Mala Fide 10.4

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“They’re trying to get me out of the house.  They succeeded.”

“They’re trying with Rose now,” I told Molly.

“Don’t talk to the ghost,” Mags said.  Her eyes were forward.  She held the mirror so it included me, held on the far side of her body.  I could make her out, the ghost beside her.  “Shit, people want my help.  They’re calling my name.  I don’t think it’s urgent, but I really can’t futz around too long here.”

“I don’t think I could ever do that,” I said.

“Huh?”

“It’s not in me.  If I were in your shoes, I’d lose my mind.  It’d probably kill me.”

“Yeah well, it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows for me.”

“But you can do it,” I said.  “I couldn’t, even without the question of what it’d mean to be unable to help my friends.”

“Is that supposed to be a dig at me?” she asked, raising one eyebrow.

“No.  I- I didn’t even realize it could be taken as one.  Sorry.”

She sighed audibly.

“Any idea how we’re going to bind her?” I asked.

“I’ve got an idea,” she said, “But in terms of timing, I dunno, if I get called away and it’s urgent?”

“What’s the idea?”

“I got some rope, I got a bucket, some bottled water, and a box of salt.  Soak the rope in salt water?”

“Worth a shot,” I said.

“I don’t want to be trapped,” Molly said.  “I left the house to get away…”

“I’m sorry,” Mags said, contradicting herself by replying to the ghost, encouraging it.  “Salt in the wound, isn’t it?  I wish I was in a position to treat you better, honest.”

“I have to warn the others, but I can’t, because that puts them in more danger.  Rose is next in line, and…”

I winced at that statement.

Confirmation, of a sort.  Molly-ghost’s memories were of Rose being her cousin, not me.

But she’d stopped talking.

“And what?” I asked.

“Rose is next in line, and we didn’t get along.  And she lied about me to get me in trouble.  And Kathryn ruined my first car… I wasn’t able to get the insurance.  That really pissed me off.  I’m not proud of the things I did, either.”

“You’re remembering the past, you’re worrying about the future, you’re a little too three-dimensional there, Molly,” I said.  “You’re worrying me.”

“You…” she looked at me, peering into the mirror, before trailing off.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’m not sure I’m okay with this,” Mags said.  “Let’s keep it all nice and quiet and calm for our ghost friend here, without bending her fragile brain or feeding her whatever it is about you that’s making her more alert.”

“I don’t recognize you,” Molly said, “But you’re family.  Family’s the most important thing right now.  Has to be.”

“With that kind of attitude, I can see why grandmother would pick you for first heir and custodian,” I said.

“She didn’t,” Molly said.

I looked at her.  “She didn’t?”

“Fuck her, most of all!” Molly said.

“Molly,” I said, “Focus.  Grandmother picked you first.  Why?”

“Fuck her, most of all!” Molly repeated, with the same inflection as before.  “God!  I didn’t want any of this!  They’re… they’re going to kill me in some horrible way, and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Nobody- nobody’s going to help me.”

“Blake, let’s maybe not continue this line of questioning.”

“It’s important,” I said.  “It’s-”

Molly flickered, skipping to a different point in time, some different line of thought.  Moving, it seemed, not by the three dimensions of up, down, left, right, forward and back, but some other plane.  Still in the same physical spot, but at some other point in time.

“Agendas,” she said, her voice low.  Her voice had a gravelly tone that suggested extreme fatigue.  “Everyone has an agenda.”

“What was grandmother’s agenda?” I asked.

“Can’t make an omelete without breaking a few eggs, right?” she asked, but there was no mirth in her expression.  I could see dark circles under her eyes.  She glared at me.  “Enjoy your fucking omelete.”

Then, in the next moment, she flickered and disappeared.

Mags stopped walking.  Between that and my staring at the spot that Molly had occupied, I nearly walked out of the patch of light.

In my world, everything was utterly still.  In Mags’s, the real world, the wind made snow-laden tree branches sway.

“Ummmmmm,” Mags said.

I tried to remember what I’d read about ghosts.  I’d read something after taking Evan as a familiar, or Rose had said something.  The sheer mass of information I’d taken in was a bit of a jumble.

“She’s returned to her haunt,” I said.  “Some place where her echo is strongest.”

“Where?  The place she died?  The memorial?”

“Has to be,” I said.

“Running,” she said.

“Running with,” I told her.

The patch of light the hand mirror cast wasn’t a big one, only four paces long and two or three paces across when we were running.  With every movement of her arm, it swayed, moving forward and back, a little side-to-side.  With the snow on the sidewalk, and the inability to see far enough to anticipate potential obstacles, I was on unsteady ground.

I managed to keep up without fucking up.  I wasn’t even breathing hard when we reached the hill that overlooked the memorial.

Aunt Irene and Callan were cleaning off the snow, shaking a bouquet of fake flowers free of moisture.

Molly stood near them.

Her hair blew in the wind, and she hugged her arms to her body.

The look on her face, though.  Hollow, angry, despairing.  It was like the expression I might have imagined on the face of a parent who had lost their child.

What did it mean for a parent to lose their child?  They’d lost someone who lit up their life, who they’d invested countless hours into, who was supposed to carry on their legacy.  By passing a piece of ourselves and our teachings on to our children, we achieve a kind of immortality.

But Molly hadn’t lost a child.  She’d lost someone she’d invested eighteen years into.  The person who had a hand in every bit of joy she’d experienced in life.  The one who was supposed to create her legacy.  Herself.

She was face to face with her own death, her own mortality, too late to do anything about it.

“It’s not fair,” she said.

I could see Aunt Irene flinch, looking away, as if she’d heard the words.  Her hand clenched.

“I’ve had nightmares like this,” Mags said, her voice barely audible.

“We can’t just stand by and let this happen.”

“Whatever’s happening,” Mags said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’d do something if I could but…”

“This is on me,” she said.  “I’m the one who gave her too much of my personal power.  How was I supposed to know she’d hoard it or whatever it was?”

She looked down at the ghost and the two family members of the girl she’d helped kill.

Balls,” Mags said.

She started down the slope.  I went with her, because it was the only route available.

“Why me?” Molly asked.  Her voice carried.

Callan moved one little wreath with a band of paper extending across it, shaking it with a touch too much force.  He looked angry.

The ghost was affecting the pair.

“Sorry if I’m interrupting, but-”

“You are interrupting,” Aunt Irene said.

It was a sharp change of tone from her earlier discussion with Callan.  If I hadn’t known anything about Molly’s presence, I might have dismissed it as lingering emotion from her ‘discussion’ with Rose.  With the context…

Fuck, I could only assume Molly was pissed.

“I come down here regularly,” Mags said.

“Yeah, I know,” Aunt Irene told her.  “I’ve seen you.  I wondered, you know, why you’d have any interest.  I feel pretty damn sure you’re not one of Molly’s friends.”

“I wish I had been.”

“I bet you do,” Aunt Irene said.  “But I’d drive by, and I’d look at you standing there, most of the days after school, and I’d be curious.  Then I saw you at Hillsglade House, standing in the driveway, and it clicked.”

“Whatever your assumption is, I’m pretty sure it’s wrong.”

“You’re an opportunist.  Get close to the heir of the house, win them over, and then when the house is sold, you’re the person who’s helped them out all along, so naturally they offer you something.”

“No- that’s not what I was doing.”

“Are you trying to manipulate me too?  Or did Rose think she could use you to mess with me?”

“No!”

“Then what?  You categorically deny it all?”

“I deny some of it?”

“Only some?” Callan asked.

“Please,” Mags said.  “I just wanted to…”

“To what?” Callan asked, almost snapping, his answer was so quick.  “Why did you feel like you had to interrupt us?  My mother is clearly upset, and you’re upsetting her more.  Clearly you must have had a good reason.”

His gaze was hard, almost glittering with anger.

When Mags didn’t answer, he said, “You had a reason for visiting too.  Morbid fascination?”

“No!  That’s-”

“Were you in love with her or something?”

“No!”

“You had some motivation for showing up every day.  It’s not like my mother and I aren’t going to pay attention to it.  Even Christoff asked about the strange girl that was visiting, and he really didn’t need more stuff to worry about in the aftermath of all this.  I think we deserve an answer.  What’s going on?  Was my mom right?  Was it greed?”

“N-”

She didn’t get a full word out, because he kept talking, “Are you here because of opportunism?”

“That’s…” Mags floundered for a word.  “It’s not like you’re thinking.”

“That’s not a no,” he said.  His voice had a note of triumph in it, but there was absolutely zero joy in it.  “I think it’s exactly like my mom theorized.”

“It isn’t, honest,” Mags said.

She’d said she’d had nightmares about something like this.  She’d had a role in murdering Molly, and on a level, she’d gotten away without a hitch.  Only now it was coming back to bite her, almost in the worst way possible.

“Then convince me.  Explain,” Callan said, and his voice was loud and sharp enough that it was only a half-step away from him yelling at Mags.

“I can’t,” Mags said.  “Listen, I’ll go, and I’ll come back when you’re done.”

“Maybe, if you can’t look us in the eye and explain why you’re so invested in this, you shouldn’t come back,” Aunt Irene said.

“Maybe,” Mags said, quiet, “But I will.”

“Pisses me off,” Callan said, looking away, very aggressively shaking snow from a card that was inside a sealable freezer bag.  He wiped the moisture from the outside of the card on his pant leg.

Mags had turned her back, starting to leave.

I heard Molly speak, as Mags put her foot on the slope.

You ordered the goblins to kill me.

Callan moved, as if a thought had just happened to come to him.  With the angle of the mirror, I could only see a slice of him, but everything in his tone of voice made it very easy to imagine his expression.  Incredulity.

“Is it guilt, that brings you back here?”

His voice carried.

The angle of the hand mirror changed slightly.  I could imagine Mags clenching her hand around the handle.

Molly was doing her own thing, now.

That,” Callan said, and he put a special kind of emphasis on the word, “Is even less of a no than your response to the greed thing.”

“It was clutching at opportunity, not greed,” Mags said, her voice so quiet that Callan didn’t have a chance at making out the words.

“If you’re going to say something, say it loud enough for us to hear!” Callan called out.  “Start with why the fuck you’re so guilty about my sister dying!”

Mags wasn’t functioning at her best.  She wasn’t even functioning by halves.

This wasn’t her.  Not the her I knew from here, and not the Maggie that Padriac had been pretending to be.

“Mags,” I said, keeping my voice low.

“They killed me and they took me to pieces!”  Molly raised her voice.  “They used corkscrews.  They used needles!”

Mags didn’t budge.

“Mags,” I said, a little more forceful.

“Fuck you!” Callan shouted.  “You come here?  You make us more miserable, bringing shit up like this?  Why?  Why the fuck can’t you just give us some damn peace?  So you can relieve the guilt a little?  Fuck you!”

“Mags, get a grip.  Callan feels guilty too, it’s part of why he’s seizing on this so forcefully,” I said.  “Repeat after me.  ‘Don’t you wish you could have done something more?'”

Mags spoke, as if she was very far away.  “Don’t you wish you had done something different, too?”

“Fuck you,” Callan said.

But there wasn’t even half the heat in the words that there had been earlier.

“Fuck you too,” Mags said.  She turned around, and she faced the pair.  Molly’s ghost hovered a little higher off the ground.  Mags’s voice was just a little choked.  “Fuck all of us.  This… this situation sucked.  It was fucked up, and a lot of people weren’t able to see just why.  I hate that.”

“You want to philosophize?” Callan asked.  “Do it somewhere else.”

“Yeah,” Mags said.  “Right.”

She made her way up the hill, taking a few steps at a time before pausing to look back and check on the scene.

