Histories 9

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The untidy man walked through the park.  He looked like he’d been ‘preppy’ once, but was disheveled now.  He wore a button-up sweater and a collared shirt with a tie that had been pulled loose, the knot a good half-foot from his collarbone.  He wore slacks and shiny black shoes.  His hair had been parted earlier in the day, but was now messy.

The youths were a stark contrast to him.  Fourteen or so, some with hair bleached to a near-white, some with hair gelled into wicked spikes or flame-like wreaths around their heads, some with both.  Most wore heavy eyeliner.  Some had jackets with ripped sleeves.

The twenty-something man set down his gift.  A case of beer.

“You’re offering?  How much?” asked the boy with the craziest hair.

“Free,” the man said.

The group’s ‘cool’ facade broke as a few of them exclaimed in surprise.  “No kidding?”

“No kidding,” the man said.

“You’re not going to turn around and demand money later, are you?”

“No,” the man said.  He raised his nose, miming sniffing, “I wouldn’t mind some of that grass, though.”

Wariness, now.

“This isn’t some sting, is it?”

“No,” the man said.  “If it was, I’d be getting myself in a lot more trouble than I’d be getting you into.”

“Man, this stuff is expensive.  You’re doing us a favor and all, but-”

“But nothing.  You want me to sweeten the deal?  If you do me this favor and manage to finish off the case between you, I’ll get you another before the night’s over.”

The eyes of the group’s leader widened at that, he wasn’t good enough to hide his greed, even as he demurred, “I dunno.”

“Hey,” the smallest in the group spoke up.  He was the least done up in the rocker aesthetic that ran through the gang.  “Don’t be a pussy, D.  Think things through.  He’s cool-

“He’s not-”

“He’s cool, D.  With it.  Gotta give a little to show we’re honest.  Make friends and he could hook us up in the future.”

“I’d consider it my duty,” the man said.  “But if you’re not interested, I’m gone.  Don’t worry, you wouldn’t see me again.”

‘D’ leaned closer, and the group huddled.

“He’s creepy,” ‘D’ said.

“He’s giving us free beer, and he’s offering more,” one of the other guys said.  “One joint.”

D hesitated.  “He’s creepy.  What if he’s getting us drunk to do stuff to us?”

The littlest of the group leaned away from the huddle.  “You queer, mister?”

“What if I am?” the stranger asked.  There was a glimmer in his eye, more mischief than threat.

The boy wasn’t quite sure how to parse it.  The question finally came out, clumsy, “You want us?”

The man smiled, “No.  No I don’t.”

“Then why?”

“Because once upon a time, I was where you are now, and a man did this for me.  I’m hoping that one day, you kids will be in a position to do it too.”

“That’s all?”

But another boy was pushing the leader of the group, and a little push was apparently all that was needed.

“Whatever,” the leader of the kids said.  He opened a pocket of his vest and fished out a joint.

The man took it, and wasted no time in lighting it, taking in a breath, holding it, then puffing out a ring.  “See?  Not a cop.”

He nudged the beer closer to the group with one foot.

Hesitant at first, like animals edging closer to a watering hole that predators might frequent, the boys reached for the beer.

They pulled it closer and tore it open to get at the cans within.

The man smiled, leaning against a tree, facing away from the boys.  He smoked.

The smallest boy of the group watched the stranger, wary, but still took a beer.

The drinking progressed, and the boys started to relax.  They relaxed even more when a woman came down the path, her hand finding the man’s, fingers winding together with his.

She was gorgeous.  Not in the way you saw in the skin magazines, but beautiful all the same.

She apparently heard the whispers from the boys, because she turned her head, paying attention to them for the first time, and she smiled.

“We might have a proper party going now,” the man said.  “Maybe you want to invite some of your younger sisters?  Maybe the Ibix trio, too?”

The woman smiled, practically skipping off into the woods.

Each of the boys, with the exception of one, were too inebriated to notice how contrived the situation seemed.

When the other girls arrived, with three more boys and one more case of beer, the other boys were definitely too distracted to notice.  The new arrivals had a look to them, as though both boy and girl were just naturally ill-suited to clothes.  The clothes hung wrong, as if enticing, demanding that the situation be remedied, inviting the clothes to come off.

The smallest boy in the group watched the scene unfold.  He was tipsy, but not drunk.  Swaying lightly as he sat, he turned down three girls before the group collectively decided to leave him alone.

Neils, D’s best friend and right hand man, was getting more attention from the three boys that had come with the girls than from any girls.

The small boy shook his head, trying to get his senses in order.

He was a little alarmed to see the man staring at him.

The man beckoned.

The small boy didn’t move.

Another beckoning.

People were stopping what they were doing.

In the midst of that scene, the spell ending, he saw glimmers.  One of the girls had sharp teeth.  The boy with his hand on Neils’ chest had an animal gleam in his eyes, his hair too long, the muscle structure of his shoulders odd, too pronounced.

Unneverved, the smaller boy stood, hurrying out of the crowd by the clearest route available.  Putting him right in front of the strange man.

The man took another puff.

At that moment, the smallest boy realized the joint wasn’t burning up.  It burned, and it generated smoke, but it wasn’t any shorter than it had been when it had first been lit.

“What’s going on?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” the man asked.  “Not much of a drinker?”

The smaller boy shrugged, feeling uncomfortable, still unnerved.

“Too young?” the man asked.

“I’m older than most of them.  Just a…”

“Late bloomer.”

“Sure,” the boy said.

The man nodded.  “Not interested in this?”

“I’m interested,” the boy said, with a defensive note.  “I’m… it’s just, Troy moved a couple months back, you know?  He was the oldest and knew how stuff went, so he was in charge, but when he moved, there was a lot of stupid fighting over who’d take his spot and call the shots.”

“You weren’t one of them?”

“Nah.”

“Okay.  Go on.”

“Well, D jumped off a bridge on a dare, to prove his worth.  Stripped down to his skivvies, hopped off the side, and landed ass first.  Water went right up his ass-”

The man laughed, abrupt and loud enough to spook.

The kid couldn’t help but smile a little.  “He nearly died.”

The man laughed harder.

“Shit blood for a month after, he says.  But we didn’t have it in us to tell him he couldn’t take over, after all he’d been through.”

The boy looked at ‘D’, who had his hand up one girl’s shirt.  Another girl snuggled close to him, worming her head under his arm, using one hand to tip the beer he held so it emptied onto her waiting tongue.

“Ah.  I think I understand,” the stranger said.

“I dunno if you do.”

“You didn’t want to be in charge, but you’re the one that watches out for them, after D’s misadventure.”

“I guess.  Are they okay?”

“Probably.  You know, it’s good that you care like that.  Shows the right kind of leadership.”

“Maybe.”

“Definitely,” the man said.  He took another puff.  “I’ve been looking for an apprentice.”

“Apprentice?”

“If you’re interested.  I don’t get the feeling you dislike any of this, outside of not knowing what’s going on.”

“I dunno.”

“I’d have to teach you to be more firm.  That’s a joke, haha.  As for not knowing what’s going on, that’s easily fixed.  I’m a priest.”

“A priest?”

“Yes.  Not like you’re imagining.  I worship Dionysus.  You know that one?”

The boy shook his head.

“Tragic.  Downright tragic.  I worship him, and he gives me his favor.  Right here…”

Sweater raised, the man showed off his belt buckle, a section of horn.

“That’s one such gift.  So long as I wear it, it keeps my drink flowing and herbs burning, so it doesn’t run out… you can probably count the cans, and you’ll see more than that case is supposed to hold.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s all about investment.  That’s how gods operate.  They gamble, molding life and giving that life a breath of the divine, to get it moving, and they hope that that little bit of life will earn them more than it cost them.  You can see my god’s creations doing their earning right there.”

The small boy looked at the scene, then looked away, uncomfortable.

“Same for me.  I made pledges, promising myself to my god’s favor, promising to keep to certain rules, and he gives me these favors.”

“Like cases of beer that don’t run out?”

“Yes, and other things.  I watch over his girls and boys there,” the priest said, smiling, “And he’s gifted me with a new one, matching my exact taste and interests.  A reward for proving my worth and reliability, and a way of keeping them current.  I can call on his favor, but there are no guarantees.  I have to gauge how happy he is with me, and if I want him to give me something specific, I have to ensure he’s very happy.”

“How do you make him happy?”

“Slaughter a goat or ten, follow his rules, or the lack of rules, as the case may be, and throw the occasional party.”

The priest’s hand gestured to the scene behind them.

“Ah.”

“It’s up to you.  Forgive me for saying so, but you don’t seem like a young man with a clear vision of where he’s going in life.”

“No, I guess not.”

“Here’s your once in a lifetime offer.  Say yes, and I’ll introduce you to a genuine god.  Say no, and I’ll have to insist you get drunk enough that you forget all about this conversation.”

The boy looked at the god’s creations, engaged in their celebration and worship.

“They’re a little scary.”

“Of course they are,” the priest said.  “They’re divine, and every god worth the worship they get is at least a little scary.  The weak ones get beaten, taken over.  With him, for Dionysus, what you get is blood lust, desire, and naked fear.  My question is, do you want him to be your scary god?  Do you want that to be your desire, bloodthirst and fear to control?”

The boy looked at the scene again.  He could see the animal in it, the nature, smell the alcohol and the blood and the moist grass.  For a moment, perhaps, he could see what it would mean to be in command of that raw energy.  It was a heady feeling, dizzying.

“Yeah.”

“There we go, finally a decisive answer.  I’m Nathan, priest of Dionysus.  You are…”

“Jeremy Meath.”

“Initiate of Dionysus.”

“Jeremy Meath, initiate of Dionysus.”

“This is a mistake,” Nathan said.

Jeremy shook his head.

“Everything comes at a price,” Nathan said.  “The gods exact the greatest prices of all.  You can’t treat this as some sort of system to be gamed.”

“I’m not,” Jeremy said.  He walked the perimeter of the apartment, before throwing open the window.  The furniture had been stowed in the bedroom, leaving the living room open.

“You haven’t practiced.  You haven’t established a working relationship,” Nathan said.

“I’ve prayed, I’ve performed sacrifices.”

“But you haven’t learned to use the power he grants you.  You’re going into this blind, and this is something you get one shot at.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re-“

The older man stopped mid-sentence.

“I’m what?  Crazy?” Jeremy asked.  “Our god bears the epithets of Bromios, of Agrios.  He protects those who do not belong to society.  Who is he, if not a god of madmen?”

“You’re too young.  You’re still a teenager, inexperienced,” Nathan said, very clearly changing tacks, his argument weaker for it.

“I suppose we’ll see,” Jeremy said.

He laid out the item.  The address plate with the house number for the condo.

“You’re reaching too far,” Nathan said.  “You’re dooming me in the process.  I have responsibility over you.”

“I hereby make a claim.  Let this be my statement,” Jeremy spoke, his hand on the number plate, his voice low.

“Idiot,” Nathan said, his voice sounding farther away.  “You’re going to war when you’ve never held the sword before.”

“I claim this space, and only this space.  I claim it by right and deed, and I name it mine, I name it my god’s, and I name it for my god’s creations.  I name it as my staging ground, a place from which I can expand my god’s realm.  I do this not as a warrior-“

He paused, looking at Nathan.

