Execution 13.1

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Rose and Alister, side by side.  Behaims all around me, a clockwork knight of some sort barring my escape route.

Now I could hear the bell.  It tolled in sync with the pounding movement inside my chest, my arms, my legs.

I had to move, shifting my feet, hand clenched at my side, other hand gripping the Hyena.  I saw them react, tensing, securing their own footing on the snowy street.

Alister let out a long breath, a plume of cold breath in front of his face.

The bell was Working in concert with the bogeyman part of me to urge me to attack, to go all out.  Solve a dozen problems at once.  I could surprise Alister and Rose by lunging, moving faster than they expected, or by throwing the Hyena.

Alister was young, though.  Eighteen, I was pretty sure?  When I’d told the man in the ill-fitting suit he had free reign around here, I’d told him to steer clear of anyone under twenty.

It had been a spur of the moment call, but my gut feeling had been that anyone under twenty wasn’t necessarily free of their parents’ influence.

Alister, though… I had little doubt he was independent.  Did my own rules apply?

Or, I thought, maybe I can stop thinking about Alister in terms of how easily I could kill him.

“Hi, Rose,” I said.

“Blake.”

“Does the armor talk, Alister?”

“No.  It’s a construct.”

“Okay, that makes it simpler,” I said.  “I can just greet you.  Hi, Alister.”

“You could greet Will, too.  He’s the guy who you just tried to murder.”

I nodded slowly, looking at the guy who I’d just cut.  Time had rewound.  Probably chronomancy trickery, messing with my perceptions, rather than an actual reversal of time.

“Heya, Will,” I said.

“Fuck you.”

“Right,” I said.  Couldn’t blame him.

“Do me a favor, and give us some space?”

“If the council wants, we can replace you,” Will said.

“I know.  I know I don’t have your full trust, but… we need privacy here.”

Will didn’t look too happy, stalking off with his mechanical soldiers.  He didn’t leave so much as walk away until he was more or less out of earshot.

Many of the other Behaims were lurking nearby too.  Keeping watch.

Alister let go of Rose’s hand, sticking his hands into his pockets, instead.  “I should ask, Blake, is the murderous spree because things went wrong, or because they went right?  Either the others are safe, or they’re gone.  I can’t imagine you’d be here otherwise.”

“There’s a third possibility,” Rose said, her voice quiet.  “He might not have trusted himself to be around them.”

“That wasn’t it,” I said.  “Not quite.”

“I see,” she said.  “Is my guess closer or further from the truth than Alister’s?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Depends how you interpret the sentence.”

“It doesn’t really matter,” she said.

Some of the Behaims were still backing off.  Every set of eyes was on us.  It was, if I wound up in a fight, a lot of firepower leveled my way.

“Ah, there’s a bit of pressure,” Alister said, his voice just a bit quieter than before.  “They nominated me to be the guy in charge, after a hell of a lot of debating.  This is my first publicly visible act as leader of the family.  How do I deal with the Thorburn bogeyman, when I have the Thorburn heir at my side?”

Rose was studying me.  Emotionally cold, detached, disconnected.  Beneath the old fashioned coat, I could see her knee-length dress and the lace-patterned hose on her legs.  Her boots had brassy buckles on the straps, with snow in some old scuff marks at the toe.  She’d fixed her hair recently.

My antithesis, in a way.

“Any opinions, Rose?” Alister asked.  “Have to admit, this gets a lot easier if you give me the okay.”

“If I tell you you can deal with him with extreme prejudice?”

“Yeah.  That.”

She nodded.

But she didn’t give the okay.

“How is the house, Blake?” she asked.

“Flooded, there are some areas that are virtually painted in gore and bodies, holes in the floors, broken taps, the inner library was broken into, last I saw, before access was barred, which might cause further problems.  Then there’s the fire, and… glancing over that way, I can tell that it’s still burning, despite the efforts of the attacking Others.”

“And my friends and family?” she asked.

My, she’d said, not our.

Not wrong, but misleading.

“Callan died,” I said.

“Shit.  I almost liked Callan.”

“Roxanne’s in bad shape, Kathy’s arm might not ever recover, and Peter’s… he’s okay, but he’s figured far too much out.”

“Whose head is that on?”

“It was chaotic enough I can’t quite remember.  Local bogeymen, I think.  Partially on my head.”

Rose nodded.

Is she asking me this because she wants to know what’s up after she kills me?  I wondered.

“I’m glad most of our people came out of it okay,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Did you happen to kill anyone noteworthy before you came after Will, there?”

“No, nobody noteworthy, as far as I know,” I answered.  “But I wasn’t idle, either.”

“Well,” she said.  She sounded so calm.  How much was she using Conquest, here?  “Alister and I just had a long conversation about you.”

“I… see,” I said.

“Would you believe I was actually arguing to keep you alive?” she asked.

No, I thought, automatically, quietly furious.  My survival was my call, not hers, and I didn’t believe her in the first place.  It was unfair, maybe, and maybe it was fueled by the natural opposition to Rose, but when I heard something phrased as a question, my natural reaction was to assume it was a falsehood or misdirection.

Rose went on, “Alister kind of has a grudge, after you tried to kill him-”

“Maim,” I said.

“Well then,” Alister said.  “That’s something.”

“-Maim him, then,” Rose said.  “I, on the other hand-”

“Don’t have a grudge?” I cut in.

Immature, maybe, but I wasn’t sure I trusted the Abyss any more than I trusted Rose.  I could give her a chance to clear the air.

“-I, on the other hand,” she repeated herself, “feel like we’re too short on allies.  Johannes has a lot of Others on his side, and the Duchamps have a lot of practitioners.”

She hadn’t confirmed or denied my point.

“Yeah, the Duchamps have a lot of practitioners.  Equates to an awful lot of homonculi, apparently,” I said.

“I believe you on that count,” Rose said.  “Ty thought about making some a week or so ago.  But my point is, I hope you can understand if I say I’m not about to turn down help.”

“Even if that help is me?” I asked.  “With all the mystery and stuff you won’t tell me about who and what I am?”

“It’s complicated,” she said.

It’s complicated.

Sure.  She wasn’t entirely wrong.

“How about I make it very simple?” I asked.

The bell tolled louder.

I saw Alister glance skyward for a moment.  “Maybe you should steer clear of phrases like that?  In the movies and on TV, they tend to precede the big action hero moments where the big guy pulls a dumb stunt.  There’s no guarantee you’ll be as lucky as the hero.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Rose, I know.”

Alister glanced at her.  “Know?”

“You didn’t tell him?”

“We just discussed it,” Rose said.

“Right,” Alister said.  “Now it clicks.  Been a long night.”

I glanced at him.  “You have no idea how sarcastic I want to be right now.  I’m surprised you told him.”

Rose cleared her throat.  “Before one of us gives away a vital detail in the dumbest way possible, can you clarify what you know?”

“I know where I came from, or I know about as much as you do, I think.  Two parts of a whole.”

She nodded slowly.  “You read the diaries?”

“Diaries?” I asked.

“Grandmother’s.  Leaving the house all of a sudden, like I had to, knowing you had free reign, I figured that would be the way you’d find out, if you found out.”

I shook my head.  “Didn’t have time to sit down and read.  We’ve kind of been fighting for our lives.  Or existences, in any event.”

Evan set down on the edge of a nearby roof, at my three o’clock.  He cocked his head to one side.

I’d told him I’d be heading back his way, and that he should cover my retreat.  No doubt he’d been wondering what was up.

I shook my head, fairly emphatically.  For Evan, primarily.  “It was bad.  Witch hunters, Others…”

“But the point is that you know,” Rose said.  “Somehow.”

“Yeah, the Abyss told me,” I said.  To drive in a point, I added, “I’m being honest here.  Up front.”

I had reasons for keeping it a secret,” she said.

You turned my friends against me, I thought.  The thought was angry, a growl.

“I know,” I said, in a very normal voice.  “I don’t agree with the reasons, but hey… I’m pretty biased.”

“Yeah.  Me too,” Rose agreed.  “There’s a more obscure principle at work, here, called validity.  By saying it, you make it so.”

“I’ve run into that one,” I said.

