Mala Fide 10.2

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The school, as it happened, was protected ground.

Disguised as childish scribbles, chalk drawings or graffiti, there were symbols arranged in a circle on the streets around the school.  To my eye, a loose ring cutting through the utterly black nothingness that stretched between mirror places, masking everything within.

I waited, and in the waiting, I realized that there were stationed guards as well.  A regal old lady with her grandson in her lap.  Seen in a different light, seen with a note of doubt, wondering just how she could stay there for twenty minutes to an hour, not actually doing anything, I was able to peer past the veil.

A faerie, older than Ev or Keller, if her silver hair was any indication, with a carving knife.  She carved up her ‘grandchild’, an idol of wood, adding fine details.

A wrecked car, a police officer and the car’s driver, a tableau.

Time, however, helped to identify them for what they were.  A singular entity, I was pretty sure.  The scene repeated over and over again, a six minute loop.  If I had to guess, they might have been ghosts, or less than ghosts, shored up with a spirit of time.  A zeitgeist.

The Behaims protecting their kids in the school.

I wasn’t sure how that worked in execution, but time shenanigans spooked me as much as a Faerie did.

I had no idea of how long I had to wait, and I didn’t exactly want to stay put for Ev and Keller to find.  I paced the perimeter of the school, exploring the streets and kept moving.

I found more Others, but they weren’t guardians.  They were predators.  Two goblins in plain sight, hiding near the dumpsters outside a grocery store.  They disappeared when an employee stepped outside to throw out a box of produce.  They piled the most rotten, moldy stuff into bags, then scampered off, sticking to shadows.

A trashy looking woman with a jacket of short black fur was perusing store fronts.  She passed right in front of me, looking through the reflections, and her eyes settled on me.  Cat eyes.  She traced the window with her nails as she passed.  Talons disguised as overlong painted nails.  They made a noise like nails on a blackboard as she scraped the glass.

It seemed like every other time I looked through the windows and mirrors to the real world, I saw something.  A bit of diagram, a man that was overly tall, with a neanderthal brow and a thick beard.  A ghost.  A pair of Duchamps who appeared to be out shopping with their infant daughter.  I stayed out of their sight and out of their way.

Likening it to a game of checkers or chess would be unfair.  Yes, they were putting pieces on the board.  Calling in favors, apparently, and deciding what needed to be where.  The Behaims were very obviously tapping into their supply of magic that they’d been holding in reserve.  These were the opening moves of the game.  Threatening, building something, maybe testing the water here and there, if Rose calling it a ‘war’ meant something, but as far as I knew, pieces had yet to be taken off the board.  There hadn’t been any attacks.

Unlike a game of chess, though, the pieces here were very much alive, or as alive as Others got.  They moved constantly, forcing everyone that was native to Jacob’s Bell to constantly adapt.

If I went with my gut, and the general atmosphere, I didn’t think anyone had made an explicit, overt move yet.  There was tension.  Seeing just how many Others, diagrams and practitioners there were around here, I had the distinct impression that all it would take was one mistake.  One member of one side failing to watch their backs, or underestimating one of the other side’s players.

One mistake, and this would all turn ugly.

Why the emphasis on the school?  A means of pressuring the opposition?

I watched the faceless woman walk down the street, phone in one hand, a cigarette in the other, never actually making its way to her nonexistent mouth.  Her eyes and mouth were smudges, like they’d been drawn with thick black pencil and wiped away with a cheap pencil eraser.  The angle of her head and the hair that fell down around either side hid the true nature of her face from random passerbys.

How often did one actually look at strangers on the street?

Wait.  The faceless woman was making a beeline for another Other.  The woman with the garish makeup, cat eyes and claws.  The cat woman was staring into a shop window, the faceless woman staring down at her phone.

I wasn’t the only one who saw it happening.  Three sets of goblin eyes peered out from darkness, watching.  Two Others, pretending not to see one another, a game of chicken, of all things.  Seeing who would move first.

I had to almost press myself against the display window of the store to see the Duchamps further down the street.  One was holding something, but the other held her wrist, stopping her from acting.

I contemplated breaking a window, but I wasn’t sure if it would make things worse.

The scene was still, except for the faceless woman, continuing her walk, boots hard on the sidewalk.  Snow blew around her, but the wind wasn’t strong enough to reveal her face.

On the far side of the street, a woman and her male friend walked with coffees in hand, oblivious.  Jacob’s Bell residents, going by the style of dress.  Not ugly or cheap, but… small town more than Toronto.

The faceless woman drew closer, not veering.

The cat woman flexed her claws.

The door of one store opened, and I saw light stretch and cover different ground as the glass of the door caught and reflected it, expanding my mirror domain.

A man stepped out onto the street.  Vaguely familiar looking, he practically tackled the faceless woman.  Arm thrown around her shoulder, he intercepted her and used forward momentum to steer her way.

The cat woman turned, smirking, before she left, turning in the opposite direction.

The guy and the faceless woman drew closer to me.

They stopped right in front of the window I was residing within.

They didn’t talk.

I didn’t move, out of concern that they would somehow identify me.

“Such a hassle,” the man said, removing his arm from the faceless woman’s shoulders.  She shrugged her way free, jabbing her cigarette in his general direction as he backed off.  She looked nice, if a little plain, with a hat, scarf, and long jacket.  He looked painfully average, though very thin and rather rumpled.  His voice was almost a drawl, not accented so much as very fatigued.  It was the perfectly wrong voice for him to say, “Don’t get pissy now.  You’re the one that keeps trying to make a point.”

The faceless woman backed off.  Her left hand dropped to her side.  The phone wasn’t on, or even functional.  The screen had a spiderweb of cracks radiating across it, and it looked a few generations old.  She still held one arm up perpetually, cigarette between two fingers.

“If you’d done anything, she’d have gutted you,” he said.

The faceless woman turned his way, incredulity clear in her body language.

“She would have.  I hate to break it to you, darling, but circumstances have changed.  You might have held third or fourth place as one of the scarier free locals before, but I would be very surprised if you were one of the top twenty-five right now.”

The faceless woman turned and started pacing.

The man sighed.  His mumble of a voice was so quiet I was surprised she could even hear him.  “We have the disadvantage and the advantage of being new.  That thing?  That’s an old thing.  Don’t let appearances deceive.  If I had to guess, going by what little I’ve been able to pick up, I’d think that woman was a harbinger of Bast or a Lamia or something in that vein.  Maybe demonspawn.  What do you think?”

The woman didn’t react, still pacing.  Prowling, even.

There was a pause before the man spoke again.  “Powerful, smart, willing to play by the rules.  Pick two, or be prepared to have a very short existence, understand?”

She turned his way for a moment, before she resumed pacing.  She tried to go still for a moment, but after a short period of tapping her foot, tapping one finger on her cigarette, she started moving again.

The interplay between the two was fascinating, on a level.  He did the talking, while she emoted.  It wasn’t the same sort of coordination that happened with Faerie, honed over centuries of keeping one another’s company.  It was very natural, very easy, and almost enviable.

He spoke like he was very tired.  “Wait a little bit longer, and there’ll be enough chaos and bloodshed for all of us,” he commented.  “It’s not the most noble thing, but we’ll be able to make our way around the battlefields and take our pick of the leavings.  How does that suit you, being a scavenger bird?”

The faceless woman turned at the far end of the street, paused, and tapped on her cigarette a few times.  Ash fell, but the cigarette didn’t grow shorter.

“What a shame,” the mumbling man said, “I’d hoped to have a conversation partner, but it looks like I’m the lone speaker in this group of mutes.”

I startled at that.

“You were talking to me,” I said, as it dawned on me.

“Oh, you do talk,” he said, managing to avoid any trace of sardony or condescension in his tone.

“I, uh, to belatedly answer your question, I don’t really see myself as a scavenger bird at all.”

“Was I overstepping?” he asked.  “You never know, with you types.  There’s so often a theme with your kind, but sometimes that theme is something you embrace, and sometimes it’s a sore point.  Sometimes both.”

I was a little too off balance to properly wrap my head around the conversation.  Rather than keep mumbling and struggling through, I tried to pull back and get my head in order.

“No,” I said.  “Birds aren’t a sore point.  A theme?  Maybe, but it was more accidental than anything.”

“Then I won’t make a point of it.  I recognize you.  From the Thorburn house?”

“Yeah?” I answered.

“I delivered the pizza,” he said.

Ah.  My mind flashed back to that scene.  Goblins had impaled him on the fence, and the faceless woman had taken his face, all in an attempt to bait me outside.  I hadn’t fallen for it, and he’d mocked me after the fact.

I ventured, “Can I ask what you are?”

“I don’t know so much, not really.  I died, and I kicked and screamed so much that they wouldn’t take me,” he said.

The wan smile and relaxed attitude he offered me did not look like the expression of someone who’d clawed their way back from the afterlife.

“A revenant,” I said.

