Null 9.2

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She fucked it up on purpose?

My thoughts were slow to get going as I tried to dredge up memories.  Promises she’d made, that had no real power behind them.

A promise to help me, to work with me, even.

The fact that she’d used Ty, Alexis and Tiff to prepare her summonings, but hadn’t been able to do it herself.  I’d glossed over it because she’d told me the ritual hadn’t worked.

Why?

How many times had I thrown myself into life or death situations, and all this while, she’d been holding back?  Keeping hands off?  I’d scratched, fought, and bled for power and she’d just turned it down?

Why?

When she would have made the decision… it would have been after we’d argued.  When she was frustrated, new to the mirror.

All because she’d wanted to be able to lie to me?

When I’d made promises to her, to get her out of the mirror somehow, she’d said she felt bad about it.  Because she’d known the promise she was making in exchange had no weight to it.

I was clenching my fists, and the strain was making the two halves of my one broken hand grate against one another.

It’s this placeThere’s a reason I saw it.  This place wants to grind me down, and it thinks giving me a glimpse like that is going to help do it.

Which isn’t entirely wrong.

I couldn’t let my agitation push me into doing something stupid.

This was the initial foray.  It was liable to get a lot worse, if what Green Eyes had said was true.  I had to get a grip on it now, if I wanted to be ready for whatever hit me later.

I grabbed the plank from where I’d laid it across my lap and stood, very carefully, making sure to have three points of contact with solid surfaces at all times.  One foot on the gutter, one on the gargoyle, my good hand on the wall.  I might still fall if something broke away, but it was less of a certainty.

The ledge here was steadier and gave me enough room to walk, so my shoulder didn’t scrape the wall, but I was more careful than I had been on first entering the drains.

There weren’t many light sources, and the ledge, at times, was only a thin line of light where the moist and rounded-off edge caught the light shed by some distant bulb.  A patch of stone, the edges lit up in a similar way.

Movement through this place was agonizing.  Slow, treacherous, and no matter how careful I was, there was no guarantee I wouldn’t fall prey to some trap, trick, or attack.

This was a place that made people feel small.  When I’d been in the tree with the Others beneath me in the Hyena’s woods, I’d compared myself to a prehistoric ape.

Here, I was degraded even further than that.  Calling myself an ape was maybe being too arrogant.

Apes had fangs.  They could climb properly.  They had fur to protect them.

Humans were built for endurance running, we evolved on the plains, chasing down our prey as pack hunters with improvised tools.  There was nowhere to run here, no tools, and no guarantee that I had more stamina than whatever I was up against.

The ‘ground’ here shuddered with some great mechanism, an endless roar of pouring water with a grinding of machinery, like the endless crush of some great millstone.

I felt like the trembling of the ground might make me simply bounce off, lifting my feet clear of the ledge, letting them slide to one side and off into the depths to one side.

Bugs crawled on my hand as I gripped one stone.  One, quite possibly a centipede, took a chunk out of the back of my hand.  I hugged the wall with my body and shook my hand, letting them fall into the darkness.

But more were crawling on my stomach and chest now.

I brushed them off and got stung by something.

There was no relief here.  No getting clean, no quiet, no comfort, no place where the smells weren’t vaguely offensive, no place where I was safe.

I approached a corner, and nearly jumped out of my skin as a massive figure loomed in front of me, at the corner’s edge. Not a gargoyle.  An irregularly-shaped block of brickwork that had broken away from the wall.  I got close enough to peer at it.  The mortar had cracked, but only around one section, so the entire thing held together, jutting out from the corner, as though it was poised to simply break free and tumble to the ground below if I tried to hold onto it for leverage.

I looked up.  The wall further above wasn’t much better, as far as I could make it out.  I could easily imagine something breaking free and braining me.

A steady stream of water flowed down the wall’s surface, joining the constant shuddering in responsibility for the state of the wall.  Thin trickles of water were pooling in the broken section of wall and draining off the edges of the block, onto my footpath and over area I’d have to squeeze through.

My plank scraped the areas I couldn’t see, a blind man’s groping in the dark.

Nothing offensive that I could tell.

I rounded the corner, edging along the ledge, while ducking below the giant hunk of brick.

The roaring, grinding sound got louder as I rounded the corner.  The wall no longer blocked the sound.

I stood straighter, and I could make out what looked like some massive, haphazard dam-turned-watermill.  A river of water flowed out of a tunnel and over the edge of an open-mouthed trough, dumping vast amounts of water and debris into the darkness.

The trough and the watermill were both put together with what looked like haphazard layers of metal, completely rusted, to the point of having cankerous boils on the surface.  The mill itself was a long cylinder, with four large paddles to keep it turning.  The turning wasn’t consistent, but when it did turn, nearby lightbulbs flickered on, or flickered brighter.  I could hear a distorted radio buzz.

More metal and wood formed a broad, flat, somewhat uneven bridge over the rushing water.  There were people gathered on and around it.  Kids.  Old people.  Others.  All together in clusters, or standing alone.  They had to be deaf, with the sound of this water and the metal-on-metal creak of the mill itself.

Shacks had been erected with more debris and sheet metal, fallen signs and collected branches.  When I’d been homeless, the accommodations I’d been able to manage had been better, on average, than what I saw here.

People were sitting on the ledge, and I wasn’t about to try going over them.  No choice but to climb down.

The climb down was precarious, especially when the surface below me looked so flimsy I felt like I might simply punch through and drown.  I could see the frothing water through the gaps in this makeshift bridge.

Metal sang with the impact of my landing.  One or two heads turned.  One man reached to his belt, where he had a makeshift skewer ready, deemed me no threat, and dropped his hand to his side.

I was careful with where I stepped, simultaneously watching the people around me.  All were dirty, most wore rags, and all were beaded in droplets of moisture that had been flung up from the crash of water below the bridge.

The man with the skewer had a wound on the back of his head that had festered as it healed.  It was mostly closed, helped by what might have been crude stitching with yarn of all things, but it was angry, puffy, with pus-like fluid in the recesses and cyst-like bulges straining against the skin around the site.  Another similar wound marked his arm.

My eye was drawn to the insect bites on my own arms.  My own arms were beaded with droplets, and the water-diluted blood was flowing freely.  It was freezing.  How could they even stand to be here, with the chill in the air making it worse?

One man was perched on the bridge, back to the railing, swaddled in rags.  He had no legs- no, wait.  Yeah, he had legs, but they belonged to an insect, not a person.  His eyes glowed through the shadows in the rags.

My heart almost stopped as a group of children tromped across a flimsy section of rusted sheet metal, each footfall slamming it against the wood frame beneath, producing a sound that I could hear even over the roar.

I exhaled as they made their way to the far end, well behind me, no longer certain that they were about to doom me to a watery abyss.  I watched them go.  They weren’t wearing much.  A little boy wore only a sash of cloth around his hips, more a skirt than anything else, and his back was riddled with ulcers.  A girl had patchy fur in two colors, black and part white, and snaggle-teeth that looked like they’d make it impossible to open or close her mouth, one arm ending in a scarred stump at the shoulder.  The biggest of the boys, who’d somehow managed to be overweight in a place like this, had bulges under the skin I could make out, like worms had nestled in deep.  A goblin rode on his shoulders, pulling his hair, but he didn’t seem to mind.

When I got closer to the far end of the bridge, I could see that the larger group of adults was staring at me, giving me hard looks.

Because I’d been looking at the kids?

I raised my hands to either side in the universal gesture of peace.  Maybe less effective when I had a plank in one hand, but if they were going to begrudge me a weapon in this place, they could get real.

They relaxed a bit.

It was eerie, getting the benefit of a doubt.  Was it the lack of bad karma, or was it this place?  Did they just not have the energy to spare to confront every threat?

The one or two of them that had weapons in hand didn’t drop what they had, I noticed.

I didn’t even try talking to them.  The noise was too loud, the looks too hostile.

I moved on, leaving them behind, heading for the next ledge, this one a broad pipe that ran alongside the wall, bolted in at intervals.

A woman’s hand seized me by the upper arm.  I whirled, plank readied-

And others had their makeshift weapons pointed at me.

For a moment, we were still.  The kids on the bridge were staring, frozen.

I decided to lower my weapon first.  No point – they could kill me here if they wanted to.  It was hard to bring myself to do it.  My heart still pounded from the momentary contact, and she’d done it hard enough to hurt.

The others didn’t do me the favor of lowering theirs.

The woman had a heavy net folded and thrown over one shoulder.  She pointed.

The destination I’d been headed?

When I looked at her, she gestured, making a scary face, turning her one free hand into a claw with fingers and thumb hooked.

Monster that way?

She pointed that way, then drew a finger across her throat, and pointed at me.

It’d kill me?

She drew a finger across her throat, then pointed to herself, and her companions.

And kill them?

Point, to ledge.  Then hand to one side of her face, head tilted, eyes closed.

It’s sleeping.

One pointed finger, extended my way, then she ‘walked’ across the air with two fingers, very slowly, with exaggerated care.

Tiptoe?

I nodded and mouthed the words for ‘thank you’.

The roar of the water continued.  The weapons came down as people stepped away.

The woman looked over her shoulder, waved a bit to get someone’s attention.

A man, bald.  I couldn’t see what was wrong with him.  It maybe said a lot that I had to define people in this place by how screwed up they were.

He stood, walking past me with a bit of a limp, he paused, then gestured for me to follow.

I nodded.

Up on top of the shacks, using them as stepping stones, to a higher area.  A narrower ledge here – I couldn’t have two feet on one section at the same time.  My stomach scraped against the wall with every step.

The bald man, his limp aside, moved with grace and ease across the ledge.  Familiar ground.

Months or years of experience, easily.

He could have stood by and let me forge ahead on my own, but he didn’t.  He continued to lead the way, periodically becoming little more than a silhouette in light or a vague human-shaped blur in the darkness.  Here and there, he paused, gesturing to a possible hazard.  A bit of stone that stuck out enough it might poke me, or a bit of ledge that wobbled when I touched it with my toe.

After what I might have guessed to be ten minutes of progress, he stopped, pointing down.