“A prophecy gets more traction with those who are supposed to carry it out if it’s known.  If it has more people who carry a piece of it with them.”

“Much like the threads between us three,” Alister said.

Rose nodded.  “This is… almost a prophecy.  Fated, might be the right word.”

“I was fated to die,” I said.  “I’m still here.”

“Fated to move on from this world,” Rose said.  “You did.  You came back.  Bending the rules here.”

“We can’t bend this rule?” I asked.  “Take the idea that one half is supposed to destroy the other and turn it on its head?”

How?” Rose asked, with a little more force than was necessary, as if it was an accusation or a demand.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I’m still processing.  You’ve had most of a day and a night to think on it.  I’ve had less than an hour, probably.  But if I had to suggest something… can’t we unite the two halves by forging something like the master-familiar bond?”

“You already have a familiar,” Rose said.  “Limits options.”

“Had,” I said.  “Which doesn’t necessarily limit anything.”

I noted that Evan was still on the rooftop, waiting.  Watching.

Wanting me to ask for help, maybe?

“There’s something between you two, even if the connection is broken.  Nevermind.  If I had to put it bluntly, I don’t like you, Blake.  I’ve seen you change in the remarkably short time I’ve known you, and I don’t think I like what I’d be attaching myself to.  To top it all off, being master and familiar doesn’t mean we’d be getting along.”

“Just an idea,” I said.

“Not to mention,” she said, “That the big issue here, between you and me, is we aren’t static.  With you in this… state, Blake, you’re nebulous.  Evan went to me after you left us, but you reclaimed him, just like that.  Dealing with the others, I can see my grip on them weakening.  It’s going to get worse.  More abstract concepts might start coming loose.  Actually forming a master-familiar bond, that’s opening a conduit, letting things flow freely.  There’s no damming that river when it starts flowing, one way or the other.  It leads to a point where one of us destroys the other, to recoup maybe ninety percent of what we are, minus whatever was lost forever between the blades of the Barber’s shears.”

“Okay,” I said.  “And you’re afraid it’s going to flow to me?”

“No,” Rose said.  “I’m concerned about how you’ll react if the human parts of you flow to me, and all that’s left on your end is an apparently murderous bogeyman with a hate-on for me.”

“The alternative is that you could cooperate with me.  Listen to me.”

“Or you listen to me,” she said.  “I’m the original.  The heart, the soul, the core.  The books were pretty unambiguous.  I checked multiple texts.  Go back to the basics, the raw stuff of humans and humankind, birth and death, and you’ll find it starts with the woman, ends with the woman.  Cut away and you’ll wind up with a female at the heart of it.”

“Maybe,” I said, remembering her saying something very similar in my vision in the Tenements.  Her arrogance was grating, and it was making me feel agitated again.  I had to be very deliberate as I spoke, to keep my tone under control, “But I’m not sure that means what you think it means.”

“We were someone, and that person is gone now, never to be whole again, because that’s the issue with demons.”

“Yep.  They destroy.  Even the worst Others out there, what they do is just a change of states,” I said.  “Pretty much everything non-demon is in agreement that it’s a very bad thing in the long run: what a demon destroys is forever broken.”

“I get chills when you phrase it like that,” Alister said.

“I don’t know who we were,” Rose said, “But she would have-”

“He,” I cut in.

Rose frowned at me.

“Common sense,” I told her.  I plucked at the fabric of my sweatshirt. It had an importance, and I’d just realized what it was.  It was even possible that the Drains had made sure to give it to me, because of that.  “The guy had an apartment, a bike, clothes.  You’re wearing grandmother’s hand-me-downs.  What makes more sense?  Girl gets cut in two, universe rearranges itself, and her clothes became a guy’s clothes, somehow-”

“A demon or a spell could have done it.”

“Add or remove demons as needed,” I said.  “Or, second option, we were a guy in the first place.  The simplest answer is often the correct one.”

“Names,” Rose said.  “Names hold more weight.  Names are fucking important, when you look at what happened to Mags.  Why would Ivy be called Ivy?  If we were a guy, then she’d be Rose.  For the same reason I-”

“Ross,” I said, the moment the thought came to me.

I saw Rose’s mouth open and close.

I saw a crack in her facade.  A moment of true concern.  Almost a kind of fear.

A part of me wanted to capitalize on it.  A screaming, angry part that remembered how she’d turned my friends against me, made this so much more complicated, out of fear and arrogance.

Kill her while she’s off guard.

Alister seemed to recognize her distress, and the knight’s lance was suddenly pressed more firmly against my throat, threatening, warning.  The angry thoughts went quiet all of a sudden, as that simple touch brought me back to reality.

I noticed that Alister hadn’t even moved or spoken, yet the clockwork knight had obeyed.

I spoke, calm,  “We were probably Ross, or Russ, or Russel, or something that was the male equivalent of Rose.  Mom and dad wouldn’t name their second kid Rose, if they’d already named their firstborn something equivalent.  They aren’t that tacky.”

A part of me didn’t want to enjoy seeing Rose put on her heels.  Realizing just how egocentric she’d been.  She’d been arrogant, because she’d been made that way.  She’d jumped to conclusions and she’d acted on them, and I couldn’t fault her for that any more than she should fault me for being an incomplete human.

“We were a guy, and we were cut in half.  And the feminine side, the heart, the soul, they went to you, whatever a heart and soul are without friends.  You got the name.  I got… blackness, or white, or whatever you use to represent nothingness, maybe.  I got the trauma, the defining experiences, the desire to fight, and you got… ambition and attachment to family.  Your memories of high school are probably fuzzy, and pretty damn empty, because reality had to stretch what you had to fill in the blanks.”

“Blake…” she started.

I waited for her to finish, but she didn’t.

“I’m not denying that you might have the heart, the soul, the core, or whatever.  I’m definitely not denying that you got the name, or something damn close to it.  I don’t, however, think you’re a shoe-in to win any tug-of-wars.  I’m not trying to be hostile as I say it, but I’ve got an awful lot of important memories.  Unpleasant ones, but we were just talking about traction.  Connections forming.  Years of homelessness, intense emotional turmoil, being in a cult, Carl… Alexis.  Our friends.  That adds up to a lot of traction.  I’m not sure what the barber left you, that weighs on your side of the scale.”

I left the last bit unsaid.  The conclusion to my argument.

Rose had been left as a blank slate.  Only the parts grandmother needed and wanted in an heir were kept.

From the look in her eyes, she knew.

I glanced at Alister, who was standing just a bit to Rose’s right.

Maybe it was bad to air all this in front of a potential enemy.

But there were no good times.  It was the reality of our existence, if I waited until things were calm and everything was right, I’d never have a chance to speak frankly with Rose.

Putting it all out there, even though I knew it put me in a worse spot.  Rose knew I knew, now, and that made her more frightened of me.

“Don’t mind me,” Alister commented.

“I don’t,” I said.  “Not too much, anyway.  Your thing might be holding a lance to my throat, but you’re giving me and Rose a chance to talk.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good thing,” Alister said, glancing at Rose.  “My fiancée doesn’t look happy.”

“I’m not,” Rose said.  “But I don’t think I’m going to be happy until all of this is over, if we even make it through this.”

“That sounds like an excellent change of topic,” Alister said.  “This.  The discussion has been an eye opener, but you did try to kill poor old Will over there, and you were going to maim me not so long ago, and all signs point to things between you and my fiancée ending in tears.  The house is burning, and we’ve got you at, er, lancepoint.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“We’re going to need to resolve this one way or another.  Again, Rose, as per the terms of our arrangement…”

“My call.”

“Yes,” Alister said.

“I was thinking that sounded like a good thing, before.  Getting to decide.  Now it’s having to decide.  Do I leave Blake alone, and risk having him come after me, or do I have you kill him, and risk that I might infect myself with whatever spirits or abyssal stuff flows through him?”

“No intention of coming after you, unless you give me reason,” I said.

“I’ll give you reason, in a manner of speaking,” she said, raising her chin a notch.  “Whatever’s happening to you, the spirits in you, the degradation of your Self, the growth of the Abyss within you, your head will get twisted around, and you’ll convince yourself you have a reason.”

That struck a chord.