“Oh?  A label.  Good word, too.  Better than being a wibbabog or boggart or banderscratch or momo or whatever name some of us wind up with.  It’s like the practitioners who think up the names are giving the job to their children, instead of doing it themselves.”

“That’s more international influences than silliness,” I said.

“Eh,” he said.  A pause.  “Are you safe to look at?”

“Yeah,” I said.

He turned around, giving me a more thorough look.  “You came from the same place as her?”

I glanced at the faceless woman.  She’d stopped pacing, though she still fidgeted.  She held her hand straight up, fingers splayed, but for the two that held the cigarette, and grabbed her arm at the base.

“Forest?” the quiet man asked.

“No,” I said.

“Same general place, then,” he said, and the words were barely comprehensible.

“I suppose,” I said.

“Fought your way back from someplace ugly,” he said.  “Brought the ugly with you, if you don’t mind my putting it that way?”

“Something like that,” I said.  “What’s her name?”

“Funny thing,” the mumbling guy said.  “She hasn’t said.”

“Ha ha,” I said, humorless.

But he smiled a little.  “She’s only my friend, you don’t need many names when you have only one person to talk to.  You need other things, though.  I had to ask around some to get details on her type.”

“Bogeymen,” I said.

“Yes.  Bogeymen.  Wherever you came from, the place probably has a hold on you.  It’ll take either of you back if it gets the chance, you know.”

“I had that impression,” I said.

“She didn’t do so well at first.  Too reckless, hard to rein in for Ottawa’s Lord, Toronto kicked her out.”

“How do you know that, if she can’t talk?”

“I wound up looking for answers after we crossed paths, because she really wasn’t doing well, found out some things about her.  Did some traveling.  We got to talking, so to speak, and here we are, a few years in, a few years wiser.”

“Scaring people,” I said.

“Yes,” he said.  “Killing the occasional one if we can get away with it, just to drive a point home.”

Killing.  He said it so matter-of-factly.

“You don’t approve?” he asked.

“I’m not big on the killing thing,” I said.

“You’ve never killed?”

I thought of Laird, bleeding out.

“I’ve killed,” I said, I left it at that.

The faceless woman moved her hand, the orange light at the end of the cigarette tracing a line across my field of view.  Almost a wave.

“She wants details.”

My gut reaction was to say no.

But they’d find out all the same, if they kept an ear out.

“Laird.  Self defense, in large part.”

“Ah.  That was you.”

“That was me,” I said.

Apparently satisfied, the faceless woman resumed her old position, leaning against a wall, cigarette held up, between two fingers, one boot tapping on the ground.

“I’m not a big fan of murder myself, but when Death comes calling, as he might do for me, or when the world wants to swallow you up and digest you, as it might be in your case, sometimes you’ll do what you have to.  Get the power you need to stay here, clock the hours you need to clock, do your part to keep the universe running.”

Clock my hours.  I’d left the Drains, but I’d brought the drains with me.

I frowned.  Rather than argue the point, I tried a different tack.  “Slim pickings here, even if I did want to kill someone.”

“Like I said, it won’t be for long.  It makes for a pretty tableau, doesn’t it?  The practitioners fight, and a man is left ruined, bloody, broken or powerless, utterly alone.  Then figures step out of the shadows, and the practitioner realizes that they’re facing down the likes of you, or me, or my friend there.”

I could imagine it.

Problem was, I could very well imagine it being Alexis, Tiff, or Ty.

My mind ticked over possibilities.

Rather than let the silence hang for a half-second longer, I opened my mouth, a half-formed argument in my head.

“You’ve done me a favor here, sharing this info on bogeymen, being friendly,” I said, speaking slower so I might have more time to think.  “Can I share a tidbit of info, as thanks?”

“Wouldn’t object,” he said.

The faceless woman had stopped moving.  Those smears where her eyes and mouth should be, they moved like ink in water, as if promising to reveal some detail if I stared long enough.

I turned my head away.  The benefit of knowing that not all knowledge was good knowledge to have.

“Hillsglade House, you know it?”

“Sure,” he said.

“They’ve got a demon there.  Summoned on the top floor.”

“The Thorburns have a reputation,” he said.

“Well, this is the reason for that reputation.  It’s bound, but it might not stay that way.”  I paused, and paused longer, as I realized there wasn’t a graceful way to say the next part.  “I would advise keeping your distance from that place and the people there.”

“A tidbit of knowledge,” he said.  “Well, I’ll gratefully accept it.”

I nodded.

He smiled, “You’re so transparent.  How ironic, for a man that dwells in mirrors.”

I didn’t feel fear in any natural way, no more than I did joy or anger.  Less so than anger, even.  I’d conquered one of the metaphorical demons that had haunted me, and by recognizing my past for the false thing it was, I’d given fear far less of a hold on me.

But that simple sentence did unnerve me some.  I felt a swell of deep concern in my chest.

When I didn’t answer, he relented, saying, “Don’t worry.  If you want to murder them yourself, I won’t stand in your way.”

“That’s not what I-” I said, stopping myself.

“Not what you meant?  You don’t want to kill them?  None of them?”

“I don’t.  But-”  I thought of Rose.  “If I had to, I would like to think I wouldn’t hesitate.”

“Ah, well, it’s your business all the same.  The man I came back to murder was dead by the time I clawed my way out of my grave.  I wouldn’t do you the same disservice by interfering.”

If my brain was a book, I would have spent the next several seconds flipping pages, trying to find that section where the bit on revenants pointed to subtypes.  Varieties.

Most had a mission.  When the mission was done, the revenant ceased to be.  He hadn’t.  A mother might return from the dead to rescue her daughter and trap the kidnapper in her stead.  A murder victim would murder the murderers, a man might return to maintain his business for one or two more nights, so his legacy would be sure to keep running.

He didn’t have a mission.  There was a bug in the system that had brought him back.

I’d forgotten to respond, and now that I had a sense of who and what he might be, I was sort of stuck.

“How did you manage to stay?” I asked.

“Like I said, you’ve got to find power where you can get it.”

“You also said you weren’t that keen on killing.”

“I did.  The trick is to realize your strengths.  We’re newcomers.  The Solomon whatsit doesn’t apply.  We have access to anyone we want to go after, innocent or otherwise, see?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.”

“Far more,” he said.  “Far, far more.  Usual protections might not apply, but the universe will protect innocents in a roundabout way.

“Something like that,” I said.

“You can make power by leaving an impact.  By giving us attention, giving us time and effort, giving us a moment’s thought, they’re still giving us something.  There’s power to be had in that.  Take that power.  Thrive.  Get even the ones who know about us, when they think they’re safe.  Innocents have some protections, the universe will contrive to shield them, but if you can leave a lasting mark, that’s worth a fair bit.”

I thought of the bogeymen I’d read about.  The monsters.  Was there a method to the madness?

By creating fear, they left a lasting impression.  Pain, of course, but also fostering doubts.  A glimpse of a faceless woman, not enough to make them certain, but to leave them thinking about that one night for years or decades to come.  Maybe committing the occasional murder, to remind the universe that they were present, and they had no intention to go elsewhere.  Fewer things made an impact so much as removing one individual from the ranks of the living.

There was more, too.  I’d left the Drains, but I’d brought some of the Drains with me when I’d left.  I was a manifestation of the Drains, and these same actions -scaring people, making an impression, hurting and killing- they were all actions the Drains wanted me to undertake.

So I hadn’t really escaped at all.  I was only serving the ends of the Drains in this space.

I really wished I had access to books on bogeymen and things that went bump in the night.  Especially now that I was one.

“You should work on it,” he said, filling my contemplative silence.  “Whatever ugly got in you while you were stuck in that world, it’s getting more of a hold.”

I touched my face, and I saw how some parts of my tattoos were standing out from the skin, raised in places, like something thin had been slipped beneath them.

That was more than a little spooky.

I glanced around, and I saw a kid walking down the street, backpack slung over one shoulder.  He kicked a snowbank.

The mumbling man seemed to notice too, because he glanced at me.

“I should go,” I said.  I didn’t give details on why.

“I should get my friend out of the way,” he said.  Then, as if he were reading my mind, he added, “Be careful, the children are being escorted by family.”

The word family had an emphasis that left little doubt in my mind as to which families he was referring to.

“By the by, if you ever feel like hunting…”

He wasn’t talking about hunting animals.

“Maybe,” I said.

“This will be something to behold,” he said.  “It’s just a question of when, and we’ll have more victims than we can imagine.”

“Human victims?” I asked.

“Practitioner victims, but they’re more or less the same thing” he said.  “There’s a gentleman’s agreement of sorts about touching or killing the humans, or giving them reason to worry.  Anything’s fair game, so long as it’s covert.

“You talk about it so casually, killing people,” I said.

“There’s enough of them,” he said, a little coldly, though none of that cold seeped into his placid expression or tone of voice.

