Mala Fide 10.5

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My tattered shoes found little traction on the ice, but the ice was reflective all the same, and it thrummed as I walked on it.  I ventured out further, and each footstep seemed to echo.

People had cleaned the ice and hosed it down, washing away the rougher frost and the accumulated snow.  Only the smallest portion of shore was visible, but I could make out floodlights on tripods.  They stood on the snow-covered area that would be a thin strip of beach after the thaw, waiting to be set up.

For now, it was a hockey rink, rigged out on the lake with the help of planks and simple tools, reflective enough to be a big mirror.  Partially dismantled for repair, cleaning, or something in that vein.

I stood in the center, hands in my pockets, and enjoyed the quiet.

It was peaceful here, if nothing else.  No others were lurking nearby, that I could tell.  This wasn’t the sort of area that a typical Other would lurk, and I was in the mirror world besides.

Mags needed to hash things out with Molly, and my presence wasn’t helping.  I was tainting the ghost, even if it was by small amounts, and the discussion was a private one, with very real, raw feelings on both sides.  Mags had her own metaphorical demons to confront, and Molly was dealing with a whole mess of negative emotions, some legitimate, others from being a wraith and absorbing the emotions and impressions around her.

It was better for me to step away.  I’d checked on my family, verified they’d stopped reading through the paperwork as a group, checked if any of my friends were hanging outside the house, and then retreated to the least confined area I could find.

Well, the second least confined.  Johannes’ domain was open, and the dog had been pretty decent to me, all things considered… but couldn’t that be a trap?  It would be a good trick, luring me in, making promises, and then when I trusted him and waltzed blindly into the Sorcerer’s demesne, they’d pounce on me and destroy me.  I didn’t want to worry, even in my downtime.

Here, I was away from it all.  Things were quiet, tranquil and eerily still.

With no other sounds, no wind, no noise, no stirring of leaves or animals creeping forth, even the sounds from the other side of the reflective ice gone quiet, I was keenly aware of my own body.

I didn’t breathe.  My heart didn’t beat until I willed it to.  The smallest of movements made me rustle and creak, even snap like so many broken twigs, if I went too long without moving.

“Ahem.”

I turned.  Faysal Anwar sat by the lake, on my side.  His tail swished behind him.

“I’m sorry I took so long to get back to you,” he said.  “We had an unexpected guest.  A certain amount of posturing and positioning was needed.”

“I imagine it’s tough, keeping control of a domain that large,” I said.

“Yes, but the end goal is hopefully worthwhile.”

“You’re an angel, colloquially speaking.  Are the motives here angelic?  Supporting Johannes?”

“Considering my earlier offer?”

“No.  Just curious.”

“My motives aren’t angelic.  I do believe our actions are necessary.”

“I’ve heard it described as a ghetto for Others.”

“I don’t agree with the choice of word, ‘ghetto’, but yes, a place for Others.  Humans are winning, Others are being forced to the fringes, and something is liable to happen, given time.”

I nodded, “Humans are winning.  That’s nice to know, and a little difficult to grasp.”

“A long story.  Why is it so hard to believe?”

“You said it yourself.  Demons beat angels-”

“All other things being equal,” Faysal Anwar said.  “A greater angel can defeat lesser demons, but while a greater angel occupies themselves with that, what is the greater demon doing?”

“They’re equivalents?” I asked.

“To be honest,” Faysal said, “I don’t know.  But I’m inclined to say no.”

I nodded.  “I’m surprised you don’t know.”

“My kind don’t have a network of communication.  The greatest so-called ‘angels’ do, yes, but I only know what I’ve picked up through thousands of years of observation, patience, and periodically crossing paths with others of my kind who deign to speak to me.”

“Ah,” I said.

“You were saying, before I interrupted?  Demons beat angels, and this makes it hard to believe man would succeed?”

“Yeah,” I said.  I pulled my hands from my pockets and spread my arms.  Look at me.  Entropy wins.  I’ve been to the Drains, but I haven’t come across anything suggesting that there’s a force of creation that’s working just as hard.”

“There are two possible answers,” Faysal Anwar told me.  “The first is that such a place exists, but creation spews forth, it does not take in.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “Gods come from somewhere, don’t they?”

“Maybe,” he echoed me.

“The second possibility?”

He swished his tail.  The long fur and the movement of snow behind him made it look more dramatic.  “That the drains are not annihilating anything, only changing.  Change provokes change, much as you continue to spread the effect of the ‘Drains’, as you call the abyss.  That change might be uncomfortable, even unpleasant or ugly when that change affects the things you find comfortable, but not intrinsically bad.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “But that brings me back to my initial question.  If humans are succeeding here, and the forces of annihilation and Wrong are supposed to win over the forces of creation and Right, are humans simply beating the Others back because we’re somehow prevailing over Wrong?  The demonic choirs include a choir of human depravities… can that mean that we’re a divine creation, that we’re naturally opposed to demons, and somehow we’re one of the only choirs that’s winning, against all odds?”

He tilted his head a little.

I swallowed hard.  My mouth was dry.

“It sounds less like you’re trying to ask me a question and more like you’re trying to convince yourself,” he said.

I shrugged, sticking my hands back in my pockets, more for a place to put them than a need for warmth or anything like that.

“It also sounds,” he said, very delicately, “like you aren’t doing a very good job of convincing yourself.”

Not the answer I’d wanted.

I looked down at the surface of the ice.  I moved my foot, and it thrummed.

“I really don’t like the other answers,” I finally said.  If we aren’t Right…

“I can imagine you don’t.  I can’t tell you that humankind is innately Good, Blake Thorburn, but take solace in the fact that I can’t tell you that humans are innately Wrong either.  I don’t know.”

“Damn it,” I said.

“If it helps,” he replied, “You’re making good strides forward.  Most wouldn’t go to the efforts you have.”

“I’m not human,” I said.

“No,” he said.  He stood and stretched.  “But for something only one or two steps removed from humanity, you’re doing well enough to count, as I see it.”

He turned to leave, walking past the point where the shore was visible, treading across the nothingness between my present patch of light and the light of downtown, what would be a ten minute walk away.

I averted my eyes as he blossomed with light.

When the light faded, I saw what he’d left behind.

Three rusty pipes, each connected to the others.  A triangle, though one of the pipes was bent, making it closer to a skewed square.  The bend made it possible to stand up, almost like a door.

My limbs snapped and creaked as I started walking.  How long had I been standing there before Faysal Anwar approached me?

My back snapped more as I bent to pick up the connected loop of pipes and picked it up.  One of the bits of pipe swung, screeching a metal-on-metal screech as it came partially unscrewed at the end.  Still connected, but one section pointed to the ice below me.

Unwieldy.  As a loop, it was maybe four feet across at the widest point.  I had to hold it at an awkward angle to keep it from dragging on the ground and maybe even coming to pieces in the process.

More importantly, I didn’t want to hold it too high and risk enclosing myself in a ‘circle’.  I couldn’t imagine anything more humiliating and problematic.

My arms didn’t get tired, but they did get stiff.  I couldn’t raise it higher, and I couldn’t let go, so I simply brought it down, so one side could touch the surface at my feet.

Though the pipe wasn’t hot to the touch, ice turned to water and then boiled into plumes of steam as the rust-coated metal made contact.  Rust flecks and grime made the frothing bubbles a red-black.

Hm.

I laid it down, and it continued to boil and steam, sinking into and beyond the reflective surface.  The ice that had been sectioned off melted.  Not so different from a hole for ice fishing.  The reflections it cast were those of a still pool of water.  The ring of pipes floated, but it didn’t float in water.

A light flickered in those depths.  A dim, old lightbulb crackling to life for a moment.

In the darkness, I saw a figure appear, large round eyes glowing the faintest of greens, hands reaching for the pipe, holding the loop much as I had.

“Hi, Green Eyes,” I said.  “Blake here.”

She was silent, but talking wasn’t easy when one was underwater.  I wondered if she could hear me.

“You gave me guidance when I needed it.  I offered you a way out, if I got the chance.  If you want company, and a bit of a break-”

She lunged.

The ring of pipes came apart.  Bubbles hit the surface, distorting the view.

The bubbles faded.  I had a glimpse of her narrow, pale body, before she swam up and through the lopsided pool of of melted ice, breaking the surface.

She didn’t emerge on my side.

The water was disturbed twice more before she let it be still.

She stayed on the far side, hands pressed against the ice on either side of the portal, frowning.

Her mouth was stretched in a permanent macabre grin, triangular teeth as long and narrow as any of my fingers meshed together seamlessly.  In the relative light, I could make out the individual transparent scales, the veins that webbed beneath her skin’s surface, even the shadows of organs.

“Not too cold?” I asked.

She shook her head.  Pale hair floated around her head.

“I wasn’t sure if it would be okay, but once that whole thing started, I couldn’t interrupt it.  The portal might have come apart if I tried.  I can’t go inside most houses anyway, and I didn’t want you to have a small body of water…”

I trailed off.

She took a second to enjoy her full range of movement, contorting herself as she turned two quick figure-eights in the water, chasing her tail for a moment, then doing another couple of looser figure-eights at the lake’s bottom, where the ice overhead didn’t hamper her movements.  She gave me a thumbs up.

“Try talking?” I asked.

She did, raising her voice.  Her voice came out muffled, obscured by the water.  I couldn’t make out the words.

“You can hear me, but I can’t hear you?”

She touched one hand to her ear, then swam another figure-eight.  I could see the vague shadows of her lips.  She was smiling.

Better hearing, maybe, by virtue of a longer stay.  Necessary for both predator and prey.

Change.

“We’ll need to work out some means of communication before too long,” I said.

She nodded.

While I was thinking about that…

There was an eerie double vision when I looked at her in contrast to the overcast sky that was reflected in the surface, as if both were transparent.

“Are you able to swim freely?” I asked.  “Or is there a lot of strange darkness around?

She looked around.

She swam well out of my field of view.  Her movements stirred the sand at the bottom of the lake, raising murky clouds.  The time she took to return seemed reasonable.

Good.  We’d verified she was in the real world.

“I’m stuck where I’m at, Green Eyes,” I told her.  “I travel across reflective surfaces.  You’re limited to water.  Or can you climb up onto land if you have to?”

She shook her head.

“Right,” I said.  “I, uh, hope this is better than your prior circumstances were.”

She nodded.  She blew me a kiss.

“No killing, please” I said.  “No maiming, though I don’t think you’re the type.  You should have plenty of food at the lakebottom, and if you need to nourish your nature, you can always scare the wits out of people.  Anything else, and you might bring unwanted attention down on your head, you’d get sent back there, to the Drains, and I’d feel guilty.”

She nodded.

She drew a little ‘x’ over her heart.

