Duress 12.7

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Visions of violence danced through my head as I donned my armor, so to speak.  Being slapped by my dad.  Carl.  Smashing Letita with the rusty pipe.  Fighting the Shepherd.  Fighting Conquest.  Hacking at Duncan’s arms.  Killing Laird.  The fight in the hallway.  Tearing my heart out of my chest.  In the darkness between visions, I saw Ur.

It was a mess, disconnected, disparate thoughts, and noise.

Do this, the thoughts seemed to promise, and it would all start to make sense.  The jumble would start to be something that pointed to a conclusion.  A reality that made sense, if only to a me that thought about those sorts of things.

Another part of me almost wanted Alexis to come up behind me, grabbing me, stopping me.

They’d been a big part of why I’d even bothered to fight my way out of the Drains.  Why I’d let go of my humanity, and admitted my existence as a Vestige.  Faced down Carl.

For what?  To have them turn around and plot behind my back.

It made sense.  I didn’t agree with it, I didn’t like it, but it made sense.  Deciding what they decided.  Doing what they did.

Yet there was a small, tiny, diminished part of me that craved for them to do something that didn’t make sense.  To come after me.

That part of me was soon drowned out by the noise.  I could see the house, and I could visualize the Barber, as I’d seen him in the corner of my vision.

The shears, which he had used to carve a man up, producing Rose the heir and Blake the custodian.

I wondered what our name had been, before.

I started to zip my sweatshirt up partway, found what remained of the zipper so ruined as to be useless, and tore away the zipper instead, leaving only the cloth, my chest and stomach exposed to the cold.  The fabric of the sweatshirt had been wool, but stuff of the Drains and the Abyss and the blood of a number of homunculi and other creatures caked it, long since dried and frozen.  A part of me suspected it could have withstood a knife thrust without giving way.

My pants weren’t in much better condition.  Where the damp snow touched the fabric of the pants leg, the snow came away darker, like the gray slush on a city street, after snow and ice had mingled with crud from the road and tires.  The pants didn’t get cleaner in the process.

We were halfway up the hill to the back of the house when Green Eyes handed me the Hyena.

Half-buried in the snow, she didn’t look much like a mermaid.  Snow clung to her hair, and her skin was a pale white-blue, masking how transparent it looked.  As I took the Hyena, she ducked beneath the snow, traveling four feet before emerging again, slightly ahead of me.  Her eyes flashed as she looked around.  Pale hair, pale skin, pale snow.  She was hard to make out.

“Hurts to hold, especially when I’m crawling on my hands,” she said, even though I hadn’t asked a question.

“Thanks for bringing it this far,” I said.

It was easier, putting the others behind me.  I felt a tension in my new body ease, and I’d barely recognized it had been there.

The anger, too, was there.  Tearing myself to pieces and plucking my still-moving heart out of my chest hadn’t done anything to abate it, either.  An effect of being what I was, quite probably.

My thoughts were a scattered black noise when they even touched on the subject of my friends.  Staying focused on the now helped.  What I was wearing, and what I was capable of.

We didn’t slow.  Green Eyes kept up her forward progress, I walked, taking long strides, and Evan flew from branch to branch, stopping to let us catch up.

Three Others on the hill had noticed us.  Not the worst thing in the world.  There were easily twelve to fifteen Others in the backyard, and in approaching from a direction they weren’t expecting, we had time to cover ground.  The three that had noticed weren’t shouting warnings or reacting.  It was very possible that they didn’t recognize us as the people from inside the house.

Three women, in various winter clothes, much like a college girl would wear.  Jackets, tight-fitting yoga pants, and those boots with fur at the top.  Two were Asian, the third white, and the only unusual thing was the heavy ornamentation around the neck.  Chokers, loops of jewelry…

“Okay, since nobody else is asking, what’s the plan?” Evan asked.

“Grab the box with the log stacked up inside it, drag it away from the house, and set it on fire,” I said.  “Then we run before everything in the house comes after us.”

“I meant for dealing with them.”

“We’ll see,” I said.

“I can see right now,” he said.  “Birds have great eyes, for reals.  We’re outnumbered.  A lot outnumbered.”

Very outnumbered,” Green Eyes said.  I wasn’t sure if she was agreeing or correcting him.

“A lot outnumbered,” he said, apparently deciding that she was correcting him.  “Outnumbered enough that you gotta be grammatically wrong to say how bad it is.  Like holy angel poop we so dead outnumbered.”

“You don’t have to fight,” I told him.  “You’ve done good tonight.”

“I want to do more good.  I gotta act my most awesome, and the spirits can recognize it and make me more awesome.  I’ve already worked it out.  I gotta be honest and true to myself and I have a game plan that I’ve declared a lot of times.  I gotta stick to the plan and the spirits will reward me with sweet, sweet karma.”

“You’ve ‘gotta’ be alive to do it,” I said.  “Green Eyes and I can theoretically come back.  I’m not sure you can.  You can help without putting yourself in danger.”

The three female Others were heading down the slope of the hill, picking their steps carefully in snow that ranged from mid-calf to knee height.

Not strong, by the look of them.  Strong Others would have plowed through it.

Yet something about them told me they weren’t practitioners.  It was as if their breath didn’t fog in the cold winter air, except their breath did.  As if there was a clue I was missing.

As they descended from the top of the hill and we climbed from the bottom, it looked like we’d meet halfway.

“Okay,” Evan said.  “Instead of that, why don’t we all survive and avoid the crazy stuff?  Because I think you’re great, and I like Green Eyes too, and I like the other guys and what’s the point of running away if I’m not going to be around all the people I like?”

“You’re a survivor,” I said.  “You survived the Hyena.  I want you to survive this, too.”

“Uh huh, and what happens if I’m all alone, huh?  I’m falling apart and I’ve been dying since just after Christmas.  I need Ty and Alexis and Tiff and Rose if I’m going to get the spirits stuck in me to keep me going, and I need you to help me figure out a way to stop needing the spirits, since you know the full story.”

“And me?”  Green Eyes asked.

“I need you to, uh, tell me how great I am.”

“I can do that,” Green Eyes said.  “I’d be very eager to find out just how good you are.”

“Great!  See, Blake?  So cheer up.  I need you and you need us and we need each other and we’re good.  But we gotta get through this okay.  And I’m saying okay only because I’m not sure how alive some of us are anymore.  But we gotta get through this.”

I didn’t have a good refutation for his argument.  We were only a fifth of the way up the hill.  The women toward the top had stopped, apparently deciding it was too much hassle to come after us, when we were ascending.

“What’s the long-term plan, Evan?” I asked, changing the subject and hoping he’d let up on the pressure.  I was accepting that he was with me through thick or through thin, here.

“Long-term plan?”

“When we’re done?”

“Oh.  Like you were saying back there.”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve got some video games to finish with Ty, and I obviously want to work with the others and get myself fixed so I’m not falling apart anymore, and I want to have a moment of ultimate power so I can shove it in people’s faces when they groaned and moaned at me for bringing it up.  Besides, you and me are supposed to go monster hunting, right?”

“Yeah, that was the plan,” I said.  “Stop the worst of the monsters, if we can.”

“Right.”

“Everything you just mentioned, you need others around.  What if some of us don’t make it?” I asked.

“Then that sucks monkey beans.  Ruins my plans.  We’ve all got to make it.  Which was my whole point, before.  We’ve got to make it, and that means you, too.”

“But what if some of us don’t make it?  Hypothetically?  What do you do?”

“Fly until I can’t fly anymore,” he said.  “I’d want to ride a motorcycle again, but I dunno if that’s possible.  But, but but but, I can fly and maybe ride motorcycles if everyone does make it, right?  So that’s best.  Let’s aim for that.”

Fly, ride motorcycles, everyone lives.

“Hey Green Eyes.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m really lucky I met this bird, here.”

“Damn right,” the bird said.

“Sounds right,” Green Eyes said.

“He’s starting to convince me not to do the headlong rush.”

“I’ll do what you want to do,” she said, looking up.  “But I’d rather make it through this.  I really don’t want to go back.”

“The headlong rush is easy,” I said, and raw violence would go a long way towards settling the unease I feel deep inside.  Or distract from it, anyway.  “…If we’re all going to prioritize survival, that’s hard.”

There was no reply.  Evan was flying, and Green Eyes didn’t have anything to volunteer.

“I’m not good at planning,” I said, but the words felt like they were more for myself.

Rose and I were two parts of a greater puzzle.  Two flawed, incomplete people.  We’d both, in our ways, filled in the gaps.  Made ourselves more complete in different ways.  Rose had Conquest, and I had… this.  Ideas, symbols, spirits.

Take away the magical stuff, like the Drains had shown me when Eva had attacked me and cast me down into the dark space below the basement, and I was only a part of a man.  Whole sections missing.  Other sections damaged by things that had happened since all of this began.

If I didn’t cling to the monster

We were drawing nearer to the three women.

“What about you, Green?” Evan asked, perching on my shoulder.  “What’s your big goal?”

“The warmth of food in my belly.  Being safe.”

“But that’s a now goal.  What about tomorrow?  Blake was just saying we shouldn’t be constrained in our thinking, right?”

Not up to talking, still trying to think of how to approach this situation, I only nodded.

“Warm food inside me, not having to worry, maybe talking with friends or watching television.”

“You gotta think bigger.”

“You mean your ‘blaze of glory’ sort of big?”

Yeah!

Green Eyes changed how she was moving through the snow.  She was a bit ahead, and rather than crawl, elbows bent, she walked forward with her arms extended straight down, dragging her lower body behind her.  She was a little slower, but not so much that she’d fall well behind in a minute.  “I’m not like that.  Can’t remember what I was before, but I don’t think I ever had dreams.  I would’ve held on to them.  It was always about getting through the day.  Then, in the dark waters, it was about getting through the hour.  Every hour.”

“But you can change.

“I have.  I will.  But I’ll probably always be okay with having clean water, company, and food that’s warm and panicked.  That’s good enough.”

“Is it?” the woman at the center of the three asked.  “Think carefully about where you’re getting your food.”

Still holding the Hyena, I spread my arms.  The universal gesture of nonaggression.  Green Eyes, for her part, relaxed her arms, dropping into the snow, only barely peering above it.

“Whose are you?” the lead woman asked me.  She looked like a Japanese student.

Not who, but whose.

“My own,” I said.

“You’re not wanted here,” she said.  “Not by us.”

I knew for a fact that neutral parties had been a part of the attack on the house.

“You’re probably right.  We’re here all the same.”

Some of those present,” she said, “Appear to be territorial.  Go around to the front door, it’s better.”

Trying to get rid of us?

I had to wonder why.

“I became what I am, right here, because I didn’t want to do what others told me,” I said.  “I have to walk my own path.  Right now, you’re standing on that path.”

She moved her hands at her sides, not raising her arms, only bending her wrists.

I tensed.

