Signature 8.5

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From the witch’s hut to meeting Hansel and Gretel.

Before all this had started, she had grilled goblins for tidbits.  The tricks and techniques almost always had to be bartered for, but information was easier to come by.  Goblins got bored, and when they were done cursing and making threats, they could be prodded to talk.

The goblins traveled in very specific territories.  They liked areas where they could enjoy human comforts while not quite being in the presence of humans.

More frequently, they picked places that had been abandoned or for sale for some time, and Jacob’s Bell had a lot of those buildings.  By the time a realtor or bank employee stopped by to check on the building, walls were spray painted or had holes, feces were smeared in places, and garbage littered every surface.

It was with this knowledge that she limped along busier streets, keeping to areas where the heavier plumbing made crossing harder for goblins, under an archway.  Avoiding goblins in general, because a minute after she had one on her tail, she’d have a half-dozen.

It was light out, there were people around, and it was morning.  All things that discouraged goblins.  So long as she traveled these roads, she was okay.  She’d done it practically every day, just to be safe.

The risk came when she headed into one of the less stellar areas of Jacob’s Bell.  Only a twenty minute walk from Sandra’s, she approached a deceptively nice looking area.  The houses were more in the prefab style, all identical, built maybe five years ago, but had languished and started falling apart, largely ignored, before Johannes’ area and the station had started bringing attention to Jacob’s Bell.

The people who moved in were able to keep the houses in a below average state, but tended to find that when they put in the time and money to fix something, another thing broke.

Goblins.

If you were struggling, they ensured you kept struggling.  If you were well-off, they weren’t much of a concern to start with.

In better-policed areas, practitioners and the Lords that managed them were strict about keeping Others from interfering too much with humanity.  If one person every generation was grabbed by the likes of Mara, a few people had their lives ruined by Others like Buttsack and the Faceless Woman, well, the general sentiment seemed to be that it was a drop in the bucket.

Drop a frog in a bucket of boiling water, and the frog would hop out.  Put it in cold water and slowly bring it up to a boil, and you had a roasted frog.  Except not really, but the idea held true.

Humankind was slowly roasting in boiling buckets, and the Lords and practitioners were more focused on dealing with those who were being less than gradual, less than subtle.

Even if the buildings here looked more modern, with less peeling paint or weather-worn wood than, say, Sandra’s place, she knew that the slow boil was well underway here.  Different rates of boil for different people.

The trick here was to study her surroundings.  She didn’t know the exact address, but she could put two and two together.

She kept one eye on her back, another on the state of the buildings, making mental notes of the little details.  A garage door for a house with no furniture inside was stuck, partially open, snow creeping into the garage space.  Another house had broken windows.

Like dogs marking their territory with urine.  Come to think of it, goblins probably did that too.  The same method, different ends.

There was a point where stuff was less lousy.  The damage normal, not goblin-made.

She did two laps through the neighborhood before she had a sense of it.  The epicenter of ‘not quite so messed up’.

Of the four houses, one wasn’t occupied, but it wasn’t trashed either.

Another had kids digging a tunnel through one snowbank.  They were so still and quiet when she approached that she wondered for a moment if they were goblins in snowsuits.

Paranoia.

Rather than continue searching, she approached them.  Better to forge new connections, no matter how small.

“Hey,” she said.

They kept playing.

“Hey, little dorks.”

One boy poked his head out of the hole-in-progress.  Clumps of snow clung to the fabric of his hat.  “Dorks?  We aren’t in the two-thousands anymore.”

“You need to shore up your tunnel.  If that snow falls on you while you’re crawling through, you’ll suffocate.”

“It’s just snow,” he said.

“Avalanches can wipe out buildings, you don’t think this much snow could wipe you out?”

He shrugged, then ducked down to continue playing, scraping with some sort of tool.

“Hey,” she said.  “Midget.  Pay attention to me.”

He poked his head out again.

“Don’t ignore me,” she said.  “Get on my bad side and I might break your tunnel.”

He didn’t flinch.  He thought she was joking.

She raised one foot, placing it on the side of the snowbank, driving the point home.  His eyes widened, and a little girl standing on the driveway piped up with a mewling “No!”

“First off, shore up that tunnel of yours.  Then tell your parents they’re idiots for not watching you better. Third, you can tell me if you know where Andy and Eva live.”

The boy didn’t respond.  He only stared.

The girl in the checkered scarf looked at the others.  Make this easier on me.  Where are the local witch hunters?

One girl at the side, smaller, said, “Andy lives in that house right there.  He used to babysit me, before his parents disappeared, and then he was too busy most of the time.  Then his sister came back, and we couldn’t be near him at all anymore.”

“Mom says Eva’s a psychopath and a tramp,” the second boy said.  he stood by the little girl, and was so bundled up that only a slice of his face was visible.

“You know if she’s around?”

“Andy might be gone right now, he usually goes and gets groceries around lunch, buys some fast food or sandwiches while he’s out, and sometimes he gives us something.  Asks if we saw anything strange when he was gone.  I think I heard him, but I’m not sure if he was coming or going.  Don’t know about Eva.  She’s usually out at night more.”

“Uh huh.  Good to know.  Hey, did he warn you about anything?  Places to avoid, in case you came by?”

“Huh?” the girl asked.

But the other boy did have an answer.  “He said we had to stay off the property, like our moms and dads told us.  If we did have to come to his place, though, we should stick to the front walkway and stairs, no fooling around, no tampering with windows or trying to sneak in.  Knock firmly on the door.”

“Got it.”

“I don’t,” said the boy in the snowbank.  “What’s to get?  Why even ask that question?”

“Because I might know Andy and Eva better than you do.  I know the sort of thing Eva gets up to when she’s out for her nighttime walks, for example.”

That had their interest.

“What?  What does she do?”

“Answers don’t come for free, dork.”

“You want us to pay you?”

“I want info.  You’ve obviously paid attention to those two.  They would’ve been the cool teenagers when you were kids, and now they’re two twenty-somethings who’re living on their own, they’re mysterious… you’ve watched, and you haven’t figured it out yet.”

“What, is she like a prostitute?” the girl said.

You’re, like, seven.  How do you even know what a prostitute is?

“No.  Look, you tell me something, I’ll tell you something.  Maybe something Andy said, or that he did, or you saw Eva when she didn’t know you were watching.”

The three children exchanged glances.

The boy standing on the driveway spoke up, “I don’t know exactly, but there was this one time when my dad was having problems.  Really stressed out and kind of freaking.  Nothing going right, and he and my mom kept talking about this boy, and it was bugging me…”

The etching of concern on the little boy’s face suggested ‘bugging’ was the wrong word.  He’d probably been tormented by confusion and the sheer negativity surrounding whatever had been going on, his friends hadn’t been any help, and he’d gone to the only trusted ‘adult’ he could find for counsel.  Andy.

“Paul,” the boy in the snowbank said, “I really don’t think Andy would want anyone to tell.”

“Oh.  Yeah, I guess not,” ‘Paul’ said.  He looked embarrassed, conflicted.  Caught between loyalty and interest, unhappy with where he stood on both fronts.

The girl in the checkered scarf looked over the group.  “I think I already know the answer.  It was bugging you, so you talked to Andy about it.  Then something happened, and the problem fixed itself.  The ‘boy’ that was giving your parents trouble just… disappeared.”

Paul didn’t even try to hide his surprise that she’d hit the mark, or at least came close to it.

“Yeah,” she said.  “I know.  And since you gave me a half-finished story, I’ll give you half an answer.  Your mom told you Eva is dangerous?  I think Andy is more dangerous than she is.”

“But he’s klutzy, and slow, and he’s a nerd.”

“Get with the new millennium, dork,” she said.  “Nerds are the second scariest group that humanity’s ever produced.”

“Second scariest?  Who are the scariest?”

“Stupid people,” she said.  Seeing their expressions war between confusion and incredulity, she added, “You’ll get it when you’re older.”

She left the kids with that tidbit of wisdom, she headed to the house they’d pointed to.

In retrospect, she suspected she could have figured it out.  The house was in worse shape than the others on the block, but it wasn’t malign influence or devious business that had caused it.  Just the fact that two twenty-somethings with very little idea how to maintain a property had lived here.

She wasn’t about to play games with the rules the kids had outlined.  Even if they didn’t know anything, a warning to them was as good as a warning to her.

Stick to the path, knock on the door.

There wasn’t a reply.

She hesitated to knock again.

The kids weren’t wrong.  Reports from various sources seemed to conclude the same thing: Andy was a bit slow.  Not mentally, but physically.  His reflexes were bad, he wasn’t athletic, he had no stamina or raw strength.

But Andy knew that.

He knew he couldn’t win in a straight-up fight with any practitioner or other.  His response to that knowledge was to avoid the straight-up fights entirely.

If he thought she was a threat, he’d kill her while she stood right here, before she even knew he was around.

“Hansel, Gretel, you home?” she asked the door.

The door opened, and her line of thinking made her take a step back.

It wasn’t Andy that was the problem.  It was his sister.

The young woman had a black tank top, sweatpants, and a crossbow in hand, aimed at the girl in the checkered scarf.  Her blond hair was tied back into a ponytail that left waves of hair framing her face.

Her eyes, not the crossbow, were the most concerning thing.

“I-”

“Shh,” Eva said.  “One more word that isn’t an answer to a question, or one more action I don’t give you permission to make, and I’ll shoot.  Nod slowly if you understand.  Good.”

Eva glanced around, furtive looks, as if unwilling to look away for more than half a second, then stepped back, the crossbow unwavering. The interior of the house suggested a lot of stuff that just didn’t have places to be.  Stacks of what might have been tax forms, books with no shelves to go to, bags of garbage sitting by the door, waiting to be carried out… it might have looked organized, but whatever organization was trying to take hold, disorder was winning out.  One garbage bag had been opened and left open, and bits of garbage sat on a chair with no table, right in the front hallway.  As if someone had been going through the garbage.

It was chaotic.  Unbalanced, even.  A healthy, ordered mind didn’t live in a space like that.

“Step inside, very slowly, then close the door with your foot.”

The girl in the checkered scarf moved at a glacial pace, partially to see if it would agitate Eva.  Eva didn’t seem to mind.

The door clicked as it shut.

