Mala Fide 10.1

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“Evan,” Rose said.  “Step away from the mirror.”

“Why?” Evan asked.

“Because stranger danger,” Ty said.

“But he’s got sparrows on him.  Sparrows like me,” Evan said.

“Johannes likes dogs, you don’t want to be a dog around him,” Rose said.

“No, but…” Alexis said.  Her gaze was fixed on me.  It was clear that she didn’t recognize me, and that wounded me as sure as anything.

Even if I knew she was a stranger, a false friend that had been propped up somehow to make me a part of this world… it hurt.  I knew myself for what I was, but I was still Blake.  My memories were still in my head, they impacted who I was.

I still felt a bit of an ache when I looked at Alexis, a whole mess of complicated feelings.

I stood in the midst of the light that leaked through the window and into this mirror realm.  Where the mirror’s field of view didn’t reach, there was only darkness.

I’d known from the moment I’d seen the graffiti, reversed.  From the moment I’d exited the drains, I’d been in the mirror world.

But, Alexis?” Rose asked.  “You’re going to need to elaborate.”

“The bird tattoos… that looks like my work.”

“It is,” my voice came out a little hollow, a little rough at the edges.

“But I don’t do projects that, uh, extensiveNever work on the face.”

“You didn’t,” I said, staring down at the tattoos.  “It sort of got away from me.  Took on a life of its own.  Technically, you didn’t even do these, I don’t think, but it is your work, all the same.”

“Who are you?” Rose asked.

“That’s a very good question,” I said.

“It’s a question that I’m wanting an answer for,” she said, “I don’t want evasion.”

“Oh?” I asked.  “But you’re so very good at it.”

Stupid, I thought.

But somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to take back the words, or to go on talking.  With a kind of hunger, I studied her expression, to see if her betrayal ran so deep that I could somehow see a tell or clue in her eyes or the tilt of her frown.

She’d lied to me from the start, risked my life.  She’d stonewalled me and frustrated me at every other turn, and why?  Because I wasn’t real, and she’d known.  Now she was risking the lives of my friends.

Yeah, not quite my friends, but people that I wanted to protect all the same.

She was talking about dealing with Demons.  Using them.

I watched the others exchange glances.  Rose didn’t turn away from me, always keeping me in the corner of her vision, but she did give the others sidelong looks.

“You have me at a disadvantage,” she said, turning her gaze away from my friends, back to me.  “You seem to think you know me, but I don’t know you.”

That I.  I smiled a little, then walked off the edge of the patch of light and over to the nearest reflective surface.  The television screen.  I watched them collectively turn, a little too fast, even alarmed.

“Once upon a time,” I said, “You got quite upset with me for that use of ‘I’.  You’re part of a team, Rose, remember?  Try rephrasing it to ‘You seem to know us, but we don’t know you.”

“Let’s skip the quibbling and cut right to the part where you tell us who you are?”

I touched the television’s surface.  The surface vibrated at the touch, like a plucked guitar string.  The other’s reactions suggested they didn’t see it.

I sighed.  “I’m Blake Thorburn.  I was second in line to get custody of the Thorburn household.”

Rose arched her eyebrows.  “There’s a few big holes in that idea.”

“I know,” I said.  “I’m missing a bit of chromosome.  People that stand up to pee aren’t supposed to inherit the house.”

“Yeah,” Rose said, “that’s one.”

“I was your metaphorical stunt double, Rose,” I said. “Metaphysical?  Both?”

I paced back to the other patch of light.  Transition from one patch of light to the other was near-instantaneous.  There was no space between but what my mind needed to piece together to make sense of the relation of this space to the real world.

I continued, “I was the second custodian, but that doesn’t mean I was the second heir.  You were.  Grandmother apparently wanted someone with an unhealthy amount of paranoia and tenacity to weather the initial attention.  You got stuck in the mirror, and you got the time you needed to read up and figure stuff out while I fought the faerie and the chronomancers, and the Hyena and all the others.  Then I get taken out of the picture, and you get to hit the ground running.”

“That sort of fills in the gaps,” Ty said.

“Yeah,” Alexis and Tiff agreed.

Rose was silent, frowning a little.

“You stopped the Hyena?” Evan asked, a small note of awe in his voice.

“Yeah,” I said.  I held up the remains of the sword, then realized that the particular details weren’t even visible anymore.  The image of the Hyena’s head on the guard, the pommel… it had been worn down too much by the drains.  “This was him, after he was bound.  Maggie said something about that, and there might be something about goblins becoming weapons in the books…”

I trailed off.  Evan was still looking up at me.  He was falling apart, feathers coming out in clumps, sticking up where they were starting to come out.

I gripped the top of the mirror, hanging from it as I leaned forward.

“…We were allies, Evan,” I said.  “You were my familiar.  A soul with a bit of freedom spirits and wind spirits and spirits of escape and whatever else.  Then Ur ate that connection, that bond, and maybe a little bit of you is falling to pieces and a little bit of me is falling to pieces, because that connection is now some gaping wound.”

“Were we friends?”

“Yeah.  We got along quite well,” I said.  “I think… I dunno, a familiar and his practitioner are supposed to have a connection, and we had that.  Mutual admiration, maybe, if that’s not making too much of an assumption.”

“You admired me?”

“Damn straight I admired you,” I said.  “You survived, you endured, you escaped.”

I let my arm fall from the mirror’s frame on my side of things.  My finger brushed the border.  A bar on my extensive cell.

“I died, though.  I’m dead, you know,” Evan said.

“I know.  It’s not like I did that fantastically myself.  Look at me.”

“So we know who you profess to be…” Rose said.

Profess?  I was glad I didn’t have a proper beating heart.  With blood pounding in my veins, I might have flipped out on her.  Instead, anger stewed inside of me without hormones or adrenaline or whatever other chemicals my body should have been using to manifest it.  Raw, cold fury.

“…What do you profess to be?”

“An Other,” I said, my words terse.

“Sounds like you’re dodging the question.”

“I’m being honest,” I said.  “I made something of a pronouncement earlier, and the words had power.  I don’t think I can lie, even if I’m not technically a practitioner anymore.  I’m an Other, and trying to stick another label on myself just gives me more room to be wrong.”

Try,” she said.

She was being so hostile, and I was already having trouble staying civil.

“I’m your reflection,” I said.  “I remember growing up as the child that your mom and dad might have had if they’d had a boy, instead.  I have memories of making friends with these guys, of leaving home because I couldn’t deal with the family thing, and ending up homeless.  Meeting Alexis on the streets.  Running into her again at Carl’s place…”

Alexis’ eyes widened.  “I… I remember leaving.  The vibe was wrong.  The pregnant girl, the attitude around the place…”

“I warned you, as I remember it.”

“I got back to Toronto, and stuck out the winter at the shelter-”

“-That was where you saved me from Carl, in my version,” I said, my voice quiet.

“-And Carl was there, in the shelter, looking for more recruits, and I got freaked out.  I hit him with a chair.  Which isn’t like me.  I always hated that I did that, that I couldn’t find the courage or the words to warn people verbally and spread the word.  Just a stupid sneak attack that could have gotten me in trouble.  One of my big regrets, now that I think about it.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I didn’t tell her that I’d seen some image of Carl, active today.  Maybe still doing what he’d been doing then, better.

Was that the way things went, when Ur removed memories?  Took away the good, left the bad?  Or were those regrets a reality that she’d never shared with me?

Both kind of sucked.

“I… remember all that,” I said, “But I’m just a fake.  An image, cobbled together from somebody’s memories, or multiple people’s, I don’t even know.  Something convincing to draw fire while Rose figured things out.  I’m, if I had to stick a label on myself, a Vestige.  Except that demon in the factory ate my connections to people, and I wound up…”

I trailed off, not even sure how to articulate it.

“What?” Ty asked.

“I fell through the cracks,” I said.  “And I clawed my way back up.  Not entirely in one piece.  So I’m a-”

“Bogeyman?” Rose asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Bogeymen tend to be angry,” she said, her gaze fixed on my own.  “Or they tend to be self-destructive, going out in a blaze of ruin and violence.  Are you angry, Blake, or are you the other type?”

“Yeah,” I said, without breaking eye contact.  “I’m angry.”

“I guess I don’t need to ask who you’re angry at?”

I slowly shook my head.

“Yeah,” she said.

But,” I said, “I’m not your enemy.”

“And we’re back to me not believing you again,” Rose said.

“Huh?” Evan asked.

I clenched my teeth, staring at her.

“I believe you when you say you’re angry.  That you’re angry at me.  Or the world, even.  You look like a bogeyman, and I’ve dealt with a few lately.  That fits too, so I could maybe even believe you when you say what you are.”

With one hand, she gestured at Corvidae, who stood in the corner, watching all this with dark eyes.

“But as far as who you are, or that you’re a friend?  There isn’t much to go on except your say-so.  If you were going to lie, you’d do something like that.  Mix in truths with the fiction.”

“What about the individual pieces that fit?” I asked.

“Our enemies include connection manipulators and augurs and Faerie.  Johannes has contact with Others from all around the world.  Can you give us proof of your identity that couldn’t be falsified using one of those things?”

Anything can theoretically be falsified,” I said.  “I can’t lie.  You can’t take my word for it?”

“No, because there’s no guarantee you’re telling the truth about your inability to lie.”

I suppressed a groan.

“That’s a no, then?  You can’t prove your identity?”  She asked.

“That’s a no, but you’re suggesting there’s no way for me to gain your trust?”

“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.  We’re not in a position to be extending blind trust to anyone or anything,” Rose said, emphasizing the ‘thing’ part of that last word.  “There are any number of Others who could pretend to be a Thorburn, gather the information, make up a story.”

“I’m of the opinion that if your choices are making a leap of faith and making allies and failing to make that leap of faith and being utterly alone, you should make the one exceptionally short leap.

“Says the would-be ally,” Ty said.

The look I gave him must have been something, because he flinched, almost in sympathy.

“Sorry man,” he said.  “But, well, she’s not entirely wrong.  We’ve only been in this for a few weeks-”

Weeks?

“-And the prevailing idea seems to be that you can’t rule anything out.”

“Weeks,” I said, a little stunned.  “How long ago was the incident at the factory?”

“Almost a month ago,” Alexis said.

I didn’t have a response to that.

I’d spent so long down in the Drains.  It had only felt like a day or two at most.  Maybe three, four, or five at the very post, if I counted the blurry time spent visiting my memories.

Rose, however, seemed to take my lack of response as a weakness to pounce on.  She went on the offensive, “Enchantresses have connection manipulation, strong ties to Faerie, glamour.  They could dig up details, figure out what fit, and prepare an assassin with a prepared story.  The chronomancers could rig up a trap and keep trying until their tailor-made assassin figured out a way past our defenses.  Johannes could leverage… whatever he’s got.  I don’t know.  The only guarantee against any of it is absolutes.  If the chronomancers want to try the brute-force approach and hammer us in simulated timelines until we say yes, then the only answer is to make it so the answer is always no.  If the enchantresses are going to try to trick us, then we need to counter subtlety with bluntness, because that’s the textbook way to counteract an enchantress or a Faerie glamour.”

“Absolutes are pretty fucking damning,” I said.

“Then I’ll be damned,” Rose told me.  “Because the alternative is worse.  There’s a war going on, and there’s no room for mistakes.”

“What if turning me down is the mistake?”

“What if accepting you is the mistake?” she countered.  “Given the choice, I’d rather do without.  At least then the situation is clearer cut.  I’m dealing with known quantities on one front, at headquarters.  With these guys, with Mags when we need a liason or a message passed on.  No others.”