The girls on either side of her acted, following orders made with the smallest of gestures.

Their necks unspooled from within their body cavity, guts, bands of muscle and viscera trailing from a spine that coiled as a serpent’s might.  Twenty feet of neck, poised in the air.  The bodies remained as they were, hands in pockets.

Serpentine as the necks were, the girl’s faces were scowls, nothing more.  No apparent fangs, no weapons.

Intimidating, but I couldn’t see obvious danger in it.  What was the worst they could do?  Strangle me?

I touched my hip with my thumb to remind myself that the Hyena was there, just in case.

“I smell meat,” Green Eyes murmured.

Meat?

“The necks,” Evan said.  “Meaty giblet necks.”

The two girls with elongated necks looked at him, but they didn’t act.  Their focus was on me.

“No, behind them.  Lots of blood,” Green Eyes said.

Our meat, our blood,” the woman with the yet-unextended neck said.  “We already divided it fairly.  Divided into sevens twice.  The extra piece goes to the one who finally kills her.  If any of us try and die, our shares go to the one who succeeds.  Pot’s growing.  It’s not a deal we’re sharing.  It took too long to find rules we all agreed on, and if we have to adjust for every new arrival…”

Kills it?

“Midge,” Evan said.  “I got a glimpse.”

Ah.

Also: Damn it, Evan.

“You know it?”

“You don’t?” Evan asked.

Taking advantage of his question, I added, “Midge popped up in Toronto for a very short time.”

“We wouldn’t know.  We’re visiting,” the woman said.

Think, Blake, I told myself.  My thoughts were all noise.  They weren’t all cooperating.  It would be so easy to just kill this one, stab her with the Hyena, catching her off guard.  Green Eyes could take one of the snake-necked women, I could take the other.  Three down, eleven to go, and when those eleven weren’t cooperating, it would be possible to take advantage of the chaos.

But if I suppressed my ‘slasher movie’ instincts…

They weren’t part of the assault on the house.  Not fighting, not eager to be on the front lines.  They didn’t look strong.

‘Visiting’ meant they were very possibly Johannes’.  Especially if they didn’t know Toronto.

“We’re not looking for a share of the meat,” I said.

“I wouldn’t mind a share-” Green Eyes started.  She shrank down into the snow a little as I turned my head her way.  “-But I can do without.”

“Then why are you here?” she asked.  “A late arrival.”

“I’ll tell you why I’m here if you tell me your role, lurking at the back, arguing about meat.  I’m assuming whoever called you had reasons for asking you to come here.”

“They didn’t ask,” she said.

Rather than speak, I kept my mouth shut.  I’d already made the offer.

She relented.  “He put out an open offer.  He’ll host us again if we can bring back any information he can use, that nobody else brought.  We’re not participating so much as-”

“Scouting,” I finished.

She offered a nod.  The angle of it seemed off.  The other two women weren’t the only ones with horrendously long necks.

Host.  A free admissions pass to Johannes’ wonderland for Others, in exchange for intel.  Probably smart, giving up so very little in exchange for potentially huge gains.  I was gratified to find that she was summoned by Johannes.  One of his assorted Others.

She was, I realized, not a fighter.  A scout, an observer, maybe a bit of a scavenger, to pick the bones clean after all was said and done.

Now to fulfill my end of the bargain.  She’d elaborated on her motives.  As to mine…

“I’m looking for that,” I said, pointing at the wood pile.

“Why?”

“Because I want to start a fire,” I said.

“There are rules.  Set out when we were sent here,” she said.

“Not for me,” I said.

“But the rules are there for a reason,” she said.

“They are,” I agreed.  “The demon, in one of the rooms of the house.  Step carelessly, and we might let it free.”

She nodded that odd nod of hers again.  The angle of her chin didn’t change in the slightest.  Her head merely rose and fell.  Then, just when I thought I had her agreement, she asked.  “Why fire?  Why were you headed here, long before you were close enough to see the wood?”

It would be so easy to stab her.  To attack the others, create the chaos I could take advantage of.  Maybe even use Midge, to get another body on my side.

I’d largely abandoned my humanity, leaving the others behind.  What was I clinging to?

I’d asked myself a similar question, back in the Drains, before I’d decided on my way out.

I was mired, right now.

If I pushed forward, if I was a true monster, I might lose some of Evan’s faith.

If I didn’t… there was the dim chance that we might fly, in the metaphorical sense.  Escape and be free.  We could strive to get everyone through this alive.

But this wasn’t in my nature, as a broken human being, and it wasn’t in my nature as a monster.

I touched one of the few sections of true skin I had left.  My face.

“Tattoos,” I said.

“Yes?”

“I wanted to be an artist, once.  But I guess I wasn’t made to have it.  I was made to be resourceful, to be strong.”  And maybe a bit desperate.  “Rather than be the artist, I was content to be a canvas, to make art happen.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“Fire… it’s dramatic,” I said.  “It’s me, and it’s everything here, and it’s an ideal capstone to the evening.  It’s going to make people look.”

“You burn,” she says.

“Not if I can help it,” I said.

“But you’re the type to burn.  I can see it.  Playing with fire is insanity.”

“Well,” I said, “It looks like I’m that kind of Other.”

“If we let you past, You don’t interfere.”

“Not making any promises,” I said.

She scowled.

“To be entirely honest,” I said, staring at her, “I don’t think you’re strong enough to stop us.  Even if you’re the kind of Other that can see weak points and vulnerabilities.”

Her gaze, as she met mine, was fierce.  A staredown between alpha dogs, to decide who had supremacy.

Ane,” one of the long-necked girls said.  “I think they got her.”

The woman snarled, but she turned her back to me.

Going to claim her share.

I headed up the hill, all too aware that if the wrong person arrived, if we made the slightest mistake, or if Evan was seen…

“Evan,” I said. “Hide in my hood.”

He hopped across my shoulder and into the recess of my sweatshirt’s hood.

The backyard, such as it was, was flat, a nice change after the steep incline, where footing had been so unsteady.

I moved with purpose, ignoring the rest, placing myself so that the three long-necked women partially concealed me.  They were all clustering around Midge, who lay on her back, surrounded by bloodstained snow.

I headed straight to the wood pile.

I grabbed wood and threw it toward the center of the porch.  It didn’t make noise, except to punch through the light crust of ice atop the snow.  There was no thud, no clack or crack as wood landed amid snow.

The Others, such as they were, weren’t fighters.  Scavengers, living off of the scraps, luxuriating in the raw destruction and the sheer negativity that surrounded Hillsglade House, gathering information in hopes of earning the goodwill of their masters.

When the rack of stacked wood was partially empty, I tested my strength.

I wasn’t as strong as I had been in the mirror, but I was still strong.

I dragged it.

“Need fire,” I said.

“I could-” Evan started.

“No,” I said.  The Others that were attacking the house were on the lookout for a bogeyman in a mirror, a Thorburn, one of Rose’s cabal, or a sparrow.

“I’ll get it,” Green Eyes said.

“Kitchen drawer,” I said, in a voice that was pitched to a low whisper, “Far left of the kitchen.”

“Got it,” she said.

She disappeared inside, through the door that had already taken a blast from a claymore.

I heard a thud.  An Other in the collection of scavengers was shoved back.

Those that hadn’t been pushed back pressed in.

Midge, apparently, was fighting back, even in defeat.

That she’d lasted this long, well, that was something.

Green Eyes emerged.  The Others reacted, defensive, overly alert.

As if they were afraid something bigger and stronger was going to come and take their meal away.

Green Eyes’ tail was wrapped around a chair leg.  She dragged it outside with her.  I saw the industrial size box of waterproof matches in one hand, a barbecue lighter in the other.

I grabbed the chair as soon as it was in reach, placing it atop the pile.

More furniture…

I spotted wooden crates that had once held dirt and flowers, now nearly invisible beneath a heavy layer of snow.

I dumped out the dirt and placed the crates with the split logs, wood rack, and chair.

It was looking more like it would be a small bonfire.

By the time I’d emptied a fourth crate, Green Eyes was returning with another chair.

Some of the Others had chunks of meat in their mouths, their portions of food, and were stepping away from the huddled mass, watching.

None had recognized me yet.  Those who might have made the connection were falling prey to group psychology.  The others accepted me, so they suppressed their suspicions.  With food available, they had other things to focus on.  Food was power, to many, many Others.

Starting the fire, as it turned out, was more difficult.

A lack of kindling.  Only wood, and the crates were still damp wood.

I debated setting the box of matches on fire, but I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t explode and set me on fire, and I didn’t want to exhaust my firestarting materials.

Green Eyes ducked inside, and by the time she’d returned, I’d failed to get the fire going.

She provided a package of napkins.

From there, the fire was easy enough to start.  Napkins crammed into holes, where the wind couldn’t reach them, set alight.  They caught the drier, flakier wood and bark, which caught the denser wood.

All without picking a fight, first.

Thank you, Evan.

“May I?” a muffled voice asked.

I turned.

A man in a stainless steel mask, with heavy-duty handcuffs at his wrists.  He wore nice clothes, all things considered.  His hands were bloody, holding a tattered mass of flesh and fat.

“May you…?”

“Use your fire, please?  We must be civilized, and a civilized person cooks their meat.”

“You can use it, but only if you add wood to it,” I said.  “Make it bigger.”

“I promise.  May I cook the meat first?”

“You may.”  I stepped away as I gestured at the bonfire, inviting him to take my spot.  It was still in the process of igniting, fire jumping from one piece of wood to another.

More were claiming their meat.  Five or six of the thirteen or so Others had ‘food’ in hand.

As they scattered, my eyes met Midge’s.  Her lower body wasn’t intact, already largely stripped of flesh.  A safer area to start when her arms threatened to grab or bludgeon.

Following my gaze, Green Eyes commented, “I’m hungry.”

Then Midge blinked.

An ugly smile spread across her face.

Then she started to laugh, to snigger, an ugly, snorting, mean sort of laughter, drawn out over long seconds.

She didn’t take her eyes off me.

Heads turned.

“What’s she laughing about?”

Ane,” one of the long-necked women said.  “I can almost see-”

“I see,” Ane said.

Seeing vulnerability.  Made obvious by Midge.  Damn it.

“He’s-”

I ran.

Part of the plan in the first place.

The man in the steel mask didn’t follow.  Several did.

I wasn’t as strong as I’d been in the mirror world, but with room to stretch my legs, I was reminded of what I’d experienced in the drains, and during my brief skirmish with Ur.

A body of dry twigs and old bone was surprisingly light.  Once I got moving, I was able to move fast.

Green Eyes, for her part, started to fall behind.

“Here!” I shouted.

She pounced on me, arms wrapping around my shoulders.  Barbed scales caught on my clothes, and scratched at my flesh where her wrists grazed my collarbone.

Once she wrapped her tail around my stomach, I felt more flesh catch, but the tail wasn’t battering my legs as I continued to run.  It was easier.  Running with a heavy backpack.

