Null 9.6

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I’m back.

The demon pulled itself free.  A long limb here, serrated on one side with teeth, like some horrifically long jawbone.  A length of connective tissue there, with flesh sloughing off.  A pillar of flesh, extending floor to ceiling, like a long neck or a torso without ribs… all pitch black.

Welcome home, Blake, I thought.

If there were more details to be seen, I didn’t make them out, my eyes fixed on the floor.  After the Drains, near-complete darkness and then the brightness of the lost god’s light, the contrast seemed stark here.  Even the dim seemed far brighter than the tracts of utter darkness that the sunlight didn’t touch.

Light and dark.

Being in the Drains had helped, in a way.  I’d spent far too long straining my eyes to make things out in the darkness.  Now, in the midst of the factory, I was especially aware of the illumination from the windows, the way the dust lit up the shafts of light.

Two windows on the north face, four on the east face.  The light that came in did so in dim, murky shafts, painting long stripes of light across the floor.  The only paths I could travel.  I couldn’t even think about moving through the deepest darkness.  I couldn’t see what was happening in there.  Ur’s domain in entirety.

Time seemed to move in slow motion.  It didn’t, but it seemed like it.  I had no heartbeat, no breath to mark the seconds.  Motes of dust moved lazily through the air, stirred into flurries here and there by Ur’s movement.  Ur moved with the force of the tide coming in, slow, impossible to hold back, covering too much ground to even fight against.  If I tried to stop him, he’d only sweep in on either side of me, snatch me up, and devour me.

He was vast in a way I couldn’t put words to, the sort of massive that meant he extended from this reality to the Drains, and maybe to other places.

Comparatively, I was less than I had been.  Which wasn’t a bad thing, not entirely.  The meat had been carved from my bone, metaphorically speaking.  My ears, after that constant noise, were almost ringing in the silence.  No blood pounded in my ears or made phantom noises.  Every noise I heard was real.

I had very little to lose here, as I’d already lost just about everything.  At the same time, I had everything to fight for.  I’d fought this far, and I wasn’t about to lose my momentum.  He was weak, and I had only this one moment to grasp my next move, to wrap my head around the situation and deal with the shock of being back.

The only noises were Ur’s.  Grinding his way against a solid surface, slithering, slopping.  Faint noises.

If I wanted to, I could simply focus my gaze, ignore the movements in my peripheral vision, dismiss the sounds as something else entirely.  Pretend the problem didn’t exist.

I heard a grating noise behind me, something moving against the wall.

I moved.  Long strides.  Not to the windows. The windows were a trap, I knew that now.  The light they shed wasn’t protection, and Ur could and would grab me before I made it.

No, I ran to the place where the shafts of light across the floor criss-crossed.  Diamonds and squares were formed where the light crossed paths.  I felt Ur clutch me, and I tore free, falling in the process.

I pulled myself to my feet.  I didn’t stand in the darkness.  I stood at the center of the grid of light.  Almost the center of the factory floor, eyes on the ground.

A makeshift diagram of light, diamonds and squares drawn out by the natural intersection of light coming in from the windows.

One maneuver on my part, one maneuver on Ur’s.  I’d covered four paces, while Ur continued to swell in size, claiming all of the darkness around me.  Grasping hands, moving faces of animals or insects, lunging movements, all in my peripheral vision.  Every little movement distracted, demanding that I betray common sense and look, because any of it might be an attack, a bite, a claw, a reaching tendril, a trick.

Any of it might be a feint, as it turned out.

One lunging hand plunged past a shaft of sunlight, briefly illuminated, crumbling in the light even as it reached.  Past the second shaft of sunlight- half the size.  Past the third- flesh sloughing off to reveal a reaching, grasping claw, smaller than my own hand, but with fingers like kitchen knives.

I slashed out with the Hyena, pre-emptive, before it could do anything to me.  It seized the blade, and it wasn’t cut.  It pulled me.

If I’d been more clever, I might simply have abandoned the weapon, a casualty of war.

As it stood, I resisted and tried to match Ur’s strength with my own.

He slowly dragged me toward the darkness, inch by inch.  I didn’t pull so much as I angled my body to make dragging me harder.  Low to the ground, legs straight out, feet skidding on the floor.

Those knife-fingers wove themselves around the blade, wrapping around it in fits and starts, extending, then reaching further.  The light ate away at it, but for every step back it took, it gained two steps of ground.  The light touching it just wasn’t that strong, and I had no way to drag it back to where the proper ‘diagram’ was marked on the floor.

The guard of the sword was largely gone at this point, the wolf’s skull emblem damaged and partially scraped away by the efforts of the Drains or the fall.  The claws inched closer, doing their best to seize the blade and reach for my hand.

The light didn’t eat the hand, but it did chew through the thicker arm, further back.  Severed from Ur, the hand lost its strength, I stumbled back, landing on my back, and I scooted back until I was safe in the center.

Notches had been taken out of the sword.

The Hyena twitched.

Was it still alive?

Couldn’t be.

No, it wasn’t the sword.  It was something reflected in the sword.

I had to use my free hand to tear the metal out of my left hand.  I cast it aside.  The metal smoked where the light touched it.

Fucking stupid of me.  Ur could leap across reflective surfaces.

Ur didn’t seem particularly inclined to push past the light again.  My so-called-diagram wasn’t a wall, not absolute protection, only a preventative measure.  The light was mottled here and there, where it failed to get through the windows, or where windows were cracked or covered in dust.  Ur could push through if and when it wanted to.

I swallowed, utterly still, still on my back.  The Hyena had stopped smoking, so I flipped it over, letting the light hit the other side.  It took seconds before it was burned clean.

Somewhere outside, a cloud moved over the sun.

My diagram began to come apart, and Ur gained ground.

One reaching extremity, a deformed, tumorous lump- so large I had to turn my head to avoid looking straight at it as it loomed.

I couldn’t hope to fend it off, so, still lying on the ground, I brought my feet up, bracing against it, arms stretched out to my side for more traction.  It pushed me, striving to push me out of the diagram, into waiting oblivion.

Spindly arachnid legs unfurled from the thing.  The ones that didn’t crumble away in the light poised, their needle points aimed at me.

Another mass of darkness moved directly above me, perched on the ceiling.

I rolled, releasing my resistance to the thrusting limb, pulling my legs back from the stabbing legs that followed after me, piercing the ground.

The darkness on the ceiling shifted, then dropped.

A column of darkness, right in the middle of the diagram.  Meat and gnashing teeth, spilling out like water.

Kneeling, I grabbed the Hyena, because it was the only weapon available, and I struck out.

This time, Ur recoiled.  The column thinned out at one section, the lumps of flesh that were reaching for my feet and knees losing their connection to the source.  There was less of Ur’s being feeding into them to give them more mass to extend my way.

I didn’t know how or why the cut had worked this time when it hadn’t before.  Warming in the sun?  No.  It didn’t make sense, it was still cold to the touch.  The factory was cold.

But I cut again, repeating the same action, over and over, until I’d gutted the column. The ‘foot’ of the column that had touched down in the middle of the diagram broke apart, large hunks of black meat and ichor that became piles of black squirming maggots that shriveled up into nothingness in the sunlight.

I heard something behind me and turned, slashing out again-

This time to no avail.

Tendrils caught at my neck and chest, tearing.  They thinned out by the second as the dimmed light touched them, but they still took strips of skin with them, not consuming, but still wounding me, inch by inch, morsel by morsel, working to drag me out of the meager light.  One tendril caught me around the knee.

I cut, backhanded this time, and managed to sever the worst of the tendrils.  The light did the rest.  I stumbled closer to the middle of the mesh of light near the center of the factory floor.

The pillar of Ur still hung overhead, and I turned, cutting at it, blind.

Again, it recoiled.

Two more cuts.  Ur retreated, pulling the broken pillar of flesh up and away, up to the ceiling and out of sight.

A moment later, the sword began to move of its own accord, twitching.  In the corner of my eye, the weapon was dark, and the cracks got darker, widening-

I tossed it down into the nearest, brightest spot on the ground.  It spun in place, smoking.  I saw a piece of Ur slip free and try to find its way to darkness, only to disintegrate before it did.

Ur retreated as the cloud moved out of position, the light growing stronger.

Something was off.  The timing of Ur’s responses, the inconsistency of it-  Ur hadn’t flinched when I’d made contact.  Sometimes before, sometimes after, and sometimes not at all.

I knelt in the light, and I reached for the Hyena, picking it up for the third time in the last five or ten minutes.  I turned it over in the light, letting the sun clean it.  I saw how, when I turned it at certain angles, the darkness leaped into it, spreading into it.

Reflections were a means for Ur to travel.  Reflections were also a means for light to travel.

This weapon cut both ways.

My heart thrummed in my chest, but my body was still.  I recognized the pain of holding the Hyena, the spikes piercing flesh, but it felt distant.

Ur would win this in the long run.  I had a weapon, but it did far too little.  I might as well have been using a bucket to empty a lake.

I used the sleeve of my sweatshirt to scrub the remaining length of blade.  I pressed it against my thigh, so only a bit of the metal was exposed.  I angled it so the light would catch it, reflecting off to one side.

Ur recoiled, responding to the faint shaft of light.

Not a wound, but still, a tool.

I could feel my tattoos creeping in to replace the flesh that had been torn away.

I’d have loved to hurt it.  I moved the light, and in the corner of my eye, I could see Ur shift in response.  Moving the light back and forth, I saw Ur react, sliding back out of the way.  Rather than deal with the moving light, Ur simply avoided the areas the light roved.

I aimed for the thickest patch of darkness.

The light didn’t penetrate.  It was as though there was no surface there to catch the light.

That darkness was supposed to give way to light was a truism, a law of reality.

That Ur was apparently breaking that law…

Damn it.

I focused the light on the parts of Ur I could make out, driving him back, scanning my surroundings.  The demon crowded at the light, smoking where it accidentally got too close, trying to find a way closer to me – a crack it might use to sneak into the diagram, a shadow that ran along a bump in the floor.

There wasn’t anything, but this was a struggle that Ur would eventually win.  As time passed, more clouds could pass over the sun.  The shafts of light would move.

My eye traced the path, memory informed me about general directions involved.

As the sun rose, I’d lose ground.  It wouldn’t be soon, but given time, the lights would no longer intersect.

The diagram would come apart.

My heart was going crazy as I moved the blade, turning it to pass the light steadily over the surroundings.

Ur was smart enough to anticipate the movement of the light, to predict where I would move it and move out of the way before the light touched it.

Here and there, Ur had covered up windows, or covered up parts of windows.  Where Ur scraped against the edges of windows and sections of wall, falling debris clouded the light.

