Null 9.5

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One trial done.

I still had others to face down.

It had felt like it had taken years, but no time had apparently passed here.  I could barely remember where people had stood before I’d let Carl reach out for me…

If there’d been something solid to hit, I might have hit it.

Old wounds scraped raw.  Shame, regret…

False wounds?

The thought was quiet, almost not in my own voice.  It’s not real.

A weight lifted off my shoulders.  It was much as it had been when I’d first arrived in the Drains.  I turned my face skyward, drawing in a deep breath.

Difference was, back then, it had almost been because things had been so bad they couldn’t get much worse.  Now…

This was a kind of relief.  Things made sense, and knots were coming untangled.  Some things still didn’t make sense, there was a kind of horror to this, but I wasn’t burdened by my past anymore.

Because I didn’t necessarily have one.

I exhaled that deep breath I’d taken, and I saw vapor.  Moisture leaving my body?  More moisture inside my body?  Dust?  Something else?

I tried again, exhaling on purpose, and I didn’t see anything.

Some branches were still growing, trying to find places on the exterior of my body to entrench themselves.  There was a sound like splintering wood as they lurched and spasmodically grew to reach their new vantage points.  I could feel them embracing me.

I unzipped my sweatshirt to peer at my bare chest.  My chest was untouched, my ribs and back had the branches.  My face- I couldn’t see any of my face except my left cheekbone, nose, and part of upper lip when I moved my face in certain ways.  I didn’t see any marks.

No telling about the other side of my face.  I had only one working eye, now that I was back.

A spatter of water ran over my face and head, and I wiped it away – smearing a bit of grit over my forehead.  I wiped it off as best as I could, rubbing the grit onto my pants, and then ran damp hands through damp hair, pushing it back out of my eyes.  Silty grime and moisture kept it in place.

There were more birds on me now.  All tattoos, still, some hiding among the thicker branches, only the dark circles of their eyes peering out.

“I’m guessing you’re the spirits that possessed me as I cracked?” I asked.  Filling in the gaps.  I tried to get a better view of the birds, rolling up my sleeves and moving my arms-

A creaking, splintering sound as I moved my arm.  No damage done, only the branches on the skin moving.  I tested my movement, but the sound was far quieter.  Just a bit of stiffness, working out the kinks.

I resumed moving my arms to get a better view of the birds, and I could see how they were looking up at me.  They weren’t moving, but when I looked away and looked back again, they’d taken entirely different positions.  Still on the same branches, but turned in different directions, wings in different positions.

It would have been almost cartoonish, if they didn’t look so eerie.  The color was almost entirely gone.  Even the birds looked like ghosts.  Echoes.

“You’ve got a nice window seat now, huh?” I asked.

No response, of course.

In the wake of coming out of the Shadow-place, I’d felt cold, and I’d felt like I was almost in shock.

Now, as the seconds passed, I didn’t feel my heartbeat.

I wasn’t breathing, and I hadn’t been since I’d intentionally exhaled, but I wasn’t purple in the face either.  I reminded myself to keep up the act.  Breathe in, breathe out, just like I’m supposed to.

I found the breathing became automatic.

There.

There would be rules to be followed, as an Other.  As a vestige.

Sucks that I don’t know exactly what those rules are.

I turned, looking around.  A small handful of people were staring at me.

I collected myself, getting my clothes in order, rolling down my sleeves.  Hood up.  I fixed the bandage around my ruined hand and the bandage around my gouged wrist.

I’d faced down the reality of my past.

My present?  The future?

My present situation was marked by my visions of what was going on elsewhere.  I was stuck here.

The future… I wasn’t even sure how to parse that.

Maybe I could connect the dots if I had another dream, but I didn’t feel like sleeping anytime soon.  Not so recently after that experience.  A part of me still felt like I could embrace it.  I could just… give up and let it happen.

Accept somebody else’s idea of peace.

I felt a thrum of alarm and unease in my chest at the idea, as if my heart was a box and something was inside, fluttering in momentary panic.  The vibration of it ran through me.

I turned.  I had questions, and I had only one place to go to get them.

I drew a small handful of curious glances.

The door to the Witch’s hut was closed.  I heard voices through the windows – there wasn’t any glass.

I walked a distance away, and I waited.

One of the birds tattooed on my hand was peering around my sleeve, looking in the direction of the witch’s hut.  I pulled my sleeve down.

I mulled over the questions I had, and tried to figure out what I could offer as a gift.

The door opened.  The hinges were makeshift, not actually hinges, and the door opened in an odd way.  The man struggled with the door until the witch held it.  He lurched out, a bundle swaddled in his arm.

In the swaddle was a very small, frail woman or maybe a child.  The individual was riddled with the long, hard kind of mushroom that grew on the sides of trees, nearly to the point of being buried by them.

The man looked despondent as he hobbled away.  I watched him go.

“You’re back,” the witch said, her eyes on me.  “You look quite different, considering how short a time you were gone.”

“How long?”

“Oh, it’s hard to measure time here.  Hours?”

I nodded.

“Come in?”

“The only gift I can offer is a bit of story, knowledge.”

“It’s only a convention,” she said.  “Not an obligation.”

“I remember coming to a decision, maybe a year ago,” I said, “I wouldn’t accept something for free.  I didn’t want to give someone else that power over me.  To make me dependent.  I just discovered that that decision was only an illusion.  I’m honestly not sure if it holds any weight, but I feel like it can’t be a bad decision.”

“If everyone felt the same way, the world would be a fairer place,” the witch said.  “If you’ll tell me what happened, I’ll give you my attention.”

“Thank you,” I said.

She stood out of the way, inviting me in.

“…a vestige,” I finished.  My recap had been loose, general, skipping whole chapters and ideas.  The story wasn’t as important as the underpinnings.

I met her eyes, “And you knew.”

“I had an idea,” she said.  “Vestige isn’t the idea that leaped to mind.”

I nodded.  “It’s funny, but names mean so much, symbols, all that, but all the same, at the end of the day, labels are a bit of a trap.”

“Yes.  Any of us have had labels applied to us over the course of our lives.  Some are accurate, some aren’t.  Man, woman, normal, freak, genius, ‘good’, idiot, ‘wrong’…”

“Fool,” I said.  “High Priestess.”

She arched an eyebrow.

“Labels that were applied to me,” I said.

“How, exactly?”

“They were scrying me or something, using a spell to read me.  They drew the Fool with the right hand, the High Priestess with the left.”

“Ah.  I don’t know that particular trick.”

I nodded, “me either.  Didn’t really get a chance to research after, either.”

“The Fool can be the lowest value or the highest value card.  The ‘zero’.”

“I know that bit.”

“Fitting, for someone who doesn’t really exist.”

I grimaced.  “Ugh.”

“The High Priestess addresses the veil of awareness, about intuition,” she gave me a pointed look, one eye peering at my hand, where the tattoos were more intense.

“Well then,” I said.

“For those of us who know about the practice, it has a second meaning.  The very first thing we perceive when we enter this realm.”

“Connections.”

“Yes.  Make of that what you will.”

“Left and right hands?”

“I don’t know the exact ritual or the exact meanings.  I do know the most basic aspects of the left and right hands, practically and symbolically.  The right hand is the active hand, the hand fixed in the now, the one with which you address the world.”

“Sure,” I said.

“The left is the hand we use when we’ve got our hands full, in times of stress, more clumsy, but we’re strongest when we use it in concert with the other, rather than relying on the other alone.”

“Solid advice.”

“Except-” she started.

I looked up.

“The left hand has another meaning.  When referring to the parts of the body, terminology for the right side is Dexter, as in dexterity.  When referring to the left, the word is Sinister.  In superstition, the left is viewed to be the side closest to evil.  When we spill salt, we’re to throw a pinch over our left shoulder to ward off evil.  When the angel and devil are depicted sitting on a man’s shoulders, the appropriate representation puts the devil on the-“

“Left side,” I said, in concert with her.

“With allowances for artists who don’t know what they’re doing.”

“So,” I said, “What does that mean?  This decision I just made is evil?”

“Not necessarily.  As I said, the left hand is the hand you use when the right hand alone isn’t up to the task.  We use it when we’re in a desperate situation,” she said.  She gestured at our surroundings.  “And our actions tend to be clumsier.  Not wrong, not evil, but it’s not a stretch to jump to that conclusion, when all’s said and done.  I’d worry more about when the High Priestess intrudes on your life and it’s not in moments of desperation.”

“Oh,” I said.  “Well that’s a relief, then.  Because I don’t think I’ve had a minute to breathe where my circumstances weren’t desperate.”

“In the quieter moments between fits of whatever it was you were doing.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said.

“The possibility remains that I could be very wrong.  Give some thought to whoever did this reading for you, and why.  The only time I imagine someone should be concerned with your left hand is when they’re your enemy, and they want to know what you have up your sleeve, how you might function in a moment of peak stress, or if they wanted to put a ring on your finger.”

“Wedding ring?”

“I’m not being entirely serious,” she said.  “We put rings on that finger because of the myth that it was the sole finger with a direct line to the heart.  I’m not sure it has any meaning.”

“Uh huh,” I said.  I thought of the Behaims.  “I’m not entirely sure what they were planning.  What about the Hanged Man in the right, the Chariot in the left hand?”

“For who?”

“My, uh, mirror self.  The girl who took my place when I came here.”

“The Hanged Man suggests suspension.  Patience, waiting to act to achieve a better outcome.  Being stuck.  Despite the implications of the name, the man is often depicted hanging from his ankle, not his throat.”

“Enough said.  The Chariot?”

“Victory, control, overcoming obstacles.  It can mean travel, reaching a new point in life.  It suggests aggression finding a clear outlet, being honed, often in the frame of being articulate, winning arguments, and confidence.”

“My concern is what it means in the left hand,” I said.  “I’m… rather worried about what she’s doing.”

“For that, we can look to the image on the card.  I’m working from memory, but the card usually features a man with a laurel or crown on his head.  The victor, if you will.  The conqueror.”

I leaned back, my head striking the door, making it bang against the frame.

“Problem?”

“That’s ominous,” I said.  “Very ominous, considering the events prior to me making my way down here.”

“The black and white sphinxes that pull the chariot frequently refer to mysteries, and the stance of the man in the chariot suggests will being enforced, not strength.  Schemes, rhetoric, arguments, travel, it might point to some reckless path to ruin, or to glory.  Just like your High Priestess, it’s not necessarily an evil path, but on the crux of this, she may find glory or ruin.”

“Sphinxes, conquest,” I said.  “No, this is suggesting ruin more than anything else.”

“Oh?”

“Too many parallels,” I said.  I fidgeted, fingers drumming my knee, where my legs were crossed, me sitting on the floor.  “Oh man, this is going to get worse before it gets better.  I’m getting a sense of what she’s going to do.  I gotta get out of here.  Soon.”

“Don’t we all?”

“I passed one trial.  I faced the question of my past, my origin.  I need to know… how do I face the others?”

“I don’t know about the future.  I’m not even sure how your future would get its hooks in you.  The present, well, I can only tell you my experience.”

“Yeah?”

“Except there’s a problem of sorts.  I… hm,” she said.

“Just give it to me.”

“It’s not that you don’t want the answer,” she told me.  “I just don’t know how to frame it.  When I did it, I was looking for a way out.  These sewers showed it to me.  A glimpse-“

She paused, frowning, looking off to one side.

I waited, patient.  Something told me that if I pushed, she’d just shut down and kick me out.

“I suspected it was responding to the route I’d chosen.  If I’m right, then the closer I got, the clearer the picture.  When I realized exactly what it was showing me and why, I turned back.  The images haven’t plagued me much since.”

“Right,” I said.

“The problem is… if you were anyone else, if you just had the Shadow plaguing you, then I’d expect this to be it.  You gave this place what it wanted, it broke you down on a level.  It should cooperate with you.  I don’t know enough to guess what you’ll have to deal with here.”

I rubbed the stubble on my chin, silent.

“That’s the best I can do for you,” she said, her voice stirring me from my quiet musings.

“Right.  Thank you.  I mean it.”

“Not at all,” she said.  “I should ask for a token gift or payment, in exchange for the information.  The spirits might not oversee us, but… equity.  I shouldn’t dole out advice for nothing.”

I nodded.  I plucked at my wool sweatshirt.  “Will this do?  More fabric, quality is pretty good, it’s warm.  I’ll be cold, but I can deal.  Not so much use in holding onto my humanity, when I know I’m not human.”

“Your sweatshirt will do,” she said.

I unzipped it, then pulled it off.  I folded it, then handed it over with both hands.

She took it, letting it sit on her lap.

“Guess I won’t be seeing you,” I said, half-standing, head bent so I didn’t bang it on the corrugated steel ceiling.  “Thanks again.  If I get a chance, I’ll visit that grave.”

“Hey,” she said, as I turned around.

Something hurtled at me.  I caught it in my right hand.

“A gift, to wish you well on your expedition.”

I unfolded the bundled sweatshirt.  My sweatshirt.

“It’s warm,” she said.  “Fabric’s pretty good quality.  Do what you can to hold onto your humanity.  Keep the best parts.  Take the good that comes with being Other, too.  But don’t just throw any of it away.  Be smart about it.”

I gripped the sweatshirt a little tighter.

“Also,” she said.

“Yeah?”

“It crossed my mind while you were talking, but then I got distracted.  I was going to ask, but I’m not sure if it means anything.  It’s only a thought, but it might be a thought worth carrying with you.”

“A thought?”

“Are you right handed, or is it the injury to your hand that’s making you favor your right?”

“I’m right handed.”

