Mala Fide 10.3

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“Crap,” Mags said.  “Crap, crap, crap.”

“She’s not just a ghost, she’s an aware ghost?”

“She’s not supposed to be.  Look, Blake, I meant for this to be the equivalent of visiting a grave, but I can’t do this like this,” she said.  She sounded a little frazzled.

Having the girl you’d helped murder speak could do that to you, really.

“Can’t do what?”

“I can’t connect you with this ghost, if she’s maybe going to give you some advantage.  Shit.  Look, we gotta go.”

“I-” I started, but she was already moving the mirror, turning me away, so I couldn’t see Molly’s ghost.  “What’s going on?”

“The Maggie you met in Toronto wasn’t me.  It was Padraic.  He took my name and screwed me over.  This ambassador thing isn’t just a job.  It’s a necessity.  If I lose it, I’m a goner,” she said.

“It wasn’t you?”

“It was Maggie but it wasn’t me.  I’m shoring myself up with the label of ‘neutral party‘ just as much as you’re shoring yourself up with whatever the fuck that is,” she said.  Her voice sounded strained as she made the awkward climb up the snowy slope.  I could see the goblins up above.

“I get it,” I said.  My mind ticked over every scene, every doubt I’d had.

Not a possessed human, but a human mask stretched over an Other.

“Nothing against you, Blake,” she told me, “You’re cool, whatever you are right now.  But I’m on pretty unsteady footing right now.  If one person gets ticked at me and calls me on it, they can move to take away my title and then I don’t know what happens.”

“You’ve been interacting with Molly all this time?”

“There’s been no interaction, damn it.  She’s just… there.  She doesn’t respond, she doesn’t move.  I do the ritual thing, just as penance and to keep the ghost around, and that’s it.

She crested the top of the hill, stepping up onto the sidewalk.  She wasn’t watching the hand mirror, and my available footing swiftly shrunk as she bent down to shake her pants legs and get the clumped snow off.

When she stood, I had a better view of the two snowsuit goblins through the window of the hand mirror.

“…I don’t know what this means, but like I said, I really don’t want to start anything, and…

One was pointing.

“Mags,” I said, interrupting.

“…Connecting the wild card to a friendly ghost seems like a bad idea, so could you maybe just not-

“Mags,” I said, louder.

“What?”

“Goblin is trying to tell you something.”

“Right, I told them to shut up.  They… Fuck!”

She turned, and I had to move fast to stay inside the patch of light from the mirror.

It was Molly.  She’d followed us, but her back was now to us, facing the site of the little memorial.

“Fuck me, fuck, fuck, fuck,” Mags said.

I looked at my cousin’s ghost.  “Why are you following us, Molly?”

“I’m so alone,” she said, a whisper. “Everyone’s against me.”

There was a flicker, suggesting that she wasn’t quite so autonomous as Evan had been.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’ve been there.”

“I can’t sleep.  I think they’ve been getting inside the house.  I hear stuff in the living room, or upstairs, and they were getting to me in my dreams, before I figured out the circles to stop that, except now I don’t dream at all.”

“No refuge in sleep, huh?” I asked.

“I can’t even go to my family, because if I do, then someone might target them, I had to drive them away.”

“You should have called me,” I said.  “…Except you couldn’t.  I didn’t exist, before you died.  Shit.”

“Now they’re coming for me,” she said.  “Goblins and spells to trip me up.”

“Molly,” I said, “Did you have a reflection?  Or were you a reflection?  A person in the mirror, one way or another?”

“All alone,” she said, in an exact repeat of her earlier statement.

“Guess not,” I said.  “Well, that clarifies something, and leaves more questions.”

“Can you not be so crazy calm about this?” Mags said.  “One Thorburn has them all talking in concerned voices.  Two will have them taking decisive action.  Three fucking functioning or semifunctional Thorburns, each with serious fucking issues?  The rest of those guys are going to be doing one of two things.  Some are going to be flying around in a mad panic, propelled here and there by the sheer violence with which they’re shitting their pants, and the rest are going to be getting organized to murder you and pointing the finger at me!”

“I’ve noticed you’re swearing again.”

Fuck, yeah I am!”  She said.  She was pacing, but she at least held the mirror in the same general direction, so I didn’t have to pace with her.  “Alright, number one goal here is to keep this from steamrolling into a serious problem.”

“I’ve dealt with ghosts before,” I said.  “It’s not as big a thing as you’re making it out to be.  She’s an echo, not a proper Thorburn, and there’s a limit to what she can really do.”

“She’s making me a little panicky just by being here and being outside that circle, and I was already feeling pretty crummy about the whole shebang here, and now it’s like, all of it’s coming together, past, present, and prophecy.”

“Prophecy?”

“Damn it,” Mags said.  She pulled off her hairband, ran her fingers through her hair, and then put it back on, “Okay, look, I showed you Molly because I wanted to make it clear that I’m not against you, right?  And I feel like human garbage for having to say no when you were pretty cool before, but those are the circumstances.  I thought I’d make it up to you by pointing you to Molly, so you don’t get the wrong idea.”

“Appreciated,” I said.

“Well, this wasn’t something I was all that keen on explaining, because it’s not something I enjoy thinking about.  But if I’m responsible for stuff going down a bad road, then chances are pretty damn good that it’s going to turn out a hell of a lot worse than it otherwise might.  I’m supposed to help bring about three incidents of blood, fire and darkness.”

“You or ‘Maggie‘?” I asked.

“Me.  And with everything going on, this looks like a ripe opportunity, okay?  I’m a little freaked.”

A lot freaked, I thought, but I didn’t say so.

“Alright,” I told her.  “Alright, fine.”

“Fine?”

“I believe you.  I’m game, whatever the game is.  What do you need?”

“She’s… I’m pretty sure she’s following you, because she didn’t follow me before.  Can you stay put?  I’ve gotta go get something to bind Molly with, so she stays where she’s at.”

I looked at Molly.  She still stared at the depression of land below the slope.  Now and then she flickered, turning to stare at where the hill led to the North End.  An echo of her Self in the time before she’d died, debating which way to go.

“Salt,” I said.

“There’s salt on the road.”

“Salt holds power because it’s pure,” I said.  “It was used to preserve.  It held off rot and it stopped the emergence of life, if you salted the earth with it.  It flavors food.  Life, consumption, death, it fits into a niche in the cycle of life and death.  Dirty, gritty salt, I don’t know how effective that’d be.  Probably enough for something as weak as Molly is, but…”

Probably isn’t a hundred percent.” Mags said.  “Got it.  Good tip.  A box of salt, then.  There’s a convenience store just a minute away.  Goblins, stay, keep him company, keep the mirror available for Blake, uhhh… Blake, can you promise not to use it against me if I tell them to listen to you?”

“I promise to do my best,” I said.

“Good.  Listen to him,” she ordered them.  “You can occupy yourselves but don’t cause problems for anyone or anything.  No lasting damage to any human, plant, animal, or human-made object, nothing that would cause suspicion.”

The one she’d called Cumnugget groaned for the Nth time.  The other one only bobbed its head in a nod.

Mags sprinted off.  I could hear her retreating footsteps.

Cumnugget stuck the handle of the hand mirror into the snowbank, then plopped down in the snow.  The other goblin did the same a short distance away.

A snowball went flying, hitting Cumnugget hard in the head.

Cumnugget packed up a snowball, squeezing it hard to compact it, and sent it back

Neither goblin tried to move out of the way, they were so focused on the attack.  Making more snowballs, harder snowballs, rubbing snowballs in the salt and gravel at the edge of the road, and generally holding nothing back in weaponizing the snowball fight.

Cumnugget was enduring a hail of snowballs to the back and the back of the head, hunched over, while busily sticking one snowball full of twigs so they radiated out in every direction.  Sharp teeth chewed off the end of one twig, sharpening it where it had been blunt before.

I could have ordered them to stop, but it was kind of amusing, in a slapstick Saturday morning cartoon sort of way.

“Stop that,” I heard a woman say.

She stepped into my field of view, and plucked the snowball from Cumnugget’s hands.  Cumnugget watched, eyes gleaming like forlorn puppy dog eyes, nose bleeding freely from a hurled chunk of ice earlier in the snowball fight, the blood leaking past the buttoned up collar of the jacket, which covered the goblin’s mouth.

The woman bent low, and I had a view of her face as she pulled a kleenex out of a coat pocket and handed it to the snowsuit-clad goblin.  “Use this to stop the bleeding.”

Aunt Irene, joined by Callan, my second-oldest cousin.

Molly’s older brother.

“I had to drive them away,” Molly said, without moving her lips.  An internal thought brought to life.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m sorry.”

A snowball smacked into the back of Cumnugget’s head.  The goblin whirled, snarling.  A second snowball smacked into the goblin’s face.

“Goblins,” I said, my voice low.  I didn’t think Aunt Irene and Callan could hear me, but I stayed quiet to be sure, “Give them a little space.  Stay in my sight until Mags is back.”

Cumnugget seem to interpret that as permission to go after her fellow snowsuit goblin, who ran.

When they got far enough away that they couldn’t move much further without technically staying in sight, the fleeing goblin wasn’t able to flee anymore.  Cumnugget tackled him.

“Almost covered by the snow,” Callan said.

Aunt Irene made a face.

“You okay?  It’s not the first time we’ve had to dust off the snow.”

“Comes in waves, doesn’t it?” Aunt Irene asked.  “Were you there when I was talking to Christoff?”

“I caught the tail end of that talk, I think.”

“Grief hits you in waves, and sometimes it’s a bigger wave than you’d expect, it catches you off guard.”

“Yeah.  You feeling a big wave right now?”

“Oh, it’s in the top five.”

My eyes fell on Molly’s ghost.  She was right there, and they weren’t aware.

Not consciously.  The pointed grief my aunt was describing could easily have something to do with the ghost’s presence.

“Phew,” Aunt Irene said, fanning herself with her hand, blinking rapidly.  “Don’t want to get upset right here.”

“I don’t think anyone would blame you, mom.”

“I’d blame myself.  We have things to do.  Mrs. Duchamp said-”

“I’m pretty sure Mrs. Duchamp didn’t have to deal with anything like this.  Look, why don’t you stay here?  I’ll go down and clean up, and that way, only one of us gets snow in our boots.”

“No, on our way back.  That way you’re not standing around with wet socks for however long it takes us to follow up on what Mrs. Duchamp said.”

I raised my eyebrows at that.

“Sounds like a plan.”

He put a hand on his mother’s shoulder as they headed down the road in the direction of Hillsglade House.  They walked past the snowsuit-clad goblins.  Cumnugget was mashing the other goblin’s face into a snowbank.

Molly followed them.

“Molly,” I said.

She didn’t change course.

“Molly!”

As Mags had so eloquently put it, fuck.

The timing had been too specific.  Was this the Duchamps at work, manipulating connections to put Aunt Irene and Callan in my way again?  Probably not.  I wasn’t sure that many people even knew I was around, or were in a position to recognize me if they did.

