Malfeasance 11.3

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“I don’t like that sound,” Evan said.  He was perched on the roof of a car, while I was reflected in the window.

I could hear it too, though it was faint.  Not so much a sound as an echo without a source.  It was as if the town had a heartbeat, a noise that resounded with a slightly uneven rhythm, the tolling of the town’s namesake bell.

I had one of the fat coins placed between my pinky and ring finger, and was trying to ‘walk’ it over the back of my hand.  Problem was, it was a big coin, meaning I could pass it over to the space between my index and middle finger, and then what?  I pressed my hands together, and ‘walked’ the coin from one hand to the other.

“Didn’t hear it in the house,” I noted.  I tucked the Sympathetic Magic text into my waistband, beneath my sweatshirt.  My hands felt less strong than they should.

“Protections,” Evan said.  “We put up stuff so they couldn’t get to us inside.”

I fucked up and dropped the coin, and caught it out of the air before it could fall.

“Lots of stuff around here wants to eat me,” Evan said.  “We should find a safe place before night falls, because that’s when the bad stuff really comes out.  There’s a big spell that everyone joined in on, even Rose, that keeps other people indoors and keeps them from looking outside too much.”

“Big magic,” I said.  “She agreed to that as part of a deal?”

“Yeah.  With Jeremy the priest.”

“All right, something to keep in mind, while I’m filling in the blanks and figuring this out,” I said.  “I don’t want to fuck this up for the other guys, which means doing this carefully.”

“Got it.  Careful.  I guess that means no-”

“No sparrow of blood and death and doom,” I finished for him.

“Aw.  How’d you know I was going to say something like that?”

“Heads up,” I said, “Look.”

There were a group of Others on the approach.  Female figures with a range of body types, with babies strapped to their chests, backs, swaddled in slings, or in strollers.  Six in all.

What caught my interest was the lack of communication between them.  They moved with an urgency, like they had a mission, silent.  None of the babies cried.

“Pack of mombies?” Evan said.  “I think I’d rather deal with real monsters.”

“I think they are monsters.  Shh.”

We weren’t too far from the school, and it was early in the day  It made sense that mothers would be coming back from dropping off some older children.

But the feel of them…

Another mom was coming down the street from a block over.  I saw her pick up her pace, approaching the ‘mombie’ group.

She said two words, cooing and adjusting her own baby, as if ready to present it to them, when the lead mombie bumped her with one shoulder.

Completely ignored.

She said something in response, offended, and left in a bit of a huff.

I stepped across the street, crossing the gap between reflections to get closer to the shop window ahead of the group.

I stood two feet away from them, separated by a pane of glass and a degree of reality, and I watched them.

Dolls.  Their skin was too perfect and even in complexion, their makeup painted on.  Their babies, by contrast, were far from perfect.  A little too hairy, with ears pointed at the tips, a little too intelligent in how their eyes moved.  Eyes like a cat’s or a dog’s, with barely any whites.

Changelings was the first idea to pop into my head.  A myth that I remembered learning about before, from some movie or another.  The child was removed from the crib, often by the faerie, for something resembling a baby, so the faerie could put one of their spawn among humanity and have a human baby to raise themselves.

I watched as the remainder of the group passed.  Each changeling was scanning its surroundings from its mommy-doll perch, each positioned to look in a different direction.

Roaming, on the watch.  Spies, or scouts?  If they were faerie or faerie-associated, did that mean these children were in league to Sandra?

I returned to Evan before one of them could scout me out.

“They’re creepy,” he said.  “I think you’re right about them being monsters.”

“They are,” I said.  “Mom dolls with feral faerie babies or something.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been at it for a while, roaming and looking for trouble.”

“There’s a lot of stuff like that,” Evan said.  “It’s worse than it was before, and before I didn’t feel safe going out to fly.”

“But you’re with me?”

“I was going flippin’ crazy in that house.  So much worrying, and I beat all the games that Ty brought for the handheld, and I beat all of the good games on Tiff’s phone, and I even beat two games for the console, which is really flippin’ hard when you’re the size of the controller.  The rest of the stuff is boring or I can’t do it without someone to use one side of the controller while I use the other.  They’re so busy they can’t sit down to play a game or play with me.”

He’s still a kid, after all.  Three weeks of doing nothing can get old.

“You’re wanting to do something right?  Stop the Behaims?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m even less willing to be cooped up than you are.”

“The others want to sit back and wait.  Rose is safe because of the dead man’s witch-”

“Switch,” I corrected.

“-But the others aren’t.  I can’t sit there and wait and worry.  Because Ty is really cool, you know?”

“I know,” I said.  “And I don’t want to wait and see what they throw at us before acting.  The priest attacking is clue enough that they aren’t in any shape to just sit back and wait for the other guys to pick themselves off.  The metaphorical guns are too big to let the other guys shoot first.”

“I smell blood in the air,” Evan said.  “I think someone’s already been doing some of that shooting.”

“Can you find the source?”

“Of the smell?  Yeah.  Do I want to?  No.  Too many things want to eat me, and dying once is enough for me, thank you sir.”

I considered for a moment.

“Good point,” I said.  “You know where the Behaims are hanging out?”

“Which ones?” he asked.

Great answer,” I told him, breaking into a smile.  “Nearest one first.  Point the way, and I’ll follow.”

The house was big, but that was all that could be said about it.  The stone exterior around the lower floor had deep cracks in the mortar, and the siding around the upper floors had been discolored slightly by weather and sun, in dire need of an all-out replacement.

I knew my memories were fake, that I wasn’t real, and that it was fantasy to even think about it, but I’d always thought about having a place, about getting it looking nice.  Not too big, or it would be too much upkeep.  Maybe something with a little statue in a small but dense garden, a bird bath and feeders in the back, a bike in the driveway.  In the weeks I remembered adjusting to life off the street, I’d contemplated backsliding because it was easier, yes, but I’d also had a vision of what I really wanted, deep down, and as much as I didn’t love the idea of tying myself down to one place, I imagined that if I did have a place of my own, I’d want it to be comfortably mine, everything in good working order.

It bothered me on a fundamental level, seeing people take poor care of what they had.  There were a lot of things like that that I saw from time to time.  Why build a family if they were going to be lazy about it?  Why get a car if they were going to let it fill up with bags from fast food places and let stuff clutter the floor of the vehicle?

My apartment had been, eclectic, a bit randomly put together, but I’d taken care of what I had.  I’d known where everything was.

Sure, one or two things could slide.  Maybe the car was just needed to get to work.  Maybe the house just wasn’t a priority.

This… where was the focus?

What, if anything, was the occupant’s pride and joy, here?

“Can you get inside?” Evan asked.

“It’s dark.  I can’t even look inside,” I said.

“Wards,” he said, in his sagest tone.

“Wards,” I agreed.

“I can’t lipread, and Rose says lipreading isn’t that useful anyway.  So what do we do?”

“We could sneak you inside, but I’m not sure I want to do that.”

“Good way to get me re-dead.”

“Yeah.”

“Break a window?” he suggested.

“I need to occupy the window,” I said, “And broken windows get attention.”

“Umm.”

I roamed while we thought.  I could occupy the reflection of the windows that faced outside, but the opposite side of the window wasn’t in my reach.

“Who lives here?”

“Dunno exactly.  Behaims.  They’re older.  Rose said they’re heads of the family.”

I thought about what Laird and Duncan had told us, and what I’d observed.

“They’d probably be the ones who arbitrate when it’s okay to tap the family reserve of power,” I said.

“Yeah, that sounds right.”

Which meant if we could spy, then we could find out how they were using power.

As much as I wanted to see what was going on, that wasn’t the important thing, was it?

“Can you open a window?” I asked.  “Just a crack?”

“I can try.”