The act of looking was somewhat terrifying, given how little I could afford to lean away from the wall, but I looked all the same.  I couldn’t make out the shape, not really, but it was big, it smelled like garbage, and it had spiky black fur with periodic spines sticking out.  I could see it expand and contract with every breath, steam rising from one area I took to be the head.

I wasn’t sure if I would have even seen it.  It was big enough to block some of the light.

When I looked up, my guide was already moving on.

It was easily another ten of fifteen minutes before I felt brave enough to speak up.  “Hey.”

He raised a finger to his lips.

Right.  I wasn’t about to argue.

I lost track of time before we reached safer ground.  A corridor opened up, and we were able to step inside the mouth of it.

“You’re new,” he said.  His voice sounded disused, creaky.

“Yeah,” I said.  I ran my hands through my hair, where it was sticking to my forehead.  How was it possible to be so cold and yet so sweaty at the same time?

“You come this way, you leave it ‘lone.”

“Will do,” I said.  I held my hands up to the light above the corridor to examine them.  My fingertips were raw from damp, cold, and friction.  “I don’t… I really don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing.”

“You got choices,” he said.  “You wander until something gets you, you find a place you can hunker down and you wait until something gets you, or you decide it’s too much trouble and get yourself.”

“Or you get others,” I said.

He gave me a look, about as dirty as they came.  “Y’think you’ve got it in you?”

I sighed, then shook my head.

“Good.  Because I’d throw y’off the edge here if y’did.”

I frowned, gazing over the edge at the darkness.  The wall opposite couldn’t be seen.  It was just a wall that extended up and down as far as I could see, a pinprick of light or two in the dark, and nothing more.

As if the world were nothing more than the one spread of grimy, damp construction here, the neverending downpour from a pipe that jutted out of the wall further down.

“You make it sound so hopeless,” I said.  “Why even bother trying if you think it’s that bad?”

“The kids,” he said.  “Not mine, they washed up alongside us.”

“Washed up?”

“Bad weather hit, could be hurricane, but I dunno, don’t watch or listen to much.  Next thing, we’re all collected in some shallow drain with a whole lot of debris and dead.”

Washed away, I thought.  Had the storm erased their ties to the world as surely as Ur had eaten mine?

“You’re settled awfully close to that thing.”

“Sure.  Killed whoever lived where we’re at, we set up there, do what we can t’keep the thing going, fish the trough.  If it stops turning, it might hear us and decide t’pay a visit.  Lost two before we learned.”

I nodded slowly.  “What is it?  A goblin?”

He gave me a dark, suspicious look.

“What?” I asked.

“Yeh, it’s a goblin, or so we’ve heard.  Not what most people would guess.  Dragon?  Sure.  Bat?  Yeh.  But goblin?”

“I know stuff,” I said.

“Do you now?  ‘Cause the only one we know who knows this sort of thing calls herself a witch.”

“Is she dangerous?”

“Yeh,” he said.  “She’s dangerous.  Not always.  Not even some of the time, but she’s unpredictable, spiteful.  We mostly steer clear, but sometimes if we’re hurt or something new’s come up, we ask, and we pay.”

“Well,” I said.  “I’m not dangerous either, but I’m not all that unpredictable either.  I was a beginner, before I found my way down here, and I’ve lost just about everything I had.”

His stare was long and level, and there was a tension in the air.

Was he considering whether he should just shove me over the edge?  Handle the problem?

“If you want t’talk to her, she’s down through this way.  No light, y’gotta feel your way.”

“And if I don’t want to?”

A shrug.  “Wander until something gets you, wait until something gets you…”

“Or get myself.  I get it.”

He nodded slowly.

I rubbed my arms, comparing the two paths available to me.

“Y’realize the cold can’t kill you,” he said.  “Can’t starve, can’t go crazy without sleep.  But when y’give up on those things, y’give up something human in yerself.”

Wearing you down.

I was getting a sense of how this place worked.

Probably just as easy to let us decide to sacrifice common needs and let ourselves become less human than it was to maintain the usual rules for each individual inhabitant.

I couldn’t afford to do that if I wanted to get out and resume a normal-ish life.

I looked around.  Food was impossible and dangerous in its own way.  Water was… disgusting.

Sleep?  If I rested, maybe my mind would be a little clearer.

“Is this a bad place to sleep?” I asked.  “I… I just don’t really know much about anything here.”

He looked around before giving me a response.  “Probably.”

Probably.

The way he said it suggested that any place was probably a bad place to sleep.

I settled in, my back to the wall.  The floor was slightly sloped, and a thin trickle of water ran along the floor, dancing this way and that as dirt moved out of the way or the wind changed.  My rear end would get damp, and even my shoulders, where they pressed against the wall, given the state of my coat.  As places went, though, it was drier than some.

When I looked up, my guide was on the ledge, getting ready to make his way back.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Whatever’s keeping you going,” he said, “Hold onto it.”

“Yeah,” I said.

When the faint sounds of his shuffling progress were drowned out by more distant sprays of water, I glanced around, checking every way for possible trouble, then let my eyes close.

Days, weeks, years?  No, not years.  Months, at most.  It was hard to keep track of time.

Green Eyes had been so right.  It was all too easy to focus on the now.

I shuffled through the narrow space.  The walls pressed in around me, scraping at my shoulders.

There was no way to ensure I had food and water and sleep without staying active, focusing on the moment-to-moment. That came at a cost.  There was no way to track the passage of time but the intermittent flashing of lights, spouting of water and my own breathing… it was easy to just let the days slip by.  When I was so tired or sick that I didn’t think I could go on, I tapped into anger.

Rose and the others spoke up from time to time.  It helped to keep the anger stoked.  I couldn’t even remember what exactly had been said.  I only remembered the resentment, the self-hatred for feeling resentful, the fury at realizing what Rose had really been up to, the hurt.

A big ball of the most horrendous feelings possible, making it impossible to sit still.

The rules are the same, I thought.  The bald man’s advice had reminded me of that.  Whatever was down here, the basic rules I’d learned were the same.  Goblins didn’t like metal.  Faerie, even the sort of Faerie that lurked down here, they didn’t like crude things.

A little bit of ruthlessness, a goblin’s hide to keep myself warm, a bit of glamour to mend injuries…

Well, that made it easier to get the ball rolling.

I reached the corridor that opened up into the Cistern.

I unfurled wings.

They’d been decoration at first.  Then, with time, they’d become a part of me.  Even a part I could use.

More bat wings than bird wings, which was disappointing, but I had feathers, both real and tattooed, across the flaps.  A part of me liked that on a visceral level.

Another part of me felt like it was tainted, a gift for bending to the rules of this place.  Becoming a part of the system, cooperating with this small universe in helping to break others down.

Fetid, muggy air rushed over skin, through hair, feather, fur and spines.  Here and there, droplets of moisture fell on me, heavy with silt and grime.

I glided more than I flew, and I watched for potential prey.  Only the ones that were further gone.  Less human.  They were more nourishing.  If they asked for mercy or drew weapons, I left.  If they roared or screeched, I killed and I ate.

Steering myself up until I very nearly stalled, no air under my wings, I hooked clawed toes and fingertips on an outcropping of brick, twisted myself around and leaped off, because it was easier than reorienting myself in mid-flight.

In this area, where the smell of feces was stronger, I knew to avoid certain areas where water could come pouring down without any warning, knocking me out of the air.

No prey.

That was fine.  The nice thing about a primarily carnivorous diet was that one didn’t need to eat frequently.  One meal could do for several ‘days’, as far as days existed in this damnable place.

I hadn’t given up on getting out.

Not long now.

Before too long, I would try to make my way over the steam vents.  I’d lost heart the last time around, gliding for what felt like days and nights without seeing anything, while a great shadow followed, waiting for me to grow tired enough.

Next time.

Then I’d be out.

I steered myself upward.  The claws of my feet scratched small chunks out of the ledge as I settled at the mouth of one drain.

My night vision was good enough to reveal the figure emerging from the water.

“Blake,” Green Eyes said.

Most of the others that had known me as Blake were gone now.  The ones who were still around would be the targets of my revenge.

Simple, but it was still what drove me.

I had to get my feet wet to draw closer.  The bed of the drain here had collected so much silt and grime that it was like walking in the shallowest water on a beach.  That same silt and grime had, here and there, worked its way into my skin, coloring it, texturing it.  It had done the same with with Green Eyes, I assumed.  Her skin was rough, like a cat’s tongue.

She ran one hand along my long neck.  I didn’t flinch.

I’d given that part of myself up long ago.  I’d needed a more animal comfort before I’d needed to hold on to that.  My feelings for her weren’t romantic.  I’d just wanted to be warm.

I think I’d known, as I made that choice, what I’d be giving up.  Even why and how.  It wasn’t long after that that Blake Thorburn had crumbled as a person, leaving room for me to become this.

“Soon?” Green Eyes asked me.

No longer able to speak, I bobbed my head in a nod.

I woke up.

I spent far, far too much time staring at my hands, convincing me it had all been a dream.

Except it hadn’t, I realized.  It had felt real, as had the weight of memories, dim as they had been for my monstrous self.  They faded as quickly as I could reach for them, useful details dancing away.

A portent, then?

A suggestion of what could easily come to pass?

Even as the memories faded, the feelings remained, taunting me.

The act of flying, or gliding, and the feeling of security.  Of being one of the bigger threats in this particular area.

The knowledge that, if I were only to agree, to relinquish it, I could be rid of metaphorical demons that had haunted me for years.

If I didn’t want to go to the trouble of eating or sleeping, I just… didn’t have to.

If I didn’t want to feel cold, I could just stop.  Flick that switch in my head and stop worrying about it.

Everyone I’d seen to date had chosen some vestiges of human to cling to, but they hadn’t all chosen all vestiges.  There was only so much energy and time, so much risk any of us could face before we got ourselves killed for our trouble.

This place wanted us to choose.

But it was a lie.  Bait in the trap.  I wasn’t sure I could believe I had it in me to become that.  Not positive.

I was stiff as I hauled myself up off the ground, resting one hand on the slimy wall for balance, so I wouldn’t slip and simply fall backwards into the endless darkness.

I ventured into darkness, one hand on the wall, plank on the ground in front of me, making a faint sound as I dragged it left and right against the stone floor, feeling for hazards.

