Duress 12.4

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“I’m thinking we should start a fire in or near the house,” I explained.

I studied the expressions on their faces.  Concern was a pretty big one.

“That sounds like a bad idea,” Green Eyes said.  She had crawled part of the way up the desk, using one hand to prop up her upper body, and the fingernails of her other hand to comb gore out of her hair.

“Start a fire in the house… while we’re in it?” Ty said.

“Just enough of a fire that they notice,” I answered.

“Not even a small fire, then,” he said.  “Not a table or a piece of furniture.”

“No,” I said.  “The flames would need to cover at least a section of the house.  But we won’t be… the location isn’t important.  We can work out the details.”

“I’m almost on board with that,” Peter said.  “Burn down the house, put an end to this lunacy, house has to be sold if it’s flooded and burned, with the sale, money gets out there, and because we’ve all been helpful, we each get a cut.”

“No,” Kathryn said.  “That’s idiotic, and nothing in the contract supports it.  The law firm would take over the property.”

“Which would be messy,” Peter said, “Considering everything that’s involved, and the sheer amount of blood in the hallway.”

Tiff, Alexis, Ty and I were already shaking our heads.  Evan saw us and started shaking his head too.

“No?  Because… they’re in on it.  They’re a part of it,” Peter voiced his thoughts aloud.

“There you go,” Ty said.

“How much a part of it?” Kathryn asked.

“On a level,” I said, “They’re a bigger part of this than Rose or I.  They made this possible, and they’re perpetuating it.”

“Why?” Peter asked.

“That’s an answer too long and complicated for me to give,” I said.  “Our focus right now needs to be on getting through the rest of tonight.  It’s what, seven o’clock?  Not even?”

“Not even,” Ty said.

“Thirteen plus hours until all of this is over,” I said.  “We need a new angle.”

“And somehow this new angle leads us to burning the house down?”

“Part of it.  Maybe,” I said.

“Part of it maybe,” Ty said.

I could see Ty, Tiff, and Alexis exchange a look.

The look was about me.

The pounding on the doors changed in timbre.  Different hands and tools were smashing at the barrier, now.

“What are you guys not saying?” I asked.

“They’re worried that, your jokes aside, you’re legitimately insane,” Peter said.

“You’ve known them for all of one and a half hours, give or take, and you feel qualified to judge what my friends are thinking?” I asked.

“He’s… not wrong,” Ty said.

I didn’t have a response for that.

I could see their eyes, the lack of eye contact as they refused to look right at me.

“Blake isn’t crazy,” Evan said.  “He’s as sane as I am.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “I appreciate that.”

“Um,” Peter said.

“The bird is talking,” Ty clarified.  “We can hear it, you can’t.”

“Sucks to be them,” Evan said, “What I was saying, before I was rudely interrupted, is since I’m very level headed and very sane, and I’ve done so much, saved the day a few times, I’m pretty sure…”

“You can’t set yourself on fire, Evan,” I said.

No,” he said, exasperated.  “I want you guys to set me on fire.  Or turn me into fire.  Duh.  I’m too young to play with matches.”

Us setting you on fire is a bad idea too,” I said.

“Listen,” Peter said, pausing to wince at one particularly loud slam on the door, “I get that the bird supposedly talks, but this isn’t doing a lot to make things sound less crazy.”

“The… bird,” Green Eyes said, “wants to go out in a blaze of glory, I think.”

As a blaze of glory,” Evan corrected.  “I want to go out there as a blaze of glory.  Flaming bird, wings spread, trail of smoke behind me, all my enemies fleeing at the sight of me.”

“Sorry,” she said.  “As a blaze of glory.  That does sound pretty cool.”

“I know, right?”  If Evan could have smiled, he’d have been beaming at Green Eyes at that point.  She was propped up, leaning over him, half-sitting on the desk, now, with Evan on the corner beneath her.

Green Eyes raised her head to look at me, “If we’re going to stay here, we’ll need food at some point.”

“Holy shit, you didn’t eat enough?”  Peter asked.

“We’re not staying here,” I said.  “They wouldn’t have attacked if they didn’t think they could finish off everyone in the house.  The whole point is to leave Rose without any supports.”

Which started almost everyone talking.  Too many things to be said, no organization, and even the people I was closest to had only a couple days of memories of association with me.

Alexis, Tiff, and Ty wanted to talk about tactics, or how much they didn’t like mine.  Peter was focused on me and Green Eyes and all the rest of the strangeness, almost being cheery or humorous in a weird way that might or might not have had to do with his near-death experience.  Kathryn was trying to clarify just how all of this worked, with a focus on the sensibility of it, which wasn’t constructive in the here and now.

Only Roxanne, Christoff, and Eva were silent, observing.

There was too much in the way of nervous energy, too many differing motives and points of focus.  The levels of experience, comfort and familiarity with this world varied by years, months, weeks, and hours.

Quiet!” I shouted.

People fell silent.

I could see how agitated they were.  Peter’s hands almost fidgeted before he stuck them into his pockets, leaning against a bookcase.  Kathy somehow looked furious, as if trying to be heard and failing had somehow offended her on a fundamental level.  Ellie was incapable of staying in one place, and Eva’s constant glare only made her more prone to nervous pacing.

“Please,” I said, as I glanced at Christoff.  “We’ve already lost Callan.  Some of you nearly died out there.  Things are bad.  Focus.  Let’s take thirty seconds to think.  Silence.  Then, when those thirty seconds are up, we’re going to go around the group.  Each person can say one thing, or ask one question for, let’s say, one answer.  Think about what you need to say and what doesn’t matter.”

There were a few nods.  Some reluctant.

“If you’re all going to be silent,” Eva said, “I might as well say-”

“Shut the fuck up,” Ellie said, glaring.  She was still bleeding here and there from the kicks she’d taken.  “I’ll forget what poison it was, and your brother can die, if you don’t shut the fuck up and play the good doggie.”

“Doggie?” Eva asked, eyebrows going up.

“Sit, stay, sic ’em if we give the order,” Ellie said.

“If you think-”

“I think,” Ellie interrupted.

Shut up!”  I said.

They shut up.  Eva didn’t pipe up, though she glared at Ellie, and the rest were content to keep their mouths closed.

The pounding and scratching continued, and I could almost see the nervousness of the others ratchet up in the quiet.  They felt the need to do something.

Trouble was, we needed to be on the same page.

I took more than the required thirty seconds.  It was only when most of the others had started looking around and acting like they were about to talk that I spoke up.

“We’re going by seniority here,” I said. “We-”

“Define seniority,” Peter cut in.

I had to resist the urge to reach through the mirror and throttle him.

“In order of seniority,” I said, my voice firm, “From the first people to be introduced to the Hillsglade House situation to the most recent, we each take our turn.  Hopefully the new people, like Kathy and the kids, will be able to pick up some details here or there, or amend their questions.  Everyone else stays quiet, unless you have something to add.”

There were a few nods.

“My name is Blake, I’m, as far as I can tell, a fakery that grandmother Thorburn put in place to take the hits while Rose figured out how all of this works.  Because our family has enemies.  As you’ve all seen.  Things have hit a climax, all of those enemies have mustered forces, and now that Jacob’s Bell is starting to grow, they want to fight to decide who gets to be in charge.  Just about the only thing they can all agree on is that they hate the Thorburns.”

“Because of bad karma?” Peter asked

I gave him a look, but judged it was a good thing to help clear up with the others.

“It’s complicated, but that’s it in a nutshell,” I said.  “Telling people about this stuff is a fast track to getting more bad karma.  Getting involved with the sort of things Grandmother got involved with is a faster track.  The lawyers are a part of that.  Those are the bullet points for what you need to know about why this is happening.  Rose is gone, and you guys are… like I said, nobody wants to be the one to tell you ‘hey, magic is real‘, so you’re-”

“Human shields,” Kathryn said.

“Basically,” I answered.

She nodded.

“Cat’s out of the bag,” I said, “We’re trapped, and honestly, we don’t have a lot of options.  We could wait until sunrise, but I don’t think we’ll get that far, playing the defensive game.  If we fought, well, I don’t think all of us are going to beat all of them, because there’s an awful lot of them.”

I saw a few nods, fatalistic glares, and tension running through people’s bodies.

That’s why I’m proposing the fire,” I said.  “Fire gets people’s attention.  Rose wanted to play a game of chicken.  She’s betting on the fact that the people out there are too scared of the monster on the fourth floor to keep her in a straightjacket and padded room somewhere, or whatever they’re doing with her.  By setting a fire, we’re escalating the game of chicken and take away the sense that they’re in control.  That’s one advantage of the strategy.”

“There are disadvantages,” Alexis said, her voice still a little odd from the spiritual infusion.

I held up a hand.  “Hold on.  Hear me out.  There’s more to it.  Look at the big picture.  We’re holed up in here, and the monsters and friends of the major groups in the area are hounding us, pounding on the door.  Meanwhile, the others should be holed up in their individual homes and demesnes, watching, waiting, and keeping their metaphorical doors locked.”

“Ahh,” Peter said.  “I like this kind of thinking.”

“I thought you would,” I answered.

“Clarify?” Kathryn asked.

“The ones who aren’t monsters are, for the most part, people.  They have their own worries and concerns,” I said.

“What’s going to happen if we lose this game of chicken?” Peter asked. “What’s my enemy planning right this second?  Are we ready to make the next move?  Am I safe?  We’re fighting for our lives, but they’re tense.  They’re… are they singular or plural?  The powers?”