“I’ve got stuff to do,” I said.  “Enjoy… this.  Call my name a few times if you need something.  I’ll be by to visit sometime soon.”

Fins at her elbows, spine, and the end of her tail fanned open wide, the membrane stretching thin enough to show the veins between the narrow bones.  She swam low enough to have some freedom, and did more underwater acrobatics, enjoying the freedom, basking in the light that filtered past an overcast sky and the water around her.

I thought I might have heard the muffled sound of her yelling, through the water and ice.

I hoped I’d just done a good thing.

Hands in my pockets, I walked away.

I went the way Faysal had gone, but I didn’t disappear into any great, brilliant light.  I hit the downtown area, passing by the cafe and various storefronts.

I spotted Peter and Aunt Steph in one store, buying clothes.

As far as I was aware, the vast majority of the hotels were in the North End.  Prior to Johannes’ expansion, there hadn’t been much reason to stay.  I thought I’d maybe seen a motel, but I knew my uncle and parents, and they wouldn’t be the types to take a motel over a hotel.

Out of my reach.

I could check in with Mags, but I didn’t want to intrude.

Let them hash out what they needed to hash out.

I’d made other promises.  Stalling the family in their attempt to oust Rose was only one part of it, the Molly situation was on hold, and Rose was still cornered, with a lot of major players out for her head.

On a level, I was one of those players.  She was toying with my friends, and she was tainted by Conquest.

I didn’t want her head so much as I wanted to clear it.  To remove Conquest’s crown, so to speak, and give her the ability to think straight.

In an ideal world, I wanted her thinking straight before this situation in Jacob’s Bell devolved into utter chaos.

By process of elimination, there were only a few people I could go after.

I knew where Laird’s house was.  I’d infiltrated it.

Working off memory and instinct, I skipped across patches of darkness and moved in the general direction of the house, hoping to spot landmarks I could use to close the distance.

In the end, it was easy to spot the house, even from a distance away.

Multiple cars.

Rather than skip across the patch of darkness in the middle of the street, a ten foot gap at most, I moved diagonally.  Zig-zagging, I made my way down the length of the street, until the mass of parked cars and the countless reflections from side and rear-view mirrors gave me more than enough light to work with.

Windows were two-way, as reflections went.  When I’d jumped through the factory window, I’d passed through the factory window.  The only glass that had broken had been the glass I’d carried.

The interior of the house, however, was pitch black.  The only thing I could see was the faint reflection of my surroundings and my own face.

Damn.

I paced the perimeter, not watching where I was going so much as I looked at the windows, trying to see if there was anything I could make out about the surroundings.

One rune on the gate to the backyard.  I steered clear, even though it wasn’t replicated on my end.

By the time I’d circled back to the front, someone was stepping outside.

Two Behaims, older than Laird had been, but still possessed of the Behaim’s characteristic stockiness and ruddy complexions, heavy eyebrows, dark hair and dark eyes.

They got in their car.  I double-checked which car it was, then got in the back seat of the same car, behind the driver.  I had to lean to one side to see the driver’s door move, and quickly pulled my door shut at the same time.

Slightly off.  It was three doors that closed, nearly in sync but not quite there.

I waited, tense, my eye on the one-quarter I could see of their faces in the rear-view mirror.  My hand was on the Hyena’s hilt, though I couldn’t really do much with it.

“What’s wrong?” the woman asked.  She seemed like the type that might be called a dowager, the sort of woman who’d have been called handsome more than pretty, back before age had taken its toll with wrinkles and sagging skin.

The man didn’t reply straight away.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Duncan urged us to be paranoid.”

“Don’t badger me,” he said, gruff.  “It’s nothing.”

I let out a silent sigh of relief, more out of a desire to do it than any particular need to breathe.  I shut my eyes, listening to the car.

I wasn’t entirely sure what dictated how things operated in my mirror world as opposed to the real world – I didn’t see cars traveling up and down the streets, for example.  Sometimes things remained the same and sometimes they changed.  A part of it seemed to have something to do with my own actions, and the force and effort I put into them.  Stuff I put down tended to persist in the mirrorverse, but only if I did it while being mindful of the task, doing it purposefully.

Even so, I did what I could to allow the car to sweep me up, to not resist in any way as it started moving.

I opened my eyes again.  Looking in the mirror, I could see only a portion of each of their faces.

The man’s hair was just starting to go gray at the sides, and he had a thick mustache.  He was also the type, I noted as he started the engine, who wore a hat while driving.  He wore a plaid flat cap with a brim, that made his hair stick out a bit on the side I could see.

In my memories of riding my bike, being aware of my surroundings had been key.  Looking inside cars to see who the drivers were and what they were doing, so I could adjust accordingly.

Cell phone?  Cause to be wary.

Wearing a hat while driving?  Almost as bad.

Why?  I couldn’t say, but the rule held true.

“Liam’s looking healthy.”

“Yeah.  Good kid,” the man said.

Come on, I thought.  Give me something more than talk about family.

But silence was what reigned here.

I looked out the window, hunching down a bit so I’d be harder to see in the rear-view mirror, and looked out the window.

An older couple, comfortable in their own company, long since out of things to talk about.

“Crawford was looking well,” he said.

“Lets her kids play too much with those games.  Five years ago, you could expect them to be playing, running around, popping up every half hour to show us what they were doing.  Now they’re little zombies, eyes on tiny screens you could cover with your hand.”

“Hm,” he said.  “I kind of like it.”

She elbowed him.

“Let them have their distractions, Glo,” he said.  “We don’t know how this is going to go.  There’s a chance some of them will be orphans, by the time this is all over.”

“Ben!”

“You know there’s a chance.”

“You don’t have to say it like that!”

“If things were different, I’d volunteer to step up in someone’s place, make someone younger stand down and sit this one out.  But things aren’t that convenient, Gloria.  All hands on deck.  Duncan all but said it.”

“Yours and mine included.”

“The parents too.  Every child old enough to be awakened.”

“I don’t like it,” she said.

“Neither do I, but we agreed to put up a united front.”

“He wants to go after the Diabolist.  There’s some things that shouldn’t be included in that united front.  It’s playing with fire, and he’s so intense about it,” she’d lowered her voice an octave, as if afraid she’d be overheard.

“He went head to head with the younger Rose in Toronto, he knows the personality we’re up against.”

“He says he did, but he can’t give details.”

“That’s scary in itself,” ‘Ben’ said.

“Yeah,” Gloria responded.

“Yeah,” the old man said, again.

A minute of silence.

“You were pretty quiet, when people were taking sides,” Gloria said.

“Not sure about sides.”

“I had that impression,” she said.

“Duncan seems to favor the younger one.”

“Alister.”

“Yeah, Alister.  Can’t keep the grandchildren straight anymore.”

“He’s only eighteen.”

“So’s the Thorburn girl.”

“Twenty.  Molly Walker was eighteen.”

“Close enough.  He’s…”

He trailed off.

I checked the rear-view mirror, and I saw the older man looking straight at me.

I didn’t move, staying where I was, meeting his stare with a level one of my own.

“We got a problem here,” he muttered.  I wasn’t sure if it was a question for me or a statement for Gloria.

“Do we?” I asked.

Gloria whipped her head around, but didn’t see me.  Ben reached up and re-angled the rear-view mirror.

“Don’t recognize you,” Ben said.

“Might be for the best,” I said.

“Don’t recognize your type, either.  Male Bloody Mary of some kind?”

“No,” I said.

“Can’t imagine you’re an elemental.”

“No,” I said.  “I’m complicated.”

“You can use words longer than two syllables,” he observed.  “Try using words to explain what it is you’re doing in my car.”

“I was curious about how the Behaims were doing, so I decided to ride along.”

“One of Johannes’?”

“No.  I mostly belong to me.  Some people or places might have tenuous claims to me, but I’d venture to say I’m as free as you are.”

“Who’re you siding with?”

“Nobody,” I said.  “Everybody.”

“That might sound good to you, but the free agents around here are like wild animals, hunting, scavenging.”

I thought of the revenant and the faceless woman.

“That’s not my style,” I said.

“You’re just sating your curiosity,” he said.

“Mostly,” I said.

“To what ends?”

I thought for a second.  “Bringing change.”

“I’ll say it again, as good as that idea sounds to you, you’re not convincing me here.”

“I’m not concerned with convincing you,” I said.

“I’m a practitioner, Gloria too.  You don’t think we don’t have tricks up our sleeves?  Be concerned.”

“I know how the practice works,” I said.  “You need a good idea about what I am to really come after me.  Without a nice label to put on this eerie stranger in your backseat, you’re forced to try a scattershot approach.  To guess, or cover as many bases as possible.”

“While you only have the one thing you need to do,” he said.

I could see the faintest shift in his brow.  The gleam of sweat beneath that cap of his.

If I kept this up, I’d give the man a heart attack.

“I’m assuming Duncan doesn’t want to be leader?” I asked.

“Fishing for information?”

“A little bit,” I said.  “But I’m more interested in giving it.  There’s a reason Duncan isn’t confident in his own abilities, and it has nothing to do with the wounds on his wrists.”

“Those wounds healed a long time ago,” Gloria said.

Ben’s eye was studying me, taking in every little detail.

“Ben,” I said.  “You don’t strike me as someone who’s only dabbled.  You’ve been involved with the game, probably with Aimon, before Laird was put in charge.  You’re confident, sitting there.”

“You know an awful lot about us for a face I don’t recognize,” he said.

“You know an awful lot too,” I said.  “You know how this plays out.  You probably have even more tricks up your sleeve than you’re letting on.  Above all else, you know how important and how dangerous information is.”

“And?”

“I want to give you information about the people you’ve put in charge.  Laird was reckless.  Duncan doubly so.  Duncan lost a great deal of his personal power because he lied.  Think twice about putting stock in his opinion.”

“I’m already thinking twice.  You learn to, or you do very poorly as a practitioner.”

I nodded.

“Were you the one to kill Laird?”

I turned my attention his way, just a little too fast.  Gloria reacted much as I had, but looked sideways instead, then back to me.

“Yeah,” he said.  “Like you said, I’ve got tricks up my sleeve.”

“I won’t confirm or deny,” I said.

“But it’s as good as a confirmation.  Was the killing just?”

Just, he asked me.

I could say yes and feel reasonably confident I was telling the truth.  I might even sway the man.

“I’m not sure,” I admitted.  “It was desperate.”

“I can’t tell if you don’t seem like the desperate sort at all, sitting in a stranger’s car with no sign of hesitation, or if you’re made of little but.”

“I’m not sure,” I said.

“I believe you all the same.  I’ll think on it,” he said.

“Okay,” I said.