“That didn’t work so well,” I said.  “The family’s emotionally charged, and-”

“-And that right there is my frigging kryptonite,” Mags said.  She injected false cheer into her voice, “But hey, bright side!  When things go that shitty, the nightmares have gotta pale in comparison, right?”

“I think this is your prophecy at work,” I said.  “It feels just a bit too contrived, pieces falling down in a very specific way.  A leading to B leading to C…”

“We need to head it off,” she said.

“We do,” I said.  “Listen, you might need to engage with Molly.  If we can get a rapport going between you two, we can buy you time to do the thing.  Do you think you can push through?  I can talk to you, if you think you can focus on my voice.”

“Yeah,” she said.  The mirror jerked, and the angle shifted vertically.  She was bending down.  I heard something crunch.

“Setting up?”

“I can have the rope soaking.  I don’t know how well it’s going to hold moisture, but I figure we can pour the rest of the salt so it’s bordered by the rope, and the rope should freeze in place, at least a little… ah, they’re leaving.”

“Ready?” I asked.

“No,” she said.  “Molly’s coming to us, she’s not following her family.”

“That’s good,” I said.

“That’s-”

The perspective shifted.  I had to shift over to avoid being caught outside of the light.

I had a view of the slope and of the little memorial, the latter of which was now clean and free of snow.

Molly held a position at the base of the slope.

“Frick,” Mags said.

“That’s where you stood when you watched,” Molly said.

Mags was frozen.  Her eyes were fixed on Molly’s, and Molly’s stare was hard, still hollow with loss.

“Respond,” I urged Mags.  Whatever my feelings were toward Molly, as one of my few good family members, the priority was keeping this situation from graduating from ‘shitstorm’ to ‘prophecy of fire and whatever else coming true’.

“Yeah,” Mags said.  “This is where I stood.”

“I don’t know why I remember this,” Molly said, “But when they found me, they thought I was a mauled animal at first.”

“I told you that,” Mags said.  “One of the first times I came to that memorial there.”

“You told me you were sorry,” Molly said.

“A lot of times.”

“Tell her you weren’t the only one responsible,” I said.  “Laird played a part, and you were manipulated when you were weak and scared.”

Mags shook her head.

“No?” I asked.

“I’m not going to make excuses,” she said, not taking her eyes off Molly.

“I wouldn’t accept them anyway,” Molly said, with venom in her voice.  She’d apparently heard.

That venom…

“Yeah,” Mags said.  “I didn’t think so.  What would it take?”

“You took my life, didn’t you?”

“Kind of.”

“Mags,” I said.

“Give me yours,” Molly said.  “Give me that body.  It doesn’t make up for it, but it’s close.”

Mags shook her head.  “I can’t do that.”

“She’s a wraith,” I said, my voice low.  “She’s… fuck.  She absorbed the negativity from me, and the Thorburns, because they’re connected to her.  And-”

“-She probably absorbed it from me too,” Mags said, without flinching.  “Stupid of me.  Selfish.”

“I don’t think it was selfish at all,” I said.  “It was a sacrifice, the blood you gave her, to keep that memory alive.”

“Sacrifices can be selfish,” Mags said.

“Callan wasn’t wrong, was he?” Molly asked.  She drew closer.

“He wasn’t a hundred percent right either,” Mags answered.

Molly changed course, toes barely touching the ground as she moved to keep about two arm lengths away from Mags and me.

Her hand took hold of the same branch that one of the goblins had been plucking twigs off of.

She lifted it.

“Fuck me,” I said.  “How much power did you give her?”

“It’s not just me!”

“Molly,” I said, cutting in. “Listen, I know you don’t remember, but I have memories of us being close.  You, me, and Paige, okay?  If we could back down for five seconds-”

She talked over me.  “This is between me and her.

I fell silent.

Then I saw her moving the stick.  The broken end dragged on the ground-

Drawing.

“Mags!” I said.

Mags moved, reaching for the stick.

Too late.  Whatever Molly had been drawing, it was already finished.  A rune.

The wraith swung the branch at Mags, who caught it relatively easily.  Molly had strength, but that didn’t mean she was necessarily strong.

Molly let go, and raised her hand.

A gaping hole in the middle, one finger broken.

A dribble of ghost-blood fell on the rune.

“No way,” I heard Mags, as if she were barely in earshot.

Wind stirred, and blew at my hair.  I felt feathers at my side shift.

“I think I need some space,” Molly said.

The wind picked up.  But instead of shifting gears, so to speak, and cranking up to the next level of force, the wind kept getting stronger.  A steady, constant speed.

There wasn’t supposed to be wind in my mirror domain.

“Get the rune,” I said.

I didn’t have a good view of what happened next.  My attention was on fighting the wind.  I dropped to all fours, to have more points of contact with the ground, my sweatshirt fluttering.  Snow and ice swept over me.

I heard Molly speak.

“You’re sorryKneel.”

I half expected the wind to get stronger until I was forced out of the patch of light.  That wasn’t what happened.

The rune managed to gather all the power it needed, and then it simply turned out the lights.

My mirror window into the real world started to go dark, taking my footing with it.

“You gave me your blood as penance?  You gave me your power.  This is me using it the way I think it should be used.  Go against that, and you’re invalidating every act of contrition you made there.”

“Mags!” I said, raising my voice to be heard, in case this fading window wouldn’t carry sounds as well into the real world.  “That isn’t her!  You can go against it!”

Before the light could go out and maybe take me with it, I skipped to the next real bit of solid footing, about a five minute walk from the slope, Mags and Molly.

Once there, I collapsed, back to the wall.

Damn it.

We did not need this right now.

I turned over my options in my head, while double checking I was still in one piece.  No substantial damage, beyond what I’d suffered fighting the three guardians of the mirror space.  Ribs damaged in the tumble, now exposed.  Feathers stuck out from the side of my stomach, where I’d scraped the skin, and poked out where and when my sweatshirt rode up.

I still had the Hyena, but that didn’t feel like an answer in dealing with Molly.

Just when I was preparing to go, Mags turned up.  She held the backpack with the salt and rope in it in one hand, the adjustment straps dragging on the ground.

“What happened?”

“Ugh,” she said.  “She tapped my power for the rune there.  She’s right.  I can’t fight her, not really.  I’m getting more calls.  Same people, and it’s getting more insistent.  If they accuse me of not doing my job…”

It would bode ill.

“Bad day,” I said.

“Putting it lightly,” she said.  “She disappeared again.  She didn’t go to the memorial either.  I’m assuming it’s the house.”

Not to the memorial?

“I don’t know if a ghost can have multiple haunts,” I said.  “I sort of skimmed, when I read up on ghosts.”

“Right.  Fuck.  Okay.  Next destination, Hillsglade House?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “She’s a wraith, she’s shoring herself up and storing strength by feeding on negativity.  It’s going to twist her into something else.”

“How do you stop a wraith?”

“Mostly, I think, wraiths stop themselves.  They burn through whatever power made them.  Maybe if a practitioner is skilled, they can infuse it with more spirits, and shape it, like the Shepherd in Toronto did.”

“I wasn’t in Toronto, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember.  Uh, the other way they stop is the way any ghost can theoretically be put to rest.”

“Yeah?”

“Help them resolve the issue that made the echo in the first place.”

“Great.  How do we resolve hers?”

I paused.

“What?”

“For a wraith, that’s usually venting all that negativity at a person or a group of people.  Getting revenge.”

Balls,” Mags said.  She leaned against the window, bringing her head back hard enough to make the glass rattle.  “She’s a practitioner, but any power she draws on is going to be mine, because I established a connection.”

“She’s still growing.  She’s finding her strength, but by all accounts, she was never a very offensive practitioner.”

“She banished you pretty well.”

“Her focus was on defense.  Knowing that, we’ve got a sense of how she’ll operate.  She wants to make you miserable.”

“She wants me to experience the same pain she did.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I believe that.  But there’s a reason she disappeared and didn’t go right after you.  You think she went to Hillsglade, but I’m not certain.  What’s her agenda?  How does that fit in?”

“Getting access to books?”

“If she tries, she won’t succeed.  Rose put up barriers.  I can’t get inside.  I doubt an obvious threat like a ghost or a wraith could.”

“Another haunt, then?”

“Maybe,” I said.

Mags pulled a notebook out of the bag.  She opened it to the first blank page.

Wraith of Molly Walker in the middle, circled.

Thorburn, defensive caster, middle child, first heir and custodian.  Mags wrote the words inside the bubble.

Around the edge, she wrote more words inside bubbles.  Hillsglade House.  Molly’s Home.  School.

“Places she could be?” I asked.

“Things she has a connection to, but mostly places.”

“Her little brother,” I said.  “Her mom and Callan, who should be in the same place.  Um.  The goblins that killed her.  Extended family.  Laird.  Sandra.  Grandmother.”

Mags scribbled each idea down.

She switched to a different pen.

A line from Molly’s bubble in the middle to each of the bubbles ringing it.

Each line came out with a different strength.

The strongest, oddly enough, was ‘extended family’.

“More negativity to feed on,” I said.  “More connections to her soul and her Self.”

“Right.  I know where they are.  Your aunt said when she was talking to Rose.”

She swiftly packed everything back into the bag.

I could see her nervousness, the agitation that made paper flutter as she seized it.  Even the pens, when she put each one into a pocket for that pen alone- they wobbled.

I hated to have to tell her, but…

“I’m not coming,” I told her.

She froze, shifted position to look at me in the window.

“I’m not as useful here,” I said.  “We can’t chase her.  We’ve got to head her off, like we said before.  We should split up.  I’m… I’ll figure something out, and you give chase and distract her as well as you can, alright?”

“Damn it,” she said.

“You going to be okay without the bogeyman around for moral support?”  I asked.

“I’m going to have to be,” she said.  “Ugh.”

As if she wouldn’t have the courage if she didn’t set off right there, she sprinted out of my field of view, the backpack not even over her shoulders.

I headed in the opposite direction.

I felt trepidation of my own.

I walked over until I was at the very edge of the light shed by this row of houses.

I couldn’t make out the light, but I did have an open invitation.

I leaped, and I prayed I wouldn’t be intercepted, or wind up somewhere where I could get in trouble.

My feet came down on solid road.

Here, the wind blew.  The sun shone, a sky overhead.

Faysal Anwar was sitting in the middle of the road, gleaming white.

“As per our arrangement?” he asked.

“Please,” I said.

“Will you walk with me?” he asked.  “I rather like walks, and I would like to stretch my legs.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Because of my role as a Gatekeeper and a being that supervises travelers and forges paths, not because of my canine body.”

“Oh.  Sure,” I said.  Given the choice, I might have preferred to stay, so I might make a faster exit when the dealing was done, but I wasn’t about to fight for trivialities with a guy like him.

“You were in the midst of a crisis, the last I saw.”

“The crisis is ongoing,” I said.

“Ah.  Then let me please see to my end of the bargain here first.  I promised nourishment.”

“I don’t know that I really eat anymore,” I said.

“You do,” he told me.  “You devour.  There is a yawning emptiness inside of you that craves sustenance, but you do not yet know how to feed it.”

Buildings parted before us, sliding out of the way, creating a narrow road for us to walk.

“I’ll take your word for it,” I said.

“You’ll do more than that,” Faysal told me.

We rounded a corner, and walls pulled away, revealing me.

Not only me, but a me that, on a level, I hadn’t ever really seen.  Discount my false memories, and account for the fact that Rose had taken my place in the mirrors every time I’d looked, up until I’d become a bogeyman, and I’d never really looked at myself.