“Mostly families,” I said.  “One mostly-singular guy with a talking angel-dog and a lot of favors he’s just called in.”

“Yeah.  So they’ve got their own drama to handle, then.  Tension in the ranks?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“With the fire, we add to the tension.  See what snaps.  Number one way?  You see it every day.  ‘This deal expires!  Stock is running out!  Hurry!  Don’t think, just act!‘  Take away their time.”

“That’s more subtle than what I was considering, and some of these people manipulate time, so…” I shook my head a little.  “We’ve got help out there.  Not a lot, but Rose is there, so is Corvidae.  I’m… flexible in terms of how I can move around.  If we can draw them out, we can target them.”

“While the house is on fire,” Alexis said.

“While the house is on fire,” I agreed.  “It might scare some of the Others-”

“It scares me!”  Ty raised his voice.

I held up my hands.  “Hold on.  In order.  Alexis.”

Alexis glanced over the room.

“I have concerns,” she said, her voice still a little odd, “and by their nature, they’re concerns I can’t share.”

“That’s bullshit,” Ellie said, still upstairs, watching us through the railing.

“No, it’s not,” Tiff said, “Seconding that statement.”

“I’ll back it too,” Ty said.

I resisted the urge to snarl with frustration.  “That’s really not helping.”

“It’s the truth,” Alexis said.  “My turn to talk, right?”

I could still sense the spirits within her.  Her voice was eerily clear, almost clearer than anything I’d ever heard.

“Go ahead,” I said, though I couldn’t meet her eyes.

She might have thought it was out of anger or frustration.  It wasn’t.

“There are other factors at play.  You can’t go with your gut because you’re not entirely you.  You… put a spirit inside of me to give me the energy to keep going.  That you can even do that should be a clue that there are forces at play inside you that aren’t purely Blake.”

I’d unconsciously shut my eyes, following her words.

The word that stood out to me, oddly enough, was entirely.  A few hundredths of a second’s hesitation partway through speaking the word.

Not entirely myself.

“Stop,” I told her.

“She’s supposed to say her piece,” Peter said.  “You laid down the rules, don’t break them right away.”

“I’m not,” I said.  “Just… I can’t stand here and let her keep saying what she wants to say without full disclosure.  The spirit I gave you, it’s giving me an in.  A way to see what you’re saying or feeling.  I don’t know.”

I managed to meet Alexis’ eyes.

“If you keep talking, I might be able to figure out something I shouldn’t.  I may already have an inkling from what you just said.  I don’t… I can’t convey how badly I want to figure out what’s going on.  I feel like it’s a matter of life or death, a question of my existence.  But I want to play fair with you more.”

In the seconds of near-silence that followed, with only the pounding on the door, Alexis folded her arms.  I saw her turn her hand over, as if she was studying it for changes.  She clenched her fist.

‘Kay,” she replied.

Just like before, I was able to read her tone, getting a sense of her attitude.

Pretty fucking powerful implications for a damn one-letter response.

They weren’t implications I could wrap my head around, but the general sentiment was clear.

I’d done more harm to our relationship than good, confessing that much.  A breach of trust that I might never recover entirely from.

“I guess I’m next?” Tiff broke the silence.  Ty shrugged.

“Sure,” I said.

“I studied some divination, mainly because I studied a lot of the defensive stuff,” she said.  “I’ve always been pretty lame.”

“Passive,” Alexis said.  “We were working on that before all this started.”

Tiff shrugged.  “Passive.  Focusing on the protection stuff seemed like the thing to do.  Figure out what they’re going to do by telling the future or remote-viewing them and prevent it.  Keep things intact and let Rose be the heavy hitter.”

I nodded.

Her voice was quiet.  “If we’re going to set fire to the house and try to draw them out, I can do a reading.  It might give us better odds if I do it right.  But I agree with Alexis.  I don’t know if you’re saying we should do this because it’s you or if it’s the… less pleasant things inside you that are saying it.”

“Less pleasant?”

“You were sent to the Abyss, and that’s why Rose was able to take your place.  You were supposed to die, but you didn’t.  You came back…”

“You don’t have to be nice, Tiff,” I said.

“Dirty.  Darker.  I- I-”  She stuttered, obviously uncomfortable with the number of eyes on her.  She made a conscious effort to get her thoughts in order.  “-don’t know how you were before, but you’re a little twisted now.  Your arms bend funny inside the sleeves of your sweatshirt, and there are places I can see through the branches that are covering you, and I just see…”

“Darkness,” Ty said.

Tiff nodded.  “You brought a bit of that place with you.  And maybe that place wants you to burn the house because it’s a place that chews things up and it wants to chew up this world too.”

“You’ve done your reading,” I said.

“Yeah.  Rose has summoned a lot of bogeymen.  I wanted to know how to deal if another one of them went wrong.”

I nodded.

“So… I guess if I have to finish saying my thing… maybe we should let the others chime in.  If the fire seems like a good idea, without your saying anything to make it happen, then maybe we do it.”

She shrugged, obviously unhappy with the compromise.

I wasn’t too happy with it either, but I could shut my mouth and let the others have their say.

“Alexis and Tiff think you’re the problem,” Ty said.  He was holding one of the nails with tags attached – the ones jammed into the mountain man hadn’t done anything.  “I’m just not sure it’s a good idea.  How do we fight past that group outside the doors?  How do we start the fires?”

“Ahem,” Evan said.

“More importantly,” Ty said, “how do we put it out?”

“We could decide on the plan and then work out the details,” I said.

“We could,” he said, “But should we?  I’ve had moments where I had to wonder whether I should move forward with a project or abandon it.”

“Shitty tags that didn’t do anything are a clue you should abandon more shit,” Eva commented.

“Probably,” he said.  “Wasn’t talking about the magic.  There’s stuff in the books we haven’t read yet.  If we get everyone reading, we could come up with something, a summoning, or a ward…”

“That you haven’t found and bookmarked in the last few weeks?” I asked.

“Found, bookmarked, summoned and lost,” Tiff said.  “We burned a few bridges, just trying to get by.  Others that can only be summoned once every so often, because the Abyss holds on too hard.”

I nodded.  I felt a little uneasy talking about just how short the collective resources here were getting, with Eva listening.

“There’s not a lot,” Ty said.  “But it beats the alternative.”

“What’s the alternative?”  Peter asked.

Ty shook his head, “Ask if you’ve gotta ask, but ask on your turn.  Let me finish.  Blake, I’m willing to be convinced, but if everyone’s getting their say, it’s going to take a while.  I don’t think we have that long.”

“Like Peter said before, about pressure and lack of time messing with your ability to think critically,” I said.

“Goes both ways,” Ty said.  “It might be affecting you as much as it’s affecting me.”

“Yeah,” I answered.

Ty shrugged.

“My turn?”  Evan asked.

“I suppose it is,” I said.

“I should have had my turn before, you know.  Because I was your familiar before Alexis and Tiff and Ty did the ritual.”

“Yeah,” I said, “You were one of the first to get clued in, but Alexis knew about the general family circumstances before, and… yeah.”

“Technically,” the witch hunter said, “I’m the most senior one here.  I’ve known about how fucked up the Thorburns were since I was four.”

Alexis spoke in a low voice.  “Technically, I don’t expect you to have anything to add.  You’re just a problem, until there’s something to be killed.”

“Story of my life,” the witch hunter said, sounding far too casual.  With a little more bite in her tone, she added,  “Hurry up so I can unpoison my brother.”

“Okay,” Evan said.  “Right.  Ahem.  So.”

“So,” I said, echoing him for the benefit of those who couldn’t hear him.

“Fire.  Awesome.”

“Fire, awesome.  I think I see where you’re going with this,” I said.

“Ty was saying we need strategy.  So… we gotta get out of here, right?”

Not where I’d anticipated him going.

“We do need out of here.  That would be step one.”

“We open the door and there’s a buttload of monsters out there.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “The monsters pose a problem.”

“And we want to come back.  Because we gotta go somewhere after the fire is started, and if we leave the house, we’re not going to do very well.  This-”

“This library is our starting point and our ending point,” I said.  “Nowhere else to go, as sanctuaries work out.”

“With monsters filling the space between here and the far side of the house.  In the hallways.”

“Yeah.”

“Rooftop,” he said.

“Rooftop?”

“I’ve flown over this house a bunch of times.  I know how the outside is.  Instead of going through the hallway, down the stairs, all the way to the ground floor, then alllll the way to the back hallway, we go out, then duck right.  Out the window, or through the bedroom and out the bedroom window, then we’re on the roof.”

“There are gargoyle-things outside,” Ty said.

“But probably less than there are things inside!” Evan said.

“True.”

“Sum up?” Peter asked.

“If we decided to start a fire, we could head out a window and make a break for it along the roof.”

“Slick,” Peter said.

“Snow could help or it could hurt,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.  “Would we even make it to the window?”

“No guarantee,” Ty said.  “And those gargoyle shits were vicious.  Just saying.”

It’s not the answer.

“Food for thought,” I said.  “Thank you, Evan.”

“Is it worth a brownie point?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Because I’m saving up my brownie points, to call in a favor,” he said.  “I want-”

“I know,” I said.  “I know.”

My eyes fell on the Other who was sitting with Evan.

“Me?” Green Eyes asked.

“Thoughts?”

“Um.”

“No pressure,” I said.