I was starting to wonder if he was always middle of the road in appearance and action.  It forced me to start second guessing his earlier responses, and whether he’d been masking a complete other attitude.

“You were one of them,” I said.

But the faceless woman shook her head at me.

“Was I?” he asked.  “Most of us weren’t very good at being human when we were alive.  She wasn’t.  I wasn’t.  Were you?”

“I… wasn’t,” I said.  Wasn’t alive.

“I wasn’t one of them, not really.  Are you walking this way?”

“Yeah,” I said.

He gestured.  We walked alongside each other.  Where the sidewalks didn’t have room for more than two people to walk side by side, I was on the other side of the display windows and car mirrors.

My progress staggered somewhat, with me periodically leaping from the light shed from one surface to the light from the next.  There was a pause as we crossed one set of traffic lights.  I waited on the other side for him.

He spoke, “Sandra wants to preserve tradition.  Johannes wants a new world, where Others exist in ghettos, eating phantom sustenance.  The Behaims seem to think that they can make everything better if they’re in charge.  I don’t know what the Thorburns want.”

“I wish I knew, myself.”

“If you do find out, let me know.”

I saw the tall Other from earlier cross the street to avoid this particular pair.

“Where can I find you?”  I asked.

“Under someone’s bed,” he said.  “Wandering dark alleys, sitting in the backseats of cars.  I’m not easy to find.  You might go looking for her, but she only picks out a target once in a blue moon.  Hm, hm, hm, how to arrange it?”

The faceless woman touched her scarf.

“Ah, of course.  The Ambassador.”

“Ambassador?”

“Short black hair, unruly, goblins, short checked scarf?”

Maggie?”

“Not quite.  I’d say her name, but that calls her.  She’s taken on certain responsibilities.”

I remembered my vision.  She’d raised her hand as a neutral party.

Ambassador, though?

“She’s the person I’m looking for,” I said.

“Oh?  Oh!  Well, she isn’t at the school.”

I gave him a concerned look.

“Complicated.  Best to let her explain.  Mags Holt, Ambassador.  An Other in a mirror requests your company.

“Mags?” I asked.

“She’s busy, so I don’t know how long she might be, but-”

He was looking just over his shoulder.  A problem?

He stepped back out of the way, putting his shoulders to the display window of the pharmacy.

I ducked out of sight, sticking to the light.

A group of Behaim women, ushering their teenage and elementary-school aged kids along.

The faceless woman made a move, like she was going to follow or act somehow, and the revenant seized her arm.  “Don’t.  Stop being so damned territorial.  Patience.”

She pulled it free, and she seemed pissed.

However close their relationship, he backed up even further, pressed against the window, clearly trying to keep his distance.

I spoke up, “The person who makes the first move loses.”

She didn’t let up, still crowding the revenant’s personal space, but she tilted her head, one smear of an eye peering at me.

“You reach out to hurt one of them, and they’ll protect themselves.  Then someone else will hurt you while you’re occupied with your focus elsewhere.  It’s why this balance exists.  There are creatures that are stronger, prouder, and more dangerous than any of us, and they’re holding back for now because they recognize this.”

She relaxed a little.

“Well said,” ‘Mags’ said.

She stepped into view.

“My cue to go,” my new friend said.  “The offer to go hunting stands.”

“Thank you for the discussion,” I said, as diplomatically as I could.  I suddenly felt very on the spot, caught between my association with these… things and Mags here.

Between being the monster and being the man.

She was in the company of two goblins who were all wrapped up in snowsuits, only eyes peering out.  One had mismatched eyes.  Not just color, but size and species.  She looked rougher than I’d seen her before, hair tousled, clothes a little tattered.  Her hand was at one side, near what I assumed to be a weapon.

She looked like she’d grown up a year overnight.  It had only been a month.  Not even.

“I’ve heard that you held onto your connection to me somehow,” I said.  “You remember me?”

“You’re not entirely wrong,” she said.  “It doesn’t look like you held onto yourself all that well, though.”

“Came to pieces,” I said.  “Had to fill the gaps with something, I guess.”

“Yeah, guess so.  I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help more,” she said.

I shrugged.  “You helped all the same.”

“I didn’t, not like you’re thinking.  But let’s drop that topic.  I feel like I’d have to go into it and explain, and that’s not what either of us need right now.”

That only made me want to ask more, but I didn’t.

The problem with dropping a topic was that it didn’t mean there was more to say.

I looked past her at the street beyond.  There were reams of kids on the streets now.  Stores and coffee shops littered the area around here, sometimes with a few houses separating them, or a dentists office or vet’s office that had been set up in what had once been an old fashioned home.  A little strange to see a dinky little house with a big metal sign bolted to the front, or a lit up sign on the lawn outside.

I turned my attention to her.  “Sorry.  I’m… a little unfocused right now.”

“I know the feeling.  Being untethered.”

“What’s this about you being an ambassador?”

“I realized what they wanted, and what they didn’t want.  They saw this coming.  Experienced, powerful practitioners, they want to play this out very carefully, very slowly.  Means they can fold their hand if they need to, and maybe make a play in Toronto, or back up the side they think is going to win.  But the wild cards… you, me, Rose?  We could upset that peace.  Turn it all into a big blaze of fuckery.”

I blinked.  “You can swear?”

“Yeah.  Long story, don’t ask.”

I didn’t.  “Well, I guess I can see that, the wildcards thing,” I said.  “That Other we just passed?  Seems to fall into the same grouping.”

“Maybe.  There’s probably more to it if they’ve left her alone.”

Bore thinking about.

“I tried to downplay my status as a wild card.  Made myself a part of things.  I just don’t want to be the cause of all this going sour… I have reason to believe that if I was, it would somehow be worse.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Rose is a threat to the balance too, but she’s holed up in the house, and there are very few entities present who can siege that house.”

“And even those entities are reluctant to make a move,” I said.  “Because that’s possibly leaving a gap in some defense or a lack of eyes in one place, and that could imbalance things.”

“Exactly,” Mags said.

“It’s a cold war,” I said.

“It won’t stay cold,” she said.  “They have to test the waters to gauge the strength of the enemy, posture, and with so many different powers gathered in one place, it’s a matter of time before someone does something.  Those parents aren’t watching those kids just to keep the kids safe.  They’re-”

“To keep us safe from things the kids might start.”

“Yeah,” she said.  “Makes me wonder what the junior council is up to.”

“Junior council?”

“At the school, it’s… ah, nevermind.”

“What’s this about you not being at school?  I thought you promised your dad.”

“I did.  But I don’t have my dads either.  Not quite.”

There it was.  That thing that made her seem so much older.  Not the effects of age so much as the weight of experience.

“I know them,” she went on, “I meet them from time to time, we can talk, and it’s mostly like the good old days, but I lost them- a large part of them, and, well, yeah.  I don’t get it all back unless I take it back.”

“What are you doing, then?”

“There’s a space at the town center, kind of a guest house, for visiting dignitaries or celebrities for major events or something, I dunno.  I’m there.  I read, I patrol and work on keeping the local goblins under control, I visit people when called, deliver messages, negotiate meetings, and I wait.”

“Wait?”

“When all of this is over, I’ll get back what I lost,” she said.  “I’m going to blood and fire and darkness that Faerie bastard.”

She smiled, and in that smile, for a moment, she was Maggie again.

I needed Maggie.

“I need your help,” I said.

“Ah man,” she said.

The smile was gone.

“Please,” I said.  “I don’t think I’d be asking for much, it doesn’t have to be major.  But if you recognize me, can you talk to the others?”

“I can’t,” she said.

“Please,” I said, with more emphasis.

“I’m a neutral party,” she said.  “I can’t negotiate deals, not like that.  I definitely can’t give a helping hand to the most volatile of the four local players.”

“Mags,” I said, “Rose is- she’s going off the deep end.”

“The bound Incarnation,” Mags said.

“Yeah.  You were there-”

“I wasn’t.  But I know.  I haven’t been sitting on my hands these past few weeks.  She used her own hair to bind it, and the binding isn’t perfect.  Where the essence of the bound Incarnation leaks out, it seeps into the hair, and through the hair, it touches on the connection to taint the-”

“Girl,” I said.  “Rose.”

She nodded.

“I get the book, she goes back to normal?”

“No guarantees.”

“And you can tell me this?”

“It’s an ongoing topic of discussion.  If anyone challenges me on it, well, I don’t think you’re about to turn around and help Rose or tip her off that we know.”

I frowned.

“I’ve got something to do.  Walk with me?”

She gestured.  There was an awful lot of darkness in that direction.  Stretches of grass, sidewalk and bike path, if I remembered right.

“I can’t exactly…”

“Cumnugget,” she said.  “Mirror.”

One of the snowsuit goblins grumbled, but it pulled off its backpack and rummaged within.

A hand mirror.

“This isn’t a trap?” I asked.  “Your responsibilities as ambassador don’t obligate you to bind me if you get the chance?”