The bug bites were stinging.  I cursed myself for not thinking to ask about it.

The mark on my cheek where Green Eyes had kissed me stung too.

My wounds, from the stab wound on my left hand to the scrapes and blisters on my fingers and the place where my arm had been grabbed too hard throbbed.

I had little doubt I could simply shrug off all the pain.  Push it somewhere deep inside me, where it wouldn’t touch me.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay whatever price this place would exact from me.

How had the other Bogeymen gotten by?  Had they found their way to these same Drains, or had they discovered other places like them?  A ghost town shrouded in mist for the Tallowman to claim a building and resume his practice?  Had Midge found a place in the wilderness to set up a shack and live much as she’d lived in life, only becoming harder and meaner as she spent more time there?  Was she there now, so rooted in this Limbo that she would simply find her way here if her material body was killed a hundred more times?

The blank skittered right, but it didn’t touch wall.  The interruption cut off my thoughts.

A bend?

I prodded, and found a drop.  The plank’s end rose of its own accord.  A quicker movement made a splash.

Water.

Feeling around more, I was able to figure out the general layout.

Pitch darkness, a bridge of hard earth.  Water under and on either side.

I made my way across, the plank scratching across the ground, reminding me of where the bridge was.

Water splashed to my right.

I froze.

A rotten fish smell flooded the area.

Damn it, damn it, damn it.

Another splash, then another.

The smell grew stronger.

I felt cold.  Not personally, but from some nearby source.

Cold radiated from this as heat did from a hot poker.

I felt it draw nearer, and in the darkness and near-silence of this chamber, my other senses were painfully acute.  I felt the cold increase by steep degrees, reaching from my left shoulder toward my chin and collarbone.

I raised my chin by mere fractions.

It was a matter of an inch or two away from me.  Some reaching hand.

I felt the cold envelop my neck, and held my breath and my voice both.

Reaching around my neck, but not touching.

I felt it reach down along my spine.

Too many turns.  It wasn’t an arm.

I leaned back as I felt it draw closer to my neck, a natural consequence of this tendril or tail or whatever it was snaking around over my shoulder and behind me.

When I couldn’t lean over any more without risking falling into the water, I turned my upper body, not moving my feet out of concern that they might scrape.  I bent over, resting my free hand on one knee for balance, and ducked under.

I stayed like that, bent over, one hand on my knee, the other holding the plank.

One remained behind my leg.

Another was well over my head, only close enough for me to feel the brush of cold.

A droplet fell on my extended arm.  I suppressed a hiss of pain.  It might as well have been acid.

Every muscle in my body was tense, some of that tension from a searing pain that bordered on agony.

Alexis?”  Tiff’s voice.

A sniffling.  “I’m okay.  I don’t even know why I’m crying.

You really need to sleep.  Things are getting ugly out there.

I know.  I’ll try.

It was like a slap in the face, the knowledge that I hadn’t left the world a better place than it had been when I’d come into it.  Not for Alexis.

Something nudged the plank I held in the moment I was distracted.

A tenth of a second later, before I could even get my bearings or comprehend what had just happened, it had the plank, gripping it with a strength I couldn’t have resisted if I was on my bike, a chain stretched between bike and plank, wheels spinning full-bore.

It crushed the plank, and only windmilling arms kept me from plunging into the water.

I was left with only a square of plank.

More splashing, more violent, coming closer.

I turned to run and fell instead.  I spread my arms wide, reaching out for and hugging the bridge to keep from rolling off.  My empty, sock-bandaged hand touched water and went instantly numb.

A splash of water hit me, and more numbness spread from where water touched skin.  It was right here, whatever it was.

I felt a hot breath and nearly gagged from the rotten fish smell.  The heat of it was a stark contrast to the coldness of the limbs.

The sheer amount of breath, enveloping me, forming steam where it touched water, was another indicator of what I was up against.

I managed to find my feet.  There was no testing my step, only memory.

Another breath, more diffuse, only half as strong, in combination with cold as intense as I’d felt yet…

It was just in front of me, mouth open.

I acted on instinct alone.  I held the remaining bit of plank in both hands, and I struck out.

I hit something solid, and, using my two-handed grip, I raked the ragged edge of the plank across flesh.

There was no cry of pain, no response.

Only the limbs lashing out.  They hit water before they hit me, just as I was turning to run.  The water caught me mid-stride.

My shoulder met solid wall, hard enough that I didn’t even realize I’d dropped the plank in the shock.  One leg went off the bridge and into water so cold it should have been frozen over.

With one good leg and one good arm, I managed to heave myself past the corner of wall, past the area with the bridge, to the corridor that followed.

I heard something wet slap against stone, a faint crack.

There was no relief on the other side.  No remedy from the sharp pain that jolted from my shoulder to the fingertips of my good hand, nor the blistering cold that made me feel like my leg had fallen off.

No light, even, to convince me that whatever I’d left behind me wasn’t waiting a short distance in front of me.

I crawled ahead enough that I could be reasonably sure it wasn’t about to find a way to reach into the corridor and grab me, then collapsed.

I had no way to judge the amount of time that was passing.  My thoughts were borderline feverish.

I had to get out of here.

Had to.

Had to help Evan and repay debts and keep this fucking pattern from continuing with the Thorburn line.  I wanted to see Alexis and Tiff and Ty but especially Alexis.

I wanted to ride my freaking bike and my complete and total inability to tell what had happened with my leg and the freezing water was making me think that maybe that wasn’t necessarily possible.

I wanted to kill that freaking motherfuck of a demon who had put me here.

My fingertips scraped against the hard, damp floor beneath me.

Hours might have passed before the cold in my leg receded enough for me to feel confident about moving it.  My arm still felt stabs of pain from my shoulder, but they were only about ten times as bad as the worst whack I’d ever given my funny bone.

The pain in my frozen leg was a much different sort of pain from what I was experiencing in my shoulder.  If I were carved of stone, my shoulder might have a general crack running through it.  My leg, if I had to put an idea to it, felt like it was all cracks.

I thought about how the injuries of the people on the bridge had healed, and felt a twinge of panic.

But above all, I hobbled forward, wincing with every step.

The pain didn’t subside before I reached light, and it took me a long, long time to reach light.

The lack of ability to judge time was getting to me, joining the pain and general disorientation.  It was very much what I expected it felt like to be in solitary confinement, only this was a big, big place, and there were others present.

But the idea fit.

Light.  I could see a place very much like the watermill’s bridge, but far more extensive.  A settlement.

I had no illusions.  This wasn’t a safe place.  The danger here would be danger of another kind.  People would be vicious to retain whatever they had here.

All the same, I started plotting a path.  A great many bridges, real stone ones and makeshift pipe ones, as well as improvised bridges cobbled together with debris.  The path to the settlement area was a winding one.  I memorized the route I needed to take, one that would involve interacting with the smallest number of people.

Progress was slow, but that wasn’t a bad thing.

Priorities.  Getting information was one.  Green Eyes had suggested a way out.  Maybe there was another way out.

If the Witch had a measure of respect and power, maybe I could get something, or barter my knowledge and meager expertise to obtain something.  A better weapon would do worlds for my mental well being.  Medical care too, if it meant not letting my body be corrupted or degraded or whatever this place wanted to do to it.

But a weapon, after that run-in, sounded like a fantastic idea.

Hobbling footsteps carried me to the first bridge.  Stone, natural to this place, with no railing.  The stones had been smoothed by droplets of water that had fallen down from above and run off either side for decades.

A man was there, oblivious to me, hands clasped behind his back.  Black hair, black beard, black scarf, black jacket, black slacks, black shoes.

It was hard to convince myself that he wasn’t going to simply turn around and push, just because he could.  Something about him made me feel uneasy.

I edged around him, and when I was close enough to be pushed, I took one quick step, putting me out of reach.  I stumbled on my bad leg, but I stumbled on safe ground.

I was clear.

Paranoia would wear on my sanity too, but paranoia was better than falling victim to some stupid, vicious act.

“Blake.”

I stopped short.

That voice-

I turned.

To say my heart dropped out of my chest really didn’t do the feeling justice.

It was more like a great brutish fist just reached up from under me, fingers gripping everything inside the ribcage, and tore everything out, leaving me hollow.

I wobbled a bit.

If I’d been smarter about it, I would have put the pieces together.  I’d been watching for the wrong thing.

He didn’t belong here.  His clothes were intact, free of grime.  His jacket was a blazer worn to contrast the nattiness of the sweater he wore, his scarf worn for style, not for winter wear.  He wasn’t dressed for the season.  His hands were jammed in his pockets, he was completely at ease.

I recognized him.

Fuck me, did I ever recognize him.

“Long time no see, Blake,” he said.

I swallowed hard.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” I asked.

“I think you know exactly what I’m doing here, Blake,” he said.

“Stop saying my fucking name,” I said.

“Whatever you want,” he said.  He smiled.

An easy, genuine, disarming smile.  His eyes crinkled, betraying his age.  A little older than thirty, maybe.

The colors were all wrong.  His hair was supposed to be brown, I remembered the scarf as being red and white.

He was a shadow version of the man I remembered.  Black.

That thought made me think of a fleeting mention Green Eyes had made to something.  A black fish.

Of course.

I’d been treated to a vision of the present.

A glimpse of the future.

Now a shadow from my past.  Something produced by this place to harry me, to ensure that I wouldn’t have peace without paying for it.  Without becoming a monster, or… or what?  Letting go of my memories altogether?

This place doing what it could to find my weaknesses, to claw at them.  Attacking from different directions, to put me on my heels.

“Carl…” I said, and the name felt heavy on my tongue.  “Don’t follow me.”

“You know I’m supposed to, Blake”

I turned to go, putting him behind me.

His footsteps followed.

I broke into a run.  Heads turned.

He was faster.  When I glanced, I saw him pass by them, running just as fast.  They didn’t react, didn’t see him.

He was here for me and me alone.

My run became something reckless. My footfalls came down hard enough on one makeshift bridge that something bounced loose, to strike a hard surface a distance below.  I was already a ways ahead, running along a ledge that would have been too narrow for casual walking.

I looked, and I saw him just a step behind me, reaching.

Stupidly, instinctually, I spun away.  Less instinctually, more out of anger, I threw a punch.

