Malfeasance 11.2

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I couldn’t influence the outside world, but I could influence this one.

I looked over the cards.  They were nice, a little old fashioned, the white of the card paper stained with age, but beyond that, they were ordinary playing cards.

My presence had made it so they weren’t reflected, establishing my presence in this mirror world.  But a lack of activity, a shift of focus, a bit of release, like the smallest kind of surrender, and I’d let them through.  The reflection of the cards.

I didn’t have all of them.  Ty had taken some with him, or kicked them out of the scope of the mirror, or something.

Not playing with a full deck, I thought.

Twenty large, fat coins.  I couldn’t make head or tails of the language on the coin’s faces.  I was careful as I moved them aside, wary of the guard I couldn’t see or hear.

Two books.  One on alchemy, more like a dictionary than any kind of spellbook, filled with tables and measurements and Latin words.  Aqua Regia, Aurum Regia, Aqua Justatium, Lapis Philosophorum, and so on.  Each chapter was prefaced with the sort of stuff that started with ‘Evidenced herein’ and spent more time referring to other parts of the text than it did actually saying anything.

The second book was a catalogue of bogeymen.  Rose’s research for summoning the ‘help’.  A quick perusal suggested there was very little in the way of vital information.  A practitioner who focused on things that had fallen between the cracks was known to the practitioner community as a ‘scourge’, and it seemed like Rose was leaning that way.  Just by the language of the text, the assumption seemed to be that the people who were reading the book were very angry types with revenge or hostility in mind.

I could only assume that those did like Green Eyes had suggested and went down to the places between the cracks to collect fallen things for use were to scourges what grandmother Rose was to the diabolist community.  The scary ones you didn’t want to tick off, who knew their stuff and were very good at doing what they did without getting killed.

The book had no explanations about what types of bogeymen there were or how they could sustain themselves.  It was a text for people looking for quick answers, types who wanted to hurt a rival or answer an insult, often in the bloodiest, most horrible ways.

The last chapter, however, did have some information I could use.

Binding a bogeyman typically involved using some form of the natural elements, and things with permanence.  In the former case, it depended based on the type of bogeyman and the place beyond the cracks in reality that they had come from.  Some were particularly vulnerable to running water, others struggled to move solid objects and could easily be trapped or stopped by a simple closed door.  Yet others didn’t like fire.

Moat, box, or burning circle could serve, depending on the type.

The other option was old items that had a history and durability to them, antiques.

I touched the mirror.  I felt the surface vibrate.  I couldn’t actually examine it, though.  The mirror couldn’t reflect itself, so I only saw the portal into the other world and a trace of the frame where it stood out enough to be caught in the reflection.

Pretty old, if I remembered right.  It had probably predated my grandmother.

Thing was, though, I wasn’t quite trapped inside the mirror.  Not any more than usual.  It was the circle on the other side of the mirror that was giving me problems.

I turned back to the text.

The final chapter was, as far as I could tell, the ‘I fucked up, how do I run damage control?’ for novice scourges.  Troubleshooting and understanding where things could go wrong.  It said a lot that it was the last chapter, as if the assumption on the part of the guy who put the catalogue together was that the scourges would prioritize summoning first and fixing problems later.

Diabolists, priests, and now scourges, as sorts who were their own worst enemies, setting themselves up for failure.

The book followed a trend I’d noticed, where authors really liked referencing their other texts.  I imagined it was a way of selling more books to what was no doubt a niche market.  Couldn’t fully understand the contents of ‘Lost and Bound: Bogeymen’ without ‘Plumbing Darkest Depths’ first.

Those who’d buy just the catalogue without getting the work that presumably introduced concepts was probably reckless to begin with.  The ideas raised in the last chapter seemed to be intent on answering that sort of recklessness.

Bogeyman came with a container, practitioner broke the container?  Approaches to binding rituals.

Sent bogeyman to go murder someone in the most horrible ways possible, but they were blocked, and came back to me, what does the practitioner do?  Do the same thing, and hope they aren’t equipped to bounce it back for the third total time, because it would be far stronger on the third trip.

I looked at the mirror.  I was going to figure out a way through and out.  There were countless possible solutions.  I just needed to find one.

I heard the door open, interrupting me as I read.

“Oh!  Oh wow, you scared me,” a female voice.  Tiff.

Not directed at me.

My guard, it seemed.

I closed the book, setting it down off to one side.  My eyes scanned my surroundings. No contraband in sight.

Tiff knocked on the desk as she approached.

“I’m here,” I said.

“I didn’t want to intrude,” she said.  “Hi.”

“Hi,” I said.

Tiff wore a beige sweater that seemed designed to be oversized, the sleeves folded back two or three times over so they didn’t slip over her hands, as well as a knee-length skirt over tights.  Where Ty had been in pyjamas, she was up and ready to face the day.

“Rose was saying at breakfast that you were falling apart?”

“In a sense,” I said.  “I’m degrading.  Being in here is wearing on my sanity and my Self, as far as I can tell.  Less human, more… whatever this is.”

“That’s common,” she said.  “For Others to not like being bound.”

“It wasn’t so long ago that I wasn’t an Other, or not so obviously,” I said.  If I sounded bitter, it wasn’t intentional.

“I wanted to ask if there was anything I could do,” she said.

“Talk to me,” I said.  “Keep me company.  Or let me go.”

“I would, but there’s other stuff going on.  Rose asked me not to fill you in, just in case.”

“I see,” I said.  I traced my finger along my arm, following a ridge.  “Who is Rose, to you?”

“A friend.  Someone in need.”

“You were my friend,” I said.  “Look at me.  I’m dying.  I’m in need.”

She frowned.

You were my friend,” I said, a second time, with emphasis.  “You alone, Tiff.  Alexis is… I think you’re among a very small group of people who can imagine what Alexis means to me.  She helped us both in very similar ways.”

“Yeah,” Tiff said.

“But she and Ty, I have memories of them being my friends.  I loved them.  I still love them, like they were my own family.  But as far as I can tell, those relationships aren’t any more genuine than they were with Rose.  They were stolen from something and then Rose got them.”

Tiff shook her head a little.

“You were my friend,” I said.  “For real.  Just like Evan.  Just like some of the individuals I met in the Drains.”

“You said that, a bit ago.  It kind of stuck with me.”

“Yeah.”

“This… isn’t an easy conversation to have,” she said.

“If it feels like I’m turning away from Alexis and Ty by saying that, that’s not it.  I will help them.  However contrived our friendships were, I will die if I have to do it to save them.”

“I’d say that’s a relief, but I don’t want you to die.”

I couldn’t meet her eyes.  I looked down at Lefty.  “Thanks for saying so.”

“When I said this wasn’t easy, I meant that there’s so many things to trip over, and gaps, and conversation landmines.”

Gaps.  I felt compelled to ask, “So you do remember Rose?”

She looked uncomfortable.  “No, or yes.  I… the other two, they didn’t handle it well, when whatever happened at the factory happened.”

“When Rose entered this world and I headed off to the Drains.”

“Yeah.  Ty just couldn’t process, on a mental level, and Alexis took it really hard emotionally.  It came and went, and affected them especially at night.  Alexis said it was worst when you’re in that twilight of near-sleep and your mind’s wandering, she kept tripping over-”

“-A Blake shaped hole,” I said.

“Yeah, a Blake shaped hole.  Ty took a while to find equilibrium.  Different.  He’s really a guy in how he just doesn’t recognize how bad he was, looking back.  Rose was… on a level, we knew Rose.  Or we didn’t know her but we were familiar with her.  She offered help, and where I couldn’t do anything to help Alexis or Ty, Rose could heal that damage and fill the gap, help them through the bad nights.”

I wasn’t sure how to handle that.  Being as angry as I was, yet hearing that she’d helped people I cared about.  It jarred.  I frowned, and I hoped it didn’t look as scary as it could, given what I was.

Tiff seemed to get more intense as she talked, her tone resembling a person pleading for a loan they needed to stay afloat.  “We couldn’t just turn our backs on her after she helped them with that.  Stuff was happening in Toronto, and we thought people might come after us, just because, so we stuck by her.  She stuck by us.”

“She thrust you into this situation,” I said.  “She treated you like sacrificial pawns, rejecting the rules that others were trying to set, knowing they might go after you to get at her.”

“We talked about that,” TIff said, sounding more than a little defensive.  Because she didn’t believe it?  “We planned it, and we talked about all the bases we needed to cover.  Knowing we might be vulnerable or targeted was one base we covered.”

“You talk about a lot of stuff as a group,” I said.  “Me, and Conquest setting up shop in Rose’s head.”

She fidgeted.  “What else are we going to do, cooped up here for days on end?”

“It’s her fault you’re cooped up.  This wasn’t supposed to be how things went with you guys.  You’re not supposed to be pawns at all, you’re not supposed to be sitting there talking at you guys and swaying you.”

“Blake-”

“She’s taking something that was supposed to be good, something that wasn’t hers to take, and she’s fucking twisting it-”

“Stop!” she said.

I did.

Angry as I was, I didn’t pant, I didn’t move.

It was, perhaps, the moment I’d felt the least human yet.

Tiff, however, wasn’t quite as in control.  I could see her clenching her fists, eyes on the ground.

I hadn’t realized how upset she was getting.  That defensiveness I’d noted wasn’t because I was winning.

It had been because I was losing her.

“If you’re going to try to turn me against Rose, then I can’t be here,” she said.  “I can’t support that or give you an opening you can exploit.  I can’t do it emotionally, either.  This is hard enough to deal with.”

I nodded slowly, because I didn’t trust myself to speak.

“I’m genuinely sorry,” I finally said.

“I understand,” she said.  “You’ve obviously been through a lot.”

Her eye moved to my rib.  With my sweatshirt and shirt still off, dropped on the floor to help hide the pile of coin and cards, she could see the hole at my side, as well as the gnarled growth around the opening and pelvic bone.

I ran my hands through hair that was now perpetually dirty.  “You too.  I’m sorry for getting you into this.”

“Did you?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m… damn it.  Joel told me to be selfish.  He wanted me to be genuinely selfish for maybe for the first time in my life, and I may actually be accurate there, with how short my life has been.  And I asked for help from people I cared about, because I couldn’t do it alone.  If this goes bad, and something happens to you guys, I’ll never forgive myself.”

“That’s not up to you,” she said

“You’re right, though  I don’t want to just make this conversation about attacking Rose.  I’m also sorry for saying all that and making you have to defend her.”

She pulled the chair around, and sat opposite me.  She fidgeted before she was able to get her hands to sit still long enough to hold them in her lap.

I wasn’t much better, however well I could hide it.  I wasn’t any less angry than I’d been, but right this minute, shame took the top place, and shame kept me quiet.

“I don’t know how much you know about me,” Tiff said.

“That you came from a bad family situation, and Alexis helped you out.  That I really like your art, and I’m jealous that you’re capable of doing it.  That you were horrified at the notion that because we had our first date of sorts at a coffee place, that I might nickname you ‘donut girl’.”

When I met her eyes, she was looking at the branches that sprawled across my chest.  She’d relaxed a bit.

“Date?” she asked.

“I don’t know for sure,” I said.  “Alexis introduced us.  She wanted you, me, and her to have an… event.”

“Oh god,” Tiff said, hands flying up to her face.  “I think I know what you’re talking about.  She hinted.  Stop right there, or I won’t be able to look you in the eyes.”

“You haven’t been looking me in the eyes for a little bit now,” I said.

Her eyes flashed up, peering at me from between her fingers, they met mine, then dropped down to my torso, a fleeting glance.

Even with her hands covering her face, I could see her ears going red.

Oh.  She hadn’t been paying attention to the monstrous bits.

I’d meant my comment to be more melancholy, recognizing what I’d become, not teasing.

A part of me wanted to imagine a world where none of this had happened.  Where Alexis and Tiff and Ty and me and Joel and Goosh could all be friends.  Where I always had the opportunity to just pick up and go ride my bike halfway across Canada if Toronto felt too confining.  Work odd jobs to pay for gas.

