Malfeasance 11.10

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This goes against every instinct I have, I thought.

But what good was my argument, if I told the members of other families to take a different path, to step away from the status quo, if I didn’t do the same?

Roxanne, Callan, and Kathryn were pretty beaten up.  One of Kathryn’s eyes was so swollen she couldn’t open it.  Callan wasn’t moving at all, even in response to the voice.

Roxanne looked like she’d taken it hardest, which she had.  I could hear her hoarse breathing from a few feet away, and her right hand and wrist were black and purple with bruises, her upper lip was crusted with blood, and her ear was swollen enough to look like it belonged in a cartoon, puffy and overlarge.  She was more lively than Callan, though.

Ellie, Peter, and Christoff, by contrast, looked mostly okay.  Peter was slow to move, and had dark circles under his eyes that hadn’t been there an hour ago.  Christoff looked spooked.

Evan continued to pick the locks, one after the other.  I wished I could see more.  The footsteps I’d heard earlier suggested the witch hunters were upstairs, but there were no guarantees.

I strained my ears, to hear if there was trouble incoming.

“…I have a concussion,” Kathryn said, setting her head down on the hard ground.  “I’m hearing things.”

“You’re not imagining this,” I said.  “Which of you can move?”

“Who are you?” Ellie asked.

“If I had to come up with something serviceable,” I said, “I’d say I’m your cousin that was never born.”

“My head,” Kathryn groaned.

“Fuck this shit,” Ellie muttered.  I saw her move toward the hallway.

Careful!” I spoke.  In trying to convey intensity without actually screaming at her, I found my voice in a weird middle ground that I probably wouldn’t have reached if I were human.  Hollow, broken.

It served to stop Ellie in her tracks, though.

“What?” she asked.

“They rigged traps at the doors,” I said.  “Probably in other places.”

“I know,” she replied, her voice a whisper.  “I heard them, I saw the stuff.  I was looking to see if they’re around.  Which they aren’t.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Do not go running off.  Things are volatile, and not just in the bomb sense.  They have other tricks.”

“Like the flashbang,” Kathryn said, not lifting her head off the ground.  “Why am I talking to the voice in the bike mirror?”

“Bike mirror?” Ellie asked.  “I figured it was a small camera and microphone with a bit of video.  Shitty resolution.”

The sound of voices from upstairs made everyone stiffen.  Eva and Andy.

“Focus,” I said.  “Who’s capable of moving?”

“I am,” Ellie said.

Christoff nodded, “Me.”

“I can,” Roxanne mumbled.  She sounded like her mouth was full.  Her jaw was probably swelling.

Peter nodded, too, but he didn’t speak.  He was staring intently at me.

That made me nervous.

“Kathryn?”

“I feel dizzy.”

“Short distance?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Evan, hiding places?”

“Um.”

Ellie raised a hand.  “Sh.”

Footsteps.

“Cuffs back on,” I said, “Resume position.”

Peter was quick to obey.  Kathryn, however, resisted, starting to rise, then tilted and stopped.  The two kids were frozen.

“Shit,” Ellie whispered, but she hurried to the radiator, following her brother’s lead.

The kids obeyed, leaving only Kathryn.

She glanced down at me, then collapsed heavily onto her side.  She reached for the handcuff that was still partially attached to the radiator and missed it by a foot.

Ellie helped cuff her.

“The mirror,” I said.

Evan flew down, grabbed the mirror, then flew to the kitchen.  As the space between kitchen and the living room was fairly open, we had a good view.  Evan squeezed back into the space between the spray painted toaster and the row of tattered cookbooks, holding the mirror in one foot.

Ten seconds passed, and Eva passed by the cuffed Thorburns, heading to the front door.

“Hey,” Ellie called out.

Don’t be stupid, I thought.

“Please let me go?” Ellie asked, her voice a little rough, “Please?  My throat hurts.”

Eva stepped into the room.

“Please,” my cousin pleaded.  “I don’t care about these assholes.  Just please let me go?”

The witch hunter kicked her, hard, in the side.

“Please!” Ellie said, louder.

Eva kicked her again.

“I’m not a part of this!”

Another kick, sharp.  Roxanne shied back from Ellie and the kicking foot, wincing even though she wasn’t the one hit.

Eva spoke, “There’s a pattern here.  I’ll explain: you speak, you get kicked.”

Ellie shut her mouth.  She didn’t speak again.

The witch hunter used her toe to nudge each individual set of hand cuffs, shoving hands and feet around until the chains went taut.  Roxanne made a small noise when her badly bruised hand was moved.

“Be quiet,” Eva said.  “You don’t know when I’m coming back.  You’re not my concern here, you’re just in the way.  Stay put, be quiet, and you’ll never have to see or hear from us again.  Make yourself a concern, and we’ll remove you as a concern.”

She waited a moment, then strode out of the room.

“Fuck you,” Ellie said, and her voice was a complete change of tone from before.

She’d baited the kicks.  For some reason.

I didn’t presume to know how her warped mind operated.

Evan relocated us to our old position, against the wall, right of the radiator.  He nudged the mirror until he was sure it wouldn’t fall over.

“Good job, Evan,” I whispered.

“Of course,” he said, feigning arrogance.

“Who’s Evan?” Ellie asked.  She couldn’t hear him.  “Who names a fucking bird Evan?  So lame.”

“You’re lame!”

I ignored her, speaking calmly, my voice almost but not quite a whisper, “We need a good hiding spot for the others, or the witch hunters might take someone as a hostage.”

“Let them,” she said.  “I don’t give a shit about Kathy or Callan.”

“Fuck you,” Kathryn said

I refused to get caught up in the debate.  I hated this.  The stupidity.  I remembered it being a large part of my frustration, part of the reason I’d fled.

Rather than make ourselves collectively better, the family had a way of dragging the successful down.

I could remember thinking how I’d never be the person I wanted to be, so long as I stuck around.

“Check the bench underneath the front window,” I said.  “There’s a sort of hidden lid.”

Kathryn gave Roxanne a light push, and Roxanne moved to obey.

“Oh yeah!”  Evan said, taking flight.  He startled Roxanne, who froze in place.

“Carefully!” I told Evan, now that Roxanne had stopped.

Evan landed on the lid.  Where the front window jutted out a little, two windows set at diagonals, the middle window facing straight out, the window was built in a way that someone could sit inside it.  The resulting bench, also a lid, had cushions sitting on it.  Broken glass, too.

“Um, there’s something on the two windows,” Evan said, extending one wing, then the other.  Pointing.

“Get back,” I told him.  “Those would be explosives.  Unlock the cuffs again.”

Evan flew back to the others and began freeing them.

“That’s one smart bird,” Roxanne mumbled, peering over with one eye open, the other shut.  “It won’t peck us?”

“Not if you’re good,” Evan said.

“No,” I said, “he won’t bite.  If you’re good.”

“This doesn’t make sense,” Ellie said.  “Birds aren’t like that, and if you’re not using a camera-”

“Ellie,” Kathryn whispered, checking Callan’s pulse.  “Shut up.  You’re smarter than that.  Look at what Peter’s doing.  Copy him.”

“Peter?  He’s not doing anything.  He’s just sitting there.”

Emulate him,” Kathryn hissed, with an intensity that made me suspect she’d practiced it on a daily or weekly basis for a long time.  “Shut the fuck up and sit still.  Figure it out without asking stupid questions.  Our concern is those two kids who just thrashed us and started talking about bombs.”

Ellie glanced at Peter, who shrugged.

She scowled, but she didn’t say anything further.

“Getting you guys out of the house would be a start,” I said, “But it won’t fix anything.  They know who you are, you’re their mission.  If you leave the house and somehow avoid the traps they rigged at each door, they’ll probably come after you to remove the witnesses.  If you leave town, they’ll come after you, or they’ll reach out to someone else who’ll come after you.”

I watched their expressions, saw Ellie’s furtive glances to the hallway, and then to the kitchen, the direction of the back door.

“You don’t know me, but I know you,” I said.  “More than you might suspect.  I know, Ellie, that you’re wanting to slip away.  That you test limits, try to claim what you think you deserve, until it all goes wrong, and then you run.  I know, Peter, that your automatic assumption is that you’ll get away with it, whatever it is, and so far you’ve been damn lucky, and part of that is that you’re way smarter than most people think.”

Ellie glanced at Peter, who remained impassive.

How was he processing this?  I’d once likened Ty’s art to the sort of musician that picked up every instrument for a while, gaining a general knowledge, rather than specializing in any one thing.  Peter could be said to be the same, but with an emphasis on people.  He got how people worked, he found weaknesses, he preyed on them, and he coasted through life.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if I learned one day that he’d conned an old woman out of her retirement savings, or started a shady company, collected the money and disappeared.