Average height, longer hair that had a way of getting in his eyes, hands in his sweatshirt pockets, with winter boots… he looked just a little tired.

“What the hell?” I asked.

“An image.  Nothing more.”

“An image.”

“As you are now, you’re a starving giant, Blake Thorburn.”

I raised my head a little at that, eyes widening.

“Yes, I know your name now.  I know who and what you are.  It did take some doing.  You have the appetite of a giant, and you aren’t aware of it, but you are devouring everything you can get your hands on.  Spirits flood to fill the emptiness inside you.  When Blake Thorburn became something Other, a great many connections were broken.  You came undone, in a great many ways.  You were broken, and now you are a shattered vessel.  The drains filled you and transformed you, the spirits are finding surer footing in you, stronger ones supplanting weaker ones, while your psyche and your body render them into something familiar and comfortable to you.”

“Birds and sticks?” I asked.

“Something in that vein.  Once I knew what to look for, and once I had the details I needed, I was able to ask my practitioner for permission to follow the loose threads in his consciousness.  Connections were broken, and some are already mending.  His weren’t, not really.  It was a tenuous relationship to begin with, and it’s easy for the mind to lose its grip on those who they have only met once or twice.”

I nodded slowly.

“The memories are still there.  They weren’t erased, only lost.  This is your image, as Johannes had it.  I found two Others who caught glimpses of you, and strengthened that image.  Without ready access to those memories, they won’t suffer unduly.  Take it.  The difference is meager, but it will make a difference.”

“No trick?” I asked.

“No.  This is my hospitality.”

I reached out, not quite sure how I was supposed to eat myself.

The image blurred, and it folded itself around me.

I breathed in, almost as if I were testing the skin that wrapped around me.

It felt different.  More human, almost.

The tattoos, as I looked at my arm, weren’t quite so stark.  I couldn’t pick anything out that was different, but it seemed somehow better.

I checked my ribs, and the feathers didn’t stick out so much, the ribs weren’t so exposed.

“Thank you,” I said.

“You’re very welcome.  The hungry chasm in your being shouldn’t be quite as open as it was.  You’ll recover faster”

He’d started walking, and I walked alongside him.

“Thank you,” I said, again.

“We have had our discussion, in a way, though I am open to more.  That leaves only the favor.”

I started to speak, then hesitated.

“Yes?”

“I have two favors to ask,” I said.  “I’m hoping that since Mag- the ambassador is working for all of our interests, you’ll help with this without making too big a fuss of it.”

“I agreed to grant one favor.”

“You didn’t agree to grant only one,” I said.  “Trust me, this is helpful to all of us.”

“What is the favor?”

“The ambassador is chasing a wraith.  The wraith, I’m pretty sure, is going to keep running, moving from haunt to haunt.  Can you capture it?”

“Capture it?  I would be reluctant but willing.  If I displayed power to bind, kill, or alter the wraith, I might draw unwanted attention, disturbing a tenuous peace.”

And the prophecy of blood, fire and darkness would come to fruition.

“I would be willing, but I would prefer to choose a specific time and place, so my practitioner isn’t too disadvantaged.”

“No, scratch that,” I said.  “What about… if you have a control over paths, can you bar the wraith’s path, keep it from running?”

“I cannot close paths, I can only open them.  But I could open paths that would lead the wraith to a dead end, and arrange it so the only exit would be through you and the ambassador.  I could do this discreetly, and if the wraith didn’t harm you, there would be no cost to you or the ambassador.”

“Sounds like an option,” I said.  “That’s fair.”

“Would you deem it satisfactory, per the terms I offered?  I would want the past you and the present you to be happy with this favor.”

“There’s the second favor,” I said.

“Ah.”

“I have an acquaintance, from the Drains.  She helped me, I thought I should get her out if I can, and I know she’s not a warrior.”

“She’s an ally, nonetheless,” the dog told me.

“Yeah,” I said.  “And that’s why I can’t ask the ambassador to do it for me, and right now I don’t really have anyone else to turn to.  I can’t imagine she’d be the turning point in this war for the Lordship… I just owe her, on a level.”

“A greedy thing, asking for two favors, when one is generous enough.”

“I had to ask, to keep my word,” I said.

“I understand.  I can’t grant it to you as it stands, unless you have something to offer me.”

I frowned.

The wind was cold, which was strange to me, and the landscape alien, twisted, a little too inclined to move as Faysal needed.

The Sorcerer’s domain, but it was also the dog’s.

I was pretty damn sure I didn’t want to fight either of them here, if they had this much say over just how things were laid out and put together.

It was just a dog, but here, seeing the whole landscape change around it, I felt like I was getting more of a glimpse of the metaphorical iceberg beneath the water’s surface.

“I don’t have anything significant to barter,” I said.  “But… the reason I ended up in the drains was that I was fighting a demon.  Given a chance, I’ll fight it a fourth time and I think I have the tools to win, this time around.  The knowledge.  It’s a demon of the first choir, and I can bind it with art.  I know how to trap it, I know how to kill it, and I fully intend to do both.”

“Given the opportunity.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Maybe that counts for something, if it’s a demon and you’re an angel?”

“In the colloquial sense.  Yes.  That does count for something, and it does answer questions.  In an even match, my kind will inevitably lose to one of their kind.  Entropy will have its way in the end, but I can hope that end is in the far-flung future.  A demon of the first choir… entropy distilled.  Brave or ignorant, to challenge it.”

I didn’t speak.

“You’ll have your two favors,” he said.  “The second in payment for what you have lost in the fighting of demons.  Is that agreeable?  You should be leaving my domain happier, healthier, and better.”

“It’s agreeable,” I said.

“Then for the release of the Iaiah that you gave me, I grant your terms.  I have some traveling to do before I can find your abyss-dwelling companion, and it seems… a very unexpected group has just passed into this realm.”

“Unexpected?”

“Don’t concern yourself for now.  Your companion I’m to recover, what is their name?”

“Green Eyes.”

“So be it.  I will be in touch before long.  Turn around.”

I did.

A door stood in front of me.

“It will take you where you need to be.”

I stepped through.

The cafe in the ‘downtown’ of Jacob’s Bell.

My family.

Mom, dad, Ivy, Uncle, Uncle’s current and ex-wives, Jessica and Steph, respectively, and my cousins Kathryn, Ellie, Paige’s twin Peter, Irene’s youngest Christoff, James, and Roxanne, in descending order.

No Paige, no Aunt Irene or Callan, though they could easily be heading this way, if they’d left Christoff with family.

Molly was there, at the back of the cafe.

Mags was outside, looking in the window.

I moved to Mags’ side.

“Well?” she asked.

“It’s done.  If we can get her to move, we should be able to corner her.  Then we can bind her or whatever else.”

I stared inside.  They were agitated.  Half the parents were busy watching the kids, Ivy was dumping food on the floor and nobody was cleaning it up, and the one other occupied booth had two very annoyed looking patrons inside.

Short of grandmother dying a second time, getting the inheritance out of the hands of the current custodian and heir was apparently the only thing that would bring this group together.

It didn’t look like they could exchange two words without looking aggravated, annoyed, or smug.  But all the same, Uncle, Aunt Jessica, and dad each had stacks of paper in front of them, highlighters, pens and sticky notes in hand, ignoring the chaos of the younger teenagers and children, Ivy’s squalling, and the aggrieved looks of the cafe’s staff.

There was something to be said for Thorburn bullheadedness.

“We need Molly out of there,” I said.

“We also need a plan,” Mags said.  “I’ve got the salt-soaked rope, but she’s not weak, and she’s aware enough to know we’re trying something, and even to grasp exactly what we’re trying to do.

“She knows about bindings,” I said, “Yeah.”

“She shouldn’t be this clever,” Mags said.

“Molly is absorbing paranoia, anger, and all the trace thoughts that come with the feelings,” I said.  “Ghosts are made of that kind of emotional picture.”

“I feel like we’re being tampered with.  More than just a prophecy coming to pass.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “Second guessing yourself?”

“Just a little,” she said.  “Frig.”

“Molly’s going to be prepared,” I said.  “You’ll need to be careful.”

Fuck being careful,” Mags said.  “We’re doing this my way.”

“Your-”

“Who’s the biggest shit disturber in there, among all your cousins that’ve lived here?”

“Um.  Probably Ellie.  Poor impulse control, property damage, petty theft, slept around.  Woman with tattoos.  Looks like a human weasel.”

Mags was winding a strap around her hand.

“Why?”  I asked.

“Need a story.”

I thought of what I’d told Rose.  “Can that story involve interrupting what they’re doing?”

“Naturally,” she said.

Naturally?” I asked.  “How’re-

But Mags was already moving, opening the door.

I had to remind myself that the Maggie I’d gotten to know in Toronto wasn’t this person.  It was a fake.

And the real person was apparently the type that had to move and act.  When push came to shove, and she wasn’t facing down a regret bigger than maybe losing her name, she didn’t give herself a chance to hesitate.

She didn’t hold anything back, either.

“Hey, bitch!”  Mags practically bellowed.

Ellie turned.  She’d been taking up a booth all by herself, not helping with paperwork or managing kids, lounging.

“What the fuck are you doing back here?”  Mags asked.

“I don’t know you,” Ellie said.

“You know me.  My bike?”

“I’ve seen a lot of bikes.”

“Wasn’t it you that stole my bike, years back?  You bitch.”

“Kid, if you want to get on my bad side…” Ellie warned.

“What?  What are you going to do?”  Mags asked.

“I’ve fought girls twice your size,” Ellie said.

Mags didn’t hesitate.  She stalked forward, Ellie raised her hands defensively-

And Mags shoved her.

It wasn’t the kind of strong that screamed magic.  It was the kind of strong where Ellie teetered backward and crashed hard into the wall, just beneath Molly’s ghost.

“And lost?” Mags taunted Ellie.

Molly seemed almost delighted.  She hadn’t been fond of Ellie, and the negativity latent in the whole scene… yeah, that wasn’t helping the wraith problem.

Before anyone could stop her, Mags grabbed one of the fat glass salt shakers from the table.  She tossed it into the air, caught it with the hand she’d wound the strap around, and hurled it at the wall like she might’ve thrown a fastball.

Molly’s ghost disappeared an instant before the shaker shattered explosively.

The staff had reached Mags, who backed away, pulling her hand away from one grip.

“Let go of me,” Mags said, “Seriously, let go!”

When she was released, she straightened her jacket.  She reached into her coat, and pulled out her wallet.  “For the damage, and the inconvenience.”

She removed bills, slapping them down onto the raised border between two booths.  “Say when.”

She’d slapped out five bills before the manager or cook or whatever had his bearings, stopping her.

“I understand if you want to ban me from the premises,” Mags said.  “Sorry for the trouble.”

The cook looked between Mags and Ellie, then at the family, which had undoubtedly caused him no small amount of grief.  He pitched his voice low.  “No trouble.  You can come back, but not while they’re here.  For now, out, out.”

Mags nodded.

“And the rest of you, out.  Too many headaches, this is my final straw.  You stay, but you are not eating?  Enough.  Come back tomorrow, you can stay so long as you eat.”

Mags strode out with an air of victory.  I moved to the exterior, where the window looked out on the street.  “There.”

“‘Your way’ involves more violence and destruction than I would’ve thought,” I commented.

“You don’t know the half of it.  I’ve used frigging plastic explosive.  It’s a casualty of spending too much time around goblins, you get to think like they do.”

“That’s a little scary.”

“Which part?”

“All of it.”

“I like doing things directly, and I did get the ghost to scram.”

“That you did,” I said.  “Now we’ve got to find her.”

She pulled a paper from her pocket.  The bubble map.

She shoved it in the nearest bit of snow.