“-But as a devout man.  I go to war with faith in my heart, not a sword at my side.  Let this be my challenge to all that would oppose me.”

The words reverberated through the area, through Jeremy and Nathan both, and all of Toronto.

“Dionysus,” Jeremy said, “I have not asked you for anything yet.  Now I ask you to give me the strength to see this through.  Let this gaping emptiness be filled by the powers of savage and inborn truth.”

Seconds passed.  He could feel others approaching, their weight tilting the world by the smallest fractions.  He closed his eyes, steeling himself.  There had been no chant in the background, no tide of wine or terrible transformation.  His god’s will was not making itself known.

But he could feel another tilt take place.  He opened his eyes.

The color was draining out of Nathan’s face.

Sure enough, they arrived.  Satyr, nymph, maenad, bacchae.

They gathered behind him, leaving Nathan bereft.

Most of them had been Nathan’s.

“You mad fool,” Nathan said.  “Damn you.”

“The gods are gamblers,” Jeremy said.

“So are we,” Nathan said.  “The game is rigged against all of us, unless we play very carefully.”

“If you believe that, you’re worshiping the wrong god.”

“I guess so.  I didn’t expect him to lose faith in me before I lost faith in him.”

“Well, those are the old ways,” Jeremy said.  “My first challenger is showing up now, unless you’re going to take the first stab at it?  You can prove your worth, reclaim what I’ve been given.”

“Can I?  I don’t think so.  You’ve got his attention and favor right now.”

He couldn’t quite manage to keep the bitterness out of his tone.

“Goodbye,” Nathan said.

“Goodbye,” Jeremy said.

His mentor left.

The room grew darker, as the spirits claimed the space.  It waited, in a state of flux, ready not not quite his.

He waited, quiet, and resisted the urge to drink.  In years of service, he’d been lightheaded, but almost never drunk.  Tonight might mark one of the few occasions he’d let himself get drunk.

He was relying on his god for insight.

He was relying on another simple idea, too.  That his god had as much to prove here as he did.  He’d noticed the trend, reading about the gods.  Priests had to work to get the kind of displays their god first gave them as initiates.  If his god was going to do his utmost to impress him, he might as well make use of that, and tackle a suitably large problem.  The demesne.

The first arrival, five minutes later, was Doug.

The man was young, but his hairline had started receding at the first chance it got.  His glasses weren’t thick, but they were tall and wide.  His beard was shaved short, his narrow body suggested he wasn’t eating too regularly.

The man was accompanied by Diana.  She cowered a little.  Reserved, years younger than Jeremy.  The house’s interior was darker, almost amorphous.  His servants lingered in the background, standing by to serve if it came down to a fight.  What little light existed cast their features as they truly were.

A frightening place for a child.

“Nathan seemed upset,” Doug commented, his voice gentle.  “He didn’t have much to say.”

“His god rejected him in favor of me.  The upstart.”

“Ah,” Doug said.  “I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” Jeremy said, meaning it.

Doug made a face, an apologetic half-smile.  “I’ve come to answer your challenge.  Been a few years for me.  I believe the standard approach is to negotiate the form the challenge takes?”

“Yes.  You can name a facet of the game, or take something off the table.  We narrow down the choices to a compromise.  If we can’t compromise, the spirits will decide the game, and they’ll be upset with the two of us for forcing them to make the effort.”

Doug nodded.

You know this, Jeremy thought.  Are you asking just so I can get my bearings?

His own hands were shaking just a little.  He stilled them.

“If I may,” Doug said, “I’d like to propose a board game.”

Jeremy nodded.  “Okay.  For every piece that’s taken, a shot.”

Doug smiled, “That takes Go off the board, for safety’s sake, or a ko situation.  Too bad.  Morabaraba?”

“That’s, ah, Twelve Men’s Morris?”

Doug smiled wider.  “You know it.  Fantastic.  Let’s make it Eleven Men’s Morris, to avoid the messy draw.  No accidents that lead to the capture of a dozen stones like we might see in Go, but there’s room for the decisive play, with plenty of space for forfeit.”

Jeremy frowned.  The game was a complicated variant of tic tac toe.  Placing stones.  Achieving three in a row meant one could permanently remove one of their opponent’s.  Once all of a player’s pieces were set down, they could be moved, to the same ends, aiming to create three in a row.  The game scaled up from threes to twelve, with complicated board arrangements.

“Is that a problem?” Doug asked.

“No, just… my mentor taught it to me.  He taught me most of the usual games… Deal.”

The board appeared between them.

Jeremy didn’t look particularly happy.

“How about you play Diana in my stead?” Doug asked.  “I’ll take the shots for every piece she loses.  If I pass out, or she gets too worried about me, we’ll forfeit.  She won’t be impaired, but she’ll be concerned for me, it should balance out.”

Jeremy gave the man a curious look.

“It’s good practice for her, and I’d rather walk away with goodwill for the two of us than a proper victory.”

“I suppose you have that goodwill then,” Jeremy said.

“I wouldn’t be so fast to agree,” Doug said.  “She and I have played this quite a bit.  She’s good.”

He put his hands on Diana’s shoulders, urging her forward to face the board.  He leaned in close to confide, to whisper an encouragement.

She nodded.

“Can I ask?” Jeremy asked.

“It’s only a chance to play someone new,” Diana said.  “The stakes aren’t high.”

“And if you win?” he asked.

“You don’t take revenge, and on three occasions, we can ask you to stand down from attacking, buying us a day’s protection.  Fair?”

“Fair.”

He was the challenger, Diana and Doug the challenged.

The challenged put their first stone on the board.

The game was swift.  Diana took the better position at the start, but that was an astrologer’s prerogative.

As he took more shots, he felt his mind grow receptive to his god.

A glimpse of what he needed to achieve… a particular board position, and however good Diana’s position was, she didn’t yet look enough moves ahead.

Had he done this two years later, or played against Doug, his opponent might not have been so young that they’d fail to look far enough in the future.  Once the board was arranged so he could move one stone between two rows of two stones, completing one after the other with each turn, he had Doug reeling.

“I forfeit,” Diana said, in lieu of making her next move.

It wasn’t his usual nature, but Jeremy offered a hand for her to shake.

She shook it, then offered Doug a shoulder to lean on.

An easy one, a gimme.  He had only three shots in him.

Diana and Doug weren’t gone for five seconds before the Sphinx entered the building.

He felt a moment’s trepidation.

“You understand that I’m not particularly fond of your god?” the Sphinx asked.

“I do.”

“I hear your challenge and answer it,” she said.

“Then I challenge you to combat,” he said.  No tricky word games, no tests of knowledge, and no riddles.

“By rights, as challenged, it’s my choice first,” she said.

I know, but you like things ordered, and I have to put you off balance somehow.

“Fine,” he said.

She smiled, but it wasn’t a pleasant smile.  “You’ll have your challenge of combat.  I can’t demand your god stay out of it, that would just invite you to demand I forego my power and strengths, but I can make this between you and me alone.  Your new soldiers stay out of this, and you don’t bring any outside weapons into this.”

“Deal,” he said.  He could feel the buzz from the shots, giving him courage where it might have failed.

He watched as the Sphinx became a proper Sphinx.  Wings unfurled, black cloth became black fur.

Claws extended.

Jeremy bowed his head.  “I call upon loud-roaring and carousing Dionysus, primeval, two-natured, three-times-born, Bacchic lord

The sphinx prowled forward, tensing, but this arena had rules, and he was to be allowed his chance to prepare.  Seeing her move at a speed that should have closed the distance in seconds, while remaining at bay, it nearly left him unable to speak.  She was big, she was powerful.

Hearken to my voice, O blessed one.  Gird me.

His god gave him two gifts.

A staff, bronze, topped with a pine cone, and a horn of drink.

For a moment, he feared that his mentor had been very, very right.  But the arena had given him the time he was due, just like it had granted the sphinx time to change into her true form.  Now she closed the twenty feet in a matter of five steps.

He drank, and he nearly choked.

Blood, laced with alcohol strong and pure enough to burn the sinuses, not wine.

He took as much of the drink as he could into his mouth, then forced it all down in one gulp that felt like a softball going down his throat.

A moment later, he saw red.

It felt like seconds passed.  It felt, at the same time, like hours had passed.  Mad visions of flashing claws and violence, real and hallucinated, they struck him one after another, not necessarily in succession.

When he came to, he was panting.  Blood dribbled from his nose and ear, claw marks etched his chest, his arms, and his legs.

The Sphinx was injured too.  She sat back, licked a wound at her shoulder.  Her blood dripped, thick and heavy, from his pinecone scepter.

There was still blood in the horn, not yet spilled.  Four-fifths of the contents remained.

“Don’t,” the sphinx said.  “If you drink that, you’ll probably die.”

“If I don’t drink it, I’ll probably die.”

“Short of finding immortality, you’ll die someday.  I might kill you here, but that’s not in my best interest.  I swore to myself, long ago, that I’d put my survival first.  To those ends, I’d like to offer a deal.”

“A deal?”

“I won’t contest your demesne any further.”

“In exchange for?”

“A meeting.  There are some young ladies you should meet.”

He was quiet as he entered Sandra’s wing of the demesne.  Some nymphs were scattered here and there.  Five were working in concert to comb through Hildr’s fur with bone combs that took two hands to hold, the teeth spaced far apart.  He couldn’t tell if the troll was enjoying the attention or just barely tolerating it.  Trolls were hard to read.

Sandra sat in a windowsill.  Demesne to her left, window to her right, the view of Toronto, outside his personal realm and temple.  A nymph sat on the floor beneath the window, more catlike than human in how she seemed to mold herself against the wall and floor, eminently comfortable in any position.  Her hands reached up to caress and massage Sandra’s left foot.  Sandra barely reacted, except to shift the position of her foot from time to time, to give the nymph a better angle.  She turned the page of her book.

She was hard to read too.  Did she enjoy things more than she let on, or was she caught in a state of perpetual tolerance?

He’d told himself he’d attend the meeting, and went in with plans to reject this arranged marriage.  She’d surprised him.  He couldn’t bring himself to say no, but his god wouldn’t encourage his saying yes, either.  He’d tried to pose things so Sandra would be inclined to say no in his place.

Now she was here.

Torches burned throughout his demesne, their light suggesting how pleased Dionysus was with him.  They’d burned lower since her arrival, but they still burned.

On a level, he wasn’t really sure how to interact with her.

He’d interacted with initiates.  Any practitioner that helped someone awaken and see past the veil took on a risk, but for a priest, well, a great deal could be gained, too.  Thus far, there hadn’t been any disasters.  Dionysus was fairly pleased.

The thing about initiates, however, was that they could be dismissed, the job could be finished, and the disciple could be asked to leave Toronto.  Sent to one city or another, to try and establish a presence for their god there.

There were others he dealt with, as victims, as pawns, but he mostly kept to himself.

Sandra… he wasn’t sure how to categorize her.  He wanted her to leave, he wanted her to stay.  He couldn’t commit to either without feeling like he was betraying something.

The Sphinx wanted her here to stay, apparently.  The meeting had been arranged for a reason.

That was ominous, and as he dwelt on the idea, he felt it settle into a kind of concern.

Was she supposed to neuter him, in terms of the power he could bring to bear?

A trap?  His god had already suggested the true nature of the Duchamp line in a dream.  All girls.  Was there something his god hadn’t revealed?  It would have to be something that appealed to Dionysus’ nature on some level.