But how did someone who understood people process a situation where he was missing a huge chunk of the puzzle?

He spooked me most of all, because I wasn’t sure how he’d act or react in the midst of whatever happened next.

“Kathryn,” I said.  “You’re a tyrant.  I wasn’t there, but I suspect you got to where you are by relentlessly applying pressure to everyone who got in your way or threatened to get in your way, crushing them under your heel.  Roxanne, I don’t think a lot of people outside the family truly get what you’re capable of.”

“Do you?” Roxanne asked.  Her one open eye was bloodshot.

“More than most,” I said.  “Listen, I’m not going to appeal to teamwork, or to your inner goodness, and I’m not going to try to be your friend.  I’m just going to say this.  If they win, if they get what they want?  You’ll never get your chance to sell the house and get the money you’ve been expecting for most of your lives.  You’ll probably die.”

None of them responded.

“I’ll get trouble for introducing myself to you,” I said.  “I know you aren’t the types to thank me for any of this.  But you were raised to be horrible people, and I was too, in a small way.  Right here, right now, you need to be your own particular sort of horrible to them.  If you’re willing to work together to do it, all the better.”

Still no responses.

Kathryn was woozy, and Ellie had been told to shut up, and was complying.  Roxanne, it seemed, wasn’t going to speak before anyone else did.  The brat, much as I’d suggested, was the sort to stay quiet and hang back until she saw an opportunity.  Taking the lead ran contrary to that.

Damn it.  They couldn’t even shut up and listen without being problematic.

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall,” Peter murmured.  “Who’s the fairest of them all?”

“He has mild hypothermia,” Kathryn said.  She reached for his hand.

He pulled it back.

“…A fever, probably, I’d know if he let me check his temperature,” she added.  “He’s not making any sense.”

“You’re a wizard, Pete,” he said.  “How does the line go?”

“Great,” Ellie said.  “It’s up to me and the kids.”

“Blue pill, red pill?  Tumbling, tumbling, down the rabbit hole, except instead of a grinning cat, it’s kids from film Tarantino,” Peter spoke, drawing out the ‘o’ of ‘hole’ and ‘Tarantino’.

His vision didn’t waver in the slightest, his eyes fixed on me.  His voice wasn’t slurred.

He knew.  He knew about the diagrams on the floor, he’d connected dots and pieced things together enough to know in generalities.

I spoke, ignoring him, “If you’re wanting-”

More voices from upstairs.  A sharp crack.

We fell silent, ears peeled.

I resumed speaking, a little faster, “-to do your own thing, go with Evan.  Let the bird point you to possible traps.  Downstairs should be safe, though I wouldn’t trust the window.  There’s a cellar, and tools.  Breaker box should be down there too.  Upstairs, it’s a gamble.  You might run into them.”

“And they’re armed,” Ellie said.  “Yeah, no.  Hiding in the cellar sounds good.”

“If you hide, they’ll probably find you,” I said.

“If I hide, I have a chance to find them first, while they’re looking for me,” Ellie said.  “Safest, smartest plan, far as I’m concerned.”

“Safest, smartest plan,” Peter said, looking up at his sister, sounding eerily lucid compared to his momentary wackiness a bit ago, “Would be to repurpose a bomb.  It’s not the movies, you can probably pull out wires until it stops working.”

“You want to fuck with a bomb?” Kathryn asked.  “Fuck me, and fuck you.”

“Ellie,” he said, extending a hand up to his sister, who was standing.

She didn’t take his hand.

“Help?” he asked, hand still extended.

“Not if you’re tampering with bombs,” she said.

“I’m looking,” he said, struggling to his feet without any help, using the arm of the couch.  He looked a little weak.

“Careful,” I said.

He wobbled, then looked down at me, before offering me a wan smile.  His eyes were sharp, pupils dilated to points.  He was focused.

Reminded me of me, a little, back when I’d been human and bled out.

He was suitably cautious as he found and peered at the bombs Evan had pointed out, his hands in his pockets as he very carefully maneuvered his head around.

“Damn,” he said.  “Nevermind.  Shit.”

“What?” Ellie asked.

“Not touching this shit.  There’s a fucking level on the top, with wires in both sides.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how this works.  Too big a bump or tilt it, and boom.  Shit.  Would’ve been nice to move something to the staircase, bait them down…”

“Whatever,” Ellie said.  I’m sticking with my plan.”

She sprung to her feet, peeling off her shoes, and kicked then under the sofa.  She glanced up and down the hallway, at the staircase leading upstairs.  “Where’s the basement?”

“Cellar,” I said.  “Door beside the hall closet.”

She disappeared around the corner, nearly silent.

She reappeared.  “Tripwire, top of the stairs.  Just so you know.  Almost got me.”

Then she disappeared again.

There was a moment’s pause.

“Who are those kids?” Kathryn asked.  “Bombs?  Tripwires?  They’re good.”

“Hit men,” Roxanne mumbled, her head hanging as she shuffled around to a sitting position, one eye on the hallway.  “I think I want to be them.  Then I want to find them, and pay them back.”

“Focus,” I said.  “We don’t have time.”

“I’m not hiding beneath those bombs,” Kathryn said.  “Can’t leave through the door, right?”

“Claymore or something at the back door.  I suspect there’s something at the front,” I explained.

“Can we detonate it on purpose, from a distance?” Peter asked.  “It’d bring the locals running.”

“I’m not so sure,” I said.

He smiled a little, a knowing smile.

“You’re the boss,” he said.

I looked around.

Callan, Kathryn, Peter, Roxanne, and mute Christoff.

“Move Callan, help Kathryn to a hiding spot.  If you or the kids can figure out places to lay traps while you’re at it, great.”

“And you?” Peter asked, arching an eybrow.

There wasn’t anything I could say without cluing him in further.

A part of me felt like Kathryn, Ellie and the kids were at the point where they could maybe explain away what had happened to date.  Kathryn was sharper, but maybe less willing to let go of her grip on the real world.  Ellie wasn’t as sharp, not in this respect.  The kids were kids.

But Peter…

Fuck.

“There’s a reason they spray painted and broke the mirrors and pictures in the house,” I said.  “If you can find anything that’s been put on the ground or covered, prop it up, that helps.”

“Uh huh.  Just like the movies?  The eyes in the pictures move to follow you.  The house is rigged,” he said, smiling.

“You’re on the right track, ish,” I said.

“I don’t follow,” Kathryn said, quiet, “But moving sounds like a great idea.”

They decided on the simplest plan, in the end.  Callan and Kathryn were the biggest liabilities.  Peter and the two kids helped support Kathryn to the front hallway, helping her to the stairs.  Peter backed off, presumably letting Kathryn use the railing while the two younger children helped.

Just an unconscious Callan and Peter, now.

“So?” Peter asked me.

“So what?” I asked, in response.

He moved the couch cushions, then moved the coffee table back.  “So… how does this work?  What are the rules?”

“The less you know, the better,” I said.

“For who?” he asked.  “Way I see it, the more I know, the more I can help.  It’s not just the windows and mirrors here.  At the cafe, when that girl with the scarf picked a fight with Ellie?  That was odd, and I didn’t get the feeling it had anything to do with the people who goaded us to come here.  You wanted a look at the contract, somehow.  It’s how Rose knew we’d be coming for her.”

“Not quite right,” I said.

“But I’m close?” he whispered.

He leaned over Callan, and slapped Callan, hard.  He flicked one finger at Callan’s closed eyelid.

Callan moaned, but didn’t wake up.

“You’re close,” I said.  “What are you doing?”

“Hiding Callan,” he said.  He reached into the couch and unfolded a cot that was built into the bottom portion.  “I’m a little too weak to pull it off myself.”

He picked up the poker Callan had dropped and sat down on the edge of the bed.  “That bird isn’t an ordinary bird.  It’s not a trained bird.  And I have a really hard time believing a guy who would somehow get his hands on a lockpicking, bomb-detecting bird would call it something as dumb as Evan.

“Evan is the best name.”

“That’s not important,” I said.

“Which brings me…” he trailed off, half-rising to his feet, tense.  Footsteps.

Roxanne and Christoff.

“Lift him,” Peter said, grabbing one of Callan’s arms.

Roxanne had only one hand available, leaving Christoff to deal with the bulk of the weight.  They raised Callan up until he was half-sitting, half-lying on the bad.  Springs as old as I was creaked and popped with the sudden weight.