My eye fell on one window – there wasn’t much glass, largely covered, but it was close.  The only things of substance on the floor between Ur and me were chunks of rock and scattered pieces of glass from the window, ranging from a foot across to mere dust.  The little shards caught the light, scintillating in rainbow hues.  It was very possible my foot could slip.

Another section, further away, suggested a path to the window.  The same window I’d been running for when I’d fallen into the Drains.

Broken window or run for the intact window, further away?

Broken window.

I bent down, and I placed the Hyena on its side, blade facing the window, catching the light from the window so a shaft of light extended along the floor.

Widening the path.

Could Ur anticipate me?

How smart was the demon?

I bolted.  A reckless, headlong rush.

I was two paces away from the window when Ur finally stirred.  Tendrils snaked across the window, a mesh, smoking from contact with the light.

But I was already moving, one leg going far in front of me, as I changed direction.  The foot skidded long, I tipped over, and my hands came down amid glass and rocks.

I grabbed the largest pieces of glass and rock, feeling pain jolt up my arms from the cuts in my hands, and I sprinted back.

Already, tendrils and spidery limbs were moving to block my retreat.  Criss-crossing, smoking, disintegrating, but forming a net, a barrier, a wall.

Ur to the left of me.  Ur to the right of me.  A covered window behind me, a net in front of me.

I leaped, a headlong dive for the biggest gap.

Ur got his claws and teeth in me.  Ur took chunks out of me.  If I’d taken a second longer, I might not have made it through.  Sun-weakened limbs failed to hold me.

I collapsed, losing my clutched glass and rocks.

Rock and broken glass.

My eyes narrowed to lower the chance for error, I took in my surroundings, watched for a clutching hand, trickery.

I saw only faces, vague figures, humanoid  in shape.  A segment of Ur shaped like six bodies, shrink-wrapped in oily black skin.  Mouths agape, the skin stretched tight against lips and teeth-

I moved the Hyena, and the light pierced one body.  Ur moved away, collapsing the figure.  Not a real person, or even a good effigy.  A trick, a psychological ploy.

I’d trapped myself in this diagram here.  Stepping outside for more than a moment at a time could only spell my doom.

Waiting was just as bad.

Ur was too big to fight.

I spat on the largest piece of glass, then used my sweatshirt to rub it clean of dust.

With one of the smaller rocks, I propped it up so it caught the light.  Some shone through, a pale light extending beyond the glass, some was reflected back toward the window.

I did more with other pieces of glass I’d collected.  I only had a handful, scarcely half a window, but I did have some.

There was just a bit more inside the area the ‘diagram’ covered, and I used that as well.

It wasn’t much, but it served to expand the area I had to work with.  That was something.

The rocks…

I grabbed one piece of concrete and scratched it against the floor.

Nothing.  It only crumbled.  Too weather-worn.

I tried others, and for the most part, I got the same effect.  They didn’t leave a mark.

Hm.

If I chewed off the flesh at the end of one finger, could I use the bone to scratch the floor?

Probably not worth it, not with the time involved, even if it worked.

Instead, I used the rock to scratch the blade.  One side, roughing it up, grating metal with stone, until it was too scratched and too embedded with dirt to reflect anymore.

Holding it so the one reflective side caught the light, rather than Ur, I used the blade to scratch at the floor.

Spikes and rough spots on the blade gouged my hands.

I pulled off my sweatshirt, wrapping a sleeve around the handle, and I ensured the spikes wouldn’t cut me too deep.

One hand on the handle, the other on the pommel, to drive it forward, to push, or tap.

The floor had absorbed a lot of moisture, had dealt with extreme cold and a fair amount of heat.  Canada took pride in its long, cold winters, but the summers hereabouts could get brutal enough.  It meant my job wasn’t as hard as it could be.

I cut lines into the floor.

The Barber was, if I wasn’t mistaken, a demon of the third choir or thereabouts.  He was abstract, like Ur, though more inclined to take solid forms.  As a demon of ruin, he was opposed by structure.  Geometric shapes and symbols.

Ur was a demon of darkness.  The natural conclusion was to oppose him with lightLight was the sole reason I wasn’t dead already.

But Ur was, above all else, a demon of oblivion, of erasure.

To oppose him, I had to create.

Where the blade scraped ground, it left white tracks.

I scraped out a thick diamond, a minute’s work.  Then I began to draw.

I’d never been much of an artist. It didn’t help that I’d never existed, but the point stood.  The memories in my head were of me helping other artists frame their work, using skills I’d learned on the farm and honed over two seasons in Carl’s commune.

I didn’t try to be fancy.  One image, simple, to represent something.  A circle with two dashes inside it for eyes to be the head, an oval with lines drawn across it to be a swaddle of cloth.  A baby.  Then one image for every year.

The baby crying- lines radiating from its open mouth while two crude figures stood above, impassive.  The baby walking, arms reaching out, the parent facing away.  So it went.  A small child pushed to the ground by a fat teenage girl.  By his cousin Kathryn.

I stopped when I’d drawn images to line two faces of the diamond.

On the opposite side, I drew another diagram.

A baby, crying.  But the lines – I was sure to double check the first baby I’d drawn and draw the lines in the reverse angle for the swaddle.  In the second picture, the figures held the child.  In the third, the parent stood with arms reaching.

In the fourth, the small child pushed to the ground had a rectangle for a skirt, no notch for shorts.

The images were drawn to sit opposite one another, and even if my ability to draw wasn’t all that, I had a keen sense of space honed by years of work.  False, imagined, but they were skills I possessed all the same.

The memories in my head weren’t real.  They were artificial, or stolen, or given.  It was very possible they were simply pieces of reality that had fallen into a particular configuration.

All the same, they were inspiration.  I needed to draw something, a lot of something, and my memories were the one well I had available.  Four images to a face, eight for me, eight for Rose.

When I’d drawn the eight year old Rose, counterpoint to eight year old Blake, I sketched out another diamond, thick and fat.

Ur lunged for me as I drew the fourth line.  On a level, I’d expected it. On another level, I’d made the mistake of letting the shadow I cast give him an avenue for attack.

I managed to pull my arm back inside the diamond, and Ur didn’t pursue.

Darkness writhed in the shadows at the periphery of light, stirring.

Rather than try again, I adjusted the position and angle of glass, catching the light, and painted a bit of a shelter, illuminating my work space.  Faint, barely there, but it helped me brave the gap and finish the line.

I backed up until I was in the center.  Each little picture came very close to being a hieroglyph.  It made sense when I considered that hieroglyphs had been cut into stone tablets and walls.

This is the tale of Blake and Rose, I thought.  Was it coincidence that the images I’d drawn of Rose seemed thicker, the lines stronger?  Had I been leaning harder on the Hyena, or had the work earlier blunted the very tip of the shattered blade, allowing for a broader, clearer groove into the floor?

Or was it representative of something else?

My light was disappearing.

Ur lashed out, reaching, but Ur didn’t pass over the line.

This tale of Blake and Rose is my creation, I thought.  I turned my attention to the brightest patch of floor.  If I worked here next, then by the time I was finished, the light might have shifted to give me room to work elsewhere.  I was already plotting the greater work.  When I ran out of years, I could move onto pivotal scenes.  If I reached a wall…  My eye fell on a patch of graffiti, barely visible in the dim light that seeped through the windows.

The binding on the outside… it only dawned on me now.  It was a creation of a sort too.  Not just words hidden in graffiti, but the graffiti itself.

Nine year old Blake.  Playing with Paige and Molly.  Rose’s version of that image wouldn’t have that.

Ten year old Blake.  Torn away from his cousins.

I had a clear path available to me.  I was containing myself within this diagram that Ur couldn’t pass, but I could extend it.  So long as I was careful, I could stay largely within the diagram, continuing to expand it.

I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t need to go to the bathroom.  My heart didn’t beat.

I’m a false man, I thought.  A vestige, maybe, a boogeyman.

I could do this for days, I thought.

I hated the idea of waiting, of taking hours or even days to do this, but I could cover this floor in images.

Where would Ur go then?  Into the walls?  Retreat beneath the factory?

Ur stirred, moving around the periphery of the room, while my eyes were focused on the images I was etching into the floor.  My attention was divided several ways.

I almost missed it.

In one moment, Ur was there, writhing, making phantom images, distracting, and I was drawing the head of a twelve year old Blake over a test paper scrawled with doodles, marked with a big fat ‘F’ in the middle.

In the next moment, Ur was gone.

The factory empty, the way utterly clear.

Deceptively clear.

It was if Ur was communicating with me.  Negotiating, maybe, or tempting.  Aren’t your hands tired?  Aren’t your hands hurting from this tedious, awkward work?  Don’t you want to go back to Jacob’s Bell and help your friends?

Leave this crude binding unfinished, and you can go.

Go, I imagined Ur saying, so I can catch you by surprise, snatch you up and devour you once and for all.

I kept scratching.  Thirteen year old Blake and his first crush.

If I couldn’t remember her face, was that because the event wasn’t real, or was it just faulty memory at work?

The quiet was eerie.

The light moved as I worked.  I took a minute to adjust the mirrors, and gave my hands a rest.

No wind, no slithering, scraping, grinding or any of that, not even my own breathing or heartbeat.

Utter, complete quiet.

Then a sound.  A sudden crack.

Rocks fell from above.  Pebbles, landing and skittering across the images I’d just drawn.

Larger pebbles.

I had to be careful, looking up.  Up was dark, and very little light from the windows reached the ceiling.  The ceiling was that same utter darkness that had swallowed up the light from the blade.

But as the light from the windows had shifted, a section of ceiling above me had illuminated.

Binding diagrams, as I understood it, extended all the way up and all the way down.

Ur couldn’t loom above me anymore, not with the diagram here.

Ur could, however, work in the abstract.

The demon was devouring the roof.  It was like something from a cartoon, but Ur was cutting a broad circle, further around than my own, and when the demon finished, the roof would fall.

Right on top of me.

On top of my diagram of created art.

Stay put, get crushed.

Run, get caught.

Hyena in one hand, handle and arm wrapped in my sweatshirt, a large piece of glass in my other hand, I ran.  Broken glass scraped underfoot as I scrambled for the nearest window, hoping I could somehow run faster than Ur could raise an obstacle or seize me.

I needed to make this bluff into something I could take advantage of.  To seize on the fact that he was pretending not to stand in my way, and catch him by surprise.

I couldn’t.  Demon’s flesh extended from pockets of darkness.  An ‘x’ of limbs, barring my way.  They smoked and crumbled in the light, but a barrier was a barrier all the same.

Ur reached for me, and he succeeded in catching me: teeth clutched my injured hand.  This time, I knew how to use the Hyena.  A stab, extending the blade so it faced the nearest available window as I finished cutting, the light bouncing back to catch the knobby, ulcer-ridden head that had extended from darkness.  Cut and light together, so the light could make the cutting easier and the cutting wouldn’t be undone by easy replacement of flesh.