He didn’t like the way that knowledge sat with him.

“Other foot, other foot,” the nymph murmured.

Sandra shifted position, offering her right foot to the nymph for a footrub.  In the doing, she saw her husband.

She rolled her eyes, pausing for a second to see if he had anything to say before she resumed reading.  There was a light smile on her face as she returned her attention to her text.

Tolerance, but good natured, not because she was simply enduring.

The doubts didn’t disappear, but they didn’t sit as heavily as before.  This wasn’t love at first sight, infatuation, or even falling in love, careening head over heels into love’s grip.

He did think, however, that there could come a day -not tomorrow, not in a week, a month, or maybe even a year- when he did love her.

One look, and she’d managed to find a place in the mind his god had warped, a mind that had a very hard time dealing with people.  She’d made him thirteen again, before he’d ever stepped foot into this world of gods and monsters, and she’d become one of the first girls he’d ever looked at.  She was one of the teenage girls he’d admired from afar when he’d been undersized, underweight, and awkward.  She, like they had, made him feel equal parts uneasy and heroic with just a moment’s eye contact and a smile.  But the idea of something happening as a result still felt very far away.

Try as he might, he couldn’t imagine something strong could be forged from that beginning of a connection, but at least something could come of it, perhaps.

“Wine and cheese?” he finally asked, aware that he was only emphasizing how long he’d been looking by announcing his continued presence.  “Some grapes on the side?”

“That would be lovely,” Sandra said.  She finished reading her sentence before looking up.  “Thank you.”

“What kind of wine do you drink?”

“Anything white.”

“I’ll remember that.”

Hildr huffed.  Sandra laughed.

“And a shoulder of pork,” he said, loud enough for the troll to hear, already turning away, her laugh ringing in his ears.

A time of upheaval, Jeremy mused.

Unrest in Toronto, unrest in Jacob’s Bell.

Fifteen years since he’d seen Sandra.  Their communication had been fleeting.  Brief messages, to the point.  Business.

He had permission from the old Lord of the City to travel throughout Toronto.  Now, with things in a state of flux, that permission had been revoked.  It made for some difficulty.  He hadn’t ever needed a car.

Now, with the current situation, he was braving Toronto’s rush hour traffic for the first time.  A great many complaints and comments he’d heard over the years were suddenly making sense.  He’d lived in the now for years, and the act of waiting in traffic was maddening.  He couldn’t read without feeling ill, he wanted to stay reasonably sharp, and somehow the congestion of Toronto extended a good hour and a half after they had left the city, with no sign of abating.

Still, it was almost better than the alternative.  Since he couldn’t drive, he’d handed over the task to the eldest Ibix brother.  The satyr playboy had gone on and on about the fact that he could drive, testifying that he’d been taught by his ‘dates’, he’d rightly earned the piece of plastic that gave him the right to drive, and he was quite proud of the learned skill.

Well, right on one count.  The eldest Ibix was proud to be behind the wheel.

At least the traffic jam meant they couldn’t go over ten kilometers an hour, and the satyr was just as happy to be going that speed as it was to have the gas pedal flat to the floor of the car.  The other occupants that had crammed into the back of the car had showered him with praise over every little action.

Jeremy was relieved to the point of dizziness when the exit sign for Jacob’s Bell appeared.

“Take the exit,” he told his driver.

The satyr did.

The exit led them to the foot of the highway.  The road led under the highway to their left, where the newer part of Jacob’s Bell remained under construction, and into the older half of Jacob’s Bell to the right.

“And… turn left,” he said.

It wasn’t a comfortable feeling, entering another’s demesne.

The road grew more twisted.

“Park.”

Tires skidded as the car pulled to a stop.  One wheel rode up on the sidewalk.

“You’re getting better,” Jeremy commented.

The satyr grinned wide.

Jeremy stepped out of the vehicle, stretching.  The seven nymphs and satyrs that had crammed into the backseat of the sedan climbed out as well.  Most were underdressed for the cold, the satyrs especially.

He took it in.  The scope of it.

He’d fought tooth and nail and had very nearly died to take only the condo.

This place… it boggled the mind.

“Johannes,” Jeremy said, “I announce my arrival.  I’d like to request a clear path to the heart of your domain, or a face to face meeting.”

“He can hear you?” one of the satyrs asked.

“Shh,” Jeremy said.  “See?”

He pointed at the flash of light.

The dog was first to appear, Johannes second.  The man walked with a cane.

“Mr. Meath.  High Drunkard of Dionysus, I’m pleased, albeit surprised, to meet you,” Johannes commented.

“Johannes, North End Sorcerer,” the priest said, brusque.

“Should I interpret this as an attack?”

“No.  I’ll be staying in Jacob’s Bell for a little while.  No more than a week.”

Or I may lose my chance to make a bid for Toronto.

“You’re assisting Sandra Duchamp with her bid for Jacob’s Bell.  How quaint,” Johannes commented.  “Why are you here?”

“We’d like a place to stay.”

“You’re aware that by assisting Sandra, you’re opposing me?”

“Yes.”

“I’m at a loss.  These two things don’t add up.”

“They do, just not in an obvious way.  If you pressed me, I’d be annoyed, and we’d have to drop the pretense of feigned civility.  I’d rather not.”

“All of this trouble, to avoid a little bit of awkwardness?”

“No.  Some of this trouble is to avoid a touch of awkwardness.  I’m also trying to eke out a small advantage.”

“Right to the point.  ‘Keep your enemies close’?  That cuts both ways.”

“Yes,” spoke the priest.

“What if I said no?”

“I’d make other accommodations.”

Johannes glanced at his dog.

The dog spoke something in some language that sounded almost Arabic.

Johannes said something in the same tongue.

Not so unusual.  Sandra knew several Scandinavian languages through Hildr, despite the fact that the troll rarely spoke one word, and her pronunciation was largely guttural mush when she did speak.

It made all the more sense when one considered that the dog was a Gatekeeper.  A creator of paths and languages, a traveler’s guide.

“Dear Sandra does like to make things complicated, doesn’t she?” Johannes finally asked, his conversation with his familiar done.

“No comment,” the priest answered.

“I’ll give you a space.  You can come and go, but you can’t hunt, and you can’t interact with the Other residents.  Your passage is barred the first time you act against me or my rules in my territory.”

“Agreed.”

Johannes frowned.  “Enjoy your stay, drunkard.”

“Thank you,” the priest answered.

The Sorcerer and familiar disappeared the same way they’d come.

The landscape rearranged itself.  Buildings parted like moving waves, and a path pointed to their new abode.  A squat apartment building.

Each member of his coterie took something.  The satyrs took the heavier bags.

Jeremy took only one small, heavy bag.  Contents sloshed.

“Talk to me,” he said.  “What do you smell?”

“Genies,” spoke the elder Ibix brother, without hesitation.

“Genies are a problem,” Jeremy said.  “Plural?  More than one?”

“At least four.”

Genies.  All of the problems a sphinx posed, with a great many of the same capabilities, but sphinxes were created, and genies were natural, born of elements and divine remnants.  A keen eye for the balance and the cosmic makeup of reality, an ability to alter that balance and makeup, and, generally speaking, genies operated on the macro scale.  Moving mountains, so to speak, or building castles in the span of a day.  Hard to use without causing a great deal of alarm among non-practitioners.  Guardians for the Sorcerer’s demesne?

“What else?”

“Glimmers.  Almost-people, like shadows come to life.”

“Vestiges.  Good.  Keep going.”

“A very big ghost.”

Lots of possibilities there.

“Sweat and metal,” said one of the youngest Satyrs.  One of Nathan’s.  “Something almost human, but not quite.  Violent.”

Vague, but any information was good information.

“Fox.  I like the smell of her.”

Suspicions, but it wouldn’t be good to jump to conclusions.

“Burning wires,” said the youngest Satyr.  “Elemental.  It’s not very old.”

“Good.”

“One… wraith-vestige?” the middle Ibix brother suggested.  “It smells like rotted branches, and birds, and the abyss.  It doesn’t smell very big, but it passed by here not long ago.”

“Excellent,” he said.

“And something that smells like fat and bile and blood.”

“I believe Sandra mentioned that one.  A butcher.  Stay away, it likes innocents, and you’re innocent enough for it.  The Sorcerer might let it slip the leash to come after you, just to hurt Sandra.  Not an official breaking of the rules of hospitality.”

His coterie nodded, taking in his orders.

They arrived at the apartment.

“Nobody home,” a nymph spoke up.

“All for us?” the priest commented.  “Good.”

He set down his bag on a bench in the middle of the lobby, unbuckling it and laying out the contents.

A scepter, topped with a pinecone, a branch with grapes at the end, a horn of ale that could drive a man into a killing madness, half finished, a carving of a bull in amber, a carving of a lion in gold.  A small sickle meant for the cutting of grapes from the vine, and a great horn belonging to a beast long dead, sizable enough to be used as a club.

Gifts from his god.

He’d come prepared for war.

He stood at the end of the path to the Duchamp household.  He didn’t approach, only watching.  A few individuals cast him curious glances.

He hadn’t really groomed, but that wasn’t his style.

Sandra was rallying her own troops.  Calling in favors.  The Duchamps from out of town were returning home, and many brought husbands.

Always in pairs.  Husband and wife.

A dozen different kinds of practitioners, coming and going in a matter of two or three minutes.

Someone would have tipped Sandra off.  She appeared in the doorway.

Her expression was still so hard to read.  Different emotions now, though.  Her eyes shone a little.

She approached, oblivious of the people who turned to watch.  Her hand brushed his hair, and his scruffy cheek.

“You’ve gone a little gray,” she said.

“You’ve barely changed at all,” he said.

She embraced him.

Still his wife.  They’d never divorced.

“I can hardly believe you need me,” he commented, “All these people.  Even if he has genies and angels.”

“These ones will deal with Johannes, or they’ll try,” she said.  “You… ah, we both made a mistake here, and it’s a twist of fate that it hasn’t bitten us already.”

“Mistake?”

“I asked you to stop someone from leaving Toronto, and you promised you would.  They came back, shucking off much of their identity, which is why you don’t remember.  That was your broken promise.”

“Ah.  You don’t sound so worried.”

“I’m not.  I made a mistake too, telling you you’d know him when you saw him.  That wasn’t true, apparently, not as he escaped.  You can remedy it, and keep it from being a lie.  While these people deal with the Behaims and Johannes, I need you to go after the Thorburns.  I think you’re uniquely equipped to do it.  They’re off balance, it’s the optimal time to do it.”

He squeezed her tight, feeling a tightness in his own chest.  He let her go, backing away.

“Of course,” he said.

Last Chapter                                                                        Next Chapter

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151 thoughts on “Histories 9

  1. OK, let’s play “Spot the Other!” The “rotted branches” Other is clearly Blake, the “fat and blood” one is clearly Barbatorem. Those are the two I caught, but does anyone recognize the rest?

        1. Was Rackspatter described as a butcher? One would think “goblin” would come to mind immediately, before “butcher.”

          1. He has scalped 9000 entities, 99 of which are practitioners. I would assume that a bodycount that large comes with the automatic title of butcher.

