Histories (Arc 12)

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“I don’t think you’ll be surprised by anything here.  If you’ve been paying attention in class and doing your homework, you won’t have a problem here.”

Alister took the sheet, placing it face down on his desk.

“This is knowledge you’re going to need for just about everything you learn from here on out.  If you don’t know this by the time you’re in high school, you’re going to fall behind.”

When the teacher had progressed far enough down the aisle, Alister reached into a pocket.

The pocketwatch was old, chipped, and the clasp sometimes took a few tries to work.  Some of the damage was his fault.

In the corner of his eye, he could see his cousin.  Ainsley was moving her hand, trying to get his attention.  This, in turn, got the interest of a few more of their classmates.

No,” she hissed.

Now people were staring at him.  Lola Duchamp was among them, craning her neck from her spot at the very front of the classroom.  Attention made the next part harder, which was probably intentional on Ainsley’s part.

She was such a pain.

He turned his head, glaring at her.  Her hair was in braids, which didn’t suit her, and she wore glasses that he knew she hated.  She wore a shirt with a frilly collar underneath overalls, and he knew she hated the clothes too.

Sad thing was, he thought, Behaim girls didn’t tend to age well.  They were healthy, but healthy was not a label most girls liked to have stuck on them.  Ainsley would be one of those most.

Going by their older cousins, she’d be pretty as a teen, and then she’d get… blocky.  But the sad fact was, she was stuck with her parents while she was a teen, and her parents were dead set on making her a dork.

Tragic.

The two of them were as different as night and day.  If it weren’t for their last names, nobody would even guess they were cousins.  Much less that they were even friends.

Ah, Ainsley.  You always play by the rulesWe’d all be happier if you didn’t.

He span the pocketwatch like it was a top.  It wasn’t, however, and it rattled as it turned onto one side, metal clicking against the cheap plastic cover of the school desk.

He stopped it with his hand.  It clacked, hard, against the surface of the desk.

“Alister,” the teacher said, stopping midway through his process of handing out the quiz papers.  “Do I need to confiscate whatever toy you’re playing with?”

“I don’t think so,” Alister said.

“I hope you’re right.  No more noise, please.”

Alister grinned.

The moment the teacher’s back was turned, he pressed the button at the top of the pocketwatch.  The door came away, revealing the face and hands below.  The only peculiarity was the existence of two hour hands and two minute hands.  One set in black, one set in red.

It wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t well made.  But it kept time.

In more way than one.

Alister turned the dial that encircled the button at the top of the watch.  The red hands moved.

One hour and fifteen minutes.

Ainsley made a firm gesture, glaring at him, but was forced to relent as her classmates got distracted, and the teacher reached the last desk, handing the last test paper to Lola Duchamp.

“Eyes forward, please,” the teacher spoke.

Lola reluctantly looked away from Alister to turn her attention to the paper.  Ainsley, too, focused on her test paper, though Alister could see her watching him out of the corner of one eye.  When their eyes met, she sighed visibly, and raised her hand to block her vision of him.

Deliberately looking away.

“And… start.

Alister hit the button on the top.  Simple mechanics made the clasp that held the lid of the pocket watch open move, but the lid was already open.  The bent section of wire shifted position, and completed a diagram.

The diagram, in turn, housed a lesser zeitgeist, the smallest form of time spirit that could be tracked and bound.

The hour and minute hands moved, an almost instantaneous shift to where the red hands were.

“…translate between fractions, percents, and decimals,” the teacher was saying.

The test papers were gone.  His books were open, and his own handwriting was in the notebook.  The last section had a list of homework questions.

“And finally, let’s do five questions from section B.  We’ve got some equations to solve, with percents in there.  This is not hard.  Let’s see… questions one, three, seven, and twelve.”

Alister marked down the questions.

Class ran for a few more minutes before the bell rang.

He dragged out the process of packing up his bag, hoping that it would give Ainsley an excuse to leave.  Putting books away, pens, papers.  He glanced back at the pages to see what he’d missed.  He hadn’t actually disappeared, only giving up his perception of time.

But time was relative, and understanding that meant one understood a lot of the Chronomancy stuff.

He watched Molly Walker exit the classroom.  She glanced at him, then glanced away.  Lola Duchamp stepped back to get out of Molly’s way, though Molly wasn’t walking that fast.

Lola had a bit of a hard look in her eye, as she watched the Walker girl disappear down the hall.

Lola understood.  Most of the family did.  Molly was a Thorburn, whatever her last name, and the Thorburns were dangerous.  Instinctively, Lola had cleared out of Molly’s way.

What did Molly make of it?  Did she catch the look Lola had given her?  Or was it something that she only caught once or twice a day?  A cumulative pressure?

He realized he was still staring at the door… and Ainsley was waiting at the door.  He couldn’t be too obvious that he was stalling for time.

“Dick,” he said.

“Hm?” A classmate asked.

“What’d you think?  The test?”

Dick made a so-so gesture with his hand.  “You?”

“I feel pretty good about it,” Alister said.

“Nerd.  You’ve been wrong before.  You’ve been hilariously wrong.”

Alister smiled and shrugged.

He caught a glimpse of Ainsley, who was standing by the classroom door, arms folded.

Ugh.

“Want to come over this afternoon?” Dick asked.

“Can’t.  Got a thing.”

“You have lots of ‘things’ these days.  I was talking to Tom about it.  He thinks there’s something you’re doing and you’re too chicken to say.”

“Oh?  Really?” Alister asked.  “What sort of thing would I be chicken about?”

He was joking around and saying it was something gay like ballet or cheerleading.”

Alister’s smile was cold and humorless.  It clearly made Dick uncomfortable.  “What do you think?”

“I dunno,” Dick said.  “We were just joking around.”

“So you did have a guess?”

“Nah,” Dick lied, shrugging.

Doesn’t sound like Tom.  

“I wonder where he got that idea in his head,” Alister said, his eyes tracking Lola as she headed across the front of the room, glancing briefly at him as she passed through the door.

Wouldn’t be the first time.  Lola had awakened a full year younger than he had.  It didn’t sound like much, but she had twice the experience with all this that he did.

“Dunno,” Dick said.  “I gotta go get my lunch from my locker, and I’m gonna get something from the vending machine, want to come with?”

Alister measured the intensity of Ainsley’s glare, trying to judge her mood.

No, she was too annoyed to mess with.  He couldn’t stick with Dick and dodge her.

“I might meet up with you later.  Ainsley’s pissed at me, I think.”

“Why?”

Alister drew the pocket watch out of his pocket, showing it to Dick.

“You steal that from your dad or something?”

“Something,” Alister said.  He clasped a hand on Dick’s shoulder, then broke away, the two of them going in different directions.

Ainsley fell in step beside him.

She’s going to nag me, Alister thought, suppressing an out-loud groan in favor of a mental one.

“What are you doing?” Ainsley nagged him, the moment they were out of earshot of anyone.

“I’m going to go get lunch.”

“With the timekeep,” she said.

“What do you think?”

“I think you’re gaming the system.”

“Of course I’m gaming the system,” he said.

“Skipping class?”

“I’m not- I’m… I guess I’m skipping class.  Literally.  But-”

“But your parents and my parents and our aunts and our uncles and our grandparents have all gone over the rules, talking about the risks and the dangers.  Time isn’t something you mess with.”

“It’s made to be messed with,” Alister said.

“We’ve only been practicing for the last year.”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine.  You’re going to get hurt, or you’re going to get in trouble.”

“I’m not going to get in trouble if you don’t tell.”

“You’re going to get hurt, you jackass.”

“Keep saying it,” he replied, annoyed, “and you’ll probably make it true.”

“How many times do I have to say it before I get it through your thick skull?  You can’t be reckless about this.”

“Can too,” he said.

“Can’t.”

“Can,” he said, “and will.”

She punched him hard in the arm.

“Geez!”

“Watch what you’re saying,” she said.

“I am.  Look at this.  Where are we?”

“School?”

“A training ground,” he said.  “Lola’s messing with me, I think.”

“You think.

“Feels that way.  Thread-wise.  Planting seeds.”

Magic seeds?  There are rules.”

“Rules, rules, rules.  You think Lola’s playing by the rules?  Do you think our parents are?”

“That’s not what I’m saying.”

“Say it clearer then,” he retorted.

Ainsley spoke through grit teeth, “You can break rules, but only after you’ve learned them.”

“I’m a fast learner.”

“Yeah?  That’s why you’re skipping classes?  How much are you putting in the bank there, Alister?  Because I’m pretty sure we’re only required to fill one timekeeper a month.  I’m almost positive they keep track of this stuff.”

She had her own pocketwatch in her hand.  Hers had a proper chain, and wasn’t quite as beat up.

“They do,” he said.  “But Old Will keeps the books over at his place, and Timothy has the log in the library.  They don’t really communicate that much.”

“They don’t- what are you doing, Alister?  We avoid giving up too much time.  Every single Behaim in the family gives up only what they have to, and you’re… what?  Giving up twice as much time?”

He didn’t respond.

“…More than twice as much time?”

“Old Will is, well, old, for all intents and purposes.  So if I give up as much as the other adults, he doesn’t notice.”

“A device every week?  Plus the one you’re giving Tim?  Five times what you’re supposed to be giving up?”

More than five times, he thought, but he didn’t volunteer that.  Tim accepted more if he gave more.

Why?” Ainsley asked.

“If I said, it might be a problem,” he said.

“Oh, it might?  It’s already a problem.  You’re wasting your time.  It can’t be as simple as you wanting to skip school.”

“I’m doing what I want to do with my time,” he said.  “It’s none of your business.”

“Alister,” Ainsley said, grabbing his wrist before he could walk away.  “That’s can’t be it.  Tell me why.”

“Tell me why,” Laird said.

Alister seethed.  Ainsley stood a bit behind Laird, and their moms and dads.  She looked a little spooked.

“I don’t think Ainsley was lying,” Laird said, “I don’t think you were lying when you told her what you did.  There’s a chance you were manipulated into doing this.  Motivation matters.”

“I wasn’t manipulated.”

“You can’t make that judgement call yourself.  Poisoning the well would be a key play for the Duchamps.  Poisoning you and compelling you to feed that poison into the supply could destroy the family.”

“That’s not it,” Alister said.

“No,” Laird replied, “Probably not.”

Laird had this calm, assured manner of speaking, as if nothing could faze him.  When he said something, it was hard to argue against it.  Some of it was leadership, maybe, but some was just Laird’s natural way.  Alister wondered if his uncle could talk a bad guy into a confession, just laying out the facts, and getting the guy to agree, until the guy was spilling his guts.

Uncle Laird continued, “We haven’t detected anything.  But until you give us answers, we may have to take countermeasures.  No more lessons, no more practicing, no access to the well, to give or take.”

“That’s not-“

“-Fair?”  Laird finished.  “Nothing is fair.”

It took a moment for the words to sink in.  Alister was dimly aware of the adults exchanging looks of surprise.

Dangerous words, for a man that couldn’t lie.

“Nothing is fair,” Laird repeated himself, his words filling the silence.

Alister swallowed hard.

Uncle Laird was a hard man to face down.  Especially when he was all serious like this.

“What were you doing?”  Laird asked, his voice serious.  “Missing school-”

“My grades are good!”  Alister blurted.  He could see how irritated his parents were.  His dad was pursing his lips, like he could barely restrain himself from shouting.

But right here, right now, they were deferring to Uncle Laird.

“School is about more than grades.”

“It is, which is why I’m doing this.  I want to be a good practitioner.”

“You need to know how to study if you’re ever going to get a grasp on chronomancy.”

“I am,” Alister said, feeling more in control.  “I’m studying harder than anyone.  But I don’t want to ever have a desk job.  I want to be a full time chronomancer.  Hours upon hours of time in class is… it’s not what I want.”

“The quality of time you put into the timekeeper is important,” Laird said.

“Weren’t you just saying school was important?”

Alister’s father cut in, “Don’t be a smart alec.”

“I’m not trying to.  I’m…”

There was a pause.

“What?” Laird asked.

