Malfeasance 11.9

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I’d expected a crowd, I didn’t get a crowd.

I’d expected kids of various ages, and found myself surprised.

The reality, it seemed, was that the youngest kids were running for cover.  School wrapped up at half past three, and it apparently got dark at five.  An hour and a half of freedom, or time to handle the minor things, then nightfall.  Enchantments and spells would kick in, the civilians would find themselves suffering through an abruptly early curfew, and there would be chaos in the streets.

The bell tolled in the background, low and ominous, as if the bell itself were present for this very scene.  The gathered practitioners looked over their shoulders, to the bell’s source.

“That’s one angry ghost,” a Duchamp said

“I can barely hear it,” Craig Behaim commented.

“More experienced practitioners hear it more,” the Duchamp said.  “She’s after my aunt, Johannes, and the other leaders.  Alister, I guess?”

“I’m not going to fall for something like that, Lola.  You find out what we’re doing when everyone else does,” Craig said.  He looked for the bell’s source again.  “She isn’t running out of power?  Where’d she get that kind of energy?”

“Some of it,” Lola Duchamp said, “Is from him.”

The Behaim boy startled a little as he saw me.

Five people in total had joined the Briar Girl and me.  Alister was not one of them.  I recognized Penelope Duchamp, who had been quiet thus far, and I recognized the bird on her shoulder, even if I didn’t know its name. She was joined by the girl who was apparently called ‘Lola’, a bit older than her, with bright red makeup around her eyes, pink tips on one strand of her blond hair, and a silver nose-ring.  War paint, almost.

Craig, Ainsley, and Gavin Behaim were here as well.  Laird’s son, niece, and nephew, respectively.  I’d killed Craig’s dad, the Bloody Mary had cut Ainsley’s wrists, and I’d left Gavin behind with his wounded uncle, who I’d just hacked with an axe, then gone on to kill Laird.

They didn’t necessarily remember the details, though.

Two Duchamps, three Behaims.

I stood within a window looking out on a narrow street.  The store behind me was an ice cream place that was closed for the winter season.  Less of a successful business, more of a hole-in-the-wall place that people could find if they ventured off the beaten track.  From what I’d glimpsed, it wasn’t the nicest looking place.  All the same, we were afforded a certain degree of privacy to chat.

“You,” Craig said.

So he’d heard about who I was.

“Hi Craig,” I said.  “Ainsley, Gavin.  Penelope, hi again.  I’ve met each of you, even if you don’t remember.  This is Evan.”

“Hiya,” Evan piped up.

“I don’t remember,” Penelope said.  “Craig said it was you who killed his dad and maimed his uncle?”

“And I tried to unseat Alister,” I said.  “I don’t deny it.”

“Doesn’t make me feel very trusting, when I imagine what you might have done to me,” Penelope said.

“Your sister’s in a dance class, right?”

The question only made Penelope look more paranoid.

“You were dropping her off at dance class one morning, when you decided to come after me and Rose.  Your sister’s Faerie familiar was injured.”

“I remember that, vaguely,” Lola chimed in.  “Letita being injured, and the call to arms at way-too-early-o’clock when it was way too cold in the morning.”

“I remember too,” Penelope said.

“I showed mercy, and returned the familiar to your sister instead of trying to kill it.  You called off the attack on me.”

“Ahhh,” Penelope said.  “That explains why I was grounded until halfway through January.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “We… I don’t feel we left on bad terms.”

“Maybe not,” she said, “But things are different now than they were.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Definitely different.  Which is part of why I asked you to come.”

“I’m thinking we should wait for Mags before we get down to business,” Gavin said.

I nodded, though I felt antsy.  I wasn’t sure what my friends were dealing with at this given moment.  Were they at the witch hunters’ mercy?

“So,” Lola said, sitting on a metal post that doubled as a bike rack, “Bogeyman.”

“Blake.”

“Blake.  What are you, in all of this?  You’ve defended Rose, apparently.”

“Something like that,” I said.

“Where do you stand?”

“Right here.”

Lola folded her arms.  “No jokes.  Where do you stand in terms of allegiance?  You’re in Rose’s camp?”

“No,” I said.  “If I have to admit it, I’m really not.  I don’t agree with her decisions, I don’t like how she’s playing this, and right now, I’m pretty damn anxious because of a plan she’s putting into motion.”

“Which is?” Craig asked.

“Something that, if I do share it, will be shared with the ambassador here, and your tacit cooperation.”

Craig nodded, though he didn’t look happy.

“Once, I wasn’t trapped in this mirror.  The Thorburns have fought over Hillsglade House for years, and I remember being right there among them,” I confessed.  “I had my opportunity to fight alongside the others for my share of the property.  I could have walked away with millions.  I never fought for it.  I remember walking away from it all, and I remember paying dearly for that decision.”

“Cryptic,” Gavin said.

“It’s not intended to be cryptic,” I said.  “It’s just who I am and where I come from.  I didn’t want to be a part of this world.  I was dragged into it.  So far, the deck seems pretty damn stacked against me.  I’ve had to give up an awful lot of the stuff I care a whole lot about.”

I searched their faces for changes in expression, for clues, signs.  Did they think less of me for admitting that?  Were they figuring me out?  Deciphering weaknesses?

“I didn’t want to kill Laird,” I told Craig.  “Your dad.  I don’t know why he was doing what he was doing, but… I didn’t want that.”

“We have only your word for that,” he answered.

“Yeah,” I admitted.  “Just like you have only my word when I say that I can’t lie.  I’ve been down this road.”

“Ah,” Gavin said.  “That’s a bit of a problem.”

“It’s a fixable problem,” Lola chimed in.

I suppressed a sigh.  “You’re talking about the seal of Solomon.”

Lola nodded.  “You know your stuff.

Agreeing to the deal that Suleiman Bin Daoud had set up between humanity and Others.  Binding myself, with certain terms contingent in the binding.  One of the first things I’d read up on, way back when.

“That opens me up to a lot of forms of attack,” I said.  “Being properly bound, being targeted by certain vectors…”

“It protects you too,” Lola said.  “Gives you a power source.  You become a part of the greater scheme of things.”

“Damn it,” I said.  “No.  That’s exactly what I’m talking about.  That’s why I’m trying to talk to you guys here.  It’s… damn it.  Would you accept the deal, as-”

“If it’s the reason for the meeting,” Gavin said, “We should wait for Mags.  She’s close.”

I sighed.

I did the seal thing, I think,” Evan said.

“I can explain later,” I said.

“Right!”

A moment of silence passed.  The Behaims, understandably, weren’t very happy with me.  The two Duchamp girls were murmuring to one another, while shooting periodic looks my way.

“Hey, chickadee!  Fellow bird!” Evan called out to Penelope’s familiar.  “Come perch with me while we wait.  We can trade stories about all of the places to avoid when you’re out for a flight.  Like Sandra’s weasel thing, except you’re a Duchamp so you’re safe, but stuff like that!  Bird tips!  Wait, wing tips!”

The chickadee looked at him.  It spoke with a voice that was so high it might have sounded artificial, if the articulation wasn’t so perfect.  “Do not presume that we’re equal, child.”

Evan was suddenly as mute as he’d been vocal.  He pulled his head back closer to his body, until it looked like he had no neck at all, his feathers fluffing out in general.

Penelope looked at me and cupped her hand so Evan couldn’t see.  It hurt my ability to see too, but I was pretty sure she mouthed the word ‘sorry’.

Mags arrived, a goblin in a snowsuit waddling behind her.  It looked fat, and its eyes didn’t match, where they peered beneath the hood.

“Hi Blake.”

“Hi Mags,” I said.

“I hear you almost killed Alister.”

“I only wanted to cut him a little.  He told me he could undo the damage.”

“Then why cut him?”

“Because he said he didn’t want me to, and I needed to do something.”

“You’re aware that Sandra, Alister, and Johannes know where you are, right?  They know this meeting is happening?”

“Sure,” I said.  “But right now, they’re also trying to stay out of my way.  While we’ve been making small talk here- and not-so-small talk, I guess, my friends have been under attack.  They know I’m looking for them.  So the question is, do they come here to stop me from talking to you, exposing themselves, or do they stand back, and let me say what I have to say?”