He hopped up, fluttering, to the window I was occupying, and with his wings still flapping, extended his tiny feet.  The taloned toes of one foot hooked on the window, the toes of the other hooked on the frame, and then pulled, or pushed, as the case may be.

He probably weighed less than an apple, and he was straining to open a window that was maybe four or five feet by three feet across, no doubt latched shut.

Well, he had weeks of experience in this body.  I’d trust him.

He gave up.  “If it wasn’t so big, I could do it.  Or if it wasn’t latched on the inside.”

“Alright,” I said.  “Good try.  Smaller window?”

“Smaller window,” he said.

“That way first,” I told him, pointing.

I arrived before he did.

The window was small, high, and square.  Occupying the space was difficult, as I stood on the ledge, my shoulder braced against the frame, my foot against the rest.  If I’d needed to move, I might have risked falling.  As it stood, the only risk I faced was slipping to the point I was moved over to the next patch of light.

Had I been properly alive, the book I’d tucked into my pants would have been ten times more uncomfortable.

“Don’t sprain anything,” I told Evan.

“I’m good,” he said.

The method was the same, but this time, legs flexing, wings flapping to help keep him in place, he tried to screw his beak into the gap.

Sure enough, it popped open.

Yes,” Evan hissed.

“Don’t make too much noise,” I murmured.  “They’ll hear.”

I still couldn’t enter or see within, but I could hear the noise that came from inside, through the open window.

I had to ignore the faint echoing knell.

It reminded me a bit of the Drains, and I didn’t like being reminded of the Drains.

There were voices coming from within.  Not in the room the window looked into, given the distance and the vague muffled tone of it.  An adjacent room.

“…ster’s getting results,” a male voice.  Man one.

“As I’ve said a few times, he’s been saying he’s getting results.  With very careful wording.  How big are the results?  At what cost?  In what timeframe?”

“You’re being paranoid, Ben,” man one said.

Ben didn’t rise to the insult, “I’m being pragmatic.  Tell me that, in his shoes, you wouldn’t equivocate some, and mislead the adults as to exactly what you were doing?  Lead them to think that you spent all they gave you, that the threat is dire, while you’re busy pocketing excess.”

“We’re in a unique situation here,” a woman said.  “Most of us are sworn to very particular oaths, swearing we won’t use what we’ve gathered over the generations.  The idea was always that we’d be very careful about what fights we picked, use our future sight and the bloodline’s power to prepare well in advance, and prepare the next generation without using those same oaths if the situation called for it.”

“I’m not arguing that-“

“Stop, Ben.  Let me finish.  Aimon was lax about following the rules, and let several individuals slip through the cracks.  Maybe on purpose, maybe not.  But Laird was one individual who had as much free reign as the family could get him.  Alister is another.  Whether Aimon saw all of this coming or not, he made those two critical pieces in this war.”

“Laird got himself killed attempting to repay a favor he shouldn’t have asked,” Ben said.

A woman spoke.  “One mistake, but Laird did a number of things right.  The tools he gave Duncan are tools that are keeping us relevant now.  Tools we can use without breaking the oaths.”

“You don’t like Alister,” man one said.  “But he’s one of the only assets we have that have come of age.  He’s exceptionally talented, he’s smart.”

“He’s already lying to you in small ways.  If he’s lying to you in this?  We can’t afford to make a bad decision for the head of our family, not for the third time in a row.”

“If he tells the truth, then by the oaths the family keyholders have sworn, we’re obliged to keep him from squandering our resources.  If he misleads us, he can keep using those resources to our collective benefit.”

“You know me,” Ben said.  “I don’t drink, I don’t even like medication that might muddle my thoughts, and believe me, Gloria thought I was the stupidest man in the world, when I refused pills after my hip broke.”

“I did,” a woman said.  Gloria.

Ben continued, “I live my life simply.  Up until I retired, I worked hard.  I was responsible to my family.  I’ve always been faithful.  If that means anything, if it has any currency at all, then let me say this.  I believe in balance.  I believe in living in accordance to God, the spirits, the elements, and the natural order of the universe.  Living that way makes us strong.  You know this.”

“Ben-“

“Let me finish.  I think we’re getting away from that.  Not just us here, not us as a family, but everyone.  We deceive our enemies with misdirection and omission, while paying only lip service to truth.  We lie to ourselves, damn it, because if we believe the wrong thing, then the spirits cut us an awful lot of slack.  We’re all just being… fundamentally dishonest.  I think the universe makes us pay for it more than we think, and I don’t want that to be the foundation for our Lordship of Jacob’s Bell.  Not for us, and the tone it sets, and not for the way I think it’s going to be seen by other eyes, from above or around us.”

A long pause.

“Ben, I realize you’re passionate about this, but you’re not a family elder.  It’s ultimately up to us.”

“You’re representatives, you speak for us.  For me.  And I’m saying we should back Timothy.”

“I’m seconding the motion,” Gloria said.

There was a low murmur of multiple voices, some agreeing, more sounding negative.

“We’ve heard you, Ben.  Your arguments will be taken into account.”  Man one.

“Pass the wine.”

“Red?”

“Yeah.”

“Does anyone else have anything to add before we move forward?”

“We’re outclassed, and we’re hurting badly with Laird gone.  We’re not going to win this without pulling out all the stops and being damn clever.”

“The Duchamps and Johannes are pulling out the stops and being clever too,” someone said.  “They’ve got more they can do, and I’d even say they’re cleverer.  Why play their game?  Maybe Ben is right.  We play this right, not devious.”

The distant voices mingled together.

I heard tap water turn on and then off.

“Cold,” I heard a voice below.  A little younger, if I had to trust my ear.

Ah, given the placement of the window, it would make sense if it was a bathroom.  Or maybe a kitchen with an awkward setup.

“Window’s open,” a voice said.  Not old, not young.  It had a rasp to it.  Other.  “Raise me up.”

A pause.

“Um,” Evan whispered.

“Up, up,” the voice said, “High as you can go.”

“Hello little bird,” the voice said.  “Enjoying the warmth of a toasty house?”

Evan was silent.

Inside, I heard someone calling for order.

“Problem, Cranaus?” the woman called out from below.

“No.  Not at all.  I’m having a conversation.  I’ll return to you when I’m done.”

“Can you get down?”

“My dear, I’m disappointed you have to ask.”

“Alright, alright!” the woman said.

As she left the room, I heard her mutter, “Had to be a damn cat.”

Cranaus sniffed a bit in irritation.

“An ordinary bird would have flown away by now,” he said.  “Facing down a predator like myself.  An ordinary bird would have the sense to know I could catch and kill you just like that.  An ordinary bird shouldn’t as haggard you do.”

“I’m no ordinary bird,” Evan said.

A laugh, with a bit of an edge to it.  “No you aren’t.  Are you a more-than-ordinary bird who’s attempting to break into a house owned by one of my master’s blood?”

“No.  I definitely didn’t want to go inside.”

“Were you plotting harm against my master or her blood?”

“Um,” Evan said.

“We were leaning toward disruption, buying time,” I cut in, before he could get us into trouble.  “I’ve more or less decided against any sort of disruption or mischief.”

“Do tell.”

“I liked Ben’s argument in there.”

“It makes you think, doesn’t it?  How things have changed?  But you’re not so old that you’d know.”

“Not so old, no,” I told him.

“Definitely not that old,” Evan said.

“The slant of things changed around the time the new world was discovered.  Things progressed so quickly after that.  I suppose you’re one of the devious ones?”

“If I’m being honest, I’ve been devious before, even as recently as twenty minutes ago,” I said.  “But I try.  My bird friend here, I think, is pretty straightforward.”

“Yeah!”

