary” help included not getting concessions out of scarf-Maggie at any time, extra information on the local politics and people, extra information on Sandra’s own desires and thinking, a full-blown lesson on connections (think about what is normally paid for magic lessons), and the knife.

      2) “Hell, even admitting what she is doing is a form of manipulation.” Yes, but it is less manipulative to state what you want and why you are doing it than not.

      3) Sandra dislikes the Faerie way of doing things – see her reactions to the Faerie in her interlude. She certainly learned from them, otherwise she would not have survived, but she did not treat scarf-Maggie the way a Faerie would treat the weak.

      4) The Bacchae / Maenads and the other creatures of Bacchus are ultimately simple creatures and not practitioners. Sandra did not obviously give in to wanton sex, drunkenness, or berserker rage. So she didn’t learn behavior from them and there is little else to learn.

      In more general terms, this is somewhat standard authorial tactics – the second-hand views of Sandra and her actions have been negative, but now we have a first-hand view that is ambiguous to positive. So we are being manipulated by the author, but I invite it because I consider it good manipulation.

      1. I’m starting with point 4-
        No, I didn’t mean learn from those things in the literal sense. More of the sense of the direct sort of primal force and aimed destruction that one can display. Imagine someone who spent years around those things get into a fist fight with one of the other duchamps. I’m puttin my money on the girl who spent years in a metaphorical lions den around metaphorical lionesses.

        Towards you first three points… I want you to see how eerirly similar those points are to Ms. Lewis.
        1- She didn’t need to escort blake outside, give him advice on how to use his sight, bind June, tell him how to beat a faerie, tell him how important theatrics were, talk kindly to him, and most definitily did not need to give him a name of a big bad. But she did. It was not out of kindness.
        2- she informed blake and rose that her help was ultimately part of a plot, and that the price of her help was their trust and the extra nudge they might need to call them again, which they did. Sure, informing someone of the manipulation can weaken it, OR if used right, can be even better than if the person was unknowing.
        3-um. Yes. Yes sandra did. Remember the tons of one-sided deals patrick was making with mags before the theft? Like- oh, I’ll stay here while you go to the molly-memorial and watch your goblin, but in return, you have to let me give you more power and knowledge! BWAHAHA!
        Sure, Sandra was nicer about it, but when you compare just the actions themselves- one gives more than she needs to give, including lessons, the other… gives more than he needs to give, including lessons.

        I agree TOTALLY on the last paragraph

    5. First off, why does manipulation inherently make someone a horrible person? It’s not a great thing, but it’s not a terrible crime. It’s a tool, and someone isn’t any worse for being manipulative than if they owned a gun or had an athame as their Implement.
      Specific counter-example: Taylor got pretty damn manipulative at times–probably more than Sandra ever will–but we still liked her, didn’t we? (And that’s not getting into the fact that, where Sandra lets potential enemies into her house, Taylor tends more towards the “drive them out of the city” path.)

      Second off…well…like Taylor, Sandra’s set against a specific backdrop. In a Disney movie, they’d both be villains, but wildbow ain’t Walt. Sure, there are people more “in the right” than them, who follow the Straight and Narrow Path more closely, but there are also people who make them look positively perfect, and more than enough jerks and scoundrels to make them look better than most. Whether you’re comparing them to Laird or Armsmaster, Jack Slash or Conquest, Sandra and Taylor both use the same brighter-gray situation to make themselves sympathetic.

      1. I strongly agree with your analysis.

        A few things I’d add (Worm spoilers, so rot13’d): Svefg, Gnlybe naq Fnaqen ner rira nsgre gur fnzr vzzrqvngr tbny: gnxvat bire gur pvgl. Juvyr jr xarj Gnlybe’f zbgvingvbaf naq gurl jrer, V fhccbfr, aboyr rabhtu, jr qba’g xabj Fnaqen’f, naq crbcyr ner ernyyl nffhzvat gur jbefg sbe gung.

        Frpbaq, Fnaqen’f zrgubqf ner pyrneyl jnl yrff unezshy guna Gnlybe’f. Gnlybe’f nccebnpu jnf gb genhzngvmr crbcyr, gura uheg gurz va gur fpnevrfg jnlf cbffvoyr, fb fur jbhyqa’g unir gb xvyy gurz; Fnaqen’f vf nccneragyl gb uryc crbcyr jura gurl’er fperjrq fb gurl cnl ure onpx va fbzr jnl yngre.

        1. They say karma’s a bitch, but the existence of karma seems to be helping Sandra be less of one, so…it’s a toss-up.

      2. The fact she can manipulate is totally fine. It’s the fact that she’s INSANELY FANTASTIC at manipulating and plotting, that has me worried/suspicious. In fact, there is nothing to signify that she didn’t intentionally PLAN for maggie to lose her name, and initiated all of this. She initiated Laird going to his doom, AND so far she has the literal most to gain from all this-

        Her main opponents so far for becoming Lord of jacobs bell are Conquest (they mentioned in the meetings about keeping tabs on him if he wants to act against them for trying to make another Lord so close to his domain), Laird, Blake, Jonnes, Padriac, and Maggie.

        Literally everyone besides Johannes are out of the equation, out of the way, or weaker from all this. She, on the other hand, is the same if not stronger from this madness.

        NOW she has Scarf-maggie going to the last threat, Johannes, with positive feelings toward sandra now (or possibly indebted, if she’s like Blake in that regard of paying back kindness), on top of being desperate and ARMED, thanks to Sandra.

        Seriously, If you assume padriac and Laird going to toronto as something that Sandra wished for and plotted for, nothing makes less sense, and everything makes more sense.

        There isn’t any evidence that she’s a good person so far. And I don’t want to compare her to Taylor, because Taylor wasn’t a good person. She was a terrible person with good intentions. I could go on about her standing on a morality front, but I REALLY don’t want to. So let’s just ignore any comparison to Taylor for now, please?