“I suppose it depends on what you have to say,” Gavin told me.

“You want to know why I’m not so keen on the seal of Solomon business?”

“Because you don’t want to lose the ability to lie,” Craig said.  He looked the most unfriendly out of all of the Behaims, and none of the Behaims seemed friendly at all.  “Or you’re afraid of being bound.”

“Not quite,” I said.  “My big concern is that we all share a common enemy, and somehow, a lot of us are missing it.  It’s getting us one by one, and I can’t just give it more power.”

Lola Duchamp tilted her head a little.  “Now you’re being intentionally cryptic.”

“History,” I said.  “Your families, the Duchamps especially, are bound to it.  Everyone’s doing things the way they’ve been done for ages, because they’ve been done that way for ages.  It’s… it’s this corrupt, stupid force in all of our lives.”

“You’re gathering up a bunch of us Behaims and telling us that the big bad enemy is time?”  Craig asked.

“History, not time.  The past.  I don’t think I can really convince Sandra or Alister or Johannes or any of the others to turn from their paths.  They’re too secure in their power, comfortable in what tradition and history and expectations have given each of them.  I’m really, honestly hoping I can convince you guys.  Convince all of you guys, who are less in History’s grip.  I’m banking on that, while the knowledge that my friends might be hurt or dying is slowly tearing me apart.”

“What makes you think we can be convinced?” Gavin asked.

“The knowledge that the Behaim family power is all being funneled into one point, one person.  The first person was your dad, and… whatever my issues with him, he at least used it properly.  Duncan used it too, less properly.  Everything I’ve seen of Alister suggests he intends to squander it.”

“Assuming Alister is going to wind up in charge.”

“I spied on your family’s discussion while you were in school,” I said.  “All signs suggest it’s in the works.  A lot of voices in Alister’s support.  Talk of a weapon being put in his hands.”

I saw the Behaims exchange glances.

“I shouldn’t comment either way,” Gavin told me.  “Shouldn’t validate what you’re saying or fill in the blanks around your best guesses.”

“As far as I’ve been able to tell, you were misled,” I told him.  “Just like your fathers and your fathers’ fathers were.  You’re the equivalent of cows producing the milk, and it’s the Lairds and Alisters that get to decide what they do with that milk.  The best you can do is hope they make good use of the power they milk from you.”

“You’re calling me a cow?” Ainsley asked, glaring at me.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I guess I am.  If you insist on sticking with the herd, instead of thinking for yourself.”

“Cute,” Gavin said.  “Do you really think it’s smart to antagonize us, when you’re asking for our help?”

“I’m not trying to be your friend.  I don’t think that’s about to happen  given our history,” I answered.

“What, then?”

“I’m hoping that we can at least stand here, and agree that the status quo sucks, and it’s going to suck more for all of us if things continue down this course.”

“Speak for yourself,” Lola said.  Her breath fogged in the air.  She jammed gloved hands in her pockets.  “You were going to say that the Duchamp tradition has hurt us too, right?”

“Something like that,” I said.

“Arranged marriages, being used as a currency of sorts, to buy more power for the family?”

“That was the impression I had,” I said.  “Is it wrong?”

“It’s right.  Right now,” Lola said.  “I did everything I could to make myself unpresentable.  Fought it every step of the way.  Put metal in my face and ears, not just because I thought it was cool, but because I wanted to scare off the stodgy old mages and whatnots that paid visits and leered at us.  It didn’t work.  They found me someone who wanted someone distinctive.  Guy ten years older than me I’ve met once, for an interview.  Like I was applying for a job.  Wedding’s set for a year from now.  If it weren’t for the chaos here, the wedding day would’ve been the second day I saw him.”

“No kidding?” Mags piped up.  “Ten years older?”

I think that’s illegal,” Evan whispered.

“Not illegal.  Lola’d be eighteen,” Penelope said.

“Oh.”

“Whoop dee doo dah,” Lola said.

“He seemed nice, though,” Penelope added, with an excess of cheer.  “Interesting, too.  Passionate about what he does.  Could be thirty eight or forty eight.”

“Sure,” Lola said.  “Nice, interesting, into his work.  Not that old.  But he could want different things than I want, and because he’s buying me, he gets the final say.  I don’t want kids?  Too bad.  I want to go to school or have a career?  Too bad.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Lola shot me a smile, but there was an anger in her eyes, surrounded by the startling crimson eyeshadow.  It was as if I’d angered her just by inviting her to talk about the subject.  “Things change, Blake.  If the Duchamps come out on top, and we’re most definitely a contender, then the marriage thing can stop.  Or they can at least slow down, make it volunteer-only.  My fiancé is coming into town with his brothers.  He’s helping.  And so long as I play along, we’ve got that tiny bit of extra psychopomp firepower.  We can help Sandra take over, and help the status quo change.”

“For the next generation?” I asked.

“Or the rest of this generation,” Lola said, glancing at Penelope.  When she looked back my way, Lola’s body language was stubborn, her jaw set.

“You don’t have to do that,” Penelope said.

“No I don’t,” Lola said.  “But I can look at our options, weigh things in one hand versus the other.  Doing this, playing along, it’s a safer, stronger bet than the other options I’ve debated so far.”

“I wonder,” I said, “If your mom thought the same thing.  Or if Sandra convinced herself she could change it all.”

“They could’ve.  They’re could be working on it as we speak, attacking your friends at the house and working to put Sandra in her seat as Lord of Jacob’s Bell,” Lola said.

“Or maybe,” I replied, “Things will keep going the way they’ve gone for generations.  You might end up making peace with the fact that Penelope gets married off, because there wasn’t enough time.  Then Penelope’s younger sister could end up getting married off.  You can still convince yourself that it’s fine, that it takes time.  What happens after?  You end up having a kid with the psycho, and one day you could wind up using the same tricks on your daughter that your mother and aunts used to manipulate you?”

I could see Lola’s expression harden, the muscles at the corners of her jaw standing out, any softness disappearing.

I waited, inviting her to speak, but there was only hardness.  “…Maybe you wind up convincing her that if she just plays along, she won’t have to do the same for her daughter?”

“You really aren’t interested in making friends,” Mags commented.

“I want people to look!” I said, and I raised my voice a little too much.  I was anxious, in my odd, inhuman new way of being anxious, and having them fight me on this very preliminary front was only making it worse.  “I want you to god-damn think!  Why the hell would the Duchamps stop doing what they’re doing, just because they were a little more powerful?  Power has to be secured.  They’re not going to abandon the methods that got them status and power in the first place.  They’re going to keep doing it, only they’ll escalate.  Reach out to practitioners who are further away.  Use their new position to build something.”

“No,” Lola said.  “I know Sandra.  I know… some general stuff about her.  I’m sure she wouldn’t escalate.”

“The priest?” I asked.

Lola raised one eyebrow, but she didn’t reply.

“You heard something when Hillsglade House was smote?” Penelope asked.

“I don’t have much of a fricking clue what happened with Sandra and him,” I said.  “All I know is that right now, it’s looking like a pretty raw deal for Lola here, for the Behaims, and even for Penelope.  It’s a raw deal for me.”

“Me too,” Evan chimed in.  “Not me, exactly, but an awful lot of people I like are part of this.  I want this to go okay for them.”

“Things change,” Lola said, with a note of certainty in her voice.

Stubborn.  I was a little surprised that a Duchamp would be like that, that someone from the subtle and creative enchantresses would be so blunt in attitude.  I supposed it had to do with where she’d come from.  She’d carved out a bit of individuality among a sea of cousins and sisters who all looked and acted very similar to one another.

That stubbornness, though, was something of a wall for me.  I couldn’t push forward so long as she kept giving me the same answer.

“We’re the only ones who can change the course of all this,” I said.  “You guys, as representatives or whatever you are to your families, you’re in a position to spread the word, make arguments.  If you don’t like the current status quo, fight it.”

“At the worst possible moment?” Craig asked.  “We’d weaken our families just in time for Johannes to swoop in and seize the lordship.”

Lola commented, “The Behaims aren’t in a position to get the lordship anyway.”