“I’m… trying to be smart.  That’s all.”

Laird leaned back in his seat.  “So you think time spent in school is the best time for you to give up?”

Alister sensed a trap, but nodded all the same.

“Speak,” Laird said.  “I want to know you’re not lying.”

“I do think so.  Sir.”

“It would be one thing if you did it to put in the minimum, but Ainsley said you put in several times that.  I checked with Old Will and Tim.  There are logs.”

Ugh.

Laird spoke softly, “You had to know you’d get caught.”

“Yes, sir.”

“We check the books-”

“-Every year,” Alister finished.

“Yes.  You’re aware, then.”

“I thought I’d be able to do it for another four months or so.”

“You picked the time you started this… operation, and you did it very deliberately, it seems.  You knew when you’d finish.  Putting nearly thirty hours a week into the well.  Almost fifteen hundred hours, by the year’s end.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m going to need you to tell me why.”

Alister glanced –glared– at his cousin.

“Please leave us alone,” Laird said.

“But-” Ainsley said.

“Please,” Laird spoke.

All of the others began to leave.

Alister met his cousin’s eyes.

“Narc,” he said, under his breath.

“Stop, Ainsley,” Laird said.

Ainsley stopped in her tracks.

“Your family member, your cousin, just did what she did out of genuine worry for your well being.  For the family’s sake, because she feared something very similar to the poisoning of the well I described earlier.”

Alister shrugged.  “Sure.”

“I refuse to let you hold a grudge against her.  Forgive her.”

“I… what?”

Laird looked imposing.  Where Alister and Ainsley were still growing, taller than their peers, but not yet as big as their grown family members, Laird was tall and wide and sturdily built.  Heavy eyebrows made his glare all the more ominous.

“Forgive your cousin.”

“But I can’t lie, and I don’t forgive her.”

“You’re going to try.  Promise,” Laird ordered, “to try.”

“Alister,” Laird said, “What you’ve been doing, I don’t think you’d keep it secret from family unless it potentially hurt members of this family.  If you can’t forgive your cousin for acting in your best interests, I can’t trust you to be a part of the Behaim circle.”

Meaning being forbidden from practicing.  Or worse.

Alister swallowed.

Ainsley was taller than him, her shoulders broader.  She looked so silly, dressed up like a kid from ten or fifteen years ago.  Overalls.

But… she’d always had his back, before.

Most of the cousins had.  Ainsley was just closest to him in age.

“I’ll try to look past this,” he said.  “I don’t want this to end our friendship.”

Ainsley nodded, stiff. “Me either.”

“Go,” Laird said.  “I’d like to have a word in private with Alister.  I don’t think he’ll share if others are listening.”

Ainsley and the assorted adults left.

Laird stood, crossed his living room to the kitchen, and grabbed a beer.  He checked the time, prompting Alister to look and see for himself.

“Five,” Laird said.  “Good enough.  Now talk, because if you don’t, I’m going to assume the worst.”

“Control,” Alister said.

“Control?”

“Of… the well.  Kind of.  I’m thinking, for all the generations before, you couldn’t get to be head of the family or member of the council without being here.  Without paying your fair share.  The guys in Ottawa and Montreal and Toronto, they don’t really have a shot at being head of the family, right?  I don’t think it’s ever happened.”

Laird arched an eyebrow.  “You want to supplant me?”

“No,” Alister said, dead serious.  “I want to be next in line.”

Laird sat down, bottle of beer in hand.  He took a drink, then leaned back once more.  “What makes you think this works?”

“It makes sense.  Some people don’t pay in as much.  But… you pay in more, and you’re in charge of the family.  I’m pretty sure Aimon paid a fair bit of time into the well, before you.”

“He did, but we didn’t do it for the reasons you did.  We did it for the family.”

“I know.  But I can do it for the family and I can do it for my own goals too.  Even if it doesn’t work, if I give up a piece of myself, something has to fill the gap, right?  Time is fundamental.  Take some away, and it deals collateral damage.  I’m not sure, but I think people around me lose time too.  If I’m doing it in school, where I’m surrounded by other practitioners, and borrow a bit of power, a bit of spirit from everything around me.”

“Including Ainsley, and your other cousins.”

“What I take from them, I can give back,” Alister said.  More serious, he said, “If I become great, I will give back.  I believe that.  But I’m also taking from the Duchamps.  I can see it.  Chipping away at them.  I become a little more Other, giving something as precious as time away, and they… have to adjust.  They’re adjusting because of me, and that gives me a certain kind of power, doesn’t it?”

“You imagine that you’re influencing things in a subtle way, doing what you’re doing.  Incremental advantages for you, disadvantages for your enemies.”

“Yes.”

“You’re probably right,” Laird said.  “You’re sacrificing your childhood for something else.  Investing more.”

Alister didn’t dare respond.  Everything hinged on this.

“You think the invested time will favor you because you’ve given more of yourself to it.”

“Yes.”

“Pretty cocky, for a boy who isn’t even in high school yet.”

“I’m smart,” Alister said.  “I’m good.  Better than Ainsley or Owen or Gavin.  And Owen and Gavin-”

“Are older,” Laird said.

“Yeah.”

“Yes.  They aren’t half as good as you.  It seems the cards don’t lie.”

“Cards?”

Laird turned around in his chair, and reached to the shelf.  Boxes were lined up.

He seemed to decide, then picked one.  He picked a book from the far end of the same shelf.  Both box and book were placed on the coffee table between them.

Alister opened the box, lifting off the lid.  Cards were stacked within.

“Keep those.  You’re going to want to study the subject material, and study it fast.  Given what you’ve talked about, I think it’ll be a natural fit.”

“Divination?”

“Your future was read a long time ago.  Decisions were made.”

“Decisions?”

“To arrange a different binding for you, alongside your awakening.  So you wouldn’t be constrained in the same ways.”

“I don’t remember anything like that.”

“We were subtle,” Laird said.  “Just as Aimon was more subtle with me, just in case things didn’t work out.  We decided you had potential, and paved the way.  We didn’t, however, expect you to be quite as quick as you were to start being inventive.”

“I’m not sure I get it.”

“Things are moving towards a crisis point,” Laird said.  “The question of who leads the Behaim family is secondary to the question of who leads Jacob’s Bell.  We’re anticipating conflict, Aimon anticipated conflict, and we can’t have every member of the family fettered by rules.  A select few have been vetted, cleared to tap into the well and use that power as they see fit.  I was one, you’re another.”

Alister’s eyes went wider.

“I expected to wait another few years for you to get your bearings, but seeing as you’re already walking the path, we might as well get underway.”

Laird stood, setting the bottle on the short table by the chair.  “Come.”

All this time, he’d thought he was walking his own path, and now… Alister shook his head.  “What’s going on?  Where are we going?”

“I know you have a lot of questions, but try to save them.  You’ll have most of the answers soon enough, and you might find yourself wishing you hadn’t wasted all your questions on the simpler things.”

“I have limited questions?”

“You’re proud, Alister, and a proud person can only ask so many questions before they exhaust that pride.  We’re very different people, but I think we’re similar in that.”

Alister nodded.

They passed Ainsley and the assorted adults, heading outside.

“What’s going on?” Ainsley asked, a concerned look on her face.

Well, if he got in trouble, she’d be at fault.

“Private lessons,” Laird said.  “We’re stepping up his training.”

“He’s getting rewarded?” Alister’s father asked.

Laird didn’t answer, except to say, “He’ll be back home by dinner, Jonathan.”

Alister hurried into the car, before his parents could tear into him.

Ainsley was staring at him.

He shut the car door, and pulled on the seatbelt, but Laird was already pulling out.

A proud person could ask only so many questions.  It made sense.

He had to pick the questions carefully, so the asking elevated.

Alister picked his question carefully.  “You keep saying we.  But I don’t think you’re talking about the family.”

“Not the Behaim circle, no.”

“Who’s we, then?”

Rose was intimidating, considering she was thin and old.  Her clothes looked fragile too, starched, or lacey, or just old, though certainly not worn or threadbare.  They were a statement.  She was just a bit aristocratic.

There were words she could say that would overturn Alister’s entire world.  If she had something summoned, a simple snap of her fingers…

Laird stood on the far side of the living room.  It put Alister right in the old woman’s sights.

For the better part of his life, Alister had been told that you didn’t speak to the Thorburn diabolist, you didn’t look at her, you didn’t even think about messing with her or anything of hers.

Even Molly, Christoff, or Callan Walker were supposed to be off limits.  Some did mess with them, especially the younger kids.  They sensed the vibe, maybe, and they acted on it, but even then, it was uncommon.

“Sit,” she said.

He had to tear his eyes way to find an appropriate chair.

He took a seat, closer to Laird.

The room went dark.  It wasn’t the lights – the lights and lamps weren’t on.

“Um,” he said, turning.

Laird was shutting the curtains.

“Eyes forward,” the old woman said.

When Alister looked, she had chalk in hand.

“I never believed in mollycoddling,” she said.

Oh.  Oh shit.  Oh shit.

She dropped to one knee, surprisingly easily for someone her age.

The chalk touched floorboard.

Alister started to rise from his seat.  Laird’s hands pushed him down.

“You need to know what you’re dealing with,” Laird said.

Dealing with?  I’m not and never planning on-“

“Pay attention,” Laird said.  “If you miss something, you’ll need to sit through this again.  Take it from me, you don’t want to.”

Those words sent a chill through Alister.

“You-“

“-Sat where you sit, in a manner of speaking.  I had that seat over there, I think.”

“You did,” the old woman said.

“Why?  What’s going on?”

“An introductory lesson, one of several.  You’ll need to know how to defend yourself, and this is the first step.  Knowledge is power, and practice,” the old woman said, “makes perfect.”

“Why do I need to know how to defend myself?”

“First choir.  Darkness,” she said, not answering his question.

Or maybe she was.

“I call on Ouhim,” she said.

Alister’s heart leaped into his throat when he saw the diagram.  A simple circle, without ornamentation.

He saw the space within the circle turn black.

A head, or a face, pale, rose from the pool of darkness.  The silhouette was sleek, like a person with long black hair, plastered to their head with water, and a long black dress that covered the hands, clinging to their form.  Genderless.  Human shaped, but not humanoid.

Two eyes, no nose, mouth or ears.  The eye sockets were only dark pits, utterly black within.

Laird wasn’t holding him down anymore.  He found himself rising out of his seat, despite himself, staring at the twin pools of darkness.

Shaking his head, he looked away.

Ouhim smiled.

With a sound like a mountain splitting in half, a black crack spread across its face, as if the mask had splintered.

The crack swiftly spread beyond its face, onto the walls, across bookshelves, a foot above old woman Thorburn’s head, where she sat in the armchair opposite Alister.  Destroyed novels and pieces of wood fell to the floor.

There wasn’t a muscle in Alister’s body that wasn’t seized tight.

“It’s not…” Alister couldn’t form words.  “Bound properly.”

“It’s sufficiently bound for our needs,” the old woman said.  “I have an established relationship with it.  It won’t do permanent damage, provided we don’t let it.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but the words weren’t there.  He looked back at Laird.

Laird’s expression was grim.

“Go, Ouhim,” the old woman said.

The smile faded, the crack closing, until there wasn’t the slightest seam or scar.

Ouhim disappeared the way it had come, faster, dropping into the circle as though it were dropping into a hole.

In the aftermath of Ouhim’s visit, the bit of fallen wood from the bookshelf and two books that had been split in half remained ruined.

“I thought you said it wouldn’t do permanent damage,” Alister said, pointing.

“That’s not the kind of permanent damage she’s talking about,” Laird spoke.

That Laird knew… it sent a fresh lance of fear into Alister’s heart.

“The second choir,” the old woman said.

“Wait, stop, please.  Why are you showing me?”

“It’s a mnemonic tool,” she said.  “You’ll see one member of each choir.  You’ll remember until the day you die.  It’s a good foundation to build from.  After this, after I’ve instructed you in what they’re capable of, you’ll want to learn the necessary protections.”