This fact-finding mission had turned into something else entirely.  I still wasn’t too worried.  Whatever tools he had at his disposal, I only had to scramble to one side and I should be able to make it to safety.

“Laird has- had children,” Gloria said.

“I know,” I told her.

“Are you affiliated with the Thorburns?” Ben asked.

I looked at him, but I was fairly confident in my poker face.

“I’m only asking,” he elaborated, “Because the time and place of the death suggest one conclusion.”

“I’m my own man,” I said.  “But there are three people and one bird in the Thorburn faction I’d very much like to save.  I haven’t decided what needs to be done in the heir’s case.”

“I see.”

“If it helps,” I ventured, “I would very much like for your grandchildren to walk away safe as well.  Same for the Duchamp’s grandchildren.”

“And the rest of us?”

“Let the cards fall where they may,” I told him.  “For you and me both.  War is war, and if you guys are participating, I won’t rule anything out.  You wanted to know what I am?  I’m tenacious.  I don’t give a damn about the old guard or tradition or anything like that.  So long as the innocents are still standing at the end, I don’t care what happens to the rest of us.”

Gloria spoke up, “You’re not counting yourself among the innocents?”

“No.  But those three people, that one bird, the youngest Behaims and Duchamps?”

“Is that what you want then?” Ben asked.  “Those four for the grandchildren?  An implicit threat that if one of those four is harmed, the children might be too?”

“No,” I said.  “I want you guys to get the point.  I want all of us to stop smashing our heads against the wall, failing to learn as we repeat cycles over and over.  I want change, I want us to do this one thing Right.  That includes leaving those four and the grandchildren out of it.  It means paying more attention to who you’re putting in charge, because Laird was arrogant, Duncan was stupid, and you can’t afford to make a bad call on the third go-around.”

“Uh huh,” he said.

I waited for more of an answer.

I didn’t get it.

“You getting out of my car anytime soon?  I’m not driving you to our house.”

“Sure,” I said.

I opened the car door.  There was mostly darkness beyond.

“I’ll turn around, tell the others back at the house, as diplomatically as I can,” Ben said.  “You try this spiel on Sandra yet?”

“No,” I said.

“You’ll find it a harder sell.  The Duchamps are a little more wrapped up in keeping things the same.”

“We’ll see how it goes,” I said.

I stepped out and over.

The next swatch of available reflections was lower, and I got to enjoy a moment’s ‘flight’ before I landed.  I felt things snap in my legs, and I felt things alter just a little in the process, crawling in tighter.

Sandra, I thought.

Rose had spoken out against terms of war.  There was probably a reason for it, but there was a reason for the terms of war too.

I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out, but I liked having a hand in things, guiding them.

I liked knowing that the Behaims weren’t arrogant scumbags across the board, even if the one legit Behaim I’d talked to thus far was a dopey older guy who wore a hat while driving.

If I was a little obsessive on that particular accessory, it was because I had too many memories of nearly being blindsided while on my motorcycle.

Talking on a cell phone while driving?  I fantasized about reaching in through an open window, snatching it, and dashing it to pieces on the road before accelerating off.

I was fairly certain my ability to practice was cut off, now that I was more Other than practitioner.  Some ideas held true across the board.  Connections, certain means of offense and defense…

But I didn’t have the Sight.  I couldn’t call Sandra’s name and find her, nor could I catch her name when Ben said it, and follow that thread to its source.

Still, the idea went both ways.  If I tried to find her that way, she could find me, and I preferred to stay under the radar.  That Ben had connected dots was a hassle, but I didn’t feel too exposed.

I moved.  I was more comfortable in my skin now, riding the high of three minor victories.  Molly caught, Green Eyes released, and now a successful contact with a Behaim.

I crossed tracts of darkness, scouting.  There was no shortage of possible threats to note and keep track of.

A collection of ghosts at one point.  No June or Leonard in that small crowd.  They’d been spent, their echoes erased.

A man and a woman who seemed to notice me the moment I looked their way.  The man was black, and had thick dreadlocks under a toque, the woman very prim and proper, blonde.  A Duchamp.

I ducked out of their way before anything came of it.

Still, it inspired a line of thinking.  Johannes had a hand in many of the visiting Others.  Sandra, by way of her connections to the Duchamps, had a mess of contacts to draw from, apparently.

As far as searches went, it was haphazard, unreliable.  I simply navigated, and tried to find the highest concentrations of practitioner.

In the end, it came down to sheer luck.  Good or bad, I wasn’t sure.

I found Sandra.

I found the High Drunk, too, and his coterie of Others that looked like overactive teenagers and college students.

Fuck.  Was Toronto leaking?  A part of me had hoped the issues I’d left behind would at least keep the locals there busy.

Sandra and the Drunk were walking side by side, talking, the group following a few paces behind, crowding together, jostling and messing around as they walked three or four abreast on a sidewalk that comfortably let two people walk side by side.  They were playful, like enthusiastic kids.

I skipped ahead to a car.

No eye contact.  I faced away.  I wanted to create as few points of contact as possible.

I only listened.

“…don’t know the particulars,” Sandra said.

“I’m good at improvisation,” Jeremy Meath replied.

“The benefit of working with a god.”

“Exactly,” he said.  He smiled.  “Don’t fret.”

“I’m not fretting.”

“I know your tells.  Your thumbs.  Your hands are in your pockets, but you have restless thumbs.”

“There.  Tell hidden.”

“And your shoulders, Sandra.  No, not like that.  You square them and raise your chin just an angle when you’re challenged by something.  I think it’s the troll influencing you.  Hildr has the same body language.”

“Ah, if something challenges a troll, they traditionally respond by fighting, breaking bones.”

“Exactly.”

“Hildr doesn’t do that.  She’s a little more clever.”

“Is that because that’s how she survived this long, or is it because you’re influencing her in turn?”

“Good question.  When I think back to the hunting of the troll, being hunted in turn… hmm.”

“I’m only telling you so you can fix it,” he said.

She reached up to squeeze his arm as they passed me.  I only saw it in my peripheral vision, but I still tensed.  Every connection mattered.

I skipped ahead, to stay away from the crowd, who looked a little too inquisitive, and had too many pairs of eyes for my liking.  I’d already been spotted by an old man.  These guys seemed like an even bigger threat.

I waited in a car, eyes still forward.  I could make out the Satyrs, well behind, peering at the car I’d just left.  I’d made a small noise or something.

“…Fret,” Jeremy said, again.  “You and I, we make a good team.  You do well so long as things are under control, while I-”

“Thrive in the midst of madness.  Don’t upset things.  No chaos for now.”

“I agree, no chaos for now,” he said.  “Only enough pressure to get the results we need.”

“Good,” Sandra replied.  “Keep an eye out for the mirror dweller.  We still don’t know enough, and he is a priority.”

I felt my heart pound in my chest, more a head against a wall pounding than a throb.  Alarming on several levels.  It was a connection between me and her, threatening my cover, she knew, and it made Jeremy’s objective here pretty damn clear.

“Wouldn’t mind more details,” Jeremy said.

“Then barter with the Sorcerer and Faysal, see what else they’re willing to divulge. You have more access to them than I do.”

Ah.  What else they’re willing to divulge.

Damn it.

My greatest asset in all this was quickly being stripped away because my enemies were talking.

“I’ll make do.  Whatever happens, I’ve got protection,” Jeremy said, offering Sandra a wry smile.  “I’d rather act in concert.  This may be our only window to deal with the Thorburns.”

“It won’t, but it’s the first one, and it’s the best window, before anything is underway between us and our other enemies.  This is win-win,” Sandra said, “Provided we act decisively, we can safely clear one problem from the board.  Pity.  I really didn’t want to do this, but, well, we each choose our paths.  Hopefully the girl hasn’t committed.”

“Speaking of,” Jeremy said.  “This would be where we part ways.”

Something in his tone… I dared to look.

That tall, rumpled, faintly wrinkled, plain looking man with too much beard and circles under his eyes, perpetually weary, looked down at the woman who looked like a PTA bitch, too fastidious, too cold and hard-nosed.

But Sandra didn’t look cold.  She looked sad.

She reached out, putting one hand over Jeremy’s heart.  “We both do what we do best.  No apologies.”

“No apologies,” he said.

She gave him a light push, and he turned away in the same motion, raising one hand, snapping.  “Hey, you hooligans.  Get a move on!”

His enthusiasm and call for action seemed somehow false.

“What are we doing?” a man asked as he caught up.  I caught a glimpse of his features as he moved across patches of light.  Curled horns, a curl of beard, and hooves, not steel-toed boots.

A satyr.

“What are we doing?” another voice chimed in, excited.

“We’re crashing a party,” Jeremy said.  “Barriers or no, when you ask a god to open a door, that door gets opened.”

The direction they were traveling.  Hillsglade House.  My friends.

And Sandra?

I snapped my head around, no longer concerned with the idea of being caught.  She had a sense of who I was.  Faysal Anwar had told her.

What was Sandra doing?

Only one idea stood out.

Molly.  Mags.

Acting against the Thorburn wraith while the Drunk kept Rose occupied.

Mags might have lost her neutral standing after all.

And I was left having to choose.

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168 thoughts on “Mala Fide 10.5

  1. No Thursday chapter this week. As I’ve stated before, am traveling. There will be one next week. Then, because I’ll most likely be settled in, there’ll be one the week after (considering the patreon income at the month’s end).

    More on that subject – at the end of August, I’ll be adopting a new approach to donations. Essentially the same thing, but simplified, and not as high a goal to reach as the $2500, which was mainly to keep myself from getting swamped while I helped my brother with his wedding. More details later, or you can see where I raise the subject in the last update, I think.

    Don’t forget to vote on Topwebfiction.com if you feel so inclined. Thanks for reading, I’ll see you guys on Saturday.

      1. Blake originally relied on stealth and espionage. Remember when he first met Laird and tried to have Rose spy, the Infiltration, and the the initial Pauz business? It’s only after he had to start fighting stuff like the Hyena did Blake start going after things with brute force. He’s getting back to his routes.

        1. I guess you could say…

          He’s getting back to his roots.

          As for him dealing with several people, I guess you could also say…

          He’s branching out.

          I’m on a roll here.

  2. This chapter was really interesting. I would rather have Blake choose mags because honestly, there isn’t much he can do to help the others at all. At least, not that I can see at the time.

    In other news the Green Eyes x Blake ship is at full speed ahead! Depending on his choice Blake x Mags could also go full speed ahead. Let the thorburn wraith bring death to all who oppose him!

      1. I meant to say Thorburn revenant, shoot. With all these Other Thorbuns we could get a real menagerie of names going if we kill the rest of his family.