“No,” she said.  “I’ll help.  But if things go bad, and I get killed, I’ll probably wind up back at the Drains.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Bring me back?” she asked.  “Please?”

“First real chance I get,” I said.

She nodded.  “Thanks.”

That cleared up the practitioners and Others in the group.

Leaving me to deal with the Thorburns.

“Peter,” I said.  “Anything to say?”

“Alternative,” he said.

“Hm?”

“Before, you mentioned an alternative.  You implied it was bad.”

“Demons,” I said.

His eyebrows went up.

“Not nearly as good an idea as you’re imagining,” I said.

Actually, I’m thinking that’s probably bad,” he said.

“I can virtually guarantee you that it’s worse than you’re thinking,” I said, thinking about Rose’s theory that demons of the first choir were the reason the universe was as empty as it was.

“Okay,” he said.  “It’s bad enough that being killed like Callan was is a pleasant alternative.  How much worse?”

“In December, you and I would have resembled each other.  Different builds, I’m taller, but I was human, to all appearances.  One demon, and it sent me to the same place that she came from.”

“Yeah,” Green Eyes said.  “It’s where we met.”

“I lost everything,” I said.  “My humanity, fake as it might’ve been, my home, my motorcycle, my friends, my familiar, my ability to feel properly, my identity.  It… I think it hurt my friends here, took something from each of them, because affecting me was enough to affect them too, as collateral damage, by association.”

I was careful to meet each of the Thorburn’s eyes.

I had to communicate just what the danger was, here.

“You being inside a mirror, that a part of the demon or something else?”

“Little bit of column A, demon, little bit of column B, Grandmother.”

“Right,” he said.

“And the kicker?” I asked.

“There’s a kicker?”

“It didn’t get me.  It almost got me, and it did all that.  I was lucky.  It missed, and it ruined the very fragile image of Blake Thorburn and left only Blake the Bogeyman.  That demon is still alive, still active, within a kind of binding circle.  It’s not even a major demon, as far as I know.”

“A not-major demon turned you into a monster.  What does a major one do?”

“You’re asking too many questions,” Kathryn said.

“If this goes south,” I said, “and they enter the room on the fourth floor and look at the occupant wrong, we may well find out,” I said.

“Ah,” Peter said, with a nuance that suggested the pieces were falling into place.

I hope he doesn’t make me regret this.

Then, with with all the sarcasm he could muster, he added, “Great.

“Kathryn,” I said.

She shook her head.

“No?”

“This is your fault.  You… set this up.”

“Rose did,” I said.

“Ok, then what is Rose doing?  Aside from using us as human shields and playing chicken?”

“I imagine,” I said, “That Rose is talking to people.”

Alexis added, “She’s playing chicken, she’s got to look brave.  She’s got to scare the other guy.”

“Rose?  Scary?” Peter asked.

“She’s read up on pretty terrifying things,” Tiff said.  “Demons, bogeymen, real monsters.  Stuff we couldn’t summon if we had a few months to prepare.  Right now, she’s got an incarnation in her head.  Conquest personified, leaking into her brain and behaviors.”

“She might not be able to back down,” I said.

I could see Alexis’ expression change as I said that.  I was too aware of it.

Why?  Why had she reacted?

In the interest of not using this knowledge to my gain, I looked away.

Stupid, maybe, but I wasn’t about to tell Alexis I wouldn’t use illegitimate knowledge and then turn around and read her body language.

“Head games, then,” Peter said.

I nodded.  “Same way she could stay levelheaded when she was dealing with our family.

“Wow,” I heard Roxanne mutter.

“She didn’t have a lot of time to prepare,” I said.  “What I’m wondering is how much power the locals have over her.  Did they have her drugged, or explicitly avoid drugging her?  Could they deny her a mirror?”

“You’re thinking of paying her a visit?” Ty asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “There’s a lot of things I’m thinking of.  But too many start with us opening these doors, and we don’t have a lot of options once that happens.  Any thoughts, Ellie?”

She shook her head.

“No comment or questions?”

She shook her head again.  “This is fucked.  Comment made.”

“Roxanne?” Tiff asked, talking to Roxanne like she was a normal kid.  “Do you have any questions?”

“The lying thing,” Roxanne said.  “That’s for real?  He can’t lie?”

“I can’t either.  Ty can’t either.”

“Uh huh.  If I became like you, I wouldn’t be able to?”

“No.”

“Uh huh.  Alright.  That’s all I needed to know.”

Why did that bother me more?

“Callan,” Christoff said, the moment he’d realized it was his turn.  “Can I bring him back?”

“Probably not,” Tiff said.

“Not like he was,” Alexis corrected.  “There are other ways.”

“I came back, kind of!”  Evan said.

“The bird mo- he came back,” Green Eyes translated from ‘can’t be heard by innocents’.

“I never left, really, but I got to live again.”

“There are ways to call spirits and put them in vessels,” Alexis said.  “There’s… probably very good reasons that practitioners don’t generally bring back their loved ones.”

“But I could,” Christoff said.  “If I became a wizard?”

“If you became a practitioner, maybe,” she said.

“Can I, now?”

“Not now,” she answered.  “We don’t have the things needed to do the ritual.”

Christoff nodded.

Peter was rubbing his chin.

“What?” I asked.

“Seems wrong, that the dead could be brought back from being dead, but our whole problem is we’re in a bad place and we can’t get out of it.  The dead can go from one circumstance to another, violating the natural laws of the universe, but we can’t get from A to B?”

“Bringing back the dead requires certain circumstances,” Alexis said.  “Like with Evan, he never quite left.

“But it’s possible.”

“A lot of things are possible,” Alexis said, sounding annoyed.

“Okay,” Peter said.  “Cool.  So, knowing absolutely nothing about this world, I’ll just put it out there.  We’ve got a fish on dry land, a bird without room to fly, a bogeyman in a mirror, and a ton of people crammed into a library, waiting for the doors to get kicked down.  In the interest of thinking outside of the box… how do we get out of this… box?”

It wasn’t a question with an immediate answer.

Ty walked along the perimeter of the library, looking at book spines as if he could find something to spark an idea.

Alexis and Tiff talked in low voices.

A chunk of wood fell, dancing along the floor.

A hole in the bookcase.

One red eye peered through the hole.

That was it for our sole sanctuary.

They’d die and I’d…

I looked at Green Eyes.

The thought sparked an idea.

“Ty,” I said.

“‘Sup?” he answered.  He was up on the floor above, still looking at spines.

“You’d probably be the one to know.  We can bring Others here.  Summoning them.  Like we did with Green Eyes.”

“Yeah.  Varying amounts of resistance, demands, obligations…”

“Can we go the other way?” I asked.  “Visit… there?”

“Another exit,” Peter said.  “While they think we’re here…

“Where do you want to visit?” Ty asked.

“Anywhere but here,” I said.  “But I’m thinking the most obvious, familiar territory for two of us…”

“No,” Green Eyes said.  “Aw, no.”

“Just for a short time,” I said.

“It’s doable,” Ty said.  “Question is, do we want to do it?”

“If we can get around to the back of the house,” I said, “There’s a stone porch and some furniture.  It’s where Rose and I summoned June.”

“Okay?”

“If we can approach from an angle they don’t expect, we could probably get a bit of fire and smoke there without risking the house.  From the town below, it’d look like the house was burning.  If the situation called for it, we could be more ambitious with the firestarting.”

“We never agreed-”

“Ty,” I said, “This wouldn’t just be hoping that Corvidae could do something with the opportunity.  We would be able to flank them.  All of us.  At least make a couple of moves.  Set a fire, get their attention, and attack, while everything and everyone’s looking at the house.”

He, Alexis, and Tiff exchanged looks.

“You’d know better than us how bad these ‘Drains’ are,” he said.

“They’re bad,” I stated.

“Better or worse than what’s out in that hallway, making their way in?”

Something wispy was starting to creep into the library.  Tiff stepped forward to banish it with a dash of salt.

“Can I get back to you on that?” I asked.

Tiff pursed her lips.

“But at least that way, there’s hope,” I said.  “A short trip.”

“You don’t come out in one piece,” Green Eyes contradicted me, her voice quiet.  “It’s almost a rule.”

I could see Alexis’ reaction, much as I’d caught certain words and bits of body language.  I wished I hadn’t.

Not in one piece.

That meant something.

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227 thoughts on “Duress 12.4

    1. “Only Roxanne, Christoff, and Eva were silent, observing.”

      Ellie isn’t mentioned in the previous paragraph, nor in this line. I would say she should be added to this line~

    2. “The bird mo- he came back,” Green Eyes translated

      Since this is spoken text, if the unfinished word is “morsel”, the sound should be truncated rather than the spelling. ie. It should be “mor-” or “m-“, but the sound “mo-” reads as in “mow” or maybe as in “mock” but not as the “maw” sound that begins “morsel”.

    1. His “core” may be of demonic origin but the outer shell that is the Blake we know, I suspect he may have been Rose’s parasitic twin sacrificed and reborn.

      1. That’s kind of an absurd suspicion, in light of the implication that Grandma Rose concocted a plan for her grandchildren involving getting the Barber to “carve out a reflection” a whole generation before Rose was born.

        1. He could have been made from Charles Thorburn, y’know, the baby Granny Rose sacrificed to the Barber. That’s what I’m going with.

            1. From 1.07: “The child was unharmed and largely unaware of what occurred.”

              We actually see Charles in Rose Senior’s arms in Histories 6. Possibly her firstborn. But if the child was Uncle Charles, he’s been notably absent from any mention in the present story, except for one line in 1.07. That makes one think.