I bristled, but there was nothing I could do.

I couldn’t reach out and act on that anger.  Maybe a good thing.

“Alexis…”  I started.  I wasn’t sure how to finish.

“I’m sorry,” Alexis said.  “I don’t know you.”

I flinched.

“I- I’m resisting every nurturing instinct I have, to care for the wounded and help those in need, because you’re definitely making me want to,” she said.  “I dunno if knowing that helps.”

I shook my head.  Definitely doesn’t.

You were the most important person in the world to me, before this started.  But that wasn’t even real.

“What was I, here?” Tiff asked.

“A very recent leap of faith,” I said, glad for the chance to turn away from Alexis, to abandon that conversation before Alexis could unwittingly cut me too deep with her words.

“I’m not sure I get it,” Tiff said.

“If I’m not real, then you’re the first real friend I made, not some connection that got thrown together.  You’re… not that different from me, in some ways.  You’re the me I remember being a year and a bit ago, when Alexis helped me, and a part of me felt like helping her help you was a step on my personal road to fixing myself up.  I trusted you like I’m asking Rose to trust me right now.  I made that leap of faith.”

Rose didn’t say a thing, only watching.

I hated her in that moment.

Nobody was moving, or speaking in my defense.

I didn’t know what else to say to Tiff.  I didn’t want to peter out or lose steam or lose heart now.  I pushed forward, changing targets.

“Ty.  I’m… I didn’t love you like I did Alexis, but I loved you as a friend.”

“I believe you,” he said.  “Everything you say makes sense, and maybe it doesn’t count for a lot, but I feel like you’re genuine, even if I’m not exactly an astute reader of people.  I’ve been burned in the past…

“I remember,” I said.  He’d had very good art stolen or plagiarized in the past.  He’d been cheated out of money he was rightly due, his art sold for pennies rather than dollars.

“I don’t have a reason to doubt you,” Ty told me.

I nodded.  A flare of hope in my heart.  “Then-”

“But Rose is right.  There’s too many unknowns.  Too many ways they can get to us.  And a bogeyman showing up with a good story is possible, too.”

The hope was dashed.  “Anything’s-”

“-possible.  I heard you before.  Instead of us trusting you, can you trust us, instead?  Rose has a plan, and if you’re a copy of her or she’s a copy of you or whatever it is, can’t you trust that the plan is a good one?”

It’s not that simple.  She’s a threat.  Conquest tainted her.  The Behaims or Duchamps drew the connection between Conquest’s card and her left hand.  She’s ten times the danger to you that I am.

But I couldn’t say it, or I’d be actively fighting her.  It would sound like I was making stuff up.  I would only be putting my friends at risk, because they wouldn’t leave, no matter what I said, they couldn’t, but the doubt and hesitation would only distract them.

“No,” I said, “No, I don’t know that I can trust that her plan’s a good one.  Not with what I glimpsed, while I was away.”

“You might have to,” he said.

I shrugged, noncommittal.

“Sorry I can’t give you any more,” Ty told me.

“Me too,” I said.  Changing tacks again.  “Evan?”

“No,” Rose cut in.  “Evan’s impressionable, and he’s weak right now.”

“Evan’s stronger than that,” I said.

Duncan Behaim could theoretically walk in here and talk to Evan, and win Evan over with talk of flaming sparrows and video games,” Rose said.  “Evan’s too trusting, and hasn’t been burned enough times to know to stay away from the fire.”

“I’m not that stupid,” Evan said.

“He’s not stupid at all,” I said.

“All the same, if you’re going to try to turn him,” Rose said, her voice quiet but sure, “We’re going to have a problem.”

“I’m not your enemy,” I told her.

She spread her arms a little.  “There’s no guarantees.”

“Alright,” I said.  “What I said holds true, no matter what.  I’m not your enemy.  Even if you won’t be my ally in all this.  I clawed my way out of the Drains to help you guys, and I’m going to do exactly that.  Even without your help.”

“Just so long as you don’t actively interfere with us,” Rose said, “You can do whatever you want, more or less.”

“Then I only have one, no, two more things to say, because I have to get it out there,” I told her.  “Then I’m going to get to work.”

Rose folded her arms.

“First off, Ur.  The demon.  I know how to beat him, and it isn’t fire.  It’s creation.  Art.  The graffiti might hide words, but it’s an art of its own, and that has value.  If something happens to me, do me a favor and wipe out that motherfucker.  Let this tip and the circle I started be my contributions.  I sort of promised Evan I’d do what I could to stop the real monsters.”

“Okay,” Rose said.  “Thank you, but that could be a trap.  You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t jump at the idea.”

“I guess I do have to, don’t I?” I asked.  “Consider it.  Try it, if you think it’s safe.  If you look in the windows, you might be able to see my work, through the reflection.  A diagram on the floor, in the mirror version of the factory.”

She nodded.  “Okay.  I’ll consider it.”

“Thank you,” I said, even though I felt far from thankful.  “Second thing?  I want you to look at me.  I’m fragile.  With every injury, I lose a bit of my human appearance.  A lot of this was from the Drains, but not all of it, understand?”

“They’ve been spreading a little bit while we’ve been talking,” Ty said, his voice quiet.

“Really?” Tiff asked.

“I have a good eye for detail,” Ty said.

“They’ve been spreading because this damn conversation has been killing me,” I said.  A note of emotion made my voice hitch the tiniest bit at the end.  I wasn’t even sure if they were able to catch it.

I saw concern, maybe doubt, but nothing resembling advocacy, no help from any corner.

“Literally killing me,” I said.  “There’s only so much me, and I guess emotional damage wears that away just as sure as any wound.  And some of this damage to my body is because you took something from me, Rose.  Inadvertently, maybe, but you took it all the same.  Tore it from me.  These people are not your friends, Rose.  They’re the fake friends of a fake man.  If you hurt them?  Or if you gamble them and get them hurt?  You will answer for it.”

“You’re a lot easier to believe when you’re talking about how angry and pissed off you are,” Rose said.

She sounded so damnably calm.

“That’s all I needed to say,” I told her.  “I’ve got to walk away from this, because I can’t take it any more.  I’ve got reading to do.”

I turned to go.  I need to read those damn diaries that Grandmother wrote, and about shoring up a spirit, and power sources and-

“Maybe,” Rose said, and something in her tone made me hesitate.  “But you’re not going to do your reading here.  This discussion was never going to end with you staying.  It seems we’re going to need to shore up our defenses to prevent intrusions from more oblique angles.”

I turned back, staring at her through that tiny window that was the mirror.

“As heir and custodian of the Thorburn estate, granddaughter of Rose D. Thorburn-”

“Rose, stop,” I said.

“-I hereby expel you from Hillsglade House, until further notice.”

The mirror in front of me winked out of existence, as did the television screen, the window, and the oblong patch of light somewhere above me that was the mirror in the library went black as well.

I couldn’t occupy a space that didn’t exist.  It wasn’t darkness.  It wasn’t vacuum.  Only utter nothingness.

I was thrust into the nearest available space.  Into snow that wasn’t really that cold and outdoors that had no fresh air.  Powdery snow flew around me, but the impact still hurt.  Being shunted from one location to another hurt more.

Tossed aside, cast out of the house.

I stood in the reflection of the house’s front windows, beyond the house, and I could see through to perceive Rose and the others, gathered in the living room.

The interior was dark.  No path stood available for me.

She can do that?  I thought, I could have done that?

Fuck.

Numb, aching, feeling the wood creep across my skin by millimeters, gaining more ground in the wake of the betrayal and abandonment, I made my way to my feet.

It touched the window.

When I’d exited the factory, I’d gone from one side of the window to the other.  The glass I’d carried with me had broken with the landing.

There was no passage through this window.

Fuck.

I stared around me.

Darkness, and patches of scenery.  Most of the city was reflected in some fashion or another, from front windows and car mirrors.  Some patches were clearer and stronger than others.

The interiors of houses weren’t lit anymore than Hillsglade House was, and not every roof was reflected in a surface.

The end result was a piecemeal city, artificial and empty.  Buildings stood, but not every face of the building existed.  Stretches between these cardboard cut out sections of street were cast in opaque darkness.  I was reminded of the towns in old westerns, where buildings were only building fronts, held up by stilts.

Rose had been limited to my presence and places I’d been.  Was this all ground that Rose had covered, or were the rules different?  I was the true vestige, after all.

I set off, taking long strides.

Rose was tainted.  I had no doubt about it now.  The Rose I’d talked to in there had been off.  Not quite right.  Closed off, controlling, a course in mind and no willingness to be swayed.

They were holing up.  Protecting the house with barriers.

The mad despot in her tower, challenged on all fronts.

Was she going to get worse?  The others weren’t, as far as I could tell, arguing against her.  Maybe that was some influence of hers, maybe it was genuine trust.  Maybe it was that they were newbies to this world, and Rose took point as a matter of course, having a week or two more experience than they did.

Either way, they weren’t going to call her on her shit.  She was going to keep going until someone confronted her on an equal level.  As a peer.

When I’d been real and Rose the person in the mirror, she’d taken that role, questioning me, keeping me level.

Now that the roles were reversed, she’d cast me out.

I needed help.  Help, ideally, that could smack some sense into my alter ego.

Maggie, I thought.

If it had been a month since the factory thing, which would have been in the last week of December…

Could she be in school?

Maggie could be the peer I needed.

It helped that the driveway was long.  I’d been able to start walking first and decide on a destination second, without having to change course.

My path degraded as I walked, the reflections less clear.

When it had effectively disintegrated, I simply stepped across, skipping ahead a third of a city block.

I covered ground fast.  My body was light, my bones felt more like sticks than stone.

There was a definite time lag between the real world and this one.  Snow, smoke from chimneys, they existed as still images, catching up to reality only every two or three seconds.

Goal number one.  Find Maggie.  Once I had at least one ally, I had some ability to affect the real world, to get something done.

Number two, I needed a real body.  I’d promised it to Rose, but, well, this wasn’t how I’d wanted to give it to her.  Getting a body was a high priority, but only because it would make other things doable.  Not necessarily the second step, but something I’d have to keep my eye open for.

Priority number three, I needed information.  Books would be great.  Knowing what my enemies were doing was greater still.  It would help me, it would help my friends.  It would even help Rose.  Then, as part of that same line of thinking, I had to figure out what Rose was up to.

The further I got from Rose, the clearer my own reflection became.

“Hello hello,” I heard a female voice, melodic and sing-song.  “Did I spy…?”

Fuck no.

“You did spy,” a man said, his voice with the same melody to it.

“A shadow without a person to cast it, in the window.  My eyes are sharp, you know.”

“I’ve complemented your eyes before, my dear lady.  I’d make a work of art out of them, if you weren’t so attached to them.”

“Or if they weren’t so attached to me?”

“Mmm hmm.”

The voices weren’t getting quieter as I walked away.  They were following.

Faerie.

“It looks like a rose, it walks like a rose…”

“Not interested guys, you might not remember, but we’ve done this before,” I called out.

Sounds like a rose.”

“Roses don’t have sounds,” I said.

Challenge subtlety with bluntness.

They’d barely been a block away.  Random luck I’d run into them, or something else?

Rose was shoring up her defenses, holing up.

Was this entire town a minefield of hostile Others and practitioner traps?

