Signature 8.7

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“I guess I missed you yesterday,” she said.

Prick of the finger.  Blood collected in fingernail, three drops deposited on the ground.

“I feel worse about it than you’d think.  Missing a day.  But it’s reality shenanigans, I guess.  Going to places where time passes differently.  I’m… jeez, coming from there to here, I’m seeing how screwed I am, and I’m hoping I’m not giving away something I can’t afford to give away, right here.”

Molly Walker’s ghost stood there, head bowed.

“Hopefully the tradeoff in keeping our little connection here strong is more or less equivalent.  If it isn’t, well, I guess it’s not all bad.  Penance doesn’t count for much if it isn’t hard, right?”

The ghost didn’t respond.  Couldn’t.

“Unless you’re religious, in which case you just gotta say a few prayers.  You aren’t religious, right?  That’d be weird.  Churchgoing diabolist family.”

Her light, fake laugh was empty in the still air.

A group of children walked along the sidewalk further up the hill that overlooked the spot where Molly had died.  Normal, everyday kids, on their way back from school.  Now that Jacob’s Bell was shifting gears and starting to grow, or even trying to grow, the elementary school and high school remained close to one another, but the elementary school was shifting to only serve grades from kindergarten through six.  The middle school in the north end was the go-to spot for the sevens and eights.

Which was problematic, because they were walking straight into the sorcerer’s realm, and they were walking out with a little bit less of their Selves.

“Nobody’s looking at me, and getting places is hard.  The goblin with a chunk missing from his backside was covering more ground than I was.  Having a name means you have a certain legitimacy in the world.  The smallest spirits don’t have a reason to get out of my way, now.  Feels like I’m walking against a headwind, no matter where I go.”

Molly didn’t move.

“My vision is getting a little weird around the edges, which is making me think I don’t have a lot of time.  Eyes are the window to the soul and all that.  Says a lot when your eyes are starting to feel the hit.”

The girl in the checkered scarf sighed.

“But I don’t want to dump my problems on you.  I just wanted to stick a nail in this connection, and above all, I wanted to let you know that I might not be paying more visits.  I don’t know what happens next, but it’d be weird to be on Johannes side and against the Thorburns, but still paying you visits…”

She trailed off.

Molly looked afraid.  Always, even when her echo reflected moments before she’d seen the goblins.

General fear.

Justified fear.

“Frig.  You can’t make it easy on me, huh?  Can’t give me the thumbs up and tell me I should go do what I need to do?  You gotta look like that and remind me that I’m coming perilously close to doing what I did, siding with Laird.”

She jammed her hands into her pockets, and found her pockets colder.

“I guess I gotta maybe say goodbye here.  Because I dunno what’s going to happen, and I’m running out of time.  I’m… I sort of made a promise to myself, way back when, that I wouldn’t be passive again.  I didn’t want to just stand by the next time trouble came calling, or cry when I could fight back.  And I guess I made the mistake of thinking I had to be aggressive, that fighting back meant fighting.  I’m still doing it, I guess.  I’ve always really been really crum- really shitty at finding the middle ground.  Yeah, fair warning, I might swear a bit, even though I’m not supposed to.  Count it as penance, I guess.”

Behind her, kids laughed as they ran along the sidewalk.  They walked right by the spot where Buttsack was hiding.

She summed up her courage, drew in a breath.  “I-”

Her voice cracked.

She tried again.

“I’m really fuckin’ sorry, Molly.”

She was as close to the ghost as she could get without intruding on the protective circle and shrine.  She watched for any hint of a response.

Kind of stupid to, but she still looked.

The lump in her throat was growing by the second.  All she could do was keep her breaths small.

She raised her arms a bit, because the emotions that were welling up were intense enough to demand she do something, and they were the sort that made her feel like she should hug someone or hit someone.

But she couldn’t do either.  Even if she deserved to hug Molly’s ghost, which she didn’t, there was the protective shrine and the fact that this Molly was only an echo of her fear and terror from that night.

The ghost’s hands weren’t shaking, she noticed.

Maybe a little less fear and terror now.  Just like Johannes’ children had been patched up with the spirits of rats and dogs, she’d patched up Molly some, giving up a bit of herself.

The emotion wasn’t going away, and she couldn’t do anything here.  She had nothing more to say that wouldn’t just take away from that last line.

She wondered about giving more blood to the ghost, while her blood still had any power at all.  Give it all up, a proper sort of penance, and-

And no.  No, even before she was through putting the thought together, she dismissed it.  That would be giving up.  It would mean she wasn’t fighting back.

She let her arms drop to her side and kicked the first clump of snow she passed by, hard.

The effect wasn’t quite so dramatic as she’d hoped it would be.

Fight to the end.

She met up with Buttsack.  He glowered.  “What?”

“You look like you’re going to cry.”

“Get moving.  We have stuff to do.”

He moved, his limp matching hers, in most part.

The trip the rest of the way up the slope to the road was difficult.  Headwind, the snow just deciding to be in the worst possible condition for walking through.

Did celebrities and powerful people glide through life, in large part, because their names carried weight?

Doing things this way wasn’t working.

The only person who was able and ready to help was Johannes, and she wasn’t sure if Johannes would ask her to make compromises.  Laird had asked her to make a compromise.

There weren’t many roads open to her.

Was there a road where she could be her, while avoiding retreading old ground and doing what she’d done to Molly after Laird had approached her?

If there was… what would that road look like?

Her best tools were the goblins.  Nobody else wanted them, and she understood them.  She’d dwelt on them for so long that her mind was keyed to think like goblins thought, to expect their reactions.  They were uncomfortable to deal with, but they were comfortable territory.

“Buttsack?”

“Yes, nameless mistress?  Wormy apple of my eye?”

He made his voice ooze with syrup.  Had he seen the reaction his ‘sweet’ act had had on her earlier?

He was still working out safe ways to get to her.  Scattershot approach for now, he’d narrow it down later.

“You get that line from some cartoon or something?”

“Yes,” he said.  His smile showed bad teeth.

“Needs some work,” she commented.

His strategy wasn’t the best bet.  Later wasn’t a sure thing, when it came to her.  She was liable to lose her grip on reality, or, more correctly, reality would lose its grip on her.  To top it off, the ogre she’d seen on entering the north end had warned her that she might not be a practitioner for long.

She’d said her name when she’d sworn her oath.  How long before the oath unraveled, leaving her without anything at all?  Padraic was pretty much guaranteed to be making a claim to her ability to practice if he was pretending to be her, but he hadn’t sounded confident about his ability to simply take that power.

If that was one hold she could maintain… maybe she needed to put a nail in that too.

Well, getting power would be a start.  If she had a little bit more oomph at her disposal, she’d be able to cement her position better.  There were ways to do it, even, without committing to a decision.

“Are local goblins still hanging out at the MacEwen Park shed?”

“Last I saw.”

“Do you know a better spot to find a lot of goblins in one place?”

“Don’t really care enough to know.  Little fucksops run when they see me coming.”

“Are you pulling my leg?  You’re telling me you’re not a charmer, Buttsack?”

“They do what I say when I need it.  Give one of them a kick in the ass and tell him to gather the others, or I’ll come after them.”

“Like the time before, where I shot you.”

“Yeh,” he said, barely audible.  He glared at her.  “Like that.”

She reached an intersection and turned north.

“We’re not going to the park?”

His bulldog-like face, growl of a voice and the question made her think it was what a dog might say in similar circumstances.  It was a welcome shift of tone from the accumulated emotion of talking to Molly.  She laughed out loud.

Stumbling a bit in the face of the wind and the slippery sidewalk, she had to stop, leaning on a railing, still laughing.  The wind picked up, catching on her scarf.

The girl in the checkered scarf grabbed at her scarf before the wind could claim it and make it so she was no longer the girl in the checkered scarf, but only the girl.

“That’s a no?”

“Yes, we’re going to the park…” she said.  She secured her scarf. “But we have one step first.”

He saw the tunnel loom and groaned.

They passed into the tunnel, and Johannes’ realm unfolded before them.  A different entry point than it had been on her last visit.

Straight to Johannes’ apartment building, the tallest building in Jacob’s Bell at maybe eight stories.  The penthouse was perched on top, sitting askance, a tilted crown atop the building, all done up in tempered glass that reflected the peach colored sky in dark purples, golds and reds.

The sorcerer had left the invitation open, the door sitting ajar.  Welcoming her in as he might one of his guests.

Buttsack muttered something foul under his breath, growing with intensity as they took the step that put the real Jacob’s Bell firmly behind them.

“Suck it up, Buttsack.  The alternative is that I ask you for this stuff, and I don’t think it’s the sort of thing you want to be sent out to collect.”

“What stuff?” he asked.

Johannes nodded slowly.  “Chains, steel wool, lighter fluid and matches, shotgun shells…”

The windows were open, but it wasn’t cold.  Here on the top floor of the tower, the upper section was raised, and only an arrangement of pillars held it up, reflective panes extending between each pillar, floor to ceiling, marked with curls of gold, bronze and the like.  Inside each curl of metal were the seams for the opening of the windows.

“…marbles, chalk and a plastic bucket…”

“Two buckets,” she said, without taking her eyes off the view.

Here, standing in the middle of the room, the only view was of the clouds on the horizon, cast in colors that were surprisingly cold, considering they were reds, oranges and purples.  There was no city, and there was no winter, not from this vantage point.  The breeze was warm, the air fresh in a way that one typically only found while driving through a park or something.

He went on, “…Cranberry juice, not pure, some coke, bottled water, and some sandwiches.  That’s all?”

She nodded.  “So long as I can take it out of your territory, yeah, that should be it.  What are your terms?  What do you want?”

“What are your intentions?”

She wasted no time in replying.  “Getting power.”

“To be used against me?”

“Are you seriously worried about little nameless me?”

Johannes smiled.  “I suppose not.”

The girl in the checkered scarf had to readjust her hairband to keep the hair at the front of her ear from tickling her eye.  “I’m hardly a threat to anyone, but if you need it, I promise not to use the power I gain here against you.”

“Very well.  I have one guest I can tap for the task.  Faysal, do you think you could bear a message to the Duck Knight?”

His dog sat by the window, long white hair billowing in the wind.  “The market district has no oversight.  The Djinn-born are restless.”

“I’ll keep an eye on it,” Johannes said.  He let go of the paper.  The wind direction changed, carrying it to Faysal.

Faysal flared.  A flash of light, a gleam, a brief glimpse of a humanoid figure, too bright to look directly at, and the entire area seemed to bend, like it sometimes did in the science fiction shows, when a ship kicked off into hyperdrive and the area took a second to resettle.