When it came out, the lines were washed out, the ink running.

“That’s the strongest line,” she said, with confidence.  “The house.”

Maybe this was what it was like to be Rose-in-the-Mirror, dealing with Blake.

Trusting someone’s gut instincts.

“Cool,” was all I said.

It wasn’t a long walk, and where I could have skipped ahead, I stuck by Mags.

Rose was standing on the porch with Alexis.  She pointed at the side of the house.

We went in the direction she’d pointed.

The back of Hillsglade House, where the hills and the glades mingled.  I’d met and bound June here, and traveling a little further, I’d negotiated somewhat unsuccessfully with the Briar Girl.

Molly was here.

She lunged.  Mags threw down a  line of salt.

The wraith retreated.

“You can’t even look me in the eye,” Molly said.

“It’s tough,” Mags said.  She raised her head, though, and did meet Molly’s eyes.

“You killed me.”

“I had a hand in it,” Mags said.

“I didn’t want any of this.”

“I know that now,” Mags replied.

“I’m filled with so much awfulness, and there’s more every minute.  I know it’s not me.  Every instinct I have is telling me that the awfulness is for you.  That I should make you feel it.  Make you hurt and angry and frustrated and hopeless.”

“That’s an option,” Mags said.  “I might even deserve it.”

“You do!” Molly raised her voice.

“But it’s not the only option,” Mags said.  “I’d like to make a deal.”

“Why would I ever want to deal with you?”

Mags shifted her weight, removing her backpack and tossing it to one side.

She dropped to her knees, eyes on the ground.

“Molly Walker, I can’t ever give you what I took from you, I can’t make proper restitution.  But even if I can’t give you your life back, and I can’t give you my life in exchange, because of other debts I owe… I can give you a life.”

She cast a sidelong glance at me, “Sorry, Blake.”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“What’s this?” Molly asked.

“I’m asking you to be my familiar,” Mags said.  “And I’ll make things up to you where and when I can.  Damn the consequences.”

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244 thoughts on “Mala Fide 10.4

        1. Sorry about that. Straight out of a supposedly OK spell-checker, so now I have to start second-guessing the spell-checker. Sigh.

    1. “But all the same, Uncle, Aunt Jessica, and dad each had stacks of paper in front of them”

      Uncle should probably have a name after it.

      1. It was taking a small hit in power or risking Molly bringing on Blood and Darkness. The power will come back with enough time. Blood and Fire and Darkness possibly involving a Thorburn…. that’s a lot more of a problem.

      2. Interesting. Does her position as a mediator between parties allow her the option of lying if it is a viable way to help resolve a problem?

        Mags has a role, a position. She’s Mediator. This might allow her some sort of ability to sidestep the consequences of lying.

        Remember that Conquest could violate rules and pay for it with some sort of banked power. Mags has been mediating for at least a few days, she might have some sort of reserve built up?

        Then again, maybe she just felt that lying was simply worth the price.

      3. Unless someone actively calls her on it it’s not a big deal, the big danger is another practitioner calling her on it. That’s my understanding at least.

      1. Not sure. The narrative voice uses “Maggie” repeatedly here (and it did in the last few chapters, too), so if it’s a mistake it’s a pretty consistent one, and one that wasn’t happening before.

        1. Yeah, Blake doesn’t seem to have any problem thinking about Mags as “Maggie” and he’s starting to understand the differences between the real Maggie Holt and the imposter in Toronto. And the initial theft of the name was mostly illusion magic anyway, so maybe Blake will be instrumental in helping Mags take back her rightful name.

          1. Glamour, not illusion. And it might not be; that’s a guess on our part. Plus, the thief is an ancient fey. I don’t think that Blake’s innate skill with glamour is going to be able to trump Padraic’s enormous experience and power.

    2. Typo or continuity, with a little bit of mystery:

      “With that kind of attitude, I can see why grandmother would pick you for first heir and custodian,” I said.

      “She didn’t,” Molly said.

      I looked at her. “She didn’t?”

      “Fuck her, most of all!” Molly said.

      “Molly,” I said, “Focus. Why did Grandmother pick you first?”

      I am going to assume the conflicting evidence of her being the first heir but not being the first heir is some sort of plot point. However, that still leaves Molly saying she wasn’t the first heir and then Blake immediately asking why she was the first heir. Someone in that conversation isn’t listening. Or it is an extended typo.

      1. “Agendas,” she said, her voice low. Her voice had a gravelly tone that suggested extreme fatigue. “Everyone has an agenda.”

        “What was grandmother’s agenda?” I asked.

        “Can’t make an omelete without breaking a few eggs, right?” she asked, but there was no mirth in her expression. I could see dark circles under her eyes. She glared at me. “Enjoy your fucking omelete.”


        Looks like the idea some had about Molly being a “buffer” for Blake was probably right.

      2. I am taking that and “can’t make an omlet without braking eggs” quote as sort of hint that Molly was the sacrificial pawn to create Blake.

      3. My interpretation: Molly was chosen as first custodian, Rose as heir. That resolves everything as far as I can tell.

        Rose once said she was chosen as heir, after all, and we know that Blake’s memories up to the middle of chapter 1-1 (where Molly was apparently chosen as first heir) were fake.

      4. TBH I’m getting the impression Molly was a sacrificial goat, staked out to be taken by the most angry and vindictive of the families enemies. All the responsibilities, but none of the protection. Rose Sr. sets things up to profit as much possible from this and setup her actual heir to survive.

        Maybe.

      5. I’m betting that what Molly meant by that is that she realised she didn’t get the sort of protections from Grandma that Rose did: she wasn’t chosen to be the first heir, she was chosen to be a nasty example to the real heir.

        1. Let one die to scare the next. Course Grandma had to pick the right one for that. She needed one a bit meeker than what she wanted in an heir, but one that might ideally last for a while. Well if Molly does become Mag’s familiar hopefully she’ll become more coherent like Evan did.

        2. I suspect that the real explanation is even more complicated. Maybe Molly was intended to die to serve as an example to Rose. But maybe she was also intended to come back as a sentient ghost/wraith. Due to various loopholes, Rose Sr. now has three heirs running around and I doubt that’s a coincidence.

          1. Her coming back as a wraith involves way too many variables lining up right, just like Blake sticking around after his death. Granny /might/ have had plans involving a potential wraith/ghost Molly in them, but I really doubt that she’d have staked any money on them.

            Truthfully I’m not even entirely sure what caused her to tip over from ghost to wraith this chapter, it might have been getting visited by Blake, or possibly Mags finally gave that last drop of blood that pushed her over into being able to feed directly off her power, or one of the younger Duchanps took matters into her own hands to get the show on the road while dealing with the uppity Goblin Queen, namely messing with the connection between Mags and the ghost. Nothing that happens after the ghost starts drawing power from Mags could be traced back to this hypothetically enchantress, and any damage it does damages any claim that Mags has for impartiality, because she had been the one feeding it since after she killed Molly.

            And, I can truthfully think of no sane plan that allows for a vestige, which has been described as so fragile thinking too hard about them causes them to fall apart, surviving after death. The only reason, with the information we have available at this point, formBlake still being ‘alive’ is the fact that he didn’t actually die, just had all his connections cut or shattered and slipped out through the cracks in reality, coming back as a different flavor of Other in the process.

    3. Molly seemed almost delighted. She hadn’t been fond of Ellie, and the negativity-

      Cuts off mid sentence.

      “Can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, right?” she asked, but there was no mirth in her expression. I could see dark circles under her eyes. She glared at me. Enjoy your fucking omelette.”

      I believe there’s a ” missing before Enjoy.

    4. Typos:
      – “By passing a piece of ourselves and our teachings on to our children, we achieve a kind of immortality.” -> “achieved”?
      – “Padriac” -> “Padraic”
      – “The drains filled you” -> “The Drains”
      – “the reason I ended up in the drains” -> “the Drains”
      – “Irene’s youngest Christoff, James, and Roxanne, in descending order”? -> I don’t even now how to fix that. Maybe replace “youngest” with “children”?
      – “Second guessing” -> “Second-guessing”
      – “I’ve used frigging plastic explosive.” -> “used a frigging”

      Inconsistency: “You know me.” – How is that line not a lie?

        1. “By doing X, we achieve Y.” Standard construction.

          As for the explosive bit, you wouldn’t say “I’ve used a C4.” You wouldn’t say “I’ve used a love.” Or “I’ve used a violence.” You don’t use grammar with concepts like that.

          1. I figured it was about the use of “frigging” because otherwise C4 (or Semtex, PETN, or a variety of others would slide in just as well.)

            For example “I’ve used plastic explosives before” and “I’ve used C4 before” are both grammatically correct.

            1. Both singular and plural would be grammatically correct in this case, but the plural would suggest “I’ve used multiple types of plastic explosive before”.

              It’s sort of like “I’ve eaten stinking cheese before” means that you have tried at least (and possibly no more than) one type of cheese, but “I’ve eaten stinking cheeses before” suggests that you tried more than one type.

    1. Especially when the entire town is getting geared for war and the Family of said dead diabolist is seen as public enemy No. 1. Might be viewed as picking sides. Especially since she’s the Ambassador.

  1. Okay… Sure, take a familiar that:
    1) Has good reason to hate, harm, and kill you.
    2) Is partisan in the current struggle, which might make you break the agreement that is keeping you from the Drains.

    There’s atonement and then there’s stupidity, and that action seems to fall on the stupidity side of the line.

    1. She’s neutral in the current struggle as of yet. If the other sides start something then they attacked a neutral party.

    2. 3) All the while, ignoring multiple calls from people who can accuse you of breaking the agreement for ignoring them and for taking a Thorburn wraith as a familiar.

      1. She was handling an issue that threatened the neutrality of her position in the war, as well as possibly escalating the war, in a manner that was to her discretion. Given that said wraith would more or less be under her control and she is under no obligation to reveal her identity, they have no reason to object.

        1. Also, when was it stated again the the ambassador must be on duty 24/7 and who set her a maximum response time?

          Also, Molly is kind of a neutral party herself. Except for Mags/Maggie, for the obvious Wraith-related reasons.

          1. It wasn’t stated, but when you stake your existence on something like that you don’t take chances. Molly isn’t on Rose’s side in this, but she’s obviously involved somehow.

            Still, I don’t think Mags has done anything she can’t talk her way out of.

    3. I can see Molly becoming Mags’ familiar, and it helps that Johannes talked to Scarf about the topic of familiars.

      But I also can’t see Mags keeping her neutral party status like this. “Damn the consequences”, indeed.
      You can no longer claim to be neutral once you make a former Public Enemy No. 1 (i.e. a Thorburn practitioner) into your familiar. It wouldn’t even be enough if Molly agreed to drop all her grudges, and I don’t even see that happening.

      Though it’s possible that people will extract favors from Mags rather than make her lose her status.

      1. Mag’s has to do the things that she herself would do if she wants to be more than the arbiter. Besides every family in town wanted Molly dead, so she’s sorta neutral, in a way.

        Also Molly hasn’t said yes yet.

      2. I think that Mags could argue that the others are also responsible for Molly’s death, and therefore have a responsibility not to stand in the way of her attempts to make restitution.

        (Of course, this would be easier if Laird, who was directly responsible, were still in charge of the Belham family.)

  2. So it appears there was someone before Molly. A fourth custodian we know nothing about. Seeing as how they have a tendency of not dying like they should I bet he/she is still out and about. Rose is def a real girl.

    So yeah, when Blake doesn’t have bad Karma weighing him down he makes friends a lot easier.

    Also it seems when Blake finally became a true Other is when he started the real downhill spiral. DrainsCarl won.