“I want to learn already, I don’t need demonstrations.  I don’t want this foundation.  Tell me why you’re doing this.  Why am I getting these lessons?”

Laird sighed, just behind him.

The old woman was looking at Laird, too, as if they were sharing some unspoken communication.

“You, Laird, or the both of you are likely to find yourself opposite my descendants.  We face a unique situation.”

Unique how? he wondered, but he didn’t voice the thoughts aloud.  As Laird had said, questions had to be reserved.

She walked around the circle.  “Morax.”

It felt like being plunged into ice water.  The air was thick.  The light, too, seemed as if it was weighed down, pressed down into just blacks and reds, without shade or hue.

But when he looked, the circle was empty.

“Second choir, madness.  Don’t panic.”

Alister felt a hand settle on his shoulder.

In this sharply contrasted world of black and red, the old woman’s wrinkles were like scars on her face, jagged lines of black, too sharp.  “The situation is that we’re looking to enact revolution.  Aimon was on the same page as me.  Laird is… less so.”

“Yet I remain open minded,” Laird said.  “Provided my family benefits.”

Laird’s voice and the existence of the hand on Alister’s shoulder didn’t jibe.

Alister glanced a little to the left, and saw just how large the hand was.

Deep red.

“The problem with revolution is that it involves conflict, and the various sides in this conflict wield too much firepower.  My side most of all.”

Alister could barely hear her.  The hand… it was attached to a muscular arm.

The arm was attached to a hairy man’s body.

The man, in turn, had a high forehead, and at the corners of the forehead, the skin twisted into a gnarled sort of halo, like a crown of thorns that was embedded in the demon’s head.

But the demon’s expression was placid, a light smile on his face.  It might have been the forehead, but something about his appearance, somehow, evoked the idea of a scholar.  A scholar, perhaps, that existed in an era long past, when scholars could have long hair, beards, bare genitals hanging free, and coarse hair on their chests.

His eyes, in this world of black and red, were a pale sky blue.

“My heir, whichever I select, may call things like this to use against you and your family, Alister.  Wheels have been turning for a long, long time, and try as I might, I’m not in a position to stop them.  They have too much momentum.  Go, Morax.”

“Momentum,” Alister said, as the surroundings returned to normal colors, each color arriving in its own time.

The sensation of the hand’s weight on his shoulder didn’t leave.

“I shoulder a heavy weight of karma.  I’ve managed it by being careful.  Every action I take is deliberate.  Whatever you might see, here, I’m being exceptionally careful, calling names I know I can trust.  But careful doesn’t encourage change.  Not when the entire universe is struggling to heal from grave wounds.”

“Wounds?”  He asked, before realizing what he’d just left himself open to.

“Avert your eyes.  Third choir, ruin.  Zapan.

Alister looked away just in time.

The demon manifested within the circle like a rolling thunderclap, a storm of images, each one demanding his attention, like a charging bull, a thrown object, all outlined and augmented by fire and lightning and other light shows.  The assaults weren’t reserved for him, but at everything.  Every mote of dust and book and person in the room.

“My understanding of things is simple, Alister.  Every Other is, if you trace things back far enough, the fault of demons.  Every practitioner is the fault of Others, or, for a rare few, the fault of demons.  All of these things, in their way, guide all of existence slowly toward its end.  The unlucky few who get in too deep fall into their clutches.”

Zapan screeched, an eerie, broken sound just at the bounds of his ability to hear, making Alister feel like things inside him were breaking and would never feel okay again.

“Even chronomancy-“

“Virtually all practices, Alister.  Call it a diabolist’s bias, but I would posit that the only difference between Laird and I is the level of self-delusion.”

“For the record,” Laird said, “I don’t agree.”

Go, Zapan.”

The roaring, thundering, broken noise came to an end, and the moments of silence that followed were almost worse, they were so raw.

“You’re doing this so easily.”

“Given excuse or predilection my heir may, too.  These were three very different types of demon, from the three primary choirs.  Can you see yourself, five years from now, defending yourself from this?  If the circle hadn’t been here, and I was your enemy?”

“No.  Not at all.”

“With time and training, we’ll hopefully develop that into a maybeMaybe, in the right circumstances, you could defend yourself.”

“You’re neutering your own side?”

The old woman pressed thin lips together.  “You’re on my side more than those things are.  Sandra is, too, even if she loathes me.  You’ll understand that too, in time.”

“I don’t understand my role.  What do you want from me?”

“I’ll explain,” she said.  “I believe that the ability to practice comes from demons.  I believe the world’s attempts to balance itself are a response to this.  A response to us.  We practice, the spirits judge as a proxy for all of existence, and the spirits right the wrong.  But much like a spinning top, the world is teetering out of balance, Alister.  The jerks this way and that will get only more severe.  Push, and the world pushes back.”

“Or you topple it,” Alister said.  “The top tips over, and goes flying across the table, and it stops spinning altogether.”

The old woman nodded.  “I can’t hope to fix things. The universe seeks to maintain its balance, but this makes it hard to change things.  As I said, it pushes back.  Sandra’s family has done what it has done for nearly five hundred years.  The Behaims have done what they’ve done for three hundred.  Crone Mara existed before the Algonquins.  History has weight, and that much weight is difficult to move.”

“The leadership of Jacob’s Bell may be a movement,” Laird said.  “Or an opportunity to bring it about.  A brief window of time, where we can change the status quo.”

“But this remains difficult,” the old woman said.  “Even fixing my own family is… I’m not equipped for it.  Getting involved, it only exposes them to this.  And I decided long ago that we need better foundations, if we’re to build something solid enough.”

“I’m not sure I get it.”

“A nudge, Alister,” the old woman said.  “Timed right, in the right direction, in the right amount, as things teeter to one side, and the top may well spin faster, in the right direction.”

“You’ll learn to use the cards, and you’ll learn your chronomancy,” Laird said.  “I’ll be doing the same.  With luck, one of the two of us will be able to time things appropriately.”

“Doubling our chances?” Alister asked.

“I don’t think so,” Laird said.  “The penchant of the Behaims, I’m sure you’ve heard, is to stubbornly pummel the opposition into submission, then while they’re off balance, hit them with the finishing blow.  I do the pummeling…”

He left the sentence unfinished.

“Okay,” Alister said, clenching his fists.  It helped – his hands were still shaking a bit from the visitors earlier.  “Okay.”

“Things are going to get much messier before they get better,” the old woman said.  “But it’s much easier to affect things with a nudge when they’re already moving.”

“We have a lot to do,” Laird said.  “You’ll need to learn to protect yourself and protect others.  You’ll also have to get things in position, and

“And the nudge?” Alister asked.  “What sort of nudge am I giving?”

“Stay here,” he said.

Ainsley gave him a concerned look.  The timeless armor only obeyed.

Please, Ainsley,” Alister said.

She relented, nodding.  She looked around, as if she didn’t quite trust that the timing was right.  Her candle was in one hand, pins in the other.  Weapons at the ready.

Her nervousness was contagious.  He used his implement, sorting through the cards.

Two of cups.  Connection.

Good enough.

Rose was sitting on the cot as Alister opened the door.  He’d expected her to be wearing a hospital gown, but she still wore her normal clothes.  She hadn’t been drugged.  In the worst case scenario, they would have needed her alert and capable.

Her clothes, he noted, were very, very similar to the ones the old woman had worn, the first time he’d seen her.

But Rose wasn’t the old woman.  The atmosphere was the same, the sense of power, even here, where she should have been powerless.  But Rose was something and someone entirely different.

All the same, he had no doubt that she was ready, able, and capable of speaking a word, using a gesture, and summoning something.  The difference, a difference, was that she wouldn’t.

He smirked a little.  You could only be told so many times that you were brilliant, that everything rested on your shoulders, without getting a little bit full of oneself.  It was a shield, a buffer.  The alternative was to crumble.  In this critical moment, he had to choose one or the other.

“They just let you walk in here?” she asked.

“Nudged the shift schedules a bit,” he said.  “There is a bit of a gap, right now.”

“I was hoping one of you would come to talk to me,” she said.

“You didn’t care which?”

“I have things I’d like to say to Sandra, and things I could say to Johannes…”

He checked the cards.

“They’re not coming for a while yet.  It looks like it’s down to me,” he said.

She nodded.

“I assume something you’d say to me?

She nodded, a tight motion.

“This sounds crazy, but…”

He drew the little box out of his pocket, opening it.

There was no joy on her face, but he did manage to get a small expression of surprise out of her.

“I had arguments, I was willing to threaten, it was even a long shot, but…”

“But why?” he asked.

She nodded.

“Getting things in position,” he said.  “The junior council is on our side.  The Behaims are backing me, even if they aren’t happy.  Your people are… mostly okay.”

He saw the relief in her.

“They’ll be as close to safe as they can get, soon enough.  I’m having the family call their creatures back in a minute.  I expect Johannes and Sandra will follow suit.  It’ll upset their tempo.  Your friends will have time.  We can use that time.”

“Well,” she said, “You’re looking like a knight in shining armor, here.”

“A good portion of this was Laird,” he said, “Not me.”

He could see the surprise on her face.

“This is going to get far worse before it gets better,” he said.

“It’s… pretty damn bad.”

He held up the deck, fanning out cards.  “Greek to you, I imagine, but believe me.  It’s going to get a lot worse, very fast.  We’ve got company.”

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245 thoughts on “Histories (Arc 12)

  1. Hey guys,

    So I’ve been looking for a place and recently confirmed one, got the keys and am in the midst of the very irritating task of getting everything arranged. Hands most definitely full right now.

    But it’s the start of a new month, so do make sure to check out the Donation page to see the schedule for upcoming chapters – when I have an hour or two free (and time is very short these days) I hope to get a proper ticker up on the sidebar, like we had with Worm.

    I’d like to thank October’s donators: Thank yous go out to William R, Joe F, Steve N, Benedict S, Shane J, James B, Dominique A, Max M, Oscar F, Shane S, Keith B, Ev T, Clare H, and Ryan M.

    Big thank yous go out to Andrii K, and the sender of a nice piece of gear.

    And, of course, huge thank you to the 215 Patreon subscribers, who are too numerous to name.

    /salute

    Votes on http://topwebfiction.com/ are very much appreciated, especially as Pact is slumping in the rankings (due to no reminder earlier in the week, I think).

    Thanks for reading.

    1. Congrats on finding a place. Here’s to a safe and non-chaotic move in.

      Question on your writing habits: When writing a story, how far ahead do you plan to start? I’m assuming that you’d build up a very basic “This is what I want to cover”, then fill in details and build from there as you start progressing. Looking at some of the chapters of Pact though, and it appears you plan out huge chunks at a time (Ur’s effects, small references to earlier chapters). Admittedly, this could be just “Oh, this would fit in well with previous hooks I’ve left behind”, but I’m curious as to when some of these are planned.

      Anyways, good luck with real life.

    2. Congrats! That must have been a weight off your shoulders, considering how long you’ve been looking.

      If things are particularly hectic right now, why not move the donation chapters to e.g. weeks 1&3 or 2&3 or 3&4?

    3. if you’re in the LA area (I have no idea where you’re located) I’m more than willing to lend a helping hand with moving.

      Or just buying you a beer.

      1. Same question. I think Morax was of the Choir of Madness, but an a bit confused as to why it was called the Second Choir. And I can see Madness generally being more useful than Chaos, and therefore used more frequently, but it remains a puzzle.

    1. “You’re going to try. Promise,” Laird ordered, “to try.”

      “Alister,” Laird said, “What you’ve been doing, I don’t think you’d keep it secret from family unless it potentially hurt members of this family. If you can’t forgive your cousin for acting in your best interests, I can’t trust you to be a part of the Behaim circle.”

      I feel like there’s meant to be something to break this up.

    2. Typos:

      • “He span the pocketwatch like it was a top.” -> “spun”

      • “That’s can’t be it.” -> “That can’t”

      • “The situation is that we’re looking to enact revolution.” -> “enact a revolution

      • “open minded” -> “open-minded”

      • “I assume something you’d say to me?“ -> The question seems incomplete.