    1. Mags is the Hero of her own story & dealing with the Ghost of Molly’s murder is part of her Road to Redemption; The High Drunk is an antagonist in Blake’s Monomyth and part of his Road of Trials, Blake barging in on Mags’ crisis would cause both of them to lose momentum in their “roles” and turn them into side characters/props as others take centre stage.

      Remember Joseph’s (Fell’s Ancestors’) Folly! Stepping out of your “correct” role and not taking advantage of it’s momentum leads to Diabolus ex Machina!

          1. He tried to be the wrong hero archetype, a Giantslayer instead of the Guile Hero (Jack & the Beanstalk type) by switching goals midway. Goal was “Steal the Goose that laid golden eggs (girl) away” not “Kill the Giant in a duel”.

            1. Yeah, that was kinda stupid. For starters, how was killing the girl’s father going to make her like you anymore? Holding him at knife point until he swears an oath not to hoard her was much more ideal.

    2. I’m good with both. Who knows, maybe when Spring rolls around all four of them can have a picnic, with Molly in her familiar form perched on Mags shoulder while she’s on the shore with her tail in the water and eating a fish while Blake sits next to them both with birds resting on his branched shoulder and flowers starting to sprout…

      Seriously though, where are the fanfics for this series? We’re ten arcs in and I’ve found nothing.

      1. It’s Wildbow’s fault, by the time the story’s done Blake is going to be a tree, Mags will go blind, Rose will be an omnicidal maniac and Green Eyes will have been banished back to the Drains. On the bright side, all of Blake’s enemies in Jacob’s Bell and Toronto will have been dealt with, and he will make a really awesome tree. 😛

        1. Hey, Worm turned out all right. There’ll be a lot of pain and sacrifice but things will straighten out at the end, one way or another.

  3. Choose Mags! Choose Mags!

    I hope this isn’t the last we see of Green Eyes. It’s nice that she has her own area in the world now.

    Huh. A reasonable Behaim. Kinda refreshing after seeing all of that Laird and Duncan.

    So even Blake recognizes that his tenacity is one of his skills.

    Blake was sounding a lot like Granny Rose in this chapter with all the talk about invoking change. Maybe Blake is the one chosen, key to Granny’s plan after all.

    1. Keep in mind that change happens. That is a universal constant. Even entropy is a form of change. The question is what kind of change? Sandra may want to keep things as they are, perhaps to avoid risk. But no risk no reward, and if you leave things as they are, inevitably the flaws will grow and cause a break.

    1. lightbulb
      usually light bulb

      pool of of melted ice
      pool of melted ice

      lakebottom
      usually lake bottom

      He wore a plaid flat cap with a brim, that made his hair stick out a bit on the side I could see.
      the comma is unnecessary – read it out loud with a pause where the comma is and it sounds weird

      No others were lurking nearby, that I could tell.
      maybe:
      No Others were lurking nearby, that I could tell.

      1. In: “He wore a plaid flat cap with a brim, that made his hair stick out a bit on the side I could see.” There should actually be an additional comma after the word cap. The cap has a brim. The cap makes his hair stick out. The brim is not what makes his hair stick out. The words, “with a brim” give us more description about the cap. I believe that this is called a parenthetical aside, but the point is there should be an additional comma after the word cap.

    2. Typo: “My arms didn’t get tired, but they did get stiff. I couldn’t raise it higher” -> “I couldn’t raise [the pipe thingie/the loop] higher”

      Potential typos:

      • “That the drains” -> “Drains”? I’m unsure: maybe only Blake calls it “the Drains” while Anwar Anwar calls it “the abyss”? Seems weird, though.

      • “I can’t tell you that humankind is innately Good, Blake Thorburn, but take solace in the fact that I can’t tell you that humans are innately Wrong either.” -> Good vs. Wrong instead of Right vs. Wrong or Good vs. Evil?

      • ““Who’re you siding with?” “Nobody,” I said. “Everybody.”” -> How is that not a lie no matter what the truth actually is?

      1. 1.) Blake went through the manifestation known as The Drains but there are others. Since Faysal can traverse them all and they have the same source, the void, calling it the Abyss seems more fitting. Remember, the Satyr called it the Abyss as well.

        2.) Potential Typo, I agree.

        3.) Technically, he’s not on anyone’s side but his own but he’s helping everyone so long as it results in an ideal ending.

        1. I don’t see #2 as a typo at all. It’s already been established that Good and Right are different concepts; by extension Evil and Wrong are different concepts as well. Faysal is saying “I can’t tell you that humans are on the positive end of one scale, but I can tell you that they’re not on the negative end of the other.”

    3. Not sure if this is really wrong, but I think that:

      “My kind don’t have a network of communication.

      Should be:

      “My kind doesn’t have a network of communication.

      Right?

      1. Depends on how Faysel is describing it. If he means “my kind” as “a collection of disparate individuals”, then it’s a plural and “don’t” is correct. If he means to refer to the total mass as a singular noun, then “doesn’t” works. To see, replace ‘kind’ with ‘friends’ then ‘family’, and see which following word seems correct.

        1. Yeah, I can see that, but it’s still a weird sentence structure. Because friends and family imply immediately a plural form when “my kind” does not… Though I can see your point by replacing it with something like “my people”. It just sounded odd when I said it out loud.

    1. Rather, I think she might get shoved into the extended thorburn group considering she was ok-kinda-friends with one and bled the other to power (and tries to make her a familiar to boot).

      1. Yeah, but the only player that seems to remember Blake is Sandra… And after saying that I remember who is planning on making a move at this point.

  4. Pity. I really didn’t want to do this, but, well, we each choose our paths. Hopefully the girl hasn’t committed.”

    I get more of the impression that if Mags fully forms the Familiar bond with Molly, she will become an enemy that Sandra will need to take care of.

    1. “Provided we act decisively, we can safely clear one problem from the board. Pity. I really didn’t want to do this, but, well, we each choose our paths. Hopefully the girl hasn’t committed.” I interpreted this as them talking about Rose, that hopefully they’d be able to stop Rose from committing to the release of the Barber. It could be Molly, I guess.

      1. I’m with you, but it is equally applicable to Mags. I wonder if she was talking about both of them at once? Practitioners seem like the type who would appreciate double and triple entendres.

        1. She didn’t say girls and the bigger threat is the one with Demons. Remember, Laird had counter-measures while Sandra didn’t when it comes to demons. And then Rose can always call in the Lawyers, so if she’s committed to bringing an end, it gets brought.

    2. Well, Sandra considering her an enemy doesn’t necessarily mean she’s lost her role, it just means Sandra thinks she has. She’d know right away if the universe at large had decided against her because she’d start losing substance again.

  5. Let’s see, if Blake goes to Mags & Molly:
    He can probably warn them at least.
    He has to face Sandra. Major danger.

    If Blake goes to Hillsglade House:
    He might not be able to warn them (only if any are outside)… unless Jeremy’s god forcing the door means it is open for Blake also. But at that point the warning is barely before the actual danger.
    He has to face Jeremy and the god’s servants. Moderate to major danger.

    Either way, Blake is good at riding chaos. So he is weak against Jeremy (equivalent talents) and stronger against Sandra (opposing talents). I think Mags/Molly is the better bet – he has a greater chance of actually making a difference at the cost of a greater chance of being bound/destroyed.

    It is interesting that gods can apparently enter demesnes or at least crack them open. The only other being with that ability is Barbatorem.

    1. On the other hand, Blake did just say that protecting his friends and ex-familiar was one of his highest priorities. Most dangerous opponent or not, I don’t think he’s likely to risk them like that.

    2. Gods can probably do that. Practitioners in their demesnes are described as being one step below a god, and maybe that was meant literally.

      But in this case, Hillsglade House isn’t a demesne. Granny Rose died, and Regular Rose hasn’t had a chance to claim part of it. See 10.1 where she said that “Duncan Behaim [strongly suspected to not be a god] could theoretically walk in here.”

  6. I know this is sort of out of left field, but has it been brought up yet that Johannes has his pipes and Evan is like 10 or 11 years old? I realized this at work today and have had a sinking feeling in the back of my mind that this was intended from the very beginning.

        1. If his pipes can control rat spirits rather than just rats, then why not child spirits rather than just children?

          Johannes, after the first meeting Blake attended, was being escorted by a group of children. In addition, it was younger vestiges that Mags saw breaking free of the loop in Johannes’s domain and that he Commanded with his implement. It looks to me like he’s cultivating them.

  7. Blake probably gained power from slightly scaring Gloria and Ben. He also improved a connection by bringing Green Eyes over. Two steps forward, but now he has to act and spend power.

    So he is not a practitioner anymore. Too bad, the tricks with connections were powerful, even though the Duchamps are better at them. Now he has less warning and less ability to divert attention by breaking connections.

    The satyrs are a little too aware of Blake’s presence. Without the Faerie power of glamour, they probably can’t do anything to him directly, but Jeremy probably can.

    1. I think that’s a great way for him to gain power. Sort of as a lurker in the darkness. Quite frankly, I’d like to find Blake and a group of his Other friends and run a haunted house with them! Suspension of disbelief is high enough when it comes to stage actors and magicians, and the better haunted houses have plenty of those. Anyone who gets too curious gets diverted by one of the Duchamp girls.

      1. Meh, when you’ve seen enough scary stuff to start to become really blasé, haunted houses start to really lose their appeal. Either everything is meh, boring, inspid, or it will seriously trigger the fight or flight response. So either you’re wasting your money on something boring, or you’re punching some actor in the face, or you’re running screaming through the house tearing stuff up. I haven’t been to a haunted house for several years now, other than to walk my young niece and nephew through one that was only slightly scary.

        1. I live 30min away from Erebus in Pontiac, Michigan, which is supposed to be North America’s largest indoor haunted house. It’s great for some quality jump-scares! Not worth it on the weekend (dem lines) but weekday ventures can be quite a blast with the right friends! (Granted, none of us have fight or flight responses of your caliber xD)

          Of course, if you’re one of those people who convinces themselves that everything’s fake and keep reminding themselves of that, than of course none of it’s scary. The same applies for scary movies, scary games, and scary stories, though.

          Until the group makes there way through the corridor towards a mirror. They notice that there’s an alcove to the right, but the main path goes to the left. As the last visitor makes his way around that corner, he notices the reflection of a monster right behind him (Blake in costume or…just Blake, I guess). He turns to confront the guy…only to see nobody behind him. Turning back around, the person in the reflection is gone now. Dun, dun, dun…

  8. Blake is time to think outside the box. Lure Sandra to the lake and let Green Eyes finally eat some much needed human meat. Nothing can go wrong with this plan.

    The dog had an ulterior motive! What a shocking turn of events!

    I kinda like the way Blake is going in this chapter. Time to shake shit up. Sometimes certain shit must be destroyed for new shit to flourish.