“A rose can rustle,” Ev’s voice followed me, reaching into and through the nearby panes of glass.  Cars were parked along the length of this street, and the rearview mirrors and side windows reflected the surroundings for me to tread in.  “A brush of wind through leaf, stem and thorn.  A sound that only the most gifted beings might claim to know.”

“Shall we be your breath of wind?” the man asked.  “We can treat you to the faintest of breaths on your skin, until your skin has prickled from head to toe, and phantom sensations caress you.”

“Not interested,” I said.  “Go away.”

“So rude,” Ev said.

My eyes were on a patch of darkness.  If memory served, the area was a stretch of parkland.  Too marshy to do much with, maybe, being so close to Hillsglade, they’d put a shack on it, and there was a sports field.  Behind both were trees, and highway.

If I reached that point, I’d skip ahead, create some distance.

I quickened my pace.

“Don’t be in such a rush, handsome rose,” Ev said.  “We’ll accompany you.  Watch.”

I glanced back.

A scraping sound, a flash of orange-yellow light.

A lighter?

The light was strongest around one side-view mirror.

Ev moved the lighter until it was behind her, impossibly bright, the only light available, casting her in silhouette.

“Lighters don’t work that way,” I said, challenging any glamour she was using.

But the shadow was now something that extended the opposite way, until it came to rest on the side view mirror.  If I followed the head of the shadow to the shoulders, now cast on the side of the car, the torso, stretching long across the ground, and finally the legs, attached to a Faerie…

She’d gone from silhouette to shadow, and the shadow extended to her, on my side of the mirror.

I heard footsteps, and realized they belonged to Keller.

Also on my side of the mirror.

Ev wore a long jacket with a shawl that hid her arms when they weren’t straight down at her sides, her straight black hair looked liquid, like the post-effects in a shampoo commercial.  Her eye was as dead as a doll’s.

“Neat trick with the lighter,” I told Ev.  “I don’t suppose you could teach it to me?”

“I could,” she said.  “Will you give me your company for twenty year’s time?”

I pretended to consider, then shook my head.

“You’re falling to pieces, artificial flower,” Keller said, behind me.  He was so fine boned he looked like he’d had a bird skeleton before his flesh had been put on.  His jacket was short, the collar fluffy, and he had a choker on his neck.  I could see his belt, glittering with tools that were discreetly concealed, but not entirely hidden.

My heart pounded.

I wasn’t a practitioner anymore.  I knew stuff, but there would be no drawing runes on the ground and commanding spirits.  It didn’t help that the spirits didn’t follow the same rules here.

I drew the Hyena from the holster I’d once made for June.

What I wouldn’t do for your company, June, I thought.

“Well,” Ev said, “That’s as hideous as weapons get.”

“Yeah,” I said.

The shawl fluttered, moved by a wind that wasn’t here, and I saw her holding a short knife.  It was curved like a bird’s talon.

Then the shawl moved back into place, and I couldn’t see it.

“I thought a Faerie would have something fancier,” I said.  “A twelve foot sword or something.”

Letita?  Pah,” Ev said.  “Her sword broke, she’ll settle on something else.  Last I heard, she was making a trident that could come apart in a cat o’ nine.”

“Crude, as torture devices go,” Keller said.

He was two steps closer than he had been a moment ago.  I hadn’t noticed him draw closer.

I shifted position to try and keep them both in my sight, and saw that Ev was closer still, an iron thread stretched between hands, knife clamped in her teeth.

Keller held the other end of the thread.  The thread then extended from him to… the mirror Ev had used to enter.  I had little doubt it was sharp enough to cut to bone, if I happened to walk into it.

Magicians used sleight of hand.  Move one hand, while the other took your watch.  Then while you looked at the watch, they’d palm a card.  One thing after another, and while you were watching their hands, somewhere along the line, they changed their clothes.

Faerie, as I understood it, could do something very similar, but in this case, they were moving people, not individual hands.

These two were a working pair, they’d spent centuries together, learning tricks that had nothing at all to do with glamour, and they’d tested those tricks against Faerie who’d been watching out for those same tricks for just as long.

Damn it, damn it, damn it.

“Rather than a whip,” Ev said -she held the knife-, “We’ve caged you in with finer string.  No slipping away, artificial flower.”

Not wanting to move, I tilted my head instead.  I could see light from the mirrors touch the string, making it glow.

“You can run,” she said.  “But you’d get caught by a thread you can’t even see. It’d cut deep, at just the right place to avoid killing.  Most keep running at that point, thread scraping bone, and they keep going even after they realize it’s a maze, and they’re carving themselves to pieces on the walls.”

“If it goes that far,” Keller said, three paces behind me, “I’ll use the thread to sew you back together.  There won’t even be a scar.  Promise.

“What’s the alternative?” I asked, “To the wire?”

Ev revealed her knife again.  “I can cut your skin and lift your nerves free.  Play them with the knife’s edge as a musician might plays his fiddle.”

“She’s really very good,” Keller murmured, “The very first time I met her, she was conducting a melody with a Faerie’s gasping cries.  Music made by pain and pleasure alone.  Ethereal.

I hate Faerie so fucking much.

“The real challenge,” Ev said, “The art, is to make the music something special for the instrument.  Something so beautiful that it trumps the pain and wins the instrument’s heart over to me.”

“I believe she’s only managed it twice,” Keller said.

“Practice makes perfect,” Ev admitted.

I looked between them.  The way they alternated off one another was almost hypnotic.  On a level, I suspected I knew how this went.  They drew my focus, taking turns.  Ev, Keller, Ev, Keller, Ev, Keller, captivating my attention with the horrible stuff they’d do to me, and when I was used to the pattern, they’d change it up.  I’d turn my attention to the next, expecting the next explanation, but no, I’d have a Faerie enacting the horrible things, while my attention wasn’t all there.

“What do you think?” Keller asked, “Where to start?”

“There’s something beautiful about a man on his knees, face turned skyward, suspended like a puppet by the strings that are meant to be inside that face.”

“A pious sort of beautiful.”

I needed to do something to take control of this, but if I attacked, I’d be leaving myself open.

I thought of Hillsglade House.  The wounds that had been delivered to me hadn’t been physical, not entirely.

Words hurt.

“That’s the fucking stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of,” I said.

I saw Ev’s expression go cold.

“Nerves don’t work that way.  They work by ion channels or something like that.  And music of moans and groans?  The only way you’d make that work in the slightest is if you caked it full of glamour.  That’s not beautiful, that sounds like a five year old getting into her mom’s makeup kit for the first time.”

Okay, from cold to pissed off.  Her anger distorted her expression.

Good.  Nice to finally get a rise out of someone, after Rose being all smug and condescending.

“Don’t fuck with me,” I said.  “Not today.  You don’t want to cross me.  I’ve got very few reasons to hold back, and an awful lot of negativity to vent.  What I wind up doing probably won’t be anything near some nervous violin-playing or whatever that garbage you were spitting out was.”

I saw them exchange a glance.  How many signals and tricks had they exchanged over the past few centuries, to communicate complicated strategies with but a look?

“As you wish,” Ev said.  She sheathed her weapon.  Her metal threads uncoiled, returning to their spool, sparks flying where some flicked cars or light posts.

Keller smiled, bowing slightly.

The two Faerie walked away.

Ev shot me one teasing look before drawing her lighter, disappearing through the side view mirror of her car.  There was a gleam of mischief in her eye.

Then they were gone, back in the real world.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.  They were pissed at me.

This was worse.

Things were bad and getting worse fast, and I had nowhere to go for sanctuary.

I headed for Maggie, walking faster than before.

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217 thoughts on “Mala Fide 10.1

  1. Mala fide: An intentionally dishonest act of bad faith, by not fulfilling contractual obligations.

    Is this a sign that Blake (or Rose) will be breaking a contract? My money’s on Blake, simply because he still can lie.

    1. It could be either. Blake made a lot of promises to help Rose, although he made those in good faith. It could be that she’s making her end of the bargain in bad faith just by fucking him over, what with the banishment and everything else.

      From what I can tell, there was some kind of plan before, that blake fucked up by going out in the messiest way possible. Since he was involved, Rose forgot it all, and being tainted by conquest, she’s defaulting to conquering everything. That would be the bad faith right there. Against everything she and blake worked for.

    2. Others can lie. Duh…
      My Theory from last histories chapter is down the drain, mostly.

      So what is exactly the distiction between Others that can lie and Others that can’t?!
      Is it the admission to the Seal of Solomons or what?!

      Oh, alknowing creator Wildbow, hallowed by thy name, answer the prayer and gift us knowledge, thy followers beg thy word to be heard!

      1. He did answer: https://pactwebserial.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/null-9-6/#comment-17717

        It was a different question, but I bet the answer applies (particularly since Blake commented that it’d be nice if he knew the rules, so he’s probably going to learn them later, the hard way).


        Anyway, I think it’s more complicated than just the Seal of Suleiman. After all, if you could lie indiscriminately, you could just lie when agreeing to the Seal as well.

        I think this is related to the distinction between lying (saying untrue things) and being forsworn (making a promise and breaking it).

        I think that the “default” state is that anyone can lie, and there’s no intrinsic effect to this. There are likely specific exceptions where truthfulness may be an intrinsic facet of one’s being (like an Incarnation of Truth), but by default anyone can lie without any direct effect. (Except for indirect effects on karma, due to the consequences of what you said through other’s actions, but such effects also occur even when telling the truth, as in the case of telling Innocents about magic.)

        Explicitly swearing some things is different. The problem with swearing something is not that the Universe enforces the promise; it’s a bit more complicated than that:

        For humans at least, it begins with the Awakening ritual. You swear to the spirits in general to follow the pre-established rules, and in exchange the spirits in general agree to show themselves to you, and to at least listen when you ask for things. (Non humans presumably can see and be heard from the beginning. The lore suggests that humans have been artificially excluded from such interactions, and must explicitly opt-in via awakening.)

        In subsequent rituals, and for Others by default, you can make other promises “to whom it may concern”, and spirits that are in some way aligned with your promise then agree to lend you their support in your endeavors, in exchange of you eventually following through on your promise. Note that while Awakening is (usually) particular to humans, any Other can make vows in general.

        For example, did the High Drunkard’s demesne ritual falls in this category; but Blake also on occasion made some free-form “pronouncements”, as did Mags. In both cases the world “felt different”, as presumably the spirits aligned with the promises started to pay closer attention and gather to assist them.

        Note that the important part of this is the fair exchange (a concept which is emphasized in general in Pact). Remember that there are dozens of spirits even in a pencil or a blade of grass. There are probably lesser and greater spirits of movement and of waving in the wind, of writing and of meaning, of friendship and love and enmity, of recognition and knowing and forgetting, of sharpness and cutting and holding together. Absent intervention, the sum effect of all those spirits is normality.

        Magic is (at least in large part) convincing, directly or indirectly, some of the spirits to support your purpose by acting differently. As a very simple example, keeping your knife sharp might be achieved by finding convincing a spirit of sharpness to take care of it by promising it something it wants (possibly to cut more stuff), or by a caching in a favor from a spirit of purpose (possibly as thanks for helping others achieve theirs), or by forcing spirits of bluntness away from it (possibly by threatening to eat them, which might be what demons do).

        Again, the important part here is that you make a promise, and spirits that have an interest in that promise lend you their assistance, however they can, in whatever you do, expecting that your actions will finally lead to whatever you promise. As you become more powerful, you have more spirits listening and lending their assistance. And here we get to the problems:

        First, if you break one of those initial promises, the spirits that lent you their support stop helping, because “the feel cheated”. They probably also actively oppose you, as punishment. It’s not some mechanism of the Universe that intrinsically enforces contracts (the way balance seems to be intrinsically enforced via karma), it’s just that the spirits you contracted with punish you for defaulting on the contract. (This is kind of like the bank taking back your house because you didn’t pay your rates.)