Green Eyes, and her insistence that the woman she’d killed wasn’t human any more.

Twisting her thoughts around?  Contriving a way around a basic, simple deal?

Fuzzy logic, but did the loss of karma matter, if it was counterbalanced by the Abyss feeding her or feeding me with more strength?

“I can’t say I won’t ever come after you,” I said.  “That puts me at the disadvantage.”

“According to the bogeyman with the lance pressed to his neck, two seconds way from possible decapitation?” Alister asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Says me.”

“There aren’t many good answers, Blake,” Rose said.  “We need to compromise, but by dint of circumstance, any compromise from one of us two means giving the other half leverage.”

Dint?” I asked.

“Been reading lots of old books,” Rose said.  “My point stands.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, that just about sums it up,” I said.

“Like you said,” Rose told me.  “The simplest answer is often the correct one.  Alister was right, too, saying this is easiest.  Right now, the simplest and easiest answer looks to be ‘get rid of the bogeyman’.”

My heart sank.

“I’ve tried to be genuine,” I said.

“You have been,” Rose told me.  “I respect that.  I bet it even went somewhat against your nature.”

“Some,” I said.

She spoke softly, “But I’m not seeing any good answers.  With my relationship with the Behaims being what it is… I can’t afford to make enemies.  Alexis, Tiff, and Ty will probably understand if I tell them you were being reckless.”

“Evan?” I asked.

“Wasn’t mine, really.  I tried to look after him, I really did, but… I get the impression he was a much better fit alongside you than he was alongside me.”

“Yeah,” I said.

Evan was still watching.  He perked up as I met his eyes.

I shook my head a little.

“No?” Alister asked.

“I’ll make you a deal,” I said.

“A deal.”

“Simplicity and ease, right?  I’ll agree to be bound.  It’s not simple or easy for me, but… it’s an answer.”

I saw them exchange glances.

“Really,” Alister said.  “By me or by Rose or-”

“Not by either of you,” I said.  “I don’t trust you.  I’m not sure I trust my friends, but… if you forsake all holds on Alexis, and free her of all former pacts and deals you’ve made with her, and if you agree not to influence her and let her make decisions of her own accord, I’ll agree to be bound by her.  You’d be able to trust me as much as you trust her.”

Rose shook her head.  “Able?  Maybe, but not willing.  I have to think of Midge and what happened in Toronto.  A reckless, stubborn bogeyman?”

“She’s more than a simple bogeyman.”

“As are you,” Alister said.

“I’m guessing you were being misleading before, when you were talking about how you need help, but you need help.  We were willing to use Midge to defend the house, and I’m thinking you might need to use me.  Even if you’re relying on Alexis, to keep a handle on me.”

“But I’d be giving up Alexis,” Rose said.  “And I’d potentially be giving up my grip on her, to hand her over.”

“I’d be giving up my grip on me,” I said.  “Being bound… it goes against everything about me.”

Rose and Alister exchanged glances.

Alister spoke, “We’d have your friends, the Thorburns, most of the junior council, the Behaims…”

“Evan,” I added.

“The sparrow,” Alister said. “It puts us on a good footing.”

“A better footing,” Rose said.

“A good footing, relatively speaking.”

“Yeah,” Rose said.

“On the other hand, speaking as the chronomancer of this group… I have to wonder if he’s buying time.”

“Not my intention, except in the abstract,” I said.  “I don’t want to be destroyed.”

Rose and Alister exchanged looks.

“What,” Rose said, “If I come after you?”

“I reserve the right to defend myself,” I said.  “Including defensive measures set up in advance.  We can let Alexis decide what’s reasonable.”

Rose’s eyebrows went up.

I could see her eyes move as she thought intensely, turning over possibilities in her head.

It’s… oddI’m more nervous about the idea of talking about this with Alexis than I am about talking to Rose, or to Alister.

Even though I trusted Alexis, on a level.

Alister drew his deck out of his pocket.  He glanced at the card, then showed it to Rose.

“Yeah?” Alister said.  “It’s… most definitely a compromise.  Balance of some sort.”

“Definitely a compromise,” Rose said.  “Leaves both parties more or less equally unhappy.  Unless we’re missing something.”

The silence was almost palpable.  The snow muffled everything, and there was no wind.  The only motion was the smoke and the dancing light from behind Hillsglade House.

I shifted my weight, and branches and twigs popped and cracked.  I could hear the fluttering of spirits within me.

I extended my hand for Alister to shake.

He extended his own hand.

The silence was broken.  Where the bell had pealed and tolled before, this was a knell, a crashing of thunder, the noise a church bell might make as it came free, striking hard ground.

Spiritually, it was like a gust of wind.  Every spirit within me was thrown aside the walls of the cage, against the walls of my body.

Something else took residence.

Maggie Holt stood on the top of the slope, where the sidewalk reached over to the bridge.  Her hair blew in a strong wind, and her hands were shoved into her pockets, for warmth and to shove her jacket down so her skirt wouldn’t blow up.

Her eyes, though, were wide, welling with too many ideas and feelings for me to even process.  She moved her lips, but no words came out.  The wind took some of them, horror took the rest.

The goblins clambered over me.

I didn’t feel pain.  Only the knowledge that I was being taken apart.  They were chaotic, different in behavior, in appearance, in size and shape and smell.  But they were terrifying.  I felt like I hadn’t experienced real, genuine fear in months.

And in figuring out the order to use in breaking someone down without killing them, they were awfully, horribly organized.

One hand raised, reaching out.

A silent, wordless plea.

A fat goblin caught it.  Nail files at the ready.

My vision was streaked, blurry.

But I could see the words on Maggie’s lips.

A distant, primal, subconscious part of my mind processed the words.

Laird told me to.

Not an excuse.  But a fact all the same.

Laird Behaim.

Behaim.

Never forgive the Behaims.

I closed my eyes.  When I opened them, I was standing before Rose and Alister again.

The bell tolled, an echo of an echo of an echo, one rolling over the other, a cacophony.

Sandra had tried to control it, Molly’s Bell, using that Apple of Discord I’d heard about.  Centering the conflict on the house.

In slow motion, almost, trying to get centered, and place myself in reality, I withdrew the Hyena from Alister’s outstretched right hand. Blood oozed from the hole in his palm.

I saw him stare down at it.

To his credit, when he raised his eyes to me, there wasn’t a trace of surprise in his expression.

“The bell,” I said.

“Your cousin,” he said.  “I know.  Grudges die hard, and history is a hard thing to ignore.”

“I didn’t,” I said.  Not even a complete sentence.  But the meaning was clear.

“Fuck me,” he said, backing away a step, left hand gripping the wrist of his right.  “This really hurts.”

The card was right, I thought.  Balance.  Both sides equally unhappy.

Wait.  If it was balance, or whatever the drawn card was-

“Sorry, Blake,” Alister said.  “But my family is watching.”

“Your family-” I turned to look.  To see staring eyes.

In that same moment.  The suit of armor with the lance moved.

It didn’t move from A to B with a handful of steps.  Its arm didn’t move fluidly.

It went from A to B as if it were two completely different photographs, switching from one to the next faster than the blink of an eye.  In the darkness, with the armor gleaming here and there, spots on my vision made it seem to linger in the spot where it had stood before.

Where it stood now, the lance was sticking through my abdomen.

Bits of broken wood fell to the ground.  Other bits got tangled in my legs and on my pants, and gripped to hold their spot.

I worked to back way, heaving myself backward, along the length of the lance.

In the process, I glimpsed Rose and Alister, grim expressions on their faces.

My eye fell on the knight as I pulled myself free.  I staggered, adjusting to the fact that I had a hole someone could have fit a leg through in my stomach, and consequently very little abdominal strength.

I saw the clock on the knight’s chest.  Ticking counterclockwise.

Ticking down.

A timer.  Five, four-

Too late, I started to run.  I was fast, I was light.  Even injured, I could cover a fair amount of ground.

It hit me harder than a sledgehammer.  The lance piercing my shoulder.  My arm hanging on only by the scraps and fragments of the armpit.  I caught my arm and held it-

Eleven, ten, nine-

I raised my injured arm to my mouth, and I bit onto the cloth.  My hand still operated, and I was able to pass the Hyena to my free hand.