Then the dog and paper were gone.

“Duck Knight?”

“Long story.  Tagged along on another’s invitation.  We had words, and he’s agreed to be at my disposal while I grant him my hospitality.  I’m disposing, and I’m frankly glad to have the chance.  I wouldn’t want him thinking he’s getting off scott-free.”

“Okay then.”

“We have a chance to talk.  Can I offer you food or drink?”

“Can I refuse politely?”

“You can.”

She nodded slowly.

“Power,” he said.

“Power,” she replied.

“Power comes with costs.  It’s hard for me to step away.”

“Your familiar is a gatekeeper.  It can go virtually anywhere, virtually instantly, including some places with locked doors, or did I hear wrong?”

“You heard right.”

“I’d ask how you pulled that off, but you wouldn’t give me a straight answer.  There are a lot of things I really want to ask.  Need to ask, even.”

She fidgeted with the end of her scarf in her hands.  She had nothing to bargain with.

“I might give you a straight answer,” he said.  “I did promise to help you out where I could.”

She arched an eyebrow.

“I’ll give you three answers if you give me three.  But we can each retain a veto, to be fair.”

“Is this a trap?  This sounds like a trap.”

“Not a trap,” Johannes said.  “Ask your questions first.  I’ll match mine to yours in a way that’s fair.”

“Yeah?  Okay, then I’ll bite.  How did you get all this?”

“Very broad.  Are you sure you want me to answer?”

“It would count against my question count if I said no, I’m pretty sure.”

“It wouldn’t.”

“Then I’ll be clearer.  How did you get this demesne?”

“Going right for my veto.  No comment.”

She arched an eyebrow.  Johannes smiled.

“Alright, then.  How did you get something like that as a familiar?”

“Like all of the best friendships, we started out as enemies.  The inverse is possible, too.  It’s all about the strength of the connection.”

She arched an eyebrow, but was careful not to ask a question to get further details.

“I suppose that doesn’t answer the question.  We began as enemies.  When you mess with the natural order of creation or go well outside your way to bend the rules, you can expect the universe to send something like him after you.  I should have gotten the attention of a entity of the third choir, who oversee structure, but I suppose they weren’t absolutely sure.  They sent one of the little ones after me.”

“Little.”

“Yes.  Equipped to deal with the problem if it decided it had to.  I made an argument, he threatened me.  We even skirmished, very briefly on at least nine occasions, and he drew closer and closer to me.  Even came close to annihilating me.  Forced me to play my hand sooner than I’d hoped, but I played my hand all the same.  Once I’d started the ritual-”

“I take it you’re talking about the Demesne ritual.”

Awkward, to be in the position of being forced to give up a question or make a statement and risk lying.  She opted for the latter.  Carefully.

“Yes, I’m talking about the Demense ritual.”

“You vetoed my attempt to ask about the Demesne thing about a minute ago.”

“I did.  If I’d answered, I’d have had to tell you how.  Here, I can tell you about it.  About, meaning movement in a particular area.  I have room to maneuver in this case.  Did you want me to continue?”

“Please.”

“Well, once I started the ritual, he couldn’t interfere.  It’s not in his makeup, and quite frankly, I should have been destroyed as it stood.  We talked between rounds-”

“When you do the ritual, you invite locals to challenge your claim.  You’re talking about talking between individual challenges.”

“Something like that.  Yes.”

He paused, very deliberately, giving her a look.

“Go ahead.  Sorry.”

“Well, at one point he asked why I hadn’t tried using my pipes.”

“He was a dog then, I take it.”

“He was a great many things.  You could argue there was a little bit of everything in him.  The pipes could have worked.”

“But…”

“But I have a sense of how things work.  I might have won the battle, but I would have lost the war.  As it stood, I talked him into it.  Made a very convincing argument about the way things should be.  The deciding point to sway him, apparently, was that I hadn’t tried to use the pipes.  I claimed my Demesne and my familiar within seconds of one another.”

“So… that suggests the universe didn’t need him for its errands.”

“The universe did need him.  This is something of a vacation.”

“Ah.”

“Your second question?”

“Where’d you get the pipes?”

“I bought them from a man who had no idea they were an instrument.  He thought they were art.  I’ve been led to believe they’ve been wanderingEscaping, I’d venture to say.  I did my research, trying to find out what path they’ve traveled, and all I can tell is that they were once in the hands of men and women who most definitely should not have the ability to beguile children.  Perhaps a long succession of those men and women.  I don’t know if they’re the originals or if a very bad person decided to make them, but they serve.”

The girl in the checkered scarf shivered.  Very bad people.

“Then my third question,” she said, “Would be why?”

“Very broad.  I’d warn you-”

“I know.  Broad question, broad answer.  It’s cool.”

“Did you know, against all odds, we’re actually winning?”

“Who’re we?”

“Men, women, children.  Humanity.  We’re beating back the Others.  We’ve got twenty-and-thirty-somethings in a prolonged adolescence, compared to a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago, when most teenagers could be expected to be working, growing up fast.  Even people of retirement age are enduring under delusions, blithely striding forward into ruin, with crippling debt and no savings.  We’re reveling in a culture of relative innocence, and longstanding agreements put in place centuries ago protect people.  Society is changing with a startling speed, and the Others can’t keep up.  They fix themselves to ideas and methods and then fall by the wayside when we abandon our radios or our lanterns in favor of televisions and electricity.”

“We’re winning?”

“We’re swelling in number, and where there used to be only points of light in the midst of the night-time, small candle flames and hearthfires, our nights are bright now.  They have less shadows to lurk in.  We’ve grown to a population of billions, and the rules put in place by one brilliant man with an eye to the future have made it so that they can’t really stop us.  They kill hundreds, but we grow in terms of thousands in that same span of time, and then we send our practitioners to deal with the most problematic ones.  They have less fertile ground to grow from, as we put superstition and fear behind us and move on with blind, stupid confidence.”

The look he gave her as he said that last part made her feel like she’d almost been insulted, but it wasn’t quite so direct that she could call him on it.

“Don’t get me wrong.  You could say I’m one of those people,” he said.  He covered one eye, and pried the other open.

She looked away before she could see the empty socket.

He passed the orb from one hand to the other, then put it back.  “Blind, partway there.  Confident?  Yes.  Stupid?  I don’t have the objectivity to say, but, well, I’ve put this together, so that might be answer enough.”

“Agreeing or disagreeing?”

“Yes,” he said.  He smiled a bit.  “I don’t think we’ll banish all the Others anytime soon.  Or even in a hundred years, or a thousand. But we’re making inroads.  The landscape is changing, and Others are on unsteady footing.  Some won’t be uprooted no matter how much the landscape changes.  Because they’re powerful, or because they’re rooted in something too fundamental.  Some have found their place in the new landscape, but I imagine they’re still uncertain.  Even humans are a little uncertain.  Then there’s another group.  Some Others are looking for a place.  Faysal was one, in a way, and I think I’d rather give them a place than see what happens when they try to take it.”

He paused to let that sink in, then spoke again, “I won’t say it isn’t selfish.  I think, as the situation shifts and Others are replaced by us, others will start doing what I’m doing.  Maybe Lords will start offering up their cities.  It’ll concentrate the damage the Others do to us, maybe even slowing it, giving us more time to expand and assert or dominion… And whatever happens, I wouldn’t mind being the example people look to, ideally as a success story.”

“Ideally,” she said.

“That’s why.  It’s why I reached out to you, seeing you displaced as well.”

“I’m not an Other, as far as I can tell.”

“In the midst of a revolution, I’d rather be the one the other guy is shaking hands with than the one they’re crossing swords with, whether the other guy is Other or practitioner or human,” he said.

He looked so at ease, and he was talking about such grand ideas.

“Faysal is back,” he commented.  “We should hurry this along, I’m thinking.  You’re more or less secure while you’re here-”

“But you can’t do anything to stop Padraic from taking what he takes.  Sandra said the same thing.”

She looked.  The dog stood at the edge of the room, looking out the window at the city below, hair blowing in the wind.

“My turn?”  He asked.

“Please don’t screw me over.  It wouldn’t be sporting,” she said.

“Not to worry.  My first question… you’ve heard my argument, you know my agenda, at least in the abstract.  are you going to take my offer?”

The question caught her off guard.

She slowly shook her head.  “I can’t.  It’s… it would put me at odds with people who’ve been fairest to me, and that wouldn’t be fair to them.”

“Sandra and the Thorburn family?”

“Yes.”

“I see.  Then my second question would be… is there anything I can do to convince you?”

“Honestly?  Probably, yes.  But…”

“But…” he echoed her.

“It’s like it was with Faysal, maybe.  Yeah.  You want to play that game, I could list off stuff you could probably give me.  Important stuff…”

Fire and blood and darkness stuff.

He answered her.  “But I’d lose the war.  I imagine it’s in a different sense than having two enemies to fight for every one I vanquish.”

“…I think we’d both lose in the long run.  I guess it’s part of who I am.  I can’t take the easy road.  I can’t be passive.”

“Even if these important things are weighing on you.”

“Even then.  I need to find my own strength here.  I have to fight my way past this.”

“I see.  I could press you on the subject, demanding my answer.”

“I could veto,” she said, her voice firmer.  “and we might not get along so well afterward.”

He nodded.  “I won’t put us in that position then.  Keep your veto.  I have just one more question, I suppose.”

“Sure.”  She tensed, ready for the knockout blow.

“What’s the story with your being unable to swear?”

She blinked.

“I can put two and two together, but I’ve wondered.”

“I traded the harshest part of my tongue to a goblin for information on how to bind superior goblins.  I, uh… that’s pretty much the whole story.”

“Ah.”

“I don’t suppose you know where there are any superior goblins?” she asked.

“I’d be betraying my guests if I directed a practitioner their way.”

“Goes against the whole point, huh?”

“Yes.  In theory, I could point you to a certain individual who betrayed my rules, Rackspatter of the Nine Thousand Scalps, but I wouldn’t be doing you a service.  For one thing, he can’t be bound.  If I remember right, ninety-nine of his nine thousand scalps are from practitioners that tried and failed.  It’s like the rule of three, reinforced thirty three times over.  At this point, it’s a foregone conclusion.  You’d be the hundredth.”

“And he’d be over nine thousand,” she said.

Johannes’ smile suggested he browsed the internet.  That was telling.

Damn it.  So the goblin I dealt with got my curse words, letting him give people tongue lashings that hurt, but I’m gonna have to wait.”

Johannes raised an eyebrow.