“Without turning around, reach behind you and lock the door.”

Whatever the state of the house, the bolt slid in smoothly as the latch rotated.

Another click.

Eva stared, studying her.

“Who are you?”

“I’m the practitioner who came into town halfway through the year.  I’ve been to some meetings, I even played a part in what happened to Molly Walker.”

“Oh.  You.  You’re…”  Eva said.  She paused, groping for the name.  “Can’t quite place the name.  You’re easy to forget, apparently.”

“I’m-”

Eva pulled the trigger.

The girl in the checkered scarf managed a strangled grunt.

Watch enough action movies, spend enough time sitting in class, bored out of your skull, and you spend a little time imagining how you’d do in a proper fight.  You like to imagine you’d dodge the arrow.

She hadn’t.  She’d barely registered what had happened.

She gasped, clutching at her throat.  The bolt had penetrated the door, and it had punched through her scarf in the process, pinning her to the surface, scarf tight against her throat, the bolt itself so close to her neck that her struggles made skin touch cool, smooth wood.

The crossbow landed on a broad, square landing that marked the turn in a staircase leading upstairs.  Eva was drawing a knife from a back pocket, closing the distance with long strides.

The girl in the checkered scarf didn’t even try to fight.  Hands went up, flush against with the door, above her head.

Eva kicked her squarely in the sternum, and didn’t move the foot after it made contact.

It hurt, and Eva hadn’t really held back, but the girl in the checkered scarf left her hands where they were.

Eva’s face was only a foot from her own, and the knife-

She didn’t dare look.  No doubt the knife was in a position to do some immediate, terminal damage if she did anything else that Eva didn’t like.

A long ten seconds passed.

“Next time, you die.  Understood?”

Slow nod.

“Good.  Don’t even think that agonized screaming or blood are a problem.  The walls are thick, and Andy lacquered the floors after doing the spring cleaning.  Nice and thick, so there won’t be anything seeping into or between floorboards.  Cleaning up is easy.”

The young woman stepped away, arm extended with knife pointed, not once shifting her posture, position or eye contact in a way that suggested she couldn’t close the distance in a half-second and stab something vital.

Eva didn’t touch the shaft of wood that had penetrated the door, either.  She managed to reload the crossbow with a knife in one hand, eyes fixed on her new prisoner.

The only movement the girl in the checkered scarf made was to press her neck against the shaft, giving slack to the scarf and freeing up her neck for easier breathing.

“Now,” Eva said, as she raised the crossbow again, “You have my permission to say whatever it was you felt you needed to say.”

“I’ve honestly mostly forgotten what I was going to say.”

“Can’t have been that important.”

The girl in the checkered scarf remembered halfway through that sentence, opening her mouth to speak, but not letting a sound escape.

Eva indicated for her to speak, using the knife to make her ‘go on’ gesture.

“My name was stolen, which is why you can’t place it.  One of the Faerie has it.”

“Oh?  Well, that sucks.  Probably really bad for you.  But that doesn’t explain why the lamb came to the slaughterhouse.  Where we specialize in slaughtering lambs, among other things.  Explain.”

“All the creatures I captured got released.  Some are after me with vengeance in mind.  I was also thinking of going to see Johannes, and I’d rather make that visit as armed as I can possibly be.”

“You want our weapons?”

“Yes.”

“The only thing people negotiate with me is slow or fast.  You’re out of luck, Jane Doe.”

“If-” the girl with the checkered scarf said, pausing only to make sure she wasn’t about to be shot, “-If you could, please don’t call me that.”

“How come?”

“An lack of a name is a void waiting to be filled.”

“Really?  I could give you a goblin name like Twatface, and it could stick?”

“Yes.  So please-”

“Clitwart?  Ragstain?  Shitdribble?”

“You could call me anything you wanted-”

“Even Madonna?  No, that’s not nearly creative enough.  The Olsen Triplet?  Fatalie Shortman?”

The girl in the checkered scarf felt a chill.  A little too intense to be just in her head.  Not just cold seeping through the door, either.  “Please stop.”

“This could be the most fun I’ve ever had putting the screws to someone.  What about something off the wall?  Like Hitler?  Dahmer?  Satan?”

“That would be a bad idea.  Names have a power unto themselves, and some of those names probably have a lot of curses aimed their way.  You might bring something to pass.”

“Seems too easy.  Losing a name, replacing it…”

“It’s not easy at all.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I wouldn’t know.  I’m a newbie to all this.  I’m in bad shape, I just… I need to find a solution, before I degrade and I can’t do anything.  I need tools and weapons to do it, and you guys are the best source available.”

“In theory only.  I’m curious how this works.  You degrade?”

“No name, nothing at the center of my self.  I think it’s like the metaphysical equivalent of taking ten pounds of flesh out from within someone’s ribcage.”

“So take a new name.  Replace thy flesh.”

“That doesn’t help the fact that I don’t have many connections.  If I have too few and they get severed, or if they grow weak-”

“Hey, stop,” Eva said.  The crossbow moved a fraction, giving weight to the words.  “I’m not big on the magic stuff.  When people explain the magic stuff to me, I work it out in my head, and I distill it down to a simple, clear explanation.  I can do it with any magic.  Really.”

The girl in the checkered scarf nodded.

“Right here?  All this talking you’re doing?  It says one thing to me.  Nobody will miss you if I shoot you right here and watch you-”

Eva shut up right as the lock clicked. The door moved, but stopped short.

“-bleed out.  Ugh.  Worst timing ever.”

A whisper, a male voice.  “Is that you at the door, Eva?”

“It’s not me!” Eva called out.  “I’m here.”

A pause.

“Wait, shit, don’t try anything!  I’m fine, I’m safe.  Password is Creevey.

“…Okay.  Let me in.”

“Let him in.”

To avoid being strangled, the girl in the checkered scarf was forced to make twenty or so tiny steps to follow the motion of the door.

Andy stepped inside, throwing a foil-wrapped sandwich to Eva.  She caught it while still keeping the crossbow aimed more or less at her target.

He walked right across the crossbow’s line of fire to put bags down on the square stair where Eva had tossed the crossbow earlier.  Milk and the like.

“You let someone in?” he finally asked.

“Don’t lecture me.”

“The deal was I wouldn’t get in your way when you have a job you want to do, you don’t argue when I outline protocols.  There are some things out there that you don’t want to let inside.”

“She’s not a thing.  She’s just a practitioner who’s in a bad way.”

He reached into one bag to grab a chocolate bar.

“Gimme,” Eva said.

“I gave it to the lookout kids to share.”

“Fuck that!”

“They said someone came in and didn’t come out.  I needed to bribe them to get them to go inside.  Witnesses are bad.”

“Give them your chocolate.”

I didn’t violate protocols.”

The girl in the checkered scarf cleared her throat.

“Who or what is she?” he asked.

“She’s someone we know, minus the knowing part.”

“A trick?  Is she an assassin?” he asked.  He took a bite.

“No.  Just a dumbfuck who got in over her head, looks like.”

“Uh huh,” he said.  “Then why are you holding her at crossbowpoint?”

“Because letting a potential threat inside and not pointing a crossbow at them seems like a bad idea?”

Andy didn’t seem impressed.  He put his half-finished chocolate bar back in the bag and retrieved a sandwich like Eva’s.

“Open mine first,” Eva said.

He did, peeling back foil wrap.  He held the front of the crossbow up while she took a bite, then served himself.

“I just wanted weapons, and maybe tips on dealing with a situation like mine, if you had any” the girl in the checkered scarf said.  She kept her voice level, stayed assertive.  “No harm or trouble intended.  I can swear I won’t hurt you if that helps.”

“We’re witch hunters, it’s our duty to hunt witches.  Now one falls into our lap,” Eva said, ignoring the offer.  “Nobody is going to miss her.  I’m gonna put one through her heart, add a notch to my belt, dispose of the body in the furnace downstairs, and then watch a movie online.”

Andy chewed on his sandwich.

“Or are you going to renege on the deal and start interfering with my hunts?”

He finished and swallowed.  “She’s scared enough, Eva.  You can stop fucking with her.”

Eva scowled a little.  “You’re so lame.”

But she lowered the crossbow.

The girl in the checkered scarf released a deep breath.  She’d been inhaling, but not daring to exhale.

“I’m going to put a new protocol in place, I think.  Doing this sort of thing is dumb, Eva.  Making enemies of practitioners you don’t intend to finish off?  You pointed a gun at Thorburn, and now this?  No matter how bad their situation is, that situation can improve.”

“I don’t want to live to thirty anyways,” Eva said.

“I’d be okay with that, except you’re going to get me killed along with you,” he said.  He looked at the pinned girl, “Sorry about this.”

“I can talk, right?”

He took a bite of his sandwich, nodding as he chewed, approaching her.

One hand seized the bolt in the wood.  He pulled and failed to get it out.

“You’re so lame,” Eva said.  She approached too, and the girl in the checkered scarf found herself with two people less than a foot away from her.  She craned her head away from the bolt to give them more room to work.

Fuck,” Eva said, abandoning her attempt.  She bent and broke the bolt, which produced more splinters than a clean break.

The girl in the checkered scarf freed herself, gingerly working the scarf free of the bolt.

Andy nudged past, then opened the front door, reaching around it.  He fiddled for a second, then stepped back, holding a package.  Rectangular, broad, and wrapped in what looked like butcher’s paper.  A piece of electrical wire stuck out, apparently what he’d used to attach it to the door knocker or whatever.

When he put it down on the pillar at the bottom of the stair railing, it made a faint but detectable ‘clunk’ sound.  Hard.

The girl in the checkered scarf checked her scarf.  There was a hole where the bolt had passed through.

“Don’t fuss.  Nobody’ll notice,” Eva said, flippant.

“Spirits might.  Every connection matters at this point.  Even a piece of clothing.”

“Way I see it, if you’re that desperate for stuff to hold on to, you’re already fucked.”

You’re not wrong, the girl in the checkered scarf thought.  She couldn’t formulate a reply, witty or otherwise.

“I’d offer you food, but we aren’t bound by the usual rules,” Andy said.

“Right.  That’s okay,” she replied.  “Fuck me, I hate this town.”

“Sounds like we have something in common,” he said.  “I feel so damn tired at the end of the day.  Place takes a lot out of you.”