    2. Well, the entire schtick of “fuck up everything I touch” that has gotten worse lately seems a pretty good piece of evidence for that.

    3. The part I’m interested in is the part that isn’t demonic. Cause I’m pretty sure something else went into him than Barbie carving a reflection. And I’m guessing that something else that went into him is in the basement. Now the question is, what will happen when Blake is complete?

      1. The basement?

        I don’t think Blake can be complete, without ceasing to be ‘Blake’ in any sense. Like he said, it’s his nature. It’s what you want in a meat shield.

        1. Unless he’s going down because Granny Rose set up something to repel him from the attic.

          Okay latest crazy thoery. Blake is bad Karma. I don’t mean he has it. I mean Grannie made him out of a chunk of the family karma, and Blake is literal bad luck. Both for himself, and for those around him.

          1. What?

            Did you seriously not notice how he kept going lower and lower every time he was shunted, the basement isn’t special. It was just the last stepping stone he had before he started getting shunted eve lower, into the darkness between the basement and the Drains.

            1. That is certainly one viable theory. But it’s not the only one and nothing has been proven yet.

              Also, the drains are another realm. It’s not necessarily certain that they are in a downward direction physically.

  1. Blake should go around infecting all the local powers with his spirits. Then he would be able to keep tabs (and possibly control) everybody!

    So they may be heading back to the void. I hope we get to see the witch again. She was pretty nice.

    So when are we going to get the Barbie History when we find out he’s not even a demon, but just a random do-gooder with a bad reputation?

    Death from above! Try should take Evan and fly out there to take out the Gargoyles Starlord style.

  2. He want… to bring his friends… into the drains…

    Wow, Blake actually managed to come up with a worse idea than “set the house on fire”. I mean, I totally support sending the other Thorburns in there where they can’t fuck up the planet with demon bullshit. But this isn’t going to go well, I just know it.

    Well, at least Alexis and Tiff are starting to clearly recognize that Blake is completely fucked in the head. Maybe they’ll try to take control of situation, who knows.

      1. I would be more concerned about how he’s yet to present any sort of plan for getting out, rather than worry about how someone might sabotage any that happens to present itself.

        1. Hell at least Blake has a plan. Nobody else is coming up with anything, at all. If they don’t like the plan, they’d better hurry up and come up with something.

          Not that it isn’t a horrible plan, it’s just the only one they’ve got.

    1. I agree. I thought it’d be at least a little longer before an idea worse than “light the house full of valuable things and bound demons that we are in on fire” got suggested, but it seems I’ve underestimated him.

      1. Bad idea or not, it’s got a couple of things going for it. No one else has suggested anything other than “sit on our thumbs and whistle Dixie” for A, and B is the obligatory “it’s so crazy that the enemy can’t have made plans for it. I mean, you’d have to be suicidal to even come up with a plan like that…” Which I’m pretty sure Blake’s programming makes him.

        1. Personally, I think sitting around might actually be a better plan. The brutal physical combatants can’t get past the wards, they’ve blackmailed Eva, and if something more abstract shows up they are literally in a library on the subject of dealing with nasty spirits. Likewise, opening the door and trying to kill everything in the house may involve fighting fewer monsters.

          Granted, going into the Drains is not without advantages. Green Eyes is their best bruiser, and she’s aquatic, and Blake and his awesome magic sword wouldn’t be confined to a mirror.

          1. The others outside have already broken a hole in the door and will be inside soon:

            “A chunk of wood fell, dancing along the floor.
            A hole in the bookcase.
            One red eye peered through the hole.
            That was it for our sole sanctuary.”

    2. Oh no no no- he wants to go visit the drains in order to better support his plan to set the house on fire. You know what the worst part is? It’s the only plan they have besides waiting and hoping.

      It’s a classic Blake plan. Just keep juggling the knives until eventually an opportunity resents itself to huck a knife at someone you don’t like.

      1. Close. It’s, “Just keep juggling the knives until an opportunity comes to let them “slip” and while they’re falling on you your enemy will be distracted and you can throw one at him. Just one. Probably.”

        1. Except the knives are actually angry bull moose, it’s mating season, your arms are starting to get tired, and, oh yeah, they’re ON FUCKING FIRE!

    3. It’s not like practitioners don’t go into the drains occasionally. Green eyes mentioned that practitioners often come down and collect boogeymen.

  3. LOL, Green Eyes almost said “Bird Morsel” when talking about Evan.

    I wonder if they’ll be able to recruit any more Bogeymen to join the party while they’re down there.

  4. I’m kinda waiting for Blake to start making sympathetic weapons from materials that enter the mirror by infusing the objects with the spirits in him. Come on baneblade! Now the real question, what are they about to lose?

    1. A superheavy tank with eleven barrels of HELL, that with a little luck can kill a greater Daemon? Yeah that is about what Blake needs.

  5. Blake, the last time you were in the Drains, you were there for a month. Given that you had about four conversations in that time, I can only assume that most of it was spent walking around. This is a sub-optimal idea.

    1. Yeah… I don’t think Blake has had a single non-combat idea since he got back from his first trip. Contacting the junior council might have counted as a good one if his bogeyman status didn’t garuntee a bad impression.

    2. However, no one would expect it. “A plan so terrible that our enemies will never plan for it, cause they won’t have, cause we will be screwed on our own”

      You go in you come out more other.

      Another major downside is that that would abandon the house, its books and its demons to whoever could take it.

          1. The last thing they said for he plan was “use the drains to get outside then make a bunch of fire and smoke in a way that doesn’t risk the house burning down”

    3. Right. We don’t know what exactly distorted Blake’s sense of time. It could be because he’s like the Barber (“He perceives the passage of time differently than we do. He’ll be content to sit in the circle I drew out until the sun grows cold.”), or because of reliving the scene with Carl in the Drains. But if time between the real world and the Drains is distorted in general, they might return only to find out that weeks or months had passed…

      Also, don’t practitioners have (almost) no abilities in the Drains because there are no spirits there? Or was that just because Blake’s connections had been cut?

        1. Why don’t Others get to see connections? They may not have the Sight, but I’m sure some Others are able to see connections regardless. It’s probably a special ability, like being able to reach into the mirror world.

          Either that or it’s just a facet of your power level — low level can’t, high levels can. Corvidae can see connections. Maggie (the new one) can reach into the mirror world. They’re both old and powerful Others, though.

  6. Next stop, the Abyss, recommended necessities includes:-

    1. Bread
    2. Salt
    3. Knowledge of Proper Etiquette ancient & mordern
    4. Raincoats
    5. Heavy duty travelling boots
    6. Umbrellas
    7. any fucking weapon

    anything else?

  7. So, the occupants of the world are like a bunch of Lego creations. When they get sent to the Drains/Abyss/Toybox, they get broken down into parts and reassembled into something new. Bogeymen are like half broken models, patched up with whatever blocks are closest at hand.

    Am I far off in this analogy?

    The parts they lost then… Since there’s still a Blake model, cobbled as it is, there’s “Parts of Blake” floating around out there maybe?

    1. We do know that Blake can nourish his human half using the memories from people whose connections with him were broken, not devoured. Maybe being around the Thorburns will actually help him here?

      1. I don’t think that’ll happen without angel powers recreating his human structure based on those broken memories as a template.

        Technically not nourishment anyway, seemingly. Like, a patch job. Making his Bogeyman Terror Meter drain slower.

  8. ““That sounds like a bad idea,” Green Eyes said.”
    ““The bird mo- he came back,” Green Eyes translated from ‘can’t be heard by innocents’.”

    I just keep liking her more and more.

    Also, Christoff has apparently decided to challenge Blake for the title of “King of extremely bad ideas”, but I think that Plan “Let’s go to the twisting nightmare labyrinth of monsters that is virtually impossible to escape, then return to this house which we will set on fire” has let the current champion widen the gap.

    1. Remember that it’s not uncommon for practitioners to visit the drains looking for boogeymen. Yes they’re bad, but there are ways to handle it.

      1. given how the bogy book was more focused on “making the foolish fools suffer for their foolishness mwahahaa” than how to actually safely deal with them or even what they are who knows what you’d risk doing that even with preparation

    1. Possibly made from a chunk of Barbie’s own reflection, amongst other ingredients.
      Now, this is pure speculation, but maybe nothing happened when Blake met Barbie in 1.07 because Blake believed himself human (enough to Awaken as such). After getting in touch with his inner bogey, I’m expecting a different outcome next time.

      Not like anyone will ever go in that room while carrying a mirror, right ? dun dun dunnn

  9. Also, odds that they’re going to have a run-in with Midge or some of the other Bogeymen involved in this attack in the Drains?

    1. On the one hand, the Drains are a pretty big place. On the other, they’d be arriving from the same area around the same time as part of the same incident, so they could easily land nearby. Plus the Drains might drive them together to force a confrontation.

    2. more than one place like that(or at least different regions with their own flavors), midge didn’t sound like she lived in the same drains. less water, more frozen mud iirc

    1. Depends how tightly you define ‘turned down’, and the unknown but undoubtedly high number of times he brought it up repeatedly in the weeks Blake was absent.

      1. Listen, the cats were right. Fire would be awful with Evan. I mean how is burning stuff going to mesh with escaping? Now imagine earth element powers. Evan could gain the power to fly through the ground, and solid rock as though it were air!