            1. It could be him, or it could be The butcher. Either way, whoever it is, they’re apparently under Johanne’s control. Either he still has one of his original “weapons”, or he somehow managed to trap and reverse control of one of Rose’s strongest and baddest demons. That means it’s probably Rackspatter, otherwise Sandra wouldn’t be so concerned about the Thorburns, with the knowledge that Johannes can so easily trap/reverse Rose’s sendings. She’d be more inclined to play Rose off vs Johannes, then step in to pick up the pieces, instead of trying to fight an at least two-pronged war, Duchamps against Johannes and Rose at the same time.

      1. I was wondering whether Rose had lost her mind or not. Rackspatter must already be gone, because there’s nothing that fits his description, and we don’t know any of Johannes’ other “guests” or allies. At least, IIRC. Durn.

  2. Kind of wondering whether there is something missing after “He took as much as he could into his mouth, then forced it down in one gulp that felt like a softball going down his throat.” Is there supposed to be a break there?

      1. Yeah, definitly the drains. If it had been a demonic taint, there would have been a more negative reaction. Still that description…
        “One… wraith-vestige?” the middle Ibix brother suggested. “It smells like rotted branches, and birds, and the abyss. It doesn’t smell very big, but it passed by here not long ago.”
        I knew who it was, but the rotted branches makes me feel sad. Also wraith? Aren’t wraith’s supposed to be very unstable?

        1. The ‘wraith’ part is probably because his powerful emotions let him come back from the Drains. A common, fragile vestige wouldn’t be able to pull that.

          Anyway, we all know labels are fickle in Pact.

    1. The Abyss smell is (probably) what it obviously sounds like. But I think what is more interesting is not only that Blake didn’t smell of demons (presumably the Drains washed the stink off), but that he didn’t smell of anything else other than those things mentioned.

      I believe the recipe for Blake Cake is:

      (1) Prepare a suitable vestige of a person as the base dish.

      (2) Flavor with a few wraiths and ghosts to add required qualities and build up its memories.

      (3) Combine with several nutritious Others for power; make sure to use multiple relatively weak ones, so they don’t overpower the base personality.

      (4) Glaze with a nice dollop of high-quality glamour.

      (5) Carefully arrange connections for a balanced presentation. Remember, the goal is to create a dining experience that tempts all of the senses, not just the palate. When food looks appetizing the body actually produces more fluids that aid in nutrient absorption!


      (1:) This is most likely a reflection cut by the Barber from one of the heirs. It looks like it should be Rose, but there are enough hints that the obvious explanation is not necessarily true. Maybe the memories are only because of connection manipulation. I just now realized that some of Molly’s lines in the first chapter suggest she figured out some things about magic on her own. It’s possible that’s why she was first heir, and the link between sparrows and souls in Egyptian mythology (see below), together with the bit from the witch about right-handedness disqualifying Rose, suggest she might actually be the primary raw material.

      (2:) Blake’s memories of trauma probably come from “third-party” ghosts molded into the base vestige. (Possibly also the connection to Alexis came from this; the other artist friends were met through her IIRC.) Depending on how this works, this might explain how Conquest was able to find the three ghosts around Toronto, and also why Blake thought they were slightly different from his memories.

      (3:) See below.

      (4:) This is to make the composite appear to be a normal human, at least at first. (Note that, while the fae are really good with glamour, we’re never actually told that glamour itself is intrinsic to faerie. Among other things, we’ve seen lots of non-fae instances of things that can easily change appearance, including Isadora, the Hyena, Barbatorem and Ur, and Fell’s dust.)

      (5:) The rearangement of the connections looks like the most complicated part. But given reality is apparently happy to rearange itself to fit holes, you probably don’t have to do it all by hand. Given how glamour and perception interact to affect reality, point (4) above might also help you. The trick was probably only to do it seamlessly enough not to attract attention, even under the scrutiny of experienced enchantress and powerful Others. I suspect the fact that Rose was always nearby helped by misdirecting attention with (metaphorical) smoke and (literal) mirrors. (There’s an obvious vestige in the mirror, no need to look for it outside!)


      I believe Granny Rose did something very tricky in step 3: rather than merge the vestige with spirits, I think she shaped the vestige such that the right kinds of spirits would be attracted to “perch” on it. By this theory, the branches part of the tatoo are not symbolic of something that is taking over Blake. Instead, it is the base “framework” of Blake, which is gradually revealed as the human-shaped plaster of glamour on top of it is erroded. Evidence:

      Observe that the birds seem to appear and disappear, even die on occasion, depending on how much power Blake uses and how he’s hurt, while the branches are always there. When Blake enters the Drains there are none, presumably separated when he fell. After the accepted his otherness, there were more than ever on him. This is consistent with some spirits being used up or lost, and others coming to replace them. However, the only become more and more pronounced and extended, never receding. This is consistent with glamour (or whatever kind of camouflage is used) being slowly erroded by challenges to Blake’s façade of humanity.

      The vestiges described in books are probably limited in life because they are built by nailing spirits to them from the beginning; when those initial spirits are lost or die, the vestige remains barren of power and lifeless.

      I suspect Johannes invented the technique of making the vestiges attractive hosts for a certain kind of spirit instead. He wanted durable but controllable prey for his hunting grounds, so he probably built his vestiges such that they’d automatically attract rat- and dog-like spirits, which have suitable personalities but that he could control. (Interestingly, this is a small-scale analogue to his large-scale strategy of creating a demesne, such that it attracts powerful Others, but puts them somewhat under his control.)

      The kids Mags encountered were symbolically like abandoned masonry buildings: superficially rigid and resilient (to keep looking like people), but crumbling where injured, cracks filling with vermin, rats chewing through them to make their nests.

      Granny improved, or at least altered, the technique, to obtain more independence, flexibility, magical power, and (possibly inadvertently) longevity:

      Symbolically, birds represent freedom, transcendence, and are messengers to higher powers. Sparrows in particular are associated in magic with intelligence, companionship and hope. Interestingly, in Egyptian mythology, sparrows caught the souls of recently-deceased persons. (Possibly related to Blake appearing right after Molly’s death.) On a more mundane level, birds not only almost never hurt the trees they nest in, but they also actively protected them from parasites like insects.

      The symbolism also works very well for the branches. On a practical level, wood is both the most ancient and, at least until very recently, the most widespread material for both tools and shelter. It’s strong, but it flexes where stone breaks and metal bends. (And you can even sacrifice and burn it for warmth when needed.) Trees well grounded, stable, and long lived. They weather the seasons, and can survive being left barren of leaves in winter yet bloom again to life in spring. Symbolically, they are associated with strength and resilience, life and regeneration.

      For tatoos in particular, the species of the tree, the season/life cycle it is represented in, and what parts of a tree are shown, are also symbolic. In Blake’s case, it’s interesting that the type of tree is never mentioned; the most we can assume is that it’s not an evergreen (which wouldn’t fit Blake at all, since mortality is very much present in his life).

      The fact that there are no leaves ever described I think is meant to symbolize “wood” rather than “plant”, construction material more than living thing. Granny Rose was building a shelter an a tool for Rose, not planting an orchard. Similarly, the lack of any roots reflects the branches having been cut from a tree (the vestige), rather than a living tree. Note that the satyr smelled the branches rotting, not the birds. That is probably because Blake’s inner structure is hurting now. However, what Blake’s creator might have overlooked (or maybe counted on) is that even apparently dead wood can come back to life: in suitable conditions, cut branches can sprout new roots and leaves, and become a new separate tree. Dead wood symbolizes death, but also the potential for resurrection.

      1. Yeah, that’s pretty cool. But Rose mentioned that Ivy doesn’t really make sense as a name unless Rose wasn’t the real elder sibling, so maybe that’s a typo? Otherwise, I suspect that Blake’s just a bit older than Ivy. Old enough that Granny Thorburn could make sure he’s intact but sufficiently traumatized by his experience with Carl.

        …Yeah, I think it was just a badly worded sentence.

  3. Yeah, a whole lot of the chapter disappeared on me, and I don’t know why. WordPress acting up. Give me a minute, I’ll see if it’s among the autosaves.

    …Fuck. I’m losing patience with WordPress.

    1. Save it to a Word document or a text file first, and then copy-paste it to WordPress? That way if WordPress fucked it up and eats your post, you can just try again without losing anything.

  4. Typo thread!

    ‘Diana and Doug weren’t gone for five seconds before the Sphinx entered the building.

    The Sphinx was the next to enter, in human form.’
    this repitition feels off. you should probably remove one of those 2 lines

    1. Typos:
      – “as though both boy and girl” -> “boys and girls”
      – “it keeps my drink flowing and herbs burning, so it doesn’t run out” -> singular/plural mix-up
      – “Tolerance, but good natured” -> “good-natured”
      – “or a face to face meeting” -> “face-to-face meeting”

      And there are mentions like “his pinecone scepter” and “A scepter, topped with a pinecone”, while the thing was originally described as a “staff”. Also, “pinecone” -> “pine cone”?

        1. Demesne. Size matters not, especially not during the challenges where the whole point is to facilitate whatever duels come the claimant’s way.

  5. Fixed the gap. Ctrl-F ‘A moment later, he saw red.’

    WordPress reduced the bit I’d written to code-like gibberish that wouldn’t get displayed, and it was in every autosave.

    I’m having a lot of problems with WordPress these days. Frustrating.

    1. Are you writing the post out straight in WordPress? I can’t say that I’m familiar with the syntax for boldface and italics here, but are there no editing tools that let you simulate it in a text editor?

    2. If you decide to change to self-hosting I’d recommend A Small Orange. The prices are reasonable and the customer service is fantastic. Migrating a website is easier than you’d imagine.

      Pros: Self-hosting gives you access to more designs instead of havving to pick from the themes wordpress.com makes available and also you can get access to plugins for various functionality (like better stats).

      Cons: If the problems are with the wordpress code rather than the site (highly possible wordpress has some quirks) then you may well find you have the same problems if you self-host wordpress. There are other free/open source content management systems but they mostly have steeper learning curves too. Self-hosting costs money. Getting all links updated and everyone going to the new site will be a pain in the posterior.

  6. Haha. The part about how the satyr was so proud of learning how to drive, and how all the satyrs and nymphs crammed in the back kept praising him as he was stuck in traffic, genuinely made me laugh out loud.

    1. “I made a mistake too, telling you you’d know him when you saw him. That wasn’t true, apparently, not as he escaped.”

      Note the ‘him’. Looks like she’s aware of who Blake was.

      1. I knew there must be some way for the lawyers to track and find Blake, even with all his connections cut. It looks like the Duchamps may have access to some of the same tools that the lawyers do, or perhaps the lawyers hired the Duchamps specifically to track all potential connections, etc. The Duchamps are a very large and very well connected family, ater all.

        1. Mags completely avoided the strike from Ur due to unintentional connection tricks. Also Ur targeted mainly the people outside the factory, not those hiding in Jacob’s bell. And the Sphinx was able to minimize the damage. Most of all the attack dealt with connections. The Duchamps probably had something readied.

          1. Also, Duncan Behaim was aware that something happened (remember the missing “tick” in his weird chronomancers time-thoughts?). So apparently it’s not too tough to remember, although it does require specific magic, preparations, abilities, etc…

        2. I am guessing that the demon lawyers of Mann, Levvin and Lewis, through some unknown power with the association of their big friggin scary host, probably don’t need to associate with the Duchamps to achieve that affect.