      1. More typos:

        • “You could only be told so many times that you were brilliant, that everything rested on your shoulders, without getting a little bit full of oneself.” -> The last part doesn’t fit to the beginning; it should be something like “until you got a little bit full of yourself”

        • “You didn’t care which?” -> “You didn’t care who?”

  2. Hmm.

    Ok.

    Saw Grandma Rose coming as soon as Laird took Alister away from the family for advanced lessons. Did not see the whole “The very existence of magic and practitioners is building up the death of all things “, though you’ve played a similar card before. (Trying not to spoiler without having to ROT13 the text. If you think this goes too far, feel free to kill the comment)

    As for company? Hmm. That smells a lot like a certain wickerman, polite fish-monster, and bird causing trouble they shouldn’t be causing. Especially since they’ve gone and dragged Rose’s friends straight through “what the everloving fuck” territory.

    1. “Did not see the whole “The very existence of magic and practitioners is building up the death of all things “, though you’ve played a similar card before.”

      It’s hardly an uncommon story element. The very thing the protagonists use being dangerous to existance itself. Magic in particular it’s very common to see this with.

    1. To clarify, linguists estimate that the Algonquin nations first started identifying as such somewhere in the neighborhood of two thousand years ago.

      1. Leaving aside the fact that means she’s possibly older than a few religions, then why does she have such a hatred of settlers. Unless she’s the original progenitor of the Algonquin, everyone else may as well be a settler to her.

        1. My thought is that her hatred of the Europeans isn’t anything new that came out of first contact, she could well have had the same attitude to the French and Dutch who came before the British, the Iroquois who came before that, and whatever other Anishinaabe people who managed to piss her off before that.

          1. She probably wasn’t that thrilled with any Vikings that may have wound up nearby… or, any accidental Celts, either. 😛 Thankfully for any Middle Kingdom/ East Asian mariners, she was on the wrong coast to be annoyed by them. 😉

        2. She might not be the original progenitor, but she was probably good friends or at least friendly mortal enemies with them. Plus, she might have taken every First Nations people as under her protection, once they started dying from smallpox and stuff.

        3. and presumably shes been enslaving possessing and capturing the souls of pure blood algonquins for so many generations theres no way white people killed more than she did

          1. Hardly. Unless what she’s doing greatly amplifies her bodies decay, she would only need to kill one per generation. If we fix her age at around 2000-3000, that means given that she hasn’t been wasteful, her rebirth shenanigans made her ‘only’ kill about 100 people. Or 200, considering she probably kills those she mates with too. There’s probably a greater number of people she killed that didn’t get the note to not go anywhere near her, but she didn’t make her place exactly easy to find. If she’d just been doing her thing in isolation as she does now the whole time, then distributed over her lifetime she’d probably rank as “fairly harmless” as far as other-fied humans go.

    2. She’s a Witch of the Wilds, laughing at a world full of stupid humans, who ignore the evil and abandon vigilance to pursue mortal goals.

  3. Ouch.

    So everything we’ve been seeing up to this point has basically been both the Behaims and Blake trying to make things better, but them running to cross-purposes and fucking eachother up, making things worse?

    Ayup. So far, so Wildbow.

    Also, Ainsley comes off distinctly as someone who really needs a Tattletale in her life. I mean, just in this one chapter she’s out-dorking Taylor in her entire serial.

    1. I think Laird legit hated the Thorburns.

      After he learned to defend himself against the demons, and dealing with Rose Sr. for all those years, he saw Molly and Blake as punk ass newbies that werent a threat and didnt know anything.

      Having Molly murder probably got the ball rolling in breaking the status quo though.

      1. Rose Sr. also mentioned in her letter that she “made some allies into enemies”, so it’s possible that she did something that turned Laird against her after the flashback we’ve seen.

  4. So. . . Pact is a multilayered conspiracy! You have the initial layer of Jacob’s Bell hating the Thorburns because diabolism is evil. Beneath that is the layer where everyone actually just wants power. Beneath that is the layer where everybody is actually working towards saving the world. Pact is like a 7 layer bean salad.

    Bravo, Wildbow. While not the most mind blowing, an excellent chapter that I’ve been waiting for.

    So according to Rose, the reason the Other world is so fundamentally messed up is because they all originate with demons? Deep.

    Alister and Laird both moved up on my character list.

    I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

    1. Referencing the original thing about “Pacts with the devil for power” this makes a lot of sense. Demons create Others and throw them in the world, then offer power for humans to fend against the Others. One way or another they manage to get more ground on this planet.

  5. Hm. Nope, still hate Laird.

    Alister’s pretty adorable, though. Look at him, all nervous before offering the mutually beneficial marriage alliance to his theoretically mortal enemy.

    Rose was also reasonably badass in her appearance this chapter, for all that Alister sapped her agency by having the popping of the question be his plan instead of hers. Just sitting there in the hospital, pretending not to be worried that her friends are dying. Waiting for them to cave.

    I don’t believe RDT about her view of the universe. For one thing? She qualified it by adding “believe.” She’s not totally completely certain that this is objective universal truth. For another…it just irritates me on a fundamental level to reduce the brilliant spiritual ecology we’ve seen in Pact down to “it’s all the fault of demons” as opposed to the messy, some good some bad system. I could certainly believe that it’s something diabolists say to justify themselves, and from the looks of it Laird concurs on this point.

    1. Arguably, it could be said that belief represents the most sincere form of certainty. You cannot believe something if you don’t… well, believe it.

      At most, she’s simply saying other possibilities might exist but in her mind it’s the only one that makes sense. She may have said it that way to not rub Laird wrong.

    2. If twu wuv doesn’t blossom from this union I will be very upset. With Blake glowering in the corner…

      I don’t think that the situation would be just “demons did it”. More that demons are the meteor that introduces the space stuff needed for the formation of life. A couple forevers ago a demon decided to fuck with a Neanderthal, who became an other, who made more others, and etcetera etcetera. It all had to start somewhere, and demons, being a primal force in the universe, seems like the kind of thing to start it.

          1. I thought is was mentioned somewhere that the demons were created by the laws of the universe to correct the imbalance inherent in something (in this case: everything) coming from nothing. Effectively, they’re the executors of all existence’s bad karma.

            1. demons are the antimatter created with the original matter in the fluctuations of the primordial quantum fog?

      1. Alister got the Two of Cups for popping the question, I’d say that this could end up well. Or horribly. Possibly both, it’s not like it has to be just Blake making things worse. Let Alister and Rose contribute their fair share, and I can ship them as an OT3 of people making horrible decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time.

        1. Blake did say they looked really pretentious together, so they are both continue to the facade of being calm and collected.

          I want to see how Sandra and Johannes. Not to mention Blake. Their downfall might come from trying to kill Blake. By this point it should be known that Blake will do almost anything to survive. Its only a matter of time before Blake summons that demon the lawyers told him about. Hopefully we get an update on Isadora and Paige too.

          Pretty shitty of Grandma Rose to cripple her own heirs though.

          1. From the way Grandma Rose acted I think she hated the rest of her family. She seemed to only be having the heirs because she had to. Maybe she felt they were already too tainted. Witch is sad because as we’ve seen while most of the Thorburns are assholes, grannie went after the decent ones first.

            1. I don’t think she hated them; I think she just realized that due to her karma, nothing she did with them could ever help. RDT was essentially fighting fate, very similar to Fell’s ancestors.

            2. Granny Rose, being someone who comes from a prim and properish family, is probably pretty disgusted on some level about how the Thorburns turned out.

            3. The thing that makes me wonder is Rose Sr’s “Your on my side more than those things are.” No she probably was talking about the demons, but she might have meant her potential heirs.

            4. Here’s a question: are there any Thorburns who are not children or grandchildren of the elder Rose? The other two magical families that we’ve seen seem to have some pretty extensive family networks, but all the Thorburns seem to be first cousins at the furthest. As far as we can tell, Grandma didn’t have any siblings.

        2. Well, it didn’t seem to come up reversed… So, it seems to have cemented this particular choice. 😐

          Although, I’m not putting past any of the players in this game of reversing the entire damned table. 😛

    3. Its like Black Lambs Blood. They just need something to justify their actions. But each time she summons a demon just for demonstration she is making the world a little bit worse. Even Pauz laughs at Blake when he finally becomes a true diabolists.

      Angels are others. Shouldn’t they get some credit? Its probably why she says they cant have a dog familiar. They dont agree with her viewpoint.

    4. Everything ultimately being the fault of demons doesn’t have to take away from the moral ambiguity. It seems more like that all the magic and Otherness going on is because this world is somehow unbalanced. And the first cause of that unbalance was demons.
      Just becouse demons fucked shit up doesn’t mean there aren’t assholes and good folk all over.

    5. I’m curious why Alister waited so long with his proposal. How many hours were between Rose being committed and this? What happened in between, on the Jacob’s Bell side of things?

      And regarding the Demons caused everything thing I understood it as being part the trades and deals they made, part the damage they dealt, both subtle and not and part all the stuff the universe is doing to counter it all. Angels for instance, if this is all true, are spawns created to counter demonic creatures. But because demons deal damage that isn’t restricted by the preservation of anything the angels come out weaker on the other end.

    6. I don’t believe her either, because it is completely possible she’s been tainted by demons. We saw that even brief contact with incest demon perverted a guy’s sexuality for life… she’s dealt with, well, “revolution” demons, and therefore I don’t trust her perspective.

  6. Wait, what? How do you… you just took the past three major revelations, turned them on their heads, and re-whammed them all over again from a completely different direction. I just… I don’t…

    I’m going to lie down for a bit.

    1. That’s kind of Wildbow’s thing. You never really know what the truth is, especially when he starts revealing things.

    2. “You needed worthy opponents.”

      Sorry, that’s a quote from somewhere else. I won’t say any more about it, but I will mention “27b”

      Wildbow tends to throw a knuckleball now and then after we get used to the fastballs, curveballs, and sliders.

  7. Nice. I finally like Alister.

    Poor Thorburns cant catch a break. Even the head of their family is working against them.

    So, chances Blake makes things worse?

          1. “The big bang theory and the theory of evolution have to be true. God is not a magician with a wand.”

            I’m paraphrasing, but that’s essentially a quote from Pope Francis recently. I’m not saying he’s not still the head of the largest evil organization in the world, and I still don’t like the man like everyone seems to be smitten, but it is something.

            Progress is still progress, even when used as a political ploy.

            I’m now wondering what sort of practitioners have taken it upon themselves to defend the Pope.

            1. “So, chances Blake makes things worse?”

              Sadly rising. I’m really not liking how it keeps seeming like the best thing for everyone Blake cares about, and the world in general would be for Blake to die horribly.

            2. The last several popes have said as much with regard to evolution, before which the Vatican itself was generally silent on the matter, and the Big Bang Theory has never been in doubt, insofar as it was proposed by a priest and actually opposed by some secular scientists as being a ploy to make the world have a beginning. I’m not saying Catholics aren’t plenty stupid plenty often about science, but that’s far more the fault of bad catechesis, bad science education, and a bad culture than anyone in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

            3. This isn’t original. John Paul II met with evolutionary biologists throughout the 80s, and gave a speech officially endorsing the theory in 1996.

            4. You do know that this is the official stance of the Catholic church for , like decades… John Paul II already acnowledged evolution as true, if memory holds true.

              Only american evangelic nominations fight evolution and big bang tooth and nail…

            5. Being one of those (young) evangelical Americans I can safely say I actually don’t disagree that the big bang occurred, in fact I’d believe it supports the existence of a transcendental supreme being in that for the longest time scientists believed there was no beginning to time and space. Even Einstein would go as far as to make up a cosmological constant which he would later admit was folly when faced with a beginning universe. And yes I’m discounting the oscillating universe theory for my purposes, not unjustly. The problem we YE people run into is that the time-frames are so radically different from the common scientific understanding of our universe. The Gravitational Time Dilation Effect accounts for a lot of that light issue and there are other ways to slim it down. The only reason it sounds like YE beliefs need so much justifying is because we’re already familiar with the ‘justifications’ for the widely accepted model. I don’t believe in evolution, I won’t get into that. Understand though, Mister/Miss HylianHal that you are no great mind worthy of judging the Church Evil, please think before you offend. The world is much less black and white than we think it is everybody, have a nice day.