“No comment,” Craig said.  “Whether we were or weren’t, we’d be betraying our family.”

“Oh, I’m not saying Blake is right,” Lola said.  “I’m saying you’re weak.”

This wasn’t what I’d hoped for.  Maybe if I’d had a larger group to work with, I could have convinced the younger ones.  Joanna, Penelope’s younger sister, might have been more inclined to listen.

I’d wanted them to realize just how much they were slaves to their bloodline’s traditions.  But they were on the cusp of adulthood, already settling into their individual responsibilities.  Craig, Ainsley and Gavin had been trusted to go to Toronto to help Laird and Duncan fight.  Lola was getting married.  Penelope had at least had enough leverage to call off the Duchamps when I’d returned Letita to her and her sister.  She’d gotten in trouble, but she’d had a voice.

Maybe, if I’d been able to reach the ones without a voice, I could have done something.

Fuck.

The Briar Girl spoke.  “You told me I might be interested in this.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“What do I have to gain?”

It dawned on me that she’d forgotten our prior conversation.

“When the Thorburns fall,” I said, “The glades that give Hillsglade House its name will probably be cut down, the marshes will be drained.  You’re… very similar to me, in a way.”

“Similar?”

“Swept up in the tide.  More at the mercy of the individual families than any of the others, who have cabals or covens or circles to protect them.  If and when the Thorburns lose, you lose, very probably.”

“If the Thorburns win, I lose.  After the priest left the house, we all heard about what Rose did.  There’s a working with a demon, protecting her.  We can’t touch her.  Nobody wins when there are demons involved.”

“Not how I would have phrased what she did,” I said.

“A demon is involved?” she asked.

“Can I ‘no comment’ that?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.  There was no humor on her face.  “I think that’s enough of an answer.”

Not just to the question I’d just asked, but everything I’d been suggesting.  Her way of refusing me.

I stared down at the ground between all of us.

“I think,” I said, “That if things continue down this road, it’s not going to be one side winning, the rest of us losing.  It might not even be one person winning, and everyone else losing.  I think it’s going to turn out worse than that.  Everyone in Jacob’s Bell loses.”

There was a short pause that followed that said a great deal more than any statement.

Mags summed it up.  “Coming from a diabolist, that’s a fucking scary thing to hear.”

I shrugged.  “Not what I meant.”

“Still scary,” she said.  As if an afterthought, she said, “Man, that bell.  It’s getting worse.”

“We’ve been talking for a bit,” Gavin said, the eldest Behaim present.  “I’m thinking we need to head home.  I’m expecting there to be a lot said.  Especially if Alister wound up being promoted to head of the house while we’ve been talking.”

That’s it?

“Unless you want to be bound by the seal,” Gavin told me, “I don’t really see any other reason to keep talking.”

I shook my head.  It was against everything I was and everything I was striving for, right here.

“Yeah, didn’t think so.”

This had been a hail Mary, a plea for sanity amid madness, from people who’d generally been a lot more sane than their elders.

But they were caught up in the tide.  Now I faced the idea of having to figure out what to do next, knowing that with every passing moment, things might be getting worse at Hillsglade.

Damn me, damn them, damn it all.

Such a familiar feeling.  Being angry, being unable to think straight.  Wanting to do something that I knew was a bad idea.

“We’re adjourned, then?” Mags asked.

“Guess so,” Craig answered.

“Right,” Mags said.  “I’ll chat with you in a minute, Blake, if you want to wait?  Maybe you could stick around, Briar Girl, so you can vouch that I’m not siding with him?  I’ll buy you something from the store after.”

“Sure,” the Briar Girl said.

So, Mags had gotten in trouble, at least on a level, even if she’d held onto her position.  The threats had been grave enough that she was now forcing herself to be impartial.  Giving herself a witness and alibi.

I remained mute, frustrated and angry.  My body wanted to act, to do something reckless.  I stayed where I was.

Lola met my gaze with her own.  She looked monstrous in her own way, with the red around her eyes, her skin pale.  “I hear what you’re trying to say.  Maybe if the timing were different, it would be different.  Maybe if you weren’t who and what you are…”

Penelope nodded.

“Penelope,” I said, speaking the moment the thought crossed my mind.  “Lola said her piece.  Are you going to say anything, or are you going to stick to the pattern of letting your elders decide things for you?”

Lola glared at me, hearing that.

“I make my own decisions,” Penelope said.

“The excuse Lola gave, that she has to do this to maintain the marriage and keep her husband-to-be in the fight, you don’t have that excuse.”

“No,” Penelope said, “But the bigger argument, it’s… I can’t go against my family, not if I’m risking making them weaker.”

“You drove Joanna to her dance lessons at the crack of dawn for a long time,” I said, recalling.  “You… I feel confident in saying you obviously care about your family.”

“Yeah,” Penelope said.

“Lola’s willing to marry a stranger because she thinks she can change things for your sake, and for all your sisters and cousins.  Why doesn’t it go the other way?  Why won’t you take a risk to save her from that marriage?”

“That’s not fair,” Penelope said, suddenly angry.

I wasn’t making many friends, doing this.

Was that a mistake?  I couldn’t imagine any way I might have phrased things that would have gotten them all on my side.

“If you feel the least bit conflicted about this,” I said, “Think about all of your cousins, about Joanna.  By coming in such small numbers, you decided to speak for them.  Are you that confident that you’re saying what they’d want you to say?”

Yes,” she replied.

It caught me off guard.  The sudden, certain answer.

It made me despair, just a little.  Because it cost me ground and leverage I might have used to ask Ainsley a similar question, to keep that conversation going.  To find an opening.

“It sucks, but yes,” she said.  “I’m not saying that our moms and aunts and grandmothers are always right, but whatever Aunt Sandra’s done, I feel like she cares, whatever she winds up doing.  You’re a stranger, and all you’re offering are words.”

“Blake,” Mags cut in.  “I’ve got to step in.  It’s not that late, but it’s getting later.  I wouldn’t be doing my job if I made these guys stay longer than was safe.  I’m sorry to say it, but… I don’t think this is going anywhere.”

I nodded.

The Behaims and Duchamps started to leave.

“Just tell me…” I spoke to their backs.  I didn’t restrain my voice and even I was a little surprised at how different it sounded.  There was a hollow quality to it.

They stopped.  Three of them turned around or partially turned to look at me.

“…Do you care?” I asked.  “About being used as cows, giving up your time to fuel the Behaim battery?  Being married off?  Seeing people you respect and care about being married off?”

“Of course we care,” Lola said.

“So,” I said, before anyone could add anything.  “If my words aren’t enough, you’re saying you want to see me act?”

I saw Craig’s hand move toward one pocket.  Penelope’s bird moved to one side, further from Penelope’s neck, more to the outside of the shoulder.

“I’m not threatening you,” I said.  “I’m genuinely asking.  You want proof I’m willing to take the risk, abandon the status quo?”

“What are you doing?” Gavin asked.

“Proving that I mean what I say.  The Thorburn status quo has most of you guys beat, I’m thinking.  It’s a death sentence, a karmic burden like you wouldn’t believe. In the more immediate present, the Thorburns are on the verge of being utterly destroyed, if they haven’t been already.  I’m obviously not fighting against much, by fighting that reality.  I have to test myself, right?  Bite the bullet, face an ugly reality?”

“What, exactly, are you doing?” Gavin asked.

“I couldn’t tell you, or someone might try to stop me,” I answered.  “I’m taking action.  Remember what I said.  I don’t give a damn about money.  I don’t care about the power, really.  I’d give it all up and go with my friends back to normalcy if I could.  When the subject comes up, and people start talking, I want you to remember that.  Spread it around.”

Apparently unnerved enough that he’d decided to act, Craig pulled a bit of thin chain out of his pocket.  I recognized it.  Blessed silver chain or something.  A one-stop measure for most kinds of Other or something of the sort.  They’d had it in the parking lot outside the police station.

“Evan!” I ordered.  “Go!  Back the way we came!”

I stepped out of the window’s reflection.  Escaping before they could get in our way.

One quick conversation and a bit of scavenging later, and we were set.