We all went still.

Whatever the witch hunters were doing upstairs, they didn’t hear.  Chances were good they were on the third floor.

Peter dragged Callan’s feet around until Callan was lying down, head by one of the arms of the couch, feet by the other.  Arranging Callan’s arms and legs so he fit on the mattress without anything dangling, he folded the couch back up, with Callan inside.  Metal and springs protested loudly.

“Cal won’t be able to breathe,” Christoff spoke.

“As fun as rolling him down the stairs to the cellar would be,” Peter said, “It would be loud.  And leaving him in the open gets him cut or shot.”

Christoff didn’t look happy.

Peter looked my way.  “The bird isn’t important.  What is?  I asked you what the rules were, here.  What can you share?”

Peter was a people person.  I thought about that.

“Andy is the trap and bomb guy.”

“Noticed.”

“Eva the fighter.  They’re working for the people who run things behind the scenes.  Eva’s a little bit crazy, a loose cannon.  Andy reels her in.”

“The bitch,” Roxanne muttered.  “I need a better knife.”

She held up the letter opener.  It looked old fashioned.  Pretty clearly one of grandmother’s things.  Probably snatched from a nearby surface.

I thought of Ellie’s bag.

No, too awkward to get, especially when I didn’t have access to upstairs.

“If-” I started.  I paused, frowning, thinking in more depth.

“Think fast,” Peter said.

“I need access to the rest of the house.  The others are in, kind of a makeshift panic room.  If Andy and Eva are still up there, that means they probably don’t have access.  They’re upping the pressure, or guarding things.  In maybe about an hour, things get really ugly.”

Peter nodded slowly.  Roxanne, still keeping one eye closed, frowned, but she looked at Peter and decided to take his lead.

“Ugly in the sense of…” Peter started.

“If I don’t have access to my friends upstairs, it’s probably over,” I said.  “That’s all those two are doing up there.  Just before the clock hits five or so, they’ll probably pack up and leave.  Because those two pale in comparison to what’s coming.”

“The machete wielder who stomps on a twelve year old and the kid with the bombs are pale?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’ll take your word for it.  We have a time limit then?”

“Yes.”

Peter approached me.  Evan ruffled his feathers and opened his beak, but Peter ignored him, picking up the mirror.

“Careful,” I said.

“You’re not heavy.  I’m not going to drop it.”

“I’m not that worried about you breaking it.  Point it at the ground more than the ceiling, and hold it steady.”

He did.

“Roxanne, Christoff, go look for picture frames and mirrors.  Stay on the ground floor, be ready to run or hide.  Move slowly and carefully.”

“Evan,” I said, “go with.”

The other three left, nearly silent.  I could see how Roxanne held her one arm off to one side, trying not to swing it around.

“You’re really not going to share the real dirt?” Peter asked.  “Because you, right here, not technology.  If you could somehow bestow some of that on me?  It’d help.”

He smiled wide.  It was more genuine emotion than I’d seen from him… ever.

“It’s not technology,” I said.  “I can’t give you it.  Those guys up there?  They’re witch hunters.  You’re almost stronger against them like you are, than with anything I could bestow.”

He nodded slowly.  “Right now, I’m thinking I could run.  I could probably defuse the bomb on the plywood, even if I couldn’t re-arm it.  I’ve got this poker.  If there was a commotion, I could probably get the nails out, slip outside.”

“They’d be able to find you,” I said.

“Maybe.”

“They have ways,” I said.

Maybe,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter.  All I need from you is a promise.  Because I feel like this is what I’ve been waiting for for half my life.”

I bit my lip, looking away.

Further away, I saw a patch of light open up.

“Lie to me,” he said.  “Tell me you’ll do it, break the promise later.”

“Why would it matter if I was lying?” I asked.

He remained silent.

Time was too short.

“I’ll tell you more later, but it takes time, on a lot of levels.”

“Uh huh,” he said.  “That works.”

“What works?” I asked.

“The way you phrased it, and I’m pretty good at reading people.  That sounded genuine.  Which tells me a lot.  I don’t know if you’re telling the truth or not, but I believe you when you say it takes time.  And that tells me a lot more.  Time… is really important, in a lot of ways.”

“Sure,” I said, impatient.  The way he was acting, he’d ask questions until Eva decided to make another trip to check on the prisoners.

“The fastest route to victory,” he said.  “Taking out those two?”

“They’ll beat you in a fight, and whatever you’re thinking about, they’ve probably run into it before, and they handled it before.  They’ve been doing this for a while, against people far more hardcore than you.”

“What, then?  Time is of the essence, how do we win?”

“Get the bird and the mirror into the hallway, with the witch hunters elsewhere.”

“Hm.  Hard to do without-”

Heavy footsteps upstairs, getting louder as they approached the staircase.  They stopped, then resumed again, getting quieter.

Another patch of light appeared.  The bathroom in the hallway.  Fuzzy, oddly distant, like any patch that wasn’t continguous to a patch I was in could be.

With a number of fits and starts, the light reoriented, and extended.  The angle had changed to have more coverage, the little picture frame pointing out into the hallway.

Maybe it was Evan doing his part.

“Hard to do without a distraction, and if they find any of us, they have a hostage.”

“Just need more windows or mirrors,” I said.  “Reflective surfaces.”

“Uh huh.  Which does what?”

Roxanne appeared, Christoff following, Evan perched on Christoff’s head.

“Need knives,” she said.

“Not objecting,” Peter replied.

When Roxanne was gone, he commented, “Man, dad wasted Roxy, using her like he did.  Jessica’s fault, probably.  All that time spent doing stupid shit?  Horseback riding and dance classes and music?”

“I don’t follow,” I said.

Roxanne passed beneath me, carrying a cleaver and a dusty bottle of olive oil.

“Oil?” Peter murmured.

“Basement stairs,” she said.  She disappeared from view.

Such a waste,” Peter commented, more to himself than me.

Christoff, delayed, headed in Roxanne’s direction, holding one knife in both hands, pointed at the ground as if it were ten times as heavy as it really was.

“Her!” he said, too loud.

Eva.

Peter moved immediately, back pressed against the wall by the door, poker in one hand.

“Andy!” Eva called up.  “They escaped!”

I didn’t catch his response.

I could hear her footsteps.  I relocated myself to the bathroom.

I had the Hyena.  I just didn’t have the opportunity to use it.  If I could get her close to a reflection…

She stalked forward.

She easily sidestepped the thrown bottle of olive oil.  Glass crashed against the floor at the base of the steps that led upstairs.

A patch of light opened up.  The glossy olive oil reflected.

A door slammed.

There was a pause, and then she headed back the direction she’d come.  Where her footsteps had been audible earlier, they were virtually silent now, heel-toe.

She’d accepted that the kids had disappeared downstairs, or that they were cowering at the end of the hall.  Her focus was on the living room and kitchen.

I heard flapping wings.

“Ahhh,” she said.  “The bird?  Oh, that’s messy.  That raises questions, Thorburn!”

Talking to me.

I moved to Peter’s mirror.  Evan was working his way into the spot between the bookshelves and the ceiling.  From Eva’s lack of reaction or response, she hadn’t seen it.

“Andy!” she called out.

“I’m standing watch!” he responded.  “How bad?”

“They’re hiding!”

“Let them hide!  Forty minutes!  Keep the plan simple!”

“Fuck that,” she said, no longer shouting.

I relocated, switching between mirrors.  I saw her head for the living room.  Peter was in the corner, hallway to his left, kitchen to his right.

“She’s coming from the left,” I whispered.

Peter moved, hugging the wall as he moved to the kitchen.

“Andy!” Eva called out, not three feet from us, going by volume.  “Throw me one of the fanny packs!”

“Which one?”

“Obviously not the one that’s going to set the house on fire!”

Peter started to edge left.

“Watch your step,” Eva said.

“Catch,” Andy offered.

I heard a slight clink as she caught what he’d thrown.

“Cover your ears,” he said.  “Even with the closed door and all, it can do permanent damage.”

“I’m not using the flashbang.  They’re in the basement.  All of them, I think, holed up like rats.  The bird guided them.”

“If not the flashbang… the tear gas?” he asked.  “Come on, Eva.”

“It’ll be hilarious.  We need them out of our hair, anyway.”

“Keep it simple, Eva,” he said, sounding more tolerant than anything.

“If you’d let me break their arms, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“I’ll be upstairs.  Come up soon, I don’t like being unable to watch both doors at once.”

“Sitting and waiting is boring.”

“It’s smart.  Don’t take too long.”

“Whatever.  Watch for the bird.  It’s around.  The mirror dweller too, probably.”