        1. To be fair, even ninjas won’t try to catch you if you’re on fire.

          Flying through rock would be pretty awesome though, I hadn’t thought of that one.

          1. The problem is that Evan would have to be an actual Pheonix and not just a fire bird. There is a difference. One is a bird that is on fire. The other can burst into flames to renew itself. It seems like the problem would be getting it so Evan doesn’t just burst into flames and burn himself up without the renewing part.

            1. If Evan ever does go beyond the quintessential spirit of escape, it’ll be something totally out of left field.

  10. “I can virtually guarantee you that it’s worse than you’re thinking,” I said, thinking about Rose’s theory that demons of the first choir were the reason the universe was as empty as it was.

    Maybe Blake means “Grandma Rose’s theory”, even though it’s not original to her either and he should properly credit Bartholemew Peck’s Abyssian, but… When did he even brave the scary bookshelves and read ‘Classifying Others: Fiends and Darker Beings’?

    Cuz I don’t remember Rose ever mentioning this theory before. At least she didn’t when first discussing the choir of darkness in 5.5.

  11. This is completely ridiculous, I love it! I am strongly in favor of the idea that Blake’s demonic/whatever secret nature causes stuff to go completely bananas around him, and that he in turn escalates and perpetuates the cycle.

    1. It’s more like Blake’s, and now Rose’s, bad karma causes stuff to go completely bananas around Blake/Rose, and Blake’s return is something the universe favored because it’s gonna bite Rose in the end.

      Blake’s practically a living embodiment of Rose’s bad karma, both as a literal dark mirror and reminder of the bad ends she could face(it could happen to youuu), and as a guy recently rebuilt on a foundation of Bogeyman anger towards Rose.

    2. Keep in mind that the High Priestess card is said by Zoey to represent intuition, which suggests that Blake’s instincts are actually evil and harmful and have been since before he fell through the cracks, and I’m guessing that the whole “Fool” bit doesn’t help.

      1. That’s not necessarily what the left-hand draw means, though. “What you do in a pinch, when your primary methodology is not available and how you react when surprised.”

        This doesn’t equate with “what you do when you’re on Evil”. 😛

        1. We’ll you obviously haven’t been evil all that often. I mean, it’s nonstop surprises. You make plans for roving bands of teenage sleuths, man-whore spies, and the occasional metahuman when all of a sudden, BAM, you’re dealing with a Belgian and his Terrier. I was all like, “Belgian?! You joking right?” My henchmen can’t even find Belge on a map, and here I am fighting this guy. That’s what evil’s like, you make your plans on how you’re going to beat any heroes that come to stop you and then the universe just craps out something that you had no plan for, so all of a sudden it’s left hand Priestess time.

          1. Hey! As a Belgian, I am highly offended by that statement! I might or might not be in a state of awe, confusion and/or curiosity, but I’m still highly offended!

  12. I think grandmother Rose could be Blake or young Rose. She did die at the stroke of midnight. Maybe mirror Rose is Grandmother Rose’s soul.

    I am not so sure that friendless Rose has more claim to being real over Blake who has 3 friends who became practitioners knowing the risks.

    1. What does midnight death have to do with anything else you just said?

      It’s easy to infer that her death was so well-timed because, as she said to Aimon over his father’s grave, what she needed was “time”, and that Aimon gave her a longer, but very predictable down to the minute, lifespan. Long enough to have a number of grandchildren 18 and older.

  13. Fuck damn, I am loving the dynamic between Ellie and Eva. I want to see more of theeeem ❤

    The talk about vessels reminded me of Fell. Can we have Fell back, please?

    I think it is VERY obvious that Blake's idea is influenced by the drains… But they don't have any better ideas yet. And as someone mentioned earlier, he hasn't suggested a way to come back and put the fire out yet. "We'll work out the details".

    We have some confirmation that dead bogeyman only go back to the Abyss.

    I have a prediction. Blake is broken into parts, whatever they are. They are still around. Blake will find them, intentionally or not.

    Crazy theory time: Blake will become the main antagonist by the end of the series. He will have to be fought and maybe put down by his friends.

    1. Not necessarily by the end of the series. IIRC, Wildbow originally aimed for maybe 1.5 years of Pact, and recently said we’re well past the halfway mark, so I’m guessing the story might ultimately consist of 20 arcs. If Blake is a demon, he’ll turn into one relatively soon (e.g. because Alexis or Evan get hurt, or because Barbatorem is freed). So there should still be time for redemption, or something.

      Also, Rose and/or Rose Senior should still have an ongoing plan to erase the Thorburn debt – well, I very much hope so, anyway – and that presumably won’t come to fruition until after the Cabal survives the fight for Lordship, by which time the truth about Blake would presumably already have come out. (Rose all but guaranteed it when she said something like, I’m paraphrasing, “We’ll think about what to do with you after this conflict”.)

      On the other hand, Blake’s nightmare from arc ~6 factors well into the “Blake as antagonist” thing, and so does the very very ominous line that introduced him in 1.01, repeated in 11.09 (that is, halfway through the story, so the crucial third repetition might happen at the very end): “Damn me, damn them, damn it all“.

      1. Or it could turn out Rose is the badguy, Blake the goodguy, and that Grandma Rose’s plan wasn’t perfect. Hell in a lot of ways that would be the biggest twist. Honestly I won’t like it if Blake goes evil. I’ve made my feelings on what I’d like in the end for Blake clear before.

        1. Alternatively, Blake is the good guy and Rose is the good guy, as are the entire Thorburn family, and it really was all along just a story about privileged idiots deciding to kill an entire family for the crimes of one member and also for power. Then Blake and Rose hug it out in the ending and go their separate ways.

          1. I would be super okay with this. Rose deserves a happy ending too, or at least a bittersweet one. Then again, I doubt any character is going to come out of Pact 100% happy.

        2. Or there’s no such thing as good guys and bad guys, just tragic circumstances and misunderstandings and hubris and grudges leading to a mutual downfall for all involved.

  14. …Eva is STILL silent? This is beyond amazing. Miracles DO happen!

    When blake said he had an idea that would trump his “worse idea you’ve had” thing about going to the fourth floor, he wasn’t talking about the fire, was he?

    Can you guys just imagine the number of shadows that will be following a fucked up family of thorburns, a fucked up tattoo artist who grew up on the streets and almost in a cult, a fucked up introverted introvert who may or may not be in love with a tree-partdemon-diabolist boogeyman-vestige, a guy who starts and gives up more things than britney spears’s eating habits, a fucked up sadistic discount-buffy, and the coolest sparrow to ever live?
    It would be like a shadow-buffet!!

    Oh yeah… how CAN blake command spirits enough to give alexis more power? Have we heard of ANYTHING that could do anything close to that?

    Waaaaiiit. Why was she flexing her hand when he mentioned the power gives him an “in”, as if she was checking if she was fully in control of her limbs? Those group glances are making me nervous….

    I friggin love Green Eyes. But if she tries to eat Evan, I might flip. Or if she goes anything evil for that matter… I really hope wildbow doesn’t let either of those happen…

    1. ”Oh yeah… how CAN blake command spirits enough to give alexis more power? Have we heard of ANYTHING that could do anything close to that?”

      When Blake was reading about the skeleton-monster in the previous chapter, there were a lot of mentions of a Nosferatu. That seems to match exactly what Blake is doing with the spirits, up to imbuing his friends with them in a very ominous way.

      I am putting my bets on Blake being a Nosferatu.

      1. The Nosferatu seemed like semi-classic vampires under another name. I’d be willing to bet almost anything that Wildbow isn’t going to go with anything so stereotypical as a vampire protagonist.

    2. “…Eva is STILL silent? This is beyond amazing. Miracles DO happen!”

      One possibility: Eva might not appreciate information as much as Andy, but she knows Andy does appreciate information. So when everybody starts explicating she shuts up and listens.

  15. Blake wants to drag his friends into the Drains. Yeaaaaaaaahh, I think this is corrupted, agent of the Abyss nature popping up, influencing him to bring more people there, who will in turn maybe become boogeyman in the process.

    Can someone not corrupted by something bad take charge for once?

    1. Judging by Grandma Rose’s description of what the Barber is suspected to do to your afterlife prospects, and that even angels lack centralized authority just like the demons, there are probably multiple heavens and hells and underworlds and such, so the question is, which heaven?

      (The fact that it’s only suspected and not verified suggests the afterlife might even still be an uncertain or unreliable thing to practitioners, though.)

      1. Faysel mentioned that the counterpart to the Drains, which things fall into and cannot easily leave, would be something that new things pour forth from constantly and is nearly impossible to enter.

            1. Ah, got it. I didn’t know there was a character named Faucet. I just saw “The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (1998) (V) Played by Farrah Fawcett” in the middle of the page and presumed that she’d voiced a toaster.

        1. The Drains and the anti-Drains (the Faucet, if you will) have almost nothing to do with the afterlife, though. They’re just where lost things go, the living and recently dead both.

  16. The “in one piece” line, combined with the “entirely you” bit, seems to hint that there are other Blake’s maybe? Maybe this Blake has all the combat and action parts, and the other parts of him are still in the Abyss, or eaten by Urr.

    1. I could totally see Blake having misjudged his true nature in the Drains, and having left behind the parts of him that represent that truth. The Drains rewarded him for coming to /a/ conclusion, but not necessarily the right one.