I twisted and stabbed the knight.

Not even a scratch.

Five, four, three

The bell continued to tolled, out of sync, messing up my ability to count and predict.  It seemed to be getting worse, moment by moment.

Betrayal.

By siding with the Behaims, we’d betrayed Molly.

I backed away.  There was no winning.  No making everyone happy.

The lance pierced my chest.  Dead center.  Grazing my heart, breaking a part of my spine.

But I was still moving backward.  I slid free, landing on all fours.

A small bird flew past me, helping me get my balance and my bearings.

Circles were appearing in the snow.  The snowflakes within bright and slow and glittering.

The watching Behaims.

With Evan’s help, I could navigate the traps that were unfolding around me.  Break free of the snares.  I practically staggered.

The Knight moved, but it could only move so far in the space between seconds.  It only grazed me.

I saw Will, struggling with his mechanical people.  They weren’t obeying.  Weren’t coming after me.  He had to duck as one nearly hit him, twisting around.

Evan and I ducked around a corner.  Putting a building between us and the Behaims.

We were on a main street.

All of the Others who’d been at the house, and many of the Others that had been held in reserve, they were active.  Reacting to the bell.

I found the nearest dark spot, and let myself collapse.

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204 thoughts on “Execution 13.1

  1. Hey guys.

    Three chapters this week. See Donation page for schedule. Patreon donations have been generous, and lots of new subscribers, though Paypal has been light.

    Busy with arranging a move and writing is hard when I don’t have downtime. Just how I function. This week will probably be a tough one for me, with little time to unwind or plot between chapters, so please bear with me.

    Vote on Topwebfiction (http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=pact) if you feel so inclined. Thank you.

    I appreciate you guys. Sorry I’ve been more out of touch recently. Am really just looking forward to life getting normal, especially as we approach Pact’s final arcs.

    Thanks for reading.

    1. So Pact is ending soon. I look forward to seeing the fun, happy and definitely not apocalyptic/depressing ending that you write, Wildbow. (As long as Evan is happy in the end, I’ll be happy)

    2. I must say I’m a bit surprised Pact is approaching its end when the biggest Chekov’s Gun / Godzilla Threshold has not been crossed yet, even though it was introduced super-early in the story. I mean, yes, Barbatorem has been used in the back story, but I kind of expeted the protagonist to need him to fight off a bigger bad by half of the story, and then to need THAT bigger bad to prevent the destruction of the universe by the end of the story.

      1. There’s still plenty of room for escalation, and Pact probably won’t end that soon. At the very least, Johannes and the demons (incl. Barbatorem, Pauz, Ur, maybe also Ornias, and probably including the lawyers) both still need their own arcs. And what about the abyss itself?

        And then there are Isadora and Paige, Padraic, the Toronto conflict (Eye, Astrologer, Sisters, Knights, etc), Corvidae, Crone Mara… Maybe also the faerie court, if Padraic gets the spotlight.

        Arc 13 will probably be Molly’s arc, and it might conclude the Lordship battle, or at least the non-Johannes portion of it. It will certainly feature the blood, darkness and fire prophecy.

        All that said, while I do enjoy it, there’s no need for every story to end at the universe scale, though I wouldn’t be surprised if we still ended up at that point.

        1. Don’t forget how much Worm escalated in the final arc alone. Hell, everything past the timeskip (including the S9K and the Golden Morning) was the last sixth of the story. There’s plenty of room for shit to get more real.

          1. But all of that was foreshadowed from the beginning in Worm, and the characters featuring in the last part of the story mostly already appeared much earlier. Granted, Pact is also full of foreshadowing, but we barely know any practitioners outside Jacob’s Bell and Toronto, which makes it less likely for the story to move there.

            So while there’s plenty of room for escalation (groups I forgot above: Andy’s witch hunter association; inquisitors), I don’t see the battlefield moving beyond Jacob’s Bell, Toronto, and the abyss.

            1. It just feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface of this world, and Worm’s felt much more explored.

          1. It doesn’t need to explore everything, but it does need to provide pay off for the things that it sets up. Payoff can by subtle and ambiguous, but it has to come in some form. Otherwise, what was the purpose of including that thing in the story to begin with?

            1. Because events take place in a larger context? If a story mentions that a family conflict is due to differing religious opinions about a demigod called ‘Jesus’ that doesn’t mean he’ll be making an appearance. Similarly, if a story is about the impending threat of nuclear Armageddon, the story isn’t a failure if they avoid the appearance of these ‘nukes’ everyone keeps talking about.

              Not saying we won’t see them, but we don’t have to. Sometimes that sort of detail is just needed so it doesn’t feel like our hero’s interests are the entire world.

      2. Worm had it’s own universe destroying monsters it didn’t get to deal with, and didn’t end with all problems solved (only with the imminent destruction of mankind averted).

    1. The bell was Working in concert
      Working -> working

      I worked to back way
      way -> away

      The bell continued to tolled
      tolled -> toll

    2. All of the Others who’d been at the house, and many of the Others that had been held in reserve, they were active.

      Odd phrasing at the end. If you remove the middle, you are left with “All of the Others who’d been at the house they were active”. I think there should be a full-stop before “they” or it should be removed.

    3. Typos:

      • “homonculi” -> “homunculi”

      • “Abyss” is capitalized here

      • “Up front.” -> “Upfront.” or “Up-front.”

      • “the knight’s lance was suddenly pressed more firmly against my throat, threatening, warning.” – Um, I don’t think that was mentioned all chapter. I totally forgot that was the case.

      • “eye opener” -> “eye-opener”

      • “two seconds way from possible decapitation” -> “away”

  2. Dun dun duuuuuun.

    Dang, poor Blake. And history keeps fucking things up, really.

    I wonder if Alister drew the temperance card. Isn’t it bad for him to not go ahead with what the cards tell him?

    I, uh, somehow don’t think that the fight for the lordship is going to pass quietly. I don’t think the city is gonna have a good time at all.

    1. Could be Justice… although, that usually implies more intellectual and abstract forms of balance, or the existence of imbalances that will/ can be made balanced… with consequences attached. Not a particularly comfy card, depending on how it crops up. 😛

      Given the Hyena pitched up, I’d probably bet on that. Besides, Alister and Blake have more of a history when it comes to swords than cups… 😉

      Unless, of course, it’s a really off-the-wall interpretation of that Two of Cups or the King of Cups. 😀

    2. In addition: Molly. She’s pitched up as a concept and a presence via the Bell. She’s out for Justice, no (granted, she’s out for Justice, but seems hell-bent on hitting the Tower :P)?

      That’s the trouble with card reading: you might not guess all the factors that can be read even out of a single card and under-read. Or over-read with your own biases kicking in. 😐

        1. Um. That’s what I suggested when I brought up the Tower: there’s a fine line with the Justice card. 😐 If it’s reversed and/or around other “negative” cards … you’re more likely to be in vengeance or “over compensating with the consequences” territory. You’re more likely to be in vengeance or “over compensating with the consequences” territory. E.g.: Justice and Judgement are a very, very strong combo that can be either really wonderful — or horribly binding and final — the result is always uncompromising (add the Chariot, and… well… yick); the Devil and Justice are always very worrying when they land close together as ideas; the Tower and Justice is… calamity thanks to either seeking the wrong balance or whatever you were doing to try to redressing wrongs done is going to explode in your face — treble the trouble if the Ten of Swords waltzes in… In fact, with most of Swords, Justice turns especially… cutting — but not necessarily always into over-the-top, full-scale vendetta-mode. [Sorry, couldn’t resist pun… ;P]

          Around linked cards to do with choices and balance like the Lovers (Choice), the Star (Hope), the Hanged Man (Patience), Temperance (does what it says on the tin), the Hermit (Time/ Reflection/ Consideration) and most Cups (but, especially the Two, the Ten, the King and the Ace)… it’s not all that scary. 🙂

          The Wheel of Fortune, the Fool and Justice… now that’s tricky. 😐 Also… Staves and Justice can get about as weird. 😛

        2. There isn’t really an objective line between “justice” and “vengeance”. In the first place, the motivation for ‘justice’ tends to be vengeance (the most common form of enacting ‘justice’ is balancing the scales by inflicting harm on an offending party after all).

