Histories (Arc 11)

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She watched as her Pa paced.

Then Mam came out of the side room.  Pa fidgeted, following Mam to the countertop.  Pa was as thin as Mam was fat.  He was a skeleton covered in cracked brown leather, beard shorn short, hair tied back into a long ponytail.  His head only came up to Mam’s shoulder.

Mam, by contrast, was the size of a bear, fat as she was tall, with clusters of nobby bits and warty bits nearly hidden in the folds of her neck and shoulders.  She was pale, her eyes heavily lidded, making her look half asleep, and her hair was greasy.  Her mouth sat open and askew almost all the time, lip hanging low enough to reveal the wide-spaced teeth.  The only time mam’s mouth closed was when she was thinking, and she sucked on her bottom lip.  Her more thinky expression.

She thought even now, busying herself by pushing things around the counter without actually cleaning or using any of it.

“No need to preserve.  Cupboards are full.  We eat tonight,” Mam finally said.  She pushed her hands through piles of dirty dishes, grabbing a knife with bits still caked on it, a fork.  These she set to one side.

Pa smiled.  His face creased everywhere with the expression, every single one of his bad teeth showing.  “Pie?”

“Sausage pie,” Mam conceded.

“Good,” Pa said, smiling.  “Good.”

“If you want ‘good’ you go chop some wood,” Mam said.

“There’s wood already,” he said.

“Chop it!  I’m not stopping cooking halfway to get your lazy ass out of that chair of yours and into the woods to chop.  Chop now!”  Mam’s voice got more shrill as she talked.

Pa grimaced, but he headed outdoors.  Probably to get out of the house more than out of any desire to help.

“Midge!” Mam said.

Midge cowered a little under her mother’s eye, retreating under the table.

Mam strode forward, pushing the table against the wall with one sweep of her fist, exposing Midge.  She grabbed the girl’s ear and hair in one meaty fist, and practically lifted her.

Midge kicked her legs, squealing.  A few kicks hit her mother.  She even raked at her mother with longer, ragged toenails.  The dress her mother wore suffered for it, but her mother’s skin was too thick.

“I said to watch yer little brothers!”  Her mother hollered, voice low.

Midge continued to squeal, high, loud, prolonged sounds.  Her mother gave her a firm shake, hard enough that some bit of Midge might have broken if she was any closer to the wall or the table, then let go.

Midge found her feet right away, backing up.  She looked toward the door and pointed.

“Mal and Posie are moving the car.  Don’t act helpless, stupid child.  You.  Do.  Your.  Job!

That last word was a screech as bad as any of them.

Midge scampered away as fast as she could.

The side room.

The babies were sitting up, side by side in the crib.  Born the fall before last, they were big boned, as Ma said.  Skinny, but big boned.  Their skulls were thick enough that their brows hung heavy over their eyes, making them look perpetually angry.  Jory had his mouth open, drooling, while Biff had his mouth closed, fluid streaming out of one nostril.

“It’s a little girl,” a voice whispered.

“Shh.”

“Oh god.  What’s wrong with them?

“Shh!”

Midge knelt by the crib, staring at her brothers.  Biff had been suckling on a bone earlier, but it now sat on the mat at the bottom of the crib.

“They dirty?” Mam screeched from the other room.

The fluids from the bone mingled with stains of piss and shit that dated back to when Midge had been that size.  The smell was bad enough she couldn’t tell, and she wasn’t about to stick her hand in there.

She looked off to one side, and saw her old doll collecting cobwebs.

She looked away.  Every time she was caught with her doll, Mam made her look after the real babies instead.

“I asked if they’re dirty!”

Midge looked at her Mam, standing in the doorway, and shook her head.

Her mam disappeared back into the kitchen.

Midge snatched up the bone.  Her brothers had apparently been fed recently, and their movements were so sluggish she had her hand out before they even looked at her hand.

She prodded Biff with the bone until Biff tipped over.  His head cracked against the wooden slats of the crib, his neck finding a funny angle.

He continued chewing on his bottom lip, staring absently in her general direction.

So boring.

“Hey, little girl,” a voice sounded.

Midge turned to look.

Three strangers.  Two women, one plump and one thin, and a man.  They were dressed colorfully, their clothing weirdly sharp in how fine all the edges were.  Collars around their necks were chained to the metal frame of Pa’s bed.

“Hey,” the man said.  He smiled.

Midge didn’t trust smiles.  Smiling was what you did when you hurt people, or sometimes when Pa got his food or Mam got her Pa.  A rare thing.  For Midge, it mostly meant being hurt.

“My name’s Shawn,” in the kind of accent that Jory called ‘posh’.

She stared at him.  He kept smiling, but all she saw in his eyes was the fear.

“What’s going on?” the thinner girl mewled.  Her accent just as posh.

“Shhh,” the heavier girl said, hugging the girl, chain at her neck clinking.  “Let Shawn talk.”

“What’s your name?” Shawn asked.

Midge shook her head.

“She doesn’t talk?”

“The woman called her Midge?”

“Midge.  That’s… a nice name,” Shawn said, smiling.

Midge shrugged.

“How old are you, Midge?”

Midge scowled.  Mal had tried to show her.  Mal was clever.  Her big brother was the one who fixed the cars and sold the scrap.  The one of them clever enough to pass in town without drawing too many stares.

She held up a hand.  All fingers out.

“You’re older than that,” Shawn said, smiling.  His eyes looked uneasy.

She shook her head, thrusting out her hand.

“Seriously?  Five?”

“Shawn, focus.

“Midge, I…”

Shawn trailed off as Midge raised the bone, yellow with scraps of gray meat hanging off it.  She extended it toward Shawn.

“Um,” he said, “No thanks.”

She didn’t stop or slow down.  When she was right next to him, she jabbed, striking him in the corner of the eye.

“Ow!  Fuck!  What the fuck!?  What’s wrong with you?”

Midge stared at him.  The anger was more familiar, comfortable.

“Shh, Shawn!” the heavier girl said.

He didn’t shout, keeping his voice low enough that Mam wouldn’t hear, but there was anger in his voice.  “That hurt.  What the fuck?  This fucked up place and this fucked up family!”

“Shawn, suck it up,” she said.  “Midge?  Listen, Midge, do you know where the thin man keeps the keys to these collars?”

Midge shook her head.

“You don’t know?  Do you think you can find out?”

Midge shook her head.  She headed to the cabinet, and fished through until she found a collar that looked good enough.  Mal had showed her this too.  He was good at putting stuff together.  Which was good, because he was as scrawny as Pa, but not nearly as strong.

Midge grabbed a knife, too.

She pushed the ends of the collar together as she approached the others.

Then she showed them what Mal had put together.  Slide the knife into the slit…

The collar popped open.

“Brilliant,” Shawn said, his voice low, expression grim.  As Mam made a noise in the kitchen, Shawn shot one fearful look her way.  “Except that doesn’t work while we’re wearing them.”

“Oh god,” the thinner girl said.

“What?” Shawn asked.

“Are you terminally stupid?” the girl asked.

What?

But the girl only shook her head.

Midge walked across the room, collecting her doll.  When she returned to the trio, she held the collar at neck level around the doll’s throat.  The cloth doll’s head smiled at the three, the collar as wide around as the doll was tall, the collar much too large.  Midge had to shuffle things around to hold the doll under one arm, hold the collar in place, and get a grip on the doll’s head with a knife still loosely gripped in the same hand.

She tore head from body.

Nooo,” the thin girl said, making it a long, drawn out sound.

“Oh god, oh god,” Shawn muttered.

The collar only came off if the head came off first.

Only the plump one managed to stay quiet, though Midge could see tears in the girl’s eyes.

Fear and despair were familiar too.  This was more comfortable than when they’d been smiling at her.

“Midge, why-” the girl’s voice choked, as if she couldn’t get the words out.  “Why did you do that to your doll, honey?”

Midge looked down at the destroyed doll.

“It’s a nice toy,” the girl said.  “Do you want me to fix it?”

Midge hesitated, reluctant.  She glanced back at the kitchen, but Mam was busy.

She nodded.

“Here,” the girl said.  “Come here.  I’ll put it back together.”

Midge approached.

The girl reached out for the head, and Midge extended her hands, the doll in two distinct pieces.

The girl didn’t take the doll.  She snatched the knife from Midge’s hand, and with her other hand, she grabbed Midge by the back of the neck, pulling her closer.

Midge stumbled forward a few steps, and felt the knife press against her chest, over her heart.

“Andrea!” the thin girl gasped.

“Sorry,” the heavier girl murmured.  Her voice cracked.  “We really need a hostage.  There has to be some way to get out of here.  If they break the chains-”

Midge could smell the girl.  Traces of sweat, of blood, but sweeter smells too, like fruit, in the girl’s hair.

Mam got the first pick of every meal.  She had the babies to feed.  By the time everyone else had eaten, there wasn’t much for Midge.

Her stomach rumbled.

She ignored the knife, leaning in close, and bit into Andrea’s collarbone.

The knife penetrated her chest.  She barely felt the pain, in the midst of the exultation.  The joy of food.  Of warm food.  Meat.

Her hands gripped the girl’s upper arms, and squeezed.  She felt the individual parts snap and break.  With each struggle, every jerk or shove, she didn’t lose her grip, be it tooth or finger, but reaffirmed it.  Her jaws locked, like the junkyard dogs in Mal’s scrap heap, or the weasels that scurried in the woods.

The boy on the one side and the girl on the other grabbed her, hit her, screamed in mutual stark terror, but they didn’t dislodge her.

It took Mam to dislodge her, hauling her away from the food with enough force that the bit of bone she was gripping with her teeth broke.  The screams of the three renewed.

“I told him,” Mam spat the words, red in the face, every few words punctuated by a shake that made Midge’s brain go all woozy.  “I told your Pa, you’re wrong somehow.  Now you’ve gone and ruined our dinner.  How do you make sausage when the blood’s all over the danged bedroom floor?”

Midge was frozen in fear.

“He’ll listen now,” Mam said.  “Treat you like Mal’s bitches, we will.  Lock you away.”

Midge didn’t, couldn’t resist as her mother hauled her outside.

Her Pa couldn’t resist either.

“Ah, my ‘skeeter,” her father said, almost mournfully, as he saw the pair approach.  “What have you done this time?”

Midge didn’t know what to say or do.

It was two minutes before she was shoved into the storehouse.  The shack.  The door was shut and barred.

Put away with all the other broken and discarded things.  Many were things taken from people who took a few too many wrong turns, like Shawn and Andrea and the other girl.

There were no windows.  It was okay.  She was good at seeing in the dark.

She pulled the knife out of her chest, and tossed it aside, sitting down in the corner with a hand over the wound, waiting.

The dullness of it was the second worst part.

She counted things, like Mal had told her, sticking to the things that could be counted with fingers and toes.  She moved piles aside.  She told herself stories in her head, spinning variations of stories her Mam had told her when she was smaller and they hadn’t yet known she was odd.  Mostly mute and big for her age.

But the hunger was the worst part of all.

She caught the bugs and scarfed them down before they could crawl through her fingers.  She chewed on an old leather boot until it was soft and tore the soft bits and ate them.

There were rats, too.  Best of all.

She learned where to hunt them, crawling further back into the shack, moving things so they’d move in certain directions or get cornered, or have things fall on them.

She crawled further back and further back still.

Until she found her way out.

The grass was grayer and the trees didn’t have leaves.  The sky was black, and a heavy mist hung over everything.