    Of course I mean mostly the families. If what Johannes says is true and humanity is winning out of sheer numbers, then messing with demons and/or Solomon traditions is a terrible idea.

    Also I’m still expecting the revenge of the faerie that goes bad when agent of the court appear and then that’s worse because the faerie of the court are obviously the most scary and so and so.

    I just want to see the trio of Jacob’s Bell in a bad postion. Forever.

    1. Hm. You know, if Mags gets thrown in with the Thorburns…

      And Johannes’s Faerie representative finds out that Mags was dealing with Padraic…

      Then I think the Faerie Court may decide to get involved in some Thorburn Extermination, either during or after the battle for Lord.

      1. Doubt it. Sandra is the one with connections with the Fae and even then getting entire courts involved would cause no end to problems when you consider she’s trying to keep things traditional.

        1. Actually, Johannes offered to go to the Faerie on behalf of Mags, so he has connections there as well. But you misunderstand. I’m not saying that either of them are going to go and point them out. I’m saying that everything’s going to hit the fan and one of the Fae is going to notice the situation and connect the dots. And then do things properly dramatic, setting loose an entire invasion of Fae. An invasion to crush the traitor Padraic and the Diabolist Lord of Jacob’s Bell. After all, it would be an interesting development and the Fae love their plays. If only they could discretely ensure that the diabolist won…

          1. Fae are subtle, Goblins are direct. They’re not going to go into a conflict directly and all out to deal with a handful of exiles and piss off not just the diabolist, but every Goblin and Other who sees the act as an invasion of their territory. It’d be a strike force at best, and even then they could just ask Sandra to deal with it or Johannes.

            And then there are more than one court, if one devoted that much fire power then they’d end up getting invaded by their enemies.

            1. I don’t think any of the factions are coming out of this intact. Some might even be effectively broken. For the bystanders and miscellaneous Others, I imagine they’d wind up very similarly to the minor Others in Toronto; unwilling or unable to get involved in it. The strike force (which is probably a better name than “invasion” was) would be focused on the PCs, not NPCs. I suspect that if they sent such a strike force, the only people who are going to be left in Jacob’s Bell are going to be those who are unable to deal with them easily or those who are unwilling to. I’m not sure what you meant by asking Sandra/Johannes to deal with it, but between the two of them, they suggested that informing the Courts would be sufficient to deal with Padraic and also more trouble than it’s worth.

              If Wildbow’s getting the courts from the mythology I think he is, then there’s really only the Seelie and Unseelie courts. The latter are more “evil” than the former, in that they don’t seek out an excuse to hurt mortals, they’ll do it just for the heck of it. I’ve no clue how they interplay, but if there’s only a strike force sent out then there’s not as much of an issue as there would be with a full army.

            2. Re: the Faerie courts. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Seelie/Unseelie dichotomy is just one mask of many over the millenia, possibly only a step removed from the old Summer/Winter dichotomy. Remember Sandra’s History and her description of how Fae life works? Building up layers and layers and layers of glamour until it collapses, a new guard steps into place, and starting the layering all over again. So, in essence, every mythos of Fae would be “correct.”

    2. I enjoy the fact that Sandra and Johannes seem to value talking, even if them doing so makes Blake’s life harder. Communication makes me happy, even if it’s between antagonists, because it adds so much more INTELLIGENCE to a conflict.

      Rose and the Behaims don’t seem to do a whole lot of talking, and ugh what a mess they’ve made in this story.

      1. I agree on basicaly everything you said. Except for Rose since arc 9: once you suffer from the Thorburn karma, forget talking; it will backfire on you anyway.

        Also, concerning Blake: I don’t even think he has cause to complain about being talked about – he could have asked Faysal to keep his identity a secret as a favor, but he didn’t, and considering how enormously fair Faysal was in his dealings with Blake, there was always the chance that he’d be as fair when dealing everybody.

        I certainly don’t consider this a betrayal by Faysal in any sense.

        1. Blake rejected Faysal’s offering for an alliance and besides, information is an exchange as we’ve seen here. If you want it you have to bargain, if you want to keep it hidden you need to do the same.

    3. Isn’t it interesting that the author of Black Lambs Blood wanted to change stuff in the awakening rituals to make the world “better”? And that the lawyers still hand it out to new/potential diabolists without any conflict of interest regarding their “prime client”?

      1. Blake compared them to drug dealers. So it’s sorta the equivelent of handing out a book on why medical Marajuana should be legal.

        1. No, it’s like they’re drug dealers who’re handing out a book which points out all the lung/health problems that’re caused by smoking anything and advocates instead baking it into food, making it into tea, or straight up injecting as preferable alternatives. And knowing is half the battle! Go Joe!

            1. Yes, although it’s mainly hospitals that inject liquid marijuana. It’s great for cancer patients, because chemo usually makes you sick enough that you don’t want to eat anything, so it’s something for the pain and something to help you keep eating enough to stay healthy, all in the same miracle drug. That statement could also apply to other things as well, I suppose.

      2. You’re assuming that handing out Black Lamb’s Blood is the Lawyers’ standard approach.

        It’s just as likely that that approach was specifically tailored to Blake. He wants to do good in the world, so giving him a book that might as well be subtitled “How to do good in the world using Diabolism” is a pretty good tactic…

    4. “If what Johannes says is true and humanity is winning out of sheer numbers, then messing with demons and/or Solomon traditions is a terrible idea.”

      I wonder about that actually. Others are getting pushed to the fringes he says, but… Pauz seemed just fine screwing up his neighborhood. Ur just camped in a factory and ate the humans that came. And Johannes has his theme park, but how many demons have shown?

      Maybe goblins and trolls and what not are getting pushed to the fringes, but demons seem just fine in the nice neighborhoods.

      1. Obviously, only a nasty diabolist would attempt to corral or otherwise remove a demon from a neighborhood. Seriously, if people don’t like a demon living in their neighborhood then they should have had the good sense to put up proper wards. :p

    5. It’s not even “ulterior”, it’s explicitly stated. The dog offers an alliance, Blake rejects and takes some favors instead. None of these favors involve anything about revealing information on him, leaving it to do as it pleases on the matter. Being on speaking terms and being friends is not even remotely close in Pact. The dog and Johannes are willing to hear him out and trade favors, but he’s no ally to them.

  9. Didn’t much like Blake’s conversation with Faysal here, largely due to the monochrome worldview that doesn’t seem at all supported by the story. Humans are winning, but why would that imply anything about how ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ humans are when humans winning means marginalizing both angels and demons?

    Only a Sith deals in Absoluts.

      1. Are you asking if it’s absolutely an absolute to say that only the Sith deal in absolutes or is this a case where it’s only sometimes an absolute but other times it might not be.

        And truthfully I don’t really see the practicality of that phrase except as it applies to discouraging absolutist thinking, seeing as the most powerful of the Sith, in both movie trilogies, really only seemed to hold with the absolute of “I deserve to be Supreme Ruler of everything” which can’t be, in and of itself, a bad thing in a system of thought that doesn’t deal in absolutes.

  10. The ‘Greeneyes’ part was like a balm for the soul, though I don’t really get how Blake could see through a sheet of ice that she made a cross on her heart or send him a blowkiss. I’m willing to ignore that however, for the sake of how sweet that scene was. Good job Blake.

    Faysal pretty much admitted that he was gossiping about Blake behind his back the second he identified him as Blake Thorburn, in my eyes. He admitted as much in 10.4 when he said “Yes, I know your name now. I know who and what you are. It did take some doing.”

    I’m worried Blake is not putting enough effort into figuring out how to regain his Self. It only will be a matter of time before he has to rely on someone else again to ‘nourish’ him, and he doesn’t have a lot of favours to call in left.

    1. Concerning the Behaims:

      1. Blake’s conversation with the elderly Behaim couple was a highlight. We’ve seen Laird, Duncan, and various younger Behaims, and none of them managed to evoke any sympathy from me. These did. (And it can’t have been all karma, since Maggie wasn’t treated any better.)

      2. Also, isn’t it ironic that Blake-the-Other-with-no-karmic-footprint is treated better than Blake-the-Human-with-the-Thorburn-debt ever was?

      3. “I want all of us to stop smashing our heads against the wall, failing to learn as we repeat cycles over and over.” – IIRC, we haven’t actually seen or heard enough of these cycles, i.e. conflict between past generations of Jacob’s Bell practitioners. (Was there anything beyond the Furfur scene in the diary of the young Rose Sr.?) So such words (by Blake, Rose Sr., Aimon, etc) appear hollow to me; I can’t visualize what Blake wants to see changed beyond “Don’t kill the Thorburns!”, nor what it means that Sarah wants to see “tradition” preserved.

      4. Was it ever explained how Duncan, of all people, got to take charge of the Behaim family despite his colossal screwups in Toronto? In terms of competence, he can’t be in the top 5 among the Behaims. If he is, the family is doomed, and deservedly so. (The only reason I can think of is Conservation of Detail: After Laird Behaim, Duncan had the largest word count in the story.)

      1. Re: 4, my inclination is toward Conservation of Detail, but I suppose it could be explained that the Behaims don’t generally have to fight anyone. Duncan said he gets someone sent his way to take care of by the family now and then (i.e., someone Laird himself isn’t handling), and Duncan’s the only one who has fought the latest Thorburn directly. I don’t think he’s especially competent either, but experience trumps competence here.

  11. And I was starting to like Faysal and Johannes… Though I guess they got more information (in exchange of other things) than they gave away. Really enjoyed the slower chapter! It was a nice break and it went well with The Album Leaf’s music.

  12. Great lines:

    • “I hoped I’d just done a good thing.”
    • “In an ideal world [i.e. not in Pactverse], I wanted her thinking straight before this situation in Jacob’s Bell devolved into utter chaos.”

    • “I can’t tell if you don’t seem like the desperate sort at all, sitting in a stranger’s car with no sign of hesitation, or if you’re made of little but.”

    Misc. Comments:

    1. Notice the “Ahem” scene: human Blake would have shown signs of surprise; this Blake doesn’t show any whatsoever.

    2. Seriously, Faysal is the pinnacle of politeness: “You were saying, before I interrupted?”

    3. I love the idea of an Other accidentally sealing themselves in a circle.

    4. Molly is a ghost, not a soul like Evan. So how can she absorb emotions or whatever and become more like human Molly rather than more like these dark emotions? What’s the difference between her and Evan, then?

    5. “I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out, but I liked having a hand in things, guiding them.” -> Yeah, Blake didn’t do too well with that when he screwed up his death, but it may work now that he’s no longer in karmic debt.

    6. I’m afraid all signs point towards Jeremy Meath being utterly doomed. My guess: the Barber will kill him, and it won’t be pretty.

