Signature 8.6

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The streets started out narrow, and then they got worse.

It was gradual, subtle.  From the outskirts, it was easy to overlook.  Trudging from one street to the next block, the sidewalk disappeared.  Lawns in the prefab housing developments got narrower, the houses were positioned closer to the roads.

Trees older than any of the buildings here loomed over the road itself, branches knitting together overhead for a third of a block, frozen into a kind of icy archway.  Two blocks down, the overhanging trees and branches loomed over half the block, bigger.  Here and there, people were perched on porches, leaning forward, or clustered in tight groups.

Still not so unusual that she would have raised an eyebrow, if she weren’t in the know.

The road sloped slightly downhill, bending around a strip mall, a one way street with no street leading out, no good spot to turn around and go in the other direction.

Time was different here.  She’d met the twins around noon, but the sun loomed on the horizon, the sky a peach hue.  The wind always blew steadily, unfaltering, the sky was always the same color, the sun in the same height above the horizon, only shifting to different compass points in the sky, confusing any sense of direction or ideas about whether it was early or late in the day.

The attitudes of the people who congregated in the streets seemed to reflect the atmosphere.  A lack of direction.  A hundred people, a dozen cars, and half of the people looked like they’d just come downstairs and walked into the kitchen, only to realize they’d forgotten why they’d just come downstairs.

A hundred people, just going through the motions, checking the fridge, visiting stores, perpetually in a daze.

An Other stood behind a fence, arms folded on the bar that held the chain-link upright.  Massively fat, horrendously bad complexion complete with peeling skin and pimples, his eyes were spaced too far apart, mouth far too wide, his nose too flat.  A toad of a man.  Still, he wasn’t quite so unusual that she couldn’t have dismissed him as a human being with a severe syndrome or something.  Most people didn’t even look at him, and the ones that did looked away, embarrassed.

For his part, the Other was looking at her.  His eyes were spaced far enough apart on his broad head that only one could watch her at a time as she made her slow progress, his head unmoving, eyes slowly shifting to track her.  He raised a cigarette to his mouth and puffed on it.

Her leg was hurting, made worse by her burden, a fat, four-foot-tall, eighty pound goblin.  The ice and the compacted snow of the street made him easier to drag, but his skin was so loose that it compounded the little traction that did exist, and the same smooth surface made it harder for her own feet to dig in.  People who looked at her glanced away, much as they had with the Other.  They kept to the usual pace, the dissonant wanderings.

Her expression was stern as she rounded the curve in Harcourt street.

Right here, at the end of the curve, the place got more twisted.  A few more signs, a three-way intersection.  Convoluted streets that made her have to pause to figure out how to get where she was going.  Everything was crammed in together.

It was like Mara’s setup, in a way, but the goal wasn’t to keep people out.  Just the oppsite.  This was a pitcher trap.  The unwary insect could perch on the edge, only to slip and fall in.  Entering was easy.  Leaving, every curve would bend back, leading toward the city center.  The one way streets would point the wrong way, and if Johannes willed it, the city would adjust.  Try to drive out along one of those one way streets, and a car would start coming the other way, or a cop would arrive.

Or, even simpler, the streets one took to get in wouldn’t be there when the traveler looked away and back again.

The older part of Jacob’s Bell was perpetually asleep.  Excepting bursts of activity here and there around the time everyone left for work or school, Jacob’s Bell tended to be the sort of place where you could walk from A to B and only see one person or one group of people.

Here, though, it was busier.  Newer housing developments, low property costs, an hour’s commute from Toronto, and the new setup at the station all brought people in.

It wasn’t asleep, but it was… how was she supposed to even parse it?  It was waking up, and it was poised, still half caught by the twilight of near-sleep, ready to leap up and strike.  To get out of bed and start running and never ever stop.

It was like something she might imagine seeing if she had taken a bad hit to the head and she feared another.  Except she was the seeing man in this land of the blind.  It was the rest of the world that didn’t make sense, here.  Stuff didn’t quite fit together, her eyes had trouble tracking from one point to the next without getting caught or snagged, and anyone who wasn’t wandering around in a daze looked like they were perchedTensed, even.

The people sitting on their front steps, hands or arms resting on their knees, as if they couldn’t quite relax, even when sitting.

People and Others gathered in tight groups, conspiring. The people would be talking amongst themselves, trying to voice their vague concerns while trying to keep their unsteady grip on reality.  Across this entire domain thousands were caught in the same precipitous state.

Scarf flapping in the incessant wind, hands a little bloody, face spotted with flecks of goblin blood, she dragged the goblin behind her.  Nobody commented, nobody looked.  All for the same reason.

They weren’t real people.

They were shadows with an illusion of depth.  Snapshots.  Reflections.

Dissonance was as dangerous to them as any knife.  Once their reality was challenged, they cracked a little.

They would go well out of their way to avoid that, acting on a thread of self preservation that existed on a level well below the instinctual.

Another bend in the road, leading her to a shopping center.  Individual buildings were set up on separate city blocks, connected by tunnels that extended over the street, from building to building.

It was the busiest part of all of Jacob’s Bell, and every road was a single lane road.  With no sidewalk, she was forced to walk on the edge of the road, side-view mirrors of passing cars passing within a foot of her.  Someone honked.

This, right here, was the point where an ordinary citizen might start wondering what the fuck was going on, but they were liable to blame themselves, to wonder if they’d missed a sign.

The road on the way out of the area had a spike strip and a parking attendant’s booth in the complete wrong order, with two cars parked nearby, tires shredded.

This was where the pitcher trap started catching its flies.  She struggled for a minute to get the bloodied goblin past the spike strip.  She got him halfway over it, the spikes digging into his gut, then pulled on his leg to bring his lower half over, increasing the amount of weight on the spikes.  She managed to get his limp body to do a somersault over the spikes, grabbing one foot to resume dragging him, his face scraping against ice and snow.

Entering into the uptown area, she saw taller buildings, breaking up the view, crowding together.  A small collection of Others, three or four, were gathered by a ledge in a parking garage crammed with cars that looked like they were in pretty rough shape.  Each of the Others was about seven feet tall and slim, brown skinned with glossy black hair.  They were similar enough in appearance to be related, all wearing long winter jackets and either ankle length skirts or loose-fitting pants.

One of them, the youngest looking by appearance, was sitting on the ledge, feet dangling over a two story drop.  She had her hair in black dreads, tied back.  With how black her long jacket and dress were, even her brown skin looked light.  She watched with an intense stare, her eyes showing too much white at the edges.  Given her height, the people who passed by didn’t break the Other’s line of sight.  Psychopath eyes.  Unnerving.

There were goblins here too.  Bigger ones.  They had the same habit of peering at her from dark places, their eyes flashing momentarily like slivers of light striking on random reflective surfaces.  Unlike stray bits of light, however, they had a weight to them.

They would be Johannes’.  All of them, in one way or another.

She pressed on.  It was easier if she kept moving.  When she was forced to pause, the goblin stuck to the frozen ground, her leg seized up, and the strain in her arms caught up with her.

She wondered momentarily if it had something to do with the nature of this place.  She couldn’t help but feel she was constantly going downhill, and it was drawing her to keep moving, deeper and deeper.

A car passed close enough that her snow-crusted scarf slapped against the passenger-side window.  If her hand hadn’t been on Buttsack’s foot, the mirror might have caught her elbow.

Worrying.

She paused, trying to find a way to maneuver up to safer ground, and Buttsack kicked weakly against her grip.

Was he waking up?

Going back was too hard, arguably dangerous.  She elected to move laterally.

Up a steep, snow-crusted stairway to an intersection.

A larger building stood nearby.  Giant metal letters had been mounted on the side.

A middle school?

She headed over, shifting her grip to have one hand to each of Buttsack’s feet, letting go only when she was near enough to test a door.

The interior wasn’t warm, but it was out of that constant wind.

Mostly.  A window was open or broken somewhere, and colorful papers drifted lightly across the school hallway.

Buttsack groaned.

She dragged him halfway down the hallway.  The stiletto still pierced both of his palms, above his head.  She shifted the position of it, putting the blade between two lockers, and then kicked the handle, driving it in.  The metal on metal sound echoed through the school hallway.  Buttsack made a pained expression.

“Wake up,” she told him.

He rolled his head from one side to the other.  Half his face and most of his shoulder were a bloody ruin.  She could see muscle and exposed bone, complete with bits of dirt, and moisture from the snow and ice she’d dragged him through.

She grabbed the pipe.  A single cord connected the front of the inner pipe to the back end of the outer pipe.  It worked well, slung over one shoulder.  She aimed it at him.

“Wake up or I’m liable to shoot you.  I’m done dragging you around, one way or the other.”

His eyes opened.

A moment later, they opened wider.  “You brought me here?”

“Caught you the first time in a school.  Fitting we do this in a spot like this.”

“The Sorcerer’s Demesne.”

“Oh, that.  Yeah.”

“Bitch!  You fucking bitch!

She bent down, grimacing at the tension in her leg where he’d bitten her the night before.  She pressed one end of the pipe against his groin.

“Bi…” he trailed off.

“I’m curious what’s so bad about being here.  I can understand why goblins want to stay away from, say, the neighborhood where the witch hunters live.  I can picture Eva hunting goblins for sport.  I can even understand why you guys want to avoid regular humans.  Common sense.  But you’re upset to be here?”

“You should be too.”

“I’m kind of upset,” she said.  She shifted position so less weight rested on her calf, and the pipe slid forward a bit in the process.  Buttsack flinched.  “An awful lot of walking.  This place isn’t even that big, but it’s so convoluted…”

“This place is bad because there are powers here,” Buttsack hissed.  “Things any self-fucking-respecting sod would fucking stay way from you moronic fucking cunt!”

She slammed the larger pipe down.  When the end of the smaller one slid from its perch over Buttsack’s groin, she didn’t try to correct it.  The spray fired into and beneath his prodigious rear end.

In retrospect, her ears ringing, she wondered if he was meaty enough to shield her from the shrapnel.

She wouldn’t do that again.

All the same, Buttsack was screaming, feet scrabbling frantically for purpose on the dusty tiles of the school hallway.  She’d taken a piece out of his rear end.

“Bitch!  Whore!”

“You know, I haven’t asked, since I’m not Isn’t it lying to call me those words?”

“Cunt!”

“I guess the words have another meaning, in a way.  Listen-”

He spat out a stream of invectives in a language that wasn’t English.  It sounded vaguely Germanic.

She sighed, took the pipe gun apart, removed the spent cartridge.  She retrieved another shotgun shell from her coat pocket and fit it into place before putting everything together again.

The onslaught of foreign curse words slowed.

It stopped as she put the pipe back into position.

“Listen,” she said.

She had his full attention.  His emotions were overflowing to the point that he couldn’t keep his expression still.  One lip twitched in some reflexive need to snarl.

“There are powers here, you said?”

“Yes.  Genies, goblins, elves, minor incarnations, wraith kings.  Changes from day to day.”

“Didn’t know we had that much traffic in Jacob’s Bell.”

“We don’t, you stupid fuckkkk-” he came to an abrupt halt as she adjusted her grip on the pipe.

“Go on.”

He glared, sullen.  “The sorcerer alters the layout to let them in.  Uses his familiar.  The rules are the same, always.  You don’t go after practitioners, you leave grudges and greater weapons at the door.  No fighting, unless it’s to go after someone who starts a fight, no deals with anyone except the Northern Sorcerer.  You leave with what you brought with you.”

Giving him an awful lot of power, if powerful creatures are respecting his rules.

“Nobody else has tried to do this?”

Lots do it, you imbecile!  But not many mortals.  How many have this much room to work with?”

“True.  We-”

Buttsack’s head turned a fraction, ears moving to reorient.

She stopped.

Her head turned.

A little girl.  Black, maybe ten years old, wearing a parka over a white dress, gray tights on her legs, with winter boots that had fur at the top.  Her hair was in two buns at the back of her head, held in place with bright elastics.  The child’s eyes were wide.

She could see Buttsack.

The girl in the checkered scarf moved, but the little girl moved faster, running.

By the time the girl in the checkered scarf reached the corner, the little girl was gone.  A door slammed somewhere distant.

Fast.

“You could be in trouble,” Buttsack taunted.  “You bitch.”

He went rigid as she pointed the pipe his way.

“You should kill the little slut to be safe,” Buttsack said.

“How long was she watching?” she asked.

“Dunno, but I still think you should pop little slut full of whatever you’ve got there.  Make her bleed.  If you hit her in the gut you get blood mingling with shit, and she dies slow.  I’d give you my shiv but you fucking lost it, mongoloid bitch.”

“You’d think I should kill her even if there wasn’t an excuse.  You have a choice here.  Agree to obey me and do me and mine no harm for the next year, and I’ll free your hands.  Refuse, and I leave you here for something to find.”

“Might take my chances.”

“You might.  Decide now.  Offer expires when I’m done counting down from five.”

“Five seconds?  You whore!”

“Four seconds.”

“Choke on a shit-covered dick!”

“Decide fast or the genie, elf, wraith king or whatever else that finds you decides your fate.”

He turned to the foreign swear words again.

“One second…”

“Fuck!  Yes.”

“Say it, just so we’re clear.”

“I obey you, one year.”

Well, that had been easy.

In fact, she was so caught off guard by how easy it had been that she mentally stumbled.  She’d been expecting him to be stubborn and stay behind, and now she felt obligated to bring him along.

Just how scared was he?

“Coolio.  You stay close to me.  Alert me quickly and clearly to any meaningful danger.  Avoid interacting with any other entity or object except when and how I tell you to.  You can talk to me, but I expect a measure of respect.”

“Can I fucking breathe?” he asked.

“Yes.  You can walk and carry out other simple tasks.”

“Because the air and floor are objects.”

She pulled the stiletto free from where she’d jammed it into the space between locker door and frame.

He grunted.

“Work with me and we’ll relax the rules later.  Make this difficult, and you’ll have a very boring year.”

“Bitch.”

“Respect, or do you want to be forsworn in your duties?”

“Said it quiet, indoor voice,” he said, looking around at the spot where the shotgun had blasted away a portion of his rear end.  He was durable.  Dense little bastard, underneath that loose skin.  Sullen, he said, “Modicum of respect.  Not forsworn.”

“Don’t swear at me.”

He made a noise like a dying cow might.  She realized it was a groan.

“And no annoying sounds, either.”

“Uh huh.”

She knew goblins, and she knew he’d be thinking about a way to get around her rules and do something suitably problematic.

For now, he was being quiet, half-walking, half-crawling to follow her.  She didn’t slow down for him.  Let him get tired out, he’d be less of a problem later.

She looked for the child, and she couldn’t find her.  Not even with the Sight.

“Quiet,” she murmured, as they ascended a half-flight of stairs, approaching classrooms.

Voices?

She moved along the wall, approaching the first classroom.

No.

She was nearly silent as she approached the next.  Her leg ached more from the more controlled, precise movements.

At the next classroom door, she could hear the voices more clearly.

“-Else besides the scary gun chick and the cute little whatsit creature?”  A young male voice.

“It definitely wasn’t cute.  Very definitely wasn’t.  But it was just them, I think.  I didn’t look for long.”  Girl’s voice.

“Damn it.  If we could just ask… are you sure she wasn’t friendly?”

“If she was thirty, muscley and wearing a bloodstained tank top and headband and carrying a gun, and she was doing what she was doing to some Nazi supersoldier or something in a movie, I wouldn’t think twice.  But she’s like, your age, Noah.  And she’s a she, and that thing was small and it’s worse.”

“And she’s human?”  Male voice, less young than the first.

“Like I said, I only looked for a second and then I ran, but she had this metal wand, and I think that’s it.”

The girl in the checkered scarf looked down at her pipe shotgun.

She reached out and knocked on the door.  It creaked a bit as the touch made it open a fraction wider.

No response, not a noise.

She pushed the door open, checked for possible traps, magical or otherwise, then rounded the corner, entering the classroom with arms extended, pipe in one hand.

They’d backed up, plastering themselves against walls.  Virtually silent in the process.

Two boys, two girls.

They looked terrified to the point that she wondered if they would have heart attacks.  Each was frozen like a deer in the headlights.

Three were young, about ten.  One of the ten year olds resembled the older boy, Noah, who was in his mid teens.  Definitely younger than her, despite what the kid had said.  The foibles of youth.

“I mean you no harm.”

They didn’t budge.

Jesus.  The fear on their faces.

Were there more people like this around the city?  People who’d seen the Other stuff and managed to stay alive?

For any Other that liked their mortals running scared, these guys would be like candy.

Poor frigging saps.

She looked for and found Buttsack standing in the doorway, a few steps behind her.

“Hey, this is the goblin I was talking to. Buttsack, say hello.”

“Hello, whelps,” Buttsack said, in a low growl.

“Say it nicely.

He gave her the dirtiest look he could manage, then plastered a smile on his face, wide enough to make his eyes scrunch up.  It somehow made him look far, far more terrifying.  He clasped wounded hands together, twisting them in front of him.  In a higher pitched voice, he said, “Hello, adorable little sweethearts.”

There was a pause.

Frigging goblins.

“You named him Buttsack?” one of the younger boys asked.

Frigging goblin names.

“No.  He came with the name,” she said, sighing a bit.  “Look, kids, whatever you think you saw, Buttsack and I are sort of allies right now.  You could even call us friends, since we have common interests.  Getting out of this place alive being one of them.  Right?  You can tell them.”

“We’re allies, just like she said,” Buttsack said, nodding a little too energetically.  “She might want you to be friends too.”

He sounded like he was trying to coo as he said that last sentence.  It came out strained.

Motherfucking goblins.

The kids looked more scared.

“Look,” she said.  “I mean you no harm, unless you come after me or try to stab me in the back somehow.  You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers.  When I’m done supplying the answers I can give you, I want to ask you some minor stuff.  Deal?”

She saw them break their frozen positions to glance at one another.

“Who are you?”  This from Noah’s little brother.