    And team Angel now knows about the art trick. This is totally the end for Ur. (J/K she’s obviously the final boss.)

    1. I interpreted those lines differently. Blake said that Molly was Rose Sr.’s first choice of heir/custodian. Molly refutes that particular statement. Blake asks why she was first in the will if she was not the first choice. The next few lines where Molly goes darker implies that she figured out that, like Blake, she was just a pawn to make way for the true heir. In this interpretation Molly was the first in the will, but she was not Rose Sr.’s first choice for the heir – she was just an expendable pawn, expected to die.

      1. Yeah, that was my reading, too. Hence the “break some eggs to make an omelet” line — she understood that she was meant to be a sacrificial pawn for Rose’s sake, and resents it.

      2. Ouch. I’d interpreted that to mean that RDT wasn’t the one who chose Molly to be the first in line, but that’s just mean enough to be RDT’s decision.

        Come to think of it, have we heard in clear writing that Rose is, in fact, the heiress?

    2. I dnt think there was someone before. I stand by my theory that Rose Sr used Molly as a sacrificial lamb. She was set up to die from the start.

      The cracking egg comment could be that Molly’s death was used to create Blake. Alexis and Ty might’ve been Molly’s friends for all we know.

      1. Also, Laird was the one that put the hit on Molly and Laird was part of the plan set up by Rose Sr and Laird’s father.

        There is also the part about Blake remembering fond memories of Molly, which was a big part of his motivation early on to take action.

      2. I don’t think Alexis and Ty would have come across Molly, though. They were in Toronto, hopping around shelters, etc. Molly’s life was never described in such a way where that would make sense

    3. Hmmm… pieces first, then try to assemble the puzzle:

      Rose: “We all thought Paige was the top candidate, then Peter made his play and… well, the next thing I remember, I got confirmed as heir at the meeting.” (7.4) Note that this is when Rose could lie, but there is no obvious reason for this lie at the time it was said.

      Now Molly says she herself wasn’t the first heir.

      Molly said last chapter that she was alone. But shadows apparently don’t leave memories, so that is not strong evidence.

      We can no longer trust Blake’s memories that happened before Molly’s death, because we now know they were made up. Is there anywhere where a third party confirmed the order of heirs?

      The timing suggests it has only been a couple of months since RDT died, but given that Blake died in two weeks and would have died sooner except for the fact that he was a tenacious, inventive paranoid, several heirs could have fallen. More specifically, several shadows could have fallen.

      I said in comments a long time back that RDT would have created shadows for every possible heir, if she could.

      So, a mundane resolution would be that Rose is the intended heir and everyone else are just custodians / damage sinks. Rose is the first heir, even though Molly was first on the papers.

      But I am assuming shadow trickery is going on. So I am assuming something like this:
      Molly did have a shadow. The shadow was named first heir. The shadow died, and everyone forgot except the shadow’s memories were transferred to Rose, including the memory of being the first heir. Then Molly died and Blake was the shadow. Blake died, but the memories didn’t transfer because of the way he died (Ur/Drains). If the plan had worked, it would have given Rose three damage sinks, two of which would transfer memories to her, and the resulting reality shifts would have completely confused their enemies. That would have given her a serious advantage.

      1. I disagree a bit. RDT would not want to create a shadow or reflection of each heir. While that seems like a good strategy at first glance, the Unknown is the fastest way to power in Pact. Once you work out what Other you’re dealing with and how they tick, it’s an easy road to success. That’s a lot of effort wasted on the last several heirs to little or no benefit. You have to change your strategy based on how quickly your enemies can think up a counter and that’s no easy matter.

      2. Vestiges aren’t typically forgotten; Blake was forgotten solely because of Ur.
        And Molly not being or having a reflection was explained in 10-3:

        “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.”

        1. I’d like to add that Blake would have been forgotten if things had gone to plan, but that it wasn’t due to his innate nature of being a vestige. It was due to RDT setting him up as a false heir. After all, you don’t want your real heir to drop into place and have the family wondering why there’s a daughter instead of a son. You want a seamless merging so the muggles (and preferably Others) don’t notice a difference.

          1. Where was it stated that Blake would be forgotten in any case? Isadora said Blake was fated to die, and that things would be disorienting in the aftermath, but depending on how she came by this information (intuition, prophecy, etc), she may well have foreseen the actual outcome rather than other outcomes like Blake expiring naturally when his time was up.

            1. From when Isadora was telling Blake he was fated to die (conversation starts in 6.9, quote is from 6.10), “When you are gone, your partner will take your place. Things will reorder themselves in the aftermath, and she will adopt the ties that you have abandoned.”

              That could be read as proof that people forget the false heirs, though I’m inclined to think it’s less /forgetting/ so much as messing with connections being OP. I mean seriously, that stuff needs nerfing bad. Anyway, Isadora later says that Rose would “dispatch” Blake’s killer, and that these events would “disorient” Blake’s enemies, neither of which happened. None of the powers in Jacob’s Bell seem particularly disoriented, even in the initial aftermath of his death.

            2. None of the powers in Jacob’s Bell seem particularly disoriented, even in the initial aftermath of his death.

              Well, they mostly didn’t remember Blake, and they seem to believe Rose did much of what he did. During the last town meeting, they seemed to be surprised by her actions, which may be partly because they had expected her to act like Blake did (since they probably remember her doing his actions).

            3. On the other hand, Isadora wanted to give Blake a clean death, and when that didn’t happen, the result was the foreseen total mess in Toronto (Diane, Sisters, Eye etc).

              But yes, I’m curious about that prediction about Rose defeating Ur in particular.

            4. The exact wording was:

              Rose will be able to dispatch whoever killed you in the chaos that follows.

              First, “will be able to” does not mean “will”. Second, Ur didn’t kill Blake.

              I don’t think this was part of the “prophecy”, more like Isadora’s explanation of possible effects of the bait-and-switch strategy set up by granny.

              Alternatively, it might be that the prophecy itself was confused by Ur gnawing on the connections. Oracular prophecies tend to be easily misinterpreted, it’s likely that even Isadora may misinterpret her own instinctual predictions. (Besides, I think she actually said she doesn’t do prophecy as such, she can just feel how things should settle down when disturbed, which could easily be confused by demons chewing on reality.)

          2. I agree that Isadora could misinterpret her intuitive predictions, but the problem is that this would turn the prediction, and thereby Isadora’s words, into a lie.

            If she only had a vague notion of what was going to happen, she should have been much vaguer in her choice of words.

            1. Maybe she was. If you think about it, nothing she said turned out false yet. She just said “Rose will be able to dispatch”, not “Rose will dispatch”. She never said Blake will die, she said he’s “not long for this world”.

            2. Isadora in 6.10: “Rose will be able to dispatch whoever killed you in the chaos that follows.”

              I agree about the “will be able to” part, but the “whoever killed you” part seems pretty clear-cut.

              And if you think that’s not a lie because it could still happen, this also implies that Rose will necessarily live longer than Blake, among other things.

            3. Well, if nobody kills Blake (i.e., if he dies from natural causes, or if he can’t die either because he’s immortal or because whatever happens to bogeymen isn’t death), or if whoever kills Blake is not an immortal (i.e., Rose can kill him, even if she doesn’t), then Isadora’s statement is technically true. The spirits might snub her a bit for the technicality, but it still wouldn’t (technically) be a lie.

              Also, it could be that Blake’s fall erased most spirits’ memories of her statement; karma spirits didn’t seem very smart or powerful individually, and we’ve been explicitly told they can be deceived and manipulated, so there’s no obvious reason why they’d remember a statement about someone (and told to someone) even most practitioners can’t remember without special expertise or angelic help.

            4. Good points.

              Concerning your second point: I originally thought along the same lines – if everyone’s memories of your promise were erased, why should that promise still matter – but the Histories 9 interlude seems to disagree. That is, Jeremy forgot a promise and then broke it, and Sandra still thinks this is bad.

      1. True, but he’s going Round 4 with Ur and a familiar is kind of bound tight while he’s all about freedom to help his friends, which goes against Maggie’s title as Ambassador.

        Otherwise, again, he could have taken Faysal’s offer.

    1. “Yeah, I’m just going to take your dead cousin (whom I murdered) as my familiar now, m’kay?”

      She can’t know for certain that he’ll be cool with that. It could be seen as disrespectful, so, she apologizes in advance.

    2. Guess she was thinking of asking Blake. Or maybe it’s Wildbow sneakily saying sorry for killing the Blake/Mags ship.

        1. This hardly counts as sinking it, since the two of them having a romantic relationship is not contingent on him being her familiar. Granted while I like the ship, I probably shouldn’t hold my breath on it either.

  3. Did Mags just lie like a motherfucker? Or has the fact that she technically doesn’t have much of a history and it’s possible that Ellie had actually done something similar to what Mags accused her of to someone else confused the spirits?

    1. Either Mags did lie like a cheap rug, or, when Blake pointed out Ellie as a target, Mags actually did remember Ellie stealing the bike because it was a real event. With Mags’ combative attitude, it seems likely she could have picked a fight with another pushy character easily enough without a lie.

    2. Lying weakens you, but given how the situation could have ended up and the fact that escalating the war because her power was being tapped by Molly and she had been giving it, the karma backlash would have been worse if Molly grew any stronger. As long as she doesn’t break an Oath the she can eventually reclaim all that lost power.

    3. Everything Mags said was phrased as a question or a command. The only thing, as far as I can tell, that could be a lie is “You remember me.” Ellie challenged the truth of it, but Mags was pushy enough that she just dropped it.

        1. You’re thinking of “You will remember me.” (from today onwards)

          The actual situation would be more of “You remember me.” (from when I banged that door open and interrupted the get-together y’all are in)

          1. Mmm. I think that “you remember me” is a grammatically correct way of ordering a person to do so though. Much like “you [will] die”. I guess your statement makes sense but I cannot fathom someone saying “dude you remember me from that time when I did that thing just 20 seconds ago?”

            1. Practitioners can make inane statements like that in order to pass them as not-lies, though. “You remember me (because you technically recall that I entered this room 20 seconds ago)” is no more silly than any of the logical wranglings Laird and co have used in the past.

  4. Hmmm. . . I’m getting the strangest feeling of Deja vu. Its almost as if I’ve seen this situation play out with different players Before.

    I like the idea of Molly Hoarding all the power Mags has been feeding her.

    On the one hand, familiarship seems natural. The two already have a 2 way connection with regards to power. On the other hand, Mags is fast becoming the new Blake. I feel like either Molly will refuse, or this will end up as a horrible, painful mistake.

    Green Eyes
    As we said ours goodbyes
    You put the hope into my life
    That Blake, just might die
    Because Green Eyes,
    Your charm just took me by surprise.
    You were the one all along, whose ship, must thrive!

    How could Blake let you slip away
    When he’s longing so, to see you.
    Now I know, the Ship’s OK
    Because you’re coming out of the Drains Too

    And now, Green Eyes
    Take your place, by Blake’s side
    And you can be with Maggie too,
    So we don’t have to say to the ship, goodbye!

    Green Eyes is coming back. Yay!

    Funnily enough, this is kinda how I imagined predeath, Molly. Freaking out and secretly causing trouble.

    So Demons beat Angels on 1v1? I guess that might be a reason to deal with one above the other.

    So can Angel’s only create and never destroy? Interesting.

    If I were Mags, I probably would’ve just told the Thorburns I thought I saw a ghoghoghost.

    Did Mags lie during her confrontation, or did she really see Ellie steal a bike years back (even though she hasn’t been in Jacob’s Bell for years)?