  3. This is special because it’s one if the few times Wildbow built up hope within me and crushed it to pieces in the same chapter.

    Blake and Rose need to do a fusion dance. It will solve at least 2 of their major problems.

    Mags should have the Bell as her inplement. She could attack people with Goblin Echoes!!!

    So Blake officially alienated his side. Now he only has Green Eyes and Evan.

    1. A fusion dance! A glorious union of Rose-the-iron-witch, Blake-the-bastard-sword, Conquest, the rotting branches of the Abyss, perhaps the Hyena’s nature, and spirits, milling like tiny birds.

      You know what that makes? That makes a branch-wrapped nightmare, with birds and small green beetles scuttling through the spaces. That makes an implacable man, cold and precise and loyal to those he cares for, sowing blood among his enemies with ruthless efficiency and precision. That makes a hard-eyed monster with a broken blade and a true name.

      That leaves a thing human enough to be not quite Other, Other enough to be not quite human. Spirits, the underlying ones, flutter in his eyesight.

    2. I had the exact oposite reaction. I was dreading the compromise, and then it was wonderfully smashed by Molly. The end is near, and it looks like it’ll be one hell of a fight.

    3. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop as soon as I read the name of this arc.

      Is Blake forsworn or is Molly just angry? If she is only angry with Blake, why not Rose?

    4. And the sad thing is this time it tottally wasn’t Blake’s fault. But sadly “Fuck Blake Over” is the overriding law of the universe.

  4. Oh, goddammit everyone. The word of the day is verschlimmbessern! Can you guess what it means.

    But I could see the words on Maggie’s lips.

    A distant, primal, subconscious part of my mind processed the words.

    Laird told me to.

    Ah, shit.

    So either a. Blake is going further and further into abyss induced self-delusion, or b. Padraic is back on the prowl fucking things up for everyone.

    The fact that it’s Maggie Holt is a pretty big clue for B, but what’s with the goblins? Did he have access to them? I don’t remember.

    1. no no, he is reviving the last memory of molly before she died. he got “possesd” by molly or by the force of vengance of the bell

  5. Hmmmm, Execution. . .

    Execution of Blake/Rose? Execution of the plan of Rose/Blake?

    No. Execution of judgemebt by Molly. Steel thy shovel, Jacob’s Bell, because the Earth shall turn.

    1. Execution can mean killing something. But it also means carrying out something. For example “he executed the orders he had been given”. Execution in this arc probably will have at least a double meaning.

  6. Well damn. If I got this straight, by trying to compromise Molly’s bell had a stronger effect and he stabbed Alister. Alister stabbed him back and he had to flee. Is that it?

    He can’t win.

  7. Well at least he got the deal made with Alister and Rose, and Alister seemed to get it was Molly not blake. Maybe Blake manages to struggle back to Alexis to get bound and get working together with Alister and Rose? ‘Cause the betrayal he’s talking about isn’t Alister and Rose betraying him, it’s Blake and Rose siding with Alister that’s the betrayal. I’m gonna be optimistic and say that Blake’s solved the problem with Rose and they’re on the same side now, but just have a perception problem with the Behaims. Eh what am I saying, this is pact. I’ll just promptly take me and my optimism straight to hell. Adieu.

    1. actually, yes that would be the best course for blake right now, to go with alexis and be all “quick i need you to bind me”… but im sure he will encounter the resented faerie or some other crap along the way

  8. Just to let you know, wildbow, Arc 12’s Histories ‘next chapter’ link does not lead here (or anywhere, for that matter).

  9. Technically speaking, his friends are probably all safe and stuff for the moment…. sort of. Blake should just quietly disappear to Toronto to go and deal with that until Molly dials down on the hate bell.

  10. Hm. So Rose is a person who’s been stripped of nearly everything except some arbitrary indicators of “personhood” and a few traits that grandmother thought she’d need, and Blake is the one that got all the impactful memories and dents and dings but lacks that indicator.

    Poor kids.

    1. Well, I’m not sure those indicators are entirely arbitrary. For example, Blake lacking them probably accounts for his self-destructive tendencies.

      1. Though Blake’s point still stands. It seems very hard to believe that Rose got the majority of what made that person who they are.

  11. Goddamit Blake! You had one job! Instead you get all stabby with people unconsciously without even thinking about it.
    Also, Rose has her status elevated now to mega-bitch.

    1. But now, instead of the story just tapering off, it gets to go out with a bang. Also, this is much more likely to get longterm change instituted. As is, you have a lot of people invested in the status quo. They’ll fight to protect it, or at least be apathetic enough that nothing will ever change. If a large number of them were to die in the fighting, the survivors would have a free hand to build something better from the ashes.

      1. Oooor… the survivors would scatter, leaving their dead and becoming worse off in terms of attitude than they started out due to the trauma of losing their families, and the power vacuum causing even more conflict and death, and the survivors being exploited.

        As the aftermath of catastrophes usually tend to go.

        1. Or maybe every single one of them dies, Others slaughter the entire town, and Molly devours their ghosts and goes on a furious rampage against everyone tangentally connected to the Thorburns who didn’t do anything about it, backed by an army possessing the corpses of the fallen and as many demons as she can scrounge up.

  12. Whelp, turns out Rose had a perfectly valid reason not to tell Blake.

    I’m not entirely sure Blake is correct about that time-reversal being a perceptual effect. It just seems like a rather odd one, given that they were apparently surprised by his arrival, and Alister is a true chronomancer. He didn’t revert his hand injury, but then again it’s Blood, Fire, and Darkness time, so maybe he wants to save energy for the Chronlem.

    Also interesting to see it in action:

    In that same moment. The suit of armor with the lance moved.

    It didn’t move from A to B with a handful of steps. Its arm didn’t move fluidly.

    It went from A to B as if it were two completely different photographs, switching from one to the next faster than the blink of an eye. In the darkness, with the armor gleaming here and there, spots on my vision made it seem to linger in the spot where it had stood before.

    Where it stood now, the lance was sticking through my abdomen.

    I saw the clock on the knight’s chest. Ticking counterclockwise.

    Ticking down.

    A timer. Five, four-

    Too late, I started to run. I was fast, I was light. Even injured, I could cover a fair amount of ground.

    It hit me harder than a sledgehammer. The lance piercing my shoulder. My arm hanging on only by the scraps and fragments of the armpit. I caught my arm and held it-

    Eleven, ten, nine-

    Seems like it pauses and lets its timer run down, then freezes time around it and makes a strike, which is impossible to dodge because it takes no real time. That would normally be expected to leave it vunerable while the clock is running, but it’s made of metal and could very well go into partial temporal stasis by storing its own time so it can’t be damaged or simply revert itself to an undamaged state when it strikes/automatically when it takes crippling damage.

    It might have more tricks to it, since it’s supposed to be the Behaim superweapon. Unblockable attacks and possible physical invincibility are pretty nice, but they’d also want a counter to more esoteric threats.

    1. I’m thinking of ways to bind it. It’s metal, so something soft? It uses chronomancy, so maybe something representing wasted time. It’s not alive, probably, so that’s another point you can hammer it on.

      Obviously the perfect solution is to hang sloths on it when it’s paused.

      1. Given that metal is so strong, I would suggest binding like with like. So, more metal. Given that it is a time-manipulation machine, I think the best thing you could do is make it get stuck in some sort of timeloop.

        But you know what? Sloths are better.

        1. I’m thinking switch playbooks here. It seems from the discussion about using it that it draws off the Behaim reserves, so if forced to expend enough of the stored time it’s going to either go inert or only get to use the tiny amount of time it can store during the pauses. And so far it seems to be a purely physical combatant that’s very strong but not impossibly so. Using sturdy physical barriers or restraints and rapid movement like the mirror jumping that Blake… can’t do anymore… would be a good way to run out the clock.

          As for mystic bindings, maybe instead of targeting time go for the gears aspect? Counter ordered mechanisms with something based on random chance? Tarot cards probably have too much of an association with fate for that to work, but a well-shuffled normal deck or the like might cut it.