Except there was nothing solid underfoot as I planted my foot behind me.  Only open air.

A glimpse, as I turned in the air, of Carl standing on the ledge.  A smug, vague expression that revealed nothing at all.

I was dimly aware of a bridge, and with the one foot that was still on solid ground, I kicked.

Another bridge of scrap metal and wood.

I didn’t trust myself to grab onto something and hold on.  Instead, I simply slammed my arm into the nearest gap.  Metal sliced the back of my hand and the ‘v’ shaped gap crushed my wrist.

I dangled, the entire bridge swaying with my weight.

With my damaged, bandaged hand, I gripped the sturdiest piece of wood.  I was breathing too hard, and my hand shook.  Rather than trust the integrity of my divided hand, I wrapped my forearm around it, and then pulled my wedged hand free.  I climbed up onto the bridge in increments.

I didn’t stand.

“Mann, Levinn, Lewis,” I said.

My voice was hollow in the darkness.

“Mann, Levinn, Lewis.”

Eyes stared at me.

“Mann, Levinn, Lewis.”

There was no clap of thunder, no fire and brimstone.

Only a long pause, and heels striking the bridge.

I didn’t look up.

“Let me help my friends,” I said.  “You win.  This place wins.  Just let me help them, and you have me after that.”

A deal with the devil.

“No,” was the reply.  “Too late.”

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171 thoughts on “Null 9.2

  1. Hmm. Sounds like Blake still has his practitioner powers if he can invoke the lawyers, assuming that it was a lawyer speaking at the end. Maybe more so if he can actually invoke them himself, rather then depending on Rose doing it somehow.

    As for no help? Why would they, at this point. He’s a nobody, no longer of the Thorburn line as far as Karma seems to be concerned, no longer part of the deal that Grandma Thorburn arranged initially. Again, assuming that it actually is the lawyers.

    1. The Lawyers won’t make the deal because in his current state, he can’t affect the world to make things worse, he also has no mortal identity which one of their agents can subsume to become a serial killer/ Corporate CEO fo fuck up the world, so no deal.

      First thing on the agenda in order to gain power to sustain himself, Blake has to defeat and eat his personal “Black Fish” Carl. I think everyone has their own personal nemesis that hounds them here. We will have to see what else has to be done after that.

      1. “First thing on the agenda in order to gain power to sustain himself, Blake has to defeat and eat his personal “Black Fish” Carl. I think everyone has their own personal nemesis that hounds them here. We will have to see what else has to be done after that.”
        But what’s the catch? It seems like everything in this place is a catch. Would he become more Carl? It’s not just surviving and getting out that’s the problem. It’s still being human and Blake.

        1. I meant that given “Carl’s” description, I get the vibe that it is a manifestation of Blake’s personal nemesis created by the realm to wear him down personally; Just as the Black Fish is Green Eye’s personal nemesis, this is just speculation but if it is true, every inhabitant of this layer has their own nemeses as well and those nemeses are the Gate Guardians of this layer of the Underworld/Sewer.

          From that hypothesis, I speculate that running away from the nemeses to defeat/eat other things result in the loss of ‘Self’ and becoming less human like Green Eyes, defeating/eating your personal nemesis would be the only way ‘up’.

          Also, every layer’s Tests/Gate guardians will be forcing the individual to transform in some way, success grants power and access to the next level but failure results in further breakdown of ‘Self’ and power.

    1. I’m thinking there won’t be this week – I’ve got stuff to do that I’ve been postponing while trying to get back into the stride of things (and my place is still a bit of a wreck from my brother and his merry band passing through) – I’m going to aim for two weeks on and one week off for Thursdays so I don’t burn out.

        1. No Thursday chapter will frustrate us and wear us down. Just like the Drains do to people. Brilliant Wildbow! Your getting us right into Blake’s mindset!

      1. Why not go for the more simple alternating weeks approach? It gives you a little bit more of a break and it is easier to remember for everyone. 🙂

        Yeah, I want new chapters every single Thursday like most others, but more than that, I want lots of chapters and a reasonably sane Wildbow at the end of it.

        1. I think that’s what he does, or at least what he did before his brother’s wedding threw it out of whack.

    1. Not gonna lie, that Blake/Rose art was one of the biggest reasons I was hoping Blake wasn’t permagone- just so he and Rose (and Evan, and Alexis…) could have those kinds of cute moments and such.

      I know that the past two chapters have made that feel a lot farther off, but one can hope…

  2. Interesting. Blake should probably try not to become a monster. . . But some wings would be pretty sweet.

    I don’t like Carl. He doesn’t seem like a nice man

    Has Blake officially been broken? He’s now at the point of conceding to the lawyers. Too bad he isn’t worth anything right now.

    I wonder how much of Blake’s vision holds true. Is it that easy to become Other in the Void? Can he just trade his humanity for Other bits and comforts?

    Kudos to the commenter last chapter who pointed out that showing him Rose was a way to break Blake down. I wonder if every initiate of the Void gets the Christmas Carol treatment.

    Blake must not give into his anger. That way leads to the dark side! If Blake needs something to drive him, he should hang on to and fight using the power of love. Go back and find the Green Eyes! Find Mags!

    Those Other kids were kinda gross.

      1. I’m assuming he’s the man from Blake’s fast forwarded memory echo. The man who did the implied (all but directly stated at this point) rape of Blake when he was homeless.

      2. Pretty sure he’s the man from Blake ghost number II. The one Blake skipped. With any luck he’ll get the Barber dropped on him by the end of this. Followed by Pauz. Or visa versa. Point is he needs demons.

        1. Hey, now demons are awful awful things. Start with Goblins, then move on to demons when the he gets desensitized.

        2. that’s what i thought at the beggiing but now im not so sure, i got the impression that the rapist was just some random guy from the streets. im sure blake would react with downright violence if he encountered the actual attacker instead of a simple “fuck off!” and run away

          1. He may not be the man from the second memory, but Carl may be somewhat involved. A person who used or exploited Blake, or set him up somehow.

          2. Just like he fought back when it actually happened, and he wasn’t a supernatural manifestation of his worst fears?

      1. But the point of calling his lawyers was admitting defeat,so it wouldn’t matter if it was unBlake.

  3. It’s nice when places are simple.

    This, for example, seems to be the place where you are completely, irrevocably, fucked. Anything you do? You’re fucked. Stay human and weak? You’re fucked. Become an Other? You’re fucked. Drive yourself insane? You’re fucked. Sleep? Fucked. Stay awake? Ditto. Stay sane enough to be yourself? Fucked. Kill? Fucked. This is the place that bad karma wants to be when it grows up. It’s the hundred thousand slowly mounting little hells that churn and grasp and steal the essence of you, when nothing but grit and stupidity keep it stuck to you – not even that.

    And, godammit Wildbow, Blake is going to get the hell out of there at the head of an army of once-human things.

    1. Heh. Remember back when some commentators were saying that this place might be a “get out of jail free” card or something like that? It’s not seeming like that now.

      1. Well, it’ll probably have its upside: The rules are roughly the same here, after all, and if you can overcome something, preferably a series of three challenges, in a dramatically significant manner, I don’t doubt that it would help with an escape attempt. Blake is going to leave this place broken and mended and dead inside.

        1. Unfortunatly the rules seem to be set up so you loose no matter how you play the game. Sleep? Nightmares designed to break you down. Don’t sleep? Your now less human.

      2. I was worried this was too easy a way for Blake to get rid of all his bad karma.
        I feel rather silly now (assuming some of Blake’s fears actually come to pass).

  4. A deal with the devil.

    Could Blake not be speaking metaphorically here? Could the devil have actually shown up to reject Blake’s deal? If so, Blake should try to nibble on him for an upgrade.

      1. Not byte off, just a nybble here and there. He could be like those symbiotic fish and birds that eat the filth off of larger animals.

    1. I get the impression that this is just Ms. Lewis, here to tell him that she respects him for holding out long enough that he couldn’t hand over the Thorburn debt by the time he broke. It seems like the sort of thing that she’d do, being both cruel, superficially kind, and potentially beneficial.

      1. Right, Ms. Lewis is a pretty amazing antagonist. Heh.
        Incidentally, some speculation concerning the lawyer summoning here: when Blake began to summon them, I had several unsuccessful scenarios in mind – maybe only Rose’s Thorburn voice could call them, or no-one could summon them here in the Limbo due to the lack of spirits, or Blake had nothing to bargain with anymore (our scenario?). But here are some more unorthodox interpretations, too:

        • It’s “Too late” because Blake’s wish can no longer be fulfilled: his friends have already been harmed in an irrecoverable way.

        • It’s “Too late” because Blake’s connections were cut and the universe no longer acknowledges that he has friends, and if he escapes Limbo, he’ll lose his memories, too.

        • It’s “Too late” because not even the lawyers can save someone from Limbo (unlikely).

        • It’s “Too late” because Blake doesn’t have enough to bargain with: the lawyers still want him, but don’t think he’s worth his wish; if he settled for less (e.g. “help Alexis”), they might accept.

        • And my favorite: It’s “Too late” because Rose already took the last deal the lawyers offered, so it’s no longer valid. I don’t think this would have happened after Blake’s erasure (given how little time has passed since then, and the lack of emergencies), but she might have taken the deal before then. For instance, Rose might really not have known about what she was and how to get out of the mirror world, so she took Ms. Lewis’ deal from 2.06 to find out about her fate, and that’s why she knew about Isadora’s prophecy and that she’d get free if Blake died.

        1. “A deal with the devil.”

          And the drains still wore him down with this, since he gave up some of his morals asking the lawyers.

          1. Not necessarily. Look what he was asking for. He was asking to help his friends. It’s hard to spin that in an evil way without seeing what price he’s willing to pay to help them. I don’t think the demon lawyers will help him here in any case, except perhaps with words, either knowledge or trickery that help to put him in the frame of mind to escape this place. I put a wall of text below explaining my thoughts on the matter. In essence, I think Blake is now inside Ur, and the place he’s in now is where Ur creates new demons.

            1. I think negadarkwing has the right of this; “Don’t compromise with evil” is a moral Blake was trying to follow up until now, and which he just gave up on. Your argument doesn’t work either, since we can be pretty confident the price is unchanged: whatever demonic instrument is equivalent to seven lifetimes of karmic debt is what he’d be responsible for bringing into existence.