        1. “Taylor was a terrible person”

          LOL

          use rot13 to tell me jung lbh jbhyq qb qvssrerag,jvgubhg vaqverpgyl pnhfvat pngnfgebcuvp erfhygf.Lbh nccyl pbairagvbany zbenyvgl,ohg Gnlybe,jvgu gur rkprcgvba bs nepf 1-8 vf n frys fnpevsvpvat crefba jub nyjnlf pubbfrf gur yrffre rivy.Qb abg gry zr nobhg Jryq be Purinyvre,gurl urycrq yrff crbcyr guna fur qvq,naq fur jbhyq uryc zber vs gur flfgrz jnfa’g fb pebbxrq,gungf gur bayl ernfba fur orpnzr n fhcreivyynva ba gur svefg cynpr.

          Ab,fur vfa’g n greevoyr crefba.

          1. Fur, naq nyzbfg rirelbar nebhaq ure, nqzvgf gung gnlybe jnf n greevoyr crefba. Fur yvrf, znavchyngrf, purngf, fgrnyf, xvyyf, gbegherf, naq qrfgeblf. Fur zheqrerq nyrknaqevn, qrfcvgr gur snpg gung nyrknaqevn vf arrqrq sbe gur terngre tbbq, juvpu vf gnlybe’f whfgvsvpngvba sbe zbfg bs ure npgvbaf, naq gura gevrf gb xvyy Qentba. Fur nyfb zvaq-fynirq nyy gur pncrf va nyzbfg nyy havirefrf. Pna lbh vzntvar, univat n abezny qnl, gura nyy bs n fhqqra lbh ner guehfg vagb n jne lbh jnag ab cneg bs, genccrq va lbhe bja obql, hanoyr gb qb nalguvat nf lbh ner ivbyngrq naq sbeprq gb hfr lbhe cbjref ntnvafg lbhe jvyy, svtugvat ntnvafg n orvat gubhtug gb or n tbq, pbagebyyrq ol na 18 lrne byq tvey jub unccraf gb nyfb or n ivyynva? Gnlybe rira tbg fbzr bs gubfr fnvq pncrf xvyyrq.

            Lrf, gurer ner tbbq ernfbaf oruvaq ure npgvbaf, juvpu vf jul V fnvq fur vf n greevoyr crefba sbe tbbq ernfbaf. V fcrpvsvpnyyl fnvq guvf gb NIBVQ univat guvf pbairefngvba. Crbcyr ner yvxryl gb hfr zbgvingvbaf naq uvfgbel gb rkcynva be rkphfr npgvbaf, juvpu qbrfa’g gnxr njnl sebz gur jebat-arff bs vg. xvyyvat bar crefba gb fnir 100 fgvyy znxrf lbh n xvyyre. Xvyyvat bar rivy crefba gb fnir 10 tbbq barf fgvyy znxrf lbh n xvyyre. Xvyyvat 1 rivy crefba fgvyy znxrf lbh n xvyyre. Rnpu unir inelvat yriryf bs jebat-arff, ohg ner fgvyy abg-tbbq npgf. Ner gurer tbbq ernfbaf oruvaq gurz? Lrf. Qbrf gung znxr gur npgvba vgfrys tbbq? Ab.
            Lbh nfxrq jung V jbhyq qb qvssreragyl, ohg rkpyhqr gur svefg 8 nepf? Jul? Gur nafjre jbhyq or jvguva gur ortvaavat, orsber fur genccrq urefrys nybat guvf cngu. V jbhyqa’g grnz hc jvgu ivyynvaf “haqre pbire” qrfcvgr gur ureb V vqbyvmr gryyvat zr abg gb naq gung V jnf va bire zl urnq. V jbhyqa’g gura qrirybc srryvatf sbe gur ivyynvaf naq svtug gb cebgrpg gurz. V jbhyqa’g uryc gurz pbzzvg gursg naq nffnhyg bs vaabprag crbcyr (onax naq onadhrg).
            V nyfb jbhyqa’g unir xvyyrq pbvy. Vs V jnf va ure cbfvgvba ng gung cbvag va gvzr, jurer V jnf nyernql genccrq va gur yvsr bs n ivyynva, V jbhyqa’g obgure tbvat ntnvafg pbvy naq gelvat gb fnir Qvaanu. V jbhyq yrnir vg hc gb gur cebgrpgbengr.

            Jul? Orpnhfr V xabj ubj inyhnoyr uvf cbjre pna or, qrfcvgr ubj rivy ur vf. Vs V nyernql qvq gur guvatf fur qvq, naq tbar qbja gung enoovg ubyr, V jbhyq engvbanyvmr uvf cbjre, naq gur oravsvgf bs univat qvaanu naq ure cbjre ba gnc sbe jura jr arrqrq vg. Ubjrire, Gung jbhyq znxr zr n greevoyr crefba. V xabj guvf. V nterr pbzcyrgryl gung guvf jbhyq znxr zr n greevoyr crefba, ohg vg unf cbfvgvir oravsvgf sbe fnivat gur jbeyq, zhpu yvxr n ybg bs gur npgvbaf gnlybe gnxrf- greevoyr guvatf sbe cbfvgvir bhgpbzrf.