    2. So that makes Sandra the third member of the “Blake? Yeah, I know him.” Club after Izze and Mags. Did we ever get feedback on whether the connections Ur cut were mainly those just outside of the factory or is Sandra using connections nonsense to keep track of him?

      1. Yes, we did get confirmation from Ms. Lewis. From 9.3: “Yes. The demon primarily cut connections to those who were gathered outside the building. When you lost your grip on the world, other connections broke. Your home, your parents, your little sister… I held onto mine, as your goblin queen friend did.”
        So it makes sense that Sandra, master of connections, could hold onto hers as well, and remember some bits and pieces about him.

        1. In Jeremy’s defense, he really couldn’t have anticipated Blake surviving in that way. He did recognize him. It’s just his means of trying to get Blake killed were… Insuficiant.

      2. The ones with those outside the factory were cut. Almost all the rest broke when he fell, much like Izzy’s example of the rock getting thown in the pond, as the strong strings to the other rocks were cut, the weak ones (which were literally every other bond he had) broke.
        Ms. Lewis kept hers in tact, as did mags. No one said they were the only ones to do so. I can’t image who else did, though….

        I’d say Sandra is more on the side of Izzy than of Mags. Mags knows Blake, while Sandra just knows of him. Much like she knew of “Scarf girl” when everyone else couldn’t remember her so much.

  7. Man, as much as I want to know what’s going on in the Thorburn house, I really am glad to see more Meath, he was one of my favorite contenders for lord if Toronto, I hope butting heads against the Thorburns doesnt damage that too much…

  8. Aw dang. I like Jeremy now and I can’t help but feel that both him and the Thorburns are going to come out really screwed up from this.

    Oh Rose, couldn’t you just remain at the sidelines?

    That said, if she wins the contest I will die of laughter.

    1. I don’t feel sympathetic towards Jeremy at all. He’s agreeing to murder a teenager as a favor to his estranged wife — unlike some of the others, he can’t even claim he’s doing it because they’re diabolists; he hasn’t expressed any concern over that at all.

      I think that this is also part of the reason why it feels like Pact has many fewer sympathetic characters than Worm did — in Worm, even when the antagonists were horribly annoying and terrible, most of the early ones weren’t trying to kill Skitter or her friends. Even with the diabolist thing, it also feels like Pact’s antagonists tend to be much more self-serving — Laird was explicit in stating that part of the reason he could never reach a deal with Blake was economic. While there have been a few vague hints that the younger generation of those families might not be so hard-hearted, we haven’t really gotten much insight into their POV the way Worm did with the Wards or New Wave.

      Likewise, most of the human characters in Worm who were not members of the Slaughterhouse Nine would draw the line at killing opponents if they could possibly help it. There were a few exceptions, but it generally stood out as an unusual and disturbing exception, and everyone else would generally react in horror when they found out.

      Whereas Jeremy here? He cares about his wife, but ultimately most of what we’ve seen from him is his agreeing to murder someone at her request. That’s not easy to empathize with. (And even his wife, who had a scene trying to make us sympathetic to her — her reasons for it are heavily about her desire to become Lord of the local reason.)

      1. There’s an important cultural difference between those universes though: amongst practitioners and Others, any one member of a family is the temporary representative of that family, and only the really family matters.
        In Worm, simply stopping someone from doing something controversial is preferable because killing a person is wrong.
        In Pact, killing the current Heir seems to me to be the equivalent of stopping the family from doing something controversial, because ending an entire family line is wrong.

        Bigger scales, lesser individual importance. The reason we care is we’ve been following Blake, who was thrust into this world and had no idea how unimportant his individual life was in that culture.

      2. Agreed to murder? Jeremy agreed to keep Blake in Toronto. Jeremy agreed to help Sandra with the Thorburn cabal. We have seen and been told that practitioners prefer indirect attacks – direct murder is rarely karma positive. So I don’t think murder is the first thing on his mind. That doesn’t preclude lots of other nasty things that practitioners do, though.

      3. He never wanted to murder Blake. He only wanted to keep him there in Toronto. At the least, to not return to Jacobs Bell. So he aranged to have Conquest make him his slave in return for some protection/favor. If Blake managed to escape, he wouldn’t risk being seen in either Toronto or Jacobs Bell, with a Lord and two circles after him. He could have TOTALLY arranged it for Blake to die. But he didn’t want that. He just saw someone his wife (a badass in her own right) was afraid enough to run out of town, and didn’t want him back enough to call HIM of all people to help her.
        So he assumes Blake is a threat, but not evil or a direct threat.

        There are countless ways he could have killed blake if he wanted. Hired Fell, asked Conquest to do it for a favor, tricked him into answering a question to isodora incorrectly, or acted nice and threw him a part, and if and when he refused, had his creatures attack him for refusing his hospitality and his god’s gifts.

        He did what I think was the absolute minimum to ensure Blake didn’t make it back, and did it in the least deadly way he could without losing his effectiveness. If my ex fiancee asked me to do the something similar, I’d probably do much the same. I trust her judgement that she wouldn’t be asking me if it wasn;t a big ddeal, and that he wasn’t a total innocent, but I’m not going to do any more than I absolutely need to.
        Blake was just going to be used to summon some minions, Diana and Isodora would fight him, conquest would probably not survive the conflict, he could become lord, there’s minimal damage to Toronto, No diabolist coming back to Jacobs bell, it’s a win for everyone.

        As for sympathy… I couldn’t sympathize with many worm characters. I understood them and some of their actions, as well as related with some of their problems…. but they often did rather silly or stupid things I couldn’t get behind. Wit the exception of two characters (maybe three….) I could NEVER make the same choices in the character’s shoes.

        Pact? In the shoes of a lot of these people, I’d make similar choices. None of Laird’s though- even though he’s been claimed by death, his actions still confuse the hell out of me, given what I know about him. But Rose? Sandra? Jeremy? Evan? If I were them, with their knowledge, I would probably have done and felt the same things, and the only things I wouldn’t do or feel, wouldn’t have changed much in the long run.

        That’s true sympathy, in my book.

        Take the Barber for instance. What if blake was the Barber? A complete unknown, but someone who has been known to do some pretty fucking scary things. Someone who diabolists fear. If the Barber came in to town, everyone would freak and try to kill him ASAP. Even if, say, he lost his memories and doesn’t know how to do the scary stuff YET, but has books to teach him.
        It’s much the same. When you remember that some Others can’t tell the difference in generations, and just see “Thorburn” and “Thorburn”, regardless of which one they are- and the practitioners raised in such an environment, it’s not surprising any of the actions they took.

        Most didn’t want MOLLY dead. Just scared. They didn’t want Blake dead either. Just silent and complacent. Or in Toronto and away from them.
        Then Blake turned into a badass in two weeks, and bound a Lord of a city.

        NOW they fear the hell out of him and want him dead.

        1. “NOW they fear the hell out of him and want him dead.”
          Maybe they feared him then, but less than 24h later, they forgot about his exploits again. From what I can tell, neither Isadora nor Sandra remember any details about Blake; he’s just “the Thorburn diabolist” or the like.

          1. True. when I said now, I meant after all he’s done, not at this moment as no one knows about him or what he has done. I should have said “After he trapped Conquest, they feared the hell out of him and wanted him dead”.
            My bad for using present tenses.

        2. “and didn’t want him back enough to call HIM of all people to help her.”

          I assume you mean that second HIM to be Jeremy, since nothing else makes sense to me, and in light of that I have to completely disagree with the implications you draw for Sandra and Jeremy’s relationship.

          tl;dr: They love each other but, because bad shit happened out of their control, they cannot handle living together any more.

          Long version:
          The impression I get is that they grew to love each other very much, especially after Sandra became pregnant, and that that never changed. Thus they are both more than willing to help each other out whenever needed (not sure, but I think Jeremy’s failed bid for Lord, which she helped him with, might have been after they split). The problem, of course, is magic. Jeremy’s god is kind of a major dick, and tried to royally screw the Duchamps’ by using his divine prerogative to allow Sandra to become pregnant with a male child. This is not supposed to be possible because magic, and if the boy were to be born it would undo the source of the Duchamp line’s power and permanently nullify all the magic of every one of them.

          Obviously, Sandra cannot allow that, and if you want to give her the most charitable reading possible, the consequences are not just no more magic for any Duchamp ever, but almost certainly the death or worse of a great many of them as well.

          So she had to kill their baby boy in order to save her entire family line. Obviously that’s going to be one hell of a strain on a relationship. Even if Jeremy could understand and accept the reasons for it, Sandra herself might not have been capable of remaining with Jeremy as a constant reminder of what she had to do, or that they’d never be able to have children. Also, since an heir is not possible, she’s useless to the Duchamp family while she’s in Toronto. So, she avoids a lot of heartache and gets to still be useful to her family by moving back to Jacob’s Bell and acting as the family head.

          Sometimes love just isn’t enough.

          1. Yes, I meant him.

            HOWEVER, I did not mean it about her hating him or anything. Let’s face it, she doesn’t contact him unless she seriously needs to. It’s, in my opinion, because of her feelings for him and his for her.

            It probably hurts/is confusing/is awkward/is hard for them to have many interactions, for the very AMAZING reasons you listed (seriously, if comments had a voting system, I’d give you the maximum I could) for both her feelings and why their relationship didn’t pan out.

            So, it’s just easier to keep things strictly business, and only communicate if absolutely nessecary. I mean, 15 years? That’s a long ass time. I wouldn’t even want to consider getting in touch with someone I love but can’t be with after all that time.

    1. She works with connections. When Mags lost her name she was still able to tell who she was and what happened. I think it’s safe to say that Sandra realized what Blake was when he returned from Toronto.

    2. She’s currently probably Mags’ only friendlike entity in Jacob’s Bell. I wouldn’t be surprised if she managed to get it out of her.

      1. I think we saw all of their direct interactions until her name ritual though? But if nothing else, she would have been able to notice a one-way connection extending to the Thorburn camp and been able to put 2 and 2 together.

      2. Actually! In the process of responding to a different comment below, I realized she couldn’t’ve gotten it from Mags, because she remembered the stuff about her directive to Jeremy. Only she and Jeremy knew about that, and J obvs didn’t remember, so therefore she must have done something like the Sphinx did and managed connections to minimize the damage. (See also the not-using-his-name thing, where Mags totes knows his name.)

        1. Ur primarily killed the connections to the people around the warehouse. The rest fell when reality fixed things.

          The impression I get, given what the Lawyer said of herself and Izzy, is that anyone of sufficient skill and awareness could choose to hold on to the connection when it fell.

          I could also see a lot of people letting the connection die, though, as connections give people and Others power. Someone who is in the process of losing all his connections is going to be even less of a threat if you allow your connection to drop. So someone like Johannes, who wasn’t particularly threatened by Blake, might choose to not to keep the connection even if he was aware of it failing, because why bother?

    3. She’s an Enchantress so I assume she, like Lewis & the Sphinx, are able to protect their connections as well as having extra-sensory awareness on attacks on what is theirs.

    4. It could be simple distance. She was in Jacob’s Bell when it happened, like Mags; and it was implied that the further away you are, the less it affects you.

      1. I assumed that Mags kept her connection because it was only Blake’s connections that were cut, and he had no connection to the girl in the checkered scarf, only to Maggie Holt.