“No,” she said.  “But I’d like to get moving, and I don’t want to prematurely end this conversation.  I’m actually glad to have you back, even if…”

“I’m a monster?  I’m a wild card that threatens to upset the balance?”

“No,” she said.  “Not that.  Well, yes that.  But you being a friend balances that out.”

Friend.

A genuine friend, not one that had been made for me, or however it worked.

“Thank you,” I said.  “I’m glad to have you as a friend too.”

I hopped across the nothingness, snapping to the patch of light that passed through the hand mirror she held.

She gave it to the goblin, “Hold it steady, don’t waggle it around.”

The goblin groaned, but it did as she ordered.

“The thing that gets me here,” Mags said, “Is that I feel like I have to do this, but I’m not liking it either.”

I tensed.  “It is a trap, then?”

“No.  Not at all.  Just come.  Showing is easier.”

I joined her.

It was nice, not having to skip across nothingness to pass between patches of light.  It was hard to shake the impression that I might one day make that jump and fall.

“I have another favor I kind of want to ask,” I said.

“Favors are tricky,” she said.

“When I was, uh, gone, I met someone.  I was hoping I could maybe get her from there to here.  She doesn’t exactly have a name, but-”

“Blake, that’s more than just tricky.”

“She’s a non-threat, as far as I can tell.  And she’s a mermaid, kind of, so it’s not like she’s going to turn Jacob’s Bell upside down.  But she helped me, and a part of me wants to repay that somehow.”

“I don’t know.  That’s… a pretty big deal.  Adding another person to this picture.”

“I had to ask,” I said.  “I won’t be upset if you say no.”

“Okay,” she said.  “I’ll think about it.  You’re a jerk, asking now.”

“Now?”

She took the mirror from the goblin.  “Over here.  Down the hill, watch your step.”

The sidewalk had been veering uphill, and now we stepped off it, onto the sloping hill.  We both made halting progress down the hill, more a controlled fall than a walk or a climb.

Standing in knee deep snow that I could barely feel, I saw the person in the mirror come into view.

Ah.

My heart did its herky-jerky flutter in my chest.

She’d been feeling guilty, and here I was, asking a favor she probably shouldn’t give me.

Molly’s ghost, standing amid snow-dusted decorations and mementos.

Molly had never been so popular when she’d been alive.

I watched as Maggie pricked her finger with a blade that wasn’t her athame, and very carefully let three drops fall.

“Three?” I asked, quiet, unsure if I was breaching something by speaking.

“Felt right.  Making a bit of a ritual of it.  I try for the same time every day, same thing.  I talk to her.  Tell her how sorry I am.  Keep the ghost alive.”

“Thank you,” I said.

She shrugged.

“I don’t know if I count, so maybe I’ll just say, one and a half of us down, five more to go,” I said.  “Hi Molly.”

“Hi,” Molly said.

Maggie’s expression suggested she was as surprised as I was.

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194 thoughts on “Mala Fide 10.2

  1. Vote on Topwebfiction.com if you feel so inclined – numbers have dropped to about half of where they were a week ago, but that’s still pretty frigging good, so yeah. Don’t forget that you can vote for multiple stories.

    A banner should be appearing on that page shortly. I heard it was supposed to go up last weekend, but I think Chris (who runs Webfictionguide and Topwebfiction, and is amazing as humans go) was too busy. Soon though! I hope, anyway.

    There should be an update this Thursday. I’ll have to check donation totals to see if there’s another chapter in the queue after that, but I may well be traveling next week, so it might be easier to just do one on, one off for the next stretch, regardless.

    Thanks for reading.

    1. I’m wondering about the voting: you see, you can only vote once a week.
      You post the link to vote twice a week, sometimes three times a week..

      If a person votes for a second and a third time in the week, the vote isn’t counted, only “renewed”. It is my understanding that, that person is only pushing back the time before his now vote is counted again. Resulting in less votes for you being counted.

      I mean sure, there’s a message warning people that voting multiple times is useless but I can imagine not everyone reading that message.

      1. That’s not how it works. Every time I vote after my previous vote has expired the vote count goes up by one. Every time the vote count expires the vote count goes down by one.

        If you vote once, and keep voting before the vote expires, the vote count will go up only by one and never go down.

      2. The counter simply tracks one week of your votes. If you vote 1142 times in a week, it counts your vote one time, provided that you don’t pull identity shenanigans.

        It starts counting one vote when you first vote, and it continues for seven days after your most recent vote. I’m sure there’s a term for that method of voting, but I don’t know it.

    1. Things actually went pretty well. He met two new sort-of potential allies (at least, not currently enemies, which is better than his usual track record) who prevented him from making a dangerous mistake by contacting the wrong person, and got him in touch with one of his few remaining almost-allies.

  2. I think this may lend some credence to the “Blake is a reflection of Molly” idea.

    Here’s another idea. Formerly, Rose was Blakes reflection. Now, Blake is Rose’s erstwhile reflection, cut adrift. What if Blake can invite Molly’s ghost in to fill his cracks, get some sort of yin/yang in the body thing going? Can they be each other’s reflection and together add up to a whole person, more or less?

    I don’t think that would happen any time soon, however. As far as we know Blake hasn’t been to see Johannes yet, so that history must come in the future and there wasn’t any indication that Blake had stopped his rot or patched himself into a wholish person by then, so it must not be happening right now, if I have the timeline right.

    1. I was just thinking something similar. Molly can fill in Blake to help stabilize him. Perhaps they were meant for eachother. He’ll be reinvigorated if she comes inside of him.

      1. Other commenters have speculated that Blake was carved from Molly, not from Rose. That is somewhat of a stretch, given that Blake and Rose remember the same parents and circumstances, but still possible. Blake and Molly, yang and yin?

  3. Well this is interesting.

    Why would Molly suddenly evolve? It must be a trap!

    I liked Pizza Boy, the Revenant. He seems pretty cool for an Other that occasionally hunts people. Pizza could make a decent ally.

    So Conquest is constantly feeding Rose his Taint thru her hair that was used to bind him. That’s actually much worse than what I thought was happening. Does the taint build up, or is it constantly being used.

    So what is Blake’s theme? We know he struggles, he pushes himself, he has a connection to birds and is kinda monsterish. I agree that he doesn’t seem like a scavenger bird. His tattoos are mostly Birds of Prey, right? I look forward to seeing him use more of his Other abilities.

    Mags/Blake is officially back on! Add more fuel to it, for right now they are eachother’s best (and only) friend.

        1. Someone or Other (Sandra to Mags qua scarf girl, I think?) said that the people at the factory were the ones whose connections were most targeted, so yeah, any sense of distance probably helps to preserve the connection.

      1. I think glitches in the system like PB Revenant and bogeymen are much more likely to remember Blake, because they are so similar to him and (in the case of bogeymen) are intrinsically linked to how his connections were severed (falling through the cracks snapped all the connections not directly severed by ErasUr).

      1. Hmmm, feed the incarnation of Conquest to the Demon of Nothingness that is slowly eating away at her binding and consuming the void. Yup, nothing could possibly go wrong there!

        But seriously, do we want an Urrr that is even more aggressive and bent on Conquering?

      2. It was already discussed, and the general consensus is : that would be as useful as putting radioactive waste in a catapult and fire it : you can’t see it anymore, but it didn’t exactly stop causing problems.

        I mean, see what happened to Blake when he was Urrased. If the same thing happened to Conquest, it would just claw its way back up, more or less the same way.

    1. Pizza is ALWAYS GOOD!!! I have never had a bad pizza. I have met some bad pizza boys. But pizza is always true good. (LOL).

    2. Blake’s tattoos are sparrows and songbirds from what we’ve been shown, not birds of prey, even though sparrows will eat just about anything from seeds to bugs.

      Evan took the form of a sparrow, and compares himself to the tattoos in the last chapter.

    3. His tattoos are mostly Birds of Prey, right?

      Only in the sense that sparrows eat insects, I think. I don’t remember the type of birds being mentioned since his fall, but all occurrences I remember are consistent with small birds.

      1. Blake’s sparrows and his connection to Evan seem more like a “sheltering the small” type of thing. And if you consider his actions towards his friends all throughout the story so far (and note the pang of “deep concern” he feels when Pizza Boy offhandedly mentions murdering them in this chapter) and the tree iconography in general, it feels to me like his theme or Other powers revolve around this. Trees are vital parts of forest ecosystems and are associated with growth, strength with flexibility, and nurturing in modern magical (pagan) iconography. My guess as to why his branches look rotten are because A) he doesn’t realize this and B) he doesn’t have a lot of nourishment, so to speak, right now. Plus the Drains’ influence.