            2. It’s because Blake realized that the more you deal with the lawyers, the more you fall down the slippery slope. That things will twist, and erode at what you are until you become something evil. The first time, they just want you to read a book. The second time run an errand. Doesn’t sound too bad? I mean in exchange for his friends lives, how bad can that be? But what will they have him do on this errand? It might not even be something immediatly bad. But it will have consequences. Terrible consequences. And it will be in part Blake’s fault because he gave in. And Blake is the sort of person to care about others, even if he doesn’t really know them. He wanted to leave the world a better place, even if only a little. If he starts making deals with the lawyers, that is the part of himself Blake is giving up.

        2. I had not even thought that Rose might have made a deal with the demon lawyers to become human. She might even have allowed Blake to help, as he promised he would, by sacrificing him to Ur, which might have been the price the demon lawyers asked of her. Rose could be completely off the deep end at this point.

          We still don’t know the mechanism by which Rose became human. At the same time, I suspect that Isadora would have known or felt if Blake’s life was the cost to free Rose from the mirror, and might have taken exception to Rose sacrificing a human to gain worldly existence. Isadora did know Rose would become human when Blake died (or was consumed by Ur?).

          I can’t help but remember that Isadora didn’t even like the feel of Pauz around her. If Rose used Blake’s life to buy human existence, I think Isadora would have immediately ended Rose – if she knew. The demon lawyers might have been able to keep Isadora from knowing though, if Rose were willing to pay the price.

          I could go in mental circles quite a bit on this one.

          1. My guess was slightly different; Rose’s deal with the lawyers (in exchange for one errand) was not to become human, or to sacrifice Blake, but instead to find out about grandma Rose’s deal with the lawyers, and therefore about the true rules governing her being a vestige created by the Barber. So that’s how she would have known she’d come into existence if Blake died.

            Incidentally, even if one completely mistrusts Rose, I think it’s stretching it to talk of “sacrificing Blake to Ur”. Blake took a suicidal risk by challenging a devil, and lost. That’s all. He did that all on his own. Rose doesn’t factor in that at all.

            1. I don’t think that Rose betrayed Blake like that, but looking at it, I can’t completely discount it either, like that growling dog that you don’t think will attack, but you don’t want to look away so that you can’t see it.

  5. Typo thread!

    “Humans were built for endurance running, we evolved on the plains, chasing down our prey as pack hunters with improvised tools.”

    This is a comma splice. It can be corrected by using a semi-colon in place of the first comma.

    “I knew to avoid there were places to avoid, where water could come pouring down without any warning, knocking me out of the air.”

    Extraneous “to avoid”?

    1. “I’m not dangerous either, but I’m not all that unpredictable either.”

      Should that be “predictable”? Also, repeated “either” sounds odd.

      “The blank skittered right,”

    2. “if they were going to begrudge me a weapon in this place, they could get real.”

      I think you meant weren’t instead of were. Or you could potentially change the last half of the sentence to accommodate were, but it would be strange construction. As it stands, the words are opposite of what I would expect Blake to be thinking right now.

        1. Oops, you are right. For some reason, when I wrote that, I was thinking begrudge meant something else, perhaps I got begrudge and bequeath combined and mixed up in my head somehow? Weird.

    3. “There was no way to track the passage of time but the intermittent flashing of lights, spouting of water and by own breathing.”

      Should be “and my own breathing.”?

    4. Typos:
      – “letting them slide to one side and off into the depths to one side.” -> “to one side” x2
      – “and over area I’d have to squeeze through” -> “an area”?
      – “Probably just as easy to let us decide to sacrifice common needs and let ourselves become less human than it was” – “just as easy” -> “easier” or “than” -> “as”
      – “It had done the same with with Green Eyes” -> “with” x2
      – “I stayed like that, bent over, one hand on my knee, the other holding the plank. One remained behind my leg.” -> “One tendril” or something; when I read that, I thought Blake had three hands…
      – “This place doing what it” -> “was doing”

    5. lightbulbs
      usually light bulbs

      neverending downpour
      never-ending downpour

      mental well being
      mental wellbeing

  6. I hope Blake somehow fucks up Rose Sr. plans by surviving. He probably already did by killing Laird too.

    I get angry thinking about all the times Rose complain about their partnership not being equal. I wonder how many times she steered him in the wrong direction or gave him bad advice. Good thing Blake is impulsive.

    1. Fuck. Rose reminds me of my ex…

      My ex spent six months promising me everything was fine, that he wasn’t cheating on me or avoiding me. He even got angry when I would tell him I felt he was doing wrong. Getting a lot of Rose vibes from that x3

      Though I am still hoping that Rose didn’t intentionally completely fuck Blake over. I hope that either the place is “lying” to Blake, or Rose is confused after ErasUrr ate the connections.

        1. And even if they are spoken irl, doesn’t mean they are the full story. Actually, pretty sure they are just the bits to confuse and anger him, and all the explanations that wpuld make everything fine and complete the puzzle are left out.

  7. Hmmm. . . Those kids were lost to this realm after a storm swept away their homes and family. Blake started a war that basically caused Toronto to have a blizzard and the Eye was and is still on the loose. How many people may end up getting swept away to the Void because of Blake’s shenanigans?

    1. Don’t think that’s it. It would mean they’ve only been here bout a week or so (?) . Unless time goes by very differently in the Gutter, they wouldn’t have had the time to get all those mods + knowledge of the Gutter.

      1. Fuente meant that the Eye’s rampage will cause a lot of new people to fall through the cracks like the kids did (due to some ‘natural’ catastrophe).

  8. This chapter makes you really feel for Blake.
    That said, I was laughing a the end, I couldn’t help it.

    So don’t give up on things and suffer or become more and more Other as time passes. Those are the options Blake is presented. Sadly it seems this place is bent on breaking him.

    I think Blake should hold to his connections as hard as he can. Even if most people on the other side cannot remember him, the feelings remain. Also Mags and Isadora can remember him.

    So chin up Blake, when the going gets though the though get going. Unless it means you have to give up your humanity, then I guess your best bet is to be a cold, hungry, miserable and traumatized husk of a human being until you die or get out. Yeah.
    Good luck!

  9. When can Blake get a Crowning Moment of Awesome?

    Also, if they say he’s no use at the end, they obviously haven’t been paying attention. He’s a Terminator. He took on an incarnation, a demon, a terror goblin, all with barely any training and using pure guts. Blake’s body is fixable and his moxy is something that the lawyers should want to use.

    1. It probably is not that he isn’t of any use, it is that he is too much trouble to be worth it. Getting someone safe and sound from this place is probably very hard and costly.

    2. “When can Blake get a Crowning Moment of Awesome?”

      Right before things get much worse.

      There is a reason I want to see Blake get a happy ending. Because after the shit he’s been hit with, he kinda deserves it.

      1. You’re preaching to the choir. If anyone deserves a happy ending, it’s him. He tries to do the right thing, he gets sent to a place that’s the equivalent or greater than Hell.

        That’s fucked up.

        1. Actually this probably isn’t nearly as bad as Pactverse Hell. Course it’s still pretty hellish by most standards. Just not Pact standards.

          It says something about how much we expect things to suck for Blake. I would think that if you actually manage to crawl up from the drains and retain your humanity it would be shit-tons of good Karma. But since this is Blake, even if he pulls that off, he won’t see a huge improvement from before, even if he gets all the good Karma.

          1. How is getting out of the Sewers with you humanity intact supposed to be related to karma at all? How is it the right thing to do vs just giving in? Karma is about balance, not being awesome.

            1. I was thinking that it would be something like passing Isadora’s test. Pass her tests, you get tons of good karma. Fail, you get eaten.

              Though with Blake’s luck he gets any kind of karma it’ll be bad.

  10. Clearly the way out of this place is to reaffirm your humanity. Humans run shit down until it dies of exhaustion and then eat it. In a big group. They build. And they murder the fuck out of any megafauna they come across. And tanks.

    Or maybe you could embrace a transhumanist philosophy and turn into a brain in a jar.

    Basically don’t give up your humanity. Level up your humanity.

    Or be a cat. Cats are great.

    1. Just so long as you aren’t taking that humanity from others you should be fine…

      But if we’re talking about a brain in a jar from D&D, that’s some scary nonsense.

      Or! Blake could go for feathered bird wings and try to be an angel of sorts. Assuming pretending to be an angel won’t insult the real angels.

      1. I don’t think that place lets you be an angel. The general rule was ‘you are what you eat’, wasn’t it? I doubt many angels reside in the Gutters.

        Also, in reply to all the people speculating that the lawyers denied Blake their help: It is not stated that the reply he heard (or meant to hear) actually is from the lawyers. I vote “Gutter Witch”, who knows exactly who Blake tried to call and is asserting him the futile nature of his call, because the lawyers can simply not reach to the Gutters.

  11. This whole situation is rather like getting nabbed by the Gentry in Changeling: The Lost. Spend all your time breathing faerie air, eating faerie food, doing faerie work, eroding your humanity and replacing it with whatever is at hand at the time. Creepy shit.

    I dunno, maybe Blake would be better off as a flying cannibal monster. At least he now knows that if he did go full Other he’d be Metal as fuck.

    1. anybody up for putting something on Deviantart?
      Blake, in full winged Other mode, overlooking the permanent dark sewers, Green Eyes at his side in a semi kneeling position (liek being ready to strike). Metal as fuck.

      1. The fact he cannot speak anymore in his dream (nightmare?) makes me think he also lost a typical human throat and is more bird of prey than anything. Some nocturnal type, since he’s got night vision from somewhere.

        So… Blake the horned owl ?

        1. The wings were more batlike than bird. So I’m picturing something like the Creeper from Jeepers Creepers.

      2. Wait, I can see something else. Bat wings. Evan as familiar.

        Batman & Robin, Pact style. Make it so (please).

        1. Though Blake would much rather be a Birdman. And Evan could be Avenger. And it would be even more fitting if he joined the Lawyers then.

  12. I feel like a complete ass, but so far in this arc I’ve been skimming past most of the description. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I hit my weirdness cap. I very much look forward to when Blake gets out of this place and things return to something resembling normal.