          1. Bad news, mate: cartomancy? Can use any deck going, so switching up the pack isn’t going to break the power-connection when it comes to playing with time and fate . 😐

            There are several systems for standard playing cards. You can practice using these terms in Google, if you want: “cartomancy with standard playing cards”, “Lenormand cartomancy”, “the British method; cartomancy”, “line and count; cartomancy”, “cartomancy; spreads”… I could go on.

            For the word “cartomancy”, blame Antoine Court de Gébelin for probably coining it (in). First guy to write about both tarot and standard playing card cartomancy and be taken seriously beyond fly-by-night pamphlets… and, linking it all with Egypt and, naturally, because they’re Egyptian (of course :P): Gypsies. 😛 (If you can’t tell, I’m not that into his ideas.)

            1. While you can use a standard deck, those are generally more associated with Vegas than prophecy. That association could be employed.

              Though admittedly some dice might be better.

            2. Uh. You might want to look up “astragalomancy” and just “cleromancy” in general…

              You can even use dominoes in cleromancy. And, the domino meanings are very closely linked with the dice ones (depending on which tradition you go with). And, that’s not counting one theory that the methods and mathematics of astragalomancy mixed with geomancy (or just dice games) may even lie behind how the tarot deck and games developed…

            3. You can do prophecy with just about anything. Green Eyes isn’t closely associated with time and fate just because she ,a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haruspex”>pulls out entrails, and Evan isn’t just because he’s a bird. Modern dice simply have a much stronger association with chance and luck than with fate and inevitability.

            4. That’s kind of the point, you know. 😀 Cleromancy of any type puts plausible deniablity between you and the powers that be — if you do it right. Be those the powers you supposedly get the divination from (diabolism is mega-dangerous because you’re getting the skinny directly with demons: oracles/ prophets/ channellers can go bonkers because of the line that connects their brains directly to the message, etc., etc). Alternative, those powers might be those who would burn you at the stake for being a witch/wizard. (They’re only dice! Note the whole backgammon set they come with! Which can’t be used for divination… at all. Nope. Uh-uh. Not at all. 😉 Just a game.)

              Given that the Behiems are all into putting layers between them and their actions to make them “safer” for them, being a bunch of cleromants and automoton-users? Par for the course. 😀 Of course, it just means you can get good at kidding yourself that you’re not doing anything really dodgy. When you are. 😛

            1. I don’t know, didn’t Fell’s grandfather just find one lying around in a city, figuratively speaking?

  13. So letting the wraith that feeds on negativity bask in large amounts of violence and literally blast out her influence over the entire town, and sink her metaphorical hooks into all the town’s Others was a poor life choice. Although considering she had the power of a practitioner and several months to study the demonologist library I’d say this isn’t that much of a disaster. Unless she’s mutating into a demon herself. That would be bad.

    Also Blake, did you totally forget the Sewer Witch’s words about both being right handed?

    1. I don’t think her being a practitioner in her past life will change her behavior. She isn’t eve really Molly. Just an impression of her death defined solely by anger.

      So yeah, bad.

    2. About the right-handed thing: they’re both made from a righty and neither are actually “mirror images” of “Ross” or each other: they’re fractions of him.

      Sure, they can be stuck in mirrors (Barber’s thing): but, each holds actual parts of the original that aren’t reflected in the other.

      Try joining up a lefty and a righty created by a ruin demon without getting an ambidextrous dyslexic where “Ross” wasn’t dyslexic before. ;P

  14. Another thrilling episode of “Blake can’t catch a break, eh?”

    I can’t help it but pity him. Things just go from bad to worse to worser to fuck.

    I am surprised that Pact is nearing an end! I don’t want it to ever end, it’s too good! There are so many questions unanswered. We are heading in for some very action and information packed chapters! So what are Wildbow’s plans after Pact? I remember hearing something about a sequel to Worm?

        1. A Clash of Annelids
          A Storm of Molluscs
          A Feast for Crustaceans

          Episode 2: The Invertebrate Wars
          Episode 3: Revenge of the Therapsids

          Project Anguis
          Project Nematode
          Project Bobbit Worm

        2. Well, that depends on what the focus of it is. Worm was based on the “worms” (ie, entities, though that nickname might be more due to the title than the title is to their similarity to worms), while the protagonist controlled bugs like worms and she herself started out as a weak “worm”. The sequel…who knows?

          1. Considering Wildbow’s penchant for selecting titles with several hidden layers and meanings, these possibilities for the future ‘Twig’ storyline could also be valid:

            (1) A coming-of-age/horror story about a young Gallus gallus domesticus hatchling gifted with limited powers of clairvision and telepathic empathy, allowing it to ‘twig’ to situations much faster than its brethren, yet hopelessly doomed to be ridiculed by its peers for its constant prophetic warnings of an impending collapse of the celestial realms. Disaster ensues.

            (2) A sci-fi/horror story starring the resurrected British fashion icon Lesley “Twiggy” Lawson, née Hornby, who’s been brought out of her cryostasis to fight an Alien Xenomorph invasion. Disaster ensues.

            (3) A romance/horror story about vampiric lacrosse players. (Since ‘twig’ is slang for a lacrosse stick.) A mortal teenage girl is allowed to join the team, due to her amazingly thick skull and total immunity to the rampant head injuries associated with the violent sport played by the undead. Nascent feelings of affections germinates betwixt her, the star player on the vampiric team, and the captain of the rivaling team, the Wisconsin Werepoodles. A ménage à trois love triangle drama ensues, followed by disaster.

          2. Twig, huh. Based on what we know of Wildbow’s writing strengths and tendencies, I believe I have an idea of what Twig will be.

            Twig will be a Third person novel featuring a male farmer in his 50’s. This he-farmer will live a nice, quiet life with his family and will have a beautiful relationship with his father. The farmer shall engage in all sorts of mundane issues on an episodic basis. After each episode, there will, of course be a time skip. The overall tone will be happy and nobody will ever die.

      1. i guess the read question here is “will it be darker than pact” because i feel confident saying pact became way darker than worm way faster

        1. Considering I gave up all hope for Blake a few arcs back, and that at least a few people commented they were leaving the story due to darkness induced apathy, I kinda hope not. Much darker and it might induce suicide.

          1. Eh, I’m a Madoka Magica fan. To date, Pact at its darkest is only about as dark as an average episode of Madoka. Nyy bs gur pber cebgntbavfgf ner fgvyy nyvir, naq bayl bar bs gurz vf va gur cebprff bs veerirefvoyl genafsbezvat vagb n fbhyyrff, vauhzna zbafgebfvgl. Blake having his connections cut, falling into the Abyss, and subsequently returning as an Other is the only thing so far that I’d classify as ” standard Madoka-level shit”. As a connoisseur of all things grimdark, I’d rank Pact as being about on par with A Song of Ice And Fire as far the soul-crushing darkness goes; so, about the limit of what the general public is willing to consume, but still considerably lighter than it could have been.

          2. One person said they were leaving due to darkness induced apathy.

            I said I’d left the TV show “Once Upon A Time” for that reason, but that Wildbow just didn’t end each chapter so darkly. I sat down and listed the plots in that show and literally, somewhere in the second or third season, for over a season and a half, every episode had ended with some larger more evil betrayal and although there would be shining moments of triumph during an episode, they were always overshadowed by what came immediately after. I just felt like I was repeatedly getting my heart ripped out at the end of each episode (and other people in the show really were getting their heart ripped out).

            Yeah, the protagonists in this story get screwed over, a lot, but they also have moments of triumph and the “evil people” sometimes get screwed over too, which helps make things “fairer” in my opinion.

            Besides, Worm didn’t end with Taylor becoming some sort of Human Centipede, you know? All in all, I was ok with the ending, and I’m avoiding saying whether it was negative or positive, it just wasn’t so incredibly negative that I was almost crying.

            1. The problem with the moments of triumph is that they often either get negated or lead to a worse situation. I mean look at what happened in Toronto. Blake has sealed Conquest, and is genuinly getting all the factions to work together, and he’s going to do something about that oblivion demon… Yeah when all all was said and done that worked out real well.