        Like, she seems completely unaffected by it–still able to say his name and everything–whereas the Sphinx and Sandra are like “sooooo there’s this guy…..” (the same way Sandra was like “yeah, I can guess who you are” not “oh yeah you’re Maggie”) because they were able to contain but not eliminate the damage.

        1. According to Mrs. Lewis, only the connections to his friends outside of the factory were cut. After that, there wasn’t enough tying him to the world so he fell through the cracks, snapping the remaining (weak) connections in the process. Mrs. Lewis noticed and held on to her connection, and Mags claimed the connection during her ritual (which was happening at the time of Blake’s disappearance). It is reasonable to assume that a practitioner specializing in connection magic would be able to do the same thing.

    1. Maybe Blake passed by the edges of Johannes’ territory on his way to the Thorburn House, in a small town with many factions, there are only a few neutral roads anyhow.

    2. Johannes is an expert on vestiges. That makes him simultaneously very valuable and very dangerous to Blake. In fact, considering all Others in Johannes’ demesne are allowed to hunt the normal vestiges, Blake going there sounds rather insane.

      1. Guests of Johannes feed upon Vestiges build from/drawn out of the mundane inhabitants of his demesme. Outside Others may be relatively save as long as they pay the proper price to Johannes.

        Also, renember the definition of Wraiths? They absorb other Others/spirits to prolong their existence and get warped. And Johannes’ realm is a feeding ground for Others.

  9. Interesting about the dangers and benefits of priesthood. Perhaps the Thorburn Circle has enough overlap with the domain of Dionysus that Jeremy will fall out of favor if he goes after them in the wrong way?

  10. honestly, i feel bad for jeremy, there is no way he aint going to get out of this without HUGE damage to his reputation. it seems gods are fickle things and the thorburns are nasty bussines, they are like a nest of wasps, yes you can take them down but you will get your hands so dirty it wount even matter by the end.

    also this is going to be their first fight against a full blown God, with capital G, that ought to be good (i wonder if we are ever going to see something related to yahveh or any version of the abrahamic God).

    fianlly considering we are fighting against a drunkard, satyrs, nimphs and what not there might some “funny bussines” and by funny i mean sexy. here crossing my fingers for a somewhat more “relaxed” arc

  11. You know, everything related to how the Gods relate to people and how the Gods give power hoping that it’ll compound and come back to them even bigger, etc., can all potentially apply to Blake and any relationship that he may (now) have with the God in the Drains, who I’m going to start calling DrainsLight, or maybe that should be DrainSlight because he makes of the Drains a Slight place, easy enough to escape from.

  12. I’ll give you a space.
    Jeremy is now a guest of Johannes, and Johannes cannot attack Jeremy without violating that guest right. Also, Jeremy has a protected space within Johanne’s demense.

    You can come and go…
    This apparently applies not just to Jeremy, but also to what belongs to Jeremy, such as Jeremy’s coterie… and possibly also to Jeremy’s wife, and Jeremy’s large extended Duchamp family?

    …but you can’t hunt, and you can’t interact with the Other residents. Your passage is barred the first time you act against me or my rules in my territory.
    So as long as Jeremy doesn’t attack Johannes, Jeremy can’t lose his privileges. Jeremy’s wife and Jeremy’s family can attack Johannes, but as long as Jeremy doesn’t attack, they may have that safe spot belonging to Jeremy within Johanne’s demense to duck back into, or to try to get Johanne’s to violate Jeremy’s status as a guest, so as to weaken Johannes. And in the meantime, Sandra and/or the rest of the Duchamps can freely attack Johannes from within his demense — they don’t have to stop at the border or ask for permission to enter, as long as they’re being brought in by Jeremy.

    This all presupposes that Jeremy will ostensibly make it his primary purpose within Johanne’s demense to throw an enormous party. An enormous party which is the only reason he’s bringing in Sandra and the rest of the Duchamps. And then all of the Others will come in to party — not of course with Jeremy as he won’t be interacting with him, but with each other (and with all the free intoxicants that Sandra will be providing courtesy of her husband who is still not interacting with any Others, but only with his wife). And then the Duchamps could start bending connections away from Johannes and towards Sandra. “If Sandra Duchamp were the Lord of this town, you could all party like this all the time, since her husband is a priest of Dionysus and these are the sorts of parties that Sandra throws all the time. Come to Jacob’s Bell for Johanne’s demense, stay for Sandra’s parties!”

    1. I’ll argue that Johannes doesn’t have anything to worry about even if they do attack from within the demesne. I’m guessing Johannes doesn’t want to be lord at all – he’s clearly orders of magnitude more powerful than everyone else except possibly the Thorburns. The only reason he threw his hat in the ring is to make sure the right party wins/wrong party loses.

      1. The Thorburns aren’t powerful at all. The whole point is that grandma’s ploy to make the next generation of rose more powerful got screwed up by blake’s unexpected way of death.

        1. I don’t think so. I think it went pretty much like Rose Sr. planned it. Not the specifics, obviously, but I think the switch was always intended to occur with Blake’s death or otherwise obliteration.

          The major obstacle to the Thorburn ascension was Laird. He was eliminated, and all of the bad ju-ju (I think he actually came out ahead, but it’s probably close to a wash) and damage from that went to Blake, who isn’t a real Thorburn, mitigating what might be able to apply to Rose.

          Rose is now in a position where she is completely whole while her primary enemies have been weakened, and she’s had TIME to practice Practicing without any of the lost power due to mistakes. She gets to start things off from a significantly better position than Blake did on every level. She even has minions! The fact that they don’t remember WHY they are minions probably helps her rather than hurts her, as illustrated when she’s talking about releasing the Barber and they don’t know why they trust her. If they did know, they probably wouldn’t trust near as much.

          The only real big negative she comes out of this situation with is that she’s been tainted by Conquest, which Rose Sr. couldn’t have foreseen and could really screw everything up. This is why Blake is going to have to deal with her or mitigate her somehow.

          1. Also, the Thorburns are insanely powerful. In a world where practitioners are trained virtually from birth on how to do magic and normally only manage moderate levels of it, Blake held off two towns trying to kill him, successfully bound two demons, and indefinitely bound a not-insignificant city Lord in a mirror.

            All within a month of learning that a thing called magic actually exists.

            Sure, their magic doesn’t give them a lot of personal power yet, but there is a reason everyone is afraid of them, and it ain’t because they are weak. Most of Blake’s apparent weakness came from his unwillingness to use his resources. Mainly because they were all just too powerful, like using a grenade to kill a fly.

            Frankly, only the Eye, the Sphinx, and maybe Johannes have shown themselves to have anything approaching Thorburn level power. Even Laird required his entire family for his one big display of power, and all it did was cut off access to a house. Incredibly inconvenient, but pretty weak, relatively speaking (though, if it were real time magic that same display becomes a display of incredible power ;). Of course, worth remembering is that ALL of the power these guys display is situational. They all tend to be incredibly powerful in certain circumstances and very weak in others. On that score, I think the Sphinx and Johannes may top the Thorburns a little in the general sense, but if Rose manages to survive a few years that will probably change.

  13. So the High Drunk and Sandra are in danger of getting caught in a lie?

    So much for the Behaim/Duchamp wedding. Looks like they are already planning to fight each other.

    Liked the Jeremy history, but I’m not liking his chances for survival. Why is he uniquely equipped to go after the Thorburns?

    1. The wedding was only for an alliance while Laird was alive. Even so, all the practitioners seem to be casual about things, so if they avoid killing one another things might remain amicable.

    2. Who better to cast out demons than a priest? Who better to oppose the logical and precise Rose than a madman? Who better than an ally from Toronto to send a Toronto circle back there?

  14. The list of Others was quite entertaining. I remember Johannes mentioning the big ghost in the past, Blake counts as a “wraith-vestige”, the Eye was about (elemental that smells of burning wires), and I think the almost-human that smells of sweat and metal would have to be Mags. Did I miss anyone?

    1. It wasn’t the Eye because the elemental that was mentioned is stated to be young, and the Eye has been around for quite a while. I’d have to guess that the young elemental is something to do with electrical fires specifically, it makes sense for it to have a smaller scope if it isn’t old or powerful yet.

      1. Any idea on the ages of the sartyrs? If I had been around since ancient Greece I’d sure refer to something that came into being during the Toronto Fire as young. Jacob’s Bell seems like a bit out of The Eye’s way though, unless Johannes bound it and brought it there.

  15. Sandra doesn’t seem to remember Blake very well. She seems to assume Jeremy made a mistake in identifying Blake which allowed him to escape. That’s not really what happened, so she may only remember a few things about Blake, something like: he’s connected to the Thorburns, she sent Jeremy after him in Toronto resulting in a promise, he disappeared and lost most of his identity, and now he’s back.
    If she remembered more, she’d probably have told Jeremy that Blake beat Conquest and that he shouldn’t underestimate him.

  16. I don’t get how any of Sandra’s or Jeremy’s lines were lies or broken promises.

    • Sandra: “Someone’s coming your way. You’ll know him when you see him.” – Firstly, Jeremy did “know him”, i.e. identify him. Secondly, this line is vague bordering on meaninglessness (someone is always coming etc). Thirdly, I don’t see why it should become a lie because it “wasn’t true, apparently, not as he escaped”. From everything we’ve seen, practitioners aren’t allowed to knowingly speak falsehoods; since Sandra didn’t do that, this shouldn’t retroactively turn into a lie. If the practitioners-can’t-lie rule worked differently, one would have omniscience again (e.g. one could make scientific predictions by claiming things like “the mass of an electron is larger than X” to determine it to an infinite number of decimals).
    • Jeremy: “Someone’s coming your way. […] I need him to not come back.”“I’ll see to it.” – First I thought (as a non-native speaker) that “I’ll see to it” meant something more along the lines of “I’ll do what I can” than “I will”, but apparently I was wrong. Then I noticed this was arbitrarily vague again, because it doesn’t say anything about Blake not coming back to Toronto, and it could even be interpreted as Sandra only wanting Blake not to come back the same way – so given that Blake returned to Jacob’s Bell on a different path and in the mirror world, the promise might still be okay for now.

    And finally, Blake was forgotten by everyone due to his almost-erasure by a devil. Given that not even the spirits should remember, it shouldn’t matter if the promises were broken or not.

    1. From everything we’ve seen, practitioners aren’t allowed to knowingly speak falsehoods;

      Nope! It’s unknowing untruths also. I guess the spirits don’t have a theory of mind? “I’m going to keep you here all day” at the prison was statement that turned out, in retrospect, to be false, even if he intended it at the time.

      My interpretation here has been that the power of one’s words over reality is contingent on those words maintaining a close and accurate relationship to reality, and that lies and broken promises are just two threads from this stream–so it wouldn’t matter if it was a knowing untruth or not.

      Anyhow, one presumes that Jeremy saw Blake at one point on his way back, and didn’t know him, and then proved the falsity of the statement “you’ll know him when you see him.” OR maybe she’s just trying to avoid that possibility coming to pass in the future.

      If the practitioners-can’t-lie rule worked differently, one would have omniscience again (e.g. one could make scientific predictions by claiming things like “the mass of an electron is larger than X” to determine it to an infinite number of decimals).