“Okay,” she said.  “Your mirror self is a southpaw, then?”

“No,” I said.  I searched my memories, before coming up with a fairly confident, “No.”

“Hmm,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “That’s odd, isn’t it?  Given the mirror thing?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Worth thinking about,” I murmured.  I didn’t want to say goodbye again, so I shot her a salute, before pushing my way through the door.

I stood in the center of the settlement.

This… wasn’t going to be fun.

The rehashing of my ‘past’ had been one thing, but there hadn’t been any real chance of being irrevocably destroyed, devoured, facing a fate worse than death, or an ignoble end with one stupid misstep on a ledge.

At worst, maybe, I might have been mentally broken, left catatonic all over again, or I might have made the wrong decision, failed to see the falseness for what it was, and trapped myself down here, perpetually ignorant.

Now I had to go back.

Face the present.

While my future was waiting, probably with its hand behind its back, hiding a weapon it was preparing to blindside me with.

I started walking.

Back the way I came.

Along the posts.  Back to the dark tunnels.

I’d had one fleeting vision in there.

A starting point.

“What the are you doing here?”

Rose stared as her parents came down the driveway, Ivy in their arms.

Her parents, not mine. 

I should have made the connection, seen the clue.  If they were going to name their firstborn daughter after Grandmother to curry favor, why would Ivy be ‘Ivy’ in a world where I was the elder sibling?

We wanted to see how you were getting on.”

“I’m busy.”

“Rose,” her father said.

“Rose, what?”

“It’s done, it’s over.  The house is yours and-“

“You wanted to see if you can’t worm in and get a piece of the profits if and when I sold it?”

“No,” he said.  He managed to sound exasperated.

“I’m not selling the house.  I can’t.”

“That’s fine,” he said.  “Whatever you want to do.  We just wanted to see you.  Are you okay?  With this whole thing that happened to Molly, and what Irene was saying about how she was acting…”

“What was she saying?”

“She was distant, cut off, and she wished she’d done more to help Molly.  Look, we made the trip here because we were worried.  The phone is disconnected-“

“Yeah, that wasn’t me.”

“Rose,” her mother cut in, stepping close, Ivy in one arm.  She reached out with her free hand, seizing Rose’s.  “Please.”

Rose didn’t even flinch.  Her expression was placid, not betraying a single emotion.  “Please what?”

“Don’t shut us out.  We’re close, and we’re here out of genuine concern.”

“For the money?”

“No.  For you.  You’d tell us if something was wrong, wouldn’t you?”

“No,” Rose said.  “No, I wouldn’t.”

“Can we work on getting to the point where you could?”

“In the realm of theory?  Maybe.  In reality?  No, I’m not interested, and no.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” her father said.

“No,” Rose said, expression unchanging, “I’m not.  You want to start on the road to reconciliation?”

“You’re implying we did something wrong,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah I am.  So I was about to make a deal with you, but now I have to amend it.  If you want us to get along, I’m going to need you to sign a statement that swears you won’t take any money or profits from sale of the property-“

“What?” her father asked.

And, I’m going to need an apology,” she said, her voice hard.  “Not for all of it, but I’m going to need it worded in such a way that you recognize and admit culpability for some of it.”

“Look,” her father said.  “Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying we raised you perfectly, or that I don’t have regrets.  A lot of it stemmed from the way I was raised.  Our family was so cutthroat, my mother pushed us to fight each other every step of the way, and that was… in a large way, it was the only relationship I knew for a long time.  We certainly weren’t allowed to make friends at school.  I’ve changed in some ways since meeting your mother, and since I became a father to you- taking you figure skating, or to gymnastics.”

“When I was eight.”

“Like I said, I’m not saying I was right.  We made mistakes, and when you started becoming more independent, resisting us when we were trying to put you on the right path-“

“By attacking my cousins.”

“Maybe.  Some of it.  But that’s the competition I was talking about.  It was ingrained into me.  I saw you back away from it, and I trusted you to figure out your own path.  Your own way to be effective and strong in a very hard, unforgiving world.”

“Well, congratulations,” Rose said.  She spread her arms.  “This is it.  This is me.  You want to blame Grandmother for making you into who you are?”

“Shh,” her mother said.  “Don’t wake Ivy.”

Rose glared.  “You want to blame her?  Well, you have only yourselves to blame for who I am, and I’m someone who doesn’t even want to waste five seconds in your company, let alone however many minutes we’ve been talking already.”

Her father clenched his fists.  I imagined the expression on his face was very similar to my own when I was angry.

“Rose,” her mother said.

What?

“That’s okay.  We can leave it at that.  But right now, I want  you to take Ivy.  Because whatever’s going on, between you and us, that doesn’t impact your relationship with your sister, okay?  You have to admit that’s the case.”

“Yeah, I don’t want to wake her up.”

“It’s okay.  Just take her.  Hold her.”

Rose didn’t budge as her mother shifted Ivy around in her grip.  Ivy made a small whimpering sound.

“Take her, before she fusses.”

Reluctantly, Rose took Ivy.

“We made mistakes,” her mother said, in a low voice.  “I won’t deny that.  Help us avoid making the same mistakes with Ivy.  That’s all I ask.”

Rose was stiff, holding the sleeping infant.

“Please?” her mother asked.

“Yeah, maybe.  How?”

“We just want to see you from time to time.  Time and place of your choosing.  Next week?”

“There’s a small cafe downtown.”

“I know it,” her father said.

“I’ll maybe call you,” Rose said, “Let you know.”

“Okay,” her mother said.  She reached out, and Rose began the process of handing Ivy back.

Her mother, however, hugged her and Ivy both.

Rose, still rigid, allowed her forehead to rest on her mother’s shoulder, eyes still open, moving by fractions, as if she were thinking and calculating about things far beyond the realm where she could see.

The scene went dark.  For a moment, I was disoriented, and I feared I was blind.

I wasn’t – I was only in utter darkness.  The pitch black of being in a cave where the last light source was a twenty minute walk down winding corridors behind me, and the next one was twenty minutes ahead of me.

“If you’re trying to get to me,” I said.  “You’re going to have to try to do better than that.  Rose has a better relationship with her parents than I did?  Good for her.”

I laughed a little.  Not loud – only a little.  “She’s real.  She’s busy plotting?  Spooky, when I’ve seen the recent vision, but good for her.  I’d hope I’d be taking every chance I get to plot as well.  You want to get to me, Drains?  Try harder.”

In retrospect, it might not have been the most brilliant idea to taunt the primeval engine of entropy and destruction.  The compost heap of reality.

Still, it gave me the courage to keep moving forward.

I’d unzipped my sweatshirt, taking it off, and tied it around my waist.    My boots were off too, laces tied together, so they were around my neck.  I walked with fingertips trailing the wall to either side of me.

The cold was bitter, it hurt like an icy fist closing around me, but it didn’t damage me.  I wasn’t wounded, I wasn’t frostbitten.

I wasn’t sure if that was due to my particular nature or if it was just this place, only wanting to use the cold to make me uncomfortable.

After walking another five or ten minutes, I felt the temperature of the air drop a degree or two in temperature.  Not a cold wind, but even so, the still air was cooler here.

I slowed down.

Steady steps, careful, heel, then toe.

Cooler still.  My skin would have prickled with goosebumps, if I were still human.

I wonder if I can get wings after all.

It was a giddy, delirious thought, a little unhinged, as I approached the spot where I no longer had walls on either side of me.  My arms were stretched out all the way to either side, and I touched only air.

Heel, toe.  It was quieter than tiptoeing, as my heel touched a frigid puddle where a gentle groove had worn into the bridge, and I controlled the way I lowered the rest of my foot so it wouldn’t splash.

I felt the cold radiating from my right, and I very nearly hissed in pain at the sharpness of it.  Nearly.

I tried to remember the degrees of cold.

My arms were still extended to either side.  I didn’t dare move them, out of a fear that they would creak.

I didn’t breathe.  My heart didn’t beat.  I was a false person, a doll, a man of branches and feathers.

Another step, another… the front of my foot came down in a way that had the toes touching only open air.  I adjusted the angle I was walking, to stay on the path, and I made my steps more careful, until I was more sure.

Five more steps, and I felt the acute cold, sharper than it had been, across my right foot.

I brought my left foot forward.

Same thing.

I shifted my weight, balancing on one foot, and raised my right foot, extending it outward, half-inch by half-inch.

I wobbled, arms windmilling.  The branches didn’t creak or splinter.

Controlling my movements, I stepped forward, over the limb that was draped over this narrow bridge.

Raising my back foot over was just as precarious, just as dangerous.  If I touched it, I might lose my foot, before it simply got me.

My hand touched something cold and slimy, and I felt another mad birdy fluttering of panic where my heart should have been.

Goodbye.

But my other hand touched something cold and slimy.

The two walls of the tunnel.

I made my way into the tunnel, hands still trailing the sides.

I paused.

“Missed me,” I said, loud enough for my voice to carry into the chamber I’d left behind.

A limb struck the wall, hard enough to make a cracking sound.  Cold air blew past me, frigid enough to tear the wind from my lungs.

When I’d caught my breath, I had to resist the urge to laugh.

It was frustrated.

Was I a little crazy?

No.  Well, yes, maybe.

But that wasn’t exactly it.

“I’m not so afraid anymore,” I murmured to myself.  “For better or worse.”

The Astrologer stared at the burning building, tears streaming down her face.

I edged above the slumbering greater goblin that served as the omnipresent terror to the small cluster of people on the watermill bridge.

For long moments, I contemplated attacking it.

If I had metal, something that worked as a weapon, and if I had enough courage to simply step from the ledge I was on and plunge down onto its back…

Something told me that in the vision of the future I’d seen, an action like that had been what had started me on my path.

Kill it, share the meat for favor and more tools, skin it, and take the pelt…

In some cultures, wearing parts of the beast meant taking on their strengths.  The book Valkyrie had touched on that.  Binding spirits into objects, then carrying those objects.

The vision taunted me.  The knowledge that I could do this, I just had to decide to.

The knowledge that yeah, maybe I could have wings.

What did it matter?  I wasn’t real.

Right?

I remained where I was, debating the possibilities, for far too long.  I felt almost paralyzed.

On the surface, it was a dumb question.  Of course I wanted to stay human.

But this went beyond the surface.

What was my dream?  What did I want?

I wanted peace.  To be left alone.  To explore, and not be bound to one place.

Ideally with Evan at my side, my friends a phone call away.

Except they weren’t mine anymore.  Not in the normal sense.

No.

This was, in part, what that vision had been about.  Taunting me with a future that highlighted just what I could and couldn’t have.

I might never get to ride my motorcycle again.

In a way, my heart broke a little with the thought.  Owning that little piece of work had been my first real accomplishment.  The first real thing I’d bought that hadn’t been for my own raw survival.  The first thing I’d wanted to buy.

It was a symbol for me, symbolic of a lot of things.

Now I looked down at the goblin below me, and I saw it as another symbol.  The other path.

I touched my sweatshirt, which I’d put back on, and I remembered the Witch’s words.

I’ll keep my humanity.

But, if this even counts as a third trial… I’ll accept this reality about my future.

I probably won’t ever ride again.

I started edging along the ledge, as quiet as I could manage, teeth clenched.

You want to take something away from me, Drains?  That hurts more than losing my humanity.

Why?  It was simple.

Motorcycles rocked.

Humanity?  It varied.

“Yo,” Mags said.

Alexis and Ty exchanged glances.

“I’m the postman today,” Mags said.

“Rose is sleeping.  She was up late,” Alexis said.

“Yeah?”

“Something about a Barber?” Alexis asked.  “Any idea?  Might have something to do with what she was saying about us needing the big guns.”

“Huh,” Mags said.  “No idea.  I’m just hoping those guns aren’t too big.”

“Me too,” Ty said.  He looked tired.

“Not me,” Evan said.  He looked like he’d lost a few feathers, a few more were sticking up, as though they were on the verge of falling out.  “I don’t need to sleep anymore.  It’s a luxury.

“Lucky runt,” Mags said.

“You should sleep,” Ty warned.  “It conserves energy, and it delays the time until your next transfusion.”

“Bring it,” Evan said.  “I’m saying we should do the fire spirit thing.  Make me a phoenix, bro.  C’mon.”

“No, bro,” Ty said.

“C’mon, c’mon.”

Ty looked to Alexis for help.

“You got him started on that,” Alexis said, “You egged him on.”

“Damn it.”

“C’mon!  Pleeeeeaaase.

“Ahem, listen,” Mags said.  “I have letters I’m delivering in my official capacity as ambassador, and it doesn’t matter if Rose is asleep, because they’re for you… three.”

“Tiff’s hurt,” Ty said.  “I’ll take hers to her.”

“Great.”

Mags handed over three letters.  The envelopes matched.

Ty tore his open.  Evan hopped down to his wrist to get a closer view.

“A declaration of war,” Ty said.  He looked up at Mags, concerned.

“Damn, didn’t know,” Mags said.  “They said they’d do it.”

“We didn’t-” Ty started.  “We thought Rose stopped them from agreeing to those accords.”

“They’re still sticking to them, just not so officially,” Mags said.

“Damn it,” Alexis said.

“For all three of us?”  Ty asked.

Mags shrugged, “I can only assume.”

“Picking off the pawns before going for the checkmate, I guess,” Alexis said.  Her voice was calm, but her hand jittered as she reached for her pocket.  “Damn, need a smoke.  I’ll be back.”

“Not in the house,” Ty said.  “Rose said not to, and if you burn this place down-.”

“I’m not doing it outside,” Alexis said.  “Declaration of war, remember?  We could get attacked.  I’ll do it in the bathroom with the fan on.”