Actually taking action proved a little more difficult.  The house was barred to me, which I’d expected, but it was barred to Evan as well.  Plywood had been set up against the windows, the same boards that Ty had used to cover the front window, but on the back window and back door this time.

Many surfaces had been spray painted.

Evan flew in a wide circle around the house, carrying the small bike side-view mirror he’d ‘liberated’ from a downtown shop.  When he paused, here and there, I was able to peer through the mirror.  I couldn’t fly, meaning there was no surface to stand on when he was at a certain height and angle.

No subtle way to get in.  no way, even, to peer inside.  Either the curtains had been shut, or the window had been spray painted black.

On the plus side, there was still a car a little ways down the street, shabby and nondescriptive, and according to Evan, it smelled like gunpowder.  I’d peeked inside, and there were heavy cases throughout.  I was pretty sure it belonged to the witch hunters.

They were still here, which meant that maybe, just maybe, the others were alive.

Evan did another loop, perching on a tree that looked out on the back of the house.

“Well,” I said, “We might have to get in the house another way.”

“Another way?”

“It’s a little unusual, and not my first choice, but we might have to use the door.”

“Hah,” Evan said.  “Crazy.”

But he took off, flying to the back door.

He hopped up and down on the thumb-press handle of the back door.  It didn’t move.

“Locked,” he said.  “Lemme see…”

He relocated himself to the bulky lock above, a secure, albeit somewhat old-fashioned fixture that could have withstood a hit from a sledgehammer.  It had a slot for a key.

He used the fiddly plastic bit at the end of the mirror, sticking it at the lock, mashing it in over and over until it stuck in the lock.  Wings flapping, over about four tries, dropping the mirror twice, he rotated the mirror around, and the lock with it.

The door swung open.

Yes,” he said.

“Careful, careful,” I warned.  “Don’t move.”

Peering through the mirror, crouched on the ground in a narrow and small patch of light, I said, “Turn the mirror back around?”

He did, but in the doing, he moved it too fast.  I was shunted to the street outside.  I skipped back to my former  location.

My eyes scanned the surroundings.

The witch hunters wouldn’t want to leave anything up to chance.

I’d expected a shotgun to fire the second the door opened, in some contrived setup, or something.

What I saw was a metal box with two wires sticking out of it, resting flat against the ground.  A symbol was painted on top of it, a rune.  Probably written by a third party.

Fuck me, that was scary.  I wasn’t sure entirely what it was, but it was scary.

“Stay high,” I said.  “I think there are more wires.  Short bursts of flight.  There’s a lot of places for traps, and if they catch you-“

“I got it, I got it.”

Together, we reached the kitchen.  The toaster, I noted, had been spray painted black.

Evan ducked into the sink.

I heard footsteps, followed by hushed voices.

Evan flew out of the sink, and into the living room.

Fuck, that scared me,” Ellie said.  Her voice was a little hoarse.  “It’s just the dumb bird.”

None of the others replied.

“It’s not just the bird,” I said, as Evan set the mirror down.

I saw their heads turn, but they dismissed the idea.

“Listen to me,” I said, pushing a little harder.  “I’m here to help.”

Evan hopped down, beginning to open the handcuff locks with his talons.

“Who are you?”  Ellie asked, looking around.

“Look at the mirror,” I said.  “And listen.  We only get one shot at this.”

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147 thoughts on “Malfeasance 11.9

    1. Just the drains? Cause even without them, it seems like all the shit he’s been through would give his sanity a few shakes.

    1. “Craig said it was you who killed his dad and maimed his uncle?”

      Last I checked, Duncan was Laird’s nephew. That would make him Craig’s cousin, unless the Behaim family structure is even more complicated than it seems.

    2. nondescriptive
      nondescript

      The Behaim boy startled a little as he saw me.
      The Behaim boy started a little as he saw me.
      OR
      The Behaim boy was startled a little as he saw me.

      She was joined by the girl who was apparently called ‘Lola’, a bit older than her
      a bit older than she
      (put in the verb to see the correct form: a bit older that she was)

    3. “That’s one angry ghost,” a Duchamp said –> period

      They’re could be working on it –> ‘they’ could be

      no way, even, to peer inside. –> ‘No’ needs to be capitalized

    1. No, this actually makes sense. They’re the only asset he’s got that’s close enough to make a difference, even if they’re a shitty asset. Also, the family as karma minefield is a serious obstacle to his friends. Taking responsibility for the innocents himself frees them from that obstacle. They can then act without having to worry about getting karma-screwed.

      (of course, Blake karma-screws himself in the process, but sacrificing his own personal well-being for the sake of his friends is so in-character he should have a mechanics feat for it)

      1. Roll a D20. On a role of 20 things only get worse for Blake. On a roll of 15 to 19 things get much worse for Blake and somewhat worse for everyone else. On a roll of 2 to 14 things get much worse for everyone. On a roll of 1 curl into a ball and cry because of how bad it’s about to get.

  1. Opening the eyes of the Thorburns to the Other side…. What?! Blake’s begging for Bad Karma all over again? Wrangling them will be like herding goblins!

    1. In all honesty, does it really make a difference? Blake would somehow end up with more bad karma anyways. I’m not saying this is going to work out any way that isn’t horrible, I’m just saying no matter what Blake does it’s going to work out horrible.

  2. Someone help me understand this. Basically, he needs to prove he means what he says and to do that, rather than leaving his family to die he’s going to fight against their fate by…. inducting them?

    At least not Ellie, Blake. It ain’t worth it.

    1. I actually think that Ellie wouldn’t be the WORST choice. Not good, but she atleast has proven to be willing to shut up and do what people say when he life’s on the line. The others? Peter seems way to shifty to be trusting, Kathryn won’t listen to Blake and Roxa- HAHAHA wow fuck that.

  3. So, what? We going to see a Uriah gambit. Get some of his cousins killed? I mean, that’s the immediate implication of his words. And these chucklefucks would probably screw up any plan Blake tries to get them to do and die anyway so it might as well be intentional.

    Also, the Duchamps/Behaims not being entirely terribad meanpeople without complexity? What a shock, this is totally unprecedented! 😀

    1. What?

      You mean to say that these teenagers have, somehow, ideas and goals which do not conform to Blake’s biases and preconceived notions? That even if he’s got a point, he went about trying to prove it in the second-worst way possible? (The worst way would be to try to hold them hostage to force their families to act, or something. At least he’s not doing that)

      Shock!

  4. I’m getting a sense of Deja Vu. It’s almost as if Blake’s done this before.

    We already have a Blakeguard. The Thorburn Collective needs a name. The Thorny Forest? The Burn Squad? A Group of Utterly Awful Individuals (or AGUAI for short)? Others?

    Look at Blake, making plays!

    Is this chapter starting during Andy’s Live event section of his Gathered Pages chapter?

    Normally it’s at this point I would raise the obligatory Evan/Faerie ship, but I won’t. That would be creepy

  5. Ha, that’s fun. Suddenly a bunch of Thorburns enter the fray. This will obviously convince others to, uuh, stop fighting? Hey, maybe the work together to totally detroy them!

    Yeah, I’m not seeing the plan here. I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

    1. Its all about going against history.

      Blake is showing them that he is willing to change the way his family has been using its power for the longest time.

      1. Yeah, but they don’t really know anything about Blake, least of all that he considers himself a member of the Thorburn family. It has meaning for him but the people he’s trying to convince don’t have the required knowledge to see it as anything other than a play for power.

        I hope there’s more to this because I’m still wondering what the fuck Blake is thinking, seriously.

        1. I wonder if Blake is acting on his instincts, or not. After all he was warned not to. Too bad they didn’t explain what he is so he’d actually know why that might be a bad idea.

  6. So just wondering, how are feelings towards Laird at this point. There was previously some heavy Laird hate. Then we learned (1) He may have been trying to sacrifice himself (2) Blake’s true nature as a not human (3) Laird is (was) a very effective and competent Behaim (4) Laird learned some Diabolism and was probably had an idea of what an unclean death for Blake might entail.

    Is Laird still hated, or has seeing Other Behaims and more info cooled that down a bit.

    1. No, see, the thing is…

      I actually like Alister. He’s a jerk, but he’s open about being a jerk, and he’s young enough that that’s understandable, if not agreeable. And he has style.