“What?”

“Wait?  You’re not taking my deal, but you’re speaking with an eye to the future.”

“Yeah,” she said, quiet.

She trudged over to the spot where the dog had dropped the bag.  It was filled with next to everything, some of it in plastic bags.

Faysal was looking at Buttsack, who was perched on the railing, staring out at the city.  As different from the familiar as anything.

“A magicked bag,” Johannes commented.  “Everything weighs one tenth what it should.”

She tried to pick up the bag, and found she didn’t have the strength.

I’m as weak as a baby.

“Buttsack,” she said.

The goblin huffed out a bit of a groan before picking up the bag.

“I’ll need the bag back, if you’re up to the task,” Johannes said.  “As for the phone…”

“I’m suspicious there’s a reason you keep lending me things,” she said.

“Oh?”

“Keeps me coming back.”

He smiled, a faint dimple showing in one cheek.

A tell, even.

“Can I ask a favor?” she asked.  “Two?”

“Perhaps.”

“Let me hold on to the phone?  Battery’s dead-”

“Do you need the charger?”

“No.  Just… just the phone.  And a book on claiming a demesne,  if you have one?”

“Bag, phone, and book.  Three favors requested.  I could ask for something in return.”

“Yeah.”

“Let me ask one more question.”

“I can’t shake the feeling that all of this was a lead-up to this one question you wanted to ask.”

“No, not at all.  In fact, if you don’t feel like answering, that’s alright.”

“Can I not answer and still take the stuff?”

“No,” he said.

“Well, if there’s no harm in the question, shoot.

He glanced at Faysal, then back to her.  “What’s the real reason you said no to me?  It can’t just be your personality at work.”

“Ah,” she said.

“That’s not an answer.”

“I… I guess, when it comes down to it, you’ve got to fall back on what you know, you know?”

“I know.”

“And you told me your story, and you told me your agenda, and even though you left stuff out, I can sort of piece it all together.  But at the end of the day, there’s only one guy that I know of who’s tempted any angels down a different path, and I bet he sounded awfully convincing too.”

Faysal tilted his head.

“Ouch,” Johannes said.

“Just saying.”

“My fault for asking,” he said.

She put one hand on Buttsack’s head and steered the goblin towards the door.

“Would that other guy wish you luck?” Johannes asked.

“Probably.”

The floor tiles rotated, opening a hole.  A table rose from the floor, and Johannes picked up the book.

He handed it to her.  “Well, good luck all the same.”

“Appreciated.”

“Can Faysal send you anywhere particular?”

“That might help.  Buttsack, you’ve been by the shack, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Where were the guards stationed?”

“No guards.  We come and go enough to see if there’s anyone nearby.”

Faysal spoke, his voice that was accented in a way that made it richer, not flawed.  “I can put you two somewhere safe, child.”

She nodded slowly.  “Thank you.  The shed in MacEwen Park.  Can you put me there somewhere around…”

“A safe time, a safe place?” Faysal asked.

“Uhh, sure.  Thank you.”

Light washed over her, and it was warm, and in the midst of it, she saw Faysal Anwar as it truly was.

Cold air hit her like a hammer blow.

That wasn’t what had shocked her so much.

“Holy bucking candy balls,” she said, eyes wide.  “I think I might have pissed Faysal Anwar off with that comparison I made between Johannes and-“

“He’s always like that,” Buttsack muttered, interrupting.

“Frigging hell,” she said.  “Then remind me not to get on his bad side.”

“As you command, my mistress, wart on my cockshead, puckered-“

“Shh,” she said.

There were trees all around.  The park was a sliver of land that, as she understood it, was too much hassle to put buildings on.  Too close to the marsh – Hillsglade House was visible in the distance.

The wind pushed at her like she was some stuffed toy caught in the grip of two warring children.

“Every time I leave, I’m weaker,” she said.

“Time’s passing fast,” Buttsack said.

“How much time?” she asked.

“Enough.”

“Is it intentional?”

“No.  Something that fucking big, it distorts everything around it.”

That white dog…

“Frig,” she said, again.  “And Sandra thinks she can fight Johannes?”

“Yes.”

“Frig,” she said.  “I feel so small.”

He was silent.

“And I’ll get smaller if I don’t move.  Which direction?”

He pointed.

“Kill any goblin that tries to stop me or warn the others.”

Buttsack grinned.

He had his uses.

She loaded her pipe, moving one knife to one pocket.

The shack loomed in view.  A section of playground sat on the other side of the trees, distant.

The ‘shack’ was a building with maintenance equipment for park and playground, built of concrete blocks and a high window barred by a grille, to keep people from breaking in.  Squat, big enough to park a riding lawnmower inside, and thoroughly decrepit, to the point that there were several large holes in the exterior.

The sun shone, casting it in silhouette, making it hard to tell just where the holes were.

A resting spot for goblins.

There were others in the town.  Had Buttsack been unsure about this one, she might have tried one of the houses.

This served.

“Are they asleep?  Check.  You should know what tricks to watch for.”

“I’m one of the fucking ones they’re watching for,” Buttsack said.

Try.  Signal me when you’re ready.”

He creeped.  Goblin creeping was different from human creeping.  He could dance along darkness, become the ill winds.

Buttsack wound up in a position where he simply perched within a hole in the wall.

He turned and gave her the finger.

That would be the signal.

The snow pulled at her feet.  Even the short walk to this point had drained her.  She felt like she had just finished a marathon.

She’d felt a definite loss of personal power after her first visit to Johannes’ realm.  Now this?

How much time had passed?

She reached the shack.  Her hand touched the worn exterior.  Had a goblin taken a sledgehammer to it?  The damage was heavy.

“How many?” she murmured.

“Six.”

“Bag,” she said.  “Quietly.

She only managed to add the qualifier a fraction of a second before he let go.  He caught the strap with one finger, stopping the bag mid-flight, breaking the fall.

Quiet was relative, it seemed.  She reached out, her hands on the bag, and she knew she wouldn’t be strong enough.

She threw herself against the bag, instead, pressing it against the wall with her body.  It made for more noise than she wanted.

Buttsack leaped.

She heard a strangled scream.

More noise as the bag scraped against the wall, her arms straining as she fought to keep it from crashing to the ground.

The moment it stopped, landing in softer snow, she was opening it.

Another strangled scream.

The goblins were waking up.

She pulled the chain from the bag, everything from fingertip to toe straining as she fought to pull it free.  Other things were dragged out of the bag as the chain came out.

Once the stuff was out of the way, the process was faster.  The chain unraveled, and she circled the building.  She stopped at the front door, winding the chain around the latch.

A goblin appeared just in front of her, through a hole that she had yet to bar.

She grabbed the pipe, saw its eyes widen in recognition-

The blast was deafening in the relative quiet.  She wondered if her lack of presence in the world would keep people from paying attention, or if they’d catch the shotgun blast all the same, but find themselves unable to place it.

They were ignorant and innocent, whatever the case.

He’d gone back inside.  She had to haul on the chain harder, as it dragged against three corners of the building now.

Too difficult.  She dropped it against the base of the building and headed for the bag.  Easier to grab the other end.

Another two goblins appeared.

She hadn’t had time to reload.  She pointed the pipe at them all the same.

“Try the other door,” she said.

Then she moved to slam the pipes together-

They were gone.

Goblins were cowardly, as a general rule.  One of the first rules she’d learned.

She touched the two ends of chain together, then moved the bag’s contents so the metal there would help bar the gap.

As barriers went, it was weak.  Metal charged by cold.  She only needed it to hold for a minute.

Her hand touched the hole Buttsack had used to get inside.  Big enough for a raccoon to crawl through.

It would have to do.

The bucket was in the bottom of the bag, fitting the bag’s shape.  Most of the stuff was packed inside.

Ideal.  It made it easier.

She struggled with the buckets, moving it, removing the chain by tilting the bucket, then fed it through the nearest available hole in the structure.

grabbing the sandwiches and drinks, putting them in the bag with the remaining bucket.  Now it was light enough to sling over one shoulder.

Bucket, marbles.

And one of the items that Andy had given her.  The same item he’d stuck to the door.

A rectangular package wrapped in butcher’s paper.

She unfolded the paper.

The contents were mostly soft, dull beige, with a bit of hardware on the one end.  A microchip, a bit of wiring, and a dull screen that might have fit on a calculator.  All in all, it was surprisingly small.

Then again, she had no idea how big these things were supposed to be.

She dropped it in the bucket, then packed it in with the steel wool.

She tossed the bucket inside.

She could hear the confused comments, the swears.  She could see them peering through the holes.  She was already limping away.

“Fuck?  What the fuck!?” one goblin.  “What’s this?”

“Hey!  Bitch!” Buttsack cried out.

“You’ll live,” she said, without turning around.

“Cant get at whatever she shoved inside!”

“Break it!” Buttsack was shouting.

She walked until a good sized tree was between her and the goblins.

She pulled the transmitter out of her pocket.

Safety off.

She pressed the button.

She’d thought the pipe shotgun was loud.

When her senses returned to her, she was lying in the snow.

The world was a little darker, and not because time had passed.

Cracks ran through everything, as if the world were a picture, and the bomb had broken the glass in the frame.

Here and there, the cracks opened wide enough for a foot to slip through.

She crawled to her feet, careful to avoid the gaps.

She suspected she didn’t have the strength to open a door at this point.

It would be ignoble, if somewhat fitting, if she couldn’t do this next part.

Walk around the shack…

Stepping further out of the woods, she had a view of the town.

Most of it.  It was faint, faded, and further away than it should have been.  Everything looked like it was uphill, as if she stood in the midst of a great depression.

Not the small explosive’s work.

The door had been partially damaged.

Right.

She moved slowly, taking a moment to reload the pipe shotgun.

She pushed the damaged door open, and the middle held fast, held by chain, while the part that should have connected to the hinges swung inward.

She squeezed through, stumbling and nearly falling on her way in.

The goblins were wounded, but not killed, filled with glass marbles or shards of the things, as well as bits of plastic bucket and maybe some steel wool.

Buttsack was already on his feet, glaring with the hate of a thousand sociopaths.  He started to hobble her way.

“Stop,” she said.

He didn’t.  She didn’t have that much sway over him anymore.  He spoke, and his voice was a growl.  “I could-”

She shot him in the leg.

He screamed.

“Now you can’t,” she murmured.

She pulled the chain to the middle of the room, then arranged it in a circle, looped three times over, avoiding the spot in the floor which opened up into some seemingly bottomless pit.