“There’s a difference between being genuine and being guileless,” Cranaus said.  “The genuine fight with one hand tied behind their backs, but the guileless are already doomed.  They don’t know it yet, but they’re doomed all the same.”

“Guileless?” Evan asked.

“If the universe decides to turn around and hurt that bird,” I said, “I’m not sure this is a world I want to fight for.”

There was a pause.

Evan hopped back on the windowsill, occupying the same relative space I was.  A black paw snapped out, stopping on top of Evan’s head, pressing it down just slightly, holding him in place.

I was ready to break the window and strangle the cat if I had to.  I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to do it, with the strength I’d given up.

“He passes, then,” the cat said.  “But I’m forced to hold him hostage until I decide what to do with you.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Who are you with?” Cranaus asked.

“I’m with myself,” I said.

“What’s your stake in this?”

“The welfare of those I care about.”

“Who?”

I almost didn’t answer, but there was an intensity in his rough-edged, very un-catlike voice.

“Three people within the Thorburn household, and this little guy.  To a lesser extent, innocent bystanders.  To an even lesser extent, myself.”

“Why rank yourself so low?”

“Because when my nature was read with tarot cards, they drew the Fool.  I’m worried I’m one of those doomed guileless.  Every time I act on my own behalf, I have to watch how others suffer as a result.”

“That suggests you’re not supposed to be here, in the grand scheme of it all,” Cranaus told me.

“That suggestion sounds painfully accurate,” I said.

“Then-“

“Then why do I continue to exist?” I interrupted.

“I like your question better than the one I planned to ask.  Do tell.”

“Because I want to change that.  I fell through the cracks, where things that don’t belong go.  I don’t know if what I became down there is all about entropy, destruction, or if it’s about change, but I’ve got to use that, and hopefully I can use that to make my existence a net positive.”

Another cat appeared, colored the sort of gray that looked blue in the right light.

“Brave bird,” the cat said, with a voice that sounded more like it belonged to a snake, if snakes could talk.  All whispers and sounds that slid.

“Damn straight,” Evan said.

“Good morning, Hylas,” the black cat spoke.

Three familiars and me, now, gathered by the window.  The cats found a position where they sat side by side, shoulders touching, about a half-foot in front of Evan.

Why did I feel like something more was going on?

“You’re familiars, right?” I said.

“We are.”

“Why does it feel like you’re testing me?” I asked.

“Because I am,” Cranaus said.  “We keep the company of men and women.  But as much as I liked the company of my master when she was a child, she changed.  I love her and I will do what I can for her sake, but I do not always agree with her.”

“What do you do when you disagree with her?”

“I imagine I see spies lurking nearby and I accost them.  I do what I can to keep them from overhearing anything more, and I inadvertently let slip that the Behaims have a weapon, and they’re deciding who they should give it to.  I’d accidentally share that they stand on the brink of deciding.”

“Timothy or Alister.”

“Just so.”

The gray cat, Hylas, commented, “They’re leaning towards Alister.”

“You asked me what my stake was in this,” I said.  “What’s yours, telling me this?”

“We win, whatever happens.  We can’t act directly against our masters, but we like to have a say in events.”

“We draw strength from it,” Hylas the gray said.

“If you perish, on the other hand, we’ve indirectly disposed of an intruder.”

“We draw some strength from that as well,” Hylas said.

“Geez,” Evan said.  “I want to grow strong too.  I’ve been trying to push this fire bird thing, but nooo.”

“Fire?  Pah,” Hylas said.  “Imagine a bird of the storms, of cascading torrents.”

“Or of the earth,” Cranaus said, “Not conventional, to be sure, but impressive, impossible to ignore.  Aspire for greater things than mere flame, my little acquaintance.”

I hesitated.

“Are you gods?  Were you gods?” I asked.

“We were men,” Cranaus said.  “The sorts who were brief-lived legends, to the point that godhood was a possibility.  Nothing more.  We subsist now by a long existence of being familiars for one master after another.  Chronomancers like to draw the greater legends from history for such a thing.”

“Well, great men,” I said.  “Thanks for…”

“Playing fair?” Evan asked.

“It’s not fair though,” I said.  “They win either way, either they get to make a move without facing consequences, or they dispose of us.  We face a risk either way.”

“Yes,” Hylas said.

“…Which is fair, considering you caught us spying,” I admitted.

“Anyone can spy, where there is an opportunity.  But the prerogative of the one who catches the spy to decide the outcome.  You liked Benjamin’s words?  You act like you would follow them.”

“I’d like to,” I said, “But I’m not sure I can do this with one hand tied behind my back, so to speak.  I want to try, if it’s possible.”

“Then try.”

“How bad can this get, me picking a fight with Alister?”

“Not quite so bad as it might get if Alister is given the weapon his family elders want to give him, if he has any reason to fear you.”

“Right,” I said.

“He’s meeting the junior council outside the school,” the cat told me.  “Making use of the time between classes to touch base.  They’re often late for their first class of the day, after homeroom.”

I hesitated.

“I would go,” he said.

“First,” I said, “Can I ask who’s mounting the attacks on Hillsglade House?”

“That would be Alister,” he said.

Ah.

“Can I ask what the weapon is?”

“You can, but I won’t give you a satisfactory answer.  Go now.  It’s difficult for something like you to look anything but dangerous, but you’re doing an admirable job, crouched within a windowsill.”

He removed his paw from Evan’s head.

I let go of the window, and with no ground to land on, I instead arrived at the closest patch of light.

This was the Behaim’s play.

I wished I knew more about the weapon.

But Alister was the focus here.  How had the revenant phrased it?  Sandra wanted to hold to tradition, Johannes wanted to restructure how Others and humans functioned as a society, and the Behaims sought to be on top and then make everything work out.

If they picked Timothy as their champion… I wasn’t sure how it would play out.  He hadn’t been talked about much at all.  A safe bet.  If he was picked, I imagined they wouldn’t strive to be on top in the same way.  They’d… I wasn’t sure, maybe they’d be an adjunct to whoever was on top.  Being a relative bit player compared to Sandra and Johannes, it was hard to imagine them playing a big role, much less being on top.  They’d just be biding their time until someone looked like they were positioned to win, and offer the help needed to finalize it, in exchange for a small share of local power.

Alister, though, had been described in terms of talent, strength, having the ability to make things happen.

Could they catch others off guard?  Could the Behaims win, with Alister backing them?  I wasn’t sure I liked the idea, given all I’d heard.

“Blake?” Evan called out.

“Here!”  I raised my voice.

He perched on a snow-dusted shrub in front of the window I occupied.

“We going to stop him?”

Here was a challenge.

If I sent Evan ahead, or back to Hillsglade House, I was putting him at risk.  He could get intercepted along the way.

If we went back together, we risked missing our window of opportunity.  The span of time between classes wouldn’t be that big.

If we went ahead together, without notifying Rose… I was risking doing exactly what she was worried about, throwing everything into disarray.

Fuck.

“Yeah,” I said.  “We’re going to stop him.”

We moved, Evan flying, me running.  We operated on two entirely different planes, two modes of functioning, but there was a measure of synchronicity.  Neither one of us fell too far behind.  When I looked through the windows or mirrors and up, I could see him half the time.

The decision gnawed at me.  There were no cell phones in this universe.

I hated the idea of leaving Rose in the dark.

We reached the school in a relatively short span of time.  It remained protected.

The junior members, however, were gathered outside the school grounds, away from their peers.

Mags was among them.  Molly was not.

I stopped where I was.

Evan set down on the side-view mirror nearest the car window I occupied.

The sky was a startling blue as I viewed it through the window and mirror.  The city dark and worn, beneath the sparkling dust of snow.

The kids, I noted, were all armed.  Ready for war.

“I smell blood, here,” Evan commented.