Mags had talked about a prophecy.  Was this her personal version of bad karma, reality going off-rails in the most inconvenient way?

The Rube Goldberg machine of the universe, ticking forward toward Mags’ blood, fire and darkness, or whatever it was.

As the group had passed, Cumnugget had let the other goblin up, only so it would be possible to stuff its mouth full of snow.  Cumnugget was currently in the process of packing the snow into the goblin’s open mouth, both hands driving handfuls of it down and in.

“Goblins!” I shouted.  “Go stop that ghost!  Grab salt off the street and throw it across her path.  Do not throw it on her!”

Cumnugget let go of the other goblin, backing off.  The goblin wobbled a little as it stood, using its mittened hands to work whole fistfuls of snow out, along with thick tendrils of drool and some blood.  It followed about ten paces behind Cumnugget.

“Frick,” I said.

I could have told them to pick me up, but Mags was coming, and I much preferred to have Mags filled in and on board than to be shouting at goblins.

It took two full minutes for Mags to arrive.  She was halfway up the hill when she realized something was wrong.

“Go,” I said.  “Hillsglade House, I’m pretty sure.  Something about Sandra.”

She started to go for the hand mirror.  I didn’t wait for her.  “I’m going ahead.”

“You want?” she asked, still reaching for the mirror.

“Might be useful,” I said.

Then I skipped over the darkness.

I didn’t have the motorcycle anymore.  That sucked.  But I was light and I didn’t get tired.  I covered ground quickly.

A trio of fat men were reflected in the lights generated by car windows and windshields, half a street up.  A little too similar, a little too childish in their dress.  Golfer’s clothes, almost, with matching hats with flaps over red hair, red noses, matching sweaters under plaid coats, and pants belted a touch too high at the waist.

They noticed me as I ran, heads turning.

The two in the back glanced in different directions, almost as if they’d communicated with a thought.  I slowed, checking for a way around.

The one in front, without a word from the others, deemed it okay to reach out, smashing a car’s windshield, a side mirror, and then kicking a display window.

The light available to me disappeared.  Had I kept going at the same speed, I might have been shunted off in one direction or another.

Waiting for me?  Prepared for me, even?

I prepared to jump across the darkness, but something made me hesitate.

In the midst of the darkness, a kind of light blossomed, like a glowing smoke.  Three figures emerged into the nothingness between patches of mirror-space.  They were utterly bald, naked, looked more like metal statues than people, and had the same proportions as the three men I’d seen.  The same faces, minus the hair peeking around the edges of the cap.  Each had a pecker that looked like it belonged on a baby, not a grown man.  They half-floated, half-waddled, and only glimmers of the landscape they walked on were visible in this space.  Red stone that fit together without the use of mortar, highlighted by gold, and I thought I saw a glimpse of a carving of a dragon or a dog.

This trio of Others could apparently understand and navigate this mirror space more easily than I did.

“Let me past,” I said.

They shook their heads in perfect unison.

“I’ll rephrase then,” I said, anger leaking into my voice,  “Let me past, or I might decide to carve one of you up so badly he’ll never be mistaken for a member of your trio again.”

They didn’t budge.

I ducked right, skipping over the largest tract of darkness available.  I crossed a block or two of residential buildings, touched on a patch of light shed from a car’s side-view mirror, and then turned a hard left to continue in the direction I’d been going.

I was just touching on solid ground again when I felt hands seize me by the shoulders.

I stared up at a face.  The head was broad and fat, the face almost cherubic, but the two together, they made for a face that was too small in proportion with the head.

I felt a momentary panic at the body contact.  In the instant I remembered that those memories were false, that I didn’t need to be paralyzed by them, he reminded me that body contact could still be a very bad thing, hurling me.

I passed through one patch of light, and by through, I meant through.  Glass shattered as I entered the area with too much force, another window breaking somewhere in the real world, and I was shunted straight into the nearest mirror realm, still moving fast enough that I broke the glass there with the force of my entry.

I hit ground, tumbling, and managed to put my hand and arm out to stop myself from rolling over into the next patch of darkness and accidentally skipping over to the next patch of mirrorverse.  I could feel the spirits patching up the damage to my body as I stood.  The drawbacks of having hollow bird bones or a skeleton of dry twigs.  I broke easily.

Slippery slope.

The three had already caught up to me, standing on or just outside this space.

I might as well have been a swimmer in shark infested waters.  This was their element.  Except the sharks were bald fat men with the smallest dicks I’d ever seen.

First Aunt Irene, now this.

Maybe Mags’ reaction to hearing Molly speak had been on target after all.

This sucked.

They paced in a circle around me.  I held the Hyena ready to retaliate if they tried to grab me again.

“I clawed my way back up from the Drains,” I said.  “I’ve faced off against demons.  I’ve killed a goblin, I’ve killed a man.  Do you really want to do this?”

They did.

One of them came at me from the left, hands reaching out.

With the broken Hyena, edge very possibly dulled from scratching a damn picture series into the floor of the factory, I slashed out at the closest reaching hand.

Though it looked like these guys had been cast from some dull metal, the blade still managed to cut.  Sparks flew where metal met metal, joined by a spray of blood.

In recoiling, he lost forward momentum.  In an action that was simultaneously flailing his arms for balance and reaching for me, he threw his other arm my way.

I ducked under it, and I was quick.  Much as I’d ridden past the Shepherd, I dragged the ragged edge of the broken sword against the side of the Other’s belly, moving behind it.

I could see the others advancing.  Their faces were contorted into matching expressions of utter rage.  I’d have called their faces demonic, if I hadn’t met actual demons before.

I wasn’t experiencing the same kind of rage.  I didn’t feel much at all.  Even the fluttering in my chest had a certain slow rhythm to it.

Just as I’d opened him up along the side of the belly, exposing guts that looked as real as any human’s, I brought the sword across the back of his knees.

The Drains had ground away everything I didn’t need, and had left me equipped with only what I needed to bring about entropy.

“Blake!” Mags’ shout brought me back to reality.

The Other dropped to his knees.  His buddies were making their moves, one moving away, no doubt aiming to get to the black void they could swim though as quickly as they did.

I brought the broken sword to the Other’s throat.

His brothers stopped.

“Blake!” Mags said, closer.

“I’m here,” I said.

It took her another twelve seconds to find the reflective surface, even though she hadn’t sounded like she’d been far away.

“What the fuck?” I heard her say.

“They got in my way.”

“What are they?”

“Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, and Bleeding Profusely?” I suggested.

“Shit.  Okay, don’t do anything if you don’t have to,” she said.  “This is getting out of control fast.  Johannes!  I need you or a representative, asap!”

“You realize this could out me?” I asked.  “He might know my face.”

“Killing one of his guests does too,” she said.  “Unless you plan on killing all the damn witnesses?”

I looked at the other two.  I wasn’t sure I had it in me.

Light flashed, brilliant, and for a moment, the patch of light I stood in extended two or three times as far in every direction.

“Ambassador,” a male voice spoke, rich with an accent.

“Faysal.  We’ve got a situation.  I need a decision on this that doesn’t lead to outright war.”

“We’ll see.  This would be…”

The dog with the long white fur hopped up, front paws resting on the ledge beneath the window of the house.  “…Ah.”

“They’re yours, right?” she asked.

He leaped up and over, jumping into this mirrorverse.  Much as the fat men had, the dog walked on the nothingness.  Each footstep created ripples that moved too fast, rings of light that seemed to stretch on to infinity in every direction.  His fur seemed too white, here, considering the fact that light didn’t reach him while he stood in the darkness.

He spoke, “They are Johannes’ guests, yes.  Should I recognize the swordbearer?  I’d think I’d recognize these markings, but man’s kind all look so similar.”

“I’m not sure you’d recognize these markings,” I said.

“Ah, very well,” Faysal said.  He looked back at where Mags peered in.  “You seem agitated, ambassador.”

“Go, Mags,” I said.  “Handle it.”

“I have somewhere I should be,” she said, looking between me and the dog.

“Then please go,” Faysal Anwar told her.  “Be where you should be.”

Mags ran.

The dog looked at me, sitting.  “Good afternoon.  Will you tell me who you are?”

“No, sir,” I said.

The outright refusal felt heavy in the air, as if it had a very tangible quality to it.  I wasn’t sure why I’d added the sir, but it felt right.

I was left wondering how often something like a Gatekeeper heard the word no, and just what the response would be.

“Good afternoon to you too, by the way.  I don’t mean to be rude,” I said.

“I forgive you, abyss-borne.  I’m sorry to say so, but you smell of goblins and worse things.  Demons, even.  The threads that are supposed to tie you to the world are either cut, never to heal, or they were torn during a recent fall, and are only now mending.  If I had to guess, I would say you’re walking a very short, violent road.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” I answered.  “I’d like it if the short, violent road involved helping people along the way, turning that violence against ugly things.”

“Even when that description might include you?”

Uglier things, then,” I said.

“If you grow ever uglier, then what will you do when there is nothing uglier than you that you’re able to fight?”

“I’ll have reached the end of my short, violent road, I suppose,” I said.

The Other I was holding hostage moved.  I moved the sword in warning, and I inadvertently nicked it.

Faysal seemed to take it all in stride.  “That will do, then, in place of an introduction.  I now know you, and I can present myself as Faysal Anwar, familiar to Johannes the North End Sorcerer of Jacob’s Bell.”

“Well met, sir,” I said, without irony.

“Once upon a time, after I had finished working, I would perch on the tallest mountaintops with two or more of my cousins,” the dog told me.  “I would watch.  Centuries would pass before I had cause to move again.  When I worked, I forged paths.  Natural concourses for rivers to flow, for beasts to find water and for feet to tread freely.  I helped open up the world like a flower might unfold.  I opened doors, and earned the title of gatekeeper.”

“Uh huh,” I said.

“Do you have an allegiance?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“To whom?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“I understand, but I’ll also warn you: Refuse me one more time, and I’ll declare that this is no longer a discussion, for it isn’t conducted on even footing.”

“What would it be?” I asked.

“Hostile negotiations,” he said.

I didn’t budge.  My heart fluttered in my chest like a blind bird in a cage, but I managed to stay utterly still.

“I’ll make my offer,” he told me.  “I am a gatekeeper.  You, as it appears, are enclosed.  Join Johannes in his cause, and I’ll conduct you from your current enclosure.”

The fluttery beat in my chest took on a different note.  Freedom.

“I remember making a promise, once, that I wouldn’t accept someone else’s idea of freedom.  Only my own.”

“I would open the door, I would not dictate the freedom that lies beyond it, but to ask that you work alongside Johannes,” Faysal Anwar told me.  “Should you wish it, I can release the hold that the abyss maintains on you, and nurture the regrowth of your Self, or I can help you open a clear way between here and the abyss.  The former would make you as close to mortal as you could be.”

Not only free, or close to free, but alive?

“And the latter?”

“When the abyss-borne are slain, they return to the abyss.  If they are strong enough, they can return again and again.”

“At the cost of needing to making an impact,” I said.  “To scratch out footing so they can’t be dragged back to the Abyss without being slain.”