Even with the burden, I wasn’t slow by any measure.  Only a handful could match me in speed.

One woman, bronze-skinned, statuesque, pulled into the lead, winter coat unbuttoned, long coattails flapping behind her.  She had eyes like a hawk, with bright yellow irises.  Another, a gaunt man with long hair, eyes bugging out, leaped onto the side of the house, crawling at a speed that matched my running speed.

Something whizzed by my head.  I heard Green Eyes cry out in pain.  It had grazed her.

I couldn’t turn to look with the burden on my back.  I had to trust Green Eyes to.

“Sling,” she said.  “Like from David against Goliath.”

The bronze-skinned woman.

We were leaving some of the Others behind, but the woman and the wall-crawling man weren’t ones I was about to simply outpace, even considering that I didn’t get tired.

“Evan,” I said.  “If she misses you twice, come back.”

He crawled out from where the hood was pressed down by Green Eyes’ arms, then took flight.

It wouldn’t be enough.  He could slow them down, but I needed to make them stop.

I still had the Hyena in one hand, the long-nozzled lighter in the other.

“Take,” I said, raising the Hyena’s handle up to my collarbone.  “Don’t stab me.”

Green Eyes grabbed it.

I reached into my pocket for the box of matches.

Time to do something stupid.

My eye fell on the trees.  Old, overgrown trees that now shrouded the house.

This one was too close, I decided, as I ran past it.

Green Eyes yelped something, and I half-turned to see the wall-crawling man flying in my direction.

I twisted my foot around, pushing myself in another direction.

Plumes of snow exploded from the impact of old man and deep snow.

He leaped onto a nearby tree, then leaped for me again.  I was forced to give up momentum to dodge again.

Chances were that if he got me, he’d get Green Eyes.  He’d lose the ensuing fight, but we’d lose our chance to slip away.

There.

A tree that sat on the edge of the hill.  It grew at an angle, curved like a bow, the branches reaching toward Hillsglade House.

Far enough away.

I ran, changing direction.  My footsteps fell on the wood where the base of the tree had grown away from the slope.

“Green,” I said.  “Off.”

She grabbed a branch, unwinding herself from my midsection.

Where her tail stripped flesh, left to right, I was almost spun, a footstep veering off in almost the complete wrong direction.

But my arm hooked a branch.  Box of matches in one hand, lighter in the other, I still managed to scale the tree, resting occupied hands on branches that stuck out.

Twigs, here and there, broke off.  They snagged in my hair, and they snagged in the vacant spaces of my arms and chest.  Rather than make the climbing hard, it almost facilitated it.

I reached the point where the tree started bending on the general direction of the house.  My eyes met Green Eyes’, where she was holding onto a branch, climbing up by virtue of arm strength alone.

The leaping man prowled below.  Waiting for us to come down, or waiting for us to reach a point where the branches didn’t obscure us and he could leap onto us.  Getting us on the way down.

With the tip of the lighter, I prodded the box open.

Placing it in a crook in the tree, I set the cardboard alight.

One match was combustible.  A tiny sort of ignition and explosion, but combustible all the same.  Fifty match-heads in an enclosed space?  A hundred?  A hundred and fifty?

I reached out for her hand.

She grabbed it, and swung, the branch I rested on bowing and protesting with the sudden addition of weight, as she returned to a piggyback position behind me.

It was a long way down, landing on a snow-covered slope.

But, as the long-necked woman had suggested, fire was a bigger danger.

I leaped.

For four or five long seconds, I got to enjoy the sensation of flight.

Then a small bird named Evan flew through me, between the branches that made up my midsection, and buoyed me up for a moment.  I experienced the briefest moment of weightlessness, an arrest in downward momentum.

When that sensation passed, I fell the rest of the way.  It was a heavy landing, intervention aside.

Wood cracked and splintered.  Green Eyes and I came apart, rolling down the slope.  We came to a stop at the base of the hill, not far from the wall around the property, topped by its spiked railing.

Above us, in the tree, we could see the flare of light, the starting fire, and the orange droplets that were burning matches, falling free, dancing off branches on their way down.  As fireworks went, it was pretty measly.

“You have a mark on your cheek,” Green Eyes said.

“Hm?”

“Where I kissed you.  The birds are all close together, three tiny eyes, at the corner of your real eye.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I like it,” she said.

Why?”  Evan asked.  He’d perched on the railing.  “Also, we’re not home free yet.”

I raised myself up.

There were Others coming down the slope.  One or two had stopped to look up at the tree and the dots of orange that were dropping from the matchbox.

The woman with the sling, however, was too far in the lead.

I raised a hand, pointing.

She turned her head to look, then stopped.

At the fire in the tree, then at the house.  The fire behind the house was already sending up smoke, the flames lighting the smoke here and there, framing the house just a little.

As the long-necked woman had said, they’d promised to leave the house intact.  They knew the stakes.

The woman’s eyes narrowed.

But she turned.  She headed for the tree.

Reckless?  Maybe.  But I knew there was a djinn on the premises.  There were powers at play.

There was no chance, I was sure, that the locals would plan an attack on the house and not have measures in place to stop a fire or avert disaster.

The tree was far enough away the fire could be stopped, but close enough it couldn’t be ignored.

Or not ignored by most.

The snake-necked women were approaching.  So was the leaping man, and a woman in old-fashioned clothing.

I’d tried.  Not to avoid bloodshed, but to use my head, when my emotions were riding high.

Maybe there was a time for bloodshed, all the same.

“My name is Blake Thorburn,” I said.  “If you fight me, I will retaliate, and I will most likely destroy you.”

The leaping man leaped.

Evan flew between me and him.  I rolled, the man veered off course.  He landed a foot to my left.

I staked him with the Hyena in the process of getting to my feet.

“Stand down, and I have no grievance with you,” I said.  “I’m only interested in killing monsters.

“How do you define a monster?” the woman in old-fashioned clothing asked, in a cutesy, ‘Miss America’ voice.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “But if you have the sense to stand down, to back away from a fight that hurts both of us, and probably ends one of us, I can leave you alone for the time being.”

“Oh,” she said.  She flashed me a winning smile.  “I don’t have that much sense.”

She reached behind her back, drawing a beater of a Tommy-gun.

But I was faster.  Lighter than lightweight.

The Hyena speared her heart.

I pulled it free, then slashed at the hand that held the gun for good measure.

She faded out.  From color to black and white.  The ‘film’ turned spotty, burning up, with holes appearing in her, inky black tar bubbling where her insides were revealed.

I turned my attention to the long-necked women.

“I’ll offer a deal,” I said.

“A deal?” she asked.

“Go talk to Johannes.  Tell him not to worry about the fire.  I’m using it to draw the others out.  It’s information you can use to barter for another stay in Johannes’ domain.”

I saw her eyebrow quirk.

“No risk involved,” I said.

“Unless he thinks I disappointed him.”

“You’re not a fighter, right?” I asked.  “You did what you were supposed to.  I accomplished what I wanted.”

She glanced up at the tree.  An Other was cutting away burning branches, but more of the tree was catching fire.

A moment passed.  They changed tacks, not trying to cut away what burned, but cut away the branches that could give the fire access to the house.

“We should go,” Green Eyes said.

“Yes,” Ane said.  “We should.”

“Then-”

“Give me plausible deniability,” she said.  “Kill the body.”

That said, she vacated her host.  Her head pulled free, flying, with only organs trailing beneath it.

Her underlings, whatever they were, followed behind her, as they left the property.

There were Others who’d noticed the fire, or noticed the activity.

Green Eyes was right.

We needed to go.

Green Eyes and I went over the fence, towards the city proper.

I saw activity.  People standing outside houses.

Virtually every Other that counted was at the House.

These were Practitioners.  Worried, watching, eminently distracted.

I held the Hyena in a firm grip.

Easy pickings.  Killing more monsters.

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227 thoughts on “Duress 12.7

  1. Yesss, Blake. You resist that urge to solve everything by hitting it. Even if your overall plan still involves setting things on fire. Evan is such a good influence.

    1. But, like, clearly the plan involving killing a bunch of people and burning down a house full of demon lore is the most MORAL action to take!

      Or something…

      1. Look, Blake may be turning into a monster, but at the very least he can turn into a monster that lacks his suicidal tendencies, right?

      2. This is war and the other faction has made it clear that results are all that matters since they were going to kill all of Blake’s friends and family. If they’re watching the slaughter the they probably collaborators and if they’re dumb enough to bring their kids to it…

  2. Blake is about to go slasher on practicioners and is apparently a killing machine now. Hooboy. Nice knowing you gawkers. This arc has been incredibly intense so far!

    1. If they were there watching then they knew what was going on and were probably complicit in it. All those homunculus couldn’t simply march through the streets after all. They wanted a war, it’s time they were on the side of the causalities.

        1. Just saying, if you were a practitioner and you saw an army of Others marching on a house with the intention of feasting on fear and flesh, would be close enough for one of them to spot you from atop the hill if you ran the risk of getting munched on?

        2. My god, I wish you’d stop with your sarcasm already. I get it, you think the only appropriate thing for Blake to do is just lay down and die because of all the “evil” things he’s done so far. I on the other hand think that all the practitioners who’re involved with this plot to kill a bunch of innocents deserve their comeuppance. Especially, if they’re stupid enough to gawk at the commotion from close proximity because they believe they’re safe and are not scared of possible retaliation by the Thornburns.

          1. I’m not him, but I think Blake really shouldn’t start killing humans without at least establishing who they are and giving them a chance to explain their actions. That really DOES seem a bit evil. Sure, there’s a war going on, and there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting that these guys just tried to murder Blake and all his friends, but even then, trying to murder a whole crowd of people doesn’t sound like something Blake should do. So far, he’s only killed Laird, and that wasn’t even premeditated.

            Scaring them and maybe wounding them a bit, now, that would be just fine.

          2. They are legitimate targets, but Blake does seem to be going a bit crazy. I sure hope he’s in the mood to accept surrenders.

            1. I’m sure he’d accept offers of making a vow to stop trying to kill or otherwise fuck over his friends and family.

              We have an interesting philisophical question here really. Which is truly more monsterous? Others, who by their very nature must act violently, eat people things like that. Or the Practicioners who have actual free will, but choose to engage is deeds such as murder?

  3. Typo thread here!

    “She grabbed it, and swung, the branch I rested on bowing and protesting with the sudden addition of weight, as she returned to a piggyback position behind me.” The italics should stop after “swung”.

    “If we let you past, You don’t interfere.” “You” should be lowercase.