The darkness shifted, and in the corner of her vision, it was worse.  She couldn’t shake the feeling that it was getting worse behind her, in all of her blind spots, waiting to catch her by surprise.

Her sanctuary was against goblins alone.  A circle Seven feet in diameter.

She sat down, cross-legged, and pulled the remaining items out of the bag, collecting it in a pile.

She’d opted for the lighter fluid and matches over a large battery because she hadn’t been sure how strong she would be.  Her plan had been to use her own blood if she had the strength, and the lighter fluid along with improvised materials if she hadn’t.  As it happened, she hadn’t needed to worry.

Flecks of goblin had been scattered throughout the room.

She used the end of her scarf to clean the inside of the circle, then painted a circle around the inside of the chain.  Goblin blood.

Chalk for a third circle.

Chalk for circles inside the circle, and lines that led to where her legs and rear end met the floor.

She pulled off her scarf.  “My dads bought this for me.  They gave me shelter, in more ways than one.  They gave me strength.  They’re at the core of who I am.”

Scarf in one circle, with the word ‘Dads’.

“My mom…”

She put in the phone Johannes had lent her, the vehicle for her latest, freshest communication with her mom.

An ‘x’ in goblin blood.  “My hometown…”

There weren’t that many connections she could secure.

Pipe shotgun.  “My relationship to goblins.”

She picked up the book on Demesnes, then shifted position until a circle was in front of her.  “Blake.  He told me he’d teach me magic.  My first real friend here.”

She opened the book, paging through it.

“Biiiiiitch,” Buttsack groaned.  He didn’t move, still staring up at the ceiling.

Others were rousing, reaching into open wounds to dig out marbles.

“Take your time,” she said.  “I’m… well, I won’t say I’m not in a hurry, but I can wait.”

She found the page on Demesnes.

But there was one more circle to attend to.

She pricked her finger with the stiletto, then let the blood collect.

The cracks around her yawned wider.  The structure shook.

She could see one or two of the goblins smiling.

One drop.

She let the blood collect again.

The cracks widened further.  A deep, endless darkness, a void that beckoned.

“If you want me,” she told the void, “You’ll have to take me.”

Second drop.

“I’ll take you,” Buttsack said.

She ignored him.

The third drop collected.

Reality cracked and creaked, straining to hold together, as the blood filled the little square of her baby fingernail.

She let it drop, and her vision wavered.  She very nearly fell over into the nearest crack.

There was barely any light now.  A crack ran through the window, allowing only a sliver through.

“Molly,” she said.

The word passed her lips, and she sat.

Waiting.

In the dark space around her, barely visible, the goblins moved, picking bits out of their wounds.

One slipped outside.

He came back with friends.

An hour might have passed, she couldn’t be sure.  She read through Demesnes to pass the time, to learn.

The goblins recovered, healing from the wounds that hadn’t been dealt by metal.  She reloaded her gun.

She ate and drank.  The sandwiches had been made as she’d specified.  Close enough to her favorite ham and cheese.

When all of the goblins were standing, Buttsack included, she was ready.

She paged through Demesnes to find her way to the ritual.

A demesnes wasn’t in the game plan.

“I hereby make a claim,” she said.  “Let this be my statement.”

The goblins watched.

She improvised, using the demesnes ritual for a guide, a loose outline to follow.  “I claim a name, and I claim only that name.  I claim it by the connections here, and only these connections.  I-”

She hesitated.

“-I name myself Mags.  By this, this remnant of my old name, I claim my Self, I claim my strength, and I deny Maggie Holt from taking anything further.  I give up what I have lost, and I hold to what I still have.

“But I won’t be half a person.  I claim other things.  I claim myself to be the wild card.  I claim myself to be the neutral party.  Three times, I was met and welcomed, and three times did I bargain.  I know these people have no reason to gainsay me in this.  I will be the messenger, the ambassador, the deciding figure, in Jacob’s Bell, until I’m replaced or unable to serve.”

I will be a part of this shithole for the indefinite future.

“Let this be my challenge.”

The words had a resonance.

“If anyone would deny me this, I bid them to come, and to go fuck themselves.  I’ll answer them, and meet them in fair contest of mutual agreement.  I so swear, with all my being to hold onto what I have here, I swear with my everything, as my being is all I have left.”

She aimed her pipe gun and fired it.

The sound rippled, reaching far.

She waited.

Footsteps passed outside.

Sandra.

“No contest.”

She couldn’t track time.

But the cracks didn’t seem so deep.

Johannes.

“No contest,” he said.

She nodded slowly.

Then another figure.

She could see her, but not hear the footsteps.

The voice was her own.

“You had to surround yourself with goblins of all things.”

“Yeah,” she replied.

“Bits of goblin.  Filthy, nasty.  Mess.  Ruins.”

‘Yeah.”

“Eugh.  Not worth it.  You’re conceding?”

She clenched her teeth so hard it hurt.  “In part.”

“I very nearly had you.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m interested to see how this next bit plays out.”

Fuck you, Padraic.  I bet you did a shitty job of being me.”

But Maggie was gone, as was Padraic.

All of this is so I can keep fighting.  I may be giving up on the name, but that doesn’t preclude killing you somehow.

Mara was next to appear.

“I won’t be so easy,” Mara said.

“I won’t have my dads,” the girl in the checkered scarf said.  “Not wholly.  I won’t have my old life, or even the school I hate.  If you want to be cruel, and force me to travel the harder path, let me keep going like this.”

Wind blew, whistling through the holes in the shack.

“No contest.”

The girl in the circle nodded slowly.

Time passed.

She waited, and she ate.  She conserved water, but time passed, and it finished.

The goblins watched, pacing, wanting an opportunity to attack.

Even as they watched, she relieved herself in the second bucket.  She endured the catcalls.  Then she resumed the sitting position.

Another figure.

A group.

They didn’t peer through the holes in the shack, but opened the door.

Rose Thorburn, out of the mirror, a black, gangly kid with a bird on his shoulder, a taller girl with a luggage case behind her, and a shorter girl with a cigarette.

“No contest,” Rose said.  “You’re done.”

Mags nodded slowly.

“You okay?” Rose asked.  “I heard what happened.”

“I’m not okay, but I’ll deal.”

Rose nodded.

There were no cracks anywhere they didn’t belong as Rose offered Mags a helping hand in getting to her feet.

“You’ve got to tell me your story,” Mags said, stepping outside, her eyes on the strangers.  “Starting with where Blake is.”

The quiet, confused looks were an answer unto themselves.

“What?” she asked.

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218 thoughts on “Signature 8.7

  1. This one ran about 1500 words longer than usual, and I kinda rushed toward the end. I didn’t get a chance to do my usual skim for errors, so my apologies for any stupid mistakes like missing/extra quotation marks or unfinished sentences.

    Thanks for reading. Maybe a histories chapter this week (not sure), maybe straight back to the main story.

    1. Thanks for writing. Especially considering how busy you’ve been.

      This arc has been great. Personally I vote for a histories chapter, even though I’m eager to read the main story. The histories chapters give a nice break in pacing in my opinion.

      Actually I’d say this Arc has probably been my favourite out of Pact. Maybe my favourite out of all that I’ve read of your work.

      1. I liked it better than anything yet, including any part of Worm. Barely, perhaps, but the statement stands.

    2. This was great!

      I’ll probably reread it a few times, in fact, so I’ll probably stumble across some sort of criticism, but on the first read through, it’s excellent.

      The only thing I’m slightly confused about is Mara, but I’m not so sure I understand her character properly so it doesn’t bother me. Causing suffering to Mags would have been relatively easy if she just forced one of those full connections (ie Mom) to be something partial.

      1. No complaints here. And hey Sca- I mean Mags is going to be a key player now with that oath, and we found a lot out about Johannes. Yep, no complaints at all.

      2. Mara does not like colonists. Not at all. If she can choose between putting the descendant of a colonist on a path where there will be pain, and a path to oblivion, she will choose pain. That’s my take anyway.

      1. If I’m understanding him and the context right, the WMG was that there was an opposing choir of angels for each of demons. In this case, Johannes thought he should have attracted a member of the third choir, that of Structure. Which opposed the third demonic choir, that of Ruin.

        1. And my guess, that there was no counter-force to demons, was clearly flat out wrong. Still interesting that the evangelists in Black Lamb’s Blood were only summoning “pseudo-angels” (according to Wildbow) and not the real deal for fighting demons. Maybe they just didn’t have the know-how/power?

  2. WOAH!

    I’m totally psyched for next Tuesday’s chapter (assuming this is the end of Signature).

    So Mags still knows what’s up huh? And she’s given herself a name and a sort of power as a judge in Jacob’s Bell.

    I’ve got to say I think Maggie/ Checkered Scarf Girl/ Mags has been my favourite POV character thus far. I’m looking forward to Rose POV though.

    1. Not a typo, and not from this chapter, but in 5.1 Duncan says he has a wife and kid, but we later learn he has a fiancée and no known children, this would mean he lied. Continuity error?

  3. Typos:

    “You’ve got to tell my your story,”

    me

    “…Faysal, do you think you bear a message to the Duck Knight?”

    you could

    She couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all coming

    coming apart?

    1. grabbing the sandwiches and drinks, putting them in the bag with the remaining bucket.

      Missing a capital letter.

    2. Typos:
      – “I did my research, trying to find out what path they’ve traveled” -> “they’d traveled”
      – “giving us more time to expand and assert or dominion” -> “assert a/our dominion”
      – “grabbing the sandwiches and drinks” -> The paragraph begins with a lower-case letter.
      – “good sized” -> “good-sized”?
      – “A circle Seven feet in diameter.” -> “seven”

      And finally: after her third question to Johannes (“why”), Maggie asks multiple other questions in the dialogue. Is that fine because she’d used up all her questions, or should she have phrased questions like “We’re winning?” as statements, too?

    3. scott-free
      scot-free

      a entity of the third choir
      an entity of the third choir

      Demense
      Demesne

      cockshead
      cock’s head, but maybe as intended given the speaker

      Cant get at
      Can’t get at

      grabbing the sandwiches and drinks,
      missing the opening part of the sentence, or at least missing capitalization

    4. grabbing the sandwiches and drinks, putting them in the bag with the remaining bucket. Now it was light enough to sling over one shoulder.

      Missing something at the start of the sentence, maybe just a capitol letter.

  4. I want you to know that I imagined an Inception-style sound effect a beat after Rose said “What?”

    You call yourself Mags, but in our hearts, you will always be Scarf Girl.