“Yes.  You aren’t strong enough to return, if you fall, looking at you.  The Abyss would break and consume you on your next visit.  If I were to open a way, however, a path just for you, it would take but a fraction of the strength to return.”

“You’re doing this for Johannes’ Others?”

“For one or two.  For others, I’m doing other things, or negotiating a favor offered by one to buy the loyalty of another.”

Holy shit.

A choice between being alive again or staying like I was and being effectively immortal.

Free of the mirrorverse, either way.

I could have my damn motorcycle back.  I could ride it.

But… I’d be on Johannes’ side.  I couldn’t help my friends, probably.

False friends, really, I told myself.

But there wasn’t any heart in the thought.  I could tell it to myself, but I couldn’t feel it.

My hope crumbled, and crumbled hope became frustration and anger.  I hung my head a little, gritting my teeth.

Damn it.  Trust a damned angel to use hope to hit me where it hurt.

“No,” I said, and the word was strangled.

“Ah,” he said.  “I’ll trust you have your reasons.”

“Yeah,” I said, my voice still strangled.

“As one who has watched over the world for centuries, I know things.  I know, for example, that right this moment, your relative is confronting Rose at Hillsglade House.  The ghost grows agitated, for it harbors many unpleasant memories of the building.  Meanwhile, I know that you’re here, having just eviscerated one of these Iaiah.”

“I like how the sound of its name sounds like some brief, agonized cry,” I said.  “Is it supposed to be the cry of the victim, or is it the sound this guy makes after I cut his throat?”

“Neither.  Curious.  It should have healed by now, but it hasn’t, which suggests a quality unique to you or that blade.”

“Fancy that,” I said.

“Joining Johannes is off the table.  Would you be open to compromise?”

Sure,” I said.  “Considering that they were the ones that attacked first, I might be in my rights to demand a little more here, no?”

“You are in your rights.  To explain, these Iaiah were invited, and we have a certain responsibility to look after them as a result.  They are territorial as creatures created to be guardians so often are, but when placed as guardians, they are more commonly tasked with warding off more abstract things.  It seems they react on instinct even when visiting strange places.”

“I understand,” I said.  “If you want forgiveness, I’ll drop my grudges, as best as I’m able, in exchange for moving this along, and getting a guarantee this won’t happen again.”

I gotta go, before something happens.

“Deal tendered and accepted,” Faysal Anwar said.  “The Iaiah won’t interrupt you again.”

“I need all of Johannes’ guys to stay out of my way.”

“I would be reluctant to offer that even if I knew your full identity and harbored absolutely no doubts,” Faysal Anwar told me.

“Right,” I said.  “Damn.”

“I told you I would move this along.  I offer free, unmolested passage through Johannes’ realm, in and out, within the next day.  We will have a discussion, I will nourish you, and we’ll agree on one favor.  I promise no tricks or manipulations, no attacks or subterfuge.  You and I will agree on a favor for me or my practitioner to perform for you, in exchange for your release of the wounded Iaiah.  You will leave Johannes’ realm in a frame of time reasonable to you, and you will do so happier, healthier and better than you were when you entered, in a way that the you of the present would deem agreeable.”

“Yeah?” I asked.

“This I pledge, in exchange for the release of this guardian entity.”

I removed the sword from Tweedle-Bleeding’s neck.  “Deal.”

“Fare well,” Faysal Anwar told me.  “I must remove the wounded to where he may be helped.  Excuse me.”

“You fare well too,” I said.

I leaped across darkness.

A flash of light ripped across the darkness behind me.  Surprised, I very nearly missed my step, stepping into the nothingness, rather than leaping across it.  Not such a problem -I still moved across instantaneously-, but when the footing differed in angle or I stepped onto snow, it could make me stumble.

I reached the foot of Hillsglade House, reflected in the windows of the houses across the street from the spike-topped wall.

My next step took me to the spot where the house’s windows faced the surrounding property.  The window jutted out over the porch, two windows sitting at diagonals and another facing straight out.  I had a view of the front door.

Molly, Rose, Aunt Irene and Callan were all present.

Mags…

Ah, there.  A patch of light further down the driveway.  She held the hand mirror, but it didn’t face her.

“-Going to come with me right this instant.”

“You do not get to order me around, Aunt Irene,” Rose said.  “If you keep trying, I am going to slam this door in your face.”

“You have no right to sell this property.”

“I agree!  I don’t know where you got it in your head-”

“Reliable sources,” Aunt Irene cut in.

Wrong sources,” Rose said.  “I swear I have no intention of getting rid of this place.  Believe me, I wish I was in a position to, but-”

“But you’ve got people with you right now, looking at the property.”

“Looking only in the vaguest sense of the word, they aren’t looking to buy.  They’re… acquaintances from Toronto.  That’s it.”

“Could you word that in a less convincing way?”

“Probably!  But I’m being honest.  Whoever told you that is just trying to mess with me, just like they messed with Moll-”

Callan’s hand hit the door so hard and so fast that I swear even the ghost jumped.  Flat of the hand on hard wood, making windows rattle.

Molly had gravitated closer to me, back to the wall, eyes downcast.  Rose a few feet to her left, me a few feet to her right.  “They won’t stop making noise.  I haven’t been able to sleep right for days.”

“Stressful, huh?” I murmured.

“Try that again?” Callan asked, speaking low and slow, with menace in every syllable.  “You’re a chronic liar, Rose.  That’s as good as fact.  You won’t convince us of anything, got it?  Don’t ever try using my sister’s name again, because I’m going to hear it as a lie and I won’t be able to hold back.”

“You’re going to hit me?” Rose asked.  “Do it.  I’d be worth it, just to have you out of my hair.”

“We’ve got the backing of the local police,” Irene said.  “We, not you.  Callan would get away with it.”

“Well then,” Rose said, without hesitation in her voice, “Hit me just to vindicate my very, very low opinion of you, please.”

Callan didn’t move.

“The police are on our side, the local bigwigs are putting their weight behind us-”

“If by weight, you mean some old-school cannon with the barrel planted between your shoulderblades, the metaphor works.”

“-and most of the family is in town.  You’re alone in this.”

“Alone,” Molly’s ghost echoed her mother.

“It’s okay,” I said.  “I’m here.”

The ghost raised her head, looking straight through me.

“Yeah,” I said.

“…an idea that is?” Rose was asking.  “There’s a reason they brought the family here, and it’s not to help you or hurt me.  It’s to ruin all of us.  How can you even live in this city this long without picking up on how much they detest the Thorburns?”

They’ve set it up so they can take us all out in one go.

These were the plays the other sides were making.  Irene being here, bringing the family in.  Optimal ways to root Rose out.

“They might dislike us but they hate you,” Aunt Irene said.  “The enemy of my enemy-”

“Is still a damned enemy!” Rose said.  “The sooner you realize there is no such thing as a true ally, the better off we’ll be.”

“I suppose we’ll have to prove you wrong by working together.  We’ve got Molly’s version of the contract, and we’ve got multiple eyes going over it.”

“I’m stuck,” Molly’s ghost murmured, not moving her lips.

“You won’t find a thing,” Rose said, just a little smug.  “Believe me, Grandmother’s lawyers are very capable.”

“I advise you call them.”

“They’re the sort of capable that makes them a little too costly to call on a whim,” Rose said, her voice level.  “I’m tempted, though, and not because I’m worried about what you’re trying to pull.  I just want to see the looks on your faces when you see just how badly you’ve been misunderstanding this whole situation.”

“There’s a monster in the attic,” Molly thought aloud.

“Well put,” I said.

“…Advising you call them,” Aunt Irene was saying, “Because we’re making our first argument.  The contract stipulates you’re supposed to maintain the property, but for the last two weeks of December and the first week of January, the driveway wasn’t plowed.”

“Oh my god,” Rose said.  “They really know how to fuck with me.  They gave you an excuse to be pedantic.”

“We’re challenging you for custodianship,” Aunt Irene said.  “You’ll be hearing from us shortly.”

Fine,” Rose replied.  “Please go fuck yourselves on the way out.”

Aunt Irene turned to leave, Callan following.

I could see Mags glance down at the ground.  She muttered something at Aunt Irene as the woman passed.  From Aunt Irene’s body language, I didn’t think she’d responded or even acted like she’d heard.

Molly’s ghost started, as if to follow, then stopped.  She looked at Rose, then at me, then her mother.  “I don’t know what to do.”

“Just relax,” I said.

Rose stepped out onto the porch, arms folded.  Her face was a little flushed, short hair damp.  “What are you doing here?”

“Keeping the ghost calm,” I said.

“Trying to stay calm,” Molly said, echoing me.

Mags came up the steps.  She didn’t approach, but leaned against the railing of the porch instead.

“Ambassador,” Rose said.

“Hey Mags,” I said.

“Hey,” Mags said, a little glum.  “You work things out with Johannes’ familiar?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Man, he makes tempting offers.”

Rose shot me a look.

“Why do people ever deal with demons when they could deal with angels?” I asked.

“I’d think there’s probably a very good answer to that question,” Rose said.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I didn’t join Johannes.”

“I’m not worried,” she said.  “I’m just saying.”

“Well so am I,” I said, a little testily.  “I’m backing you up here, seriously.  Stop fighting me and let me, and we could actually make it through.”

“Ahem,” Mags cut in.  When I looked at her, she gestured a little at the ghost.

Molly’s ghost was twitching, flickering a little more.

“Right,” I said, sighing.  “This enigma.  Our runaway ghost.  We can hardly bind her here.”

“No,” Mags said.  “You look worse.”

I looked down, touching my side where I’d careened into the ground.

What I felt alarmed me.

I unzipped my sweatshirt.

My lowest right ribs were exposed, and they were a little more narrow and crooked than ribs should be.  Branches climbed out from the skin to entwine them.  Feathers stuck out here and there, half tattoo and half feather.

“Bleh,” I said.  “I don’t suppose you could look up Iaiah, Rose?”

“I’ve got enough to do,” she said.  “What Auntie was talking about?  She could probably pull it off… it’s almost precisely what I’d try to do if the tables were turned.  I could deal with it, but I can’t deal with it and this war at the same time.  Things are going to explode any day now.”

“Let me try, then,” I said.  “I’ll see what I can do about those guys, and Molly here.”

“You’re implying I trust you.”

“I’m implying you have no other choice,” I told her.

“Fine,” Rose said.  “You’re probably right.  Go to town.  Just don’t expect it to change anything if you succeed, and you will lose what little tolerance you’re getting from me if you screw this up.”

That said, she returned to the house.  The door wasn’t slammed, but it shut with enough force to make the window shudder.

I frowned.  “I’m annoyed with myself for ever entertaining the idea that she could be a female version of me.”

“We should go,” Mags said.

“Right,” I said.  “Let’s get this situation under control.  No blood, fire and darkness for us.”

“God, don’t even say that,” Mags told me.

“I’ll come with you to the spot where you can bind her,” I said, “Then skip over to Johannes domain.  If they’re going to owe me a favor and if it’s going to make a difference, I’d rather make that difference sooner than later.”