“I’m the girl with no name, unfortunately.  Long story.  I’m, in some ways, a lot like you.  A bad, scary, frigging strange situation got dropped on my hometown, I barely made it out alive.”

“This is happening in other places?”

“Nn-Yes, but not like you mean.  What happened to my hometown was… different.”

Her memories of the scenes, of the blood, flooded back to her.

Painful, ugly, but maybe it was good to touch base with that particular connection.  As connections to things went, her name wasn’t a big part of her attachment to hometown, and her hometown wasn’t something Padraic could or would necessarily take away from her.

Noah spoke up, “Something came after Mia, and then when we walked back home, it came after all of us.  We decided to hide out, but…”

“But that was a little while back,” the girl in the checkered scarf finished for them.  “And now things aren’t adding up.  Your families are acting weird, clocks are all wrong.”

“Yeah,” Noah said.

Time is wrong,” the little girl from before said.  Noah had looked her way when he said Mia.

In moving her eyes from one side of the room to the other to follow the conversation, the girl in the checkered scarf saw a flicker of something.

She adjusted her Sight to look.

No fricking wonder the kid had been so fast.  Even the way they’d gone still…

The four children stood before her, and each of them was shattered.  They were like mannequins or dolls, finely detailed, everything in the right place, but bits had broken away.  Whole chunks were missing, and cracks radiated across their whole bodies.  Where gaps existed, mice had crawled into the holes.  Teeming hordes, occasionally skittering along the outside surface to find a space with more room.  Here and there, a mouse ate a smaller mouse, and like some cartoon, it grew by the slightest fraction.

Noah was different.  There were mice, yes, but the horrific rent that extended from the crown of his head to his left shoulder was occupied by what appeared to be a mangy dog, nestled into the hollow space.

The girl in the checkered scarf exhaled slowly.

When she unfocused her eyes, the multitudes became single features.  Patches of fur.  One of Mia’s eyes was black from corner to corner, glossy.  Focus properly again… the eye socket was shattered, the empty space filled with large black rats.

“Ah… crumbs,” she muttered.

What?“Noah’s little brother said.

“Well, there’s bad news and there’s worse news.”

“That’s not funny,” Noah said.

“Nope,” she said.  “Bad news is, this whole scenario here?  Pretty much none of it is real.”

“That’s good,” Noah’s brother said.

“That’s bad,” she said.  “When I say this isn’t real, I’m referring to you guys, too.”

She could see the confusion, the alarm, even a bit of anger.

“Screw you,” Noah’s brother said.  “Don’t play with us.”

He was pale, with longer blond hair that had almost led her to mistake him for a girl.  She could see the rather large rat inside him.  Next to the dog, it was the biggest spirit present.

It would be making him more aggressive, confrontational, probably territorial, if she had to guess.

It looked gravid.  Pregnant.

She pushed the thought out of her mind.  Too weird to consider.

“You keep going quiet,” Noah’s little brother said, accusatory.

“Yeah,” she said.  “I’m… ah geez.  I’m sorry.  But you’re just pretend, kind of.”

“You keep saying that,” Noah said.  “Stop scaring my brother and his friends or we’re going to have a problem.”

I’m bigger than you, she thought.  How big a problem could we have?

She didn’t say it aloud.  Instead, she turned to the nearest desk with paper on it.  She still had the pens Sandra had given her.  One proper pen, one mostly empty pen that made ink only some of the time.  “Come.”

They were careful, slow to approach, quick to start when she moved too quickly.

By the time they’d gathered closer, she had the sketch finished.  They smelled like musk, like dust and sweat too.

An animal smell.

She’d drawn four rough outlines, like the ones that might appear on a bathroom stall.

“Here we have four people.  I caught some of your names already.  Noah, Mia…”

“Benjamin and Olive.”

“Heya,” she said.

“Whatever,” Benjamin said.

The girl in the checkered scarf looked at the girl who’d been named as Olive.

Olive was blonde, freckled, and had an expression that looked perpetually angry.  Her fingers clutched the fabric of her pants..

“Olive doesn’t talk,” Noah said.  “Something’s happened to her teeth since all this started.  She keeps biting her tongue, and the words don’t come out right.”

Without being asked, Olive opened her mouth.  The girl in the checkered scarf didn’t have a chance to look away before she saw.

Yep.  Olive had mouse teeth.

Olive also had mouse spirits filling her mouth, their bodies making her cheeks bulge as they squirmed past..  Some had blood on their faces, where they’d bitten her tongue.

She shut her mouth.  The bulging stopped.  Only the occasional mouse eye peeked out from the cracks that stretched from each corner of her mouth to the nearest ear.

“You went quiet again,” Ben said.

“…We’ve got four people here, named Noah, Mia, Ben and Olive.  These four people have shadows.”

She extended each picture to show the shadows each one cast.  She filled them in, then folded the paper, so the shadows were on the ground, the original pictures standing up.

“Well, there was a man who made a magical reality for himself.  Let’s call him the sorcerer.  Now, when wizardly types make these places for themselves, they base it on things they know, on reality.  That’s pretty normal.  But this guy, well, he worked it out so…”

She folded the paper forward and backward, then tore it along the middle, separating the shadows from their sources.

“…He could bring something very much like the real Noah, Mia, Ben and Olive with him.  Along with the houses, and the streets and everything else.  With me so far?”

“Oh my god,” Mia’s voice was faint whisper.  A mousy whisper, but the girl in the checkered scarf didn’t want to do the kids the disservice of thinking like that.

“And now he’s making it the way he wants it, pretty much.  That includes making deals with monsters.  Monsters get to do what they did in the bad old days, when we had more superstition than outright protection against them, and he gets payment in some form or another, or so I understand.”

“That monster that came after me?” Mia asked.  “The squirmy people?  The beautiful woman and her wild child?”

“Betting they’re all people who paid the sorcerer for the chance to hunt you.  And they can, because it’s not quite real.  The real Noah, Mia, Ben and Olive should be out there somewhere, going about their ordinary lives.  Maybe a little bit weaker or prone to getting sick since a bit of them got taken away.”

“Holy fuck,” Ben said.

“Yeah,” Noah said.  “I… I really want to deny this, to say it’s impossible, that it’s… Fuck!”

The shout was so sudden it made both the girl in the checkered scarf and Buttsack jump.

“That’s a good way of putting it.  Like I said, I’m sorry,” she told him.

“Bad and worse,” he said.  “What-”

He stopped.  The girl in the checkered scarf had raised a hand to interject.

“What?” he asked.

“That’s the bad.  It’s not the worse.”

All four children stared at her, expressions stark.

“Listen, I was thinking I’d do this thing with scrunching up the paper, and then showing the damage it’d do, but you don’t deserve stupid little theatrics.  All the stuff he’s doing to alter his reality, the stuff that you’re doing that’s different from how the real versions of you would act?  Well, you’re fragile.  You’re falling to pieces.”

“Pieces?” Mia asked.

The girl in the checkered scarf nodded.  “Bits are breaking away, and, uh… spirits are filling the space.  It’s why you’ve been acting differently, why you’ve been stronger in some ways and weaker in others.  The sorcerer might even be doing it on purpose.”

“This is worse?” Ben asked.  He sounded angry.  “We’re fake, we’re just props in some wizard’s screwed up fantasy world, but oh, we’re sorta dying but not really, and that’s the worse part?”

“Yeah,” the girl in the checkered scarf said.  “It’s worse.”

“You’re lying.”

I can’t lie.

“I know because I’m going through the same thing,” she said.  “A… monster took my name.  Mostly my fault.  Now I’m falling apart in the same way.  It’s why I’m here, as a matter of fact.”

“Good to know.”

Her heart caught in her throat.

An adult voice.  Or mostly adult.  One she recognized.

She turned.

“Kids, meet the sorcerer.”

They were frozen in fear and confusion.

Bad instincts, really.  Prey instincts.

“Most make a beeline straight for me,” Johannes said.  “Ask permission.  But I do suppose you do live in Jacob’s Bell, and it would be unreasonable to expect you to stay out entirely.  Hi.”

“Heya,” she said.

“Padraic?” Johannes asked.

“Yep.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave my vestiges alone.”

Maggie glanced at the kids.

Fuck.  They weren’t real, and they weren’t long for this world, but… fuck.  They were still scared.  They were thinking beings with a broad spectrum of feelings.

“Vestiges, children,” Johannes said, drawing his pipes from one pocket.  “Find another place to hide for the time being.”

“Why-” Ben started.

But Johannes was tapping the set of brass pipes against his ring.

Metal chimed, a brief sound like that from a tuning fork.

Begone,” Johannes said.

The kids were gone in a flash, faster than was humanly possible, darting for a hole in the floor, Mia grabbing a backpack on her way.

“There,” Johannes said.

“Not a coincidence that they have dogs and rats inside them, is it?”

“No.”

“Can I ask what the long term plan is?”

“You could.  Or you could ask what you came here to ask.  I have only so much time, now that we’re close.  It won’t be long now before the claim to the city comes into question, I have things to see to.  Metaphorical Ducks to get in a metaphorical row.”

She bit her lip.

He waited patiently.

“Can you help me?”

“Yes.  Do you want my help, nameless girl?”

“I’m not so sure, now.”

“Keep telling yourself what you told them.  They aren’t real.”

“I’m fairly attached to a few people who aren’t much more real than those kids are.”

“I imagine you are.  I guess what I really need to know is… do we have a problem here, nameless girl?”

You mean, am I a problem you have to get out of the way before Jacob’s Bell changes over?

“Not just right now.”

“Then just right now, you have my assistance.  I’m stronger than Sandra, who you saw earlier.  I can nourish you in the right amounts to slow your decay.  I can provide small amounts of assistance.  To fix your problem, I’d need more of a commitment.”

She nodded slowly.  “When you say fix…”

“I can retrieve your name from Padraic.  All would go back to being the way you need it to be.  Your name might be a little tainted, and Padraic would be unhappy, but he wouldn’t take it further from that.  I know Faerie superior to him in the court, and I would act as the middleman, putting you at minimal risk.”

“In exchange for… a commitment?  You want me to look past that thing with the kids, and…?”

“And I would want you working at my side.  My allies, for the most part, are transient ones.  Mercenaries, if you will.  Help me take Jacob’s Bell.  After that… it’s up to you.  You could take a seat on my council and be my problem solver, or you could leave the city.”

Take Jacob’s Bell.  Fight Sandra.

Fight Blake and Rose?

Help the man who did that to those children.

Fake children.

Whatever.

He spoke softly, “Take your time deciding.  For now, however, I can find you a place to stay.  Do you need anything else?  I give you these things with no strings attached.”

“What time is it?  I need to step outside.”

“What time do you want it to be when you leave?”

“Three thirty?”

“On a particular day?”

“Uh, I guess not.  I was hoping it would be today.”

“You’ve already spent a full day in my realm.  It’ll be three thirty by the time you find yourself outside.  The way should be relatively clear.”

“And… do you have a phone I can borrow?”

He touched the paper she’d drawn on, and sketched a rough drawing of a cell phone.  He reached into the paper and pulled it free.

It was a flip phone, ancient, worn around the edges, the sort that would survive practically anything.

“Something that will work outside of here?”

“Ah,” he said.  He reached into a pocket and handed her a smart phone.  “I’ll need that back.”

She nodded.  “Can it call outside numbers?”

“It can.”

She nodded again.  Her heart thudded in her chest.

“Just ask for me, when you’re ready.”

She nodded again.

She left.

Her fingers dialed the familiar number.

The phone rang.

She walked through the alien landscape, and it was weirder going out than it had been going in.  Less hiding behind the veil.  Houses with crooked roofs hid in the shadows of larger buildings.

“Hello?”

“Mom?  It’s me.”

“It’s-”

“Me.  Just… me.”

“What’s wrong, honey?  You sound tired.”

“I’m… I’ve had a really bad couple of days.  I need to talk to you, and I kind of need you to not ask about what’s going on.”

“I can do that, I’m just cooking dinner right now.”

“Yeah?  No other obligations?”

“No, hon.”

They talked about inane things until the phone’s battery ran out.

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245 thoughts on “Signature 8.6

  1. Last chapter of the Girl in the Checkered Scarf’s arc coming up Thursday. I don’t know if I’ll do three weeks in a row (ie. next week too), but we’ll see. Sort of have stuff to do and might be traveling.

    Votes on Topwebfiction continue to be very much appreciated: http://topwebfiction.com/ – Banner coming soonish. Dunno how long that sort of thing takes.

    Donation thank-yous to follow this comment in a (fair?) bit. For reals this time. Nobody coming up with stuff for me to do at midnight, this week.

    1. Last chapter of the Girl in the Checkered Scarf’s arc coming up Thursday.

      But. . . We like Scarf. Surely you mean that at the end of Thursday’s chapter Scarf’s scarf becomes polka dot instead of checkered right?

      . . . Right?

      1. What’s the worst Wildbow could do to her? Oh yeah, something unimaginably evil. Well something I wouldn’t imagine anyways.

    2. Alright!

      Deep breath

      Thank you, David M, Patrick S, Daniel E, Zachary Z, Benjamin R, Alec S, Kyle H, Jim M, Aaron K, Dennis C, Alexander D, Rob H, Percival K, Andreas F, Rolf R, Ryan M, Michael K, Zachary K, Arttu A, Matt T, Orta T, Evan G, Zachary S (Third Zachary!?), Or P, Gerald K, Stephen S, Teresa A, Phillip H, Benedict H, Nicholas B, Rico S, Stefaan N, Casey L, Chamene W, Jennifer S, Stephen S (thanks for your continued support man), Benedict S, Erin S, Stephen C, Gary J, Alan F, Eduardo M, Simon A, Matan Z, John M, Galen K, Павлов А, Tyler C, Eric S.

      Bogdan B, Jordan B, Логвинов В, Ryan W, Paras P (!), Juho S, Gerhard H, Jared J, Christopher B, Alexander S, Jonathan W, Christofer L-F (Twice!), Mark L, Julia L.

      And to everyone subscribed via. Patreon!

      Whoo!

      Words don’t express how much your support means to me, guys. It’s been a tough couple of months, and having you backing me up means a lot. I’m hoping/glad you’re enjoying, or that you’re sticking with me even if you aren’t enjoying.

      A small update on where I’m at… I may have covered some of this before. But my brother just had this crazy wedding and the bar was set so high in terms of difficulty and logistics. I was totally on board from the beginning, all that said, because the location in question is special to me in a very similar way to how it’s special to him. He persevered and he got stuff set up and he made it so people who were on the fence had their minds changed, and that’s amazing unto itself, because my brother is this beautiful chaotic tornado of a guy, and on the surface, it would be really hard to buy into the fact that he’d be able to get something like this organized, when he can practically turn my place upside down within 2 hours of a visit. But when it comes down to it, I don’t know that I’d strike people as the guy who could finish a 1.68 million word story either. We do what we put our minds to.

      The day arrived and I think we all expected some stuff to go wrong, just knowing where we were at (2 hour trip along a less-than-perfectly-maintained dirt road into the woods of Quebec), the scale of it (60ish people total?) and all the details. And we were okay with that.

      And it went off without a hitch.

      Well, a few minor problems – my uncle grounded his car on the road and his airbag went off, rendering him temporarily deaf, and three other people had cars that didn’t survive in one way or the other, mostly on the way out. My brother’s mother and father in law got lost three times en route due to a confusion with the directions…

      But all in all, the wedding arrived with everyone present and more or less in one piece, and it was great, and it was totally fitting to my brother and his wife.

      And then for a week after, we were still dealing with the residual chaos – people staying at my place (without any warning) and me looking after their dogs while they were on honeymoon, etc, and things have just settled down. Almost a month and a half total, of getting ready for the visit/wedding, the wedding, and the aftermath. My place is still a wreck.

      I anticipated that, pretty much.

      Now here I am, and I’m looking to move – which I put off until after the wedding. Once I move, I hope to have the time to dedicate myself more to editing Worm and getting it out there. Once I have it fairly polished, I’m thinking I might put segments of it (ie. arc 1 first, then arc 2 when I have that done, etc) up for subscribers on Patreon and send it out to big donators, but I want to talk to a lawyer and make sure I’m not shooting myself in the foot first. The editing has been going slow, honestly – I work best with a schedule, but every time I try to set the schedule, something comes up – my mom goes to the ER and needs help, or I have a swathe of appointments, and it’s been going on for months. I’m really just hoping to move and just have the distance from everything and everyone give me a chance to work on my own.

      In general, though, other little stuff…

      I got a job offer for some video game writing from some guys with something of a pedigree, and I don’t want to go too into depth before anything’s finalized or not finalized, but it’s a thing, and it’s cool, because having a part in making a video game is on my bucket list. We’re chatting, in the meantime. It wouldn’t replace what I’m doing, but would be a side project, or I wouldn’t take a deal.

      I also got a lot of offers from startups. And when I say a lot, I mean that when April rolled around and people started graduating, I had no less than 12 internet startups reach out to me, wanting me to get involved in their ideas. And I’ve had maybe another 12 reach out before/after that. I started a blog post on my pig’s pen blog and haven’t quite finished it due to all the chaos, but I get frustrated with these offers, because I feel like I keep saying the same things over and over again. I wish these guys the best, I really do, but jumping ship and latching onto something is risky when I’m still sorta treading water and I hate ‘hype’ filled marketing speak and people who can’t give a straight answer when I’m asking a simple question and ahhh! Maybe a blog post about all that, when I can find the time.

      I’ve enjoyed writing the past couple of arcs. I’ve said it before, but I don’t know that Pact is something I’d want to edit and publish, as-is, but I’m learning a lot and it’s apparently entertaining enough to maintain an audience, so yay. Not all bad.

      Thanks for sticking with me, you guys. Thanks for the support.

      1. I’m quite glad of sticking, Wildbow. I have found every aspect of your writing superb. Your talent is probably unsurpassed. I remember reading this action, detective book a few years back, “The Odessa File”, about this journalist trying to uncover some nazis. It was a very entertaining story, if not very deep. I remember the author, Frederick Forsyth, used to publish around a book a year, and he said something along the lines of “if you take longer than that to write a book, you are a bad writer”. You put him to shame; what you write in a year is worth multiple novels.