      You’d kill yourself pretty quickly doing that kind of experimentation, given the loss of personal power and what “loss of personal power” seems to mean in this universe. Also it’s completely plausible that the spirits would punish you for making statements whose relationship to the truth is unknown–regardless of whether it’s right or not–because it perverts the “relationship between words and reality” that it’s their job to enforce.

      1. I figured “I’m going to keep you here all day” counts as a promise to do something in the future (with a specific deadline to boot), whereas “You’ll know him when you see him.” seemed more like a statement of fact which should only depend on one’s current state of mind. In fact, if “You’ll know him when you see him.” were interpreted differently, it would have to be true every time Jeremy saw Blake. What if Blake grew an afro, or otherwise altered his physical appearance, e.g. via glamour? If practitioners couldn’t even say such sentences without having to fear being made liars by future events out of their control, they wouldn’t dare open their mouths at all.

        But I have three far stronger counterexamples:

        • What about the fellow called Blake Thorburn? He considered himself human and referred extensively to (what he thought was) his past. He thought he was ~19-20 years old, that he was human, that he had a family etc. If what you say is true, his statements to this effect were lies and should have rendered him powerless. Or, given that he turned out to be a vestige, annihilated him.

        • Same with the faerie, who can delude themselves into believing things until they are actually considered true.

        • Same with everyone in Jacob’s Bell who called Rose a vestige, or Blake the Thorburn heir.

        1. Yeah, I just don’t really see how Sandra/Jeremy can be foresworn. Who’s enforcing their promises? Do the spirits have a connection with anyone? What do the spirits remember? Sandra and Jeremy were pretty vague in what they said to each other — I remember some speculation that Jeremy might be telling Sandra what she wanted to hear while being vague enough to leave the door open for him to ally with Blake against Sandra (or maybe that was just in my head). Jeremy did recognize Blake when he saw him — who’s remembering/enforcing that statement and only now applying it to Blake’s current exit from Toronto?

          Besides, I kind of like Jeremy and don’t want to see him get so easily screwed over.

        2. For bullet 1, see Maggie Holt. Her existence was nearly destroyed when Padraic took her name, because her life was no longer hers enough to hold her together. Never mind lacking magic (which was almost non-existent until she claimed the name Mags). Blake himself is vastly diminished by the fact that his life is no longer true.

          Bullet 2 Shows that a lie can be changed into truth with enough effort. Is it so odd that an easy truth (“you’ll know him when you see him”) can slip from a truth to a lie under the wrong circumstances?

          Bullet 3 I’m not sure. It might be that everyone lied, and has been weakened without their knowledge. However, I don’t think anyone actually ever said “Rose Thorburn is a vestige”. Everyone referred to her as “the vestige” and pretty much ignored her instead of talking to or about her. Blake and his cadre were the only ones to really converse with her, and they never referred to her as a vestige that I can recall. Still, I’m a lot less sure about this one than the others.

          Regarding lying, it’s not that a practitioner can’t lie, its that they take a massive hit to their power as a practitioner if they do lie. Early on Blake tells a small lie and takes a huge hit to his power. That’s part of a practitioners training – they’re trained never to lie under any circumstances even long before they become practitioners, because it significantly damages your power if you do. Think of it like your credit score, and lying is a missed payment on a bill. One missed payment can drop your score by a hundred points or more, even after years of paying all your bills on time. You can build it back up, but it’s slow, and if you miss another payment in the mean time it will drop you even further than your first miss did. So, as a general and very reliable rule, practitioners do not lie. They really can’t lie on any sort of regular basis and remain practitioners. One of the big tells at the end was that Blake was lying without taking a hit to his power, which only happens to non-practitioners. It’s also why Rose was able to lie and not take a hit. Her power came from Blake, but she only pretended to make the oaths to the spirits, so she could do magic and still lie by drawing on Blake.

          It’s also not the words themselves that need to be truthful, it’s the intended meaning behind them. That’s what makes the wordplay trickery work. If Maggie’s understanding of Padraic’s words mattered at all, she wouldn’t have lost her name.

          That’s the danger Jeremy and Sandra are in. Jeremy has not lied yet, and I think your points about him being back as a vestige are valid but shaky, which is what Sandra is concerned about. If Blake can manage to come back, then Jeremy lied and will take a power hit.

          Sandra intended to refer to Blake Thorburn specifically when she said “You’ll know him when you see him”, so that is the reality that needs to be true in order for her to have told the truth. That was careless, and I think that, given the open nature of the statement, if Jeremy can’t recognize him NOW it’s also a lie, or at least a partial lie. At this point, it’s fuzzy, and maybe that lessens the impact. It might be that since reality flipped on it’s head, who he recognized was Rose, who was not Sandra’s intended target (which might only be true because she held the connection to Blake – super fuzzy!). Or maybe it’s borderline, because he DID recognize him, but he doesn’t now. If he gets that back Sandra will take very little hit from the slip. Lots of room there to make it dangerous for Sandra.

    2. I don’t get how any of Sandra’s or Jeremy’s lines were lies or broken promises.

      Remember that Sandra might not remember everything about Blake. Even if Ur didn’t eat all connections, and even if she held to some due to her expertise, there’s no reason to expect she remembers all of it.

      (Note that nobody seems to comment on the feared Thornburn diabolist having recently interacted with a demon of Ur’s magnitude, which they would have unless they either knew everything we do, or unless they had very little idea what actually happened. Nor have we seen any chat about Rose appearing in Blake’s place, which suggests to me there is more than Ur’s influence that camouflaged the switch.)

      So it’s possible that their past statements were not in fact lies or broken promises, but that she thinks they were.

      1. Reality fills in the gaps left by Blake’s temporary lack of existence, so anything pertinent to Blake now has Rose in its place. I don’t think it actually goes back and changes history though, only the present (i.e. people’s memory of what happened in the past, not the past itself), so things are very, very confusing in any case where Rose and Blake couldn’t be thought of as interchangeable (like Blake’s friends).

        For most of Blake and Rose’s interactions with the people of Jacob’s Bell and Toronto you could swap Rose with Blake and the memories would still pretty much line up with little conflict, so that’s what people will remember. You’ll get things like the occasional “That’s funny, for some reason I thought you were a man” or some such when being a man might have mattered, though.

  17. Comments:

    1. My favorite line: “I didn’t expect him to lose faith in me before I lost faith in him.”

    2. This chapter may be foreshadowing for the next insane demesne claim to come, presumably Blake’s or Rose’s.

    3. “I swore to myself, long ago, that I’d put my survival first.” – That would actually be an intelligent oath for many, many people in Pactverse.

    4. The Sphinx made Jeremy meet Sandra. Why? Because the Sphinx doesn’t like Jeremy, and Sandra would spell his doom? Or because she desired balance and thought Sandra would provide that balance? In any case, this play reminds me of another non-human entity from Worm whose name also begins with S.

    5. Given that Lords even have the ability to grant and take away the right of free passage through a city, they really do have insane powers. Blake did well in getting Conquest to relinguish that power against him during their competition.

    6. This being Wildbow, I just don’t see Jeremy’s and Sandra’s marriage ending well. But I suppose someone has to fight the diabolists, and they are screwed no matter who they are.

    7. Why the line “While these people deal with the Behaims”? Isn’t the Duchamp-Behaim marriage-alliance still scheduled to go through? Why would they fight? And I remember Duncan said he’d make a play for Lord, but Duncan didn’t seem like a bigshot among the Behaims by any stretch of the imagination.

    1. Re: #3 what would be the benefit to swearing something like that? It just locks you into your current goals for the rest of your life.

      What about when you have a wife and child that you love more than life itself? Sacrifice yourself for them and you become forsworn. And karma being what it is, your child will be punished for it. Woo.

      Seems like exactly the same sort of shortsighted oath that got Grandma Rose in so much trouble…

  18. So Blake passed through Johannes’ territory. What does that mean? Did he just pass through while going to Rose’s place? did he go there after? did he talk to Johannes (actually, he must have if he was let in)? Etc etc. Let us theorize!

      1. Time for another epiliptic tree. Part of what Grandma Rose used to make Blake was the unborn son of Jeremy and Sandra. Why? I have no idea!

  19. “Your passage is barred the first time you act against me or my rules in my territory.”

    And that’s the big trap. Set one of Jeremy’s stupider helpers up to do something that clearly violates the rules and trap Jeremy and all of his helpers in Johannes’s demesne. Massive win for Johannes.

    1. Oh crap. Just realised: “Your passage is barred the first time you act against me or my rules in my territory.” means if he makes a false step, Jeremy has just agreed to be trapped in Johannes’ defense with all the exits slammed shut. O_O

  20. “Most” of his identity? So he still has one?

    Are the spirits paying attention to Blake now?
    Aww, the trees are rotting now? They just got there!

    ….fifteen years and not even a kiss? The hell Sandra? You even keep a small house for the event he comes back. But all he gets is a hair and face rub. Lame.

    I almost dies laughing when Jeremy said he would be here for a week at most. That’s like 5 arcs worth.

    So. I feel like a priest for that god really shoundn’t be in friggin Canada. In San Fransisco or LA would totally be the place to be. Parties EVERYWHERE, much like that one.

    1. I would imagine Prohibition was pretty good for Dyoniseous. All the drinking and partying in secret. And colleges, they must be good. Isadora probably doesn’t like him because she has to get the statue of the universities founder out of her office or something.

    2. Much like Conquest, who has other incarnations in other cities, I imagine other cities have their own adepts of Dionysus.

      1. Does that mean he can call for backup, and turn Jacobs Bell into a giant part-den of chaos, destruction and pleasure?

        1. Sure, they have strongholds in Vegas and Cancun and Virginia Beach but they can’t afford to risk losing those strongholds for such a low-value target as Jacob’s Bell!

  21. Hi all! Im wondering, what makes a god a God? Is it purely worship? Were there gods before mankind learned to believe or did the humans create gods?

    Because I think if Gods would have been present before the arrival of mankind then every Other that exists must be a creation of one or more specific gods. I doubt that there were Nymphs and Satyrs before the “creation” of a being called dionisus. Or maybe there were creatures that acted like those and they were twisted into being servants of the drunken D.

    I’d like to think that humans created beings they call gods, through faith and power. Reality reacted to the wishes of thousand of humans to create the gods (like Thor, because people liked to think that there was someone who was responsible for thunder and such), and that means that every(!!!) religion and believe is right in the Pact universe.

    The Judeo-Christian God, Allah, YHWH and such have to be the most powerful Gods at the moment, because they’ve got sooo many believers. Think about the power of angels and demons. They’re mostly christian. Ifrits and Golems should be pretty powerful too.

    One last thing… if people can create gods out of faith and belief, then there has to be a small devine entity called Adolph Hitler, somewhere in the abyss. :(((

    1. Entities brought about by strong belief/faith/ideas are certainly quite powerful, but at the same time are heavily restricted in behavior. A similar being, Conquest, could only deviate so far from his “programming” and at great cost to himself. This is what allowed Blake and the other Toronto powers to manipulate him sucessfully. And he only embodies a simple concept: beat people up and take their stuff.
      Contrast the Judeo-Christian God. Certainly plently of believers, but a far more complex idea. Here differing personal interpretations come into play. Take two random believers having a discussion of faith (ignore language differences) and you will see a disagreement more often than not. Cite every heated discussion of religion ever on the internet. Too many contradictions between too many sects. To get the benefit of their worship Other must fully embody their worshippers beliefs.
      How would a single being reconcile these differences. Fracture into many smaller but more well defined shards? Be a Yes-Man of supreme power but little to no free will or initiative?
      tl;dr Judeo- Christian God in Pact. Absolute power, can’t tie his own shoelaces.