      1. it was when he was still an easily scarred vestige in the drains. (he had a fractured shoulder from letting ty sleep against him which is how he figured out what that compulsion against being touched was even about)

    1. Typos:

      • “Their necks unspooled from within their body cavity” -> “body cavities”
      • “trailing from a spine” -> “from spines”

      • “I saw the industrial size box” -> “industrial-size”

      • “where the tree started bending on the general direction” -> “in the general direction”

      • “I reached out for her hand.” -> “for Green Eyes´ hand” – she was last mentioned 5 paragraphs ago

      • “These were Practitioners.” -> “practitioners”

      Also, both “Drains” and “drains” appeared.

    2. When they meet the… anime schoolgirl monsters… there’s:
      “Still holding the Hyena, I spread my arms. The universal gesture of nonaggression. Green Eyes, for her part, relaxed her arms, dropping into the snow, only barely peering above it.”
      He doesn’t put the Hyena elsewhere in the ensuing conversation.

      Later on, there’s:
      “I touched my hip with my thumb to remind myself that the Hyena was there, just in case.”

      I kinda feel like it’s right that the Hyena is getting more of a mention, and is being shown as having become an integral part of Bogey Blake (if that’s what you’re getting at), so maybe this part could be slightly modified? Or am I missing something, where Blake implicitly put the Hyena back at his hip?

        1. Even the Supreme Court has literally split on this issue, when they were talking about Kansas. That being said, more justices have backed the “add the ‘s unless the name is Biblical or classical.”

  4. Typo thread:

    homonculi
    homunculi

    staredown
    usually stare down

    firestarting
    usually fire starting

    A safer area to start. when
    A safer area to start. When
    or
    A safer area to start, when

    She grabbed it, and swung, the branch I rested on bowing and protesting with the sudden addition of weight, as she returned to a piggyback position behind me.
    longer than normal italisization

      1. I’ll admit I used to be BlakeXMags, but BlakeXGreen Eyes has grown on me. Though it seems physical contact with her can be a bit painful.

      1. Yeah, but Blake can’t kill the next generation since it would make all his talk a moot point. Even when he was talking to the old Behaims he mentioned that kids under twenty were off-limits and everyone else knew what they were in for.

        1. If he starts killing practitioners willy nilly without thinking about the consequences1 then his talk is all moot anyway. Specifically his talk about stopping the cycle of conflict and the weight of history all the families have on their backs. All Blake would be doing is feeding into the cycle, strengthening grudges and creating news ones, solving nothing.

          1. You do realize they’re going to pull this crap off again unless some major damage is done right? When you’re winning a war then its so easy to keep things going, like how the Duchamps are convinced to keep going along with their marriages and stuff. Pacifism is all well and good, but that turning the other cheek crap isn’t going to fly when its a wholesale massacre. They’re not going to stop until it becomes too costly to continue with this, meaning they lose some of their backup so they can’t effectively fight.

            1. You’re assuming that Blake can deal enough damage to make it viable to stop the conflict. Which is naive. Blake is good, but we have no reason to believe that he can take on all these people and win, they’re not bowling pins for the protagonist to knock down, Wildbow doesn’t write like that.

              Besides, even if you stop this conflict, another one will eventually print up from the old grudges created by the last one. The only way that violence will solve this without some actual willingness to negotiate beyond threats on both sides1 is either total dominance or total extermination.

              I don’t think Blake is willing to do either, and if he is… well…

          2. This is the same guy who always tried to settle his karmic scores with everyone, including the time when he ordered Buttsack (?) to attack that one practitioner library in retaliation.

            So irrespective of the question of whether this would be just, it would certainly be in-character, even for the human he was originally.

            (And I totally agree that Blake certainly won’t be able to win this war on his own. But he might well be able to pick off a few careless adults before the rest even notice him.)


            Also, one way to end the cycle of conflict would be for Blake to take revenge by himself, totally disassociate himself from his friends and the Thorburns, and then suffer all the revenge himself.

          3. Blake can break the cycle with enough blood. Good old Ghengis Khan springs to mind immediately, “I am the punishment of God. If you had not commited great sins, god would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”

            1. Ha, haha. Did you just say that Genghis broke a cycle of violence? Because several historical theories I’ve seen suggest the opposite. He may have broken the Khwarazmian Empire, and a lot of other culturally advanced Islamic states, but a lot of historians point to the wholesale slaughter by the Mongols as what started the decline of the Middle East that along with a bunch of other things including the Cold War and Colonialism, resulted in the mess the ME is in today.

              Sooooo… if we apply this to Pact, if Blake slaughters the other families will probably result in Jacob’s Bell and the area going to shit for years to come.

  5. Blakes going murderhappy.
    And yet, I still feel as though he’s one of the more morally upright characters.
    Hopefully he won’t dive off the slippery slope, but he probably wil because that’s darker and more interesting.
    Go BlakexGreen Eyes! 😀

  6. I like Blake this chapter.

    The Butcher? Is there significance in the Title Butcher over Barber? I feel like there is.

    The mind picture of Blake frolicking around with Green Eyes on his back is just wonderful.

    So Evan worked out that Awesome begets Awesome. Good for him.

    The obvious conclusion to draw is that Blake will attempt to slaughter the local Practitioners (if they really are Practitioners. I’m kinda suspicious Blake might just be seeing random neighbors concerned about the massive fires down the street thru his rage vision). I can’t help but get the feeling that he won’t do that though.

      1. Wild theories to counter:

        1. It just got really bright outside. That is, of course, the opposite dark.

        2.1 Runes to keep people’s attention away are à part of shamanism, that is, direct requests with spirits. Blake collects spirits and possibly has some new ones. The runes stopped working.

        2.2 The fire and copious amount of blood and gore smudged the runes, thus making the spell ineffective

        1. Maybe they’re just strong willed.
        1. I don’t think the wards would be able to hold up to a firestorm, but it’s fairly probable the first set of humans he bumps into will be the practitioners coordinating the attack.

        2. You’d have to account that all the practitioners went in on it, so there’s no chance they botched that and it would be the epitome of stupidity to set it anywhere near the main hotspots of the battle where it could be damaged, especially when this siege has been in the making for some time.

          Blake can’t draw in enough spirits remotely fast enough to be a sink when you consider that he was still struggling after giving Alexis a single bird. Bogeymen feed off fear and that fear nurtures the birds inside him who multiply and breed from it.

          1. Blake can’t draw in enough spirits remotely fast enough to be a sink when you consider that he was still struggling after giving Alexis a single bird. Bogeymen feed off fear and that fear nurtures the birds inside him who multiply and breed from it.

            Sincere question: can you back this up? From my understanding, The spirits within Blake are not simply breeding. He’s constantly taking in new spirits, especially when he creates a void within himself. Remember, he’s a starving giant. By that Logic, since he shot Alexis with a Blake Bird, shouldn’t he have more room to take in spirits?

            1. The birds in his chest multiplied while in the Tentements, which are acting as his current source of strength. He didn’t pull those out of anything.

              He might be a starving giant, but spirits are virtually infinite enough to blanket the sky and power the rune if drawn. You have to consider that most of these practitioners aren’t stupid enough to put said sigil where they know it would be easily sabotaged since that is a buttload of bad karma and it would prove all of them irresponsible in their duties.

    1. I think that after finding out what was done to them as Roke, Blake is in no mood to call the slash-happy bastard “Barber”. Besides which… surgeons are sometimes called “butchers”, too.

      Barber-surgeon: two for the price of one. 😐

      Seriously, Granny Roselyn was a terrible punster. 😛

  7. Is “The Butcher” supposed to be “the Barber” since the next sentence talks about the shears that split Rose and Blake? Perhaps I just missed something?

    1. They used Ane, which is a shorthand for Sister in Japanese. It’s mostly likely the Youkai, which I would have expected from Sandra’s group considering they’re the ones with ties to Asia.

  8. “I’ll do what you want to do,” she said, looking up. “But I’d rather make it through this. I really don’t want to go back.”

    That’s some Green Eyes loyalty right there! She’s probably Blake’s closest and most trusted connection right now.

    1. Which makes it all the more hilarious that she can still barely conceal her desire to eat his other close and most trusted connection.

  9. Uh, well. Rose and Alexis and co. have their work cut out for them when they get back. I wonder whether they’re either going to a. hole up somewhere and try to survive the night, try to stop blake themselves before he starts a full scale free-for-all, or try to open negotiations with the other powers to try to distances themselves from Blake’s actions and open the possibility of using his rampage as “diplomatic” leverage.

    Whatever it is, somewhere some demon is laughing his ass off, or the abyss is laughing it’s ass off as a whole, or worse yet, Granny Rose is laughing her ass off in hell.

    1. I’m pretty sure that they’re going to use him as leverage. Rose set up a dead man’s switch involving the Barber being set loose undirected, after all-she’d be more than willing to let Blake rampage until she got a whole bunch of concessions like “stop fucking with my family” and “Bow down to me, worms.” The question is whether the Behaims and Duchamps will be able to bind him on their own.

      1. Also, from my understanding, “I sit and wait while my pet monster rampages until you come begging to me for help” is basically consistent with both aspects of her Tarot reading. She’s waiting for the right moment while simultaneously engaging in fearful, bloody conquest.

    2. They don’t have any power over Blake. His actions are his own, especially now that he knows they were passively betraying him. And why would they need to distance themselves when they weren’t meant to survive the night?

      This was a clear attempt to kill them and effectively get rid of virtually all the Thorburn Heirs since only Ivy and Paige aren’t there at present, one of whom is a baby who most likely wouldn’t have the resources to learn and the other is due to the fact they couldn’t wrest her from Isadora’s grasp… that or she’s been eaten.

      1. Why didnt Eve and Andy just kill them all?

        Callin doesnt get attacked until he loses his innocence and becomes fair game. I think once again Blake screwed everything up by being so good at surviving during fights with little concern for consequences.

        1. Deferral of responsibility. They’re explicitly neutral, and said to be skirting the rules of the contest just by being there. But so long as they didn’t kill anyone personally, they don’t have full responsibility for their deaths in the eyes of the spirits, meaning that the contest’s fragile rules remain relatively intact.

          1. I thought witch hunters didn’t follow those rules? Of course, if they were ordered there by the practitioners, the rules may be different. Not sure.

            1. For one thing, the Witch Hunters don’t wantonly kill. Executions have to be voted on for members of the council and related practitioners, although outsiders are still open to deal with, and even then Sandra and the others knew innocents would be there so their deaths would be a hit in power, which none of them can afford on the cusps of a war.

              While Witch Hunters can lie, it doesn’t change the fact that if they were told to go kill everyone and did it then the council wouldn’t have enough degrees of separation to avoid the loss.

            2. I wonder what the spirits think on the subject of command responsibility. Clearly people are on the hook for stuff they ordered, or it would be pretty toothless for summoners, but what about beyond that? If someone is in charge, are they responsible for everything their subordinates do? Anything they do while lon the job, even if totally unrelated to orders? Any actions they take which help fulfill orders, even if not strictly necessary? Just actions that actually fulfill orders?

              If a practitioner sends an Other to kill someone, and it kills random people on the way, several bodyguards, and the target, reports back and then kills more people, which of those is the practitioner punished for?