It was cold, but the cold didn’t bother her.

Bugs bit her, but she was used to that.

The ground broke away underfoot, like ice over ice water, except it was only sludge beneath, but she was strong, and she could keep moving forward until it was solid again.

She found the quiet little town, the place where it was almost easier to live outdoors than to risk going inside.  Bad things lurked here.  Some big, some smart.

She settled in, living on the fringes at first.

Not much different than life had been before.  It wasn’t much of a journey from there to here.  Here, she ate rats too.

And when people came along, more than one, she hid.

When a person, just one, came along, she followed.  She waited until they were asleep, she snuck up on them, and she broke them.  She ate her fill each and every time.

The first time she saw a Pa and a Mam was the first time she went after people when there were more than one.  She ate her fill then, too.

Her days were punctuated by hunting, scavenging, waiting, sleeping, and eating.

She stopped caring if they were asleep.  She stopped caring if they were alone, if there were three, or if there were eight.  They ran when they saw her anyway.

The door to the shack opened.

Her instincts were honed.  Even in the bewilderment of being home again, she didn’t waste a heartbeat.

Stranger?  Attack.

She lunged, catching the man by the head in both hands.  Easy, when his head was only as high as her shoulders were.

She took off his head like she’d taken her doll’s.

She hurled it at the next man, and knocked him off his feet.

Grabbing the headless body with both hands, she hurled it at the third man.

She didn’t get much farther than that.  There were others, and they were guarded by dogs.  The dogs spoke like men spoke, and the men spoke like the priest Mal had taken her to meet when she had first learned to walk, their voices a drone and a song and even posher than posh.  Proper, careful, old words.

She saw her Pa.  He was standing in a circle that had been drawn on the ground, head bowed.  He had more scars, and more gray hair, and his lips were thinner.  He was old.  He wore only overalls, no shirt, and held a tree saw in each hand.  There was blood on the blades.

Mam’s body was on the ground not far from him, headless, thrown into a pile with all the others.  Even Biff and Jory, who were almost halfway to being adults.

Stopped with words and dogs and circles.

But their words couldn’t stop her, and it was funny that the men seemed to think they should.  She killed two more before they thought to actually attack her.

She was strong.  She didn’t even slow down as they stuck one spear through her stomach or a sword through her arm.  She shoved one into the side of the house with enough strength to put a hole in the wall and a lot of holes in the man, from bits of house.

But, in the end, they got her.  She kneeled as the burdens their words put on her shoulder grew to be too much.  She watched through glaring eyes as they painted a circle around her.

“You’ll say the words,” one of the strangers told her.

She didn’t disagree.  What did it matter?  She said the words.  She agreed to the deal, whatever it was.

“You’ll come when you’re called,” the stranger said, his voice tight.  Upset about the people he’d lost.  “Midge, I hereby banish you.  Hear my words…”

“Midge?”  her father rasped the words.  “My ‘skeeter.”

She didn’t respond.  She only took a moment to shut her eyes and feel the cool air on her skin, to smell a place that was alive, not forever dying.  Before she opened her eyes again, she was banished.  Back to the place at the rear of the shack, with people to hunt and food to eat.

She was stirred from a nap by someone speaking her name.

“Geez,” a voice.  “You go a while without thinking about just how big she was, but then you see her, and… she’s big.”

Midge looked around.  Her breath fogged in the air.

A house on a hill, woods at the edges.  A town sprawled beneath.

She wriggled her toes, squeezing snow between each toe.

“I’m nervous about this,” someone said.  “Last time…”

“The binding was imperfect,” another someone said.  “We need strong, if we’re going to make it.  Midge is strong.”

Midge turned to look.  The last voice… a boy in a mirror.

His face crawled with branches, his hair was so grimy it didn’t move when his head did.  When he blinked, six different beady eyes that peered between branches also blinked, slightly out of time.

She’d hunted his type too, more than once.  Not a hunt that ended in food, but satisfying all the same.  Made her think.

“She can’t come in the house,” a girl said.

“No.”

“She’ll freeze out here.”

“I don’t think she will.”

“Can we give her a blanket, or anything like that?”

“We need to focus on summoning more help, and I really don’t want to leave Andy alone.  Even with his injuries.”

“I’m getting her something anyway,” the girl said.

“We agree on that,” A taller woman said, arms folded.  She glared at the mirror.  “If he dies, it’s on you.”

“I know.  But Alexis is helping him.”

Midge watched the discussion continue.

The girl emerged from the house, two fur pelts in her arms.

No, not pelts.  Coats.

“I know these probably don’t fit,” the girl said, laying the coats down on the snow, before backing up.  “But I thought maybe they’d help?”

Midge stepped close, and smiled at seeing the girl stumble back three steps in quick succession, running.

She liked it when they ran.

But she’d been called like this before, and this calling was proper.  She would obey until they made a mistake.

She bent down, collecting the coats.  Too small.  They wouldn’t fit her if she was half the size.

Still, she wasn’t stupid.

She did up the buttons, putting the buttons of one coat in the holes of the other.  She lifted the resulting garment up to her shoulders, and worked her arms into the sleeves, tearing them at the seams until her arms were through.

“That works.  Midge?  Stand guard,” the girl said, “You have free reign to kill and maim anything that isn’t human, unless they’re someone you see standing here before you, or they say the password, ‘birds and trees’.”

Midge nodded her agreement.

“Good.  Great,” the girl said, turning back to the group.  “There’s something reassuring in thinking that we can’t summon anything much worse.”

“I’m not so sure,” the boy in the mirror said.  “We’ve had a lot of non-answers, a lot of Bogeymen were very recently summoned and put down by witch hunters, going back to the Abyss.  I almost suspect that a few locals have summoned some things to deny us the chance to.  None of the ghosts in Grandmother’s records are responding, and the goblins are Maggie’s schtick.  Doesn’t leave a lot of options.  We’re running low on convenient allies and especially low on time.  That leaves us with the inconvenient ones.”

“What’s more inconvenient than Midge?

Midge didn’t hear the remainder of the conversation.  She stared off into the distance, at this dark, beautiful place, and she saw the sunset, dark red, as the sun was a sliver at the horizon.

She smiled.

A spark of flame, sweet grass burned.

A voice sang, undulating, in time with a drum.

Herbs were thrown onto the fire.

Other substances were thrown into the fire.

A dozen minds within the house exploded with new sensory information, visions, hallucinations, thinking further, even as those thoughts meandered.  The typical limits and defenses crumbled.  The minds became truly innocent.

The singing rose in intensity.

The fire blazed.

The spirits exulted, dancing among one another, into one another.

They stuck, they bound to one another.

More grass joined the fire.  The smoke changed from a clean white to black.

The spirits tore apart then rejoined, one spirit leaving a part of itself behind as it separated itself from the mass, then tried to find a better position, suiting its own need for worship and attention, for power, for placement in the grand harmony of how it all was put together.

The singing grew more intense, until each sound sounded like it caused pain to utter.  There was heartbreak in there, loss and pain.  Anger, all the wilder and more dramatic for the herbs in the smoke.

The tears in eyes wasn’t from the smoke alone.

The spirits collected and gathered, drawing in the emotion, feeding on it, altering themselves.

They congealed.

A greater spirit, the least of gods, the line was thin between the two.

They wore the form of a bird.

They opened their mouth to make their terrible piercing noise, a croak.  Or a guttural cry.  It depended on the listener.

It opened its mouth, to croak, to cry.

It ruffled its feathers.

There was only the crackle of burning grass, now.  No singing.

The singer’s voice was hoarse as he spoke in Algonquin, “Cause them heartbreak.  Do it until they have suffered what we have three times over.”

The spirit-bird cried out its response.

It flew from the building of interwoven wood.

It viewed the world through the eyes of a spirit.  A web of connections.  A tree was only a tree in the shade it gave to the ground below, to the relationship of wind to branch and air to leaf.  A man was only a man in relation to those he knew, to the wife and children he supported, the house he owned and the job he worked.

The crow soared, and it saw things as greater or smaller by the good they did the people and things around them.

The crow found the brightest places, and it found a place to land.

One of the bright things was a governess, kind, looking after children that weren’t hers, because their parents had passed.

The crow watched until they had gone to sleep.  It undid the latch and let itself inside.

A medallion, a precious heirloom, was moved to a box owned by the governess’ favorite orphan boy.  A collection of trinkets and funny stones, buttons and one mouse skull.

The movement was careful.  The thread that tied the governess to the heirloom was still strong.  She would find it, and she would be hurt.  Damage would be done that was irreparable.  A small amount of damage, but damage all the same.

The bird waited for a day, watching through a window.  The box was found.  The bird observed the shouting, the brief, three-stroke whipping the boy suffered, saw the tears and felt the boy’s sense of injustice, aimless.

That night, the bird moved the medallion to the boy’s keepsake box a second time.

It didn’t stay to watch this time.  It was a little bigger, a little stronger than before.

With that strength, the bird took up a pen, and visited a letter.  One woman’s name was erased, ink drawn from paper to pen, another woman’s name written in its place, with the same ink and the same penmanship.

This, the bird stood by to watch.

It wasn’t a dramatic incident.  The hurt and confusion were profound and quiet.  The man’s wife was too proper to speak of the subject, or to even confront her husband, but it hurt her as if she’d been stabbed.  Her husband loved another woman?

He did.  His own doubt ate away at him.  The bird watched him twist and turn.

It took four more pushes, four small incidents and well placed items.  A flower favored by the woman he wasn’t married to, on his doorstep.  A trace of her scent, tracked onto his pillow while he slept.

The man made his advance the day he heard her name whispered in the wind, conjured by the crow’s beak.  He was turned down, and broken with shame in the process.  His object of affection hurt, his wife wounded deeper still.

With every act, the crow spent little and gained much.  Every reaction was a form of worship.  It grew.

In two year’s time, it was able to take the form of a child, in addition to the shape of the bird.  It worked connections with more violence.

A small boy, Algonquin in appearance, went largely unnoticed amid the playing children of a new town.  When attention started to move in his direction, he sidestepped the forming connection.

A girl sat on a bench, watching the others kick a ball around.  She glittered and glowed with connections.  Everyone knew who she was, as she was the daughter of a community leader.  She fit in well with the flow of things, the natural course of events.  When she spoke, the spirits knew, she spoke true.  She remained innocent.

But the crow cared little for innocence.

A boy, forced to stop playing by the nearby teacher, sat on the far end of the same bench.  He was known to many, but not in a good way.  He carried a weight, the imprints and echoes of other spirits and events.  His father, in particular, radiated such negativity that the boy could only carry it.  The boy was a liar.

The crow found the connection between them, a thread, and touched the middle of it.  It pulled.  The two wouldn’t topple over the back of the bench, but they would follow the path of least resistance.  Drag a string with a weight on each end, and the weights would touch.

The actual events were more happenstance.  More girls sat on the bench, and the girl that had sat there shifted position to give them room.

In that same moment, the boy lay down on the remaining section of bench.  In the doing, the top of his head made contact with the girl’s dress and hip.

Simpler, dumber spirits contrived to tidy up the mess of the unruly connection.

The boy experienced a moment of electric shock, running straight down the core of his body.  Ever restless, he froze, not daring to move.

She noticed too, but she was striving to get along with the other girls who occupied the bench, and didn’t want to move away.  She pretended not to notice.

It was, as things went, innocent.  Happenstance physical contact.  But it was a beginning to something.