She muttered some curse word, inaudible, as she stalked off toward the ground-floor bathroom.

“Thanks, real Mags,” Ty said.

“Sorry,” she said.  “Good luck.”

His own emotions were betrayed as he hurried to shut the door, barely even paying attention as he shut it in her face.

He slumped against the door, while Evan fluttered up to the top of his head.

“Damn it,” he said.

He looked utterly miserable.

The guilt that fixed me was like a spear to the chest.  Violent in its intensity, force, and the pain that hit me where my heart was supposed to be.

I had asked this place to try harder.  Now it was dawning on me.  The objective, the message.

Hitting me where it hurt.  I didn’t want to wrestle with the idea until I had more validation, more confirmation.

Keep moving.  Wrestle with it when you’re out of here.

In the end, there weren’t many paths to try.

I was at a ledge, not far from Green Eyes.  Not far from the gargoyle’s perch where I’d first sat down, gotten my first glimpse of the present.

She’d told me to go left.  Her last bit of advice.

Coming back the opposite way, that meant I was turning left, to take the path she’d warned me off.

Another dark tunnel, sloping downward.

Water pattered down on my head and shoulders from above.  It ran down the walls in trickles and streams.

I saw light at the end of the tunnel.  My path was lit up, brighter than I’d seen yet.

I heard a buzz, a dull drone, like a low note, held continually.

Further down the path, the ground was shattered, ruined.  It was limited to chunks that only barely held together, haphazard, with deep cracks between each that I could fit a limb into.

As I got further down, the amount of running water increased, the light grew more intense, and the state of my surroundings grew even more precarious, more crude.  I almost had to hop from one shelf of stone to the next.

Twice, I had to stop to calculate which path posed the smallest gamble, three times I had to pause to work out how best to navigate over piles of crumbled masonry, or open chasms that were too wide for me to leap across.

The drone increased in intensity.

The light was in sharp contrast to the darkness here, and the sharp shadows that were cast were misleading, suggesting gaps where there were none, or glare hid the cracks that did exist.

I rounded a corner, and I was blinded.

Fell’s grave, the snow falling heavily.

“We’ll come back tomorrow,” the old woman told the little girl.

Then light once more.  Almost worse than the darkness.  My skin prickled with it.

In the midst of whole sections of the Drains that had broken away was a cavern.  Quite possibly what the Drains had been before they’d mutated into the drains.

In the midst of that cavern, a face stood out from the wall.  It wasn’t stone, but it looked like something close.  Bone, perhaps, or calcified flesh.

I had to wrestle with the idea that it was simultaneously further away than it looked and very, very big.  Especially for a face.

It could very well have been as large as a mountain.  The area between it and me was empty of anything, vast, a chasm as wide as the gap between countries, maybe.

It rested at an angle, leaning against a distant solid surface I couldn’t make out, surrounded by cracks that cities could have been built in.  It was cracked as well, with gaps running along its pale features, almost to the point that it looked like it might shatter any moment.  The eyes were open, and a light radiated from the eyes, as intense as the sun.

The noise it was making, the size of it, I couldn’t comprehend it, not cognitively, but in my would-be heart?  I felt something swell.

Light shone from the open mouth, too, and the drone emanated from the mouth, deep enough to touch me in the core of my body.

The size of it, the sheer base… I wasn’t even sure how to phrase it.  The simpleness of it?  No, that was wrong.  The appearance, the light, the utter monotone of the sound it generated, it was more like it was at the heart of simplicity, at the heart of something from which more complicated things could emerge.

A lesser god?

Forgotten, fallen through the cracks, swallowed up by this place that had existed before the Drains were Drains?

But… if my eyes weren’t deceiving me, this place and the area around the face had become Drains, only to break away.  The face, presumably, had been buried.

It had been revealed now.

It came back to the same question I had just faced.

Why?

I looked at the wall where the light was shining.

Where there was light and water, there was life.  Plants grew, scraggly, weedy, dangerous looking plants that probably had thorns or poisonous oils.  Because I doubted anything else would grow here.

Where there was light, however, there was shadow.

In that deep shadow that remained where the light couldn’t quite reach, I saw something move.

I saw darkness move.

My ‘heart’ beat its mad panic beat inside my chest.

I knew the name of that particular darkness.

“Ur,” I murmured.

It was working its way into this place that lay through the cracks.  Into the Drains.  The only thing that had stopped it, cutting it off from the heart at the source of it, was the accidental uncovering of this ancient forgotten god.

The panicked movement within my chest only got worse as my thoughts turned over, grasping the import of this.

Alexis, sitting in the bathtub, using the drain to put out her cigarette, a book on her knee, her other hand on her head, fingers in her hair, pushing it back.

Ty giving Evan a push, sending Evan fluttering off to where they’d stowed the video game console.  Evan was slowly dying, even his flight faltering, and he didn’t remember our bargain, he wouldn’t know to keep it, to move on.  Ty was too weary to even move away from the door, too stressed to even want to.

Tiff, nose crusted with blood, blankets pulled up around her on the couch, where she was so still she looked dead.

Carl, sitting in his living room, smiling at two of his friends.  One had a cup of tea, the other a joint.

I swayed, the battery of scenes leaving me virtually unable to put two thoughts together.

I didn’t even have time to contemplate the fact that Carl existed.

“I get it,” I said.  “I get it.  The abused becomes the abuser.  It’s my fault, isn’t it?”

Only the scouring light and jet blackness answered.

“I made a cabal, just like Carl made his cult.  The world was worse off for having me in it?”

I took a step back.

I stared at the chasm in front of me, the light that lit up the motes of dust that were thick in the air, the waiting tendrils of Ur.

“And I have to go out the same way I came in?”

If my heart felt like an animal in bondage, thrashing to escape, I felt like it was crawling its way to my mouth, ready to flee.

“Through Ur?”

Another step back.

I ran.

I leaped.

Ground gave way underfoot as I planted my foot down.  I still leveraged it into a jump.  I crossed the chasm.

I’m so light.

I hit with my ribs taking the brunt of the impact.  Masonry broke away, deep gouges cut into it by Ur’s devouring tendrils, and I fought to keep my place.  I climbed a small avalanche of falling brick and stones that disappeared almost as quickly as I could grasp them.

No fucking way was I leaving it at that.

I saw tendrils move, escaping the cracks they’d been hiding in, reaching.

My climb slowed.  I lost headway.

Clawing with my hand, I tore away a section of brick that was blocking the light.  It flashed across the gap, and the tendrils disappeared.

I found footing, leaped once more, almost straight up, grasping a handhold.

Again, I tore at brick to kill the tendrils.

I leaped to one side to put myself in the light, to catch a breath.

Metal gleamed in the dark.  A rod, radiating with spikes.

I grabbed the rod with my damaged left hand, letting the spikes impale flesh.

It would, if nothing else, keep the two halves in place.

I pulled the Hyena free.

This is the place for lost things.

And I was close to the place that served as entrance and exit both.

But not quite there.

Tendrils were breaking free, clutching for me, using the same shadow my body cast.

I wasn’t going to make it like this.

Tendrils seized me around the middle, and they bit into my sweatshirt, consuming it, finding gaps in my flesh.

I couldn’t even look to see the damage it was doing.  I had to avert my eyes.

I had to…

Ask for help.

I screamed.

I screamed guttural, as close to the same tone as the god that shone its light into this dark chamber, fighting Ur for as long as he lasted.

I worshiped that lost god for just a moment.

The light grew more intense, and Ur burned away.  Even the pieces in my arm.

I found the gap, unable to see, and clawed my way through, fighting through the shadowy places Ur had just occupied.

The light faded.

I was in the factory, lying in a heap, the dim morning light streaming through the windows, basking me in everything that was ordinary and warm.

The same place from which I’d entered the Drains.

The guttural god of light didn’t reach here.  The light faded.

I found my feet.

Ur, too, recovered.  Shadows breaking out of the walls, cutting off my escape.

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370 thoughts on “Null 9.5

    1. Wildbow, it’s not fair. I read other web serials while waiting for Pact to update, and I really get into them. I consume several books of the story in a single day, and I’m very tempted to vote for them, because, frankly, their stories are awesome.

      And then you update Pact.

      This is the point that I vote for you using every electronic device I can get my hands on, screw the rest. Sure, Hayes has funny prose, Jim Z does things old-fashioned and good, but Pact just blows me out of the water.

      1. When I go vote, I usually vote for all of them that I read which is Pact, Legion of Nothing, and The Zombie Knight.

    2. Holy fuck. Wildbow’s writing has collectively more votes than any other web serial together on there. Pact has almost more votes than every other web serial together, including Worm. Congratulations!

      • Sucks that I didn’t know exactly what those rules are.” -> Mixed tenses.
      • ““Very ominous, considering the events prior to me making my way down here.” -> closing quotation mark is missing
        1. Maybe you are manifesting Blake after all this time? His wood spirits are taking place in you as well.

          More seriously, this chapter was fantastic. It maintained a perfect tempo.

    1. “In retrospect, it might not have been the most brilliant idea to taunt…”

      This tense-switching is disconcerting to me. Through the whole book until now, narrative time has followed story time. It seems to me too late in the book to suddenly break out a cryptic “in later years…” foreshadowing style. Maybe change this to immediate second thoughts about saying this?

      “I knew the name of that particular darkness.”

      … Or part of it, at least.

      These aren’t typos. But I think they’re worth fixing, even now. Of course, it’s your prerogative to disagree.

      1. I don’t quite agree. I got the impression that the “in retrospect” was coming from the “now” immediately after he’d made the taunt (because it wouldn’t take him long to figure out that taunting something with the purpose of slowly tearing you apart isn’t a great idea).

    2. basking me in everything that was ordinary and warm
      people bask in something, e.g. an environment, the environment doesn’t bask in them, so probably:
      bathing me in everything that was ordinary and warm

    3. “Quite possibly what the Drains had been before they’d mutated into the drains.”

      Really odd italicization there. Maybe it was supposed to just be ‘Possibly’? Also, second instance of Drains presumably should be capitalized, since I assume it means the place and not actual plumbing.

    4. ““Huh,” Mags said. “No idea. I’m just hoping those guns aren’t too big.”
      “Me too,” Ty said. He looked tired.
      “Not me,” Evan said.”
      Evan seems to be responding to a question of comment about sleep, rather than worrying about the danger of Rose’s ‘big guns.’

    5. “I had an idea,” she said. “Vestige isn’t the idea that leaped to mind.”

      Repetition of “idea”. Even if meant for emphasis, it reads a bit clumsy.

      I nodded, “me either.

      I think the “me” should be capitalized.

    1. yes!! so either Ur finally gets to chomp on Blake or he somehow manages to get a crushing victory over Ur. well, he could also escape but i wonder if the universe would allow that on a third encounter.
      now, if Blake gets devoured he might end up as a part of the motes Ur plans to release but that seems unlikely.
      as to how Blake might be able to beat Ur, maybe the deepness the Isadora was talking about was the portion of Ur that was in the drains? in that case Ur may be at its weakest now (assuming the fallen god destroyed most of it), with sunlight streaming into the factory and no smoke to hide into, not that Blake has many weapons to use against it.

      1. Also where’s the Astrologer? She needs set up for the constillations, but how much quicker would just aiming lasers into the factory be? Anyways, time for Blake to either turn things around, or be lucky if he just gets erased.

        1. The Astrologer is currently mourning the loss of everything she had in a huge fire – the Sisters are definitely involved, and they possibly encouraged the Eye to cause it.

          It’s time for Blake to actually improve the situation he inadvertently triggered. A massive demon, an embodiment of catastrophe, angry office ladies… Feels like your typical Monday in Pactverse.
          Wildbow, could we please get something telling us how long he spent down the Drains ? Curious if Pact hit 2014 already or not.

          Also, assuming he reclaims his old identity through fighting Urr, Jeremy will probably try something to stop him from leaving Toronto.
          No reunion with Mags or Rose anytime soon.

          1. “The Astrologer is currently mourning the loss of everything she had in a huge fire – the Sisters are definitely involved, and they possibly encouraged the Eye to cause it.”

            Yeah, your right. For some reason I thought she was at the factory when it was burning.

            “Also, assuming he reclaims his old identity through fighting Urr, Jeremy will probably try something to stop him from leaving Toronto.
            No reunion with Mags or Rose anytime soon.”

            I hope not. He’s got to get back to Jacob’s Bell before the town gets wiped off the map. Or worse.

            1. he is not getting his identity back, you can’t recover what the demons take, only replace it.

      2. Actually this is their third encounter if you remember the time that Blake first visited the factory. He didn’t enter, because he immediately realized his inability to win at the time and it can potentially count as a forfeit, making THIS the third encounter.

        1. Wait, wouldn’t it be the fourth then? One when he visited with Fell (though I don’t think it counts, just sizing up your adversary isn’t really a battle), one when they got the arm, and one when he fell through the cracks.

          Technically, they also fought in the Drains, and arguably that round ended. Not sure if that counts as a draw (the god interrupted the fight), or as a win for Blake (he “used” the god as an ally, much as one might use a summoned Other against your enemy).

  1. Damn, the Demon is eating it’s way into Limbo! That thing is evil.

    But, I’m just saying, if there’s a forgotten god down there maybe it can spare a drop or two so he can get his demon-slaying on.

        1. Also, it’s a forgotten god; if all signs of its worship were forgotten, it wouldn’t be trivial to resurrect faith in it in any case. Similar to how Latin is a dead language; there’s nobody left to teach how to pronounce it correctly. That said, since the god actually exists in the Drains, it might be possible to study it there, and to build a new, accurate system of worshiping it.