“I can’t wait to be gone,” she replied.

“Question is, where are the likes of us going to go?” he asked.

Right.  They were witch hunters.  They knew stuff, and it was hard to leave all that behind and live an ordinary life.  Practitioners could very well be unhappy or unsettled by the appearance of the twins in their town.  Lords or local powers could seek to control them, even abuse them.

Her own circumstances weren’t better.  Pretty much anywhere she went, she’d be second or third tier.  At best she’d be ignored.  At worst, she’d be a potential threat or target.

That was, if she even got out of this in one piece.  As it was, she was a target no matter where she went, working with borrowed time.

Eva ate while Andy grabbed a bottle of water out of a bag.

“Yeah,” the girl with the checkered scarf finally said.  More in answer to the silence than the question.

“Yeah,” Eva added her own voice.

“Look,” the girl in the checkered scarf said, “I don’t want to kick up a fuss, and I don’t have a lot to bargain with.  You guys want to clean up dangerous Others?  Arm me and send me on my merry way.  If you’re fair about it, I’ll promise I won’t hold a grudge for the whole crossbow thing.”

Eva rolled her eyes.

“Deal,” Andy said.  “You do know that deals with the likes of us aren’t binding?  Not on our end, anyway.”

“Yeah, I know that.”

“Just so we’re clear,” he said.  Without another word, he led the way to the back of the house.  She limped behind him, the wound Buttsack had left made worse by the walking.

Eva, for her part, headed upstairs.

Stuff cluttered everything, even here.  Andy methodically moved scattered papers to appropriate piles, moved a book or two around, and then knelt by a cabinet, where he fished out a keychain from his pocket.

Everything about his movements suggested he was the one who organized everything.

More subtly, she could conclude, objects had a kind of importance in this room.  Stuff that might have been family knick-knacks in another house took up odd positions here, sort of akin to how a museum might arrange things.  Giving objects a kind of prominence.

Odd objects.  A figurine of a bear, a frame that held a strip of cloth with an embroidered knot on it taut, a kettle, a small statue of a pig, a mannequin’s hand, a metronome…

Andy unlocked the cabinet.  A drawer slid out, heavy enough that the desk momentarily rocked when it reached its full length.  Part of the drawer had to be recessed in the wall.

Knives, swords, and something that looked like a mace or a scepter, but hollow, with holes punched through the surface.

He saw her looking.  “Censer.  When you want to hit something and you need a particular kind of smoke, both at the same time.”

Five seconds later, he had another drawer open.  Guns, many of which were old fashioned, ammo, and lead pipes.

“Take your pick,” he said.

“For real?”

“Some things I wouldn’t let you take, but that’s like, uh, that gun there, it’s the first gun I bought for myself, personal attachment.  And that sword right there is impregnated with the blood of a fox-woman.  And maybe that obsidian knife, unless you had a specific use for it, it’s sort of niche, and it’d be a pain to replace.  Just about everything else, well, if you lost it, it’s an excuse to get a replacement, or it’s less clutter.  Win win.”

She ran a finger along a length of pipe from the gun drawer.  “Sometimes all you need is a good whacking stick, huh?  I know one goblin who could stand to get hit by this thing.”

Wordless, Andy picked up the pipe from the rack.  He showed it to her.

“No freaking way.  That works?”

“Yep.”

“I’ll take it.  And I’ll take that, thank you, and, if you’re sure I’m not being greedy here-”

“No.  Just so long as you don’t come after Eva later on.”

“-Promised.  I’ll take that too.”

The highway divided the older part of the city from the new.  Only Harcourt led under it, and the north end of Harcourt was a ways from the twin’s place.

The town seemed to be fighting her more, now.  It reminded her of being in Mara’s woods.  Everything got in her way.  There were barely any people on the streets, but the woman with the two small dogs on a leash just so happened to be on the sidewalk in front of her, and even when traffic was so light kids might have played ball hockey in the middle of the street, two cars just happened to pass by just when she realized she couldn’t walk around the lady with the dogs, who were yipping and zig-zagging so violently that a disaster seemed inevitable.

The wind pushed against her.  The snowbank devoured her leg to the knee when she tried to walk over it, trapping her, doubly hard to extricate herself from when her other calf was injured.  Then the ground on the far side was frozen, covered in gravel, making it more slippery, as if she’d stepped on marbles scattered over ice.

Her sight was having a harder time seeing reality over the spirit world.  Not an intense difficulty, but enough that she noticed.

Then, topping it off, the goblins showed up.

Broad daylight meant they had to be furtive.  They moved when her head faced the other direction.  Lurked in the shadows that were available, eyes gleaming in that reflective way that animals had.

They were more secretive this time around.  Kept more of a distance, watching and waiting for an opportunity.

They gathered in greater numbers, perhaps in hopes that if another woman with a troll arrived to back her up, they could scare the troll off.

They even, she suspected, might have spread the word that the girl who’d hunted goblins was now vulnerable.  United in a common cause.

Hatred, of course.

They made a move as she reached the bridge.

Shadows, a lack of traffic…

A dozen pairs of eyes that she could see.  Some clinging to the roof of the bridge, others lurking at the sides, or in crevices.  Most were small, cowardly.

She recognized the goblin who barred her way.

“Buttsack,” she said.

“When you’re dead by my hands, I’m going to cut the skin off your face,” he growled, “and I’m going to make it a thong.  I’ll wear it so your lips are stretched tight against my butthole, and your eyes will have a close-up view of my cock, with balls bulging out one hole and schlong out the other.”

“That’s an amazing mental picture,” she said, managing to keep the tremor out of her voice.  She drew the section of pipe.

Hope this works.

Buttsack held out his shiv.  Not a knife, per se, but a piece of metal in a knife-like shape, ragged.  “We’ll make your death so bad it makes a dozen ghosts, and I’ll fuse the ghosts to my new thong so you can feel it.  So it’s just a little bit alive.  Moving, kissing my puckered brown ass all day long.”

She slapped the pipe against her palm.

Then she pointed it at him, walking toward him.

He cackled.

The one pipe was actually two pieces of pipe, one smaller pipe sliding into the other with a healthy amount of WD-40.

The smaller pipe, in turn, had a shotgun shell stuck in the end.

The big one had a blasting cap welded to the end.

She slammed the small pipe against the big one.

It fired.  Butsack went down, one side of his face and his shoulder a bloody mess.

Not quite dead.

The smallest goblins scattered.

The big ones-

They weren’t moving.

If they did move, she could probably make a run for it, but it wouldn’t be fun.

When she drew the stiletto, it was partially for their benefit.  Because seeing her draw a weapon in front of their wounded pseudo-leader would hold their interest, keeping them watching rather than participating.

She moved Buttsack’s hands, fighting him as he moved weakly.  One hand over the other.

She stabbed both at once with the stiletto.

The goblins lurking at the dark corners of the bridge watched in silence as she dragged Buttsack into Johannes’ realm.

Into twisted, narrow streets.

What little she could make out of the real world was quick to fade.

This was another realm entirely.

She thought, but wasn’t sure, that she could hear screaming.

A child ran by, with rat ears and a long rat’s tail.

An ogre, ten feet tall and built like a cartoon caricature of a high school bully turned real, lumbered into view.  Fat, broad in the shoulder.

She didn’t flinch, didn’t show fear.

“I’m a practitioner,” she said.  “You can’t touch me.  Johannes’ rules.”

When the ogre spoke, it was with a British-ish accent.  “Not for long, little girl.”

She set her jaw and continued forward, moving more easily, even with her limp and bleeding burden.

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187 thoughts on “Signature 8.5

    1. Typo thread.

      Typos:
      – “She left the kids with that tidbit of wisdom, she headed to the house they’d pointed to.” -> “and headed” or “then headed”
      – “straight-up fight with any practitioner or other” -> “or Other”
      – “flush against with the door”
      – “An lack of a name” -> “A lack”
      – “if you had any” the” -> missing comma before the quotation mark
      – “Win win.” -> “Win-win.”

      And two unclear things:
      – “They said someone came in and didn’t come out. I needed to bribe them to get them to go inside.” -> I had to read that sentence several times to realize that by “go inside”, Andy meant “go inside their homes”, rather than “go in side my home”.
      – Buttsack’s shiv is made of (albeit ragged) metal, against which goblins are supposed to be weak. Intentional? Seems weird.

      1. ” Buttsack’s shiv is made of (albeit ragged) metal, against which goblins are supposed to be weak. Intentional? Seems weird.”
        Goblins are only weak to metal if it’s elementally charged. The can work with regular metal just fine.

      2. Eva shut up right as the lock clicked.
        this makes it sound like Eva coincidentally shot up just as the lock clicked; to indicate reaction it would be better as “Eva shot upright as the lock clicked.”

        “I gave it to the lookout kids to share.”
        this is hard to follow – I spend time untangling it from the next exchange – “I gave yours to the lookout kids to share.” makes things clearer

        Andy… then knelt by a cabinet
        Andy unlocked the cabinet.
        A drawer slid out, heavy enough that the desk momentarily rocked
        a cabinet becomes a desk

        1. Eva shut up right as the lock clicked.

          I think that meant that she stopped talking when the lock clicked. (And then resumed in the next paragraph.)

    1. Not that I mind seeing less of her, but it doesn’t really grate on my nerves. Unpleasant characters don’t make a story unpleasant, unless they’re given too central or (attempted) sympathetic roles.

  1. So Eva’s cool. Every story needs a young twenty something psychotic gun bunny.

    I wonder if Molly’s ghost has the authority to grant Scarf access to the house. Maybe she’s ensouled like Evan.

    You know, it might make sense for Scarf to release goblins with conditions, notably to give her power on a regular via blood. (Much like Blake did for Rose). It would forge a connection, AND it would give her power.

    She should chop off Buttsacks hands and name him forsworn.

    1. An ensouled ghost doesn’t count as living, so no to the property. There’s no telling if she would get power from their blood or if it wouldn’t contaminate her somehow. Goblins are usually brutes with a bit of knowledge, not much going for blood, but taking his ears off would be a good start. And she can’t foreswear him unless he breaks an oath.