        Second, if you break other promises (say, to your friends), then some of the spirits that you also contracted with lose confidence that you will also follow on your contracts with them. In this case, they retract their support as a preventative measure, just because they no longer believe you will follow you on their promise—although you might also be punished, for example by spirits of justice or the like, which might participate implicitly in any promise. (This is a bit like banks refusing to lend you money once you already defaulted on debts to other banks.)

        Finally, if you just tell a lie, you get some of the same effects as in the second case: some spirits lose confidence, and no longer lend their assistance. The effects are weaker for lies and stronger for promises. This is probably both because spirits pay more attention to explicit promises, and because random statements are harder to check. For that matter, elaborate rituals and formal unambiguous statements are probably more powerful, at least in part, because they are more obvious to more spirits, and easier to judge as well.

        Now, entities that rely on imposing their will on spirits, or that rely on their own power, and relatively new entities (like a new bogeyman just spawned from the abyss) will not be so constrained in their actions. They can lie, simply because few spirits are paying attention, and almost none actually care what they say. But after they start entering contracts (which un-Awakened humans are specifically prevented from), and particularly if they rely on the power they receive via those contracts, then they become dependent on the spirit’s goodwill, and they have to be truthful.

        1. Thanks Bogdanulb, this does seem to sum up the magic system fairly well on the spirit/truth/oaths level. Might end up not right, but it seems like its got to be at least close. 🙂

          Of course bigger things like goblins, fey, demons, ect, have different rules than the spirits, but I suppose we will find out more about them later.

          There seem to be many, many ways for the bigger Others to come into being.
          Sparks as baby demons, and possibly baby angels. Compost heap survivors, mostly boogeymen and goblins, made of mismatched bits and pieces. Fey as practitioners who became too Other, too infused with glamor, or who cut out their ugly bits and threw them away. (Into goblins perhaps…)
          Ghosts and spirits of the dead, or souls who have not departed.
          I’m sure new Others are being created all the time, to replace the ones who get killed or used up.

          Now personally I think/hope that Evan will seek Blake out eventually, tired of being ignored and not respected, and then hopefully they can re-establish the familiar bond. This should be the power source Blake needs as a Vestige to stay alive. (Since so far books in Pact have said that they need one or else degrade.)

          Sadly Evan wont be as useful to Blake while he is in the mirror-verse, but it should keep them both from dying. And maybe Evan will become a Mirror sparrow? Not as cool as a blood or fire sparrow, but better than nothing right? 😛

          1. I think/hope that Evan will seek Blake out eventually

            He might even find a better spot to perch on by that time 🙂

    3. Unless Wildbow has decided to ignore word gender, the simple answer is no. Mala is the feminine form of malus. I think he could decide to ignore word gender but the title implies the person who with bad faith is female. Blake’s comments while talking to Rose, and while he was in the drain, support this conclusion, IMO.

      I really doubt anyone except Rose has done anything in bad faith.

      1. Mala is an adjective, meaning it takes on the gender of the word it’s modifying, in this case “fides” (“faith”) which is female. Both male and female people can be “mala fide” in the same way they can be “bona fide”- you wouldn’t use “bonus fide” when referring to a male person.

      2. the title implies the person who with bad faith is female

        No, it doesn’t. Mala is in feminine form because fide is a feminine noun.

        1. Interesting how people prefer to ignore the obvious but regardless my statement is correct about gender. What Wildbow plans to do, I do not know but I believe he used the feminine form on purpose.

          1. Your statement is incorrect, actually. There is no masculine form of “mala fide” because “fide” is always a feminine noun.

          2. I’m not sure I get what’s the “obvious” part you mean. Saying “malus fide” in Latin would be like saying “you am” in English. It’d might have been suggestive if Wildbow used an incorrect form like that, but “mala fide” is both correct, and a term of art in law (see https://www.google.com/search?q=mala+fide for details), so I don’t see why you think we should read into it more than the (already suggestive, and fitting) sense of the expression.

  2. From Merriam-Webster:

    ma·la fi·de, adverb or adjective \ˌma-lə-ˈfī-dē, -də: with or in bad faith

    This worries me.

    On another note, the nerve part was hilarious. Partly because I’d been thinking the same things Blake said later on. (I should get back to studying…)

  3. Three things;

    Evan is amazing.

    Blake has yet to prove to me that Others can’t command spirits.

    And that was an excellent section.

    1. I think certain Others can command spirits but vestiges can’t because they don’t work the same way in the mirror world. It’d explain fit with the Rose-didn’t-actually-betray-Blake theory.

    1. I haven’t wanted to hit someone more than Joffrey till now. First time poster after all those chapters(and worm too) but DARN IT, ROSE!

  4. Damn, I started getting as pissed as Blake during his conversation with Rose. Blake needs to lay down the ass whuppin soon.

          1. Blake is getting to the point where he would be perfect Red Lantern material. Rose on the other hand seems like she’d be eligable for the Sinestro Corps.

  5. Oh wow, Rose what happened? you were cool before?
    Also also, fuck the faerie. Seriously.

    And about the arc name, I say Blake is going to dick aorund with Conquest. Since things are already going to hell, he might as well make it more hell-ish. (nah)

    Evan continues to kick butt. I only wish he gets the sustenance he needs and returns to Blake.

    1. Yeah, messing with Conquest seems the thing to do. Presumably Conquest is still with all of Blake’s old crap. And in the mirror world. And bound. Maybe Blake can introduce Conquest to the “Backhand of a Free Man” until he agrees to be Blake’s familiar 2.0 or something.

      Plus with all the fighting Conquest is probably a lot stronger than before.

      1. Plus with all the fighting Conquest is probably a lot stronger than before.

        I don’t think so. There’s been a lot of fighting, but no winning. At least, no decisive crushing of enemies. The only straight out loser right now seems to be maybe Diana.

        Now if Blake subjugates an incarnation of War, on the other hand. . .

    2. “Oh wow, Rose what happened? you were cool before?”

      Conquest happened. Oh, and she may not have been as cool as we thought either.

      1. Question is… Is Conquest smiurghing this up…

        im also interested to see if laird “did” anything like Duncan did at the police station making blake forget what happened afterwards… it wasn’t questioned at the time…

  6. “I’d known from the moment I’d seen the graffiti, reversed. ”

    So, wait… did Rose have to read all the books with letters/words reversed?

    1. Kinda. When she held up a book to let Blake read, or to let even read during the familiar ritual, they were backwards.
      But, my understanding, is that it’s only backwards for them. As in- looking from one side to the other. Like, from mirror to real, or real to reversed.

      But…. yeah I’m not sure the graffiti being reversed makes sense…

  7. I don’t really blame Rose for being paranoid. She’s in the middle of a war between practitioners with many years of experience over her, who knows what they can pull?

    I’m worried about Blake though. With his boogeyman rage going on, he’s just as bad as Conquest corrupted Rose. I think they should elect Ty to be the new leader. He’s not crazy, yet, and is smart. I’d suggest Mags but she’s forced to be neutral.

    1. I blame her. For many reasons, including being paranoid.

      Think off all Blake managed to do in two weeks, the allies he made, and the hospitality he knew. He kissed the hand of the person who killed his cousin, because she was in her house, even if he wanted to hit her. Rose was rude to her guest, and banished him. Didn’t even offer him cold pizza.

      I’m worried about Blake. No one remembers him, and yet he STILL manages to get a target painted on his back by two of the most powerful, crafty, and unpredictable forces in the council. He completely forgot that he (and rose) swore to consider making a deal with them regardless of the rules and (even though neither were awakened) that seemed to peak their interest.

      1. He did that for karma reasons, hitting a guest would only worsen his already shit karma. Same with the pizza thing, he only offered those people food and drink because not doing so would impact his karma and he can’t afford to let that happen.

        Blake is not Rose’s guest. She didn’t invite him into the house and thus there’s no karma issue if she’s rude to him or doesn’t offer food and drink.

      2. Blake invited his guests into his home. When he learned she milked his cousin, he promptly did his best to kick her out, only kissing her hand to kinda keep composure and not give his enemy, Laird, the upper hand.

        In this situation, Blake is not a guest. He was not invited. He’s an intruder that comes in, disrupts a meeting and proceeds to sow contention within Rose’s group. Rose was well within her rights to banish this dangerous Bogeyman.

        1. “When he learned she milked his cousin,”

          ….Maggie milking Molly? I ABSOLUTELY missed that chapter.
          I can think of many people who would pay to see that…

          Technically, shouldn’t the house treat him as a “guest until otherwise revoked of guest privilages” since he WAS it’s custodian?

          To be honest, I blame rose for not trying to use Blake to her advantage. He, and his ties to her friends (that she has little problem leveraging trust from) would make for a very convenient and disposable pawn. Hell, she used him for the past 8-ish arcs, why not now?

          1. Not breast milk. “(transitive, figuratively) To make excessive use of (a particular point in speech or writing, etc.); to take advantage of (a situation). Example: When the audience began laughing, the comedian milked the joke for more laughs.”

            1. …..Again, when did maggie milk molly?
              No matter the meaning of the word, I missed any milking of any sort going on

            2. When a person pejoratively milks a situation, it has nothing to do with breasts or milk, it just means they’re continuing to exploit the situation for everything that they can get from it. Padraic continued to exploit the promise he’d garnered from Maggie, i.e. Padraic continued to milk the situation. When a person milks a situation, there is almost never any actual milking going on — it doesn’t have anything to do with milk or breasts/udders.

            3. Umm. . . yeah. That’s totally what I meant. Its not like I tried to type killed and my phone autocorrected it to milked or anything like that. I definitely meant the more obscure but equally accurate term, milked. . .

              Bart knows his stuff.

      3. Debatable whether he’s still bound by that oath. It’s not really clear to what extent this bogeyman, who names himself Blake but has had his Thorburn surname rejected by the true Thorburn heir, is responsible for Blake Thorburn’s actions. If his karma didn’t carry over, why should his oaths?

        1. Oh. No. I didn’t mean he forgot to uphold to that oath. I meant, it worked the first time, so why can’t he just make it again.

        2. Is Rose the true Thorburn heir?

          Yes, we believe that Blake is the fake, put in place to protect Rose, the true heir, yadda, yadda. What if what’s her name, the one who’s going to be the Sphinx’s familiar/worshipper soon is the true heir? What if Grandma is playing a real switcheroo game and the real heir (and the real heir’s memories) are inside the Blake vestige and Rose is the secondary vestige, meant to provide cover and protection while the indomitable incarnation of “I never quit” Blake comes back again with the seed/core of the real heir or something? Since Mags has been nourishing the “ghost” of Molly, perhaps that ghost is something more or can come back in some manner and claim that Blake/Rose were never the heirs because she still is.

          If, as some have speculated, Molly (and her memories) were used to form Blake somehow and that’s why Molly had to be put in place as the heir before Blake/Rose (and why Molly had to die), then Blakolly (or whatever he/they/she/it turns out to be) may actually be the true heir, and may eventually leave Rose foresworn.

          Right now, as far as Rose can tell, she is the true Thorburn heir, but that may not always be true, and as we’ve seen, using declarative statements that turn out to be wrong through no fault of your own may leave you foresworn.