    4. not bird of pray. pray birds…like chickadees and sparrows and shit. songbirds, harmless little things…not hawks.

      his arms are covered in the same sorts of bird Evan is

  4. Goblins in snowsuits. That is, somehow, adorable. It probably helps that they didn’t open their horrible mouths.

    I was always nervous that Mags’ neutral status would prevent her from helping Blake. It’s sad that they can’t do a proper team up. Perhaps Blake will be helped by Molly’s ghost in some way, and Mags will have helped him indirectly by keeping it alive.

    1. Well, the benefit about Blake is that he doesn’t exist to most people who helped cement her neutral status. He’s a random unaffiliated newcomer to most people which makes helping him not really a problem. If they knew he was the “Thorburn Wraith” then Mags would get in trouble for helping him.

      1. Well, the benefit about Blake is that he doesn’t exist to most people who helped cement her neutral status.

        Except the Duchamps (or at least Sandra) apparently. 2 of the 4 major Parties along with some Others involved the War know about Blake. It wouldn’t surprise me if Johannes didn’t already know the story behind everybody in Jacob’s Bell considering his massive connections and his Familiar’s power.

        There is still reason to be suspicious about the whole neutral thing.

        1. But the Duchamps and Rose have reason not to object to Blake. Mainly, if they know who he is, but their enemies don’t than they have an advantage. The Duchamps don’t know that Rose knows, and Rose doesn’t know that the Duchamps know.

          Having the knowledge that Blake is Blake is going to feel like an advantage that they won’t want to give up by calling him out and signalling the other groups who he is.

      2. The spirits would know, and she would know. I think that would be enough to forswear her, and she cannot afford that right now. She’s pinned what is basically her entire existence to her role as Ambassador, and acting against that role could cost Mags her newly claimed self.

  5. Maybe a Typo:-

    “The problem with dropping a topic was that it didn’t mean there was (nothing) more to say.”

    May be missing a word here.

    1. Is this the maybe a typo thread?

      “I watched the faceless woman walk down the street, phone in one hand”
      There’s the definite article, but this is the first time she’s been mentioned, near as I can figure. ‘a faceless woman’ wouldn’t leave me scratching my head wondering where I was supposed to recognize the character.

      1. Two goblins in plain sight, hiding near the dumpsters outside a grocery store.

        Not a typo, but an oxymoron. (Unless I’m missing some subtle thing, “hiding” and “in plain sight” don’t seem compatible here.)

        “Hillsglade House, you know it?”

        Again, not a typo, but unless this is meant to show that Blake is distracted, it’s inconsistent with the previous conversation. It should be obvious Pizza Guy knew the house, since he delivered the pizza there, and it was he who reminded Blake of the episode.

        1. Have you never heard the expression “hiding in plain sight”? I get the feeling that the goblins were basically staying by the dumpster, clearly visible to practitioners and Others but ducking out when humans came close.

          1. Yeah, I thought maybe that’s what he was going for, but the sentence still feels confusing. I mean, if it said “two goblins, hiding in plain sight near the dumpsters outside a grocery store” I probably wouldn’t have noticed anything unusual about it, but it looks weird the way it is.

            I think the inverted form of the expression makes me my brain expect that the phrase is meant to have an unusual sense as well, but the inverted sense doesn’t fit and there are no clues to any other word-play, which it makes it look like something’s missing.

            1. I can see what you mean. If my understanding is correct, it’s best to take them as separate thoughts.

              Two goblins in plain sight, hiding near the dumpsters outside a grocery store. They disappeared when an employee stepped outside to throw out a box of produce.

              The goblins were in the open by a dumpster , easily visible for Others to see. They were “hiding” in that, when a human came, they were on guard and would disappear.

              Or maybe I’m wrong.

    2. “She’s only my friend, you don’t need many names when you have only one person to talk to.”

      I think this ought to be “She is my only friend,” based on the rest of the sentence.

    3. Typos:
      – “dentists office” -> dentist’s office
      – “but as far as I knew, pieces had yet to be taken off the board. There hadn’t been any attacks.” -> In the Drains, Blake saw Tiff lying in bed, injured. So there must have been an attack at some point, likely related to the battle for the Lordship. Even if the warring hasn’t in fact started, Blake should lean more towards the opposite conclusion, given that vision.

  6. Maybe Molly is more than the simple ghost that we’ve seen. Perhaps she has been reacting so primitively to Mags because she Mags had Molly killed. Perhaps Blake, who she was/is probably more fond of, can unlock her true potential as a ghost.

    1. Or possibly she’s intended as a message to a thorburn heir just as Blake was intended as a decoy. She wouldn’t say anything to Maggie but might be set up to want to communicate stuff to Blake/rose

    2. Or Molly was a decoy heir just like Blake to make Rose the Third Heir which had 2 Karma Shields before her to soak up damage in order to give her greater likelihood of success.

          1. Not if Molly’s death (sacrifice) was the way to pay or power for making Blake. It is possible that Blake is a kind of Frankenstein monster of many parts that Granny made to protect her true heir. Molly’s death being the lighting bolt that powered Blake’s creation (birth). Or payment as in taking a life to make a new life.

          2. Well, Conquest already introduced him to three of his own ghosts, or at least very good simulations or something. He’s used to it.

      1. Or Molly, Blake, Rose, Etc. are actually a long line of substitute and fake heirs of one form or another, with the competent Paige being the last and true heir.

    3. Is she a revenant too then? Bound by the circle Maggie Holt made and kept alive by her bloodletting ritual?

      Probably something else since revenants were barely mentioned up to this point & it’s never something that was only brought up recently in pact or worm

      1. Revnants are zombies with a killer theme. They basically die and then refuse to stay dead, jumping back in their bodies to get revenge. Tallowman for example.

        Molly’s, at best, a ghost like Evan who managed to maintain her sense of self.

    4. I think Molly is just becoming more through constant transfusions of power from Maggie, Scarf and Mags. Three drops at a time from three “different” sources might be enough, and Blake was merely a trigger to make her speak. Not a familiar ritual, but Evan was mostly “just” a ghost when we first met him.

  7. Molly should join Blake’s new Other team along with Green Eyes and Pizza Boy. Thematically, what form would she take? Birds are Blake’s thing. Green Eyes has fish. I guess she could go Pizza’s route and just look mostly human.

    1. Given she’s a ghost impressed on the world by a nasty death, I suspect more “horribly mauled human” rather than “just human”.

  8. “I watched as Maggie pricked her finger with a blade that wasn’t her athame, and very carefully let three drops fall.”
    “Maggie’s expression suggested she was as surprised as I was.”

    Typo? It seems like Blake isn’t as affected by Mags’s loss-of-name as everyone else, which is weird….but to be unaffected?

    1. Maggie wasn’t forgotten quite the way Blake was. Padraic stole her identity, and she was in danger of slipping away completely, but she gave herself a new name and identity, as a sort of shattered but defiant remnant of her old self. People know who she is again, because Padraic doesn’t eat memories and isn’t a demon of the first choir. They (aside from Blake) just also know that Maggie isn’t her name anymore, and refers to someone else. Now she’s Mags, the Practitioner-Formerly-Known-as-Maggie, and her old name just doesn’t apply anymore.

    2. I got the impression that wildbow already made a big deal of him being unaffected in one of his visions… since he didn’t even know who mags was by that name. I get the feeling Mags’s ritual did much more than just give herself a name. It gave her friends too.

    3. I think the point Mayhem was getting at was that wildbow has been pretty consistent about the name so far (i.e., “Maggie” became “girl with the checkered scarf” in the prose as soon as her name was stolen, then “Mags” as soon as she got her new name), so this sudden mention of Maggie sticks out as an apparent mistake.

      1. Or Blake refers to her mentally as Maggie since she hasn’t given him the reason why she’s now Mags instead. Remember, he still hasn’t bee made aware of the loss of name, which is why he mentioned specifically that she wasn’t using her Athame, which is a blade of sacrifice and perfect for bloodletting.

        1. I know it was traumatic for her, but Mags really better give Blake at least the bare bones of the whole “Padraic stole my identity” thing before some sort of missunderstanding happens. especially since he might be the one who has Conquest.

    4. I don’t think most of the others were that affected. I suspect most practitioners, once they realize who she is (possibly with some help), do know what her name was, they are just very careful to avoid using it when talking about her. (Primarily because they if they say something about Mags but using the name Maggie it would probably count as a lie, and possibly also because it might cause trouble with Padraic, and/or undermine Mags’ existence.)

    5. Ur shattered the connection to Padriac. Without a mystical influence he still thinks of Mags as Maggie. It might help her get her name back.

  9. The binding is imperfect, and Padriac was the one who bound Conquest back in Toronto. Padriac knows exactly what he did.

    1. Wow, excellent point.

      In any case, Rose being tainted by Conquest for that reason makes far more sense to me than being tainted merely because she spent time in his presence.

      Incidentally, this situation reminds me of the chapter on Black Lamb’s Blood: binding and defeating devils also always had horrible side effects for the victor.

      (FYI, it’s “Padraic”, not “Padriac”.)