    That was a brilliant way to wrap it up. Using a bastardized Demesne ritual, the visuals of goblin bits everywhere, the parade of figures to challenge her – and, of course, the handy fact that Mags dropped most of her connections there. It’s really interesting to see the different way she dealt with this. Blake basically leveraged every available resource and accrued a little army, creating a convoluted mess to beat himself out of with bad karma and gumption, while Mags went for a brilliant, yet unconventional approach. Interesting to know what angels do on their vacations – I bet that whoever signed that angel onto his job is pissed, given that he, in a small way, switched sides.

    I’m kind of doubting the things the Johannes is saying in regards to the Others losing. Right now, sure, but power is malleable – if something that isn’t really a goblin, or a goblin that finds itself born of the vast pettiness that is the Internet, gets going, then others need not be ancient stories.

    Besides, some Others have got to thrive on crowds, on mob mentality, on panic and such.

    1. You call yourself Mags, but in our hearts, you will always be Scarf Girl.
      Maggie, Scarf Girl, Mags… she’s the gal with the gun.

      This chapter felt pretty damn good.

      1. Oh God,Slenderman.(though,admitedly,he is equal to a pactverse demon,but still,pactverse demons are scaaary)

  5. I love this story, I love it so.

    That’s two connections to Blake.

    Mags has funtionally replaced Tattletale for me in terms of awesome characters. She has claimed the functional existence of Determinator. It is by her hand that anyone will have a chance in this war for Lordship.

    Also, is Tyler black now?

    1. Ty was always black. It’s just he’s so awesome that skin color is about the last thing you notice about him.

  6. Speculation time!

    Mags remembers Blake because Padraic had usurped the majority of her connection to him and was somehow left out of the connection cutting effect, probably because it was such a small connection that Ur either missed it or deemed it unimportant.

    In relation to that last one, Blake now has a lifeline. Someone just re-established herself from the brink of being gone from the world, and in doing so she invoked the tattered remains of her connection to Blake, reinforcing it. I would be surprised if it is enough on its own, but we all know that every little helps.

    Speculation over!

    Seriously though, congratulations Mags.

    1. “In relation to that last one, Blake now has a lifeline. Someone just re-established herself from the brink of being gone from the world, and in doing so she invoked the tattered remains of her connection to Blake, reinforcing it. I would be surprised if it is enough on its own, but we all know that every little helps.”

      Careful though. Wildbow might be able to find all sorts of horrible ways to twist that around.

    2. She was protected. FROM GOBLINS. And the extra piece we got about demons was that when a demon removes something from the world, its gone forever. There are the things that the warehouse beast are making from the people it took, therefore, not gone forever.

      The warehouse beast isn’t a demon. It’s a goblin. (imo)

    3. I think it makes more sense that: connections are between names or perhaps titles only. The name would influence the memory in turn. Ur can’t destroy memories, only connections which have the power to destroy memories – and since Maggie didn’t have a name, her memory remained untouchable. She may be the only being that can remember Blake, besides Ur.

      1. Thats exactly what I was theorizing, that Ur doesn’t eat people, she eats connections and people vanish from the world falling through the cracks. This made me so happy, finally a possibly correct prediction in a wildbow story! At least this onr wasn’t destroyed in the first chance.

      2. Maybe Ur just eats names

        Also if that-one-guy vs Ur happened during the time of Mags’s ritual, Ur would have had to go visit Mags to pose his challenege, since her connection to blake was one of the things she claimed.

        And Ur still can’t leave that building’s perimeter.

  7. Ooh, ooh! She’s got her parents back, all three of them! A connection to her dads, a connection to her mom! “I claim [my name] by these connections here.”

    1. Only a partial connection to her dads. Padraic has taken the connection to them that Maggie Holt had, but she’s still related herself to them. Her relation to them will probably be different, but that is better than losing it entirely. It’s enough for her for now.

    1. waitwaitwaitwait this post was in response to a WB post about how Tyler was always black, where did it go?
      I know I’m not crazy damn it.

      1. And after rereading last chapter’s comments on this matter, I see that I have accidentally brought up an uncomfortable beaten horse topic and now I feel bad. I request that these three comments be deleted (if you can) and sincerely apologize for cluttering up this space.

  8. First things first. Kudos to Johannes for securing himself such an incredible familiar. And Sandra for being so scary even if she’s so nice.

    Mags. You are too cool.

    Too cool for school.

    Now we know that kicking ass does help to take names.

    The fact that Mags can remember Blake either means that we don’t really understand what Ur did (duh), or that some other shenanigans are afoot. This arc was really bittersweet good. Keep up the good work, Wildbow.

    1. I have been trying to put together a decent ‘kicking ass and taking names’ joke for about five chapters. Thank you.

      Also, we only saw Ur eat Blake’s connections, not Blake himself. That could be it.

    2. Mags is the bug in the garbage-collection algorithm of the Pact-verse. When ErasUr’s nothingness-stuff followed Blake’s connections back to their referents to rip the roots out of them, it found Maggie Holt instead of Mags.

      1. Which could also mean that given how fragile galmour usually are, Padraic could have been badly wounded due to the backlash while he was holding onto Maggie’s name…. the bad news is that her identity would also have suffered due to the same and could be in tatters and rags by now.

    3. ErasUr eats connections; but that isn’t necessarily the same thing as eating memories. If the connection is between Blake and now-Padraic, then there’s nothing binding for ErasUr to eat that would destroy pre-named Mags’s knowledge of Blake.

      When a demon’s going around devouring connections, having no connections to your own name is a perverse advantage.

      1. The other explanation I’ve heard that I really like is that since Mags claimed a connection to Blake in the ritual, the demon would have had to appear before her to challenge her claim. Since he can’t leave the warehouse, that isn’t an option for him.

  9. I think Wildbow is just making it really obvious that, yes, Ty is black. Speaking of which, Wildbow, I really love you and your stories. Carry on. 🙂

    1. Ah, thank you for that. I was very confused and thought it might be JP Corvidae for a moment and I was terribly confused about the bird (though he has a crow motif, he doesn’t have a pet bird).

      It probably deserves a mention earlier in the story.

      1. Yeah same thing happened to me. So does this mean they made Evan Ty’s famliar? It works out pretty well, but It’ll be really sad if Blake does turn out to be alive and come back.

      2. but Rose properly used corvidae to switch Evans connection to someone else, either Tyler (how had a vibe going on with evan) or Rose.

        1. Can Corvidae’s connection-stealing power beat the familiar bond? Judging by how Bad Stuff is guaranteed if you try to mess with a practitioner’s implement, this would be a big deal.

        2. I don’t think that would work because there’s no connection left to switch. Ur ate it 😦

          I don’t think Ty had time to do the familiar ritual, but he may. If not, Evan’s currently set up to be a Free Agent.

          1. Well I shouldn’t get my hopes up about Blake being alive, but lets hope Ty didn’t end up stealing his friends awesome familiar. Besides we’d be back to square one on Blake getting the big three, and I don’t think the comments need to retread the damn familiar debate.

  10. Great ending to a solid Arc. It was surprisingly hopeful for a horror story; I can dig it. Hoping we can jump right into the new arc. I’m loving the worldbuilding, I crave more.

    Congrats on pulling it off in the midst of insanity by the way.

  11. Ooooh shit son, I knew something was up when she mentioned Blake in her (second?) awakening!

    The power of Friendship (and having your identity forcibly taken from you by an ambiguously sexual faerie exile) prevails once again!

    1. He is not ambiguously sexual,he is pansexual

      Considering the main fae motivation is boredom,I think thats the case with all the fae.

  12. So is… Is Mags the new protagonist? Is she just standing in for Blake? Or will we be seeing things from Rose’s POV?

    But the Duck Knight better have had a purple cape and a spiffy hat.

    1. I am the Terror that Flaps in the Night! I am the discordant distraction dwelling in the demesne of the disturbing dark-one and disobeying his directives! I am Darkwi… err, The Duck Knight!

      1. And if you don’t think he’s a threat, with three words he can change all that.
        “Let’s get dangerous!”

  13. YES Blake isn’t completely lost! Also Mags is kind of badass (even if the name does unfortunately remind me of the old lady in the Hunger Games).

    Even with their names back and such, Johannes has easily surpassed Mags and Blake as my favourite with this chapter, even with how little we know of him. Maybe especially because of that, hmmm.

  14. Glad someone remembers Blake. Cant wait for the new arc. Bittersweet ending for Mags. She survived, but at a cost. Interesting enough, how does Rose handle this revelation.

    1. Interesting that there is such a thing as memory independent of connections. It makes you wonder exactly what connections are and how severing them removes memories if they don’t actually represent/embody memories.

  15. Still more hopes being held out for Blake’s (NOW WE HAVE A NAME!!!) survival, that Ur nom’d the dolls and only the potent parts of Blake’s connections.

    I really love these personalized Pactverse rituals, still meeting a rule that can be repeated, but forcing characters to confess their personalities and lifelong intentions to the reader. Rituals are the light in the dark modern&magic world, and it makes the characters who eat and mess with connections more potent.

    Lastly, it seems the characters at the Ur-fight reformed effectively. The Blakeguard didn’t scatter, Maggie returned to Mags and her history got leaked to all, and most interestingly Rose is less attached to Maggie than she was before despite that being a priority of Maggie’s plan.

    1. Oh here’s a fun idea. I don’t normally do things like this cause I don’t want to get my hopes up, but… What if Ur did leave a connection for Blake. A connection to Ornaias? I don’t think Blake was ever fully able to get rid of the connection he started forming when he was saying Ornais name. Now Ornais is a high ranking demon. And after what Brair Girl had to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is actually from the first choir. So if Urr recognized that connection, maybe it felt this made Blake belong to Ornaias and didn’t want to infringe on that claim.

      Thought that wouldn’t be a good thing for Blake.

      1. I’m thinking Ur might’ve deliberately left the connection to Mags because he’s playing the long game. Maybe leaving something there can do more damage by drawing others in.

        1. Probably not; I don’t think Ur’s long game involves Blake at all. And Ur has never met Mags anyway, so it wouldn’t have much information about what connection to leave.

    1. I think the Behaims didn’t show up because Mags’ not-even-demesne ritual didn’t touch on anything they did. They might not even have noticed it take place. Scarf didn’t try to hold on to any direction connections to the Behaims, after all, and in her ritual she didn’t try to recover any of her connections from 8-1, either.

      Three times, I was met and welcomed, and three times did I bargain. I know these people have no reason to gainsay me in this.

      The only ones who did show up were those mentioned in the naming ritual, those who could challenge her on this point.
      Plus the goblins, to whom she affirmed a connection earlier.