    1. He did open his friends’ eyes & talk Evan into staying instead of passing on, so if Granny Rose is correct, Blake has already damned them all.

      Damn me, damn them, damn it all

      1. ‘Damn me, damn them, damn it all’ i hope the phrase isnt darker than what we think as i mean is the quotes true meaning, he is personally damning them? and the world as well?

          1. Probably not, else they wouldn’t have survived the Drains/Tenements to begin with. Those who do seem to have enough bottled emotions to return over and over.. and now I just pictured the Pact bogey equivalent of the energizer bunny as the beast of Caerbannog.

          2. I seem to remember reading that the problem wasn’t that they snap back to limbo when killed, but they snap back to limbo too quickly to be killed. If you could somehow anchor a bogeyman so it can’t go anywhere, you might be able to finish it off.

          3. I’m curious about how intact or not intact Midge will actually be once she returns down below. Will she still be leg-less?

          4. I would actually think that nothing in the pact-verse is ever completely killed with the exception of demons of the first quire, (that’s what makes them horrifying). Let’s say Blake hadn’t survived the drains, he would have been broken down and devoured by something else, if not just the spirit equivalents of bacteria. And then his little spirit energy would become part of a young spirit and that little guy could end up in another tree man or maybe congeal into a Corvidae. I could see demons being the ones responsible for making the entire magical world as they eat concepts and break down the laws of physics, allowing for all manner of semi-logical weirdness (and manipulation of said weirdness) as reality bends to cover the hole in its’ side. That’s my understanding so far at least.

            1. I would also think that things like Midge and other beings to have survived long enough to get recognizable by the spirits would keep coming back because they’re an easy and safe option for spirits to bank on for they’re survival or perpetuating the system, if I’m making any sense.

            2. That makes sense. But I suspect that the Choir of Darkness might not actually destroy so much as shunt elsewhere. Demons, and therefore Magic, being the result of another universe trying to eat our own would be funny.

          5. Given that the Others ripped chunks off Midge and absorbed that spiritual energy into themselves for nourishment, I’m guessing that she’s going to go to remain legless when she pops back to the Drains. She might regrow them if she catches and eats enough nourishment in the Drains (though this presumably would taint her essence according to what she ate like it did to Blake).

            Death is probably a matter of doing so much damage to an Other that they don’t have the energy to hold themself together. This would depend on both the amount of damage done and the amount of power the Other has in reserve. A powerful Other like a demigod probably has enough energy to be obliterated dozens of times. An Other that barely had the energy to hold itself together in the first place (for example, Molly before Mags fed her) would probably just disintegrate if dealt any significant amount of damage.

  8. So far, Blake hasn’t seemed to make anything worse.
    No, people just fire missiles at Blake, and he stands amid the crater everyone blames him for, or they complain when he dodges it but the missile hits something else important.

    1. Blake is just hardwired to do anything to survive.Dude would burn a neighborhood if it meant he could run away in the ensuing chaos. I dont think he realizes the lengths he is willing to go.

      He is made from a demon from the choir of ruin. Maybe there is something about him that just makes people want to attack him. Maybe he brings ruin to those that attack him. It hasnt ended well for anyone that has attacked him. He even got a “win” against Urr.

    2. No, people just fire missiles at Blake, and he stands amid the crater everyone blames him for, or they complain when he dodges it but the missile hits something else important.

      Sure… after Blake keys the missile user’s car, douses everything he can find in gasoline, and bring in a couple of his friends to keep him company when the shit starts.

      1. The problem is that people think they have very good reasons why they NEED to either eliminate or control Blake and he is understandably against either option. His ability to survive what his opponents throw at him just convinces them that he IS extremely dangerous and they need to try harder. The notion that someone could have access to enormous amounts of power and choose not to use it is apparently bizzare enough in practitioner circles that they refuse to believe it. Sorta fits his new boogeyman groove, they’re afraid of him and it’s making him (against his will) become stronger

          1. Likely because it feeds his bogeyman nature, and weakens his relatively human half?(quarters?)(chunks?)(mmm… chunky humanity on rye)

            1. But we’ve never seen any indication that the bogeyman mojo operates when he doesn’t want to. Because if he wanted to stop feeding off of people’s fear, he could always stop scaring people.

      2. It could be Blake. Who is nominally supporting Rose in this clusterfuck, if he can hold down his instincts and fury.

        Orrrr.

        Blake just fulfilled certain conditions of a certain teenager’s prophecy, by starting that bonfire back at the house.

        blood and darkness and fire

        Could be that ‘superior goblin’ is coming.

        But yeah it’s probably Blake.

  9. I Really Want to get into Isadora’s head now. As old as she is, and with what we have seen about her, I think she’s both knowledgeable and sane enough to shed a whole lot of light on this situation.

    If Jacob’s Bell is going to be the site of something important happening, I suspect Isadora knows it, especially with her connections to the Thorburns through Paige.

    I suspect that Isadora, even now, would recognize Blake as the Thorburn Warrior. I also suspect that she could help Blake a great deal right now, in return for Blake helping her try to keep things from blowing up.

    The problem is… Does Isadora approve of what Rose was planning? It sounds as if Rose might be planning something very big, which might destabilize a lot, and we know Isadora doesn’t like large changes. They actually cause her pain. Would Isadora approve of the final goal of Rose, whatever that is? I presume she, with her in-world knowledge would understand better then us what Rose might be trying to do, if she got some of the same clues we’re getting through spying or the spirits, or just her natural ability to riddle things out.

    Rose Sr., all of a sudden, became less of a monster. She did some monstrous things, but it appears as if there is a plan for the greater good.

    And now, I wonder, if the factory where Ur lives was another property like the Thorburn House, once, but the owner of the factory failed to live up to that contract, and the demons own it now. If the Thorburns lose control of the house to the demon lawyers, I’m starting to think that it will become home to some other demon similar to Ur.

    1. “Rose Sr., all of a sudden, became less of a monster. She did some monstrous things, but it appears as if there is a plan for the greater good.”

      Sometimes those are the worst kind of monster.

  10. Can someone PLEASE just explain this whole master plan to us and Blake already?

    Also, it’s interesting to see Laird’s role. He didn’t quite play by Granny’s plans, but he also wasn’t Rose’s mortal enemy. I wonder if any of the Duchamps got the same treatment Alister got?

    1. Agreed. Principles or not, she’s still a bitch on wheels.

      Also, Laird? Still a smarmy bastard. If he knew exactly what/who Blake was… there were less jerky ways of getting what he needed out of him. 😛

      1. Like? It seems the plan was to get him to fight enough for Rose Jr. to gain experience while ultimately having Blake die as cleanly as possible.

        Maybe the Thorburn karma actually was what made him survive.

  11. I love the big earth-shattering “save all of existence” plot lines in Worm and Pact. Audacious, ambitious, awesome fiction.

    1. actually i didnt like the scope that the story grew into in worm, considering that it had started at street level and ended up in the multiverse

      in pact it seems more fitting though, they have been hinting it from the beggining and also when you are dealing with magic you can allow yourself to indulge in cosmic themes

  12. Hunh, well. I’m still going to hold to my “the Butcher is Blake” theory — not “Blake is the Butcher” but “Blake will have been and has already been sent back in time to acquire more power and get himself some training and get ready to… do whatever it is that he needs all that time and power and training to do.” Either that or ice cream. Maybe the evil demons are super lactose intolerant, like cat demons, but when it’s delivered by a tree bogeyman they can’t smell the milk. I don’t know.

  13. Great chapter! Alister is… interesting, and RDT suitably imposing. That’s actually the first time we’ve seen her use demons on-screen, rather than in someone else’s memory, or in text.

    Comments:

    • Great lines: “Time isn’t something you mess with.”“It’s made to be messed with” and “You can break rules, but only after you’ve learned them.” and “Nothing is fair.” and “I refuse to let you hold a grudge against her. Forgive her.” and “Oh. Oh shit. Oh shit.” and “Call it a diabolist’s bias, but I would posit that the only difference between Laird and I is the level of self-delusion.”

    • Hah! When I saw Alister gaming the system, I knew this would be a Behaim heir RDT would approve, even before Laird brought him to her.

    • So much for Alister wasting the Behaim reserves. What we’ve seen him use on-screen for chronomancy hasn’t even been everything he himself has given up.

    • So why were Hylas and Cranaus against Alister as heir? Because they represent tradition – they’re ancient Greek heroes, after all – and Alister flaunts tradition?

    • Oh, and Alister’s cockiness in the conflict with Blake appears to have partly been self-defense, or coping. That certainly makes him more likeable to me.

    • I can’t believe RDT taught the Behaims diabolism better than she ever taught her own heir. Seriously: Can’t compute.

    • “Every Other is, if you trace things back far enough, the fault of demons. Every practitioner is the fault of Others, or, for a rare few, the fault of demons. All of these things, in their way, guide all of existence slowly toward its end.” -> That doesn’t seem to jibe with what Johannes said. And is RDT claiming that even angels stem from demons, somehow? Besides, that still doesn’t tell us where demons themselves come from.

    • “And I decided long ago that we need better foundations, if we’re to build something solid enough.” -> Hm. A subtle hint at the idea in Black Lamb’s Blood, of rewriting the practitioner ritual?

    • “This is going to get far worse before it gets better” -> Wildbow…

    1. I can’t believe RDT taught the Behaims diabolism better than she ever taught her own heir. Seriously: Can’t compute.
      Simply put, her oath prevented her. Here’s how I compute it:
      Problem 1: can’t expose her children to magic. Solution: skip to grandchildren.
      Problem 2: no granddaughters yet. Solution: greed as motivation. Keep popping dem girls if you want a chance at all this money, kiddos!
      Problem 3: the family turned into a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Can’t teach the granddaughters directly, they’d snitch to their parents (or worse). Solution: after a careful evaluation, sculpt something that will play better into your scheme from the available fleshbags at the very final moment.

      In the meantime, teach all the important stuff to people you know won’t spill the beans to the nasty nasty first generation of Thorburns you begot.

      1. All in all she was a terrible mother and a worse grandma. I mean she could always just have tricked one of her granddaughters to swear not to reveal any of that magic stuff to her parents aunts and uncles.

    2. “What we’ve seen him use on-screen for chronomancy hasn’t even been everything he himself has given up.”
      To be fair, he gave up the crappy bits that nobody likes anyway. It sort of makes sense that all the power flowing back to him now is filling him full of, well, all the crappy bits that nobody likes.

    3. He’s still making perhaps excessively heavy use of the reserves; I’m pretty sure the exchange rate is a lot worse than one-to-one and healing scratches with it seems generally unwise. That said, even before this chapter I suspected there was a method to his madness; he’s been getting power by playing to the spirits with his divinations, and it’s quite possible fixing his wounds also played to the spirits via a vow to never suffer harm that lasts beyond the fight.

      1. Rose’s research confirmed (assuming she didn’t have some reason to lie about it) that the exchange rate on Chronomancy is terrible way back in the beginning – Right after Blake’s first encounter with Laird, I believe. Something in the neighborhood of giving up an hour only getting you a handful of seconds.

        1. It may sound like a bad exchange rate, but it’s really not. There’s no cost-free way of gaining power as a practitioner; Blake kept spending his blood, for example. In contrast, Alister alone would have accumulated more than 1500 seconds of chronomancy in that year. Which is nothing if you want to extend someone’s life, or do large-scale chronomancy, but it’s a ton if you just want to turn back time 10 seconds during battle.

    4. Every Other is, if you trace things back far enough, the fault of demons

      Just a thought, but if Demons are the embodiment of entropy, then what are angels? It may not be so bleak as we thought. Just assuming basic “big bang theory” creation of the universe, that would mean that creation as a fundamental part of the universe had a head start on entropy. Demons came into being as a method to decrease this head start, and practitioners came into being to fight these Demons.