The boy did everything he could to transcribe the event to memory.  He closed his eyes, sun warm on his face, and the whole of his attention was concentrated on the coin-sized area of his head that was in and was keeping contact with a beautiful girl.

The girl looked down, and she saw his face, imagining him asleep.

It struck her that she’d never seen him so at ease.  When he stopped acting the troublemaker, he looked nice.

The crow cawed and swooped past.  The boy’s teacher saw him occupying the bench, and shouted at him, ordering him to stand by her side.

He loathed his teacher in that moment.

He looked back over his shoulder as he got up from the bench, and met the girl’s eye.

The touch of pink on her cheeks… that was more than a beginning, to him.

It, she, gave his life meaning.

Had the crow wished, it could have let her heal the boy of that which ailed him.  The abusive father, the propensity to drink, the anger and restlessness.  The boy might even have found that peace, as well as the strength needed to prove himself in the small town and become someone respectable.

The crow did not wish for this.

In a way, the boy and the girl were happier in the short term.  They grew up a little, and enjoyed their romance.  But romance, as these invaders called it, was a mysterious, fleeting thing.  It was not true love.  It inveigled.

A stolen kiss behind the schoolyard, the pair being caught.  The girl spanked by her father when he heard.  The pair were driven together by hardship.

The girl became a liar.

The girl found the boy’s restlessness and anger and made it her own.

They stole away from their respective homes and found each other in the woods, late at night, hearts pounding as they embraced.

The crow planned a tragedy that would darken the hearts of everyone in the little town.

It did not do so unimpeded.

Though his guess was off target, the girl’s father openly voiced his suspicion that something darker was at work.  He spoke of devils working their way into his daughter’s heart.

He called for help, and help arrived.

A man of the cloth, who took an immediate dislike to the local minister.  A stern, strict man, who knew things.

He was wrong about what the crow was, but he still managed to capture and bind it.

He sent it back at the ones who had created it, with a touch of added power, hostility, outrage, given freely, and the compact of the Invader’s ways of dealing with spirits.  A seal, which made the crow both less of what it had been and more a part of things.  A different manner of things.

The crow flew.  Then it walked.

It arrived at the outskirts of the area, and it found its creator waiting, an old man.

“I knew you would come back,” the old man said, in a language the crow hadn’t heard for some time.

“They’d have me harm you,” the crow responded.

“Yes.”

“Let me.  You’re old.  It won’t hurt many.”

“No,” the old man said.

The crow advanced a step.  “If you don’t let me, then I’d have to hurt you indirectly.  Your children and grandchildren, your home…”

“If I let you kill me,” the old man said, “They have you.  They’ll use you against us.  Better to destroy you or turn you back against him.”

“A canoe crosses the same river, day in, day out.  Back and forth,” the crow said.

“Yes.  But sooner or later, it has to stop.  Each journey gets harder, more meaningful.”

The crow nodded.

It attacked, drawing a knife.  It drew back, ready to throw the blade, then flung the weapon.

Stepping forward to complete the throw, it stepped onto something.

Gunpowder lit, going up in a moment.  A symbol appearing in a puff of smoke, burned into the ground.

But the blade had left the crow’s hand a moment before.

The old man stared as the blade went well over his head, and through the wall of a building.

There was a distant roar, a scream, both from the same young man.

The crow bowed his head, folding his hands in front of him.

“I won’t ask what you just did,” the old man said.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.  Don’t speak,” the old man said, his voice pained.  “Take what I give you, and use it against them.”

“I don’t think you have anything strong enough to send me back,” the crow said.  “Even if you did, they have my name, they have sealed me.  I could stop them, make them pay, but when I was done, the next one could call me, and I’d be bound to act.”

The old man nodded.

The screams were joined by others.

Anxiety was writ large over the old man’s face and body.

“Then take what I give you, use it against them.  Let the ones who bound you live, but never let them call you without paying a price.”

The crow smiled.  “Some will be strong.  I don’t think there’s much you could give me that would let me bend the rules like that, father.”

The old man frowned, eyes closing.  “Don’t call me father, wretched thing.”

The old man produced a knife, and cut his own throat.  Not a clean cut, in the end, but a savage one, where strands and matter caught on the knife, and the blade turned a sharp angle at one large vein.

The crow watched impassively as the old man dropped to both knees, then carefully eased himself down to lie beside the circle.

Blood flowed out, and covered the lines that had been burned into the ground.

The crow drank of the power.  All that the old man was capable of.  Nine more years of a practitioner’s life, distilled into a kind of strength.

The crow was no longer a child, but a man.

It walked, instead of flying, to the town it had flown from.  Calmly, quietly, it put things in motion for those who had summoned it to find ignoble ends.  Two men of the cloth found with their manhood deep inside cattle.

This took more power than the crow should have used.  It took years to recover.  Years where the crow studied the people and watched from the periphery.  It was the sort of power that it couldn’t afford to use, and diminished it forever from that moment on.

But it had almost come to resemble a person, in the bargain.

It started almost from the beginning, building its power.  A piece of paper signed to the wrong person, with the property and value going to the failure of the family, not the harder worker.  A meaningful gift, with all the value attached, handed over to someone else, to forge a friendship between a scoundrel and a doctor.  The doctor took to using laudanum, and his patients experienced agony for it.

The crow traveled, more patient, more slow.  Working in three different places at a time, traveling from one to the other, so time might pass and events might unfold in their own time.

Twice, he was called.  Twice, he went.

The first to call him lost a book that he had borrowed.  It would be missed by both parties.

The second found her son and heir to her power stolen away by another woman, her one-time husband’s new wife.

Neither suspected.

Searching out the lovelost boy and girl, with their ill-advised relationship, the girl now harboring anger and resentment in her heart, he found both missing.

Looking for them, following the threads that tied everything to everything else, forming the fabric of the world, he found them in an old wooden house.

An old woman, one of the crow’s people, stirred a pot.  Her daughter, yet to even approach adulthood, swept.

The lovelost couple were bound, sitting at the table.

“Have a seat,” the old woman offered.

The crow did.

She served a stew.  None of the foods the invaders had brought with them.  A pleasant change.  She, her daughter, and the crow all ate.

The bound couple remained too terrified and perhaps too stubborn to even speak.

The crow was first to finish, and took the offer of a second bowl.  He stared at the dolls that sat on the shelf as he ate.  Each as bright as a lantern.

They each finished at the same time, the daughter dutifully picking up the bowls and carrying them outside to wash.  A chain trailed from her ankle to the hearth, long enough that she could reach the trough where water had collected, to wash each of the wooden bowls.

The old woman spoke in Algonquin, “Why did you come, spirit?”

“Them.”

“Do you have a claim to them?”

“Not a strong one.  I merely want them.”

“So do I,” she said.  “I need strength.”

“We all do,” he replied.

He watched her, and he could see the connections between her and the area, between her and the stones, and the trees.  She was brighter than any living soul the crow had met, and so set in her ways that she was almost a part of the grand scheme of it all.  Here, at least.

“You have time,” he told her.

“When you have the time available to you,” she answered, “The moment becomes more important than the year.”

“I’ll remember that piece of wisdom,” he replied.

“How badly do you want them?” she asked.  “What can you offer me?”

“I suspect we’re both immortal.  I can promise friendship, and a promise to visit now and again.”

“I could promise the same.”

“You don’t travel.  I have been told that any time one of them summons me, I am to take something they value.  I’ll bring you one of these things as a gift, each time I visit, and show you the rest I have collected in the meantime.  Each, shown or given, comes with a story.”

She didn’t smile.

But she looked at the fire and sighed.  “Tell me it will hurt them.”

“It will hurt them,” he said.  “You’ll see in time.”

“Very well.”

He drew a knife and cut the ropes.

They fought their way free of the ropes, rising from the bench and backing away in a moment.  The light from the hearth didn’t quite reach them in the corner, and the shadows there were dark.

Leave,” he spoke in their tongue.

They fled.

He could feel them go, could see the connections shifting as they returned to their place in his plan.

“I was going to have them tomorrow night,” the old woman said.  She rose from the bench, then sat down again, her back to him.  “No need to wait, now.  The blade?”

He handed her the blade.

She bent over, and she sliced deep into her own ankles.  The blade wasn’t sharp, and she had to saw until she was satisfied.

“There are herbs,” the crow commented.  “Medicines.”

“Their medicines?”

“Among others.”

“The pain is useful,” she said. She bent over, grabbing the chain from the floor, draping it over one knee.

She placed one hand flat on the table, then slammed the knife into it, piercing flesh and the table both.  She bent over with the pain.

“A good thing there is so much of it.”

“Yes,” she said, her voice tight.  “Child!”

She held the chain in her one free hand, winding her hand up in chain to get rid of the slack.

The child saw the knife piercing the old woman’s hand and fear hit her.  Dull-eyed before, she pulled away.

The old woman, however, pulled her close.

Nanaming,” the old woman said, her head pressing against the child’s, even as the child shrunk down.  Her arm held the chain tight.  “Ga chibwàmashe,  kwagwedjitò.

A short phrase, but the words echoed words spoken again and again.

The pair were still for a moment.

The little girl broke the old woman’s grip, backing away.

The old woman, in turn, looked at the girl, then at the crow, eyes wide with fear.

“Mother?” the old woman asked the child.

“Once,” the child responded.  She stepped into the bedroom, then returned.  A key in hand.  She undid the shackle and rubbed her wrist.  “You’re the mother now, for a little while longer.”

The old woman tried to stand, and fell to the floor.  She howled in pain as her hand wrenched where it was skewered to the table.

“Easy,” the child said.  “Go gently.  You should already feel your body going numb.  There will be a moment of panic, a fluttering of the heart, and you’ll feel no more.”

The old woman stared up at her, mute.  “The dolls?”

“You’ll join all the ones who came before,” the child assured her.  “You’ll keep the children company until the bones that hold the body upright crumble and the hairs wither.”

True fear struck the old woman, but she didn’t have the strength to move.

“Dangerous,” the crow commented, as the old woman slumped.  “Every generation?”

“Not too dangerous, with practice,” the child said.

“I could help.”

“I trust myself more than I trust you.”

The crow touched the table, brushing at the bloodstained wood with one hand.  He felt the notches.

“Twenty-three times?” he asked.  “You only have so many dolls.”

“The years take them.  I bury the remains around the house.  The first four are at the cornerstones.  Far more than twenty-three.  I used rope before.”

“Where do the children come from?”

“The question is where the men come from.”

“I see.”

She didn’t elaborate, and she didn’t ask what would become of the pair settling in the nearest town.

They’d see, given time.

Corvidae appeared in a flurry of feathers.

He glanced around, at the circle on the floor, then at the group of practitioners.

The witch hunters too.

“Again?” he asked.  “Where is Rose?”

“Occupied,” the monster in the mirror said.  “You don’t need to know.”

“I see,” Corvidae said, smiling.  “What am I doing, then?”

“I don’t trust you in the house, but we still need help.  I’m betting that someone will want to see how things play out.  They’ll probably assume we’re busy and they’re too tough to take out, and venture out of safer territory.  Find them, distract them.  Don’t hurt innocents or civilians.  Only the local powers, and only those hostile to us.”

Corvidae managed a bow.

“Go.  The sooner the better.”

Corvidae stepped free of the circle.

In the hallway, miss Alexis was letting the other members of the family out of the basement.

“Don’t-” she started.

But Corvidae was adept in altering the connection between the bomb mounted on the door and the surrounding environment.  He opened the door and slammed it behind him.