      I’m not sure how Rose fit in there, why she showed up – Mags only had an indirect connection to her via Blake, after all, and none after Blake’s said connection was erased; but the ritual did take place close to Hillsglade House, and maybe that was enough. (Maybe her connection to Molly Thorburn mattered, too?)

  16. I’m surprised she went with “Mags” and not the longer form of whatever “Maggie” is short for. Magdalene? Margaret? Etc.

    It is however, fitting that it’s a fragment of Maggie.

    1. Ah, but she doesn’t think of herself as a “Magdalene” or a “Margaret.” She thinks of herself as Maggie. Padraic put paid to that, so we have “Mags” instead.

    2. Margaret sounds like an old woman name to me. I wouldn’t have picked that just based off asthetics.

      I imagine it might have been an endearing nickname that someone called her at some point as well. Perhaps her mother or a grandparent? I don’t think her fathers used it, since Padraic may have been exposed to it in that case.

      1. The only instance I could find was her being called “Mags” once in Histories (Arc 2) by Heather, a school friend from her home town.
        That makes it strangely appropriate, since it affirms her connection to her hometown.

    3. Mags is the cruder form, and a form used by her before, I think, much earlier somewhere. She’s letting Padriac keep the refined parts of her which is all he really wanted, being a faerie. She’s laying claim to the rest, the cruder parts, the shadows, the goblins, and a substantial chunk of those pesky human chaotic emotions.

      I can’t want to see where Mags goes from here, it might be a wild, wild ride.

  17. THAT ENDING. I saw it coming when Mags said “Rose, out of the mirror”.

    Daaaang.

    I do hope Maggie can get her fathers back. She will survive, but losing her fathers is what makes me the saddest.

    Not much to say other than I really enjoyed this chapter, and I am very glad our despotic god Wildbow didn’t kill Mags (I’m kidding, no offense intended). Two of my favourite stories updated today, made my day.

    1. Wait, Mags IS getting her parents back. Yaaaay. Happy endings do exist! Sort of! This is far better than I expected. Also, I vote for a Histories chapter next.

        1. Will she get her parents back? I… don’t see why she would. Mags doesn’t have parents, maggie holt had parents. and I think padraic still can swear, so long as he isn’t being maggie holt.

          1. Maybe Rose can use Corviade to have Maggie’s parents feel parental towards the young lady named MAgs that reminds them of their daughter.

            1. Sadly/Luckily, Corvidae only works on connections between objects and people, not between people and people.

            2. No, it works between people and people. The chapter in which he was introduced said that he could “steal” things that are people such as children.

            3. I think it’s been mentioned that JC’s power causes more pain than joy… that usually when he switches connections It can’t be used for good.

          2. In the chapter, her name ritual involved the connection to her parents. From what I understand, she took the minuscule connection she used to have with her parents and asserted control over it, relinquishing it from Padraic. She probably lost a lot from her connection, but I think she is, indeed, getting her parents back.

      1. Ra, from QNTM (qntm.org/ra)

        It is a story about magic, which was discovered in 1972 and is studied just like any other science. Magic is ruled by very specific laws and require a deep understanding of mathematics and physics to pull off. The story explores what magic is, where it came from, and… it develops in a somewhat unexpected (but very enjoyable) direction.

        1. I may have to check that out. I like when they take a deeper look at, and give magic internally consistant rules.

        2. Just binge-read it up to the present. o.0 “Somewhat unexpected… direction” doesn’t quite cut it, wouldn’t you say?

        1. Safe rule of thumb: take the worst thing you can imagine happening to a Wildbow protagonist. Then, multiply it by cancer.

          (Not really, but that’s kinda what we’ve come to expect.)

          1. No. Cancer is just a disease. It can even be cured. The things that happen to Wildbow protagonists are the deliberate acts of malicious and even genial entities, carried out in cold blood.

  18. Mags remembers Blake because of how bad her connection to reality was; Ur missed her completely it seems.

  19. So are we going to talk about how Andy gave Mags a pipe bomb? Because apparently he has pipe bombs in addition to his homemade boomstick.

    1. My first thought with the package was plastic explosives, though pipe bomb is more along the lines of what a 20-something college kid could make (which is about where I put Andy’s skill tree in terms of finesse).

      1. It was C4. the description, and the electronic detonator, all point to plastique.

        Mags turned it into an IED by putting it in a bucket full of nails’n’crap.

    2. Hey, compared to some of the shit in this story pipe bombs are tame. It’s not like he gave her a demon of horrible crippling, and insanity.

      On second thought that just makes Granny Rose the bestest granny ever!

      1. Thank you, Matthew! I really don’t know a lot about dog breeds and “white long-haired dog” was popping up with just the little ones. I did check the name, though, and noticed it was Middle Eastern. The pieces fall in place! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have another dog-related nightmare caused by Wildbow…

        I mean wow. Those dogs are creepy looking. Like a person inside a suit, almost.
        https://imgur.com/vpuMdIN

  20. You know… Mags might have lost her name and had a horrible time, but I am failing to see what else she has lost that she won’t regain. If anything, she probably came out in a better position where she can gain more power and no actual enemies (that didn’t exist already). That’s so… weird. Is there another shoe that has yet to drop?

    And is Johannes really as bad as everyone makes him to be, or are people just giving him bad propaganda because he is powerful?

    1. I dunno, Johannes seems like he’s on Team People at least even as he runs a giant occult canadian-rules participatory hunger games for the Others. In all likelihood he’s a relatively neutral figure, just an ambitious practitioner who saw a way to game the system to reap himself a whole lot of power nearly free of charge and took it, judging the ethics of torturing vestiges for the shits and giggles of the Axis of Ancient, Undying and Truly Inhuman Evil to be worth it in the end.

      1. Mmmm… No, no. I disagree with you.

        You are right about the torture farm, but, do you seriously think any practitioners from Jacob’s Bell would care? You think Laird would care?

        And the torture farm is awful, horrible and despicable, even if Johannes doesn’t think so. But… he doesn’t seem to be interested in hurting any humans or practitioners in Jacob’s Bell, which is why I am confused why people don’t like him. Maybe it is because he is too powerful, and they know Johannes is going to eventually try to expand regardless of who gets in his way.

        But so far, Johannes hasn’t done anything bad to any of the practitioners. He has only been helpful.

    2. Well, he has an angelic familiar who he managed to convince that J has humanity’s best interests at heart. I have to wonder, though.

      1. Strictly speaking he didn’t necessarily convince the angel of that in particular, just convinced the angel of “the way it should be”. I have a sneaking suspicion that the angels’ priorities look a lot like those of Isadora, which is not necessarily Rah Rah Humanity.

        Let’s not go trusting the motives of angels too readily. There are lots of examples in fiction where they didn’t turn out to be such swell folks in the end. To pick one, the Shin Megami Tensei games.

        1. Johannes can think what he’s doing is the good thing, and the right way. That doesn’t mean it is, but he can feel he’s being the good guy even when doing not so good things.

        2. I imagine the angels are either that or have a Light is Not Good thing going on where they only exist to oppose the demons/bad karma. Bonus points if they are as willing to game the system as anyone else if it means more good karma going around, consequences for the humans be damned.

      2. Well, he has an angelic familiar who he managed to convince that J has humanity’s best interests at heart. I have to wonder, though.

        As Mags points out, there is precedent for this. Not a good precedent, but a precedent nonetheless.

  21. Okay, many things happened and I feel a fledgling of hope. I fear it, but maybe the knife won’t come back and stab me in the heart…

    Also, guess who’s the new admin on the wikia?

  22. the artist formerly known as Blake lives!!

    …Possibly. That whole ending to this chapter was great. Also! Johannes is a stone cold badass. I love it. And I think Maggie’s comparision of him to Lucifer seems very fitting. I’m looking forwards to what the ex-Blakeguard gets up to now. A tiny small glimmer of hope has appeared!

  23. Nice conclusion!
    I was hoping Rose would get back soon since I think she’s a more rational and maybe more intelligent person than Blake. Not that I don’t like Mags but I kinda felt cheated out of seeing what Rose is doing by Mags being the center of the story. (Not saying it’s justified feeling like that, just saying how it is.)
    I also like that Mags’ claims include her becoming the wild card. I usually prefer people with a stable, loyal part to one of the factions (I’m pretty sure I’m talking about online games here but it probably applies to characters in stories too) but the title “Wild Card” sounds pretty cool to me.
    I saw myself as a bit of that suddenly joining one side in a war and turning the tide of battle. It can definitely feel awesome seeing oneself like that.

  24. Praise:

    • I enjoyed this arc a whole lot.

    • I very much liked hearing Johannes’ perspective on things. I still think it more likely than not that he’s doing horrific harm with his vestiges, but I very much approve of this utilitarian perspective. I don’t know if his calculation is correct, but it could well be that if his plans come to fruition, he’s doing more good than harm. But even if he isn’t, I approve of antagonists like him. I wish we’d gotten a similarly compelling speech by Laird at some point.

    • Actually, I have to praise the depiction of pretty much all antagonists in this arc (except for the practitioner kids in 8-1). A big step up from the boring black-and-white morality of the Behaims.

    • I liked Scarf’s improvised naming ritual. Very appropriate. And wow was she close to falling through the cracks. And the conclusion was so bittersweet…

    • I love how Mags’ relationship to goblins is signified by the pipe shotgun, of all things…

    • My favorite line: “But at the end of the day, there’s only one guy that I know of who’s tempted any angels down a different path, and I bet he sounded awfully convincing too.”

  25. Other comments:

    1. Huh, so according to the very knowledgable Johannes, humanity is winning against Others? Interesting. I didn’t expect that from what we’ve seen in the story so far. And I think Blake had a different perspective, maybe something along the lines of “all it takes is one botched demon summoning at the wrong time”…

    2. So apparently there really are angel-equivalents, and Faysal was a “little” form of one of them. Does that make it an angel-equivalent of Pauz-level (mote) or ErasUr-level (“minor” devil)? And does Isadora somehow fit into this picture?

    3. Johannes was extraordinarily fair in the Q&A session. To the point that I’m wondering why Scarf didn’t try to elaborate more on her own answers, to balance the scales. Contrast that with this line from 8-1: “Equity. You hold the door for me, I hold the door for you.

    4. Buttsack said that Faysal Answar is “always like that”. This makes me suspicious that Buttsack has a past history with Johannes. Maybe Johannes even planned some of this current scenario with Scarf?

    5. Scarf felt noticeably weaker every time she left Johannes’ demesne. Maybe not only due to the passage of time, but also because she left part of herself behind as a vestige?