“Fair,” Mags said.

“You bind Molly here, then maybe we touch base and confirm everything’s cool before I see what a vestige like me can do about the legal issue with the family?”

“I think that sounds like the safest activity you could undertake,” Mags said.

“Don’t say that,” I told her.  “That’s a bad omen.”

“There are bad omens everywhere,” Molly said.  “I want to see the family.  I have to warn them.”

There was a clarity to her voice that made me very concerned.  A degree of focus.

She was developing a little too quickly for my liking.

“Change of plans,” I said.  “I’ll help you with the binding, first priority.”

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205 thoughts on “Mala Fide 10.3

  1. Had a problem with the scheduler, refresh if you didn’t get the full chapter – it submitted a minute early, where I’d backed it up about halfway through the writing/day and scheduled it at the same time, then didn’t go through properly when I resubmitted the finished thing. Sorry about that.

    As always, votes on Topwebfiction and reviews/star ratings on Webfictionguide are very much appreciated. You guys are awesome, thanks for reading and spreading the word – I’ve seen a few comments here and there on reddit and other places. Next chapter in two days.

    1. You update ridiculously fast, your writing is amazing, the plot is like a blackhole sucking us in, and the characters are amazing.

      Your writing is brilliant.

      1. You can.

        Since the last count on the 22nd of July…
        Adding 881 to the total (Paypal donations).
        Adding 1224.86 to the total (Patreon payout).
        Plus existing 1178.53…
        That’s one more chapter in the queue, and $881 toward the next chapter.

        The next chapter won’t be next Thursday – I’m traveling, as I mentioned last Tues.

        Also, while I’m on the subject, I did say I’d reconsider the amount – the $2500 goal isn’t me being greedy, it was me trying to keep the queue from hitting double digits (like it did in 2013) while I spent a month focusing on my brother’s wedding.

        I’m thinking about a new system. Something simpler, maybe. At the simplest, I want to survive at a level where I don’t need to stress over food (either not having it or eating gruel), and I think, ideal world, $2250/month puts me there – I’m looking at places I could move to where things are cheaper, and this is in fact the reason for the aforementioned travel. I also want to give you guys chapters as incentive to keep things rolling.

        On the flip side of things, I don’t want to worry about a spurt of donations adding a bajillion chapters to the queue, I hate stressing out like crazy anytime I raise the asking price, and three or so years of experience writing now have made me keenly aware of just when I start burning out or hitting the ceiling – I can’t write a Thursday chapter every week (or even 3/4 weeks) before things start to slip at the periphery of my life/writing.

        What if I just said that $2250 is the monthly goal, but meeting it makes for two chapters for the month? With Patreon sitting where it is, I could say that that’s one guaranteed chapter a month, and a second chapter comes up for meeting the Paypal donation goal of $989. I could put a ticker on the main page (I think it helps?) and actually remember to update it, and it’s all just very simple. Excess wouldn’t necessarily carry over, but it would mean a lot to me.

        1. I haven’t donated much, but I certainly won’t mind any change in the donation rules if you think it’s for the best.

          That said, I don’t know to which extent the current setup functions as an incentive to donate for others. Maybe try your change for a month or two and check how it impacts the amount of donations you receive? I assume it shouldn’t affect much – IIRC your Patreon numbers held constant despite the increased donation goal – but this may still be worth testing before you settle on it permanently. Same with the donation ticker.

    1. “I could have told them to pick me up, but Maggie was coming, and I much preferred to have Maggie filled in and on board than to be shouting at goblins.

      It took two full minutes for Maggie to arrive. She was halfway up the hill when she realized something was wrong.”

      I think Maggie should be Mags here.

    2. Typos:
      – “sent it back” -> “sent it back.”

      • “Cumnugget seem to interpret” -> “seemed”
      • “in proportion with the head.” -> in proportion to?

      • ““No,” Mags said. “You look worse.”” -> Non-sequitur after Mags pointed at Molly’s ghost.

      Unclear and/or inconsistent lines:

      • “The rest of those guys are going to be doing one of two things.” -> What follows sounds like hyperbole or a prediction of an extremely unlikely event, and so might count as a lie.

      • I didn’t know Cumnugget was female; could Blake really tell when both goblins are basically in full-body suits?

      • “I wasn’t experiencing the same kind of rage. I didn’t feel much at all.” earlier, Blake says something with “anger leaking into my voice”

      • I had to reread these lines multipl times to get them: ““I get it,” I said. My mind ticked over every scene, every doubt I’d had. Not a possessed human, but a human mask stretched over an Other.” -> Maybe add the words “in Toronto” somewhere in there?

    3. kleenex
      Kleenex, but I recgonize it is becoming generic

      needing to making
      needing to make

      shoulderblades
      shoulder blades

    1. Kinda makes you want to see the place burned down, doesn’t it? I mean that would solve the problem of who would be lord pretty handily.

  2. Well, Rose is still a despot, Sandra is planning on killing the entire family apparently (and we know who started that fight between Blake and Callen before), and ghost Molly is becoming a real girl.

    Can’t wait for next chapter.

    1. Also Blake is missing a chunk out of his torso, and he’s going to meet Johannes, after getting an offer that sounds way too good to be true.

      1. I don’t know. Johannes seems to be good to his word when it comes to his dealings…

        I mean he got an Angel to turn. Rather than force, he bludgeons them with Hope. You gotta respect that to some extent.

        1. I’m afraid to hope because every time it looks like things are going to get better for Blake, every time I dare to hope, they get worse. So experience has taught me better than to hope for things to actually look up for Blake. Honestly the way things go for him, I’m amazed I haven’t crossed the despair event horizon for Blake yet.

  3. Just thought of something. What’s stopping Blake from popping into, say, Irene’s or Callan’s bathroom mirrors and going “bangbangbang HEY B***H! GUESS WHAT!” and making an impact that way?

    1. The cost to himself, for one, and for two I don’t think Blake interacting with a vanilla would do much more than freak them out, making the situation more volatile, not less. For three, some better than I will have to answer you. 🙂

      1. He won’t break the mirror, for one, and for two the freak-out itself would power him. For three, the situation is clearly untenable, so push it over the edge sooner than Sandra et al. wants.

          1. Pop up while he’s shaving, or while Irene’s applying makeup. Even the most weird-blind of mundanes should notice that they don’t have those markings that are on the face in the mirror.

            1. They can see him. Remember the guy on the subway who thought Blake was a girl, back when Rose was still in the mirror? Also, Nick’s unawakened wife could see Rose in the mirror with a double take.

        1. Didn’t take long for someone better than I to respond. However in the interest of playing out this scenario:

          If he avoids breaking the mirror, his ability to interact with his victims is hugely reduced. Still a tenable plan perhaps. While the freakout might power him, I am sure he doesn’t really want the price that power comes with. I can see the point with chaos leveling the playing field; I fear that chaos would level Blake as well. (Who am I kidding? Of course it will, but that will hardly stop Blake)

            1. Because the actual deepest law of the Pact Universe is Fuck Blake Over. Since this could potentally do so, Sandra is probably getting good Karma.

            2. Sandra’s got a karmic expense account, just as long as she f**ks over everyone with a karmic debt, first off. Second off, She hasn’t deliberately introduced them to the supernatural, like Blake did with his circle. All she did was aim their connections at a collision course.

      1. They’re Innocents. While the Seal of Solomon doesn’t seem to apply to Blake, it’s likely that generalized karma does — if he involves them in the supernatural, he’s responsible for what happens as a result, which is unlikely to be good.

      2. They’re currently being used by Sandra. Therefore, any blatant interaction is likely to just result in a magical response, while revealing his situation and location to her.

      1. Actually, Blake can’t assault innocents in their homes in the first place. From 10.01:

        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.
        […]
        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.

  4. I kinda love that it’s not only Blake that gets zero chances to rest. Mags and Rose are constantly fighting misfortune.

    Must be nice to be one of the player that can expend power and favors in order to ensure that their enemies are completely wiped off the face of earth.

    1. Blake too has a favor he can spend. I would suggest he use it to get up to speed on all the factions, or to learn more about one (Probably not Johannes’ side, but he wouldn’t mind too much about Blake messing with the Duchamps)

  5. Yes! This is what I’ve been waiting for for four arcs now. Blake is becoming an awesome monster.

    “I’ll rephrase then,” I said, anger leaking into my voice, “Let me past, or I might decide to carve one of you up so badly he’ll never be mistaken for a member of your trio again.”

    . . .

    “What are they?”

    “Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, and Bleeding Profusely?” I suggested.

    . . .

    “I like how the sound of its name sounds like some brief, agonized cry,” I said. “Is it supposed to be the cry of the victim, or is it the sound this guy makes after I cut his throat?”

    I like this Blake. He’s showing those same flashes of monstrous brilliance that he showed after recovering from his rib injury.

    Hmmm. . . Maggie has a point. 3 active Thorburn Custodians or former Custodians prancing about. Seems like trouble.

    What is that Duchamp up to, I wonder?

    Poor Mags. She needs to reclaim Maggie asap. . . Or at least shore herself up with a different title.

    Let the wacky hijinks begin!

    1. Oh there’s more! What I thought was a cliffhanger was actually just WordPress.

      According to Rose, there are no true allies. That’s not a good sign if you’re working with her.

      I guess we do know what the Duchamp’s are up to.

    2. No! This is what I’ve been dreading for weeks now. Blake is becoming a torn-up not-awesome monster.

      Really, really hoping he comes across a similar offer to that of the Angel, that doesn’t require him to betray his family/friends. Even if they are kind of being dicks to him.

      1. I’m with Don here. I don’t see him becoming more monsterous as a good thing. How long before he becomes the sort of thing he wanted to stop, and starts hurting people just to continue his own existance? Remember the advice the sewer witch gave him. Take the best parts of human and other. I would say that means don’t take the angry, dark vengeful, and violent parts.

          1. Normally, I’m all about main characters sinking into the depths of evil, darkness, and despair from the innocence they once knew. And then becoming the ruler of evil, darkness, and despair. Or controlling thousands of people’s minds and becoming one of the most feared people in the multiverse; that works too.

            But Blake…This is too cruel. I’m pretty much reading this with a wince on my face as the injuries stack up and he discovers he’s the impostor, he’s not human, he’s fading, he’s turning into something even less human. Nothing would make me happier than Blake becoming a human in this story.

    1. The whole mess. Irene is making a mundane play for the house, Molly’s becoming a real girl again, Blake’s messing with things in his usual fashion, Rose is getting mind-whammied by Conquest and is trying to keep all this under control. And that’s just the Thorburns in play.

      1. Not what I was refering to. This:

        “There was a clarity to her voice that made me very concerned. A degree of focus.

        She was developing a little too quickly for my liking.”

        1. “[Molly] was developing a little too quickly for my liking.” Molly’s supposed to be a ghost, and the less lucid the better. More like June than like Evan.

        2. At the beginning of the chapter Maggie basically could only say how she was alone. . . Alone.

          By the end of the chapter, she’s responding, recognizing omens and seems more active, trying to go after her family and vocalizes it (Runons FTW). She’s evolve at a relatively fast past, and if given a chance, may go off to do something.