“Right.”

I moved to the bathroom, and had a glimpe of Eva holding a bulky fanny pack in one hand, a canister of some sort in the other.  She was heading to the basement door.

“Get ready,” I whispered.  “When she’s focused on the basement, you can head upstairs.”

“Hold on, I don’t move that fast,” Peter told me.  “I need a better distraction.  If I leave you here, you can-”

He was already reaching to put the mirror down.

Don’t,” I whispered, annoyed.  “There’s a mirror in the other room.  I can use that.  Keep this mirror with you.”

The door slammed, and Peter moved straight back to his prior spot, back to the wall, partially sheltered by the open kitchen door.  Eva moved something that scraped against the floor, somewhere in the living room.

The coffee table.  Trapping the door shut, no doubt.

Our window of opportunity was gone.

What was Peter doing?

Clever as he was, he wasn’t moving that fast, and he wasn’t, it seemed, used to a conflict, where timing might matter a great deal.

He didn’t trust me.

Which put us back at square one.  Eva on the ground floor, Andy upstairs, Evan too far away to reach out to.

I moved between the three available reflections, trying to find the right vector or angle to mount an attack.  Back door, useless.  Bathroom, only showed me the bathroom and a bit of the hallway.  The mirror Peter held showed me the kitchen.

I could hear Eva walking, humming merrily.

The pool of olive oil…

I relocated myself to that part of the hallway.  My surroundings were vague, dark, my footing uneven in a way that wasn’t just a floor slick with oil.  My side of things was dry, in fact.

When I looked down, I could see the real hallway.

Much like the ice had been.

“When she goes back upstairs,” I whispered.  “I’ll stop her.  I’ll shout to you, you attack.”

“Sure,” he said.

A full minute passed, and Eva didn’t head upstairs.  Twice, I had to whisper to Peter to tell him to relocate back to the living room, then back to the kitchen.  Eva was pacing, hanging around the door she’d blockaded.

I could distantly hear the Thorburns’ reactions.

Then Eva approached.

I moved to the pool of olive oil and broken glass, kneeling.

She passed above me, my hand reached out of the pool, Hyena extended, slashing at the bottom of her foot.

A weird angle to attack from, and she was fast, adroit.  She hopped from one side of the pool to the second stair.  Too high for me to even reach.

Peter, not waiting for my signal, had stepped into the doorway.  He saw the extended arm and sword.

Eva, in turn, saw him, alongside both the arm and the sword.

“Bastard!” she shouted.  She threw the fanny pack at my hand.

My footing was already disappearing.  The solid mass of the fanny pack disrupted the pool, breaking up the olive oil and making it less of a cohesive reflection.

I found myself in the bathroom.  Eva hopped over the pool, landing right in front of me.  Living room to our left, kitchen with Peter inside to our right.

She started moving right.

“Go left!” I shouted.

She stopped.

“Stop!”

“You motherfucker,” she said, turning my way.

“Run!  Back hall!”

She kicked the picture, almost an absent gesture, as she spun on her heels.

Peter hadn’t run.  I found myself in the mirror he held.

I’d known he was tired.  More than that, I’d known that he wouldn’t listen.

He stepped from the living room to the kitchen.

Run,” I whispered.  He had only seconds.

He turned on the taps at the sink, full blast.  Then leaned back, and kicked the tap.

“Fucker,” I heard Eva.

Ducking under the sink, he grabbed the fire extinguisher.  He pulled the pin, and then sprayed it in the direction of the hallway.

When he was done there, he directed it at the sink.

The mirror was covered, I was shunted somewhere behind Eva.

A minute passed.  I heard her cursing, holding her shirt to her mouth.

Slowly, patches of light began to appear on the stairs.

Pools of some liquid or another.

The sink, too, started to overflow.  Clogged.  Another reflection appeared and slowly expanded, creeping along the floor.

I smiled, feeling a kind of relief.  That brilliant asshole.

He was flooding the house.

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204 thoughts on “Malfeasance 11.10

  1. Man, I’ve been slacking on the donation count. In general, as a matter of fact.

    Please don’t take my level of distraction to mean I’m anything less than thankful. You guys are awesome, and real life has been just a teeny bit less than awesome the past month or so, and thus I’ve neglected to tell you how awesome you guys are. Sorry I’ve left you high and dry the past two Thursdays – I had to travel and I was a bit behind with life in general after I got back. Got back to the big city to get crap sort of dumped on my lap (especially from my landlord) within fifteen minutes of opening the door, and that’s on top of just being generally down that I couldn’t find a place in the place I wanted. I’m still not caught up or totally in the right frame of mind, but I’m knuckling down and working on getting there.

    That’s all beside the point: you’re fantastic, and your support is fantastic. I owe you guys.

    With that in mind, I’d like to thank those who’ve supported me and brought you all the Thursday chapters this past little bit.

    Thanks go out to: Tobias D (twice!), Tyler W, Johnie T., Hayley M., John P.G., Matthew W, Pablo K, Jim M (twice!), Vincent B, Benedict H, Colin P, Caris M, Christopher L, Aaron A, Eric T, Jay H, Eric MP, Max T, Ling B, Kai L, Calvin H, Ronald B, Luke T, Sharov A, Павлов А, Susan B, Michael B, Sergio D, Justin G, Peter U, and Justin R.

    Huge thank yous go out to the very generous Walter F (three different donations, no less!), Alice L., Maddie K., Rikard A, Alexander B, Gabriel E, Emma T, Peter B (Wow!), Meredith C, Stephen A, Daniel L, and M&M.

    Thank you, also, to the fantastic Patreon subscribers.

    I’m seeing names recur and that really means a lot to me. If I missed a ‘twice’ or the like, it’s only because it’s 12:30am right now, I’ve been typing for eleven hours, and I can barely see straight.

    I feel like I need to get to the point where I can do the convention circuit and meet you guys so I can prostrate myself at your feet. Or buy some of you beers and have a chat with you at a bar or something.

    Working on updating the donation count the second I submit this comment.

    Thanks for reading. See you Saturday.

    1. Wishing you all the best, Wildbow! Real life can be downright cruel at times.

      PS: I’m not donating via Patreon, so it doesn’t matter to me, but I just wanted to mention that the obligatory Patreon paragraph seems to be missing.

    2. The most important thing here Wildbow, is that you don’t burn yourself up. If it means that you will have to stop doing thursday posts for a while, or forever, do it.

      Do whatever it takes to not burn yourself up!

    3. Worry not, silly piggy: I think most people wouldn’t feel too slighted at not getting their names down in print, given that we all know you’re under the cosh a bit at the moment. 🙂

      Focus on you first, and patting the lot of us last. Pretty please?

    4. Buddy, as the author, if you do the convention bar circuit, you are not the one buying the drinks. 🙂

      If you do the bar circuit with other authors, then yes, the rules of the mutual admiration society require respecting the rules of the rounds.

      1. But there are some generous donators who’ve made it possible for me to get where I’m at. I feel like I should be the one buying them drinks, in a reasonable universe.

        1. The closest format comparison I can make is Charles Dickens’s serial novels, which sold at 1 chapter/week for 2 cents/chapter. Adjusting for inflation, that’s roughly 3 CAD/chapter. You post about 10 chapters a month, and I’m pretty sure you’re not actually getting 360 CAD/year from each of what I’d estimate as at least 1000 readers. To summarize: going by everyone’s karmic balance, drinks are on us.

          1. Wildbow is like an inverse Thorburn. In a reasonable universe, he’d have so much positive Karma that gifts would just appear out of nowhere, and any time he walked into a bar someone would immediately buy him a drink.

    5. If you decide to start hitting the convention circuit, I would strongly suggest that you consider a convention to be the equivalent of a chapter. Otherwise you are going to be trying to jam yet one more thing into a schedule full of writing. While I’m confident that you could manage this on an irregular basis, trying to do it all the time would likely risk burnout.

      1. Whatever the case, it would have to wait until I had worm published and in book format, and until I had serious merchandise (books alone don’t make it worth the effort).

          1. They do, but they generally have visual media and side items to sell (like plushies, posters, and/or artbooks). It’s a fairly established fact that text alone won’t sell all that much – so to make back the cost of getting the table, I’d really need something visual to sell.

            1. My understanding is that most comics authors tend to view them as an advertising expense nowadays anyway – even the famous comics authors tend to lose money as often as not when they go to the big conventions.

        1. On that subject, I would be completely fine with you spending more time editing Worm and getting it ready for publication, even if that means stopping or slowing down the new writing. While I enjoy Pact, I really really want Worm to be available in book/ebook form. I get the impression (perhaps false) that there hasn’t been much progress on that.