          1. Actually, I’m reasonably sure that’s one of the ways you can argue your way out of being labeled forsworn. If you made a promise based on assumptions that later turned out to be false, and you had no reasonable way to predict their being false, you would probably be able to argue it down to a karma hit, if you were convincing. You might even be able to turn the karma hit against whatever interfered. Fell’s grandfather just wasn’t good enough at arguing.

            Also, just as an aside, I think Joseph could have leveraged Conquest’s promise to help him kill Canfield if he could come up with a way to do so to get Conquest to commit suicide. That was a gamble on Conquest’s part, that unfortunately paid off.

    1. Yeaaaaaah I’m a little worried about that.

      Also, like, he heard that Mags mentioned him, he should’ve mentioned that to Rose & co, even if he didn’t know who she was.

    2. But “Maggie” wouldn’t remember him since she was in Toronto and is on the explicit list of strongest connections to be cut.

      So that should tip him off since he had the vision of Mags actually remembering him.

      1. Good point. On the other hand, in Histories 7 there was the line “Isadora looked for Maggie, but Maggie was gone, and had been for some time”, and Padraic did appear during Mags’ quasi-demesne ritual which seemed to have coincided with Blake’s erasure.

        1. “Sure hope its mags and not Maggie he finds, Blake seriously needs to catch a break”

          Blake doesn’t catch breaks. If it looks like Blake has caught a break, it means things are about to get much, much, much, much, much worse for him. If you think things can’t get any worse for Blake, you are wrong.

    1. What was it the witch-hunters said in the beginning? That putting labels on Others could shorten your lifespan?

      Anywho- wraith thing could mean that the wraith or wraiths of actual person(s) were used in the creation of blake. He definately is a Vestige. And a bogeyman is something that crawls out from the pits of the Abyss, which he did.
      So, if I had to label him, I’d call him a Wraith-turned-vestige-turned-bogeyman.

      Or just “Unclassified Other.” Other in the “other” category?

            1. Oh I’m totally with you on that one. Hell, I was too lazy to write the other one more than once.

              ….pact has a wiki?

            2. Why not put in ‘Multiple classifications” and then, “Wraith” “Vestige” and “Bogeyman”

      1. Blake isn’t a “wraith-turned-vestige.” If anything, he’s more like a “vestige-turned-wraith” — a wraith is a ghost that has been infused with other spirits and impressions. The description of “wraith-vestige” describes a vestige that has undergone the same infusion.

        Bogeyman meanwhile appears to be more descriptive than prescriptive — an Other appears to BECOME a bogeyman under the right conditions.

        There’s no conflict in Blake being a vestige, a wraith-vestige, and a bogeyman all at once. This might be why labels are so dangerous — not only are they incomplete descriptions, they’re not even exclusive.


        Side note: Blake is definitely NOT a wraith. Wraiths retain the singlemindedness and repetitiveness of the ghosts that formed them. The other spirits give them the ability to deviate from the script, but they still stick to a fairly narrow range. Blake is still far more human than that; while he’s definitely a Determinator he’s still got — as far as we can tell from this side of the narrative — the full range of human thoughts and emotions.

        1. Well, we don’t know what went into the process of creating blake. We know there was some aspect of rality involved. Maybe an actual person named Blake, maybe a few people’s connections were taken, maybe a few echos of people were combined into the cut-out reflection of Rose that became Blake. We know that SOMEHOW he had echos/ghosts of negative events impressioned upon reality.
          Wouldn’t be hard to believe they were ghosts/echos belonging to someone or someones that were used in Blake’s creation. Alexis hit Carl on the head to stop him from hurting someone.
          So he could have been a wraith. Turned Vestige.

          He kinda is. They do retain the components of the ghosts or spirits that formed them. But in the spirit world, wraiths in the spirit world walked through people in the human world and took on their characteristics. Because of the spirits making him up, and the tree-branches thing, he is being shaped by the spirits that shore him up, twisting him and making him less Blake and more “wraith”.
          At the least, he is super similar to a wriath. Enough to smell them them.

          The more the vestige-part of him breaks and crumbles, the more wraith he becomes. Soon, he will be like the ones we’ve seen, single-minded and narrow. For now, the part of him that is vestige, that is Blake, makes up the majority of him. Enough that he’s still Blake.

          For now.

          1. From that perspective… sure, Blake COULD be a vestige made out of a wraith — but that’s complete speculation, with no evidence in the story to support it. Furthermore, the means of his original creation doesn’t have anything to do with his present form being a wraith-vestige (which isn’t a wraith, as I said) because he more or less did that to HIMSELF by bleeding himself out.

            1. He also did that to himself by, when Isodora sphinx-ed him to near-death, promising any and all spirits to use and take his body, and all he asks is that they give him strength now.

              They already were, so he just offered himself up to be a… birdnest, if you will, essentially being very very wraith-like

    2. My take on the whole Other thing.

      Imagine the word “Other” to be parallel to the word “Super” or “Cape” in the super-powered genre. It’s an over-arching description of a huge breadth of abilities beyond those of normal humans.

      Others can be viewed as supers in a way. They all have different abilities, defining what they are as individuals, but you can call them all Others and not be wrong.

      Blake would be an Other with strong traits of Vestige, Wraith, and Bogeyman. Those abilities can be further broken down.

      Going to another piece of web fiction here as an example – Worm. Skitter was a Cape with Strong Master, and Weak Thinker abilities. Those abilities could be further broken down.

      Every Other is different, apparently, unless they are so badly degraded that they barely exist. If they have the mental capacity to be individuals, they will be individuals.

      If you want to make the Wikia work, you might want to restructure it to be something like the power descriptions/categories of the Worm Wikia.

      1. Skitters thinker abilities were less weak than low level. Her improv/parallel management abilities were ridiculous, I’d say the only reason you’d rank them as low is because they didn’t really give her a specific noticable ability so much as cheat like passive boosts.

        1. I agree with you. However, in the story she’s rated as a Master 8, Thinker 2. She was so good at using her powers creatively AND effectively, that others who had to deal with her when she was potentially aggressive were told to think of her as a Master 8, and every other power class at 2.

          This was, of course, before the end of the story, when things… changed.

          1. SPOILERS FOR WORM (WORDED AMBIGUOUSLY)
            Even then, it’s not like she was ridiculous or anything. There were still definite shortcomings, the plot just happened to drop the necessary tools to surpass that limit into her lap. Imagine what would have happened if those tools hadn’t been available?

            1. I suspect she’d have pulled bugs from the Drains if she had to.

              Hey, I just got an image of Skitter in the Drains. She’d probably become an Incarnation of Terror in fifteen minutes.

    3. I think he’s a Vestige that got warped into a Wraith, probably but not certainly before he ever encountered Ur, possibly from Rosalyn’s ritual. He then fell into the Void, and in the act of clawing his way out became the technical definition of a Bogeyman. So he’s a Bogeyman Wraith, with a Vestige as a base. As for Rose, she might be human, as far as a Practitioner can be.

  8. any day where we have a guy slapping someone with nothing but crass insults is a good day.

    also still not into the house with the group yet. damn.

  9. Agh, Rose, stop saying things that obstruct good things from happening to Blake. I don’t even think I even felt this bad for Taylor during the last few arcs of worm. Yeah, bad stuff happened to her, but at least she was a few years into the story and had built up enough badassness to deal with it. Poor Blake just got tossed to the wolves from the start.

    I’m interested in how things have been moving. Looks like things are leveling out so we’ll have a situation where Mags, Blake, and maybe a couple of others who acknowledge Blake’s existence team up and become “the terrorists”. Who are working for Rose, even if she doesn’t care.

    1. I’m really hoping Mags will recognize Blake, and use the fact that Rose knows Mags can’t lie to act as that absolute confirmation. But given that this is a Wildbow story, I’d be happy if Blake manages to even get to Mags without first having to fight his way through a demon, a major Incarnation, and a god, armed with only a broken sword.

      1. This would seem too logical and smart to work… but wildbow is known for having his characters be both logical and smart.

        That said, if I was Rose and inclined to disbelieve Blake, I could see someone planting a false memory of someone named Blake into Mags as a way of seeding Rose and the group for Blake’s return.

      2. Blake will probably end up finding Maggie, and becoming her familiar, and only then finding out it’s actually Padraic.

    2. In her demesne ritual, Mags named herself the neutral party. Since Blake wants to help his former cabal, that means he can’t ally with her, nor can he become Mags’ familiar. They can be friends, but not allies.

      (On the other hand, her exact words in 8.7 were “I claim myself to be the wild card. I claim myself to be the neutral party. […] I will be the messenger, the ambassador, the deciding figure, in Jacob’s Bell”, and “deciding figure” seems incompatible with “neutral party”.)

      1. “I claim myself to be the wild card. I claim myself to be the neutral party. […] I will be the messenger, the ambassador, the deciding figure, in Jacob’s Bell”

        I’m thinking something along the lines of judge, jury, and executioner here.

          1. She made a statement of intent, not a power play. Essentially, she was dedicating herself to be an unpredictable piece on the field, a party that vowed to hear all sides and tip the balance of power when that balance needed tipping.

      2. That oath is, to my interpretation, a single concept. She did not swear in isolation to always be a neutral party. She swore that she would be a neutral party for Jacob’s Bell. She could ally with Blake, but if Blake were to take sides with one candidate or another, she would have to balance her oath to be neutral for Jacob’s Bell with her alliance with Blake — most likely resulting in either being unable to assist Blake, or in trying to talk Blake out of taking sides.

      3. Blake could make goals compatible with Mags. Protection of his friends from Rose say. That would mean that he could intervene with different sides to support that goal.

    3. If it’s any consolation, Rose’s impromptu choice to just kick Blake the bogeyman out is not going to sit well with the others, especially Alexis, Ty, and Evan, who are all more intuitive than meticulously planning types.

      She didn’t even discuss the decision with them, and everything Blake said will actually make them doubt Rose more, simply because of the way she reacted to what he said. They won’t even have Blake’s opinion, which might in all honesty be a more measured evaluation of Rose.

      This is one of those situations where I’m actually more interested in what is happening offscreen than on. The next time we meet Rose’s Thorns they might not be her’s anymore.

      Blake DOES read them as being subservient, but he got a few seconds with them and his own mindset is a very angry one. He may not be 100% on point with that.

      Overall, I think that Blake unintentionally but severely damaged the integrity of Rose’s Thorns by being so brutally honest in the presence of a person so brutally manipulative.

      Even if Rose is only being manipulative due to a combination of shitty upbringing paranoia and Conquest-taint, do remember that she has inherited the ridiculously bad karma that could not be lessened even by several generations’ worth of sacrifice. Any of her actions that are vulnerable to bad karma will inevitably be wounded by said bad karma.

      1. Oh. I hadn’t considered what the effects of Rose’s new karma would have on Blake. So that’s why she came off as such a jerk. And the Thorns is totally the new circle’s name. Mostly because it’s slightly less tacky than the Burning Thorns.

    1. Typos:
      – “A soul with a bit of freedom spirits” -> “bits”?
      – “Maybe three, four, or five at the very post” -> “at the very most”
      – “liason” -> “liaison”
      – “The mirror in front of me winked out of existence, as did the television screen, the window, and the oblong patch of light somewhere above me that was the mirror in the library went black as well.” -> After “the window”, the sentence becomes somewhat weird.
      – “It touched the window.” -> “I touched the window.”?
      – “as a musician might plays his fiddle” -> “might play”
      – “five year old” -> “five-year-old”

    2. @Wildbow: BIG “typo”, and possibly problematic for new readers: in the Table of Contents to the right, the Arc 1 category is followed by Arc 10, rather than Arc 2.