But then I remembered that if none of this had happened, I wouldn’t exist.

My goal was different, now.  To protect these guys, and make that world possible.

Only without the ‘Blake’ part.  Without the motorcycle.

I wasn’t sure how to feel as I walked over to grab my sweatshirt.  I very carefully transferred the coins to the pocket, then pulled my shirts on.  I’d taken them off to investigate the changes of my body.  I stuck my hands in my pockets and pressed the coins down to keep them from jingling.

Tiff sighed through her hands, which still covered her face, then drew in a deep breath, straightening her spine, dropping the hands.

Still a little pink.

“What I was saying before,” she said.  “My home situation.  I’ve been backed into a corner before.  My mom made bad decisions and my dad made bad decisions, and I could usually weather the worst of it.  But sometimes it was too much.  A chain of things or stuff coming together, and I hated the person I was becoming at times like that.  I tried to get away from it all, and I wound up in freefall.”

“No connections to keep you from tumbling down,” I commented.

She gave me a curious look. “Yeah.  I was windmilling my arms, looking for something to hold on to.  I did stupid stuff.  Stuff that, if I had different luck or a little more time, might’ve made me into my parents, despite my best efforts.  Drinking, drugs, just leaping into relationships with guys that weren’t… good.  It was all easy, and if I’d spent another week or month doing it, maybe I would’ve gotten trapped.  Then Alexis was the next thing that turned up that I could hold onto.  Only she wasn’t so bad for me.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “She does that.”

“She’s a genuinely good person,” Tiff said.  “Who isn’t always good to herself, and who can still mess up, even if she means the best.  She needs help to watch out for that sometimes, and that’s hard.”

“It is hard,” I agreed.

“I think, sometimes, she could look at the worst person ever and see something right here,” Tiff said, tapping her chest, just over her heart. “But maybe I’m biased.  She saw some talent and good in me around a time I couldn’t see anything redeeming about myself.”

“I think she made a good call,” I said.  “But that’s one of the things to watch out for.  Sometimes it’s not worth what it costs you, right?”

I managed to resist the urge to say something about Rose, and the cost there.  Tiff didn’t pick up on the hint, which was probably a good thing, because she was still listening, and maybe it would reach past the walls she’d erected.

Her hand was still on her heart.

“I never paid attention to my heart before.  But lately, I feel like all it’s ever doing is pounding.  Just racing and racing so hard I can’t keep my hands still.  Can’t sleep.”

I looked at where her hand touched.

I touched my own heart.  I had to will it to beat to feel the eerie fluttery sensation within.

She wasn’t aware.  “If there’s one thing in all this that terrifies me, it’s the idea of going into freefall again.  Being forced into freefall.  Backed into a corner until I have no choice but to do something stupid, and then keep doing stupid things, and I don’t want that.”

Feeling the fluttering in my chest, I had a bit of an idea.  It related to Evan on a level, and it related to this.

I shifted position, dropping my hand and moving my shoulder, and a bit of wood popped.  Tiff startled a bit at it, as if I’d stirred her from a daze.

“Sorry,” she said.  “I barely slept last night, and then Evan woke me first thing, doing his bird thing”

“It’s okay,” I said.  “Thank you for sharing.  I want you to know that I don’t want that negative stuff for you either.  I don’t want you to be miserable, or backed into a corner.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“In the interest of achieving that,” I told her, “I’m not going to press you right now.  That’s just more pressure, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Then I’ll try not to,” I said.  I won’t tell you that if you just released me, I could protect all of you, and I’d do everything I could to keep your fear from coming to pass.  “We should chat again soon.”

“We could,” she said.  “Is that you saying goodbye?”

I hated to turn down more conversation, when it was the only thing keeping my head on straight and my body intact, but all the same, I said, “Yes.  I don’t want to say anything I might regret, breaking my word, and I’m still… backed into a corner, on a level.  Being kept in jail by whatever it was that Rose summoned.”

With a sweep of my arm, I indicated my little domain.

“I’ll see if the others need help with anything,” she said.  “I didn’t mean to talk this long.”

“Be safe,” I said.

“You too.  I’ll talk to you later,” she said.

She dragged the chair out of my field of view.  I heard a murmur that might have been an apology, as she disappeared.

A minute later, the door closed.

I paced, thinking.  My eye moved down to the two books more than once.

I thought of the playing cards I’d stashed in my back pocket.

I thought of Evan.

I’d been able to transfer power to him, in a very crude way.  I could imagine that this kind of practice was second nature for more experienced Others.  Recognizing what they were made of and how they could use that.

Tiff had talked about finding the buried strength within.

Here we were.

My fingers touched the rib that bridged the space to the hollow within me.  No organs in my chest cavity.  Only emptiness, and birds.

As blunt objects went, I had a book.

It took some doing, getting the right angle, but I managed to get my left arm around to my right rib and hold it firm.

With my right hand, I held the book.

I slammed it into my ribcage, as hard as I could.

I didn’t feel pain in the usual sense.

I also didn’t feel it break.

I swung a second time.

A third.

I swapped hands, holding it with my right hand and swinging with my left, tightly controlling the swing to hit it in the right place.

As far as altered, vaguely disconnected perceptions of pain went, that was still pretty damned painful.

All the more reason to do it again.

Rib smashed.  Despite my best efforts, I lost my grip with my right hand.  Had it broken in two places, I might have dropped it somewhere inside the cavity of my body.

As it stood, it only broke away from my sternum, the bridge of bone running down the center of my chest.  I wrenched it to push it away, widening the gap between ribs, and after a bit of readjustment of positioning, I slid my hand into the central space.

Within, I found a morass of branches, angular and rough, largely devoid of leaves.

The sound of snapping and popping made me pause.

I pulled my hand out quickly.  The rib was healing, little branches winding around it as if to reinforce it.

Bogeymen were notoriously tough.  I supposed I benefited from that at the worst possible moment.

After a moment’s hesitation, I grabbed the Hyena from its makeshift sheath at my side, and I began to stab and chip away at the branches and the broken section of bone.

The Hyena stalled healing. That applied even to its wielder.

The plants and bone stopped knitting back together.

I returned my hand to the dark cavity within me.  I held it open, cupped slightly, palm up.

“Come on, Lefty,” I murmured.  “Show me you trust me, at least.”

I felt a bird hop down into my palm.

I gripped it like I might grab a softball, and removed it from my chest.

It felt very much like having the wind taken out of me.  Which might have been exactly what had happened.

It wasn’t Lefty.  One of the sketchier ones.  Vaguely luminescent outside of my body, it had eyes that looked like they’d been drawn on in black pen with a shaky hand and too many rings.  Free of the interior of my body, it was shedding feathers at a rapid rate.

What I’d taken in, I could take out.

“Fly,” I said, letting go.

It flew around me twice.  By the end of the second loop, it was struggling to stay airborne.

The spirit returned to my waiting hand.  I returned it to the hole in my side.

There.

Another tool at my disposal.

I wanted to be careful about my next move.  I sat and I thought.

Spirits were the arbiters of this world.  They drove things, negotiated things.  They were everything simple and simultaneously very complex in what they could do.

I had a store of spirit-stuff inside me.  It was a question of how I could make effective use of it.

I’d given some energy to Evan, transferring power to him to give him an edge to escape the little box of books.

Did that mean the mirror wasn’t a barrier to spirits?

I reached in for another bird.

Some tried to escape my waiting hand.

But again, a form settled into my palm.

Lefty this time.

“Please don’t break the mirror,” I told him, my voice straining slightly due to the lack of something within myself.  “If this works, don’t make a big display of yourself.  Wait for instructions.”

I touched him to the mirror, passing him through.

He made the faintest of sounds as he landed on the ground.

My jailer didn’t react.

I had to get down on my hands and knees to get close to the little bird spirit that was losing feathers with every passing second.  “Can you move out of the circle?”

He bounced a little, hopping short distances until he reached the circle’s perimeter.

He stopped, bumping against it.

No luck.

“Come back,” I whispered.

He came back the same way he’d gone, hopping little hops.

“Push the mirror,” I said.  “Stay out of sight, but nudge it, see if you can turn it around.”

Something of a mistake.

What I wanted and what the spirit did were two completely different things.

I’d meant for the spirit to nudge the foot of the mirror’s stand, to change the angle of the mirror’s facing by increments, until I could maybe see books.  With books, I could have had an escape route  If it had failed, I would have brought it back, then called out a group, trying the same thing.

Failing that, I could have torn up paper from the books and tried to create a proper physical body for the birds to inhabit.  I wasn’t sure how or where I’d take it, but it was a thought, and I didn’t have many options.

Instead, it nudged the bottom of the mirror itself.

Joined to the stand at the left and right side, the mirror’s angle easily changed to tilt up or down.

Nudged, it swung, the top coming toward me and the bottom going out.

I was shunted, but there was only one reflection to occupy.  I was dumped onto my side, and scrambled to get to my feet.

As got my bearings, I looked to the mirror, I found myself looking through the mirror at the bogeyman.  A tall, shirtless, long-haired, long-bearded man with thick eyebrows that gave him a perpetual glare, and a giant hook in the place of one hand.  Scars criss-crossed his chest, some from blades, some from burns, and one or two strips that looked like they might have been from octopus suckers.  Salt crusted his skin and hair.

He was tense, muscles straining even when he was standing still, as if it were all he could do to keep from lunging at me.

He lost that fight.  He seemed to make a decision, striding toward me.

“Wasn’t me!” I called out.  “The bird nudged the mirror!”

He slowed.

Sorry Lefty, selling you out.

“I’m not doing anything,” I said, raising my hands.  “Look.”

He didn’t look like he could relax at all, but he stopped, holding his hook back like he’d use it to strike the mirror any second.

How had he found his way back to this world?  How had he been cast out?

“I’m pretty sure I’d lose if we fought,” I said.  “You look like the type that fought his way back.”

He didn’t move a muscle, but I could almost imagine he’d relaxed a fraction.

“I’ve been there,” I said.  “Down there.”

And the tension increased, returning me to square one.

Familiarity wasn’t a good thing.  Stupid of me.  If he’d fought his way up, he’d probably carved through more than his share of weaker people who’d been in his way, to get stronger.

At my feet, Lefty hopped back through the mirror.  I slowly bent down to pick him up.

“Alright,” I said.  “I’m-”

He screamed.  Rage, anger, the sort of roar that summoned up all the fear and prey instinct of one’s target and made them freeze, certain they were going to die.  The sort of horror that made a guy standing a quarter-mile away pause in momentary terror.

But I wasn’t so caught up in those feelings.  I’d discarded the worst parts of my fear instinct.

He wasn’t attacking, and that was indicative of something.

All the same, I scrambled back to get away from him, stepping deeper into the reflection, ironically moving myself closer to the spot he occupied in the real room.

When we’d moved into the house, Rose and I had catalogued the bookshelves, figuring out what was on each.

I knew where I was going.

Problem was, it was up on the second floor.

“Lefty,” I whispered, turning my body to hide what I was doing before reaching into my chest to grab the bird, “Nudge the mirror, tilt it up, just a bit toward the ceiling.”

I could already hear running footsteps and shouts.

I didn’t wait or watch to see if Lefty would obey.

I continued to back up, continuing to pretend to be afraid.

My back touched the ladder that led up to the second floor.  I scrambled to climb it.

There.  The book I needed.  Rose hadn’t moved it, or she’d kept the same filing system as Grandmother.

I head the door open as I grabbed the book.  I hurried to tuck it into the space between my rear end and the waist of my pants, then pulled my sweatshirt down over it.

“Shut up!” Rose ordered her minion.

“Can’t cross the circle,” the bogeyman said.  “Wanted to warn you.”

“Fine, good.  But next time?  Anything he does with the mirror?  Anything suspicious?  Fling something at it.”

“Hmm.”