    2. I don’t know, usually when you’ve got something like Eva it’s played for laughs or portrayed as cool. Eva feels like a psychopath, and like her inability to handle her psychopathy has ruined her relationship with her only surviving family and made her unable to function in normal human society. It’s more realistic, but it feels more sad to me than cool.

          1. She reminds me of Shadow Stalker. I was not particurly fond of Shadow Stalker. And you’d think that by now Eva would realize there are quite a few things that could make her afterlife… Unpleasent, if they kill her.

            1. If nothing else, Eva seems more directed and less likely to hold grudges. Although Shadow Stalker showed more common sense, so overall it’s kinda a toss-up.

      1. I’m left wondering if it’s an act. Eva might be pretty gung-ho on a show of violence, but it complements her brother’s style so well as to make me suspicious. Especially when you throw in his observation about how she continues to threaten people she -doesn’t- intend to finish off. If she was really psychotic she would fully intend it and then let her brother talk her out of it.

        1. She’s not really, clinically psychotic, but she acts close enough to use the term.

          I’ll grant that it comes off as a good cop/bad cop thing, but it doesn’t seem right. They would have needed to set it up perfectly, time things perfectly, for such a plan to work; I’m willing to believe coincidence more than Contessan planning.

        2. I’m not sure I buy her posturing either. She seemingly came close to the brink of shooting Scarfy with no follow through too many times. I don’t doubt her mental illness, but I do doubt her body count, especially if what she has has compulsive liar as a symptom.

          I don’t trust Andy. I think he might be the one with the act. Letting Eva act out while he plays the nice guy to draw the prey’s attention away from him. If it turned out that he was the one with the body count it wouldn’t surprise me.

    3. She should chop off Buttsacks hands and name him forsworn.

      Oooor just give him a second dose of buckshot. That would work too.

      1. You can’t name someone forsworn if they’re dead, though…

        Also, I’m not sure how much more ammo she has. Hopefully a few more. I’d like to see her show one to Padriac (which, given that it’s man-made, is probably not even going to be lethal to him)

        1. Depends on what’s in the shotgun shell. A quarter handful of rusty, used roofing nails being propelled by a gunpowder explosion? That’s a corrupted, used and discarded element being propelled by barely-controlled chaos. Using concentric pipes as a shotgun is even cruder. Shotguns with scrap loads are probably about the best possible thing to use on Faerie Others. Another possibility might be salt-loaded shotgun shells. Up close they are still brutal.

          The concentric pipe shotgun is simply brilliant for a goblin queen weapon. I can see why Scarf Girl would use it. It’s pretty much the crudest possible firearm that is actually sturdy enough to be used at least several times if she’s using schedule 80 or better inner pipe to channel the blast. Schedule 40 would probably burst after very few rounds, maybe even on the first round.

          1. How would Maggie get her hands on the gunpowder needed to do that? Do Canadian Wal-Mart stores stock raw gunpowder next to the guns and ammunition?

            I know you can buy it, but I’m pretty sure that Maggie isn’t enough of a firearms enthusiast to know where.

            1. First, don’t try this at home. Seriously.

              You can YouTube all sorts of shotgun loading stuff, and quite a few of them are interesting and informative but if you modify loads on shells in real life, you better damn well know what you are doing.

              Canadians hunt ducks, geese, probably other birds too. Getting shotgun shells of any size would probably be a matter of walking into any department store or gas station with a sign out front that says they sell hunting licenses.

              Buy new shells. They have gunpowder in them already.
              Buy a few candles if you don’t have any.
              Buy a razor if you don’t have a good sharp knife or razor.
              Collect rusty metal bits.

              Use razor around top edge of shells.
              Empty out the steel pellets.

              Now:
              Load empty shell with rusty metal bits mixed with salt and crushed holly.
              Put a napkin over the top of the load.
              Pour wax over the napkin in a fairly thick layer, to hold the stuff inside.

              You could come up with all sorts of really useful shotgun loads that could be made crudely. Garlic oil? Silver dust? Dirt from a grave?

              I could see Scarf Girl really pulling out some nastiness on Others with a shotgun.

            2. Getting shotgun shells of any size would probably be a matter of walking into any department store or gas station with a sign out front that says they sell hunting licenses.

              Well, no. You have to go to a ServiceOntario centre to get a hunting license, and those don’t sell ammo. Neither do gas stations.

              The good news is you don’t even need to do that. If there’s a Canadian Tire anywhere nearby (which there might not be in Jacob’s Bell) and I think you can just get shells right off the counter.

              Anyway, is there any reason why she can’t just use the regular shell rather than going through the whole rigamole? I know the rusty shit will hurt certain others more, but a shotgun blast to the face is a shotgun blast to the face.

            3. While tautologically true, not all faces are equal. Sometimes, the depleted phlebotinum shells are needed (or else extremely helpful).

            4. I think this entire argument boils down to how far north Jacob’s Bell is 😛

              Though I do recognize that you can home-brew your own explosives, Scarf doesn’t strike me as a gun or demolitions expert. Unless her parents are very different from the health nuts I know xD

              If I were in her place, I’d have grabbed maybe half a dozen spare shotgun rounds from Andy. Again, though, that assumes that he was willing to spare them. Honestly, though, the willingness Andy was showing to help Scarf out surprised me. I really, really hope he was playing it straight. I’ve gotten the feeling that Andy’s more of a Chess Master in the way he works and that makes me a bit nervous.

            5. The Practitioner Formerly Known as Maggie feels the same way about Andy, but I’m pretty sure he’s playing it straight. If he wanted to screw Maggie over, he could have let Eva kill her (like she said, no one would care) or simply let her go free without any aid (between the goblins and the namelessness, something would get her soon).
              If Andy’s planning something, that something requires the Practitioner Formerly Known as Maggie to be alive. Considering that dying or worse is a serious possibility for her, I’d say that their goals are similar.
              (Or Andy’s trying to build up karma.)

              Fun fact: As I was typing this post, I actually had trouble remembering her name. That’s amusing.

            6. I think Andy probably was laying it straight. She told him she was a screwed over Goblin Queen who wanted a few weapons to fight goblins. Arming her in the hopes that she’d take out a few of the bastards seems extremely cost-effective from his perspective. Enemy of my enemy and all that, even if you go with the “cannon fodder” finish.

            7. Besides what farmerbob said, I think you can just pour some crap down the barrel, and the shot from a normal cartridge will also propel it high speed.

              It’s probably damaging to the barrel, can cause it to blow up if you pour too much of the wrong thing, and greatly reduces the muzzle velocity and accuracy. But if the pipe is strong enough, you’re careful with it, and use it at point blank range, I bet you could make a faerie’s day very unpleasant.

              The inner pipe is probably easily replaceable, so the barrel damage is not a big deal, as long as it doesn’t blow up. You can also whack the faerie up the head with it afterwards.

            8. At the point that you’re emptying out a cartridge and risking your improvised weapon exploding, I’d propose that you’re better off just using the cartridge.

    4. I think because he made it a conditional: “When you’re dead by my hands…” She can’t name him forsworn. It’s something he said he’d do IF she died by his hands rather than just something he would do.

      1. She might be able to name him over the whole “I’ll kill you part” if she died to something else.

        Wait a second…

  2. More crazy? I thought we were all full up.

    I find the Hansel and Gretel references ominous in relation to Andy and Eva. It seems to me like something Otherish happened to them to make them this way.

    Also, last few lines scare me. Is Johannes gearing up to make a play and change the rules for his territory? Are others going to go out and sack Jacobs Bell like they did to Maggie’s old town? If so my newfound fascination with purging the Others with bolter and chainsword might actually be a good idea.

    Also, I’m going to go ahead and assume that British-ish means Scouse.

        1. I was with the won’t count as a practicioner for long school of thought. So if Johannes doesn’t help her, or at least give her safe passage out, Scarf Girl won’t be leaving.

          Of course the question is what kind of help would Johannes offer, and at what price.

          1. Or if Johannes is gonna kill her straight up. Dead practitioner ain’t no practitioner. The help, I think would be power – raw power – to fill up the crack in her being. Something she can use and define herself by, without it sticking as a name, precisely. For example, if he can give her a name that’s also a vestige (or even a vestige of her former name), then it might collapse after taking too many hits or just consume itself once it runs out of power, leaving a space she can fill with her reclaimed name. Weaponry of the sort more tailor-made and arcane than the junk Andy and Eva collect might be in the making too. She might even simply ask for asylum from the forces hunting her, in exchange for a ridiculous, but theoretically payable, debt – It’s not like the guy can’t afford to be ‘generous’ now and again. Especially when it can feed karma back to him.

            1. At this point we really don’t know much about Johannes. He seems ambitious, and possibly not to ethical. Then again considering what passes for practicioner ethics, that could mean anything. Sandra seemed to imply that Johannes could help Scarf Girl, and that he would. She also stated that most of those who could help Scarf Girl would know that they shouldn’t. So what do we make of that? Only thing that’s clear is that Johannes is not on the same page as the Behaims and Duchamps.

    1. iirc, Johannes’s territory is filled with people vestiges for the Others to do as they want with. If Scarf unravels too much and falls through the cracks far enough, would she be that different from a vestige? I think the ogre’s line was a comment on her current state.

    2. More crazy? I thought we were all full up.”

      That made me laugh. And led to thoughts:

      (dark humor) It’s not a real crazy salad until we get all kinds of crazy all mixed together. Eva is the bold spicy accent to the salad bowl of crazy that is Jacob’s Bell.

      Serious practitioners probably have a hard time dealing with crazy mortals or pathological liars. Practitioners are used to dealing with things that have to tell the truth, even if it is a misdirected, partial, twisted wording truth. It is probably a major mental shift to then deal with beings who can say whatever the hell they want.

      Practitioners have a limited ability to go crazy compared to non-practitioners. Any practitioner crazy enough to actually lie, whether they believe the lie or not, will go down quickly. Pathological lying comes to mind immediately, but there are other conditions that lead to the person not being able to distinguish truth from fiction well, and those would drag down a practitioner quickly. Mild paranoia might be an initial advantage, but given the crap that seems to happen, mild paranoia would turn into a severe case very, very quickly due to continual reinforcement of the belief.

  3. Andy, Maggie, and Blake and/or Rose should start a club called “Our lives suck because of circumstances beyond our control and we’re fucking stuck in Jacob’s Bell of all fucking places, fuck.”