  13. Interesting.
    Blake has gotten, at one and the same time, the best and worst confirmation he can get, if the “No, too late.” is real.

    The worst part is… He has just been told that his soul is no longer worth enough for him to sell it.
    The best part is… He has gotten the biggest confirmation he can get: Selling himself will not get him what he wants. He can be free of that temptation, now, because it’s not possible anymore – he can give up bits of himself, but it won’t get him what he wants.

    1. And when they come after it later on, when it’s worth something again, he can tell them “No, too late.” He also no longer really has any reason not to go fully against their wishes. He offered his soul, they didn’t take it. It seems reasonable to me that they no longer have a hold on him, since they’re never going to get him this low again.

    1. Except this isn’t Hell. It’s the Gutter, the place you go to IF you fall through the cracks. Molly was brutally murdered by a bunch of psychopathic goblins. She didn’t fall through the cracks.

  14. Sorry in advance for the wall of text.

    Three things.

    First, I think Blake has been consumed, and is within Ur. The others with him are also within Ur. Escaping Ur means being born from Ur, I think. Remember Demons cannot create, but they can allow humans to create in the right environment, and this is a great environment to create monsters.

    Second, a lot of people are still thinking Rose betrayed Blake. We don’t know this. Remember that Ur ate most of Blake’s connections, and the minds of others must now rearrange themselves to adopt to the “new reality.” For Rose, the restructuring of her mind to accommodate Blake’s disappearance might be the reason that even she thinks she intentionally failed the ritual before, when it might simply be that she was within the mirror. Now that she’s no longer in the mirror, that’s not an easily testable theory. If Rose thinks she betrayed Blake, then she will act as if she did, which might have bad consequences for Thorburn karma…

    Thirdly, the lawyers will not help him with direct power inside Ur, I do not think. Any power or advantage they give him here will simply allow him to grow stronger here, and less likely to be useful to them as a human actor when he leaves Ur, if he manages that. The lawyer demons want humans to work with other humans. Right now, Blake is not in a position where his future humanity is certain, if I am correct and what we are seeing is the equivalent of a demon womb within Ur.

    If Blake manages to escape where he is, wherever that might be, the demon lawyers might be interested in him again. They might even tell him some of the truth about the place he is in, while saying they will not help him, which would both give Blake information, and motivate him to be an ornery bastard.

    So, by my convoluted logic, here’s the demony-logic-stuff.

    Ur swallowed Blake, and Blake and all the others within Ur are being allowed to mold one another in the crucible of Ur’s womb until they lose their humanity and become demonic. They become demonic by absorbing nutrients in the form of demonic energy from Ur, allowing them to better survive while giving up their humanity in the process. The fact that Ur lives in an abandoned factory seems to be potential foreshadowing as to what Ur’s purpose is? Remember the description of the spiky-baby-form on Ur, and the description of the powerful spiky being by the settlement that the others were afraid to wake up. I think Blake just passed by one of Ur’s most advanced offspring. One advanced enough that it is almost completely inhuman, and nearly fit to be loosed into the world of humans much like Barbatorem.

    My take on the lawyers is that the demon lawyers still want Blake, so they will not help Ur, by giving Blake power within Ur’s demon womb. They will actually work against Ur, to try to salvage Blake for their own purposes. They will do this without giving Blake power. In essence I see the demon lawyer telling Blake that they will not help him, while explaining that he is unlikely to be useful to them in the outside world in the future if he cannot retain his humanity. Blake, in his current state, with what he currently thinks to be true, will now understand more clearly that there is a way out, and he can get out while maintaining his humanity. He will also have a better understanding of what might happen to him here, and if he is not aided in any way physically, he’s going to get more stubborn, not less. The whole time, the demon lawyers are lying their asses off, by saying they will not help him when they are. It’s a minimal investment of time and no investment of power to try to help get Blake out of Ur so they can try to use him in the human world. If they fail, Blake is no longer useful to them, specifically, but he would still be useful to other demons in their efforts to destroy order.

    Can’t wait to see where things go from here.

    1. I’m not sure I buy your whole theory, but I like the idea that all those people are within Ur. Although it does clash with my Law of Conservation of Characters theory that Green Eyes is actually Nick’s son’s girlfriend who was not eaten but didn’t have enough connections to hold onto the world.

      I totally agree with you that Rose didn’t actually fuck up the ritual on purpose. In fact, I don’t think she fucked it up at all, just she used different components while in the mirror world (holly instead of iron) and now that she’s in the real world it does not work anymore. Otherwise the lawyers would propbably not have pointed out that Rose lied when they arrived, she would not have been recognized by the Others she summoned (admittedly with some help), and so on…

      1. Wouldn’t Nick’s son’s girlfriend be a practitioner, or at least know more about the way practitioners work? Green Eyes seemed rather surprised that Blake knew about people not being able to lie etc.

        At this point, it’s more likely the Gutter Witch is the disappeared girlfriend.

    2. I do not think thatBlake is inside of ErasUrrr. I thought so at the beginning of 9.1 but changed my mind. If this place were the inside of ErasUrrr, that would imply that every being here had a run in with the demon either in the factory or pre-factory binding. That does not seem to be the case. The only directly stated example is the Other kids who lost their foothold on the world when they’re hometown was destroyed.

      This seems more in line with what Blake’s been warned against and fighting for a good portion of the story, the Void beyond where people without a strong foothold in the world fall to.

      When Rose was giving the lore of her monsters, she specifically mentioned something similar happening to Midge, turning her into the Other we all love. Blake has given the thought that boogeymen come from the same Void he now occupies some credence this and last chapter.

      I completely agree about the Rose thing, though.

    3. It seems very unlikely that Blake is in Ur right now, considering how some of the other people wound up there. Sure, some of them probably wandered too close to the factory and were dumped into the void by a bored and spiteful Ur. But a few of them got lost at sea and fell in that way… and there aren’t any oceans anywhere near the factory. Simply put, Ur couldn’t possibly have eaten those people, so if this area was a place inside Ur they couldn’t be there.

      1. Ah, but we do not know how long Ur has been there, in the factory. We do know that it’s been less than a hundred or so years, because of the descriptions of the construction.

        We also don’t know how long the others have been in the dark place, wherever that is.

        In Histories Arc 7, Isadora was startled by how large Ur was, and Isadora was a very knowledgeable practitioner.

        In German, the prefix Ur means the earliest, or original, which would fit in with the idea.

        Ur may be stuck in the factory, but that doesn’t mean that what humans do to themselves wouldn’t allow them to open ways to access the darkness within it, from anywhere on Earth. Again, Isadora indicated Ur was vast.

        I wonder if Johann’s familiar’s task, interrupted by it’s becoming a familiar, was to gather practitioners to shore up the binding around Ur, to keep it from roaming, rather than simply collecting foolish practitioners?

        I am probably wrong, but I think it holds together reasonably well. The future will certainly tell 🙂

        1. Perhaps Toronto itself was created solely to be an ordered, organized city, counteracting the inherent demonness of EraseUr, and then a factory (how else do you best embody order and creation) was constructed within Toronto to hold ErasUr. Circles within circles, you know.

          1. Of course the factory (to a greater extent) and Toronto (to a lesser extent) have since decayed, precisely because of their proximity and correlation (binding status) to EraseUr.

  15. Blake can’t catch a break, eh?

    This was an awesome chapter. It reminded me of “I have no mouth, and I must scream”, which I read a few days ago. Please, don’t take away Blake’s mouth D:

    1. “Blake can’t catch a break, eh?”
      That could be the series title.

      Also don’t give Wildbow ideas.

      1. Any break he does catch, isn’t worth it.

        The title might as well read “Pact- what doesn’t kill you, isn’t doing you ANY favors”

  16. Comments:

    • I’m not sure Blake calling himself “not all that unpredictable” is true, heh. Didn’t he just thwart a prophecy?

    • Wow, that dream scene was powerful. When I read “Months, at most”, I worried “Timeskip?”, but then thought this would be weird, considering the fight over the Jacob’s Bell lordship was supposedly close. And I thought Rose & co would have helped Blake by then if that was possible. Even if Rose betrayed or hated Blake in the past, she would have forgotten that, too.

    • Blake’s speculation about Midge & co agrees with some of our own – apparently, some summoned Others really do come from here. (Though not e.g. demons, I suppose.)

    • Was this the first time we’ve read speculation about whether Others like Midge die when they are killed?

    • I’m looking forward to the lawyer scene in the next chapter. If the lawyers don’t help, Blake’s last power is calling Ornias. Haha. Not that it would help…

    1. He never twarted a prophecy…the prophesy was not “you will die”,it was “you are not long forthis world”.

      Fulfilled.

  17. I really don’t think he’s getting out of this one. Not in the way people are hoping. He got to see a possible future, he’d become monstrous, but he was getting out.

    It’s kind of just in the nature of the place, you don’t get to win here. No victory without sacrifice.

    So, y’know, come on giant bird hunter Blake 😛

  18. Should we be reading anything into the fact that Blake remembers Carl as having a red-and-white scarf, the same color as Magg’s trademark checkered scarf?
    Obviously they’re not the same person, or even related, but maybe this could be a trick played on Blake by his memory.

    1. Considering Blake never reacted to Mags scarf, I don’t think it’s too major. Unless it causes a freakout if Mags tries rescuing him.

    2. I feel like I’m going crazy here. Mag’s scarf’s colors are never mentioned, at least that I can find. It’s only ever described as being checkered. There’s a fan art, which is red and white, I personally always imagined it as red and black though.

  19. Hi all.. long time admirer from the shadows of the cyber. Early Worm era up til present. The motivation to finally create account to comment is twofold..
    * first -> long over due attaboy to Wildbow re:unleashing the twisted machinations of the nether regions of his imaginations.. The taint is growing across the web proving to be a bane to mediocre offerings and death-by-contrast to pathetic showings of the banal gift wrapped as something worthy. aka “tyvm for the quality plot, characters, world building, world integrity and cohesion all strapped to the rollercoaster of wildbowism.
    * second -> something to point out.. i.e. The table of contents link for 9.2 is missing probably mentioned above but after a quick cursory glance unseen by me if so. I reckon it needs to be activated after deactivating to accomodate for wedding shenanigans..