            Fur jnf ol ab zrnaf n ureb, ohg fur vf ol nyy nppbhagf n fnivbe. Fur fnirq gur Rnegu, naq nyy gur Rneguf. Ure npgvbaf jrer abg urebvp va angher, ohg ure zbgvingvbaf naq frysyrffarff JRER. Ure npgvbaf jrer greevoyr naq ivyynvabhf va angher, ohg gurl jrer bhg bs arprffvgl. Ubjrire, vg qbrfa’g punatr gur snpg gurl znqr ure vagb n greevoyr crefba.
            Uryy- unysjnl guebhtu, rira ure gubhtugf naq vavgvny vapyvangvbaf orpnzr zber naq zber gjvfgrq. Ure svefg gubhtugf hcba ragrevat n ebbz be frrvat n arj crefba jrer gubhtugf nobhg ure fheebhaqvatf naq hfvat gurz gb uheg, qrsrng, be xvyy gur crefba fur whfg zrg. Fur nyjnlf gubhtug bs cynaf gb nggnpx bguref, rira jura gurl jrer abg arrqrq. Gurfr ner gur gubhtugf bs n ivbyrag jneevbe jub guvaxf bs ivpgbel ng nal pbfg, ABG gubhtugf bs fbzrbar jub inyhrf gur yvirf bs vaabpragf naq hcubyqvat whfgvpr ng nyy pbfgf. Vg whfg fb unccraf gung ure irefvba bs jvaavat bsgra vapyhqrq fnivat vaabpragf naq hcubyqvat whfgvpr (fbzrgvzrf).
            Vg obvyf qbja gb raqf whfgvslvat gur zrnaf, juvpu vf fbzrguvat ivyynvaf naq zheqreref dhbgr nyy gur gvzr. Gurer ner cyragl bs greevoyr crbcyr jub guvax gurl ner qbvat onq guvatf sbe tbbq ernfbaf, ohg jura ybbxvat ng guvatf sebz gur cbvag bs ivrj bs n tbbq-thl, gurl ivyynva fgvyy frrzf yvxr n ivyynva, naq gur tbbq thl jvyy bsgra fnl gung gur raqf qba’g whfgvsl gur zrnaf. Ohg, jura ybbxvat ng guvatf sebz gurl rlrf bs n ivyynva, bar pna frr ubj vgf cbffvoyr gb guvax gung.

            Vg’f jul jbez vf fb terng- vg qbrf gur bccbfvgr bs zbfg fgbevrf. Vg gnxrf fbzrbar jub gheaf vagb n ivyynva guebhtu naq guebhtu, naq fubjf hf gur jbeyq sebz gurve rlrf, naq ubj yvsr pna or arvgure oynpx abe juvgr, ohg n envaobj bs pbybef. Vg qbrfa’g zrna gung fur jnfa’g greevoyr be n ivyynva- fur jnf naq ab bar va gur fgbel guvaxf bgurejvfr. Ohg vg qbrf zrna gung fbzrgvzrf n greevoyr crefba naq n ivyynva pna qb tbbq guvatf naq pna or “tbbq sbe zr” (gung’f n dhbgr sebz n fubj pnyyrq “nggnpx ba gvgna”. Vs lbh qba’g erpbtavmr vg, whfg vtaber vg, nf vg jbhyq or n cnva va gur nff gb rkcynva vs lbh qvqa’g trg gur ersrerapr).

            V jbhyq tynqyl qb greevoyr guvatf sbe tbbq ernfbaf. V jbhyq orpbzr n ivyynva gb fnir gur jbeyq. Ohg, gurer ner gvzrf jura fur QVQA’G arrq gb qb ivyynvabhf guvatf, zbfg bs juvpu ner va gur ortvaavat. Fur fgnegrq urefrys ba gung cngu sbe fvyyl ernfbaf orpnhfr fur jnf n puvyq jvgu puvyq-yvxr qernzf naq vagragvbaf arne gur fgneg. Gung jnf fvyyl. Fur terj bhg bs gung, fher, ohg V jbhyq unir fgnegrq bhg qvssreragyl- juvpu zrnaf V jbhyq unir unq yrff bccbeghavgvrf gb pubbfr gb or n ivyynva sbe tbbq ernfbaf. V jbhyq unir zber gb pubbfr gb or n ureb sbe tbbq ernfbaf, juvpu vf gur vqrny bhgpbzr. Fur urefrys ybfg fvtug bs gung naq sbphfrq bayl ba gur raq erfhyg, vafgrnq bs guvaxvat bs obgu gur raqf NAQ gur zrnaf.

            1. “Fur, naq nyzbfg rirelbar nebhaq ure, nqzvgf gung gnlybe jnf n greevoyr crefba”

              Abcr,fur vf n crefba jub anghenyyl srryf thvygl,naq gur bayl crbcyr jub pynvzf fur vf “greevoyr”ner jbefr,yvxr Gntt naq Nyrknaqevn,rira tbbq crefbaf jub qvfnterr onfvpnyyl cvgl ure/qvfnterr pvivyl engure guna guvaxvat fur vf n zbafgre.Erzrzore,Syrpurgr,Pybpxoybpxre,rira gubhtu gurl qvfyvxrq ure jnl bs qbvat guvatf ,gurl jrer funxra ol ure jbeqf.

              “Fur yvrf, znavchyngrf, purngf, fgrnyf, xvyyf, gbegherf, naq qrfgeblf.”

              Nyy bhg bs pbagrkg
              “Fur zheqrerq nyrknaqevn, qrfcvgr gur snpg gung nyrknaqevn vf arrqrq sbe gur terngre tbbq, juvpu vf gnlybe’f whfgvsvpngvba sbe zbfg bs ure npgvbaf,”

              Abcr ba obgu,Nyrknaqevn jnf n pevzvany ba n tbireazrag cbfvgvba,n crefba jub jbhyqa’g artbgvngr (fhpu n crefba arire jbexf sbe gur terngre tbbq,rira vs ur guvaxf fb,rkprcg vs ur pnaabg artbgvngr),naq n crefba jub npghnyyl znqr guvatf jbefr ol ure cerfrapr,znxvat gur Cebgrpgbengr ebggra.Terng crefbany cbjre va gur Jbezirefr =/= znxvat gur jbeyq orggre,ure jnl bs unaqyvat guvatf znqr gur jbeyq jbefr.Cyhf V pbhyqa’g ernyyl oynzr fbzrbar jub ergnyvngrf nsgre ernpuvat uvf oernxvat cbvag,Nyrknaqevn jnf whfg n fghcvq sbby jub znqr guvatf jbefr,naq qebir znal crbcyr jub pbhyq or hfrq gb gur Oveqpntr.Abar bs Gnlybe’f terl npgf jrer qverpgrq ng vaabpragf,rkprcg sbe zrepl xvyyf bs hafnyintrnoyr barf.