    1. So Demons beat Angels on 1v1?

      That’s not exactly what Faysal said. He said angels inevitably lose to demons in an even match. I’m not sure how tricky angels are allowed to be in Pact, but that sounds suspicious. The usual sense of “even match” is that the combatants are of equal ability, and thus either should be able to win with equal probability. Faysal seems even a bit more careful about language than most practitioners. (The same paragraph actually begins with him specifying that Blake’s interrogative is true “in the colloquial sense”.)

      Though I can’t figure out what alternate sense might hide behind the wording, nor why he’d feel the need to be deceptive here. Perhaps Wildbow just wasn’t careful with the language.

      1. An “even fight” could mean a few things. It could mean that in a 1 on 1 fight between an Angel and a Demon of equal ranks from the equivelent choir, the demon wins. Or it could mean that when the angels don’t take time to stack the deck in their favor the demons win. Of course the solution is to avoid an even fight whenever possible.

        If Blake isn’t careful he could end up in deep debt to Faysal, and by extension, to Johannes.

        1. Or maybe angels are just weaker in 1v1 (destruction is easier than creation etc) and so fight by proxy (i.e. via practitioners) instead, and that evens the scales.

          Or demons are stronger individually, but they can’t or don’t cooperate, while angels can and do.

      2. I think the “colloquial sense” line was just him hedging and being extra-careful to not accidentally acknowledge a debt to Blake — his immediate response was to say that it only counts for something in the colloquial sense because answering in any other way would be admitting that he owed Blake a second favor without taking time to think it over.

        Immediately afterwards, he decides to give Blake his second favor anyway (probably in part because he accepted Blake’s logic that it would help everyone), but he was being careful with his wording while he thought it over because if he accepted Blake’s logic without that ‘colloquial’ corollary, he’d be saying he owes Blake every time Blake fights a demon, which he clearly doesn’t.

      3. If you find yourself in a fair fight, something has gone horribly wrong. Faysal just deemed it insignificant to mention that of course angels cheat as much as they can when facing demons personally. They’d have to be lunatics not to. The problem is that Demons do that too.

  5. so molly, mags, green eyes and if he suceeds in getting the trust of rose,ty, alexis, tiff and evan, blake is going to have quite a few allies to his side

    1. Hmm, the Angel you refused earlier and are now pushing for favors “grants” you your haerts desire… something is wrong here. I imagine a scenario of Faysal getting Green Eyes from the Drains, than having her bound and/or talked into a contract to ally herself with Johannes. The line of thinking is “oh, he still declines? lets give him another incentive to work for us!”

      1. After seeing Faysal work so far, though, it’s probably going to be a better worded scenario of “Well, you could speak with her but she’s being Nourished to the point where she’s actually mostly human again. I’ve repaired several of her broken connections and it seems like she had practitioner relatives in Toronto who are grateful for her return. They’ll be contacting you to give you their thanks, but they’re also grateful to Johannes and myself as well. They’ll be assisting both of us by working to counter some of the Duchamps, provided Rose agrees to a ceasefire with them. Of course, if she doesn’t then there’s nothing I can really do about it, but why wouldn’t she agree?”

  6. Does anyone else find it amusing that an actual angel deals more fairly with Blake than the humans who supposedly oppose Diabolism?

    1. Nah, I’m just waiting to see how Johannes is going to benefit from Anwar helping Blake and how he’ll use Green Eyes against Blake & gang.

      1. Johannes is looking for Other allies. Johannes brings back Green Eyes as his (Johannes’) ally and uses her against any and all opponents. Since Green Eyes is not apparently bound by either the Seal or a practitioner’s oath, she can do things that bound Others and practitioners cannot. It is unclear how an aquatic being can be useful in this war, though.

        1. It is unclear how an aquatic being can be useful in this war, though.

          So Green Eyes is basically the Aquaman of the new Team Blake? If so, the question rises: will she be the last SuperFriends Aquaman or the awesome Injustice Aquaman?

        2. How many practitioners do you know that can cast a spell if they’re being dragged under the river? Lure them to the edge, pull them in, done.

          On the other hand, he’s going against entropy distilled. The demon is only two hours away in Toronto and when it gets out, everyone is screwed. If he’s taking out Ur, its a small price.

    2. To be fair, at this point Blake isn’t a Diabolist with massive karmic debt. He’s jus an Other that fought demons.

      1. Is he, though? By chapter 4-2, he couldn’t say that he “hadn’t dealt with demons” and once he bound Pauz, he was considered a bona fide diabolist. Does him losing his identity and falling in the Drains really change that?

        1. In a word, yes. Blake was at least a pseudo practitioner when we thought he was human. During that period, he had crushing Karmic debt making people automatically assume the worst because of his family. After he got to Toronto, he almost immediately began binding demons as you mentioned.

          Now, he doesn’t have that baggage when dealing with Others. Things may not have gone as smoothly if Big Dog was speaking with Toronto Blake.

          1. My point was more along the line that Blake kept his knowledge of diabolism, and e.g. may still be able to summon Ornias, so he might still be considered a “diabolist”.

            And I agree about the karma, but being considered a diabolist could be bad enough. Besides, people wanted Blake dead, and e.g. Sarah and Jeremy still want him deader.

            Also, Blake is still “Blake Thorburn”; even if he no longer directly has the Thorburn karma, he may still suffer collateral damage from his association with the karmically disadvantaged Rose.

    3. It’s entirely possible that every instance since the drains of people being nice to Blake has been Rose shouldering the family karma and him being free of it. He’s finally starting out at the correct “indifferent” point on the disposition scale instead of “unhelpful.” The same effort that used to be used to zero out peoples’ inherent, unconscious, bad-karma-driven distrust can now actually push them towards “friendly.”

      1. It also helps he seems to be a fairly big deal as an Other, so rather than hostility gets respect. For example: Faysal called him a starving giant, while the faceless woman and the revenant (the woman at least in the top 4 resident free Others) seemed to interact with him on a fairly equal level.

        1. That line is interesting when you think about it. Blake wouldn’t be such a big deal if he were just an ordinary visage, would he? Most visages are treated as little more than chaff. Obviously escaping from the Drains helped Blake in some ways, but that doesn’t seem like enough to justify Faysal calling him a ‘giant’.

          I wonder if Faysal is aware of something about Blake’s nature that we (and Blake) are not? That could explain why he’s so eager to get Blake on his side, too.

          1. You’re forgetting, he’s not just a Vestige, he’s a Bogeyman. They have to claw their way out of nothingness, where you are what you eat, and then back to reality, which kicked them out in the first place. They have to kick it so hard in the groin that it leaves and impression that says, “I’m not going anywhere.”

            Bogeymen come out as badasses one-way or another.

            1. So Blake needs to by a terrorfying creature of the night, who uses fear and terror to defeat those who would prey on the helpless, while being as human as possible? Shit he really does need to be Batman.

            2. “So Blake needs to by a terrorfying creature of the night, who uses fear and terror to defeat those who would prey on the helpless, while being as human as possible?” If he wasn’t as human as possible, he’d be the Terror that Flaps in the Night.

              Oh no.

              Blake is Darkwing Duck.

              Let’s get dangerous.

      2. what is really funny is that i remember reading something along the lines of “even if yu live a hundred lives it wouldnt be enough to get rid of the bad karma” and i assumed he would have to do some mayor fuckery or break the sistem in the same way taylor did at the end of worm to fix that but instead, bum, one trip to the drains and problem fixed. i know the thorburn name still has the bad karma but…honestly i dont care juch about the thorburn family

        1. Seriously. F**k them all. The only decent ones died first and/or got out quick before the rest of the family could get their claws in.

          As to the rest of your comment, getting eaten by a demon and the subsequent foray into the drains might in fact count as “major fuckery.”

  7. “it seems… a very unexpected group has just passed into this realm”

    And that’s where Jeremy and crew came in, just after Blake was there. Which means the satyrs could smell him.

    1. As was indicated by their listing a being from the abyss among their responses when Jeremy asked what they smelled.

      1. You know, the satyr said “it passed by here not long ago”. But in this chapter Blake was still in Johannes’ realm when they entered. This suggests that the satyr couldn’t smell Blake at a distance, and that the path opened for Jeremy and his posse led through the places where Blake passed through.

        Since every path inside Johannes’ demesne opens where Johannes or Faysal wants it to open (incidentally, Blake was also led on a “walk” where buildings moved aside), I wonder if they led Jeremy through the spots Blake walked through on purpose.

        1. Assuming Faysal can’t be in two places at once in Johannes’ demesne (a flimsy assumption, to be sure, given how physics generally tends to gain the ability to comfortably screw itself in a demesne), Blake was sent through a door that led to the mirror-verse version of the cafe where his family was. Immediately afterward, Faysal would have shown up to Jeremy’s coterie, followed by Johannes. The satyr didn’t do the sniff-scan until after their negotiation, and Blake was long gone.

          1. Johanne’s demense is pretty big and flexible. It seems like Faysal and Johannes would have had lots of distant places to host the Drunk if they didn’t want the satyrs to smell Blake, and one would expect them to know about that ability (since Faysal is old and Johannes works with all kinds of Others). So I think either Johannes doesn’t care, or he intended the Drunk to know that Blake visited him.

  8. “In an even match, my kind will inevitably lose to one of their kind.”
    So demons are more powerful than angels in the setting. That explains a lot.

    Also, what about God? Blake, you have a genuine angel right before you. How can you not ask it at least some cosmological questions?

    1. Maybe because he figured that would be disrespectful. He doesn’t exactly know Faysal very well, the information is probably available in books, and no matter what the answer is I could see Faysal being angry for Blake making the opposite assumption.

      1. If human written books could tell you the truth about god, there would not be a hundred different religions.

        Tell the angel you are ignorant and do not want to offend, just want to become less ignorant. If he is still offended, that tells you something about the angel side already. But Faysal seemed broad-minded enough.

        1. Except it’s been listed that Angels in this setting are agents of the universe, and we’ve met a minor god… sort of. We don’t know what pantheon Faysal truly is from, even if God was real in this setting he’s clearly limited in power despite the wide power-base he could draw from to not take a direct hand in dealing with the demons or unable to act directly. Faysal might not even know the deity personally being a minor angel.

          And besides, what good would the knowledge do for him? He’s not human anymore, but an Other. A Bogeyman, who goes straight back to Limbo upon death to either crawl up again or be broken down. That knowledge is useless to him, without any benefit only causes more problems.

    2. Huh. I’m beginning to suspect there is a universal mind whammy that every single fictional character is subjected to whenever the opportunity to ask such questions arises. Author’s Saving Throw indeed.

    3. I tend to think “angels” are not exactly angels in the sense we’d use the term, and not necessarily good either (recall the warning against taking dog familiars). More like agents of order, struggling constantly against entropy. And entropy always wins that fight.

      They probably don’t know anything special about cosmological questions besides whatever their domain is.

      1. I would think that warning is more along the lines of “a diabolist probably shouldn’t have an angel for a familiar”, or maybe this is one of those settings where some dogs have an ability to sense evil, so it wouldn’t be particularly helpful for a diabolist.

      2. Afaict the reason not to take dog and rat familiars was just because of the effect of having one in Johannes’ domain (remember what kind of spirits were in the vestige-children), but I like Aname’s theory.

      3. More like agents of order, struggling constantly against entropy.

        I see your point, and it certainly looks like that.

        However, with respect to the parent comment: several times Faysal going after Johannes was described in terms of “being sent”, and it never sounded figurative. And besides, we’re told about both demons and angels that they have “tiers”. Whenever there’s a hierarchy, one wonders who or what is at the top of it.