        3. My interpretation: we’ve seen her try to move towards every Thorburn she’s seen (Blake, Irene & Callan, Rose). She might be leeching power from them, gain substance at their expense. And Blake really doesn’t have any to spare.

        4. We still don’t know what kind of influence Molly has (i.e. June made cold), but it’s looking like loneliness, paranoia.
          Besides these being fairly bad things right now, she could be becoming an Other, shifting from a prop to a player. Things are delicate, that would be bad.

          1. A dead relative with the ability to project feelings of loneliness and paranoia? In a family where paranoia and isolation are the norm? That sounds like it could get out of hand VERY quickly. Or at least just make reunions incredibly awkward.

  6. While I loved the last two arcs, this may be one of my favorite chapters. Blake is snarky and becoming increasingly badass/monstrous, Mags is rocking, Anwar is a devilishly clever angel and the whole Thorburn family is fucked up beyond any reasonable measure.

    I love this story.

      1. Right. I’m not sure where exactly he stands (Johannes: “They sent one of the little ones after me”), so as a “little” angel he’s probably somewhere on the power scale between Pauz on the one side and Ur or the Barber on the other.

        Though like all Others, he may be somewhat limited in that he can’t act against his nature, similar to Conquest. On the other hand, he’s a familiar, and being mortal may help counter that.

      2. Johannes op, nerf nao!

        Seriously. He basically just randomly found an ancient artifact for his Implement, then while he was using it to go through with a ridiculous scheme to claim an entire neighborhood has his Demesne, a friggin Angel just waltzes in and agrees to be his familiar.

        nerf plz

        1. Currently, we have not seen Johannes or his familiar do ANYTHING worth mentioning.
          The only thing that is mindboggleing about Johannes is te size of his domain. Everything he has done there is very easy, since it is his domain, where he is ‘one step below a god’.
          His angel familiar… he may be powerful, he showed the possibility to transport people a fair deal, but apart from that: nada.
          Sure, they appear to be powerful, but appeariences can be crafted, changed or stolen.

          What makes Johannes really powerful is the amount of allies/subordinates/favors owed he supposeably has. But again, this is guesswork. Many Others in his domain abiding by his rules, does not necessarily mean they jump to his defence if he is attacked (but may take an attack of opportunity if they think he is losing)

    1. I’m not so crazy about Blake turning into a monster. At some point he’ll do something too monsterous. Then we won’t be so happy. Besides Blake’s humanity is what made me like the character in the first place, and to me it seems like he’s becoming more like Taylor.

  7. The question pops up, Where is The Drunk during all of this. Jerry’s History made it seem like he would be doing something. Perhaps he’s throwing a big party for the Thorburns while they are in town.

    1. He hasn’t arrived yet, I don’t believe. One of the Ibex twins (the one that was so proud of getting his driver’s license, IIRC), smelled Blake in Johannes’ demesne, so that’s either this encounter or the next one.

  8. So we know that Mags uses 3 drops of blood to maintain Molly. What if Jerry snuck in and used 3 drops of Bacchus Grog to make her ghost stronger. It would certainly be an explanation.

    1. For sure, stronger and wild. Molly doesn’t seem too wild, nor does Jerry seem likely to have enough knowledge this soon, but Sandra has ways, so who knows.

        1. I’m unclear how it’s to be pronounced from that spelling, though. ^^() Are they dipthongs? (“ya-ya”) Or individually enunciated, and if so, which sounds? (“ee-ah-ee-ah”, “aya-aya”) Or maybe somewhere in between? (“ee-aya”, which was my first guess, since I’d originally misread it as “Laiah” with a lowercase L which is pretty obviously “laya”)

    1. I’m going to preface this stand of epileptic trees with a few points.
      1) I can’t claim to speak Arabic anywhere near as well as those people on the internet that preface all their posts with “I’m sorry for any mistakes, English is my second language”
      2) I’m inclined to believe that the Iaiah was invented whole clothe by Wildbow.
      3) I’m going to assume for the sake of argument that it’s an actual being in some mythology somewhere found in some obscure primary source (most likely written by an English “naturalist” in the 1800’s passed of as a travelogue)

      With that out of the way, the shape/feel of the word strikes me as Semitic I origin, of course this might just be a case of “when all you have is a hammer” syndrome. Unfortunately, Google has been less than helpful in providing me with anything, though I did find references to Iaiah as a name in a French history of the Arab conquest of North Africa. The closest I was able to come for a word that seems to have a similar pronunciation, at least in MSA, is the root ‘ayya (‘ein ya) meaning to lose and/or be unable to find one’s way, to be incapable, to lack strength, to stutter. The biggest problem with using this as the provisional origin for them is that the actually appear to be people with Iaiah as a name in the target region.

      Option two is that they’re actually Indonesian in origin, and likely had some other name in the distant past, but the Islamic influence on the culture over the years changed what they were called. This method relies on linguistic drift more than anything else, namely at some point they were “Ia Allah” or some such, but over the years the L part got dropped turning it into Iaiah. Which, if they were used to guard temples or mosques would make sense, as praising of a god is what the elite ears are there for.

      Option three is, of course, I’m so off base that even the epileptic trees are laughing at me.

  9. Assorted thoughts:
    – Faysal’s offer was pretty generous as far as I can tell. Would also love to hear Rose’s elaboration on why it’s better to deal with demons than angels.
    – I love Rose this chapter.
    – Going to make a prediction: Mags is very dependent on her status as an ambassador, but I expect that she would not survive in that position if the Behaims won this battle for lordship, because too many connections to the Thorburns and all. So I expect the Behaims won’t win. I think Sandra or Johannes would keep Mags–she’s not exactly manipulable, but she’s open to being made less of a wild card so long as she’s not being screwed over in the process (well, not that she ever has a choice there, but whatever), and she’s useful as this cold war is proving, so I think both of them would keep her. Dunno about how Rose would feel, but I’m definitely inclined to say Rose wouldn’t go after Mags except as part of the war itself.

    1. Yeah, Faysal is apparently a pretty reasonable being. But on the other hand, when you’re that powerful and not a cliché homicidal maniac, showing the slightest amount of respect for the people you deal with always generates goodwill (at least for the readers). That’s probably why we don’t despise Johanness even though what he does to Vestiges is morally unacceptable.

      1. More thoughts concerning Faysal:

        1. Faysal’s offer sounds way too fair in a story arc entitled “bad faith”. Also, his style reminds me of Laird in arc 1: maximizing his karmic balance partly so that antagonism towards him backfires on the aggressors. But maybe that’s just how angels are.

        2. On the other hand, is this how things are supposed to work without bad karma? Benefiting if you successfully fend off an attack? The size of the favor still seems disproportionate.

        3. Blake is a demonic creation. If I were him, I’d worry what would happen if an angel tried to free him.

        4. Rose Sr. prohibited the Thorburn heir from entering Johannes’ domain. Maybe Faysal’s power is partly why?

        1. I remember the old saying. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” There’s a catch. For Blake there is always a catch.

          1. Well, maybe, but then again Blake is no longer tainted by the Thorburn’s demonically bad karma, so it’s possible he can catch a break…

            Yeah, I don’t believe it either.

        2. I only started reading comment threads recently (went through Worm and most of Pact without doing so ^^()) so I don’t know if anyone has pointed this out yet, but “Faysal Anwar” means “luminous separator between good and evil.”

          1. Apparently, “separator between good and evil” is interpreted both as a sword and as a judge. So another might another translation be “sword of light?”

            1. I was seeing it more as a boundary — representing that line of “don’t cross this” and making it very visible.

        3. 1.) Faysal seems reasonable, otherwise Johannes wouldn’t have reasoned with him, and they are at a time of war. Even if he can snuff Blake back into the abyss, there are no absolutes and he could possibly come back rather than be broken down by the abyss. Plus, a potential ally is always good.

          2.) His guest overstepped a line and grudges cause problems. We’ve seen practitioners and others numerous times agree to deals so long as no one holds a grudge. Jeremy and Diana when he was claiming his demense, Mags and Andy for Eva attacking her, etc.

          3.) Technically, the demon carved out the reflection but didn’t forge him into a vestige. He’s not demonic by nature, so quite frankly it should work in his favor.

          4.) You don’t send someone whose family acts as traffickers of demons anywhere near Others that dislike them. Sphinx and Angels included. That’s just common sense given how we’ve see everyone try to gun for him.

  10. How the hell does an echo of pain and suffering that left a wound on the fabric of reality become AWARE?
    Or, at least, develop more?

    Evan was an awesome exception, because he wasn’t really a ghost, not like we’ve seen anyways. More of a disembodied soul than an echo of emotion.

    So… How in the literal hell is Molly able to seemingly evolve and do things her script didn’t have her doing before?

    Also, I’m confused. What did those gatekeepers do to Blake? I thought it was just a hand on a shoulder. How did his ribs become trashed? Was it damage from the sphinx coming back?

    That is a fantastic question Blake. Why DO people make deals with demons when angels have way more tempting offers? Are there practices that specialize in angels as opposed to diabolists?

    1. What did those gatekeepers do to Blake? I thought it was just a hand on a shoulder. How did his ribs become trashed? Was it damage from the sphinx coming back?

      One of them threw Blake thru a window. His bones and branches and feathers and false memories then proceeded to break.

    2. 1st question likely has to do with the memories of the people seeing her, she absorbs them into herself and is gaining script. Either that or Blake’s constant state of decay was enough to feed a little bit of personality back to her.

      Second question is answered by the fact that Blake is thrown through two mirrors and doesn’t land comfortably. That said, that section could be more clear.

      Third question, If angels are similar to the Judeo-Christian horrors that I know and love, then their price is usually either causing you to be either blessed with suck or requires such a high personal price that you have to live as a paragon of virtue for the remainder of your life. Demons on the other hand simply would let you live your pathetic life in comfort and get to eat/rape your soul for eternity after death.

        1. He had a cherub bless their weapons before going in to deal with what they thought was an imp. It was a full-blown succubus capable of creating motes, which is mid-tier at least, and been corrupting people for generations. They were misinformed, so if the angel only gave them exactly the amount of protection needed to deal with an imp, he and the others probably weren’t shielded properly.

          Considering that the taint of the demon didn’t have them uncontrollably jumping their sister/mother/daughter, it’s safe to say that it was at least mitigated somewhat.

    3. My guess is Blake’s counterfactual memories detailing an alternate Molly who grew up with Blake and technically never died (We know the false past is cut off from reality, since Blake remembers his phone in them despite Ur eating it, implying they are treated as separate.) somehow are feeding into the Molly-shaped imprint in reality, making up for the lack of a “soul” and turning her into a vestige similar to Blake.
      Oh, there’s a thought, does Blake have a soul? How do souls work with vestiges? We have reason to believe the Barber made Blake and the Barber is noted to cut people off from the afterlife, could Blake have someone else’s collected soul? Are all vestiges soulless?