        1. Plus Maggie can’t/isn’t allowed to swear, so joining a club with profanity in the title sounds like a bad idea.

  4. Well, that was…depressing. Eva is a damn psycho. And her brother is scary in how he just lives with it all. Is there anyone in this story who isn’t messed up in some way?
    Wow, way to be ominous. She’s not going to be a practitioner for long? Or are Johannes’s rules changing?
    Ugh, I just realized that when “Maggie” was hitting on Whatshisface outside the factory, it was Padraic. That is just creepy.

    1. “Is there anyone in this story who isn’t messed up in some way?”

      Clearly you are not familiar with this author.

      1. Honestly, Pact is even darker than Worm. I mean, we’re like halfway through, and the main character just fucking died.
        And of course, someone has to have mentioned that if Taylor lived in the Pactverse, she would have kicked karma’s ass in two weeks. Not to mention, the thought of Taylor leading a mass exodus of demons from Hell is not at all far-fetched.
        Fuck, this fanfic better have happened.

        1. Closer to a third of the way through, if it goes as long as Worm did.

          I’m not so sure. Taylor did a lot of “for the greater good” stuff, and karma doesn’t look at the consequences. Besides, something tells me that Ur– would take more than spider silk and pepper bugs to take down. Even imps are problematic. Take Pauz; I’m not sure if it would be worse for it to screw with Taylor’s connection to her bugs, or her connection to ure cnffratre, but even without that…something tells me that bugs are better at killing rats than bears or deer.

          1. Taylor would make diagrams out of spider silk. She’d go talk to an Other and before they can blink, they’re bound. Caught in her web, so to speak. Also, bears and deer would drop easily to a coordinated swarm of wasps.

            Taylor would be screwed on the Karma front, though. The spirits would definitely not appreciate her ‘doing the wrong things for the right reasons’ brand of morality. Then again, Taylor would probably end her story by killing the spirits who enforce these rules. (I’m holding out hope that Pact ends on a similar note, but I feel like it’s a smaller scale story that isn’t going to escalate to that level.)

            1. Something tells me that the Others wouldn’t fall for that more than once. Especially since all it takes to screw that one up is a bit of fire placed carefully or a stiff breeze placed indiscriminately. In fact, I’m having trouble imagining a diagram made out of spider silk remaining properly geometric in anything other than perfectly still air.
              Given enough time or animals that were acting naturally, yes. Pauz would take those away.

              I don’t see how or why Taylor would kill the spirits, and I shudder to think of the repercussions that would have on reality…

            2. Important to remember there’s basically two types of spidersilk: sticky and not. Spiders put dots of glue onto their spiderwebs so they can walk around them, but Taylor’s spiders have no such need. Webs made entirely out of the gluey, sticky spidersilk aren’t going anywhere (she uses these against a certain supervillain who shall go unnamed, because I am too lazy to use rot13).

      2. There are several well adjusted, non-messed up people. For example those kids that Maggie talked to. Blake’s (mundane) lawyer. The chief of Toronto’s police. I’m sure there are at least several others.

        1. Who are all very minor, unimportant characters in the story. It’s like that one priest who says they should love mutants as their fellow children of god on a tv on one panel of an issue of X-Men where every other normal human is trying to kill all mutants.

    2. Fae don’t really mind traditional gender restrictions. Blake caught Paddy’s eyes early on, so why not make a move on him ?
      Not like it went anywhere, really.

      1. It actually isn’t about that. Imagine someone hitting on you, except instead of the person you think they are, they’re someone else—and a centuries-old entity at that, one who undoubtedly has some plans to use you for its amusement.
        Creepy as hell.

    3. “Ugh, I just realized that when “Maggie” was hitting on Whatshisface outside the factory, it was Padraic. That is just creepy.”

      Yes a real nice way to twist my favorate pairing in the story into something horrible. See this sort of thing I why I don’t ship characters anymore.

      1. Here, here. There are few things that can ruin a shipper’s interest in a character pairing, and one of them is when it gets so twisted by something like this…

        Actually, considering how Worm went, it’s safe to say shipping is just going to end up making you miserable.

        1. I still go for crack pairings on the logic that wildbow can’t take aim at all of them. I mean, what are the odds we see some line later on calculated to make BlakexAndy or RosexEssylt or JohannesxThe Drunk fans cry?

        2. Don’t worry, I’m not getting too attached. But in general I have horrible luck with ships I really care about being sunk. Started back in Neon Genesis Evangelion when I was an ardent Shinji/Rei Shipper. Even the ships that seem safe get to be sunk. Like Spider-Man/MJ (though that may not be permanent) and the one ship I actually cared about in Avatar the last Airbender looking like it might be getting sunk in the comics. Shipping only brings me pain and dissappointment now.

    4. Blake and Maggie’s “moment” outside the factory was the first thing I thought of when we got the reveal.

  5. Interesting that Scarf considers Andy the Moe dangerous of the two. That’s quite a different interpretation as compared to Whatshisface’s encounter.

    Does Johannes have a rule about not harming practitioners? Perhaps the rule is not to harm humans. As long as their still practitioners, they are human enough to be safe. If they go enough to the other side (or were never human to begin with, like vestiges) they b/are Other.

    I don’t think Scarf’s gonna make it. She will probably need to sacrifice her humanity and replace what she’s lost. perhaps Rose will summon her in the future.

    Odd objects. A figurine of a bear, a frame that held a strip of cloth with an embroidered knot on it taut, a kettle, a small statue of a pig, a mannequin’s hand, a metronome…

    What could these be, I wonder? Iirc Blake knocked over the metronome when the heirdom heirship responsibility of being the heir passed to him.

    1. Think of it this way: Which is more dangerous the vicious dog on a leash, or the owner of said dog that can take the leash off? Eve is the vicious dog, Andy holds her leash.

      1. He doesn’t hold the leash. He let’s the attack dog maul you while sitting a quarter of a mile away and sniping your back up before you get your throat torn out. He’s the one who lurks in the shadows, slits your throat, and vanishes into the night with nary a sound.

    2. The frame with the cloth on it was a reminder of Andy’s short time spent in Scouts Canada, or BSA, or wherever he turns out to be from.

    3. a small statue of a pig
      Andy has medium awareness and worships Wildbow, ancient god of dedicated work and tears.

    4. Why does Scarf Girl fear Andy more than Eva? Seems fairly simple to me. She sees Andy as more Other-ish, and Eva more goblin-ish.

      Goblins might wound or kill her, an Other has made a bid to steal her Self.

      Scarf Girl understands Eva more than she understands Andy. At least on some level.

      1. To expand on that, Eva might do anything at any moment. This makes her unpredictable and dangerous, but it is easy to deal with her. Don’t piss her off and keep your distance. Andy, on the other hand, strategizes. He makes plans and traps about which you don’t know.

    5. Given that Blake knocked over the metronome, I assume that Andy uses it as a sort of mystical barometer. As a precise physical instrument, it is probably hypersensitive to anything that messes with the physical laws of the universe (I’m assuming technology/magic rules similar to those in the fantastic game Arcanum, if you’ve ever played). It seems like it would be especially sensitive to time magic, which is a boon in a town with Behaims in it.

    6. Andy is nice enough, and Eva is violent, but if you angered Andy enough, you’re in deeper doo-doo.

      Let’s go for a Worm metaphor. Bitch is violent, Skitter is nice. Bitch can have monstrous dogs tear you to shreds, Skitter has bugs. Who’s scarier?

          1. I don’t think you’ll find a simple one-word phrase that clearly delineates what you mean, at least among those two characters. They both cover large areas of the relevant concepts, and people will have different perceptions of what each word covers.

            In this example, one may (justly) consider Skitter more dangerous, in the sense that she can harm you more before killing you, and can figure out more ways of killing more varied targets.

            But one may also consider Bitch more dangerous, in the sense she has more unpredictably violent inclinations, and might hurt or kill you with less provocation.

            Now, “Who’s got more ability to inflict terrible, horrible damage when she puts her mind to it? — Duh! Skitter, of course.” 🙂

            1. One is brutally cunnin’ the other is cunnin’ly brutal. Atleast with the latter you can tell when she’s about to hit you, y’know?

            2. I’m not sure if I could tell in advance, but at least I could tell that I should assume “always” 🙂

    7. What I took away from it was protections. Possibly given to them by a practitioner, possibly just useful as a muggle even without mystical empowerment. Figure of a bear: Some form of protection from the Briar Girl, Cloth with knot: Duchamps, Kettle: ?, statue of pig: Thorburns (The Barber specifically), Mannequin’s hand: ? (I’m guess Johannes, but who knows), Metronome: Behaims.

  6. Well, this chapter bodes badly for Scarf. She got aid from Andy and Eva, but it almost got her killed by a trigger-happy Eva in doing so. Her connections are fraying to the point the world seems to actively be trying to harm her (not kill…yet), and now she’s wandering into the mysterious Johannes realm. I’m honestly curious as to what it will be like there, as we only know the rumors about Johannes at present – namely he’s scary, has an really big demesne and is potentially gearing up to take over the town.

    1. I believe the world actively trying to harm her was goblin business. That seems to be how they operate, and she spotted them soon after.

    1. Plus it’s kind of sweet how he’s looking after his sister and all.

      Unless there’s some horrible ulterior motive. I mean, there’s definitely some horrible ulterior motive, but the sliding scale is going to range from Tragic to Oh-So-Dark. And Wildbow could go either way D:

        1. I could come up with half a dozen different ways. I’m confident Wildbow could more than match me, and his would likely be even more painful or creepy than mine. Any likely less obvious up to the point where they jumped out and bit you on the ankle.

        2. Between this and Worm, you’d be a fool to think Wildbow couldn’t manage that. I mean, I had nightmares about that dog from when Pauz was introduced D:

          Notably, we know that:
          1) Eva is mentally deranged enough to have lost the value of human life (or is acting the part). What caused this?
          2) Andy cares for her enough to back her up and give stuff to Scarf in the most heartfelt way I’ve seen in Pact so far. Everything else seems cold and calculating, but this seemed to be purely to protect his sister (unless that weapon is trapped). What caused him so much devotion?
          3) Andy regularly has to deal with this shit. He has to watch out for her, keep her in line, back her up in case she gets in over her head, etc. It almost reminds me of the book “Of Mice and Men” that I had to read when I was in high school. I hope the ending is better for them )’:

    2. Andy’s a good kid, and he seems to have the right mindset, even if his physical abilities are poor. If it wasn’t for his psycho sister, he could go far.