      Still hoping for a “Blake was actually a real Thorburn, Rosalyn just modified his connections to make him the ideal precursor to Rose”. Partially because it means he might come out of the Drains with a cool new form.

  17. I want to know Eva’s past in Paris. Well this arc histories might seemly possibly add a bit of look into Eva’s past in when Eva was in Paris maybe or all.

  18. Oh, goody, nobody explicitly said it yet. Entirely — one syllable, part way in.

    “The word that stood out to me, oddly enough, was entirely. A few hundredths of a second’s hesitation partway through speaking the word.”

    Enti-UR-ly as in ErasUR.

    That’s why he can’t see spirits. He’s forgotten how to open that part of his eyes. It’s not that he’s really lost the ability to be a practitioner, it’s that ErasUr has eaten that part.

    Here’s what really happened. Blake got ErasUr in his eyes, went to the drains, was completely broken, and became NewBlake. NewBlake was still a practitioner. He escaped the drains, went up, found Ur again, Tiny mote of Ur grew big enough to eat part of NewBlake’s eyes and NewBlake forgot completely about the ability to see spirits that his new body had once had.

    1. Ooh, either that or it’s related to Ty somehow En-TY-urly. Maybe Blake is based off Ty. Maybe that’s why Ty just can’t seem to stick to anything, he just floats through life, because all of his stick-to-it-ness was sucked out of him, rolled up into a ball, and given life as this Blake-vestige-thing. And if Blake realizes that he’s Ty and that for “them” to be one as Blake was with his Carl-shadow, then Blake will sacrifice himself so that Ty can be more whole and whoop! No more Thorburn bogeyman.

          1. Or, maybe there’s a bit of an accent there. en-TAR-ly. You all may know the story of Brother “Br’r” Rabbit and the Tar Baby? The adversary that, when you fight, you just get more and more tangled in his goo until you’re left stuck in a goo-ball on the floor? And if you ever catch the person behind the mess, well, don’t throw him into the brier patch.

            I’m kind of thinking that the drains are Blake’s brier patch. Besides, he has to go in twice more. We know Carl didn’t complete him — I was really surprised he got completely out after his first trial.

    2. Actually, I think we were suppose to see one of the three UR motes by now.
      if there are several tiny URs in the story RIGHT NOW. what have they eat and retgone from the scene by now? and what is their connection to Black?

  19. I loved the banter at the beginning of the chapter. Still confused about this moment of respite admist the siege, though.

    Comments:

    1. Great lines: “I had to resist the urge to reach through the mirror and throttle him.” and “The ones who aren’t monsters are, for the most part, people.” and “Shitty tags that didn’t do anything are a clue you should abandon more shit,” and “Technically, [I’m] the most senior one here. I’ve known about how fucked up the Thorburns were since I was four.”

    2. I love Evan’s obsession with becoming a fire bird. But I agree with Cranaus and Hylas (the Behaim cat familiars) – there must be something better. Maybe Evan can become the scary winged monster from Blake’s vision in the Drains?

    3. Quiet!” I shouted. – Oh, the irony…

    4. “The spirit I gave you, it’s giving me an in. A way to see what you’re saying or feeling. I don’t know.” – Blake, what the hell did you do to Alexis? Actually, is this step one to Blake actually being able to take over people who look at him? His friends have begun to avert their eyes from him, anyway. Ah, and Blake did the same with Evan. I wonder whether part of Evan’s loyalty is unintentional?

    5. Seeing Alexis & co voice their concerns about Blake was much appreciated. But the Drains stuff can’t be the entire problem; otherwise, they wouldn’t have told Blake. Anyway, damn these incredibly subtle clues as to Blake’s origin!

    6. “She might not be able to back down,” – Alexis reacts to that – maybe because it applies to Blake, as well.

    7. Normal practitioners are awakened at age ~12. If Eva knew about the Thorburns at age 4, maybe the death of their parents (turning into ghouls or something) was due to the Thorburns, i.e. Rose Senior?

    8. And I still don’t get Rose’s plan. Surely playing chicken with the other practitioners would work better if, I don’t know, she were actually right next to Barbatorem’s summoning circle?! And in a position to protect her friends?

    1. About Evan: he’s built to take in spirit-power that is offered him. To him, it’s like handing him a chocolate bar, as he is an Other (and cool and a sparrow-ghost-boy of awesome). But, for those who aren’t Others (yet), handing them a spirit will probably have… effects… as they aren’t set up to actively process it (yet). [shrugs]

    2. They’ve got a moment of respite because the door is closed. When it’s shut, the library defenses activate. They survived the jaegerbomb, and have been reinforced over the past day. Nothing the attackers have on hand can breach it by force. However, some of them might be able to find a way around the wards.

      8) She left the house to counter Sandra’s plan to leverage the legal system. While I don’t know exactly how it’d affect her, losing ownership of the house would probably be bad. It might cost her Thorburn Diabolist heir status, or get her in trouble with the Lawyers. She’s rigged up the circle so she can break it remotely and it fails on her death. Yes, it would be better if she were in a position to protect her friends, which is why Sandra forced her to leave the house.

      1. That wasn’t the impression I got from her at all. Off the top of my head: She helped save Alexis when Blake and her went into cardiac arrest due to the Shepherd’s wraiths; helped keep Evan alive after Blake was erased; helped Ty & co cope with the consequences of Blake’s erasure; etc. And conversely, Tiff & co have shown trust in her even after they found out about Blake, and despite her bad karma.

        Actually, in 11.6, she flat-out called them friends (“Think twice before you force my friends out”), and she can’t lie anymore.

        1. Yeah, Blake thinks of him as his friends…but their tie with Rose seems to be about as binding as their ties with him were, and as mutual. They actually trust her, and she trusts them. One of Blake’s many tragedies is that he can’t even see that.

        2. (“Think twice before you force my friends out”)

          Think about this statement carefully. She didn’t outright say that they are her friends, she only implied it. Meaning, even if she considered them her enemies that statement means nothing as she didn’t specify who she was referring to as friends. That makes it technically not a lie no matter how she regards them.

          If she were to make the same statement independent of circumstances, think of what it would take for that statement to become a lie. I mean even if she were to give the suggestion, ‘think twice before eating chicken or you may die’, technically that still wouldn’t count as a lie. Firstly, that statement is vague enough for it to be true. There is a very small possibility to choke on chicken but the possibility exists all the same. Also, the statement is open ended, it only acknowledges that the possibility of death exists.

          Secondly, even if she were to lie, no one would know. She would quite certainly receive a blow to her karma, however she would still be able to hide the truth by pretending to be alright. The real requirement for her to become forsaken is to break an oath.

          Having said all that, I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m only pointing out semantics because the entire story is basically based on semantics.

      1. There’s the possiblity that Rose’s plan is even worse than Blake’s. And we actually don’t know how big a priority keeping the Blakeguard alive is for Rose. See, bad choices and all, we at least know Blake’s priorities, and we have followed his line of thinking. Rose, we don’t actually have that. We only ever got the one peek into her head, and that was her thinking how much of a bitch she could be.
    3. “She might not be able to back down,” – Alexis reacts to that – maybe because it applies to Blake, as well.

      Or because Blake is doing his thing where he instinctively wants to prune the family tree, and just automatically takes any opportunity he sees to assume the worst case scenarios about Rose.

    1. I think they’re all questioning The Drains Plan. Even Green Eyes (girl didn’t exit the place the same way Blake did, so she’s probably a touch more level-headed when out in the world than he is — that “Shadow Fish” of hers hasn’t had the chance to add or subtract anything extra as the doorkeeper).

  20. Why is everyone against the Drains plan? They’re running out of time here and its been mentioned practitioners go to Limbo to go get Bogeymen. That means they have some form of protection against the effects. Have Tiffany look up the risks of entering Limbo and then leap into it. Blake managed to stay alive for a while without being chased by a shadow, so they can do the same for a time.

    1. I’m not exactly against it because things are going wrong no matter what they do. But I fear they’ll do it with insufficient preparation, again, like Blake always ends up doing.

        1. Argh, hit the post button before I was done. Then I had to go do something else.
          Everyone is against the drains plan because it is a bad plan. The thing is nobody is coming up with any other plans. Certainly nothing better than Blakes. With Blake’s plan their is actually a slim chance of them making it out okay.

          Well okay, it’d be a slim chance if it wasn’t Blake’s plan. Sadly no matter what, anything Blake does will work out horribly. And honestly it’s really getting old to me.

          1. This is my only complaint about this whole series. Worm was enjoyable for many reasons, but one of the reasons I kept coming back despite the darkness and continually worsening circumstances is that Taylor could win. In fact, she won a lot, and her wins were epic; there was just always something worse to face next. This gave the series some tension: We knew there was a chance that she could lose, but we were always left wondering: “against this new threat, is she going to come out on top or not? Blake here has had very few victories and almost none of them have really improved his position. When I can look at any particular situation and say with a lot of certainty that the protagonist will not benefit from it, he may survive but he’ll just be worse off, well, it starts running the risk of Darkness Induced Audience Apathy.

            Don’t get me wrong, I still read every update. But come on, give the (boogy)man a break!

  21. Great chapter!

    Though moving to the Drains. Hmmmm….Could this be the Drains part of Blake, getting his hands on a fresh batch of victims for the Drain?

    And why the hell did warning Alexis about his finely tuned senses towards her result in losing a part of her trust, perhaps for forever? After he sacrificed part of his energy for her sake? That doesn’t make any sense.