“Don’t!” he heard miss Alexis ordering the others.

Corvidae walked merrily down the long driveway.  He could see eyes glimmering in the darkness, ready to siege the house.

Much too enjoyable.  Ups and downs, including a few trips to the Abyss, to learn the right details needed to send others to the Abyss, and to pick up a proper name.  Now it was time.

He laughed, and it was a high croak of a laugh, a guttural cry.

His thumb brushed the lock of black hair that was tied around his right ring finger, easily mistaken by the unwary for a ring.  A certain mirror had gone missing, a tome in mirror form, with a denizen within.  That one could wait a century or two.  Better to leave it alone, let it work its effect on miss Rose, and in the end, if an opportunity arose and certain individuals got angry enough, perhaps one of his people could benefit.

What would he get this time?

The water was warmest close to the lakebottom.

Even in winter, the frigid water here was better than the warmer water there.  It was clean, and it sang through her gills, clear and fresh.  She was more durable than she looked.

Here and there, she managed to scrounge up something in hibernation, buried within the coarse, near-frozen sand of the lake.

She could relax.  The black fish didn’t chase her here.

Happy, happy.  She twisted around herself. letting her fins flare out to arrest her movement, then flicking her tail twice in rapid succession to launch herself forward.

Company would make her happier still.

Company-

Green Eyes.

Someone called her name.

Green Eyes.

She recognized the voice.

Green Eyes, if you’d hurry it up-

A light flashed.  She didn’t wait for it to take form as a door or whatever.

Blake!

“-it would be very much appreciated,” Blake finished.

She made a big splash as she broke the surface.

The bathroom was bright, the gathered crowd a little out of sorts.

Jesus,” a boy she didn’t recognize said.  He looked almost like Blake, but with finer features.  And no branches or birds or any of that.  Clean.

She liked Blake more.

“Green Eyes,” Blake said.  He was standing in the middle of the bathroom mirror, above the sink.  Black paint had been scraped off with a chisel or some similar tool.

“Blake,” she said, smiling.

“Man, those teeth,” the Blake-family-member said.

“I’m not sure if I should be wowed or disappointed,” a black-skinned boy in the hallway said.  “Leaning toward wowed.”

Blake spoke, “We need help, do you want-“

“Yes.”

“Can you-“

“Yes,” she said.  She put her arms on the edge of the tub and lifted her tail over.  “I can help.”

“Hi!” the bird-morsel said.

“Hi,” Green Eyes replied.

“Thanks for that,” Blake said.  “We’ll catch up later.”

“Great!”

“Stay out of the way of the innocents on the ground floor, and the one we’ve got in the bedroom across from you.  They’re… complications for the enemy.  Don’t eat humans, don’t eat Evan.”

“Please,” the bird-morsel said.

“I’ll be good,” Green Eyes told Blake, still propping herself up on the side of the bathtub.

“Here we go,” Blake said.  “Clock’s ticking down, there aren’t any great options left.  Everything else that’s worth summoning was summoned in the last few weeks, killed, has specific rules, or some other complication we can’t work with.”

“You’ve got odd friends,” Blake’s relative said.

“Yes,” Blake replied.

“I remember when the family got together, I was jealous of-”

 

The town bell tolled.  Green Eyes liked the town bell.

“Being?”

A second toll.

“Sorry, was going to say jealous, but…”

“Of?”

Third toll.

“I don’t know,” Peter said.  “Paige, Molly, and-”

Fourth toll.

Me?” Blake asked.

With the fifth toll marking sundown, the house shuddered.

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243 thoughts on “Histories (Arc 11)

    1. “unless they’re someone you see them standing here before you”

      The “them” seems unnecessary.

      “But the crow carried little for innocence”

      The “carried” should likely be “cared”.

    2. Typos:

      • “What’s more inconvenient than Midge?“ -> the question mark probably shouldn’t be in italics

      • “The tears in eyes wasn’t from the smoke alone.” -> “weren’t”

      • “miss Alexis” -> “Miss Alexis” x2

      • “miss Rose” -> “Miss Rose”

      • There’s an empty line after “I remember when the family got together, I was jealous of-“. Could be intentional, though.

    3. A bit late since I was traveling when this came out:

      nobby bits
      knobby bits

      more shrill
      usually shriller

      “Midge?” her father rasped the words.
      “Midge?” Her father rasped the words.

      schtick
      shtick

      two year’s time
      two years’ time

      lakebottom
      usually lake bottom

      1. knobby is bumpy
        nobby is haute couture or fashionable
        Yeah, probably knobby was meant. But, who knows, maybe her knobs are nobby.

        schtick or shtick are correct — shtick is the more usual spelling, but we’re translating from non-English characters and schtick sounds more like how it’s pronounced to some people, enough that it’s also correct (although not used as much)

  1. So much stuff to cover. Soooo much stuff to cover, from Midge, from Green Eyes, from Corvidae. Especially from Corvidae.

    To wit:
    – Corvidae of First Nations origin confirmed.
    – the two lovebird kids are clearly, to my mind, the forebears of the Thorburns. And that’s spun out wonderfully, now hasn’t it?
    – Corvidae rescued the two lovebird kids from the Thorburns, and watched as Crone Mara swapped bodies with her daughter. To the TV Tropes page!
    – Corvidae knows where the Conquest mirror is, which I’ve gotta say set the alarm bells ringing PDQ.
    – Corvidae sabotaged one of the bombs, which will now go off at exactly the worst moment.
    – He had to be forced to undergo the Seal of Solomon, which has implications for Blake.
    And I’m certain several others.

    1. Another thing about Corvidae: Rose Sr. said that he worked for free. Clearly she was wrong. Possibly because he’s outside of her area of expertise, so she failed to notice the cost of summoning him?

      1. I don’t think that cost was ever written down: don’t forget, those who originally sealed him didn’t get his nature quite right in the first place. And, he was further changed when they tried the “return to sender” backfire on those who created him in the first place. Which promptly blew up in the sealer-summoner’s faces.

        They couldn’t have known the revised mission he was given that circumvented the seal somewhat. Let alone record it anywhere. 😐 And, it’s not like he’d let anybody know enough to ask the wrong question of him he’d have to answer. 😛

        1. Reminds me of the verse from the DeathKlok song Mermader. “Remember if you seek vengence others will seek vengence on you.”

        2. The weird thing is that summoners know what he can do. Why on earth isn’t there a standard “don’t use your powers in a way that’s detrimental to me or mine” clause that he has to agree to before he gets let out of the summoning circle?

      2. But his cost is subtle and easily looked over. A lost book, a son that bonded with his step mom, a mirror in a box that had lost its connection to its owner when he dropped out of reality. JC isn’t exactly taking things in the most obvious of ways, and it’s only his ability to see how altering one little connection will play out in the long run that allows that to work as a ‘cost’.

      1. A day or two late here, but I’m leaning towards Joseph Atwell and Courtney Canfield from 5.x (Fell’s [great?]-grandfather). She was blonde, and he was an illusionist.

    2. “the two lovebird kids are clearly, to my mind, the forebears of the Thorburns”

      Interesting idea. How did you come up with that?

      And I don’t think Corvidae sabotaged the bomb. I don’t think he harms his summoners except for the price he extracts, and he hadn’t decided on that yet. The door was booby-trapped and he just did whatever he does to exit the house without setting off said trap.

      1. The door was booby-trapped and just as people were about to come out of the basement, he slammed the door with the bomb on it, presumably making it a lot more difficult for them to come out of the basement because now if they open the door they risk blowing the bomb.

          1. That was how I read it, too. She was warning him that it was trapped, but he manipulated connections to open and close it safely; then she shouted a warning to everyone else not to try and open it themselves, because otherwise they might assume that the fact that he was able to walk through it might mean it wasn’t trapped.

    3. which thorburns do you feel they clearly are? you certainly aren’t talking about rose sr, genders are wrong backstories wrong and I really don’t see diabolist counting as pillar of the community with a preacher on their side or the soldier from an established family counting as the bad one

  2. So Peter might still remember Blake somewhat. That raises so very many questions.

    Maybe Rose Jr. and Blake are actually twins, both their backstories actually happened, and Rose Sr. employed grand sorcery to vestigify Blake, erase all evidence of Rose, and then set things up to swap them.

    Also, I find it really, really ominous that they’ve actually run out of viable summons. Granted, that’s probably in large part because they’re working with a Diabolist library, so the non-demon summons they can find are fairly well-known, but it’s still not good.

    1. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything that Peter remembers Blake; we know that people got fake memories of Blake, and were intended to keep them. It could simply be that Ur wasn’t strong enough to completely erase Peter’s fake memories at such a long distance.

      On the other hand, the fact that it was placed at the end of this chapter makes it feel like it means more than that. The other question is whether whatever Peter remembers is Blake, a fake memory of Blake, or whoever Blake was based on — in other words, it’s possible there was a Blake-prime.

      It’s also possible that Blake-prime is still alive somehow; nothing says that whoever Blake was based on is dead.

      1. He’s talking about Thorburn family gatherings, so it’d need to be a Blake-prime in the Thorburns, and given the interactions with Carl they’d need to be about Mirror!Blake’s apparent age. I’m pretty sure the original is at least dead-ish because I can’t imagine he’d be alive without having gotten involved already.

        Also, it seems like Ur did in fact take a chunk out of Peter’s memories of Blake, since he’s struggling to remember the list.

        1. We assumed that when Rose took Blake’s place that she was the original. Perhaps the reason they dont want to tell Blake the truth about him is because he was the real person. Maybe it was a way for Rose Sr to get some immortality.

          I knew Corviade was bad news…And Rose has been using him the most.

            1. I dont know. If Rose isnt real, maybe she put a lot of her personality in the new Rose.

              There has to be a reason she summoned and bound the barber. She even mentions something about cutting reflection.

            2. I have been entertaining the idea that Rose and Blake are twins. Blakes life was real, but the barber cut the universe so they both occupy the same place, making it so that the Blake part would fade away (afawk)

          1. I find the timing interesting, happening when the bell is tolling. Who was last seen messing with the bell? Molly’s ghost.

  3. The Bad News: Green Eyes isn’t bound by the Seal, she can lie, shee sees Evan as the bird-morsel… She’s going to try to eat him. 😦

    Crone Mara pulling a Grand Theft Me with generations of her own daughters as a form of Immortality… Shout Out to Dragon Age: Origins’ Flemeth legend?

    The unknown/unintended price of loss for summoning Corvidae by Practicioners, HAH! Totally saw that one coming.

    Midge being powerful enough to go to the Abyss & back on her own to hunt regularly after being stabbed and dumped in a shed and with her simply waiting for the wrong order to be given facepalms why don’t Blake & co. just shoot themselves in the foot right now to save the trouble later?

    1. I saw Midge’s ease at crossing back and forth to the Abyss as being due to her degenerate, destructive family producing something enough in tune with the nature of the Abyss to be half boogeyman from the beginning. Five years old, and she liked it there.

        1. Was it? Her home life seemed to more or less match what I thought the average home life of a setter’s kid was. Also, her parents seemed to have been even nicer to her back when they thought she was normal. (Though why they thought she’d make a good babysitter…?)

  4. Midge is a known quantity. Lethally dangerous, but the situation is bad enough that I can see that it’s worth summoning her. Corvidae, however, is bad news. We didn’t know how poisonous he was before, but I can’t say that I’m particularly surprised. Looking back, how much of the fiasco in Toronto was his fault? At least Green Eyes doesn’t fill me with dread (but maybe I’m not paranoid enough).