“Sounding a little more Conquesty there, Rose,” I commented.

Not the time, Blake!” Rose shouted.  “What the hell are you doing?”

“He just started screaming!” I said.

“You moved the mirror?” she asked.

“Trust me,” I said, improvising, “I did not want to move the mirror like that!  I definitely didn’t want to offend Fish-hook there.”

“If I move it, will I destroy you?” she asked.

“No, but-”

She spun the mirror around, flipping the facing so it was back in the original direction.

I was jerked back into the light, mirror still in the circle.

Coins very nearly spilled from my sweatshirt pockets as I collapsed on the ground.  I used my hands to stop them.

I didn’t move, afraid any further action would reveal the book or cause noise with the spare change.

Rose was doing something at the mirror.  “You want to protect your friends?”

“Of course,” I said.

“This isn’t the way to do it.  Do you have any clue what’s going on out there?”

“A small clue.”

“Very small, Blake.  We’ve had two creatures try to get into the house in the last twelve hours.  We can’t raise enough protections to block everything out, so we’ve resorted to novice-level alarm runes, sleeping in shifts, and being very worried.  My dead man’s switch is one measure, but they can still take it away from me if I’m not careful.”

“Release me, I’ll help,” I said, my voice strained.

Which made me wonder – where was Lefty?

“Help by not distracting me from keeping those four alive, all right?  You’re a big problem, more than you understand, but you’re not even in the top three issues we’ve got right now.”

I remained silent.

She was looking at me and the mirror.

“Fuck,” she said.  “I really want to know how you did that.  But the house is under siege, and given the pattern- why am I even talking about this with you?  Stay put for one minute.  I’ll put you in a different damn mirror and bring you with me.”

I glared at her as she strode from the room.

My focus shifted as my gaze fell on the twine that encircled the mirror, binding it upright, so it couldn’t flip around any further.

The book was one I’d glanced over before leaving the house, in my efforts to get a sense of the way this world worked.  One of the first books I’d noticed on setting foot in the library.

Sympathetic Magics.

I found the chapter I needed.

Sympathy is a branch of the practice that deals with commonalities, heavily tied to enchantment.  Expert sympaths can form a connection between a doll and a person, and inflict harm on the individual by harming the doll.

I sorted through the cards, laying them out in as complete an order as I could manage.  Spades, diamonds, clubs, hearts.  Ace, two through ten, jack, queen, king.

This would cost me, as escape routes went.

Lefty flew up to my hand.  I deposited him on my left shoulder.

“Right shoulder is and will always be Evan’s spot,” I commented.  “You’re sitting this one out.”

I reached into my chest, through thickets of branches and twigs, and gripped one bird that wasn’t fast enough in escaping my hand.  Twigs broke as I pulled it free.

I pressed it into the deck.

It wasn’t a rune drawn on each card, but I didn’t have anything to write with.

It took me a minute to find the next bird.  I was acutely aware of Rose’s promise to return shortly.

As an Other, I didn’t have the ability to practice.  I held no sway over the spirit realm.  There was no pact or compact between me and them, not anymore.

I had my own spirits though.  It was worse than giving up my own blood, because I was pretty sure that power lost by giving up blood would be replenished in time.

I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t pay for this somehow.

But I was damned if I’d sit still, and let yet another person dictate how I should live my life.

I’d be damned thrice over if cool people like Ty, Tiff, Alexis and Evan would pay for the mistakes of others.

I fished out another bird, and pressed it into the deck.

I felt tight inside, a little less like I could fake being alive.

This wouldn’t be a trick I could repeat without regaining power somehow.  I’d need to eat, or feed my bogeyman nature.

I draw connections through like, three times over,” I said, reading from the book.  Then the part I had to improvise.

“Like in appearance,” I whispered, fanning out the cards.

“Like in surroundings,” I said, touching the cards to the floor.

“Like in number,” I said.  I tapped the cards on the floor again, until they were flush, and then shuffled them.

I slammed the pack down on the ground.

The cards that were still laying on the floor from my game with Ty assumed a similar position.

I heard the bogeyman scream again.

Fucker.

With both hands, I spread out the cards, fanning them out over the ground in an arc.

I turned around, facing the mirror.

Something collided with the back of the mirror.

My world splintered, a ravine opening across one end of it.

I was pretty sure I knew where I’d wind up if I fell through.

But the cards on the floor in the real world were in a similar position.  A half circle, covering the circle that the priest had drawn out.

I acted with confidence, even as my legs felt weak.  I strode toward the edge of my little mirror realm in the library.

I skipped over and through, moving to the bathroom one floor downstairs.

I took another step, putting me in the living room, to one side of the shattered window.

The others were there, along with two bogeymen.

“Who’s attacking you?” I asked.

They practically jumped out of their skin.

“No,” Rose said.  Her voice was tight.  “You… motherfucker.”

“Who’s attacking?”

“Blake,” Alexis said, “I’m sorry I didn’t come talk, but-”

“It’s fine,” I said. “I said I’d help if you let me, and I guess I’ll help if you don’t.  Who’s attacking?”

“The Behaims,” Evan said, sounding just a little too happy to see me, for a guy who was supposed to be on the down-low.

“Want to come stop them with me?” I asked.

He looked at the others.

I shouldn’t have even asked.

He took off, flying through the hole in the window.  I was right behind him.

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195 thoughts on “Malfeasance 11.2

    1. Typo?

      I could only assume that those did like Green Eyes had suggested and went down to the places between the cracks to collect fallen things for use were to scourges what grandmother Rose was to the diabolist community.

      Maybe should be

      I could only assume that those who did like Green Eyes […]

      1. This chapter had tons of typos and lots of awkward sentences (like the one above; I didn’t list them all here). Might warrant another proofread.

        Typos:

        • “My presence had made it so they weren’t reflected, establishing my presence” presence x2
        • “Ty had taken some with him, or kicked them out of the scope of the mirror, or something.” -> maybe: “or I’d kicked”

        • “it depended based on the type of bogeyman” -> “depended on”

        • “Those who’d buy just the catalogue without getting the work that presumably introduced concepts was probably reckless” -> were probably reckless

        • “You’re not supposed to be pawns at all, you’re not supposed to be sitting there talking at you guys and swaying you.” – ??

        • “genuinely selfish for maybe for the first time in my life” -> “for maybe the”

        • ““That’s not up to you,” she said” -> missing period

        • “though I don’t” -> extra space

        • “and then Evan woke me first thing, doing his bird thing” -> period missing

        • “With books, I could have had an escape route If it had failed” -> missing period; possibly incomplete sentence.

        • “As got my bearings” -> “As I got”

        • “I head the door open” -> “I heard”

        • “one bird that wasn’t fast enough in escaping” -> maybe: “wasn’t fast enough to escape”

        • “I draw connections through like, three times over,”” opening quotation mark is missing

        Also: In the Table of Contents (bar at the right-hand side), 11.1 is currently filed under the category “Story”; it should be filed under “11.01”.

            1. Except where it comes to automobiles and trains, then it follows the conventions laid out by their southern neighbors.

        1. “Ty had taken some with him, or kicked them out of the scope of the mirror, or something.”
          He took the missing cards with him, or kicked the missing cards out of the scope of the mirror, or something. No edit needed.

  1. He’s out and Rose is scared about that. I see only good things coming from this… Ok, yeah, I see him getting totally screwed by this eventually but right now I’m so happy for him and proud of Blake. 🙂

    1. I, on the other hand, am getting a really bad feeling about this. Let’s not forget that Blake is likely a vestige that was created by the Barber, irradiated by Pauz, and had Ur infect one of his eyes. Talk about being tainted: Blake may well be tainted by three different demonic essences. Who knows what kind of bad judgment calls he might make, has already made?

      1. I concur. I get the impression his taintedness gets him to overestimate the hostility Rose has towards him. Like the image he has of her is somewhat distorted.

        1. I’m getting worried that he’ll end up with nothing but regrets and the feeling he’s made the world worse, all while giving up all his Blakeness in an attempt to try and make things better. Worm spoilers. Pbafvqrevat ubj jr unq gur jubyr guvat jvgu Gnlybe trggvat zber ehguyrff nf gvzr jrag ba, univat uhtr ertergf bire ubj fur unaqyrq guvatf, V’q engure abg unir n ercrng bs gung. Npghnyyl jvgu Oynxr vg jbhyq cebonoyl raq hc orvat jbefr.

          1. There’s hope for Blake, though, in that he’s become a monster suddenly. Blake seems to have the best of intentions, but he’s missing crucial information about what he is and to which extent he can trust his own reasoning now. He’ll likely screw up once more on par with the outcome of his loss against Ur (maybe get one of his friends killed), but if his humanity survives that, there’s still plenty of time (and regrets) left to reverse course.

            In Worm, a recurring motif was that (rot 13) gb birepbzr gur ovttrfg guerngf, lbh unq gb orpbzr n zbafgre lbhefrys. Cnpg vf irel qvssrerag va gung ertneq.

            1. Well Gnlybe’f ernpgvba gb gur dhrfgvba bs jbhyq fur qb vg nyy bire ntnva jnf gb fnl gung fur’q qb vg orggre. Fur erwrpgrq gur vqrn gung gur bhgpbzr pbhyqa’g unir orra orggre naq ure orpbzvat n zbafgre jnf arppvfnel.

            2. Fair point.

              Ohg whqtvat sebz gur vafnavgl gung jnf Fpvba, V qba’g ohl vg. Jbezirefr jbhyqa’g unir fheivirq jvgubhg zbafgref yvxr Xurcev, gur Pnhyqeba pncrf, be gur Oveqpntr vazngrf. Naq va gur svefg cynpr, Gnlybe jnf bayl noyr gb orpbzr Xurcev orpnhfr fur’q fcrag gjb lrnef va gbgny flap jvgu ure cnffratre. Ol orunivat yrff zbafgebhfyl, fur’q nyfb unir ybfg fbzr bs ure zbafgebhf cbjre. Fpvba jbhyq unir fheivirq, naq fur’q or va ab cynpr gb erterg nalguvat, orvat qrnq.

              Zber gb gur cbvag, Gnlybe gevrq gb orpbzr n ureb va gur sbez bs Jrnire, naq vg whfg qvqa’g jbex bhg.

            3. Ab. Jrnire jnf Gnlybe frggvat qbja gur zbafgre, va na nggrzcg gb fgbc gur ncbpnylcfr. Vg jnf ure phggvat gur gvrf gung fur unq jvgu ure sevraqf, naq onfvpyl orvat nyjnlf ba sbe gjb lrnef. Rirelguvat jnf nyy va na nggrzcg gb vapernfr gur bqqf bs ceriragvat Wnpx Fynfu sebz pnhfvat gur ncbpnylcfr. Naq gung snvyrq. Fur uheg ure sevraqf naq nyvrangvgrq urefrys sebz bguref sbe abguvat. Lrnu, gurl eryrnfrq gur zbafgref sebz gur Oveqpntr, ohg gur erny xrl jnf pbbeqvangvat rirelbar ba gur cflpubybtvpny nggnpx naq gur gvaxref ohvyqvat gur jrncba sbe gur xvyyvat oybj bapr Fpvba ybjrerq uvf qrsrafrf. Va gur raq vs gurl unq xabja gung jung jnf arrqrq jnf “Oernx uvz jvgu tevrs ol erzvaqvat uvz bs uvf qrnq zngr, gura fubbg gur ovttrfg tha jr pna ohvyq” gb ortva jvgu guvatf jbhyq abg unir tbar gur jnl gurl qvq. Naq vg jnf Gnggyrgnyr jub svtherq gung bhg, bar bs gur srj crbcyr Xurcuev qvqa’g pbageby. Xurcuev jnfa’g gur nofbyhgr arffrpvgl, ohg gur erfnhyg bs cher qrfcrengvba orpnhfr bs ubj onq guvatf unq tbggra.

              I guess what it boils down to is in the end could you goals only have been acomplished by the means you did use, or was their a better way in hindsight?