          For the record, if/when Worm comes out in book form, I’d pay anything you ask and also buy a dozen copies for my friends.

    1. I only noticed this:

      “Because what’s coming will pale in comparison to those two.”

      “Pale in comparison to the machete wielder who stomps on a twelve year old and the kid with the bombs?”

      The phrase came out backwards — should be “Because those two pale in comparison to what’s coming”, etc.

    2. Nevermind
      Never mind

      eybrow
      eyebrow

      continguous
      contiguous

      glimpe
      glimpse

      pupils dilated to points
      dilated is open, constricted is closed

    3. “Check the bench underneath the front window,” I said. “There’s a sort of hidden lid.”
      -a hidden lid

      “You’re a wizard, Pete,” he said. “How does the line go?”
      -more italics than expected, both wizard and Pete are accented.

    4. “Fuck you,” Kathryn said –> period needed

      and kicked then under the sofa. –> kicked ‘them’ under the sofa

      and had a glimpe of Ev –> glimpse

      half-sitting, half-lying on the bad. –> bed

    1. Thorburn. Besides, she’s likely no worse than Granny was at that age. If someone was able to explain to her how she’d benefit personally from reducing the family’s karma she’d probably make a good heir too.

      1. Actually, on the whole it’s probably better that one of the heirs became a pseudo-immortal bogeyman. An advisor that’s not intent on getting the heir to diabolize themselves would work wonders for working off the karma debt.

    2. How many twelve year olds do you know well? She seems just about right in my experience, especially for someone who has grown up in a horrible household.

    3. Funny, under different circumstances she might have gotten along real well with Eva. They are after all both violent young women.

    4. I appreciate a young woman who knows her knives. She just started becoming interesting. All things considered, I enjoy this arc a lot compared to the few other times we witnessed the Thorburn relatives.

      Probably because the parents are away and Callan is shutting up. Let’s see if a little bodily harm turns him into a better character.

    1. I didn’t really read it as that (although I think Blake felt that way at the time); I read it as someone who has read a lot of fantasy novels catching on to what’s going on and demanding a promise to be brought into this hidden-world thing, because it is awesome.

      Look at the bit where Peter is talking about “You’re a wizard, Harry” and the red-pill, blue-pill thing. He’s recognized that there’s more to his world than he’s seen until now — that there’s a hidden truth that makes everything make sense — and he’s not going to let it just slip away. I can respect that.

  2. Peter’s seen past the curtain now. He saw a hand reach out of a puddle (a large puddle, but still a puddle) of what he thought was oil and slash at someone with a sword.

      1. Coffee tables don’t move places without something obviously pushing or pulling on them, smudges don’t automatically vanish, puddles of olive oil don’t sprout sword-wielding appendages.

        When Blake cracks the masquerade, he does it with style.

        1. Really looking forward to any possible future Gathered Pages interlude chapters where we might get another person’s perspective on the new, improved Blake Thorburn Boogeyman – much like the interlude in Worm where Wildbow treated us to a brief intermission in the life of one of Taylor’s henchgirls. Suddenly, we got to see just how terrifying the main character had become, when viewed by a bystander.

    1. Peter has accepted the new reality and started living it: “You need reflective surfaces? Okay, I’ll give reflective surfaces.”

  3. And so the Story of Peter Thorburn, the first acolyte of Blake, began. . .

    I’m liking Peter. I’m also liking the idea of Peter being a student/Partner to Blake. Imagine the possibilities!

    It’s interesting that the kids could possibly reason away this chapter’s events as mundane.

    So, what are the chances that the Blakeguard is still alive? I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody had died by the time Blake gets access.

    Peter’s flooding the house right? This seems like a perfect time to summon Green Eyes. I don’t know how that would work logistics wise, but the story could use a little more mermaid action.

    1. Oh, Peter’s smart, all right. He may even be using that to help Blake, at the moment; but there’s no way him getting more power is a good thing. And if he became some kind of student/partner to Blake — well, he’s the sort of partner who will deep six Blake the second he thinks Blake is no longer needed.

      1. I’m guessing Peter makes Rose seem like a nice naive person. He would probably con the spirits into giving him all the Karma.

        In summary, Peter is probably the sort of person who should never ever be awakened.

          1. Ew, that would be like what Rose’s great-grandparents did (or was it great-great)? Anway, who wants to do what those old fuddy-duddy’s did?

    2. Realising this is a Wildbow story, your comment about someone from the Blakeguard dying made me sad :< From a story-writing perspective, off-scene deaths are kind of bland, though.

    1. Because most of their brains are telling them the concussions are why they’re imaging the bird carrying a camera, it’s obviously not really happening…

      1. We have a winner!

        I mean, even Isadora showed him some respect. And she’s a giant cat/lion/human thingy. Hell, everyone in Toronto acknowledged she was super smug because only a god-empowered practitioner could take her on to a draw.

        1. I always liked Isadora. When she said it would be for the best if she killed Blake, it felt like she genuinly meant it, unlike, say Laird where it always felt tainted by self interest.

  4. When Evan can’t defend himself against Thorburn sass, the new popular acolyte becomes the one who doesn’t speak? Interesting.

  5. I am surprisingly OK with Peter being awakened. He’s even more clever than Blake was when he first got clued in and doesn’t seem to be completely evil.

    1. That con-man mindset is very much going to be a double-edged sword, though. He’s not going to try grifting anytime soon, though. He’s too smart to don a glamour-suit and pose as a child of his enemies.

      (Seriously, the s**t Blake pulled should have gotten him killed numerous times over, long before he met Ur)

  6. Oh this shall be glorious. Water. When Blake bursts through it will just reform after he is gone. If things go really bad for Team Rocket Bait rain will come and puddles shall live everywhere.

    I like Peter. And Roxy.

    Oh and when the real attack comes I wonder if Team Rocket Bait will gather someplace to do their workings. Like a church. And with that foreshadowing about the spirits not liking unfairness…

    1. Heh. Team Rocket Bait. At first I thought this was an ineffective descriptor. Then, I looked again and realized it is quite clever. Well done.

        1. Heh, that wasn’t what I was thinking. I’m talking about the rocket that Andy has and the people he plans to use it on.

    1. Perhaps, with a lot of prep and evil intent. Peter get to be the monster in the Mirror, The voice that spreads chaos.

      Blake gets a new suit made from the flesh of his family. One hated by all the others, and physically beat up.

      I can’t see how that could go wrong.

    1. Good point. So if they survive Andy & Eva for the next ~30 min, and then survive the onslaught of Others who would apparently make them look weak, they’ll have to worry about losing the property to the lawyers.

      Rose can’t turn Hillsglade House into her demesne soon enough. The kind of power afforded by that would be so helpful right now…

      1. Hey, not like Peter was going to ever get the house. Might as well fuck over everyone else instead. Cause he seems like the sort to do it.

          1. I don’t think her clothes burning up was their fault. I think it was a side effect of whatever Grandma Rose did to swap Blake and Rose, causing evidence of Rose’s existence to disappear coincidentally.

      2. Rose can’t turn the house into her demesne at all. Every room of it was already claimed by someone in the prior generation, and this apparently precludes her from claiming it today. This is mentioned in the letter left by Rose Sr.

        1. I know, but her enemies can’t have it both ways. Either Jeremy’s Jägerbomb destroyed these former demesne protections entirely, or it didn’t. If the protections aren’t totally destroyed, Alexis & co would have used them as defense against the various attacks, like right now.

          That’s why I assumed the house can be claimed as a demesne again.

          1. I don’t know if a dead persons demesne gives extra protection. It never seemed like each room was a sealed and personified realm anymore.

            1. Sandra mentiones the demesnes in 3.03:

              “He spends much of his time ensconced within the house, where every demesnes has been turned inward.“

              If the demesnes were useless, that wouldn’t have been worth mentioning. Besides, the house was always considered sanctuary, and uninvited Others (like the Faceless Woman) couldn’t enter it.

              And if the following wasn’t due to the “inward-turned demesnes” of Hillsglade House, what other explanation could there be?

              “As heir and custodian of the Thorburn estate, granddaughter of Rose D. Thorburn-“
              “Rose, _stop_,” I said.
              “-I hereby expel you from Hillsglade House, until further notice.”
              The mirror in front of me winked out of existence, as did the television screen, the window, and the oblong patch of light somewhere above me that was the mirror in the library went black as well.
              […]
              _She can do that?_ I thought, _I could have done that?_ (10.1)

    2. Guys, a little flooding thanks to “dodgy old pipework and lousy washers”? That’s hardly major structural damage. Especially in contrast to Andy’s handy-dandy “termite extraction process with C4”. 😛

      And, face it: that house needs a tune-up, anyway… The electrics alone must be a hodgepodge of jury-rigged, spaghetti junction.