  10. Also, this is a little but off topic, but I just realized who Carl reminded me of.

    Carl reminded me of Jack from Worm.

  11. So the worst fear of him meeting padraic didn’t happen so woohoo! Things look like they could be looking not as awful as normal for Blake, so that’s a winning situation right now.
    I want to see the thorburn wraith do some real damage to someone eventually, with his ghost side kicks of Molly and Evan!

  12. I wonder if this is part of Rose Senior’s super secret plan. We know Molly was in Jacob’s Bell, in easy reach. Maybe she did a spell that lets Molly stay on this plane of existence. With the creation of Blake and Paige happening to stumble into magic, that’s quite a few Thorburns around to burn off the family’s bad karma.

  13. Oh I know!
    Blake can consume Molly. Fuse with her a la DBZ. Together they shall reclaim the house.
    We learn quite a bit of how things stand in Jacobs Bell. The city is about to blow up and it won’t be pretty.

    It will be quite the show, though.

    (Cumnugget <3)

  14. I wasn’t sure how that worked in execution, but time shenanigans spooked me as much as a Faerie did. Implying all other magics haven’t been spooky enough?

    He spoke, “Sandra wants to preserve tradition. Johannes wants a new world, where Others exist in ghettos, eating phantom sustenance. The Behaims seem to think that they can make everything better if they’re in charge. I don’t know what the Thorburns want.”
    This is my favourite paragraph. It gives us so much exposition in such a short space! It condenses a lot of the story. That is the reason I have enjoyed this chapter so much. It just… felt good. It feels as though everything is coming together. We are getting to understand the world of Pact better, its rules, its players and their motives. We are getting to see where the story is finally going. I love it! I feel so happy with this chapter.

    And I love how Molly’s ghost is going to throw a spanner in the works. Molly reacting to Blake could be a coincidence, but it could mean Blake was more real than everyone seems to think. Or it could mean something else entirely! Who knows! Aaaah. The story is developing in such a great manner!

        1. No, at this point some ponies and rainbows might be justified. Hell, with everything else that’s shown up lately, it wouldn’t even be that odd.

          1. at this point some ponies and rainbows might be justified

            Please, don’t. I’m sure Wildbow can figure out a way to make them man-eating ponies and radioactive rainbows, and we’ll even discover they were foreshadowed thirty chapters earlier.

            1. I should probably let you know that I wrote that under the assumpion they would be man eating ponies and radioactive rainbows. Not that Blake’s life couldn’t use the other kind at this point, but we all know that just isn’t going to happen.

            2. Actually, now that I think about it, the faceless woman and the opportunistic killer revenant seem like a nice couple, and I rather liked the cannibalistic mermaid, too.

              Hmm. If Wildbow doesn’t do a Histories chapter about them, it’ll probably be because making us yearn to feed body parts to cute ponies under rainbows glowing during nighttime, it’ll be because he doesn’t feel it’s much of a challenge…

            3. Ah, now I know who Green Eyes is reminding me of! She’s quite a bit like Svetta. One of my favorite Worm characters.

    1. Yeah, at least part of this chapter is probably the result of all the speculation in the comments, all the unclear stuff. The Cornucopia of Exposition (capitalization intended) is giving us a small sip, and I am thankful for that.

      Becaaaaaaause, what time is it? Speculation Time!

      So, basically: If an Other is relatively new and not that powerful, it is largly unaffected by the spirit world. It can lie, cheat, murder all it likes. But of course, that creates an impact, waves in the water, so to speak. The stronger the waves, the more attention it draws from spirits, Others and Practitioneers. Which reinforces you, since spirits connect to it, tie it into the world. The connections established with Others and others help to strengthen that further. And by getting tied in the mumbo-jumbo, as words get weight, so do lies, and the spirits react more to its actions, and since the spirits are somehow affected by the Seal of Solomon, they try to enact/enforce it. As an Other, formally agreeing/signing to the Seal of Solomon may as well be a way to have a shot to a lasting presence, because it ties you to the Spirits of the Seal, securing your grip on the world.

      Thinking about Midge and the talk about subhumans and other various ways of getting your humanity revoked, together with everything said up to date, brings me to the following conclusion:
      Everyone can get Other enough to matter! The awakening ritual is just one road to go. Basically, the spirits like a good show, or at least an impressive one. If one can make large of an impact and keeps up the show, he/she/it can get the attention of the spirits, get tied up in it, open up to them in return, and get a ride down the rabbit hole, without return ticket.
      Puts the proverb: “the show must go on” in a different light.
      Also brings me the idea of a group of characters: a travelling circus of the freaky/murderous/canniballistic/sadistic/magic/undead/beastly kind.

      I have to write more fanfic, and get the GURPS thing going again -.-

      1. That speculation makes quite a bit of sense to me. I also figured Blake wasn’t bound by the Seal of Solomon yet – after all, why should he be?

        More things to think about:

        • In 10.1, Blake said he felt his words have some power; I assume he either referred to his time in the Drains after accepting he was an Other (before, Ms. Lewis told him that he could lie), or to his victory proclamation after his fight with Ur.

        • There are supposedly no spirits in the mirror world. So why did e.g. Rose’s words ever have power there (Thorburn voice)? Maybe because the sound was carried outside the mirror world, where there are spirits?

        • Have we ever seen any new-ish (post-Solomon) Others lie explicitly?

        1. on 2nd bullet:
          Its never said there are no spirits, only that Blake cannot command them. Assumeably because his less than tiny influence and tie-in into the spirit world, also, as an Other you seem to be limited in the kind of spirits you can influence (they had this discussion regarding Conquest).

          on 3rd bullet:
          Not that we know of, probably.
          But for the sake of the argument: isn’t Glamour by itself a lie? A clever, beautiful lie which, as long as it is not contested, is tied into the spirit and real world like it was a truth. Question it, call it out, and it breaks, with the backlash which reminds me on the effect of lying has. Also, lies seem to affect the liear only, karma-wise, if the spirits get aware of the lie, i.e. if it is pointed out (renember the thing about have to be called forsworn to take effect?). If somebody wants to put the binding of June as counterexample here, renember that Blake spent blood to bind her(also, Rose seems to draw a fair share of power from him during the act).

          1. In 1.07, Rose claimed there were no spirits in the mirror world:

            “I… felt something, when I pledged my word. I can see things. But I don’t think it worked for me like it worked for you.”
            […]
            “nothing ate my offerings like they did yours. Nothing moved, as far as I can tell. I… don’t think I can see anything on this side, because there’s nothing really to _see_.”
            […]
            “there aren’t any spirits here to listen and obey, are there?”

            Admittedly, Rose may have been able to lie. Though I wonder about that, given that her words had the power of the Thorburn voice. On the other hand, she may have somehow gotten that power through Blake’s awakening ritual. IIRC, Pauz once wanted to name Blake foresworn for something Rose said.

            1. Rose wasn’t actually awakened, so it would be suprising if she can see ANYTHING. Its 100% fabrication.

            2. Again, to which extent Rose was awakened is still an open question. We don’t know what her possibly-screwed-up awakening ritual did, and how it related to Blake-the-nonhuman being able to awaken as a practitioner.

              It can’t have been 100% fabrication. For instance, her voice did, in fact, have weight. As one prominent example, remember that she made Ur say part of its name. Given that her voice had weight, it would be kind of weird if she was able to lie – I thought these two aspects went together.

              Also, the mirrorverse is a demonic creation (or something) by the Barber, and we haven’t seen a single other being (living or otherwise) there who didn’t enter it from elsewhere (like Padraic, Ev, Keller, Conquest, Ur, etc). So why should spirits be there?

  15. Pizza boy, faceless girl, green-eyes, goblin queen ambassador, ghost-diabolist, and a bird-themed wraith-vestige-bogeyman walk into a bar….

    ….and proceed to wreck Shit up like none have wrecked before.

    Goddam everything. We now have a diabolist with a continuous taint of conquest, and access to the worst books and one of the most dangerous demonseever bound.
    That is a lot worse than just a normal taint from her two days with conquest. Fuck it all.

  16. I stumbled upon Worm about 7 weeks ago and now that I am up to date I don’t know what to do with my life. awesome work Wildbow. truly.

    1. The good news is, he updates a LOT. 2 or 3 times a week, and this week is 3. Prepare to be awake at 12:00 am Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings.

      1. The bad news is that, if you’re a casual reader and/or take your time with the comments he can actually update chapters faster than you can read them so you never get caught up! O_O

        Actually, maybe that’s good news too – saves you from Cliffhanger angst. xD

  17. Typo:
    Imbalance only has a noun form, probably should be unbalance from context.

    The line

    “Well said,” ‘Mags’ said.

    doesn’t scan very well, the quotes and repition of said made me reread it a couple of times to check what was going on.