            4. qrcraqf ba jung lbh pbafvqre cher arprffvgl-vgf fgngrq zhygvcyr gvzrf gung gur uhznaf jbhyq abg pbbcrengr,abg rira va gur snpr bs qvfnfgre.Pb-bcrengvba JNF ivpgbel-pevgvpny.

        2. Keep in mind Rose inherited the bad karma when Blake went down to the drains, so that could be playing into the increased hostility as well.

    2. Yeah! Blake is back, and hopefully he will get a moment of awesome with Evan and Lefty.
      And then it will turn out that Rose is right to be scared of him because of something horrible we don’t see coming. 😛

      Blake is probably going to store all sorts of interesting things inside his ribcage brambles. I wonder if he will end up like Pandora, the keeper of hope. Sure there is lots of horrible, but as long as the little bit of hope is in him as a power source, he’ll fight the darkness. Well, replace hope with some kind of power source. 😛
      But as analogy’s go its not bad I think.

      I wonder what kind of implement he would be suited for now? Broken sword is looking more and more accurate, but something that emphasizes freedom like a big brass key, or his keychain would also apply. I’m thinking he could get very specialized and very good at his thing if he goes the keychain route. After-all, an Other you cant bind or trap can be very dangerous. 🙂

      1. Although Blake needs to regain enough humanity to be able to gain those things. See that’s another annoying thing, all that time and energy spent debating what Blake should get for an implement and a demense, down the drains.

        1. See that’s another annoying thing, all that time and energy spent debating what Blake should get for an implement and a demense, down the drains.

          Heh heh heh

        2. I called that way back when he ‘awakened’. Once we had a clear indication of the implement/familiar/demesnes standard power-up trifecta, it was impossible for the protagonist to follow that (because Wildbow).

          Getting a familiar was surprising enough (and welcome, thanks to Evan’s cheerfulness).

          However, since spirits seem rather flexible when it comes to rituals and theatrics, it’s not like that locks Blake entirely out of grabbing mcguffins as extra power sources.

    1. “you’re not supposed to be sitting there talking at you guys and swaying you” it could be that I’m tired and you no longer looks like a word, but I think that the you’re should be a she’s.

  2. Yaaaaaay! Losing more of himself! Seriously, he never gains anything, unless it costs someone else he cares about more. It’s a bit of a bummer…
    On the other hand, damn he is badass, and it makes for a really intense story.

      1. He also willing gave up a bit more of “Blake” to the idea of trying to make a better world. That sounds vaugly familar and worries me horribly.

    1. I dunno. I think the talks he had with his friends might have nourished his human-nature, so he’s not totally bleeding himself dry. Plus, depending on what the Behaims are doing to attack them, he might be able to recoup some power by grabbing some token of their power and draining it into the hollow void in his chest.

      1. Yeah, I do hope he gets at least a weak power source soon. Otherwise I don’t know how realistic his continued weakened state is going to be. He continues to always be on the verge of powerlessness, being damaged and hurt. And that’s just not realistic for long. Eventually there is a bottom, eventually he would get destroyed. I just hope he gets less broken/weak eventually.

  3. That was some badass pseudo-magic (was it pseudo-magic, or the most primal magic of all?) there. He really will need someone to feed him power now, though. Personal power does recharge, I bet they can claim some power from the Others at the door, and all in all, I think he can recover. In fact, if he’s moved on to powering workings with his Other nature, then that means that he’s not losing any Blake-ness to do it. And if he can perform sympathetic bindings using the exact reflection of things, mirrored, well, that’s probably the most efficient possible way to do it.
    You know, if his bogey nature grows enough, will he be able to pull people’s reflections into his realm? I think he could really become quite a formidable monster, with time. Plus the whole ‘master of simple workings’ thing.

    1. I think he could really become quite a formidable monster, with time.

      It sounds like your implying that Blake isn’t already a terrifying, formidable monster.

      1. As monsters go, he isn’t all that terrifying. He’s tenacious, intelligent, and scary if he gets the drop on you, but so are a lot of bogeys. By formidable monster, I mean the sort of stone-eyed fiend that can step between worlds trailing clouds of ink-stained birds, fingers clawed, flesh buried deep beneath snapping branches, and leading a cohort of experienced practitioners sustaining, defending, and in turn feeding off of its power. A demigod of freedom, terror, and tenacity.

    2. “You know, if his bogey nature grows enough, will he be able to pull people’s reflections into his realm? I think he could really become quite a formidable monster, with time. Plus the whole ‘master of simple workings’ thing.”

      He just took a a book on sympathetic magic. I think that’s exactly what he’s going to do.

      1. No greater connection than one’s reflection I suppose, but you have to consider if a person’s reflection is sentient and will fight back, or if a practitioner can break the connection.

        Still, this means he has a limited amount of shamanism and connection magic back. The only problem is that drawing his own personal reserve of spirits is hollowing him out, and while he’s taking in other spirits who will become more birds, he’s plucking more and more of himself out even faster since they all seem to have little bit of Blake in them.

      1. I don’t know. Familiars are often smart enough to pose a threat rather than an inanimate object. Plus they’ve got a link with their masters and trying that on a practitioner who can see connections may end badly.

  4. Awesome. Blake now has so his disposal the very forces governing the Pactverse itself. I like the Balance Blake has to achieve between using this amazing power and saving the power to make sure he still exists.

    This is actually kinda brilliant. The Spirits have been compared to judges that decide responsibility and power loss for oath breaking. I think that they’re more of an audience that wants to be entertained. After all, they reward Bond villainy. Blake is now essentially adding audience participation to the Show that the spirits are constantly watching. It makes sense that they’d be happy to get involved.

    Nice to see some Tiff. It’s interesting that she didn’t know about Alexis’ proposition.

    Oh Evan. A few arcs ago I was worried for you. You are now, once again, miles above everyone else in my “favorite character notwithstanding horrible character changes” list. Fly on.

  5. Blaaaaaaake. Blake. Seriously.

    Rose even said that she’d put you in a new mirror and bring you with her so you could help! That was completely pointless aside from your complete inability to trust her and your need to be free from confinement and the fact that you’d already gathered enough escape materials that it would be noticeable if you moved!

    Which, okay, I admit, are good points.

    But is it too much to ask for you to sit still for…I dunno, a week? Silently suffering?

    No?

    I guess that’s fair.

    Rooooooose. Rose. Seriously.

    He’s said multiple times that he only wants to help his friends and also you, peripherally! Keeping him locked up just pointlessly alienates him aside from the fact that he’s clearly heavily influenced to think badly towards you anyway thanks to your bad karma and his nature and the fact that he set Molly loose to kill things and that he keeps trying to subvert your only allies in this godforsaken town!

    …Okay, those are good points, too.

    But is it too much to ask for you to extend trust to someone that you’re not sure can’t lie, and who can probably murder you in your sleep if you let your guard down?

    No?

    I guess that’s fair, too. Damnit!

    1. Rose may have had a very good reason to keep Blake confined. We’re not being told much, and I expect a big reveal later on. I would find it highly amusing if she had to promise to keep him under control or some such to get Jeremy out of the house.

      1. “Rose may have had a very good reason to keep Blake confined. We’re not being told much, and I expect a big reveal later on. ”

        Honestly I’m not a big fan of the “Keep you from knowing something, trust me I have a good reason” bit. Seems to go horribly wrong, and more often than not, a whole lot of trouble could have been avoided if they had just told the person beforehand. I guess it boils down to, is it really a good enough reason, or do they just think it is.

        Rose has never been fully upfront with Blake. Even from the begining she was lying and decieving him. Once he realized that, it broke any trust Blake could have had for her. Trust that is broken is far harder to regain than building trust in the first place.

        I think Rose said something like “Your better off not knowing” or “You don’t need to know” and those always raise huge red flags for me. More likely than not, that was key information that Blake not knowing will cause it to come back and bite everyone on the ass.

        1. agreed. i can count the number of times ive seen where someones said something like that and HASN’T had it bite them on the ass on a single hand.

        2. It could be that, despite the bond severance, Blake and Rose are still intimately connected. Blake may be a vulnerability for Rose – an unclosable breach in whatever protective magicks Rose can weave. Perhaps, through Blake, enemies can hurt Rose or control her or even put her back behind a mirror.

          Perhaps knowledge of the vulnerability makes it worse. Perhaps because the enemies need both Blake and the knowledge so putting them both in one place is a bad idea, or perhaps because the knowledge would re-establish the “public” bond between Rose and Blake in effect advertising the vulnerability.

          As an Other, there are many more ways to attack Blake. If those attacks can end up being attacks on Rose, then Blake’s existence is a problem for Rose that’s almost on the same level as becoming forsworn.

      2. I wouldn’t be at all surprised – and it would fit very well with Jeremy’s particularly high degree of caution regarding words said. He’s probably extremely ready to take advantage if Rose ends up forsworn.

      3. I was thinking just this: we don’t know the terms of the truce, and Rose seems genuinely scared that Blake got out. Not only is she potentially risking being forsworn, but Blake escaping could’ve just escalated the conflict back into ‘all gloves are off’ territory.

    2. “Rose even said that she’d put you in a new mirror and bring you with her so you could help!” Rose didn’t say what else she’d do. For instance, she was probably planning so come back with a smaller mirror and say something like what Mags said to that goblin, or perhaps bound in the same manner that Fell was. Rose was probably going to offer some sort of, “You’re screwed and totally out of it if you remain there on your own, but if you swear loyalty to me forever more then I’ll release you for now.” And Blake, being the “I just want to help, whatever the cost to me” sort of person, would have agreed and forever more been bound to be loyal to Rose all the while feeding her inner Conquest. Sure, if he’d waited he would have been free of the mirror, but at what cost?

        1. Maybe, it might cost him. Otherwise he could have ignored Jeremy the third time he asked a question and Pauz had to answer Rose’s inquiry or take a hit in power. Same went for Ur.

          Spirits are still there affecting everything, it’s just that as an Other he can’t command them in the same way that he could before. He has to take them into himself and taint them with himself to do so.

          Besides, remember she has a perfectly good demon that can enter reflections and hunt him down if she needs to.

    3. She didn’t say anything of the sort. She just said she was going to bring him with her, and after she didn’t come back he figured shit was going down. Better to act and apologize later than have all his friends be time-stolen husks on the ground.

    4. To be fair, she said she was going to keep the mirror on her…which MIGHT be to use him, just be to keep an eye on him to make sure he’s not going to get out.

  6. Did Blake just feed his nature as a bogeyman by scaring the shit out of them as he appeared? Also, he can become the living nest; roost of his bird swarm!

    Blake x Tiffany full speed ahead! Choo choo

    1. In spite of the significant barriers of 1. Not being in this story anymore and 2. Blake’s avowed heterosexuality, I continue to ship Blake/Fell’s disembodied soul. Actually, just Fell returning would be nice. I’m sure he’d have a snarky pinnochio comment just for Blake.

        1. Way back in the begining, when they read Grandma Rose’s proviso about marrying a man, Blake is not going with it. So, yeah, he’s straight, sorry folks.

  7. Crazy theory time!

    Rose deliberately called Blake a motherfucker. There was even a pause and everything. Blake has mentioned once when he gets angry he looks very similar to his/Rose’s dad. Blake is partially made from Rose’s dad’s soul because we already know Grandma Rose doesn’t have a problem using her children.

    1. That theory’s a little too crazy. I think the pause was from sheer outrage. I don’t even know if practitioners are supposed to use ‘motherfucker’ as an insult…she might have been just that mad.

      1. Goblins aren’t allowed to lie either, and they do use nasty insults. I think the rule is you have to use a harsh and obvious insult, it’s subtlety that’s dangerous.

    2. I like to think that Blake is somewhat made from Rose, making her his mother, and he just royally fucked her over by escaping.

    3. Nah, there was an ellipse there. Rose didn’t say what she was going to say. The swear word could have been about Blake, or some Behaim that she’d just spotted through the window, or completely apropo of anything.