      1. Huh. Totally random tangent: The Barber can cut people off from the afterlife. What if Rose Sr. had him do that with Molly? That could explain her ghost becoming so lucid so quickly, too.

        1. That’s a whole new level of messed-up. She left her granddaughter’s soul at the mercy of Others after using her to set up the trap. No amount of goodwill or intentions would make Rose Sr look decent in my eyes again.

          1. Isn’t regular Thorburn afterlife supposed to be pretty bad? “Sentient ghost” might be comparatively good.
            I doubt that’s what happened though. I’d bet on this being more related to Molly as a ghost than Molly as Molly.

      2. We know the false past is cut off from reality, since Blake remembers his phone in them despite Ur eating it, implying they are treated as separate.

        Wow, that’s a great catch if it wasn’t an oversight by Wildbow (remember, he doesn’t edit past chapters).

          1. For a big plot hole Wildbow might do that, but by now the sheer amount of comments he gets (+ email, reddit, IRC, etc) must already be overwhelming.

            I just can’t tell how big of an inconsistency it would be if the phone had been wrongly remembered – tiny inconsistencies are pointed out every other chapter, but these can be fixed in the editing phase (if Pact ever gets one) after the story is finished.

            All that said, concerning the specific point in question (i.e. when Blake was created) I just realized we’ve gotten much stronger evidence this chapter, namely this line by Blake: “You should have called me […] …Except you couldn’t. I didn’t exist, before you died. Shit.”

    4. “Why do people ever deal with demons when they could deal with angels?” I asked.

      “I’d think there’s probably a very good answer to that question,” Rose said.

      I think given their nature when dealing with devils/demons, the loss dealt to your enimies would be equal or less than the value of what you sacrificed. When dealing with angels, when you gain something, your enimies would also gain assets in equal or greater value. So the Practicioner always loses either way.

      1. The boring answer to Blake’s question might just be because angels won’t deal with them, unless it’s to, ahem, deal with them. Which is exactly what Faysal was going to do.

        1. *was going to do when he met Johannes, that is. Obviously now he has to carry out duties as a representative of Johannes.

    5. I think The answer to that question may well be Blake.

      My current theory is that Blake is not a vestige of Rose, but a vestige carved from Molly when she died.

      • Rose senior bound the barber, but Blake only appears when Molly dies.
        Why would Rose senior even have Molly around as an heir is the plan is for Rose the younger to become the heir with a protective Vestige to draw fire?

      Unless it was required. Think about some of what Molly says – She felt threatened in the house! – If the creation of Vestige Blake, required the death of an heir I think Rose senior is quite ruthless enough to use that even if she did not kill the heir herself.

      Ghost Molly did not have any awareness until it met Blake, and continues to Awaken while he is near., If he is part of her carved off, the it makes snese that his return is what is powering her up.

      Makes me interested to see what the binding brings.

      1. “She felt threatened in the house!”

        Hmm, there it is. That’s why she ran outside to meet her untimely demise. The lawyers and/or Barbie made it impossible for her to stay in.
        Wouldn’t put that amount of cold-bloodedness past Rose senior.

        The impossibility to speed-chess that gambit after the deed is pretty crazy though.
        For instance, I’m pretty sure Rose forgetting Blake and being tainted by Conquest were not part of the initial plan.

        Blake’s low emotional response (foreshadowed in the early chapters, where many commentators pointed it out) contrasts sharply with Mags’ freaking out. The story feels really intense right now.
        I look forward to the horrible, horrible consequences.

    6. “Why DO people make deals with demons when angels have way more tempting offers? Are there practices that specialize in angels as opposed to diabolists?”

      It depends a lot on what angel means in Pact, but I have some speculations:

      1) Mess up a deal with an angel, you likely take the hurt personally and immediately. Mess up a deal with a demon, it might offer an extension of contract where you get ahead in the short run and involve a third party and then payback’s an absolute bitch when it comes due with interest.

      2) Angels are all on the same team, while demons can be played off against one another, making them more convenient for undermining other practitioners.

      2.5) Angels are on the neutral people’s team, so they can’t be sent to mess up randoms, while demons are willing to fuck up anyone’s shit, making them more convenient in a slightly different way.

      3) Demons will try to teach a practitioner to learn and practice more diabolism, including for shits and giggles. Angels will encourage a practitioner to practice less except where directed for a good cause.

      4) Demons are operating in friendly territory, and are easier to summon. Sometimes, like goblins, you don’t even have to summon them to start binding or negotiating with them. Angels are outsiders to Earth. This guess leans far more heavily on Christian cosmology than the others, so I’d say it’s the one that’s most probably wrong in Pact.

      5) Something about the process of becoming a practitioner in the first place heavily selects for the sort of people who would deal with demons rather than angels.

      6) Ego-preserving retcon. When a practitioner gets taken down a notch or two by an angel, they mentally reclassify it as a demon because it hurt them. Thus the term “angel” winds up being used only about those angels which are cooperating with you – a very small group – while the term “demon” drifts to a wider meaning than the proper underlying distinction, being used both about demons and about hostile angels.

      OK, maybe that was a lot of speculations.

      1. If they’re anything like the Shin Megami versions, then Rose is right in that there’s a reason. But so far they seem like cogs in the universe machine that exist to oppose Demons, meaning they probably wouldn’t make deals unless absolutely necessary or dealing with some special case like Johannes.

        The fact that he was able to make a deal with an Angel says a lot.

  11. Wait, wait, I just realized something. Is Paige in Jacob’s Bell too? Mags thought everyone was going to shit themselves when they realized how many awakened Thorburns were around, adding one more is going to make everything go to hell even more.

    1. Good point about Paige. Though the Jacob’s Bell locals shouldn’t consider her a diabolism threat anymore after Isadora took her in.

      More to the point, besides the lawyers, Paige is likely the only person Blake knows who could help with “the legal issue with the family”. Though she has no connection to Blake right now, I can still see him calling her for help.

      (As a sidenote, I checked 1.01 again, and Rose Sr. herself was a lawyer, too.)

  12. Ooh, fun chapter. Here are some thoughts: Mags’s order to the goblins is too vague. The goblins could have set up a trap with rocks, (previously) dead plants or animals, or resilient human-made objects.

    The rest of those guys are going to be doing one of two things. Some are going to be flying around in a mad panic, propelled here and there by the sheer violence with which they’re shitting their pants, and the rest are going to be getting organized to murder you and pointing the finger at me!

    I was going to say that Maggie might end up forsworn about this… but we know that at least one of the two conditions will be met. Everyone is going to try to kill Blake. Though I wonder if they will blame Mags… Mmm… I just really want to see that scene happen.

    Rose calls Irene “Auntie”. “Auntie” seems like a very familiar term to call someone you pretty much despise.

    Finally, I really enjoyed seeing the not-so-animous Rose heavily stressing out. It makes her seem more like a person. I am sad they are going to (try) to bind Molly (and obviously fail). I know this would screw Mags over, but if I were Blake I’d be trying my best to feed Molly. I am also a little afraid of Blake turning into something Bad.

    1. Rose calls Irene “Auntie”. “Auntie” seems like a very familiar term to call someone you pretty much despise

      Being overly familiar with a person you despise is a common way of expressing your antipathy for that person.

    2. If you call a person you’re not related to your “aunt”, it means you’re close. If you call someone you are related to your “aunt”, it means you’re not.

        1. It depends on the family, but in some cases it can be excessively formal to refer to your aunt by title. A bit like how, when your parents call you “Zim” everything’s cool but if they go “Zimbert J Fox, get in here” you know you’re in trouble…

    3. Feeding Molly may be detrimental to Blake’s humanity and general well-being, though.
      I’m thinking they just want her to stay put (and off the damn radar).

      At least, since she’s barely “back” in the story, I hope she won’t be destroyed.
      I was relatively fine with the first chapter death if she kept entirely out of the story (like Rose senior – so far), but bringing her back for another trauma conga line would be… unsavory at best.

  13. Nur, WB, I wanna find out more about those iaiah things. As another mentioned earlier, I keep getting booted to Isaiah. I get you want some mystery here but… But… NUR.

    1. Why do things keep hitting me in the face like this ?

      “NUR.”
      Arabic genderless name, meaning light.

      Could it be Erasurre’s name ?
      Bit of a stretch, but running with the “demons are fallen angels” line that Ms. Lewis gave us about Ornias, it would be a pretty nice fit.

  14. I just love this chapter. The whole thing or I wouldn’t have subbed on Patreon, but this chapter, and this whole 10th section is shaping up marvelously.

      1. If pronounced correctly, yes, but consider how often its antonym “bona fide” is pronounced with three syllables instead of four.

          1. The common pronunciation of bona fide is just the result of pronouncing it as if it were an English word rather than a Latin word. If you pronounced mala fide as if it were English, it would indeed sound like “mollified.” I don’t think wildbow was actually going for the double meaning, though.

            1. (I’m not trying to be argumentative in case I sound like it, nor am I trying to further this conversation)

              I could see how bona fide would sound different if pronounced “in English”. Something like “bonefeed”. But I’ve tried and tried to figure out how you could pronounce mala fide as “mollified” and I swear I can’t figure it out. Closest I can get is “malafeid” 😛

            2. Silly nesting limits…

              In the general ‘Murican pronunciation, “Fide” does in fact come out as “-fied.” This is due to one of the rules regarding word ending ‘e’s beaten into our heads while learning basic reading and (w)riting, but not in (a)rithmatic, namely ending ‘e’s always make the proceeding vowel a “long” vowel. I’m not too sure about which specific dialect has a vowel shift that would change, what I’m assuming is the ‘o’ sound in Molly to the ‘a’ in “mala” but, after that, the assimilation that happens going from a vowel to frictive would cut off enough of the second ‘a’ where, unless if the speaker was taking great care to enunciate, one wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between ‘a’ and ‘i’ in the word.

            3. For reference, I actually pronounce mollified exactly like “malafeid,” if I’m understanding your spelling. I guess you just pronounce the o differently than me, Zim?

        1. That’s an excellent question. The last couple of times I tried posting, the posts never appeared, but when I tried re-posting, the website claimed that they were duplicate posts, as if the text was registered in the system, but was never displayed. For some reason, it seems to be letting me post again, now.

          Shawnmorgan commented on DevArt yesterday, mentioning that he’d been having trouble getting WordPress to work, too – and of course, Wildbow is probably going gray-haired prematurely from all the problems he’s suffered with WordPress going wonky on him from time to time.

          PS: Here’s a sketch of Midge fighting the goblin Dickswizzle, that’s just been posted on DevArt today:

          http://mokkurkalfe.deviantart.com/art/Midge-VS-Dickswizzle-477088407

          1. Hey, welcome back. That just leaves me wondering what happened to PG now. I would’t be surprised if he got a stern talking at for doing the one thing Wildbow is amazingly intolerant of. (with genuine reason that should be respected and mostly is) that of posting spoilers for Worm.