      And remember, opposites aren’t always what seems obvious, as shown with ErasUr.

      1. Do the angels have choirs?

        Are they simply the opposite of the demon choirs. Chaos -> Order, Ruin -> Salvation/triumph?, Madness -> Sanity/Clarity?, Darkness -> creation/light?

        1. They do. Johannes mentioned the Choir of Structure, which is apparently opposed to the Choir of Ruin. I don’t think they other angelic choirs have been named.

          1. Or more accurately, he said Structure was the Third Angelic Choir. Now that I think about it, I don’t think he said it specifically opposed the Third Demonic Choir, though it would make sense if it did.

    5. “Every Other is, if you trace things back far enough, the fault of demons. Every practitioner is the fault of Others, or, for a rare few, the fault of demons. All of these things, in their way, guide all of existence slowly toward its end.” -> That doesn’t seem to jibe with what Johannes said. And is RDT claiming that even angels stem from demons, somehow? Besides, that still doesn’t tell us where ”

      This makes me wonder. If you get Karma from the actions of those your responsible for introducing to the magical world, and demons were the first to do introducing… That would mean demons get judged for any and all practicioners.

    6. I can’t believe RDT taught the Behaims diabolism better than she ever taught her own heir. Seriously: Can’t compute.

      Exactly what I was thinking. “Okay, Alister has seen more of demonology than any active Thornburn member right now.”

    7. I think RDT has a pretty major case of that diabolist’s bias she mentioned. She only has one tool with which to examine the world, and so her interpretation of the world is based around what can be gleaned from that one tool.

      I really, really want to see how a discussion between RDT and Johannes would go.

      1. It’s not uncommon. Some people will have a bias about their specialty and feel it’s more important than anyone else and gives them better insight. Think of it as being like a Math Teacher and an English teacher who each insist their subject is more important to your education.

    8. “Every Other is, if you trace things back far enough, the fault of demons. Every practitioner is the fault of Others, or, for a rare few, the fault of demons. All of these things, in their way, guide all of existence slowly toward its end.” -> That doesn’t seem to jibe with what Johannes said

      Well, we do know that Granny didn’t like Johannes. She considered him a pretentious man. This might be one of the reasons behind that.

  14. Let me point out, just in case, this doesn’t mean that Alister is working on the side of good. It means that Alister was “meant” to be working to change the status quo. But we all know that power tends to corrupt. Is Alister actually working to “fix” things? The answer is indubitably “yes” for certain things. Whether or not those certain things are the things that us readers would like to see fixed is really up in the air, or in the cards, depending on which metaphor floats your boat better.

  15. Everything is a giant Xanatos Gambit by Rose Sr. Can’t really say I’m surprised. She saw the coming conflict and manipulated every single person who could possibly be involved that she could towards her own ends, which she believes are the best interests of all, and which have obviously not yet appeared. Whatever it is, she considers it far, far more important than stewardship of Jacob’s Bell, something that most of the practitioners we’ve seen consider paramount, even ones from places relatively far off, such as Toronto.

    I would point to Worm; we didn’t know who the real evil was until the very end. There’s good, there’s bad, and then there’s evil/nihilism/nothingness, whatever you want to call it. Both good and bad depend on each other to actually survive, neither is happy with total annihilation. I’m disappointed Laird turned out the way he did. It seems that with a minor change in temperament he might have been a true ally, instead of just an understanding opponent. He understood the greater picture, but figured he could game it to his family’s own ends, as opposed to dedicating everything to whatever this greater goal is, as Rose Sr. seems to have done. Remember that with all the reality corruption that even minor demons bring, Johannes asserts that Humanity is WINNING.

    Alister’s not quite the power-hungry scumbag we’ve been lead to think he is. He wants power, but at the very least he seems to understand it’s the means to an end, and not the goal itself, where many practitioners seem to have it as their only goal, even friendly ones like Mags.

    I only hope Blake hasn’t overfed his inhuman side, to the point where he can’t reign it in and see what’s been said above. Even if Rose Jr is a bitch, it’s apparently been accounted for and harvested for a higher cause.

  16. Hm. Criticism: As much as I like Pact chapter-for-chapter, I must say that the planning and plotting feels rather off to me. Several plans could be called Gambit Roulettes or Batman Gambits: they should have failed horribly simply because the odds were stacked against them, and succeeded anyway.

    This HPMoR quote from ~2010 perfectly fits the situation:

    That was when Father had told Draco about the Rule of Three, which was that any plot which required more than three different things to happen would never work in real life.

    Father had _further_ explained that since only a fool would attempt a plot that was _as complicated as possible_, the real limit was two.

    How does that apply to the planning in Pact?

    1. The most significant: RDT’s brilliant plan for her heirs and the Thorburn karma was mostly long-term. Given the level of opposition, Blake and Rose should never have survived to this point with just what RDT gave them.
    2. To elaborate on that point, RDT’s plan apparently hinged on Rose & co never actually using the demon she’d left them. She didn’t even warn her heirs that she’d taught the Behaims diabolism. What the hell? Why keep that a secret from them?!

    3. More generally, RDT didn’t tell her heirs anything about her plans for them, so her plans should have failed, plain and simple.

    4. There are several factors RDT and other plotters couldn’t have predicted, and that should therefore have irrevocably screwed up their plans, yet didn’t: Ur’s erasure of Blake; Blake’s survival; Rose being tainted by Conquest; Molly’s bell; etc. And what is the Thorburn karma doing, anyway?

    5. I was pretty sure Rose’s engagement gambit wasn’t going to be a betrayal. But it was apparently the kind of insanity we feared last chapter, i.e. “My brilliant plan for protecting everyone can be summed up in one word: Blake”. Again, the success rate of that plan should have been infinitesimal.

    6. The Behaim-Thorburn alliance is the most significant in-story accomplishment in Pact. Certainly more significant than anything Blake has ever done for the Thorburn side. And yet… it was a gambit by Rose without much long-term planning behind it, and apparently succeeded because RDT had planned for the unplannable?

    7. Also, that really should have been Rose’s plan, and succeeded or failed on Rose’s own efforts. As-is, it feels kind of deus-ex-machina-y, despite the foreshadowing. Why let the heroine (or, depending on the perspective, vilainess) be upstaged by a character who’s already dead? Rose being upstaged seems to be something of a running theme in the story, and it’s rather sad. It feels like Rose doesn’t get her fair share of awesome moments in the writing.

    8. And concerning Rose’s plan: If she just wanted a chance to talk, to threaten or whatever, why didn’t she do it in the month prior, e.g. when everyone dealt with Molly? Waiting until this time was positively pointless.

    9. “The junior council is on our side. The Behaims are backing me, even if they aren’t happy.” -> Again, why the hell? Blake did a horrible job of trying to convince anybody; and the Behaims hated the Thorburns. How can the conflict resolve itself just like that, without any input by the protagonists? Even RDT’s plans should be wholly incapable of doing that due to her karma.

    10. By the way, this is the same junior council that a) considered Molly an irredeemable murderess even though their own families had put her in that situation, b) IIRC includes Laird’s son, and c) includes someone (Ainsley) saying “I could let a hundred people die and I still wouldn’t be as bad as you are when you’re just existing!“ Unless someone sent them a brainwashing demon (Pauz, maybe?), them reconciliating with the diabolists makes absolutely no sense.

    Now, I enjoy the story despite these issues, but it’s something to keep in mind for future works, and for the editing phases of Worm and (if it also gets an editing pass at some point) Pact.

    1. I don’t disagree with your assessment. 3 things make your points less of an issue to me.

      1. This is a setting where people are constantly looking into the future to guide their decisions.
      2. Molly, the first heir, actually did die

      3. We don’t know if any of these plans will actually work. I don’t expect them to.

      I think your criticisms are valid. I’m personally willing to suspend my disbelief with regards to those things because of the setting and my expectations that things won’t work out.

    2. A lot of those points are valid, but, as proven time and time again in Worm, Wildbow’s writing tends to be so comprehensive that it solves all the plot dilemmas that it creates. Eventually, you realize why Pnhyqeba cynlrq gurve pneqf pybfr gb guvre purfg, rira vs znal bs guvre cybgf frrzrq pbyzcyrk naq veengvbany. Therefore, I believe that Pact wouldn’t be different and things would make sense, eventually.

    3. The problem was: Roselyn couldn’t communicate clearly with her heirs. That oath of hers blocked her from doing so. The risk of her children finding out through their children would be too much to throw plans out of whack thanks to the Karma Of Awesomely Terrible blowing up on them all. 😐

      Heck, the Thorburn casualties might actually be necessary (from her point of view) to reduce the debt enough to get things to work for “the greater good”. 😦 Either that, or be a price for other things she’s set in place. 😐

    4. You’re assuming that because RDT had a plan and the general outline seems to be happening, her plan is going perfectly. I’m still convinced Ur eating Blake wasn’t in the plan.

      1. Empirically they did. Plus, she actually did leave them pretty substantial assets in the form of the library and the house wards that could apparently repel anything short of a god.
      2. It served its purpose as a threat pretty admirably. As for not telling them about Behaims knowing diabolism, the first rule of the killswitch is that you do not talk about the killswitch.

      3. Actually I wonder about that. We still don’t know that Rose is the intended final heir. Maybe Paige’s packet of documents contains much more specific instructions.

      4. Well, yeah, but it is entirely possible the overall plan is robust.

      5. Rose kind of had to take what she could get.

      6. I don’t think the general conditions are exactly unplannable.

      7. Yeah, though that’s partly because she’s more of a support role person.

      8. She wanted them to feel under pressure to agree. Actually I think originally she was hoping to fortify the house and build up power so she could negotiate from a position of strength, but Sandra forced her hand.

      9&10: Alister talked them into it. The guy who got selected as head of the family is much more persuasive than a Bogyman.

      1. 1) This is a story. Whether a plan succeeds depends solely on whether the writer decides it succeeds. Even when its odds of success are way worse than 1:100 (i.e. less than one plan per hundred should succeed). In actual fact, essentially all such long-term plans succeeded (so far) except for Blake’s suicidal attack on Ur. I acknowledge that RDT’s plan can still get screwed up in the future, but I’m saying it should already have been derailed several times over.

        4) The HPMoR quote applies: In real life, plans simply do not survive so much chaos. And again, if Rose and Blake weren’t the protagonists, they would have died a half-dozen deaths by now, and the plan would already have failed. Their karma should have ensured it, if nothing else.

        9) Alister wasn’t necessarily going to be selected as head of the family. Here we have yet another case where RDT’s plan succeeded despite all odds: Blake got so close to beating Alister in their competition, which would have given him the Rule of Three x Three victory against the Behaims, and most likely removed Alister from the running entirely.

        1. I think you’re ascribing too much detail to the plan and assuming anything except what actually happened is a failure state. This particular step requires only three things:

          1) Alister or possibly Liard is head of the Behaim family and they remain relevant.
          2) A Thorburn heir (any one) is alive and has a reasonable degree of potential power
          3) There is some threat to both of them to convince them to take the deal.

          1) is highly likely, given Alister’s access to the battery. Blake winning could have derailed it, but that wasn’t very likely. Plus, while that derails this particular plan, the alternate choice of family head would be relatively easy to negotiate with.
          2) Lots of spares, and until recently the house was impregnable. And she did leave a panic button.
          3) Given the volatile local politics, this was pretty much inevitable.

          Now, the odds of things going exactly as they did were probably pretty low, but that doesn’t mean the odds of the plan working were equally low. The probability of the plan working is the sum of the probabilities of all sequences of events that result in a winning outcome. For instance, Blake could have not gotten eaten, picked up some help in Toronto, and returned in a position of strength. He could have avoided fighting Conquest at all. He could have countered the slowdown aura ritual and continued holding out in the house.

          1. I agree there are multiple ways to reach one’s goals, but don’t forget the myriad failure states, either. RDT managed to ostensibly make zero allies in her life (her page on allies in the “Dramatis Personae” book was virtually empty); everyone hates diabolists and wants them killed; any Behaim head not taught by RDT would therefore be impossible to negotiate with (point 1), etc. Even Laird set Other bounties on the Thorburn heirs.