    Comment on whats happening at the mo…
    I am amazingly optimistic for Blake. Now that the lawyers have washed their hands of him. The things that I ponder are as follows;
    First time Blake no longer wears the mantle of the Thorborne Karmic Debt therefore he for the first time is free of that hindrance and has a fifty/fifty chance of fair play..(as much as possible in a wildbowistic sense.) ;))
    All connections to diabolism have more or less been revoked unless Blake chooses to embrace said practices.
    The painfully acquired nuggets of practitioner wisdom are still at Blakes disposal.. ie glamour, rudiments of chronomancy, goblin,ghost,familiar… etc etc
    I reckon that Blake is in the bowels of the Ur (eraser demon). The purpose is to continually strip all that identifies a person to nourish the demon similar to the intestines does to food
    as it passes on its journey.However Blake is like a gnarly oak root, twisted by circumstance and grew reaching toward nourishment under great pressure and weight. He is tough and he is his own self and is really self aware and defined by the furnace of life. He will not quit. He will always yearn to grow AND will try to protect and nourish his chosen family. So bring it.. I wanna believe that if Blake meets an obstacle then he will either go through it, go around it, try to re-navigate or failing that manipulate an Other to go through said obstacle.

    When you combine that with the rebirth of Mags..( I predict Mags will take Molly as her familiar once she meets Blake’s Evan so as to attone for past wrongs and other reasons )
    I think that Blake and Mags will wreak havoc in Jacob’s bell and while Rose may manifest to be the current Thorborne Diabolist Blake will get access to non diabolist lore and set up else where..

    Of Course.. wouldn’t be the first time my assumptions were shattered by wildbow.

    In essence thank you wildbow for this riveting window that sheds light deeply into the dark maybe of Jacob’s Bell

    [(Apologies for the overly long rant)]

    1. just to say.. I think that Ur holds sway.. kinda like a demense over a section of the void(the place where you fade to when your essence is diluted too much) but that the regions purpose is to feed off the emotions and traits of its victims as they degrade into oblivion…but that is its weakness.. it is a slow acting process and the very fact that Blake is an audience to snippets of his former connections means that somewhere somehow it is possible to game the connections to either send out a message or to escape..
      Carl is just a mechanism used to distract and increase rate of decay. How effectively can Blake compartmentalise his focus.

    2. Evan was an exceptional ghost, that already showed signs of being able to learn before becoming Blake’s familiar. Molly’s ghost is just as flimsy as any other ghost and only kept “alive” because Mags gave here a few drops of blood every day. I suspect it’s not even possible to take her on as a familiar, because she can’t really talk or swear oaths or anything.

  20. If dream-future-blake had wings and glamor, why not glamor up the wings to be more bird-like?

    Probably because that would be too much good happening to him for the price he’s paying.

    Too late? How much late? Are all his friends dead because time moves differently here? Like- one day in super-hell is like two years real time, and he’s been in here for a week, so all his friends are dead/beyond help?
    Or too late because he no longer has friends?
    Or too late because someone else (rose) took the deal already?
    Or too late because he already lost what they wanted (name, identity, place in the world etc)
    Or too late because they did help him by letting him remember what he lost?
    Or too late because fuck Blake (most likely)

    I’m not entirely convinced that what this world is showing him of the present is actually true. I mean think about it- people who can see the future, see it as something that will happen, there isn’t much in terms of the ability to change the future. So either the future blake was shown will happen (probably not), OR it’s just a possible one to break him down more. If so, why can’t the rose-bit have been a possible present? Same with Alexis crying?

    I miss green eyes. She had green eyes.

    1. problem with the time/perception dillation theory is that maggie/mags chatted with Rose(sans mirror) and asked where is Blake? shows Blake is gone and secondly you overhear segments of Rose chat.. kinda like a parallel time stream.
      Similar in a way to Blake being trapped and looking out of a mirror except no one is aware that he is there.

      Blake is going to evolve into being a vestige and then strive into full immersion into real world..???

      1. There’s not really a problem with the time theory. No one said that he was looking/hearing rose&friends in real time. Could have been something that already happened a long time ago that the place is showing him, alternatively, it could have never happened. This place can make realistic dreams of the “future” and conjure illusions from someone’s past. It’s not hard to be skeptical of ANYTHING that happens there involving something that can tear blake down.

        If Blake believes everything he sees, he wouldn’t realize that the Carl or whatever is an illusion. Ms. Lewis might also be an illusion, if that’s who said “too late”. Could have easily been another lawyer in heels, or an illusion, or whatever.

        I’m not saying Rose DIDN’T mess up the ritual on purpose- a lot of evidence points that she did- but Blake could have came to that conclusion himself, in theory, so it’s not a stretch to think that the whole conversation he overheard never actually happened, or at least happened differently. I don’t think the scene with Alexis crying for no reason was real. After the initial confusion/sprint to the factory, she shouldn’t have any reason to cry for Blake’s departure.

        1. I think Blake’s present-time visions of Rose & co. are real, but Blake only gets to see parts that will wear him down. I think the way the connection-cutting works, is that it doesn’t really change anything about reality, but people are unable to point to why/how something happened and their brains somehow try to make sense of it. So the consequences of losing Blake are there, i.e. Alexis being devastated/crying, but she can’t find the source of that feeling because if she follows the connection it’s a loose end.

          1. I don’t get how she can cry but not recall Blake at all. It doesn’t make sense to me.
            I’m not trying to be a smartass- I have literally no idea how connections and magic alter the human brain at all. Crying is a very understood emotion/response by the brain, so it all depends if magic changes things in the brain or not. Which I THOUGHT it did, but Alexis crying makes me confused….

            I have no idea how she can not recall him but still feel sad because of him.

            1. She remembers that she once had something which is now lost, but there’s no way to recover or remember what it was that she had lost. I imagine she’s feeling something close to the way a patient with Alzheimer’s or a similar form of dementia often feels.

      1. That’s assuming these actually are the lawyers, as opposed to the place continuing with it’s way of grinding people down 😛

    2. I’m going to guess too late because he’s no longer the Thorburn heir, and their presence and offers are part of a deal with Rose Sr that applies only to the current heir.

    3. It may be a “Fuck you” for not calling them sooner. And now he wants their help, but has nothing to offer them that they want.

      1. I think that’s how we’re supposed to interpret it, and I think that makes the most sense, but I like the twist interpretations people have been suggesting too: it’s too late because Rose has already made a deal, or because his friends are already saved, or maybe he doesn’t even have a karmic debt to bargain with anymore.

        1. And, to be fair, they made it clear when he didn’t call on them to deal with Conquest they would hasten his death to get Rose since she was more likely to take the bait and be a better diabolist.

          Well she’s got a body now and thus the role of heiress, meaning they really don’t have much of a reason to help Blake. It’s not in the express interest of the firm and they can only use their powers for that.

          So yes, ‘Fuck Blake.’

      2. He doesn’t have karma here, and he STILL gets screwed over. Poor Blake.
        I sometimes think that Wildbow hates his characters.

  21. Getting out on his own isn’t something I think Blake can manage. He needs some sort of help. Someone in the real world rescuing him would be best. Problem is the only person in the real world who even remembers him is Mags, and I’m not sure she has the ability to help him. Plus even if they put together that Blake existed there’s no point even looking for someone if you think a oblivion demon ate him.

    Lets hope he can find some help down in the drains that won’t cost him too much of himself.

    1. The only thing that comes to mind is Crone Mara, and that’s only because of her “Compost” remark to Mags. So I’m thinking this witch will be someone new.

  22. Wait, doesn’t Blake still have the deal offer from Lewis about a favor for being a grunt for the Firm for one job?

  23. “One man was perched on the bridge, back to the railing, swaddled in rags. He had no legs- no, wait. Yeah, he had legs, but they belonged to an insect, not a person. His eyes glowed through the shadows in the rags.”

    Sure is getting Mieville up in here. I like this.

    Also, I don’t think the Lawyers would respond to him just to tell him to go fuck himself. I’m thinking they’re going to try to use his vulnerable position to get him to make a deal even shittier than the ones they’d offer before.

    And then probably turn right around and tattle to Rose.

    1. He already is negotiating a worse deal – instead of just an errand, like they offered, he’s saying “you have me after that”. He’s offering to do whatever they want, essentially. I doubt they’re holding out for more.

      My guess is that it’s “too late” because he’s no longer the Thorburn heir; Rose is. Or else he’s not even talking with the real lawyers – when he first tried to summon them, it didn’t even work until Rose did it.

      1. I think the reason Blake couldn’t call the lawyers at first, was that he didn’t have the Thorburn voice so there was no connection between them. Once they had met a connection was established and Blake could call on them on his own.

  24. I think Blake got it all wrong about Rose.
    As you may remember from 1.07, the books on the two sides (mirror world and real world) had different ingredients to the practitioner spell (holly vs. iron). That’s why the spell didn’t work on Rose, causing her to pay the price of a practitioner (no lying), but without the benefits (sight etc.).

    After Blake’s connections were eaten, Rose (from her point of view) was always in the real world, and so if she did the practitioner spell wrong, she (thinks to herself) must have mucked it on purpose.

    1. Rose (from her point of view) was always in the real world, and so if she did the practitioner spell wrong, she (thinks to herself) must have mucked it on purpose.

      That actually makes the most sense of all theories I’ve yet read.

  25. Seeing people casually assume Rose mucked up her awakening on purpose while she summoned three beings and could influence others and stuff makes me think the paranoia is a little too much.

    1. That just makes for more paranoia. If Rose could do that unawakened how are you supposed to know if someone is awakened or not?

      1. that’s the question, people! It’s nagging on my thought as well, how come Rose could summon all those Others if she was unawakened?

        Well, certainly Rose in the Mirror isn’t a human (as we know it) but a vestige, that was clear, but, it opened up another question, “so, Other could be awakened as well? Like a Goblin being awakened? What?”

        Certainly, all hell may break loose if Rose is certainly “awaken” this time.

  26. Hmm, if Blake dies here Pact ends really really oddly. The moment where it would make sense to shift PoV to Rose is gone, especially with the revealed betrayal, and there’d be little reason to focus on Blake’s last moments.