It let go.  I kicked it, using that same action to push myself further in the direction I wanted to go.

More tendrils and limbs.  Not big ones this time – a multitude of smaller ones.

I wasn’t going to make it.  The light wasn’t enough.

I thought of the lost god that had suppressed Ur.  I wasn’t naive enough to think he could somehow reach me here.  Just a random god of light that a tribe had once worshiped, preserved only by word of mouth, perhaps, until the tribe or the myth had passed from human memory.

I roared, not in fear, or in worship.

The demon ate existence.  It was opposed by creation and light.

I roared only to generate noise.  To create that noise.

The effect wasn’t tangible, but if Ur put more demon’s flesh in my way before I reached the window, I couldn’t tell with my eyes screwed shut.

I felt him tear at me, scrape and clutch, and I only screamed louder, struggling to hold the Hyena at the right angle, so the light would help forge the way.

If I’d stopped making forward progress as limbs clutched me and tried to drag me back, I couldn’t tell.

“I am the Thorburn bogeyman!” I screamed, the words raw.  “I am made of stick and bone and birds and spirit and false memories!”

Something tore at my eyelid.  I twisted my head back, screaming my anger to Ur and his factory and to the world.

“I beat you!  In this I’ve beat you!  You can swallow me up, but those scratches will stay!  People can learn how to stop you!  It’ll be easier!”

Something caught me around the throat.

“Tear down the roof to hide it and you’ll let the sun in!  Tear out the floor and people won’t come inside!  I’ve won!  I’ve won!”

My words felt like they had power.

“I’ve won, Ur!”

My fingertip brushed glass.

With a final surge of strength, I heaved myself forward and through.

When I opened my eyes, snow had settled in my one eye socket.  With the act of opening the eye, I felt snow touch the eyeball itself, drifting free to trace a line over my cheekbone.

I blinked a few times, clearing my vision in my one good eye.

The snow was wet and cold, and I used it to wipe my face clean, wary of the broken glass.  I was bleeding from wounds the demon had inflicted, and the snow served to dilute it.  The blood was too dark, too thick.  Almost congealed.

Nothing to do with Ur.  Only me.

When I spoke again, my voice was quiet, the words for me, not for it.  “I know how you work now.  I’m weak and broken and flawed and fake, and I still beat you, you motherfucking fucker.  You’re living on borrowed time.  I’m going to finish that diagram, and I’ll squeeze you to pulp between diagrams.  And I’m going to tell people exactly how to stop you, just in case something happens to me.  There’s nothing you can do about it.”

I picked myself up, still careful of the glass.  My body felt too light.  New birds were perched on the thicker growths of branches that had grown where flesh had been ripped away.

My eyes fell on the graffiti.

“I won,” I said, my words very small in a dark, still, silent Toronto.

My life in Toronto, reduced to the contents of cardboard boxes that sat out in the hallway.

Half my furniture remained.  The futon, the table my television had sat on, my coffee table.  My toolbox was gone.

Joel had forgotten me, his memories piecing together the best available explanation about this mystery client who had taped out a diagram at the edges of the apartment, and he’d packed away my things.

He’d replaced the bathroom mirror.  I stepped in there, and I gazed at my reflection.

I’d nearly forgotten what my face had looked like.  I hadn’t seen it for weeks.

Except for some markings around my blind eye where Ur had torn the eyelid, it was still my face.  Pale, with a dark circle under the one eye, some branches and darkness around the blind one.  Amid those branches, three birds were clustered together in the corner where the tear had happened.  Beady black eyes standing out from my flesh in three dimensions – one bird in profile, the other looking out straight on.  Three eyes visible in total, matching the general curvature of my eye socket.  I blinked, and they blinked slightly out of sync with me and each other.

I was a vessel, and the spirits would fill in the gaps in the way that made the most sense.  If I was damaged, they’d shore me up, but I’d become less me.  Already, some of the branches were raised, the skin rougher.

The conclusion was simple enough.  I was operating on borrowed time.

I’d mentally described a handful of others as being capable of straddling that boundary between human and Other.  Comfortable in both worlds, just ugly and freaky enough to be Other, but not so much that people couldn’t explain it away.

Seeing those three beady eyes standing out from my face, I wasn’t sure I’d pass.

I was less able to pass in public than Midge, the four-hundred and fifty pound hillbilly cannibal murderer.

I grabbed a washcloth, and I got it damp.  I gave my face a thorough scrub.  The water was almost black as I wrung the cloth out.  I scrubbed my face again for good measure, and on the second wringing, the water was almost as bad, leaning a fraction closer to black-brown or black-crimson.

Five more washes and rinses, and it still turned out more grime than not.  Like trying to wash dirt or vacuum up a beach.  No amount of scrubbing or vacuuming would change the fact that there was more dirt and sand than one person and one tool could clean up.

My arms, too, were more black than white tone, a dense forest of branches, littered with feathers and small prey birds hiding in their midst.  Chickadees and sparrows.  I was pale, and no amount of rinsing at the sink was going to suffice to get my hair clean.

When I was more or less as clean as I could get without actually stopping to take an actual shower, I found a box and began going through the contents until I found clothes.

I pulled on a fresh t-shirt and boxers.  My sweatshirt was closer to me than my jeans, so I grabbed it, contemplating throwing it away.

It was tattered, torn in spots, thanks to Ur.  Frayed wool stuck out to trace my collarbone, at the collar of my shirt.

It was dark, and it wasn’t dark with grime.  Seen in the right light, it was just… darker.  In the exact right light and position, I could see that same essence rolling off it like a kind of smoke, as if it were a recently extinguished candle.  Brown-gray smoke, the faintest aura, clinging millimeters away from fabric.

“You went through the Drains too, huh?” I asked my sweatshirt.  “A little less real, a little more spirit.  And you were a gift, too… shit.”

I pulled it on, then my jeans.  Clean socks and my winter boots.  My first aid stuff was in my toolbox, and my toolbox was gone.

I tore up a t-shirt using the blade of the Hyena, and I wrapped my left hand.  The wrist of my other hand had already healed.  Or, in more exact terminology, the spirits had already filled in those cracks and gaps.  The skin was particularly rough there.

What happened if they got my whole hand?  Would I lose control of it?

I left the rest of my stuff where it was.  I traced walls of the apartment with my hand as I walked out.

“I guess I’m giving you up too,” I said.  “Bye, apartment.”

I didn’t linger.

I reached the garage, and I felt a moment’s trepidation, seeing how dark the place was.  It made me think of Ur, and the Drains.

But fear didn’t have the same hold on me.  I’d faced down my greatest fear and called it false.

Would that I could do the same with… fuck.  What did I even call this?  ‘Despair’ was so melodramatic.

But… despair all the same.

The bike was gone.

Maybe it was in storage.  More likely, if Joel had no memory of me existing, he might have deemed me a squatter.

If my bike wasn’t sold, he’d probably sell it sometime soon, or give it to one of our friends, same as the toolbox.

My life, taken apart, the bits and pieces scattered.

I could build something that resembled it, but I would never quite have it back.

A part of me wanted to stay, to try and scrounge up those bits and pieces.

But it would be an illusion.  It would run contrary to the reasons I’d left the Drains.  Those reasons had given me the strength to fight my way free, and I couldn’t deny them.

That desire to stay and find my bike, to reach out to Joel and see if he had any word on the subject, it was a desire to be the old me.

I’d never really had a proper trial to face my future.

Was this endless well of grime and the state of my clothing supposed to suggest that the Drains hadn’t quite let me go?  That that place could pull me back in if I wasn’t careful?

If so, this might well be my trial.

I turned my back to the empty space, because I didn’t like the feeling that stirred inside me when I stared at it.  My thoughts were on Rose, the danger to my friends, the state of Jacob’s Bell, the lawyers, grandmother.

I could see my expression in the side view mirror of Joel’s car.

Try as I might, I couldn’t twist my expression into anything other than barely repressed anger.

“Wait, it’s a demon?” Ty asked.

“Yes,” Rose said.

There they are.  I hung back.

“As in, something like what was in that warehouse?” Tiff asked.

“Factory, not warehouse,” Rose said.  “And no.  Not like that thing.  The thing in the factory was a minor demon of the first choir, maybe on its way to becoming moderate, I don’t know.  The Barber is in the middle tiers of the third choir, according to the books.”

“Does that make it stronger or weaker?”

“It’s stronger,” Rose said, confident but not sounding too pleased to be confident.  “But, and this is important, it’s a strength we could control, if it came down to it.”

“I dunno,” Ty said.

“You’re flippin’ crazy,” Evan said.

“I’m being realistic,” Rose said.  “What I need to know is… do you trust me?”

“Yes,” Alexis said.  “I’d be a lot more inclined to exercise that trust if I knew what it stemmed from.”

“That goes two ways,” Rose said.  “I’d feel less guilty about drawing on it.  But we’re in dire straits, and…”

“What?” Ty asked.

“The house spirit is reacting.  Something’s inside,” Rose said.

“Shit, shit,” Ty said.

Something or someone?” Tiff asked, her voice small.

“Something,” Rose said.

I was already stepping into view.

I saw their eyes widen.  I saw fear, I saw hands moving closer to weapons, and it killed me a little.  Delivering a little wound as sure as a slice of a knife could, a little crack for another bit of spirit to get in.

I couldn’t bring myself to speak.

Evan was the one who drew closer, before anyone else.  Who let his guard down.  He settled on the back of the armchair closest to me.

I reached out for him, and my fingertips only touched my side of the mirror.

Silent, I let the hand drop to my side.

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231 thoughts on “Null 9.6

    1. If we do so will it help things get better for Blake? I mean really better better, not just a prelude to getting worse?

  1. Thanks for reading.

    Arc done!

    That was fun. Felt more like I was stretching my metaphorical wings.

    In addition to your Topwebfiction votes (which have been amazing lately – I’m stunned!), I’d also like to just give you guys a nudge in the general direction of Webfictionguide. Reviews for Pact or Worm (or anything on there) are fantastic, and help Webfiction as a whole, increasing the chances of you/us getting more stuff we’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy.

    I’m still learning, I’ll make mistakes here and there, but I’m trying to get better and I’m sort of hoping to do this for a while yet. I’d love to see online fiction just do better as a whole, and reviews and spreading the word (as well as votes) go a long way in that regard. A review doesn’t have to be complex or long or fancy – only honest.

    1. Arc done!

      That was fun. Felt more like I was stretching my metaphorical wings.

      The past two arcs have been really fantastic. No really. The magical world continues to become more interesting and terrifying, old mysteries make sense, and also Rose’s character flaws have become more sympathetic while the dynamic between her and Blake is much more interesting. Your characters are fighting for their Selves and against the fabric of reality itself and it’s really interesting to me! Good job!