      I even liked Duncan. It was just a job, to him. Family wants Blake dealt with? Done-don’t even have to kill him, hopefully. Plus some parents get fake closure. Win-win-win.

      Laird pushed way too many of my corrupt authority figure abusing his power and having fun doing it buttons.

      1. I actually liked Laird more than Duncan. In fact, I think I see them the opposite of the way you do.

        Laird, for all that he was irritating, seems to have genuinely believed in his higher purpose. I never got the impression that he actually enjoyed what he was doing; I felt that Sandra’s assessment that he was screaming inside was exactly right.

        Duncan came off, to me, as a petty thug. I don’t think it was just a job to him; my impression was that he enjoyed the chance to go all-out — comparable to, say, real-life cops who overdo things because it finally gives them a chance to use all the riot gear.

        I agree with you on Alister, though. So far, at least, he hasn’t done anything particularly wrong — yes, he’s going after the Thorburns, but they pretty much straight-out challenged him to do so, just like Blake did. And while he has obvious flaws, you get the sense that he might be capable of changing. (Even Blake seems to have had some hope of that, based on what he said in this chapter.)

      1. Actions don’t change, but interpretations and information do. It’s not wrong to change how you view an action when new info surrounding the action comes to light.

        I won’t disagree with you on this point, though. Laird was kinda a smug Jerk.

    2. He wasnt trying to sacrifice himself. He was suppose to live. Rose called Blake out for killing Laird, so I’m thinking he was part of Rose Sr.’s plan.

      I think his goal was to attach himself to someone powerful and influence them to act in a way to keep balance.

      There was a chapter about Rose Sr. and Laird’s dad, and Laird learning about demons. There had to be a reason for that alliance.

      1. Laird wanted to die. He’d arranged to give up some of his years to give to the child who had only one to live.

        He didn’t plan to die at Blake’s Han. His plan had been to allow Conquest to absorb him, and thus get a twofer – sacrifice himself and add his moderating (and Behaim-favouring) influence to Conquest.

    3. My theory is that Laird was trying to push Blake into ramping up. And then he tried to commit suicide by Blake to pass on his time. Many, many times. Seriously he was recommending ways for Blake to kill him by the end. “Okay, Blake here is how you defer Karma for killing me.”

    4. Honestly, nothing we have seen has made Laird’s actions any better for me. While I understand Blake is the scary diabolist, Laird was set on not giving him an opportunity to defend himself, he was set on antagonizing Blake.

      Laird’s actions might very well be part of the bigger plan between Aimon and Granny, but I doubt that the shitty way he acted was the only way he could have acted.

        1. Yeah, this is the main reason why I can never like Laird: So, new diabolist in town, but hold on, first male heir in the family, escaped town at first opportunity, and doesn’t give 2 shits about the family, or this podunk town he’s stuck in. So, instead of solving his problem by being a decent human being, lending Blake a sympathetic ear, helping Blake learn the ropes of the practice, and generally being the one good and decent voice in a town full of assholes, which would win Blake over to his side, and, worst case, at least put himself at the bottom of the Thorburn shit list. He dicks Blake over at every conceivable opportunity, and, deliberately, pushes him past the point where Gandhi would have been saying “Fuck it, that asshole needs to die, tonight!” in the most dickish way possible.

          At what point did the latter seem like a good idea?

          1. Probably at the point where he thought “this ‘Blake’ is some form of constructed gambit of our late-and-unlamented Roselyn’s, nothing more”. <.<

            Roselyn Thorburn was one of the few practitioners to see Others as somewhat more than walking power multipliers or outright threats. And, that was mainly down to believing that humans were, in many ways, the real bastards, thanks to getting the raw end of the dioblist label herself from being a kiddie. 😛

            She may have used Blake and other Others, but I get the impression she didn't have many other ways of interacting with anybody.

            All in all, practitioners are screwed up and very tribal in their takes on morality. Like most people, really. 😐

  7. Can an other who has had all his ties devoured by a demon, and who also hasn’t retaken a pact like the seal of solomon be made to take karmic responsibility for innocent humans he involves?

    1. That’s actually a really good question considering Others like Blake actually gain power from making an impact on Innocents.

      I would naturally assume they still would have Karmic responsibility but this requires more thought:

      Karma is based on Spirits making rulings on things and enforcing, right? Practitioners and Others who are bound by the Seal openly agree with the Spirits to comply. This gives them power but at the same time makes them more responsible, that is, they are judged harder by the spirits.

      Blake is a devourer of Spirits, turning them to his side and releasing them to do his bidding. In theory, couldn’t he completely circumvent personal Karma if he grew powerful enough?

      This requires some consideration. . .

        1. I’ve been thinking about something…. Grannie Rose was not fond of the current system and what it did. We know from Aimon’s interlude she wanted to change things. Maybe the whole thing with the heir is secondary, or even a red herring. Maybe Blake is much more important to her plans than anyone realizes.

          1. Would Grany risk using a tool that had a risk of turning and wreck her plans, if it had was guaranteed to wreck the status quo at the same time?

            Uh: given what we know of her… <..> … That’d be a “hell, yes”. 😛

    2. Yes.

      Just a few chapters previous Blake dodged around glances from the family when necessary in order to avoid exactly that. He also realized he might be taking a risk by showing himself to Ellie to scare her.

    1. Its a siege. For some reason they cant enter the room with the practitioners, and Blake’s friends cant send out other without them bouncing back. But sooner or later the door will break or they will run out of food, or make a mistake because they cant sleep.

  8. I don’t think Blake will awaken the Thorburns. It doesn’t seem practical to gather everybody and all the materials and to lead them thru the rituals. I think he’s just taking away some innocence, Raising them to the level of a Blackguard or Witch Hunter. I believe they will be used, just not as Practitioners.

    1. Yeah, but once he reveals too much, he is responsible for them.

      And once the thorburns learn about magic, how many of them will see this as an opportunity for power and influence? They will seek out the ritual.

      Paige is under Isadora, so the number of Thorburns with power is limited. How does the Karma work though? Does the heir get all the bad karma, or is it split. No doubt the thorburns will increase the debt.

      1. How does the Karma work though? Does the heir get all the bad karma, or is it split.

        I think the family Karma only applies to the Active Thorburn. Remember Granny Rose still had plenty of wiggle room to do stuff while her Mother was the current Active (in the universe’s eyes) Thorburn. She only received the crushing debt after her mother died (not sure if that last statement was ever made explicit). Also, Rose only received all the Bad Karms when she became the active Thorburn.

        1. Mmm. In Blake’s case, connections were switched around. Rose inherited Blake’s bad karma. In the case of Granny’s mum, I don’t remember how that was supposed to work. Did Rose sr. never receive bad karma?, was it all funneled to her mother?

          Regardless, by having the eyes of the Thorburns opened by a third party, I would argue that they are distanced enough from Rose so that she shouldn’t receive their bad karma.

        2. I’m not that certain it doesn’t spread around a bit: frankly, he might not be in the hot seat any more, but Blake’s luck has hardly been stellar. <.<

          And, when you look at the Thorburns as a bunch, they don't exactly scream "happy and healthy", do they? 😐 I think there is some general bleed-through to the rest of the bloodline, even if the heir gets the main hit.

          And, the more aware the individuals, the more likely that their slice of karmic pie gets bigger. 😐

          My only question is: how would spreading the manure around Jacob's Bell effect the whole place, rather than just the one major target in it? With the Bell going, too? (While keeping in mind that that thing tolling is also a Thorburn act. <.<)

      2. Ummm, the only people who can teach them said ritual in Jacob’s Bell knows better and the term ignorance is bliss is truer here than in most other cases. Providing they are able to mentally cope with the fact that the world is bigger than they know, knowing about magic doesn’t guarantee they will get it.

        And then, you know, there are people who can manipulate memories and connections. I’m pretty sure than Sandra wouldn’t let them get away with that knowledge. And then knowing about magic won’t change their karma since they can’t actively manipulate it, only practitioners can.

          1. ….and they’re going to take them how?