              I expect it goes to one extreme or the other. Spirits aren’t very bright, but they might consider people responsible for all actions performed by their minions.

      2. If that was the plan, it backfired stupendously. Peter is now very much primed to become a practitioner if necessary and probably not suck at it, and what’s-his-name is already expressing interest in becoming one himself, regardless of whether or not he ends up inheriting the house. Two more potential heirs are ready to go, and unlike the previous ones they’ll know the political landscape ahead of time.

        1. I don’t know who you mean by what’s-his-face but judging by the pronoun he can’t inherit the house, just like Peter can’t.

    3. “Granny Rose is laughing her ass off in hell.”
      I’m wondering why she didn’t body swap or soul jar if she had hell coming. Like Xykon said, anything to avoid the big fire down below. She’s probably sitting on a beach somewhere in a miraculously recovered coma patient’s body.

      “Uh, well. Rose and Alexis and co. have their work cut out for them when they get back. ”
      I don’t think that the families are getting through the night. I think this is a wipe. Their going to need to have a strategy meeting. Andy has a rocket.

    4. It’s not a free-for-all at all; it’s retaliation in a war between, on the one side, 4 practitioners, 3 Others (summons not included), 1 demon (unused) and a whole bunch of unawakened Thorburns versus, on the other side, the entire Duchamp and Behaim families and Johannes and their gazillions of summoned Others.

      Even the spirits should karmically reward Blake for this. An eye for an eye, and all that. (Unless he kills the adolescent practitioners. Did he ever make an explicit promise not to do that? Even if he didn’t, it would still kill something inside him for violating an implicit promise he’d made to himself.)

  10. Hmmm… did Blake get an active helping boost from that tree? Looked that way: seems he can incorporate green wood quite happily to plug gaps (at least, when he’s in badass mode).

    Heeee: maybe he can learn to break out into leaf! xD You know… given time, survival… success… spring… Those kind of things. ;P

          1. That would be true. And WORLD Tree. Blake wanting to change the system (World). And hey Evan could be the bird, and Green Eyes the serpent. We just need the deer.

  11. Visions of violence danced through my head as I donned my armor, so to speak. Being slapped by my dad. Carl. Smashing Letita with the rusty pipe. Fighting the Shepherd. Fighting Conquest. Hacking at Duncan’s arms. Killing Laird. The fight in the hallway. Tearing my heart out of my chest. In the darkness between visions, I saw Ur.

    I’ll take “Things that cannot possibly be a good sign” for $500.

    I’m shocked Midge was still alive. I thought she got pasted by one of the big guys. Green Eyes also continues to confirm her alignment is Hungry Good.

    1. More like… a very bloody take on Neutral (Creepy) Good. A natural homebody with a great joy in the simple things of life and no real call to go beyond… unless somebody close to her really needs her help, that is.

      It’s just that her “simple things of life” include “fresh meat seasoned with terror and screams”. ;P

    2. “I’d be very eager to find out just how good you are.” – Green Eyes to Evan. Hungry Good confirmed.

      Urr went into his eye. He probably couldnt get it all out.

  12. So Evan’s still dying. I guess it’s official that he and Blake have lost their old connection and have just formed a new one.

    1. They had essentially no remaining connection – though Evan liked Blake as soon as he saw him in the mirror – until Blake somehow gave him some of his power in 10.7, like he later did with Alexis. And it made them both greyer, i.e. affected or tainted by the Drains.

  13. Excellent.

    I noticed that when he grabbed the Hyena, he suddenly:

    “t was easier, putting the others behind me. I felt a tension in my new body ease, and I’d barely recognized it had been there.”

    This seems important, not exactly sure why.

    1. I think he partially fused with the Hyena when he recovered it while emerging from the Abyss. Also, it seems like the sort of thing that would help deal with moral qualms over going full slasher movie.

    2. It was infused with a connection cutting demon several times. Probably more than three.

      Maybe it has the effect of diminishing the prominence connections passively, easing Blake?

    3. The Barber theory says the Hyena is essentially part of his body now, just like the Barber and his shears.

      Also, remember the discussion they had about choosing the Hyena as an implement. For all intents and purposes the Hyena is Blake’s implement now, insofar as an Other can have that. And it definitely fits the “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” theme that’s been suggested multiple times.

  14. I dont mind Blake solving this problem by killing. These practitioners have it coming for what they did these last few arcs.

    The problem is that Blake isnt even nervous about just killing a bunch of practitioners.

    If Blake and Co. survive, does it count as a victiory against the other families?

    1. It doesn’t help that the families refused every offer for peace and not killing each other that Blake put out. They wanted to treat him like he was a monster, now he is.

        1. Ok, I see this kind of “spoilerese” written here a lot. How do you translate it back to English, since I’ve read Worm.

  15. “I can do that,” Green Eyes said. “I’d be very eager to find out just how good you are.”

    😦 Green Eyes IS still looking at Evan as food

    1. I’m calling a showdown. “The Duel for a Morsel” The Greeneyed vampiric mermaid from the depths VS. The Flaming Fire Sparrow of Firery Awsomness.

    2. I’m picturing something like the old Sylvester and Tweety cartoons, honestly. Right down to Green Eyes sticking Evan in her mouth, looking up and seeing an angry Blake tapping his foot, spitting Evan out and patting him on the head.

          1. And even more infuriating personality….

            Sincerely,I always rooted for Sylvester,Tweety is infuriating.

            1. Honestly,out of all the looney toons,speedy gonzales was the only prey I rooted for,though as far as hunters go,I didn’t root for Sam,Marvin or Taz.

  16. “Easy pickings. Killing more monsters.”

    So then, Blake has decided what he counts a monster. Looks like the families made the cut.

    So an attempt to kill off the Thornburns and Rose’s Cabal and an attack on a house is bad Karma. I think it will be rebounding now. Andy and his rocket. Blake going after the easy pickings. Okay let’s look at the score card

    +5 Thornburns past the veil. Point Rose. Blake, the assorted others, and the families can be blamed for the initiation, but the Rose Cabal is pretty much in the clear.
    +1 Dead Thornburn. Point Rose. The Thornburns were causing trouble for Rose, now there is one less. He also may turn into a natural Bane and return to sender.
    -1 Intact House. Point ??? A House is a good place to live. There is almost certainly insurance and the lawyers provide cash. Depending on how this spins the end result might be the Thornburns are still holed up in there and its being swarmed with innocent contractors. Or it might end up in the hands of the lawyers. Or it goes to Ellie and the place is reset like after Molly died.
    -1 Library. Point Families. Losing the Library defenses is a big deal. It also depends on if they run off with the books or not.
    +1 Corvidae on the Loose. Point Crone Mara!
    +1 Blake in a Body. Point Rose. The Drains tried to show Blake hunting monsters. He’s found his monsters.

    This would be okay if it wasn’t for the fact that they are about to eat a counter attack. Yeah Rose just about doubled her forces, but the House is unlivable so they will have much harder access to the Library. Still they blew their chance to go after Rose’s Cabal. At this point its hard to call this a win for the families and we have yet to total what Corvidae and Blake will do. Not to mention Rose was ready for this and she hasn’t made her move either.

    Then we throw in a Rocket and things do not look good for those who would stand up against the Cabal’s of the Diabolist Rose.

    1. If we assign points, I’d assign more like -50 for the destroyed house & library, and another -10 for the dead Thorburn (“one down, X to go”). The Jacob’s Bell practitioners have been winning until this point; the counterattack will only truly begin next chapter (or next arc, if this ends arc 12). And if the counterattack doesn’t succeed, the Thorburns are done. They wouldn’t survive another night like this.

      And while I’d definitely count Blake killing Rose’s enemies as a victory for Rose’s side, I wouldn’t be so sure otherwise that Blake can still be counted among her faction.

      Oh, and Johannes won’t be affected by Blake’s rampage because nobody in their right minds would enter the demesne of a hostile practitioner, so Johannes also enormously benefits from this outcome.

      The same would be true for Molly – she wanted carnage, and got carnage – if the one Thorburn who’d died hadn’t been Callan, of all people.

        1. I wonder if Johannes will call a meeting to tell the other families about Blake’s trick? Use it as a chance to trap him.

          1. He shouldn’t, because that wouldn’t get him what he wants. Eliminating the Thorburns is a means to an end, i.e. to becoming Lord of a Jacob’s Bell that hasn’t been fire-and-brimstoned. Once the Thorburns are eliminated, the temporary alliance among Behaims, Duchamps and Johannes will instantly collapse, and either turn into a free-for-all, or maybe a 2v1 with Johannes as the next target.

            Johannes would do much better to pretend to be unaware of what’s actually going on, only to ambush his temporary allies at a crucial point.

            (All that said: I’m not sure whether Johannes is able to do that. Both his discussion with Scarf/Mags, and Faysal’s discussion with Blake, made it seem like he either placed tremendous emphasis on fairness / giving back more than he received, or maybe he can’t act any differently, because he’s been influenced by his angelic familiar.)

            1. It depends on what kind of agreements everyone has. At the start of the story the Behaim/Duchamp alliance were very concerned about him, much more than the Thorburns. Then Laird fucked all that up, and the wedding seems to have been called off.

              Make no mistake though, they will start fighting amongst themselves as soon as the Thorburns are gone. And while it might be more “civilized”, I would wager no money on it being any nicer.

      1. ” And if the counterattack doesn’t succeed, the Thorburns are done. They wouldn’t survive another night like this.”
        They are currently hiding in the Tenements which ironically is probably a comparatively safe place to be. Nothing in the Abyss seems to have it out for them and not a lot can take them. Its not a good place to me and they won’t remain whole if they stay their for a month like Blake did, but unless the Families can convince stuff to hunt them into the Abyss they’ll be safe. You’ll note none of the creatures actually chased them into the Abyss this time around. I can’t imagine heavy hitters like going into places that will definitely not leave them intact.

        Honestly I don’t think there will be another night like this.

        1. ….nothing sane goes into the Abyss willingly unless they have a way out and some protection… and even then Ms. Lewis was hesistant. That place is nightmare that can trap even gods and look at what it did them when they were in there for a few minutes.

  17. “But if I suppressed my ‘slasher movie’ instincts…” Oh, Blake… You little serial killer.

    Loved the woman made out of film!

    So, Blake has decided that all Behaims and Duchamps are monsters? Or is the text being intentionally unclear? Because, you know, some of these people probably didn’t want in on these, or they were misinformed. Blake, please don’t kill Ben.

    Awesome, scary chapter! Blake is becoming incredibly powerful (how?) and dangerous.

    1. It’s war, plain and simple. Once you declare war, you put your lives on the line. That, at the very least, is something everyone in this story ought to accept. In 10.5, Ben acknowledged some of the Behaim kids might end up as orphans once the war is over. In fact, his discussion with Blake from that time fully applies here:

      “If it helps,” I ventured, “I would very much like for your grandchildren to walk away safe as well. Same for the Duchamp’s grandchildren.”