        I’m curious, why would you not want to publish Pact? Are you writing it “less seriously”? Also, are there any plans of publishing an audiobook for Worm, or are there any fan-made readings? I have a friend that only listens to audiobooks because they are very busy to read a book.

        I’m very glad to hear the wedding went without any trouble. Congratulations to your brother and his wife!

        1. I’m sure that, once Wildbow gets it where he wants it to be and publishes it as a book, someone will publish an audiobook version.

        2. No disrespect for Wildbow because he’s amazing, but that’s comparing apples and onions: Wildbow is producing (and directly publishing) drafts. Forsyth is producing finished novels. Editing time should not be disregarded.

        1. I have had some experience with marketing folks. Remember the old saying about incompetence and malice. Chances are they don’t really know what they are doing – most startups don’t, which is why most startups fail.

          1. I’m inclined to agree. Don’t attribute to malice what you can attribute to incompetence.

            I think a lot of it is just that people put too much emphasis on ideas. Any career programmer has probably heard the pitch, “I have this fantastic idea! It’s this app/social network thing/thing and I can’t tell you too much right now because I don’t want anyone to steal it, but if you get onboard and do all the work to make it a reality, I’ll give you 5%”

            No. What really matters is the execution.

            It’s a question of sitting down every day and putting in the hours necessary to bring your idea to life. Barring exceptional luck, it’s the guy with the mediocre idea and the grit to put it to paper/code/website/whatever that succeeds more than the guy with the fantastic idea who gets it 40% finished.

            And the breakaway hits are the ones which have the execution, luck, and brilliant idea all together, pretty much.

            I sort of think Worm is execution and maybe half and half for luck & idea – it’s not quite breakway. Cult hit, maybe. Right from the beginning, my focus was on the execution – I thought of my audience in terms of tens of people, but I kept writing because it was a thing I was doing to break myself of a bad writing habit and to get my complete idea on the page.

            But these guys put emphasis on the idea and it’s their first time doing something, so there are newbie mistakes. It collapses. Unless they get lucky, in which case it floats for a while and then collapses later, maybe.

            I hate to say it because I’m all about the innovation and finding our own paths to success. I can’t put in the time and energy to get on board a ship that could very well sink. I ask questions to try and get a sense of the ship, and it’s a very bad idea when someone, for example, can’t tell me how they will (or even might?) make money.

            “But the concept is so great!”

            1. To be fair, you don’t seem like you would do badly as a writing lecturer. That type of thing attracts people. And yeah, concepts are a dime a dozen, as the saying goes, but I’m wondering where the cutoff is. Really, really solid worldbuilding can often, if not always or even most of the time hold up a mediocre plot or cast, and one or two awesome characters can sell a series despite the rest being severely lacking.

              Where was I going with this? Hmm. Anyway, I think I may disagree on the breakaway hit formula. Wide audience, highly popular stuff is generally simple and even cliche, just very lucky and executed well enough to take advantage of it, while cult classics tend to get the good, original ideas and run with them, but just don’t cater to a wide enough audience to enjoy widespread success.
              Ah. Wait, I think I remember what I’d wanted to ask. How do you make the the jump from concept to execution? I’ve spent a very long time working out various worldbuilding ideas, but haven’t been able to turn any of them into a full story.
              So I’m soliciting advice. Anyone with experience and willing to share?

            2. Worm was well-written and a really interesting setting but I’d suggest that what made it (and Pact) stand out is your unique ability to craft stories which take the premise and extrapolate it in ways that both make perfect sense and twist in ways that are very hard to predict.

              It almost seems like, to you, the concept and the execution are the same thing. I’d be hard-pressed to separate the two for Worm.

      2. Good to see an update on everything. Though Pact hasn’t really advanced to the levels I think it could reach yet, I certainly think it’s publishable. It took Worm a long time to get to my favorite arcs as well.

        Question, when Worm ended you mentioned that you might go over certain arcs of Worm while editing and open them to a kind of critique/feedback session. Is that still in the works?

        1. I actually suspect there’s a certain magic that only becomes possible in a long-running series. A series is constantly building on what came before and there’s a certain delectable layered complexity that requires time to establish. It’s why JMS knew he needed five years for Babylon 5 and it’s what have Wildbow the space he needed to blow our minds with Worm.

          Re: Pact, I agree with you – it’s still layering at this point and I suspect it’s brightest moments are yet to come.

      3. It’s a little disappointing if Pact isn’t something you consider Worm-tier. I think this setting has maybe even more potential. But if you’re not feeling it, you’re not feeling it. I’m certainly still enjoying the ride, and there’s always the possibility that you change your mind, or think of a publication-worthy story to set in this ‘verse later. I’ll keep reading, probably as long as you keep writing. And if you need a Pact or ten to give you the time to come up with another Worm-tier story, then take it. It’ll be worth the wait.

        1. This setting has a bit less potential than worm in some ways. A lot of the fun of pact was the regular fights between capes and the regular combat with powerful entities. That was possible because there were powerful entities with a desire to destroy the world and organizations that would unite to fight them. In pact most of the less subtle powerful entities are bound, the organizations have a standing order to avoid combat with powerful entities, and due to karma powerful entities won’t unite with weaker ones often.

          In pact we don’t get any situations like Bakuda’s actions, hundreds of capes uniting to fight a super evil magical being or evil group, or of gangs that regularly harass people and are fought by others who want to stop those gangs. We don’t get to see anywhere near as much magic magic interaction as we saw superpower superpower interaction. It can’t happen because the large groups (families, conquest alliances) don’t want to fight evil Others and the large evil groups want to remain cordial (lawyers for example) in contrast to the worm setting where fighting and infighting is common. We only just recently got to see what happens when several magic users work together in a team against another team, while in pact we got that by the third arc with the group fighting the other group in a situation I will be vague about to avoid spoilers.

          The setting is more fun. Everything is infused with magic, lie detectors everywhere, subterfuge and all. When things go bad they can easily go very bad. But the universe is inherently built in such a way to make less intense situations, less tension.

          That said, the writing is a lot better, the action paced a lot better and pact has a much better flow than the early parts of worm. The skill of the author shows, and I find it very enjoyable. Though recently less so. I’d find it a bit sad if this continues to avoid showing much of what happens when magic users interact. Even Padraic ran away as soon as he did his magics. The goblins were fun, I enjoyed their creativity.

          1. I agree with most of the above, though I found the Conquest arc too long, so I’ve been enjoying the story more since Conquest was bound.
            I agree that the writing has really improved; in particular, the “no lies” restriction of the setting really enforces a rare level of attention to detail in the dialogue.

            To add to the above though, the two features of the setting which made Worm more interesting to me were a) that the protagonist wasn’t considered Public Enemy No. 1 from the start, so Taylor’s survival and growth felt more believable to me than Blake’s survival of truly absurd odds, and b) Worm somehow managed to be less black-and-white than Pact, maybe due to the existence of true common enemies. From what I’ve seen in Pact, many readers hate pretty much everyone but Blake and his cabal, Evan, and Maggie by this point, and in the comments the word “evil” is thrown around all the time. (Though to be fair to Pact, I only read Worm when it was all but finished, so I didn’t participate in the comments there.)

            Blake is thrown in tons of situations he survives only by the skin of his teeth, but his ethics aren’t challenged to a similar extent; I wish we’d seen less of the former and more of the latter, i.e. more “deals with devils” by now, which could also have served to legitimize the actions of the Jacob’s Bell antagonists to an extent.

            1. IMO, Blake wasn’t genuinely considered public enemy number one in any serious way. Sure, he inherited the Thorburn rep, and sure, people screwed with him. For the most part they’d barely even heard of him outside Jacob’s Bell. And even within Jacob’s Bell there was no unified effort to bring him down. Laird threatened him (and eventually escalated to containing him). One Duchamp child threw a familiar at him (which I still file under ‘kids will be kids’), and someone played that pizza delivery prank. There was no combined effort to take Blake out, they couldn’t muster majority support for a kill vote at the town meeting, and a number of the local powers (Maggie, Briar Girl) were happy to negotiate with him. If anything, general town policy seemed to be “feel free to punk the new kid but keep him between us and Johannes”.

              With regard to your second point I’d say that gurer’f npghnyyl n ybg bs fvzvynevgl orgjrra gur ebyrf bs gur Orunvzf/Qhpunzcf va Cnpg naq gur CEG va Jbez. Va obgu pnfrf gurl’er (n) bssvpvnyyl fnapgvbarq tebhcf jub (o) ner ba gur fvqr bs svtugvat ‘gur onq thlf’ nyorvg (p) jvgu gurve bja vagrerfg va ohvyqvat naq znvagnvavat cbjre naq (q) gbb fubeg-fvtugrq gb qrny jvgu ‘gur onq thlf’ rira jura vg freirf rirelbar’f orfg vagrerfgf. (Fb sne Vfnqben vf cebonoyl pybfrfg gb Pnhyqeba jvgu ure cbjre-oruvaq-gur-fprarf, jryy-vagragvbarq rkgerzvfg fugvpx – gubhtu jr qba’g xabj rknpgyl jung gur Qhpunzcf/Wbunaarf ner hc gb lrg – gurl znl dhnyvsl gbb).

              Vg’f cbffvoyr gung bar ernfba Cnpg frrzf zber Oynpx-naq-Juvgr guna Jbez vf gung vg ynpxf vagreyhqrf (naq gur Jneqf Nep). Gubfr npghnyyl yrg gur ernqre srry gur qvssrerag punenpgref’ crefcrpgvirf engure guna whfg frrvat gurz sebz gur bhgfvqr. V qba’g guvax Cnpg’f punenpgref ner yrff ahnaprq guna Jbez’f (jvgu gur boivbhf rkprcgvba bs qrzbaf naq guvatf yvxr Pbadhrfg).

      4. How different will the edited version of Worm be? While several arcs are considered “weaker” or in need of expansion/rearranging, how does that apply to the story as a whole? Will we just see expansion in the weaker areas to help narrative flow? Or will some parts be rewritten entirely?

      5. @Wildbow
        – All hail the Wildbow! I never stop being in awe of your writing.
        – This post finally made me donate for Pact for the first time (though I donated for Worm previously). I also looked into Patreon, but sadly saw that Patreon’s processing fees (2.1% + .30$) would be too large for low monthly donations.
        – How did you manage to write anything at all with others staying at your house? Not to speak of the quality and volume of your writing. Wow.
        – When you edit Worm, do you incorporate comments or reviews, and if so, where should one put these e.g. to point out rare but existing consistency errors? (I’m one of those people who pay way too much attention to arcane plot details…) Worm is among my all-time favorite works of fiction, and I’d like to know if there’s any way to help make it even better.

        1. Thank you for the donation. Yeah, Patreon takes, generally speaking, about 2.5% via. Patreon processing fees and 2.5% via. credit card fees. Paypal varies, and small amounts still have very heavy fees, but it gets proportionately less as the amount increases. For people donating every month, I’d tell them to wait a month and then donate twice the amount, but people forget and it doesn’t necessarily add up to that much. I think Patreon is better for small amounts, actually? Don’t quote me on that.

          Do whatever’s easiest, and thanks again.

          Writing with others at my place (including a two year old…

          “Unca ‘bow! Unca bow! Look look! C’mon, c’mon! Look look! C’mon!”
          “Yes. Yes, that’s a cheerio.”
          “Hehehe.”)

          …typically involved me being pretty damn antisocial. But my job is my job and people were pretty understanding. I think I saw an eye roll or two. One of the problems of being a career writer is it’s hard to get around the idea that it’s a hobby and not a job. Especially when one writes from home/works online. Anyone who works from home, I think, can testify to how people will intrude on the work or expect ‘five minutes of your time’, and writing online can be compared in a negative sense to fanfiction and lower quality. Alas.

          And when all was said and done, wedding finished, I hitched a ride home with my aunt, ready to write 8.3, and I told myself it was over. That my brother would drop his dogs off before his honeymoon, but I’d have four or five days before it all got chaotic again, one or two more days of chaos as my brother stopped by to get his dogs and sleep over before catching his plane. And then someone showed up. “Oh, your brother didn’t tell you? He said I could crash here before my flight tomorrow.” Then two more people the next day, (one of whom had been stranded on the road – total car breakdown) along with my brother, and then… yeah.

          Just me being antisocial, cranking up my music and not really talking while I spent my time working. Periodically offering tea or pausing to get people clean sheets.

          Any time I sit down to edit a chapter, pretty much, I skim the comments to refresh myself on fan response – that’s the best place to put incongruencies. Thank you.

          1. Thanks for your response :).

            One of the problems of being a career writer is it’s hard to get around the idea that it’s a hobby and not a job. Especially when one writes from home/works online.

            Ouch. One would think that your sheer output (what was it, a book per month?), and the fact that you are a career writer, i.e. one of the tiny minority of creative people who can live from their calling, would be enough. But apparently not. My condolences. I’d go insane with that level of interruptions.
            Well, the silver lining is that at least we readers properly value your work!

            And now something completely different:

            I’ve just looked up the specifics of Patreon fees. You can quote me on that :). (see “What does it cost to use Patreon as a creator?” under http://www.patreon.com/faq#creators)

            So Patreon takes 5% for itself, which is fine, and 2.1%+0.3$ for credit card processing fees, applied to your overall monthly Patreon donation. (And somewhere, currency conversions would presumably apply yet another extra fee, because I donate in euros, Patreon is in dollars, and Wildbow uses CAD.)
            So if one donates, say, 10$ per month to various artists on Patreon, the fee is applied only once, and it’s relatively okay – 0.3$ equals 3%, so the overall fee is (5+2.1+3)%=10.1%.

            But I’m a university student, and my current budget would be more like 2$ per month. In which case the fees for monthly donations really become insane: (5+2.1+15)%=22.1%, whereas I could e.g. donate 12$ every six months via Paypal and only pay (2.9%+0.3$)=5.4%. (Plus currency conversion fees in all cases.)

            1. I think the impact looks inflated because you’re talking in terms of percentage rather than $. Assuming your numbers are right, you’re talking about donating $1.56 per month compared to $1.89 per month. It would be nice if more of the money got to Wildbow but ultimately we’re only talking about 33c difference per month from a $2 donation…

            2. 33c x 10months (not even a year)=3,33$
              3,33$ = a cheap meal,or a small luxury
              You are not stingy enough,irrevenant :p

      6. Wow. You have been having a rough time.
        Well, I’m late, as usual, but I want to express the same sentiment the others expressed: I love your work, and Pact is amazing. Thank you so much for what you do. I honestly look up to you.

        1. What, like screenwriters? Or online fiction? I don’t really want to be insulting, but you do know Wildbow’s been working something like fifty hours a week for slightly less than minimum wage in donations, right? Huh. I don’t usually use that many question marks. Bedtime.

          1. Based on her comments as I check it (that is,her comments on Pact)I think she gets more than minimum wage right now.Could be wrong.

        1. Apparently had that done but not submitted last night. Just got/entered the numbers again.

          1213 Patreon May (end of month)
          ~446 Paypal June
          1242 Patreon June (end of month)
          ~543 Paypal July (so far)

          (Amounts are from memory, though the amounts I added to the page were legit – it’s like 20 clicks to open and a minute’s wait to open each financial report page, so forgive me that.)

          Finished a Thursday chapter this week, added a new one to the queue, increased the amount.

          I’m being pretty open in my disclosure here, but my perspective is that you guys are sort of kind of collectively my bosses, and I’m in the weird position of having to dictate my own pay to said bosses, knowing that if I get the amount wrong, I’ll either get no pay or I’ll get too much work on my plate.

          With that in mind, I’m still holding to the idea that I know how much I can work before stuff starts to give, and I set the amounts to match that degree of work – aiming for 2-3 Thursday updates a month. Given what was going on in the past month, I intentionally set it high to keep myself from coming back from the wedding to find myself with 8 chapters in the queue and more money still coming in.

          As high as the amount is, and as much as I might have shot myself in the foot by raising it like I did, I suspect it was probably in the right neighborhood to get stuff to taper off at the right rate. When I get down to one or two chapters in the queue, I’ll re-evaluate the amount and lower it.

          1. I would say less that we’re collectively your bosses and more that you’re self-employed, with a close relationship with a steady customer base. The method that you offer your product means that, even if you misjudge your pay, you’ll still have people focused on you when you correct it – as you should, given that you make two-thirds of your content for free.

            On the video game thing, I’m eager to know what kind it will be and where I can buy it when it happens.

            Kudos for suffering through your unexpected houseguests and getting us the Adventures of Scarf Girl on time. You have a truly inhuman stamina.

            “Unca ‘bow”? That’s pretty freakin adorable.

      7. Good to hear everything went well. I didn’t realize the Worm editing was in progress already, although I know you were planning on it. I haven’t been able to chip in to support you yet, but I know there will be a copy of Worm on my bookshelf whenever it’s ready, and I am really looking forward to it. Thanks again for writing!

      8. It’s good to know that you’re getting something out writing in addition to the writing.
        A side job working on a video game could be an interesting experience that you could draw from both in your writing and as income–which is always nice.

        As for editing Worm… I empathize. Editing a serial into a novel is a major undertaking–especially if you’re doing it on top of actually writing a serial. I know I’m not going as quickly as I’d like.

  2. Wow, so that’s his domain…twisted.

    ….where did he get mouse and dog spirits? Are they like the equivalent of human ghosts or what?

    Also, someone get a pokeball because Buttsack just got caught. Respect.

    1. Twisted stuff indeed, really curious what scarf girl wants out of talking to her mom in the current situation as well.

      1. It builds a sense of self. Going back to old connections, strengthening them, putting her spirit back together.

        Considering what Johannes does to fractured souls in his domain, its a wise choice.

      1. You know, I’m wondering if, by absolute coincidence, there will be a Faerie Queen in the Pactverse that happens to look exactly like Glastig Uaine.