            Blake has no authority to give them the books and they sure as hell aren’t going to take them by force. Once they get clued-in the gloves are off, Rose or her friends can have them forcibly ejected by either the spirit of the house that sent him packing or through a number of other means and they do not know what book to get out of the library.

            And considering how they’ve been planning to screw Rose over, she’d immediately neutralize them before they could try. Them being Aware of magic is one thing, being Awakened is another.

            1. Dionysus destroyed the house protections. There’s no way to eject intruders anymore. Without Jeremy’s attack, our protagonists would never be in this predicament.

            2. He may have no authority, but if he can get a mirror in there he can use sympathetic magic to take the books he needs.

  9. Not gonna lie. I love the idea of the Thorburns teaming up and aiming their nastiness at other people for once.

    Though it is likely that they turn on each other to be the main heir. More than one would be willing to use demons.

  10. Blake used a Pokeball on Junior Council….
    …But Junior Council Escaped.

    Although I have to say getting blamed for everything that happens to the Thornburns might actually work out okay for a Boggeyman. I mean, they do in fact get power by killing innocents and making sure the innocents notice right? Now if they get killed Blake can just go “Hey, Listen! Hey, Listen! I got some people killed Universe!”

    I wonder if their are any practitioners who specialize in slipping oaths and Karma and such. Like how Mags got out of some of her Oaths or how Blake got free of all of them. And transferred responsibility for his friends to someone else.

    1. Nah, just the faeries, which sort of makes sense since “arrogant” is sort of part of the faeries package. The Heroic Spirits the Behaims had were bros; they probably recognised him as a sort of kindred spirit.

    2. “Hey, chickadee! Fellow bird!” Evan called out to Penelope’s familiar. “Come perch with me while we wait. We can trade stories about all of the places to avoid when you’re out for a flight. Like Sandra’s weasel thing, except you’re a Duchamp so you’re safe, but stuff like that! Bird tips! Wait, wing tips!”

      The chickadee looked at him. It spoke with a voice that was so high it might have sounded artificial, if the articulation wasn’t so perfect. “Do not presume that we’re equal, child.”

      Well, that much is true, they are not equal, Evan is superior and far more adorable.

    1. On the one hand, “You’re all super scared of Thorburns and their history so to change that I’m going to make more Thorburns…”

      On the other hand, now the Behaims and Duchamps can’t send the witch hunters after the other Thorburns without explicitly declaring war first, since they won’t be innocents anymore. That might mean that Eva and Andy have to either retreat, or declare that they’re going against the Council’s wishes and are attacking… which means nobody on the Council can trust Andy & Eva again? Perhaps?

    2. So the Junior Council its going against tradition. Now you will have male Throburns and more than 1 active. It will probably weaken them in the demon community too. They chose female heirs because they were the closest thing to the original.

      For the witch hunters? Who knows? Hell he might be leading them to the slaughter. Once they are ‘witches’ they are fair game to kill.

      1. Actually the Jr. Council isn’t going against tradition nearly as much as they’d like to think. The are setting down the same path as their forebearers, and gradually falling into the same rut.

    3. I think Blake might actually be trying to BYPASS the Thorburn karma minefield. My theory is that the thing where you take responsibility for the people you introduce to magic? It works both ways. The Thorburn karmic burden has nothing to do with being genetically related, but being taught the black arts by the previous Thorburns.

      And Blake’s not really a Thorburn, and I’m not talking about him not being human. His connection to the family was irreversibly severed, and his karmic slate wiped clean. If he’s the one to show these little shits that magic exists, instead of either of the Roses, will they still inherit the Thorburn karma?

      They’re complete assholes, though, so the point is kind of moot. They’ll soon generate plenty of Thorburn karma of their own, and it’s all going to trickle back to Blake. He’s completely fucked. Big surprise there.

      1. “And Blake’s not really a Thorburn, and I’m not talking about him not being human. His connection to the family was irreversibly severed…”
        Except Blake told Rose what the family was trying to do and clued her in, then she was asked how she knew and she said, “A member of the family told me.” If everyone takes the line that Blake definitely isn’t a member of the family, then Rose is going to take a power hit for lying.

        1. And even after becoming an Other, Blake has been saying things like “I am the Thorburn bogeyman!” or “I’m Blake Thorburn. I was second in line to get custody of the Thorburn household.”
          So he considers himself a Thorburn, too. That his past is fake doesn’t really change anything – after all, the fake was good enough to fool even spirits and Others.

          1. And, whatever else he’s made of… Blake has genuine Thorburn memories shoved in there. Somehow.

            Otherwise, he wouldn’t be as right as he is about people he hadn’t really met before. Like Grandma (it’s stretching it a bit to say he’s actually met her as she was well dead by the time he was fully activated), Paige, Ellie, Peter, Rose’s parents… and so on. 😐

            All that came from somewhere. And, I’d argue it’s been taken from Thorburns, even if he’s never actually been born to a Thorburn.

        2. pft. An easily defensible position, and one that earns her brownie points with Blake, too. Something sappy like “He’s been my brother and protector for as long as he’s been alive, and he’s certainly more family to me than the gang trying to get me institutionalized.”

          1. “Sure, he’s a pain in the neck, stubborn to a fault, never listens to me and I often want to strangle him when he does pause for a second. And, I’m sure he’d say the same about me. Isn’t that pretty normal for this family? At least I don’t have to check my wallet every three minutes and worry about him sending me to the nut house when he is around, though.”

        3. What Rose said was several kinds of true. He was created by Rose Sr., possibly from another family member. He has (and the rest of the world had) memories of being born to the Thorburn family. But my point was that there’s a difference between being a family member, and bearing the family karma.

          Blake was introduced to magic by Rose Sr. He did his awakening ritual in the secret Thorburn library, with instructions from the Thorburn books. He lost that in the drains, though. He’s no longer a practitioner. He also lost the karmic burden, and it’s kind of unclear whether he’s gotten it back. Faysal, at least, was really reasonable with him, but maybe that’s just Faysal’s style.

  11. This chapter and the last left me an impending trainwreck feeling.
    It’s not going to end well for anyone involved, but can’t stop looking.

    Blake will probably ruin the status quo. That’s what he does, but he will probably aim high enough to disrupt it on a very large scale when he tries.
    Even if it takes all he has.

  12. Blake’s thought process: “Well, historically, only the female head of the Thorburn family can access the Thorburn power. I want to mess with history, so let’s make all the Thorburns into practitioners”.

    More seriously, though, I doubt Blake will try awakening anyone. There is no time and it would achieve nothing. They have no power besides their blood. Being awakened also makes them fair game for all the threats they are trying to avoid, whereas being “innocent” (is that the correct term?) guarantees them some protections, like the witch hunters. I don’t know what he could gain from this. Let’s see. Blake needs to save his friends. He can have his enemies call off the attack, persuade the witch hunters to leave, overpower the witch hunters or sneak past them.

    Sneaking past the witch hunters to reach Blake’s friends would achieve nothing without a power source, weapon or escape plan.

    Maybe taking away more of the innocence of the Thorburns would be too dangerous for Andy and Eva? Or having too many witnesses would be troublesome? It might be harder to explain why all the Thorburns are suddenly dead than to explain why they were assaulted. Even though Blake would be mostly responsible for getting his family hurt, I assume the witch hunters and their bosses would be partially to blame, too.

    Or, maybe, after having taken away some of their innocence, Blake will try to gather the Junior council again and… iunno xP

    **
    “It’s a little unusual, and not my first choice, but we might have to use the door.”
    “Hah,” Evan said. “Crazy.”

    Haha! Favourite line right there.

    Favourite lines right there ❤

    He did, but in the doing, he moved it too fast. I was shunted to the street outside. I skipped back to my former location.
    I liked this piece of flavour text. I felt like pointing it out. It doesn't progress the story, it just fills up gaps in flow.

    **
    I wonder if we will see any involvement of Paige and Isadora now. I want to see how the people in Toronto are currently doing.

    1. Actually the most obvious reason for showing them the supernatural is so Blake and Evan can actually free them and give them directions in fighting back against the Witch Hunters. Blake can’t actually Awaken them at this point, but he can use them to get his friends out of the current predicament. Well he can try, at least.
      If Blake doesn’t clue them in enough they’ll ignore that annoying bird or even actively try to hurt it while it’s pecking at their hands for no reason. If they know and believe the bird can help, they’ll allow it to actually free them.