“Something tells me that anyone who tries to hurt those guys is going to be the one bleeding,” I said.

I pulled the book out of my waistband.

While infusing the text with one more spirit I couldn’t afford to give, I recited a few words.  Three points of similarity.  Repeating the same ones tended to be a problem.

Age.  The practitioner’s coat of arms.  The scuff mark on the back cover.

I tore off the back cover, and laid it across the hood of the car.

No pen, I’d have to make do.

Drawing the Hyena, I began to carve letters out, as slowly and carefully as I could.  Rounded edges were harder. The paper cut, then turned black and brown where the blade had touched it.

Rose,

Behaims plan to back Alister.  They have weapon for him.  Must discredit or stop or attacks can become more serious, worse.

Give permission?

I didn’t sign my name.  No time.

I threw the cover as far as I could get it, and I hoped the cover of the real book did something similar, within that library.

Mags was looking over her shoulder at Evan.

Evan extended one wing in a wave.

Mags waved.

“Go first?” I asked.

Evan flew.

A moment later, Mags beckoned me.

I crossed the distance.

“Hello, Mags,” I said.

More than a few people startled at my voice.  A couple startled twice, reacting to my appearance when they saw me in the car window.

“I’d like you to meet the junior council,” Mags said.

“Blake shouldn’t be here,” Joanna said.  Letita’s master, I recognized.  I’d met her while with Ms. Lewis.

“I’m ambassador, I say he can be here,” Mags said.

“I don’t think it works that way,” a female Behaim said.

“Tough luck,” Mags said.  “What’s up?”

“I’m not sure yet,” I said.  My eye roved over the group.

My eye fell on one young man.  Eighteen, apparently.  He had the Behaim look, dark haired, with very strong features, a little taller than average.  His features, though, weren’t so blocky as the other Behaims.  Strong cheekbones and a prominent chin and an odd face shape.  He wore a leather jacket with a heavy wool scarf tucked inside it.  The way his hair was styled, the narrow jeans, the shiny black boots… something told me he was a Toronto resident, not a kid who’d lived in a small town all his life.  His eyes were a bottle-glass green as he peered at me.

“Molly’s awol,” Mags said.  “So are the independent Others.  We think there’s a reason for that.  In the past hour alone, a good four practitioners and ten innocents have been hurt.”

“When you say independent others, you mean Others like the faceless woman?” I asked, more to keep my thoughts in order and slow down the conversation than out of genuine need to know.  My head was swimming a bit.  “The revenant?”

“They’re among them, yeah.  Essylt and the torturer Faerie might be too.”

“Hm,” I said.

“More a force of nature than an organization.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“We should go in soon,” the Behaim girl said.

My eye found Alister again, on the far side of the group.

“You’re here for me,” he said.

“Alister?”

“Yes.  You’re here to make a formal declaration of war.”

It made sense, doing it that way.  If I was going to do this seriously, with a minimum of casualties to Rose’s game plan, doing it tidy was one way.

“I-”

He cut me off.  “That wasn’t a question.  It was a statement.”

I was starting to see where Ben had been leery of him.  He did take risks.

“Statements like that are dangerous,” I said.

“They are if you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

He drew a deck of cards from his hand, holding it up.

The Fool was the card that faced me.

“Your friend Rose is going to give you her signal.  You’ll make your declaration of war, because you have to.  But this won’t go the way you want it to,” he said.

“It might!” Evan chimed in.

Alister looked at the other members of the junior council.  “You should go to class.  I’ll be a bit late.”

“Go,” Mags said.

“You’ll have to stay out of this, Ambassador.”

“Yeah,” Mags said.  “Hang with me, Evan?”

“I’m totally helping Blake.”

I nodded.

The echo of the bell continued in the background, an angry noise.

“I like doing things this way,” Alister said.  “A proper contest of skill.  Game on.

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156 thoughts on “Malfeasance 11.3

    1. We weren’t too far from the school, and it was early in the day It made sense that mothers would be coming back from dropping off some older children.

      -Missing period after “day”.

      An ordinary bird shouldn’t as haggard you do.

      But the prerogative of the one who catches the spy to decide the outcome.

      • Missing words?
    2. Not a typo per se but I don’t recall Blake learning Hylas’s name. How did Blake know what his name was without an introduction or a previous meeting?

    3. The following javascript code* will tell you which paragraphs in a chapter are missing (or have too many) quotation marks. Enjoy. =)

      *(which people should not in general run unless people you trust can vouch for it; in this case, it clearly doesn’t do evil things to any wordpress admin bits… or you could perhaps run it with impunity in incognito mode)

      var LENIENT_MODE = true;

      var OPEN=’“’, CLOSE=’”’;

      paragraphs = document.getElementsByClassName(‘entry-content’)[0];
      [].slice.apply(paragraphs.children).forEach(function(para){
      var text = para.innerText;

      var i=0, seen=0, underflowed=false;
      text.split(”).forEach(function(c){
      if (c==OPEN) {
      i++;
      seen++;
      }
      if (c==CLOSE) {
      i–;
      seen++;
      if (i<0)
      overflowed = true;
      }
      });

      if (LENIENT_MODE ? (seen%2!=0) : (i!=0 || underflowed))
      console.log(text.replace(/“/g,'[OPEN]').replace(/”/g,'[CLOSE]'));
      })

      You can copy-paste into the javascript console in your web browser, when on a chapter's proper page (not pactwebserial.wordpress.com/, but pactwebserial.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/etc). Not sure if it would work on a WordPress preview page rather than a published article (maybe by changing 'entry-content', but I don't own a WordPress blog with which I could check).

      sidenote: Setting LENIENT_MODE = false will also check that open-and-close double-quotationmark are balanced. I don't really think you need to try it in non-lenient mode, though running this script has revealed that whatever formatting WordPress (or WordPress extentions) is doing is mangling closing quotation marks when the last character of a quote is a hyphen '-' or italicized). For example:

      [OPEN]Got it. Careful. I guess that means no-[OPEN]
      [OPEN]The others want to sit back and wait. Rose is safe because of the dead man’s witch-[OPEN]
      [OPEN]I’m not arguing that-[OPEN]
      [OPEN]Ben-[OPEN]
      [OPEN]Then-[OPEN]
      [OPEN]I-[OPEN]
      [OPEN]I like doing things this way,[CLOSE] Alister said. [OPEN]A proper contest of skill. Game on.[OPEN]

      There were no quotation mark typos in this chapter! Here are the past 10 chapters for your convenience (most pointed out in comments):

      Malfeasance 10.2
      I draw connections through like, three times over,[CLOSE] I said, reading from the book. Then the part I had to improvise.

      Malfeasance 10.1
      [OPEN]Yarr,[CLOSE] Ty said, smiling a little. He plucked at his pyjama pants. [OPEN]Reaching a bit, but I think we’re all tired enough to buy into it.

      Mala Fide 10.7
      [OPEN]I won’t rule anything out, and I know people are capable of amazing acts when they’re scared enough. Here, this bit, where the drawers were.
      *[OPEN]Really? I can’t even talk right.[CLOSE][CLOSE]

      Mala Fide 10.6
      Very,[CLOSE] I said. [OPEN]As far as I’m aware, there’s one in this house.[CLOSE]
      You should be asking where the demon is,[CLOSE] I said.

      Mala Fide 10.5
      [OPEN]Yeah,[CLOSE] I said. I pulled my hands from my pockets and spread my arms. Look at me. Entropy wins. I’ve been to the Drains, but I haven’t come across anything suggesting that there’s a force of creation that’s working just as hard.[CLOSE]
      *[OPEN]Are you able to swim freely?[CLOSE] I asked. [OPEN]Or is there a lot of strange darkness around?