      Some suggested solutions: rename “Arc 1” to “Arc 01” etc, or do the same thing as you did in Worm, i.e. make separate categories like “Stories (Arcs 1-10)” (though I don’t understand why Arc 1 isn’t followed by Arc 10 there).

    3. I’ve got to walk away from this, because I can’t take it any more.
      I’ve got to walk away from this, because I can’t take it anymore.
      ref: http://www.gingersoftware.com/english-online/spelling-book/confusing-words/any%20more-anymore

      cardboard cut out
      cardboard cutout [noun, not verb form]

      twenty year’s time
      twenty years’ time [twenty years is a plural, uses a plural possessive]

      ‘You seem to know us, but we don’t know you.”
      missing the closing single quote

      “Let’s skip the quibbling and cut right to the part where you tell us who you are?”
      not a question based on the grammar, but the question mark could be used to indicate tone

      The other’s reactions
      The others’ reactions [plural possessive]

  10. I just want Evan and Blake to be friends again =(

    That was a rude thing of Rose to say about Evan, that he could be distracted by anyone if they talked about fire sparrows and video games. It’s obvious that she doesn’t have the respect for or connection with him Blake did.

      1. I’d have to disagree with you there. He’s a kid, he gets excited about kid stuff and his attention span might not be great. That doesn’t mean he’s dumb or that he’ll go along with whatever.

        1. Even before getting tainted by Conquest, Rose never had any friends. She said she was more a Thorburn than Blake. Well lets face it the Thorburns were in general not people persons. She was raised in a toxic envorment, and the friends she has, she never really made. I suspect that she’d be a lot more willing to sacrifice them than Blake would ever be.

  11. Poor, Rose. It must be hard dealing with that Conquest Taint.

    Interesting play, Blake. I don’t think I would’ve went with the brutal honesty/exposition route when interacting with the Blakeguard (Rose’s Thorns?).

    So Blake is trying to reach Maggie. Is he heading towards Maggie, who helped him in Toronto, or Mags, who he may remember as Maggie (though he was calling her Mags before it was cool).

    I get that Blake wants to make sure his “friends” aren’t hurt, but please remind me why Blake feels the obligation to return and help the Thorburns? Blake doesn’t really have karmic ties to the family any more. IMO, it might just be better for him to start a new life growing stronger and fighting monsters elsewhere, without the evil of the Thorburns around him.

    So Letita doesn’t carry around the sword anymore? That’s a pity.

    I wonder how Blake plans on getting a body. Possessing Buttsack, perhaps?

    1. Mmm. Blake still cares about Paige, even if she isn’t tied to the Thorburns anymore. But one way or another, it is probably a goal of Blake to make sure the Thorburns don’t go into DEFCON 1 and destroy the world. It’s a good goal to have, he needs goals and direction, and it saves our collective arse.

  12. I wanna see a genie (or were they called djinn in Pact? I don’t remember). They apparently are supposed to be like Sphinxes but better, right? Perhaps that could be the avenue for Blake to gain a body.

  13. I frankly never really liked Rose at all. and now, I really just hate her. I suspect she knows about Blake, that granny left her information, not to mention a talk she may well have had with Mags who we know at least remembers something about Blake (and Mags had asked where he was, do we really think there wouldn’t have been some questions about who she was talking about?).

    1. Rose isn’t just unlikable. She’s plain dumb now. Blake is literally tailor-made by an expert diabolist and Number One Manipulative Person to be her perfect helper and she just ejected him from the Thorburn household.

      Like there’s only so much I can blame Ur for at this point. Rose, stop being stupid. Especially if you know about Blake and still made this decision.

      1. While I agree she did make several dumb mistakes in that conversation (deliberately antagonizing the Other that just showed up in her home), she was talking to someone who she didn’t know, and claimed to be a boogeyman who exists solely because of his anger towards her at this point. That’s not exactly someone you want handling demon shit at your side.

        1. She did the same thing that everyone else did to Blake- they stigmatized him as a diabolist and a bad person and as such actively did continual low level aggression and escalation towards him for no real reason except because they hated him.

          The smart thing to do is to bind the person in a bunch of non aggression oaths and utilize them for your own goals, not to insult and kick them out. He’s clearly not that strong, he isn’t an imminent threat, they can afford to spend some time being nice.

            1. A Blake bound by oaths for example is much, much less able to do them harm. He can’t access any higher order powers since they tend to require you to be bound by oaths. She doesn’t need to trust him, she can just get him to say oaths without any expectation of repayment.

  14. OK so this is appropos of nothing I was just thinking about Conquest and Pauz and how supposedly Pauz had screwed up Rose and Blake’s connection such that Rose was providing power to Blake instead of the other way around.

    YEP.

    Foreshadowing, jeez, you do it right.

  15. How DOES a vestige-bogeyman get a body exactly?
    And when did he pass through the North End?

    /sigh/
    Blake keeps talking about maggie, the girl who told him about the hyena and goblins who turn into weapons when bound. And is headed to that same person.
    He didn’t question Rose when she mentioned Mags just now. BUT he did question when mags showed up at the thorburn manor, but he saw mags at the meeting and didn’t make a question like “who is the new girl” so he remembers her.

    So… how does that work exactly?
    Mags lost some connections, and completely lost her name “maggie”. But she kept her connection to Blake. Did he keep his connection to her? Does that mean that, unlike everyone else, he can call her maggie, and not mags?

    Where IS Maggie/patrick/padiac btw? What has he/she been up to?

    Also- fuck the faerie. Seriously. Especially PEK. All three of them should go swallow some nails. and Drain-o, to wash em down. While Goblins do Gobliny things to them. Things I literally couldn’t come up with without said goblins laughing at me and saying “That’s what you think is what we’d do to them? That’s cute. Oooh no, we aren’t nearly that nice….”

    1. My guess would be that he doesn’t know of the Mags/Maggie divide. He assumes the girl in Jacobs Bell and the one that came to back him up in Toronto to be one and the same.

    2. I am of the opinion that connections aren’t bound to names, but to identities. OATHS can be bound to names, of course, and oaths form connections, but my interpretation of what happened is that Padraic stole the name Maggie Holt and laid claim to all oaths attached to that name, but stealing her connections was done using glamour and trickery. By taking the name, he was able to forge NEW connections with Mags’s allies, and then appearing in their presence with her appearance made them believe that he was her, reinforcing those new connections. He also explicitly went about breaking some of Mags’s connections, but those were explicit breaks — anything he didn’t explicitly break, and that wasn’t explicitly bound to the name Maggie Holt, is still Mags’s to claim. I think Padraic didn’t BREAK her connections with Mags’s allies (unlike he did with her fathers) so much as USURPED them.

      So when Ur severed Blake’s connections to those outside the factory, whatever connections were left — however weak — become visible distinct from the falsified connections.

  16. Wildbow? I just wanted to point out a proble with the numbering of the chapters on the side of the screen. For some reason, Arc 10 is after Arc 1 and before Arc 2.
    Keep up the great work!

    1. Ugggggh. Will fix that this weekend. Probably have to make the first ten arcs arcs 01, 02, etc, because of how it’s done. Or maybe use the alt code 0+255 to create the space that isn’t a space, that registers pre-letter/number in alphabetizing… I think that’s what I did with Worm’s table of contents list.

      Thanks for the heads up.

  17. Well, I mad. Not fun to be Blake right now. I’m waiting for the asskicking to start again, because this particular brand of despair isn’t really my thing.

  18. There’s still the possibility that rose & fake friends already knew about blake, and what they’re doing is some really crazy roundabout way to help blake. Remember, Mags told them about Blake a month ago, it’d be weird if they hadn’t asked – and possibly prepared for his return, however unlikely. Pre-Blake eatification Rose definitely made note not to abuse Blakes maybe-possibly friends, and there’s a good chance she’d hold to that (independent of how screwed up everything seems to be right now).

    Of course part of me is completely convinced that Rose is a bitch who screwed Blake over on purpose, but that may very well be because we never got a Rose POV. We have to remember that as far as taint goes, Blake probably had it quite a bit worse than her (mental torture? Ok. But she wasn’t cut up, gnawed upon, chased, cut up again, hunted, eaten, cast away from existence and cracked on a fundamental level and spat out, with the occasional glamour thrown in there for good measure).

  19. Surprised to see no one has made the connection between Ev and Bonesaw yet. Bu… gur zrzbevrf bs gung pregnva puncgre… lbh xabj juvpu.

    I wonder if the whole “nerve playing” thing would be essentially made of glamour, as Blake mentions. If Blake doesn’t have hormones and whatnot, it doesn’t stand to reason he would have nerves.

    Superb chapter as always!

    I don’t think Rose did the wrong thing… but I would like to call her out on not following Granny’s advice. Absolutes can get you killed, yet she is working only in absolutes.

    1. I loved the “counter mystical bullshit with science” that he played there. It’s a useful trick that a lot of practitioners who were raised in the world of practitioners wouldn’t think of.

  20. Blake, please don’t go to Padraic. Please don’t go to Padraic. Please don’t go to fucking Padraic…

    Also, Ev and Keller need to die in a fire several times over. I’m having a hard time deciding who is the worse individual between them and Buttsack.

    1. Padraic might be more interested in helping Blake out, oddly enough. He’s older and trickier than the Penn and Teller combo, and also more a fan of things that interest him rather than exclusively fucking people over, even if he’s very good at the latter.

      If I were an old, jaded Faerie, I’d find Blake so much more interesting when he gets help because he does so much with so little, than when he gets challenged. Padraic would definitely not benefit from saying “I can take him”.

    2. It’s inevitable now, really. He’s rejected Ev and Keller twice before – the third time is sure to backfire on him. And what better way for it to backfire than for him to accidentally bind himself to Padraic?

  21. Comments:

    1. I figured Blake’s capability to lie would be in doubt here, but I don’t understand why neither side offered to cover Blake with the seal of Solomon to ensure he couldn’t lie. That wouldn’t have been enough to rule out him being e.g. a faerie, but still. If I had been on either side, I’d have insisted on this a minute into the conversation.

    2. Whenever Blake considers Rose as tainted by Conquest, he ought to recall that he himself is tainted by Pauz – and possibly others, him being a wraith-vestige and all. Pauz was not considered to be weaker than Conquest (at one point, Blake and Rose wanted to prop Conquest up to balance the scales), so why should one be worse than another?

    3. My favorite lines this chapter: “These people are not your friends, Rose. They’re the fake friends of a fake man.” and “Number two, I needed a real body. I’d promised it to Rose, but, well, this wasn’t how I’d wanted to give it to her.”

    4. We still don’t know how Ur’s erasure impacted Rose and the others. We know what they forgot, but we don’t know what they remember in its stead.

    5. I don’t see why Blake thought Rose could or would do nothing against him staying in Hillsglade House. And now we’ve finally seen what it means for Hillsglade House to consist of inward-turned demesnes.

    6. How come it’s a month later, yet no-one among the Thorburn cabal has a familiar? That makes no sense to me. If someone other than Blake were the main character, they’d have experienced nine story arcs’ worth of events, traumas and powerups by now.

    7. So…what’s the worst that could happen to Blake? Maybe he’ll almost become Maggie Holt’s familiar? (It shouldn’t be actually possible, given that she’s not a practitioner.) Haha. That would fit with the whole “bad faith” title of the story arc. (Though this scenario is so wholly unnecessary. Blake mentioned Maggie in the conversation, yet no-one there reacted to that.)