  7. Comments:
    – Maggie’s scene with the kids was cute. The occasional lighter scene also helps the dark scenes stand out more.
    – Wow, goblins really are insanely nasty. Though I’d presume the ease with which they make such graphic threats (that is, oaths) bites them when they fail to carry them out.
    – Considering that the goblins didn’t mention they’d harmed Scarf’s dads, her protections apparently still hold.
    – Eva’s psychopathy is creepy, but wow does she seems wholly unsuited for the scheming practitioner world. This is one character I absolutely expect to get a bad ending in the remaining run of Pact.
    – Maggie may have no choice but to enter Johannes’ place, but this scene really reminds me of Whatshisface and the Imp’s domain. Leaving either wasn’t/won’t be easy.

    1. I’m pretty sure random claims don’t count as oaths – it seems like you have to say “I swear” or similar to give it the extra oomph. Not that they should be happy to suffer even the ordinary penalty for lying, but it’s not clear whether a mistaken projection of the future counts as a lie.

      1. They certainly don’t if you say “I can…” After all, lies from ignorance would swiftly make every Practitioner on Earth forsworn (and give an easy way to, for instance, solve crimes–e.g, have an intern say “Professor Plum killed him in the ballroom with the candlestick” and see if he’s forsworn).

    2. -I don’t think goblins think things through very well…

      -I’d say that Eva is far from alone. However, she’s one of the relatively few characters who deserves a horrible end and who is incompetent enough to get one sooner rather than later.

      1. She’s not incompetent or she wouldn’t be alive. Her approach was… well, rational when you see what type of crap is going on in that city. She didn’t put the crossbow bolt through a limb. She’s trigger-happy, but we haven’t seen anything to warrant her death being deserved.

        1. She also has an obvious and likely undiagnosed mental illness. Which means A. How dangerous she actually is might be distorted by lies and/or delusions, and B. It’s kinda questionable to say she deserves to die, we have the insanity defence for a reason.

          I think declaring that any character deserves to die is a bad idea anyway. Because you’re just asking for Wildbow to burst your righteous indignation bubble with an interlude.

          1. Although there were a few that made me hate the characters more… In some cases they just taught us that the character was a tool with an inflated opinion of themselves.

          2. More importantly, she’s not a practitioner. That means that she’s not able to cause something Wrong enough to warrant killing her regardless of her mental instability. For example, imagine how bad it would be if she could shout out Ornias seven times D:

          3. What on earth makes you think that Eva has a mental illness? We’ve seen her three, four times total? The girl has issues, yeah, but pegging her actions on a mental illness seems premature at this point. Wildbow characters have proven that they’re well capable of being f’ed up without being mentally ill.

            1. I’d argue that the behavior defines the mental illness. Anyone who’s that trigger happy is mentally ill by definition. I mean, her main reason for trying to kill Scarf was “because nobody will miss you”. Something has gone wrong with you if that’s good enough D:

              The only out that I can see is if she’s faking it.

            2. “Mental illness” is probably the kindest diagnosis. Other possibilities include sadism and some sort of possession.

        2. I’d guess that a certain amount of her still-aliveness has to do with a certain counterweight to her mental illness or what-have-you.

      2. Eva hunts on a regular basis, but we haven’t heard of many people mysteriously dying in Jacob’s Bell. And Andy implied they would need the Council covering their tracks to murder a person.

        So it sounds an awful like lot Eva kills Others on those hunts. How many nice Others have we met? One? Evan the ghost boy with a real soul!

        1. First off, you’re assuming that they limit their activities to Jacob’s Bell. Second off, if we’re to believe Eva’s own words, she likes killing witches (and, presumably, guys too. Or maybe she’s being archaic enough that the word “witch” doesn’t imply “female”). Overall, it seems likely that she does, in fact, enjoy killing Practitioners and does so at least on occasion. That’s rather disturbing.

          But let’s assume that she does, in fact, only hunt Others. Aside from demons (who are thankfully rare) and goblins (who, by their presence, prove that they’re about as easy to find as an infestation of cockroaches or rats), how many Others actually deserve to die? Does not being 100% nice to Blake mean that the Other has to die? More Others than not that we’ve seen (disregarding the obvious ones mentioned above) are not shoot-on-sight people, even if they’re not model citizens either…and the ones that are are usually powerful enough that Eva would need to be even stupider than she looks to go after them (example: Many, if not all, of Padriac’s group).

          1. Let’s see who should die:
            Isadora-seriously she eats people.
            Padriac and co.-he, just for kicks, risked Scarf being ground into the elements.
            Conquest
            Everything that Rose summoned.
            The Faceless Woman.
            Ghosts might not (all) be too terrible, but I suspect helping them resolve their issues would be good for the world. Maybe even salting them would be for the best.
            Some of the Drunk’s company, if not all.
            The Eye of the Storm. The Ogre Scarf just met.
            The some Others working for evil practitioners. (The Duchamps’ and Behaims’ and Briar Girl’s ones in particular specifically.)
            I can think of only a handful of Others we’ve seen in more than a very brief passing that don’t need a killing. Elemental Spirits don’t seem naturally bad. Ghosts are generally harmless we’ve been told.

            Even a lot of practitioners are either unrepentant killers of innocent, attempted to do so, or help them. The Behaims, The Duchamps, Briar Girl, and Mara all seem to fall firmly into the team evil camp. FFS, one of the Behaim boys tried to use his magic to get the girl. Magic ruffies hardly even register on the dickish things practitioners pull by this point.

            Eva could only go after certified bad guys and never run out of targets.

            I also think that assuming Padriac or similar would be “too powerful to mess with” is an overstatement. Blake beat up a fae with a rusty pipe. I’m sure an ambush by Eva would be vastly more effective.

            1. Isadora eats people. Taylor oyvaqrq fbzrbar jvgu znttbgf, xvyyrq nabgure ol fghssvat ohtf qbja ure guebng, chavfurq haqreyvatf jvgu ohyyrg nagf…gur yvfg tbrf ba. That’s not getting into what happened in the last arc, which I’d dare say is a bit worse than eating a few people all on its own. Znff zvaq pbageby, sbepvat gurz vagb onggyr ntnvafg gurve jvyy, xabjvat gung gurl jvyy qvr fjvsgyl…or just killing a few people?
              Does she deserve to die?
              Ghosts barely count, and (wraiths excepted) they don’t really do anything. They and the Eye aren’t particularly sentient, either, but they also aren’t malevolent (the Eye probably wouldn’t have been much of an issue if it wasn’t following Conquest’s orders).
              I’m not sure why you’re condemning the Drunk’s followers as a whole. Are some jerks? Aye. Is this enough to condemn all of them? No. Is it enough to condemn all Others? Heck no.
              Said ogre didn’t strike me as being malicious so much as stating a fact; “before too long you won’t be anything anymore.” We don’t have enough evidence to say anything about him; for all we know, he could have felt sorry for her and wanted to help. (Unlikely? Yes. Plausible enough that he’s not going to be proving any points about Others being universally cruel? Also yes.)

              Padriac and his band of merry exiled fae (which includes the Faceless Woman), Conquest, and Rose’s summons? Sure, I’ll give you them. Are you seriously going to say that these are representative of the whole Other community? Rose was IIRC looking for such being specifically because they weren’t going to be summoned by others or something to that extent (and I think she’s a bit unhinged, perhaps inheriting the diabolist in her namesake). The others…well…I’m pretty sure that Blake wouldn’t have even met them if they weren’t dicks, so that’s a bit of a biased sample.
              This gets into another important point–the only reason it looks like the magical world is full of sadists and cruel people is because people who come to Blake are almost always the ones who want to do him harm. Drawing any conclusions from this sample is perhaps a bit brash, especially since the kindness of Others and Practitioners tends to go up as Blake seeks them rather than the other way around (e.g, the Astrologer), or when someone else who isn’t universally reviled is involved (Sandra…well, I guess the Practitioner Formerly Known as Maggie isn’t much more-liked, but still).

              As for your claims about the Practitioners…well…first off, it bugs me that you’re calling them “certified bad guys”. There is no such thing, especially not in wildbow stories. Save a few outliers like the S9, people tend to have good and bad traits. Which makes more sense to assume–that we haven’t seen the good traits because they’re too busy trying to off the protagonist before he gets into demon summoning, or that they are all card-carrying villains who definitely deserve to die?

              What makes you think that Blake beating a random fae in a straight fight, with advice from a Lawyer and an implied knack for glamour, would mean that Padriac would be easy to beat, especially since he’s evidently very good at dealing with things indirectly? This isn’t an RPG; Fae don’t always have 20 HP and deal 3 damage per hit, they come in a variety of power levels (Padriac apparently leading his band suggests that he isn’t among the weaklings), and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a straight fight from them.

            2. “that we haven’t seen the good traits because they’re too busy trying to off the protagonist before he gets into demon summoning,”

              Well, I think being willing to risk their lives to stop what they think is an evil diabolist is a pretty good trait. The Behaim kids are brave, I’ll give them that. Though it would be more impressive if they had an actual target.

              Though yeah, presuming that these people and others are rotten through and through just because they went for the protagonist’s throat is silly, especially considering who’s writing this.

              Frankly, assuming things are so cartoonishly clear cut even does a bit of a disservice to Wildbow’s abilities as a writer

  8. I dunno to what extent overly-optimistic projections of the future count as lies, but Buttsack’s claim that he’ll torture Scarf-her-face hard enough to make a dozen ghosts seems perhaps oversold.

    Has anybody ever eaten a penalty for making claims about the future that didn’t come to pass? I know Fell’s ancestor got owned, but that was an actual oath rather than just a statement, and anyway we never heard the exact wording. I’m still trying to figure out the exact boundaries of the prohibition against lies.