            Blake was never going to live; he was built to fight one threat after another, nearly committed suicide in his final fight against Conquest (in search for peace), and then promptly picked the next available target, Ur, and did worse. It’s a wonder he survived that far – I can understand his victory against Pauz, but he shouldn’t even have survived the Hyena.
            And what spare heirs? Isadora managed to remove Paige from the running (another unexpected point), and all other potential heirs have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that they’d be exactly the kinds of diabolists everyone fears. (Or that they’re the kinds of opportunits who’d simply take the deal of the lawyers.) Besides, if RDT actually considered them legitimate spares, she presumably wouldn’t have used the Barber to create an ideal heir. You don’t bargain with demons if you can help it.

            But I most disagree with your point 3). No, throughout the entire story, all hostile factions have made it abundantly clear that you don’t negotiate with diabolists; you don’t ally with them; you just kill them and wipe the scourge off the map. Until Blake came along, nobody in Toronto even bothered to deal with Pauz and Ur, because dealing with diabolists and demons just wasn’t worth it. And the results totally justify that attitude.
            For instance, they let Rose help with the Molly-wraith situation, then went right back to war.

            And again, the Thorburn karma alone should already make any plan involving the Thorburns a long shot.

            1. 1) Blake has successfully negotiated with lots of people, and the Behaims apparently actually did think he’d have a good shot at negotiating with the second choice.
              2) Well, yes, Blake was actually supposed to die, and if he’d done it properly Rose would get to retain the assets he picked up. I think at least some of the spares would be acceptable (most notably Peter), and Paige isn’t necessarily out of the running; Isadora is unlikely to want the house to go to the Lawyers. There’s also Ivy, who obviously doesn’t fit this plan but has the fallback option of getting more-or-less adopted by the Behaims
              3) just happened, so clearly it’s not impossible. Actually, I think the probability given the first two assumptions is pretty good, since RDT handpicked Alister for the role.

            2. Yeah, soon as Peter found out that karma was real, his whole outlook changed. I don’t think he’d make that bad of an heir, if he could inherit, which he can’t, because he’s male, so the point is moot anyway, unless Granny has the Barber on retainer to split him and the lawyers on retainer to slip him/her into the heir list.

            3. We don’t have all the information.
              Arguments based on Fanon, even believed by the characters themselves, are stupid until further explanation becomes unlikely.
              In particular, I have a problem with the idea that Blake was always supposed to die, or more accurately that it’s causing problems with the plan, because he’s survived everything RDT could have reasonably expected to go after him, presuming she looked at the players in Toronto. She doesn’t seem stupid enough to not have a contingency for his survival, although it may not have believed it a high probability.
              Frankly, the whole thing makes a lot more sense if you just presume that RDT had several contingency plans, or even just set things up so that the key points were accounted for. She could presume a lot of chaos, many complications, and still get a pretty good idea of the current situation, which boils down to “After much tribulation, the Thorburn siblings are making their play for Lord of Jacob’s Bell. At least one of them wants to fix the rather toxic dynamic that’s grown up around here.” It really isn’t an unreasonable assumption, from what I know.
              Pact isn’t over yet, and this almost certainly isn’t the last time we get to see more of the plan. Please, stop arguing with what happens in story until it’s actually proven ridiculous.

          2. Also, the Rule Of Three there is pithy but totally inaccurate. For instance, refreshing this page took a total of 661 packets being exchanged over my network connection. Glancing over them, roughly forty of them were sent because of a malfunction of some sort: one packet got lost/corrupted, or its acknowledgement got lost/corrupted, or there was a delay long enough that the system assumed the packet had been lost. And it was technically possible that any of the original packets could get corrupted but not trigger the resend.

            And that’s using TCP, which is actually designed to ensure everything is delivered correctly and in the order in which it is sent. Lots of internet activity uses UDP, which doesn’t include any mechanisms to detect loss and delivers data in whatever order it happens to arrive in.

            The point is, you can totally have a plan which expects a very large number of events to go a certain way, yet still succeed even if a bunch of them don’t.

            1. I’m currently studying for a Master’s degree in physics, so I get your point. But the same kind of thinking fails in all sciences where people don’t get instant and high-quality experimental feedback. There’s hardly any academic consensus in philosophy (on anything) or economics (causes of the financial crisis etc), for instance.

              But I’d say the proper comparison here isn’t with engineering or the natural sciences, but rather with expert prognostication, futurism etc (i.e. predicting the future), and those have suitably horrible success rates.

            2. Large groups very rarely agree when an answer isn’t obvious, even less so when it’s inconvenient. Your point? RDT was genre savvy. That’s all her plan really seems to have required to make.

        2. I think you’re underestimating the power of Pact!prophecy. Yes, it is vague and often ambiguous, the may it is in real life myths (and in MoR), and we haven’t seen a enough outcomes clearly to make it obvious, but I think it’s really very effective, if you ask sufficiently generic questions and you’re careful about the answers.

          Consider for example the comment a few chapters back that the Thornguard decided not to get implements etc. because the cards showed it would lead to catastrophe. (They probably did other readings as well.) Neither we nor they know exactly what that catastrophe would have been, nor how or why it would have come to be, nor even how not having implements etc. helped.

          As you noted, nobody involved could actually deduce what will happen, both because of complexity and because nobody knew enough of the facts. But you don’t need to deduce (as much) if you can cheat and eliminate vasts parts of your decision tree. When that option is available, common sense does not apply!

          (Imagine a story about a stock trader that makes lots of risky trades and yet wins big several times. It’s unrealistic in general, even for a genius trader, but not if you know they have insider info, even vague and ambiguous.)

          1. “Neither we nor they know exactly what that catastrophe would have been, nor how or why it would have come to be, nor even how not having implements etc. helped.”

            Corvidae would have stolen the implement/familiar/Demesnes. That’s almost certainly what would have happened had they not suffered a disaster before his next summoning.

            1. I doubt that. I get the impression he takes few, very important things, and a new practitioner’s implement does sound that much of a big deal. And I doubt he would/could steal familiars and Demesnes. Also, keeping his kleptomania secret seems important, something like an implement without anyone noticing would be tricky.

              Actually I suspect the trouble would be that having more tricks up their sleeves would have made the Thornguard attempt to fight and die rather than rely on Blake and run. Then Blake’d probably go all-out monster, and either he’d have done something bad like call Ornias, or he’d have died and something good that he’s (presumably) yet to do won’t happen.

            2. I figured that would have been the Duchamps using the “steal familiar” ability that they were stated to have back in arc 2.

            3. I assumed the catastrophe was further down the line, and picking implements now would leave them unable to pick the proper ones later on.

        3. 1) At this point we have only vague ideas as to what Roslyn’s plans were and to what extent they have succeeded or failed already. I’m guessing that Urr eating Blake is probably far from the only thing that went wrong. Blake going to Toronto probably was planned because Laird is in on the plan and he was responsible for locking Blake out of Hillside. Blake drawing Conquest’s attention probably wasn’t planned because that was a result of Sandra’s intervention and she doesn’t seem to be in on it. Conversely, even if she is in on it and was following the plan into action it still went wrong because, based on what she told Jeremy, the plan was to keep Blake in Toronto and that failed. Blake’s friends being awakened may or may not have been part of the plan. It was fairly predictable if Blake was put under enough pressure, but whether it was intended that he be put under as much pressure as he was in Toronto is unclear. etc. etc.

          9) You’re assuming that they only made plans for Allister becoming head of the family. There could easily be a handful of Behaims trained up appropriately and ready to step into the breach. Allister is just the first preference.

      1. Didn’t she mention something that could be interpreted as that ?

        Bonds, 1.3:

        8. See our bloodline to the end of the fifth year with less of a debt than we had at the start of your custodianship. I’m hoping you can see this through until the end of your lifetime, but I can only focus on these next five years and hope you are on the right road.

        What kind of focus was she talking about, I wonder.

    5. Have the plans been successful? Blake was suppose to die. He is still running around.

      Rose Sr. told her heir to marry a someone not considered a good man. I think this engagement is all Alister. How many Behaims are going to be willing to give up time to fund a guy that is going to marry into the Thorburn family? The well has been poisoned.

      Rose Sr. only said things would get worse and an opportunity was going to happen. She made sure the status quo changed when she didnt teach her children or heir like she was taught. Like Conquest being there to keep the peace, the threat of the Thorburns and demons were there to keep others in check. But Rose sr. made sure her heirs were defenseless and newbies. Not exactly someone to be feared. Then she throws in a guy who is willing to do almost anything to survive, and you got yourself a war.

      1. Where did you get the “willing to do almost anything to survive”? Blake’s always been more about protecting his friends and the general populace, hence his clawing his way out of the Abyss to keep Rose from doing something stupid. Maybe you were referring to rose?

    6. Just to add my two cents:

      This is a world that not only is influenced by super natural agents, but the people in this world can influence these agents for their benefit. We have karma, and we have a way to generate good karma (Demesnes) or give the bad karma from your actions to others. Thus, regardless of Granny’s never-ending well of bad karma, it isn’t unlikely to think that she didn’t game the system in her favour.

      In fact, she did game the system. She created Blake, an attractor of bad karma. However, Blake knows how to roll with the punches, Blake knows how to persevere because he is in tune with the way the world works.

      Second, we don’t really know what Rose’s plan was. We have seen some fractions of it, but not the whole picture. We know that Rose was a master planner and surely she had counter-measures over counter-measures. It is true that even then, many of her plans would fail due to how complex they seem to be. But her plans don’t need to play out perfectly because the people carrying them out can and will try something else. They might only have a very unclear objective in mind, or many objectives, and whatever they get is good enough.

      Finally, we don’t know what everyone’s motivations are, which might explain why Blake and Rose aren’t dead yet. Anyone could have killed Blake as soon as he arrived to the city, put a bullet through his head. No one did. And don’t tell me they didn’t want the bad karma; if Blake were as dangerous as they claimed him to be, it would be a reasonable hit to take.

      I am probably being too optimist, giving the story more a bit more credit than it is worth, but I am confident that, if Wildbow wishes, issues will be answered in a satisfactory manner.

      1. I think they avoided the bullet solution because the owner of very valuable property desired by the local chief of police getting shot is the sort of thing that gets RCMP attention.

        1. Point is, if everyone wanted to kill Blake as soon as he got there, they could have bitten the (metaphorical, in this case) bullet and done so. The Duchamps bend the connections, the Behaims make sure the time is right… Johannes does what Johannes does, and they all distribute the bad (or good) karma between themselves. Or one person does it; I don’t think killing one innocent would give SO MUCH bad karma that they couldn’t handle it. They didn’t, though.

      2. “Anyone could have killed Blake as soon as he arrived to the city, put a bullet through his head. No one did. And don’t tell me they didn’t want the bad karma; if Blake were as dangerous as they claimed him to be, it would be a reasonable hit to take.”
        Everyone did agree that the Thorburns were evil, that they were dangerous, that they needed to be killed. Finally everyone voted on it and Laird at least even offered to pay Maggie to get her to do it, and Maggie didn’t even give a kill order — she said herself that she was just trying to scare Molly.

        Nobody wants that done to themselves. After someone gets treated like garbage for doing something, nobody else wants to volunteer to do that thing next and become the next person treated like garbage.

    7. “To elaborate on that point, RDT’s plan apparently hinged on Rose & co never actually using the demon she’d left them.”
      Perhaps the presence of the Barber was something of a test. If an heir recklessly used it against the Behaims (who’d been taught how to repulse it), then that heir deserved to have it sent back against them and be killed.

    8. 5) Why do people keep saying that Blake was Rose’s plan to protect everybody? Couldn’t she have had faith in her circle to protect themselves? Especially since she had every reason to believe they’d have the house’s defences back up by nightfall.

      Most other points) Why are you assuming that Roslyn’s plan was a straight line? In all likeliness it has a ton of branches and allowances for contingencies. As others have pointed out, you’re just assuming that this was even the specific outcome she was aiming for.