      Mala Fide 10.4
      *[OPEN]We also need a plan,[CLOSE] Mags said. [OPEN]I’ve got the salt-soaked rope, but she’s not weak, and she’s aware enough to know we’re trying something, and even to grasp exactly what we’re trying to do.
      *[OPEN]Naturally?[CLOSE] I asked. [OPEN]How’re-

      asterisked ones were ones not pointed out in comments

      Grammar and typos don't hamper my enjoyment of your wonderful writing at all, but figured this might make reviewing easier, was pretty easy to write. Cheers.

      1. Code review: not malicious, just scans the paragraphs and writes to the console.

        Wildbow, if you want to run this yourself then post what browser you use, and someone can tell you how to open the JavaScript console and run this. Or, better — I’d suggest m_a wrap this up as a bookmarklet that will pop up its output.

        Typo contribution: “the Behaim’s play” should be “the Behaims’ play” — it’s the play of all of the Behaims, not the play of “the Behaim”.

    4. The biggest issue: ““Blake shouldn’t be here,” Joanna said. Letita’s master, I recognized. I’d met her while with Ms. Lewis.” -> Surely Joanna should have forgotten Blake due to Ur? Even if people told her about him again, she has no remaining connection to him. Or is this a line along those of Rose’s & co, i.e. everyone considers him dangerous?

      Typos:
      – “When you say independent others” -> “Others”

      Maybe:
      – “in league to” -> “in league with”
      – “You’re wanting to do something right?” -> “something, right?”
      – “Hylas the gray said.” (3 lines above, it’s already mentioned that Hylas is the gray one, and it feels like something is missing in this sentence.)

      1. Blake’s been back in town for a while, and everyone knows that he has a connection to the Thorburns by now. Probably she didn’t want him there because of the Thorburn connection.

      1. “Wait, did you just summon three monsters in one turn?”
        “Yeah, so?”
        “That’s against the rules, isn’t it?”
        “Screw the rules, I’m a Behaim!”

        1. They’d been saving up that casting (along with 47 more) over the past 400 years, it’s not their fault your family wasn’t planning ahead.

          1. God, Wildbow writing a childrens cardgame chapter could be the best thing ever. I can imagine the Endbringers being the equivelent of the three Egyptian God cards. Of course Alistair would be beaten when Blake sets up a nifty combo using Skitter.

            1. To add to the Skitter lore (y’know, the Chuck Norris-esque “facts”):

              Skitter forms a combo all by herself. And is her own combo-breaker.

          2. I suspect that the Pact version would be more like Season Zero, with a horrifying demonic spirit that possesses you, challenges people to card games, then sentences them to ‘ironic’ punishments like experiencing the sensation of death repeatedly for a night that seems like an eternity in order to break their spirit because they cheated at a children’s card game.

            1. It’s not Pact and without supernatural elements, but I can highly recommend the various gambling mangas by Nobuyuki Fukumoto, e.g. Mahjong Legend Akagi. Any game, no matter how simple, gets involving once high-stakes gambling (by the Mafia/Yakuza; think millions of dollars) and lethal punishments for the losers are involved.

            2. mondsemel ,I prefer Kaiji,by the same author,because the game varies from oppoment to oppoment.

      2. Now I really want to see what pact would be like with 4kids.

        “Its heavily implied I’m inflicting a fate worse than death on you”

        “Watch out fells got an invisible shot gun”

        “Oh no Blakes been eaten by a demon he’s dead.” ” nah he’s just in the drains” “you mean the shadow real-” “ITS NOT THE SHADOWREALM”

    1. Tag, Checkers, Reversi, Chess, Dice, Coin Toss, Hangman, Hide & Seek, Tic-Tack-Toe, D&D, Warhammer 40K, Pathfinder, Small World, Settlers of Catan, Munchkin, Elder Sign, Once Upon a Time, Betrayal at House on the Hill… lots of fun.

    2. Looks like Triumphs/ Trumps, what with three players. But, I hope Alistair remembers that the Fool is both strong and weak in that game, depending on which of the surviving rules you are using… and which hand you get. <_<

      Game the system all he can, he's stacking up the Rule of Three horribly just by using that deck (guessing Tarot de Marseilles kind). And, being the third Benhaim to pick a fight with Blake from what looks like an overwhelming position of power? That's dicey. Very, very dicey. 😐

      1. Course this is Blake, so who knows how things will come back to bite him in the future if he wins. Come to think of it, what was Rose’s response to his message? Since Evan came back, I assume it got delivered.

        1. Blake used a mirrored book from the library. Using sympathetic voodoo, the original book in Rose’s library got a copy of the message.
          Similarily, Rose can give the ok by using it in the same manner.

          Alistair seems rather confident in his augur, so she will probably do it.

  1. Stray thoughts:

    Ben is the man. He’s Righteous, capital ‘R’ intended.

    “If the universe decides to turn around and hurt that bird, […] I’m not sure this is a world I want to fight for.” — Amen, Blake. Amen.

    Alister strikes me as immediately unlikable, especially contrasted against Blake, Mags, and Evan. The latter three are hard-luck, put-upon, a bit raggedy-around-the-edges characters who fought for every inch they have in this world, where Alister is slick, cocky, and overall manufactured in a way that’s horribly self-aware. He reminds me of a greased-up jerk from an 80’s movie, in the worst way possible, and I hope Blake destroys him, also in the worst way possible.

      1. You forgot “it cannot be”/”how can this be”, which that kind is also quite fond of.
        Also “unconceivable”, for some.

    1. “We were men,” Cranaus said. “The sorts who were brief-lived legends, to the point that godhood was a possibility. Nothing more. We subsist now by a long existence of being familiars for one master after another. Chronomancers like to draw the greater legends from history for such a thing.”

      Acknowledged by Heroic Spirits no less. 🙂

      1. Personally, I think that’s why he got the “oh-ho: who do we have here?” treatment rather than the “OK, bub: you’re booted” from the get-go. 🙂

        Evan screams “hero material turned familiar”, doesn’t he? ^^ Those guys recognised their own, right off: no lie — methinks all of them in that house were actively wanting a cosy conversation with the new guy under their Practitioners’ noses. Maybe for a few weeks. <<

  2. Hmm… I see one hilarious avenue of attack Blake could take. Not formally declaring war there. Maybe he could do it someplace else. But there is terrible. Hell, I bet doing it would give Alister power since he took that risk.

    It could be Duncan gets pwned take two. Except much, much quicker. I wonder what speech he could use?

    1. By any chances, making Alister moves his head so close enough to the mirror that in which he could breath on it/kiss it, Blake(inside the mirror) flicks Alister’s head so hard enough that he falls to the ground to order Evan just for pecking/scratching around?

      For the other place could it be the bathrooms to the locker room to the classroom’s windows?

  3. The exposition in this chapter feels kind of off. Like they’re explaining what they already know without real reason-most especially, it feels like there’s not much reason for them to elaborate on the structure of the Behaim family oaths and specify how Alister is of the same cut as Laird.

    It seems that Aimon and Rose’s plans are still unfolding, though, even with Laird dead. We might be approaching endgame levels of exposition soon. So perhaps it’s best to get it out of the way now?

    1. I dunno. I’ve been in family meetings that have spun around in circles over the same old ground. Repeatedly. For hours. 😛

      Usually when one side of the family is trying to beat the other by simple attrition. Or starvation: whichever comes sooner. ;P

  4. Wait, what? How does Blake communicate with Rose?

    Through ‘Sympathy’? Write words in the mirror-version of a book and Rose can read them in the real-verions of the book?

    But how does she know which book he is writing in? How does she know which page to check?

    Alister is cool. Confident, powerful. I don’t see how Blake and Evan stand a chance against him.