      1. I could say it being a Behaim. Probably a Behaim checking in to see if Rose was awake to sneaking in the direction of the house to delay their decision making as much as possible. That could be in which the Behaim probably did welcome the change. Except that probably triggered another blood,fire, and darkness hazard stemming from probably the new generation. That could my guess….

    4. If sarcasm counts as a lie, then that epithet should also. Unless you are right.

      What we should look for in Blake’s “donor” is someone who was likely to have had the experiences that Blake remembers and formed the connections with Alexis and Ty that he had by proxy. At this point that probably means Molly.

      1. I doubt spirits have dictionaries, but it seems like common use language is acceptable. The universe doesn’t smite you for calling Rose a bitch, because that word has accepted meanings other than ‘female dog’ and the same applies here.

  8. Blake got kinda scary this chapter, and not in his normal “I’m gonna use your kid/fiance to get access to your home and put all your loved ones in Danger” sort of way.

    She’s taking something that was supposed to be good, something that wasn’t hers to take, and she’s fucking twisting it-

    Blake’s words reveal a dangerous, selfish and monstrous sort of anger that hasn’t been characteristic of him. Blake may very well be on the path to being the sort of creatures that we would have had no problem with the protagonist killing arcs ago. Blake is becoming Dark Blake Darth Blake Darth Thorburn Darth Thorn!!!

    1. Being that he isn’t human anymore and apparently he is kind of a baddie, I’m thinking something like the demons taint/radiation thing. They want Blake out of things because everything he tries to do, be it good or bad, ends up bad. And no one had the heart to tell him to his face.

      But yeah, maybe he did Rose a favor by not calling her out as a list for making him motherfucker. He isn’t particularly attracted to mothers, technically.

  9. “why am I even talking about this with you?” – The smartest thing any “villain” has said all story. Characters in Pact sure have a habit of talking about their plans. Backstories, too, which comes off a little bit like forced exposition sometimes (especially in Tiff’s case).

    Rose was so much more tolerable this chapter, even going so far as to agree to take Blake out of the mirror and bring him with her. There may be hope for her/them yet!

    1. “why am I even talking about this with you?”

      Justifying your actions to the spirits improves karma. That would be one big reason that Pact practitioners argue, dramatize, and rationalize.

  10. I tried to get away from it all, and I wound up in freefall. . . Yeah. I was windmilling my arms, looking for something to hold on to

    Was Tiff lying? Doesn’t she have to add the addendum “figuratively speaking” or “so to say” or something like that or did she really engage in freefall?

    If the Blakeguard has been this sloppy, it would definitely add to their having difficulty in the war.

  11. I can’t help but feel that Blake is screwing things up by going so valiantly into battle. But then again, Blake and Evan riding together to battle is just lovely. So viva the birdmen?

    Rose must be so stressed. Poor girl. Hell, I think her conversation with Barbie was probably less stressful than dealing with Blake. I just like how she’s always telling him to stop trying things.

    Nice chapter! And last one too, by the way. I liked the moment Blake had with Ty, even if he was manipulating the fuck out of him. Not much he can do about it, I guess.

  12. I am really angry at Blake… he’s being incredibly self-righteous without any basis in reality.

    “I’d be damned thrice over if cool people like Ty, Tiff, Alexis and Evan would pay for the mistakes of others.”

    Blake, you were the one who invited them into the magical world.

    Blake, you were the one who got them involved in the fight with Conquest, “putting them on the chopping block,” as you said about Rose.

    Blake, you were the one who insisted on fighting Ur when you were obviously incapable of winning, and so brought about the whole of the present situation.

    If your friends have to pay for anyone’s mistakes, those mistakes are YOURS.

    1. Yeah, he’s very aware of this. It’s just that he also blames Rose for also dragging them into the whole Jacob’s Bell fight and compounding his error.

      That’s the reason his whole life’s goal is now “save my friends.” Because he knows that everything that’s happened to them since Toronto is ultimately his fault.

    1. He used it to move the cards in the real world so that they covered up the binding circle, and possibly smeared it, given that he pressed them to the ground and moved them. That was enough to disrupt the circle.

      1. The detail that he fanned them out in a half-circle covering the binding cirle was probably of functional importance, too. Half-circle being open — like the other state of a padlock.

  13. I hope Blake can pick his spirits back from the cards.

    That is, when Rose agrees to leave Blake roam free for a while, now that she doesn’t have time or resources to deal with him.
    Poor Rose, it’s one crisis after another for her, like if the universe was actively against her or something.

    1. My theory is the universe is deciding Rose to be on the back-burner. While Blake is the one in being the unpredictable trigger that always think of the simplest way to go through,yet it becomes as complex as done.

    2. It’s almost like she carries a ton of negative karmic burden from a diabolist family.

      Seriously though, I feel for her as well. She hasn’t made a bad call yet as far as I can tell. With her rather uncompromising and stern nature she actually seems much better equipped handling the Thorburn heir position as well. Making the best possible decisions in the long run even if they are painful.

      1. From what we’ve seen so far, she certainly handles the situation with the Thorburn Cabal admirably. If she’d wanted to, she could have pretty much enslaved Alexis & co. Instead, she seems to have almost befriended them. And she’s managed to keep them all alive, to boot.

        Incidentally, I think Rose has now spent as much time with the Cabal as Blake did, given that he stayed in the Drains for something like a month. Not counting their fake memories from before Blake was created, of course.

        1. she certainly handles the situation with the Thorburn Cabal admirably

          I’m not quite so sure. At least from Blake’s point of view, her actions led to his friends being trapped in a nasty situation. True, they discuss things, and Rose claims not to “give orders”, and they all claim to sort of agree with the decisions; they don’t like the situation, but they all seem to think that’s what they have to do.

          But that sounds awfully similar to Blake’s experiences in Carl’s commune if you think about it, doesn’t it?

          (OK, so maybe it’s Blake’s perceptions being influenced by Rose’s karma burden, but still, I think that’s what Wildbow’s going for.)

    3. Or he can just leave to take care of business before popping up again. It’s not like she can hunt him down personally through all the reflections in Jacob’s Bell unless she’s willing to sic Barber on him and the house has lost most of its protections.

      He doesn’t need to sleep either, making him a perfectly good spy/guard. Why waste an asset by trying to hold it in place?

  14. So… was that Davy Jones guarding the mirror ?

    Would be interesting if Ainsley was outside so Blake finally gets back at her in a non-lethal manner.
    Time for operation voodoo.

      1. I thought so at first, then the octopus suckers scars made that less likely unless he’d got those fighting a cecaelia somewhere.

    1. He could for a little while, when he was down in the Drains. Back then his words also didn’t have any power to it.

      He’s noticed a bit ago (and demonstrated again today) that his words do have power. I’m fairly certain that those are linked, meaning that he would now once again lose power by lying.

  15. So, I know we all know that Blake is a being of birds and branches, in the physical sense, but what are his Themes? Yeah, great, birds and shit, but that doesn’t tell us shit about his concepts the things that empower him and the ideas that his existence as an Other are metaphysically tied into.

    I know everyone is going to jump up and say “Perseverance! Tenacity! Survival!” and one quiet voice in the background is going to say “Ruining things.” but we don’t really see those themes reflected in anything more than his actions. None of them show up in his physicality.

    He doesn’t really seem to be thematically coherent from the first or second glance of someone who doesn’t know him, not in the same way as Pauz, Conquest, or even the Hyena. He is a being of birds and branches because they were in his tattoos and he himself held a fondness for them so that is probably the strongest theme he has but, at the same time, he is also a being of mirrors and reflection due to his nature as a former(?) vestige(?) and THAT directly contradicts him being so heavily tenacious and bent on persevering since vestiges are meant to be fragile.

    Seriously, Blake, what in the ever-loving FUCK are you?

    1. I think this was stated somewhere in the story, but Others aren’t necessarily easy to label. Labels are things that humans give them, and that Others tend to adopt. Since he came back from the drains he’s by definition a boogeyman. They don’t necessarily have to be screaming crazy like the midge or conniving like Cordivae, but they do have to be very driven, and angry on some level.

      Also remember that we still down know how grandma made him. Obviously the barber carved a reflection, but what the reflection was carved from nobody knows, including Blake.

      1. I’m not talking about labels though. I know that an other just is what they are, their natures don’t come in categories and they can easily defy any or all of the common tropes associated with their origin and still technically be labeled as that thing simply because that’s “what they are” according to a Practitioner.

        What I AM talking about is that basically everything in the Pactverse has some level of theme behind them, Conquest is obvious, Pauz’ was subverting the natural order, the Hyena was less obviously but still had a theme of brokenness/injury and preying upon others. They also all had powers related to and derived personal power from things related to their themes. Conquest got stronger whenever he utterly mowed down the competition or dominated something utterly, Pauz grew from a much weaker barely-a-mote state into being a proper imp by using his abilities to reverse the power dynamic and drawing power from those he had layed low, the Hyena inflicted horribly wounds upon others and hunted down the weak, creating connections to and drawing power from all of its victims.

        Blake? Blake doesn’t really appear to have any theme. Birds and branches. That’s it.

        Except he sort of does. He’s tenacious, a force of movement and change, a warrior. The branches spread throughout his being creak and set into place and crack uncomfortably if he doesn’t move for a while, discouraging him from becoming passive. His spirit entourage grow into his wounds and reinforce him, he survives a hardship like being cut and from then on the branches that replaced his injured parts grow back faster. He’s a thing of hardships and survival, he may not be immediately more powerful after enduring something but it always leads to an advancement for him.

        I guess I’m just kind of annoyed he doesn’t have any big abilities that are flashy or massively terrifying.

        1. I’d say that the closest thing in myth to what Blake is would be a manis. He’s a dead person turned protective spirit who grows more powerful by being remembered fondly and who grows vengeful and angry when forgotten. Being invited to share in meals, attend significant events and being otherwise honored and respected by the cabal are likely to make him more whole, as would the traditional sacrifice to the dii inferi: burnt offerings of food. A lapis manalis (a magic stone covering a gate to the underworld) would be of tremendous use to him as well, for obvious reasons. One can imagine that this is what Faysal created for Green Eyes.

          For those interested in a bit more roman myth detail, he and the spirits that make him up would be the manes cultus of the Thourburn Cabal: the protective entities of uncertain moral virtue who are devoted to the protection of the cult. In time he/they might develop into lares (benevolent spirits of protection), into lemures (vengeful spirits which lash out at those who have forgotten them) or into a larvae (a disturbing masked spirit).

          1. I am imagineing a big mirror, standing on the ground. Its frame wodden posts on the side, a big overlapping stone on the top. Obligatory runes carved into anything.
            Before each post are heps of candles, bowls with burning offerings, and talismans made of branches of holly or similar.
            And When it is called, the spirit strides forward: the wicker man. Nests of birds inside and on him.

        2. Good catch; the creaking branches could indeed represent Blake’s restlessness and need to move. (And/Or they are the same thing that happens to humans born without the pain response: you take serious damage from sitting too long in one position and don’t notice it.)

          The fact that his spirits take the forms of birds also seems to feed into that motif of restlessness and freedom.

          Two relevant quotes:

          • “A soul with a bit of freedom spirits and wind spirits and spirits of escape and whatever else.”
          • “I am the Thorburn bogeyman!” I screamed, the words raw. “I am made of stick and bone and birds and spirit and false memories!”

          That second quote kind of reminds me of the nursery rhyme “Sticks and stones will break my bones. But words will never harm me”, which so does not apply to Pact.

        3. He has little power on his own. He relies on his mind. He uses tools. In other words, he’s a human.

          His theme is that he’s an Other trying to remain human and overcome challenges that are beyond his ability otherwise. The monster trying to remain the man. If he gained any sort of big ability then it would come at either a bigger price or change who he is fundamentally and how he approached his challenges. If that’s done all of a sudden rather than a plausible arc (i.e. Null and Void and Mala Fide and now) then it seems like Wildbow is simply putting in less effort than before.