  5. So I think it’s pretty clear that one of these fucking others is going to sidestep Blake’s vague-ass instructions and do something horrible and powder-keg explody. It probably won’t be Green Eyes since she’s eating out of his hand. But the other two…

    Taking all bets! Taking all bets!

    What a fucking shit it would be if they did something to the Junior Council members and strangled Blake’s aspirations to get them to rebel in their sleep.

  6. Okay, so Green Eyes is just gonna seduce Blake. Probably will be good for him.
    Blake is Rose’s twin, and he was completely wrong about being an Other. Of course this means that if the Barber carved out a reflection its still running around and unaccounted for. Perhaps this Rose is the reflection and if she dies yet another Rose will appear?

    Corvide stole the mirror. I guess we know where that went now. And a greater spirit is close to a god? That guy got about five times scarier.

      1. called that for some time. but it is not confirmed yet. It may only be the cut connections more or less reforming, because something happened to Rose.

        btw: shit is going DOWN!

      1. That passage fairly clearly implies that the line between greater spirit and lesser god is pretty fuzzy. We don’t know if Dionysus is considered a lesser god at this point. That would make it a ton easy to figure out where Corvidae ranks. It seems likely that he’s at least up there with the Eye and Isadora, though. Which is interesting because we haven’t yet seen him do anything that indicates that level of power.

  7. So Crone Mara and Corviade are team Native American? Seriously Crone Mara just went a few levels on the fucked up scale.

    Green Eyes definitely likes Blake’s company. I dont think she will betray him since in her pov she wanted company.

    How messed up would it be if the first Thorburn practitioner was an innocent honest girl that got corrupted by Corviade.

    1. Well, they’re not a Team, team, from what I read. More like “vaguely allies pulling mostly in the same (or, at least, a similar) direction — occasional competitors to each other: always bad news to practically everybody else”.

      1. Probably and enemy of my enemy thing. Or too really old people who like to share stories of people they have screwed over. At least we know what the smile Blake saw Corviade give Crone Mara during the meeting.

    2. Also at this point the two of them, especially Mara, have probably killed more Native Americans than any white man alive.

      1. Alive being an extremely key adjective. And just because white people have ceased killing First Peoples, that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped being oppressed by a long shot.

    3. “Seriously Crone Mara just went a few levels on the fucked up scale.”

      Hey its a good strategy! Unspent years of life are a major source of power. See Corvidae and Chronomancy. She can produce a entire lifetime of said power every year. She’s effective. And its not like she kills them either! She keeps their soul around to power her magic.

      Anyway, except for what she does with the souls this was all known. We knew she was a body snatcher. I have to say its a damn good plan. Everyone else is trying to grab power from Others or others for the most part. Want power? Take a city, hunt goblins, or marry off your kids. Go into the abyss and capture some boogeymen. The Behaims do this too, with taking time from the kids to gather it all up.

      Crone Mara? She wants power, she fucking makes it herself.

      Actually, what I thought the most worrisome detail was that with so many bits of practice, including the seal, being Western inventions Crone Mara might not be a standard practitioner. The Seal is what gives Others their restrictions; what if Mara is free of restrictions like Corvidae was too?

      1. Maybe it’s just me, but having kids just so you can steal their lives from them seems sort of like a total perversion of what motherhood is supposed to be.

      2. Crone Mara is most likely a non-Western practitioner/Other, but that doesn’t make her omnipotent; it just means she faces different restrictions. Becoming Other is never just an advantage. In her case, Corvidae stressed that she was strong in her house, or possibly also in the immediate vicinity. But her movement seems rather limited.
        And what if her dolls were destroyed?

    4. more team psycho revenge than team native. evil anger spirits holding a 400 year old grudge don’t exactly represent a people

  8. So we learn the origins of the bogeyman. Interesting that Blake was called the monster in the mirror, and how grateful green eyes is to him. Bogeyman can’t breed right?

    I’m actually more curious about what Peter will do. He will want to be practitioner, and I wonder what he will do if he becomes one. That friends comment is also interesting. What was he jealous about? How does he seem blake right now? Wildbow is known for humanizing even terrible people, and there is always a chance for redemption. Blake protected him, is sort of family that doesn’t antagonize him, and he opened his eyes to a new world. Could they someday be friends/allies? Pffft, not a chance.

    1. Peter is more vicious than Blake anticipated. The way he handled Andy was too much for Blake. I agree with Peter though. Andy had to be taken out.

    2. Peter is more vicious than Blake anticipated. The way he handled Andy was too much for Blake. I agree with Peter though. Andy had to be taken out.

      I wonder how many Others practitioners have made stronger by not knowing what they were dealing with.

    3. Well, Midge and her siblings were born somehow, before being sealed. And Motes are possible.
      So yes, I’d say that one way or another, boogeyman can breed.

      1. Midge and her siblings weren’t other back then as far as I can tell. They were creatures, less than human, but not Other. Not at least until Midge was forgotten in the shack.

        1. Then how come her family was bound in circles? And how did Midge see her family while she was in the back of the shack/the abyss/drains?

        1. That would be awesome. Incredibly convoluted, even by the standards of people that argue that Granny’s plan hasn’t gone off the rails, but it’d still make me laugh my ass off.

      1. Well Blake is becoming more tree all the time. Green Eyes is a lake monster. So their kids would clearly be seaweed monsters. Not that terrifying.

          1. All I can really think of for tree+water is mangrove swamps and bayou. On the one hand we have bugs, manatees (I don’t think anyone can make them scary) and cetaceans. On the other we have bugs, alligators and the Swamp Thing… Solely because they’re both so terrifying looking, I’m pretty sure BlakeXGreen Eyes would actually produce a manatee Other to haunt the Canuckistani waterways. 😛

          2. they’re both human shaped, it’d come out more like a swampthing/black lagoon mashup, especially since thats an established type of monster so it’d probably show up as an other eventually

    1. how much hit to blakes humanity points do you think it’ll be when she either gets killed back to the drains because of him(probably right after saying how much she likes it up here or she does something likable) or pulls an orange/blue morality and kidnaps somebody to keep her company in the lake.

  9. 0- haha, talking dogs. Wait, why were blake and rose warned against having familiars being dogs?

    1-The moment the “crow” found the lovebirds in the old wooden house, I facepalmed and said “so that’s why Corvidae smiled at her at the meeting…. oh crap”

    2-They just summoned a lesser GOD that happens to be racist and hates all of them. Oh boy.
    Wait.. what’s that band of hair? Who does it belong to???

    3-Oh man, I SO hope we aren’t seeing more of C-word any time fucking soon. Hope that thing stays lost.

    4- I really love Green Eyes and how adorable she seems, but not liking the fact she can lie, loves the doom-bell, and thinks of Evan as food. Buuuut she’s still smitten by blake, so all is good. She almost jumped out of her own bones when she heard his voice.

    5-Midge was NOT told to protect anyone or anything. Just given free reign. She could take a nap and let everything else eat everyone alive. Dammit Blake.

    6-Lastly, I have some problems with the current theories about the last few lines. Pre-drains blake had connections and all that, and Peter and everyone else had memories of him. When he met his end, things were set up so Rose would fill in the gap and peter and everyone would remember her instead, as it was originally (except for the blakeguard, because they never met rose). So I’m not buying that both Rose and Blake were real and twins. At all. It would mean that not only did Grams plan for an entire person to become non-existant as far as the universe was concerned, but to also to have the siblings memories be erased from eachother. I don’t buy that they don’t have any idea that they were siblings, but a fucking COUSIN remembers being jealous of one of them, AND that jealousy didn’t transfer over to Rose.

    6.5- I have no comment about the theory that Rose IS granny rose. It’s been around since the start, but so has the idea that Rose is the true heir and Blake is the vestige. Now as far as there being someone else, a Blake-Prime… I hope so. But the real thing I want to know is…. what was peter jealous OF? When the family got together, he was jealous of someone or something. And he remembered this after saying Blake had odd friends. Was he jealous of someone having friends over at family gatherings?
    My money’s on that he is jealous that someone got to call Granny-rose a Rancid Cunt (with all due respect).

      1. It’s a bit harder than that. There is no connection between Peter and Blake to begin with, only crafted memories.

        Blake wasn’t there for the family get-together in 1.01. He started existing in the ‘real world’ when Molly died.
        The only family that Blake actually met between that point and his erasurre are Callan, Chris and Irene, manipulated by a Duchamp to bother him before his first council, and Paige, later in Toronto.

        Now, those guys clearly remembered Blake as family, so I’m guessing that Blake’s creation involved secondary spells which granted appropriate fake memories to every Thorburn (and possibly the Blakeguards as well).

        It seems Urr’s weakness to creation makes her unable to destroy fake memories entirely. An interesting, maybe unexpected side effect.

        1. Oh, that’s an interesting reason for it to work like that. Memory eraser having trouble with fake memories is really fun. Nevertheless, I’m fairly sure we haven’t seen everything we need to work out what really happened, so I’ll just keep reading.

    1. 0- probably because of Faysal
      1- yep, they are an item
      2- Corvidae was a greater spirit, but he had to cultivate a lot of energy to bring forth his current form. His worst attribute is the price one pays without knowing
      3- personally, i am kind of stumped what exactly that meant. I interpret it as “the mirror is missing because Corvidae hid it somewhere”
      4- She is dangerous. She wanted to eat Blake, renember? But the fraction of human left in her seems to be… nice.
      5- She was told to stand guard. But not for how long. Somewhere, there might be a loophole for her.
      6- The point which drives me towards thinking Blake was a real person before is not the connections, as they can be forged, but the fact that demons cannot create. So the barber could not create Blake from nothing. Together with the little tidbit of Mrs Levin saying “I see why she choose you”, it gives a clue towards “Blake was a real person, and probably related to Rose”
      6.5- Rose Sr. did not seem to be the immortality kind of women. She seemed most interested to see her plan of real change coming about, by whatever mean necessary.

      1. Mrs. Lewis was their contact in the lawyer firm. Mr. Levinn was one of the other two.

        And Blake’s origins seem to be on a frigging yoyo or something. Human? No, Vestige. Vestige? No, Human. I eagerly await the day when the story makes up its mind.

      2. Well he takes something each time he’s summoned, so I took it as he took the mirror. So he might keep it, have it lost for a while, or give it to the old lady. Either way, he said that C-word can wait a loooong time while in there, so he won’t be doing anything about releasing him.
        Which means, to me, we won’t be seeing more of C-word for a while. Hopefully.

      3. “dangerous, She wanted to eat Blake, remember? ”


        to be fair that was plan B and contingent upon his death. (you’re starving in the drains and not eating him would be wasteful.)

        plan A was to allow him to wander in the dark and fall into the water, become trapped and depend on her for survival so she wouldn’t be lonely…

        until he seemed nice and she decided to help him, telling him to his face she wasn’t giving up on the mate thing, it was just going on the back burner for when he fell.(and then his rather rude “‘I’d rather die, its not you its me” bit where eating his corpse became the consolation prize)

        so not hungry predatory but still definitely dangerous in the “might suddenly pull some random iceskater down though the ice to slowly become her new mermaid buddy” way

        1. I just feel like inhuman hungry and carnivorous as she seems to be, she’d probably rather have a friend than a meal and probably isn’t going to hunt any food that talks, lake has enough fish.
          also she seems like she’d be more likely to wait to until somebody had fallen through the ice and would have drowned on their own rather than actively screwing them over by pulling them in…she’d just…save but not exactly rescue them(sure she could help them back out or onto the ice, but then she’d be alone again, so she’ll help you breathe…. (at least thats what she was going to do with bake, and what her predecessor did with her))
          unless that “become like me” thing has nothing to do with her nature and was entirely a result of the drains……it probably was, but does she know that?
          i could see her accidentally killing some kid who fell in and getting people after her.