    2. I loved this arc!

      Concerning the reviews: I’m surely not the only person to think this, but I have a pretty big aversion towards reviewing unfinished works, which includes most web fiction. Any comments on that (by you or others)?

      1. I had a whole comment written up replying to what I THOUGHT you were asking, which was “I have a pretty big aversion towards reading unfinished works” with comparisons drawn to watching ongoing tv series… and then I reread your comment and went “damn.” Anyways, to respond to what you actually wrote: I agree, but I also think it’s fair to review “up to where I’ve already read” and then go back and change the review later, or add to it, or just write another one when the story’s all finished. I for one will be waiting to write mine, though.

      2. Define ‘unfinished’. Is, for instance, a published novel in a series an unfinished work that you’d be averse to reviewing? I’d say that if there’s enough material in that book for it to be published on its own, there ought to be enough material to review it on its own, and I think most people would agree. Now, there are three major differences between the average Wildbow arc and the average published book in a series (besides digital vs. physical):
        1. The Wildbow arc is a little shorter, but not much.
        2. The Wildbow arc doesn’t recap the previous arcs.
        3. The published novel doesn’t feature a protagonist who is constantly getting their face metaphorically ground into the mud.
        I don’t see numbers 2 and 3 as problems, and even if number 1 were a problem, it’s more than overcome by the fact that we now have 9 complete arcs. I don’t see anything wrong with just reviewing everything up through Null, as long as it’s clear that that’s what’s being reviewed.

  2. Fixed typos regarding two incomplete sentences and one that was sorta gibberish (missing a segment). Ctrl-R to refresh before posting the typos.

    Typo thread. Thanks for the heads up. 😀

    1. Typos:
      – “After the Drains, near-complete darkness and then the brightness of the lost god’s light” -> possibly: “Drains,” -> “Drains'”?
      – Unsure: Blake is not supposed to have a heart anymore, right? Yet there are sentences like “My heart thrummed in my chest, but my body was still.” and “My heart was going crazy as I moved the blade”.
      – “boogeyman”: not wrong, but a Google search shows that you’ve used “boogeyman” in 6.6, 6.8 and 7.10, but “bogeyman” in 5.x (Histories), 9.3, 7.4, 6.7, 7.5.
      – “a handful of others” -> “Others”?

      1. “He’d replaced the bathroom mirror. I stepped in there, and I gazed at my reflection.”
        -> For obvious reasons, I’m unsure if “I stepped in [the bathroom mirror]” is an intentional interpretation or a typo.

    2. Not really a typo, but an inconsistency: There are times when you refer to Ur as “he” and times where you refer to him as “it” (some of the times are referring to parts of Ur, or when you refer to Ur as “the demon”).

      Is Ur male? Until this, I don’t believe a gender had been specified, and those leaving comments here have always referred to Ur with female pronouns.

      1. ErasUrrr is unknown/undefined. Before meeting her, she was simply the abstract demon. After meeting her, Blake reveals he thinks of her as male while Rose revealed she imagined the beast to be female.

        Personally, I refer to Ur as a female because 1) Wildbow has a history of writing crazy powerful females, and Urr is crazy powerful. 2) She has babies. I’m sure even male demons can have motes, but bearing and raising children makes me think female (even if she technically isn’t)

      2. those leaving comments here have always referred to Ur with female pronouns

        Not all of them. I usually try to use “it” but “him” slips out sometimes. I can’t quite think of it of female for some weird reason. Even the Ur POV section a couple of arcs back sounded male in my head, despite the “kind-of-pregnant” content.

  3. First time commenting here, just wanted to say I’ve really enjoyed this arc. I wasn’t thrilled at the outset of Pact – the beginning didn’t grab me like Worm did – but I stuck with it because I knew how good it could get, and now it is definitely that good. Thanks for all the hard work you put into your writing, Wildbow.

  4. Aw Evan, you just know how to put the sweet in bittersweet. Also Rose, at least wait a day before you start talking about Barbie. Gosh, it’s like you’re itching to let it at someone.

      1. Actually, it’s not really clear. Time in the Drains could be dilated or compressed. We know that Rose had time to go back to Jacob’s Bell, met Mags, then there was the council meeting. Not even a week at the shortest.

        1. Other things that happened: Rose awakened herself, Rose was visited by her parents, the Astrologer thought about how to protect her legacy and either failed or succeeded (in any case, a building ended up aflame), Tiff got hurt, Mags got started on her Ambassador role, Evan may have been dying for a while, and Alexis and Ty were stressed to their limits (though that needn’t be solely due to how much time has passed; it could also be due to Blake’s almost-erasure).

          So…24h in Pact? Hah.

  5. Wait, so now he’s in a mirror? Was he in a mirror the whole time? Confused!
    I guess Rose was real but trapped in a mirror, and he was neither. But then why was rose able to break the windows and such? Some stuff still just doesn’t seem to add up, to me.

    1. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this arc, I just want a bit more explanation. How was rose trapped in a mirror? How did his friends know him if his memories were fake? How did his relatives not know Rose?

      1. Rose Sr.’s arrangement was not as simple as “make a vestige that exists in a mirror universe” (clearly, since Blake was the vestige and that would have been pointless). With the help of the Lawyers, the Barber, etc. she created the warrior Blake in the mirror universe and then switched the positions of him and Rose. She altered all familial connections, and, it would seem, created new ones between Blake and his friends. Altering the familial connections was probably easy: the connections to that child already existed, they just got shifted to a male version (and we already know that there are beings like Corvidae that can do a number on connections). Any continuity errors that existed due to the gender flip would be patched up by reality. And maybe they altered those connections a little in order to give Blake the life they wanted him to have (making it so that he would have ran away, etc.). The friends are more difficult…

        One possibility is that there really was a Blake. Not a Blake Thorburn, but a Blake who had a similar life to the memories of the vestige Blake Thorburn. This real Blake ran away from home, lived on the streets, was part of Carl’s cult, was rescued by Alexis, worked as something of a freelance artist’s assistant, had a wicked motorcycle. The vestige Blake was created partially using the memories and connections of this real Blake. Real Blake was either already dead, or was killed in the process of creating vestige Blake. It makes sense to have used real memories and connections – it would make the vestige more solid. The Lawyers probably had an easy time sourcing an abused warrior archetype for use in the ritual.

        So… Yeah, Blake is in a mirror now. No, he was not always in a mirror. Rose was in the mirror universe until Blake got knocked out (of reality). At that point, everything snapped back: the familial connections returned to Rose and she exited the mirror universe. Rose did not acquire Blake’s connections to his friends, because they were not hers to begin with. Even though Blake is back, the ritual that switched his position with Rose in broken and he is now what he was created as: a vestige in the mirror universe.

        (Oh, and mirrored/reflective surfaces act as windows between the two universes, so being able to break them makes sense. If you smash a window is breaks on both sides.)

        1. “Rose did not acquire Blake’s connections to his friends, because they were not hers to begin with.”

          Alternatively, Rose did acquire Blake’s connections to his friends. This is why they are so inclined to follow her lead, and trust her, even though they don’t really know why they trust her in the first place (they probably shouldn’t, given she’s still infected by Conquest, and apparently a Thorburn of the worst sort). This is why Cordivae’s connection-transfer skills are really, really frightening: you could find yourself lifelong friends, dating, even married for years, to a person you only met a few minutes ago.

          1. For a while Blake had all of Rose’s connections. Then when Blake was supposed to be no more Rose would have gotten them back. The thing is she seems to have gotten Blake’s connections, but without the context. The thing is, if Blake was fake from the begining, where did those connections come from in the first place? I think we may have another revelation in the future.

          2. I don’t think Corvidae really works like that… He shifts ownership, and doesn’t rewrite it. Thus, the way things went down with the Astrologer and the Sisters.

            1. Yeah, but maybe the barber/demon/whatnot in conjunction with corvidae would. Lots of cutting going on.

  6. I was a dedicated worm reader, and when pact started, I guess I just wasn’t ready to replace the characters whose head I inhabited a few times a week. But I’m caught up again, and looking forward to finishing pact with the midnight readers.

    Meanwhile, I am very close to something between angry shouts and wails at Blake’s situation. Goddamnit, Blake, goddamnit. I never liked rose much in the first place, I like her even less now, and to see poor Blake, who’s lived in almost constant pain and suffering since the start if the serial in her position makes me want to kick someone. Looking forward to seeing how characters will handle this on Tuesday.

    1. End of arc, so expect an interlude of some sort next Tues.

      Also, since I have appointments (and one family member’s birthday) in the middle of next week, I might have to put off the bonus chapter for a week – there’s only one in the queue, so it’s not putting me behind. Not sure. I ~would~ like to write it, it’s just awkward.

      1. Ok, thanks. Looking forward to the chapters.

        And in other news, I picked an absolutely horrible time to catch up. Wildbow cliffhangers are the only ones that can make me count down the hours until the next update.

        1. I agree about the cliffhangers. But you picked a great time to catch up. Imagine if you had caught up at the end of arc 7, as some did! Heh.

      2. Wildbow, thanks for your writing. It’s so good. Please don’t feel pressured by us, unless that becomes a good thing. We all appreciate the interludes, even if we’re on the edge of our seats for the main story too. The interludes force us to chill and adopt another perspective for a while, which helps our patience to no end.

        This has probably been discussed at some point, but I would’ve missed it. But, why Wildbow, the name? With your picture, I assume ‘bow’ is actually some phonetic accent for ‘boar’, which comes out at ‘Wild Boar’. Old nick perhaps?

        1. When I was looking for a name to write under, I wanted a pseudonym because I felt like if I ever wanted to get published, having my real name out there could bite me in the ass.

          But over about 25 variations on names, I found they were already taken. ‘Wildbow’ is a random, obscure monster from one of my favorite (and horribly translated) video games of all times.

          1. I’m sure we’d all like to know how the publishing thing is going – do you have any time at all to attend to that? I’d love to see Worm on the shelves, with a couple of key illustrations that hit the mark. The only problem I see is you possibly taking off a huge amount of time to do a final edit for Worm’s publishing, but that’s our problem! 😛

            Given the strong possibility that you could well be offered movie/series deals (possibly like GoT?) after being published, how would you approach that? They’d become black holes for your time, and what would happen to Pact ;O ? Scary. But then I’d hate to see Worm or Pact in some director’s hands who proceeds to butcher it as well, so we’d have to accept the absence I suppose.

  7. If Ur’s a minor/near moderate demon, that makes me wonder what sort of stuff more powerful ones are capable of.

      1. Stars,
        In your multitudes
        Scarce to be counted –

        hey, that song could totally work in the pactverse. AS LUCIFER FELL, THE FLAAAAaaaaAAME, THE SWOOooooOOORD.