            I seem to recall him doing so (possibly accidentally) after WB had already lost quite a bit of patience with people on the matter

            I may well be recalling everything incorrectly and if I am, unreserved apologies for being wrong

      1. Hey Pencil, You’re back!!! I thought you had been molested by a goat kidnapped by dolphins starring in the new Dawn of the Planet of the Apes/Kill la Kill crossover movie as Koba’s Kamui.

        Good to see you’re back and you’ve brought art.

  15. I loved this whole chapter. Mags’ whole semi-dialogue scene was a particular highlight.

    And in each chapter of this arc so far, I’ve been loving how we readers gradually find out along with Blake how his Other nature works. (e.g. mirrorverse travel)

    Comments:

    1. Favorite line: ““You should have called me,” I said. “…Except you couldn’t. I didn’t exist, before you died. Shit.””

    2. Wow, Maggie’s “neutral party” status is even more important to her than an oath. Due her pseudo-demesne ritual, it’s at the very core of her being.

    3. Blake is definitely getting more monstrous. It’s not a good sign that he felt nothing after making good on his not-quite-promise to carve up one of the Other trio. I worry he might end up unconsciously working against Rose without even realizing it.

    4. I ❤ Maggie. She's a great character. And her panic in this chapter was both cute and completely appropriate.

    5. So Molly really existed, didn't have a vestige, and really inherited the house. Or rather, only obtained custodianship of it. Rose once said she had inherited the house, after all.

    6. Things are not looking good for the Thorburns. All of them.

    7. Seeing Rose have to deal with this family bullshit makes me better appreciate how she got her personality, though her Thorburn traits seem more pronounced since she got tainted by Conquest. She could never truly trust anyone in her childhood, and her relationship with Blake was setup in a way that made trust from her side pretty much impossible from the start.

  16. Heh, heh. The Hyena’s permanent wounding ability, perhaps bolstered by the Drains, can do semi-permanent harm even to things that should heal. So Blake has a good weapon at least.

    1. Oh yes, and a damn scary one, leaving wounds that will not heal. Although if he can’t release things from the effect there might be times where it would be awkward. For example Johannes might be obligated to get his guest, the Liaih, released from that effect, or should that fail negotiate some form or recompensene, or retribution.

      1. The guest attacked unwarranted outside the Dark World that Johannes has claimed, overstepping his boundary and Johannes’ responsibility. Negotiating for his release rather than Blake slitting its throat was more than he was obligated to do. Therefore it would not necessarily make him obligated to do so.

        However, if the Liaih (what exactly are theses anyway, Google turns up nothing) asks him to and offers an extra favor, there’s no harm in just asking for Blake to remove it.

    2. I thought it was a trait of Blake’s, as he is essentially an agent of the drains. Taking and decomposing, making others “less” with his actions, would make sense. Pauz, an agent of chaos, makes things go backwards. Conquest taints people around him to bring about more conquest, destruction, and domination.

      Maybe Blake brings more decomposition? Which would suck.

  17. It occurs to me that when he visits Johannes, Blake might want to tell him about Ur’s weakness. Blake did vow to spread it around, and while Johannes himself might not be doing anything about it, I’m sure that some guest or other of his might find the information useful. At least put it on the bulliten board or something.

    1. Bad idea. He’s trying to keep a low profile, and “ANNOUNCEMENT : I’M BACK FROM THE FACTORY AND READY TO KICK ASS AGAIN” doesn’t exactly fit.

      1. I’m not saying that Blake should go around screaming I’m BACK at the top of his lungs. I’m saying he should tell the practicioners he meets what Ur’s weakness is, so someone else can stop it should anything happen to him. Because I don’t think anyone in their right mind would want a Demon of the first choir running around free, or eating a important part of reality.

        Also it seems like everyone knows he’s back in Jacob’s Bell at least.

        1. Let’s see… Sarah Duchamp may or may not know (and if she knows, it may be because of events running between this chapter and the last interlude), the witch hunters probably don’t, Duncan doesn’t unless someone else told him, we’re not sure Faysal identified Blake (although “your relative” doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation), so… yeah, Blake is fucked again.

          By the way, I don’t get why he hasn’t stopped by the Knights to tell them his methods. Did he forget about them ?

          1. At the very least they forgot about him (since they were outside the factory), and Blake doesn’t have time to convince trigger-happy shotgun-guy that the creepy bogeyman in the mirror is well meaning and not lying about the demon that already messed up the Knights once.

  18. Molly shows more awareness the more she is around other Thorburns. She also tends to follow Thorburns. Perhaps this is an unintended consequence of the Duchamps’ manipulations of Thorburn connections:
    Bringing the Thorburns together allows a Thorburn ghost to follow other Thorburns.
    Using Molly’s death to stir sympathy against Rose means people are thinking about Molly, which is one way to power vestiges. Does that work for ghosts also?

    Eh, sounds weak, but it is the only theory I have at the moment.

    1. One theory is that Faysal is a massive alpha, so any dog-familiar would have to follow his lead, leaving the practitioner.
      For rats, Johannes is the Pied Piper of Jacob’s Bell, so you’d lose your familiar’s loyalty anytime he uses his instrument.

    2. Johannes’ Implement works on both dogs and rats, spirits included, which is why he stuffs the vestiges with them. It would have worked on Faysal too, for a time, and since he isn’t an ally of the Thorburn family that’s the last thing you should want since your familiar would fall prey to it.

      1. You know, the original piper could also control children. In Pact this might only work via the rat spirits, but if he can control children directly it might work on Evan.

  19. Rose’s “not worried” about Blake comment… Blake is a bogeyman who is implied to have returned at least partially because he is angry at her. Faysal just offered him immortality – the ability to return again and again forever. Really, that sounds like something Rose should be worried about. If Blake had sided with Johannes he could become a Rose-seeking missile.

    1. Well, look at it from Rose’s POV: everyone is already gunning for her. Blake can’t compete with, say, Johannes, as an enemy worth worrying about.

      Also, Rose’s current life expectancy likely doesn’t extend much past the outbreak of the practitioner war. If Blake really wanted to take revenge on her, he’d only get one shot at it, even if he could recuperate in the Drains after receiving mortal wounds.

  20. Blake is definitely being more violent than before.

    What Faysal offers him is not just the chance to return again and again – it’s the chance to pull things away from the Drains, to build himself up as something other than his anger and his hate.

    1. Yeah, but he’s trying to save his friends. He’s being forced into salvation at the expense of his friends and loyalty to someone else, or his limited freedom to help them, which is why he left the Drains in the first place, with the chance to always fall back into the abyss.

      He’s in a rock and a hard place.

      1. The problem is he’s also getting worse. He’s a lot less upset about maiming something than he used to be. And maybe it’s just me, but does Blake seem a little less concerned about his friends this chapter? I’m worried Blake will lose that compassion and care about people he had. He had some shit happen to him (Well he thought it happened to him) but still believed in the inherent decency of people, and that they should be protected. I’m afraid he’s starting to loose that selfless aspect of himself and becoming more concerned with watching out for number 1.

        1. I think you’re overthinking things. Blake, real boy or not, has been through shit almost constantly for a few weeks now. He’s not becoming evil or demonic, he is just mentally and emotionally ground down. He’s able to compartmentalize and move forward. If he does turn evil I think it’ll be apparent real quick.

          1. I could be over thinking it, but I may not be either. Blake is very malliable right now. When he looses a piece of himself something else can take advantage of the vacancy and move in. His concern for his friends is both on of his defining traits, and a main anchor for him. He sets it aside even for a little bit, chances seem pretty good it’ll be gone.

  21. Something doesn’t right about Rose fucking up the ritual on purpose. It does not seem to fit. Here’s the text.

    “Why?” Rose asked. “Mine says holly.”

    I approached the mirror, book held out. We each held our books out so her book was almost a reflection of mine. Sure enough, the text, the symbol for the inside of the little circle in question and the art for the token were all different.

    “Grandmother?” Rose asked.

    “I don’t know,” I said. “I get that Molly would have moved the components, but… I don’t think Molly altered the book.”

    “The question is, what do we do about it?” Rose asked. “Do we each do a different ritual? Do I do your ritual, assuming it’s right? Or vice versa?”

    “If it’s sabotage,” I said, thinking aloud, “Which of us was sabotaged?”

    We sat there for a good minute, thinking. Rose flipped through her book as I flipped through mine, as we searched for more discrepancies.

    It was the only one we could find.

    I hated doing nothing, being stalled like this. It was in the quiet moments that I felt like trouble would start breathing down my neck.

    I turned to the bags, searching them. Not the contents, but the bags themselves. Holly… Iron…

    The Holly bag had a different knot. Tied tighter, more neatly. Full.

    “Let me see your ingredients?” I asked. “Show me the ones you haven’t touched?”

    Rose did.

    Her iron ore nuggets were tied the same way my holly was.

    “I just don’t get why you didn’t do this ritual earlier,” Alexis said. Her tone was vaguely accusatory. “Or how you didn’t do it earlier.”

    “I don’t know,” Rose said.

    “There was a reason for it,” Rose said. “Had to be. And I’m sure we’ll find the clues here, given time to look. All I know is, I fucked up my awakening ritual on purpose, last time around. This time, right here, right now, I’m gonna do it right.“

    1. In order for it to be intentional on Rose’s part, the only thing she would have needed to do was to alter the ritual in her copy of the book before Blake became aware of it. This could have been organized with the help of Grandma Rose or the lawyers, or it’s not impossible that Rose may have had a way to do it herself.

      1. That would have required her anticipating that Blake would also compare the level of ingredients between world’s, though and prepare them accordingly. That’s a bit of a stretch.

  22. So… is molly becoming a reverent? Or maybe a wraith? Or is she just a normal ghost? A normal ghost that can evolve somehow….

    1. Again, where would he put her?

      He can’t keep her in a mirror without water and food, and maintaining a grip on her health would give Johannes a hold over him. If that was the case he should have just joined him. It’s not really worth it if Blake can just have someone else like Mags summon her.

      1. You know how in the first chapters Rose could see and talk through ice? Maybe it works with water as well. (He’d have to find a place lit at night, which is doable. I’m not sure about the food, but AFAIK it’s only needed while inside the Drains, to hold on against erosion.)

  23. Ho-leeeee shit.

    I’m caught up.

    For the first time in over ten months, I’m no longer actively reading a Wildbow work.

    I started Worm shortly after Eliezer Yudkowsky recommended it, and was immediately in love. I powered through it in a month or so, then once I’d finished I went back to the beginning and started over. The second time, I read through all of the comments (all 50,000+ of them) so it took me a gooood bit longer. I was aware of Pact when the first chapter released but TBH, it didn’t grab me anywhere near as quickly so I put it on the back burner to let a backlog develop for me to read through, and devoured Worm again.

    On the second read, I appreciated it even more. All of the subtle clues, foreshadowing, story threads and characterizations were even more impressive after knowing what was to come. By the time I’d finished that (sizable) readthrough, I’d gotten my girlfriend started on it so I went back and began a third, slower read-through, to keep a little bit ahead of her and know what breadcrumbs to leave her, what unspoken details to torment her with, and what she was going to be encountering in the time between (any given now) and the next time we spoke. She had to take a break around arc 18 because of battle fatigue, and that was the point at which I started reading through Pact.