        4. The Hyena is pretty goddamn terrifying I think. Wounds which won’t heal…any fight against him means coming away permanently weaker, permanently damaged.

          You can’t fight him evenly because then he’ll hurt you as much as you hurt him – and that means you’re probably going to die because Blake will fight until he’s feathers and splinters.

        5. You don’t have to have a theme, I think, but if you call back to the bit on implements, having a theme makes it easier to acquire and consolidate power. Practitioners pick themes, others have them assigned or have them incorporated by very nature, such as Conquest. Our problem with Blake is that a) we don’t know the nature of his creation, so factors from that are unknown, and b) he’s very new to being an other, and doesn’t particularly want to feed his nature with fear or other nasty things, so he’s not filling up with much more than “him”-ness (which, with his original identity being fake, probably means it doesn’t amount to much in terms of sustenance) and the minor spirits that fill in his cracks. To gain traction as an other he has to make an impact and be recognized, which he has an extreme lack of, especially since he was erased from reality.

  16. I like how he’s so unselfconscious about his anger problems. He has not once looked at them and tried to curb them back. It’s so different from practitioner Blake who was always checking himself to make sure he did things right,didn’t lie, and not fall under the sway of things like Pauz and chrono shenanigans.
    I am now fairly confident that Blake is Rose’s twin brother. Grandmother used the Barber to cut away the differences between the two so they melded into one person, of a sort. Again, it fills in gaps. Why would Blake’s parents hold off on having another child when all they could count on was someone guaranteed not to inherit? The social dynamic between Blake and his parents makes a lot more sense if they were ignoring him in favor of his sister than if they were just ignoring him outright. It’s why Blake just accepted off the bat that Rose, the talking mirror, wasn’t going to hurt him, and a lot of their banter sounds more like sibling rivalry than discussion with an alter ego. Grandmother would have contacted Rose and either strong-armed or bribed her sometime during Blake’s absence to agree to become Blake’s “visage.” Taking responsibility doesn’t matter much if you’re already about to die. In order to prevent her family members’ death, she would have picked Paige, with a background in law, as the first heir, hoping that she’d survive. As she couldn’t allow the chance for her line to end without heir, she instead chose Molly, knowing it would probably kill her. Blake she would largely disregard I think as he deliberately left and abandoned the family. What Rose Sr. really wanted to avoid was a chain reaction as heir after heir was killed until only the last had any hope of survival. She was willing to sacrifice some of her progeny to insure the survival of most.
    You’re welcome audience. Story spoiled.

    1. That actually makes some modicum of sense (though it fails the Razor test of not requiring more characters). The biggest problem I can see with it is that when Blake and Rose were going over memories they should have hit stumbling blocks were the other one should be there but weren’t because Barby carved one out of reality. If they were twins, or even just siblings, there would be a huge amount of memories that just don’t make sense. It might have worked if their family had four or five kids, connections could realign, but the differences between being a single child and having a sibling close to your own age are too big to ignore.

  17. I.. honestly quite dislike Blake in this chapter. I can understand not wanting to be trapped inside a few square metres for who knows how long while everything goes to hell but I feel Blake just made everything harder for everyone. I get the impression that Rose wants to help Blake, even if Blake is incredibly dangerous. Blake just ruined that. Rose is also the person that is keeping Blake’s friends from being killed and Blake just keeps making it harder for Rose. He even decided without any input from others to go into battle, and who knows what kind of havoc he will wreak for Rose et al.

    Also, shouldn’t Lefty be dying since it is outside of Blake? I also find the description of what Blake is physically becoming to be very surprising and very eerie. I had no idea that he was mostly birds and branches now.

    1. In fairness, while Blake’s escape is likely leading to disaster, he didn’t have much choice. Between his freedom nature (restlessness, inability to sit still), his survival instinct (he’s still dying), his slipping humanity, his bogeyman nature (anger against Rose & Rose Senior & himself) and Rose’s bad karma, his reaction was all but guaranteed.

      I do want to blame him for this, but in many respects, the one making this mistake is not this Blake, but the Other one, the monster who came back from the Drains.

      1. Yeah, Blake is getting worse, and it’s scary. Part of it is that he’s willing to give up being “Blake” for the sake of helping his friends. But that means he is gradually becoming something that isn’t Blake, and is a rage vengance monster.

      2. Nah,I blame Rose,exceptional twst avoided

        “I am gonna put you on a cell,on near isolation,if it was my choice alone,treat you like a thing,threat you with death if you try to escpe and offer you no reprieve from boredom while you slowly starve and deteriorate,while I know you are telling the truth and tried to save me,and I won’t tell you why,but I consider it for the best,while knowing you distrust me and while having a very bad karma,which I know you do not hold against me,having experiencedthat and giving me the benefit of doubt and the chance to explain myself while mst people wouldn’t, but knowing it can still twist your perception of me,if I give it a chance..What could possibly go wrong?”

        Seriously,anyone would try to escape that.A-N-Y-O-N-E.

        1. But Lefty, compared to the others, has a name given freely by its host. There’s a stronger connection there for it to feed on. Also, given enough time, Lefty riding Blake’s left shoulder will become the Right and Proper way of the universe, thus no longer costing anything to maintain because everyone expects it to be that way.

          1. Mmm. Remember “the little bird spirit that was losing feathers with every passing second”. I guess your explanation (Lefty is constantly draining power from Blake) would explain why Lefty hasn’t died. But Blake didn’t seem affected from having Lefty outside after the first hit.

  18. Why the hell hasn’t Rose just told Blake why he’s being kept prisoner? Like, what exactly she’s afraid of? Does she not know how persistent he is? I just feel that being honest with him would be so much more beneficial for her.

    1. Well, Rose literally does not know how persistent Blake is. Her memories are gone. If she did know what kind of stuff Blake has been doing for pretty much his entire short existence, she’d probably do SOMETHING differently. The guy’s completely incapable of giving up, good at improvising, and after recently losing his illusion of humanity in the Abyss, very good at handling pressure. No way was he going to stay bound.

  19. So Others are like Digimon? Take in negativivity/pain & digivolve to wraith; but in Blake’s case, he digivolved into Doraemon?

  20. Oh, wow. Still not sure how to react, even with the second read-through. Up, down, spun around and gone all topsy-turvy.

    For every step forward, Blake seems to take a couple backwards, but can’t/ won’t see that he has: he just can’t not keep trying to move, so I guess any movement suits him, whichever direction it’s in… 😛

    Having said all that: awwwwwww. The right shoulder is taken: sorry, guys — you snooze, you lose. ^_^ (Although, I’m not sure Evan will ever get as much out of being around Blake as he once would have done — nor am I at all sure I’d want him to change as much as I fear he probably would if he stuck around for too long. Unless he can help Blake with that anger management issue he’s now got in Spades, Clubs and Diamonds, that is. :P)

  21. It seems obvious to me what the problem is: they’re both Thorburns, and as such were both raised in an environment that discouraged trust and openness. Both are making paranoid, bad decisions based on the toxic environment they grew up in, where opening up to others was asking to he betrayed.

    Honestly, the Blakeguard need to stage an intervention. Lock them away in a room together until they sort it out.

  22. “But I was damned if I’d sit still, and let yet another person dictate how I should live my life.”
    And that is one of the huge problems with Rose trying to keep him trapped in the mirror, and not bothering to explain things to him.

    “I’d be damned thrice over if cool people like Ty, Tiff, Alexis and Evan would pay for the mistakes of others.”
    But Blake had better be careful as they would be paying for his mistakes. They may already be doing so.

  23. Neat chapter! Though there were some awkward lines which could use another proofread.

    Comments:

    1. When did Blake get the book on bogeymen in 11.1?

    2. Great lines: “A part of me wanted to imagine a world where none of this had happened. [But] if none of this had happened, I wouldn’t exist.” and “I tried to get away from it all, and I wound up in freefall.”“No connections to keep you from tumbling down,”

    3. “the bridge of bone running down the center of my chest” -> Bridges of bones! Blake’s true identity is the goblin monster from Maggie’s past! Okay, that’s impossible, but that phrasing is definitely intentional.

    4. “Right shoulder is and will always be Evan’s spot” – Aww. Well, right now that’s rather hard, given the mirror barrier.

    5. If Blake ever finds a power source, he will be able to affect stuff in the real world by using this “sympathetic magic” stuff to move the reflections.

    6. Amusing: Blake is presumably about to make another big mistake by relying on his recklessness and gut instinct. The same gut instinct he decried for making him fight Ur.

    7. Stay put for one minute. I’ll put you in a different damn mirror and bring you with me.” – Some options: Rose’s words are not a lie because it was phrased as a conditional or offer, and Blake didn’t stay put. OR Blake turned Rose’s words into a lie. OR this is foreshadowing for when they make up and Rose carries Blake around in a mirror like Blake did with her before.

    1. Not a lie, Blake stayed put for a minute, though not much longer, and rose can still put him in a mirror and and carry him around.

    2. Ty used two books to hide Evan and Blake’s cards from him so he (ty) wouldn’t be able to see them, as neither could hold their own hands.

      Then, when Ty left, Blake “released” his sense of hold over the mirror world, allowed it to wash over him (like how he allowed the mirror-car to drive when he was in the elder behaim’s car), which allowed the two books and the coins to be reflected into Blake’s world.

    3. When did Blake get the book on bogeymen in 11.1?

      He didn’t. He got it this chapter, when he asked Lefty to nudge the mirror upwards a bit. (I.e, the second time it got moved, right before Rose came in.)

  24. Rose this chapter was great. Seriously, she can not catch a break. Damn karma, damn enemies, damn Blake, damn it all…

    Concerning Blake’s escape:

    Blake is screwing everything up. He probably can’t help it due to his nature and slipping humanity, but still.

    Classic writing advice states something like “Let every scene end in disaster”, and both Worm and Pact adhere very well to this. Given both that and that 11.1 and 11.2 apparently didn’t end in disaster implies that the chapter ends which seem hopeful, actually aren’t.

    Here’s what we have by now:

    • He seems to have started the thing with Molly.
    • He’s tainted in tons of ways. Ur, Pauz, maybe Conquest, ghosts, wraiths, Dionysus, …

    • He doesn’t even realize when he’s angry, which puts in doubt the goals of his actions.

    • He has just expended lots of power and consequently become even more inhuman.

    • “You’re a monster, but that’s not all you are”

    • “But you’re leaving me trapped?”“Yes. Had to happen, now that we know.” -> Blake’s friends agreed.

    • “It’s best if we don’t tell you”

    • “I can think of five ways what you’re doing right now [playing cards with Blake] is a bad idea”

    • “Blake, I’d offer you something in the way of spiritual sustenance, but I think it’s too dangerous. Try keeping your activity level low.”

    • “Give this a week or two to blow over, and we’ll see what we can do with you.”

    • “You want to protect your friends? This isn’t the way to do it.”

    • “You’re a big problem, more than you understand, but you’re not even in the top three issues we’ve got right now.”

    • At the end of this chapter, none of Blake’s friends (except for Evan) have reacted happily to his escape.

    Ominous. What’s the worst that could happen? Blake getting one of his friends killed, e.g. by escalating the situation in Jacob’s Bell, maybe?

    1. I think that there’s other ways to view Rose’s concerns.

      For example, one possibility is that she discovered Blake was partially based on Aimon (something that has been hinted at in more than few ways — Laird explicitly says Blake reminds him of Aimon; Aimon lost the use of his right hand to a ghoul and it never fully recovered, and would therefore have favored his left hand, while Blake is mirrored and right-handed, something that was specifically pointed out.)