          1. Yes! This is a thing that should happen. Although maybe just an offhand reference, probably don’t want to get too self-referential just for the sake of being self-referential.

            Alternatively, the next (or maybe previous) iteration of the Faerie Court will be superhero/supervillain themed instead of nobility themed.

      1. Yeah, I caught that too. Fortunatly he went with a sparrow. Never got up to flaming blood sparrow, but hey that’s just cause ErasUrr ate Blake. Bet Johannes can’t fix that one.

  3. Wow. The power one can exercise in their demesne is pretty crazy, and we’ve only seen Johanne’s absentminded cantrips and subtle traps so far. It’s heartwarming to see Scarf Girl talk to her mom, and it’s a good reminder: Maggie doesn’t get everything that was Scarf Girl’s automatically. She has to claim it, somehow, even if that claim is fairly mild, and it looks like she might just be too arrogant to have gotten around to claiming Scarf Girl’s mom. That connection may well keep her from falling through the cracks if she devotes enough time to strengthen it. Of course, Maggie could conceivably grab that connection, so Scarf Girl should really try to hurry and decide whether she’s going to go with the Piper. I’m still wondering what exactly he’s going to nourish Scarf with.

    1. Padriac did promise to leave her parents alone. Her real -with which I mean biological- parents. So this one is something he cannot take without being forsworn. At least that would be my line of thinking.

      1. I don’t think he even knows about her mom, as Scarf mentioned earlier. I think he meant her dads when he said that.

        1. I mostly agree. The thing is, with very few exceptions, humans have a mother and father, biologically speaking. Surely if Maggie wanted to push the matter, she could reason that there at one point was a mother, and check for the woman’s status.

  4. This typo thread is not really real.

    “I’m stronger than Sandra, who you saw earlier.” … if you want Johannes to be using proper English, which I think is in character for him, that should be “whom”.

    1. “You know, I haven’t asked, since I’m not Isn’t it lying to call me those words?”

      Seems the middle of that sentence is missing.

    2. Typos:
      – “Just the oppsite.” -> “opposite”
      – “acting on a thread of self preservation” -> “self-preservation”
      – ““You know, I haven’t asked, since I’m not Isn’t it”
      – “ten year olds” -> “ten-year-olds”
      – “but the horrific rent that extended” -> “rend”
      – ““What?“Noah’s little brother said.” -> missing space

    3. “As connections to things went, her name wasn’t a big part of her attachment to hometown”. ‘Hometown’ is in italics so I’m guessing you meant to put an actual name in there? Alternatively maybe “her hometown”?

    4. “You know, I haven’t asked, since I’m not Isn’t it lying to call me those words?”

      I think it’s missing something along the lines of “allowed to swear” in the middle.

  5. Wow. Johannes is kinda awesome. It’s nice seeing some desmense action. Pretty cool.

    So Scarf’s reconnecting with her mom. That’s nice.

    I think the true hero of the story may actually be Johannes. Every time we’ve seen him on screen, he’s been nothing but nice and helpful. He probably just has a bad reputation.

    Scarf X Buttsack for the wi. . . I can’t do this. I still hold hope for Scarf X Whatshisface.

    The vestiges open up an interesting possibility for Scarf. Can she work with the spirits? She should allow the parts of her that she is losing to be filled with friendly spirits that can assist her on her journey.

      1. We get Ghost Fell to posses Scarf Girl, and then pair up with Whatshisface. That would work. Other than the fact it wouldn’t.

          1. “nothing is possible”? Nice Freudian slip, there.

            “Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, the right demons” 🙂

    1. “I think the true hero of the story may actually be Johannes.”

      He stole shadows from people, making the originals physically and spiritually weaker. Those shadows are clearly sentient beings, however fragile they are, and he is using them as breeding factories and renting them out as playtoys. So I have to disagree. He is just a different style of monster.

      1. For some reason I’m getting reminded of Cauldron. He’s definitly willing to make deals… For the right price. Considering how the damn Karma system works, he may have shit-tons of good karma too if he upholds his deals.

        1. He reminds me more of Coil, with that deal he offered Maggie. His goals are also a bit less…cosmic than Cauldron’s, again more in line with Coil.

  6. And so the number of endgame threats continues to grow. Our protagonists certainly have their work cut out for them.

    Johannes will be exceedingly difficult to unseat given the size of his domain and his connections with various, morally abiguous, others.

    If I had to guess, with regards to the vestiges, he is attempting something similar to the Shepherd in that he is twisting minor others into becoming major threats, ghosts to wraiths and vestiges to monsters/ boogeymen/ changelings/ something that actually transforms the original human into a werewolf or something similar.

    The battle for lordship is coming to a head quicker than I anticipated.

    1. The battle for lordship must also be pretty close if both Johannes and Sandra are trying to get Scarf Girls favor.

      1. It doesn’t have to be that close for them both to be concerned about increasing their power. It might be that one or the other already knows they’ll almost certainly win, but they want more power on their side so they lose less (or they want to make sure the other doesn’t get enough power to make them lose too much). You know, “win the war, lost the peace”. Or the struggle might be determined in large part by random chance; if one’s a lot more powerful, they might get unlucky and face significantly tougher barriers to entry.

        At the moment, I’d say Sandra has a better shot, simply because she isn’t hated or feared by half the locals.

        1. At the moment, I’d say Sandra has a better shot, simply because she isn’t hated or feared by half the locals.

          I’d argue that Johannes has the best shot because of the massive amount of power he’s built up. Other practitioners and Others fear him, thinking him to be amazingly powerful. The Pactverse literally runs on theatrics. Even if Johannes isn’t as strong as he appears (though I think he is), he gets advantage based on the inherit perception of power he exudes.

          1. True enough; in personal power Johannes is probably supreme. But it strikes me as a bad career choice to become the Lord of a city where no one likes you. It also strikes me that some of those same people who aren’t Johannes and who don’t like him might be willing to back Sandra even if they don’t like her. You know, the same thing that causes two-party systems.

  7. This chapter was definitely an interesting look at Johannes’ realm, but I’ve mostly just spent the past few chapters waiting for the other shoe – which has been hovering since 8.2 – to drop. What price will the Girl in the Checkered Scarf have to pay for her mistake? Presumably, we’ll find out on Thursday.

  8. Welcome to Hamelin Scarfgirl.

    So Johannes’ abilities are based on the Pied Piper legend? Say hello to rat infestations & mass disappearances of children people.

    1. A very similar treatment of the Pied Piper and rat motifs, including even Johannes’ creation of vestiges, occurs in the German fantasy novel Dreizehn (“Thirteen”; sadly, no English version exists). At one point, the protagonist runs through a corridor, then the text splits into two columns (!), and in one column, she runs into a wall while in the other, the wall isn’t there. And so, her soul (here, if woult be her vestige) is basically split from her body. I imagine something very similar happens in Johannes’ domain. In fact, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it had already happened to Maggie.

      1. The rule about not touching practitioners probably extends to the vestige-a-matic crafts in place.

        Still, that’s quite the theme park he’s built. I could see a big sign reading “Welcome to Free Range Human Hunting Tycoon 2014″…

      2. That sounds like a fascinating novel. The German-only thing is kinda disappointing, as is the uninspired title.

      3. I had a book like that when I was a little kid. One half of the page was about the kid who made good decisions. The other half of the page was about the kid who made bad decisions. The good kid of course had a good thing happen to him on every page as a result of his decisions, while the bad kid’s poor decisions brought him only misery. At the end, the good kid went to sleep happy that he’d had the best day ever, while the bad kid… I don’t remember. Maybe he cried himself to sleep or something.

      4. “sadly”? No.

        To the person downthread who said “Thirteen” is an uninspired title: I give you “Pact” and “Worm”.

  9. Once Johannes gets the spirit children used to obeying him, used to running and living in fear and hiding, can he Blake/Rose them, kill off the real children (or cut all their connections and dump them in his demense where he can do what he wants with them) and substitute his vestiges as the now real children and thus have a full town of kids and people who are used to obeying him, running and living in fear, and thus basically keep his demense and everything he does there going in the real world?

    1. Real humans have innocence; harming them as a practitioner is an invitation to bad karma and disaster. Practitioners stupid enough to do stuff like that would presumably follow the fate of the Thorburns.

      And Rose is a special case; the demon Barber was used to carve a reflection and this somehow led to Rose’s existence. Which must have cost no trivial amount of power.

      1. Unless Johannes plans on feeding all the real kids to ErasUr then substituting the vestige kids… How privy was Johannes to Grandma’s plans? Does Johannes also know the lawyers?

  10. I bet Maggie goes next to Mara and learns that Mara is also planning to take over Jacobs Bell and wants her assistance.

    What’s with all these players wanting to secure her aid?

    Well, she -was- described as a wild card. And titles have power. Maggie might just be the individual that tips over the balance in Jacobs Bell. Let’s just hope she gets her name back and lives to tell the tale.

    1. What’s with all these players wanting to secure her aid?

      The way I see it, it’s pretty simple. Scarf is one of the few practitioners left to even try to get on their sides. Everyone else is either already on a side (Duchamps/Behaims), obviously automatically evil (Thorburns), Major powers themselves (Johannes), or content to allow the powers to fight amongst themselves (Briar Girl). Being new, Scarf is available to aid whoever recruits her.

      1. Yup. And there’s a lot to be said for taking a minor player and giving them access to the books and other resources required to become major. It gets you a loyal major player far more effectively than trying to recruit one.

    2. Mara won’t help her under any circumstances, however (I think she even shut down the possibility of a favor-for-favor exchange). I see no reason why she would expect unsolicited help with that in mind. She’s racist, but not stupid. (Also, Mara was the first on Maggie’s to-do list)

      1. Technically it was Scarf and not Maggie who approached Mara a couple of chapters ago. Maggie still can give Mara a visit when she returns from Toronto. She could even use glamour to become whatever a Canadian Aboriginal looks like.

        1. The rejection wasn’t based on her name.

          Mara is around since a time which can be considered ancient by north american standarts, and has not made a bid for power yet. It seems she just isn’t interested. Or, as a second thought, she does not adhere to the concepts brought over by the european settlers, eh, sry, “invaders” in her mindset. So she might even think of the idea of “Lordship” as appaling.

    3. Practitioners like to make convoluted plans. Maggie has no allegiance or goals and is thus liable to throw a wrench in things if not properly secured. Even if she’s not that big of a threat in an all out war, there’s always the chance that she could accidentally happen on the one thing that could screw everything else up.

    4. Why do they want to secure her aid?

      One, she’s cheap and probably loyal. She’s falling apart at the seams, and if you can save her, you’d have to really screw up to make her hate you.
      Two, she’s there. As noted, most everyone else locally has taken a side, even if that’s “Nah, I won’t bother” or “Wait, weren’t all of you trying to kill me five minutes ago?”, and none of them are likely to change. They could bring in help from outside, but that could get expensive, especially since being the right-hand man of the Lord of Jacob’s Bell is not worth as much as it would be for larger, more important cities.

  11. So… Johannes is the guy that gets everyone to like him so no one can touch him? Except that he literally gets power by having people like him.

    For some reason, I have always pictured Johannes’s demesne as being a tone of red. Permanently red. I don’t like that image a lot because it makes it a dull, boring place, but it seems scary, fitting and accurate (since the sky is always at twilight).

    Does Johannes have time magic? Because he asked the original Maggie what day she wanted to leave, implying she could go back to the… past? Could she just go before Padraic took her name?

    I don’t want this arc to end. I am enjoying it very much. Great job, Wildbow.

    1. Johannes is the guy that gets everyone to like him so no one can touch him? Except that he literally gets power by having people like him.

      Did I miss something? When was this ever stated/implied? Or is that just speculation? I may have misread something.

      I figured since this is his desmense, he can control all facets of it, including how time passes. You do bring up an interesting thought, though. As a sorcerer, Johannes should be skilled in many practices. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he has some time magic.

      1. I say everyone likes him because he is helping Maggie out, and he is providing pretty much any and every Other with a service. If you mess with Johannes, you are bound to anger some people. I say that he gets power out of this because Maggie herself said it. Johannes has powerful creatures living by his rules, in his land, and he probably requires payment from them. Maggie said this makes Johannes stronger.

        1. I’m definitely disinclined to your view; I get the impression that he’s at least offputting to everyone else. Didn’t Granny describe him as “arrogant”? And if he was really trying to please everyone, wouldn’t he have said “Sure, why not?” to Blake’s offer of protection back at the meeting?

          It seems to me he is treating his practitioner role much like a business (having a service/product Others want, and procuring power and social connections as payment), so maybe that’s where you get that vibe from, but I think his treatment of Maggie is very much an exception here, since she’s both useful to him, and useful right now as the battle for control of Jacob’s Bell approaches.

          1. Interesting aspect. Indeed he is a serious buisnessman. He strikes me as the one who, if you strike a bargain with him, you adhere to the spirit of the bargain instead of only the letter. Since if you don’t, your children will be lured away by the melody from those sweet pipes, lured in his domain, to be forever hunted but monsters…

            He truly is the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

            1. It probably doesn’t last forever. Vestiges are not very good for that, and where would be the fun of hunting (fake) humans if you couldn’t partake in some disembowelment from time to time ?

              He just gets a fresh load of prey everytime someone goes his side of town. Which should be often, since it’s expanding.

      2. Also, yeah. Johannes probably knows some time magic and he can alter how time passes in his demesne. But the way the question was poised allowed not only for Maggie to ask to come out in days to come, but in days that have passed. Unless I missed something in the wording. Now, if Maggie had asked leave in the past, Johannes could have very well said he wasn’t capable. I could very well be reading too much into the wording 😛

        1. Or the sped-up time is just a consequence of the space warping. Although, now that you mention it, it did sound like he could have deposited her a day back in time if she insisted. That seems awfully game-breaking….

          1. At this point, so much stuff is potentially game breaking that it’s one of those “everything is overpowered so nothing is” situations. Heck, even Blake could’ve wrecked the entirety of Jacob’s Bell by just saying Ornias one more time.

            1. Actually, this raises a good question. How come we don’t hear about towns disappearing every few months? If all it takes is saying “Ornias” or another name a few times, I’d imagine some psycho practitioner would do it.

          2. I get the feeling that there would be a price for that – you might come out earlier, but days would seems shorter and moments would bleed away whenever you weren’t looking until you had caught up to normal time, and then some. That, or you would pay in time off your lifespan, probably a disproportionate amount.

    2. Your domain can be immune to the laws of physics. Just how much depends on your power and.your connections to the outside. And a sorcerer is a generalist, so can do a little not of everything.

    1. He doesn’t hunt children for sport; he creates vestiges of children for Others to hunt.

      Whether or not this is unethical depends on how “real” you consider the kids to be, what exactly happens to them, and, perhaps most importantly, what the hunters would do without the vestiges to hunt.

          1. True, but not particularly relevant. 😛

            You said “Whether or not [creating vestiges of children to hunt] is unethical depends on how “real” you consider the kids to be”. I’m pointing out that, if it adversely affects the original human children as well then, no it doesn’t just depend on that.

            Johannes is harming innocent children. Just because he’s not outright killing them doesn’t make that ethical.

            (And that’s without even going into whether it’s immoral to harm the vestiges themselves. And they do seem to be at least semi-sentient).

            1. Its not more damaging than taking blood from an adult,and it arguably makes the world better.So yes,it depends to how real they are.

            2. Blake’s does,when he bleeds himself dry it is the same thing,he is offering parts of Blake,and he does evidently get better,albeit at a slow rate.

            3. -He expends an amount
              -his state is worse that the state the childrens were claimed to be by a being that cannot lie
              Not impossible for the vestige thing to be permanent damage,a broken arm is more unconveniencing than a cut off finger,were both to be healed after the same time,but a cut off finger is worse because it cannot be healed,it is forever.Still I think the clues point 90% to my favour.

            4. You make a good case, and if you’re correct that does indeed cast Johannes’ actions in a new light.

              It is perhaps a legitimate criticism of Pact that, given its nature, it’s sometimes not clear to the reader exactly what is or isn’t possible for the characters. That can make it a bit hard to know how to feel about things.

            5. Nothing harder that creating true magic-it cannot be just alternative sets of physics accesed through a hacking specific condition (like Harry Potter,most manga with magic,most videogames with mana)even though such worlds can and often are interesting,yet making it too vague makes it into a deus ex machina/diabolus ex machina for the author.

              Wilbow handles it better that most-nay,better than everyone I have seen-but any story with vaguemagic has the problem of not giving enough information to gauge some situations (heck,even some with non vague magic do the same).

              So such reactions are reasonable.It is a necessary criticism,if legitimate,for a story such as Pact,just as some awesome videogame systems cannot exist without necessary flaws,ones that sometimes cannot be ironed out,because technological/conceptual limitations,like TWEWY’s battle system flaws or Dark Souls faulty hitbox,or any sufficiently large western rpg’s craaazy bugs ,so is the mystery a necessary bug of Pact,one that is not a feature,but one that is necessary for the features to exist.

            6. Sanderson’s First Law of Magic: the degree to which magic can be used to solve problems is directly proportional to the degree to which said magic is understood by the readers. You can have vague magic as long as it isn’t used for ass-pulls, and consistent and well understood magic is just another tool for the characters to use. Note that, of course, any magic that causes problems for the perspective characters doesn’t need to be well understood or defined.

    2. I don’t hunt children for sport. As Evan proved the little bastards can be too damn slippery. Besides you get more out of adults.

      1. I always prefered prey that could give me a challenge-this get harder as time goes on,I am currently hunting grues.

  12. Now that she’s accepted Johannes’s help and decided not to immediately attack him when the opportunity presented itself, Scarf-her-face is as good as allied with him. Deciding that yes, his hunting grounds are a horrible thing after all would mean admitting she was wrong. It would be too horrible if it were horrible, and she’d be complicit in it, therefore it’s not horrible.