              “naq gura gevrf gb xvyy Qentba”

              Zhfg unir zvffrq gung,fur qvqa’g gel gung rira nsgre fur orpnzr Xurcev naq ybfg ure zvaq,fur bfgrafvoyl gevrq gb gnxr ure bhg abg yrgunyyl

              “Fur nyfb zvaq-fynirq nyy gur pncrf va nyzbfg nyy havirefrf. Pna lbh vzntvar, univat n abezny qnl, gura nyy bs n fhqqra lbh ner guehfg vagb n jne lbh jnag ab cneg bs, genccrq va lbhe bja obql, hanoyr gb qb nalguvat nf lbh ner ivbyngrq naq sbeprq gb hfr lbhe cbjref ntnvafg lbhe jvyy, svtugvat ntnvafg n orvat gubhtug gb or n tbq, pbagebyyrq ol na 18 lrne byq tvey jub unccraf gb nyfb or n ivyynva? Gnlybe rira tbg fbzr bs gubfr fnvq pncrf xvyyrq.”

              N orvat jub jbhyq,cebonoyl ,xvyy lbh ynggre naljnl,naq n Gnlybe jub jnfa’g rknpgyl urefrys ohg zber bs ure cnffratre,V arrq gb pynevsl.Naq fur bayl unq gb qb gung orpnhfr crbcyr pbhyqa’g jbex gbtrgure-gurl unir snvyrq ure rcrpgngvbaf gvzr naq ntnva,naq vg jnf gur bayl jnl gb fnir gurz.Fbzr qvrq,znal zber jbhyq,zber vaabpragf naq zber urebrf guna gur barf fur nethnoyl zvaqencrq.Fur fnirq gurz,naq fur arire cynaarq vg gb or n creznaarag guvat.Naq V arrq gb fgerff bapr zber:fur jnf urnivyl nssrpgrq ol ure cnffratre.Gryy zr,ubj jbhyq lbh xvyy Fpvba?Fur pbhyq arire tngure nyy gur urebrf fur arrqrq jvgubhg zvaq encvat,ol gur raq bs gur svefg artbgvngvba zvyyvbaf jbhyq unir qvrq.Vgf n irel terl nern,abg nf ivyynvabhf nf lbh ner gelvat gb fubjj,naq gur snpg gung vg vf n terl nern bs n crefba jub jnf nssrpgrq ol ure cnffratre chgf gung crefba va juvgr.

              “Lrf, gurer ner tbbq ernfbaf oruvaq ure npgvbaf, juvpu vf jul V fnvq fur vf n greevoyr crefba sbe tbbq ernfbaf. V fcrpvsvpnyyl fnvq guvf gb NIBVQ univat guvf pbairefngvba.”

              Ohg fur vfa’g n greevoyr crefba.

              “Crbcyr ner yvxryl gb hfr zbgvingvbaf naq uvfgbel gb rkcynva be rkphfr npgvbaf, juvpu qbrfa’g gnxr njnl sebz gur jebat-arff bs vg. xvyyvat bar crefba gb fnir 100 fgvyy znxrf lbh n xvyyre. Xvyyvat bar rivy crefba gb fnir 10 tbbq barf fgvyy znxrf lbh n xvyyre. Xvyyvat 1 rivy crefba fgvyy znxrf lbh n xvyyre.”

              Lrf,orpnhfr orvat n xvyyre vf qrfpevcgvir,abg zbeny

              “Rnpu unir inelvat yriryf bs jebat-arff, ohg ner fgvyy abg-tbbq npgf. Ner gurer tbbq ernfbaf oruvaq gurz? Lrf. Qbrf gung znxr gur npgvba vgfrys tbbq? Ab.
              Lbh nfxrq jung V jbhyq qb qvssreragyl, ohg rkpyhqr gur svefg 8 nepf? Jul?”

              Orpnhfr va gur svefg 8 nepf fur jnf fghcvq naq oyvaq gb gur jbeyq,naq fur znqr zvfgnxrf qhr gb ynpx bs vasbezngvba gung unhagrq ure nsgre.

              “Gur nafjre jbhyq or jvguva gur ortvaavat, orsber fur genccrq urefrys nybat guvf cngu. V jbhyqa’g grnz hc jvgu ivyynvaf “haqre pbire” qrfcvgr gur ureb V vqbyvmr gryyvat zr abg gb naq gung V jnf va bire zl urnq. V jbhyqa’g gura qrirybc srryvatf sbe gur ivyynvaf naq svtug gb cebgrpg gurz. V jbhyqa’g uryc gurz pbzzvg gursg naq nffnhyg bs vaabprag crbcyr (onax naq onadhrg).”

              Nterrq.Ohg nyy gung vf gur CEG’f snhyg,zbfgyl,nf Gnlybe npgrq ba ynpx bs vasbezngvba.Vs FF jnfa’g fhccbegrq,Gnlybe jbhyq arire unir gb eryl ba ivyynvaf.Vs zber ernyvgl jnf tvira gb gur pvgvmraf,Gnlybe jbhyqa’g znxr guvf zvfgnxr.Vs Nezfznfgre jnfa’g fhpu n wrex,fur jbhyq yrnir gur Haqrefvqref.Vs gur fbpvny freivprf jrer arire,gurer jbhyq or ab Haqrefvqref,gurl jrer nyy cenpgvpnyyl pnfrf jurer fbpvny freivprf pbhyq fnir gurz,vafgrnq gurl gerng gurz nf ivyynvaf.Gnlybe jnf hajvfr,gura,naq nsgre gung fur xarj gbb zhpu gb tb gb gur pbeehcg CEG naq nonaqba gur bayl crefbaf jub rire urycrq ure.Nyfb,nethnoyl,gur ubfgntrf jbhyq or jbefr jvgubhg ure.

              “V nyfb jbhyqa’g unir xvyyrq pbvy.”

              Lbh unir bar punapr gb xvyy n shpgvbanyyl vzbegny ivyynva,tnvarq nsgre zhpu fjrng naq grnef,naq lbh jbhyqa’g gnxr vg?Lbh’q qrfreir uvf eriratr.