      “And the rest of us?”

      “Let the cards fall where they may,” I told him. “For you and me both. War is war, and if you guys are participating, I won’t rule anything out. You wanted to know what I am? I’m _tenacious_. I don’t give a damn about the old guard or tradition or anything like that. So long as the innocents are still standing at the end, I don’t care what happens to the rest of us.”

      1. And even then, the unawakened Thorburns were innocent and were purposely put into the crossfire. The awakened are viable targets, including Blake’s friends, so we can’t fault them for being targets. If they died then they died.

        But they dragged innocents into this themselves, the two children being emotionally damaged beyond repair. Differed responsibility or not. When the Bogeyman is the one with some moral compunctions and doesn’t want this outcome then you know that you officially qualify as a monster.

        1. The problem with calling Blake’s awakened friends viable targets is that from the start, neither Blake nor Rose have ever given anyone any reason to start these aggressions against them. Having inherited bad karma from a past generation is not a valid reason whatsoever. So what if the universe and the spirits consider that just? It’s just not compatible with 21st century morals.

          IIRC everything Blake and Rose have done against the Jacob’s Bell practitioners so far could be considered self-defense. Even sending Corvidae.

          And to our knowledge, Alexis & co haven’t harmed a single human in the story so far. For all we know, they’re certainly more innocent than actual “innocents” like the unawakened Thorburns. (I’m not counting the apparent betrayal against Blake, because a) he really can’t be considered human anymore, and b) his friends haven’t had a chance to explain themselves.)

          1. The problem with calling Blake’s awakened friends viable targets is that from the start, neither Blake nor Rose have ever given anyone any reason to start these aggressions against them.

            Rose went into the council meeting at the start of the conflict to declare herself a player in the war and then to specifically refuse to abide by any ethical rules that might constrain her actions. They may not have done anything specific against anybody, but if this is war and they’re a side in the war then they’re a valid target.

            If Alexis, Ty, and Tiff aren’t valid targets because they haven’t hurt anyone then neither are the peripheral members of the Behaims or Duchamps who exist just to fill up their ranks and haven’t done anything yet. If the Behaims and Duchamps are all valid targets across the board for being born in the wrong family, then so is Rose’s Cabal.

            War doesn’t care who or who doesn’t deserve it.

            1. My point is that the ones who declared war against the new Thorburn heirs, for no valid reason whatsoever, are at fault. The Lordship thing only started months after the harrassment against Molly which culminated in her murder, and then the war against Blake.

              Rose wouldn’t have participated in the war for Lordship at all if her enemies hadn’t made it clear beyond all doubt that the Thorburns can’t survive if someone else becomes Lord of Jacob’s Bell.

              Oh, and those rules of ethical engagement? Rose was forced to accept them after Jeremy invaded the house; the rules are in full effect; and yet look at the result. There’s simply no such thing as an ethical way of declaring war on and then killing people, unprovoked.

          2. from the start, neither Blake nor Rose have ever given anyone any reason to start these aggressions against them.

            To be fair, when Blake introduced himself to the town, he did essentially threaten everybody with Demons. That’s not a good first impression.

            1. Notice,how ,at that moment he had already known who/what most major pplayers were,and that Maggie and Briar Girl were open anyway?

              Both Laird and Duchamp had already attacked him (remember the connections-family?)

              And Crone Mara was neutral to a fault,while Johannes was also considered a villain by everyone AND was actually amused by the declaration.

              So,essentially,that declaration only truly inconvenienced people that hurt him.

            2. You keep assuming that the town’s initial attitudes towards Blake have to stay that way. Yes, Blake knew most of the town was opposed to him. That’s to be expected – he’s the latest in a long line of dangerous diabolists!

              At that point, Blake has two basic options: He can fight back and proving himself to be exactly the sort of Thorburn they expected. Or he can try to demonstrate that he’s not that sort of Thorburn and try to change their minds.

              That’s the harder path, especially with the Thorburn karma stacked against him. It’s also the only one likely to end the generations-old family feud. Peace is often harder than war. Doesn’t mean it’s impossible or that we shouldn’t try.

          3. This isn’t about karma, but in the context of a war, Rose entered herself knowing full-well that they were put into the line of fire. Unfortunate for them, yes, but they are targets just like every other practitioner who’s participating.

            Do I think sending a murderous horde of Others was overkill? Yes. But they are enemies on a battlefront and it could be justified that it was an acceptable course of action.

            Just the same, when Blake goes slit-pipe mcgee on some of theirs they know it cuts both ways.

        1. Just because the spirits and the universe have a certain set of rules, doesn’t mean it’s moral to follow these rules. That’s essentially the whole plot setup – everyone gangs up on the Thorburns because of their “bad karma”.

          All that said, the spirits should totally reward Blake for retaliating against almost having his friends killed. The Others were sent by the Behaims, Duchamps, and Johannes; all practitioners on the street belong to either Behaims or Duchamps; ergo, killing any of them must be good karma.

          So killing them is certainly Right, though not necessarily Good. But Blake shouldn’t be striving to do Good, but to accomplish his goals – i.e. protect his friends and kill the monsters – and killing the Jacob’s Bell practitioners certainly fits that bill.

          (Yes, there are better ways of ending a war than by killing the other side, but how do you convince enemies who attacked you, unprovoked, for who your grandparents were? Blake put a lot of effort into trying to end the conflict with minimal bloodshed while he was a human. But at this point, his patience must be exhausted.)

          1. Oaths are binding. He can force a surrender. I don’t think he can get safety just by killing; slaughtering every practitioner in town would be a good way to attract unwanted attention. Potentially from people who can call in enough angelic backup that they won’t be intimidated by the Barber.

            1. Also, I seriously doubt Blake can kill Johannes. His demense is of course unassailable; in addition to his legions of Others, amplified powers, and personal guardian angel , he can be perfectly safe by simply not having any paths leading to him. And that’s just the traits he’s willing to share. He’s an easier target outside, but still has his angel and he was able to secure his demense without a familiar.

              On the other hand, he also strikes me as someone who would negotiate a settlement if things become a stalemate. Maybe acknowledge Rose as Lord of Jacob’s Bell and swear not to work against her in exchange for leaving him alone and some concessions.

              His vestige garden thing is pretty messed up, though. Blake is liable to demand he do something about it. They could maybe work something out with swapping the vestiges for non-sentient dolls or similar.

            2. Oaths take time to set up and they can be broken at the expense of being foresworn or complete loss of power. All it would take is just one breaking an Oath that ensures his family comes out on top and it would pointless in exchange for his sacrificed. Killing him, on the other hand, solves that problem ahead of time and prevents any warnings as well as show that playtime is over.

              After all, the Behaims and Duchamps didn’t send their allies to enforce an Oath, they sent them for blood.

          2. I’ll agree with you that doing what the spirits want you to do isn’t necessarily moral, but the spirits also like a good show. They like big announcements, spectacles, and “fair fights”. I don’t think attacking someone when they are unaware would score you many points. But I digress, as I said, I agree with you on that.

            What I disagree with is the definition of “monsters”. See, not every Duchamp and every Behaim despise the guts of Blake et al, or are obsessed with power. They just follow their leaders, and they are misinformed. Heck, there are probably (but I could be wrong) people who don’t want anything to do with this war, but they have to participate by giving power or even fighting because of family ties and implicit threats against rebellion.

            So yes, it is a war. If you are part of the war, you must expect your life to be on the line. But should Blake go around killing the unaware bystander, the person who reluctantly collaborated, just because they are a practitioner and a Behaim?

            What you say about Blake focusing on his objectives makes sense, though. And perhaps, by picking off the wearker Duchamps and Behaims, Blake will debilitate the families enough

            1. “And perhaps, by picking off the wearker Duchamps and Behaims, Blake will debilitate the families enough”

              This is actually a really good point. Every dead Duchamp means the extended Circle shrinks. The husband is no longer being paid. (Ew.) No more help. The Behaims work by everyone paying time in (how do they get their “time”, are they batteries of life force or something? Do they fade out of existence for a day?). If Blake spills out their lifeblood (and Evan takes a bath in it) Alister can’t spend it to fix bird pokes.

              Like in Civ, if the war is going to be a close one you win by marauding through the lands taking workers and pillaging improvements. In Starcraft you can get a major advantage by raiding SCVs or blowing up a mining base. Its best to destroy the Clockwork Robot not by jamming its gears, but denying them the power to make it in the first place.

            2. @Zim the Fox: I figured every awakened adult remaining in Jacob’s Bell is fully aware that a war is going on. All parties called in their full forces in preparation for the conflict. Among everyone present, there simply shouldn’t be any such thing as an adult Behaim or Duchamp who practices and still successfully claims the bystander status.

              And “They just follow their leaders” certainly hasn’t been accepted as a valid excuse since ~1945. If someone wanted to truly claim the “innocent” part of the bystander label, they’d need to act as whistleblowers, report anything they knew to the police, and end up putting half their own families into prison. (Though Sandra & co would obviously squash any such attempts.)

              Depending on the person, the things they might know would involve the truth behind the Molly Walker murder, or the bounties on the Thorburns to make Others kill them, or the council order that made the witch hunters infiltrate Hillsglade House and assault its residents; or the Other assault on the house; etc. In that list, all items except for Molly’s murder should be common knowledge among the practitioners. And several of the crimes involve the attempted murder of unawakened minors (e.g. Roxanne) and other true “innocents”.

              Anyone aware of these crimes who doesn’t reveal and stop them should be considered fully complicit, plain and simple.

            3. If Blake can be justified killing any of his enemies, then it’s entirely possible for secondary participants to believe they’re acting in a justified manner. A significant portion of the combatants weren’t even in town for the lead up. All they know is that their family is now actively at war with a Diabolist and associated cultists attempting to use noncombatants as human shields, who has threatened to unleash a powerful member of the Choir of Ruin in order to gain an advantage in a bid to conquer the town. Even the people who had been in town probably don’t know the details of the situation, and as far as they know, attacking the house is just as legitimate as counter-attacks would be.

              Also, it isn’t like Blake hasn’t done similar. In Toronto, he deliberately went to Duncan’s house and involved his wife.

            4. I really feel like this reasoning shouldn’t be allowed in Pact. In Pact, practitioners can swear an oath that they speak the truth, and people practically have to believe them. From the start, there has never been any reason to assume the worst from the Thorburn practitioners (like with the Barber), because people could actually, you know, ask them. (Example from 2.05: “I had no intention of saying the name the seventh time. I so swear.”)


              Blake going after Duncan’s wife is a good point, but it must be said that he never intended to harm her. So it’s rather different from the other side trying to get kids like Roxanne (and presumably even Ivy) killed.