    Ergo we can safely conclude Blake will make it out and return.

    The good new is that if Blake comes back this is a really really terrifyingly potent story/symbol if he invokes it.

    http://www.jungny.com/lexicon.jungian.therapy.analysis/carl.jung.129.html

    I mean, this suggests that Blake’s on the sun god story, the hero story. If he comes back, there’s potentially a very very potent symbolism telling the world that Blake is, well, Osiris would be the most direct example perhaps, but really any number of heroes and myths.

    He was very directly swallowed by a monster while failing one of three ordeals and then ended up in the underworld. That’s huge.

    Additionally: We saw Mags change her name to get out of being removed from the world. We saw the lawyers do much the same. Free of karmic burden, I think Blake’s going to adopt a new, freer and subtly more ‘him’ than the identity of a Thorburn which is but a burden. This is going to be vital to coming back reforged.

    The death/resurrection myth is something Blake’s invoked very directly twice now (once with Isidora, once here in a bigger way). It’s probably going to get a third repetition at the climax. Or am I missing some earlier death from way back at the beginning of the story?

    Either way, I think Null (both Blake’s state and his karmic debt) is so far an oddly optimistic arc compared to Blake’s usual fair.

      1. So you think Blake will marry Rose? She sure seems like a right bastard — exactly the sort of person that Blake is supposed to marry. And if Rose is Blake’s reflection, a vestige of Blake, perhaps part of the reason that Blake was on the streets and had those bad things happen to him before the story started (because he was missing those important bits that made him a whole person), then since he really just wants to be alone by himself, then marrying Rose will basically have him alone with “himself”, right? Wins all around! 😀

    1. Rather so. Makes me wonder what the structure of this world is on the macro scale. Who made it? Who built all the bridges? The statues? Is it stuff that fell through?

  27. Theory time:

    1. Rose is the real Thorburn heir and Blake was originally the vestige. Darth Granny had the Barber carve out Blake and then cut a deal with the lawyers to swap them and rearrange everyone’s memories so Blake was in them not Rose and to make sure his past seemed real by arranging actual connections. (This is the iffy bit – I think you might need an angel – a sort of Anti-Ur – to forge connections). This is why his tattoos have a mind of their own sometimes – they are actually what’s holding him together. The tattoos are also why he’s holding together so well. Their magic wasn’t eaten. Granny Rose did this to give Rose Jr time to learn before being thrown to the wolves.
    2. Rose may or may not have known all this while she was in the mirror. It would make sense if she did, but having forgotten Blake she certainly no longer remembers it and so it no longer makes sense to her.

    3.Blake falling through the cracks is going to put a spanner in the works when he makes his way back to the world above. Partly because it’s going to involve apotheosis and partly because he’s not supposed to be real.

    Becka

  28. A) The person behind him:

     1)it’s very unlikely that it was the lawyers. 
    

    They haven’t responded to Blake’s voice in the past, (only to Rose’s) and that was when he was the heir and was in the real world with an actual identity. Now that Rose has more power and authority (since she is the actual heir), there would be no reason to believe that the lawyers would come to Blake. Also, there was only one set of heels, meaning if it was the lawyers, then it was only Ms. Lewis. Why not the others? He called them all.
    Also, it was said that there are only a few places that connect to the main world (as far as the people know). Why would he be allowed to use a connection to the outside world.
    2) I agree with Haihappen that It’s probably the witch. She has already been introduced (as existing), she might have heels, and this would be something someone in that place would say. This would also help conservation of characters, and would allow the story to progress faster. Also, it was a set of heels.
    3) It might be an illusion sent to torment him, but this seems less likely than it being the witch. just letting Carl get him would probably be worse. or something else which would be worse.

    B) Rose is probably remembering wrong. Remember what happened to the eye and the others when their memories were altered because Blake was removed. It would be very plausible to believe that Rose just remembered wrong because of those mental gymnastics. As Matan said, in 1.07 Blake saw Rose’s version of the book, and it was different. Also the amounts of the ingredients on Rose’s side were different too.

    C) It is likely that Blake was really seeing parts of the present when he was seeing Rose and Co. He didn’t know about “Mags” remembering him (and that wouldn’t depress him), and what they are doing makes sense from what we know.

  29. You people are way too literal and anything above this post re: “too late” is a bunch of garbage, for two reasons:

    1) The heels clacking on the bridge belong to the black dress shoes of Carl, because heels are a part of shoes, not just a type of shoes. Remember, he’s dressed for style, not the season.

    2) The voice belongs to Carl.

    Wow, guys. Occam’s Razor.

  30. Everybody seems to think that Blake or Rose is a Other. I think that Blake and Rose are twins. I think that Granny Rose use Barber and the lawyers to sever the young Rose’s connections then stuffed young Rose in the morror world instead of letting young Rose fall through the cracks. Then set Blake up as a stalking horse. Heck if young Rose and Blake really were twins and he left her behind when he ran away he could have been guilted in to playing the stalking horse for young Rose. (Guilted before there memory, bonds, or whatever was cut by Barber.) Way back I asked if young Rose was the real heir. Now I think she was the heir the all along. But that is just a theory. A WEB SERIES THEORY.

    1. That’s an interesting theory, I haven’t heard that one yet. They were twins, separated at some point in life and nobody remembers the other person because of cut connections.

    2. Hi
      Re: twins thing I dont think so.. simply because of all the discrepancies between their remembring the worlds they grew up in. Same events, mostly same players but stark differences in pov.

      My personal fav theory is that granny used some mega juju and created a mini me so as to have a proper legacy and follower in her footsteps as opposed to what existed in Laird. She sacrificed her remaining lifespan after a certain point transferred that essence to Rose in the vestal vestige state, magic forged connections. This set up Blake as the sacrificial caretaker/guardian to expose Rose to the ways of the practitioner while not being directly a target.(Rose’s authority with voice etc etc)

      Some hidden clause set up in advance with lawyers and/or circumstances transition Rose to full Life.. The Toronto escapades brought the criteria/triggers way ahead of schedule but Blake isn’t deceased…

      Muahaahaa

  31. So why would the lawyers remember Blake? Shouldn’t they have forgotten about him, the same as everyone else (besides Mags)?

    1. Because they presumably have many clients who’d love to be forgotten and have access to great ways to cut connections. To ensure that the law firm gets its pound of flesh, they have to have some way, perhaps some 3rd party, to track and monitor and restore a cut connection. Perhaps they keep a sphinx on retainer or something.

  32. I THINK I FOUND SOMETHING, SOMETHING THAT MIGHT BE IMPORTANT:

    From 1.5 upon re-read: “A man, bundled up in winter clothes with hat, scarf, jacket, slacks and boots all in black stood in the middle of the sidewalk, at the end of the block. His eyes were fixed on the snowbank in front of him, his breath fogging with the slow, steady breathing.

    He didn’t move at my approach. Unnerved, I crossed the street, triple checking for cars.”

    That sounds a LOT like “A man was there, oblivious to me, hands clasped behind his back. Black hair, black beard, black scarf, black jacket, black slacks, black shoes.”

    What does it mean? What does it meaaaaan. Well, it means wildbow plans things out, but… other than that. As soon as he passed the guy in 1.5, Padriac started talking to him. Hrm.

    1. Good catch. And such an obscure thing, at that!
      Some more parallels between the scenes: the talk of “winter clothes” in both chapters; Blake being “unnerved” in 1.05 and feeling “uneasy” here.

      I have no idea what this could mean, but knowing Wildbow, it it’s probably hinting at something significant. (Seriously, “Devils and Details” is a perfect subtitle for Pact.)

      Two possibly relevant quotes from when Conquest makes Blake relive his old traumas:

      “It wasn’t real,” I said. “It… that wasn’t exactly how it happened.”
      “Close enough to matter,” he said. “Holes had to be filled in, gaps covered.”

      and

      One man, this time.
      His features were distorted, but I’d been messed up enough after the fact that it might have muddled the memories, distorted the echo.

      So maybe Blake’s “vision of the past” just drew this image from his memories… or, rather more unlikely, this is Blake’s Fight Club scene and on par with the reveal about Tyler Durden.

      (Incidentally, it will eventually turn out that every single sentence in Pact is foreshadowing or misdirection. I have no idea how Wildbow does this.)

      1. Oooo, that’s a good idea. I was thinking that maybe the original rape (reasonably sure we can assume that’s what happened) was actually the work of an Other that’s been following Blake around because (why?), but I think in some ways that might ruin/negate the horror? Like, ok, supernatural horror entities doing awful things is expected and not so much the point, as it is that PEOPLE, human beings under their own command, can do horrible things. Or! Maybe an Other picked up the memory from Blake and is twisting it even further, following him into the Underground Lair Sewers. That probably makes more sense.

  33. Props to Wildbow. He managed to evoke an “Oh crap!” reaction from Blake losing a plank of wood. That takes some writing skill. I didn’t realise until that point quite the degree of tension he’d built up over the course of this chapter. Fine work.

  34. Super munchkin transhumanist plan (risky,but its Wilbowverse,everything is risky)
    -read as much informations you can about the world of the cracks
    -plan and create
    -gather the food you reckon you will need in a bag and use that bag in a way that,if you go somewhere,the bag goes with you,cut the bag’s and its content’s ties to the world for easier passage
    -Ideally,you have enough case studies to control mutations,worst case scenario you’ll have to do with clues and by bullshitting your way though (works in Pact)
    -Travel (4 scenarios:most ideally,you can create,without a demense’s bad feedback on exitf,a mini universe with the same rules as the world between the cracks,less ideally you can travel at will,not ideally but it serves you can disable connections so you fall in,but enable them back once you exit,worst case you have to cut them completely)
    -Shut the right switches and eat the right things to give up only the things you donot want and gain things you want
    -become hax via controlled mutation.

    Actually,this could become an awesome game….an awesome roguelike,perhaps?Heck,give it too modes-one in which you know what mutation will happen based on your choices,and one whhere you do not

  35. “You got choices,” he said. “You wander until something gets you, you find a place you can hunker down and you wait until something gets you, or you decide it’s too much trouble and get yourself.”

    Strictly speaking, this summary is equally applicable to real life. 😛

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