              “Vs V jnf va ure cbfvgvba ng gung cbvag va gvzr, jurer V jnf nyernql genccrq va gur yvsr bs n ivyynva,”

              Cbvag vf,vgf abg fb zhpu fur jnf genccrq,nf fur fnj gur pbeehcgvba naq ulcbpevfl bs gur ureb/ivyynva qvpubgbzl naq gur pbeehcgvba gur ceg naq cebgrpgbengr jebhtug.

              ” V jbhyqa’g obgure tbvat ntnvafg pbvy naq gelvat gb fnir Qvaanu. V jbhyq yrnir vg hc gb gur cebgrpgbengr.”

              Unununununununununununun,ner jr ernqvat gur fnzr fgbel?Tbbq wbo,lbh whfg yrsg Qvanu gb vapbzcrgragf jub jbhyq arire fnir ure.Ntnvafg n fhcreivyynva jub pbhyq ercry gurz rira vs gurl gevrq,lbh ner haqrerfgvzngvat Pbvy’f cbjre.

              “Jul? Orpnhfr V xabj ubj inyhnoyr uvf cbjre pna or, qrfcvgr ubj rivy ur vf. Vs V nyernql qvq gur guvatf fur qvq, naq tbar qbja gung enoovg ubyr, V jbhyq engvbanyvmr uvf cbjre, naq gur oravsvgf bs univat qvaanu naq ure cbjre ba gnc sbe jura jr arrqrq vg. Ubjrire, Gung jbhyq znxr zr n greevoyr crefba. V xabj guvf. V nterr pbzcyrgryl gung guvf jbhyq znxr zr n greevoyr crefba, ohg vg unf cbfvgvir oravsvgf sbe fnivat gur jbeyq, zhpu yvxr n ybg bs gur npgvbaf gnlybe gnxrf- greevoyr guvatf sbe cbfvgvir bhgpbzrf.”

              Abgr,bapr ntnva,fur bayl rira uheg gubfr jrnxre guna ure jub qvqa’g uheg vaabpragf nf Xurcev:nssrpgrq ol ure cnffratre naq cerffherq ol gur ncbpnylcfr,be nf zrepl xvyyf.Fur jbhyq arire qb gung gb Qvanu.Abgr,nyfb,fur tnir uvz rirel punapr gb cebir ur pna or gehfgrq,naq Pbvy cebirq ur pnaabg,vg vf fcrpvsvpnyyl orpnhfr bs gung ur jbhyq qb guvatf jbefr.

              “Fur jnf ol ab zrnaf n ureb, ohg fur vf ol nyy nppbhagf n fnivbe. Fur fnirq gur Rnegu, naq nyy gur Rneguf. Ure npgvbaf jrer abg urebvp va angher, ohg ure zbgvingvbaf naq frysyrffarff JRER. Ure npgvbaf jrer greevoyr naq ivyynvabhf va angher, ohg gurl jrer bhg bs arprffvgl. Ubjrire, vg qbrfa’g punatr gur snpg gurl znqr ure vagb n greevoyr crefba.”

              Nznmvat qbhoyrguvax,jr jnag gur tneontr zra gb shpgvba,jr rira nqzver gurz ba fbzr yriry,ohg gurl ner greevoyr.V pnaabg npprcg guvf ybtvp,ab npgvba vf greevoyr ba vgf bja,rirel npgvba pna or zbeny haqre pbagrkg,rira vs gung pbagrkg rkvfgrq bayl va svpgvba.

              “Uryy- unysjnl guebhtu, rira ure gubhtugf naq vavgvny vapyvangvbaf orpnzr zber naq zber gjvfgrq. Ure svefg gubhtugf hcba ragrevat n ebbz be frrvat n arj crefba jrer gubhtugf nobhg ure fheebhaqvatf naq hfvat gurz gb uheg, qrsrng, be xvyy gur crefba fur whfg zrg. Fur nyjnlf gubhtug bs cynaf gb nggnpx bguref, rira jura gurl jrer abg arrqrq. Gurfr ner gur gubhtugf bs n ivbyrag jneevbe jub guvaxf bs ivpgbel ng nal pbfg, ABG gubhtugf bs fbzrbar jub inyhrf gur yvirf bs vaabpragf naq hcubyqvat whfgvpr ng nyy pbfgf. Vg whfg fb unccraf gung ure irefvba bs jvaavat bsgra vapyhqrq fnivat vaabpragf naq hcubyqvat whfgvpr (fbzrgvzrf).”

              Ab,gurfr ner gur gubhtugf bs n crefba jub unf orra ovggra gbb znal gvzrf,gur gubhtugf bs Ongzna.V nyfb qb abg erzrzore ure rire qbvat gung ,pna V unir n yvax?

              “Vg obvyf qbja gb raqf whfgvslvat gur zrnaf, juvpu vf fbzrguvat ivyynvaf naq zheqreref dhbgr nyy gur gvzr. Gurer ner cyragl bs greevoyr crbcyr jub guvax gurl ner qbvat onq guvatf sbe tbbq ernfbaf, ohg jura ybbxvat ng guvatf sebz gur cbvag bs ivrj bs n tbbq-thl, gurl ivyynva fgvyy frrzf yvxr n ivyynva, naq gur tbbq thl jvyy bsgra fnl gung gur raqf qba’g whfgvsl gur zrnaf. Ohg, jura ybbxvat ng guvatf sebz gurl rlrf bs n ivyynva, bar pna frr ubj vgf cbffvoyr gb guvax gung.”

              Vg gnxrf n jvfqbz gb frr jura gur raqf whfgvsl gur zrnaf,ohg,ernyyl,zbfg bs ure npgvbaf jrer cerggl fubeg grez gb gur raqf-zrnaf fpnyr fb fur pbhyq cerqvpg gurve erfhygf jvgubhg orvat ivyynvabhf .Gur rkprcgvbaf (Gevhzcgu,fnl)unhagrq ure pbapvrapr naq znqr ure orggre va abg ercrngvat gurz

              “Vg’f jul jbez vf fb terng- vg qbrf gur bccbfvgr bs zbfg fgbevrf. Vg gnxrf fbzrbar jub gheaf vagb n ivyynva guebhtu naq guebhtu,”

              …Wnpx?