      In this case, he’s a danger to Rose because, if he discovered this, he might side with the Belhams (even after his murder of Laird, perhaps even because of it.) This would also be something that it would be “too dangerous” to tell him about. Another argument in favor of Blake being based on Aimon is that the story seems to be moving towards the Belhams — whatever secret Rose knows, it seems likely that Blake is going to discover it relatively soon (relatively as in, within a few arcs), because with all of his friends apparently knowing it, he can’t advance too far in bonding with them without one of them spilling the beans in an anticlimatic manner (which is clearly not how he’s going to find out.)

      …that’s just one example (I can think of a lot of others), but it’s important to note that Rose has never indicated that Blake would agree to be bound if he knew the full story, even though that would be an easy claim to make if it were true (and, given she can’t lie, would probably help convince him to stay put.) This implies that whatever the truth about Blake is, it’s not something that would make him reach the same conclusion Rose does.

      (It could also be as simple as “Blake has the potential to be too powerful to allow him to roam freely; and Rose doesn’t really consider Others to be people, so from her perspective the appropriate response to an overly-powerful Other is simply to bind it thoroughly.”)

      1. It would be pretty risky to insist that “you would agree if you knew”. Even if you were fairly sure they would, people can always surprise you. And Blake is nothing if not hard to predict…

  25. Totally on Blake’s side here. ‘Yeah, we’re leaving you locked up and we’re not telling you why, but trust us, we totally have really good reasons to rob you of your agency.’

    The fuck did they think was going to happen? That attitude never calms people down.

    1. Many of the quoted lines would be meaningless platitudes in real life. But in Pactverse, there’s a decisive difference: practitioners can’t lie. All lines above are dead serious.

      Similarly, in Pactverse, ignorance (innocence) is bliss – not knowing things is valuable. For instance, had Blake not known how to summon Ornias, nor read Black Lamb’s Blood, he might have been able to stay in Toronto without the conflict with Conquest.

      Suppose telling Blake what he is damages him. Some Others (e.g. vestiges and glamoured beings) are fragile. And even if you just told Blake “We can’t tell you what you are because it would damage you”, he might put the pieces together himself.

      1. Honestly I’m a bit… Skeptical about Blake’s fragility at this point. Look at the shit he’s been through, and yet he keeps on going.

        And not keeping him informed hasn’t exactly been good for him, what with his opening up his chest and such.

      2. As I pointed out above, though, all Rose has to say is “if you knew, you would agree to be bound” (or, even if she’s not certain, at least “if you knew, you would be more likely to agree to be bound.”)

        The fact that she doesn’t seem able to say even that much implies that whatever she believes about him is not something that Blake would agree requires this binding.

        And again, repeating my assertion from above — even something as simple as “Blake is based on Aimon and therefore has uncertain loyalties, while still having huge amounts of information about us he could potentially spill to the Belhams” would fit into her statements. Not necessarily saying that’s it, but it could be something very similar — Rose has been extremely and deliberately vague about whether Blake is a potential danger to everyone, just a danger to her, a danger to the ambitions she’s absorbing from Conquest, etc.

        The fact that his friends agreed doesn’t mean very much (unless Evan is onboard, and Rose strongly indicated that she didn’t trust him on Blake-related things), since at the time those discussions took place, he was a stranger to him — it’s entirely possible Rose simply argued “he’s too powerful because of XYZ and / or too unpredictable because of XYZ, and therefore we have to bind him.” They wouldn’t have disagreed with Rose, who was a friend, over Blake, a scary inhuman Boogieman not substantially different, in their eyes, from the boogiemen Rose binds and enslaves as a matter of course.

        And that last one is the most important part. So far as we’ve seen, Rose does not really consider most Others and boogiemen in particular to be people; her interactions with Blake all seem premised on that basic outlook. To her, he is a puzzle to be solved, not a person to be interacted with as if he were real. This makes all her decisions regarding him and her resulting conclusions suspect (again, it makes it entirely reasonable that her logic is simply “he’s a powerful Other because of XYZ or of type XYZ, and therefore should not be allowed to roam free.”)

        1. I don’t see why you find it insignificant that Blake’s friends agreed to have him bound. His binding happened in the same breath as Rose saying something like “If it helps, we believe you now”, resulting in them bonding with him while imprisoned.

          And concerning the rest, I guess I just have far higher expectations of Rose than you do.

          1. Why? Believing him, from Rose’s perspective, doesn’t change anything. She still doesn’t have any reason to feel anything for him. It’s entirely reasonable for her to see him as just another a boogieman who her grandma summoned to protect her, who has now slipped the leash and is therefore a threat (especially since the exact methods used to bind him temporarily gave him aspects of what is now her life, which he might resent and want to reclaim — to her detriment.)

            I think that our views are distorted by viewing Blake as the protagonist — look at how dismissive Rose is of him here. She doesn’t actually think he’s important. She’s not giving him enough thought at all. If one of her boogiemen or demons slipped the leash, and it was powerful enough to be dangerous, Rose would try and re-bind it. Blake is, from her perspective, not substantially different from Corvidae in that respect (though possibly more powerful, more fixated on her and her friends, and accordingly more dangerous), and her reaction to potentially losing control of Corvidae for a few moments was to banish him even at substantial risk to herself.

            I think Rose’s actions make perfect sense from her own perspective if Blake is simply too powerful, of too questionable loyalty, or both. And I think she could reasonably talk Blake’s friends around to agreeing to bind him on this premise, given that none of them really feel anything for him either — he’s fake, he’s dangerous, he’s a powerful boogieman-monster-thing that’s fixated on them and slipped the leash and they’re going to bind him back down. That’s more than enough of a reason for her actions.

            I mean, I’m not saying that that’s necessarily everything, but she specifically indicated that she didn’t think Blake was that big of a threat here (she ranked him ‘not even third’ or whatever.) That, to me, says that her responses are more based around a kneejerk and likely Conquest-fed desire to control a potentially volatile situation rather than Blake being a genuine unavoidable danger (rather than just something that’s dangerous because he is potentially powerful, as a “starving giant.”)

            Additionally, regarding that — Faysal Anwar seemed to know or suspect a lot about Blake. It is worth looking at the difference between his reaction to him, and Rose’s. What that says to me is that Blake is powerful enough (or in a position to) threaten Rose, but not powerful enough to threaten Johannes yet.

            (He did share information on Blake, but I see that as more of a “let’s you and him fight” thing — he wants Blake, Rose, and Sandra to fight because that can only be to Johannes’ advantage.)

    2. megafire, your wisdom is a beacon to the ages. Seriously, coughFerguson, Missouri*cough. Yeah, that sort of mandatory curfew attitude never calms people down.

    3. Not to mention “It’s best if we don’t tell you” always ends badly, unless it’s because they have a plan that will only work because you don’t know the plan, and thus will act in the manner you’d act when you know there is a plan, but you don’t know what it is. In all other cases it’s a toss up between “can handle it just fine, not half as bad as what I imagined” or “Awful, but best to get out of the way, otherwise it comes out at the worst possible time.”

      That said, the time shut up definitly wasn’t good for Blake. It seems to have brought out his Boogyman nature, and the fact that it was Rose probably made things worse.

      1. Regarding Blake’s bogeyman nature, I even have the sneaking suspicion that in his line ““Release me, I’ll help,” I said, my voice strained” his voice may be strained not from exhaustion, but from either anger (as in, “Release me, and I’ll help before I murder you) or him forcibly suppressing his anger.

        1. Ya know,after Rose’s behaviour,it would be stranger for someone not to be full of anger,and I include persons for whom anger is uncharacteristic.

  26. Oh WB – this chapter was AWESOME. I loved every second of it. It was the last sentence of the last chapter that really gave an awesome context feeling to this chapter. And he made it by the end of the chapter! He made it out..! And it was so cool, breaking the circle with that. He should really go back, smudge the circle, and get his spirits back though.

    And the last part of the chapter was just so nice. Surprising them, and then, with his cool, calm manner, assuming the position of their friend and deliverer, while practically ignoring Rose who had been so harsh to him. Him and Evan at the end just made me so happy. A synergy and friendship that transcends memories. But that’s not quite right, Blake knows what makes Evan tick, and he still has his memories. So ye.

    Rose has shut Blake out twice now, and he’s kinda rose above those challenges. I wonder if Rose will then try a third time? But it doesn’t seem likely she’ll try again this time, especially considering that Blake, with no evil intent whatsoever, has come straight to their aid, after getting free. It’s just.. what evil entity who would be even capable of that would think about doing such things? You’d have to be truly nuts to think he’s bad after that. At the very least you should think twice and then thrice about trying to tame him again.

    I can’t wait for the next chapter! 😀

    1. See, this comment is exactly why I’m positive that Blake’s actions here will prove to be a huge mistake.
      This kind of happy scenario does not happen in Wildbow’s fiction.

      1. I’m in the “great: when is the other shoe dropping?” camp, same as you. I have been well trained. 😀

        Because, yeah: Rose et al have messed up, sure. But, I also think Blake has dug him and them some holes, too. It’s just the waiting to find out how deep and spike-lined the holes are. 😛

      2. It totally does! There were lots of clear-cut victories in Worm.

        The catch is that something else happens that’s even worse. But it’s not always the case that all of the protagonist’s victories are Pyrrhic; sometimes it’s just that there’s an even nastier problem down the road.

        Some examples:

        Jura vg jnf svefg uvagrq ng, rirelbar jnf pregnva gung gur eryngvbafuvc orgjrra Nezfznfgre naq Qentba jbhyq varivgnoyl erfhyg va Qentba orvat pbeehcgrq naq rafynirq ol gur rivy, veerqrrznoyr Nezfznfgre. Vafgrnq, Nezfznfgre jnf erqrrzrq naq Qentba jnf yvorengrq; naq gurl orpnzr gjb bs Gnlybe’f fgebatrfg fhccbegref yngre ba. (Qentba naq Nezfznfgre ner cebonoyl gur orfg rknzcyr — gurve fgbel, juvyr abg jvgubhg fgehttyrf, jnf hanzovthbhfyl unccl va gur ybat eha, naq gurl hygvzngryl znqr Gnlybe’f fgbel orggre guebhtu gurve vagrenpgvbaf jvgu ure.)

        Qrfcvgr uhtr nzbhagf bs fgehttyvat naq bppnfvbany ceboyrzf, Gnlybe hygvzngryl znantrq gb obaq jvgu nyy bs gur Haqrefvqref. Lrf, fur unq gb tvir gurz hc ng gur irel raq (naq gjb bs gurz qvrq), ohg zbfg bs gurz jrer orggre bss sbe univat xabja ure, naq sbe zbfg bs gur cybg gurl jrer ure zbfg eryvnoyr nyyvrf.

        Ohg zber guna gung — juvyr Gnlybe’f fgbel vaibyirq n ybg bs gevnyf naq qvfnfgref, fur jnf, trarenyyl, va punetr bs ure bja qrfgval; rira jura pbasebagvat pngnfgebcur, fur jnf trarenyyl noyr gb ybbx njrfbzr juvyr qbvat vg. Fur jnf gur bar jub qrpvqrq gb pbasebag gur Fynhtugreubhfr Avar naq Pbvy, gb gnxr bire gur pvgl, gb ercrngrqyl svtug gur Raqoevatref, gb ghea urefrys va fb fur pbhyq tb yrtvg naq tb nsgre Wnpx, gb svtug Fpvba. Vg jnfa’g whfg gur jbeyq qhzcvat guvatf ba ure be fperjvat ure bire; fur unq trahvar ivpgbevrf, naq gur qvfnfgref fur pbasebagrq jrer, bsgra, orpnhfr fur pubfr gb fgrc sbejneq naq pbasebag gurz.

        (Gurer jrer nyfb zbzragf jurer ure jvyyvatarff gb qb gung jrer erpbtavmrq — gur fprar jura fur jnf rkcbfrq va ure fpubby, sbe rknzcyr, be Pybpxoybpxre fgnaqvat hc sbe ure jura fur jnf svefg wbvavat gur Jneqf.)