          Plus: a proper god might need worshipers numbering in the thousands or more. Though setting something like that up does sound like the kind of logistical challenge required to properly banish Ur.

          Incidentally, maybe the Knights of the Basement were connected to this forgotten god?

          1. Oooh that has possibilities. It is possible they used to be worshipers of the guttural god of light, but I doubt it.

            Personally I am hoping that Blake decides to get more religious power to shore up his lack of other powers, and goes full on divine avenger type later. And then he can still get fluffy white wings and fly! I think flying would replace his motorcycle in terms of freedom, and it might be something he ends up achieving near the end of Pact.

            1. Since he’s the only one who remembers it at all, it should be trivial to call its attention to him — pumping power to it would be more difficult, but I ‘spect blood sacrifices might do the trick. They have everywhere else.

              And a forgotten god of bright /potential/ can’t possibly be a /bad/ investment for Blake at this point.

    1. Ur eating its way into Limbo is utterly terrifying. What does that even imply? Could it just destroy Limbo? How the hell was this thing bound inside the factory in the first place? What was it doing before it was bound? Wasn’t this supposed to be a MINOR demon!?

      1. There haven’t been all that many demons introduced, and how ‘minor’ something is is rather relative. Pauz barely even ranked at all in demonic terms and was from what is implied to be a weaker choir and was still not anything close to impotent.

    2. I had assumed that the drains were a metaphysical place, on another plane, limbo, whatever. But y’know, given what just happened, it’s entirely possible that they physically exist beneath the factory…

  2. Well it seems like Blake is still gonna be Blake. I have a feeling this showdown is gonna go differently now Blake is aware he is a little less than human.

      1. He’s got a metal stick, and his tattooed branches are partially wood. I’m thinking it only takes a spark. His priority right now is to escape, after all.

        1. Yeeeaaaah. Blake isn’t going to no sell Urr just because he lacks connections. He’s going to have a much harder time of it.

      1. As an Other he should reasonably tougher than squishy humans, but Vestiges are half-illusions and fragile. Technically speaking, if he’s gotten any new abilities from being possessed by… things, they’ll probably be the sole advantage he has.

        We’ll know in about 25 hours…

        1. Maybe some of the gutteral god of light’s light got into Blake? Not to mention if he feels Rose got tainted by Conquest, he’ll need to get that out.

    1. Yeah, Blake was right when he said that thing needed to die. When it can eat at things that make up the gaps in reality, we have a problem and Rose Sr. theory around the whole universe being munched on starts looking accurate.

      And Karma, if he does this, you owe him. I don’t care how many lifetimes his family has screwed up.

      1. Blake’s karma should be wiped clean; he was never a Thorburn, and since Rose has switched into reality, the Thorburn karma should be attached to her now.

        I guess Blake might have a positive or negative balance from before his erasure, but maybe all that has been transferred to Rose, too. But in any case, Blake’s balance could still be positive now, given what he’s done in the Drains so far – seeking balance with Green Eyes and the witch, and accepting his past, present and future.

        So while his circumstances are still bad, the universe might now possibly stop actively conspiring against him.

          1. Unlikely, given this is Wildbow’s fiction. Though it seems possible that things are finally looking up for Blake himself (he certainly isn’t a target anymore), and that he’ll now get into bad situations not because of his own karma, but because he has to help other people who got into bad circumstances because of him (Diana, the people of Toronto, Evan, Blake’s cabal), and the latter still are connected to the Thorburn karma.

            I’d say that’s what happened when Blake accepted his present, i.e. that he left the world worse off; I read it as an implicit promise to fix the things he screwed up.

          2. No, this is the part of the story where things appear to be looking up for him. A slight difference. Wildbow will find something suitably horrible to do to him soon enough.

          3. He’s trapped in a ruined factory with a reality-eating demon, armed with nothing but a broken sword. Yeah, things are really looking up for Blake.

  3. Well, that was metal. The man made of branches, the thing of birds and deep tenacity, leaping, grasping, by the light of a lost god he wards the shadow of the shadow itself. From the lost place he comes, lost and wielding lost things, he breaks from the one who takes, trailing that ur-shadow, split between light and dark, split between the Fool and the High Priestess.
    Blake is back, motherfuckers.

            1. Pleaaaase, be the first one to make a fan art that is NOT a joke/parody/humor.
              Pact is too dark and gritty for there to be no creepy cool metal images

  4. Blake’s stay in the Land of the Lost lasted for the perfect amount of time. Not so short that it seems like he got off easily, but not too long that it dragged on.

    I was oddly happy to see the God of Light down in The Drains, fighting the good fight. Like Faysal Anwar, it was a nice reminder that for every Ur (okay, for every 2 or 3 Urs) there’s a good Other there and that the Pactverse isn’t completely devoid of hope.

    1. I got the feeling that the god of light was no more moral than a lightbulb, burning things that feared the light. Maybe that’s just me.

      1. I have no proof, but I’d like to believe that the god of light tried to battle Ur aeons ago, but ultimately failed and was cast into The Drain. The idea of someone else in this accursed universe besides Blake taking proactive steps against demons soothes me.

        1. i don’t think the factory has been there that long, unless the drains considers Ur its own place and send everything to the same area in the drains regardless of Ur’s location in the overworld (it would make sense if things are organized conceptually instead of geographically, but i get the feeling that these are the sewers of Toronto).
          also, that God seems like more than a match for Ur, its keeping it at bay just by a mostly passive action, pure divine light its super effective against it.

          1. Maybe the light god is the reason Ur is sealed. Though Ur managed to eat the connections of all the worshipers and fell though the cracks. Then Ur has been slowly eating it for who knows how long.

        2. Problem with this is that it is very unlikely. Most gods that end in the drains end there because they are forgotten. We have no reason to believe gods would go fight things like Erasurr and it seems unlikely that this god, out of every other, decided to fight Erasurr.

          More likely, the reason we are seeing it is because it is the only thing keeping Erasurr away.

            1. oh! like life of pi, then yes, the god heroically died fighting Ur as a last act of good when his last follower was dying, and managed to drag Ur down with him do the drains when it ate the connections to its follower (leaving a note explaining that the building area had to be sealed, and marked with repelling runes), it now spends eternity preventing it from eating its way to the heart of the drains while keeping it anchored to the factory, sparing humanity from the roaming horror that Ur used to be.

          1. Actually I think your comment undermines your point rather than supporting it: It seems unlikely that out of so many gods there wouldn’t be one opposed to Urr. This doesn’t automatically mean it’s good, mind you. But mythology is just full of infighting between gods and monsters so I don’t think it’s as unlikely as you suggest that this god is Urr’s ancient nemesis.

  5. Uhhhh. Evan died? What’s with the last vision of Blake’s friends showing them in dire circumstances.

    Can’t wait till shit hits the fan with the Thorburn shadows reconciling their differences on the material plane.

    1. Evan is dying, not dead. That was my read. I think he’s sick because he’s lost Blake as his anchor to mortality…

      1. Pretty sure it was Evan dying in the video game, context wise it seems to be referring to that. However it could be also subtly referring to the fact that he is indeed slowly wasting away and dying without Blake.

  6. 1.) Why is Tiffany hurt?
    2.) If he clears out Ur, he’s just gotten himself a gateway to the Drains for all those poor souls to escape, right?
    3.) We’re going to see more of this forgotten god, right? Seems like a waste otherwise. Wait, is it the foundation of the Drains and the one showing him the visions?
    4.) Diana’s made me sad with just a few lines of text…

    1. Yeah, I genuinely liked Diana in her scene way back when. She seemed like the first practitioner that was doing what she was doing for a, well, not unselfish reason, but just an academic reason, and as a way of paying back her mentor. Apart from the Slippery One, anyway.

      Well, she’s screwed now, anyway, unless Blake goes out and starts gathering the pieces.

      1. She didn’t try to screw Blake over. The number of practicioners that can say that in the story is very small. The only really bad things she ever did she did because Conquest coerced her. And she showed more remorse than a lot of them would have. She and her teacher just had the bad luck of setting up in Toronto.

    2. 2) Maybe. Maybe not. Blake crawling through those cracks to fight Ur is related to his “redemption/resurrection” – it is part of him facing his present. Even if Ur is not there, there is no guarantee that the cracks will be there for others. This, presumably, is the way out that the Drains are offering him.

        1. It is possible, since he named Green Eyes, that he could later summon her up from the Drains after he escapes. Hope is not lost for Blake/Green Eyes OTP.

            1. However, he DOES know her name, and it would be really useful for him to have a knowledge-base to call upon that he can actually trust — now that Rose has proven herself to be questionable.

            2. True….

              But who’s he going to learn the summoning ritual from? Rose is the only one who knows how to do it and Blake never saw her do it. None of the other practitioners we’ve seen have summoned anything outside of spirits.

      1. ah but is this real? or is this just a shadow the drains are ceating, just like blake reviving his past with carl. he still has to face his future

    3. 1) Rose had one of her demons pimp-slap Tiffany for not immediately obey her commands, obviously.

      2) I say if he clears out Ur, he should have himself a demesne. Who’s going to challenge him, Lord of Toronto? (If I’m being serious here, though, Blake needs to get out of dodge)

      3) I don’t think the forgotten god is the god of The Drains. I’m not even sure we’ll see it again, though I am kind of fond of it.

    4. 1) She isn’t.
      2) No, it seemed awfully personalized for anyone to get out.
      3) Not unless he can figure out what the forgotten God is and there is a purpose behind it. I’d imagine it might be the mechanism of the world, Ur screwing with him, or his own insanity kicking in as he comes to some realizations.
      4) =(

    5. I think this is just a god. We were told before that some forgotten gods ended in the drains. This is a very basic, primeval god. Something more basic than the gods of fire and sun. He ended in the drains because he isn’t worshiped anymore.

      1. Which could obviously change, although from what we’ve seen of Blake I think it’s unlikely. I think wildbow’s following a varient of God Needs Prayer Badly trope in this one. It fits well with the rest of the setting.

        1. If that’s true, then Blake could have a lucrative career in theurgy. He seems to have a bunch of spirits/Others riding along inside of his cracked vessel; inviting the forgotten god of light to fill him instead would seem a good deal, not least as it seems actually able to fight off Ur, even powerless and with no worshipers

  7. so, climbing out of limbo into reality, escorted by the lights of a forgotten god.

    that is way cool

    what the f is that line about evan diying?

    1. Since Evan lost his familiar connection to Blake he is dying. It seems that it is not possible to form a familiar connection with another practitioner after he has already been a familiar. He is being sustained by some ritual (the “transfusion”).

  8. Blake is the living avatar of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. Broken, flaming, demon-infested bootstraps. Fate has a particular hatred of him, Murphy’s law took a personal interest, and the phrase “things fall apart” seems to be the defining essence of his reality.

    And he still gets back up.

    Fucking hells the man does not know the meaning of surrender.

      1. This is too true. That’s exactly what Blake’s doing. Oh gods I’m laughing so hard I’m having trouble typing this.

  9. This chapter has left me grinning like a mad fool. That was pure awsomeness. Its difficult to say what Blake is now. He seems to be a physical personification of pure willpower at this point. What I am sure of, is that you can’t and never could cast him as a simple vestige. Granny Rose and the Lawyers are monsters to be sure, but you must admit that their works are robust.

    1. I’m not buying that he’s just a “vestige”, I’m thinking we’re going to find he’s more then that. Granny used “the barber” to cut something out of someone and she did something with it, or to more then 1. It was mentioned the vestiges were minor things, other practitioners didn’t have the likes of “the barber” to make vestiges with, Blake is something more then a simple vestige I have no doubt. Granny made something more substantial.

        1. I have no doubt we’re going to get more flash-backs of her life and learn more about all this. She had a big plan for all of this and how she wanted it to play out, we’ll see.

      1. I agree that Blake is more then a Vestige. The more I think about it I think that Blake use to be a human the Granny howled out to make the Blake we know.

        Also random thought. Could Blake be made for Molly and that is why Granny set Molly up as a sacrificial pawn. Maybe.

    2. Yeah. Granny Rose wanted a tough guy who would survive as long as possible, and what she created worked even better than I think she would have expected. Possibly too well, since I’m sure no-one expects him to come back and he is gonna upset all sorts of things by his continued existence. Poor Sphinx wont be happy again.

      Although once he gets Evan back, he is gonna be pretty bad-ass with a very strong bird theme that I really like.
      Its almost a thing, first bugs, then birds, next Cats? My theory is the next book Wildbow makes will have a strong Cats or Snakes theme, or some other natural predator of birds. 😛

    1. Well darn, and here I had though it was him dying in the video game as a metaphor for his slowly dying in life. 😛

  10. i guess the final question is would blake have to build his conections with everyone from zero? or now that he back they will remember him?

    also i propose this as the theme for this chapter

      1. If he even tries to recreate them at all. He will /never/ regain the same bond he had with them. Alexis will never once again be the person who helped him sort his life out, and whatever new connection he may potentially forge with her wouldn’t necessarily be any stronger than a connection he could forge with some random stranger. At least, not from her perspective. To him, I’m sure whatever connection he can forge would mean a lot, but having that be asymmetric would hurt a lot.

  11. Came in 12:05, worried the chapter had been eaten. Now it seems the vestige of Blake is breaking vestige rules. going full badass and messing with the existence of void.

    You know, wouldn’t more demons have a link to the void as Ur did? If the god of the pit is an entity trying to turn the metaphorical black hole into a white hole and creatures do sometimes get out of the void, a good and experienced diabolist should probably be able to mess with the path to the void with other demons too.