      1. Because they are under Rose’s mentoring and protection. They aren’t out by themselves in the wilderness, they have some time to take things slowly and learn the twists and turns of the Practice.
            1. I see “ey” or “they” more often; “e” is less popular, in part because it sounds identical to “he” in some accents (particularly some British ones).

            2. Continuing my previous comment (accidentally posted too soon): As such, “E” doesn’t even look like a pronoun. I didn’t see any sarcasm here. (Though I could be wrong about that.)

            3. Sincere question: what country/form of writing is E used as a pronoun? I’ve seen He, They, (s)he, his/hers and some others like it, but I can’t recall ever seeing E used, even in academic writing, as a gender neutral pronoun. Is it a colloquial thing?

            4. It’s called a “Spivak” pronoun, after someone who helped popularize it. It dates back to the late 1800s. Spivak is somewhat less popular than some other gender-neutral pronouns, though it still retains some currency.

    1. In regard to 2:

      The important thing is the kind of taint. Pauz’s taint made people around Blake more aggressive. Blake received the taint after being near the creature for a few minutes.

      Conquest’s taint, on the other hand, would make Rose more like Conquest. After being mentally broken by Conquest for a while, his Taint made Rose more aggressive and prone to trying to conquer things.

      Remember, pre Conquest Rose: “Let’s stay in the house and do the bare minimum so that we can at least stay safe.” Post Conquest Rose: “I wanna summon Bogeymen and defeat Conquest and involve myself in a war for Lordship!”

      1. IIRC Pauz’ taint was also about subversion of hierarchies (e.g. a king becomes a beggar, humans serve animals, etc); the short-term effect may have been to make others (like Tiffany) more aggressive, but that seemed to have passed quite soon. Given that Blake is apparently a wraith-vestige, some of the taint should also have been incorporated into his being, and it’s possible that he wouldn’t even notice that.

        And I must say, while it seems to be canon, that way of being tainted by Conquest never made sense to me. Submitting to the Incarnation of Conquest makes you more likely to conquer, rather than more likely to submit?

        And even pre Conquest, Rose would have had to involve herself in the war for Lordship, since the Thorburn diabolists have no future in Jacob’s Bell if someone else becomes Lord.

        1. Perhaps it’s that submitting to Conquest makes it easier for him to lay his Conquering egg babies in you and eventually wholly subvert your will to his own.

        2. Makes sense to me: “Do everything I say!”, “Okay! ^_^” isn’t a conquest, it’s an agreement. Conquest requires conflict and victory, it requires taking by force. That means it requires resistance…

  22. Well, that went about as nicely as expected.

    Also, almost a month since then ? Damn. Happy birthday, Blake & Rose. Remember to make a wish next time you blow a candle out.

  23. Concerning Rose:

    • At this point, Rose is a better candidate for being an ‘Incarnation of Defiance’ (as some – maybe jokingly – suggested in the comments) than Blake. I really wish we’d occasionally see some other facets of her personality than just this. On the other hand, we don’t know what kind of damage she took from Blake’s erasure (recall Ty), nor what’s happened in the month since.

    • Rose is right about her line “The only guarantee against any of it is absolutes” – they need to avoid a slippery slope of eventually trusting an enemy, and precommitting to certain actions does that. But such a precommitment must leave open the option of trusting people somehow, or the Thorburn cabal is needlessly handicapping itself.

    • Rose may act blunt and inapproachable partly or mainly so her bad karma can’t affect others (similar to Rose Sr.’s mother).

    • “I trusted you like I’m asking Rose to trust me right now. I made that leap of faith.” – The heavy irony here is that Blake trusting her and his other friends to this extent was a huge mistake! It made him create his cabal and put his friends in harm’s way. Asking Rose to do the same is, again, ironic.

    • And it must be stressed that while Rose may not act nice, she has managed to keep her entire cabal alive for a month now, which is an eternity in Pactverse.

    1. she has managed to keep her entire cabal alive for a month now, which is an eternity in Pactverse.
      Well, Molly survived 4 months. If you stick to the mansion, not really hard.

      Blake kept literally running into problems because (by design) he couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes.
      Remember back then, Rose advised against following Laird out in the open. He did, cue Padraic and co. The following day had the letter posting and Letita. Then he went out deliberately to meet Briar Girl and Maggie, then infiltrated the Behaims. Final result: he ended up outside the time moat, forcing him to leave to Toronto.

      If he locked himself in like Molly did (and likely what Rose is doing as well) he would have lasted a lot longer, but without fulfilling his purpose, obviously.

    1. He might live in reflections, but he’s not an abstract demon. If living inside mirrors would be enough to possess people through their eyes, Rose would already be Mistress of the World.

    2. He likely could if he could overpower the person’s spirit, but he’s not that strong at the moment and he’d have to overcome whatever protections they have.

      1. I don’t think eye reflections count for him. He sees the world empty between reflective surfaces; if eyes counted he’d see small pieces of world everywhere there are people, and their eyes would glow dimly in his mirror world. I think we’d have been told if that were so.

        1. If he identifies something as a mirror and has enough power to enforce it he might be able to convince the eyes that they are one when he is close. He could try it with a junkie- stab his arm into its eyes, try to force his way into the gaps or grasp it’s soul and puppet it.

          Spirits possess him easily enough, there’s probably some way to leverage his power to do the same to someone weak. I doubt he’d want to. It would be soul destroying on both ends.

  24. I notice that Blake was surprised about being in the Drains for a month. He seems to have thought it only a few days, five at the most. But he glimpsed the scene at the council quite early during his stay in the Drains, and that was a couple of weeks after The Factory Incident. Did he just not think things through, or is this a hint of something else going screwy with his mind?

    1. Yeah, this really got to me as well, especially cuz this is a story where you have to watch for the infinity of things that might be screwing with the heads of characters.

    2. I had the same thought – council meetings are held once a month and it was only (approx.) two weeks after the first that Blake met Ur the second time. So Blake should have known at least two weeks had passed, and he saw other scenes from the real world even after that.

      Alternatively, the Drains showed him scenes from a potential future also.

      At the end, I think he was just insanely stressed and not thinking clearly.

      1. the Drains showed him scenes from a potential future also.

        The mechanism for that was different (a dream rather than reflections in water).

        At the end, I think he was just insanely stressed and not thinking clearly.

        Yeah, probably. On re-read, his reaction was more  “Oh, fuck!” rather than “What the fuck!?”

  25. Well I now like Rose less than Sandra, and dislike her almost as much as Laird. Oh and he’s heading towards the wrong Maggie, isn’t he? Things are about to get real ugly.

  26. Hi All,
    A question first.. What time zone is Pact published at. I’m GMT 00.. when is Pact released exactly.. I have yet to see it with less than a hundred or so comments and most of what I am thinkin is touched upon already.

    Observation.. The table of contents still doesn’t show link for this chapter. same as previous entries.. I access it by clicking link for next chapter.. just sayin for Wildbow’s awareness.

    The thought tracks of my choo choo are as follows…(Discuss)

    • The origins of Blake pre Thorburn interference –> either existed previously or was manufactured to order. My gut tells me that there is a backstory with a sad and tragic tale but the story only shows Blake’s awareness and history from time of merging with Thorburn story.
      So going with what the story states only, I’m inclined to believe that Blake’s existence is due to some contract / favours owed / deals made by granny & co. I reckon that Granny offered some thorburn essence by manipulating her son to give somethin (Laird forced to offer somethin shows why he was so cavalier to Blake..and why so hostile) some deal with Johannes and the Firm of lawyers to lay in the vestige and back connections and then the mega juju with Rose and the role reversal.. My thoughts are what is the origin for the core of Blake’s spirit
      I would guess that he is an aspect of an incarnation of Defiance/Survivior or Guardianship/Protector as a core then layered with magic to connect into that which Granny desired so as to be a big target that could protect Rose.

    Blake has a sack full of moxy, grit, focus and emotional angst and a desire to be.. By his very existence he is in fact winning..

    What do ye think are Blake’s Origins

    • What are the constraints of Blake’s Existence…
      I think the certainty of Belief confers powers to an Other. Kinda self fulfilling or self-limiting prophesy..
      What Do We KNOW!!!
      Blake is currently not a living human
      Blake’s current existence defines him as an Other
      Blake is now able to interact within the Mirror World
      Blake is now able to grow in Power and Ability by consuming Others
      Blake existence is fueled by strong focused emotion
      Blake is strengthened by maintaining aspects of his prior identity…

    Questions…
    Can Blake have what he had before connections were stripped. (what else has changed apart from awareness)??
    Is he an inverse of Rose.. what if any traits do they share(inversed)?
    Can he invoke a demense, have a tool, support/anchor a familiar ?
    As Shitty as things got for Mags/Maggie and the loss of her family and place in the world, she always had the inherent right to existence and with that her voice..Blake is currently anchorless, defenceless, degrading into substanceless, friendless and yet still has the mannerisms of the maladjusted individual he was tasked to become, all the while being a juicy target for All.

    • Big Question.. What power / ability that is untapped do you think that this amalgam which is the remnant of all the prior experiences has now??

    God Touched.. Imbued with the Divine Light Of Creation.??
    Ent Like abilities.. Shaman of Nature or Avatar of the Wood or maybe Fighter for the Forest etc etc lol.. ( what does the branch like,, wooden conversion mean to Blake the amalgam)
    Knowledge of chronomancy, faerie glamour, goblincy, trapping spirits and demons etc BUT without the Authority of a practitioner.
    Was the ability to fly foreshadowed in the drains..
    An Avian Avatar???

    I’ll shut up now.. sorry for the TL;DR trope… Thank God I vented that OUT.. Maybe I can focus on RL now!.. Damn You. WildBow :)))))

    1. I believe Wildbow lives in the Eastern Time Zone, UTC -5. Bear in mind that they observe daylight savings time in North America so half the year Pact is published at UTC -4. By the time you check, depending on the time zone, a hundred people have commented :3 Or maybe some people finish quicker and comment first. Happens a lot to me.

      1. When I comment, I click the little buttons underneath that say:
        Notify me of follow-up comments via email.
        Notify me of new posts via email.
        And then whenever Wildbow makes a new post, I get an email about it within a minute or so. Since I get emails on my phone, this means I get a notification about a new post on my phone, wherever I am, pretty much immediately after a post is made. They usually happen around 9pm, Pacific time, although wordpress may vary the posting time by a few minutes in either direction.

  27. Personally, I’m surprised that everyone is just accepting that Blake is a vestige. It a really doesn’t make that much sense when you look at the details. Vesitges can bleed? and I’d imagine the mojo to affect some random strangers all the way in another town, to take some major mojo. Also please nobody has been around to confirm his decision ( that he is a vestige). He is basing this off a vision he saw in a place that is designed to grind/wear you down. What better way than to make you think you aren’t human?

    1. Why CAN’T a vestige bleed? Vestiges aren’t ghosts. They’re something that’s partially, but not quite, human. The stronger the vestige, the more humanlike. Blake only lost humanlike traits (like breathing) when he gave them up to the Drains.

      1. Okay true. The only thing I find fishy is that nobody outside of Blake himself has confirmed the conclusions he has drawn while in the drains. The very nature of the situation is such that he can’t confirm with and outside source. Just food for thought.