    And why is Blake not more concerned about the fact that he is wasting away from the inside. The whole “There is a yawning emptiness inside of you that craves sustenance, but you do not yet know how to feed it”– thing?

    Faysal said: “As you are now, you’re a starving giant, Blake Thorburn.” I don’t understand why this isn’t more of a priority for him.

    1. He probably is feeding his nature by doing this. This is his jam, after all — contests of wit and skill. He is fairly good at them, only ever really losing to Ur, and we all know how that ended up.

      I was also confused by how he communicated with Rose.

      1. Wildbow added a few explanatory paragraphs – Blake parted with another spirit to forge the connection, reinforced the sympathy between the two with three points of connection, then wrote the message (and threw it, just to make it obvious).

    2. Considering how he ranked himself last, I don’t think he cares much that he’s wasting away in terms of his ultimate end, only that he has enough power to do what he feels needs to be done.

    3. He’s using the sympathetic working he made during the jailbreak. Letting things reflect into the mirror realm, then using those mirror copies affect the real things.

      And I will admit it’s very dicey as to how she’ll know where his message will come through, but if she’s smart, she’ll have gotten an immediate inventory of what books he had nearby, just as a paranoia check. Also, a book with a detached and defaced back cover will stick out like a sore thumb, even if it’s still on the shelf.

      …Because Laird was cool, confident and powerful? As was Conquest? And Duncan? Blake’s starting to punch above his weight class. Not as egregiously as, say, Harry Dresden, but still.

      His priority right now is keeping (most of) the Thorburn faction safe. He himself is less of a priority than them and the innocents (and to a lesser extent, the next generation). Besides, there’s ample evidence to suggest that whenever Blake’s selfish, things go horribly wrong as a result. (To wit: the situation that his friends are currently in)

      1. “…Because Laird was cool, confident and powerful? As was Conquest? And Duncan? Blake’s starting to punch above his weight class.”

        To be honest, when has Blake ever been in the right wieght class for his foes?

          1. As much as Blake has gone through, is still around, I can’t help but wonder if Grannie Rose either intended him to be more than an expendable Karma sink to buy Rose time, or if Grannie didn’t realize just what the hell she had made.

    4. He threw the cover of the book as far away from him as he could get it, hoping that the cover of the real book would do something similar (fly across the library, presumably making a sound, and if not it’ll be the only broken book cover on the floor of the library). The book would then (hopefully, he didn’t put a lot of power into it and there’s a lot of distance between them) also have the writing on it, all because of sympathy.

    1. I think that it’s safe to say that in a world where every Practitioner has delusions of competence, they Familiars are the only sane ones acting as the The Jeeves.

      1. I wonder how much has to do with familiars getting regular front-row seats to (as well as being catalysts for) the whole Practitioner >> Other transformation sequence?

        They’ll know they’re not much “better” than Others, even if Practitioners like to think they are. 😐

      2. I don’t know, that Fae with the silly sword didn’t seem particularly sane. Nor did Granny Rose, or even Sandra, seem particularly deluded.

        I think these two are particular cases.

  5. Comments:

    1. “Aimon was lax about following the rules, and let several individuals slip through the cracks.” – Possible hidden meaning or foreshadowing.

    2. Great lines: “Aspire for greater things than mere flame, my little acquaintance” and “It’s difficult for something like you to look anything but dangerous, but you’re doing an admirable job, crouched within a windowsill.”

    3. I “friend Rose”? Really, Alistair?

    1. I loved those cats, and we clearly haven’t been thinking of the possibilities for Evan. Storm, earth and who knows what else are out there.

      1. Storm for the Thunderbird route.
        Earth for the Archeopteryx route.
        Water for the Peng (鵬) route.
        Metal for the Alicanto or Gagana route.
        Blood for the Strix route.
        Eating the heart of Conquest for the Valravn route.

        1. The only problem with Archeopteryx is that when Evan’s health gets dropped to half defeatist will halve all his other stats too.

          Another point against gaining fire typing, Evan would gain a crippling 4X weakness to rock type attacks. Stealth Rock alone would mess him up.

            1. Nah, Flying/Steel would be better for countering fairyies, plus it’d negate his weakness to rock, and flying would counteract steels ground and fighting weaknesses.

          1. What about Rollout? It’s a rock move that has a 5-in-a-row attack pattern, and every strike is stronger than the last! Even if it only strikes 1-2 times, it’s got decent damage, and unless your Pokemon is a total klutz, it will usually strike at least 3 times! Add to that some careful equipment planning, a Rock-type pokemon with good stats, and that move will obliterate anything in its path!

            That move was a love story for me.

  6. Sorry, the comment above got broken. Here’s the fixed version:

    Comments:

    1. “Aimon was lax about following the rules, and let several individuals slip through the cracks.” – Possible hidden meaning or foreshadowing.
    2. Great lines: “Aspire for greater things than mere flame, my little acquaintance” and “It’s difficult for something like you to look anything but dangerous, but you’re doing an admirable job, crouched within a windowsill.”

    3. I love Cranaus. Seriously, he’s amazing.

    4. If both Cranaus and Hylas are based on real-life heroes and myths, it should be possible to identify them. Candidate for Hylas: http://www.maicar.com/GML/Hylas.html (Greek man beloved by both Heracles and a god; spirited away). Cranaus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranaus (second king of Athens; “born from the earth”) – That might allow for an interesting confrontation with Jeremy and his Greek god later on.

    5. Hm. If independent Others are affected by Molly to the point of hurting people and banding together, Blake really should not be outside Hillsglade House. But there’s no reason Rose & co couldn’t have told him about this.

    6. I hope Blake reacts appropriately to Alistair’s insane foresight.

    Blake’s weird relationship with Rose:

    1. In his conversation with Cranaus, it appears Blake doesn’t care about Rose at all (unless the “[three] people within the Thorburn household” somehow include her but not one of his other friends).

    2. “I hated the idea of leaving Rose in the dark.” – Huh, I didn’t expect such level-headed thoughts about Rose Blake at this point.

    3. “Give permission?” – Exceedingly weird phrasing. Maybe intentional, to sabotage Rose (who has to worry about Conquest’s influence)?

    4. “Your friend Rose is going to give you her signal.” – “friend Rose”? Really, Alistair?

    1. I don’t think it’s so much that Blake doesn’t care AT ALL about Rose. I think that he’s simply not claiming responsibility for her. The other three are (relatively) innocent, and he wants to protect them. Rose isn’t innocent, and him getting involved there gets both him AND her tangled up. She made her bed, he says.

  7. I’m a bit surprised Blake didn’t press Evan on the whole “what am I?” question as soon as they were alone. Evan might not know, but it’s worth pressing a bit, since it seems important.

    Also, I find it a bit hard to believe that Blake and Evan didn’t immediately retreat as soon as someone noticed the open window, and certainly not when they heard a voice asking to be lifted up towards it. I mean, where did they expect that to go? They got lucky in that the Belham familiars were willing to talk, but there was no guarantee of that.

  8. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Blake has accepted the formal declaration of war. He said that it was only one way to reduce colatteral, so I think he should make it another way I think he’s thought of to have it be a challenge. That way Alister takes a power hit from lying. If he
    Said it less strongly I think he’d be fine but the way it is I pretty sure he’d get hit pretty hard.

    1. That was my idea! Do not formally declare war. Then say he got what he wanted and walk away. Maybe even inform the Behaim’s of Alister’s failure.

      1. “Careful little Behaim, you know not what your actions would unleash. I do.” To paraphrase Laufrey from the first Thor movie.

    2. After a second read, I don’t see him doing so either. It is implied that he will, with the whole talk about guilelessness and doing it neatly, but it that is against his previous thinking on the matter and he doesn’t have to follow Rose in this.