    2. I think reference has been made to gods giving structure to the universe. Things would exist, but gods make it so it’s not just a mass of chaos, but ordered. They seem to need worship to be active, but can exist even without it, abiet in a weakened and dorment stat. The gutteral god of light in the drains is an example of a god that’s been forgotten, but still exists and has some power, enough to hold Ur back. Dyonesios is a god who is remembered, but has little actual worship going on, so he can still exert some power, but not as much as in his heyday.

      So it seems gods don’t need worship to exist, but they do need it to do much of anything.

  22. “One… wraith-vestige?” the middle Ibix brother suggested. “It smells like rotted branches, and birds, and the abyss. It doesn’t smell very big, but it passed by here not long ago.”

    “Excellent,” he said.

    Ok, so this threw me. ‘Excellent’? Why the abyss would he say ‘Excellent’. The description of Blake was pretty specific, so for Jeremy to react with anything else than indifference he also has to remembers Blake in some form. But if he remembers Blake, he probably also remembers his promise to Sandra and that he has as of now broken this promise. So why would Blakes presence be excellent?

    Unless… he has a hidden agenda (which is probably a given for any powerful Pact character) which needs Blake alive.
    Or he never wanted Blake to die. In Toronto the only thing he ever did was direct Conquests gaze on Blake as a diabolist, thereafter he never ever again acted directly or indirectly against Blake. Even after Blake bound Conquest and could have left at any time, Jeremy never acted.

    So perhaps he never really wanted to honor his promise. The big question is “Why?”

    1. In Toronto the only thing he ever did was direct Conquests gaze on Blake as a diabolist, thereafter he never ever again acted directly or indirectly against Blake.

      Since this is the second time it came up: in chapter 4.5, Jeremy’s “disciples” followed Blake and threatened him. It’s open to interpretation what would have happened if Isadora hadn’t intervened, and how much of this aggression was due to Blake being tainted by Pauz.

  23. Oh, man. I hope Rose doesn’t sic any demons on Jeremy. He’s a bit of an asshole, but I wouldn’t want anything too horrible to happen to him.

    1. Rose hasn’t used any demons, yet, as far as I can tell. She’s still using the Bogeymen from the mirror time for the most part. When she talks about the Barber, it’s a “let’s take stock” type of discussion, but I don’t think she’s summoned anything yet.

    1. Fox spirits and gods certainly aren’t unique to Asia. Europe and the Americas have them featuring in myths and folk tales too.

  24. Histories 3 is ambiguous but https://pactwebserial.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/bonds-1-3/ refers to the Bacchae as female. I think the main difference in our world is that Maenad is a Greek term and Bacchae (or followers of Bacchus) is a Roman term (the Greek Dionysius became the Roman Bacchus). In the Pact world, they both appear to be female. The story also mentioned them changing since ancient times, both in appearance and in what you had to be careful of. I’m not sure what the exact Pact difference is, however.

  25. Damn. I just took a quick reread. The first indication that Rose knew about Blake being the sacrificial pawn and a vestige is Bonds 1.7! During the Awakening Ritual the personal token speech was drowned out, but the last words were “–than a vestige”. Vestiges were only mentionend once before in Bonds 1.3, in the name of a book.

    Also, directly after Blake finished the ritual, he looks down to pick up a book (still naked) and THIS happens: “I could see birds, flapping their wings, against my skin. They moved, and the branches they were on bobbed lightly. The watercolor background shifted.”

    I feel blind and ignorant.

    1. Neither of these were inconsistent with Blake being human and Rose being the vestige: everyone experiences something special during their awakening, and Rose’s provided explanation (which may have been a lie, but could also have been true) in ~2.1 was her strongly implying (though not outright stating) that she’d found out she herself was a vestige.

      1. They did not find out/speculate on about what Rose was at that point. The consensus was that Rose Sr. pulled someting to cheat the rules, creating the female Blake variant. The term Vestige was NOT used up to that point.

        Everything Rose said up until the point when she really awakened has to be considered a lie.

        The final hint that Rose is not a vestige at all is that she deliberately lies in Bonds 1.3:
        “We’re allies, Blake. Allies, understand? Look, the letter said a magic user can’t lie, right? I’m a unicorn from outer space, and I can’t speak English. See?”
        A vestige is an Other (I believe that was established, correct me with a reference if I am wrong). And Others can’t lie iirc. The can mislead, omit, express impressions and half-truths but they cannot tell a lie without seriously being drained of power.

        I have to check if Blake is ever drained of power when he tells lies before his awakening.
        But that would be kind of cheating in the other direction: If an Other seriously believes it is an un-awakened human, can it lie?

        Thats also why no practitioneer (to my knowledge) ever refers to Rose explicitly as a vestige, because that would be a lie. The scene when Johannes invites them to his domain, he tells them they would find themselfs in good company. I am lead to think he was addressing Blake at that point. Also, The person formerly known as Maggie Holt addressed them as “You’re an Other”, unknowingly tellen the truth because the way she uses the pronoun can also address Blake. Sneaky Wildbow. English is such a nice language to play the pronoun game, in german it is more… complicated to hide something like that because it sounds off.

        1. Rereading HURTS once the resolution is there. So. Many. Hints.

          Damages 2.4, when Blake is talking to the lawyers:
          “More to the point, if she had taken the offer, you wouldn’t be here. At least, not in the same capacity.”
          facepalm

        2. But, but…

          • Okay, so Rose didn’t mention that vestige stuff in 2.1, but in 2.2. And she implied she knew about it because she’d read the book on vestiges (remember, they have to read all books in the library anyway). None of that was inconsistent with Rose being the vestige.

          • Yes, Rose can lie deliberately in 1.3, but IIRC Others can lie, until bound by the seal of Solomon. Remember, in the Drains (in 9.3), Ms. Lewis told Blake that he could lie now. I don’t see why that would have changed when he left the Drains.

          • Johannes’ line from 2.2 in its entirety: “Miss Mirror? […] You would find yourself in good company, should you visit.”

          • The scene in which Rose is implied to be a vestige by Laird is also 2.2, but you are right, it’s not made explicit. But why wouldn’t it be? As far as we know, not a single practitioner knows that Blake is the vestige (okay, maybe Laird knows or suspects), so why wouldn’t anyone accidentally speak the untruth? That makes no sense to me whatsoever.

          1. 1) All Others are bound by the seal of Solomon. It is around for so long that the seal got accepted as a general rule, and the general rule as a law of “nature”.
            The caveat here is that the spirit world enforces that seal, and as long as the spirits are not aware of you, they do not affect you. (Which is the case in the Drains as well as for the unawakened)

            2) She implied she knew about a book about it. She never told him she read it neither did she divulge the contents of it, which a far better indicator that she did not, in fact, read it.
            She explicitly states she does not want to talk about it, since it may reveal that she did not read it but still knows about it.

            3) the “You would find yourself in good company, should you visit.” is such an ambigous non-statement… best stop discussing here…

            4) The same chapter includes the reference of a Vestige by Laird, which is the first time that term is thrown at them.
            The excahnge of words that follow between Johannes, Padraic and Laird can also be interpreted multiple ways. It is so confusing that I think Wildbow might edit it if he ever does it (hopefulle he does, even more hopefully because he wants to publish it).
            Basically it can be interpreded that Padraic gives the revelation that a vestige of Rose is there, taking Johanneses comment “Of Rose?” literally. Given Padraics distored image of people in general it may well be an error because he sees them all as rose. BUT he is faerie, which are experts in glamour, illusions and trickery by nature, if someone had it figured out, its him.

            1. So I wanted to contradict you on “All Others are bound by the seal of Solomon.” via this quote from 1.7: “[Barbatorem] agreed to be bound by the seal of Suleiman bin Daoud four months after the initial capture. […] Signing Barbatorem to the Standard remains the proudest accomplishment for this author, at that particular date and time, marking her first feat in this particular field.”

              But now I mainly feel stupid for calling it the “seal of Solomon” all the time, since it’s apparently either “the seal of Suleiman” or “the Standard”.

            2. “Suleiman bin Daoud” means “Solomon, Son of David”
              And “Seal” or “Pact” can be used fairly interchangeable in this context, since Solomon sealed away the great spirits and the great pact wich binds (most) Others are the terms he named to release them again. Reading the “Lesser Key of Solomon”, I wonder if the demons/devils are an exception to that rule in general, or just the ones which were not captured at that time.

              Contradicting the “no demon is bound by the Seal”-theory is Pauz. He was contracted, he was bound by it, several times. If Pauz was not subject to the Seal, this probably would not have worked.

              My personal theory: Every Other as old as the Pact of Solomon is bound by it if, and only if it has agreed to it. This exempts some powerful Others, mostly demons which where not powerful enough to be bound by Solomon directly, but still powerful enough to survive to this time.
              Every Other coming into existence after a certain time after the seals creation is by nature bound to it, because the pact transcended into a law of nature at some point.
              Others becoming existend in the intermediate time are a difficult case.

              Making Others like Barbatorem agree to the Seal is likely the only way to be sure to make deals with them in a relative safe way. They would have no incentive to hold to the terms of any deal they make and would outright kill the practitioneer who bound them the moment the are released.

          2. why wouldn’t anyone accidentally speak the untruth?

            Possibly because they’re experienced practitioners, and they were wary of making unambiguous statements without a thorough investigation. (Especially since it must have been obvious that something unusual was going on there.)

            I wonder if everyone who called Ur a minor demon throughout the story lost a bit of power each time.

          3. I had rather assumed that Blake could lie now because his awakening was rendered void when he lost his connections (or more accurately, it’s probably still valid but isn’t attached to anyone). It’s similar to how Mags can swear now: when the universe strips you of your identity you’re freed of that identity’s debts and obligations, too…

  26. I was wondering how is Blake going to power up now considering that anything he is around he absorbs at least a little bit of, and now this changes him more profoundly than it used to.

    1. I was wondering about that too. The faerie hair which was in the locket up to his arrest would have been a pretty powerful source right now. I wondered if he would venture in the park to reclaim it if it was still there (insert scene with a huge thorny rose bush, he cutting a rose and absorbing the glamour, roses begin blooming on the not-so-tatooed branches, thorns sticking out of his skin…)

  27. Rot huh….not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. It implies corruption at the core, gradual decline and decay.

    But…he’s picking up aspects of a Wraith which tends to involve draining others. Rot fits that bill, plus he’s picked up two related aspects: a shirt from the drains (a recycling point for the universe); and a sword from a goblin (which took chunks from its enemies to use their bodies for power).

    Amusing thought: God of the Vine vs Blake the Rot Monster https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_rot_%28grape%29

    1. Seems plausible. Pot is illegal anyway, so dealers are less likely to care if their customers are underage. Conversely, beer is legal for most people so there’s not much of a black market available for those people who can’t just buy it at the shops.

  28. I know Blake has no reason to curbstomp the high Drunk,because,unlike his Other fights with major forces,he has no easily exploitable weakness (maybe?)but I really hope he does so anyway.

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