        1. Jryy. . . Vg unf orra pbasvezrq gung va gur Jvyqobj zhygvirefr, gurer unf orra n pngnfgebcuvp zhygvcyr havirefr fcnaavat qrfgehpgvba gung unccrarq n srj zbaguf cevbe gb gur fgneg bs Cnpg.

          And the scary part is, nobody here knows about it.

            1. The comment has been ciphered using Rot13, the (Un)Official spoiler barrier for use in Wildbow’s works. Generally, the spoilers have to do with Worm, Wildbow’s other Major Work.

      1. Ur is only just getting to the stage where it is birthing motes. Its a minor on its way to moderate.

      2. She may be right about it bieng minor. But it’s very nature makes minor very subjective. It’s like saying it was only a small nuke. It’s still a fucking nuke.

        1. And they still built a kids camp on top of its wreckage.
          (yes, that was dumb.)
          (yes, they got yelled at –what part of Still Radioactive 60 Years Later was hard to understand…)

    1. One of the downsides of people not remembering the existence of anyone you defeat is that your fight score remains 0/0 for eternity, which makes it hard to rise in the ranks.

      OFC if you want to maintain a low profile……….

      1. Heh. How bad can it be? Have you heard of anyone it killed? Yeah, me neither. Funny story, though. You know how I live alone in that four-bedroom house? Well, I was just cleaning some junk out of the guest bedrooms when I found a kid’s soccer shirt with my last name on the back. It felt brand new and everything. And I don’t even know why I’d have a dresser in my bedroom filled with woman’s clothes… Don’t look at me like that. I don’t know why I bought them, but I remember it. What the hell was going through my mind?

            1. Ya, but anyone who knows how could beat it trivially – it’s just a matter of starting at the edge of the warehouse, making sure there’s constant illumination around you, and drawing inward. That’s why Blake said “I won”. Once that info gets out there, Urr is screwed.

    2. For all we know, the Barber performed an arbitrarily powerful act when he carved the reflection of whatever to create Blake. And this act was good enough to fool every powerful practitioner and Other in the vicinity etc, and it may even have created Rose’s mirror world. So yes, I can buy that he’s stronger, though my first reaction was “SERIOUSLY?”.

      And while Ur is humungous and powerful, it also seems to have lots of weaknesses and no human-level intelligence (if it had, Blake wouldn’t be alive now – it could just have thrown stuff at him until he’d died or stumbled out of the light), while the Barber is intelligent enough to skillfully torture people.

      1. I wonder if Ur can throw things. I mean, eating out part of the ceiling so it falls on Blake is pretty close to throwing things at him. But Ur never does. Every time Ur grabs Blake, it’s eating away at him. I wonder if Ur can’t throw rocks because it’s touch destroys. We did see it use a tool to cause sparks, but that was held by one of it’s imps. I think they may not have the destroying touch that Ur has.

      2. That’s a really interesting point! It might not (only) be that Rose is underestimating Ur, but that demons in general just utterly break the scale. Which makes sense with the “no really saying yes to the Demon Lawyers and giving the demons a foothold in this world is a Very Bad Thing.”

        OTOH Ur has displayed some signs of intelligence:
        1)Propping up the walls “containing” it to continue incubating ….something.
        2)The fact that it ate its name rather than allow it to be bound, observing the letter while undermining the spirit of what Rose was doing.

        if it had, Blake wouldn’t be alive now

        That’s not at all clear. Perhaps it wanted him to escape. Incubation? Radiation? I got the impression from the second encounter and Ur-POV-bit that Ur had wanted him to escape the first time, who knows what Ur wanted this time. Maybe it was just trying to put up a convincing enough fight to not make him realize he’d been let go on purpose!

  8. What good is a boogyman if he’s stuck in a mirror? Blake’s gotta fix that.

    How is Blake being filled with spirits? I thought there were none in the Drains or the Mirror world?

    What if Rose is still in the mirror and everything Blake’s been seeing has been the new reflections of people made to fill her world?

    Did Blake just beat Erasurrr? If so, he needs to kill her and take her power.

    Blake and Evan. Reunited at last.

    So what’s Blake’s rules/specialty as an Other? I kinda wanna see him start shooting off Spirit Birds and branches at his enemies.

    So remember kids, not only is graffiti fun, it saves lives too!

    1. I think the spirits are from his time before the Ur incident. He just didn’t realize what was happening (mostly because he didn’t realize how much damage was being done).

    2. Nothing but guesses from me, but if you’re interested:

      I think the ones in the Drains were the ones he brought with him, and he was just suppressing it along with the reality of his situation or something. Same thing with the mirror world, I guess? If being in the mirror world cuts him off from spirits, there might be some trouble if Rose and the ex-blakeguard aren’t willing to give him some energy.

      That thought about self-contained mirror worlds is way too complicated for so late at night, sorry.

      Would Blake really want to take anything from Ur? I can’t imagine any part or aspect of that beast not warping him somehow. It’d be like taking something from Pauz.

      I get the impression that the ‘birds’ are just patching things up by filling in the blanks. If Blake were to try launching them, he’d be losing those improvised fixes as well. Brings to mind a certain regenerating character from Worm…

      The mechanics of Blake’s ‘branches’ are very interesting, but seemed to kind of come out of nowhere. A gift from the Drains perhaps, to give him a way to survive beyond his normal expiration date? A built-in backup plan by granny Rose, in case he and junior Rose got separated? The normal progression of vestige decay?

      1. Oooh, I bet the branches are from a rose bush. A thick tangle of bare, thorny branches from a rose bush. It would make symbolic sense no? 🙂

      2. Renember the beginning, when Blake was still thought of as a real person. THe tatoos on hs arms were birds on some branches. The indicated his state of “drain” when he spent energy/personal power.
        The spirits inhabiting him and filling the voids are not spirits of birds, they fill a mold and take a form which either is determined by external factors (i.e. Johannes domain) or by internal factors, like symbols already present (i.e. Blakes tatoos).
        To get “rid” of them… I do not think that is possible, because it was stated so in the one interlude chapter (The one with the posseded football player), BUT Blake is an Other, different rules quite possibly apply.

        Thought experiment: perhaps it would be quite possible for a partly possesed practitioneer to get a demesme, and releasing/exorcising the spirits there, more or less having them still be a part of him/her, but bound to the domain, as a sort of power source.
        Of course the parts the spirit(s) had occupied would have to be filled again with “self”.

        But hey, the Rule Of Three is in full effect! Not only escaped Blake from Ur, he also found out how to beat that Mother of Oblivion.

        Also, nice to note that the “reflective surface”-connection still exists.

    3. I believe the birds and branches come from the time he bled himself dry at the police station. Remember Fell thought he was possessed back then (and he was indeed). Blake had the tattoos before. I think the spirits that invaded him took on the tattoos as a way to “express themselves”.

      1. Come to think of it, no wonder Fell reacted like that — what he saw must have been very close to what Blake looks like now.

        Before then, I assume Blake was capable of ‘passing’, but after that any competent practitioner would see something was up.

    4. Is it certain that Blake really is in a mirror world at the moment? I don’t think it is. We don’t really have any real reasons to think it either, except for the Rose/Blake thing going on from the start. Oh, and the fact that Blake didn’t talk about getting from the factory to his apartment either. But then, he did start describing it from the outside, with the boxes being outside. Anyhow, mirrors may just be a portal between them, albeit one that cannot be passed through physically. He could turn up in Jacob’s Bell and be there too. The mirror portal thing may just be a binding that continues and provides useful communications, if nothing else.

  9. I knew this mirror thing was going to happen sooner or later. The tables have turned, aha. Let’s hope they get along better than Rose and Blake did in the beginning, eh?

      1. You don’t see Blake offering himself as a Familiar to Rose? Vestige needs power, or he’ll fade. That’s probably his best way back into the thick of things, and seriously, probably one of the best choices Rose could make too. I mean, who wouldn’t want a familiar that bested Conquest and clawed it’s way out of oblivion?

        1. who wouldn’t want a familiar that bested Conquest and clawed it’s way out of oblivion?

          Someone who doesn’t remember anything about him?

    1. At this point, I’m thinking Blake might be better off going to Mags and becoming her familiar. Rose has used up and discarded Blake, and none of them remember he exists, but Mags could use a friend to watch her back, given her new role. It’s not like there’s anything that ties him to the Thorburns, except the part where Rose is effectively holding his friends hostage.

      1. I don’t know if Rose is holding his friends hostage. In a lot of ways what she’s doing is the same thing Blake did in Toronto. But Blake has realized just how bad a thing he’s done dragging them into this mess.

        Also does Blake know who Mags is? We don’t want him messing up and going to Maggie Holt, now do we?

  10. Thank the Lord (or fallen god of simplicity, your choice really) for Pact updates. I was planning on suffering through the few days until Sunday for another update, but lo and behold, my email inbox tells me of a new update. My life is now complete!

  11. Wait, I’m having trouble visualizing the pattern of light on the floor. If it’s sunlight, the beams should be (arbitrarily close to) parallel, so they shouldn’t cross to make the squares and diamonds described. Heck, winter in the northern hemisphere, I don’t think there should be light from the north windows in the first place. If it’s not sunlight, just light entering a dim space from the lighter outside, it oughtta just be too diffuse to make the clean shapes described. Could just be that light works funky in mirror-land.

    On a completely different topic, Blake couldn’t lie and he was a real boy, but can now lie, is becoming wooden and he just crawled out a metaphorical whale’s belly. Does this make Urr the anti-Blue Fairy and Barbie some demonic Geppetto?

    1. If there are two windows on the southeast side, and four on the southwest (with accompanying two on the northwest and four on the northeast providing negligible light), then the light should all cross in the middle somewhere. That also matches the description of the light getting more diffuse as time goes on.

      On an unrelated note, the hell is “winter in the northern hemisphere” supposed to mean? It’s Toronto, not the North Pole; it’s completely possible for light to be falling in shafts from two opposing windows simultaneously, even in winter.

      1. If there are two windows on the southeast side, and four on the southwest, then all the shafts of light will still point directly away from the sun.

          1. Then there’s something else going on. Take a close look. If the light is coming straight from the sun and going only through a flat window, it’s going to point away from the sun. You’re probably seeing a reflection or a streetlight or something. In-story, Leveret and TheEyes probably have the right idea.

          2. Your real-life experience has nothing to do with this beautiful discussion of theoretical light mechanics. Why do you even intrude, with your ‘facts’. This is pure, this is holy, this is /theory/.

            I’m amused.