      1. The point is that Thorburn doing deliberate damage to the house could be considered malfeasance. Andy and Eva can’t trigger that clause of the contract by their actions or inaction because they are not Thorburns.

        The only possible saving grace here is Peter is male, so he can’t ever inherit, so the malfeasance clause may not cover him.

    1. No, the “he can’t breathe” comment was probably not literal. It’s certainly uncomfortable, and he might be breathing in more CO2 than you would in the open air, but I’d expect an unconscious little kid could survive such cramped quarters for a decent length of time.

      1. Someone just has to cry out “Hey! He’s probably rifling through the sofa, looking for spare change right now!”, and stand aside as all the Thorburns charge back to yank him away from their precious lucre, real or imaginary.

  7. Wasn’t there something in the contract about how if they purposefully damage the house, the lawyers get it? Or is that just if Rose damages the house on purpsoe? Or does her going willingly off to “wherever” constitute implicit acceptance of whatever everyone else back at the house chooses to do in the name of defending the house? I figure there must be something to the point made a little while ago about the contract and purposeful damage to the house, now that someone is purposefully damaging the house.

    1. Depends, since Peter isn’t the heir, does that apply to him? Unless it turns out he’s in cahoots with the lawyers for just this reason.

  8. I am annoyed Blake would answer so many of Peter questions. Why? He is doing exactly what he didn’t want to do… or does he truly plan on cluing in at least one person of the family? I didn’t get that impression. The only thing I can think of is that Blake requires Peter’s cooperation, but I still feel he could have handled that better.

    Mmm. Could Blake develop water or liquid powers? The idea of using a liquid’s reflection is genius. He can reach out and the surface of the liquid will remain.

    Wonderful chapter, as always. I loved the dynamic of the people in it.

      1. Find a better reference to anchor your perception of time solidly, like a goblin throwing pebbles at your face every ten seconds.

        Don’t forget to enforce what pebbles can be made of, though.

  9. Peter is pretty cool. Looks like there is no going back for him since he has seen the other side.

    I’m pretty sure he already figured out the no lying rule from talking to Alexis and Blake.

    I get the impression he was always too smart for his own good and led him to getting bored. Thats why he has been waiting for this his whole life.

    1. He’s also Paige’s twin. They both have high deduction skills and a mind open enough to consider their worldview incomplete, nice traits for folks in their early 20s.

      Talking about Paige, now would be a great time for an extra Thorburn to join the fray.

  10. I am really loving Peter here, and am looking forward to when he becomes a Practioner. Poisinous friend, ho! First Blake and Rose, then Paige, and now Peter. The Thorbunr kids are all slowly being turned into magicians.

  11. Oh… oh man… Rose’s reaction when she comes back:

    Rose: Okay, once more. Maybe Sandra did get in my head after all and I am hallucinating. What did you do, again?
    (Twiddling his thumbs) Blake: I, uh… I turned all your friendly, beloved cousins into practitioners? Maybeee? I didn’t meeeean toooo. Okay, I did, but I had toooo. And I just kept giving away information, but they wouldn’t stop asking me questions! Hey, are you okay? Rose, speak to me!

    Or, or!

    (With a blank stare) Rose: You. Did. What.

    Or, or, or!

    (Blake spontaneously combusts into flames) Blake: I guess she is back.

    1. To more like Rose probably just blatantly also bluntly as she tries to understand what happened:

      Rose: Okay…why is everything still looks like every defense that we had was already broken down already?

      To another observation, would probably have to be every traps that’s been caught up to be short-circuited. Within Callan either flipping out once a Blakeguard was going to sit on the sofa,or moans that scared evenly Rose,the Thorburn parents and evenly the Blakeguard.

      1. I think the house might be pretty well defended if the flood goes through. The Hyena can hurt even Ur. Not a ton of things can easily get into the mirror world to fight back. And I don’t think being partway into the mirror world when it snaps closed would end well. Combine that with the bloody claymore’s and similar at every opening?

        Heeyyooo, I got an idea for waiting out sieges: Blake can go to a grocery store or whatever and grab food from the doors. Maybe create a spill. Repeatedly burst out of the puddle and grab food. Fill up a tub in the library and Blake can throw the food out.

        BOOM!

        1. This is a little far-fetched, but depending on how Blake’s mirror-world shenanigans work…

          They could prop a mirror up in front of a claymore, Blake lets the reflection “update”, picks up the new claymore and moves it to another location, update the mirror again, pick up the new claymore, repeat a few dozen times, then load thirty-something copy claymores into one mirror and point it at Eva. She’s fast, but I doubt she’s “dodge explosions” fast.

          Assuming it can work like that, I mean.

          1. That would be brilliant. The mirror copy would last but a few seconds, but that would be all Blake needs to explode someone. Or he could do that to Andy’s rocket launcher.

    2. Seriously, the story has not been kind to Rose. Not only has she been stuck to a (possibly demonic) lunatic all the time, with hardly any agency to boot, but she’s been downright out of commission multiple times, too (due to Conquest, Pauz, Conquest, and now Sandra & co). Not to speak of the mess Blake left behind =(.

    3. So, even though Rose is now the real girl and Blake is just the shadow, when Rose leaves Blake alone she comes back to a mess. It is almost as if history is repeating itself here.

      1. She probably doesn’t remember he was responsible for the earlier messes (her memories must be rather shifty there).

      2. Man it’s like he just exists to ruin things for her. I wonder if that was a deleberate thing Granny put in, or just something that got slipped in?

      3. I want Rose to become Lord (or rather, Lady) of Jacob’s Bell, and then have that happen on a city-wide scale next.

        Now that I think about it, Blake seems to have started the transformation of Molly’s ghost into a wraith somehow so… we are actually already at the point of a city-wide mess.

        1. So Blake goes in, breaks everything, then Rose comes in and takes charge while putting things back together? That could work.

          1. Yeah, but using Blake in an insurance racket only works so long as he doesn’t mess with people that have paid. I really don’t think he can do that…

  12. Nice Chapter! And an awesome one for my birthday 🙂
    Even if Peter is a con-man, even if he is an asshole and even if he made fun of Evan, he’s still lightyears more likeable then f’ing Rose Thorburn Jr.
    Although it was a little confusing sometimes, this chapter was really refreshing!

  13. Just wondering here, since Eva mentioned it in passing…

    Why hasn’t anyone tried burning down the house? That seems a pretty standard tactic in shady property deals, which this entire story more or less is.

    You know. A Behaim could just hire a couple of completely mundane thugs, give them a few thousand dollars to throw a few canisters of accelerant and a few molotovs through a window while the Thorburns are out. Would solve a lot of problems.

    Not so much now that they have a Cabal, but earlier in the story, it should have been easy.

    1. It would free Barbatorem, at the very least.

      And the lawyers might get the property to boot (remember those malfeasance terms in the contract?), especially if no heirs survived. If the entire property (house & huge marshlands) became a demonic foothold, far more than just Jacob’s Bell would be done.

      1. True, of course. But I’m wondering how much of that the other practioners actually know. Especially details of the lawyer’s contract.

        1. The contract may not be common knowledge, but Blake revealed the existence of Barbatorem in the first council meeting in arc 2.

          But as always, nobody needs to know the specifics because several practitioners are capable of divination. Someone like Alister could simply test questions like “What happens if we burn the house?” or “What happens if we kill the heir?” and get a “Disaster!” response.
          (Just like Alexis & co didn’t get implements or familiars because divination told them it would result in disaster.)

      2. I’m assuming they don’t burn the house down out of caution. Because they might be afraid of what they’d set free. I mean, demons trapped in books, or contained by scrolls or sealed away through binding written contracts, what if those things catch fire?

        Either that or they divined the outcome of such an action and it turned out unfavourably.

        1. Yeah, you’ve got to be careful when dealing with evil artifacts. Some you can just burn. Others you have to take to the place they were forged and chuck them in. And some it just sets there evil loose on the world.

          1. To quote Trader Manuel and Digger-of-Unnecessarily-Convoluted-Tunnels discussing sealed evils…

            “Tell me wombat– If I gave you a box and told you it must never be opened, ever, under any circumstances, what would you do?”