  18. Blake’s humanity is slipping, and he doesn’t quite notice it in realtime.

    • Why else would Blake feel deep concern after being called transparent? The Pizza Other was quite sure Blake held deep animosity towards the Thorburn cabal.
    • “If anyone challenges me on it, well, I don’t think you’re about to turn around and help Rose or tip her off that we know.” – Why that phrasing?

    Despite his assurances in 10.1 that he’d help the Thorburn cabal, one chapter later both Pizza Guy and Mags seem to imply that Blake just wants to harm them. Or Rose, at least.

    Blake’s appearance is becoming more Other. Blake may be showing more anger than he realizes or thinks he feels. If he does that without noticing, his failure to convince his former cabal last chapter also makes more sense. Is Blake consciously trying to help, while subconsiously aiming for revenge?

    Oh, and there’s also the point that Blake the vestige was created by a demon.

    Blake has to take great care to hold on to his humanity, or he really will be nothing more than something like a petty avatar of vengeance.

    1. It doesn’t help that the Drains are still with Blake, influencing him. And that means he either becomes “compost”, or he becomes a boogyman. Yeah, getting free of the Thorburn Karma hasn’t helped Blake yet. Is it just me or is the universe really dead set on Blake being a villain or monster?

      1. Well getting free of the Karma has led to lots of good encounters one after another. Green Skin and the Witch both helped him. He overcame all three anchors. Two of them were bypassed in passing it seemed.Oh and he met NOTHING else unfriendly. He beat Ur. Then he bumped into a friendly reverent on his way to look for an enemy. And now Molly is back. His only enemies have been Ur (who he went out to find), himself, and two Fae (who he promptly sent packing.)

        Before it was “nearly everyone is an enemy”. He couldn’t walk down the street without multiple attacks.

        The problem is now Blake just has too much inertia.

  19. I really liked this chapter! A calm before the storm, certainly, but it’s still nice to occasionally see Blake outside of imminent lethal danger.

    Blake’s conversation with the Others was a highlight in particular. We’ve only seen most of them as murderous so far, so seeing their perspective is nice.

    More comments:

    1. I called Mags being unable to help due to being the neutral party.

    2. My favorite line: “Powerful, smart, willing to play by the rules. Pick two, or be prepared to have a very short existence, understand?” – When Blake-the-human met his untimely end, which of these did he violate?

    3. “There it was. That thing that made her seem so much older. Not the effects of age so much as the weight of experience.” -> This is what happens to you if you are unfortunate enough to be one of Wildbow’s protagonists.

    4. Pactverse is just as screwed-up as Wormverse is. The consequences of karma are bad enough, but now we find that some types of Other (some portion of those returning from the Drains) have to be obnoxious or downright evil. In one form or another, they have to take from the humans to survive.

    1. 2 Blake was neither powerful nor smart when fighting Ur the first time. Indeed, fighting an unbound demon when not powerful could be considered inherently unsmaer

    2. now we find that some types of Other (some portion of those returning from the Drains) have to be obnoxious or downright evil

      I get that some may not have the choice, and that it might be harder, but why couldn’t an Other also “make an impression” by doing nice things and helping people?

      1. I had the same thought while reading the chapter.
        Just because you want the absolute value of your impact to be large, doesn’t mean it has to be negative any more than it has to be positive. It just has to be very much whatever it is.
        Granted that preying on humanity’s vulnerabilities and fears is probably easier.

      2. Its comparatively easy to make a big impact by killing or scaring someone. The Faceless Woman let’s someone see her face. Stick a knife in someone’s back. Basically what they are planning on is finding practitioners who are nearly beat and kill stealing. Probably someone like Molly or Maggie if she had lost the goblin game. Compare that to finding defeated practitioners and fixing them up.

        Killing is much easier.

      3. Blake puts it this way:

        Fewer things made an impact so much as removing one individual from the ranks of the living.

        And if Pactverse functions like humans in the real world, the more general answers are things like Negativity Bias and Loss Aversion (check Wikipedia): we humans just have a stronger capacity to experience negative emotions than positive emotions. For instance, there’s no positive equivalent of torture.

        So to maximize your impression in the world as an Other, you would have to tap into the negative emotions. It might be possible to leave a positive impact, but far far harder, to the point that the average Other just couldn’t survive that way.

        (That also reminds me of the ghosts: IIRC all the ghosts we’ve seen left an echo due to the trauma they experienced when they died, rather than due to any positive emotion.)

    1. actually, he
      * is visually degrading
      * realizes what kind of a mine-field Jacobs Bell is
      * has confirmation that the-practitioneer-formerly-known-as-Maggie cannot seriously help him because she declared herself as neutral party

    2. “Blake. Duck.”
      You think the Duck Knight is going to get involved? I don’t see why he would, but since I kinda want to see this guy, I wouldn’t mind.

  20. Question-
    “Bore thinking about.”

    “I get the book, she goes back to normal?”

    Are these two sentences missing something? Were they typos, or am I just missing something? Because neither makes any sense to me. The first sounds like it was a type and missing a word or three…. the second… I don’t even know.
    What book? Did he mean if he gets the pendant away from her?

    1. The first one makes perfect sense. “Bore” is the past tense of “bear”, so the sentence is something like “the idea is big enough to support thinking about it more.”

      I agree that “book” feels a little strange and suspect “mirror” was intended. But Black Lamb’s Blood WAS used in the binding, representing an Other that had been held captive and then freed.

      1. First one- That’s a complete sentence? It sounds weird. But ok, that sounds better

        Second one-
        But, it makes little sense the jump in logic that getting the “book back” would get rose back to normal.

        1. No, it’s a sentence fragment, but it’s an intentional one — the subject was omitted.

          Agreed that the second one feels a little bit odd, but I assume it’ll shake out.

          1. aaah, gotcha.

            Do you think the second was also intended, and that it’ll get explained later, or that it was a typo? I honestly can’t tell with Wildbow, after the whole missing chapter thing with the first Ur Fight

        2. Like Coda said. The first one is a shortened form of “[IT] bore thinking about” (i.e., “it was not useless to think about it”), and the second is an elliptic form of “[IF] I get the book, [THEN] she goes back to normal, [RIGHT]?”

          1. Yeah, the first one makes more sense now, thanks to the both of you

            The second… still makes no sense. What book? What will getting any book back do for Rose? Did he meant to say the pendant mirror conquest is trapped in? Because that wasn’t a book… Unless she bound the mirror-thing in the REST of BLB, and now it’s a part of the binding, and that’s the book he meant? But.. how on earth (or hell, or limbo, or drains, whichever you prefer) did he and/or mags find that out?

            1. What book?

              I would guess that either Wildbow made a mistake, or something else happened off-camera, like maybe they added the rest of the book as an extra layer to the binding after they got home, but before they went to the factory. If the latter, Blake would know about it, but I was also wondering how come Mags found out that much about what went on in Toronto. (Though everyone got to do lots of things on screen during the month Blake was in the Drains, and Mags was the Ambassador for most of that time, so she had plenty of time to chat, both with the Thornguard and with Laird’s relatives.)

  21. Something bad has got to happen next week. I mean, Blake met two new people who didn’t try to kill him (yet). Mags didn’t curse him back into the drains upon meeting and Molly actually said hi.

    I mean, this chapter left me feeling positive. And that’s [i]scaring the hell out of me[/i].

    1. On the upside we found out the drains are still turning him into a boogyman, and everyone he meets thinks he’s a revenge driven monster.

  22. Reader since the start, first comment. Is it just me or does anybody else think Blake might be able to utilize the spirits that have filled in his cracks as it were. Using the tree spirit in his tattoo to bind Orhers in its root system, or call on his bird spirits to fuck shit up. It seems that Blake had yet to embrace the upsides of being Other, it might cost some humanity, but it would leave him in better standing if he knew what he can do, besides mirror world shenanigans

    1. I’m not sure Blake should loose any of his humanity, since that is what makes him Blake. And Pact doesn’t seem to be the sort of story where that would work out well. Oh you might get some cool powers but you’d become something wretched and horrible inside and out. Besides vg jnf onq rabhtu frrvat Gnlybe’f zvaq naq uhznavgl pehzoyr ncneg nf fur ghearq vagb Xurcuev va Jbez. V qba’g guvax V jnag gb frr vg unccra ntnva gb nabgure Jvyqobj cebgntavfg.

      No, I’d much rather Blake regain his humanity, and get stronger that way.

      1. I agree. Though I fear we’ll see Blake deteriorate some more, since things have to get worse before they can get worse and worse and worse and then maybe possibly better for once. (See my other comment on this chapter for some signs of that happening already.)

        Also, it’s questionable whether one can regain one’s lost humanity, anyway. That’s a problem for anyone tainted by anything, including Blake and Rose.
        Mags also lost stuff, but it was stolen and can thus potentially be stolen back.

        1. It’s probably possible for humans because presumably ‘human’ is their natural state and they’ll naturally gravitate back to it if they successfully shake off any taint.