      2. Yeah, mentioning winter was unnecessary. North of the tropic of cancer, regardless of the time of year, the sun will always be in the southern half of the sky. So, as you noted, light from north-facing will be negligible. The only windows mentioned, so presumably the sources of the light beams, are two on the north face and four on the east face. So of which, only the eastern ones could grant light beams. Parallel light beams.

          1. It would refract at both air-glass interfaces (entering, exiting the glass), and still end up parallel to the incident ray.

            We could just go with “some combination of Grandma Rose, the lawyers, and the Barber created the mirror world, and none of them had studied physics.” 😛

        1. I live much farther north than Toronto, and I think you’re dramatically overestimating how low the sun is in the sky. I’ve personally seen north-facing windows cast “shafts” of light when the sun is almost directly overhead.

          But I digress: the sun is explicitly not overhead, and rising; it’s morning, which of course makes sense from a symbolic perspective as well.

          I don’t claim to be an expert in optics, but it just so happens that I live in a house approximately 500 km north of Toronto, and that that house has windows. I can therefore personally verify that distinct shafts of light are sometimes cast by these windows – particularly in early morning and late night, for obvious reasons – despite the fact that not all of the windows face south.

          I can also verify that the light doesn’t shine straight south to north – it shines directly away from the window, at a slant depending on where the sun is. I could even check the angle for you if the sun were up right now.

        2. actually, the winter part is relevant. north of the polar circle the sun will go all the way around the horizon at the summer solstice. And even farther south, the sun goes up and down slightly towards the northeast/northwest in summer.

    2. You are imagining light from a point source. That is not the case. Light from the Sun is from a point source until it enters Earth’s atmosphere, at which point it is diffused.

      If you have a large box, and poke two long, vertical thin holes on each side of the box, and put a webcam inside, then carry it outside into the sunlight, the diffuse light from the sun will create a pattern of light inside the box.

      The factory probably has a few small windows, and lots of floorspace, far from those windows, so there would be patterns just like what one might see in the box.

      To really see patterns from diffuse light, the overall light level in the enclosure must be very low, which we know to be the case in the factory – or else Ur would not be there.

      I do not think the patterns would be crisp, clean patterns, because they come from diffuse light, but Blake may be seeing things differently from you and I. He’s been in real darkness for a long time. Even a little bit of light will seem like a great deal to him, variations of light levels might be easily visible to him as an Other.

      1. I am working to find examples of crossing natural light.

        It’s a lot harder than I thought to find pictures of light patterns in old abandoned buildings with few/small windows, taken under natural sunlight. From the inside.

        Maybe others can find more, but the one above shows the phenomenon exists.

      2. Neat pic. From the looks of it, I’d guess that the sun’s to the left and responsible for the sharp horizontal stripes while the light from the center window is less a shaft of light than the shiny floor reflecting the bright sky outside. i.e. the effect would not be so distinct were the floor matte rather than nice, shiny tiles. The sharp edges to the central beam seem to actually be the borders of tiles.

        From my recollection of double-slit interference stuff. it’s generally considered proper to use a point light source, but that’s more to demonstrate that the light is being diffracted by the slits like a wave than it is necessary to the effect. I think diffuse light would still create such interference patterns, but as the breadth of the window is not comparable to the wavelength of visible light, interference is out. Plus, interference with a spectrum, as from diffuse sunlight, tends to create RAINBOWS!

        The most optically sound theory that I can come up with, barring Wildbow doing clever foreshadowing, failing optics or calling in a favor from Legend, is that the walls of the factory are fairly thick, thus blocking light that is too far from perpendicular to the wall. The windows would thus project the diffuse light in a pyramidal fashion. Where the beam from one window overlaps another, the floor is brighter. The problem with this is that the walls would have to be somewhere in the range of thicker than the windows are wide, and that the they’d cast most of their light on the far wall, though this is mitigated by the fact that the sky tends to be brighter above the horizon.

      3. “I do not think the patterns would be crisp, clean patterns, because they come from diffuse light”
        Remember that Blake is in the mirror world from the start of this chapter, as far as I can tell. Since dark parts literally don’t exist (or are literally inaccessible), this heightens the contrast by a lot.

        1. That’s a good point which I had not considered. Light and darkness in the mirror world might not work the same way as they do in the real world. If light in the mirror world comes from light in the real world shining against reflective surfaces, then every window in the factory would have been a direct light source – and that would certainly cause patterns on the factory floor..

  12. So, I don’t understand… He fought Ur in the physical world (or maybe the spirit world), but then he entered the Mirror world to get to Hillsglade House? I guess that means he can leave the mirror world as well, though, right? Or did he trap himself forever?

      1. Hmm, okeeey. “dark, still, silent Toronto.” was the only indicator something was afoot. But no other indication was given for him being in some mirror-verse or the spirit world.
        Unless the “no sound” in the factory was meant to indicate that.
        Hmm, or are his birds only so pronounced because he is in the spirit world? Shouldn’t he recognize that immediatly because he already was there?

        My impression was that Blake had the “connection via reflective surface” thing going on, establishing a connection because he thought very hard about them while staring into a mirror.

      2. Hmmm, I note that you’re not saying he fought Ur in the mirror world either. Others have found lots of clues indicating that he’s in the mirror world AFTER the fight, but as people pointed out Ur was not a permanent resident of the mirror world when Blake, Rose and Evant first encounterd him.
        Or maybe he set up shop there after that encounter?

        1. Or Ur followed Blake there when the latter exited the Drains. And IIRC, at one point during the first Ur encounter, Rose was in mortal peril because Ur had entered her mirror.

        2. Ur is an abstract demon. It’s reflection is the demon itself, in a very real and tangible sense. It can straddle such flimsy boundaries as mirrors at will. That’s why you’re not supposed to look directly at it. It’ll be reflected in your eyes. The factory interior is probably pretty much identical in both worlds, at least in terms of obvious landmarks like “windows with light shining in”, “concrete floor” and “reality-eating demon”.

        3. There are at least three clues during the fight. (Wildbow, if you need reader calibration for hint subtlety: I noticed all these during the first read, but I thought two were errors rather clues, and didn’t understand the middle one. And I only realized their meaning after seeing some comments.)

          But, if you remember Rose’s descriptions earlier, the mirror world consisted of mostly darkness, except that reflective surfaces cast light in the “mirror world”, and things that are reflected in them in the real life are manifested in the “mirror world” as well. Now, check this out:

          I ran to the place where the shafts of light across the floor criss-crossed. Diamonds and squares were formed where the light crossed paths.

          There are quite a few comments above about this. While it’s not really impossible, it’s quite difficult for this to happen in real life with natural illumination. But it’s exactly what would happen if the windows themselves cast light.

          I aimed for the thickest patch of darkness. The light didn’t penetrate. It was as though there was no surface there to catch the light.

          Exactly the way Rose described it: nothing at all between the lit parts, not just darkness.

          Broken window or run for the intact window, further away?

          Ask yourself, if you’re trapped in a factory and really need to get out ASAP, why would you consider running to an intact window that is further away from you, rather than just pick the closer, broken (i.e., without glass) one? Because there is only darkness behind the broken one, but there’s an outside visible through the intact one. (I think Blake had caught on by this point.)

  13. ok, we are going to need a lot more info on how the mirror world works, have people already theorized back when rose first appeared? i remember rose describing it as patches of light she could jump into or something like that, but it seems like its a complete world that only interacts with the other through mirrors, mmm, may its best just to wait until the next chapter, i’m sure everything will be explained.

    1. Maybe a human carved out into the spirit realm experiences something much scarier than an Other created with a strong link to reflective surfaces.

    2. When Rose was in it, the mirror world was only present where 1)Blake was nearby or 2)the house was. But now that we know Rose was the real one, Blake seems to have free roaming in the mirror world. Given the existence of persistent differences (something changed there a week ago would still be different when Rose returned–hence the different books at awakening), it stands to reason that it existed the whole time but Rose only had access to the part of it being accessed by its proper inhabitant. If she had to be feeding him power all the time then the link between them might be strongest where the worlds are closest (etc etc)? Now that that’s no longer the case there’s no reason for the restriction.

      1. It’s not that, Rose could only go to those places that Blake went to. And they’ve both been to the factory and all over Jacob’s Bell. His “mirror world” assuming it contains the travels of physical Blake and physical Rose is gigantic compared to what Rose had at the beginning.

        1. I think the better interpretation is that the mirror world is BLAKE’S. Because it’s his, Rose could only exist near him (and at the house, which was a demesne).

          So Blake now has free reign, but Rose never did because Blake was the one tied to the mirror world.

          1. That’s really clever. I like it.

            It kinda gives some credence to the idea in some of the early comments that Blake should claim the mirror world as his desmense. While, as an Other, Blake may not be able to have a desmense, he can have the mirror world as his realm, just as Conquest had his (runons Ftw!).

            1. I’m wondering if doing something like Mags naming ritual might help Blake out. Or destroy him utterly if he fails at it, but at this point, he’s going to end up loosing all the things he wanted to keep.

      2. Oh, good thinking. That actually makes sense of it.
        To continue that line of thinking, maybe Rose’s mirror world wasn’t present only close to Blake and the house, but only close to Blake and the Barber, because the Barber carved this reflection of the real world. (That would also easily make the Barber more powerful than Ur.)

        Before Wildbow commented on this, I was leaning towards “Blake isn’t on the other side of the mirror; this is a fakeout”, exactly because Rose’s mirror world worked differently from what seemed to be Blake’s. And since Rose was demonstrably able to teleport between illuminated places, we know she hadn’t lied about this. So if Blake’s mirror world worked like Rose’s, he wouldn’t have been able to fight Ur in near total darkness, nor could he have gone to “his” former apartment.

        Also, this implies that Blake only defeated Ur in the mirror world, which is… a downer. Maybe what he did here would not work in the real world?

        More hints in this chapter that this is the mirror world (which I only noticed upon rereading):
        – Paragraph 4: “After the Drains, near-complete darkness and then the brightness of the lost god’s light, the contrast seemed stark here. Even the dim seemed far brighter than the tracts of utter darkness that the sunlight didn’t touch.”
        – In this chapter, there significantly isn’t any travel between places; instead, there’s just the small square “change of scene” sign.
        – Mirrors or reflective surfaces appear in all scenes: The windows and the Hyena in Ur’s factory, the bathroom mirror, the side view mirror of Joel’s car (a neat nod back to chapter ~1.2!), and the mirror in the Thorburn manor.
        – Actually, do Blake’s lines “I’m back” and “Welcome home, Blake” signify that he realized this was where he’d end up, since the mirror world is presumably his birth place? Probably not, given what happens in the Joel scene. On the other hand, the word “illusion” appears later on. It’s potential foreshadowing all the same.
        – Same with “[Ur] extended from this reality to the Drains, and maybe to other places” (emphasis mine).
        – “He’d replaced the bathroom mirror. I stepped in there, and I gazed at my reflection.” – This may not have been a typo.
        – “I reached the garage, and I felt a moment’s trepidation, seeing how dark the place was. It made me think of Ur, and the Drains.”
        – “My fingertip brushed glass. With a final surge of strength, I heaved myself forward and through.” – Is this a “WHAT THE HELL? Wildbow, you magnificent bastard!” line, or does this just refer to the broken window? Maybe Blake only thought he moved through a broken window?