  12. When you said Blake ran, I first assumed he was running away. Not towards the exit. Thought it was awfully uncharacteristic, even with everything that was going on.

      1. Good thought, at least it makes more sense for him to leap toward the light than the impending darkness he’s been treating delicately the whole arc.

        On the other hand, it’s weird how Blake is blinded after turning the corner, but you only describe the sources of the light in the 6th and 8th paragraphs? It’s a cool scene once you get through it, but you treat the light like it’s secondary to the vastness of the cavern, and then you’re vague on the distances involve yet Blake has crystal-sharp vision of Ur moving across the chasm and is able to leap across it instantly.

        1. I think that part meant that he stopped seeing his surroundings as a cascade of present-visions interrupted him.

  13. i wonder if it was pure luck that put the god in the place Ur was trying to break into, a God of light to fight a demon of darkness seems awfully convenient, so, are all gods able to manifest their power in however form they see fit or the drains sensed the invasion and put it there (or changed the place Ur was breaking through) as a self defense mechanism?
    it was mentioned that many gods sleep between the walls of the drains, but this seems to efficient to be a coincidence.

    1. It really isn’t good luck. That it seems like good luck, would be a kind of bias in my opinion but I can’t recall the proper name. As you mention, there are multiple gods in the drains, the one that would be effective against a demon of darkness is the god of light. If this were a demon of foul smells, we would probably find the god of air fresheners fighting it.

      I wonder if the god is actively fighting Erasurr, or if it is dormant and the light that radiates from it is just the way it affects its surroundings. I don’t think that the Drains decided to put the god there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Drains reacted to the darkness and reacted (not acted) in a way to defend itself.

      1. my point is that the god doesn’t seem mobile, and Blake seems to believe that Ur just happened to stumble into it while eating the place away (ironically, the darkness dug too deep and awoke the old god of light), so the drains would have to actively move it. although its possible that gods that cooperate with the drain become sort of antibodies an react to any threat in the most efficient way, i was under the impression that they were just part of the scenery, like supporting pillars lending their power and capabilities to the drain as a whole. maybe its both.

        1. also, it doesn’t seem to be actively fighting Ur, if anything is just containing it, maybe dead gods aren’t aware and its just lying there projecting light because that’s its nature, if it was fighting, it should probably move its light around a bit, the plants growing there imply its static.
          well, maybe its aware and fighting Ur and just can’t move, in which case it most be pissed.
          if it is just being used as a defense mechanism by the drains, Ur probably stopped actively eating its way to the hearth and the drains is content with having it contained.

          1. I think that “dead gods”, aka gods without worshippers, lose most of their power. When Blake “worshipped” the dead god it gave him (the god) a boost of power. Presumably with more worshippers its power would increase until it was mobile and whatnot.

        2. This is my interpretation, of course.

          The thing about The Drains is that it isn’t. It isn’t fixed in place, it isn’t bound to the rules of the real world. So while this god might be immovable… it didn’t have to move. It was just there, in the right place, because it could be. Or maybe, when the drains noticed Erasurr, it slowly made the place where the god was the place that Urr attacked. So yeah, maybe the gods act like antibodies. Or at least this one does. It doesn’t even have to cooperate, it just has to be itself (a light bulb).

          There might be other explanations, of course.

          1. Ur is in the Drains. Ur spreads as long as it remains unopposed. If Ur spreads forever, there are no more Drains. Thus, under these three assumptions, the only world in which we can observe the Drains is one where Ur is being held off. Proof by the anthropic principle.

            The fact that Blake is in the Drains means the fact that a god of light has been uncovered next to Ur is not unlikely, but is in fact guaranteed.

            1. Unless you put in some kind of explicit multiverse, that doesn’t actually help with suspension of disbelief. I don’t think that would be a good idea for this setting.

            2. Perhaps, but I could’ve sworn I remembered something about Pact and Worm taking place in different worlds of the same multiverse…was that real, or is my mind playing tricks on me?

            3. I figure the god didn’t have to be there; for all we know, ErasUr ate half the Drains until it uncovered the forgotten god and was stopped in its tracks.

              @Leveret: Wildbow’s multiverse line was a throwaway comment on some Worm chapter; I don’t think there’s any point in reading much into it.

            4. @mondsemel that’s actually quite likely, chances are this isn’t the first time a demon attacks the drains, and there most be several layers of protection, with dozens of gods around the heart, of course Ur would keep eating until it found something that could stop it, this may not even be the first god it found.
              by now, there so many ways this could work i don’t think luck had anything to do with it (actually i never did, but wanted to explore every option)

              a)all gods (or a large enough portion of them) can use light as a weapon (creation), and there are many around the heart
              b)the drains sensed the invasion and placed the specific god/Ur’s entry point there
              c)the god is still aware and reacted to the invasion sensing a demon of darkness, moving on its own will to intercept it.
              d)Ur ate its way until it found something that could stop it, this may not even be the first god it finds.
              e)the god is a conduit for the drains, defending itself however it sees fit
              f)the god has something to do with Ur being there and/or being contained in the surface
              g)something else someone mentioned and i forgot and any combinations of the above.

            5. @mondsemmel: Alright, but even if we ditch the multiverse concept, my argument is fundamentally equivalent to your own and to Deadwalker’s (d): the god is there, stopping Ur, because if it weren’t, there would be no Drains in this story.

            6. @Leveret thats the meta explanation sure, but as far as i know everything Wildbow writes makes sense in the story too, the god is there because the way the universe works demands is there.

            7. I might not matter what kind of god Ur discovered. We aren’t told exactly what “god” means in Pactverse, but usually one defining characteristic of gods (in antithesis to things like arch-devils and demons) is that they are able to create.

              So it’s likely no matter what god Ur had encountered, as long as the god still had some intrinsic power, they’d be able to hold him off simply because creation is opposed to Ur’s nature.

              The fact that we’re seeing light here is probably just a manifestation of this particular god’s nature (maybe simplicity or something); it’s the creation element that fights Ur. For all we know, the droning sound itself might have the same or a bigger effect.

    1. Its the third time against Ur, with a track of [ Ur 2 : 0 Blake ], and as mentioned earlier in the comments: the third time’s the charm.
      And my inner voices want to scream “Call her out on her Name!” Bind her into the hyena? Bind her to the light of the morning star!

      Also, called that Blake would find and wield the hyena.

      1. Been thinking on this. There really wasn’t a clear winner and loser in Blake’s precious bouts with Ur. Sure from Blakes point of view he was unsuccessful in destroying Ur, but from Ur’s point of view it was equally unsuccessful in destroying Blake.
        If Blake escapes again and the Rule of Three takes hold, what will we have? Blake will reinforce that he cannot defeat Ur head on, but Ur will reinforce that -the primal force of destruction incarnate has encountered somethig it cannot destroy-. Even if its not Blake landing the killing stroke, that has to be an incredible hit to its power.

        1. I think the rule of three won’t let Blake escape this time. Ur won the first two rounds in the grand scheme of things – the first time Blake was weakened by the ordeal and failed his tasks for Conquest and the second time he had all his connections cut and got sent to the Drains. Ur just lost a few limbs, and given Ur’s nature that’s not a big loss. And really, the Pact universe seems to abhor an inconclusive result on the third round. Third rounds are about big wins and big losses, not the in between.

          The universe will have its grand show, its entertainment. Either Blake’s story ends here in sorrowful tragedy or continues in a moment of glorious, uplifting victory. Of course, there’s a big difference in this round that wasn’t there in the previous ones. In this round Blake doesn’t have seven lifetimes of bad karma. In this round the universe isn’t trying to kill Blake. I think Ur isn’t going to find this round so easy.

          1. Actually, I think it’s 1:1 to the both/. Blake managed to drive it out of his eye and grabbed a piece of its arm, a symbol of it’s power even if not a big piece, the first time. The second time, Ur cut his connections and he fell through the cracks. While Blake did less damage, Ur didn’t finish the diaboloist off. So we say they’re even.

            This is the game-breaker.

        2. And an implied boost to Blake’s ability to weasel his way out from under certain doom. His familiar had that theme too, remember — he’s not so much a “I take things head-on and kill them” and more of an “I am fighting the good fight, and nobody can keep me from it” sort of hero.

          I like both of these things.

  14. So Ur continues to be a problem. Rose is getting ready for her Barber drop. Or possibly making it her familiar. The war has begun. Mags is acting Ambassador. The Astrologer lost her home. Carl is actually time traveling Blake.

    Worst thing: Ur is attacking the drains. Sure Blake cut it off here, but how many other people has she sent down through the cracks?

      1. Ur as a familiar might be even scarier. Somewhat inconvenient due to its vulnerabilities to light and such, but hey, vampires can deal with it and still be bad-ass.

      1. I doubt they mean it literally? Or if they do, well, I don’t agree. I think it’s more like “Blake finds that he’s scarily similar to his abuser” (kind of like another web serial out there……….)

  15. Since Blake had three anchors in the Drains, I have to predict that he will return there two more times.

    His status when he does so will be important variables. He will probably be dragged back there once more and go of his own volition on the third attempt.

    Also, it wasn’t the Beihams exclusively doing his Tarot reading, Sandra Duchamp was there as well. And she was the primary practitioner. She may have interest in Blake’s fingers. Though her most obvious children are far too young for Blake.

    I hope that the first response to Blake’s return to the Thorburn estate is, “Jesus fucking christ” again. The parallels are too perfect, it will have to be done by Mags though.

    1. I would say he will probably return there only once. He is going to deal with the present now, in the real world. But he will probably have to return to the drains to deal with his future.

      1. He already dealt with his present. The thing in the darkness, the slimy, cold thingy which made hm afraid and mde him run before (in an earlier chapter), he confronted it and told it he was not afraid anymore. Also, the drains kept hitting him with visions of his friends in their current state of being not-so-well.

        Fighting Ur is fighting the future. Or the Not-having-a-future. Because by confronting his 3 Chores/Anchors/Burdens he gets to leave the Drains. He is not completly out, snce Ur reaches down to the Drains and he must best the monster to be completly free.
        This isn’t a case where “running like hell” is an option, since it is the third time fighting Ur.

        1. No, the future I think was the Goblin Dragon, it taunted him with visions of what he could and couldn’t have. Rather accept it completely and get some goblin steaks, he moved away from it and decided to keep his humanity while accepting that the future he wants may not be what he gets.

          The present is what he’s after now, the visions of how he left the world off worse than it was and all the people are suffering: Fell’s Dead, Diana’s Losing Her Buildings, Rose Put His Friends On the Chopping Block. Making amends means he needed to get out, rather than running from that like Zoey did, he charged and managed to drive Ur out of the Drains with the lost god’s helping (if that light was that bright it burned every trace of Ur that slipped beneath the crack), allowing him to leave and deal with it.

          He accepted his past, he compromised on his future, and he’s defying the present circumstances and aiming to correct it. If he snuffs it this time, the cracks won’t open again, he gets eaten completely.

  16. Hmm, will Blake set his arm-branches on fire to repel Urr ? The blazing wreath worked for long enough during round 1…

    1. Where’s he going to get the fire for that? Unless that little ghost that was in the thing the Shepard gave him slipped inside of him before he fell through the cracks, he’s kind of screwed.

      1. He got the Hyena back. Maybe he’ll find the lighter he lost during round 1 lying around… nah. Oh well, had to try.

        1. The same Hyena who is currently in a metal rod? Just scratch that against the floor fast enough to make sparks.

        2. The Hyena’s shtick was taking bites of others, and keeping those parts in it’s stomach to bind them. Forget the fire, stab Urr, drag it into the sunlight, and walk away with a badass power-drinking void blade.

            1. I love this reference 😀 Blake is far too intelligent to use Oblivious to its full power though.

  17. Great chapter!

    Comments:
    1. When the witch said “If everyone felt the same way, the world would be a fairer place”, I thought, but that’s kind of how karma already works; and is anybody happy about that?
    2. “Despite the implications of the name, the man is often depicted hanging from his ankle, not his throat.” – Mind blown.
    3. My favorite line: “While my _future
    was waiting, probably with its hand behind its back, hiding a weapon it was preparing to blindside me with.”
    4. Given that Rose gets visited by relatives, either the Behaim magic doesn’t work on muggles, or it’s been successfully dispelled for good.
    5. I didn’t expect Blake to escape from the Drains so quickly, nor that he’d have to do it like that. Though in retrospect, it makes sense – the reason everyone gets an individualised exit is because they are returned to where they entered.
    6. Ur…gh. This is Blake’s third encounter with Ur; he’s suicidally running into disaster for a third time; and while he only wants to escape this time, he’s even less well prepared than before, when he at least had Evan and sources of light and fire. Blake, didn’t you learn anything from your two very nearly fatal ends? I mean, maybe Blake’s Other powers can help, but it’s not like he’s experimented with those.

    1. 1) It’s different to willingly want to be fair and follow the spirit of fairness than to be forced to be fair according to a somewhat complex system and try to take advantage of the system for one’s benefit.

      4) We know that the Behaim magic does work on muggles. I remember Blake explained that the people at the coffee shop were affected by the magic in the same way Blake was (otherwise they would have kicked him out) and Isadora was angry that so many things had been messed up at the police station. So the spell is probably gone, or it only works if you are aware of it (since the way to be free of the spell is by not being aware of it).

      6) Blake has the power of badassery by his side now! Which he didn’t have in the second encounter and only had a little of in the first.

    2. He also has the Hyena, maybe it can chew up Ur real good or something. Or eat Ur’s babies.

      Frighteningly overpowered bite weapon throwdown?