    1. The breach of trust wasn’t necessarily Blake’s confession, but the fact that his spirits tainted her – I don’t think his “finely tuned senses” are the issue. If whatever he is apart from Blake is bad, then Alexis’ one-word-response to being tainted with it makes perfect sense.

    2. I’m guessing because people aren’t rational. That even though he can’t have done it on purpose in order to violate her privacy, because he’s telling her this link exists when she’d otherwise be oblivious and have her guard down, it still feels, emotionally, like a betrayal.

    3. I agree with you on the Alexis part. He did something by request. It had unintended consequences. As soon as he knew about them he warned her. That is the ethical response. If he had instead used it to spy on her without telling her it would have unethical and the potential damage is much higher. Most of these people need to dial down the “touchy” by about ten notches.

      1. People are not perfectly rational logic machines. Even ignoring that Alexis seems to know something about Blake that Blake himself does not, learning that someone has essentially planted an unremovable bug in your soul is not going to go over well with most people, even if they know it was unavoidable under the circumstances.

  22. Everyone’s talking about how Blake is becoming more and more evil, and I find myself frustrated by the fact that even with his humanity in tatters and touches of the Drains and very possibly a demon mucking up his motives, he still obsessively tries to do the right thing even when it shoots him in his increasingly wooden, spirit-riddled foot.

    All he had to do was keep his yap shut, but no. Because he was determined to be Mr. Nice Guy, he’s torpedoed his relationship with Alexis AND passed up an opportunity to learn what’s going on with himself.

    Maybe his stubborn morality will prove to be the very thing his growing corruption uses to destroy him. You know what they say about the road to Hell.

  23. This was … difficult. Another demonstration of Blake having to swallow mistrust from the folks that matter most to him.

    I’m sure everybody has great reasons for why they need to hurt him, but it never really mitigates the outright damage from the incremental betrayals.

    Denied honesty, denied explanations, denied even the chance to deny or disprove the secret allegations, denied the opportunity to take action to earn trust again, and that nothing he does to save or assist the people he cares about seems to matter in the least in regard to how they feel about him.

    “I’m giving everything I have for you guys.”

    “That’s nice, dude, but you’re unclean and we really wish you weren’t around.”

    Too useful / persistent to be rid of, but far too filthy to be liked.

    It says great things about Blake that he can even continue on this course.

    I sure as hell could not. I kind of feel skeptical that anybody I’ve ever met could.

    There’s a lot of secrets, sure. But the secrets don’t matter as much as they might seem. What matters is what people DO and justifications and explanations are kind of footnotes at best.

    Finally, I get the impression that Alexis now not only views Blake as someone soiled or tainted or stained, but that he got his filth on her now.

    Insert your own disease contamination stigma shame ostracizing metaphor of choice.

    1. Agreed. This secrecy problem is bullsh** of the highest order. For one thing, they should have learned by experience that some secrets will get out and, unless you do it in a controlled fashion it will happen in an uncontrolled fashion, e.g. the introduction of the unawakened Thorburns to magic that happened in the past few chapters. But rather than bite the bullet and take the immediate hit they keep putting it off until it becomes a serious crisis.

      Treating Blake as a useful pariah is not helping. He is, right now, willing to cooperate to help his friends, even at significant cost to himself. If they wait for him to become whatever they fear, chances are he will not be willing to cooperate. So the time to get his cooperation with his circumstances is now, not later.

      1. The only thing I can think of is perhaps all three of them made an oath not to tell Blake WHATEVER and so they don’t or forsworn.

        But that covers for secrecy, not for the pariah treatment. And even imagining that he succeeds in saving everyone, I expect he’ll catch more grief for all the desperate tactics and once again gain no ground in the trust / respect / inclusion department, the things anybody needs to feel like a person instead of a monster.

      2. In Pact, you are to a significant extent what you believe yourself to be. Right now, he believes himself to be Blake Thorburn, the bogeyman-wraith-vestige-whatever, and this allows him to help his friends. If they tell him what he truly is, and it turns out he truly is something bad, then he might lose volition and the ability to cooperate at all. Maybe telling him what he truly is would even entirely destroy his human side.

        All that said, if it isn’t at least something that grave, if there is a way to reveal the secret in a controlled fashion, then Blake’s friends are indeed making a huge and classic story mistake, and acting in ignorance of a gazillion tropes. And it would turn all their lines (like “It’s best if we don’t tell you”) into complete lies. (To give an example from Worm where secrecy totally didn’t work out (rot13): Rivy!Rvqbyba’f eriryngvbaf qhevat gur Rpuvqan svtug.)


        As a completely separate point, if I were in the position of Blake’s friends, I’d consider Blake trustworthy in fights and even trust that his intentions were good… but I certainly wouldn’t ever want to go along with any of the plans he suggested. He’s practically gifted in making things not work out.

        1. I’d like to say that an important aspect of “you are who you say you are” is whether or not the folks around you acknowledge your voice and identity. Pact world magic unified field theory is not to be disregarded, but in any reality, you only get to have a nickname of ‘Ace’ if your peers consent to calling you Ace (and not in a sarcastic tone).

          Blake is trying to say what he is. “Blake”. His friends are outright stating “No you’re not.” (entirely) They won’t tell him the secret, but they’re actively denying him his identity. And their actions spell it out:

          He’s not Blake.
          He’s not a friend.
          He’s not trustworthy.
          He’s not wanted.
          He’s dangerous, monstrous, tainted, “not supposed to have come back” etc.

          He’s useful. Or they are too desperate. They may be viewing him with “Crisis Goggles” too, and when crisis passes he’ll suddenly get even uglier.

          Sorry folks, I’m afraid I’m getting pretty ranty in tone here.

          1. The thought occurs that being a trans practitioner in Pact must kind of suck. Especially if you’re in a family that places a strong emphasis on inheritance by gender like the Duchamps. You’d have to constantly reaffirm your identity and if enough people deny you then the universe itself will deny your gender and treat you like a liar.

            1. Considering that the karma system is not based on present-day morality, I wouldn’t even be surprised if e.g. adultery, or even sex before marriage, also led to bad karma, not to speak of LGBT issues.

            2. Considering that the Karma system is based on really old morality, I suspect those are all fine.

              Well, maybe not adultery, since that would break marriage vows.

          2. There is another problem with “Blake is evil”. He isn’t. Not only is he rediculously sympathetic, but lets face it, he’s been one of the most restrained, and selfless characters in the series. He’s constantly been trying the diplomatic approach, he tries to get his foes to back down, he mostly acts in reaction to threats, he’s far more concerned with innocents and collatoral damage than most of his opponents. He isn’t driven by any sort of malice, or ambition.

            As for the good intentions pave the path to hell, in this case it’s more that Blake tends to be stuck in damned if you do, damned if you don’t situations. You try winning when the rules are set to screw you no matter what you do. Also I always interpreted that as the well intentioned extremist who is willing to do any awful thing to realize his idea of what is good. And it can’t be absolute without being a paradox.

          3. Actually, I’m pretty sure a sarcastic tone would still cement your name as Ace in the Pact-verse as far as magic is concerned. Spirits don’t really understand sarcasm.

            1. I think you’re right about that. And I don’t know for sure how that might balance with the human interaction though. Would it mean that when most folks called you sarcastically “Ace” (I used Ace since it’s generally perceived as a positive nickname) the spirits thought that your name was “Ace”, and that they (the folks who dislike you) liked you? Or would `not getting sarcasm’ mean the spirits think that your name “Ace” also means “Loser”?

              There’s a contradiction somewhere in there that’d be easy to find. I imagine the spirits would have to decide something if the big dude who called you “Ace” all the time suddenly threw you violently down a flight of stairs at school. They might not get sarcasm but I suspect they do clearly understand violence and abuse.

              You might still get to be “Ace” for whatever that’s worth I guess.

              Bottom line, I just generally believe that any extrapolation of the Pact-verse will follow the theme of things being blatantly unjust.

  24. Random thoughts:-
    Roxanna: is it me, or has she decided she wants to be a Witch Hunter when she grows… older. (Was going to say “up”, but… I don’t think she has a lot of “up” to grow. :P)
    And, in some ways, Christoff deciding that necromancy looks cool is… creepy as hell, sure. But, from an outside perspective, it’s actually a step-up from diabolism. 😐

  25. Wonderful plan. The main problem with the abyss is that when you arrive, you’re unprepared, have lost everything, and are alone. Since they’re planning to go in, they essentially get to sidestep the problem altogether. They’re currently in the Thorburn library, which is the magical equivalent of an armory, and are going in with several people, two of which are experienced with the abyss.

  26. I was glancing through the older chapter and stumbled onto this passage about Blake’s instincts:

    “I’m going to be a bit of a bitch here,” Rose said. “I don’t think your instincts are that good.”

    “They weren’t good when I was first on the streets, either. But I honed them, I stayed alive and mostly whole, I refined those instincts, found people I could trust, and with their help I got to a point where I was surviving on my own. Which is something I’m proud of. I can do the same here, but I need time to get a handle on it all.”

    Recently, everyone, in story an out, has been bashing on Blake’s instincts. If Blake is correct, his plans may begin to improve. On the flip side, this may be just another tool to make Blake what Grandrose needed him to be. She gave him recklessly suicidal instincts and a reason to trust them.

    I also noticed that Barbatorem is never explicitly stated to be a demon. In fact:

    The being I have named Barbatorem is an entity falling under the classification Insolitus Nex. This author does not believe in stricter classifications, and leaves it to others to label him a devil or goblin as they see fit.