      4. Demons not being able to create probably only really applies to the First Choir. The others, especially the Fifth and Sixth, probably can. They just don’t use it for anything other than corruption and destruction, being demons. Also, even the First Choir makes motes, which in their case probably means they grow until they can split bits off.

    2. I wonder about the hair. I can’t recall what happened to the fae glamor hair, but I believe it vanished in the vicinity of his summoning.

      1. If I’m remembering right, the locket full of hair was taken from Blake when he was arrested; when Blake recovered the locket, the hair was gone. Might have been lost, might have disintegrated without anyone to pay attention to it, but it also might have ended up in Duncan’s possession. And I seem to recall Corvidae went on a little rampage through Duncan’s house with nobody watching him for a while. There’s other possibilities but I would consider it a favourable bet that the malevolent trickster god now has glamour powers at his disposal.

          1. Well, Blake got it fair and square; his opponent had agreed to a duel where the winner could take something from the user. He won under the terms of the duel, and Ms. Lewis confirmed that taking the hair was a karma-positive action.

            Duncan could potentially have stolen it, arranged to keep it from slipping away, and taken the hit to his karma stockpile. That does beg the question of why he’d only steal the hair, but the primary other item of power was the hatchet. Internal Affairs would ask very pointed questions if a weapon connected with a murder case went missing, marking Blake’s third Internal Affairs-related win.

            If it was in Duncan’s house, it’d be connected to either Blake or Duncan. Corvidae had been set on Duncan and summoned by Rose, and during that period Rose and Blake counted as the same person for some purposes, so it’d be fair game either way.

          1. Same here. But it was black, which makes for a bit of a hole in that theory. The only black haired characters I know of are the Behaims, Isadora, and probably Ty. I seem to remember Diana as black haired, too, but am not certain.

        1. Yes, that’s what I thought as well.
          Rose wasn’t actually linked to Conquest. Corvidae stole the link.
          She’s been drawing power from Corvidae, and Corvidae has been influencing her.
          Which is a very big problem.

      2. dropped in the woods with evan’s corpse when blake was framed. cops searched his locket and it fell out(improbably sloppy evidence gathering that)

      3. i think he only takes one thing when called. he took the mirror screwing rose over as far as any plans to sever her link to the hair binding

  10. Origin stories are fun. I liked this chapter.

    The Midge opening was kinda sad. It seemed really child abuse-y.

    Corvidae’s name makes sense now. He seems pretty dangerous.

    If Corividae started out as a greater spirit/lower god, could Blake potentially devour him? It would be quite the turn if, at the end of the night, Blake reached out into the world and pulled Crow into his chest.

    If lesser Gods are close to Spirits, what of the Forgotten God of Light? Did Blake unknowingly pick it up when he made his escape? It would be quite interesting to see Blake stumble upon that truth.

    Oh yeah! Time for some Green Eyes action!

  11. So, Corvidae is an amalgamation of lesser spirits into the form of a bird, right?

    I wonder what would happen if Blake ate him…

  12. Prepare yourselves for a very long post! (Sorry). Forgive me if I don’t make much sense, I am sleep deprived and it is late.

    Let’s talk about the ritual that summoned Corvidae, which I found to be an incredibly interesting peek into the works of magic.

    They mention that Corvidae could be a greater spirit, or the least of gods. This shows that gods don’t need to be incredibly strong creatures for one, and that the word god isn’t very well defined. I propose that a god is a big spirit, a spirit with shape, that has some amount of independence and control over the world.

    One very chilly occurence is that Corvidae calls his summoner “father”. I can derive three interpretations. The first two involve a sacrifice of some sort. This is vaguely supported by the following lines:

    “There was heartbreak in there, loss and pain. Anger, all the wilder and more dramatic for the herbs in the smoke”.
    Sacrificing one’s son for one’s vengenace would be a thing that could cause the emotions expressed here. However, there is no mention of sacrifice here. The feelings expressed could very well be caused by the loss inflicted by these people’s enemies.

    “The singer’s voice was hoarse as he spoke in Algonquin, “Cause them heartbreak. Do it until they have suffered what we have three times over”.
    This seems to lean slightly more to my second conclusion, that people are sad because of their losses, rather than having killed one of their own. Perhaps, maybe rather than sacrifice, Corvidae was called using the blood of the fallen. This is not too relevant, however. I am just exposing possibilites.

    One of the possibilities sprawled by the way Corvidae was summoned is that Corvidae is an existing god or spirit and that he was given a sacrifice in order to take form.

    The other two more interesting possibilities is that Corvidae was created, through a sacrifice or otherwise.

    The ritual called forth spirits, and the spirits came. They mingled, they danced, they changed themselves, they disposed of parts of themselvse. Through the power given, worship and internalising of cultural beliefs, a brand new spirit or god was formed.

    I can take a few things out of this conclusion:
    Humans have a fuck-tonne of control over the way the world works. This might be because humans are the origin of (most) spirits and Others. This leaves open the question of where humans came from in this universe, and why humans gave birth to (most) Others. I say most, because I am certain that they all came from one big soup of magic that may or may not be primal.

    Others CAN be created. You don’t just have to deal with whatever the world decides to make, you don’t have to take a person or an animal and fuck them up badly, you can build your own Other from mostly scratch (at a great cost).

    Spirits have independence. I used to think of spirits as small, white blobs without independence, a medium of sorts that spread throughout the planet. The spirits mediate connections and that’s it. Maybe a bigger blob of spirits “felt” certain things, but individually, I thought of them as messengers. During the ritual, the spirits change in shape and they independently accomodated themselves where they felt they fit best. This could mean that spirits are still dumb “messengers” that just follow the natural laws of the universe, or it could mean that spirits can think and react. The spirits aren’t just white blobs though; they have definite shapes with enough power they seem to also be able to take on more significant shapes, like animals.

    The shape of some Others more closely resemble humans the more power they have. Clearly, this isn’t always the case. Some Others start out human and become more monstrous with power (like Blake). But Corvidae followed a sequence; he started out as a crow, then turned into a kid, and then into a man. It could be because adults are simply bigger and more massive than kids or crows, or there could be a special reason behind this pattern.

    ——
    With that said, I’ll move on to a couple more things:

    Spirits and Others are always changing. Everything that happens around them shapes them.

    People can just be forgotten. They can quite literally disappear off the face of the Earth (without external influence like Ur’s).

    I wonder if Rose will be permanently be attached to Conquest and if this will become significant (aside from making her hastier and dominant), or if the mention of Conquest was just to tie loose ends. Regardless, fuck.

    I like the theory stated above that Blake was indeed a human and lived through his life, which is why Peter might seem to remember Blake a bit. However, I doubt this will be the case. I think things will be darker and more complicated, in some ways.

    I fail to understand the meaning of the following line, but it seems significant to the way the Pact-verse works.
    “A dozen minds within the house exploded with new sensory information, visions, hallucinations, thinking further, even as those thoughts meandered. The typical limits and defenses crumbled. The minds became truly innocent”.

    1. Yes, who are the dozen minds within the house who became innocent? There shouldn’t have been a dozen people in there. I still think there’s something in the basement, something that’s pulling Blake. He went down there, true, but he didn’t actually look around.

        1. I mean, forgetting spirits and everything, I’d say a dozen people just got really high on some hallucinogen. There’s a lot of precedent for drugs being involved with mystical ceremonies. Changes the way the spirits see them, maybe, making them more receptive

    2. You know, if that’s all that it takes to create a greater spirit/least god in the Pactverse, I wonder if that means that, if the world hasn’t ended/significantly diverged from ours by the time the Ebola outbreak in western Africa happens, Ebola-chan will become an actual person that actually exists. I sort of wonder how powerful a spirit powered by the worship and blood/sexual sacrifices of hundreds of nerds would be? I wonder what would happen to Ebola-the-disease if Ebola-chan gets herself subjected to the Seal of Solomon and bound?

      1. Actually Ebola-Chan would be an incarnation of Pestilence.

        And War is probably doing pretty well in the middle east right now.

        1. I don’t think so. Incarnations are described as being created when a Practicioner starts mainlining too much of a concept’s power, while gods/greater spirits are created through worship and emotion. I think that Ebola-chan probably would count as a (weak?) god, rather than an Incarnation. Additionally, gods gain power through worship, while Incarnations gain power from advancing the ideal they’re composed of, and Ebola-chan would certainly be gaining far more power from the former than the latter.

          Actually, come to think of it, Ebola-chan might actually be a fairly powerful god, by the time the Pact universe reaches our point in the timeline; not only would she gain power from the explicit worship of her as a specific entity (THANK YOU EBOLA-CHAN! GOOD LUCK EBOLA-CHAN!), but she might also gain power from the fear of the disease that she’s the goddess of.

    3. Concerning the last part: I figured this was a ritual summoning by an entire (possibly innocent) tribe, led by a shaman (by the way, remember, the natives are not like modern Western practitioners). Pactverse shamans apparently use drugs and go into trances to become (more) innocent, which brings them closer to spirits.

      Basically, similar to how shamans work in other stories.

    4. One of the possibilities sprawled by the way Corvidae was summoned is that Corvidae is an existing god or spirit and that he was given a sacrifice in order to take form.

      I think this is it. He is an avatar of The Trickster.

    5. Corvidae was created within (or next to?) a house. My reading is that all the participants in the ritual (save the old man) had their souls – their otherness – ripped from them and used to create Corvidae. This left them as unawakened (and presumable unwakeable) innocents.

  13. Why was Peter jealous of Blake? It’s obvious, it was the motorcycle. I wonder if Blake is a reflection of the Barber, perhaps Barbatorem cut away his own reflection.

  14. Okay, so Corvidae stole the big C, making sure it somehow keeps influencing Rose but she cannot do anything about it. He is indeed playing the very, very long game re: Thornburns. Especially since they apparently used him before (he was in Granny Rose’s books after all).

    Also, I think the hair around is finger is one of Rose’s locks that was used to bind Conquest, since it’s mentionned in together with the mirror and the tome. I guess it’s a keepsake? Also, Rose’s hair is supposed to be blond, not black, but that could just be dyed or something.

    1. About the hair:
      * what is the color of Alexis’ hair? She did the current summoning afawk
      * A very long show which is also implausible (but i like to spell out impossibilities): The lock of hair Blake took from Letitia?

      1. I seriously doubt it’s Alexis’s. Stealing a bit of someone’s non-magical hair seems kind of low-key for him. Maybe it’ll wind up in a married couple’s bed, but I don’t think there are any married couples in the vicinity who don’t already hate her.

      2. Letita’s hair was originally platinum coloured. (No joke.)

        Technically, that was due to glamour, but without glamour the lock of hair would appear to be useless.

  15. Also, I really hope that someone tells Green Eyes the password! I don’t want her getting killed by Midge. That would be bad. 😦

    Corvidae can just go get fucked, though.