            “Encase it in concrete, probably. Actually, I’d encase it in lead first, if the box could take the heat, then in concrete. Then I’d put it in the foundation of some useful public works project, something they wouldn’t be digging up in a hurry. Grain storage, or mole dung composting… I’d have to check and see what was available… How big of a box are we talking about, anyway?”

            1. And then a few hundred years later the building is demolished, some worker finds the box, and the damn frog is loose again. At least that’s what happened in the Loony Toons cartoon with Michigan J Frog.

            2. Public work projects? Pfft. Lead, then concrete, then stainless steel, then drop it into the Mariana Trench. Possibly also a DO NOT OPEN warning carved into it somewhere along the line.

            3. And then it’ll still turn up, and someone will think “Gee someone went through a lot of trouble to hide this thing, it must have something really valuable inside!”

              This reminds me of something. Someone once pointed out that in a game of D&D, if the DM described the things they are trying to put around nucular waste disposal grounds to the players, their response wouldn’t be “Uh-oh, sounds dangerous, better leave it alone”, but rather “Man must be some awesomely sweet treasure in there!”

            4. The correct response is to explode the box. If the box is destroyed it cannot open.

              Or did you mean to say “must always stay closed”?

  14. Comments:

    1. This goes against every instinct I have, I thought. But what good was my argument, if I told the members of other families to take a different path, to step away from the status quo, if I didn’t do the same?” -> Nonononono! The reverse of stupidity is not intelligence! Just because your instincts scream X, don’t automatically do not-X!

    2. Great line: “There’s a pattern here. I’ll explain: you speak, you get kicked.”

    3. I didn’t expect everyone but Peter to retain enough innocence. Makes sense, though, from what we saw when Blake tried to awaken his friends, or when Maggie’s home town was attacked. But Peter will be problematic. If there’s ever a chance he gets access to diabolism, Blake should just kill him and suffer the karmic hit. The alternative is just worse. Incidentally, knowing that Peter is a con-man means I’ll never find him likeable, no matter what he does. How curious.

    4. Are the witch hunters trying to set the house on fire? As I said before, the library must stay intact no matter what happens, even if they have to call in lawyers or demons.

    5. Rose is out of commission during this crucial time, again. I mean, that’s the only way our protagonist can take center stage, but it’s not exactly fair to Rose. In any case, the house is currently under attack in spite of what she did. So what was the point of going along willingly?

    6. Now that there’s water anywhere on the ground level, Blake can disarm all the traps there, and keep Eva out even if she’s too savvy to be incapacitated. Problem is, Blake seems almost blind in the water, and reflections in water are trivial to scatter. (Or what about making the water muddy?)

    7. In a house full of water, Blake could do as well as a smaller scale version of Worm’s Custodian. How fitting, in more than one sense.

    8. Alexis & co might be in trouble already. Maybe one of them will be mortally injured but alive, and Blake or (more likely) someone else will be forced to take up the boon of the Barber (medical skill in exchange for enough blood to get possessed).

    1. From how I read the text, Peter isn’t really a conman. Yet. Blake just thinks he’d make a good one and he wouldn’t be surprised if he became one.

      1. Frankly, it’s the perfect mindset for a practitioner, particularly like those we’ve seen in operation (and, I’m not just talking one atuned to diabolism, here). I think this has been Peter’s tragedy: had he been born 3 generations back, he’d’ve been up to his eyeballs in Others since he could talk, so would have had an outlet for all that pent-up tricksterism.

        Mind you… Thorburn. 😛

        1. I kinda hope that Peter doesn’t become a diabolist. Aside the obvious, it seems like it’d be a waste. He seems like the devious sort who could really work well with some other sort of magic.

    2. “This goes against every instinct I have, I thought. But what good was my argument, if I told the members of other families to take a different path, to step away from the status quo, if I didn’t do the same?” -> Nonononono! The reverse of stupidity is not intelligence! Just because your instincts scream X, don’t automatically do not-X!”

      In Blake’s defense, it not like it matters what he does. It’ll automatically turn out out to have been the wrong thing.

      “Alexis & co might be in trouble already. Maybe one of them will be mortally injured but alive, and Blake or (more likely) someone else will be forced to take up the boon of the Barber (medical skill in exchange for enough blood to get possessed).”

      Can Blake even take the deal anymore? I don’t think he’s got blood anymore.

      1. “In Blake’s defense, it not like it matters what he does. It’ll automatically turn out out to have been the wrong thing.”

        So true.

        Concerning Blake and the deal: the blood thing actually turned out to be “Medical skill, in exchange for leaving a big enough hole for something else to occupy.” (Histories 6). And he definitely has that. It’s one of the many, many creepy similarities he shares with Barbatorem.

      2. It also was basically the only choice Blake had left. The unawareness Thorburns are the only potential resource he has left. His choices were basically between ‘do a stupid thing’ and ‘do nothing’ at this point…

    3. 4: they’re playing clock. A ‘simple’ plan. 40 minutes left (before dusk likely). Then they’re out. My guess on the big plan follows.

      Step 1: send witch hunters during the day to 1- best case, disable the Blakeguard. 2- contingency, prevent them from consolidating the house’s defences against Others.

      Step 2: after nightfall, have Others (from Sandra’s and Johannes’ sides probably) storm the house and destroy as much as they can, including Barbie if possible.

      Step 3: rince & repeat every single day until the dead (wo)man’s switch is defused.

      A heavy siege right after the doors were kicked open by Dyonisus and the place is at its weakest. Locals hate the owners. Police won’t budge an inch even if water floods out. Phone lines are cut and cell signals jammed.
      Great plan or greatest plan ? Probably Sandra’s.

    4. In a house full of water, Blake could do as well as a smaller scale version of Worm’s Custodian. How fitting, in more than one sense.

      Interestingly, he’s a bit less mobile if the entire floor is reflective than he would be if there were many smaller reflective surfaces: he can’t jump between reflections if the entire house is reflected as a continuous hunk. And if the stairs get reflective as well, then he can’t jump between floors.

  15. As I was looking over the table of contents for pact I realized the arc names are themed (I went back and looked at worm and realized that of course it was true there as well) and it’s a small touch and I’m slow on the uptake but I just wanted to say how cool that is and how much it subtly adds to the atmosphere of the story.

    1. Not only are they themed (Pact: legal theme; Worm: insect theme), but when you check one of the titles in a dictionary, all conceivable meanings of the title usually apply to the arc. It’s quite remarkable.

      For example, arc 5 (Conviction) deals with Blake almost being convicted for murder, the strong conviction of Blake and Evan which allows them to form a familiar bond, and Blake’s conviction that he must stop the monsters (to the point that he charges at Ur while he’s barely able to stand). And so on.

    2. Did you forget Worm::Sting’s 26.x ?

      I doubt the same will happen here, but man, that was some fantastic work right there.

  16. Great chapter! Loved it!

    It did feel a bit weird how normal Blake responds to being able to use olive oil as a way to reach out to the real world. He takes it in stride without spending a second to think about the ramifications. –Also, how could he have not noticed this earlier? Surely there were puddles or a bucket of water, or other liquid surfaces along his travels in the past?

    I like how (my namesake) Peter is turning out. He is going to be impossible to handle once he gets his hands on some power. I wonder how Roxanne’s dad used her. I mean, Thorburns are nasty bastards, but usually more about messing with others on a psychological level, so I don’t think he raped her, but I do wonder how he did use her instead. She would make a fine Eva 2.0

    Also Ellie:
    She’d baited the kicks. For some reason.
    To me it makes sense, she baited the kicks to give Eva the feeling that after the kicks, she’d been properly subdued. A lot more convincing than when everyone is being quiet when Eva walks in. Which could easily be interpreted as ‘too quiet’ which would invite Eva to do some kicking on her own initiative, just to make a point. In that case, Roxanne would probably have been her target. Hmmm, that almost have been humane of Ellie…

    As an afterthought, I’m curious where Padraggie has been hanging out all this time.

    1. “Man, dad wasted Roxy, using her like he did. Jessica’s fault, probably. All that time spent doing stupid shit? Horseback riding and dance classes and music?”

      I take that to mean something that would normally be considered positive – Roxy got to do nice stuff instead of learning to con, steal, and manipulate. So from Peter’s perspective, she would have been great at it but her time was spent learning useless things like dance, music, and horseback riding.

      1. I don’t think it was about having her do “nice stuff”, but rather, that she was trained in verbal manipulation and elegance (i.e. as a “lady” or something) when her talents apparently lie on the cruder side of things (knives, traps, violence).

    2. I got the feeling that Peter ment that Roxanne had a huge potential which her father was wasting by not using her properly (as in, not letting her use her skills properly in the war for the house).