      1. Slide the broken blade against something to create a spark that catches him on fire….

        Think about, all the references to Evan wanting to be a fire sparrow, phoenixes, the talk about how they called it riding when fake!Maggie mentioned it….

        Rebirth through cleansing fire and purge the darkness.

  18. More comments:

    1. Blake is now an Other. He can lie according to Ms. Lewis. So right now, he’s presumably neither awakened nor bound by the seal of Solomon. He urgently needs to find out what this implies; remember, the seal also protects Others from practitioners in some ways.

    2. At this point, I’ll reiterate my guess that maybe the hugest crime committed by the Thorburn diabolists was giving Ur a foothold in the world.

    3. By accepting the present – the fact that he’d harmed innocents by inviting them into his cabal -, Blake presumably takes it upon himself to fix this. (And either Blake or Rose will have gotten bad karma from inviting them and then letting them come to harm.)

    4. This presumably also means that, whether Blake wants to or not, to help his cabal he’ll have to fight at Rose’s side.
      Though people have declared war on Rose, and nobody knows Blake; so it won’t be trivial for him to enter the conflict. And how is he supposed to introduced himself, anyway?

    5. The factory is close to Toronto. So will Blake first try to resolve some conflicts in Toronto, or directly go back to Jacob’s Bell?

      1. Concerning 2): Sorry, I should have clarified the word “guess” as “pure speculation”. The (flimsy) logic would be as follows:

        • We know the Thorburn family accumulated huge amounts of karmic debt via diabolism, i.e. via summoning entities like Ur.
        • The Thorburn family has existed for something like 200 years or so; the factory is younger and located relatively close to Jacob’s Bell and the Thorburn house.

        • As far as we know, only diabolists can summon and bind demons, and diabolists are very rare, so the most likely candidates to have summoned and bound Ur in place would be the Thorburns.

        • The whole setup of the story Pact is Rose Sr.’s overarching goal of clearing the karmic debt of the Thorburns.

        • Ur is the most prominently featured demon in the story, and by this point could be considered Blake’s fated enemy.

        Blake’s almost-erasure (when he still suffered from bad karma) screwed many things up; it would be karmically convenient if there were a deeper connection between the karmic consequences of Blake’s screwup and Ur.

        Ergo, as a matter of flimsy “logic”, Ur is the sin of the Thorburns, and the main reason for their bad karma.

        1. Tbh Blake will probably eventually end up on Roses side. Not because he likes her, not even because he wants to help his friends but because she’s a diabolist.

          The best way to not make a diabolist summon their demons and fuck everyone over? Give them tools for situations so they can be handled WITHOUT THE DEMONS. Do NOT oppose them directly.

          1. Technically speaking, he doesn’t need to fight for Rose at all. He just needs to get his friends away from her. Whether that’s by taking them and running, sabotaging his enemies, or taking Rose out as a trade-off if she’s going too far.

    1. I think Blake will talk to Isadora and Diana in Toronto, since both of them were his somewhat allies in the past. Diana considered Blake to be important, and let’s face it, he is still Blake, so introducing himself again would make the same impression. Isadora seemed fond of him, enough to keep some of his connection, so it should be easy to connect with her again.

      I really wish Blake goes full theatrical. “Rose Thorburn, I am you vestige, I was your protector, and I demand your attention. I am Blake Thornburn, the second heir of the Thorburn family, do not deny my existence and I shall offer to help you. I’ll offer my protection once again for an alliance and for the good of my dearest ones.” all while standing right outside the house, with the hyena in one hand and Urr bound in an object in the other, with Isadora to his right and Diana to his left. Ok I may have gone a bit overboard, but Blake still needs his first crowning moment of awesome, and that would be perfect to claim his connections back to Rose, and add some of the hyena to make Evan come back to him.

    2. I suspect Rose has had enough foresight to keep notes about Blake. Of course it’s anyone’s guess whether those notes are now stuck in a mirror universe she can’t access…

  19. This was fantastic! The Drains are an athanor and Blake’s gone through two stages of alchemical transformation so far; the nigrido, breaking down into the base elements and now the albedo, the purification and vindication of those elements. Escape from Ur and reconnection with the world – and especially Rose – will fulfill the citrinitas stage. That leaves only rubedo, the transformation into a wholly new being when he reconciles the human and Other natures.

  20. That was so cool Wildbow! 😮
    And Michael, thank you for the bad-ass ending synopsis.

    I agree about the timing, really nice. I expected a long, drawn-out affair of the three trials, but once again, I’m really happy with how it turned out. I do hope that there is more drains-related story in the future, too many interesting things down there!

    Blake has arrived back during the daytime hours. That’s a good thing when considering it’s now Blake vs Ur. What has Blake got to fight Ur with now?

    Blake has one eye. One good hand, the other bound up with the Hyena. What else ._O ? I don’t think Blake has enough light to destroy Ur, so a binding must be in order. That or plain escape again. Third time is a charm though, so if Blake ‘loses’ to Ur this time, you’d think he wouldn’t be able to face Ur again – it would seem Ur has to be reckoned with.

    1. What else does he have? He can finally see himself in the mirror! Clearly, this newly found superpower will help him overpower Ur.

      1. More seriously, he has a new identity as an Other – he’s no longer Blake Thorburn; he’s just Blake. It could even be argued (to the spirits-as-jury) that Blake Thorburn has already died last time, and that this is the first encounter between the Other Blake and Ur. ’cause otherwise the Rule of Three could really screw him over.

  21. Anyone else getting some serious Weld vibes coming off of Blake here? From Worm? The salute, the borderline monstrosity, and the unyielding commitment to the Superman credo? The guy’s got shiny idealism all over him; he reflects light better a man made out of metal!

    I think the word Blake was looking for is “stark” to describe the dead god.

  22. Blake’s new catchphrase: “I am Groot”. Yes, yes. I’ve still to watch that film.

    If The Drains is a bastardized version of a fundamental cog in reality, and Urr plans to eat it… That would be Bad. Very Bad.

    I wonder if there is a spatial relationship between The Drains and the world. My guess is that there isn’t, but I wanted to throw the idea around.

    I am sad Blake didn’t even try to call Green Eyes, give her a good bye peck.

    Mmm… While it might not be the intention, the line “the abused becomes the abuser” seems too broad. While I have nothing to back this up, I would guess that it is rather uncommon for the abused to become the abuser.

    I wonder if gods have different fasçades and even different personalities. There have been multiple gods of sun, destruction and such throughout history. Were these gods different or the same god acting different for each culture?

    I LOVE the idea of worshipping the good in order to make his light brighter. Genius.

    If one had to classify this god in one word, what if it isn’t a god of light but a god of… energy, maybe? Something basic as such. This god doesn’t just shine, it produces a hum. A hum being made of pressure waves, a transfer of kinetic energy. Light also carries energy. God of motion? God of change? Maybe, just maybe, it is what allows there to be life in this place.

    1. Prediction: Blake worships that Old God again, calls on the light, drives ErasUr back. That God gets installed as the new God (not Lord) of Toronto, ushering in a new age for Toronto, the City of Light! City of Magic! Wait, wrong story, just City of Light! Later, Blake uses his powers of light to burn Evan down and raise him again as a Phoenix of Light — even better than being a fiery blood sparrow.

        1. I cast Protection from Evil. Continual Flame says “one object touched”. This factory is an object. Annihilation demon defeated with a level 1 and a level 2.

          1. Not so much. Unless Continual Flame is smokeless, Ur’s got a refuge it can hang in until nightfall, At which point it escapes. It’s a pretty good plan, though.

      1. Yeah, she is ugly. But she was nice and helpful to Blake. Friendly, even. Blake might not get another opportunity to see her again. Maybe he won’t come back, maybe this place will be consumed by Erasurr, maybe she will just die.

        1. Yes, true. Such are few and far between in Pact, aren’t they. Now that Blake knows this place exists though, I suspect he will have more windows of opportunity to visit it again, or at least learn more and use it somehow.

          What’s the most encouraging thing about Blake vs Ur now, is that things can’t get worse. Not really. I mean, Blake could lose a limb, or two, but he’s Other now. Stuff like that is almost trivial, because he can always grow in a huge number of ways.

          It will also be very interesting to see if Blake can become a practitioner again or not, now. Can Others bind things? Do Others have the sight?

        2. Since when does he give a damn about appearances?

          Alexis wasn’t much of a looker either, he’d still have tapped that if he hadn’t had as many issues as he did. What he looks for is character, and Green Eyes and the other misfortunes who fell into the cogs and struggled to maintain as much of their humanity as they could need someone to aspire to, willing to crawl out of the Drains and back to reality no matter how painful it is.

            1. It would seem that he is; nearly every female in the same age category as him has either propositioned him or seriously thought about it.

        3. I don’t think she’s actually ugly in the sense the angler fish is, more like disturbing. I suspect she’s cute if you like skinny girls and don’t mind seeing bones and teeth through her skin. (The tail would probably be a turn-on for a surprising number of people.)

      1. Yeah! But, I wonder now. Blake conjectured this would be a minor god… So this god must not have been in charge of something huge like creation. Or maybe there are many gods of creation?

        1. I don’t think it’s been explicitly stated how gods work, but they seem to be similar to incarnations; I don’t think they’re in charge of anything, rather they seem to be born from concentrated belief, and have powers and personalities according to that belief (which would explain why we haven’t seen much of gods yet; If they are belief powered that effectively means the larger gods must be nearly impotent, because few things they can do wouldn’t conflict with some idea about how they should act). Also, since it seems like their powers are (mostly) lost if there is no belief and/or worship, it’d be fair to say that they can’t have had any power prior to first being worshipped either.

          1. Most of what we know about gods comes from observations of Jeremy and his worship of Dyonisius. That said there was a mention of them and incarnations in Black Lambs blood.

        2. There probably are, but not so much in charge of creation, more of a representation of creation (or part of it). Like Cubic says.

          Belief in certain others give them power, as with some scary Others of myths, and Conquest’s wiz of oz rutine. So people used to believe in this god (whether or not that belief is what created him, or banded spirits together into him, or if he already existed as a being of light and creation and the mass worship gave him power to reach the level of a gos, is totally unknown. We don’t know how that works in pactverse and I’d say most practitioners don’t either). and when they stopped for whatever reason, humanity forgot about him and forgot he existed. With no ties holding him up- he fell like Blake did.
          I agree that he wasn’t in charge of anything any more than Conquest was in charge of conquest and war.

      2. Maybe Blake should become an angelicist … summoner & binder of angels. Then his mere presence would be an opposite to any demon he faces

    2. Actually, studies show that there is a very high risk of turning to committing abuse when you have had abuse committed upon you earlier in life. It’s a very sad observation about a vicious cycle.

    3. I would guess that it is rather uncommon for the abused to become the abuser.
      Sadly, happens more often than you think. Check out ‘identification’ as a defence mechanism.

      1. It isn’t just light that Urr is vulnerable to. It’s creation. Light is just something that is very associated with creation. If that hum is also some form of creation, then yeah, it would be Urr kryptonite.

        1. Blake called it “the heart of something from which more complicated things could emerge.”

          …So, basically the Big Bang. The original creation.

  23. Wow! Great chapter! Thank for the thursday chapter Wildbow!

    I’m surprised no one is talking about Roses Chariot tarot card.

    I mean. Left hand: evil / alternative hand. In combination with Conquest. Yikes!!

    I wonder how deep Conquest got his claws into Rose….

    I would really really really hate and love Wildbow if he would have Ur finish off Blake now. Just absolutely crush anyone still rooting for Blake. Frankly, I’m counting on it.

    1. I too noticed that. And the fact that when he heard that it lit a fire under Blake’s ass. Simply put, I think we need to be really worried about a Conquest tainted Rose making an appointment with the Barber. Blake got a reverse version of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Instead of being shown how the world would be poorer if he never existed, he’s shown how the world is made poorer by his existing.

    2. The witch made her last cryptic comment about both Blake and Rose being righthanded despite one supposedly being a mirror image or reflection of the other; I didn’t really get what it’s supposed to mean, but at least consider that for Rose’s reading, right and left hand may have been reversed.

      1. I observe it to mean that they’re not as much reflections of each other as would be apparent — perhaps even that Rose isn’t who we think she is.

        1. More likely it’s Blake who (still) isn’t who we think he is. There’s speculation that he’s not a Vestige of Rose, but of someone else, perhaps a southpaw, perhaps someone who really did have the noted history with Carl, and Rose Sr. molded Blake Thorburn by using the Barber to kill someone, annihilating everything but the vestige that she shaped into him.

          1. Liard implied that Blake reminded him of his father, Aimon. Given the close relationship between him and Rose, he would be a likely choice.

      2. I’d be worried too if Rose’s normal behavior might be more Conquest oriented, or rushing recklessly. Especially since she happens to be right next to his friends.

        1. Exactly. Thinking back about the practitioner meeting about being Lord:The way she brazenly bulldozed through everything the rest of them tried to set up during that meeting? To me that doesn’t feel like the same Rose that was constantly urging caution to Blake at all.

          It’s good that you mention the “not reflecting properly” part. I forgot about that. It’s an interesting distinction allthough I have trouble interpreting it.

      1. It does look that way. But there might be some key differences, I think. The devil is in the details, as they say.

      1. It was chapter 6.9.

        Incidentally, here’s how you can find such things on your own within a minute: In Google, use the search terms (without quotation marks): “site:pactwebserial.wordpress.com dream”, or whatever else you are looking for.

  24. “Why? It was simple.

    Motorcycles rocked.

    Humanity? It varied.”