    1. Please, we’re not even close. You’ll know when we hit the Godzilla threshold, because the chapter will end with:

      “Orni-“

      1. I wonder, does he still only have to say it once more now? Would Ornias even respond to the creature Blake has become?

        1. His connections got obliterated, so he’d restart from scratch. He could summon Green Eyes, so he probably could get a response.

  16. Corvidae’s section has the possibility of holding an extremely important bit of information.

    “Twice, he was called. Twice, he went.

    The first to call him lost a book that he had borrowed. It would be missed by both parties.

    The second found her son and heir to her power stolen away by another woman, her one-time husband’s new wife.”

    I wonder if either of these occasions were Rose Sr.? We don’t have a sense of when this particular narration occurred. It’s possible that Wildbow threw out a couple red herrings, but it seems unlikely that neither occurrence had anything to do with current events.

    1. Tons of possibilities.

      Rose Sr. is a Thorburn, so she would never have a “son and heir to her power”. Neither would the Duchamps.
      However, she could theoretically be the “new wife”, which might make the “son and heir” Aimon.

      No idea about the lost book. I mean, it could theoretically be e.g. a book on diabolism that got the Thorburn family started, but it’s not enough info right now.
      And I do wonder whether Corvidae would risk things with demons in the first place. His mission is harming the New Worlders, but he’s a greater spirit, which seems rather… at odds… with dealing with demons.

      1. I’m confident the lost book is the one Rose senior had to retrieve during her youth in Montreal, described in her diary (1.x, sept 15th, 1939).

        No idea about the stolen son.

        1. That would be an amazing guess if true, because the fallout of that event made Rose Sr. angry enough to swear her problematic oath not to involve her children in her practice.

          Can you elaborate? Who would be the “he” who lost the book he had “borrowed”, then?

          1. After rereading 1.x indepth, I admit it turned into a fair bit of a stretch. My reasoning was that it was Rose senior’s father who gave her that book. He had assuredly borrowed it from his wife, since she was their owner. Once the Lord of Montreal demanded the book be retrieved, I extrapolated that Rose senior asked her father for help, and he called upon Corvidae to send the book back in her hands.
            However, I misremembered that Rose senior brought it back to her mother after the goblin fiasco. The theory isn’t holding anymore.
            Well, unless the book was lost afterwards.

            Oh, also.

            I think it’s the scariest thing I can imagine. Dying and having your existence erased from the world. To be painted over and forgotten.

            Personal headcanon puts Rose senior as Blake’s human side. She died 4 months before his creation, and that’s one hell of a way to eke out as much bad karma as possible. Self-loathing can explain Blake’s feelings towards her and some of his fake memories.
            Wonder how long that will hold before it’s wildbowed away…

            1. As always, the problem with the XYZ-as-human idea is that Blake’s past with Carl & co can’t have been entirely fake (Carl is alive; Alexis remembers similar things; Blake has Alexis’ tattoos; and so on), so the most likely explanation is that he’s based on a roughly 20-year-old.
              But he’s a vestige, so it’s conceivable that Rose Senior’s personality is somewhere in there, too. But I don’t really see it.

      2. Personally, I those two incidents were a little too far back for us to pin down who was meant. Mainly because these people died well before the plot we’re involved with. :/

        We might be able to work out which family or families were involved… but, we don’t really have enough to juggle with. [shrugs]

        All we can say for sure is this: Corvidae is up to his eyeballs in all that has happened in and around Jacob’s Bell. And, has been for a good 200 years. If not just a bit more.

  17. This was possibly my favorite chapter so far. The whole Corvidae thing was particularly brilliant, and I loved to see Blake from the perspective of others.
    (Also: Wow, this chapter both felt and was huge. 7800 words apparently.)

    Comments:

    1. Midge wandered into the abyss – maybe because her parents had cut her off, removing all her connections – but how did she end up back in the shack? Why was she summoned, only to be banished afterwards? Was she too tough to kill, or too valuable as a future summon?

      • “A greater spirit, the least of gods, the line was thin between the two.” – Ah. That seems like one avenue Blake could take. Also possibly what Briar Girl was hinting at with the “enforcing the laws” thing.
    2. The whole Corvidae scene was brilliant and revealed so much about the underpinnings of Pact. The spirit-sight; “it saw things as greater or smaller by the good they did the people and things around them” which implied that some Others see karma and use size metaphors to describe it; that the “least of gods” grew stronger as it achieved his mission – which also sounds similar to bogeymen getting stronger by being scary; the line on how innocence works: “She fit in well with the flow of things, the natural course of events. When she spoke, the spirits knew, she spoke true. She remained innocent.”; another perspective of what happens if an Other has to act contrary to their mission: “It was the sort of power that it couldn’t afford to use, and diminished it forever from that moment on.”; etc.

    3. Concerning Corvidae’s size metaphor for karma: Blake was at various points described as the “little warrior” or as the “starving giant”.

    4. Okay, so even innocents and nonpractitioners are definitely affected by karma. But then I don’t understand how the existence of Others is still secret in modern times. Never mind the world population numbering billions; Others are outnumbered just by the scientists. There are just way too many humans to keep them all in the dark, when they could find evidence of the effects of karma in every experiment ever run by social scientists. It’s not like the effects of karma are all that subtle.

    5. Yeah, summoning Corvidae was ominous, now that we know he always takes something they value. Rose must have had an inkling of that – she dismissed Corvidae for a reason. It’s amazing that he took Conquest’s mirror, of all things. On the other hand, I’m glad he did that, rather than harm the connections between the members of the cabal or any of their allies.

    1. Regarding number five, I would imagine the spirits or Others could actively divert the attention of anyone attempting to investigate them. If they impose a responsibility (and potential backlash) on anyone who carelessly inducts innocents, they probably have a way to keep innocents from carelessly inducting themselves unless certain conditions are met. The whole point of the Seal of Solomon was to protect the otherwise defenseless people from the big bad Others, after all.

      1. I understand the idea of how it might work – we saw how much trouble some of Blake’s friends had with accepting a completely straightforward demonstration. But that was a case of them resisting the idea of the paranormal, and it makes sense that spirits and Others would have ways to counter that.

        If Others had done that with all attempts at science from the beginning, science might never have triumphed (basic example: repeated experiments yielding inconsistent and seemingly unpredictable answers). The technological progress in the centuries since the Enlightenment might never have happened, and humanity would still be small enough to be manageable.

        But for whatever reason, science did triumph – presumably because humans change too quickly for Others to catch up. Buttsack was introduced with the great line “Buttsack had this down to a science”, but he’s very much an exception; most Others aren’t particularly tech-savvy. Johannes even said that humanity was winning.

        In any case, the fact that science did triumph means that the practitioner world should be impossible to keep secret nowadays. For instance, high-precision technology (e.g. modern CPUs) or physics experiments (e.g. particle physics at CERN) would definitely be susceptible to all kinds of Other shenanigans. Once that happened, there shouldn’t be any way of keeping thousands of scientists at CERN away from repeated anomalies in their data.
        To a lesser extent, the same logic applies to the social sciences. There would be anomalies in the murder statistics, correlations between lying or dishonesty and meeting a bad end, etc. etc.

        1. It’s not necessarily clearly identifiable. I mean, the slugfest in Toronto’s spirit world echoed its effects into the real world but provided natural explanations for the damage. Plus, there’s no reason Others would cause repeated anomalies in data; if they disrupt one experiment and then wander off, there’s going to be an outlier with no readily identifiable explanation. It’s actually not all that uncommon for experiments to have the occasional freak outlier, and there’s no reason there’d be a perceivable pattern.

          As for the social sciences, that’s even less likely to be a problem. With statistics, it would actually be stranger to not have anomalies; the odds of getting exactly 50 heads in 100 flips are actually pretty low. And while karma affects non-practitioners, they apparently don’t accrue nearly as much of it for any given action, and it’s fairly easy to blame the effects on the actions that got the karma in the first place.

          1. Perhaps Others are messing with scientists. Perhaps that experiment you did a while ago that had anomalous results wasn’t because you forgot to turn the microwave off, but because something else turned it on without you noticing. There are usually, in very large datasets, some anomalous outliers which are simply ignored as a mistake that someone must have made, because they’re so far outside the average that surely they couldn’t possibly be real. Besides, semi-autistic-Aspergers scientists seems like just the sort of “not really paying attention but might suddenly super-focus” type of person that a goblin would have to be really careful around.

        2. From the way karma was originally described, it sounded like the more you were paying attention, the less of an effect it had. So that knocks the more analytical sciences out. As for the social sciences, there kind of is a link between being a bad person and having bad things happen to you, or coming from a bad background and having bad things happen to you. Don’t really need karma to explain that.

          1. Sure, but karma isn’t that convenient. In particular, there should be some acts we consider morally good nowadays which would be punished by karma, and conversely some others which we consider morally bad which get rewarded.

            For instance, if you are hurt and take revenge, you are supposed to get good karma.
            And karma is also quite specific: If you steal something, you’re supposed to lose another item, or the stolen item should find its way back to its owner, etc.

            Our world doesn’t run on karma, and we certainly don’t think that e.g. taking revenge is a good life strategy.

            1. I think you’re vastly overestimating the impact of karma. The Thorburns have more bad karma than they could work off in seven lifetime, so they’re hit pretty hard by it. It’s much more subtle for people who haven’t spent generations dealing with demons.

              Also, if something gets stolen and then the robber is arrested by police and the item returned, then the stolen item has found its way back to its owner. If it’s highly unlikely that the stolen item would wind up back with its owner, then it just doesn’t. For most people in the setting, that’s how karma works. The spirits care more about practitioners, so they generate more karma, and they have to interact with Others who really care about karma.

        3. Being watched makes magic harder. Well done science is very closely watched. There is backlash for the magic world getting known. The stuff has plausible natural explanations generally. All that adds up to messing with science as near impossible without being hit by a bus.

          Even worse there are probably spirits of Science running around now. Trying to push back against science is probably near impossible.

    2. Because, in part, there’s such a difference – sure, a few innocents might see little ugly men here and there, but those guys are crazy anyway. Add the fact that innocents require a real push to see the world, that practitioners have a vested interest in keeping everyone unaware (should their actions or the actions of Others they command break the news, they lose karma), that there exist many memory and perception altering magics, and that the actions of Others can in many cases be attributed to animals, natural events, luck, or people, and you’ve got an airtight masquerade.

        1. Ok, it’s functional. Like a cardboard box that’s been duct taped and fixed so many times that there may or may not be any cardboard left in there is functional.

          1. Enough metaphorical bits of glue, duct tape, cardstock, and other assorted patches and sealants to resemble leather more than cardboard. Far from airtight, it’s just too big and made of too many pieces, not to mention the semifrequent need to poke another hole to let someone in, but very functional and quite durable. By this point it might stop a metaphorical bullet.

    3. Random thought: how much of the Thorburn karmic debt has been… nudged… by Corvidae over time?

      Could he even have encouraged the developing dip into the deep, dark depths of diabolism in the first place?

    4. @5.
      Well, social science does empirically show effects that are similar to Karma (for example, being generous can make people happier). As scientists are missing some huge, unobservable parts of the puzzle, perhaps that’s as good as they can get by using studies not explicitly created to find the effect of Karma.

      Also, maybe some scientists did stumble across effects caused by Magic and were written of as weirdos or frauds by their colleagues. Who knows, maybe in Pactverse, Jacques Benveniste stumbled upon some magic effect and got it published, but Others then discredited him (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Benveniste).