    Insolitus Nex roughly translates to “Unusual Death/Murder” which doesn’t peg him as demonic and Grandrose specifically puts forth the possibility that he is a goblin or other non-demonic being. Of course, the letter revealing him was stashed in a Diabolatry book, and his details are listed in “Dark Names.” I think that the description of his exploits, the whole torture to insanity thing, immediately led everyone to assume he was demonic. At this point though, nothing that he does, short of rumors of cutting people off from the afterlife, is worse than some of the really bad others. Then again, even the hyena could keep a soul from moving on after death.

    Oh also, about Corvidae. When first discussing summoning him, Rose pulls out:

    There’s been theorizing that he was a curse bestowed on us from the First Nations, over some slight.

    Looks like someone was spot on.

    I love going back through and seeing all the little bits and pieces I’ve forgotten about, and all the little hints that we missed.

    1. Barbatorem as demon:

      The Barber was, if I wasn’t mistaken, a demon of the third choir or thereabouts. He was abstract, like Ur, though more inclined to take solid forms. As a demon of ruin, he was opposed by structure. Geometric shapes and symbols. (9.06)

      Though I’ll grant you the “if I wasn’t mistaken” part.

      On the other hand, Aimon Behaim also called the Barber a demon. And in his Histories chapter, the Barber actually cut his name away from Aimon’s memory. That’s presumably why Rose Sr. calls him “Barbatorem”, and why she writes, in 1.07, that “he is an older one, bearing some status and a few stories from years past, with no name of any meaning that has survived the passage of time”.

      Given that we’ve only seen memory erasure from demons, I’d certainly call him one.

      Blake certainly fits the “ruin” theme all too well.

      I love going back through and seeing all the little bits and pieces I’ve forgotten about, and all the little hints that we missed.

      Me too!

      1. “On the other hand, Aimon Behaim also called the Barber a demon. And in his Histories chapter, the Barber actually cut his name away from Aimon’s memory.” What chapter was that?

        1. Both in Aimon Behaim’s Histories chapter, 6.x. Context:

          The demon had cut into the pile of pigs, compulsive, furious.

          The sickle cut away the names.

          The name had fallen from Aimon’s recollection, piece by piece.

          Rose Senior summoned him by carving his name into the carcasses. I guess “Barbatorem” prevents practitioners from finding out things about him, or having too much power over him, by erasing the name used to summon him. That’s really clever, actually.

          (Names having power is similar to Rumpelstiltskin, or how knowing the “true name” of e.g. an elf gives you power over them in some stories. And Rose specifically tried to name Ur to get power over it.)

    2. “Oh also, about Corvidae. When first discussing summoning him, Rose pulls out:
      There’s been theorizing that he was a curse bestowed on us from the First Nations, over some slight.
      Looks like someone was spot on.”
      I think it was Blake (or possibly Alexis) in this chapter who were looking at Corvidae as a helper — they were saying that with him gone they couldn’t expect any help from that quarter. So Rose may have it figured out, but I don’t think everyone is on the same page regarding Corvidae.

      1. Oh, he may well still help, you know. For a given definition of “help”. 😛

        There’s plenty of mayhem a tricky crow can do within even the spirit of an order. Particularly in the roiling chaos that Jacob’s Bell is becoming.

    3. I have no idea whether the following applies to Barbie, but I wanted to share regardless:

      I think the distinctive quality of demons is taint, radiation (Blake explained to Peter than the things they deal with are talked about in terms of radiation. He might have been referring to Barbie, or to diabolism in general), rather than doing something especially nasty. Demons aren’t the only creatures that can taint you (we know Conquest tainted both Rose and maybe Blake), but I gather that the taint of a demon or goblin is especially foul and destructive.

      I think another quality of demons is that they can grow to be something more than just themselves. They use others to spread their deeds. Pauz controlled people and animals, ErasUrr has her motes, incest demon had her incestuous group.

  27. If Evan could have smiled, he’d have been _beaming_ at Green Eyes at that point. She was propped up, leaning over him, half-sitting on the desk, now, with Evan on the corner beneath her.

    Green Eyes raised her head to look at me, “If we’re going to stay here, we’ll need food at some point.”

    Argh, I just caught that: not only did Green Eyes almost call Evan “bird morsel” later, but he actually reminded her of food. Awesome. And delightfully ominous.

  28. Am I the only one who thinks they might regret not letting Eva finish her sentence? She’s the expert on this sort of thing, even if she’s untrustworthy.

  29. This is probably way, way off base, but what if we’ve been looking at this from the wrong perspective? What if the core of Blake, or at least a part of him, comes from an angel? Some sort of guardian angel cut up into workable pieces by the Barber, mixed with some false memories and subsequently tainted by the Drains and Ur.

    Blake definitely has a fixation on doing the right thing that I wouldn’t expect from anything who’s core came from a demon. And it would certainly be ironic, the diabolist family and their guardian angel.

    1. I’ve seen this theory quite a few times by now. But where’s the evidence in the text? Why would angel-Blake resemble the Barber so much? Why should diabolists, of all people, have a guardian angel, and conversely, why would angels obey them?

      And Blake may be trying to do the right thing, but it must be stressed that he’s almost hilariously failing to do so. He’s even somewhat (admittedly, unintentionally) responsible for their current predicament, somehow feeding Molly much or all of the energy which allowed her to turn into a wraith. Not to speak of inducting Alexis & co into the practitioner world, etc.

      1. Fighting is the one thing Blake’s really good at. but it turns out that fighting tends to make things worse even when you’re fight for DA RIGHT THING. Who knew?

        1. Well, to be fair, they aren’t actually torturing “people”, just shadow copies, made from a tiny piece of a real human, who think they’re real. It’s kind of like how Pauz isn’t a real demon because he’s only a mote. Those little things are inconsequential in the long run. And besides, Johann (or whatever his name is) is doing it all for a greater good purpose!

  30. You know what?

    I think Roxanne terrifies me more than anyone else in that Library. I mean, all this is going on and she’s just sitting there calm and everything. They’re answering questions about magic and she just wants to know if you can’t lie. Not to mention earlier with the butcher’s knife and oil, and when asked if Blake really knew what she was capable of.

    Are we sure she’s really Human to start with?

  31. How about Blake IS the Barber? Or an offshoot somehow? Would explain the whole mirror thing and I remember wondering the same about Rose back before the whole switch-a-roo “who’s-the-real-Thorburn” thing.

    1. Yes, both “is” and “offshoot” have been hypothesized and been discussed. The general consensus is that Blake probably isn’t the Barber itself, and that there are way too many similarities for him to not have any connection with the Barber at all.

  32. I’ll say this before the update goes up. The “not entirely himself” in fact implies that partially he is himself. That is, there is a self that exists for him to have lost. Hasn’t anyone noticed that Blake always says to the best of my knowledge or some such instead of actually saying he’s fake? Isn’t he pretty darn certain that he isn’t real? The spirits inside literally won’t let him lie. Blake at least to some extent has to be real. He can’t be a made up Other of Barbatorem. Demons take away, not create or add. Blake was originally Rose’s twin brother. Alexis was hiding it from him because if he realizes he’s real then he’ll come out of the mirror with all of his damaged parts, and Rose will go back to being the mirror girl. This will, however, let them capitalize on the confusion that Rose expected for when Blake died. What will they do if Rose suddenly isn’t there anymore to hold back the demon? Panic, that’s what. They then follow through on Evan’s plan and head to the roof. Unfortunately, this means they miss another opportunity to bring Joseph (from Toronto) back into the Blakeguard, but it’s probably better this way.

  33. I am actually tentatively optimistic about the going-into-the-Drains plan. I mean, assuming they have a foolproof way of getting out again. Heroes travelling through an underworld-y sort of place is an established thing in fiction, I’m sure they’ll be fine.

  34. Ya know,up till now,all of Blake’s plans were either smart,or the smartest possible while maintaining moral high ground (he went after Ur as prepared as he’d ever bbe,after all)

    But…this is s-t-u-p-i-d.Why?not because the Drains are dangerous and will eat a part of you,no,that could be,,as always,bad choice,best choice,but it isn’t.Why?simple,when someone asks you:

    “Where do you want to visit?”

    Implying that there are other sources for what they summon than the Drains,YOU ASK THAT PERSON WHAT YOUR FUCKING CHOICES ARE FIRST,THEN CHOOSE FAMILLIAR GROUND ONLY IF NONE OF THEM SOUNDS BETTER THAN THE OTHERS,YOU DO NOT PICK THE ONE THAT COULD BE THE KMOST DANGEROUS AND DAMAGING JUST BECAUSE OF FAMILIARITY

    1. I continue to hold that Blake made two critical mistakes when attacking Ur.

      First, he did it without properly consulting the diabolist library, which would have told him about the Choir Of Darkness weakness to creation and might have information on Ur specifically, or at least warnings about smoke when using fire against amorphous Choir Of Darkness members.

      Second, he went into the factory personally instead of using an endless supply of disposable minions, even though he was aligned with a group whose thing was endless supplies of disposable minions and also a person whose thing was minions made out of light.

    2. Yeahhhh, I was just thinking this. Reverse summoning to get us out of here? Good idea. Using the basement level of reality as our destination because you have experience there, when that experience has shown you that the basement is flooded, full of unexploded ordnance and piranha, and bricked over? Why would you even propose that.

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