    Oh come on, even you can’t be that cruel Wildbow! We need Blake on a motorycycle. Bonus points if it flies.

  25. Of course. Leave it to Blake to discover he’s a supernatural being after getting disconnected from reality and falling into a primeval system of decomposition for the universe, and getting out of there by killing parts of a creature of darkness and destruction (the same one that put him there) with the help OF A FRIGGIN GOD that Urr accidentally uncovered.

    Huh. So he DID have the hyena with him when he was fighting Ur in round two. Did not know that. My bad to whoever I was arguing with that about.

    So. Things that Ur eats enough of goes through the cracks and into te Drains. Now, Ur wants to EAT the drains? That cannot possibly end well. It’s a fundamental part of the universe, in a way, isn’t it? What happens if it stops existing? Things that lose their way end up where? Instantly in Ur’s grasp?

    Question time!

    Why can’t Blake ride his Bike anymore? I don’t see why he can’t be an Other riding a bike. Evan did it- kinda.
    Plus, it healed him on a level, right?

    Soooo… the birds were spirits this whole time? Explains his energy crisis when they were dying. What does that say about the branches though?

    Diana’s place was in flames???? NOOOOO! Damn you Sisters!!! I liked her!
    Really wish the deal to hold off on attacking her was still in place =(
    Damnit rose- stop using JP if he brings nice girls like Diana to tears.

    So, Carl was real, and so was Alexis, and they were the only two that were vivid in his memory-shadow-battle-thing. So the others were the ones that never existed right? If so… who the hell is carl anyways? Did he really have a cult but with different people?

    Can we get an explanation on Blake’s echo-memories?

    1. “Why can’t Blake ride his Bike anymore? I don’t see why he can’t be an Other riding a bike. Evan did it- kinda.
      Plus, it healed him on a level, right?”

      Honestly the thought of Blake never being able to ride his bike again probably upsets me more than anything else in this chapter. I mean I can’t understand why being an other means no motorcycle. Unless it’s the same logic as to why the Rabbit can’t have any Trix. You know, the universe is full of dicks. So, yeah, that’s probably it.

      1. I mean, I thought it was saying if he gave up his humanity and became a monster with wings, then I could see him not being able to ride a bike. But…I don’t get it.

        Although yeah, Trix are for kids and the universe is full of dicks. And Lairds.
        Whoops tautology!

      2. I think the bike should be his implement then. Fits with the whole Fool in the Right Hand motif — In many cases, a bike is the best thing you can have, in others it just gets in the way

      3. I don’t get it either, but somehow, it stood out for me, too. I had Arlo Guthrie’s “Motorcycle Song” stuck in my head while reading this chapter.

        1. Because he was never real. The motorcycle may never have really been his to begin with and now that reality is reasserting itself, he probably doesn’t have it anymore.

  26. Oh. My. God.
    Wildbow tbh you almost lost me during the Mags arc, as I simply missed Blake too much and I couldn’t really wait for him to return (though you did end up blowing my mind with the whole Maggie Holt becoming Maggs the Mediator thingie) And now you throw us through all these reveals and scary stuff in this Arc.
    God damn it Wildbow.
    It’s not fair that Blake keep getting trod on. I just want to see something work out for him. Maybe make him a Motorcycling Other-Practitioner wielding Shamanistic/Valkyric/Ghostie magics. That would be so cool.

    1. Hey, we all want Blake to have a happy ending, just because he’s had such horrible shit happen to him so far. You’ve heard of earning your happy ending? Blake damn well better, because by this point he deserves it.

      1. Yea of course he has to earn his happy ending.
        But damn, I would love to see him being able to throw around a little more omph than he has so far.
        You know so there’ll be more action scenes! (Because come on, we all know that Wildbow amongst many other things excels at writing Action scenes.)

      1. No, when he walked away from the goblin he gave up running away from his problems by becoming king of the Drains; it was on confronting his past, where he admitted to being a vestige, where he gave up having a motorcycle, because it’s likely that as a vestige, a person that doesn’t exist, that he doesn’t really own a motorcycle anymore.

  27. Awesome chapter. Can’t wait until Saturday to see Blake vs. Ur round three. Of course, Blake doesn’t have a lot in the way of weapons to fight the demon – just the broken Hyena sword. Still, it might be enough now that Blake isn’t burdened by karmic debt and the universe isn’t explicitly out to kill him. Still, might be worth a try to pray to that forgotten god. If Blake can escape the drains, then maybe he can drag a bit of divinity out with him. I could see Blake being equitable like that, agreeing to be a priest for it. It’s a light god that hurts Ur after all, and if he’s going to fight demons having some divine muscle might be helpful.

    You know, I’ve been reading too much Worm crossover fanfiction – I’m quite certain someone will write an Exalted crossover having the god be the Unconquered Sun, and Blake getting a Solar Exaltation and just punchsploding Ur with newfound Solar might.

    1. Solar exaltations can happen when you decide to fight something way out of your league to the death, right ? Been way too long…

  28. You know what, I think I know what Blake’s implement should be. An ice axe (I don’t know if it’s called that, I just looked it up on Wikipedia).

    He literally clawed his way out, this time! And has figuratively clawed his way back multiple times before.

    Think about it.

  29. Favorite chapter thus far, imagery of the god scene with the hyena against Ur? So great. One of the first moments as “action movie” as Worm

  30. The witch made a distinct point that both Blake and his reflection were right-handed. I believe some commenter suggested that Blake’s experiences were carved from Molly instead of Rose and Molly was first so she could die and provide the shadow/vestige. Do we know Molly’s handedness?

    1. That’s a really good point. Blake likes Molly, unlike Rose. Only Mags, who talks to Molly’s ghost, remembers Blake. Blake came into existence the moment Molly died. Molly did not have Blake’s drive, but she didn’t side with the devils either, just like Blake. Maybe grandma carved out Molly’s soul to make Blake? Interesting.

      1. The problem with that theory is that Rose Sr. was already dead for weeks by the time Molly died. So she didn’t do it personally, it would have been the lawyers acting for her. And I don’t think the lawyers have access to the Barber.

        1. A possible way:

          Rose senior has a good look at everyone and quickly comes to the conclusion that they would all be eliminated quickly. Due to the family’s internal strife, they wouldn’t accept outside help until it’s too late, either.

          She summons the lawyers and negotiates prices and guarantees. Either she has them relay orders to Barbie, or she goes in her attic herself (unlikely) to do so.
          The agreement is that she will sacrifice one of her heirs to power a spell that will protect another.
          Then she gathers the family again and declares her choice. Molly first, possibly because she held a correct amount of “power” for her sacrifice, but wouldn’t send demons everywhere when attacked. Rose second, because, with her trusted shield, she would be able to grow a better spine and survive.
          Then Aimon’s bonus time expires and she follows suit.

          Laird knows about the plan, so he has to avoid being questionned about it. He gets Maggie to kill Molly after giving not-really-lies as reasons, which grants Barbie the power it needs to carve out whoever was used as base for Blake. It then upholds his side of the contract and pulls the Kansas City Shuffle, 4 months after Rose senior’s death.

          QED.

        2. Remember what we’ve seen in Johanne’s demense. A person doesn’t have to die to have a vestige created of them. The vestige could have been created from Molly, or from Rose Senior, or from anyone else, long before Rose Senior kicked the bucket.

  31. Over the past few months, I’ve worked my way through all of worm and now caught up here.

    I’m sad.

    Because now I need to wait for the next chapter, instead of it just being there.

    and this is one of those chapters that I would immediately go to the next one…

      1. Dunno, that just seems dangerous. Also would require as much time to read the comments as it takes to read each chapter.

        Besides, everyone knows that Ur can’t kill blake now, since he has barely any connections to devour anymore. 😛

  32. Okay, so assuming this impending fight goes well, Blake is in Toronto and needs to:

    -Deal with Diana’s losing her prized buildings, possibly by freeing her Master’s Soul from Conquest’s Domain.
    -See about getting Fell’s Soul free if it hadn’t been released yet.
    -Deal with The Eye, which is still going on a rampage I’m sure.
    -Getting that Fire Elemental back to the Sisters (I blame Rose on this one too)

    Then get back to Jacob’s Bell. With his luck, he’ll probably need to deal with Conquest getting out of the mirror and the Queen’s Man suddenly appearing. And he’ll probably have to do it all in two days.

  33. I’m guessing that Ur gets put in Blake’s bad eye. Since she/it was there before and since Blake is not using it anyway… Then Blake with have an ErasUr eye which would be… potentially awesome.

    1. No, in this case it would be a bad thing. I don’t think having an oblivion demon living in your eye can be a good thing. Not to mention everyone else will now think he’s some insane demon using abomination.

  34. I have a sneaky feeling that Blake is a Maple Treant. He has a thing for birds, he stands tall, is tough as hell, and had shed his own blood, at the direction of others, for the nourishment of others.

    So, if Blake is a Maple Treant, and the god stopping Ur is a god of light, Blake might have been made very powerful, at least briefly, by exposure to the light of the god. If there was any consciousness left in that god, and it hates Ur as one might expect a god of light to hate a demon of darkness and oblivion, when the sees a mobile Other, a being of a type that might absorb his power, it might act. When Blake prayed to it, it might have answered with a vengeance. A vengeance it would like to see bestowed on Ur.

    If the drains are in any way able to preserve themselves, this entire meeting of the god of light and Blake might have been created specifically to end Ur’s threat to the drains. And Ur cannot run away if it’s daylight out, even if the factory wards are destroyed. The god of light is at the bottom of the hole, and the sun is above. If the god of light chooses to do it’s best interpretation of going Nova while Blake tears down any sources of shadow that Ur can hide in, Ur might be destroyed.

    At that point though, won’t Blake be caught within the factory? He’s other now. What holds Ur in will also hold him in, won’t it? I suspect Isadora will be waiting for him. She’s going to feel him returning into the world, I think. If a god of light, Blake, and Ur get into a fight, she’s certainly going to feel it. If Ur ceases to inhabit the factory, there’s no way possible she will miss it. She will probably come running, hoping that it’s not something worse come to take Ur’s place. At that point she finds Blake inside the factory wards, unable to get out after killing Ur.

    After that, there’s the matter of Conquest. It’s very likely that nobody but Blake remembers where he is and how he’s contained. Who will be the Lord of Toronto? I don’t think Isadora wants it, and I don’t think she’s willing to give it to anyone else we’ve seen so far. But she respected Blake, and he’s proving to be something very formidable. If he defeats Ur, I can’t imagine she would gainsay him if he claimed lordship.

    And then we’re back to Blake being a Maple Treant again 🙂

    1. The factory grafitti are probably Urr-specific enough not to work on Blake, even if he gets a bit possessed during the ordeal.

      Look at it that way: Rose escaped fine from the seal they used to bind Conquest, despite the (apparent) twist that he infected her with his nature.

      Another example is when Laird was not really prevented from leaving his circle, but Pauz couldn’t reach inside it.

  35. Wait. One of the Knights of the Basement mentioned that their girlfriend fell through the cracks because they lost too many connections. Did we see them in the Drains?

      1. The witch has a family that remembers her enough to put up a tombstone in Wisconsin with her name on it. Doesn’t fit.

        1. Good point, however I imagine that some practitioners intentionally weaken or even break ties to prevent non-practitioner family members from being targeted by enemies too easily. Faking one’s death might be a way to do this in a natural way.

    1. i was waiting for her the whole time, a think Green eyes wasn’t a practitioner and the witch seems like she has been there too long, so maybe she is dead or on her way to becoming an other, i guess most people don’t live much down there.

  36. I was about to hit the sack for some down time before work when I realized that we might have an example of what Blake was.

    Blake seems too powerful and too thoughtful to be a vestige. I suspect that what was needed to help cleanse the Thorburn karmic debt and protect Rose was more than that.

    I believe that Rose Senior, with a great deal of help from Demons, managed to capture and mold an incarnation. What type though?

    From what we saw Blake do, and what we saw him convince others to help him fight, I suspect Blake could easily be an incarnation of Defiance…

  37. Yeah, since last chapter I’ve been toying with the idea that Blake wasn’t a normal vestige. This chapter seems to lend some credence to the idea with Carl being real and also Blake not being left handed.

    My current theory is that Blake was actually a living person at some point, and vestige-Blake was created from what remained of real-Blake when he died. When did Blake die? Well, at the end of his flash-back Carl was supposed to be strangling him. Getting nearly strangled to death (In his memories at least) is what triggered Blake’s aversion to being touched as before that he clearly didn’t have problems with it considering how often he was getting laid. This would mean vestige-Blake would still have connections to Alexis and Carl and from the point where Alexis bashed Carl in the head vestige-Blake started having a life of memories that aren’t faked but shouldn’t have happened. Otherwise I don’t see how Blake could have made friends with Ty and Joel, etc and clearly did some things that actually affected the world.

    1. That could make sense. He remembers being catatonic for days after the Carl thing. Maybe that was his adjustment period.

  38. New theory on Ur’s name…
    It actually bit off the first part of it’s name not the last. It’s known as “the Gatekeeper”

    1. well, we now know Ur is anything but a minor demon, so its name may actually be in the .. amm…. bible thingy? lore? , wherever people get the names of demons

      1. The Ars Goetia, first book of the Lemegeton. Depending pronounciation, Buer, Focalor, Furfur, Murmur, Valefor, Vepar and Zepar are possibilities.

        Rose senior wrote in her diary about a bluff her father taught her involving Furfur, but it’s probably unrelated.

      2. Wildbow also uses the Talmud as a source of demon names (see also: Shabriri), but there’s no list of demons there that we can recognize as demons here in Pact, like there is in the Goetia.