    7. Blake doesn’t have the Sight? Huh. I’d say that’s an argument in favor of him trying Rose’s “screwed up” awakening ritual.

    8. “And I was left having to choose.” -> This mirrors Blake’s conversation with Isadora in 6-10 when he said he could offer a third option to winning or losing the contest with Conquest. So Blake could run toward Rose, warn her (taking away Jeremy’s initiative would be worth a lot), and then help Mags; or warn Mags; or run to ask the renegade Others in town for help (like Pizza Guy and the faceless woman), and so on.

    1. I’d have to agree with point 6: what are the odds a certain Barber is keeping tabs of comings and goings in Hillside House as per standing agreements?

      Dionysus or not, I think Jeremy & co may wind up biting off more than they can chew, if he breaks in in the wrong place… like, right next to a pair of shears. -_-

      That would get very ugly, very quickly. <_<

    2. Not so sure about Jeremy being doomed. Unless his god decided that he’s no longer useful. With the blood drink of his god, he fought the Sphinx in melee and survived, and maybe would have even won, but Isadora didn’t press the fight. We know that he’s used the blood drink at least once since then since the original quantity in the container was replaced with a lesser quantity in a later chapter.

      Barber is very powerful against practitioners, but Jeremy is more than that. He has the backing of a god who has been willing, at least twice, to provide Jeremy with superhuman fighting ability. He’s also surrounded by a bunch of god-touched Others who enjoy a good fight. Jeremy need only distract Barber and the rest of his group can engage the chosen target, whatever that might be.

      This entire scenario appears to be a trap for Blake. I suspect this conversation might have been staged. Blake was doing his best to avoid detection, but Sandra has tools and knowledge he does not. At least one of Sandra’s contacts spotted Blake when he was looking for her.

      Sandra wants Blake out of her hair, so she creates a diversion that is certain to rivet his attention on Jeremy.

      1. The Barber is supposedly more powerful than Ur. I don’t see even a priest with all the support of his god surviving against that.


        But ultimately, I think Jeremy is doomed for narrative reasons:

        Jeremy and Sandra are some of the more human(e) antagonists in Pact; they’re possibly the only depicted couple in the story (?); they complement and humanize each other; they worry about one another (death flag); and so on. (Also remember Jeremy’s line in Histories 3: “My god and his brethren are fond of their tragedies”)

        And their opponent is the scary evil diabolist; who is currently tainted by something inhuman (Conquest); and who has a scary evil demon in her attic. There was a reason everyone in Jacob’s Bell wanted someone else to kill Blake & co, rather than do it themselves. And remember Laird’s ominous explanation in chapter 2-2 of how scary demons were: in his example, his family were the victims.

        And for reasons of karma and balance, Jeremy dying in Jacob’s Bell would be fitting after Laird died in Toronto.

        (And Wildbow is not typically known to treat his characters kindly. To give you a Worm example: Fnaqen naq Wrerzl erzvaq zr bs Onggrel naq Nffnhyg. Gung pbhcyr qvq abg trg vgf unccl raq.)


        On the other hand, three counterpoints: Firstly, Laird had protections against diabolism and may have already given them to the Duchamps. Secondly, considering the Barber’s summoning ritual (boar carcasses, blood, a virgin innocent etc), Dionysus (god of “blood lust, desire, and naked fear”) could actually be a kind of polar opposite of it, similar to Ur vs. the nameless god of creation. Finally, Rose’s karmic debt empowers her opponents.

        1. I read the comparisons between Ur and Barber differently. They are of different choirs. Ur is of the first choir and Barber of the third? Pauz is like the sixth or seventh? Minor or major is important, when comparing within the same choir, but when comparing between choirs, it would seem that Ur is more potent than Barber. Of course, we haven’t seen Barber do anything.

          Rose’s debt might be less than you think. Isadora gave Blake luck or karma when he went in to fight Ur. Then he died, or died for most intents and purposes. Blake really acted as a bad karma sponge in the short time he was acting outside the mirror. Surely it’s not all sunshine and roses yet, but Blake and Molly paved the path for Rose.

          Isadora might be seeing what will happen, or what might happen, and guiding the Thorburns to a less damaging route that will lead to Paige eventually becoming heir. Giving Blake luck might have been partly because she respected him. It might also have been because she doesn’t want Rose to go nuclear trying to protect herself from a universe that wants to get her as bad as the universe was out for Blake.

          Remember, Blake used the name of the demon Ornais in front of Rose as well. The Barber isn’t the only demon people need to worry about Rose summoning. The Duchamp girl’s familiar should certainly have mentioned that when she explained how Blake beat her in a fight.

            1. Found it in Null 9.6

              “Factory, not warehouse,” Rose said. “And no. Not like that thing. The thing in the factory was a minor demon of the first choir, maybe on its way to becoming moderate, I don’t know. The Barber is in the middle tiers of the third choir, according to the books.”

              Rose even says below the quote that Barber is stronger, but it’s a strength they can control. Perhaps in a demon vs. demon fight, Barber would win, but against humans? It says there that Ur is more dangerous to try to control.

              So in the overall scheme of things you are right. Barber is stronger. But Ur is more dangerous.

            2. The Barber created Blake’s mirrorverse and/or Blake himself. So we know he’s plenty powerful.

              And the reason Rose can control the Barber but not Ur is simply because Rose Sr. only bound the Barber. (Which tells you something about the strength of Rose Sr – Blake essentially died fighting Ur, while Rose Sr. managed to summon and bind a more powerful entity than Ur.)

            3. “The Barber created Blake’s mirrorverse and/or Blake himself. So we know he’s plenty powerful.” We presume that, but it hasn’t actually ever been confirmed in canon.

          1. It’s doubtful. While the lawyers could have been lying in 2.4 it is unlikely.

            “There is also the matter of the debt weighing on you,” he said. “Nearly seven lifetimes worth of unpaid karmic balance. You could work hard your entire life and only make up one of those. Devote yourself wholly and singularly to that one task, and you could maybe make up a second lifetime’s worth.”

            And no matter if the Sphinx respected him for his noble sentiments or not, an agent of Balance is unlikely to do too much in absolving his family of seven lifetimes of karmic debt.

          2. Speaking of Ornias, that has me wondering: what do the lawyers think of what Rose is doing? Surely they are aware that she is being tainted by Conquest, and that she’s going to resort to diabolical means in this fight, and that things could go ridiculously wrong, but given what Rose said to Irene and Callan, it seems she hasn’t been in contact with them at all yet, or doesn’t want anybody thinking she has at least.

          3. I still do not get why people think Ur is so stronhg.

            Despite his size,he has 2 very common weaknesses and can only attack physically and at connections,with no way of bypasing defenses.He is more of a terror weapon “I do not want to get killed by that guy”that a strong weapon,its like comparing a room full of nerve gas with 1million trained soldiers,sure,being in the room seems scarier than facing the soldiers,and it is more painful,but it has far smaller a potential for destruction,and you even have a higher chance of surviving fighting it.

      1. — me too!
      2. — Evan was a ghost, and then Blake nourished his soul (?) by communicating with him, giving him power, and then he became more lucid. And then after the familiar ritual, Evan got to have a physical body. Molly was a ghost too, nourished by Mags/Maggie blood and later on, familial faces. That’s when she became more lucid. Then, she was becoming a wraith because she was feeding off the negative energy of everyone around her, partially because she had a lot of intense negative feelings around the time of her death, and partially because she knew all of those people in life (I think??). Becoming a familiar now would presumably make her very similar to Evan. But there’s still a possibility that the negativity will carry over.
      3. — I have doubts that the talk worked. It seemed promising, but I’m waiting to be disappointed.
      4. — We haven’t seen the Barber in action, though. Other than making Blake (and that general ability), what is he up to? What’s his deal?
      5. — I didn’t think about that but I really like the thought that he doesn’t have to choose, and they’re presenting a false dichotomy for him. Why, though, isn’t he thinking along these lines? Why is he so susceptible to the line of thinking they present? (And Sandra is an Enchantress, so is she the reason that his line of thinking only went to Mags and Molly as the other people being targeted?)
  13. way i see it blake should still be able to practice because all that is required is for the world to recognize you as awakened. the more people know who he is the likelier this becomes. alternatively he could be a badass and become the first awakened other. or he could take a part of a practitioner in battle (preferably his eye) and use that.

  14. “I can imagine you don’t. I can’t tell you that humankind is innately Good, Blake Thorburn, but take solace in the fact that I can’t tell you that humans are innately Wrong either. I don’t know.”

    Blake seems to be a bit depressed that humans aren’t inherently good. But he’s missing that not only are they not inherently Wrong, but what this means. Humans have free will. They can be either, and as a resault a human doing good means much more than something that was born good. They can be the deciding factor, the tiebreaker.

  15. So when Blake left Green Eyes:
    “I thought I might have heard the muffled sound of her yelling, through the water and ice.”
    ummmm. Let’s talk about the possibility that something terrible happened to Green Eyes already and that the seeming fairness of his deal with Faysal Anwar is going to crumble further when we see what happened to her??

    Also!It would seem that Jeremy/this whole conversation between Jeremy and Sandra is a distraction for Blake because of a few things:
    + said he found Sandra and Jeremy with luck (but not sure whether good or bad luck)
    + “I agree, no chaos for now,” [Jeremy] said. “Only enough pressure to get the results we need.” — I don’t really think they’re about to attack Hillsglade House if they’re not looking for chaos.
    + “This may be our only window to deal with the Thorburns.” — They’re targeting Blake rn, not the others. They’re practically saying as much.
    + Jeremy’s call to action that seemed false

    Maybe Sadra hopes Mags hasn’t committed to the familiar thing because she doesn’t want things to be catalysed. Maybe she just wants to stop the ritual? If Mags hasn’t performed the ritual yet, Sandra at least can’t touch Mags, as the ambassador. No telling what she’d do to Molly, though.

    Also!! WHyyyyyy is Blake’s chest pounding?? This is extremely worrisome considering that he hasn’t been having human-like physiological responses from the mirror world. Let’s keep an eye on that. Related to that, Blake said “she knew” she knew what? That the mirror dweller is Blake? That Blake is right there? Or just that there is a mirror-dweller (that is a thorburn)? The phrasing also suggests that Jeremy doesn’t know as much. Are the lines of communication between Sandra and Jeremy not quite clear and open? Is she using him to do something he wouldn’t if he knew all of the details?? These are the questions that are haunting me!