      All the other considerations are important too, but don’t come into play at this point. Blake has a tendency to ignore most future implications of his actions if they get him what he needs in the short term.

      1. I don’t think Blake will have his beat-up family attack the scary group of trained mercenaries armed to their teeth (and private parts) with all kinds of knives, explosives and maybe a handful of magic artifacts. Yes, surely Blake will have his family do something about them, but it must be something subtler than a physical attack.

    2. The impression I am getting from this is more a “deal with the devil” kind, with Blake the metaphorical devil.
      “…Do you care?” *
      *“Of course we care,”

      “If my words aren’t enough, you’re saying you want to see me act?” [insert moment of deep silence before dramatic foreshadowing music starts to play]
      “I’m genuinely asking. You want proof I’m willing to take the risk, abandon the status quo?” [Rhetorical question is rhetoric]

      Ok, if Blake had gone for the Solomon deal, he would now not be able to influence Ellie withour violating the Seal.
      BUT he could have phrased an awesome Oath:
      “I hereby swear that I will do anything I can to change the status quo, to free you and myself from the grip of history.” or something. I am not really creative right now…

  13. What the hell was Blake trying to do with the Junior Council?

    “This had been a hail Mary, a plea for sanity amid madness, from people who’d generally been a lot more sane than their elders.”

    I disagree in the strongest possible terms. Except for “saner than Duncan”, I guess. Oh, and saner than Jeremy’s “let’s tell Conquest about the diabolist” thing. But in its own way, the Junior Council proved to be more horrible than the Thorburn youths, and certainly not saner than e.g. Sandra.

    Among the things they did: Attacking Blake while he was just out and about, and nearly getting one of their familiars killed; constantly complaining when Blake retaliated (e.g. Ainsley’s wrists) – at least the adults were better than that; again, Ainsley (?) nearly getting herself killed while binding Blake; and so on. Oh, and remember the wholly unjustified hostility they showed Maggie? They treated her like a murderer while everyone knew they’d set her up… and yet had no compunctions about killing Blake; and one of them even voted for Maggie’s execution. And there was the insane truce with the goblins.
    As I wrote before, the Jacob’s Bell practitioners might as well have been aliens at this point.

    Also, even if the Junior Council don’t remember him, it makes no sense whatsoever that they react better to Blake, murderer of Laird, than to Maggie, who was set up to kill Molly. What the hell?

    And except for the things with Maggie, Blake knew all this. How did he get the idea that the Junior Council was better than the elders?

    1. Karma could play a role in this. The universe favors bond villains, remember – Maggie no doubt got some bad karma for killing Molly, not laird. Assuming you get bad karma for killing a thorburn heir, anyway… And while Blake killed Laird, the bad karma he got for that would have been transferred to Rose.

      1. I agree karma may play a role, but it’s not an explanation by itself. Karma might negatively affect your instinctive reactions towards a murderer, but knowing about this effect should be enough to mostly compensate for it! At least in the case of humans; it may be different for Others like Blake.

        Knowing that your families set up Maggie to become a murderer while simultaneously acting as self-righteous as they did – that’s not justifiable by saying “karma”.
        Same with the complaints about Blake’s retaliation. I mean, what the hell?

        1. I don’t know how to account for their attitude towards Mags. But for Blake the answer is simple. Frustration. As in “Why won’t these horrible Thorburn shitbags just go away?”

          Honestly, from what we’ve seen of both diabolists and Thorburns. I have no problem whatsoever with the towns attitude towards them. I’m inclined to agree that the only good diabolist is a dead one

          The only problem is that they’re doing it to characters we care about. If it was Ellie, we’d see no complains about the Behaims and Duchamps spitting in her face on the street.

          1. We’ve been told that diabolists are horrible, and we’ve seen horrible demons, but we haven’t been given any indication of what was so horrible about the Thorburn diabolists. More importantly, none of the townspeople have made that case.

            They’ve never given sufficient justification for trying to kill the Thorburns, rather than containing the threat of diabolism by cooperating with Rose Senior’s heirs.
            Now maybe those attempts would have backfired, but so did all their actual plans, despite the Thorburn karma: Molly’s wraith is currently taking revenge on Jacob’s Bell; Laird got himself killed; Duncan is possibly foresworn and IIRC also divorced; etc.

            And the unawakened Thorburns are horrible people, but mostly to each other. Horrible enough that some should be put in jail, but not enough to deserve to die.

            1. This is what we (or I) call a loaded chamber. The truth behind what Rose did is probably forthcoming at some point, and it’s not going to be pretty. We’ve already seen hints at how much of a monster she was, using her grandchildren as sacrificial pawns, using the baby Charles Thorburn as bait for demon, and said Charles Thorburn never appearing in the story again.etc. And we have no reason to believe that the other families are unaware of it, just Blake and Rose are.

              Besides, whether the Thorburns are dangerous or evil enough to be destroyed doesn’t matter, from what we’ve seen of the mere mote that Pauz was even a dabbling diabolist is a threat to everything around them, and the Thorburn house is a ticking time bomb that any idiot demon summoner can set off. This is 40K rules here.

              Honestly, the other families are a bunch of screwups in dealing with it, but the thing that damns the other families the most is that they we’re too busy doing Realpolitik in the past generations that they allowed the Thorburns to gain a foothold in the first place.

            2. My expectations are rather different. Rose Senior had a trivial way out – accepting the lawyer deal – and didn’t take it. That basically guarantees that she isn’t a monster.

              What we know about her sounds more like “heroic sacrifice” to me, actually:

              “You want me to work for you? Did my grandmother take the deal?” I asked.
              “Madam Thorburn didn’t, bless her,” the older man said. He smiled, as if he was acknowledging how odd it was for him to say that. “She took a harder road.” (2.04)

              She’d done it for a good reason. She’d done it well.
              She had embraced diabolism as a way to _protect_ others. (6.X)

  14. Comments:

    1. Damn me, damn them, damn it all.” – This repeats the very first line of the story. Rule of Three says things won’t be pretty when it comes up for a third time. Maybe he’ll fully turn into a demon then?

    2. I really wish Blake had tried to sabotage the witch hunter car. He’s normally all for balancing the scales, and vandalizing the car would have been perfect after Andy & Eva vandalized the house. More generally, I want to see retaliation against the aggressors at this point. It’s even good karma!

    3. Just what are the witch hunters doing? Are they trying to close off Hillsglade House so Barbatorem rebounds after his escape, or something?

    4. “I remained mute, frustrated and angry. My body wanted to act, to do something reckless. I stayed where I was.” – That made me hopeful for just a moment that Blake wouldn’t act on his insane instincts for once. And then, my hopes were dashed again…

    5. Nooooo, you don’t want to involve the insane Thorburns in the practitioner world. Isn’t that bound to ruin everything? I mean, the karma hit doesn’t really matter at this point, it’s not like anything has been going right before that, but still: Just what are you trying to achieve, Blake?

    1. Re: 3
      Their longer-term goals are unclear. Their short-term goals seem to be to incapacitate people in the house. Perhaps they are turning the residents into staked-down goats, so when the big bad is let lose it spends its first actions destroying the people in the house. If Andy and Eva don’t want to breach the door and assault the Blake(Rose)guard directly, they could wire explosives or practitioner nastiness to the door and then wait. The Blakeguard has to come out sometime.

      Re: 4 & 5
      I don’t know what the ~!@#$%^&*()_+ Blake is trying to achieve either. But he is running up against a fundamental force – Thorburn self-interest. Unless what he is proposing is clearly advantageous to the freed Thorburns, they will accept being freed and then ignore whatever he proposes. He might not even be able to turn them against Andy and Eva because they might see flight as being better than messing with the psycho vigilantes.

      1. he is running up against a fundamental force – Thorburn self-interest. Unless what he is proposing is clearly advantageous to the freed Thorburns, they will accept being freed and then ignore whatever he proposes

        It’ll be interesting to see how much Blake can even communicate with them. I imagine the first hurdle is convincing them that he isn’t just a fever dream.