    6. I didn’t expect Johannes to appear outside his demesne, without the truce of the council meetings. I mean, he’s very, very strong, but he’s not exactly untouchable outside his demesne, right?

    7. Rose’s cabal is now Ty (with Evan as his familiar?), Tiffany and Alexis?

    8. And most importantly: Mags’ remembering Blake is strong evidence in favor of Blake still being alive, that only his connections had been erased. This is an interesting scenario – Rose and her cabal don’t even remember Blake, but Mags can tell them what she knows about him; she even knows it was Blake who proposed the contest in Toronto. And just as importantly, Mags remembers Rose’s vestige mirror form, and can tell her about that, too. Now Rose has a reason to take a mirror as her implement!

    9. All that said, even if Blake has survived, no-one but Mags has any remaining connection to him, so why should they even bother to save him? And while Mags has the motivation, she likely lacks the ability, and she’s even named herself the neutral party.

    1. Regarding (6), this is from Rose Sr.’s notes in 1.6:

      “He spends almost all of his time within his demesne, stepping outside only to defend his claim and attend occasional meetings”.

      Responding to someone else’s claim in Jacob’s Bell probably falls under the category of defending his claim.

    2. It would be ironic if even Ur forgot about Blake after severing his connections. Assuming it didn’t actually kill him, of course.

      But I’d imagine Ur has enough experience with its own abilities to not make a mistake like that, so the question becomes “why would Ur leave Blake alive”? Someone mentioned this before, but it kind of felt like Ur was just toying with Blake instead of trying to kill him.

      1. Blake was being careful to remain inside the beam of light connecting him to the door; Urr couldn’t eat him because it can’t enter light. It could eat his connections, though, because they extended out away from him into the darkness.

      2. That, of course, assumes that Ur is malicious. It could potentially ‘just’ be a very alien creature whose primary diet consists of connections. It’s entirely possible that Blake is still alive because it has no interest nor need to see him dead.

  26. “Rose Thorburn, out of the mirror,”

    I read that and paused for a second, as realization dawned. “Wait that means…” Then eagarly I read on until… “Starting with where Blake is.” And then I smiled. Wildbow you are magnificent.

  27. Kudos to Mags for figuring out the trick.

    It’s sort of the Sunk Cost Fallacy, throwing good money after bad, getting so caught up in trying to regain what was lost you lose even more. But nah, she figured it out, you have to quit the losing game and move on.

    Mags remembering Blake makes me wonder whether what everyone knows about what the demon choirs do is just…bullshit. That maybe the total erasure from reality the first choir engage in, isn’t, instead the eaten reality is just…elsewhere.

    1. It doesn’t really conflict with what we’ve learned before. Blake had his connections attacked. This would cause him to fall into the void. (As Mags almost did.) The damage to the connections causes more damage in everything connected.

      Mags had no connection to Blake since Padriac usurped it. Padriac bravely took the blow for her.

      1. Right, I forgot my point: We don’t know if Ur ever attacked Blake. Blake being fine doesn’t invalidate anything we’ve been told about the first choir.

    2. Well it’s not like studying them and testing the hypothosis would be easy. Or doable. When dealing with something like first Choir demons of the abstract, I imagine there has to be a lot of guesswork. I mean we could ask ErasUrr what happens to the things it eats, but I don’t think we’d like the way it’d give the answer.

      1. I don’t know any expectant mother who dislikes three-cheese pizza. Let Science happen:

        “Urrr….pp.”

    3. Makes you wonder how much reality is just sitting around unnoticed. Like, if anyone does manage to fall through the cracks of reality and make it back, would they wind up in a treasure trove of random things? Is there a special place in the void for all the stuff that ever fell between the cushions of your couch? Would that person be able to bring things back with them?

      1. That would be an awesome branch of magic. What to call it, what to call it… google translate gives me “amissa” as Latin for lost and “invenio” as Latin for “find”, so amissomancy and inveniomancy. Inveniomancy sounds less silly, in my opinion, so that’s my new headcannon.

  28. i swear half the time i have to consult tvtropes to get a good sense of what happens hehe, like how i missed the pedophile thing but saw the pied piper bit. Hopefully Blake will return.

  29. Ah, this was so much goodness… Mags is truly badass, and I love that she found the strength to forge her own path.

    And I LOVE Johannes. Oh my god, such a good antagonist… You know it’s going to come down to conflict, but this is an interesting, sympathetic, and understandable villain. (At least from what we’ve seen so far.)

    1. Sometimes a good antagonist has a good point. It’s just their means of going about it or a single fatal flaw that makes them an antagonist. Like Magneto for example.

  30. Faust’s first name: Both Christopher Marlow (who wrote the “Tragickal History of Dr. Faustus”) and Goethe (author of “Faust”) based their characters on a medieval German alchemist and magician named JOHANN Georg Faust… though apparently neither ever used the full name.

  31. (The above was based on largely-unverifiable, anecdotal results of Web-trolling, beginning with TVTropes and moving out from there)

  32. Thinking by typing…

    So, Mags reinvented herself using the connections she already had. It is amusing that being a practitioner makes ‘reinventing yourself’ a far more real process than its mundane use.

    Mags’s stake in her destroyed town probably means she is bound by fire, blood, and death.

    “This is how I deal with goblins.” I would think that was too harsh but after seeing Buttsack a bit, no.

    Nice work on making the surroundings nasty enough to gross out Padraic. She actually put up several things to counter him, and that makes sense since he is her strongest clear enemy.

    Lots and lots of more information on Johannes. YES!

    And my very old guess about Johannes having the pipes of the Pied Piper was right. My prediction success ratio is still crap, though.

    Oh my. Humanity is successfully distancing itself from the Others. Eventually… no Others?

    “They fix themselves to ideas and methods and then fall by the wayside when we abandon our radios or our lanterns in favor of televisions and electricity.” Yeah, until the first incarnation of Technology pops up. That one is here to stay, and should be insanely powerful. The Astronomer’s mentor seemed to be part way along that path.

    “I traded the harshest part of my tongue to a goblin for information on how to bind superior goblins.” OK, that makes sense, but it is a bit anticlimactic.

    Rackspatter of the Nine Thousand Scalps. Interesting thing about taking magically significant numbers: if he takes another scalp he weakens the pattern. But gains another, more modern one, as Mags notes. Snicker.

    “But at the end of the day, there’s only one guy that I know of who’s tempted any angels down a different path, and I bet he sounded awfully convincing too.” OK, that one came out of nowhere for me, but it smacked me good.

    “I can put you two somewhere safe, child.” The use of the word ‘child’ here is not comforting considering what Johannes can do with the pipes.

    “she saw Faysal Anwar as it truly was.” And of course the reader’s don’t get a description, except to note that the sight shocked Mags. At least we have the confirmation from earlier that Faysal is an angel, even if he is low on the totem pole.

    Mags took the IED! And I was right that it was an IED. Mags used the IED! Boy, she doesn’t play around.

    And the shocker ending. Rose and company get to find out about Blake after all. It would be too much to hope for that he still exists. However, what part of what happened to her protected her from the erasUrr?

    1. She had no “metaphysical” connection to this Blake. (Whoever he is). Ur didn’t effect her, Maggie took the blow for Mags. Presumably without the metaphysical component Maggie’s memories have no more reason to be undone than the meal this Blake character ate three years ago. (Assuming Blake does in fact eat.)

      Its possible Andy dodged the blow partially or totally since he has demonstrated the ability to interact with others, but not form a noticeable connection.

      1. This seems less likely than the above theory, but as I was reading I wondered if Mags missed having her connections erased simply because Faysal teleported her forward through time past the point where Blake got eaten.

        1. It’s highly unclear, but I think Blake vs Erasurre happened while she was waiting for people to answer her claim. Time got seriously distorted late in this arc.

      2. We can make a few infrences about this “Blake”. Apparently he was someone from Jacob’s Bell. Must have been there a while if Mags considers him the first friend she made there. Clearly he went with Rose to Toronto, so they must have been close. From the sounds of things he had something to do with sharing the Thorburn books with Maggie. So I wonder if he might have been a cousin, or even sibling of Rose’s. Poor bastard probably was the inside man when they tried to go after ErasUrr. Oh hell, maybe he’s got something to do with the mystery talking sparrow!

    2. Blake’s specific line was “It tore [through] the ribbons and cords that extended between me and the individuals just outside the buildings.”, which didn’t include Mags since her connection to Blake had been usurped by Maggie.
      Then Blake ran and “didn’t make it”. Whatever actually happened to him, he himself wasn’t eaten and erased by ErasUr, and so Mags could still remember him.

      That Mags reaffirmed her connection to Blake right when she’d almost fallen through the cracks might have helped, too, if Blake had survived ErasUr by falling through the cracks into the void; in some abstract sense, she’d have been “close” to him.

    3. “Yeah, until the first incarnation of Technology pops up. That one is here to stay, and should be insanely powerful. The Astronomer’s mentor seemed to be part way along that path.”
      He did mention Incarnations as being and exception. But even then specific incarnations will lose power as things change. And incarnation of technology that was born from the steam locomotive for example will be obsolete now. As soon as an other gets fitted into a technological device, it may end up obsolete. Why do I have DeJa Vu?

      “And the shocker ending. Rose and company get to find out about Blake after all. It would be too much to hope for that he still exists. However, what part of what happened to her protected her from the erasUrr?”
      If we had been reading a version from Rose’s POV after Blake got ErasUrred, that would have been such a wham line. We’d be all “Wait, who’s Blake- Oh!”

      1. I don’t think an incarnation would work like that. They’re concepts, not specific things like steam powered engines. Perhaps an incarnation of Innovation, or Change, or something like that?

        1. Your right, broadly they are. But the specific incarnations also seem to be created by specific acts or events. Toronto Conquest was created by the europen settlers displacement of Canada’s natives, among other things. He was also stated to be a weaker incarnation of Conquest. Apparently if Liard had merged with him it would have modernized him a bit. So lets say we have an incarnation of technology, formed from the advent of the steam engine. Of course now the steam engine is obsolete, and sadly in the states Rail is not a major form of travel compared to what it once was. So it wouldn’t draw much power from that. But if it could draw power from something like the automobile, by updating itself it could stay relevent and empowered.

          1. Not to mention the classics like Greed, Pride, Lust, Gluttony… now I’m imagining the harmonious symbiotic relationship that would exist between Wrath and the literal Internet Troll.

    4. what part of what happened to her protected her from the erasUrr?

      My guess would be that Ur never showed up to challenge her claim to the connection in a contest of their mutual agreement.