    ALSO!!! Less related specifically to this chapter, but with Rose all muddled in Conquest taint, is it possible that she bound him with her hair on purpose? Or whose idea was that? I don’t recall (unless it was Maggie/Padraic…) Also, is it possible that she knows and doesn’t mind?
    The Conquest taint will make her want dominion/hegemonic power over all things, etc, but will it also help her with winning? Because Conquest, being the epitome of conquest, was pretty good at conquering things and people. Maybe that power is seeping into her along with the mentality. So maybe it’s not all bad. (Even though I still hate Rose, even if a little bit less than before the last few chapters)

    This is excellent thought-food for my impending 13 hour flight (-_-‘)

    1. I thought I might have heard the muffled sound of her yelling, through the water and ice.

      I read that as Green Eyes going weeeheee and happily swimming laps in her new place. But that may be too much happy feels in a single chapter.

  16. Oh, as a complete side note to the story and more about your writing generally:
    Thanks for writing the stuff.

    I’m in Nigeria for the third time in the past year, and each time, I’ve been reading up on the current story (Worm or Pact) and waiting for updates that come in the morning, etc. It’s nice to have something consistent to look forward to that doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth, and will maximize how long I will be entertained during the inevitable 6 hour car rides, 2-hour traffic jams, and general glacial pace of life for a semi-tourist over here.

    Also, generally, before I started reading Worm, I hadn’t picked up a book in ages, even though I really love reading. I read so many more words than I thought possible during each week. I would read right before lectures, and while walking (dangerously…) across campus in-between lectures, and before I started any job at work, and after I should have been sleeping, etc. And finally catching up to the story and reading the comments, and later on actually writing some comments, it has been (and continues to be) a really fun ride, and I hope you can keep writing this way ad infinitum!

    1. Reading and walking in (presumably) Lagos? Are you mad?! That’s pretty close to a death sentence for a pedestrian! Forget bumping into things or not-very-well-marked curbs and suddenly dongas: getting killed by little surprise bombs in zippy, wilfully-blind child-shape is all too easy… o.0

      Mind you, when you want the quick-quick to counter the slow-slow… you can’t pick better material to try committing suicide with. ^_^

  17. Good Points:

    1.) Faysal comforting Blake on his questions about the inherent goodness of Humanity. Considering how he is, if he didn’t get that answer that they weren’t Wrong from creation, he may have lost more of himself.

    2.) Green Eyes is out of The Drains. Enough said.

    3.) Reasonable Behaims. Again, how many of those have we seen.

    Questions: Duncan lied? What did he lie about?

        1. Blake called him on that, though. And has repeatedly. I suspect that makes the difference. Duncan himself uses the ambiguity to defend himself, but the fact remains that Blake Thorburn was not kept in the police station for the entire day. He relied entirely on borrowed power thereafter.

          1. Also, Duncan’s statement about Blake IIRC had less ambiguity than Blake’s about Laird. Laird came to Toronto specifically to help because Duncan had screwed up so much. (That’s the scene when Blake proposes the contest with Conquest.) Which is why I don’t understand how Duncan can now lead the Behaims.

            Regarding Blake: he was called on his statement; he was almost but not quite named forsworn by the Behaim kid, but said kid did wish him a fate worse than what Laird had done to him. And Blake lost against Ur like <2 days later. There could well be a connection – the rules of Pactverse are kind of vague in that regard.

        2. Well, he promised to not hurt him unless he couldn’t help it. That’s a very open statement and not as confining as “You’re not getting out here”, followed by the subject getting out.

        3. Blake could have been forsworn. There was actually some tension when he approached the Behaims, because they could call him on that and he might not be able to defend himself. He had a good reason, but was it good enough?

  18. Pure luck that he found Sandra?? Why isn’t he more paranoid?
    He didn’t even consider the possibility that he was being directed towards them, like calahan and Co. Were at him and rose. It’s like the DuChamp’s favorite move so far.

    I mean, not only did he stumble upon her after A BEHAIM Just said her name outloud (which I’m sure sandra knew about…)BUT he stumbled upon her while she was talking about her plans and important stuff near mirrors and mentions to be wary of the mirror dweler.

    Sandra is smart and cautious. Plus, Focusing your ears to listen in should be as strong a point of connection as looking, in my book.

    Then we got the High Drunk saying that he won’t cause chaos, just apply pressure, and then making a false-sounding call to action as he goes to Crash the Thorburn party, with Sandra saying this is the one rare window they’ll get to deal with a thorburn and take a piece of the board, and what we got there, ladies and gents, is a trap…

    Why, oh why can’t Blake be more paranoid? I get that he’s essentially near-fearless, but seriously. If you’re going to spy/espionage route, you should be more cautious.

    Also, I don’t see any problem with faysal outing Blake. Blake didn’t tell him who he was, nor did he ask to keep it secret, Angel-dog found out on his own. Then one of his guests barters with him to learn of what he found out, so he accepts. Not like they were allies or anything, Blake even just denied AGAIN even thinking about accepting the offer.
    So yeah, Faysal is still good in my book. Nice guy. Wants change. And being fair- to EVERYONE not just Blake…

    1. Re Sandra:
      Good point. Also note that Blake says he can no longer see connections, so he can’t see if he is being manipulated or tracked by them. So there is a good chance Sandra is baiting him, forcing him to go with one group or another, and taking care of three Thorburns at once instead of two. By now, both Sandra and Jeremy probably have plans on how to handle the Thorburn bogeyman.

      The counterpoint is, if they truly planned this trap, why did they talk about Blake at all? They could just have talked about Mags/Molly and Rose/circle and gotten Blake where they wanted him without alerting him to danger. So either they actually didn’t know, or Sandra is still playing the war by the honor system.

      Re: Faysal
      Blake’s just pissed at losing his advantage of anonymity. Since he didn’t bargain to keep the information secret he has no real beef, he’s just whining. Faysal so far has indeed played fair and delivered his ends of the bargains quickly.

      So why don’t all practitioners preferentially try to get angels for familiars? It seems like the karma benefits (fair play = good karma) would offset most of the potential restrictions.

      1. So why don’t all practitioners preferentially try to get angels for familiars?

        Because from what we’ve seen, most practitioners are dicks, and no angel would want to be their familiar.

        More seriously, from the one Gathered Pages interlude, we know that the familiar relationship only works well between relative equals. How many practitioners could rival an angel?

        Johannes repeatedly fought Faysal and almost died against him; didn’t use his pipes against Faysal to manipulate him; and ultimately convinced Faysal of his grand vision.

        Most practitioners couldn’t survive a fight with an angel, and certainly couldn’t convince them that they’d do better as a familiar than as an engine of creation. (Remember, Faysal is “on vacation”. The universe likely couldn’t afford it if every angel did that.)

        1. I agree about you other points, but

          Remember, Faysal is “on vacation”. The universe likely couldn’t afford it if every angel did that.

          It doesn’t have to be every angel, just lots more of them. After all, Faysal mentions just standing still and looking in the same direction for centuries, together with a several litter-mates. It didn’t sound like they’re all that busy. Perhaps higher-tier angels do more work, but Faysal’s kind seemed weirdly passive, while relatively low-tier demons like Pauz are apparently as active as they can. They don’t even have to become familiars, they could at least try to guide and help people.

          1. Hmm, standing and looking in one direction for centuries… Perhaps this is why demons and such avoid “holy ground”, not because of any concern about possible sanctification, but because there may not be a way to tell in advance which “stone angel statues” are actually statues and which are actually angles (and which are Dr. Who angels and even demons need to blink occasionally).

      2. Sandra Counterpoint-
        Good point. But in my opinion, she could be playing by the honor system, or she could have a good reason to make blake panic/worry and be aware that they know about him already. For example, Blake is a LOT more willing now to show himself and confront directly now that he knows he is no longer fully anonymous. Which could aid in their trap.

        Faysal-
        I have no idea why they don’t. It seems like a good idea for literally everyone. Good karma, strengthening the forces of good (assuming angels are inherently good, of course), and having super powerful familiars.
        I mean, faysal essentially fed Blake the version of himself he got from inception-ing two or three people. That’s pretty awesome. Then he made a portal to the drains to get a very specific Other, which takes the power on the level of the friggin lawyers.

        If I had to pick a reason why more practitioners don’t, I’d say because of two reasons-
        First, maybe the Angel-like beings don’t want to be bound to any one human. Or are too hard to find and deal with.
        Second, probably because they are so freaking Fair. If your enemy can manage a deal with your familiar, if you have a demonic, goblin-like, or troll-ish familiar, they’d decline the offer and wreck havoc on the fool who attempted it- which is a very nice trait to have in this world. If you have an angelic familiar, they’d be more inclined to hear the deal out, and might actually make it. Which can be good, but it’s hard to be the ruthless powerful practitioner no one wants to fuck with if said fucking with results in some pretty sick deals.

        That being said- I’d still want one. Hell, I’d want three.
        If Jeremy can have a flock of others, I want a flock of angels.
        BWAHAHAHA

        1. One of the advantages everyone has is secrets. Sandra and the others are gathering every scrap they can, so she wouldn’t screw it up by basically letting Blake know Jeremy was in town. If Rose knows he’s here before he reaches her doorstep she can act far faster than in retaliation. And since he’s bringing a god into the fight, she’s bringing the heavy-guns out.

          Likewise, it’s been made clear most practitioners don’t have protections against mirror-dwellers since both Blake and Rose manage to spy on damn near everyone who isn’t keeping an eye out for a time. They don’t keep things like Laiah on hand, who can somehow sense him because he’s a bogeyman from the abyss.

          1. And to add some more unlikely speculation: Blake lost his connections (both real and fake) to Ur. Now that he’s an Other, he can’t see connections himself anymore, but it’s possible that the details of his “birth” and “death” make him harder to track for the Duchamp enchantresses.

            On the other hand, the satyrs could smell him…

        1. Does he still have the chain around his hand? I know he kept it even after the hair fell out of the locket… and that some of said hair bonded to the chains….

    1. Once again – an angler fish blowing kisses. No thanks ._O

      Although, it’s possible that green eyes may become more human like, and in the process become more like a mermaid. That would be a better prospect, wouldn’t it.

      1. It’s her personality that attracts us, not her appearance. If he were concerned with that all Blake has to do is beat up Letita again, take a lock of hair, make glamour ink and apply it to her body like a full oil massage and think about the little mermaid.

        Besides, Blake likes flawed women.

  19. Random thought: demons are one of the things that can hurt gods or incarnations, and the Barber is good at abstract damage, for example cutting one off from their reward in the afterlife (with their god), or denying them their power. That seems like the sort of thing that could lay low not just the High Drunk, but the god he serves.

    Anyway I don’t think the High Drunk is gonna die.

    1. Well, no. Barbatorem doesn’t kill. And if this happens, it is going to be very hard to read.

      Additionally, IIRC, when demons sent out fail, they come back to who sent them out to do what they initially intended. So, if Dionysus and Jeremy manage to defeat the Barber, Rose and the Blakeguard are…yeah.