    1. I don’t have the time to look them up right now, but a few instances where these things were at least mentioned are:
      – Ms. Lewis in arc 2 saying she would have violated the spirit of one oath to keep the letter of another, to keep Blake safe; someone could check whether her oaths included words like “I swear”
      – Blake almost being named foresworn for killing Laird
      – Blake making a promise/oath/whatever to the Behaim/Duchamp girl in arc 3 while being glamoured up. He worried about this later, and would he really worry about a mere promise?
      – What was Blake’s precise wording to Isadora about not giving his cabal access to the books on diabolism?
      – How was Evan’s promise/oath to move on after Blake’s death worded?
      (Plus a gazillion other instances I can’t recall right now.)

    2. I don’t think there are any boundaries on the prohibition against lies. To my knowledge, no character has outright lied yet and not been punished for it, except Evan and he doesn’t remember making the deal, plus the particulars of /who/ would die in order for him to move on probably got transferred over to Rose.(she dies, he moves on).
      So long as it’s still possible for someone to fulfill their promises/statements/whatever, they haven’t lied yet. In Buttsack’s case, he’s still able to fulfill the terms of his oaths so long as they’re both alive. He can lose his physical hands, but other goblins could still act at his prompting, being his metaphorical ‘hands’. Only cases in which he could 100% be forsworn is if Maggie dies in a way completely unrelated to anything he set up, or he kills her and she doesn’t spawn any ghost (which could be theoretically cut up into a dozen). In theory they could even “make [her] death so bad it makes a dozen ghosts” by making her death involve the deaths of over a dozen other people. Dozen ghosts made, done.

      In short, doesn’t matter if you’re joking or being hyperbolic or aren’t dramatic in the slightest; if you say “I will…” or similar, without hedging it somehow, you better f’n do it. You can do it in the realm of ‘eventually’, though, unless you put a timestamp on it, and you can follow through in ways other than expected.

      From what I can see, saying things like “I swear” just gives you more power, and makes the spirits quicker to punish if you fail to follow through.

      1. Actually the Lawyer driver that Blake got the book from noted that Blake shouldn’t wait too long to read the book because of how an unfulfilled promise would be annoying hanging over his head.

    3. Somehow, I don’t think Buttsack is bright enough to realize that he can’t do what he said he’d do.

      Or maybe he’s done stuff like that before. Or maybe goblins “a bunch” when they say “a dozen”. Or maybe he just doesn’t care (see: not bright).

      1. And technically speaking, can you forswear an Other?

        Humans are the ones who have protections in place as long as they aren’t forsworn, but we don’t know what protections are lost by being forsworn in the first place. If its something like spirits no longer listen to you, thus denying you shamanism, or what else, it hasn’t been made clear.

  9. My thoughts before I go snore. At five in the morning.

    Who is the faceless woman mentioned? No one has commented on that and I don’t remember her.

    I like how we are seeing a smart Maggie. I used to think of her as a rebel kid without much in the brains department.

    Yay for anthropomorphic animal Others like the fox woman (yay foxes) or rat kid x3

    How many Others are there in Jacob’s Bell? A few thousands? Not including things like spirits. There doesn’t seem to be that many goblins around, maybe a few hundred. And, how common are others far from human populations?

    1. The faceless woman taunted whatshisface early on by setting up a scene where she spiked the pizza delivery dude’s head on the fence and then started twisting his flesh. She also appeared at the first and only town meeting he went to.

    2. For that matter, how many people are there in Jacob’s Bell? The description of only having a few major streets makes me think it’s pretty puny, smaller than my hometown for certain, but I’m pretty sure you could walk from one side of my hometown to the other with twenty minutes.

      1. The town next to where I live is situated in sort of an L shape that follows one main road, with three more intersecting it in the beginning, middle, and end of the town. Only that middle one is really a main road in the sense mentioned above, since the third is an interstate and the first is an Old US highway that has few sidewalks and fewer nearby residences. The two ends are about 2.5 miles apart (50min by foot) and it’s about 1 mile “wide” along the L shape (25min by foot). The town itself has close to 7,500 inhabitants.

        I imagine Jacob’s Bell is similar to this, though I imagine it as being a bit more isolated. The town itself looks rather small, but there’s a series of neighborhoods and communities set up all around the outskirts. It’s got a lot more people than you’d think.

      2. From what’s been said Jacob’s Bell is somewhere between the GTA and Ottawa, close enough to the former so that kids commute to college in the city, There’s a LOT of fucking back country that way with little blip on the map towns. But I suspect JB is a bit bigger since it can support several upper-middle class families and a high school.

        It might be somewhat similar to Caledon, Ontario. Which is one town but is really a bunch of smaller communities and high value properties scattered around a large area that amounts to about 60,000 people. There’s a lot of back roads and side streets with only access to one major road to Toronto that runs through one of the bigger small town places.

        I think Jacob’s Bell is similar to that but a lot dumpier and with Goblins and shit running around.

  10. I find Scarf Girl’s frog cooking bucket metaphor quite interesting. Seems like she’s realized that if things continue on like they are, things will only keep getting worse for humans. Jacob’s Bell just seems to have the water a little more heated up.

  11. I remember saying that Maggie must have been dealing with the goblins rather than just bullying them, because otherwise they’d turn against her.

    Well, I was half-right.

  12. Thinking by typing…

    “When people explain the magic stuff to me, I work it out in my head, and I distill it down to a simple, clear explanation. I can do it with any magic.”

    Can she attack it or not?

    He walked right across the crossbow’s line of fire to put bags down on the square stair where Eva had tossed the crossbow earlier.

    Is Andy not afraid of his sister? That makes no sense if she truly is a loose cannon, because eventually she will give in to bad impulse control. Is he making a point by doing that? That sounds more correct given the conversation that follows.

    “You pointed a gun at Thorburn, and now this?”

    So Andy does recognize just how stupid that move could have been, with the wrong type of Thorburn.

    Andy nudged past, then opened the front door, reaching around it. He fiddled for a second, then stepped back, holding a package. Rectangular, broad, and wrapped in what looked like butcher’s paper. A piece of electrical wire stuck out, apparently what he’d used to attach it to the door knocker or whatever. When he put it down on the pillar at the bottom of the stair railing, it made a faint but detectable ‘clunk’ sound. Hard.

    It sounds like he attached a freaking IED to the door. That makes sense from a survival point of view, but who is paranoid to be carrying that sort of equipment around when they go out to lunch? Or was it just some sort of improvised sheild?

    She stabbed both [hands] at once with the stiletto.

    Structural studies show that crucifixion as it is usually shown, with the nails through the hands, doesn’t work – the nails pull through. A knife would pull through faster (sharp edges). Archeological studies on crucified figures do show wrist damage. (Don’t have a cow, I got all this from well-researched historical fiction.) Not-Maggie doesn’t know this, so her actions make sense based on what she would have seen from crucified Christ images, but she is going to lose her hold on Buttsack like that.

    1. That makes sense from a survival point of view, but who is paranoid to be carrying that sort of equipment around when they go out to lunch?

      He probably had it stashed near the door, along with other goodies, not on him. Probably one of the reasons those kids were warned not to mess around the yard.

      Structural studies show that crucifixion as it is usually shown, with the nails through the hands, doesn’t work

      Maybe goblin hands are more resilient. Aren’t goblins sometimes burrowers?

      A knife would pull through faster (sharp edges).

      Stilettos usually are not sharp-edged. They’re meant for piercing rather than slashing. Scarf could have stabbed it between the bones near the wrist. (And with the edges to the sides, if this particular one has sharpened edges.)

      1. I was under the impression that she wasn’t carrying him by the knife, that the knife was just to hold his hands in place and keep him from getting mischievous. Tearing through becomes a non-issue in this case, because there’s no weight on his hands, though any attempt to get free would worsen the injuries. Pragmatic, brutal, and sends a message to the other goblins.

  13. OK, we have seen one of Andy’s former weapons used (the knife she got from Sandra). Maggie has two more. Any bets?

  14. So, any ideas of any potential fill in names for Scarf Girl? I’d like something along the lines of “Totally awesome beater up of Goblins and fairies” but that’s a little too much of a mouthful.

      1. Haggie Molt. I am laughing so hard right now. People have mentioned choosing Margaret, which I presume is what her full name is, and my only thought is “who wants to be know by Margaret?” I thought it was the worst reasonable name she could pick. You, sir, have found one that’s worse.

        Fortunately, it’s probably close enough to her real name that she wouldn’t recognize irony and others won’t think of coming up with it. Except maybe Padraic.

    1. We should call her Pearl Grove (wonders if anyone will get this).

      Anyway another good installment. I look forward to finding out more about Johannes.

      I suspect Eva is not as volatile as the image she projects. I’m not sure why.

      1. People keep saying this, but I don’t think it would work. Padriac claimed ‘Maggie Holt’, which was her primary name. Every other official name or nickname you could call her is a derivative of that name and tied to it accordingly. Everyone who tries to wrap their minds around the new state of the universe is going to logically assign those names to Padriac, not her.

        Besides, I don’t think her government name would be very helpful in stopping her decay. Every meaningful connection she has is likely tied to ‘Maggie Holt’.

        1. I think it might be possible, but it would probably count as a distinct name rather than as a way to get her old identity back, unless she occasionally went by Margaret in her day to day life. It would also probably lock her in to being called “Margaret” for the rest of her life, and that’s a fate worse than falling through the cracks imo.

          More importantly, though, I don’t think she can actually think this name up. Honestly, I think Padraic’s Glamour-ness is blocking such thoughts from her mind. Andy, Eva, and Sandra couldn’t recognize Scarf’s name, though I wonder if Andy was able to draw connections on who it was when the kids described her (“Yeah, a girl with a checkered scarf was here!”)

  15. OK, question for Wildbow and anybody who wants to take a shot at it. I’ve been considering a Pact-based RPG for a while, but the issue of Innocence put a hiatus on it (two players refused the Awakening ceremony, so I need to figure out how long they’ve got and how Others should react to them as a group). I’ve seen a few flavors now, so I wanted to figure out the gist of how things seem to work. I don’t need, nor do I expect, solid rules, but comparing the relative Innocence between Andy/Eva and Maggie’s parents has me a bit confused.

    Maggie’s parents seem like they’ve lost most of their Innocence due to the shenanigans caused when they had to flee Toronto. Witch Hunters, on the other hand, are useful for how capable they are in terms of the Innocence that protects them from Others and their ability to go after Practitioners without worry of the Rules.