              “naq fubjf hf gur jbeyq sebz gurve rlrf, naq ubj yvsr pna or arvgure oynpx abe juvgr, ohg n envaobj bs pbybef.”

              Gehr,ohg gung npprcgf gurer pna or ab urebrf,ivyynvaf,be greevoyr crefbaf.V guvax tbbq crefbaf pna or infgyl qvssrerag sebz rnpu bgure ohg fgvyy or tbbq,fb Gnlybe vf ba gur tbbq fcrpgehz

              “Vg qbrfa’g zrna gung fur jnfa’g greevoyr be n ivyynva- fur jnf naq ab bar va gur fgbel guvaxf bgurejvfr.”

              Rirelbar ohg ure naq onq crbcyr guvax gurl pnaabg ernyyl whqtr ure,fbzr nqzver ure.naq jr arire xarj jung gur jbeyq gubhtug bs Xurcev,ohg onfrq ba ure anzr naq gurve ernpgvbaf (pryroengvba naq nqzvengvba)crbcyr qb pbafvqre ure n ureb gb na rkgraq.

              “Ohg vg qbrf zrna gung fbzrgvzrf n greevoyr crefba naq n ivyynva pna qb tbbq guvatf naq pna or “tbbq sbe zr” (gung’f n dhbgr sebz n fubj pnyyrq “nggnpx ba gvgna”. Vs lbh qba’g erpbtavmr vg, whfg vtaber vg, nf vg jbhyq or n cnva va gur nff gb rkcynva vs lbh qvqa’g trg gur ersrerapr).”

              V qb,va snpg,ernq gur znatn,qb abg or nsenvq bs fgbel ersreraprf jvgu zr :C

              “V jbhyq tynqyl qb greevoyr guvatf sbe tbbq ernfbaf. V jbhyq orpbzr n ivyynva gb fnir gur jbeyq.”

              V jbhyqa’g orpbzr rivy gb qb tbbq,ohg V jbhyq gnxr npgvbaf gung pna or frra nf ivyynvabhf sebz bhg bs pbagrkg,nf Gnlybe qvq.

              “Ohg, gurer ner gvzrf jura fur QVQA’G arrq gb qb ivyynvabhf guvatf, zbfg bs juvpu ner va gur ortvaavat. Fur fgnegrq urefrys ba gung cngu sbe fvyyl ernfbaf orpnhfr fur jnf n puvyq jvgu puvyq-yvxr qernzf naq vagragvbaf arne gur fgneg. Gung jnf fvyyl.”

              Juvpu vf jul V jnagrq lbh abg gb pbhag nep 1-8,fur qvqa’g gehyl haqrefgnaq gur jbeyq naq,yrgf or snve,gubhtu ab snhyg bs uref.Vs fur qvq fur zvtug unir qbar vg gb uryc gur Haqrefvqref,gur Jneqf jrer,nsgre nyy,uneobevat FF.Cebgrpgbengr arrqrq pyrnavat,fur pyrnarq vg ol xvyyvat Nyrknaqevn.

              “Fur terj bhg bs gung, fher, ohg V jbhyq unir fgnegrq bhg qvssreragyl-”

              Ner lbh 16? jbhyq lbh jura lbh jrer 16?jbhyq lbh ful njnl qhr gb jvfqbz,be srne?

              ” juvpu zrnaf V jbhyq unir unq yrff bccbeghavgvrf gb pubbfr gb or n ivyynva sbe tbbq ernfbaf.”

              Naq zber gb fhccbeg n pbeehcg flfgrz-be qb lbh fnl lbh jbhyq unir frra gubhtu vg?Znal urebrf jrer tbbq,ohg gur flfgrz gurl freirq qrpvqrqyl….jnfa’g.Vg gnxrf jvfqbz gb or n eribyhgvbanel ureb,naq vg gnxrf npgvbaf gung jbhyq frrz rivy bhg bs pbagrkg,ohg lbh ner fgvyy n tbbq thl,naq gungf jung fur jnf:n eribyhgvbanel if n pbeehcg flfgrz (abgr:gurer jnf n tenaq gbgny bs 1 qrprag CEG qverpgbe,naq jr fnj 8 vapyhqvat gur tenaq fhcrevbef rirelbar fhccbeegrq,fb gur zbenyvgl bs gur nirentr ureb znggref abg,vs gur flfgrz fhpxf naq gheaf tbbq thlf yvxr pybpxoybpxre vagb fbyqvref bs n pbeehcg flfgrz)

              ” V jbhyq unir zber gb pubbfr gb or n ureb sbe tbbq ernfbaf, juvpu vf gur vqrny bhgpbzr.”

              Gur jbeyq vfa’g vqrny,rira Purinyvre naq Jryq pbzcebzvfrq n ybg,rira gubhtu vg jnf zber nobhg jub gurl pbhyqa’g uryc.

              ” Fur urefrys ybfg fvtug bs gung naq sbphfrq bayl ba gur raq erfhyg, vafgrnq bs guvaxvat bs obgu gur raqf NAQ gur zrnaf.”

              Fbzrgvzrf fur qvq,ohg fur arire qvq nalguvat gehyl urvabhf.

  12. The girl in the checkered scarf has lost her name!

    So she went to Maggie Holt and asked, “I have lost my name. Do you have my name?”

    Maggie Holt said, “What a pity, but both of the names I have are my own!”

    “Okay,” said the girl in the checkered scarf.

    So she went to Sandra Duchamp’s house and asked, “I have lost my name. Do you have my name?”

    Sandra Duchamp said, “I’m sorry dear, but no I don’t. I do have breakfast for you though.”

    “Okay,” said the girl in the checkered scarf, who ate breakfast and left.

    So she went to Crone Mara’s house in the woods and asked, “I have lost my name. Do you have my name?”

    Crone Mara said, “Fuck off.”