      Or I could be remembering wrong.

  20. There may be one more choice for Blake here. Stop them both, right now. If he does something to get their attention immediately, before they leave, he’d have landed himself in the fire, but diverted all danger. It’s not something wholly unlike Blake to do, either.

    If he chooses, probability dictates he’ll go for Rose, because more of his investments lie there, his friends. Mags is only one person, and she may still lay claim to a decent portion of her neutral title. I wonder if it works like that or not… perhaps she forfeits 100% of it with the smallest breach of the rules.

    If he does go for Rose and the gang, he has to go up against the drunk. This would make some more sense, given the recent context provided by the extra chapter. We may see something from his past pop up here, a character trait or some magical element. I don’t think this will be a case of Blake vs Dionysus, because as far as we know, Blake knows next to nothing about him, so he’ll simply have to best his favoured agent, along with his satyrs.
    Do the satyrs already smell Blake? It’d be weird if they didn’t, which may be why the fake call to action has been so explicitly stated.

    It seems to me that Blake cannot defeat the drunk, either. He has no physical presence in the real world, so it’s more likely that he’ll just have to defeat whatever the drunk can impose on him in the mirror world. If he wins thrice, you’d assume he’d become basically immune to this type of attack.
    Interesting to keep in mind, though, that Sandra explicitly stated that she believes the Drunk is uniquely adapted to fight a mirror dweller! What can this possibly mean? Or was it more the nature of Blake himself? We don’t know what Johannes let slip yet, it could even be something that Blake himself is unaware of, regarding his own nature.

  21. “They’re equivalents?” I asked.

    Not sure, if this is a good sentence. It took me a good while to get that Blake is asking whether the number of greater Demons and Angels is the same.

    Also, I said Blake should ask some cosmological questions and he did. Yay!

    1. To me it’s perfectly clear that he’s asking about whether greater angels (or angels in general) and greater demons (or demons in general) are of equivalent power within their respective tiers.

      1. But then the conversation does not make much sense. Faysal already told Blake that an angel would lose to a demon. Now he clarifies than a greater angel could, beat a lesser demon. Why would Blake ask if greater angel and greater demon are equal and Faysal answer “I don’t know”?

        1. Faysal is perhaps most knowledgeable about those of his level and lower. That may not hold true for everyone above him, however.

          1. Not for everyone maybe, but if it does not hold in general then I don’t see why he would say what he said in last chapter.

        2. Equivalent not in terms of ability to win a head to head fight with each other but in terms of overall power. Angels might be worse at fighting but better at other sorts of things.

          1. Angels are probably better at some things. But what does it even mean to be “equivalent” then? Remember they are discussing the fight between angels and demons at the moment.

            Faysal (in last chapter): Angels lose to demons on equal ground.
            Faysal: Higher tier angel can win over lower tier demon.
            Blake: Oh, but do angels have any redeeming qualities that make up for that?
            Faysal: I don’t know.

            The conversation does not make much sense.

            1. “Equivalent” probably really means it: they’re foils. For every demon, there’s an angel who both compliments and counters it in both inherent properties and active abilities (but, these might not mean “aggressive”, but something more along the lines of something like “I see your snipping of connections and raise you the creation of new, more resilient ones with a wider audience”)… and visa versa. 🙂

  22. I guess this is one of those weeks were we don’t have a Thursday update. Darn you, wildbow, your stories are like lovely delicious candy and I need my fix!
    Ok, seriously, wildbow, I love this story. Keep going at whatever pace you want to go at, I’ll survive, somehow… 😉

  23. So this is the first time I’ve ever been caught up with a Wildblow serial, and also my first time to comment. I think both Pact and Worm are amazing, and it’s going to be torture waking a week before I can get more :/

  24. I think Blake should not be so eager to destroy ErasUr completely. First, faking his own death has been tremendously helpful to him. Second, the ability to delete enemies and even knowledge of the enemies’ existence would be very useful. I hope he doesn’t do the dumb heroic thing and destroy the demon when he could instead use it.

    1. I misspoke a bit. Faking his own death by getting eaten, has not been helpful to him. However, it could quite conceivably be helpful in the future. Getting out of the Drains by self-confrontation would presumably be easier the second time, even aside from any paths that might be set up for him to ease the way back.

    2. Yes, because dealing with demons has gone so well for Blake up to this point…

      More seriously: Blake & co even considered using Ur to erase Conquest, and decided not to since erasing only the memory of your hated enemy’s existence was not a good idea. (Also recall what a mess Blake left in Toronto after being erased, or Blake’s speculation in 10.1: “Was that the way things went, when Ur removed memories? Took away the good, left the bad?”)

      Also, IIRC Blake promised Evan he’d fight the big scary monsters. (Though I don’t remember the exact phrasing, and whether this prevents using them this way.) Evan was not happy about Blake using the Hyena.

      Oh, and remember those favors Blake just got granted by Faysal? I expect angels do not approve of your scheme…

      1. Pssshhht. What kind of wimpy diabolist cares about what angels want? Demons are stronger anyway.

        I agree they would have to be careful when using ErasUr, and not use it on the wrong sorts of enemies. When you weigh that against the favor Blake’s getting, destroying ErasUr might be the right choice. But, Blake hasn’t really given much thought to the overall pros and cons, he’s just reactively backlashing against the demon since it’s a demon and it killed him. I just want Blake to start using more Munchkinry.

    3. First, faking his own death has been tremendously helpful to him. Second, the ability to delete enemies and even knowledge of the enemies’ existence would be very useful.

      You do realize those two facts aren’t quite mutually compatible, right? The only case where we know what happened after encountering Ur is Blake, and he is arguably a bit stronger than before.

      Having your enemies encounter Ur and forgetting about them is not very helpful when there’s a good chances they’ll turn into a revenge-obsessed Other, claw their way back out of the drains and come after you.

      Not everyone might escape the way Blake did, but there’s no reason to expect powerful enemies would be unable to.

  25. huh, a dunchap with a black guy….how does that work with all of them having perfect little blond clones for daughters? or did he not mean together in that sense?

  26. And that’s it; this is as far as I go. I’m done reading.

    I’ve lost interest, I feel no involvement, I’m tired of this. In short, this is beginning to bore me. and I have no reason to stick around being bored.

    Wildbow, I have only respect for you as an author. Your pace of work is amazing, and your writing is consistently high-quality… on a chapter level, at least. I’m not writing this to be mean, I honestly hope that you find well-meant negative feedback interesting and useful.

    I don’t actually know if you get notified of comments on older chapters, or if you even read the comments, but I’ll leave this here anyways. My complaint with this story can be summed up fairly simply:

    No-one is accomplishing anything.

    I don’t mean that nothing happens. On a superficial level, an extremely large amount of things are going on. Each chapter has conflict, and each arc has conflict. Some of it is even very good conflict. I honestly found the piece where Blake goes undercover in the glamor disguise to be enthralling.

    From one arc to the next, though? Not… so much.

    Blake has no goal. Rose has no goal. Their enemies have set no real goals; they’re all reacting. Everyone is dancing on strings, the whole gruesome caricature set in motion from the tipping domino of Rose Senior’s death. And for a while, that was enough. There’s a certain fascination in the mystery. I enjoyed the air of discovery as you slowly pulled back the curtain, revealing the details of the world.

    But it just kept going on. And on. And ON.It’s just a slow downwards spiral. It doesn’t accelerate, it doesn’t stop, it just sort of… oozes. React, react, react, again and again, with half-measures by the enemies and best-efforts by the heroes that just aren’t quite enough, tromping through let-down after let-down and fight-scene after fight-scene. The breakneck pace of the chapters is almost, but not quite, enough to disguise the glacial progression of the PLOT. I really hit my breaking point when Blake went up against Ur, and ended up in the Drains. I read the end of the chapter, realized what had happened, and just sort of sighed: “here we go again”. I continued through that arc, hoping things would turn around, but… nope. Here we go again, again, again.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think what you’ve written is bad. Unfortunately, boring is probably an even harsher criticism. I’m just not interested in reading about how Blake will flail around ineffectually until the universe kicks him again, especially since so much energy is spent suggesting that the flailing is important when nothing actually happens.

    So, here’s a little advice. I’m not much of an author, but maybe you’ll at least find it amusing.

    Consider, in the beginning of Worm, how Taylor had a goal. it wasn’t much, but it was there; she wanted to join the Heroes Association. It was long-term, building and changing over the course of several arcs; this is the sort of thing I think would make your current story much better. Even when life kept handing her lemons, she got back up and soldiered on, because she WAS accomplishing something, moving ever so slowly closer to where she intended, even as that goal distorted and melted into something else. If there was something like that, something more than just trying to hang on by the ends of his nails that drove Blake, I think I’d have enjoyed the story much more. Even with the interminable fight-scenes in Toronto, if Blake had something he’d set his mind on, something I could see him progressing towards, I could enjoy the downward spiral, because I’d be able to think: “Well, how’s he going to turn this one around?” Instead of simply surviving, he could progress! That’s what catches my interest in a story.

    In conclusion, I have no idea if you’ll read this. If you do read it, I hope you can accept that I don’t want to hurt or attack you; I hope you find negative feedback interesting or useful, or, at the very least, humorous. I wish you well in all your endeavors; maybe I’ll check back on your next story.

    1. While I’m still enjoying the story, I definitely agree with your criticism that characters lack visible goals, and this makes it hard to see whether things are progressing anywhere.

      In Worm, Taylor always had at least one visible, overt goal, so it was easy to tell whether she was accomplishing anything (rot13): qvfgenpgvba sebz ohyylvat / orpbzvat n urebvar, fnivat Qvanu & qrsrngvat Pbvy, gnxvat bire Oebpxgba Onl, ceriragvat gur cebcurpl, svtugvat Fpvba.

      In contrast, Blake has been fighting for his life since the very start, to the detriment of forming any positive long-term goals. Even everyone Blake comes into contact with – Rose, Alexis & co, etc – seem to just be in a desperate fight for their survival.
      And yes, when the enemies are so focused on defeating or killing Blake & co, and fail, this also makes them look somewhat weak.

      And yet other characters are definitely planning things, but due to their secrecy, we don’t know what. Isadora and the deceased Rose Sr. come to mind.


      I guess I expect the story to culminate in a finale where everything comes together, all secrets are revealed, and everything makes sense… but I wish the way there focused a bit more on things other than barely surviving increasingly impossible odds.

  27. I’m like 85% confident that despite the Ivy thing, Blake wasn’t the vestige; it’s just that all his connections got eaten so he stopped existing, so his friends and everyone else filled in the void. After Rose started existing, they filled in the gaps by having her replace Blake in their interactions.

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