      2. Even flight would be a pretty good plan. If they are free they can call the police. Even with Laird their was only so much they could head off when a 911 call came through.

        An added benefit might be with all the fighting the police get their innocence popped and Sandra et all become responsible for the police.

    2. As for number 3, probably not. Containing demons is difficult at the best of times, and the “best of times” implies that it’s being done by an experienced diabolist who’s had a chance to study the demon beforehand. Nonpractitioners trying to deal with a demon they know virtually nothing about would be a whole new level of hopeless.

      If you jump off a cliff, hoping to figure out flying before you reach the bottom, you’re still relatively safe in that the ground can only kill you once.

  15. So maybe I missed something, but Blake will not lose any power if he lies at this point, correct? And why does Evan make a comment about telling the truth as though he is also obligated to do so? Shouldn’t both of them, as well as most Others, be able to lie at will?

    1. Evan said he thinks he took on that seal of Solomon. It would make sense that Rose et al would strongly suggest, if not force, Evan to take on that seal. Rose is paranoid enough that she wouldn’t trust a flying bird ghost who’s just following them all around and isn’t apparently really attached to anything, and can lie with impunity.

    2. Evan isn’t sure whether he took on the seal, and Blake says he’ll explain later. I think that means the familiar ritual includes the seal.

      From 5.03:
      “I, Evan, agree… to… be… bound… by… the…”
      “Strictures,” Rose said.
      “Strictures…”

      Besides, it makes sense – just like practitioners become more Other as they practice, familiars become mortal for a time, i.e. more like practitioners.

  16. i would love, love, LOVE to see the thorburn family finding out about the council getting their children hurt and directing all of their outrage to the rest of jacob’s bell.

    i would love to see the entire thurburn family actually working as an unit, because the thing is THEY CAN, they did, they did the whole legal action against rose so they can actually work together if the hate a third party enough, and im sure that if they see what happened to the kids there is some hope to see the entire throburn family getting together.

    a man can dream

      1. im sure some of the thornurns care about their kids, even if it is in the “!they are my ticket to the inheritance” kind of way.

        or even in the way of pride, “nobody touches my family like we dont mean shit”

        1. Well, seeing the adult Thorburns being stomped flat by Behaims and Duchamps would be entertaining, because these people really, really don’t mean shit.

          Let’s just hope that they get rid of them once and for all before they do anything stupid with demons.

  17. Here is a thought~

    Andy and Eva have done their best to destroy protections set up by Blake’s friends. It means that, if Andy and Eva stay the night, they will probably have to face a full onslaught of Others.

    1. And then we see the Witch Hunters, the Thorburns, Blake and the Blakeguard together fighting the horrifying monsters of the night.
      Which would be funny and scary at the same time.

  18. Maybe Blake isn’t here to be another Suleiman Bin Daoud… maybe he is here to break the system that Suleiman Bin Daoud put in place. He has complained several times about how the system was screwing him and now he is deliberately working against local tradition.

    On a tangential note, he is not bound by that system, so is karma a real affect for him right now? I understand the local spirits can affect (and infect) him, but will his actions affect his karma (does he even have any?) or Rose’s?

    In any case, showing the Thorburns the supernatural side of things is going to be a gigantic clusterf*** for many people. The question is who it will hurt worse. Note that I am not even asking who it will benefit most, as I don’t see a serious benefit to this.

  19. Thanks wildbow for the confirmation of that toaster thing.

    I kinda get how rose felt for the entire first half of this series. I REALLY wish I knew what in the actual hell Blake is thinking/planning. He said he was trying to use his head, and was warned not to use his instincts but… I have no idea what he’s planning and if he honestly doesn’t know that the bell is messing with his sanity to the point of trying a really really dumb argument against brainwashed kids who “drank the cool-aid” a looooooong time ago. I mean, he didn’t even have a good speech. I’m not convinced, and I agree with the f*cker!
    Plus he totally could have made the same deal with Brair Girl and that would’ve worked, but he kinda flubbed on that too, and he is so not an idiot.

    I really want to know more about Suleman and the seal of Solomon, and how one not bound by it can deal with those who are. Oh, and how the hell he even set up that seal in the first place.

    I mean, clearly there was a way to practice before the seal came about, and the awakening ritual, otherwise no human would have that much power to make a deal with old powers.
    Once Blake learns how he did it, could he do something similar?

    I mean, he’s already commanding spirits to do his bidding, and he isn’t even a practitioner anymore. So he’s on the right track? .

    1. Concerning the seal of Solomon, reread Rose’s explanation in 1.07. Essentially, practitioners (and the awakening ritual, presumably) existed before the seal, and Suleiman just bound one Other after another with certain rules (i.e. the Seal) and used these Others to bind even more.

      As for how he did it: Suleiman was considered a “Sorcerer king”, while Johannes is a Sorcerer aspiring to be Lord, so Suleiman was probably at least another 2-3 levels above the freakishly strong Johannes…

      1. He probably had a god backing him, and he could make demons his bitches, if the testament of Solomon is applicable for the Pactverse. Suleiman was definitly one of the strongest practicioners ever.

  20. Well, I guess it would be out of character by now to actually expect rational decision making from Blake..

    I think it’s about time Wildbow gave us another hint what Blake is.

    1. I’d rather say the problem is that we have too many hints. Blake is a wraith-vestige-bogeyman-XYZ, “eerily in tune with the world” (like his attitude towards karma, balancing the scales, etc), who transformed in the Drains, and yet also has lots of similarities with Barbatorem.

      The problem is how to combine all these hints into a result that makes sense. “Demonspawn that cares about karma” or “incarnation of persistence/karma/whatever”, for instance, don’t seem to fit with what we know about demons; and the idea of Barbatorem creating a “fallen angel”, while promising, seems to go counter to everything Rose Sr. was trying to do vis-à-vis the Thorburn karma.

  21. So when is Pauz gonna make a resurgence? I remember the vision Blake had a while ago of Rose at the head of an army of others, with Pauz on her shoulder. Will he end up her familiar, I wonder? So many questions!

    1. Blake’s nightmare (from 6.09) also featured Ur escaping from his eye, and the faerie locket he’d lost for a while. I figured that it may have been as much prophetic (foreshadowing that Blake was the vestige) as simply indicative of his instincts, e.g. his fear of both Rose and Ur. Barely one chapter later, Isadora mentioned this: “It may be that you two already sense it on an instinctual level, that there is only place for one of you in the world.”

      In any case, Pauz would make a horrible familiar. Not only did he sabotage the relationship between Blake & Rose (making Rose powerless for a time, and strengthening Blake at her expense), but more generally, he’s capable of “reversing the natural order”, and the logical outcome of reversing the normal familiar relationship is Briar Girl, or one of the disasters from the early Gathered Pages chapter on familiars. In other words, Pauz would be the master, Rose the servant.

    2. Pauz getting his hooks into Rose is pretty much an Exterminatus justifying event IMO. And he’s just a fucking mote, imagine if she was crazy enough to bring in an even worse demon.

    3. I interpreted that dream as “things to avoid”. Of course, he is already consistently doing one of the things to avoid (wielding the Hyena), but in the dream it was permanently attached to his hand and that is not the case in current usage, e.g. his showdown with Alister where he sent it to the real world and flung it around.

      1. Well, that “permanently attached” is more likely to become true now. He keeps using it by jabbing the spikes into what’s left his hand so that he can’t drop it and with the uncontrollable branch growing going on, I’d be willing to bet that the next time he gets stressed while holding it, the branches will grow around the Hyena handle and he won’t be able to set it down without breaking bits off of himself. He’ll be in trouble and won’t want to hurt himself more and will make the decision to worry about it later… and before he deals with it later the branches will grow more and it’ll be permanently bonded to where his hand used to be.

  22. I’m really curious about what all comes with the Seal of Solomon. Is Blake avoiding it on principle, or is there actually something there to worry about?

  23. So…Blake just want to break shit into the ground until reconstruction becomes possible?Shitting on the chessboard,so to speak,until the ippoment agrees to play checkers?

    If so,this is a good plan.If not…it might still be a good plan,but I cannot see how.

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