  18. More comments:

    1. As someone else mentioned, I also wonder what Corvidae took whenever Rose Senior summoned him. Candidates for things she might have valued: her having essentially no allies may not be solely due to bad karma; her husband has never been mentioned; neither has her son Charles; and maybe her grandchildren turned out bad partly because of him. There’s also the library, but that should have been protected.

    2. Corvidae was summoned by Blake. Among his connections, I’d say Blake values Alexis and Evan more than anything else…

    3. Why exactly is Blake taking point during the summonings of e.g. Corvidae? Remember, in terms of practitioner time, Alexis & co have more experience than him because of the month he lost in the Drains, including lots of summonings whereas Blake has never summoned anything. More importantly, why do Alexis & co trust him with this task, given all their reservations before? On the upside, rebounds should backfire on Blake rather than the others.

    4. Summoning is so fast! Did they summon three Others in less than 30 minutes?

    5. Ah, so Peter is part of the gang now. But probably not awakened yet?

    6. I don’t think Green Eyes will intentionally betray Blake, but the bell might well cause a tragedy.

    7. The chapter end is interesting foreshadowing. But remember, Blake only guessed Peter forgot him, rather than someone else. We know part of chapter 1-1 is fake or wrong. Rose was named heiress, yet she didn’t appear at all in Blake’s memory. Anything and everything in that scene could be fake.

    8. Great lines: “Had the crow wished, it could have let her heal the boy of that which ailed him. […] The crow did not wish for this.” and ““Hi!” the bird-morsel said.” and “The town bell tolled. Green Eyes liked the town bell.”

      1. Don’t we actually know a lot of grandma Rose’s children? One of Blake’s/Rose Junior’s parents is a child of Rose senior after all, amongst several others.
      1. Yes, but I figured that she didn’t value them due to her line “My children are useless,” from 1.01. After all, she couldn’t teach them diabolism.

        Admittedly, she might have valued her children before karma and possibly Corvidae screwed them over.

  19. So it seems Peter’s jealous of the Molly-Paige-Blake friendship. Normally Rose would take Blake’s place in anyone’s memories, except she never had that kind of friendship with Molly or Paige. So while he doesn’t quite remember blake, he does have a hole in his memories where Blake should be and where Rose doesn’t fit.

  20. Random thought that just occurred to me that has nothing to do with this chapter: What happens if a practitioner or otherwise truth-bound entity says “This statement is false.”?

    1. Remember that karma and spirits tend to take a fairly simplistic view of such things. I would imagine such a statement would be karmically negative, because I don’t think the spirits have the inclination to evaluate the statement to more than a single level (which then amounts to “the practitioner just admitted they were lying”).

  21. Green-Eyes is a pretty fun boogeygirl, her fruit preferences for Soylent Green Apples and Type O Blood Oranges notwithstanding.

  22. Oh my gods I love Corvidae, I love him I love him, he’s fantastic. Jeez but the Other characters come across much better than a lot of the human ones.

    Two things!

    Corvidae calls Blake the monster-in-the-mirror, rather indicating he doesn’t know anything about him, so it seems implausible he was involved in his creation/redirection/whatever.
    Not a major suspicion, but good to know.

    Corvidae thinks of Alexis as miss Alexis, which seems quite respectful? I ‘unno.

    1. Corvidae was helping Rose up until she banished him; this was after several run-ins with Blake, so even if he forgot everything, Corvidae would have had enough time to learn the general basics about Blake up until then. Rose may have even relied on him for defense against Blake early on, since Blake is an abstract sort of threat which Corvidae specializes in.

  23. Has anyone floated the idea that Blake is Sandra’s baby?
    Bargained away by her to the fairies, and purchased back as a super-vessel by Grandma Rose at some ridiculous price.

    That might explain Blake’s proficiency with Glamor, and Patrick’s obsessive interest with him, and the fact that Sandra remembers him even after Ur.

    1. I had that idea, too. But just when I wanted to congratulate myself for the brilliant stroke of insight, I made the mistake of checking how old Sandra’s baby would be nowadays, and the ages don’t fit at all.

      Blake is supposed to be 20 (or based on a 20-year-old human), and his memories don’t make sense for someone much younger.

      Sandra was 34 when she was pregnant. And according to the last scene of her Histories chapter, she hasn’t contacted Jeremy in the last 7 years, implying this may have been how old her child would have been (if she didn’t have an abortion).
      In any case, Sandra seems much younger than 54. 41 or 44 might fit (for a baby of 7-10 years), but not 54.

      On the other hand, if we allow glamour or the combination of multiple humans (e.g. Sandra’s boy as the human base, plus the memories of someone else, plus the Barber), any apparent inconsistency can be excused. But such hypotheses should be considered more unlikely than simpler ones.

      Incidentally, I think the only boy in the story of the right age to be Sandra’s child would be Evan, who was 8 when he died and 8~9 when Blake found him. Though unlikely, it would be amusing if the Matthieus had just adopted him…

      1. Wow! For a eecond there I thought you guys locked Blakes past down. Damn! Still, I’m convinced we’ll be seeing that baby make a return to the story sooner or later.

      2. In Sandra’s interlude it is stated in a roundabout way that 9/11 had just happened on the day that she brought up the pregnancy to Jeremy. That would make it 13 years (I think this is set in 2014?) prior to current events.

      3. Rereading chapter 3.x, the section wherein Sandra learns she is pregnant explicitly takes place in 2001 (“Just a year and nine months into the new millenium, our Lord of Conquest gets his second wind”), making her 47 in 2014. Her child, if he is currently alive, would be 12 or 13. Too young for Blake, too old for Evan.

  24. I wonder whether Midge and her family were living in the Drains to start with. “But how’d those three people get in there?” Heck if I know. i suppose if you take several wrong turns it’s possible to get so lost that you wander into the Drains. Or perhaps Pa or Ma went out and brought them in.

    1. No, they were likely living in a backwoods part of the country, some people got lost, and then they ended up being eaten. Again, Hillbilly Horrors.

      My guess is that Midge was already so inhuman that when they left her in the shack for that long she didn’t have enough connections and crawled into Limbo. Let’s be honest here, for a five year old she was way too sadistic, tough, and smart, on top of having a hunger for human and tanking a knife. When someone finally opened the shack it let her return, only to be bound again.

      1. Well, she might have been a little bit older than 5 when she went through the rabbit hole that the shack proved to be. There is no guarantee she wasn’t actually 6 or 7 and remembering something that did take place when she was 5. 😛 Still… pretty impressive/ scary/ creepy to survive on her own. And, thrive, even.

        Actually, she seems to have one hell of an eidetic memory. When she cares to use it to join dots up with. But, she’s not really the idle, dot-joining kind, for all she does seem to like a nice, puzzling hunt. 😐

    2. I think the family as a whole were on the edge of falling between the cracks as it was. Midge tippled over.

      I’d not be surprised if “the shack” is one of the regular doorways in and out the Abyss, forming near subhuman families over time in whatever shape is convenient for the lost things to be left in. 😐 “The coal shoot” or “the cellar” are probably also favourite shapes. 😛

      1. If I press the donate button the closest thing to a schedule is this:

        September:
        1st update of the month: $1000 – Met! Chapter written Sept 2nd.
        2nd update of the month: $1500 – Met! Chapter due Sept 9th.
        3rd update of the month: $2000 – Met! Chapter due Sept 16th.
        No fourth update of the month, or I’ll lose my mind.

      2. Yay!

        I know we say this a lot, but man, you really are an amazing author – not to mention amazingly prolific. I haven’t donated, mainly because my own financial situation is pretty crap, but I’ve been considering it. I would definitely buy your book, so why not?

        Either way, I really hope you are starting to make enough to live off this, man! If it helps I’m spreading the word of Pact (and worm) far and wide. Almost as much as I proselytize hpmor.

        1. The way I figure it, I know that 2500 is a pretty good goalpost to aim for in terms of living expenses and the like. First two updates of a month get there. Given the past 9 months, that’s the general neighborhood that donations have been reaching, anyway.

          That said, if I stopped there, then what do I do when donations exceed that amount. Reach 2500 and then stop? What happens with the remainder? What if donations reach 3000 or 4000 or 6000 this month, for some reason? Do I just queue up the two chapters for next month? It’s awkward, and I’ve always hated having to shuffle things around or rationalize it or raise the amount.

          What I did is I raised the mark for each successive chapter, so the third chapter of the month is a higher goal to reach. If people really want it, I want to give it to them, and I’m definitely willing to put in the time and focus to do that. If they don’t want it, then the excess carries over and maybe I do a third chapter every other month instead.

          1. Say, “whoo-hoo” and stick it in the bank without worrying too much about it?

            After all, you’re getting paid what people think you have earned. 🙂 (Actually, I might have to do some of that spending myself, come to think… time for some budget shenanigans to see if I can wangle it for a few projects I enjoy…)

            How long have I had this calculator? I swear it’s old enough to vote!

            1. Sorry, Euodiachloris. I amended my previous comment.

              @ Mondsemmel, I clarified. Thanks, didn’t realize how it might be misunderstood.

          2. Aaaaaah, I didn’t realize the benchmark amounts weren’t cumulative. So I assumed that with a total donation of 2000$ (a number below your living expenses), you’d essentially always make three extra updates per month.

            Okay, sure, the benchmarks make perfect sense to me if the numbers aren’t cumulative.
            (But that definitely warrants a clarification on the Donate page.)

          3. The way I see it, people aren’t paying you for more content, they’re paying you in appreciation of what you’ve done with hopes that you will continue in the future. It might not seem like much of a gap, but it’s the difference between “I’m buying an extra chapter to read” and “I’m supporting your efforts to get settled, become financially stable, and thereby have the time and lack of stress to both create quality content consistently and get enough sleep”.

            1. Honestly, people are paying him for both. He has a rewards system and that definitely encourages people to donate more.

              We definitely want Wildbow to do well and to take care of himself and would send some money his way regardless. But we definitely want our bonus goodies if they’re on offer. 😀

  25. Question: Did Midge’s restrictions include Green Eyes? Was Green Eyes ever told the password for protection against Midge?

    1. No and no, but she was ordered to stand guard outside and Green Eyes is mostly aquatic so she’ll probably stay in the flooded house. That’s fairly unlikely to be an issue, especially since Midge is going to be the first in the line of fire.

      The fact that a bunch of bogeymen from the book Midge and Corvidae came from are working for the attackers, on the other hand…

    2. You have free reign to kill and maim anything that isn’t human, unless they’re someone you see standing here before you

      I assume that caveat covers allied summons. Blake won’t blindly repeat Toronto’s mistake.

      1. It does not cover allied summons who were not present at the site of Midge’s summoning. That’s what the password is for, and Green Eyes hasn’t been told it yet.

  26. Glad to see Green Eyes again. It’s pretty much guaranteed that no one they’re fighting will have seen her before. I suspect I’m missing something in that last bit, though…it seemed important.

  27. Whoa, I just read the whole comment section. In lieu of a relevant point, I quite liked the image of Midge’s dad holding twin saws. It seemed cool. Not as awesome as Mannequin, but still cool. You write good villains, Wildbow.

  28. Ok,Midge’s parents,I can forgive the eating of humans,but the abuse to your own daugther?no

    And no one gives me the “different times different standards”crap,I see no love in this,I see different standards in Rose senior’s father,who truly seemed to care of her and probably wouldn’t be abusive if born in a later era,he seemed to love her despite the abuse,but Midge’s parents?just…no

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