      1. Who’s to say that angels and demons aren’t two sides of the same coin? Maybe whatever Ur is released out the other end, though a God of Light in this universe or somewhere else like some sort of cosmic funnel.

  39. Well, thank you Wildbow for the amazing story arc (really, really good I love this sort of thing more than the action)….. AND because I finally understand the point of Vestiges!! ^_^

    For anyone who manages to get all the way down here:
    The most dangerous others are the smartest ones, not necessarily the strongest.

    Vestiges are shadows of a human, and as smart as the best Others.

    Vestiges are fragile… and will inevitably fall apart

    ….but you can use them as a mold for something Other. Something strong, smart and dangerous. You fuse small pieces of powers to them, around them, inside them so that before the Vestige falls apart enough of its intelligence has been transferred to the reinforcement parts that it gains a real lease of life.

    Blake’s possessed by spirits of freedom (birds) and presumably spirits of wood which probably represent: tenacity, strength (some can grow through concrete! http://waynesword.palomar.edu/pljuly96.htm) and probably some other stuff. Blake grabbed the Hyena partly to hold his hand together and probably comes with all the meaning from when people were discussing it as an implement. Plus unlike most Vestiges he got a huge lump of power from Rose Sr. to ensure he didn’t fall apart too soon.

    Johannes was growing things inside his, using them to turn the small scraps of power he gets from his tourists into something greater than the sum of their parts.

    TLDR: Katamari Magicka

  40. Assuming that Blake will fight Ur shortly, I really haven’t seen anyone propose a proper way for him to do so and win. The fight is clearly very one sided, but it feels very similar to many of the Worm conflicts: Blake can win and win decisively, but only by understanding his way out. I feel like there is something critically important about Ur that we’re all overlooking, that Ur’s real weakness isn’t in fact fire or light.

    (I also don’t buy that Ur is there to eat the drains. As a powerful creature similar to the lawyers, I suspect Ur can simply get access if it wants. It may only have been in the drains to make sure it got Blake and/or to ensure Blake didn’t try to come back.)

    The idea that the forgotten god was a god of Creation, and that Ur is a creature of Destruction seems the right line of thought. Perhaps Ur is actually more injured by things that create, or by creation at a conceptual level.

    Strong connections seem to take a very long time to construct; Ur can eat them nearly instantly. Is there a class of connection Ur cannot eat? What connections keep Ur itself anchored, why doesn’t it fall through the cracks?

    1. Ur’s not there to eat the Drains, per se. Ur’s just there to eat. If it hasn’t already gotten access somehow, it just gnawed its way down to the underpinnings of reality over millenia.

      As for Ur’s weaknesses, there’s only 2 things it could really be. Light, and Creation. Plants were mentioned as something that might work, but Fire was the only thing that Blake remembered working. He and Rose tried a pine wreath, but I’m wondering if once the branches were broken, they pinged as “dead” to the spirits and therefore were not automatically anathema to Ur. Which begs the question of what would work. There’s nothing Blake can claim as circle material unless he grows his branches out of his hands, binding Ur into a smaller circle. And besides, once he starts that, he’ll take a lot out of himself, and Ur will eat the twigs, so he won’t remember whether the branches worked or not, and he’ll be weaker, so he’s back to square one. Fire might work as an escape measure, if he makes a spark with the Hyena and catches his own hands on fire.

      I don’t believe there’s a specific class of connection that Ur can’t eat. He ate the familiar bond, and no inter-human bond could top that. Also I suspect that angels and demons, being Newton’s-Third-Law-breakers (creators and destroyers, goes my line of thinking), get to cheat on the “need connections to keep self anchored” bit. Besides, as long as someone remembers it is there, there’s at least one connection keeping it in that factory.

  41. Oh. Ooh. Oooooohhh.

    What if Blake tricked Ur into opening the cracks again, then called the forgotten god of floodlights? That’d serve pretty well as a diversion to escape/kill shot. And if that kills it, he can claim it as his first victory.

  42. Blake’s tattoos are tree branches with birds on them. He saw a person leaving the witch’s hut covered in tree mushrooms. Was that his future trial? Was that a future Blake being broken down by the drains? I doubt it, but that triggered my paranoia. It’s probably not foreshadowing Blake’s death by mushrooms at all..

      1. Disclamer: Yes, I know it’s a joke. However.

        It could possibly work as a stopgap, but it’s not nearly enough even light to work long-term (long-term here meaning “longer than a minute in combat with the shadowy bunch of tentacles”). You’d want a belt or something with the more floodlamps the better, get yourself a nice even circle of light. Of course, more lights the better, but Christmas lights themselves are far too small and diffuse the light in too soft a way to provide armor against the ErasUrr.

        The Alan Wake game has a sidekick do something similar as a one-off gag, but in that one the shadows provide zombie-esque goons with a sort of armor that the light ablates away. Ur is much more amorphous and much more inventive than that.

        1. Maybe it doesn’t have to be xmas lights per se, but those LED strips you see around the countertops at discount cigarette stores can be set to give off quite a bit of light and can be sewn into clothing. Now a suit of those would be incredible armor

          1. If I was the demon fighting someone in an armor of light, I’d simply chuck rocks at them until the LEDs or lights are broken, then move in for the kill. Or drop a bucket with paint or motor oil on them.

            1. That’s basically what ErasUr tried to do the first time — dropping buckets of stuff on Blake, although it was buckets of body-juice and flesh bits and stuff.

          2. I’m worried, again, that there will be places where there is marginally less light than other places, within the light aura that your armor creates. I’m also worried that Ur can use that as a Star Wars-ian trench run.

        2. I got it! I’ve got the perfect way to beat Erasurr forever.

          First, let us consider the who. Which practitioner or Other of the ones we know could beat Urr? Forgotten Blake? Ghost shepherd guy? Isadora? No! The Sisters of the Torch.

          “But Zim, they already tried fire and it di—” I know they already tried fire. The sisters have an even better power. The power of money!

          Let us now consider the how. We want to destroy Urr and we know it is weak to light, so let’s illuminate it. However, any light source is prone to leave areas darker, or is prone to break. Thus, you take a high-power LED with a battery and you stick it in a ball made of an elastic (so it protects the inside), translucent diffuse material (so the light is spread inside the ball and there are no shadows). If you will, put a motor with a weight in it in order to generate a hum. Feel free to try different frequencies of sound and light. These balls are essentially indestructible and Urr can’t eat them!

          Now mass produce them. Fill warehouses with them and then dump the balls inside the factory. If you want, send in some robots to push the balls around into the deep pit where Urr is nesting.

          There you go. Erasurr defeated and all it took was a million dollars.

  43. I finally caught up to the current chapter, and now I kind of wish I had taken it even slower.
    Waiting is seriously going to suck. Damn your cliffhangers, Wildbow.

    1. its only hard for the first couple months, you just need to find something else to fill the void your life has now become.

  44. he’s back!

    let’s say blake gets past the demon more or less intact
    what’s more interesting to think about, I think, is the possibility of Rose trying to bind him if/when he returns!
    We still don’t know how much she knows, but we do know that she’s not holding back on the demon/diabolism thing at-all annnnd that she has Conquest taint on her annnnnd Grandma Rose wanted her in power. all of those things point to ultimate confrontational betrayal to me.

    1. Even simpler: there’s no need for confrontational betrayal; after all, Rose doesn’t even remember Blake. And everyone has declared war on her and her cabal now, including Sandra (master of connections) and Johannes (master of vestiges, like Blake is one).
      So simple (justified) paranoia would be enough.

    2. We don’t know yet if Rose is going to summon actual demons. She said so but she can still lie… or did she do her Awakening ritual yet?
      The Conquest taint is likely to be true but we haven’t seen actual proof yet. Didn’t we assume she was tainted because she was a weak vestige on the verge of breaking down when she was captured by Conquest? Now it turned out she’s not a vestige at all. Has she still been tainted?

  45. Ok, lots of speculation that Rose might be a reflection of Rose. But seeing as how it’s actually Blake who’s the vestige, what’re the chance that Blake is a reflection of Grandma Rose? Sure, Rose the Elder was a determined diabolist, but everything we’ve privately seen of her seems to indicate that she was also determined to use her powers for good, etc. Perhaps, with her family fighting so much all her life, Blake’s desire to go live by himself reflects what she truly wanted — for those darn people to just stop fighting and live her life in peace.

  46. Null is my favourite chapter so far.

    I was trying to work out why I was getting so engaged in the story now, compared to previous chapters.

    At the end of Null .5 I realised that it’s because Blake has been stripped of his ambiguous power set.

    I think my enjoyment of all previous chapters was slightly tainted by a constant low level background fear of magical ass-pulls, a danger that wasn’t present in most of Worm thanks to its well demarcated protagonist power set.

    I know now it was unfair for me to have that fear, the potential deus ex Practice never happened, but the prospect of Blake being stripped of his practitioner status makes me feel more comfortable.

  47. Wildbow…I went on vacation from Wednesday to Friday and I was glad, because it meant that I was forced to wait an extra day before reading the current chapter and therefore have only two days to wait instead of three before the next chapter. I cast a curse on you for your cliffhangers and retract the curse, because who else would be able to continue this story?

    1. I understood this as “he noticed the Hyena lying nearby, partly buried in stuff, with the handle sticking out; Blake grabbed the handle tightly enough for the spikes to pierce through his hand, and then pulled it free from whatever it was buried in”.

      Blake had the Hyena with him when he entered the factory, and presumably when he fell out of the material world it fell with him, but he lost it in the fall. (He appears to have temporarily lost his consciousness.)

      He found it on his way out probably because the Drains’ geography owes more to symbolism than to geometry.

      1. I was referring specifically to “Wait, why is the Hyena here?”

        That makes it seem like less of a Deus Ex Machina, which is about all I could have hoped for. Thanks!

        1. You’re welcome 🙂

          (To be honest, I’m not sure I understand why the Hyena would have been an objectionable deus-ex-machina here, given that we got a deux-ex-nihilo a few seconds earlier.)

          1. Well, the whole bit is a bit odd, especially the part where Blake could escape but no one else did, but that just struck me as rather “Really?!?”

            1. If you don’t find it odd that most people would rather not face the truth about how incredibly wrong they sometimes are, and how there are parts of people’s lives that they never want to face, then you’re just not old enough. 😉

            2. Not that part, the part about how Blake managed to find the way to escape and take it successfully.

            3. It’s not like nobody else escaped, there are plenty of bogeymen in the story. Yeah, there are plenty who don’t escape, but that’s human nature.

              There are many people who, after being thrown into the Abyss after fighting a demon of oblivion, will go and climb back and try to fight it, but they are still a tiny minority.

              True, Blake is exceptional, both in abilities and luck. But then again most stories have to have exceptional protagonists, otherwise they’d be mostly boring. Even in Game of Thrones, with its notorious scarcity of plot armor, there are lots of narrow escapes and serendipitous victories and the like.

            4. I believe I was referring less to the whole “escape once we know Blake’s where Bogeymen are from” and more to the whole “escape when we thought Ur irrevocably destroyed them”. Apparently, no one did so with Ur, or they changed a hell of a lot more.

            5. Eh, hard to say one way or the other – we don’t really know how many of the people in the drains got there via Urr eating their connections as compared to other methods.

              If it was just Blake (which we don’t know it was) then how implausible that was still has to remain an open question anyway until we have a better understanding as to what Blake’s true nature is.

            6. Very few escape,and people down there do not really know who escaped and who died.

              Blake is not unique in escaping.

  48. poor astrologer. also poor molly, with rose in continuity how does her memory of being chosen first explain molly’s murder? she died even more for nothing this time

    1. I don’t think Rose remembers being chosen first. She most probably remembers being chosen next after Molly died. Molly didn’t get erased, after all.

  49. It’s eight at night and I HAVE to finish/catch up to the next chapter before ten, but I have to say this:

    “The Astrologer stared at the burning building, tears streaming down her face.”

    This is the saddest fucking thing I’ve ever read

  50. I wonder if this forgotten god could be Apollo? A stone face (statue), associated with light, once-powerful, long-forgotten (~1600 years now), draw upon by the Wise (practitioners and Blake especially)…

    1. No,we remember Apollo,its implied that any god we remember does not fall though the cracks,plus,even if it wasn’t so,there are nutjobs who still worship the dodecatheon (so Apollo too)in real life,and that is in addition with any cults he might have (if Dionisus does,Apollo should too).

      1. What makes adherents of the dodecatheon (new wordto me, thanks) “nutjobs” any more than any other religion?

        Should they believe instead in resurrecting godmen who walk on water and cast demons into pigs? :/ Y’know, like normal people?

        1. No,thatsnot it

          All religions that are important in today’ world have something in common,they cannot really be disproven

          But there is no mountain with gods residing at the top on the world,even the most poetic interpretations of the myths disprove them though and though.That is not the case with any currently major religion.

          1. Eh. The Bible has more holes in it than Swiss cheese at this point and Christianity still has an adherent or two.

            I’m pretty sure Hellenists no more believe they could walk up Mount Olympus and find Zeus sitting there than Christians feel they could hop in a helicopter and go talk to beardy old God who lives in the sky.

            There’s a lot of variety in the extent to which modern Christians blindly believe some of the more colourful aspects of the Bible. Why assume Hellenists are any less varied, considered and nuanced?

            1. You didn’t,I was in the wrong,only I should apologise,there is no reason for you to.

  51. The number of times Blake runs his hands through his hair is unreal. I wish he would shave it off, it can’t be good to have anyway, no upside

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