    It’s not clear that it is horrible. The prey are not human, they’re so-called “fakes”. They have to be stuffed with rat-spirits to make them work, and however you feel about hunting animals for sport, surely you admit that it’s better than hunting humans.

    There’s also the population-ethics question of whether it’s ethically permissible (or even obligatory!) to create people in order to hunt them for sport. But we don’t reach this question if the empty-suits-stuffed-with-rats aren’t people.

    The major sticking point is Rose. Rose is (perhaps?) the same sort of creature as these vestiges, and it would be very rude to say that she was not a person. Almost certainly, though, Rose is not stuffed with animal spirits – one of the backgrounding chapters suggests she contains a piece of Rose Sr.’s spirit. So she would inherit persondom that way.

    1. I don’t think the vestiges require rat spirits to work. Rather, vestiges are imperfect and fragile, and when they behave differently from the originals, cracks form in them, and rats/rat spirits settle in there.

      More to the point, this whole “are they people or not” question is not an arcane philosophical debate, to be discussed in academia for centuries without resolution in sight; it’s at the very heart of the matter. And the answer seems pretty clear-cut to me:

      1. The vestiges may or may not be conscious. But if we asked them whether they were conscious, they would say yes. Isn’t that enough to settle the matter? Name a better consciousness test which tests positive for real-world humans and negative for entities without consciousness.
      2. And in any case, the vestiges do show agency: we see them react in various ways to Maggie, Buttsack and Johannes.

      3. They also display full spectra of human emotions, including fear and suffering. Now I guess this could be faked (i.e. maybe they only seem fearful, but don’t have the qualia of fear), but surely the simplest explanation is that they actually do experience these emotions? “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

      4. And as a separate point, the vestiges elicit empathy and sympathy. Looking at them makes our protagonists feel bad.

      And finally, vestiges aren’t created from nothing; they are created by taking parts of real humans, who lose something as a result. So in addition to points 1-4 above, we even have a causal connection from real, conscious, suffering, morally valuable humans to vestiges. Take all this together, and the answer seems pretty clear-cut to me.

      (Oh, and incidentally, ghosts/echoes like Molly’s would probably fail 1 and 2, though they pass 3 and 4. In fact, echoes seem little more than horrible emotions given form.)

      1. I have to disagree with your assessment of vestiges. If they are just imitating reality, I don’t think we can necessarily say they have agency. In a previous chapter, someone likened them to people in videogames. Those people are programmed to behave a certain way and obviously aren’t real.

        I think though, I have a better proof. http://www.cleverbot.com. Behold this conversation I just had with the computer.

        User: Hello.

        Cleverbot: Hi.

        User: Are you a person?

        Cleverbot: Yes I am.

        User: Do you have feelings?

        Cleverbot: Yes.

        User: Really?

        Cleverbot: Mmhmm.

        User: What makes you sad?

        Cleverbot: Nothing.

        User: I have to go.

        Cleverbot: You don’t.

        User: Yes I do. I’m posting this converstion to make a point in the comments.

        Cleverbot: What university?

        User: Toronto.

        Cleverbot: Cool. Its 3:49 where I am.

        User: Goodbye.

        Cleverbot: Goodbye.

        1. Clever bot acknowledged itself as a person.
        2. It showed agency, reacting to me.

        3. Showed some emotion. “I don’t believe you really have to go.” (This one is arguable)

        4. Elicits sympathy. Poor Cleverbot thinks it’s a real person.

        So my point is, it’s not that simple, in my opinion, to just say they’re real based on the little we’ve seen of standard vestiges.

        1. True. I also realized the chatbot exemption to #1, but sadly only after posting my comment.
          To step back a bit, my specific concern was whether the specific vestiges here were suffering or had moral value, that is, whether they were worth caring about. I don’t think it matters whether they are “real” or “fake” in any other sense – the point is whether Johannes has made a sophisticated torture chamber or just, say, a haunted house in a theme park.

          So let’s turn the scenario around: what would have to be different about Cleverbot for us to accept it could suffer, and for us to assign it moral worth?
          You are right about #1 and #2: saying it’s conscious and pattern-matching isn’t enough for us. On the other hand, the chatlog above already shows plenty of nonsensical behavior; Cleverbot doesn’t tackle the question in an intelligent way. Cleverbot may have more agency than a rock, but not necessarily more than a flea, let alone a human. And its behavior quickly becomes entirely predictable. Doesn’t pass the Turing test at all. On the other hand, if it passed the Turing test – if it appeared as intelligent as a human, capable of independent thought -, things might be different. Cleverbot fails this standard, but the vestiges might meet it. (Though it would help if we saw them in more situations, to see whether they would quickly become predictable, or be similar to Rose.)

          I don’t agree about #3 and #4. For instance, a human can say the same words while expressing radically different emotions; Cleverbot can’t, but the vestiges can. I don’t feel any empathy or sympathy for it. Now supposing an Android with perfect human features had the Cleverbot software and accompanied Cleverbot’s lines with appropriate gestures and facial expressions, things might become different.

          But overall, if Cleverbot passed the Turing test and told me it was suffering, I might be inclined to believe it was, and try to protect it from harm. On the other hand, if I had access to its source code and could understand it, I might be able to recognize that it couldn’t suffer – then whatever it did to convince me wouldn’t matter.
          Which is to say, while we might not have conclusive evidence to say that vestiges can suffer, so far everything points in the direction that they can, which makes Johannes … rather problematic.

      2. Hear, hear. They may not be human in the strictest sense of the word, but they’re still people.

        After all, Rose was a vestige. Although I’m just about 95% sure there was/is some other stuff going on there too.

      3. I think you’re being unfair to philosophers. Just because a question needs an answer, doesn’t mean it’s easy to find the right answer. The reason questions of personhood, consciousness, etc. are argued back and forth so long is because they’re hard.

        1. Alternately, you could follow the absurdist philosophy, which argues that philosophy is meaningless, life is Absurd, and you have to come to terms with the Absurdity of life.

    2. Just because she decided not to attack a sorcerer who’s an even match for two entire families of practitioners in the middle of his place of power where he’s basically god doesn’t at all mean that she agrees with anything that he’s doing. It just means that she’s not suicidally heroic, like Blake was.

      1. To build on this: it seems to me Maggie has a serious soft spot for children. Look at the way she was considering making an enemy of Mara in the heat of the moment just last chapter. I don’t remember anything in her Histories chapter to explain this, so maybe it’s something further back in her past (had a younger sibling she couldn’t save from something? I dunno, I think that’s something we’d have heard about already). So it seems the children cause serious conflict for her, but it would be plainly stupid to do anything about it right now. (That said, I expect she will probably make a problem of herself later in this regard, gur fnzr jnl Gnlybe qvq jvgu Qvanu.)

        1. I’d base it on the line that defined her as a practitioner: “No! All of us live! All of us!”
          If she’d become a practitioner without getting cursed in the process (resulting in her need to acquire power at any cost), I imagine Maggie could have been even more idealistic and suicidally heroic than Blake. As is, this option isn’t open to her, but she should still have a soft spot for the weak and the innocent, because they remind her of her own circumstances.

          And as a wholly separate reason, at 17 she’s one of the younger characters in the story, and has no friends or allies of the same age at school. So it makes sense that she’d do better with children, comparatively speaking.

          Oh, and she has experience with dealing with goblin-level mischief. Kids can be vicious, but not goblin-level vicious…

    3. What opportunity presented itself? When was Johannes anything but a step short of a god compared to the Practitioner Formerly Known as Maggie? Not attacking him would be suicide…and so would not accepting his help, given the state she was in. They say who you are in the dark is who you really are, but if that’s true, humanity is nothing but a pack of cornered rats. Are you really going to condemn her for not wanting to die?

      As to if what Johannes does is horrible…well…it all boils down to if these vestiges are people (we know that some–like ghosts–aren’t, but some–like Rose–are), and what the exact conditions of their lives are. Given how they reacted, I’m inclined to think they’re more like Rose than Leonard, so I suppose that while we can’t say for certain without more knowledge of how Johannes works his magic and business (and, of course, the potential effect if he stopped–say, if the hunters would start hunting flesh-and-blood people instead), it certainly seems worrisome.

    4. Did she accept his help, or just hospitality?

      Also I have a theory about rose. Rose is a vestige, who’s been cracks have been filled in with whatever reflection Grandma Rose had carved out. This filled her out in ways that make her more than a simple vestige.

      1. That makes a lot of sense, and does a good job of reconciling the fact that she’s a vestige and simultaneously much more human and has more potential/endurance than a typical vestige.

    5. Now that she’s accepted Johannes’s help and decided not to immediately attack him when the opportunity presented itself, Scarf-her-face is as good as allied with him. Deciding that yes, his hunting grounds are a horrible thing after all would mean admitting she was wrong. It would be too horrible if it were horrible, and she’d be complicit in it, therefore it’s not horrible.

      Also, clearly it can’t be horrible because Johannes being this horrible would make him worse than the Behaims and Duchamps, which is impossible because they are worst, most vile humans in the entire setting. If they weren’t that would mean one or two of the things Blake did might be slightly unjustifiable, and that would be just too much a departure from Wildbow’s writing style!

      ….

      Uh, this is me assuming that’s sarcasm.

      Anyway, even if the vestiges aren’t people and therefore it’s okay to torment them, Johannes is still hella problematic for a whole mess of reasons.

      !. These Vestiges come from real people. Who are being negatively influenced by the connection. This may not sound important, but let’s consider a few things here.

      a. This means scary things about how he interacts with other people. Sure, assume that the Behaims and Duchamps fuck with normal people sometimes, but neither of those have displayed such a willingness to chuck their own species under the bus than Johanne has shown.

      b. How willing is he to take the connection further? Say the others get bored and want more lifelike toys to play with, will he be obliging to draw his victims further and further into vestigehood?

      c. He’s giving Others specific, real people to torment. What happens if Jacob’s Bell goes the way of Maggie’s town and the Others go looking for their favorite playthings, except for real.

      Also. Johanne’s wants to conquer the town, implying he wants to do this to the whole thing, what happens to the people living here? What happens to towns elsewhere that he sets his sights on? How far is he willing to take his pre-Solomon nightmare shithole.

      Frankly, Johanne’s seems too bloody scary to let live and it looks like the rest of the town is sticking their heads under the sand about him and caring too much about the Thorburns.

      1. ?Which things would be slightly unjustifiable?hurting he incarnations of lawful evil,in self defense,which would leave less people vs the incarnation of neutral evil?doubtful this is not evil,unjustifiable or even grey.

        Trying to play the evils against each other?nope,not really unjustifiable,at worst tad survivalistic

        Sooooo…enlighten me,I cannot think of anything else.

  13. Comments:
    – Wow, Johannes’ demesne is insane. And he really is powerful enough to remain basically unchallenged, except presumably by demons. And with Johannes’ drawing of that phone I now have the perfect way to describe demesnes: inside, you have the power of a Scribblenaut.

    • There are even genies (!) and minor incarnations (!) here? Oh wow.

    • The poor vestige kids are creepy.

    • Didn’t Maggie violate Johannes’ rules by attacking Buttsack? “You don’t go after practitioners, you leave grudges and greater weapons at the door. No fighting, unless it’s to go after someone who starts a fight”

    • I do have to say, I kind of respect the weird kind of integrity or single-mindedness that makes Buttsack such a constant pain in the ass. If he has 5 seconds until he’s bound, he’ll use them to curse; and the “sweethearts” scene was awesome…

    • After the line “Motherfucking goblins“, Buttsack seemed to have disappeared from the chapter. He appears once more later, but his almost complete absence was still weird. To the point that I have to wonder whether his fears were justified and he didn’t leave Johannes’ demesne when Scarf left.

    • “Metaphorical Ducks to get in a metaphorical row.” -> Seriously, sometimes Pactverse really is cruel to language. No sarcasm, no metaphors without qualifiers…

    1. Technically, it wasn’t a fight. Also, Maggie technically didn’t agree to anything of the sort.

      Buttsack must have run out of ways to irritate Maggie. But yeah, he’s hilarious. Sort of a dark mirror of Evan.

    2. I had the same thought about Maggie breaking the rules, but I’m pretty sure those rules are specifically for Others who want to be there. Maggie is a practitioner, and thus didn’t agree to them and isn’t expected to agree to them.

  14. “Things any self-fucking-respecting sod would fucking stay way from you moronic fucking cunt!
    Buttsack really needs to learn when not to insult people.

    “I obey you, one year.”
    Hm. I notice he didn’t agree to the don’t-harm-me-or-mine bit. Was this intentional? If not, will Butsack notice? Find out…over the course of the next year!

    “But she’s like, your age, Noah.”
    Have we seen a Noah before? It sounds familiar. I tried searching, and got nothing, but since that includes “not this chapter,” I’m skeptical.

    “And I would want you working at my side. My allies, for the most part, are transient ones. Mercenaries, if you will. Help me take Jacob’s Bell. After that… it’s up to you. You could take a seat on my council and be my problem solver, or you could leave the city.”
    I am getting distinct Pbvy vibes from this guy. Mercenaries, trying to take over the city, rewarding some minions with places of power and having others leave the city…same kind of thing with “hiring ’em while they’re down,” too.

    They talked about inane things until the phone’s battery ran out.
    That’s sweet. Phone batteries do last a while. I’m not terribly familiar with smartphone battery life, or what charge Johannes keeps his phone at, but that’s still probably an hour, minimum.

        1. I’m hoping that anyone who it would be a spoiler to would either not know the context enough to determine it or else be trying not to be spoiled.

      1. I’m starting to see warning signs of the same happening.

        I can only imagine what it must be like for you, with checking the half-censored posts for spoilers and whatnot.

  15. all of your non-white characters are Others. I think I mentioned it earlier, but I truly find it bizarre, and I think you should be conscious of that. it wasn’t really an issue in Worm but uh. yeah, that’s my piece. I won’t explain further because you probably get it and/or can google it.

    also, after this chapter, I think Johannes is my favourite character (that still has a name/exists). Really twisted, personable-ish though! I identify hugely with “using people as props” thing. Very dramatic, kinda mean.

    1. I hear you, but I’m basing this off of a small town I’ve spent a fair bit of time in. In small towns in Canada, you generally see a lot of people who came from Britain or Scotland, with a lot of (sometimes even more than legit brits/scots) love for their heritage. These people make up 95% of the population in these towns, or so it seems. Multiculturalism tends to take hold in places where there are more recent immigrants, places with schools and so on. Generally speaking, the old towns aren’t places where people who don’t have some tie to the towns are going to flock in any substantial numbers.

      In retrospect, I could have made more of Blake’s friends fit different ethnicities, but we’ll have to make do with the one(s) we have.

      In Worm the city and scope were broader and I did what I’m doing here – putting things together in a way that makes sense for the setting.

      1. well I mean, you can reflect that makeup in the Others as well, right? I’m not saying theres an egregious lack of non-white characters (maybe in Toronto) but I’m saying that all of the brown/black people that do show up are tied to something less than or not really human. all of them. That’s more my concern, the method of representation vs the quantity. I mean, I live in Madison, Wisconsin. I definitely get the numbers thing. But the other point still holds.

        1. There is some logic to Others in small towns being more diverse (except for ghosts and such, Others in little town are there probably because they’re hiding from something) than the humans (who are usually in such places because they’re born there). That said, except for the little-girl vestige in this chapter, and Mara, I can’t remember any other example of Other that is mentioned to be non-white, or even human-enough that it would make sense to discuss their race. Who did I miss? (There was a group in this same chapter that had brown skin, but it wasn’t obvious if they were human-looking enough, and besides, Others in Johanne’s fun-park are explicitly coming to visit.)

          Also, Buttsack called Scarf “mongoloid” in this chapter, isn’t she half-asian or something?

          1. corvidae, barbatorem. I mean, you can explain it any way you want, but it doesn’t seem purposeful in the way you suggest it could be. And that’s why I mentioned it. It may be a subconscious trend on wildbow’s part, but its a continuous one all the same. And I think it matters because, as you can imagine, I have been personally/measurably affected by such trends in literature/other art that I have come across in my life. all I’m saying is that it’s not trivial, and stands to be thought about moving forward.

            1. On the other hand, it’s also good that Wildbow is avoiding token minorities and not just checking off an affermative action checklist.

              I honestly hadn’t noticed a disporportinate amount of Others being non-caucasian. But it might actually be justified in Jacob’s Bell’s case. Whats the nearest city with a lord? Toronto. Whose the lord? Conquest. And here is the important part. What was one of the major things that created this incarnation of Conquest? The displacement of native peoples by european settlers. So if they were driven out of the Toronto area by Conquest then Jacob’s Bell is probably the nearest place they could relocate to.

            2. ha, my response is the same as to bogdanulb. You can make sense of it after the fact, but sneaking suspicion tells me those reasons weren’t factored into wildbow’s writing. He is free to correct me, of course.
              and the affirmative action comment really grates. besides the fact that existence of other race characters in predominantly white areas can be for reasons other than being “pc”, I think you could probably get your point across with less charged implications. (I am putting this in brackets even though its the main point but — white women benefit most from affirmative action, so its not really fair to represent it as a purely racial legislation. that, and if you reduce a character down to a checklist, yeah that will make them boring. but only because your removing any character traits they might have for the sake of a linear thought process)

            3. I wasn’t trying to make anything charged. Honest. We certainly can’t say Worm’s cast wasn’t diverse. As for the token minorities and checklist comments, that was more expressing my dislike of when a work throws in a character who’s character exists just to be a minority, and who’s character can be summed up as that minority. I suppose I didn’t really express that well.

            4. I’m not arguing, I honestly couldn’t think of any other examples. I didn’t remember Corvidae had brown skin (I had to check right now), my mental image of him was of a creepy white guy.

              I can’t find a reference to Barbatorem’s looks, but IIRC he changed his appearance, and besides, he’s a demon, so I didn’t really think discussing his skin color or race made much more sense than discussing Ur’s.

              But I see how a persistent trend might be worth avoiding even when justifiable in story terms, so I won’t argue much.