            2. “The problem with the moments of triumph is that they often either get negated or lead to a worse situation.”
              Wildbow usually gives us a little time to bask in the moment of triumph before it’s smashed. Once Upon a Time would have had Conquest bound in the mirror and immediately, in that chapter, along with Laird’s kid hating on Blake, we would have found out that Conquest is influencing Rose through the hair, and it would have been shown that the kid had some way to communicate with Conquest and… There basically were no moments of triumph in that show because they were negated or “one-upped” almost as soon as they happened.

              Plus, Wildbow updates at least twice a week, sometimes three times a week, every week of the year (which is incredible, thanks, Wildbow). That show is only on (on average) once every other week — it’s every week, but for slightly less than half the year). I was just getting too emotionally invested in that show and it was just too depressing to keep watching.

              That show was one step forward, two steps back all the time. Maybe it’s different now, since I’ve stopped watching. In this story, people take a step forward, they get to do a little happy dance, and then they go two steps backward. The moments of triumph in Worm and Pact really feel like moments of triumph before the story moves on and they get smashed, which I’m ok with.

        2. This remark is fascinating, because while I agree with you through the first broad section of Worm, I found anything S9-related to be far darker than what what we’ve seen so far in Pact.

  15. It’s the Behaim karma coming home to roost along with the Thorburn karma at the same time… YAY!

    Also, I was wondering when the “vulnarable to possession” bit would hit Blake, so now we know.

    Guess Molly’s Bell works to fuck up Thorburn+Behaim interests and charges up their enemies.

    1. Nah, he said from the beginning he expected it to go like a year or something and he’s kept saying that it probably wouldn’t go much past what he was expecting.

      1. For some reason I thought it would go longer. I was hoping this world would get explored more. Maybe in a few years there will be a Pact 2.0 with a different practitioner (one that isn’t stuck in a mirror)

      2. im just hoping twig is a pact sequel, the title fits too well in my opinion, also i hope Sesame street doesnt have Ernie i would prefer a less cheerful protagonist

        1. Ernie’s pretty much out of the picture. Ignoring my feelings about Ernie and Bert I’d be heavily disappointed if Sesame Street wasn’t on the air forever..

  16. I admit I was a little confused by what happened when the bell rang. I think that Blake was… possessed by Molly briefly and stabbed Alister? Which then forced Alister to call off the deal and kill Blake despite knowing it was Molly and not Blake? Not sure though.

    So despite the fact that Grandrose wanted change, Blake seemed to get all of Ross’ drive to change things and make things better. Grandrose didn’t want that in her heir?

    To be honest, I’m more interested in new projects than I am in Worm2. I feel like Worm was tied off nicely and if we don’t get to go back to that world for a while, that’s okay. Twig, huh? I am already excited.

    1. The way I understood it, the deal wasn’t necessarily called off, but the Behaim family (which where outside of earshot) saw that the head of the family was being attacked and attacked back, forcing Blake to retreat. Maybe Alister could have called them off, but they might have thought he was under the influence, or wouldn’t trust his judgement.

      1. I suspect Alister has bound up a lot of his power in not losing fights, possibly with a personal vow. He couldn’t come off worse in the confrontation, especially not in front of so many witnesses, without paying a heavy price.

        1. I’m suspecting that the other Behaims saw Blake closed his eyes and thought something will go wrong once Blake opens his eyes again as a possibility. For Alister’s face showing with no surprised look details that compromise talk went through. But the overall situation in the background betrayed Blake and everybody now are screwed.

          So the circles on the snow are actually bindings to bind him first. So that the traps were actually there being created for Blake to be preserved and protected by being executed.

          That’s my guess.

  17. Now we see why Molly went first.

    Grandmother Rose can’t allow her custom heir to be changed by something as small as making the right decisions.

  18. Great chapter, but… this outcome pretty much dashes all hope for a peaceful outcome. Aww =(.

    Comments:

    1. Great line: “Or, I thought, maybe I can stop thinking about Alister in terms of how easily I could kill him.” and “I should ask, Blake, is the murderous spree because things went wrong, or because they went right?”

    2. “but when I heard something phrased as a question, my natural reaction was to assume it was a falsehood or misdirection” – Betteridge’s law of (newspaper) headlines: “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

    3. “Before one of us gives away a vital detail in the dumbest way possible, can you clarify what you know?” – Yes, that was important. Imagine if Rose knew more than Blake thought…

    4. “A prophecy gets more traction with those who are supposed to carry it out if it’s known.” – Interesting.

    5. The name mystery is cleared up, maybe. Though it really doesn’t matter all that much that the original was male.

    6. “Rose had been left as a blank slate. Only the parts grandmother needed and wanted in an heir were kept.” – As I said before, it’s really hard to criticize someone for their actions if they’ve been made that way.

    7. Re: Blake’s offer of being bound by Alexis: Doesn’t Blake have a certain hold on her?

    8. I still want to know how the hell the Behaim-Thorburn alliance came about.

    9. Ah, the bell finally did something. Great timing, too… We assumed Molly would have made her play by now, but no, the Apple of Discord just delayed her.

    10. Alister’s injury: I’d expect chronomancy to overpower the Hyena effect, but Blake thought Will’s survival wasn’t due to genuine chronomancy, so it might actually not work. In which case Alister would end up with a very similar injury to Aimon’s ghoul bite.

    11. Actually, why did Alister not foresee this outcome? He’s supposed to be almost impossible to surprise due to divination. Did he misinterpret the “Balance” result? But why not use the Tarot deck more often in that conversation?

    12. Soooo, everything is going to hell now.

    1. 10) It should be fixable; Alister drew the five of coins for fixing Hyena injuries. That means expensive but possible. I’m betting he has to undo receiving the injury entirely instead of reverting the injured area or accelerating time for the healing process.

      11) Admittedly, using the deck didn’t go so hot last time. He probably wanted to minimize the number of draws, so he saved it for when he needed to decide whether to take the deal.

    2. It’s the problem with divination: if you don’t know all the factors involved, you can mess up on what you think you read meant when you interpreted it.

      You don’t have to be very wrong to be wrong enough to screw yourself over. 😛

      1. He asked about the consequences of the compromise, which was probably right. Molly just prevented the compromise from happening.
      1. No, he asked about the consequences and it said something about a fairly even trade. The trade is that he gets a permanent never-healing wound in his hand and Blake gets killed (maybe). Fairly even, right? The good thing about it from Alister’s point of view is that Blake gets killed, and Alister didn’t order the hit or set it up. The clock work thing is there to defend him and Blake attacked, so it responded the way it would for anyone attacking. Thus, through Bond-villain logic that the universe loves so much, Blake’s death doesn’t result in bad karma for either Alister or Rose, since neither one was technically responsible.

        Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t see any reason why Blake can’t become a practitioner again by going through the ritual again if necessary. His ties to everything were cut, presumably including his ties to the spirits that he initiated with. So he’s an Other, a bogeyman. He’s trying to make friends/pacts with spirits (like Lefty), right? Why not with the other spirits that are responsible for a person initiating? He should be able to pick up Evan as a familiar again, in my opinion.

        1. I really could have sworn that I read a passage that contained Rose and Blake talking about Isadora, that said that as an Other, she couldn’t be a practitioner. Maybe wrangle something with the spirits, but nothing like a human could.

          I remembered it earlier today, and thought it interesting foreshadowing for Blake becoming an Other himself. But I just spent a while searching for it, and I haven’t had any luck. Perhaps someone else will be able to.

      1. Not all that surprising. Familiar with self-fulfilling prophecies?
      2. Depends. Criticize her as a person, sure, but it’s still worth treating her as you would if she hadn’t been.
      3. Probably. It might have gone/diminished; Blake noticed it was a lot weaker after leaving the Abyss. Regardless, it’s the path of most equal mutual dislike.
      4. Wasn’t there a…thing between Rose Sr. and Aimon?
      5. Probably something like that. Having only a few dozen ways for the deck to respond is a bit tricky no matter how you cut it, pun retroactively intended. I’m glad he isn’t another Contessa.
      6. Only now?
  19. Ah, right: They absolutely need to call the Shepherd to Jacob’s Bell. Actually, they should’ve done that as soon as Molly first set up the bells, when the combined power of the Jacob’s Bell practitioners failed to disable them.