          Its far less likely that that applies to… whatever Blake is.

  23. Odd thought – Blake is around and suddenly Molly is there rather than just being a ghost. Evan shows more identity than simply being a ghost. True the other ghosts didn’t but I wonder if this is an effect of Blake’s Other nature.

    This is a bit wild but maybe he’s a vestige made from a ghost – perhaps the ghost of the real Blake (I think someone theorized a few posts back that Blake and Rose were actually twins and given that neither of them are left-handed it seems at least possible that there was a real Blake Thorburn at some point and Granny Rose had him killed and made into a vestige). And maybe being a vestige made from a ghost has given him some control over the dead. That would be interesting.

  24. Conquest. A “new” incarnation, so we hear, although it’s never specified how “new” he is. Now, here’s food for thought. Is Conquest bound by the Seal of Solomon or can Conquest lie?
    “I am going to conquer you and make you wish you’d never been born.”
    “Oh, he must have power to do that or he wouldn’t make a statement and risk being foresworn.”
    Meanwhile, Conquest is free to make as many statements like that as he wants, since he’s free to lie.

    1. If you couldn’t POSSIBLY fail, then swearing an oath is sort of meaningless. The risk of being forsworn is what gives pronouncements like that power. Something like Conquest would take that gamble in order to gain strength. By making that declaration, Conquest is aligning his words, his intent, and his strength all in one direction. And in doing so, Conquest gains power to pursue his sworn goals — but karma demands that he fulfill his end of the bargain or else suffer the penalties of being forsworn.

      1. If you couldn’t POSSIBLY fail, then swearing an oath is sort of meaningless.

        Well, there’s the psychological effect on your adversaries, especially if they don’t know you can lie. Conquest is quite happy to crush your spirit anyway he can.

      2. That leaves open the intriguing possibility of Blake weakening Conquest and his taint on Rose, not by finding his bound form (which Padraic may have taken and hidden wherever), but by going through his memories and turning Conquest’s past promises and oaths into lies, to make Conquest foresworn.

  25. Oh man, I hope Conquest isn’t getting unbound and coming back into the story. I had enough of that asshole. Serous arc fatigue by the time we were done with him.

    1. Don’t know if he’ll escape, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t make some sort of appearance. At the very least Blake needs to do something about his effect on Rose and, indirectly, his friends.

      Maybe Blake’ll make him a snack for his pet mermaid 🙂

      1. Whoa! Show some respect! Green Eyes isn’t a mere pet and shouldn’t be referred to as one. Who do you think she is? Paige?

        1. Ok, ok. His cannibalistic mermaid buddy, then. Or girlfriend. Fishfriend. Whatever.

          Right. Now I’m wondering if Alexis will invite her and Blake and Tiff to a foursome in a Jacuzzi, and what’s the attitude of Sphinxes towards tongue-baths. See what you’ve done!?

          1. Right. Now I’m wondering if Alexis will invite her and Blake and Tiff to a foursome in a Jacuzzi, and what’s the attitude of Sphinxes towards tongue-baths. See what you’ve done!?

            I think this may be appropriate. Just imagine Blake is the Red Guy and the girls are the kids.

            1. Well, Diana is nice, but I’d probably be distracted by her computers.

              And I’m afraid of Mrs. Lewis by herself, let alone who she might invite to a horizontal party.

            2. In fantasy or sci-fi settings (especially role-playing games) cannibalism often refers to any sentient eating any other sentient.

    2. While I agree and hope his return doesn’t last too long before he finally dies or whatever, I think it’s inevitable that he’ll come back. He’s only bound, not beaten; the contest is still technically in progress, just on hold; and it’s been made clear that he has to be dealt with somehow.

    3. I agree about the arc fatigue. His arc showed that he just doesn’t work as primary antagonist. Though a short, temporary return due to someone else’s plan could be okay.

  26. So Others like Blake and Pizza Guy have to make an impact on the universe in order to gain power and keep a foothold in the main reality. As Pizza Guy demonstrated, the easiest way to do this is via murder. Could there be other ways for Blake to make an impact? Could he regain a foothold by repeatedly rescuing lost puppies, repainting the the yards of Government buildings and/or setting all of the birds of the zoo free?

    1. I’m sure if he tries that he’ll get into trouble with a gang of mobster angels for encroaching on their territory.

  27. I know I’m starting to enter “Genre-imposed suspension of disbelief” territory, but I keep noticing this : how many Others are there in Pactverse exactly ?

    I’m pretty sure Jacob’s Bell is at worse a moderately screwed-up city (by opposition to, say, a wasteland where you wouldn’t want your children to go near without heavy protection), but Blake still looks like he can’t go 10m without finding another of Them. Considering that most Others apparently hunt people to stay alive… how comes there are any people left alive in that town, let alone the world ? Doesn’t anyone notice how dozens of people a months keep disappearing ?

    And if there are that many goblins and faeries and monsters and living shadows and whatever moderately screwing with humans, is there any actually evil human in the world ? Because, I’m pretty sure that if you made stats from what we know, we’d find that any given evil person has a 90% chance to turn out to be a bored angel or a servan of dyonisus or something. Unless Pactverse has a lot more evil people than we have.

    1. Canada, in particular, has a population a tenth of the US’s in an area that is roughly its size. I get the impression that it’s essentially the wild west, supernatural wise-Others might flee there so that they won’t be hunted down or forced to swear oaths by more organized practitioners.

      In actual cities where the leadership is not dysfunctional (not Toronto, not Jacob’s Bell) it has been said that practitioners actually do act against Others that prey upon people. Presumably, they do so by forcing them to swear themselves to the Standard of Solomon.

      1. It was mentioned by Johannes that humans are gaining ground on Others since the days of Solomon. Remember, the there are far more humans around these days and we can communicate information easier. A place like Canada with vast wilderness for bodies to disappear and places like Jacob’s Bell are probably ideal to them, while Johannes’ place is like a paradise to them.

        And yes, there are evil humans. Without getting into definitions about good or evil, as long as they have free will the they are capable of what society defines as good or evil.

        1. I’m not questionning wether humans can be evil, just… when there are, like, thousands of goblins and ghouls and other stuff making evil stuff while passing off as people in each city, it means that, unless there are also thousands of equally evil people in the same cities, for any given bad thing that happens to you the odds of it being due to an Other are superior to 50%.

  28. You know, I was a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t get to see what all Rose was doing (said with the full knowledge that this is unlikely to be a popular view), but that last bit…intrigues me.

    And I’ve at last caught up, only to have to wait the normal period to see what comes next now that I care. Well-played, wildbow.

  29. I was surprised he wanted to pull out the mermaid and not the witch — although, I suppose, the witch seems to have given up on leaving and has set up a good place for herself down there. Still, she seems like a more useful and reliable ally.

      1. True enough. Share tidbits of information, give Mags a source of info that doesn’t come with some outrageous price. If anything I’d like Blake to contact her and let her know he made it so she has a solid reference point.

        1. You know what, this just occurred to me: Rose Sr. probably knew someone like Zoey, who was stuck in Limbo.

          Think about it, all these Horrors Rose Jr. summoned had names and identities that were lost when their connections were severed and they fell. Yet, if she reached out into Limbo and found someone or something who could exchange names and information, she could find them without too much issue.

          So, if Blake sets up a line between Mags and Zoey, she’s got another avenue of power to draw from. And a giant Goblin Dragon that would make an excellent familiar.

          1. I took it as a “It won’t be important to the plot anytime soon and I’ll tell you about it offscreen anyway, so let’s not talk about my story since readers just finished reading it” moment, not a contrived lack of communications.

            If it bites Mags in the ass, then yes, it’s stupid. If it doesn’t, it’s condensed storytelling. Just replace in your head “Let’s drop that topic” by a complete explanation of the situation.

  30. Maybe I missed it… Was there anywhere that Mags specifically said something like “Padriac tricked me out of my name, used it to get partial possession of a lot of my life, and is going around looking like me, including the time I was supposedly in Toronto with you?” Why not tell Blake that up front? It frustrates me when a character who has been badly burned by just that sort of lack of communication doesn’t learn from the experience.

    This could easily lead to another set of dangerous misadventures, just because someone who knows better won’t say what needs to be said.

    /rant

    1. Two reasons:

      1. She has to be very careful what she says or does regarding that. She’s unable to say that Padriac isn’t Maggie, because he is, and declaring otherwise would be a lie. At the same time, anything she says or does that acknowledges his new identity would probably weaken her position.

      2. She has to avoid helping Blake, as much as possible, or she endangers both her current identity and her position with everyone else.

  31. Now that Mags and Molly are hanging around together, I renew my suggestion that, unless there’s a good narrative reason for it, it would be good to change one of their names so they’re not so similar when you re-edit Pact after its finished. Maggie and Molly are easily confused even if one ended up as the shorter ‘Mags’.

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