              (That said, I can’t help but noticing that Suleiman bin Daud is also described as brown-skinned, and he sounds pretty much “anti-Other”, at least from the character’s opinions.)

            5. yeah I had to make sure, but the barber was described as “middle-eastern or indian”. First arc. and I dont really see it as an argument, so no worries there. I only mean to emphasize that making up reasons for a trend after the fact doesnt explain why it existed in the first place. I think he just didn’t think about it.
              and I dont remember suleiman bin daud actually, what chapter/arc?

            6. Bonds 1.7:

              She lifted another book, turning it around so I could see a painting of a brown-skinned man with a funny little golden hat and a magnificent beard.

            7. you say “all of the brown/black people that do show up are tied to something less than or not really human. all of them.” this is false. unless you interpret “tied to something less than or not really human” as so ridiculously broad it covers every named character in the story.

        2. This is an interesting point. I’d figured that the overwhelming whiteness of all the practitioners even in Toronto was due to the lineage aspect of magic, how they tended to be mainly people with that kind of social privilege, as part of some sort of overarching “magic as privilege” metaphor (in comparison to Worm, where it was “oppressed people suddenly got power,” here the privileged have always had the power, which is why human history in Pact is approximately as we knew it), but I hadn’t considered it from the Other angle. If we had a Like function I’d give you a Like.

            1. where does the story take place? canada. the new world. whites haven’t been there all that long so unless the other was fairly new or brought over as some sort of warbeast the vast majority of them aren’t going to be white. quit deliberately trying to offend yourself and you’ll have a much more pleasant life.

            2. Thanks for your wonderful insight, over a year later. You seem unnecessarily annoyed by my comment. I was never offended, truly, but you somehow seem quite bothered by your assumption that I was. Maybe you should consider why you’re so pressed to add your voice to a conversation that has been thoroughly played out and is definitely over. I’ll have a much more pleasant life knowing you gained some sort of self-awareness. Cheers.

            3. I’m not really bothered by the relevancy, more that the comment was mentioned by many before, addressed in my replies, and was frankly unnecessarily condescending. I particularly dislike when people project their discomfort with the topic onto me. It’s lazy.

      2. I grew up in a rural area, and there was one non-white person in my grade, a girl born in India, and she was adopted. And most of the Black kids were only temporary, and didn’t stay the whole of their education. But go to the nearest city (And it’s not a big one) and you’d find far greater ethnic diversity.

      3. meh, don’t worry about it. it’d be worse implications to have a pile of token blacks padding blake’s out of town friends than to pull characters from a reasonable population like you’ve been doing. somebody somewhere is always going to be silly and oversensitive.

    2. I’m pretty sure that Canada is a lot more homogeneous than the US, what with not being cotton-growing country (attracted lots of slave trade) or being famed for being a Land of Opportunity (brought in people from all corners of the globe), instead gaining a reputation for maple syrup (not a terribly slave-intensive industry even when slavery was A-OK) and being cold (tends to drive away potential immigrants). And polite, I suppose, but history suggests people like being warm more than being surrounded by polite people, which might explain a lot of our history.

      Actually, let’s fact-check that…yup, there’s only about four million Asian-Canadianss, less than a million African-Canadians, about half a million each Arabs and Hispanics, and a few hundred million “Multiracial” and “Other”. Oh, and almost exactly 1,400,000 Natives as of the last census. Now, Canada is only about four NYCs in population (incidentally, this is totally the SI unit for population size), but that’s only about 4% Native and 20% non-white-or-native. That’s not miniscule, but when you account for the fact that ethnicities are not evenly distributed and that small sample sizes (e.g, Jacob’s Bell Practitioners–or really, Practitioners in general, but especially a small subset of a small sub-population) are especially uneven.

      And let’s be blunt, pretty much all of the main cast is Other to some extent.

      1. I think I mentioned somewhere that I’m not talking about the low number of non white characters, I’m talking the description/function of the few non white characters that exist. They were either non human or explicitly described as more Other than most practioners (as a default, not a description of being weakened). I appreciate the effort it took to get all the numbers there and make the argument, but uh, again, not really what I was saying.

        1. I guess I’m one of the few commenters who agrees with you? I’d actually prefer a story with exclusively white people, if the alternative is a story where the non-white people are only cast in antagonistic/Other roles. The best case scenario, of course, is a story like Worm, where there are enough non-white characters that their characterizations run the gamut from good to evil.

          bimpe isn’t really saying anything negative about Wildbow (who,as mentioned above, has clearly demonstrated the ability to write positive depictions of non-white characters) or even Pact, really. She’s just pointing out something that Wildbow should be aware of moving forward: That when all characters in a particular group share a trait, readers may make (incorrect) generalizations about all members of that group, or the author’s beliefs about all members of that group.

          Sorry to reiterate your point, bimpe, but: Imagine if all the Asians, or women, or people from Earth Bet in Worm (whether there were 5 or 500 of them) were supervillians. It would be…well, weird…and readers would be justified in wondering why.

          1. no worries, I definitely appreciate that you get it.

            it’s particularly important because painting specifically non-white people as animalistic and demonic is actually historically consistent. and doing it now, even without that explicit purpose, only serves to reinforce the whole inhuman-brown people trope (which I mentioned before has measurable negative effects).

            it’s small in the grand scheme of things, but only if you’ve never felt those negative effects…

            1. I’m sorry, but I’m just a little annoyed at this thread of comments.

              Canada’s a young nation, and that means that if I’m going to have a character that’s more than 200 years old, chances are good that said character is going to be from elsewhere in the world. Genies are going to be Middle Eastern, as are pseudo-angels like the ones the author of Black Lamb’s Blood summoned with his/her family. Others that are native to Canada pre-colonization are going to be Aboriginal, as a rule. I can’t help but think it’s more fucked up to Anglicize Others drawn from myth. It’s like making Jesus white and tall when he would have been brown-skinned and short.

              I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do, otherwise. Just steer clear of bloodthirsty genies and write about Caucasian werewolves and vampires? That’s not what I really want to write or tap into.

              It’s not even as specific as you’re painting it. For every Barbatorem that exists, you have a Midge or a Bloody Mary or, heck, a Buttsack, with varying degrees of savagery, ugliness, bloodthirst and brutishness on top of having white skin. You’ve got Mia here (black), infested by rats and three others that are white that are in worse, uglier shape.

              Among the prominent humans, you have Suleiman and you have Ty. There aren’t that many humans, though, especially when you condense families down into single units. I’ve already gone into the way small towns in Canada tend to have more white people.

              No, this is just silly at this point. And it’s sillier still when you’ve (IIRC? Don’t have time to double check) admitted Worm was pretty damn fair. People find patterns in noise, and I can’t help but think you’re, subconsciously or not, looking for a specific argument to make here and you’re finding it. I believe the term is confirmation bias.

            2. I’m not supposing that you had any specific intention in what I noticed (though Thanks for pointing out Ty), I’m just saying that I noticed something even if you didn’t.

              You trivialize the point by saying it’s silly, but honest to god, I think you don’t get the point at all. I’m not saying that all of your demons/others are not white. Im not saying there arent enough not white characters.

              if you get it on some level but think it doesnt apply, you’re free to disagree. but I really hate the idea that I should tiptoe around a subject (that is relevant to my life, and that I have analyzed in other contexts) just because you don’t want to deal with it in the same capacity. like, you may have the luxury of being blind to it, but I do not. I wasnt kidding about the whole measurable-effects-on-my-life thing. media and art contribute to culture. so empathise? with me and other people like me? be conscious of that sort of thing that can be unwittingly harmful even if it seems small to you? or you can be annoyed because of the content of the critique…

              I really resent the suggestion that I’m making it up for shits. As if my lived experience isnt proof enough, and as if this is something I desperately want. Because if your credible source on the matter is “other people who arent affected personally”, then yeah you’re not going to see anything there.

              like, if you want me to come up with sources on how art/presentation of peoples can affect the social perception of that group, and therefore the socio-economic and potential of said groups, maybe we should have a private conversation. I’m entrenched enough in academia to provide you with more than enough sources. but you might have a problem if you just dont believe it because you think I’m biased. or if you think that your intention is all that matters.

              You’re of course free to do as you wish, but I never thought calling attention to something more social-centered than canon-centered would be a cause for annoyance. if I noticed anything worrying about gender/expression, sexuality, or disability even, I would have thought to say something as well. and even when some of those things don’t affect me, I like to be conscious of it when I write, and get feedback from the people who it affects. Thought you might too.

            3. and as a side note, the fact that I said Worm was fine is exactly why you should believe I’m not trying to find something, anything, to critique on the basis of race/ethnicity, else I would have done that with Worm. I like Worm. I like Pact. I like your writing. Thats why I’m still here. Just…something to keep in mind, as far as where my comments are coming from.

            4. Look, I can’t get into a long debate because I’m writing today, but gonna reply this one time here.

              You trivialize the point by saying it’s silly, but honest to god, I think you don’t get the point at all. I’m not saying that all of your demons/others are not white. Im not saying there arent enough not white characters.

              I didn’t get the point at all, and I’m genuinely sorry about that. It’s because I can’t figure out the argument you’re trying to make that I’m trying to figure out what you’re doing, instead. I went to the chatroom and ask my readers to get clarification on the point you’re trying to make, and that’s helped, maybe.

              You’re not saying that all demons/others are not white.
              You’re not saying that all monstrous Others are non-white.
              You’re not saying there are a disproportionate number of white characters.
              You’re not saying that all non-whites are Others (because Ty and Suleiman exist)

              You’re, if the people in the chat are right (and I’m hoping that turning to them means I’m not strawmanning you here), saying that the fact that some of the nonwhite characters are Others is something that plays into dehumanizing stereotypes.

              Or, rephrasing it to be a stronger argument, all of the non-white characters besides Ty and a briefly mentioned historical figure are Others is something that plays into dehumanizing stereotypes.

              Okay. Fair point. I’ll keep an eye out for that.

              With that in mind, I’d like to address the ‘silly’ comment and the following:

              ‘ I really hate the idea that I should tiptoe around a subject (that is relevant to my life, and that I have analyzed in other contexts) just because you don’t want to deal with it in the same capacity. like, you may have the luxury of being blind to it, but I do not.’

              When I used the word silly, it’s because I guess I’m being dishonest about how I really feel. I’m… very very bothered by the implication of racism. I don’t think you should tiptoe around the topic of racism, but I do think you should be very careful and very clear with how you bring it up. It’s scary, especially for someone like me who is in the public eye, someone who depends on audience goodwill to survive and succeed, to have that idea thrown around. While it’s not as bad as being accused of being a rapist, people can and do lose their jobs after (real, partial, nebulous or false) accusations of racism are thrown at them. Above, I referred to writing as my job, and all of the people here as my bosses. I have thousands of bosses, and it’s very easy for something to get away from me, without my having a fair chance to chime in or a fair say in the conversation.

              Online especially, in a close-knit community of thousands who travel in the same circles, people can take an accusation of impropriety and run away with it, whether it’s deserved, partially deserved (as it may be in this case) or not (again, as it may be in this case – I don’t know but I’ll watch out for the issue now). Ideas and allegations spread like wildfire. The internet is very much not policed, and the wrong people can get ideas in their heads.

              Hell, when people accused me of being misandrist of all things, partway through Worm, people seized on the idea and there was a long thread of accusations with a few readers rereading the story and picking it apart to find places where they could accuse me of being some feminazi or male-apologist. I had one guy with genuine mental problems attack me online, accusing me of being a cabal of feminists in league to a demon, working with an agenda to make malekind feel sad. One of his usernames online referenced hurting animals, he spammed posts in several places and was really very angry; he threatened to find me and resolve the problem. Other readers might remember him. During that one week period, I had days where I spent forty five straight minutes deleting spammed (no-content, just angry) comments, and there was little to nothing I could do to deal with comments and arguments on, say, areas of Reddit or on message boards.

              Just like my audience has spread with word of mouth, with just the right person hearing and then spreading the word to ten more, ideas and labels can spread too. I’m lucky that it didn’t get more traction.

              All that set off by the idea was a comment suggesting I was treating my male characters more harshly than my female characters.

              I have people online every day devoting a surprising amount of time and effort into attacking me, and they’re just looking for ammo. So when I said I was annoyed and that I thought the idea was silly, I guess I was just confused about the point you were trying to make, and I can see where other people might be too, and run away with the idea rather than the argument itself. I was really thinking was “Holy fucking shit, I do not want to deal with all that stuff again”, and I was trying to treat the situation with a measure of levity above all else, because I don’t want to sound too confrontational or let on that I am/was sort of spooked and angry by the label (or perhaps the idea) that was being thrown around.

              So let me apologize for sounding dismissive – the ‘silly’ thing was more about me than about you. All of that witch hunting stuff I just mentioned is my balliwick to deal with, and your (collective) job as readers is only to read or not read the story. If you support me and spread the word, that’s great, too. But maybe please don’t say I have the luxury of ignoring the topic.

            5. I really appreciate the response. I think the “stronger argument” is hitting the point. like– looking at not-white characters, theres a significantly higher Other-to-human ratio than for the white characters. I didnt realise I could even represent it so concisely, and I suppose if I had, there wouldn’t be so much misunderstanding.

              I understand that people may extrapolate (incorrectly) from my comments but for the record, I don’t think you’re racist, and mentioning Worm was my way of affirming that. I also dont think that discussing race and implications is the same thing as discussing racism in individuals (though I realise people often conflate the two.) I was purposely repeating that I didnt think it was anything directed/intentional/ingrained on your end, and I genuinely believe that. I don’t know if I can prevent people from misunderstanding, but I hear you on how it can turn into something ugly if not checked.

              anyway, thanks again for taking the time to respond honestly and thoughtfully. I know it’s not easy to put yourself out there

            6. Or, rephrasing it to be a stronger argument, all of the non-white characters besides Ty and a briefly mentioned historical figure are Others is something that plays into dehumanizing stereotypes.

              Yes, that’s the gist of the argument.

              Thanks for the substantial and well-reasoned response. I did my best to aim my commentary at Pact – and only Pact – by stressing how well you handled race in Worm, but I definitely understand your concerns that people will (mistakenly or intentionally) misinterpret these comments to mark you as the second coming of Kaiser. I certainly don’t view you in that light and I hope others don’t either.

              It’s something that I have to worry about in my line of work as well. It’s very easy for people to see patterns in the noise and then pass those patterns on to others, so I just try to be aware of the patterns people might see and decide if that’s a pattern I want to communicate (intentionally or not). It’s what I (and bimpe, I think) were suggesting, just being aware of it going forward, and it looks like that’s what you ended up taking away from the conversation. So all is copacetic?

              I also wasn’t aware that Ty isn’t white. Thanks for pointing that out.

            7. Hopefully we’ll see more diversity when we see more of the world. It doesn’t help that right now most others we’ve seen have been malicious, and thus any non-caucasian others we see would most likely be malicious.

              In Crone Mara’s case she hates white people, but it’s kinda understandable. She might be more kindly disposed towards native americans. Jim Corvadae is apparently a boogyman created as a curse against the white man. The Barber is a demon. But I would hope we could think of at least a few benevolent others of a wide asortment of races and nationalities.

            8. had one guy with genuine mental problems attack me online, accusing me of being a cabal of feminists in league to a demon, working with an agenda to make malekind feel sad.

              Jesus.

              I remember being consistently surprised that we never got that kind of shit in the Worm comments (the feminazi stuff, not the mental problem stuff) and that it only got as far as mild complaining about the lack of male characters. Now I realize that you might have been deleting those comments all along.

              My sympathies.

            9. @ Reveen – Yep.

              To clarify:

              I debated the subject of deleting comments for a long time before making the call. In the end, there were people who were just fostering pure negativity, never contributing, only starting arguments where they never ever changed their positions, and people wound up arguing rather than reading or talking about the story.

              I’ve commented on it before, but internet content creators never really get a break, and they’re intertwined with their fanbases, making it very hard to create distance or get objectivity. It can have a profound effect on said creator when the fanbase turns toxic, even in part. Look at Thunt from the goblins webcomic (his blog post under the comic goes into it) or Totalbiscuit’s rant on reddit (tied in part to his failing health).

              I sort of made the call to do what I had to to keep things more upbeat and positive. Even if I’m deleting and removing toxic members from the community, I think there are enough that are offering genuine, helpful criticism that I’m not going to get a big head.

              It’s just a lot of grief from people who aren’t worth my time, y’know? I don’t like censorship, but I think there’s a difference between censorship and deciding not to associate with jerks. Ever since that point, I’ve sort of noted & quietly removed commenting privileges for a few of the people who never had anything positive to say or anything to contribute. Maybe five or six in total, since removing those “you’re misandrist!” guys.

              I’m debating what I’m going to do about the IRC chatroom, as one of the server mods (I’m just a channel mod) is one of those toxic, petty people, and is unbanning people I’m trying to remove for aforementioned reasons. Kind of a pain to move people over to a new channel though. We usually have thirty to fifty people the room at any point in time.

    3. From 4.01:
      “Blake!” a guy greeted me from the door. He was black, hair cut short to the point it was barely a shadow on his head and wiry, and he didn’t try to hide or take shame in his body type. He wore a suit jacket that was a bit tattered and skinny jeans with gray smudges on them.

      “Hey Ty,” I said

      So that’s at least one (two if Buttsack was being literal with that “mongoloid” comment about Maggie).

      Either way, I doubt the lack of diversity was subconscious on Wildbow’s part – Worm was very diverse, so I tend to believe him when he says he deliberately made Pact very ‘white’ to accurately reflect small-town Canada.

      You make a good point about so many of the Others being non-white. Without checking in detail, I suspect at least some of that is due to massive age difference. The human practitioners (with the exception of Mara) are products of modern, European-dominated Canada. Many of the Others we’ve seen either predate European settlement of the Americas (Mara) or predate the rise of Europe altogether (Isadora, Barbatorem).

      I believe the younger Others (Conquest, June, Leonard, Evan, the Eye) mostly are caucasian. Midge was described as being “red in the face” which implies reasonably fair skin.