    1. Yeah I didn’t think any situation would make me feel sorry for Eva after the shit-kicking she gave a kid, but damn.

      Eva, there’s more than one ‘The Thorburn Karma’, and you’re about to meet it.

    1. I was looking at the Wiki Main Page and you know what I saw? Not me. That wasn’t the only Not Me page I’ve seen either! Why are there no mentions of Sir Fuente on the wiki? If you don’t wanna give me my own page, I should at least have some mentions somewhere for my contributions to Pact. The Wiki admins need to fix that.

      Also Wildbow doesn’t have a page either.

        1. Technically, I’m the wiki Admin

          Then you’ve work to do. The Glory of Fuente must shine thru! Just as the flooding waters reflect the brilliant luminaries within and around Hillsglade House, so Sir Fuente bounces back the glory of Wildbow. By acknowledging me, you praise Him.

  17. The witch-hunters’ plan becomes clear: incapacitate and immobilize everyone and then walk away leaving them no time to do anything before nightfall. So that when the real nasties come out to play they find the equivalent of staked-down live prey waiting for them.

    You know, it isn’t just practitioners who can play tricks with deferred responsibility. Leaving cuffed people for monstrous Others is just the same as torturing or killing them, but without all that messy blood on your hands.

  18. I just wondering. Where the hell is the mirror that Conquest is sealed in? Cause I wouldn’t want that asshole getting loose.

    1. Also: is Conquest just one book about sympathetic magic away from freeing him(it?)self? Or is this more of a “wildbow protagonist can escape from anything, does not apply to other characters” situation? Because you’d expect a being as old as Conquest to have picked up some tricks along the way…

      1. Blake’s nature is deeply connected to the mirror world. Rose couldn’t do what he can (‘update’ the mirror world with real world content).
        Conquest probably cannot as well, so it can’t bring copies for sympathetic magic to work with. It’s probably focusing on overwhelming Rose through their connection instead of trying for other solutions, staying true to its nature.

  19. Mmm. I just realised. Blake never had his apotheosis as I suggested during the Drains saga. He came back, transformed, weaker ins some ways, stronger in others, but he didn’t get the supreme power boost I expected.

    1. Sudden insane power boosts for the protagonists don’t really seem to be Wildbow’s style, as far as I’ve seen. (Worm spoiler, rot 13: Rira Jbez nep 30: Jvgubhg Qbbeznxre, Gnlybe’f cbjre jbhyqa’g unir orra cnegvphyneyl vzcerffvir jvgu Fpvba nf gur bccbarag.)
      Or rather, protagonists can power up a lot in a span of arcs even if little time passes in-story, but not in a span of chapters.

      In any case, for Blake, I’m expecting damnation rather than apotheosis =(.

      1. He might not have gotten apotheosis, but he did change irrevocably, gaining new substance and a method of gaining that substance. He threw off the chains of the Thorburn karma, acquired the mirrors, and regained a portion of that which he lost.

  20. I like Peter. And I guess I’m an easy target for con-men like him. 😦

    But still, I like the guy’s ability to see through the bullshit. And then at the end of the chapter he comes up with a smart as hell idea? Holy shit this guy would totally fuck shit up for any practitioner that gets in his way, should he actually become a practitioner!

    Blake, initiate the man into the family business! The Duchamps have Sandra, the Behaims have Alister. Well, the Thorburns have Peter.

      1. Considering that Peter is quite smart and adaptable, I’d say he should take duct tape as his implement. Then again, duct tape is always the best implement. It can do anything.

        1. That would be great for him. Duct tape has a dark side and a light side. Everyone likes duct tape and they reach out for it fairly often. They might curse how they’re using it and it doesn’t hold up well with time, sun, water, and when it fails on you it can leave you in a worse position than you were in to start with, but boy is it versatile. Seems like the perfect implement for a conman. Tear a piece off, fold it here, there, pass it to someone and when they look at it it appears to be a hundred dollar bill and they keep it and give you change for what you bought. Tear a few pieces off and throw them at an enemy and see that enemy get stuck fast. I like that implement.

          1. Duct tape sounds like a terrible implement. You’d make that one roll your implement, and it’s really useful while you have it, but once it’s all gone, it’s gone, and you’re never going to get any more.

            1. Besides, Others finding themselves bound with duct-tape would probably be humiliated; there has to be some kind of power in that.

  21. Perhaps, when this is all over, the climatic final battle will be, not between Blake and Rose, but between Paige and Peter.

  22. Peter is a asshole, but you have to admit he is a very clever one. Coming from a outside perspective, he might decide that the downsides to be a diabolist outweigh the potential power. I actually picture him having one of the bogeyman become his familiar. The little mermaid is out there too.

    After Blake as the custodian comment, I wonder how these characters would fare in the wormverse. Definitely villains, but they’d probably have killed each other long ago.

    Quick question on Blake’s requirements on reflective surfaces. Don’t eyes count since they reflect light?

    1. Blake seems to need something large enough for him to work with and eyes are too small a surface. Barbie seems able to shrink/ grow as required: Blake’s a set size. 😐

      I’d also bet that Barbie can use slightly less reflective surfaces, as well.

      1. Blake’s ability to use various reflective surfaces has seemed to grow with time. Give him a while — I bet by this time next year he’ll be able to stab out eyes with a pin and nobody should ever risk looking directly at him (just like Barbatorem). Well, actually, by this time next year Pact will have finished, but if the story were to continue until then, I think Blake would have grown to that point by then.

  23. Do Rose and the Blakeguard think that Blake could perhaps be Conquest? Conquest was thrust into Blake’s toolbox. What happened to that toolbox afterward? We have no idea. So from their point of view, there was this Conquest guy who gets trapped in a mirror, supposedly, nobody can really remember, sort of. Then this Blake guy comes out of nowhere, with no real memory of who or what he was, and he’s also trapped in a mirror. Perhaps they think that Blake is Conquest (but with amnesia), and that telling Blake such could reawaken old memories and bring Conquest back.

  24. Not sure if anyone will even see this now but whatever.

    If the witch hunters were prepared for Blake, why didn’t they set up a mirror binding trap like Rose did? Seems it would have been more effective to leave the toaster or something he would think was “safe”, but have a circle around it to bind him? I would think they would be capable of such things but perhaps only practitioners can? Just wondering…

      1. I’m curious if non-practitioners can bind things too. After all it is not ones own power that goes into a binding.

  25. out of curiosity, aside form blake, and possibally rose (if she pulls that pineapple outta her $$$), would anyone really CARE if the entire Thornburn family was exterminated? it feels like almost the entire family would be no great loss to the world.

    1. I would care, even if it’s only for one reason. That reason is, of course, Evan. He’s undisputedly connected to the Thorburns. If they are all wiped out, I believe Evan ás we know him will cease.

      Other than that, I wouldn’t be opposed to any Thorburn (Blake and Rose included) being wiped out. As I see it, Evan seems to be the only character (with the exception of Nameless Practitioner Hero aka Brother Fell) who I would consider to be good, morally speaking.

      My body was ready to embrace Scarf when Wildbow revealed that Blake still existed.

    2. Well, I don’t want the Thorburns to die. Being manipulative and abusive pieces of shit is probably not enough to deserve death. But I wouldn’t care because they are fictional, and I haven’t connected to any of them. We have hardly seen them at all xP

      I do want Blake and Rose alive, of course.

    3. Hey Paige is okay. And Ivy is young enough that if you could get her in a decent evroment she wouldn’t grow up to be a shitbag.

  26. with the exception of Nameless Practitioner Hero aka Brother Fell

    And possibly Johannes, depending on your view of his vestiges and on Other in general.

  27. Peter for protagonist.I do not care if he is scum,villain protagonist is a trope for a reason,I love that guy.

    1. Yup. It says a lot that Peter has managed to, in such a short time, become a more interesting character than Blake has been for most of Pact. Makes you wonder if Wildbow chose the right main character for this story…

      1. Did I say he was more interesting that Blake?no
        Me wanting him as a protagonist does not mean I want Blake out of this role….it means I want his as protagonist for a sequel

        1. I’m not saying you said that, that’s how I feel. Peter (and before him Evan) managed to be characters I wanted to read about within a chapter or two of their debut. It took a few arcs for Blake to manage the same. I would’ve given up reading Pact a few times over if it had been by anyone but Wildbow. But I had faith he’d make it worth it in the end and he did.

      2. Besides there are always a few characters who are more interesting that the protagonist but,despite jokes,are not suited as a protagonist for the story the author wants to tell,and thus would degrade the story if put to that position…

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