    I’ve been reading the comments on every chapter as I’ve gone, which is why it’s taken me several months to get this far, but here I am, caught up for the first time.

    I know I’m not the first, or the most articulate, person to say it, but from the bottom of my literarily-inclined heart; THANK YOU Wildbow. With Worm alone, you’ve written a story more gripping and compelling than any I’ve ever read, with worldbuilding and characterization (and character development) I didn’t think was possible in a GRRM-sized series, much less the sadly-underlooked web serial format. I’ve proselytized, I’ve fanwanked, I’ve shipped and I’ve plotted cosplay. I’ve never been so taken by a series, not by Harry Potter as a youth, not by Foundation or Discworld or Jeeves & Wooster or Anita Blake or Honor Harrington or Miles Vorkosigan or Jason Bourne or the Lord of the Rings or anything.

    I’ve made friends through your work, multiple friends; one of the people dearest to me in my life right now only wound up getting to know me because I recommended Worm as the best piece of superhero fiction I’ve ever taken in in any format, and we started talking about it and then about other things. This is a man who’s literally saved my life, so I have to say that indirectly, you did too, Wildbow.

    If I were any kind of writer or creator I’d say that I feel directly inspired by you. Even with my fields overlapping yours not-at-all I still feel as though your commitment to your craft, intentness in connecting with your fans, and attention to detail can easily serve as a model or an inspiration. And I understand how it is to be widely lauded for what you do and still uncertain of yourself, still your own worst critic, and as uncomfortable a place as that can seem sometimes I know it keeps one sharp as well. I’ve never had more respect for you than I do when seeing the way that you interact with your dissenters, whether it’s someone making note of an unfortunate phrasing or concept, someone pointing out an inconsistency, or even someone just plain not liking what you’re doing.

    I know that you try to read nearly everything, and I know that your time is spread thin, so I’ll hope only that you read this and appreciate it, and I have no expectation of a response. We’ve spoken on Reddit before and I’m sure we will again.

    In what must be close to 80,000 comments I’ve seen so much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the update schedule, and I’ve never more looked forward to being among the complaining masses. Thank you again, Wildbow; I’m along for the ride.

    1. Hard to come up with a fitting reply to a post like that. I do try to read what I can, though I slip from time to time. Thanks for reading, for getting other people hooked, and for the ‘fanwank’ (I’m not sure I want to know).

      If you’ve read the comments, then you probably know I’ve been that fan, the guy who looks forward to the next update, who mashes refresh at midnight for the next chapter or the next episode, or whatever the case. It means a lot to me to know I’ve achieved something resembling that excitement or enthusiasm in others. Thank you.

      1. I’m not nearly as articulate as Irreverentelephant, but I wanted to say thanks. I always read your updates the day they show up, sometimes I end up refreshing the page just cause I’ve been able to catch new chapters a bit before midnight in the past. I hope that one day I can write with a tenth of the skill you show on one of your twice (or thrice!) a week updates. Thanks

        1. I hope that one day I can write with a tenth of the skill you show on one of your twice (or thrice!) a week updates.

          All I can say is write. I don’t feel like I’m anything special, and I feel like my success to date is just me being too lame to do much else careerwise, and too stubborn to stop doing what I’ve been doing for the last three years. The rest is just practice.

          Don’t wait to write that story idea you have. Start putting ideas to paper.

          Don’t get caught up in worldbuilding, making point-form notes on your world. Draw snippets & scenes taking place in that world, and bring it to life, use those characters you made, cannibalize them for other stories (keeping just the personality, or the idea).

          Don’t focus on the editing of the story to get it just right. Get it finished first. You’ll learn more in the course of the writing than you ever would editing, and by the time you get to the end, you’ll be ready to edit the beginning.

          Use whatever means you have to strongarm yourself into writing. Rewards, write it as a serial, join a writer’s circle, but just write.

          1. I run RPGs, setting up the plot and minor mysteries and plot twists that my players inevitably blow out of proportion by making some unforeseen choice that I wind up rolling with. They have a good time, but what I can manage isn’t in the same order as the stuff you pull in your stories. I would absolutely love it if you could outline your thought process on how some of these things were established in your head, ranging from what’s going to happen to details decided later on to details changed due to public opinion or a later burst of inspiration.

            This or other writing advise would be fantastic! You’re easily in the top 5 most respected authors in my book (haha it’s a pun), and you do this alone whereas popular movies often have full teams working on it (ie The Dark Knight).

            “Don’t wait to write that story idea you have. Start putting ideas to paper.”

            I think I’m going to learn how to draw now.

          2. You know, your writing advice is really very good. It’d be worthwhile collating it and making a blog post of it sometime if you get a chance. If you wrote something more fleshed out with examples and things, I, for one would buy it as an ebook…

      2. ‘Fanwank’ generally just refers to the ludicrously detailed scrutiny and theorizing that goes on in the fandom of a given property; from theorizing epileptic trees scenarios to crackshipping to making shit up in order to let details fit into a broader view. Think there’s a TVTropes page for the term, heh.

        You can definitely count me among the midnight mashers from here on out. 🙂

        Also, based on the timeframe you’ve stated, the state of the story as it is and how long it’s been so far, I feel like this is going to come out to an ‘even’ thirteen arcs. It’d be quite fitting if it does. :3

      3. My browser crashed twice while writing this…

        Around the time I started reading Worm I was applying to multiple prestigious universities in the US. I didn’t pass because I didn’t have certain accreditation—and I am a foreigner >.> Hardly any spots for foreigners—but I digress. I was kind of busy around this time as I filled out paperwork, figured out scholarship issues, teacher recommendations and whatnot. Around this time one of my two boyfriends, who I loved very, very dearly, started acting very weird. He’d stopped being intimate with me or even appreciating me. I’d never get a compliment or an “I love you”. He spent two months ignoring me, spending literally over ten hours a day playing a game with this “friend”. His excuse was that he felt stressed and thus didn’t feel like talking, and that me trying to force conversations stressed him more. It turned out my parner had been cheating on me for six months, then he moved with this “friend” without hearing my opinion, broke up with me and married this “friend” in lapse of three months. My point is, I was having a pretty rough time when I started with Worm.

        I’ve always been a procrastinator and given how messed up my emotions were, I would gladly take up any distraction. Then comes along Worm, this MASSIVE web serial millions of words long. I found it through Eliezer Yudkowsky. Once I started reading Worm I devoured it, reading five or six so chapters a day. Sometimes I’d read an arc a day if the arc was particularly short or I was particularly bored or sad.

        And man, did Worm wreck my feelings. As a child I was bullied often. Never physically, but still. Reading the first chapters of Worm would bring me pain that would force me to stop reading and lie down in order to calm down. They messed with my head and brought upon a feeling of helplessness. I considered stopping reading Worm multiple times; what’s the point of reading something, however interesting, if it hurts you? Mind you, there was nothing wrong with the chapters, if only that they dragged on for a bit too long. It was all just me.

        I pressed onwards and I eventually got through the early story of Taylor and started with this magnificent epic. Worm took a lot of my time. It was there in some of my saddest moments; when I’d be feeling too terrible to do anything but stare at my screen all day and read line after line of text, chapter after chapter. Worm brought out so many different feelings, and not only the pain from bullying. I became deeply invested in Taylor and I felt like I related a lot to her. Worm is a story I hold very dearly. I wouldn’t call it an influence in my life, but it became a small part of my history. For that I’m grateful.

        (Sorry if this is very cheesy. I’m supremely cheesy. I am the king of cheese. I hope this is coherent, I am tired… Just in case I gave the impression, I don’t associate Worm with anything bad).

        1. Wow, this is powerful. Thank you for sharing!

          I had a somewhat similar (though far less intense) experience; I started reading Worm while a 5-year relationship was near the end of a 4-month process of breaking down and eventually dissolving; it was really hard for me to keep going with it sometimes, even as I lost hours of sleep every night to it. The sometimes-oppressive darkness–which, i must point out, is one of my favourite elements of the setting–sometimes seemed like it was keeping my thoughts in darker places, but I also got some catharsis through that emotional connection to the characters, and I think that in some way it helped me to work through some of the terrible shit that was going on at that time.

        2. I started reading Pact at about the same time as my relationship became emotionally abusive. I’d previously read Worm – binged, really – in less than two weeks. Thinking about Taylor and Blake helped me deal with my boyfriend – despite the utter fiction I’d their circumstances, my life absolutely could have been worse – and things did get better.

    2. Welcome.. To Hell. By which I mean now you’ll have to join us all in the agony of having to wait for the new chapters. Enjoy!

  24. What exactly are they going to bind Molly in? Salt is good, but it can be wiped away and is generally a temporary measure unless they want to banish her.

    They should try to store her in some jewelry or something so that Mags can pay penitence and Molly doesn’t have to be all alone, sort of like with June (I miss her) only with less combat uses.

  25. The angel offers him a kind of immortality, wow, now that’s a hell of a offer, plus the rest! The strengthening him, fixing him up. I hope he manages to make some kind of deal. Next couple days will be hell waiting for the next installment!!!

  26. Upon re-read, I just caught part of an explanation for a previously questionable event. It was unclear why the local practitioners didn’t ask for concessions during Mags’ ritual that kept her from falling into the Drains – normally demesne-like rituals almost guarantee conflict and compromise. But she explained it here:

    “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.”

    So most of the town powers wanted a neutral go-between to prevent minor incidents, e.g. Blake and the Iaiah, from blowing up into firefights. Which makes sense. And since no-one else volunteered and contention was imminent, Mags got the job by asking for it. But now she is stuck, afraid that is she loses the job she will go down the Drain (pun intended).

    1. I figured at least Sarah wanted things to play out like they did – after all, after helping Scarf, she pretty much urged her to go to Johannes. (To quote HPMoR’s Quirrel: “To figure out a strange plot, look at what happens, then ask who benefits.”)

      (But you are right, this may also explain why even Johannes was very fair in his pre-ritual dealings with Scarf, providing her with tools and the like.)

      And the same reasoning may also apply to Faysal’s generous offer to Blake: Johannes doesn’t want the hostilities to break out yet, or at least doesn’t want to be the one to start them, and is willing to pay a significant price for that.

  27. I’m currently awake at twenty to five getting ready tow rite chapters four five and six of my ME fanfic that, after which i will be adapting my friend’s synopsies to a star wars audio Drama, followed by some more development of ‘Kindred Spirits’ (A post epiloguetic’ ME/Worm crossover fanfic)

    This will be followed by my own original (with help from 30,000 words from Worm’s comments section work and later, watching THE DOCTOR.

    I wonder where I got this writing bug from…

  28. mags feels guilty

    mags needs a familiar

    molly is in the same state as evan or approaching it

    easy answer: molly could be alive again. as long as she doesn’t help rose neutrality is served. she could say she was only working for balance as a neutral wildcard. she took a life, she gives a life to that same individual. especially since unbound the ghost threatens to destroy this fragile cold war balance.

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