  9. So, uh… How come Mollie the wraith can be a practitioner and Blake can’t? I get the impression that Others aren’t supposed to be able to Practice. If it is limited to a power source, Blake can find a power source.

    Are we going to see Blake do magic again?

    1. Others can do magic. Fae, Buttsack, Corvidae. Molly. Blake just needs a source.
      Speaking of which, wasn’t glamour supposed to be horrible for vetiges? Isn’t that what Lewis said about powering Rose with glamour?

    2. I think it was mentioned that some Others could do a little bit of basic magic.

      For example, I think it was stated that the sphinx could potentially use runes (or was it shamanism?) because it was so easy. Just draw a symbol (or request frim the spirits) and add power.

      I think Blake could do that if he had power to spare. However, I don’t think he could do fancier stuff… although, I don’t think we’ve seen Blake do much fancy magic. So that’s not a big loss

    3. Mollie is (the ghost of) a real human. With Blake it’s not so clear exactly what he’s made of, and the most unambiguous part of what we know is that much of his current being is made of gathered spirits. He’ll probably be able to do “magic stuff” without being a practitioner; Corvidae can fuck up connections, for instance.

      (Though I suspect Blake’ll eventually be able to do at least some of the practitioner magic stuff as well, and probably even get Evan back as a sort-of-familiar.)

      1. If myth and mystery feed bogeymen, it seems like their biggest asset is them being able to deceive others about their abilities. If they can do so successfully, they might get powered up enough to actually get that ability.

        1. Yes, but they couldn’t select which parts of the myths would be true about them. If everyone considers you the big scary man-eating fire-breathing monster, you may well become the big scary man-eating fire-breathing monster. Not exactly what Blake wants.

          For the same reason, the gods of major religions in Pactverse may well be simultaneously nigh-omnipotent and impotent, since there are so many incompatible beliefs about them.

  10. So, Paige is apparently still in Toronto. When she and Isadora show up it will be about half of the big players of Toronto currently in Jacob’s Bell (although I’m not sure Conquest in his mirror should count right now).

    I think the Goblins and exiled Faeries of Jacob’s Bell are in for a ride… They usually avoid places with many practitionners that don’t take kindly to their shit.

    1. You know, all past arc titles were descriptive and relevant, but they were also subverted, however tenuously. “Signature”: sure, Maggie lost her name, but she sort-of got another name. “Null”: Blake was almost lost to nothingness, but he escaped. “Conviction”: Blake was accused of bad things, but was never actually convicted. “Subordination” and “Collateral”: Conquest demanded submission, and Rose was taken as collateral by Conquest, but Blake didn’t trully submit and Rose was released.

      So I suspect there’ll be lots of bad faith in this arc (well, there already is), but somehow an instance of good faith will turn things around.

  11. Blake!
    Blake, good job!
    A wonderful job, Blake!
    You had a moment of sympathy for Rose’s pain in trusting your instincts…
    …and you responded better and more kindly than she did.

    Also… Molly and Mags is going to be /interesting/, at least.

  12. Comments:

    1. Interesting: Faysal calls Blake “Blake Thorburn”, now. Blake called himself that when he introduced himself to Rose in 10-1, but this is the first time anyone else has called him that since he became an Other.

    2. In the last two chapters, Rose has been helping and/or trusting Blake in tiny, tiny ways. Not at all proportionate to what Blake is doing for her, but it could be a start.

    3. “And Kathryn ruined my first car… I wasn’t able to get the insurance.” – This parallels Blake’s motorcycle in 1-1. Makes it slightly more likely that Blake is based on Molly.

    4. Favorite line #1: “There was something to be said for Thorburn bullheadedness.” – That’s brilliant on so many levels, since it applies to pretty much every Thorburn we’ve seen so far: Blake, Rose, Molly, Paige, Rose Sr., and even the extended family…

    5. Favorite line #2: “Maybe this was what it was like to be Rose-in-the-Mirror, dealing with Blake. Trusting someone’s gut instincts.”

    6. I was somewhat surprised to see “dad” plotting against Rose here. Isn’t having your uncooperative daughter inheriting the house better than having to fight over the inheritance with your hated family again? Well, that may be the Thorburn karma and Sarah Duchamp at work. In any case, Blake’s line “Rose has a better relationship with her parents than I did? Good for her.” from his vision in chapter 9-5 feels ironic now.

    7. Even after seeing Faysal grant his favor exactly like promised, I’m still worried because of the arc title. (Well, Faysal did manage to find out who he was. That by itself could already come back to bite him.)

    8. Aunt Irene and Callan are still utterly unlikeable, I’m afraid to say.

    9. Blake’s recklessness against superior opponents often annoys me, but his enormous selflessness is growing on me. I mean, here he got two favors out of Faysal, and used both to help others, rather than himself…

    1. Blake’s recklessness against superior opponents often annoys me, but his enormous selflessness is growing on me. I mean, here he got two favors out of Faysal, and used both to help others, rather than himself…

      Given that his primary motivation is to help people and make the world a better place, it makes me wonder if he’s going to wind up becoming an angel before the end.

          1. I want this to happen. Not as much as I want someone to try summoning an Incarnation of Mercy, Goodwill, or even Justice, which seemed like a good idea as soon as I heard it was possible, but the Thorburn Bogeyman becoming an angel of freedom, trees, birds, and comfortable, occasionally interrupted solitude would be a very nice way to end his story.

            He’s going to have to fight for it, though. Not just that, he’s going to have to earn it.

      1. You know, I think if RDT did anything Right, it was designing Blake. She gave him good morals, a good sense of friendship. She gave him something that would focus on helping others. I know Blake’s some sort of product of the Barber, but I can only hope that he’s broken free of that.

        Imagine that, though. The diabolist creating an angel. Wouldn’t that make a headline?

        1. Imagine that, though. The diabolist creating an angel.

          Well, she did say she wanted to change the old ways. And she was quite competent by all accounts.

    2. Let’s try this again, maybe?

      Hey, how’d you get the list function to work? I’ve heard WordPress doesn’t allow it.

      Just to try this, how about a list of things Pact reminds me of:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magicians_of_Caprona — Had to use Wikipedia to find the name, it’s been a long time since I read this. For some reason, it seemed to fit the early chapters, probably just the whole “large families of magic users, that don’t really get along very well” thing.
      https://parahumans.wordpress.com/table-of-contents/ — Worm is by the same author, and there are obvious similarities, most notably the tendency to back our hero into a corner and watch them make the journey from only slightly jaded newcomer to stomping all comers, including the ever more dangerous ones on the way.
      Hmm. Blake’s attitude reminds me a little bit of the protagonist from Ow, My Sanity. Link: http://owmysanity.comicgenesis.com/d/20091225.html

      Other than that, I’m not sure. What were the inspirations? Does Pig’s Pen mention them?

  13. hi all,
    Wildbow thank you. As soon as I can squeeze a few euro clear, I plan to dump em on ya. If for nothin else than for the era of quality writing that you have shared. Its on my bucket list.. hopefully one day soon (meager) rewards will wing its way from ireland to ya.(AND I’ll even rub the cash all over the Blarney Stone for ya.. not that you’re needin it. :)))) )

    Its gives great pleasure when I can say to myself ..Yup. I called it..(queue happy dance)
    Molly as Mags familiar..

    However I must say I am baffled by whats goin on now and to gauge whats coming next..??
    * Is evan going to pair up with Blake?? tough to see it happen soon.
    * Is the ambassador collateral damage to connection magic or maybe Behaim tidying up loose ends?
    * Is Padraic goin to ambush a weakened Mags
    * Is Blake as a bogeyman able to claim a demense, tool, familiar..
    * Is Jeremy going to pop up soon and go on the piss all over the Thorburns?
    * What does it mean that the angel admitted that the demons are winning by entropy and attrition
    * A certain poetic irony that a wraith needs to visit pain, guilt and remorse on its target and the target out of remorse and guilt gives the wraith a prolonged opportunity.. Makes for a bumpy workin relationship. lol

    Anywho.. Thnx again wildbow.. for having the discipline to write as you do, grit to keep going and a creative mind like a gordian knot. I Salute you from the shadows..

    1. Don’t dance yet. Alexis and Rose were on the front porch, probably discussing the wraith by the side of the house. I imagine that Rose might be pushing Alexis to make a familiar out of Molly. Or worse, just to kill her outright.

      1. I’m thinkin that Rose is not goin to upset any potential allies or at the least aggravate neutrals to hostiles without any real benefit. An ambassador getting a familiar even one with thorburn tendancies has to be perceived as a plus in the abacus of rose’s mind.. imo..

        Still.. I hear ya.. lol :))))

        1. I don’t know about that. Look at how she acted towards Blake. I don’t think she sees anyone as a potential ally at the moment…

  14. Interesting little find that answered something that has been bugging me for a while, now: a Green Man roundel with twin birds found in York Minster’s chapter house. https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8379/8601981805_4b0e15f30a_z.jpg

    I knew I’d seen something linking the Green Man and birds somewhere before, beyond generic birds-and-foliage, Tree of Life designs. Please note: one of the birds is doing a fine job of taking one of this particular Man’s eyes out. 😐

    Blake, boyo: you’ve so got to learn how to come into leaf to take advantage of this old, old goldmine of presence. Green Man or Jack o’ the Green beats bogey for socially acceptable, no? Alongside all the “protect the borders and corners” and “birth-life-death-rebirth” meanings. 🙂

  15. Thank you, Wildbow, for your brilliant writing! I’m really interested in how Faysal operates, being so absolutely and completely Good at what he does. That sort of thing, blatantly trying to help the person who needs it in exchange for favors, is a really, really interesting character. Legend of the Five Rings had that with the Crane Clan, but this is just another level entirely.

    And the best part is the implication is that this is a deal, one that can’t be broken. And that said deal is intended to be even, meaning the more that Blake asks for the more he’s expected to give more in return.

    1. That the angel’s intentions are “Good” with capital ‘G’ has to be proven first.
      The forshadowing in the conversation between Rose and Blake (discussingJohannes’ Familiar briefly in between) is a good indicator there is some detail in the deal which encourage Blake to ask for more favors, and doing favors in return.

      But that could just be my paranoia. Perhaps the weakness of the angels is really that the are too nice, too giving in deals and contracts. Also, they can only create, not destroy. But as Faysal indicated/demonstrated, they can create traps, dead ends and shortcuts to your enemies.

      1. I think it’s safer to say that Faysal’s intentions are Good than to say that they are good. The first is like Right; he’s trying to improve the world, trying to make things better in a similar motivation to Blake’s motivation for dealing with Urrr. However, good is a relative term. The phrase “for the greater good” comes to mind. I suspect that Angels wind up beefing people up to levels similar to Cu Chulainn of Irish mythology. You wind up getting enough terms and conditions in exchange for the gifts you’ve been given that you’re bound to break them eventually.

      2. Maybe he’s Good in the sense that he’s tied to increasing karma (much like Isadora seeks balance). In other words, he’s not able to step in if there’s a risk of karmic backlash to him. I’m not sure what limitations that would entail exactly, but it seems consonant with what we know so far.

          1. Yeah, it says something that the most outright honorable character in a collection of people who can’t lie is the guy who steals bits of people to act as prey in his theme park for Ogres, Goblins, and Assorted Others. I like Johannes. His attitude reminds me of Trickster, except he seems to know what he’s doing.

    2. What I found interesting was that what Blake needs to eat is… Blake. So it seems Blake needs to refill himself on being Blake. Sadly Rose has most of those locked down right now.

      1. TBH it seems Blake eats anything: “you are devouring everything you can get your hands on. Spirits flood to fill the emptiness inside you.”