  14. Rose called Blake “something”. Ouch. Blake might be an Other but still…

    Also, Blake was in the spirit world or the mirror world all along? Might want to make that clear in the chapter?

    Loved the chapter! Glad to have Blake back on the “real” world!

    1. Your comment just made me realise why Laird was fine kicking Blake in the face – his oath to help and never harm people only applies to humans.
      Go re-read each of the problematic points, ever since the first encounter, everything falls into place.

      I’d say ‘how did we not see that coming’, but we did and ended up with wrong conclusions. We litterally got kansas city shuffled.

      Thank you wildbow for the expert foreshadowing.

      1. Argh, that’s brilliant. As I said, eventually every single line in Pact will have been foreshadowing for something.

        But this means Laird knew about Blake from the beginning, which is…weird.
        That said, Laird did say he’d prepared against Rose Sr. for all his life, and he did learn diabolism.

        Open question: Were all of Laird’s lines consistent with the fact that he knew Blake wasn’t human, even when he talked to third parties?

        1. Well, there is the thing about Laird’s father and RDT conspiring to try to change their world’s status quo using the next generation, so he may have heard about RDT’s crazy plan to some extent…I’m still kinda confused about what exactly RDT and Laird’s dad were trying to do…

  15. How did Blake see his reflection earlier, if he’s stuck in the mirror world? Mirrors would be windows to him, not reflectors; I remember that Rose couldn’t see her reflection (and she had troubled dressing herself because of it). So, theory: He’s not stuck – he can jump between both worlds like many Others, and he had to go to the mirror world to visit the house because he couldn’t get around the real world protections otherwise.

    Blake, the Thorburn bogeyman – I like it. I wasn’t sure how he was going to fight his way out of the Factory with just the Hyena and sheer grit, but he did, and in a way that was believable too. I can’t wait to see how his talk with Rose goes.

    Someone is inside, Rose Thorburn. Someone, and don’t you forget it.

    1. Maybe he is not in the limited mirror world of Rose… the battle in the factory did not seem to fit with what Rose’s world was supposed to be like (unless Rose lied about it..)

      “He didn’t fight Ur in the physical world.” might mean that he fought Ur in the spirit world, the place where the fight against Conquest took place.

      If he is in the spirit world, maybe a mirror might allow him to reach the real world although he is not in it. The situation is not the same as with Rose anyhow since, presumably, Rose has a reflection now unlike pre-Drains-Blake.

      Or, the mirror world of Rose were a limited access to the spirit world while Blake is in the unrestricted variety of the same thing. That might make more sense than if there is an entire world just for mirror-dwellers.

        1. Then how did he interact with all the people he interacted with while in the mirror world? I mean, including all the normals he saw/talked to.

  16. So, Blake didn’t seem to be experiencing the “glimmers of light in the darkness” mirrorscape that Rose had. Does he have the whole wide unpopulated mirrorverse to explore, then? Did he just make the trek to Jacob’s Bell from Toronto? I suppose I can understand how Ur exists simultaneously in both the world and the mirror, but everything else?

    1. Well, he didn’t see anyone else in toronto. See “dark, still, silent Toronto”. I’m thinking he’s instantly moving around through mirrors, like Rose.

      1. I’m pretty sure he does. That also explains how he got in his apartment. (Joel probably changed the locks, and I doubt Blake would have carried his key through the Drains anyway.)

        1. This comment is almost an exact copy of your previous one, just flipped around. It doesn’t add anything new, it only shows that which was right in front of it.

            1. Though you pale in comparision to what Psycho Gecko was like. He was a mad god of puns. Or just mad.

  17. Oh, so it wasn’t Ur messing with darkness that caused the light from the hyena to not be reflected that far, but it was because there wasn’t a reflective surface in that direction so the mirror world ended?

    …Two questions. First:
    How did Blake get to the house? Did he mirror jump or take a vehicle? If former, then he shouldn’t have been surprised at the two lines of this chapter
    Second:
    How in the actual HELL did Rose fix the problem with the time-barrier??

    Since mags delivered a letter to their doorstep, they obviously got rid of it altogether instead of using mirrors or soemthgin like that. Hm… Magic?

    I still want to know how Blake got blind in one eye.
    Spirit-sweatshirt for the win!!

      1. Yeah but he burned it out, same as he did with the hyena. And he was using both eyes just fine until he fell to the Drains…

        1. Before Blake fell into the Drains, Rose had the vestige body (no heartbeat etc), Blake the real one.

          In the numerous times when Blake sustained damage, it was apparently shored up with spirits, as if he’d healed it with glamour. And when Blake and Rose switched places again, some or all of the repaired damage apparently returned.

          1. Blake actually did heal up using glamour. He specifically healed some wounds after binding Pauz with glamour. Blake remarks that coming to the Void made him lose the glamour and have the wounds return.

            Your point about some wounds apparently being fixed/filled with spirits still stands, as this chapter points out.

    1. “How in the actual HELL did Rose fix the problem with the time-barrier??”

      Remember from the big battle with Conquest that the time magic isn’t really TIME magic. It influences your perception of time. Once you realize that then you could probably come up with a dozen different ways to get past it. I imagine just getting up enough momentum so that you couldn’t stop yourself from falling across the barrier would do the trick, depending on how wide the barrier is. I’d test it by throwing a rock or something across first, though.

    1. Blake is currently in the Mirror world, so if C-Word is bound in a mirror placed inside Blake’s toolbox, it probably won’t show up on Blake’s side of the mirror maybe due to some law of bound things being in 1 place at 1 time. That or “Maggie Holt” took it.

      1. You know, it also occurs to me that right after Blake bound Conquest, he put him in a box and apparently didn’t check on him at all. At that time, Rose was also behind mirrors, not always visible to Blake, and apparently she could lie. And she sounded a bit conquesty in the last chapter…

        1. She’s definitely been tainted by Conquest, that was made pretty clear, but I don’t think Conquest has been able to influence her while trapped in the mirror.

          The point of the toolbox was to cut off the light. The way the mirror world works is that the only “stuff” in the mirror world is that which is reflected from a mirror. Cover the mirror and throw it in a sealed box, and there’s simply no world there for Conquest to do anything in.

          So Conquest is basically trapped in a featureless void until someone releases him from the toolbox (you know it’ll happen, eventually).

          1. The point of the toolbox was to cut off the light. The way the mirror world works is that the only “stuff” in the mirror world is that which is reflected from a mirror.

            Hmm, that’s a good point. I thought maybe Rose lied about some of that, but it seems to be confirmed by Blake’s POV now.

  18. Great show, old boy. This arc REALLY hit the spot, and was generally really satisfying to read. You managed to avoid the cliches and tedium of the near-mandatory fantasy setting of “oh the hero is trapped in the underworld, I wonder what will happen” that seems so prevalent, now.

    I look forward to Evan’s inevitable rebirth in fire.

    Less related: lyrics for ‘Ddiamondd’, by Battles, which is this chapter’s theme.. In my eyes, anyway:

    The diamond that was stolen held the code that melted
    Water into letters spelling, where it had been taken to
    In fact, I had a vision of the numbers
    Corresponding with the letters, T H E D I A M O N D

    They’re suspended like a prism splitting floodlight
    To poles of primary colors clawing the veil of the vacuum
    There’s a picture of this given to authorities, the sentence
    “I’m an architect and here’s my prison” written on it

    With schematics so meticulous the measurements
    Of super-impositions of a room within the window
    Make a dream that ends up being such an entity in your
    Reflection, you are the dream to it, you are the prism

    The mirrors in the corner throwing images
    Against the other mirrors made counting corners impossible
    The breaking news had counted one, two, three, four, five
    Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven corners of the mirrored corners

    Why have you done? What you have done something
    Is so sinister when staring at the diamond something
    You have done sinister why have you done this am I in the mirror?
    Am I what you have been staring at, am I a diamond?

    Just like a reflection of a friend of mine
    I am a reflection of an enemy, am I a reflection of an enemy
    Just like a reflection of a friend of mine?

  19. Praise:

    • Blake’s notion of beating Ur with artistry was truly brilliant. And what he drew was also so appropriate! And it’s even better that he beat Ur in the mirror world, because this means his trick may possibly not work in the real one.
    • I loved the chapter ending, and upon rereading I loved how you could fit tons of oblique hints to Blake being in the mirror world, presumably without anyone noticing until the chapter ended.

    (Incidentally, due to negativity bias – losses loom larger than gains by a factor of 2-2.5, and I figure the ratio between criticism and praise is similar – I figure I ought to give 2-2.5x as much praise as criticism even if I only felt ambivalent about a chapter. But that seems rather impossible. So have a donation for the cleverness of this arc and this chapter instead.)

  20. Comments:

    1. “he extended from this reality to the Drains, and maybe to other places” -> I can’t believe none of us commenters thought of that last chapter. The factory seal is not perfect, which means Ur may be free to do… bad stuff elsewhere.

    2. I loved Blake’s artistry as much as I loathed Blake’s suicidal jump into the fray. Before I finished the chapter, my main thought was simply: “What if it had been night in the factory?! He’d have been doomed!” Now that I have finished the chapter, I have no idea if he even could have returned at a time when it wasn’t daylight.

    3. Favorite line: “I’d never been much of an artist. It didn’t help that I’d never existed, but the point stood.”

    4. Blake really needs a power source before he becomes all bird spirits but no more Blake. But I don’t see Blake becoming Rose’s familiar. Not now, anyway. Maybe later, if they come to trust one another eventually.

    5. The short conversation between Alexis and Rose on trust was brilliant, on both sides.

    6. Concerning the ending of this chapter (and arc): again, Blake is still not bound by the seal of Solomon. (Is that why he could enter the house?) He’s an Other, he’s unknown, he can lie, and he’s inside the suppposed Thorburn sanctuary at a time when Rose & co are at war. That makes Blake exceedingly dangerous to our cabal, and completely justifies their fear.

    7. Therefore, my guess is that Blake will allow them to bind him to the seal of Solomon (depending on what that entails), or ask them to help him awaken himself – one of the two – so he can no longer lie; until he does, he has no way of arguing his case. I mean, would you believe me if I told you that “I’m your long lost alter ego [i.e. relative], but you forgot me”? Sounds like an inheritance scam.