        I think that it’s reasonable to assume that Blake will eventually reach the point where he’s capable of doing that; where he will have friends and allies he can joke around with and depend on; and where there will be people in the world who recognize his accomplishments. Of course, there will be even bigger problems for him to worry about as that occurs — but I don’t think the story is just going to be “Blake gets shat on by the universe, forever.” I think, eventually, the story will shift to one of him confronting the really big problems in his world head-on; he will still face catastrophes and horrible dangers, but they will be ones of his choosing, which is a vital difference.

        Really, since he ditched the Thorburn karma and made it out of the Drains, the only really nasty thing that has happened to him out-of-the-blue has been Rose imprisoning him. Even that gave him a chance to bond with his friends a bit, especially Evan — and I suspect that it might have been Rose’s karma biting her in the ass by making her alienate a potential ally, more than anything else; if you look back at his imprisonment from here, while he had to sacrifice a bit to escape, I would say he gained overall (both in terms of his friends, and in terms of learning about his nature and unlocking more of his abilities in the process.)

        1. Adding to the above one other thing:

          I think that part of the reason my perception of both this and Worm is different than yours is because I started reading it right when it finished and therefore read it all at once very rapidly over the course of a few days; and, likewise, I didn’t start reading Pact until relatively recently. Reading things all at once changes the context, making short-term catastrophes and setbacks seem less important compared to the character’s overall growth and development.

          Most chapters end with some sort of shocker or disaster, which the next chapter (or several, or arc) shows the character dealing with. But when you view them collectively, it comes across very differently — for example, again, look at the last few chapters. If you read them slowly, you get “Blake is betrayed and imprisoned by the people he was trying to protect.” If you read them all at once, though, it becomes more along the lines of Blake getting a chance to talk to his friends again, connect with Evan once more, and develop his abilities before inevitably escaping — the overall arc of Blake’s story trends upwards, even if he’s taking a rough road to get there.

          Or, for another example, look at the arc where he fights the Hyena, then gets falsely imprisoned for murdering Evan. Taken individually in a drip-by-drip feed, every page of that was a disaster where things were constantly getting worse for him. But if you zoom out and read the whole thing at once, it was largely a triumph; he meets Evan, acquires the Hyena as a sword (which he ultimately ends up keeping), delivers a decisive defeat to the Belham family, and actually ends up bonding with his friends as a result. I mean, bad things happen, but I think that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Blake has achieved (and, to a certain extent, held on to) many decisive victories over the course of the story so far, and that even many things that seemed catastrophic at first had a silver lining to them.

          There will be disasters and challenges and catastrophes and sacrifices, and probably not everyone will be happy at the end; but I think that things often go better for Blake than they seem at first glance.

        2. I agree that good things occasionally happen to the characters (and I’m thankful for that), but I’d like to repeat that chapter endings are usually ominous, escalating things further and further. And in the first place, I only brought that up as a meta argument to support the far stronger point that the Cabal thought Blake had to be bound.

          I also agree that things mostly haven’t been so bad for Blake since becoming an Other (and I even predicted beforehand that imprisonment would not be a net negative for him), but that’s precisely why I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop, i.e. what about him or his Other nature makes him so dangerous even to his friends.

        3. There were lots of clear-cut victories in Worm. I went into more detail in an earlier comment, but I find Pact quite different in that regard. In both titles things keep getting worse, but in Worm’s case it’s because Taylor pushed harder and further and faced increasing opposition, whereas Blake seems to struggle frantically just to hold onto the little he has, and generally fails at that. Pact is draining in a way Worm never was.

  27. Is it wrong for me to want the Thorburn family to call everyone in, and for Paige to bring along her ostensibly new “girlfriend” (Isabela) who could conveniently explain to Blake everything about what he is and probably also where he came from?

    1. Isadora is the reason Paige hasn’t answered the connection-shenanigans Sandra used to pull every Thorburn to Jacob’s Bell.
      Leashed pets don’t get to go wherever they feel like. Probably for the best, since it’s obviously a trap designed to neutralise the whole family in a single swipe.

  28. Maybe I was in the right mood, or maybe this was just that good, but this chapter just did it for me. The actions were clear and they made sense, we learned a lot, but it was all stuff we could have theoretically deduced before. All in all, I would say this was one of my favorite chapters.

  29. Here’s a guess: Blake is actually the Barber’s demonspawn, or has the potential to grow into a demon. Who’s to say it’s the long-dead Hyena’s power making his cuts so dangerous? Their’s the extreme paranoia of Rose regarding his nature, her wariness about feeding him spiritual nourishment. Feysal took an interest in him and even helped nourish his Blakeness. We’ve seen and heard about various methods through which Demons propagate their kind. All of the Barber’s offerings were trades, but we never see the price Barber charged for creating Blake, or even the exact nature of his creation. We’ve seen on multiple occasions that Demons are willing to play the long game, with their sparks the impulsive exception.
    Or I could be entirely wrong, but it’s an intriguing possibility as to how Wildbow can maximise Blake’s screwedness regarding this latest secret Rose is keeping from him.

    1. The only thing about the demonspawn theory is that it seems like Fasyal Aswer would have caught it, and it doesn’t seem like an Angel would be so willing to help something inherently demonic.

      1. He would help if he thought he could use Demon!Blake to combat a stronger foe, and worrying about destroying/banishing him later.

        I like the demonspawn theory because it not only brings things into grey and fray even more, but also because it means that you could even argue Blake to be the villain.

        1. Ye,but he couldn’t truthfully tell him that he is trying to do good,to be human,not without aknowleging he has potential to do so.

        1. Demons cannot directly create, but as indicated within Erasurre’s chapter, they can damage something and let the remnants become something else that furthers their goals.

          Inversely, angels can only create, but they can create something that damages its surroundings – Green Eyes’ lake got a nice new hole in its ice, either evaporated or teleported elsewhere.

  30. I’m conflicted. On one hand I’m happy to see Blake and Evan together again doing what they do best to help his friends. On the other I’m going to be pretty mad at him for ruining the Behaim’s righteous asskicking of Rose.

    I guess by defending Rose he’s preventing the Barber from getting free, but the frgility of it’s containment in the central issue there. Blake needs to start up that demon fighting thing up again before he can start making things better.

  31. last chapter stressed me out. this feels a little better.

    Apologies if it’s been referenced before, but do any of you suspect that Blake was created from an actual person, who had ben used to create the vestige he became? I think perhaps Alexis had a friend that Blake wound up replacing. That Blake’s memories might not be all that false so much as stolen.

    1. The idea has been bandied about. It’s based on their being a few things that seem to have been left behind by someone. Karl, and Blake’s effects their are one, aside from his friends and their being too much their for a demon to just make out of whole cloth. Basicly their is too much backstory for beings that can’t actually create. We still are missing something.

      1. One of my thought was that the reflection was basically the carving of the grandfather long time ago;being forgotten. Put into the present life of being younger with a recombination of how did grandfather looked like of when he was younger from the grandchildren. So it be that Blake is the grandfather’s reflection.

        While another one of my thought is basically that it involved a god being reflected as a human. So that could be what could be mixed in maybe.

    2. If he is a vestige that’s almost certain. Vestiges are created from people.

      He seems to be something more complicated than a vestige normally is though, so the jury’s still out.

  32. ooooooooh, ohohohoh!
    ok, I loved this chapter.
    favourite line :“Right shoulder is and will always be Evan’s spot” ❤ that's. yeah, just solidifying blake and his motives and his determinations– it's always about the people he cares about. that's all he can think about

    althoughhhh this is probably a really terrible thing he's about to get into, at least he'll actually know what's going on. maybe he'll even find out why Rose et al are so scared of releasing him.

    also, I think someone was mentioning themes earlier? Yeah the bird theme is usually one of perseverance and movement, freedom and future. and the bird wikipedia generally says "In religious images preserved from the Inca and Tiwanaku empires, birds are depicted in the process of transgressing boundaries between earthly and underground spiritual realms"
    I dunno, sounds pretty uh…spot on.

    I would delve further into the proof, but I have ""class"" on ""machine element design"" in a minute. -_-

    1. Tragically, Evan would probably have died before GotG came out. It might also have been rated too highly for him, although his parents don’t seem to have been the type to mind that.

  33. Great chapter!

    “No,” Rose said. Her voice was tight. “You… motherfucker.”

    Most satisfying part of Pact as of yet.

    The only thing I’m afraid of is that, so far, everytime Blake has tried to help his friends, without knowing their plans, he does more wrong than good. Seems like a bit of a theme with him.

    1. Totally agree! So satisfying. I was humming!

      But I don’t agree that Blake screws up by trying to help. He’s helped Tiff so far, with his limited experience with her. The only way he really screwed his friends was by trying to help himself, not help them.

  34. So Blake needs to feed, does he? I wonder if Rose just fed him with her reaction to him? Fear, anger, irritation directed at him.

    If Blake survives and remains mobile long enough, I think it’s very likely that he’s going to try to become a bogeyman that hunts for fear reactions from criminals and enemies of his friends.

    1. The “friendly, neighbourhood boogeyman-thing-whatever” route? Hmmmm… if he’s not careful, that could happen.

      But, something tells me that something else in in the offing. Dunno why: can’t quite put my finger on it.

      1. Oh, I agree something else is probably happening.

        If, as an Other, you are to some degree what you consume, then Blake would have a difficult time remaining Blake if he absorbed too much negativity

  35. Mm. I would like to comment that this chapters makes Rose appear humbler. She doesn’t seem like the badass with supernatural understanding of the Pactverse that I took her for. She is still a young, brilliant girl with a month of experience that has bitten more than she can chew.

    Also. Hm. If Rose was put inside of a mirror by Granny, had she been prepared before hand (and thus made not innocent)? Or did she really have no idea of what was going on once Blake was created?

    1. It’s two months of experience. The month she spent in the mirror, and the month Blake spent in the Drains. Rose has more experience than Blake by now, spending an extra month under 24/7 siege in addition to the time she spent in the mirror.

      Whether Rose knew anything at the very beginning is still an open question. And since Blake’s existence was erased, it’s possible we may never know, or only via a Histories chapter.

  36. Something I forgot to say:
    Kudos, Wildbow, for writing scenes in which neither protagonists nor antagonists are morons. This prison breakout is a good example; the standard tropes dictate that the prisoners can escape because the jailors are braindead. In contrast, the development here makes perfect sense from the perspectives of both Blake and Rose.

  37. random theory time! Blake actually IS the original Heir, having been yanked out of his body and his soul stuffed into a construct, his memories tampered with to an extreme degree or completely destroyed and replaced with fabrications. rose is trying to keep him captive to minimize the chances of this becoming known. alternatively, they are both beavers in human-suits.

  38. Diabolists, priests, and now scourges, as sorts who were their own worst enemies, setting themselves up for failure.
    I’m sorry, isn’t that practitioners in general?

    Nice to see Blake made it out. Resourcefulness is always neat.

  39. He seems remarkably confident at the end there considering he appears to have absolutely zero special abilities that would make him a threat at all. At best he slashes at you with a broken sword, oh no, how will they possibly survive…

    1. Yeah,no,if I were to fight with an opoment who could inflict wounds that couldn’t heal to me,even if it was by means of a broken sword,I’d be scared

      Plus,as you can see by the Ilaiahs he is an exelent fighter,as you can see by his fight with the satyr and the maenad he has more tricks to his repertoire than a broken sword,and as you can see from his escape he might have gained even more tricks

    2. Yeah, no special abilities here at all. Not like he can heal from wounds that would kill a human (like having a hole punched through his ribcage). Not like he’s stronger and faster than a normal human. I certainly can’t imagine him inflicting unhealing wounds using a sword made from the most dangerous goblin we’ve met so far in the story. And I severely doubt he’s the kind of person to have won repeated victories against the Behaims (to the extent of killing their leader, Laird) in a universe where past victories have concrete effects on future contests.

      For me, the ending was among the best parts of this chapter, especially the casual way he’s drawn Evan back to his side and away from Rose.

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