      And I agree that, as an opening tactic in the contest, Blake can say “I have not formally declared war” or the stronger “I will not formally declare war” just to take Alister down a peg.

      1. The problem is that Alistair seems to have foreknowledge of the future via divination or chronomancy or something. If he says Blake will declare war, Blake will declare war, unless something inherently unpredictable interferes (e.g. another chronomancer or something).
        Similar logic to predictions and divinations in Worm, actually.

        Basically, if Alistair is confident enough to use language that strong at age 18 (maybe 6 years after awakening), then that’s because his predictions turn out true despite obvious shenanigans. If not, he’d have gotten burned at a far younger age.

        1. Alistair strikes me as the cocky and arrogant sort. Blake might well declare war, but because of some line Alistair crosses, and then the war might not go how Alistair desires at all.

        2. Yes, but he made a rookie time master or prophet mistake: by saying that something will happen, he shifted the odds of it doing so — or even added new forks. (And, seriously: even losing some of his Blakeness, Blake still has that Thorburn stubborn, mile-wide streak dictating his actions. Go ahead: tell a Thorburn they will definitely do something you want them to do. I’ll wait for the inevitable screaming to start up… eyeroll)

          Blake might take part in war, sure (he’s not being given much choice, here). But, he may never get around to formally declaring it. It’s the same basic trap Duncan well and truly landed himself in. 😛

          And, Laird, come to think.

          I’m now torn: is it being a chronomancer that makes them too used to winning on their bluffs? The perceptual warping they do? Or, just having been groomed as the Next Big Thing from far too early? Or, all of the above?

        3. Presumably Duncan did as well and we all see how that turned out. Anyway even if that was the case he quite probably interfered with his own divination by telling Blake.

        4. They’ve already stated there at no absolutes with divinations. It’s just the most likely outcome. After all everyone as sure Blake was going to snuff it in Toronto, but he came back…. granted not as he was before.

          1. No everyone was true he was not long for this world…true even if he returns from the Drains to the normal world,and he still hasn’t even returned to the normal world.

      2. Argh, I just reread Blake’s vision from 9.03. Blake has to declare war according to the rules set by Sandra and agreed to by everyone but Rose:

        “You agree to abide by the rules?”
        “If we don’t,” the Briar Girl said, “You’ll deal with us first, to keep this controlled, won’t you?”
        […]
        “Any altercation should involve a clear declaration of war.”

        Except Rose was forced to agree to these rules as part of the truce with Jeremy, and now they are presumably in full effect. And Blake is obviously affiliated with the Thorburns.

        In other words, if Blake wants to deal with Alistair now, he has to declare war first.

        (And Alistair could easily know all this with only a modicum of divination and a fair bit of intelligence. No need for any amazing powers so far.)

        1. And Blake is obviously affiliated with the Thorburns.

          Affiliated yes, but I’m not sure if he’s Rose’s responsibility under the rules of war. She didn’t invite him to fight for her, on the contrary: she first tried to banish him, and then to bind him. And he’s not really on her side; he repeatedly affirmed that he’s on his own side, that he’s trying to protect his friends, and that he’s not decided what has to be done with “the Thorburn heir”. They’re not “a side” in the conflict, they’re two sides that share an interest in some people.

          Assuming this separate-party status is accepted by the spirits, then technically speaking, he’s not a party to the agreement, nor did he enter a bid for lordship. He’s not much different from the revenant and the faceless woman, really.

          (Though if Rose does in fact give him permission to attack, the situation probably changes.)

          1. Blake has asked Rose for permission to engage; if he considered her opinion irrelevant, he wouldn’t have asked her. And even if he could convince the spirits he’s independent (they aren’t particularly bright, after all), those aren’t relevant; the agreement (retaliation for rule breakers) is arbitrated by the parties vying for the Lordship position: cunning humans and Others. None of those parties would accept such a flimsy excuse, and why should they?

            So yes, Blake could take the risk, but his friends would be the ones who would pay the price. Again. Somehow, I don’t see him doing that.

            1. Yes-no: consider this. Blake mainly wished to inform Rose of where he was going and what the likely outcomes could be. He wasn’t actually asking her to let him “declare war”, and definitely not formally. After all, as of this very minute, Alister isn’t definitely in the hot seat. He’s still just “one of the Behaim boys: a possible heir”. Trying to mess with him? Isn’t necessarily an outright declaration of war, even though it could be read that way by the most pedantically minded. 😛

              It’s the kid who has said “you will”… to then cut Blake off at the pass and then yank his arm behind his back before that “will” becomes real. 😐 Heck, Blake didn’t even get a chance to complete the sentence beginning with “I” — so, so much for a chance to be genuine. 😛 If Blake pushes it, a “friendly” game of whatever? How is this a declaration of war? It’s just killing time, getting to know the guy, trying to make sure he’s too busy here to mess with Hillsglade, seeing that he gets a knock to that Teflon confidence… All of which aren’t untrue.

              This was both Laird and Duncan’s mistake: by using their auguries to behave as if the most probable outcome they’d seen dictated that the acts Blake would make and, so, were the only things that could occur if they made them, they missed the least likely ones that could still occur, despite their best efforts. Worse: they stated the “likeliest” as being declarative facts. And, both took the knocks for it (Duncan more than Laird, but Laird still did take a knock or two, for all he was a bit more cautious when in throwing in the “probablies” and “possiblies”).

              If our Alister (the little darling) is only pushing Blake because he knows that somehow, he was a danger in Toronto, his acting on part-information… as Duncan won’t remember exactly how he fluffed it.

              Sometimes, I wonder if Aimon actually did spike his descendants’ education somewhere. <.< In a way that would push every Thorburn button available for some outcome that wrecks the intricate, binding, social clockwork that should be Jacobs Bell under the plans proposed by the generation before his own. 😛

    1. I’d rather discuss here, so in case someone chimes in that wildbow is a sexist female feminazi (like what happened in the middle of Worm, apparently, since I wasn’t there for that), and it starts raging like a wildfire, he can more easily do damage control and say that he isn’t, then delete any further responses along those lines.

      For instance, look at how we avoid Worm spoilers, even going so far as to use rot13 cipher text occasionally, because he edits comments like that. I don’t think people would be as careful in their posts on reddit.

  9. Disconnected thoughts…

    Did Evan get a Video Game God spirit along with his others? Beating a bunch of video games, app-level or not, is not that easy.

    “dying once is enough for me”
    Then you picked the wrong practitioner to become a familiar for. Technically Blake hasn’t died yet, but I doubt a little thing like death is going to stop him.

    “We lie to ourselves, damn it, because if we believe the wrong thing, then the spirits cut us an awful lot of slack.”
    This is another fundamental problem with the system. Self-delusion leads to more power, so people who want power gravitate towards self-delusion. The Faerie are sort of an extreme example of that. Too bad Ben isn’t a voting member, but it sounds like Gloria might be.

    “But this won’t go the way you want it to”
    That is pretty much a given, but it likely won’t go the way you want it to either Alister. Lots of others (and Others) have gone up against Blake and disliked the outcome.

    1. Evan doesn’t sleep and has had almost nothing to do for weeks. If you don’t push for the extra achievements etc. you can get through many modern games in 10-20 hours so assuming Evan already had pretty good skillz, it’s doable.

      On the other hand, there’s really no such thing as ‘beat’ for a lot of phone games. You can’t beat Temple Run, Bejewelled, Tetris, etc. etc.

  10. It is deeply refreshing in this story to see a conflict being offered to be resolved without violence. Blake and company are all a little too bloodthirsty at times. A high-stakes game of skill instead of murdering each other, I’m totally happy to accept.

    1. Who ever said there wouldn’t be any murder involved in the game? After all, when you don’t have any money to put up, what do you put up other than possibly your own life?