  33. Rose Sr. noted in 1.6 that FA was a Gatekeeper of the Seventh Ring. The seventh demonic choir is the abstract, most often underestimated. What is the opposite of that? The concrete?

    1. From 1.6, concerning Johannes:

      Favors manipulation of space.

      And from here:

      and the entire area seemed to _bend_, like it sometimes did in the science fiction shows, when a ship kicked off into hyperdrive and the area took a second to resettle.
      […]
      “Your familiar is a gatekeeper. It can go virtually anywhere, virtually instantly, including some places with locked doors, or did I hear wrong?”

      So I vote that the Seventh Ring concerns Space. Seems pretty concrete, in any case. Though maybe space is already covered by the third ring (structure).

      In any case, as already speculated in 1.6, it seems Johannes somhow used his space powers to get an extraordinarily large demesne.

      Incidentally, is this description of Faysal an intentional nod towards two capes from Worm (namely Ivfgn & Qbbeznxre)?

      1. Just a guess, but:

        The heavens/firmament: all of the various celestial bodies within space, including things like planets and stars.

        The void/darkness: the black nothingness between all the stars and rocks.

        They’re both two sides of the same coin, and they’re both as separate as night and day. Flip sides of the same concept, as it were. The best part is each side represents one of two possible ends for the whole thing; a “big crunch”, with the universe slowly shrinking and building up heat as it collapses, or a “heat death”, where it continues to expand until all available energy is spread too thin to sustain anything.

    1. Neat post. Interestingly enough, some scientists theorise that depression is an evolutionary adaptation which evolved to keep people inactive in situations where activity could be dangerous. For example, long winters. As you so rightly pointed out, depression effectively puts the kibosh on optimism bias.

  34. To me the hallmark of good writing is when I’m deeply interested (and could happily read all about) in all the secondary characters no matter how “minor” they might be. I am interested in all these characters. These characters could all have complete spin-off stories, I’d be thrilled to read them. Be thrilled to learn about how they became who they are.

    1. Mmm. The problem is at the moment the secondary characters seem more thrilling than the main ones. A few posters have said this is the best Pact arc so far. If the best arc is the one with none of the major characters in it, that’s a concern.

      It’s not that simple, of course – even Wildbow agrees that the Conquest arc dragged on too long. But Mags and Johannes have still managed to be more interesting in one arc than Blake and Rose have in six.

  35. Without question my favorite chapter thus far. Absolutely amazing. So satisfying in every which way. Glorious, satisfying, cathartic.

  36. A nice ending! But unless Rose is here specifically to make a bonfire out of Granny Rose’s library and then leave Mags’s new impartial mediator job is going to get real ugly real fast.

    I especially like how this arc established characters outside of Blake’s friends and allies that are actually halfway interesting and sympathetic. I was getting kind of worried that Wildbow was giving us too much signposting on who we should be rooting for and booing in the past. And if Rose Jr. is the new viewpoint character that’s likely to be taken even further.

    Also, while I appreciate that Johanne’s plan doesn’t involve making snacks out of the people in Jacob’s Bell to keep his guests/minions happy, you’re supposed to walk away from Omelas. Not towards it. Still worried about his endgame.

    Faysal might be a real powder keg element. If Rose Jr. decides to start dipping into diabolism and Johannes doesn’t act against her like his familiar would probably want, weeeellll…

      1. Well, except for the part where it’s literally built on the abuse of a child. Or to put it another way. I’d walk away from Omelas, but I wouldn’t leave without that child.

        1. Makes it better than societies in which two children are abused! You really think you can find a society in the world today that doesn’t exceed that by a mile?

      2. Yeah, I didn’t understand that story, either. It’s designed as a utopia-with-an-unacceptable-dark-side, but it ends up being a utopia-with-a-negligible-dark-side. Not because unimaginable torture isn’t very bad – it is – but because there’s so much more pain in real life.

        And @Becka Sutton: Walk away from Omelas with that child, and you are responsible for ruining that utopia, too (however that works); are you willing to ruin a whole city’s worth of lives to save one?

        1. Never heard of this Omelas thing, but I have given thought to this very problem. And there are a few things I need to take into account.
          1- Do the people of this utopia know that their prosperity is powered by a forsaken child?
          2- If they do know, or when they learn, what is their reaction? Do they try to do whatever they can to make it easier on this child, to help them, and most importantly are they trying to find another way? Because if they are complicit, if they accept this, if they are happy letting this child suffer for their sake, can that be called a utopia? And can it’s inhabitants really be said to deserve a utopia then?

          1. Yes, your question #2 is the entire point of the short story. Look up “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin. The first hit on google is a pdf of the full text, and it’s definitely worth reading.

        2. A few things:

          1. Omelas is tied to the psychomyth concept of the scapegoat. Like the poor bastard in ancient Greece who would be beaten and thrown out of the city. Or he’s a martyr who the people are perfectly okay with his suffering because hey! he’s doing it for our sins!
          
          2. The interpretation is also pretty open. I choose to interpret the child as a metaphor for every single child in he third world similar to him that has to live in shit for us to have video games and mcdonalds. And the people’s acceptance with that fact to be a mirror to our blithering ignorance on that subject.
          
          3. I wouldn’t leave the city. That solves nothing and is no different than staying. I would dedicate my entire life to being a giant asshole who throws water balloons full of tomato juice at people’s children and makes as many people around me as miserable as possible. So if the “suffering=utopia thing works the way I think it does. It will atleast make the kids life just a little bit better.
          
          4. Johanne’s doesn’t just have one scapegoat. He’s going to have a lot if he wants to accomplish his fucked little experiment.
          
            1. Interpreting it this way misses a crucial distinction: the Greek scapegoats didn’t actually work. It’s “tied” to the “psychomyth concept”, in that it’s an attempt to explore an even stronger version of it.
            2. Interpreting it this way misses the whole point. One child is a lot fewer children than “every single child in the third world”, in a way that is relevant to the moral calculus. Omelas’s argument is that a sacrifice for the greater good is never acceptable – the specifics of actually-existing sacrifices are not relevant.
            3. So how much are you willing to harm people’s children in order to make a single kid’s life just a little bit better? Is there a limit here? Have you considered that the kids in Omelas are also kids, and by torturing the child you are making their lives just a little bit better?
            4. The morality of Johannes’s actions seems to turn pretty heavily on whether or not the vestiges are real people. If they are, it seems hard to justify. But the reason is “too many people are being sacrificed for not enough gain” not “sacrifices are never appropriate”.
  37. Where is Jacob’s Bell in relation to Toronto. Rose is back at the end of the chapter but was she back at the beginning? The ritual took an undetermined amount of time but hours at least. I need to wrap my head around the timeline. Is it possible that Blake was erased right in the midst of Mags’ ritual? And that in nailing down and magically claiming her connection to him to save herself she also saved him?

  38. Wha- But. . . How? How is it that every time I get sick or have an extra long work day and decide to go be early, we get a wham chapter. I don’t even. . .

    I’m liking Johannes more and more. He seems noble. I’d argue that, not including Malcolm Fell’s brother, the nameless practitioner hero, Johannes may be the most pure good person in Pact. He just has a bad reputation because power feeds fear, and fear distorts the truth.

    Loving Mags here. This chapter, She showed the cleverness and gumption that I first fell in love with.

    “Try. Signal me when you’re ready.”

    . . .

    He turned and gave her the finger.

    That would be the signal.

    Buttsack is proving himself to be a funny little sidekick. He’s growing on me. My feels toward him are much better now, than when we first saw him, slowly poisoning a school girl.

    Can Mags stay as the POV character of Pact? This was one of the best and most intriguing arcs so far. Wildbow said this would be the last chapter of the Girl in the Checkered Scarf. She’s Mags now. Can Pact continue as the adventures of Mags?

    1. I’d just like to remind you that the only way Buttsack is acting nicely is because he has been ordered to. He is, still, a horrible, despicable sack of… waste.

      But who knows if he will be influenced by Mags during the following year. Maybe being under such tight control will slightly change Buttsack’s nature.

  39. It occurs to me that although she had to conceed the name Maggie Holt and everything else Padriac took, that does not elimantate her somehow taking them from him in the future somehow. Though I hope she’s more careful and makes sure to not take any unwanted connections the fey bastard had accumulated in the meantime.

    Now I won’t get my hopes up, but lets say Blake is alive and fallen through the cracks, and somehow retrievable. What do you think Mags summoning him would be like?
    “Blake Thorbun I call out to you. I ask you to appear due to the bond of friendship we still have.
    Blake Thorburn I call out to you. I ask you to appear as I offer you sustinance in the form of this freezer pizza.
    Blake Thorburn I call out to you. I give you this threat. If you don’t appear Rose is gonna sell all your shit, including your bike on Ebay.”

    1. I’m pretty sure Padriac will at least be impeded in taking what’s left of Maggie in Mags; otherwise, there wouldn’t be a lot of point to the ritual in the first place. It makes sense, too–it solidifies Mags in reality, cementing what’s left of Maggie within her own identity. Padriac would probably have to more or less start over.

      Dunno what a Blake-recalling ritual would do. I kinda hope that Blake’s end is more permanent.

  40. Who is this Blake guy mags is talking about? Do you think he did great things like johannes May or may not be doing?
    Those who have fallen through the cracks have found eachother, or something.

    1. It depends on how old she is I suppose. She could consider everyone from the Iroquois to the French to the English a conquering bastard depending on what period of Canada’s colonial history she’s from.

      My guess is that at this point she’s going to be hostile to anybody who isn’t her. You could be full blooded first nations and still get turned into compost.

      1. I’m pretty sure Mara would be nice to any Natives she came across, if she came across any. But it’s not likely to come up, for reasons that are at the core of her hatred.

    2. I’m guessing that pretty much any non-Native American counts as a colonist. Maybe if she was from, say, the American South, she’d have a bit more pity for black people since they didn’t come willingly, but I doubt it.

  41. Almost caught up, so I’ll start commenting again:

    Freaking Mags. I laughed and laughed at that last line. You rock, Mags.

  42. why would religious diabolists be weird? you’ve got objective proof of hell, heaven seems both easier and more alluring to believe in from that position….. i could see some of the lighter gray summoners wanting to go to church

  43. Am I the only one thinking something is weird with mister 99 practicioner scalps?It might be that only I have eaten enough stories,but in all the stories I have read,the hundreth part of a 99 streak is ,at best,the hardest and at worst a loss.Mags had the best chance,if this works storybook like,if she went after him on 99 scalps.

    Or did the 9000 non practioner scalps enpower him?He would still fall,methinks.

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