    “Okay,” said the girl in the checkered scarf, who fucked right off.

    So she went to Johannes’ realm and asked “I have lost my name. Do you have my name?”

    Johannes said, “No, child, but everyone should have only one name and I’ve got some extra ones to get rid of. How about Laura? She was lots of fun while she lasted!”

    “No thank you; that is not my name.” said the girl in the checkered scarf. Then she gasped!

    “Everyone should have only one name? I have seen my name!”

    So the girl with the checkered scarf ran all the way back to Maggie Holt and said, “You’re not Maggie Holt! This is just a glamour!” Then the girl punched Maggie Holt in the boob so hard that Padraic’s name fell right off!

    “I have found my name!” said Maggie Holt.

    1. Heh, from “Then the girl punched Maggie Holt in the boob so hard that Padraic’s name fell right off!”, I expected a surprise twist, i.e. the last line would read:

      “I have found my name!” said Padraic.

  13. I love this chapter. I especially love the way characters disguise the truth with misdirection and deflection.

    Nothing that Crone Mara said broke her pretence that she was just a helpless slave child, and none of it was a lie. Same reaction to the dialogue with Maggie and Padraic, and earlier with what’s-his-face and Maggie!Padraic.

    Honestly those sorts of dialogues are my favourite part of the story, and they’re also exactly what I hoped for when Wildbow wrote the teaser. Being unable to lie is such an interesting restriction; it makes the reader think they know what’s happening, but that confidence makes it easier to mislead them.

  14. So, I experimentally nibbled on my thumb and two things:

    1) It fucking hurts.
    2) If Scarf is used to it, I imagine her thumb must be really fucked up by now.

    1. Fingertips are actually one of the very limited body parts that humans can outright regenerate in the true sense. As long as she draws blood in the right part, it would bear tiny scars, but nothing very noticeable.
      That’s without healing magics, so…

    2. You actually nibbled your fingertips to bleed?

      Well, I tried it, and I stopped way before any drip of blood is visible, the pain is ridiculously unbearable, I’d rather be jabbed with multiple needles

        1. It’s noticeably easier to draw blood from the sides, around your fingernail, than punching through your fingerprint.

  15. I don’t know if this has been brought up yet in the comments of a previous chapter, but the law firm… well, the lawyers had kind of no recollection of their identity, right? They didn’t and don’t know who they are, they work to pay off their karmic debt (however that works) and are at some point released? I’m probably missing something, but wouldn’t in principle Blake now free to join the lawyers?
    His identity is eaten, but not his character nor karmic debt. The lawyers professed an interest in acquiring him as a subordinate or an employee. And if he’s an intern or equivalent he could theoretically help out Rose, even though neither would recognise each other, but the lawyers would have a contact person for Rose she’d maybe like for their character, giving the firm a foothold in Rose’ considerations.
    I think it’d be against Blake’s character to join the law firm, but not terribly so. And with the Thorburn karma he’d probably need to work for millennia to balance it, but well, it is an interesting thought.

    That is of course only relevant if he isn’t completely dead or can retrieved; unlikely given the demonic nature of his demise.

    TL;DR: Blake is now an intern with the lawyers.

    1. Practitioners presumably usually lose their identity upon joining the law firm, not before, and so they don’t accept all deals. In contrast, if Blake joined, it would be after his connections to all his friends had already been erased. The huge hole left in Blake could easily lead to a radically different personality, to a “classic” diabolist who would easily accept any deal to survive, no matter the cost to the world.

      For example, among the erased connections would be Alexis and Evan. Along with the memory of Alexis, his recovery from his past trauma would also have been erased. For instance, Blake was able to stomach Conquest’s version of his trauma because he could skip to the end where he met Alexis, and this end would be gone now.

      Similarly, to Blake, Evan was the most important symbol of him leaving the world a better place; with Evan gone, Blake’s practitioner past looks a lot more lonely and less accomplished.

    2. Blake’s Karmic debt comes from his connection to Rose, since it only affects women descendants of the line. He’s free from it now

      1. Well considering that thanks to ErasUrr, Blake is either nonexistant, or in hell, he might be missing the family karma. Oh wait, he might not be missing anything. Best case scenario and he did slip through the cracks, well his life will not be better. Not one damn bit.

    3. I doubt it. That would require the Lawyers to rescue Blake from the clutches, stomach, and/or womb of Ur–, despite the fact that all his connections–including those to the lawyers–were severed.

  16. Hmmm… that’s some pretty open, honest ambition there. Mixed with clarity of thinking and a unmuddled view of things. I’m liking Sandra more and more.

    Uh… I mean, she was indirectly mean to Blake once! Twice! She’s evil, burn her at the stake!

    Seriously though, I actually hope that she makes it as Lord, not only because it seems to be what she actually wants and not because of some higher manipulation of the generations before her. But because Jacob’s Bell is too much of a fucking wild west and a shithole for people without protection from others. As long as she can start reigning in the Others and purge Johannes and Mara with holy fire she can have the town as far as I’m concerned.

    And as much as I liked Blake. I saw what demons can do and decided that I really can’t blame her for wanting the Thorburns out of town and far away from the pet torture demon.

    1. The question is, would she really clean up the town? Her family has a truce with the goblins, and seems to be tolerating a lot of non-demon bullshit. I suspect Sandra would attempt to keep things mostly as they are, as long as she’s on top and benefiting.

      That’s a bad thing. Far as I’m concerned, a whole lot of the magical world needs to be fought. Those who won’t fight don’t deserve power over those who would. I can very easily see her trying to shut down any practitioners who are rocking the boat.

      1. The town as it is is a shithole. One that they can’t clean up due to having to keep the balance of power to protect themselves. If power was center on her that changes.

        Not saying she would do it purely out of the kindness of herheart but it would be in her interest to improve things both to improve the town’s economy and value, and to show her abilities as a leader.

        The Duchamps are too prim and proper to be content with ruling over a rotten kingdom.

        Also, the Others like johannes and mara are threatening enough that they would probably need to be destroyed just to get the lordship.