              Admittedly, Duncan’s marriage did fall apart, but that wasn’t even mostly due to Blake. It was due to a) the spirits punishing Duncan for his epic screw-ups, b) Blake hinting at Duncan’s knowledge of Molly’s murder in the presence of his wife (which should totally be fair game), and possibly c) Corvidae.

          3. The spirits can go suck a lemon. This is between man and Other. I’m all for pacifism, but at this point all that’s going to do is get them killed. War doesn’t end until one side surrenders, is destroyed, or the cost of continuing it is too high. Rose isn’t going to surrender, her cabal being destroyed isn’t on the table, so make the costs too high.

            While all three are working to kill the Thorburns we know the moment they go down they’ll turn on one another and they know it too. Make it so that continuing the fight would be Pyrrhic at its finest.

    2. assuming he’s referring to the adults, or the majority of them. at the least, the guys how currently are calling the shots.

  18. Green Eye’s continued desire to eat Evan would be black comedy if Blake had noticed it and was keeping an eye on them. It seems to have gone right over his head, which makes me suspect a conflict of interest on that point coming.

    Green Eyes, much as I adore her, is a boogeyman (woman? Fish?), and thus defined by her hunger. She’s obviously pretty crazy for Blake, which is why she’s not snacking down on his friends, but I wouldn’t place a bet on how long her intentions can override her essential nature.

  19. woman in old-fashioned clothing
    pulls a tommy gun out of nowhere
    turns into burning film when she dies

    Wait, is she a Toon? There are Toons in the Pactverse? I wonder if Hatsune Miku is an Other as well, then.

      1. The fact she pulled the gun out of nowhere says “Toon” to me. Tommy guns in particular show up in classic cartoons all the time.

        1. When I think Toon, I think cartoon in the real world. Think, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I get the impression this Other is from an old Live Action film come to life.

  20. logical course of action: find a way past the other families protections. kill the elders, im fairly sure they well and truly count as monsters from the things they have done to get the power they have, let alone repeatedly attempting murder, and all the implied people they’ve killed if killing a defenseless woman is pretty much Tuesday for them. destroy all of their books and artifacts. DESTROY their ability to hold onto their power and remove them as a threat PERMANENTLY. if they want to get any of their influence and power as practitioners back, force them to start form scratch, like their distant ancestors did. pawns and heirs can be replaced, knowledge and whatever they are using to store their accumulated power CANNOT. take both away and they are no longer any form of realistic threat.

    1. I don’t think it’s going to be that easy to storm their strongholds.

      Even if he can, it would probably be better to force them to surrender and swear not to work against the Thorburns for the rest of their existance. Taking away their stored power might not render them non-threats.

      Demanding their obediance would normally be even better, but it would feed Conquest.

  21. Well, at least with Green Eyes there, Blake doesn’t really have to worry so much about body disposal…

    She and Evan are really going to get into it at some point, others saw it too, she’s still really considering him food, and would be happier to eat him if he was struggling. Blake, don’t leave them alone together.

    Woah, wait a minute. “I need Ty and Alexis and Tiff and Rose if I’m going to get the spirits stuck in me to keep me going, and I need you to help me figure out a way to stop needing the spirits” What’s this about stuffing spirits into Evan? Who’s been doing that? How long have they been doing it, how many spirits have been stuffed in, can Blake do the same things for himself? Have these spirits tainted or altered Evan?

    1. What’s this about stuffing spirits into Evan? Who’s been doing that?
      Ever since Blake’s familiar connection to Evan was chomped on by Erasurre, Rose and co have kept him alive by feeding him spirits.

      How long have they been doing it, how many spirits have been stuffed in, can Blake do the same things for himself?</i
      Around a month, no idea, probably but why would he ? He's not dying right now.

      Have these spirits tainted or altered Evan?
      When in doubt, ‘yes’ is a safe bet.

  22. Wow, I was pretty much certain arc 12 would end at 12.6. Totally expected an interlude today. But I really liked this development.

    Comments:

    1. Great lines: “Outnumbered enough that you gotta be grammatically wrong to say how bad it is.” and “I gotta stick to the plan and the spirits will reward me with sweet, sweet karma.” and “I want to have a moment of ultimate power so I can shove it in people’s faces when they groaned and moaned at me for bringing it up” and “Ah. Also: Damn it, Evan.” and “But if I suppressed my ‘slasher movie’ instincts…” and “I’d tried. Not to avoid bloodshed, but to use my head, when my emotions were riding high. Maybe there was a time for bloodshed, all the same.”

    2. “But I’ll probably always be okay with having clean water, company, and food that’s warm and panicked.” – Panicked?! Dear Green Eyes: One of those words doesn’t belong in there.

    3. Making rules to stop the Others from accidentally freeing Barbatorem is all well and good, but it shouldn’t be enough – Molly’s bell seemed to impede the rational thought of quite a few Others. Oh, also, is the bell even tolling still?

    4. “I wasn’t as strong as I had been in the mirror, but I was still strong.” – Wasn’t Blake really weak in the mirror? Or rather, things in the real world had more weight, but this should have had the same result.

    5. Shouldn’t Blake’s promise to kill the monsters pretty much compel him to be hostile towards e.g. the Others here? It’s the typical it’s-not-a-lie thing: the promise is apparently vague enough to leave insane amounts of room for interpretation.

    6. Time to do something stupid.” – No, Blake. It’s an easy enough mistake to make, but let me correct this misunderstanding. It’s never time to do something stupid. That’s pretty much what “do something stupid” means: that it’s stupid to do that. Don’t you see?

    7. “Then a small bird named Evan flew through me, between the branches that made up my midsection, and buoyed me up for a moment.” – Awwww. I feared Blake would end up corrupting Evan when he fed him some of his drainstuff, but Evan ended up as the surprisingly helpful voice of reason instead. Also, it should definitely count for Blake that Evan wants Rose alive and well.

    1. Oh goodness! I hadn’t noticed the “panicked” D:

      Mmm. The Bell hasn’t been such a big of a deal yet, even though it was implied something TERRIBLE would happen. I guess we will be seeing Molly in either of the next two arcs.

      1. Didn’t the Others attack Hillsglade at least partially due to the bad vibes from the bell?

        My own pet theory is that they weren’t so much ordered to attack the Thorburns as they were herded in that direction away from the rest of the town with the bell doing most of the work. With some extras sent along to assassinate like the bane.

          1. I don’t think that’s it – first of all, Molly wanted revenge against everyone, not just the Thorburns. She’s pretty much personified revenge, and simply hasn’t gotten her revenge yet.

            And secondly, Mags gave Molly much of the power that allowed her to become a wraith (though the rest came from Blake), so you’d really expect a blood, fire and darkness event to happen. One could surely argue that such a thing already happened to the Thorburns, but does it count if Mags isn’t directly involved?

      2. Green Eyes is a bogeyman. Panicked food feeds her nature and her belly at the same time. And the bell is riling the Others up and will only get worse if she keeps feeding off the negativity.

        Shoot, we might be looking at the birth of something really dangerous here.

  23. Still hearing that theme of blake and rose being seperate parts of a whole so I’m still thinking a familiar bond would sort of unify them and make them closer to whole though given that they get along like a hause on fire I guess it isn’t in the cards.

    Blake seems to be slowly turning into an Ent which is cool.

    And I have to think that a crowd of wizards didn’t bring so e of their better tricks to a battle where the enemy could call in demonic support so I’m curious about their odds of repelling or capturing Blake.

  24. More comments:

    1. Blake’s aptitude for fighting – he hasn’t even ever had any formal training with bladed weapons – is yet another similarity with the Barber. And the chapter intro is definitely ominous.

    2. “Virtually every Other that counted was at the House.” -> Does that make sense? Surely Molly’s bells should have led to some more general carnage? This is not what she wanted.

    3. Also, Padraic, Ev & Keller weren’t at the house, can definitely identify Blake in his new form, and could totally screw him over.

    4. “I held the Hyena in a firm grip. Easy pickings. Killing more monsters.” – Ha! I called it last chapter, that Blake might very well consider these hostile practitioners (i.e. all the adults, at least) to be monsters now. As I said, I really want them to finally pay a commensurate price for everything they’ve done or planned to do to Blake, Rose, their friends, and the unawakened Thorburns.

    5. But “Easy pickings”, Blake? No way, no how. This is Pact. You might end up weakening the Behaims and Duchamps, or even strike a critical blow, but it definitely won’t be easy. Among the dangers: Alister might have been named the Behaim heir already, or maybe he’ll be named heir by the Behaims if they are put under enough pressure – in which case the Behaim weapon is going to make an appearance. Or what about the various familiars, like Cranaus and Hylas, both of whom sounded both crafty and powerful? Sandra’s troll familiar, in particular, sounded like a far more intelligent and cunning version of Midge. Terrifying!

    6. And that was just one side of the danger – there’s also the danger to Blake’s humanity: he might accidentally kill an adolescent, or end up killing only the moderating voices (like Ben), rather than the warmongers, etc.

    7. There’s also a chance that Evan will stop Blake from doing this, but I really hope not. Evan wanted his friends to stay alive. For that to happen, they can’t just survive this war – they pretty much have to win it.

    8. Incidentally, killing practitioners makes you more powerful. Probably not on the level of Corvidae receiving freely given blood, but “Rackspatter of the Nine Thousand Scalps” also benefited from that. Though he carried scalps, so maybe you need to take trophies to truly benefit from defeating your enemies. (If that’s the case, then Blake has missed a gazillion opportunities in the story so far.)

    1. Padraic, holding Molly’s name, still has a standing promise to let him access the library. He even specifically made them reiterate that they would honor it when he came to help them in Jacob’s bell (and in retrospect it is obvious why.)

      1. That said, Blake was erased, and glamour really shouldn’t be able to deal well with demons, so Padraic may well have forgotten these promises. And even if he didn’t: Rose owns the library, so Blake’s promise is moot, anyway. It wouldn’t even matter if Rose was tricked into repeating anything Padraic said, since she was able to lie then.

        And there’s the whole question of whether Blake is even bound by promises he made before his erasure. Ms. Lewis told him he could lie while in the Drains. So why should the Thorburn bogeyman be bound by promises made by Blake Thorburn?

        1. I’m pretty sure all promises he made are completely defunct. The spirits enforce karma and have probably forgotten he made them.

  25. God I love Evan so much, so good for Blake, awesome magic bird is awesome. If you kill him Wildbow I’ll never forgive you! I mean he’s already dead but like don’t kill him again! XD. Also I seems like some things are going well, here’s hoping that Blake opts for “maiming” and only the 20+ practitioners, but if not I don’t blame him, the enemy isn’t pulling their punches(effectively killing another cousin and getting witch hunters to abuse children). I wonder how close it is to dawn now considering that time moves more slowly in Limbo.