    However, Eva and Andy seem like they should be deeper into the magical world than Maggie’s parents are. Andy was even able to talk with Rose a bit (assuming that was Andy). This seems like it would mean LESS Innocence and, thus, less protection. But as Witch Hunters, I thought that the Protection was one of their greatest assets. This might have been something I picked up from comments, since the ability to flaunt the rules is already a huge asset.

    1. I think the thing about Andy and Eva is that they don’t have the ability or knowledge to summon others, use the sight, create demesnes, gain power, accumulate karma and other practitioner abilities. More relevantly, they are not bound by the rules of practitioners, like not being able to lie, or having to be fair, and such. I think that is their biggest asset.They might also have some protection, I don’t know

      1. Ah, yes, I forgot about the fairness and politeness thing. The bit about it being “rude” to slit someone’s throat in their sleep.

        I’m also wondering a bit about their resistance to tricks; Innocent are very susceptible to distractions and illusions. Plus they can’t even hear bloodsparrows talking. I presume, given Andy’s reaction before Whatshisface’s banishment, that enough exposure leaves you completely open to them. I think it was hypothesized that he had a relic of some sort, but that might not be necessary.

        Still, how do they get by without the Sight? Or is that Step 1 in being a successful Witch Hunter?

        1. The sight allows you to see connections and their change. However, Others don’t seem to be invisible. Goblins hide from humans, after all. Eva and Andy probably have a very keen eyesight. They also probably only deal with the things they can see, like goblins, elementals and practitioners, and not more abstract things.

          1. Well, they’re called Witch Hunters, so presumably their usual quarries are (human) practitioners rather than Others. They probably need and have charms and such to help them against illusion, tricks and traps. But simply being able to do surprise attacks, lie, and enter premises uninvited is probably a strong advantage against witches and wizards.

            1. The problem isn’t the human practitioners, it’s their allies and familiars. For example, what sort of threat would they pose to Johannes, who is behind hundreds, if not thousands, of Others? ARE they a threat to Johannes? If there are so-called Witch Hunters that might come after me and they deal only in the human aspect of things, then the natural response is to send abstract Others or Practices against them.

            2. Heck, the ability to sneak into a practitioner’s demesne (or just domain) and then claim to have been granted hospitality if caught pretty much guarantees a devastating sucker punch.

    2. I think flaunting “the rules” and the super insane protection unawakened people get are two separate things. I will go back to the earlier chapters later and see if it’s clear at all.

    3. My understanding was that there are two distinct issues here:

      Innocence refers to not knowing about magic, and it protects you from some kinds of interference from Others. It’s not clear how much, since goblins apparently mess with with muggles all the time, Pazuz and other demons we’ve heard about do it as well, and during the “duel” Conquest’s champions—the Eye and Shepherd in particular—did hurt and kill muggles. I think the proscription against messing with Innocents is usually enforced by the local practitioners and Lord, not by the spirits, unless an Other was bound and individually forced to accept the seal of Solomon (or, like that Greater Ghoul, made to promise . Probably this is not a binary state, i.e., it’s possible to be “mostly” innocent.

      The process of being Awakened is something completely different: it explicitly introduces you to the spirit world (giving you the ability to use power and the Sight), but most importantly it binds you to following the “Rules” about lying and oaths and guests, which are enforced by the spirits for both Others and Practitioners. This is a binary state: either you’re awakened (and bound to the rules), or you’re not. (The fact that it also eliminates your Innocence is just an unavoidable side-effect.)

      The thing about Witch Hunters is not that they’re Innocent, but that they’re not Awakened, and thus not bound by the honesty rules. They make up for the lack of Innocence-related protections by use of force, cunning, and magical artifacts.

      1. Thinking about it as two toggles is cleaner than thinking about it as one sliding scale. Thanks for the input!

        My understanding is that Others can screw with the Innocent in ways that they can rationalize. You can’t send a 30ft Ogre against them, but that Ogre could smash the rear of someone’s car or shriek loud enough to shatter their windows if nobody’s around. They’d think that it was a hit-and-run or hoodlums. A goblin, on the other hand, can harass someone and such right out in the open. It can actually take the risk to be caught because the Innocent can rationalize them as being a hoodlum.

        I guess the question comes out more to be what allows you to recognize the supernatural; the act of being Awakened or the loss of Innocence?

        1. In Maggie’s back story, she was noticing things that other people didn’t notice or that other people dismissed as “normal” events. At that point she was not Awakened at all. But most un-Awakened seem completely oblivious. So even among un-Awakened there is a spectrum of responses.

        2. My understanding is that Others can screw with the Innocent in ways that they can rationalize.

          I guess it’s also partly an issue of introducing muggles to the practitioner world. When Blake awakened his friends, it was specifically mentioned that he’d bear the consequences of their awakening. If they did something bad, it would fall back on him.
          I guess harming muggles in ways they can recognize as supernatural would be similar.

          what allows you to recognize the supernatural; the act of being Awakened or the loss of Innocence?

          Awakening gives you the Sight, which is necessary to recognize many kinds of supernatural beings. The Knights had an unawakened member who was the designated liar, and she couldn’t hear Evan talk, nor hear Rose speak.
          (On that note, Blake was able to see and talk to Rose before he was awakened; but given that he lost his mirror image, I guess this is an exception; it’s not like he could rationalize that away.)

          There seem to be major individual differences in the degree of rationalization, too. Check the chapter in which Blake revealed the practitioner world to his friends. One of them wasn’t convinced by anything Blake did.

          1. “The Knights had an unawakened member who was the designated liar, and she couldn’t hear Evan talk, nor hear Rose speak.”

            However, Andy COULD hear Rose. We also had a random man on the Subway (eat fresh) who was able to notice Rose. Also Buttsack was afraid of the mundane girl who wasn’t focused on anything. And even of the searchlights humans send out occasionally. And he was using magic to cloak himself.

            I”m guessing that normal humans have different ranges of ability to believe in Others and notice them.

            I wonder what sorts of magic are available to unawakened. If they lay out a circle will that work as a protection? Blake certainly seemed to think so since he let his friends help with one. And plumbing works just fine when set out by muggles. Can they donate blood? And is there any way to gain power without awakening first. If Blake hadn’t been awakened when he beat that Faerie would have the hair still worked? What about the heart eating? Would Ornias come when called?

            Finally, are all Others bound by the rules about lying? Rose wasn’t when she was mirrored. And she wasn’t before Awakening, but was still supernatural. What about Evan before he swore the Other Oaths?

            1. Jared (Subway guy) didn’t actually ‘notice’ Rose, per se. It was subconsciously registering her in Whatshisface’s reflection. When he put conscious thought behind it, he could see Whatshisface’s reflection instead of Rose. Similar to the search lights mentioned earlier, I imagine if one had hit Buttsack, he would have expended a larger share of power to stop her. Something he can’t really afford to do too often, since his power pool isn’t limitless.

              Thinking about the world as we know it, I suppose occasionally they do get caught. Cryptids and monsters would be examples of the things that accidentally get spotted by us.

              As for available defenses: I’m certain those DO work. Many are weaknesses that a creature has to it’s surroundings, such as a vampire’s weakness to light a ghost’s weakness to salt, and a werewolf’s weakness to silver.
              Others are things that are conceptual, such as holy symbols being used with faith against vampires and the the inability to break and enter without being invited.
              Then you have things between Others and Practitioners, such as offering hospitality or swearing oaths. Effective binding circles likely fall under this category, though the concept that fuels the binding circles probably falls under the same category as sunlight and vampires. After all, the Other reacts to its opposing element just as it reacts to the bravado of the practitioner who erected it.

              Trinkets should still work for the uninitiated, hence what Andy and Eva’s house is full of. Names and summonings require a measure of power. Summoning Ornias would not work for someone who is Innocent unless they fueled the summoning with something, similar to Whatshisface’s use of glamour to gain the Thorburn clout.

              That last bit I’d never considered; lying is clearly not as binary as I thought it was.

      1. Ooh, nice. I’m going to read these over and I’ll post again with suggestions. Mine is in the Savage Worlds ruleset and set in 1890s Boston, but I imagine the Outsiders/Others should be played similarly.

  16. Hm. Checkered Scarf Girl is making a wise decision here. Forging connections is a good way to keep her identity stable in the face of the dissolving force of reality. Enmity is as good a connection for this purpose as friendship, and so escalating her enmity with the aptly-named Buttsack is the reason for the spring in her step at the end of this chapter. Binding some more goblins to her service is probably a good idea.

  17. I really like the fact that the whole issue of minor goblins can be read as a subtle commentary about class.

    Don’t know if this has been discussed previously.

      1. This, for example:

        “Goblins.

        If you were struggling, they ensured you kept struggling. If you were well-off, they weren’t much of a concern to start with.

        In better-policed areas, practitioners and the Lords that managed them were strict about keeping Others from interfering too much with humanity. If one person every generation was grabbed by the likes of Mara, a few people had their lives ruined by Others like Buttsack and the Faceless Woman, well, the general sentiment seemed to be that it was a drop in the bucket.”

        But I’m pretty sure there where earlier comments of the sort, for example when dealing with Blake’s time on the street.

        1. Oh, that. I thought it was blunt rather than subtle, and if it’s a commentary I’m not sure what it means (I read it more as an “explanation”). Unless maybe I’m missing the subtle part?

          1. The poor get poorer ,the rich keep their welfare and they do not really care about a few poor people’s tragedy.Parable-commentary.

  18. I have a comment about the pipe gun. Good idea, but it would be a ‘firing pin’ welded to the inner end of the larger pipe, not a ‘blasting cap’.

    Shotgun shells have their own percussion caps to set themselves off; all they need is a good hard tap with a firing pin.

    Plus, welding a blasting cap to anything is a really good way to lose fingers.

  19. The pipe gun is wonderful. I always looked at tricky situations with guns in movies and TV and thought that what I’d really like, if backed into a corner, is the ability to hit really hard without looking armed- to toss a gun on the ground in a way that jostles it so it goes off, or something. This would fit the bill pretty nicely. You could probably even construct it so that the motion of smacking it against your palm is the trigger, using centrifugal force…

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