  28. Ok, can’t believe nobody else has commented on this yet. The other Others still can’t really tell the difference between Blake and Rose. Ev and Keller apparently still think that Blake is Rose — look what they kept calling him. It looks like the best way for Blake to screw Rose over is for Blake to go anger a bunch of Others and make them want to take their anger out on their “target”, the person that they seem to think is the one behind those actions, namely Rose. Also, Blake can lie. If Blake makes vows and signs agreements then breaks them, the karmic rebound of purposefully acting in bad faith may rebound directly on Rose while Blake gets to skip away. Mala Fide, acting in bad faith.

    1. Who don’t really have any interest in helping connect Blake back to his friends and Rose, especially since he’s now throwing spanners into the works by his simple presence outside the Abyss.

      1. Which isn’t the same thing as saying they won’t do it. Rose just isn’t likely to be wanting to pay the price for that information.

  29. First time commentor, so want to start by saying how amazing I think Pact (and Worm before it) is. The first thing I do every Tuesday and Saturday is read the new chapters and read the comments.

    I wanted to share a thought I just had. We know that we cannot really trust Blake as a narrator. The allies he lost to Urr were never mentioned in the story. When Blake lost his memories, we skipped a whole chapter.

    What if we are not being reliably shown how Rose is acting? A huge part of the story is the bad karma of the Thorburn family. People in the comments are working on the assumption Rose has it now instead of Blake. Doesn’t it make sense that the bad karma is affecting Blake’s view of Rose? That he’s reading her expressions as rougher than they are, not remembering some parts of her explanations that make her sound more reasonable? I mean, Blake’s assumption that conquest tainted her and is dangerous because of it, sounds a little like the earlier antagonists assuming Blake was bad news because of the Others he had interacted with and the things he’d done.

    (I am biassed though… I really like Rose and I’m still waiting for the chapter where we see things from her side and suddenly everything makes sense)

    1. Yeah, I’m taking everything with a grain of salt. We can speculate, but we can’t definitely point to much of anything.

    2. Oh, that actually makes a lot of sense. Bad karma affecting Rose’s connections and such. Warping how others perceive her. I could see a combination of that AND Conquest’s corruptive force causing her trouble.

    3. I don’t think karma modifies environment perception itself, only your emotions. Like, it doesn’t make sentences be magically forgotten, but it makes people get angry easier, etc…

      But yeah, I didn’t think bout that, and it actually adds a lot of sense to this part of the story. Blake instantly assume that Rose is evil / Conquested even though she clearly laid out good reasons for her harsher actions, which is something coherent with radiation and bad karma.

    4. “(I am biassed though… I really like Rose and I’m still waiting for the chapter where we see things from her side and suddenly everything makes sense)”

      Or we’ll get the chapter that lets us see things from her side… And find out she’s much worse than we thought.

    5. Wow, that is an interesting theory. I like it. (I don’t think he’d straight-up forget part of their discussion, but having his emotions and impressions tinged in a negative light makes sense.)

      And to Rose’s bad karma, you can add Blake being tainted by Pauz (which previously screwed up his relationship to Rose); this might also color his impression of her.

  30. The only good news here is that with the Thorburn Karma no longer affecting Blake, things can only go up for him even with his current lack of assets.

    All he needs now is an opportunity to study his body to find out what tree, animal and bird his sticks, bones and feathers are from to identify their individual and combined symbolism. This will give him a rough outline of what his elemental/symbolic affinity is to shore up his most obvious weaknesses.

    1. “The only good news here is that with the Thorburn Karma no longer affecting Blake, things can only go up for him even with his current lack of assets.”

      No, I’m pretty sure from how things always work for Blake, even after being severed from the Thorburn Karma, it’s going to keep getting worse. Lets just put it this way, if he somehow manages to get a happy ending, he’ll have earned that motherfucker, and I am not wagering any money that he will be in any shape to personally enjoy said happy ending.

  31. I see a lot of people assuming that Rose is only shutting Blake down out of evilness and stupidity. She’s not. She’s being smart. Not “she planned for it all along” smart, but rather “she avoids newbie mistakes” smart.

    If this was the Wormverse, any government force would be applying Stranger 30, Master 100 and Thinker 9000+ protocols, which would translate into “Everyone, be so fucking paranoid even an invisible mosquito won’t pass through undetected”. Rose is doing the same thing. Actually, she isn’t even paranoid enough.

    Think about it. The smart thing would have been to offer Blake a meeting (with controlled condition) as soon as he identified himself as a potential ally, then expell him before he could say anything more. Because Blake could be carrying some sort of memetic kill agent that took time to act, or he could be a crazy magical kamikaze that wanted to explode the whole house, he could be here as a diversion, etc… In any of these scenarii, everyone in the house would be dead by now.

    Food for thought

    1. I was going to write exactly this. I think Rose is hiding something. They have heard of Blake Thorburn through Mags and it stands to reason that maybe, maybe Rose held onto other information besides her note.

      One way or another, her actions are perfectly justifiable. If a complete stranger breaks into my house claiming a myriad of things, my first instinct is not going to be “let them stay and offer them some tea”. In fact, I would argue Rose was nicer than necessary. When Rose discovered Blake, she didn’t outright attack him. She didn’t banish him instantly. She allowed Blake to speak and even allowed Blake the opportunity to convince her group. When Blake said he would be working on some of his plans, rather than attacking Blake because he is a potential threat, she told him he was free of doing anything as long as he didn’t get in the way. Heck, she even left open the opportunity for a future alliance. If Blake proves useful and trustworthy, however hard Rose has made it to be, an alliance can be formed.

      A lot of this niceness comes from the need of information, of course. Rose wants to know what is up and she won’t know if she doesn’t hear out Blake. But my point stands.

      I still dislike Rose, though. Give Blake a break :<

  32. Since I regret not having posted either Ida Maria’s Bad Karma or fun.’s Be calm when they seemed lyrically appropriate to the story, I’d like to mention right now that Sleigh Bells’ End of the Line is a good listen & the song that launched a thousand songfics in the alternate universe where Pact has as large a fic-writing fandom as Harry Potter.

  33. I knew it. I just knew it wouldn’t be as simple as “Hello, I’m Blake Thorburn, your sacrificial goat. Can I please be your mirror assistant?”

    I wonder what is going to happen when Blake will see Padraic/Maggie. I mean, unless Padraic was acting, they were on pretty good terms before they parted ways. On the other hand, Padraic is a psycho bodysnatcher faerie…

    By the way, all kind of Demons can travel through reflective surfaces. How closely is that ability linked to how Rose jr. used to and Blake now travels?

    As usual, can’t wait for the next part!

  34. I touched the television’s surface. The surface vibrated at the touch, like a plucked guitar string. The other’s reactions suggested they didn’t see it.

    Nobody seems to have discussed this. Presumably this is related to how Rose broke windows and mirrors.

    Two previous hints:

    (1) In two of the three cases when we’ve seen someone cross through a surface into the mirror-world, the surface shattered.

    Examples are when Conquest lunged into the pendant in 7.7, and more importantly when Marry came out of the Police bathroom mirror in 6.10.

    The exception is Padraic, who leaned through a window in 1.5 without shattering it. Although he didn’t cross completely through, and there’s a suspiciously specific description of something weird going on with perspective there: Patrick hopped up onto the four-inch window sill, taking a knee, somehow without falling or touching the glass.

    Note that Ev and Keller entered the mirror world in this chapter, but not by stepping through the surface, they used some trick with silhouettes and shadows. Ur also entered reflections, but it’s via optical reflection, not mechanical translation. Corvidae is also inside the mirror world on occasion (the beginning of 7.4 for example), though he’s never shown entering or leaving.

    (2) Twice, in 5.3, Rose is shown actually pushing her hand through the mirror: First, she pushes her hand through a mirror to scratch at Laird’s face; the hand was fading, but Laird could grab it and drive it against shards to cut her. The second time, she reached through a door’s glass to unlock the door. Both times, the glass shattered.


    I believe Rose broke the mirrors simply by forcing her hand through, then pulling it back instead of crossing.

    In fact, I believe she (and, more interestingly, Blake) can cross into the real world whenever she wanted. She just didn’t because she wanted the protection of being mostly insulated from the real world. It’s possible the karma switch or other parts of the set-up with Blake would also have been affected. In any case, I’m pretty sure the mirror-world was meant as a shelter, not a prison; she wasn’t literally trapped there, any more than Blake was “trapped” in the house by danger outside.

    I’m also pretty sure that Blake can also cross through basically at any time, as long as he has enough strength/power to shatter the surface. (This might be tied to his bogeyman status; both Corvidae and Mary were apparently bogeypersons. Possibly bogeymen learn to cross between worlds when they force their way out of the Abyss. The others crossings we’ve seen seem tied to the kind of creature crossing: faerie via perception tricks, abstract demons via reflection, Conquest by force.)

    It is possible he would need a power source to sustain himself once outside, though. Rose’s hand was fading in 5.3, not sure if that was just the visual representation of her pulling the hand back, or if sustaining her presence “on the wrong side” required power.

    1. It does explain a detail I’ve been noticing : how comes Blake noticed the graphitis being inverted outside of the factory, but didn’t see anything inverted inside the factory itself ? Because he fought Urr in the regular world, and went into the Mirror World when he escaped the factory through a window.

      1. No, we actually have Word of God that Blake didn’t fight Ur in the real world. Check Wildbow’s comments of that chapter. And here we see that Blake thinks so, too: “If you look in the windows, you might be able to see my work, through the reflection. A diagram on the floor, in the mirror version of the factory.”

        What should Blake have seen inverted in the factory, anyway? I’m not sure one would even notice if the insides of the factory were inverted – it’s a dimly-lit, mostly empty space, quite possibly symmetric.

        Also, is Blake inverted himself? AFAIK he was right-handed IRL; should he be left-handed now etc? IIRC, in the Drains the Witch told Blake that it was something to think about that both he and Rose were right-handed.

          1. I can’t think of any time Wildbow haslied before. He’s been tricky and has given incomplete truths, but I don’t remember anything he’s said being incorrect.

            Unless. . .

            IT’S ALL A LIE!!!!

            1. Or unless he’s going along and suddenly this amazing idea comes to him and he changes his mind about exactly what direction the plot was going to go. Unless it’s an explanation for why someone did something, I’m taking Wildbow’s comments with a grain of salt as well until they’re written down and become actual cannon. In other words, to make a Star Wars analogy, the story is like episodes 4, 5, 6, and Wildbow’s comments here are like the EU. Interesting, but they may be overridden by later movies.

            1. Ah ah ! You felled for my trap ! You repeatedly used sarcasm in front of witnesses ! Your power is now gone…

  35. “Just so long as you don’t actively interfere with us,” Rose said, “You can do whatever you want, more or less.”

    I don’t know if that was dumb or smart, but she just gave him permission. The problem is, if there is a conflict of opinion, outside spirits judge what is active interference. So Blake can talk to Alexis, Tiff, and Ty and count it as non-interference as long as he thinks he is helping them, even though Rose would see it as interference.

    It is interesting that, when she stated this, she used the plural, even though she was primarily using the singular in her conversation. This fits in very well with the theme that she alone decides, she alone is in control, and she protects those who follow her only secondarily, to avoid losing them.

  36. Noone seems to have commented yet on Blake’s potential lie that he’s a reflection of Rose given the whole “How can she really be your reflection if she’s not left-handed” thing…

  37. Ya know,despite my FURY I was about to give Rose the benefit of doubt….

    Then I noticed how she used the “I” and “us”,so,her only excuse can be Conquest radiation,otherwise fuck her.

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