    1. maiming would be way too likely to backfire, actually going after their implements and books would be the smart way to respond, as it’d CRIPPLE them in the long term, maybe even lead to their families dieing out, if they have none of their familiars, battery-equivalents or knowledge outside of their heads left. heck, if i remember right, isn’t one of the families ONLY a threat due to the power they’ve been hordeing for generations?

      1. Yup you always go after the power sources. Practitioners are hardened targets. Go after the income sources. Pillage the improvements Blake! You’ll get gold and health.

  26. Bad blake. Don’t go after the the only things that can banish you or bind you.

    Was there significance in the fact the tree helped blake to climb it? I think there is.

    Evan wants green to tell him how good he is, and she said she can do that and still very much wants to know how good he is… Blake, please notice that Green keeps mentioning eating Evan and tell her that he isn’t food, please?

    boogy-tarzan and naked mer-jane tumbling down the hill together in the woods. That is a very interesting mental image. I shall treasure it always.

    Waaait. Confused. Did the ….long-neck things kill the host, or are the hosts still alive waiting fo blake and friends to killl them? She said give me plausible deniability and kill the hosts, was she talking to blake or to her minions?

    1. For one thing it’s hard to bind anything that doesn’t have a clear label. Then again, he is flammable. Second they’re expecting a mirror-dweller or every accounted for Other at the house, swooned by the negativity. Third, he’s a former practitioner whose tangled with both the families and have a good idea of what they’re capable of.

      1. two boogeymen and a bird/familiar aren’t much of a threat against a handful of practitioners. Even IF they don’t have summoned minions.

        I mean, the behaims are tough to deal with, even when blake was just dealing with under aged ones.

        Blake’s made of wood right now, so it should be easy to figure out he is weak to fire. Considering there have been sticky notes that have the effect of friggin lightning, I don’t doubt this will end badly for blake.

    2. Green Eyes knows she’s not supposed to eat Evan. Doesn’t mean she can’t window-shop, so to speak, and honestly it’s creepy/adorable enough that it shouldn’t go.

    3. destroy the body more like. japanese vampires are basically flying heads with dangling gut sacks full of blood, they’ve got to “roost” in a body though

  27. “Fly, ride motorcycles, everyone lives.”

    We love Evan. Evan is life. Listen to Evan Blake. No serously listen to him, he probably has better sense than you do right now.

    1. i think they make a good team when they both are in their A game. Blake has his knack for charging into dangerous situations and being a competent fighter, while Evan is currently his moral..whats the word? counterweight? chain? AND has his own knack for SURVIVING/ evading danger.

      1. whats the word? counterweight? chain?
        ‘Foil’.
        ‘Fetter’ could also work, but Evan helps Blake way too much to be called this.

    2. In a way, Evan and Green Eyes can both plug Blake’s gaps. She’s all “you know: cozy, full and with good company is all good on its own, too” and he’s all “when a dude’s got to do what a dude’s got to do, do it right and awesomely“. 🙂

  28. Everyone’s still laying low in the tenements, where the entire place tries to chew you up and there’s a bunch of things trying to kill them in there, plus a giant giant that may actually be that “Big-O” demon the lawyers told him the name of?

    Seems like a TERRIBLE place to leave your friends while you go on a killing spree, blake!

    Also, when did Green-eyes give him the hyena back?

    Lastly, can he enter the mirror world again? And was it ever explained why he only has one eye?

    1. When vestige-Blake sustained physical injuries, they healed really easily, to the point that he hardly noticed. In a way very similar to glamour, i.e. the healing wouldn’t last. (For instance, the vestiges in Johannes’ domain were also full of holes.)

      So when Blake fell into the Drains, any damage he’d sustained came back (or became apparent again) at once, resulting in an essentially split hand, the eye injury (from when he’d burned the reflection of Ur out of his eye), his ribcage opened by Isadora, etc.

    2. Also, when did Green-eyes give him the hyena back?
      Just right now.

      We were halfway up the hill to the back of the house when Green Eyes handed me the Hyena.

      1. ….no. I should’ve specified-
        When he went to go start the fire in the tree, he handed the hyena to her before telling her to get off him as he climbed the tree.
        He set it on fire, she hopped on him, they flew/fell, tumbled, got up, confronts some others, and all of a sudden he stabs the leaping guy. SOMEWHERE he got it back, but it was never said how or when, which is odd, as when things are left out in this universe, it means someone fucked with some time/memory magic again.

        1. I’m thinking of another Practitioner family member like Ben decided to tried one of his card up his sleeve on Blake to help out.

          1. Let’s hope he doesn’t betray one of those favors by slaughtering one of them, or one of the relatives they actually like.

        2. its been left out for massive chunks before too, it might just be something of a part of him that leaps to hand when he isn’t thinking too much about it as an object?

          if not then I’d assume when she wrapped herself back around him…no idea how she’d climb the tree with it tho, so i guess he must have had it back before then….. if she was climbing with arm strength alone and blake had both his hands full… did she drop it? clamped in teeth? stuck to blake’s hip? stabbed it into the trunk as she climbed?

          1. Does he still have a holster for it?

            Maybe someone put a spell on blake so he has a super strong connection to it- kinda like what corvindea does but in reverse? Like, it always finds its way back to him, whether he wants it to or not?

            Actually, now that I think about it… Rose got all his connection when he went to the drains right? So, the Hyena SHOULD be hers, but it’s his, so maybe it WAS JP after all. It would explain how he found it while he was in the drains.

    3. Eh the Tenements doesn’t exactly seem like the pinnacle of danger. I know there is the mother of all survivor bias, but random group of people who fall in routinely survive. Like the village living on the power plant, or Green Eyes, or that entire town in the Drains. Or recall the witch of the village? She’s doing well for herself. Midge was just fine. Blake would have been able to snowball into a monster hunter by using the few tricks he picked up.

      There is an entire team of Practitioners, they probably outgun most things. The Abyss is the slow rot. Lose what doesn’t matter, keep what does, adapt to fit the area around you. Lamarck evolution of the course of a few months. Its not a nice place, and the Thornburns probably won’t all be completely human when they leave. Christoff is more than ready to start tossing off bits of humanity and adding bits of monster. But overall its much, much safer than anyplace in Jacob’s Bell.

      Side note: Maybe the various Thornburns will complete the Hero’s journey Blake failed. Take in their anchors and achieve Apotheosis coming out with new super powers.

      1. “Side note: Maybe the various Thornburns will complete the Hero’s journey Blake failed. Take in their anchors and achieve Apotheosis coming out with new super powers.”

        Somehow I doubt that it will work out that nicely at all. Blake did confront and realize hard truths. Both trips to the abyss. Problem is the Pactverse ain’t no place for a hero.

        1. Heroes are lucky if they die in Pactverse doing something meaningful. The other ones get broken down into cynical shells, turning into the monsters they fight. Like Batman, only with less compunctions when it come to murder.

  29. Awesome chapter, really loving the Other Trio of Awesomeness, even if one member just so happens to want to eat another member. Can’t wait for the next update!

    1. Give Green Eye’s credit: when Blake was still mostly meat, she wanted to eat him, too. However, she’s a patient lass: she can wait until her friends are dead through other things happening before she truly considers chowing down. However delicious they happen to look. ^_^

      Enemies, though: fair game.

  30. These were Practitioners. Worried, watching, eminently distracted.

    I held the Hyena in a firm grip.

    Easy pickings. Killing more monsters.

    As if. You are not fooling me this time Wildbow! You ended the last chapter on the same premise: Blake all prepped up and ready to go as a cliffhanger to end the chapter, only to immediately slam on the brake at the start of the next chapter starts eh? I’m on to you now! 😛

    Entertaining chapter all in all. Nothing too spectacular. I felt kinda bad for Midge. It’s a nasty way to go for anyone. I wonder, will she end up in the Abyss if she dies here?

    Did anyone else feel uncomfortable reading this?

    “I can do that,” Green Eyes said. “I’d be very eager to find out just how good you are.”

    Am I missreading things or is Miss G. Eyes after a taste of a certain bird and not very circumspect about it? Silly fishwoman! They’re all feather and bone!

    I’m really curious by now how Rose is doing.

    1. Duncan is absurdly incompetent so he’ll get munched on no matter what. Sandra is tougher, but ultimately she IS part of a murderous conspiracy. And Duncan DID fire his gun for no good reason and DID get caught with evidence. They have enchantment, but Rose is prepared and Corvidae probably has more muscle than Sandra.

      Plus: The entire set up is designed to make sure Rose can call the lawyers it seems. Government? Say you want to call your lawyers to contest this, while otherwise invoking rights. Oh and make sure to name drop the firm. Lawyers. They drug Rose? Ms. Lewis can contact people in their mind. Lawyers. They let Rose dial a phone? Lawyers. T

      My theory? Conquest is bound in the hair of a free woman. Rose stops being free and Conquests breaks out. He promised to do a number of things, including reclaim Rose, but he also promised to make Blake regret. But that Blake is no more. So Conquest get’s forsworn, and Rose get’s poetic justice for Fell. Then she ROFL stomps Sandra while riding a white horse.

      1. “Conquest is bound in the hair of a free woman. Rose stops being free and Conquests breaks out.”

        Oh, that’s a kink in the plans that a lot of the participants might not have figured out. Even the experienced practitioners might not have realized exactly how Conquest was bound. Or did Jeremy actually see the binding?

        1. Rose banished Corvidae right after the Jägerbomb hit them – and he left with the sealing mirror holding Conquest. So, unless she explained everything to him during their little chat, Jeremy won’t know the details.

          1. If Conquest is able to influence Rose, then with that binding consisting of her hair, etc., could someone else who had that sealing mirror also influence Rose? Maybe the Duchamps got together with the Behaims and said, “Look, Behaims, let’s neutralize Rose. You agree to back us for the position of Lord, we’ll basically continue the status quo, we can both gang up on Johannes, and we’ll deliver a loving Rose for Alister to marry and command. She won’t know that we’re working our mojo on her via our command of Conquest and through the symbolic link that her freely given hair provides, she’ll think she’s doing it for rational reasons, but you’ll get Rose, the house, any non-demonic books there, any other non-demonic items of power, plus you can have Johanne’s area after we take him out. Plan? Ok!”

            The Behaims get more power, more influence, and the status quo continues that they want. The Duchamps get to be Lord and then can start looking at taking over Toronto then the world. Rose gets screwed, pun intended and literally. Everyone benefits!

            And Blake is just left out in the cold as usual.

            1. Corvidae disappeared the mirror. We don’t know where it went, but apparently his plans for it are pretty long-term, so it probably hasn’t wound up with any of Rose’s current enemies.

            2. Well, not going to comment further because you should be posting on the latest page so that we can reply without risking any spoilers

  31. Oh actually they can’t really go after the implements can they? Doesn’t it generate bad karma to take an implement from a practitioner unwillingly? Reason why they put Laird’s in a circle and all correct? So, separation of implement and practitioner if they manage it in a fight, but can’t outright take it.

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