  17. i feel like things are going off the rails subtly due to all the gambit pileups…. i mean it says on the tvtropes page Laird wasn’t planning to get killed by conquest.

    1. Laird was planning on dying. The sooner Laird died, the longer his son got to live. I think his son had a lot of survivor guilt, but Laird was on his way out as surely as Blake was, we just didn’t know it until the end.

      1. While that was true, Laird was planning to offer himself to Conquest for absorption and get a twofer for his death – to give his hours to his son, and to nudge Conquest towards a more Behaim way of thinking.

        Of course, given Fell’s origin, it’d still up in the air whether being absorbed by Conquest truly counts as ‘dying’ so anyone’s guess if it would’ve worked anyway…

  18. Something I’d like to point out about Grandma Rose’s top analogy. There is one other outcome. I don’t blame her, because in this case it seems utterly insane. That outcome is this. After the top stops spinning and falls over someone picks it up and gives it another spin. Hopefully with less wobble this time.

    1. “Maybe if we break it someone else will come along and fix it” sounds like Blake logic, and we know how Blake logic tends to work out for anyone not named Blake…

  19. Can anyone remind me which the names of the different choirs were and where the first time was that we had them all listed?

    1. “Demons and devils fall into choirs. Choir of dark, choir of chaos, choir of ruin, choir of madness, choir of the feral, choir of sin, and choir of unrest, in order. What we’re dealing with… I think it’s a demon of darkness, by all descriptions.” (Chapter 5.05, Rose, while they’re discussing how to deal with Ur.)

      1. So we’ve seen at least one in story example of each choir other than chaos and the feral? What choir was Pauz part of again?

  20. I’m a bit curious about how far down the rabbit hole Wildbow is going with the whole Demons are going to ruin the universe thing.

    Demons are agents of chaos and destruction, true. Angels would seem to be what might oppose demons, based on our own preconceptions, however it’s not necessarily true in the Pactverse. It may well be that Angels are simply mostly benevolent Others. They might dislike demons more than most others. They might even understand demons more than most others, but they might not be anywhere near the same power level. To my knowledge we’ve seen one angel.

    If Demons created practitioners by giving power to humans, and humans created Others by slowly losing their humanity as a result of utilizing said powers, then where do spirits fit in? Others and human practitioners both appeal to spirits to some degree. Others can apparently use spirits as a substitute for practitioner powers. Spirits appear to control how karma is applied, positively or negatively. This tends to make me think that the spirits are antibodies trying to protect reality from demons and chaos. Natural magic.

    Does this mean that Others are an intentional creation of the Spirits, intended to be used to fight demons? Demons can’t create. Spirits may not have that limitation, though we’ve never encountered a spirit willing to talk, Blake has one that seems as if it’s capable of expressing some feelings that Blake can understand.

    If humans are winning the battle against Others, does that really mean that demons and their human pawns are winning against spirits and Others?

    Is the seal of Solomon actually a benefit to humanity? To some extent it is, of course. It protects non-practitioner humanity from Others to a significant degree. But does it also strengthen the relative strength of Demons by weakening Others, by preventing Others from being steered by the spirits to do things to fight Demons? Is the benefit worth the cost?

    Another chapter to keep me thinking! Damn You Wildbow!! LOL

    1. “Demons can’t create.”
      Don’t forget they can do the next best thing – alter something that already exists and let the universe reassemble it with a different shape and/or purpose.

      Would you say a sculptor cannot create ?

      1. I have a feeling we are going to see this trumped later on. “Demons can’t create”? Why not? Because they are demons? We know that Other categories are flexible. Because they are agents of chaos? Well… That might be a good reason, but not good enough to rule out demons that do create.

      2. Saying that demons cannot create isn’t quite the same thing as saying that they cannot be agents for change. Sculptors create by removing what does not fit their vision. Demons don’t have that vision. They doesn’t mean they cannot remove parts of a whole, and then see what happens. Certain patterns might emerge that could be useful in predicting likely outcomes. Remove “this”, and “that” normally happens. Therefore, if you want something like “that”, you can remove “this”, and it’s likely you will get the result you want. But you don’t have artistic control, you have only a guess as to what will happen.

        1. I think of it like so many flawed scientists throughout history.

          “Hey, people and apes are pretty close, right? What if we forced these apes to rape some women then waited around to see if they women got pregnant? We’d have to do it over and over to be certain that it would never work, though.” <– some of the Nazi prison camp "scientists"

          "Hey, syphilis is bad, so let's infect some people with it on purpose, not tell them, not treat them, and see what happens." Then the cure for syphilis is discovered. "Meh, continue the experiment, we want to see what happens." <– The Tuskegee syphilis experiment

          Sure, they're ostensibly following the scientific ethos — they have their hypotheses and they're testing and evaluating things, but the experiments were just so fundamentally flawed and really couldn't have resulted in anything good and were just so morally objectionable. That's what a demon is like. "Hey, I wonder if a person can live sewn to another person's…" No, that is not real science, you're not really creating anything, that's just wrong. Those are real life demons.

      3. Also, it seems to me that an entity that is philosophically committed by their nature to maximizing chaos/entropy can create in certain circumstances, if the creation will then do things that lead to a net increase in entropy.
        For instance, a nihilist anarchist can still make a bomb- can still create a localized decrease in entropy, for bombs are somewhat complicated ordered systems- because that bomb will then blow up and create a crapton of entropy that far outweighs the initial decrease in entropy from its creation.
        Extending that metaphor to RDT’s conspiracy theory about the nature of reality, Others would all be bombs in some way or other, or they might be pieces in a ‘bomb’ that will ‘go off’ through the interactions of one or more Others and/or practicioners

    2. Corvidae is arguably a spirit (or several) that talks. There is a theory that this also applies to many of the major and minor gods too.

        1. Not so much. Corvidae is explicitly a spirit. (Omniscient third person.) But he’s considered an Other by people.

    1. Demons probably feed and propagate off of decay and entropy like Bogeymen do from emotions. A car rusts out and falls apart, a demon gets stronger. An old man slowly dies of cancer, a demon gets stronger, the universe goes through heat death, all the demons get stronger.

    2. This line of reasoning would presume that self preservation is actually important to them rather than being a means to an end. Nowhere is that stated.

      1. Furthermore, imagining demons being worried about having a place to live after the orderly universe is disordered completely assumes that demons need the universe as we perceive it to survive. This isn’t certain. They might be perfectly happy in a completely chaotic universe with no structure at all.

        1. Perhaps the demons are really the heroes of the piece(making Rose Sr the ultimate bad guy for setting up a potentially viable plan) and wish to utter in a true revolution,where all life is free of all the limitations inherent in structured existence?
          This would offer a new perspective on the whole ‘creating practicioners and Others’ idea, and would explain why they would create such a potential threat; they’re slowly evolving humans(and possibly other sapient species) into forms of life equally capable of surviving in a chaotic, structureless existence as themselves.
          Bogeymen like Blake may be one of the planned hybrid forms, and Ur may be deliberately letting people in through the cracks in order to facilitate their creation.

          1. The problem with this is that demons don’t just mix up, they destroy. They create chaos as a byproduct for completely annihilating small pieces of the system. And there have been people in complete misery because of them. Remember Pauz victim? So even if their motives are as lofty as you say they are going about it completely wrongly and the ends you describe in no way justify the means.

            Also, I’m pretty sure Urr doesn’t normally just go after a victim’s connections.

            1. That’s only the demons of darkness, and its their defining feature. If Granny is to be believed.

              “Also, I’m pretty sure Urr doesn’t normally just go after a victim’s connections.”

              Maybe. Probably Ur wasn’t able to attack Blake directly because his tattoo’s protected him. She was perfectly willing to kill the goblins for example. Or Blake when his Tattoo’s turned into tasty spirits and not Alexis’s drawings.

    3. What I’m curious about is whether demons actually need “motivation”. Do they have agency, or are they just fulfilling their natures? Can they make moral choices? When Barbatorem cuts your reflection off to destroy you, is he doing it because destroying you brings him some pleasure or benefit, or is he doing it because that is what he does?

      We’ve had allusions to fallen angels. If they are demons’ opposites, that would suggest that demons also have the potential to stop being a force of destruction. That’s not something we KNOW, though. Are tearing the world apart by choice, or not?

      1. We do have some perspective on what demons think: Remember both Pauz (who had admittedly absorbed various human traits due to possessing people), and the short Ur POV scene in Histories 7. Ur demonstrated intelligence, cunning, and long-term planning; where Pauz (a mere mote) sabotaged himself because he could only think short-term, Ur played the long game. But its ultimate motivation still seemed to be nothing but consuming.

        1. Demons probably aren’t concerned about consuming everything until they starve themselves out because theres a whole friggin’ universe out there. They’re not destroying it all anytime soon.

          If there are demons who’s mind operate in the timeframe of billions of years they might be concerned.

        2. There is still a lot that we don’t know about demons. What they want, where they came from, if they are all one unified group… What we know about these things is so far largely heresy.

          We don’t even know if all demons truly want to destroy the universe or if that’s the choir of darkness only. Incest demon might be happy with a world where everyone is screwing their siblings. As for where would the demons live if they destroyed the universe, do we know if they even care? Demons might even be happy not existing as long as they took everything else down with them.

          1. According to Rose (the elder) Demons of Darkness cannot create in anyway. Including their own growth. Ur would not truly be able to plan ahead nor have wants. Of course, Ur appears to be very well able to plan and create, even if only through preexisting materials. (Gas, and a crowbar to make smoke and fire. Not to mention her motes.) If Granny is right, her apparently planning is really the damage of her annihilating and her motes, are really just more things that have been deleted from reality.

            Either Granny is wrong, or the Demons of Darkness are not “real”. They’re chunks of the Universe that are missing. They don’t have wants. The other demons don’t annihilate, if we believe Rose. (Its the Firsts defining feature.)

            The other choirs don’t seem to destroy so much as pervert the “natural” order. Animals kill humans. The Barber carves out reflections. Hell the incest demon created new lineages of humans if Black Lamb’s Blood is to be believed. Much like a dog breeder might. Seriously, inbreeding often shows up when trying to breed a new strain of animal, like domesticated foxes or whatever. Humans rising up against the natural order was Mr. Solemon. Humans would love to be able to rip out metaphysical (conceptual?) pieces of stuff. “I cast away my age!”

            The other 6 choirs seem like they will have a hellish world if left to themselves for too long, but a world.

    4. In addition to what other people said, it’s entirely possible that demons aren’t from this universe. In that case, once they’ve finished wrecking this one, they can go back to their own or move onto a different one…

  21. Has no one else seen the parallels with Blake’s outing last chapter with trick or treating? He’s going around the neighborhood, dressed as a monster trying to get stuff. Either he merely tricks them (scares and messes with them) or tries to make them a treat (for green eyes). Either way, its great to see someone one getting dressed up (in a new physical body/costume) for Halloween! (even though it’s not October 31 in-story).

  22. Does anyone else see the similarities between Pnhyqebaf cyna naq Gnlybe’f zrgubq bs pbzcyrgryl qrenvyvat vg? Vf Oynxr tbaan tb fhcre fnvlna gb fnir gur qnl nsgre qrzbyvfuvat Ebfr’f cyna?

    Just a thought. Can’t wait to see Blake’s reaction tonight!

    1. In my experience, Wildbow doesn’t postpone without warning. That being said, it’s probably wise to give yourself an 8 minute window once midnight strikes.

  23. “Nothing is fair”

    How are you allowed to say this? Clearly some things in the entire universe are fair even if it’s just “Fair things are fair.” Or this theoretical thing that I contemplated is fair.

    And that “can”, “can’t” stuff necessitates that one of them is forsworn, clearly the girl. He CAN be reckless. It is PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE for him to be reckless. So why does she still magic?

    1. Because you only lose a little bit of power if you say something true badly. Also, people put a lot more stake into the lying thing than they could – even foreswearing an oath only loses you the things you swore on. We see a bit more of this later, I believe.

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