        1. I suppose if the town grows and urbanizes that means more elementaly charged metal to keep Goblins away, and it seems like due to treaties with the Fairy court exiles aren’t allowed into cities with lords, and that could lessen those problems. Possibly.

      2. Improving things would be in her best interest. To improve the town economically, make it more attractive to friendlier practitioners, to let people know she will exercise her power instead of being an absentee lord, and getting rid of others that are threats to her.

        Not saying it would be out of kindness. But what makes you think she’s totally okay with fairies stat raping teenagers and Goblins putting coke in insulin bottles.

      3. I suspect Sandra would attempt to keep things mostly as they are, as long as she’s on top and benefiting.

        I rather doubt that. She didn’t really seem power-hungry to me in this chapter (she might have been so in the history chapter we’ve seen, but that was years earlier). I’m not sure what her motives are—and given she had some trouble expressing it, she might be unsure as well—but it didn’t seem that she just wants power for power’s sake.

        It’s at least plausible that she would try to do the right things if she became Lord. I’m not usually singing the praises of autocracy, but the democracy option is notably absent in Pact: since only a few people are Awoken, the main alternative is a mix of oligarchy and cryptocracy, and that seems worse in the long run. At least with dictators you can tell who to blame (read: who needs killing) when things aren’t working out.

        The only example of Lord we’ve seen was Conquest, and he had a very specific attitude and motivations; human Lords might well be much more benign, for purposes of survival and reputation if nothing else.

        1. We’ve already seen that Sandra was A. Dissatisfied with the way her family did things and willing to break the mold and B. Willing to put boots to necks when it comes to Others.

          Whatever her plans for Jacob’s Bell may be, whether they’re good or bad, she probably HAS plans, she doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would keep things as they are and not mold them to her liking.

          And I made a comment exactly like my first, yeah I know. Fucked it up.

      4. You don’t know that. Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? Well…remember why Pbvy qvqa’g jnag gb cnl Gnlybe by repairing Brockton Bay? He was already planning to do it…because he didn’t want to rule over a pile of crap.

        I can’t imagine Sandra wants to become Queen of the Dung-Heap.

  17. This chapter reminded me the nuance on particular chapters of Worm.

    When one of Worm’s main character paid a visit to Nilbog’s desolated town. It really shot up the Creep Factor to 11 there, even some commenter started to dub it the “knife-rape” (or whatever the fuck was that), and shit rolled downhill, but it was all past tense.

  18. Here is some food for thought, and I am quite serious about this:
    What would happen if I said “The next sentence is true. The previous sentence is false”?

    Do spirits understand recursion? Are spirits smart enough to recognise the paradox? Would the universe just get angry at me and spit bad karma? Would the universe spit out an error of some sort? What if I tried with other paradoxes? Finally, even though magic doesn’t appear to follow natural laws, I think this presents a nice experimental framework for karma.

    Here is another stray thought. Are all spirits the same? Are they different depending on the region? I assume not, since practitioners travel and don’t have any issues (at least, I pressume this is the case for the western world. We know that practitioners come and go from and to the Canada and Europe. I am extrapolating for other places). So what are spirits if they are all the same? Is there a spirit “model”?

    Do Others influence culture the same way culture influences others? Can Others speak any language? That’s another way to learn more about magic. Measure how culture affects Others.

    Finally, is there magic in space? It was suggested once that what we see of the universe is what remains after demons run rampant. But that tells us nothing about there being magic in space or in other planets. Maybe after part of the universe got devoured, Others and living beings took refuge on Earth, thus magic doesn’t work in space? Has any practitioner gone to space? Seems like an obvious thing to do 😛

    I’ve been reading too much Ra… Someone, please point a telescope at some other planet and use their sight! Here hoping to see physicist practitioners.

        1. “Ugh, here comes that pesky human Bob told me about. Just keep floating and don’t make eye contact. Later we can shift some goblin connections towards him”.

      1. Is that a serious response, or just an off-the-cuff one? When it’s that brief, it can be tough to tell…

  19. In case it come’s true, I’m putting it here. If Blake’s lost who he is, he will become “The Man with Two Doves”. And at some point he’ll turn into something inhuman and powerful. Remember, he knocked over the Metronome.

  20. Woo! Finally caught up!

    Wildbow, I seriously think you are one of the best writers of dark fiction out there.

    Now on to my thoughts.

    At this point it’s hard to say if Blake is dead or not. I’m inclining towards no because the past tense suggests the narrator survives to tell the tale and he’s a first person narrator. Of course I may be reading too much into this as Wildbow may just be sticking to the past tense convention.

    However if the character who was Blake is still alive in some capacity then his position is obviously similar to the girl in the scarf’s position. Nameless and connectionless but not dead.

    The girl in the scarf is in a better position. She can hope to get her old name and connections back if she can win. And if she struggles with making friends she needs to make enemies instead. Enemies are connections too.

    The character who was Blake is in the position of being Tabular Rasa. No name, no connections and no way to get them back (things that are eaten can be replaced but not retrieved) so he can take a new name and get new connections but the old ones are gone. I wonder if having your connections eaten also eats your karma? That might be interesting. Maybe he’s a true wild card now – if he can survive that is.

    Of course if he’s dead then everything is moot.

    Wow that was a long comment.
    Becka

    1. I was going to say that maybe the white-girl-and-native story was just her chosen lever for getting what she wanted out of this interaction, but now I realize I’m very unclear on what it was she wanted. She told us the desired end result for Scarf Girl, but not for her– what the compost would be for, why it would be useful, or any hint at why she doesn’t pursue it by other means. If you just want to trap people, you don’t put your trap far from anywhere people normally go and then surround it with barriers to entry. That’s just shooting yourself in the foot, metaphorically speaking.

      Also, I’m curious about the things Mara told Scarf Girl about her day-to-day life. Was she using weasel words in some way I haven’t noticed? Does she really spend every day doing chores from waking to bedtime? Whether or not she uses a wide definition of “chores” or multitasks like Scarf Girl did with reading the letter, that still sounds pretty unusual.

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