    8. But in any case, I do fully expect Blake to tell the truth. I neither want to nor can see him be as manipulative with Rose & co as Carl and Rose Sr were to him.

    9. Any guesses as to which Histories chapter comes next? My top three: Rose Sr. (more of her diary and/or of her plot regarding Blake), Rose, and… I’m drawing a blank.

    1. Rose and co. know they were at the factory, and presumably they know about Ur’s power. Rose also knows she had some plan with someone inside the factory due to that note she left herself, the one which she and only she read. Blake could probably say “I can’t believe you left me back in the factory” and she’d figure it out immediately.

      1. Yes, Rose and co. knew about the factory, but so do Isadora, the Sisters, Maggie Holt, etc. If they do, the Drunk might have found out as well, and via that, Sarah Duchamp or another of Rose’s enemies. If I were aiming to assassinate a diabolist in her unassailable sanctuary, getting them to invite their would-be murderer in themselves would be one pathway to take.

        In fact, something like this very nearly happened to Blake early on when Others who were after the bounty for killed Thorburns impersonated a pizza delivery man.

        Not to mention that as far as Rose & co know, when Ur erases someone they should be gone for good. And that whatever is in front of them is clearly Other.

        1. I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t go well. I mean when do things ever go well for Blake. But it also depends on how bad Rose really is. And how much she can piece together about what happened before the factory. Evan seems to have been drawn to Blake too. Well if he can keep them from trying to bind or destroy him long enough to get Mags in to collaborate what he’s saying, that would help.

      1. A PoV from the heroic fight of Ur against the once dreaded god of light, that wants to singe the world in his everlasting blinding light, which would destroy the very concept of darkness and against the Drains that contain him, that tortue and create a vast amount of monsters that from time to time escape into the world where they terrorise the poor mortals.
        But Ur was hindered, when an Other it thought already defeated, came back, again, and helped the dreaded god and the Drains and safed both from Ur.
        Humanity will suffer for Urs failure
  21. I wonder what kind of Other Blake originally was (if that is even applicable). Some possibilities:

    Devil. Unlikely because Blake is able to do many things (like create) that you wouldn’t expect from a demon.
    Angel. Likewise, though I guess they might have more leeway. A huge plot by Granny Rose to fuck up some status quo.
    Ghost/dead soul like Evan: maybe that of the “original” Blake, if applicable.
    An old fae who decided to restart from the beginning because of boredom.
    A goblin.
    Someone who Granny Rose pulled from the Drains?
    An avatar of Bloodymindedness.

    1. An incarnation of perseverence? He just refuses to stop no matter what shit life throws at him.

      Seriously Blake really deserves a happy ending. He’s earned it. Not a ambigous happy ending, not a estroic happy ending, not one of those “He dies but saves everyone else so he dies happy” endings. A straight up happy happy ending.

  22. Anyone remember what happened to the glamour locket? Did Blake have it on him when he fell into the Drains? Did Ur eat it? He could really do with a dab of the good stuff to patch himself up right now.

  23. “Welcome home, Blake, I thought.”
    He thinks that while being stuck in a factory with an oblivion demon. Blake’s finally figured out what his life is really like. We’re absolutly sure Wildbow isn’t some sort of demon, right?

      1. Let’s not forget our free time. He devours that. He also toys with our emotions, and makes us hope, then despair. Then repeat. We care about his creations, so we feel for them as they are tormented.

        1. His works do devour our free time, but demons only destroy. The mere fact that Wildbow creates Pact (and the fact that Pact is not merely the pattern left behind after something was taken from us) proves him non-demonic.

          1. That’s demons of Darkness. There’s six other choirs. Wildbow could belong to the choir of Ruin, or the choir of Madness.

            Or the choir of Sin, perhaps? 😉

            1. Demons in general just destroy, I thought. Wasn’t that the in-universe point of Darth Granny’s spiel in Dark Names?

  24. Evan’s right, she’s flippin’ crazy.

    So, tell me if I’m wrong:
    1.) Blake is still undergoing the trial for the future.
    2.) He’s in the mirror world.
    3.) Any damage he takes gets patched up by other Spirits.

    Questions:
    1.) Why can’t he throw away the sweat shirt again?

    1. I wonder if Blake would fail the future trial if his mind stays in the place it is now. The past, you can’t change. You have to accept it. For Blake this meant revisiting it. And then accepting it wasn’t real. That in truth he had no past.

      The present is what is happening now. Where you are. Blake had to accept that in the present, he’s caused a lot of damage. He’s hurt people, they are suffering because of his mistakes and failures. The flipside is that he wasn’t motivated by greed, or evil. Their was no malice. So now he must attempt to repair or recompensate the damage he has done.

      But the future is different. You can’t change the past. You live in the present. But you make the future. It hasn’t happened yet. Right now Blake is living on borrowed time, and feeling less like a person. And if he feels he has no future, then he has no future. He has to decide who he wants to be, and what he wants to do, and make that happen. Remember the drain witches advice. Pick the best parts of human and other. Work to be what he wants to be. Just because something is does not mean it always will be. But if he accepts that he is to dissappear or be taken over, if he stops looking for a way to be Blake and live, then he can never win. Turn the drains and the trials from a compost heap trying to break him down, to a crucible that forges him anew.

    2. He could, but he doesn’t feel he should. First, it’s a gift from someone who gave him more thanIhe deserved. Second, it’s not just a sweatshirt anymore. It’s part real, part…something else. A spirit sweatshirt, maybe. Or one infused with spirits.
      That could be useful. Maybe he can tap it. Or use it to bargin. It’s best to keep it anyways. Might be important

      1. It was a gift, and in a lot of ancient cultures gifts were something you treated with respect. You didn’t throw them out if you decided you didn’t like it. So it’s the sort of thing where if you keep it it’s good Karma, and if you throw it away it’s bad Karma. Also it represents one of the very few connections he has right now.

    1. Ur’s an abstract demon of the first choir. Its rules are not those followed by the puny humans. And when something does interact with the mirror world, e.g. Padraic, she’s not as used to fighting as Blake is.

    2. Ur was specifically shown as being able to enter or exist within the mirror world. Additionally, Blake, in the mirror world, was able to use reflections to send light to the real world.

  25. Had a dream last night. Blake was on the verge of crumbling apart, and was getting ready to make the rounds for his final goodbyes. He basicly shored himself up, made a few weapons in case he was attacked, and went out. His first stop was Molly’s shrine that Mags made. He talks to Molly’s ghost about how in the end neither one of them was meant to last they were sacrifices. Then Mags shows up and tells Blake Bullshit. It wasn’t fated that Molly died. Molly died because some assholes tricked and idiot into killing her. Mags tells Blake that while they aren’t the same, they are both scrappy sorts who won’t lay down and dissapper even if the universe thinks they should, that they’ll make their own place and do it without sacrificing who they are. She gives Blake a hug and tells him she’ll see him again, and says she knows he’ll make it. Then I woke up.

  26. well, finally, were are back to the point where i wanted to be. from the moment we found out about the time slowing spell around the house i wanted to just return there, we are on step one back again, finally we can continue the story of jacob’s bell

  27. Actually, I just realized the end of this arc would again work well for a POV switch to Rose (to mirror the scene from chapter 1-1), but since it didn’t happen by arc 9, I no longer expect one in the remainder of the story.

  28. “I might never get to ride my motorcycle again.” (9.5)

    This takes on a whole new meaning when we realize Blake is now trapped in mirrors.

  29. Nice touch with the wording, how Blake had almost forgotten his face. You could have mentioned how for 9 arcs now Blake has been seeing Rose instead of himself, but that would have reminded us of the transition early.

    Speaking of the transition, somehow Blake traveled to two houses without realizing he’s behind a mirror and while interacting with the full property. How did that happen?

      1. Off thread topic:
        When did your image change? Or am I misremembering? The problem with stored Gravatars and equivalent is that, once they are changed, they are also effectively retconned.

  30. So The Thorburn Boogeyman was able to enter Hillsglade House (that’s the name right?) without being invited or noticed (at first). The house is filled with desmenses which is why it was a safe haven for Blake and Rose. Others wouldn’t be able to enter without permission. From this, i can draw 2 possible conclusions (which aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive). 1) The universe still considers him to be a Thorburn, not requiring the invite. Or 2) Blake has developed a Barber level ability as an Other: He can now penetrate desmenses.

    2 would make sense, as all we’ve seen of Blake since embracing Othership is him breaking thru barriers and overcomimg trials.

    Be afraid, the Thorburn Boogieman is more fearsome than he realizes.

    1. And yes, I did just spell boogyman two different ways in the same comment. I’m sure you can find the deeper meanin

    2. I figured being restricted from entering demesnes without permission was part of the seal of Solomon (which protects practitioners from Others, and Others from practitioners). Blake can still lie, so he isn’t covered by that seal yet, and that’s also why he can enter demesnes without permission.

      (Though now that I think about it, the Barber can enter demesnes without permission despite being covered by the seal, so maybe I’m misinterpreting what the seal does.)

      1. The desmense is an area conquered and claimed by a practitioner. There is actual power that is involved preventing Others and Practitioners from entering and working against the owner without permission. You may be thinking of the more general hospitality, which dictates being invited to A home and offered food.

        Remember the Infiltration. Rose was prevented from entering the Behaim’s desmenses because she was not invited, unlike Blake. She was only able to enter the house by traveling around the desmenses.

        In this case, however, the house is filled with desmenses. It has protection all over.

      2. I’m not convinced the mirror world is actually considered part of the house. It’s entirely possible any defences don’t kick in unless he steps from the mirror world into the house proper – and it doesn’t appear he can actually do that…

  31. Pbeerpg zr jurer V’z jebat, ohg qvqa’g Jbez’f gvgyr, va vg’f tenaqrfg frafr nybar (orpnhfr vg fheryl ersref gb cyragl bs bgure cnegf bs gur fgbel gbb), ersre gb gur ragver ragvgl gung jnf gur gjvfgvat znff, n.x.n Fpvba?

    If so, what do we think ‘Pact’ might refer to at this point? In the grandest sense alone, because we already know all about making pacts and bindings and all of that.

    I was thinking it could refer to a pact that Rose Sr made, of which Blake’s existence is a part, or perhaps something between Blake and Rose, which may start soon. If it’s anything like Worm, you’d think it is foreshadowed early, and as the story progresses, we learn more and more about it as it unfolds.

  32. Although that chapter was pretty awesome, I had trouble being concerned about Blake. What’s the worst that could have happened to him ? Getting back to the Drains ?

    1. My understanding was that falling in the Drains the first time was (relatively) lucky, and that Ur will eat him if it catches him. Besides, I’m not sure Blake can fall again, there aren’t many connections left for Ur to chew through.

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