      The more I think about it, the more I suspect your initial impression doesn’t actually match the facts.

      1. You’re right! When I wrote this, I had entirely overlooked Ty (although to be fair, by the comments here, I think a lot of people missed that. That, I think, says a lot about the kinds of characters we expect to see anywhere).

        The comment was a fairly neutral expression in terms of wildbow’s intent.
        Regardless of some ideal of historical accuracy (which doesnt address the lack of diversity in toronto at /all/), my point was and remains that when I encountered darker skinned people in this story, it was almost always an Other.

        Its weird not to see more representation in a modern story. Its weird to be a reader and have few human characters that have your skin color, but enough to count that arent human.

        If you havent been not white in an american context and/or if you havent at least tried to educate yourself on the role of representation, then I suspect (like many here who felt somehow indignant that I would even bring it up) you won’t get it.

        If you get it but dont think it should apply here, then I’m fine disagreeing on the merit of historical accuracy in a fantasy story that is necessarily filled with outrageous inaccuracies. Diversity would be a very simple and non-outrages, non-improbable “inaccuracy” to incorporate. For the real world benefit, I think it’s worth it.

        And as a side note, ‘European’ is only (almost) synonymous with white in a “new world” context. Europe itself has never been all white; THAT would be a historical inaccuracy.

        1. Hi! Thanks for replying. 🙂

          I’m white in an Australian context. I’m aware of representation issues and that they’re definitely a legitimate problem but I won’t pretend to be an expert on the topic or that I have the experience of it that people from unrepresented groups do.

          I’m certainly not indignant that you mentioned it! It’s a legitimate point, and I’m not really sure why anyone would be. This sort of thing needs to be highlighted.

          Good point about being careful to not use ‘European’ as a general synonym for ‘white’. I was indeed talking specifically in terms of a New World (and particularly Canadian) context.

          Yeah, lots of people overlooked that Ty was black. I think it’s because Wildbow generally isn’t into describing characters’ looks unless it directly affects the plot. (Midge got more description in one chapter than Blake did in dozens, for example). In Worm, it took forever before anyone realised that Flechette was Asian, too. It’s a shame in a way, because it means that the diversity that is there goes relatively unnoticed.:/

          I’m not sure but at this point (which is where I’m up to – I’m still working my way through the archives, so no spoilers, please. :)), I believe none of Blake, Rose, Alexis, Joel, Tiffany or Paige have ever been described in enough detail for the reader to tell their race. They could be an incredibly diverse group and we just don’t know it.

          I don’t believe I responded in my last reply to your original point: that almost all characters specified in-story as being non-white have been Others. There’s in-setting reasons for some of that, but as a pattern… yeah. :/ Hopefully some of the characters listed above will turn out to be other than white. (Maybe they already have? I’m a looooong way behind…)

          PS. Is it inappropriate in the context of this discussion to say you have a cute profile picture?

          PPS. I didn’t mean to make the “hey, Ty” text huge like that. Sorry. :/

        1. Yeah, she was described as black. Noah’s little brother is described as blonde, so they’re both probably white. The other one wasn’t specified, I think.

          When I was talking about the demographics amongst Others of different ages, I was talking trends (probabilities and averages) rather than absolutes.

          Something like 80% of Canada’s population identify as of English, French, Scottish, Irish, German or Italian ethnic origin so it seems likely that the significant majority of living human Canadian practitioners are white. And some aren’t.

          By comparison, many Others seem to be centuries old. Those ones predate major white settlement in the Americas and, in some cases, the rise of Britain, Spain, etc. as colonial powers so I’d expect the majority of that group to be non-white. And some aren’t.

          Conversely, I’d expect a much greater percentage of the Canadian Others who were ‘born’ in the last century or so to be white. And some aren’t.

          So far we’ve seen more or less what I’d expect to see, statistically: All but one (Isadora) of the really old Others have been non-white. Most (but not all) of the more recent Others (Conquest, June, etc.) have been white. Most of the human practitioners have been white. (BTW, there’s a big dose of probably/maybe mixed in here ‘cos with quite a few characters we just don’t know their ethnicity).

          None of which, incidentally, addresses your original point that “almost all the non-whites in this story are inhuman” is a really, really unfortunate pattern. :/

          I suspect that the demographics we’ve seen are fairly accurate given the setting as described. I also suspect that it would be better to include some clear exceptions to those demographics as counterexamples to such an ugly pattern.

          Ty’s a good start (especially since he’s one of the more awesome characters in this thing. :D). On the “major white Other characters” side we have Isadora and Conquest. How many more do you think is reasonable to break the pattern?

          1. I didn’t even see this question (and for whatever reason, I thought of neither Isadora nor Conquest as white, but I’ll have to go back), but I dont think there’s a quota that’s appropriate, necessarily…. but there are many intentional things an author can do that can change the feel of a text — one of them is to describe every human’s skin (or, human-like figure) in whatever detail that’s necessary. This means that everyone kind of knows who is who, and reading descriptions of skin isn’t always or mostly when it’s darker skin. that just makes it stick out more.

            either race/ethnicity is important in the story or it’s not. with how Others are described to really get their origin, i’m going to say it’s important. I think it should be treated importantly across the board, so as to avoid the assumption that there’s a default race in ‘western’ literature. the default race concept is one I find harmful in media, particularly literature. and it’s one that makes the description of non-white characters particularly striking. paired with the nature of the story it just Feels Bad

            1. With all due respect, Bimpe, I hear what you’re saying. I understand the problem even though I don’t necessarily relate to it.

              And though I don’t have a deep, personal reason champion issues of race or minority representation, I do strongly dislike cliches and formulas, and often try to work against them. Relegating minorities to background or character roles is part of that. I would really like to have gay, transgender, Black, First Nations, or Hispanic characters at various points in my writing career, and I’d hope that I could represent them accurately and well in the course of my writing.

              That said, my own focus has been on false representation more than sticking characters of X races in the midst of the cast just for the sake of representing them.

              I grew up in Ottawa, and I have spent a considerable amount of time in Toronto and Guelph over the years, though rarely for more than a few weeks at a time. I spent time in smaller towns, and just moved last November to a town with a population of under 20,000, which is very similar to the town I modeled Jacob’s Bell after (which I also spent considerable time in). Growing up, from grade one to grade eight, I had one Black kid in my classes, one First Nations, one Middle Eastern kid, and one Asian kid, and so on down the line. There was a very limited representation of minorities, and I was arguably part of that representation. Now that I’m living in the small town, I’ve yet to see a single visible minority.

              When crafting the world, I do it in a way that makes sense. I know you insist that it doesn’t make sense to have the representation we see in Toronto, but I’ve participated in events with older standing clubs and institutions. Once you get into any organization that’s older than 1981, the representation of minorities declines dramatically. Some of it is racism, some of it is just the immigration numbers. As multicultural as Canada can be, it’s a multiculturalism that was injected only in recent generations. As much as I love Canada,

              We see Blake at school and there’s some small representation there (Ty), and we see him involved with the council that involves older groups and families, and that representation isn’t there. But that’s based on observations and experiences, being there, having participated in older clubs and volunteer groups and things like that.

              Maybe that’s not what you’d want, but that’s the way the world is put together, in the realms and fields that one individual is interacting with. There’s no agenda here, beyond the broader fact that the story as a whole touches on the subject of Otherness and the decision to self-segregate (dividing into discrete families or drawing lines between groups, interacting only along predefined lines) and the subtle damage that can do.

              I can’t see myself leaping to take the affirmative action route where it just doesn’t make sense, based on my own observations, experiences and (for lack of a better term) personal research. I can continue to look for opportunities that do make sense. This may ultimately mean that Pact may be a series which features limited/one sided representation of race, and it may mean that I write a sci-fi setting where racial lines are especially blurred and the distinctions have broken down after generations of interracial relationships and cultural mingling (or after a couple of apocalypses). In settings like Worm, where it fits, there will be a wider spread. It depends largely on the setting.

            2. As I understand it, the key point of contention isn’t that everyone in Jacob’s Bell is white – that’s pretty common for small towns. The point of contention is that that overwhelming whiteness continued when the action moved to Toronto. According to Wikipedia almost 50% of Toronto’s residents are ‘visible minorities’ (primarily south Asian, Chinese, Black and Filipino in that order at 12%,11%, 9% and 5% respectively).

              I was under the impression that characters’ visual appearances was just not a big part of your style (I’m still pretty vague on what Blake actually looks like and I’ve seen fanart that assumed he was black). But if you’re operating from the assumption that Toronto is overwhelmingly white, that just ain’t true. Toronto is one of the world’s most multicultural cities.

              You make a good point about older organisations resisting recent multiculturalism, but I’m thinking Blake’s circle of friends didn’t originate in those organisations.

              Incidentally, can you please clarify if Mags is literally ‘mongoloid’ (as Buttsack sensitively put it)? Apologies if this has been answered later in the story – I’m still catching up.

              Thank you.

            3. I don’t disagree with or dispute most of what you’re saying. I’m familiar with racially undiverse areas (I’m in Wisconsin, and I’ve participated in initiatives that target kids in racially undiverse areas for an African storytelling project). I understand that these places exist, my point is that those places also exist with one or two minorities.

              And, as a side note, I am from a very “Wealthy White Suburb” in Wisconsin, and the idea that my existence would be dismissed as nonsensical (and the fact that it has been in many unsavory cases) is what motivates me to push back against the idea of sporadic diversity not making sense. It’s what motivates me into saying that “affirmative action” is not the correct term because that’s about a potentially awkward but necessary forcing of equality…my comment is about representation of what is already there.

              I wouldn’t think that a small canadian city that is /filled/ with x non-white ethnicity would make too much sense, and that’s fine. You could also make it make sense in context, but that’s more about worldbuilding than reflecting reality. My point in all of that is more that the difference is striking when other characters aren’t described as in depth wrt skin tone, but every non-white character is, necessarily. and in that contrast, it’s harder to ignore the sparsity, and the nature of the characterisations.

              Again, and I’m coming at this from a different place, but the only real point of discussion in terms of making sense (considering this is, in fact, a tale about magic) is whether or not you find it your personal style/obligation/mission to push representation at any “cost” to your realsim of your setting. What that cost is, I have no clue. In long-term thinking of how representation affects people, I’d say the higher cost comes lack of representation.

              I have been writing forever. I still have my elaborate stories written from when I was 3 or 4 years old (I read early, and I had my own computer when I was that age)/ I loved reading, so I was immediately inspired to write, to create things just as impactful as what I’ve read. I didn’t realize until I was 18/19 that none of my main characters [that were written after my introduction to popular media] reflected my physical self in any way. none. My main characters were white males and white females, like the popular books and tv and movies and photos I consumed.

              I couldn’t see myself, so I just thought people like me weren’t in books like that or plays or tv shows, etc. I remember literally sobbing about being black because it was never represented positively. it was always something I wanted to transcend, so I too could feel connected.

              You want people to see themselves in literature, which is why amiguity is nice, but sometimes (particularly if the reader is unexposed to newer ideas) you have to just let them know that they unambiguously exist to you. that’s a “you” that’s very general, not you specifically. I was really, really pleased with that aspect of Worm.

              My comments here are double sided. I don’t think there’s too much I need to convince you of personally, but I did get a lot of unnecessarily rude comments from others in this whole thing, and having people read more of my reasoning is a plus.

              But also if I can recruit you (and other white people whose work isn’t dismissed as racial when non-white characters are central) to my whole representation-at-all-costs,-particularly-in-fantasy-because-we’re-throwing-out-a-whole-lot-of-“reason”-anyway crusade, then I’m being more impactful than I’m personally destined to be in a sphere that still largely favors white men over all.

              I really appreciate you taking time to respond again, though. I know it wasn’t the cheeriest conversation the first time around.

            4. As a matter of interest, am I included amongst the unnecessarily rude comments?

              This is probably just a wording thing, but I don’t like the insinuation that Fantasy somehow needs to be less rigorous and self-consistent than other genres. If anything it’s more important for Fantasy to maintain its plausibility because that’s the rock on which suspension of disbelief rests. If you’re just saying that, when you’re inventing a new world you’re not beholden to the old rules I tend to agree. I thought Earthsea was brilliant for its “Screw yet-another-fantasy-Europe, what if the magical world were an archipelago populated by dark-skinned islanders?” approach. But Wildbow isn’t inventing an entirely new world, he’s doing an “our world, only with secret magic” thing which means he doesn’t have such
              carte blanche.

              I don’t think anyone’s trying to dismiss your existence as unlikely. Wildbow’s not saying there aren’t Black or Asian people in Jacob’s Bell. Of the few thousand people who live in Jacob’s Bell, Blake has met around a dozen of them, not including his direct family. The odds aren’t great that that sample would include the ~2% of the town who aren’t white. Especially given that most of the people he’s met have been either Behaims or Duchamps who seem very traditional. Without intending to sound like a smartass, sporadic diversity is sporadic.

              Incidentally, “affirmative action” is a completely correct term here. The point of affirmative action is to (a) move towards a representative level of diversity in (b) areas that don’t have it by (c) saying that a certain number of positions must be filled by members of an under-represented group. If Wildbow goes (for example) “This group of characters isn’t diverse enough so there needs to be a couple of non-white ones” that’s exactly affirmative action – albeit for fictional characters. For all I keep saying that we don’t know the race/ethnicity of a lot of these characters, I’m betting that Wildbow has a mental picture of them, and we’re asking him to change the characters he’s envisioned into different ones so as to meet a minimum quota on representation. It’s hard to see how that’s not affirmative action.

              Unfortunately reality has let me down on the ‘Black Blake fanart’ thing. 😦 It’s here, but apparently he was wearing a glamour: http://pencil-monkey.tumblr.com/post/85524587438/comic-strip-featuring-maggie-holt-and-blake .

              There is a small but decent amount of Pact fan art out there. Some examples: http://the-blakeguard.deviantart.com/gallery/ http://mokkurkalfe.deviantart.com/gallery/?catpath=%2F&q=pact http://skart-scratchins.tumblr.com/search/pact

              Very cool alt-Conquest! 😀 Personally I connect Sphinxes more to Greek mythology more than Egyptian but that’s really just because I’m more familiar with it. I know they originated in Egypt.

              BTW, I’m currently working on a superhero web comic (and when I say ‘working on’ I mean ‘trying to finish enough pages of it that I can actually start publishing it at a decent rate. -_-). I’m giving it a diverse cast just because I can. (Plans currently call for one white guy, two Indian women, one Black teenage girl and one black guy (though he’s more on the periphery). There are a few aspects that are making me a little nervous, though. It’s a diverse cast with a white guy as the title and viewpoint character – and while I intend for everyone to be a fleshed out character with their own moments in the sun within my limited writing ability, I’m a bit concerned that it falls into the “White male lead” trope. :/ Especially since the first two issues are basically his origin story. I also pretty much plan to just write all the characters as people in general and I dunno if that’s appropriate or not. :/ Oh, and I have to figure out how to draw people so their ethnicity is clear without accidentally crossing the line to stereotype. So yeah. Point being: (a) it can actually be a little scary having a diverse cast because you can completely unintentionally step on hidden landmines, and (b) can I maybe pick your brain occasionally to try and avoid doing that? xD

            5. I will say, though, that afirmative action was implemented for equality/equal opportunity, not representation. Nuance, but definitely separate

            6. as far as your own story, I can really only speak to my own opinion from my own standpoint (which I would do, if I find the time. not sure if wordpress has a messaging system, but that’s probably better suited than this comment section)
              other than that, there is an absurd amount of information on representation and common tropes from all sorts of people that might be of more use to you. I’d check tumblr, honestly.

            7. Yeah, I wasn’t planning to use Wildbow’s comment section to run drafts by you. 😀 I do intend to use reference and things but very little can match a knowledgeable set of eyes on your work…

              Affirmative action and equal opportunity are different (but related) things. Equal opportunity is about removing barriers to entry so everyone can compete on an equal playing field. Achieving that is very difficult, maybe even impossible on its own. Which is why affirmative action bypasses competition and equal opportunity entirely and directly mandates minimum representation quotas. The logic is basically “we can’t ensure equal opportunity when one side has started with such a massive lead so we’ll even things up manually first”.

              Possibly I’m misunderstanding your position. If you’re proposing that Wildbow should ensure a minimum amount of his characters (eg. more than zero) are people of colour then that’s an affirmative action quota. If you’re suggesting something else, maybe not.

            8. Affirmative action’s main goal in the US is equal opportunity. It’s known as ‘equal opppotunity employment’, literally. So yeah we’re not working with the same definition. It’s meant, here, as maybe the only version of reparations that specifically African Americans have ever seen legislatively.

              People fall into a trap of thinking that affirmative action is mainly about non white people but it has mostly served women here, almost exclusively white women, despite its origins. That’s part of the hesitation. No one even thinks about it wrt women and that’s obnoxious and all critiques of it are almost necessarily racially charged.

              My two points here to Wildbow were that most of his few non white characters were really really unfortunately bad/inhuman. And the lack of poc elsewhere exacerbated the effect of those descriptions.

              And that, if he could see from a more real-world-effect point of view, he might consider that representing various races and cultures that are historically underrespresented in the region is Very Important, probably more important than geographic-based racial fidelity, particlarly in north america where we killed the natives and most of us are recent enough immigrants/cargo, so there’s no concrete necessity for whiteness to be exclusively represented. I firmly believe that.

              Calling it affirmative action is kind of annoying, because it implies that the variety is just not there. It is. Representing that part of it is a measured choice, but certainly isnt bending over backwards to create a truth, or to change a landscape. I can think of at least 4 reasonable, historically consistent ways to incorporate specifically a black family of practitioners. Black people have been in the Americas for a long time, and many of the ones in canada were free/wealthy during the time of US slavery. They could even have spells in yoruba or some kind of creole. That culture is rich with a magical context.