        I guess what he ate was a tiny piece of his old Self before the Drains, something which can properly fill a bit of the void left inside him. Other things can be used like spirits, but they don’t fit properly hence the tattoos sticking out? Maybe?

  16. So… how does Blake get nourished without the help of angle-inception?

    Also, Said angle’s description of Blake sounded an awful lot like a description of Ur…

    When mags said sorry to blake… does that mean she intended him to be her familiar? Because that wouldn’t have worked in any reality. She’s essentially tied to the town, and his version of peace involves freedom and being a nomad, in a sense.

    Sooooooo…… Green Eyes is coming back??? Yay! I didn’t think she’d be mentioned ever again. Wait. Doesn’t this mean there will be ANOTHER abyss-born bogeyman? Jacobs Bell is reaching its population max.

    Mags didn’t care about lying when she said ellie stole her bike?

    1. It was a typo — wildbow mentioned it above. It’s now, “Wasn’t it you that stole my bike, years back? You bitch.” Objectively, she is a b*, so no lie there. The other part is now a question instead of a statement.

      1. It must be hard to write your characters’ lines while avoiding lies, and then introduce other characters with the ability to lie and still hold true to the “not lying” bit.

  17. Also, pretty sure Charles kicked the bucket before his due time.
    Being away for the inheritance is one thing, dodging Sandra’s Thorburn-gathering craft is something else.

    Wonder what his story is.

        1. First off, do you really believe that? Especially with what we know of Darth Granny, and what we know of “lying through the truth?” And second off, I believe she said “untouched,” which could mean anything from “completely unmolested” to “f**ked in the head, but not in the body.”

  18. You know, I’ve always been confused as to the nature of lying in Pact. Would a lie be dependent on a universal fact or be relative to the speaker? For example, would Contest!Blake have lost power if he told someone Maggie was a human, since Padraic is a fae, or would he have been safe because he genuinely believed it?

    Also, who screens the lies? If the word ‘bitch’ was used to describe someone, but in the 1800s where it presumably wasn’t defined in a dictionary meaning ‘female of bad character’ and only meant ‘female dog’, would the describer be lying?

    Great chapter, though. I’m interested to see what the Molly/Mags dynamic is going to be(conditions and whatnot) if they end up making the… pact?

    Johannes’ massive influence is somewhat reminiscent of Coil, to me. Anyone else get that vibe?

    1. I actually think the Pact universe handles issues like lies in a very intuitive manner. There doesn’t seem to be a head lies authority, any universal laws at what constitutes a lie. Instead, whether something is a lie or not is decided through the consensus of all the spirits present. Its an explicitly arbitrary process. This is why Blake doesn’t consider magic to be a science. It has more to do with sociology then it does physics, in that it’s all to do with the immergent behavior of the actors in a system, not hard and fast rules that govern the system itself.

      Think of it this way: for a lot of stuff in the pact universe, it doesn’t matter whether or not a person commited the crime, just whether or not the jury returns ‘guilty’.

      I like this, because it adequately explains how magic in the Pact universe works, while still leaving things seeming mysterious, and hard to anticipate, and, well, Magical.

      1. We saw proof of this after Blake killed Laird. I think that most readers agree that Blake was very obviously foresworn, then.

        At the point where he stabbed Laird in the throat, Laird was looking the other way, so it wasn’t directly self-defense, and he could have gone for a non-lethal attack — it would have involved slightly more risk to himself if he failed to take Laird out, but the point is he didn’t make even the slightest attempt to keep Laird alive, since he was freaking out at being touched… which might justify it to us the readers, but isn’t something the spirits would care about.

        But the rest of the Belham family didn’t know exactly how it went down, so they couldn’t call him on it, and that let Blake put up a strong front and avoid the consequences of breaking his oath.

        1. Counterpoint: When Blake was first getting started, sarcasm that NO ONE would have called him on, because every other being present capable of communicating verbally understood the meaning of, still drained him of some power.

          I don’t think the Laird thing was quite as cut-and-dried as you think. It may be that the spirits thought that it WAS inevitable. Or my own theory: Blake DID suffer the consequences for it. The rules of the contest made the hit to his personal power not particularly visible in the short term, and in the long term it contributed to the steady decline of the integrity of his Self that he’s suffering from now.

          1. “I promise I won’t hurt your Uncle Laird too badly. I won’t kill him, if I can help it.”

            Seems pretty cut-and-dried to me. Blake hurt him pretty badly.

            (Maybe the second one doesn’t count, since you can argue that Blake lost control under pressure, lashed out, and therefore couldn’t help it. But I don’t see how he avoided the first one — if stabbing someone in the throat doesn’t break a promise not to “hurt them too badly”, what does?)

            1. Torture, or leaving him in lasting pain instead of momentary pain, could have been “too badly” by comparison — acting with the intent to inflict pain for pain’s sake.

            2. Not so cut-and-dried, since “too badly” is a relative term. As long as he didn’t define what it’s relative to, he’s in the clear, unless someone can argue otherwise. For example, he didn’t hurt Laird “too badly to easily recognize the corpse as human” (like someone we know was hurt not long ago, apparently using corkscrews among other things).

            3. I promise I won’t hurt your Uncle Laird too badly… if I can help it.” Yes, we see the period in the sentence there, but think of it as verbal conversation (which it was). What’s the difference between a period and a comma? Does an ellipses in a sentence where a person stops to gather their thoughts necessitate a period in the sentence there and a completely new thought after continuing? If that kid wanted more confirmation about what was being said, if he wanted it really cut and dried, he should have stopped and verbally sparred with Blake. Since he didn’t, well…

            4. Laird was basicly trying to hold Blake down so he could be raped. There are some things that if you do, you better not be too upset about if you get hurt. Considering the sheer trauma the event held for Blake, a violent reaction was inevitable, and in the heat of the moment Blake simply acted. He did not plan to kill Laird, he was not intentionally breaking his promise. He simply reacted. And in all honesty, who wouldn’t react violently in that situation? I’m amazed he didn’t keep stabbing.

          2. Or it could be argued that Blake couldn’t help it. That was the conditional of what he said to the kid. Since he was being forced to re-live a very traumatic event, it could be argued that Blake was forced into a panic driven state, and lashed out uncontrollably.

        2. Remember that he needed Laird’s blood to bind Conquest. The throat was accessible, he needed to bind Conquest, and he wasn’t actually trying to kill or seriously hurt Laird, that was just a side effect of what he was trying to do. Or at least that’s the argument I think the spirits accepted.

  19. Maybe this was what it was like to be Rose-in-the-Mirror, dealing with Blake.

    Trusting someone’s gut instincts.

    Hahaha 😉 I loved reading this!

    ““Molly Walker, I can’t ever give you what I took from you, I can’t make proper restitution. But even if I can’t give you your life back, and I can’t give you my life in exchange, because of other debts I owe… I can give you a life.”

    She cast a sidelong glance at me, “Sorry, Blake.”

    “It’s okay,” I said.”

    You know, for a second there that “Sorry, Blake.” made me think she was somehow going to aid Molly in devouring or possessing Blake.

    I wonder how Mags/Molly would work. I mean Mags is responsible for Molly’s death. If you look at how things are currently standing between them, I can’t help but think that Molly would completely dominate that relationship purely because of guilt / karmic debt that Mags has towards Molly.

      1. Or edit it, like in a forum. Or char off-topic, like in a forum.
        Heck, a forum would be nice for all sorts of reasons…

  20. Interesting batch of developments. Mags seems to be going down the same path Blake was, sort of, and I can’t help but wonder what Faysal has in mind for Blake. I mean, it can’t be as simple as he said; I don’t think he would just do a free favor because “you tried really hard to take down a demon you had no chance of beating”.

    1. I dunno, Angels might just be the decent chaps in the setting. I still think that Blake was an idiot for not working out a “I won’t help Johannes hurt my friends, but I’m willing to do everything I can to minimize bloodshed” in exchange for the offer of mortality, though.

      1. It’s not impossible that angels are just good guys, but having angels be nice just because they’re angels doesn’t feel right for the setting or the author.

    1. Same here. An Other that’s mostly her already? With a defensive focus, when hers is offensive? Why wouldn’t she jump at the chance for such a complimentary Familiar? Especially when it’ll give her a new source of power, which would be even more important since Padraic stole her Implement.

  21. Boogieman profile/fanfic time

    Let me tell you the story of how the stronger Other,of the ones who existed for no more that the last 300 years came to be and,moreover,how he attained so much power without even being an other for 20 years,making even ancient Others fear him,let me beget the story of the strongest boogieman ever

    There was once a horror author,who was really good on his job.He was a hermit,having dedicated his life to his books,to the point he harbored no other connections but the ones forged by the books and the ones circumstances forged for him,like his connection with his brother.He refused his father’s inheritance,because it came down with the responsibility of a huge company,and that meant less time to write.

    There was a diabolist,the brother of the author.He destested his brother,because he inherited 4 lifetimes of bad karma,while the brother was just a succesful author.The fact that his brother seemingly tricked him into it,made him hate him more,for there is no other reason his brother would have refused their father’s inheritance…Sadly for him,he has made oaths not to hurt his family ,or use someone to do so…so he cooked a plan about it.Ya see,there was a clause that he could cause collateral damage to his family in order to bound demons,because such was the life of a diabolist,and his father didn’t want to be limited.Moreover,the original logic was,if you cannot hurt a member of your family enough to be abe to kill him as collateral,you aren’t a skillful diabolist anyway.

    There was a demon,one of darkness.He atestories,qite like me,in that effect,but in a much more devastating way.You see,any story he made got destroyed,its every copy was erased and everyone forgot about it.Only its author remembered perfectly,but he was forced to never be able to recreate it or guide someone else to do so.(though someone couldrecreate it by accident).

    The diabolist used the author’s books to tempt the demon,and he came,and he was bound,and the books were eaten.The author fell though the cracks,unremembered by everyone but his brother,who had made sure to sacrifice his normal ability to make connections to a demon,in exchange for not being able to be affected by them (eg remembering people whose connections were cut),with insuranceso he wouldn’t fall though the cracks.Sadly,that means that his connection with his brother became unconvencional,and couldn’t hold him.

    At that point,many of you must have guessed the author was Wilbow.Sadly,while a nice twist,you guessed wrong,the author was another,and his original name has been lost.Wilbow is a separate being.

    So ,the author fell into the Drains…and ate.He wouldn’t go without a fight,just like his characters never would,but he couldn’t kill anything.But ,thankfully,he found an area with trees…hurtful,poisonous trees,that scratched you and bore no fruits,but trees nontheless.He turned off the poison,he turned of the pain,and he started eating the bark of the trees.He became more tree that person,long limbed,tall,faceless though still vaguely human looking.He kept,nevertheless,his old cnstume in which he conducted bussiness with publishers,the one he was wearing when he fell,as one of the last vestiges of his humanity.

    And then,he struggled up.He was weak,but he was smart,he could see without eyes,hear without ears and allter the length of his limbs.Even though he couldn’t eat conventionally without a mouth,it was the nature of the Drains that allowed him to still devour.And so,eventually,despite his weakness,he clawed his way up.

    Once outside,he thought.He still had his tenacity and his talent,so how could he become important?most useful,he thought,to get 1 dollar from a million men that 1000 from one.So instead of killing,he did what he could do best:he took a dozen computers with different ips and created a mythos around him.The mythos supported him,as more and more people would get scared by him,without him lifting a finger.Occasionally,he made a real appearance to create more authors,but generally he just wrote and planted ideas,and shopped photos.The world would remember the name he chose for himself for a long time.

    The name was a simple one,descriptive,easy to remember,prone to invoking fear.

    Slender man..

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