  11. Evan has apparently developed a talent for winning games he’s playing. He plays cards and wins (without formal skill), he plays video games with nearly impossible handicaps (only controlling half the controller, or the controller being the size he is)and he’s not only played them through, he’s beat them. I really am beginning two think there’s more to Evan than it’s ever been let on.

    Just imagine if he starts seeing social interactions as “games” or fights his side has with other sides as “games”? Not sure how powerful his “winning” ability is, but if it can be ramped up and still works, he’ll be nearly as unbeatable as if he could just see the path to victory.

    1. Then the way to beat Alister is to let Evan play him, not Blake.

      Having Alister beaten by a raggedy former familiar would be so satisfying to watch.

  12. So, I wonder here… Did Alistair see that Rose would tell Blake NO? If so, goading Blake to act as if she said yes would hurt his relationship with Rose. Not that Blake’s relationship with Rose is anything worth writing home about, but it’s still another break with her.

    Clever people with the ability to divine the future somewhat accurately are scary. Blake can’t simply follow Alistair’s lead, or he will almost certainly lose.

    Blake can actually hurt Alistair immediately, by refusing to formally declare war on him.

  13. “Fire? Pah,” Hylas said. “Imagine a bird of the storms, of cascading torrents.”

    “Or of the earth,” Cranaus said, “Not conventional, to be sure, but impressive, impossible to ignore.

    Heh. Let the Oracles of Google and Wiki enlighten us:

    In classical mythology, Hylas (Greek: Ὕλας’) was a youth who served as a companion of Heracles (Roman Hercules). His abduction by water nymphs was a theme of ancient art, and has been an enduring subject for Western art in the classical tradition.

    In Greek mythology, Cranaus (Ancient Greek: Κραναός) was the second King of Athens, succeeding Cecrops I. He is supposed to have reigned for either nine or ten years. He was autochthonous (born from the earth), like his predecessor.

    Also:

    Iseult or Essylt (Isolde) […] meaning “That is fair”, […] was said to be an Irish princess, the daughter of King Anguish […] sings and can play the harp […] forced into exile when an attack is made on the stronghold of her father […] learns much of the healing art and becomes skilled in the use of herbs […] under Morgaine’s guidance […] orders a Round Table to be made for the royal court […]

    1. Given that Essylt is a faerie, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had adopted the name of an Arthurian figure as a part of the general theme of pretentious fakery the faeries have.

      1. Actually, I rather expect the opposite. Perhaps messing up with human kingdoms was the fashion at some point, and the Arthurian legends are just fragmentary stories based on that “season”.

        From Damages 2.5:

        The Faerie go through trends, fashions of a sort. […] Then they rebel, they overthrow the court, and a new season begins with a different foundation. Light faerie versus the dark, for example, or a court with a true king and queen and a dynasty that they’ve glamoured up to extend back through the centuries.

        I think we were told Essylt was “relatively” young, but fifteen centuries is probably still young for the fae. She might actually be the “real” Isolde.

  14. I had one of the fat coins placed between my pinky and ring finger, and was trying to ‘walk’ it over the back of my hand. Problem was, it was a big coin, meaning I could pass it over to the space between my index and middle finger, and then what? I pressed my hands together, and ‘walked’ the coin from one hand to the other.

    I don’t know what this means, but it reeks of foreshadowing for some reason.

      1. The Thorburn Karma is too great a burden for anyone to shift more than one step, so each person must inevitably drop it.
        …Unless, that is, they can pass it on to someone else, to move it back and forth.

          1. The coin is inhabited by a small spirit of clumsiness. To hold the coin is to lose control of your fine motor skills. If enough power is fed into it and a deal brokered with the spirit therin, one can cast it at their enemies in order to render them incapable of coherent movement or speech.

      2. Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I got the literal description, I just meant it smelled like foreshadowing but I couldn’t tell of what.

        It’s a conservation of detail thing. The coins were mentioned several times already: first when Blake got them, then when Blake went to some trouble trying to hide them (twice, I think), then an entire paragraph was spent in this chapter to make it damn obvious they’re big, weird coins.

        In 11 arcs of Pact, I can’t really think of anything that Blake held, or used, or that was mentioned in any sort of detail, that wasn’t important in some way. And the only other time we’ve seen Blake “waste time” or “fiddle” with something was when he played on his phone in one of the first chapters, which was apparently only done to pave the way for a hint about Ur’s powers several arcs later. (And even there I’m not quite clear exactly what it meant.)

        1. I agree that this is likely important, but I don’t know if my predictions in Pact are particularly accurate. I mean, all the text contains tons of foreshadowing, but there also false trails.

          Anyway, Ms. Lewis, from 9.04, talking about currency:

          “You’ve served your purpose, you’re _spent_, as currency goes. Inviting you back would only undermine everything we put in place for our client.”

          And IIRC there was also some talk of demesnes, power as currency and transforming one kind of power into another, including into karma.

  15. “I had to ignore the faint echoing knell.

    It reminded me a bit of the Drains, and I didn’t like being reminded of the Drains.”

    Yep, nothing ominous there. Wasn’t it established that entire communities can fall down the drains? Is it possible that the entirety of Jacob’s Bell might end up there as a resault of the struggle for lordship?

    1. Hey, why didn’t I think of that?!

      Indeed, we’ve been told that can happen, and a blood, fire and darkness episode seems like exactly what would be needed…

      1. Darkness, but blood requires life and fire makes light. Doesn’t sound like what would result from falling through the cracks. Besides, thinking about it Watsonianly, what would make it fall?

            1. Created by what, exactly? I don’t think Rose is nearly stupid enough to summon something that could do that, especially when she already has a less omni-destructive demon on call already..

            2. I don’t have any specific scenario in mind, but then again I hadn’t expected a Sphinx in Toronto nor Lassie the Angel, either. Who knows what Wildbow has in store for us?

              I only realized that if what negadarkwing suggested were to happen, there would already be plenty of foreshadowing to support it.

            3. So, basically…you’re saying that I can’t prove it won’t happen, so you don’t need to explain how it would.

            4. No, I’m not saying that I don’t need to explain how it would because you can’t prove it won’t happen. I’m just saying that I don’t need to explain how it would happen, because I never claimed it will. Read my posts above and tell me which part of that sounded like anything other than wild speculation?

              On a more general note, this is fantasy, not SF. In good SF it’s usually possible to reason quite well about what can and cannot happen, and why, and sometimes even deduce what will happen. But in fantasy, even excellent fantasy, usually you can go no further than guessing and intuition, because the author has much more licence. And usually the best you can do is hit not-quite-far of the mark.

              (For example: People guessed Maggie was possessed; close, but it was only her name that changed possessors. We guessed the Hyena might become Blake’s implement. It didn’t, but it’s pretty close: they’re almost inseparable, and other than clothes it’s the only item he still owns, and the only one with any obvious power. Several people guessed that Maggie might remember Blake, though nobody could prove it until it actually happened. We guessed Blake wasn’t gone, though most of the how was not quite anticipated; many suspected that Ur only ate the connection and not Blake himself, and I saw mentions of falling through cracks, but nobody imagined the Drains. Actually, it’s interesting that you were quite convinced that Blake wouldn’t come back, and IIRC you said something about it requiring a deus-ex-machina—you got pretty close, an actual god was involved! Technically, since we’re reading this on computers, that’s a literal deus-ex-machina 🙂

  16. I’m thinking that someone needs to consider getting Evan a netbook. There are loads of games on computers that you can play by just slowly tapping keys one at a time. I’ll grant Evan doesn’t seem the Dwarf Fortress type, but surely they can find something.

    Interesting turn of events. Frustrating to see Blake causing so much chaos, so shortly after talking about how he wanted to make the world a better place and not butting heads with Rose.

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