              Affirmative action implies that it wouldnt be there otherwise. That was the reason it was used for employment- no one was hiring black people. Colleges were all-white. This is not the same thing, it’s not the same starting reality. It’s frustrating because it’s the same bogus excuse people use when they represent suburbs as all white because poc just “aren’t there”. I’m there. There are plenty of middle class black people. There are plenty of long generations of rich, conservative black people in North America that fit seamlessly into this context even with the prevalence of racism and racist exclusion. The history is there but you have to believe it is before you can find it.

            9. Ya, I’m aware that Affirmative Action isn’t just for poc – I’ve been very deliberately using terms like “the underrepresented group” for that reason.

              Incidentally, I agree with you that increasing representation is very important. In this case the ship has sailed though. All the major characters have already been established – in the author’s personal canon if not yet on page. Wildbow was very respectful of your comments and I’m sure he will take them into account for his next work.

              Affirmative action does not in any way imply that variety is not there in society. In fact, it specifically implies that the variety in the specific organisation or industry or whatever is unrepresentative of the diversity that is there in the surrounding society and that’s a problem. It’s not saying you don’t exist, it’s saying you do exist so we should see more people like you in context X and we don’t, so let’s do something about that.

              It doesn’t surprise me that they renamed affirmative action to Equal Opportunity Employment. Unfortunately that’s a misleading label for it. Equal opportunity is exactly what it sounds like – trying to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity. It’s a complementary thing to affirmative action.

              From afar, I suspect part of the reason that Affirmative Action is so contentious is specifically that it goes against that great figure of American worship the free market. Americans seem to me to have an unreasonable amount of faith in the free market to achieve fair and balanced outcomes. Disrupting unfettered competition is anathema. Unfortunately in many cases they’re as fair and balanced as Fox News and end up entrenching positions. Noone thinks a new company can compete against Google or Apple on an even footing. A history of white dominance is no less entrenched.

              I’m resisting the urge to go into a full on rant about the knee-jerk American reaction against anything that could possibly be considered ‘socialist’ without considering its merits. Consider said rant implied. 😛

            10. Correction: “in many cases they’re as fair and balanced as Fox News” should’ve been “in many cases it’s as fair and balanced as Fox News” ie. The free market is…

            11. @Bimpe (I wish this thing nested comments better. :/)

              “She wasn’t beautiful, but she wasn’t hideous either. Her hair was well-tended, falling in dark ringlets over her breasts, where the hair obscured the nipples. Her fur and wings were pitch black. Between pale flesh and dark fur, I’d completely failed to see her where she reclined. Her human arms were folded beneath prodigious breasts, one of her feline front paws were folded over the other, and all of her sparkled with the moisture of snowflakes that had fallen onto her and melted.” Isadora = pale-skinned.

              Conquest changes appearance, but here is how he is first described:
              “Conquest stood across from me, sitting on a stone. He had a bit of a mullet, a white colonial-style jacket with a fleece collar and several belts, a rifle with a bayonet resting against one leg, and a badass beard with a waxed mustache.”. No skin-colour described but the clothing and facial hair match early French/English settlers – which fits what you would expect from an incarnation of Conquest in Canada.

              Re: your comment “either race/ethnicity is important in the story or it’s not. with how Others are described to really get their origin, i’m going to say it’s important. Your own words suggest the possibility that race/ethnicity tends to be a more relevant to the origins of the Other characters than it is to most practitioners. Note that I said “tends to be” – as far as I know, Evan could be of any ethnicity,for example. But race/ethnicity is more story-relevant for a character who is believed to be a first-people’s curse on colonialist invaders (Corvidae) than it is for a character who’s Blake’s landlord or his friend. I think by and large, Wildbow inches that detail when it matters for the story. It matters that Corvidae is non-white so it’s mentioned. It matters that Conquest embodies white colonialism so that’s mentioned. It doesn’t affect the story one way another if Alexis is Chinese, Filipino, White or something else.

              It would be nice if there were visible minority representation but that level of detail isn’t really Wildbow’s style and I’m not going to fault him for that. Personally I believe that having most characters of ambiguous race/ethnicity is a significant improvement on everyone being white. It really is up to the reader to decide that for themselves – like I pointed out in my reply to Wildbow, I’ve seen fanart where Blake is black because it’s never actually been specified whether he is or isn’t.

              Incidentally, do you have a story on the go yourself? If you do, I’d love to read it. I wouldn’t even wait until I get caught up with Pact because that’s clearly not going to happen. xD

            12. Thanks for finding the references for that! Yeah after I thought about it, Isadora in human form was white, but I just connect sphinxes to Egypt so I went with that, particularly because she’s an old being.

              Conquest thing is actually very very related to where I was when I was reading that part of the story. I was in Benin at the time, and it was around the time that I went to an art gallery that had this self potrait by samuel fosso, as a pirate. http://40.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m3jvwayfZh1rvsx0ro1_1280.jpg
              so, heh, that’s my conquest (I actually imagined him as middle eastern but in those clothes, idk. something about a ridicule/hyperbole of colonial conquest. Ha, or pirates.

              The point of it not affecting the story is why actually why I like to include it. it’s an easy way to just include more people who are historically ignore in this context. I won’t pretend I don’t get excited every time just my hometown is mentioned anywhere, let alone actual black people, Nigeria, or!! first generation nigerian-americans 😛

              Leaving it up to the reader means most people will see white, even the people who aren’t white themselves. My assumption is that no one is writing about people who look like me if the writer doesn’t also look like me. And for the most part, that’s been proven pretty true. Leaving it ambiguous isn’t actively detrimental, but it does allow for perpetuation of “default-white” phenomena. it’s hard to break that habit in a reader. As a writer, you have to be explicit if you want to break that default. I do, obviously.

              I thought there was something about Blake with red hair but, there are black people with reddish hair too, I suppose.

              Where is this fanart, I don’t see any Pact fanart and now I’m feeling I’m lacking something.

              I am writing but I’ve never posted my fiction writing online before. Someting I’ll explore once I rid myself of mechanical engineering (degree in May, and I’m telling anyone that will listen :]). I’ve posted more poetry over the years than anything else. It’s a bit more comforable for me, though I’m sure looking back I would hate most of it.

              Hmm. I’m going to post some poetry Right Now just because I keep telling myself I’ll use this blog but I never do.

    4. Just jumping the conversation to this one…

      first, ty isn’t Other, and he’s non-white. Granted, once you awaken you become slightly less human and more Other but that leads into my second point-

      Second, the thing you have to notice is that, especially as the story goes on, virtually EVERYONE is Other or straddling the line, with the exception of the local circles (to varying degrees). In fact, the vast majority of cast members are Others. If you take a look at the Others who are human-based enough to identify race, only a small section of them are non-white. Which means that he’s Other-fying (I’m making this a word for today) all types of people (even kids) to fit the settings he operating.

      Don’t get me wrong. As a non-white person who has done research, projects, and had to teach classes waaaaay too much, I totally understand your point about subconsciously doing what you’re implying, and how even though logical conclusions can be made to dismiss that idea, the point is that he might not have intended or thought about these things in advance (I’m paraphrasing).

      But I really think all genders windbow mentions are intended and purposeful. I mean, in writing, one of the strongest biases is to neglect to identify a character with any particular race, so the reader assumes it to be what they consider to be most common when imagining an average person (this varies, but in most cases, it’s white). Doing so is usually intentional for some reason or another. Sometimes, it’s because the character is based on real-life people in the author’s lives, sometimes it’s just to include non-white characters (I think someone mentioned this below as “checking the affirmative action box”).
      But when he portrays Others, and mentions their race, it usually follows very closely to that particular Other’s setting (Corvindae and Mara are perfect examples. It is not a coincidence that they aren’t white, it fits a VERY intended purpose in his story, and the setting in which those particular characters were set in).

      I honestly believe that he sat down and and made a believable amount of diversity in his cast- from race, gender, and levels of sanity- around his story. There are lots of other examples that lend weight to this idea, but all-in-all, it makes more sense that all his character’s races (including the white ones) were thought of with racial factors in mind.

      To be fair- if anyone was going to complain about subconscious negative biases, it would be that, without any exception, all wildbow’s females are fucked up mentally. Especially in Pact. Out of the three least messed up ones, one’s a thorburn, and the other (mags) gets screwed three ways from sunday. (Although this has even less weight to it, as all the characters in pact are fucked up….)

      1. Again, maybe I was unclear in my original posts, but intent is only tangentially related to effect. Surely wildbow is purposeful, but that does not mean he knows all things to be purposeful about. The effect here is that Toronto is /surprisingly/ undiverse despite reality, but that’s a point most people won’t even touch. Wildbow himself brought that up, but very few others did. If you’re so about accurate racial representation, where is that complaint/acknowledgement? I also don’t know if I could even identify a non-white human female for you. I would sift through right now to confirm but I’m on my phone.

        Surely, as the story progresses, it’s clearer how every practitioner gives up some humanity, but that’s not really the same thing as being described initially as an other.

        And the whole affirmative action comment is one that I don’t like, and it’s an analogy that doesn’t fit. Including non-white characters is accurate representation of the world. I have been in many places that are all-white except for me. My presence isn’t for equality, it’s an artifact of the real world. Suggesting otherwise is suggesting that diversity is unrealistic. Maybe that’s your perception but it is abjectly false in many cases where you would assume otherwise (I am in a Very White city, and there is exactly one other family that is black in my suburban neighborhood. Old ladies still stare as if I’m out of place but I’ve been here for 14 years. Same goes for police.)

        In terms of the story, ‘believability’ is so subjective. And I can’t tell you how odd i find it that the argument against racial diversity is believability, despite the fact that Jacob’s Bell is so close to Toronto. There are far less believable things in a fantasy story, but everyone will come out of the woodworks to claim that believability wrt race is key. I honestly don’t get it. People make stories about white people across the world in places that are primarily non-white and no one bats an eye. You’re telling me its beyond reason for an haitian family to exist in Pact, to even be the protagonists? You’re saying that a pakistani practitioner is the one thing that pushes the story beyond believability?? Nah, I fundamentally disagree. Whether or not wildbow /should/ actively include racial diversity for reasons other than being ‘realistic’ is maybe the only thing we could debate. But on believability of diversity… not as much.

        [The thing about females is that there are plenty of them, main ones and background ones, etc, etc. Enough that’s it’s hard to even generalize because they’re so varied. And iirc, there are more male(ish) Others than female(ish) described, right? At least that I can rapidly recall ]

  16. Sorry if someone already mentioned this, but it seems to me like the cut-off sentence in void 7.11 (Maggie, on the other side of the — My nervousness only intensified.) probably coincides with Padraic losing control of Maggie’s name. When that happens, all of the connections attached to the name move somewhere else, which explains why whatshisface loses his train of thought. I think the fact that the cut-off sentence appears in an ErasUR chapter is just a red herring, since it doesn’t really make sense in terms of what happens to whatshisface’s connections after he gets eaten.

    1. From the next chapter, Histories (Arc 7):

      “Isadora looked for Maggie, but Maggie was gone, and had been for some time.”

      I don’t really know what this implies but it sounds like Scarf Girl did not have her name returned under favorable circumstances.

      1. It’s definitely possible that scarf girl doesn’t get the name back. Maybe Johannes just keeps it, or buttsack eats it or something.

        1. I don’t see Buttsack as being either canny, powerful, or eldritch enough to take a name from someone en route, let alone when the routing is being done by someone like Johannes.

          Now, Ur–? I could possibly see that, depending on how the name-retrieval thing works.

  17. I think it’s impossible to tell if the vestige!kids have anything like a real existence or not. Rose does but Rose is a special case, but in the broad spectrum of things it’s wisest to treat things that appear to be sophont as being sophont. Which makes that whole place intensely disturbing.

    On the other hand I do wonder if the trap scarf girl described is for the Others. Lure them in with an all you can eat vestige buffet and then when the time comes snap the trap shut and that’s a whole bunch of Others who will never trouble the real world again. It would be an interesting twist.

    1. He seems to let them in and out okay as long as they obey his rules, and pay the price of admission. Though I wonder just what that price is. See the thing is, Johannes must have been very powerful before claiming his Demense. Most practicioners have to settle with a room, not with a “north end of town”. And I believe some people were suspecting his familiar of being an Archangel based on it’s name. And so far as we know Johannes isn’t from any sort of practicioner line that would have had built up power over generations. If the three big families are the old money, he seems to be the new money, possibly the robber baron. And he seems looked down on for being an upstart. Also some new money got looked down on even more because they made their money in less reputable industries like the Saloon industry.

      1. Robber baron? Where have I heard that before…
        Ah! Clearly, Rose must marry him. And what a perfect match it would have been too, before she turned from a vestige into a real person…

        1. Then it’ll turn out he’s a great husband who never forgets anniverseries or birthdays, and if some guy makes a lewd comment about you on the subway, he’ll make a vestige of him that is also a voodoo doll so the guy will feel everything that’s done to the vestige.

    2. Somehow…I don’t see him gypping his customers like that. It’s bad for business and worse for your health.

  18. It says something that when this gets to depressing I read a Warhammer 40 parody to lighten up… (extrrminatus now. http://exterminatusnow.co.uk) which is described on TV troupes as: “Exterminatus Now is what happens when you mix Sonic the Hedgehog, Warhammer 40,000, and a truckload of Black Comedy.” Wildbow perfected the art of making you believe in the hostility of a universe, the utter tragedy of it all, without it seeming rushed. The pacing was perfect. Here Wildbow has enhanced his art, managing to kill the main character… all the while making you as paranoid as fuck. Every single thing where shit goes down hill suddenly, and without warning? It’s while everything is going fine and dandy. Because the character didn’t pay attention to the wording… and BAM! Sir, you are brilliant. I applaud your slow torture of our favorite characters in new and creative ways. It is done so well that because I took a break for a month or two before starting again after the world ended, I plan to reread worm. In one sitting. 🙂

  19. I commented about this above, but I am mentioning it again so it can be seen:

    I am very surprised we don’t see cities disappearing every few months. I realise that there aren’t many practitioners (Hundreds of thousands? A few millions?), but one would expect there to be a few psychos every now and then. Given how easy it is to cause a catastrophe (call a few big names a handful of times), I am surprised it doesn’t (seem) to happen very often.

    1. Something tells me the catastrophes are either self-editing (e.g. if Ur ever goes on a rampage) or get otherwise covered up. And we have seen a town all but get destroyed on-camera.

      1. I was thinking about this after a previous chapter. It’s awfully amusing to imagine the steps that a few smart practitioners must be taking to keep this whole sham running, like artificially raising the birth rate/hiding the real birth rate, so no one realizes that a third of the population is disappearing to goblins and demons and God only knows what else.

          1. Now my source for this statistic is the Dresden Files, so take it with a grain of salt, but I think it’s a valid point regardless.
            Even in developed countries like the US, people go missing all the time (2300 a day as the above says). What’s interesting is the ratio is nearly identical to that of prey animals in Africa being eaten.

    2. You kill one city, Karma kills you and whoever taught magic to you.
      This is why life is hell for the Thorburns, they are late for their execution.

      1. Heh, considering karma and Blake’s fate, it would be all too appropriate if ErasUr had been summoned by a Thorburn a few generations back.

    3. We surmised earlier that only some people have access to demon summoning using their names.

      Possibly, Ms. Lewis had foreseen (little augury, or maybe just relying on Finagle for a second) that Blake would get in trouble as soon as he got out, and prepared a craft to grant Ornias access to this side of things from being called 7 times by the practitioner of her choice.
      She also convinced Blake to leave the house and meet trouble. I wouldn’t underestimate how twisted the “covering the cost” promise must have been.

  20. Wow. Started on Worm a few months back now, read the whole thing, and now I’m all caught up on where Pact is up to! Feeling somewhat ambivalent about this; it gives me something to look forward to, but the waiting will be torture. Absolutely in love with your writing, and recommending it to friends who I think will enjoy.

    Thoughts on this chapter… Poor Scarf-girl. Things are going to get much, much worse for her. Concerned about a couple of things; the demesne rules mentioned included no deals with anyone except the Northern Sorcerer, for monsters, yet Buttsack made a deal with her immediately after telling her this. Rather peculiar. Also, I get the distinct feeling that Johannes is going to demand that phone back right after something bad happens to it.

    1. Hey! A new Pactitioner. Welcome.

      I don’t think Scarf has to worrie too much about her deal with Buttsack. Johannes seems like a pretty chill dude. If even said while most ask permission, it would be unreasonable to hold Scarf to the same expectations as everyone else Iirc. On her next visit to his realm, on the other hand. . .

      1. Based on what I’ve seen so far, Johannes seems to be Affably Evil. Perfectly friendly, polite, helpful, even seems genuine about it… but there’s still that disconnect where he’s also fine with having vestiges systematically hunted, tortured, and/or eaten because they’re ‘not real’ enough to bother him. Of course, it could all be an act/calculation, and he’s really Faux Affably Evil.

  21. Quoth Wildbow:
    “Last chapter of the Girl in the Checkered Scarf’s arc coming up Thursday.”

    Now, since I am at a point where I can still postulate about these things (as I haven’t yet read past this chapter) let me state a few hypotheses:

    If, as I have suspected, Maggie Holt becomes the new main character, the Girl in the Checkered Scarf gets her name back, and then this is the last arc in which she is not Maggie Holt.

    Looking at the Table of Contents, however, Null seems like a very good way to describe what we understand to have happened to Blake. Furthermore the pairing of “null and void” might suggest what happened in 7:Void might pertain very closely to what will happen in 9:Null, and it seems possible that some peoples’ musings that Blake is not GONE gone may have some merit.

    Those are my two (mutually exclusive) hypotheses. Let the chips fall where they may!

  22. So there’s a huge discussion up above on race, minorities, and representation. Don’t want to sound dismissive, but I’m not going into that here. The most interesting thing I saw that directly affects the story is that Wildbow referred to what the evangelists summoned (in Black Lamb’s Blood) as “pseudo-angels”, which strongly implies there is no Big Good of the setting, no angels to counterbalance the demons. Or if there is it’s hard to summon or very secret.

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