        1. Probably not easily, but he’s the person most suited to attempting to bind her directly. If backed by enough power he should be able to do it, assuming he can get to her.

          What they really need right now is a platoon of witch hunters and maybe practitioners who are strong in direct combat instead of just counting on their summons. With all the Others currently berserk, and the bell still ringing, they really need to get the ability to fight them without calling in more Others that will also fall under Molly’s influence.

            1. The Inquisistion is going to take one look at Jacob’s Bell and declare Extramatus.

              I guess they shouldn’t have priortized wiping out the living Thorburn Heir with a side of plotting against each other over Molly’s ghost. Oops.

            2. You should mention something when you post an image. I usually subscribe to a post, read all the replies in my inbox, then if I want to respond I come here and do a Ctrl+F to jump to the words I want to respond to and images don’t show up in the emails that WordPress sends. I just happened to see there was a picture here by accident.

              Cool pic, by the way. I find it humorous that many fantasy-based religions (especially those) who have chastity-related rules for the practitioners of the faith, etc., have people who are almost naked and still considered strong practitioners of the faith. It’s one of those “standard” fantasy tropes like “less armor means more protection when worn by a woman”.

        2. Maybe, but he doesn’t act outside his territory and he doesn’t have a reason to for the most part. Remember, he doesn’t need more power or anything else because his source is virtually endless. Do you really think they could convince him?

          1. His brief Histories chapter sure made it seem like he cared about saving ghosts, though I don’t understand how that fits with his use of wraiths.

            And then there’s the question of what the hell is happening in Toronto right now.

  20. “Leaves both parties more or less equally unhappy. Unless we’re missing something.”

    Yep, missing the point that Molly is going to do her damndest to strike back at the Behaims. And the possessible bogeyman is the perfect tool.

    The above was said by others. My new point is: it is only balanced if the wounds left by the clockwork knight are impossible / very difficult to heal. I can see chronomancy doing that as an effect also – preventing time from doing its normal work on the wound, or fixing the wound in time.

  21. I would just like to say that I love Pact, this was an excellent chapter as always, am sad that is it ending so soon, but still look forward to Twig, whatever that will be. Any chance of getting any hints, Wildbow?

  22. I saw Will, struggling with his mechanical people. They weren’t obeying. Weren’t coming after me. He had to duck as one nearly hit him, twisting around.

    That is the odd detail here – there is no obvious reason that Will should be having trouble. Perhaps the ‘rewind’ of Will’s death wasn’t perfect and had lingering effects.

  23. Random question: Does anyone remember when Blake learned the significance of a Tarot card being drawn with the left hand versus the right? Also, who told him? I can’t figure out what chapter that was in.

  24. It’ll becomes balanced when those who caused Molly deaths be also ripped apart by Others.

    It seems to be happening now. With so many others summoned for the war… if they all lose control, wow….

    1. No, that won’t result in balance; “an eye for an eye” only leads to a conflict spiraling out of control, as we’re seeing right now. Even if Molly-wraith’s revenge is successful, this will only lead to more revenge in the next generation, perpetuating the cycle.

      1. I recall reading a paper once about Arabian tribal relations in the pre-Islamic period, and the topic of “eye for an eye” came up. The idea was that it was actually meant to forestall this kind of escalation and cyclical warfare-when someone takes your eye, you only have the right to take his eye in return, not his life.

        Of course, it didn’t turn out quite like that in practice.

        1. The problem with an eye for an eye is that it assumes that people are rational and won’t endlessly imagine themselves as the absolute victim.

          Sometimes people will always think that anything done against them is an injustice. Say, Blake fucks with the Behaims, they’re not going to say “sure we deserved that” they’ll say. “how dare you do that to us! That was completely unjustified (lol)” then the Behaims fuck back and Blake goes “how dare you, I never did anything to you” and that repeats until everyone is dead.

          Or until a third party comes along, slaps everyone down, and force them to come to a resolution. Unfortunately I’m not sure Mags has the firepower to do that.

          1. The problem with an eye for an eye is that it assumes that people are rational and won’t endlessly imagine themselves as the absolute victim.

            So true. In order for “Eye for an Eye” to work, there needs to be an objective beginning and end. Unfortunately, you can’t trust the two a parties to put that forth.

            Take, for example, the case of the Thorburns and the Behaim. Granny Rose inflicted horrors upon Laird. Laird accidentally had her heir killed. Is that the beginning and end or is the beginning Molly’s murder and the End Blake’s attack on the Behaim’s reputation. Of course, since the matter should have been settled the Behaims obviously have the right to go after the Thorburns again. And so it goes, and so it goes.

            Ideally, both parties would recognize the lost of the first and let the conflict end with the corresponding rebuttal to that lost. As both parties are partial and not to be trusted, an unbiased third party is needed to judge and undeniably confirm what actions constitute the two “Eyes” to prevent such spiraling.

            To bring this principle to Pact, the Pactverse does have judges that decide responsibility for these types of things. They are, of course, the spirits. Unfortunately, the spirits are simple and easily gamed. They need an agent to guide them in this task. They need agency to allow them to judge a situation and consider the more subtle details. They need a Blake.

            1. Blake would need a shitload more character development before he can be that third party. As of now he’d be the epitome of a kangaroo court.

            2. I still like to imagine Barbatorem as the demonic form of Solomon. That is, he’d play the judge like King Solomon from the Bible, except he’d actually cut babies in two…

            3. Yup yup. And a side effect of that is that, the longer history goes on for, the more and more and more stuff there is to seek justice for.

              You see similar issues with trying to figure out who are the appropriate traditional owners of a particular pay him of land. Once it’s been invaded half a dozen times and you have multiple groups of people whose ancestors owned that land for generations there just is no solution that will be seen as just by more than a small proportion of everyone.

    1. Rose is just so good at communicating with people! It really warms the heart, you know? She tells her friends about stuff and talks frankly with her counterpart. Very refreshing.

  25. ” The books were pretty unambiguous. I checked multiple texts. Go back to the basics, the raw stuff of humans and humankind, birth and death, and you’ll find it starts with the woman, ends with the woman. Cut away and you’ll wind up with a female at the heart of it.”

    I’m pretty sure this ‘book’ started with a man, and that it will end with the man. Cutting away all the interludes, it’s been a man at the heart of it. Blake is still a male, even if he isn’t a human, right?

    1. I still think that, if Blake and Rose were definitely the same person before this, and there wasn’t a third cut away (Molly?), and they weren’t cut from different people, then Grandma wanted Blake and Rose was created solely to make a “female Blake” so that Blake could inherit.

      1. It’s pretty clear Blake was supposed to get killed. However, it’s not clear how dead he was supposed to be when that happened. Maybe that was supposed to automatically fuse them together.

        1. And Blake deconstructed the idea that just because the book says that doesn’t mean she got more of what it made up the original. Sure she might have the heart and the soul, but without the context, the experiences that forged that person into who they are how much of original can they really be said to be?

          Blake basicly confronted Rose with one of her worst fears. The heart and the soul? Those don’t mean anything. Because all the things that defined them, that gave them weight and meaning… She doesn’t have them. Blake got the meaning. If the originals life was a book She got the paper, but Blake the words.

          Of course there is still the signifigance of both of them being right handed. We still have room for one more twist.

  26. You know, I wonder if the original was transgender, specifically biologically female. That would neatly tie up both sets of logistical issues, since evidence pointing to male comes from stuff the original owned, while evidence for female comes from actions taken by family. If Ross declared his intention to get an M on his legal documents, that would effectively constitute withdrawing from the house fight, explaining interactions with Molly and Paige and the timing of Ivy’s birth.

    It would also potentially explain why RDT insisted on only female heirs in the legal documents if she had the ability to make a girl version of any of them; the spirits may not have progressive gender politics.

    1. There’s a lot of room for nonstandard gender identity in a lot of mythology, actually, it just tends to be heavily overlaid with the local gender roles. My suspicion is that so long as whoever the Thorburn heir is presents as female (and persisted in spite of anyone who said otherwise), they’d be accepted by the spirits. Rake presenting as male would be a detriment to this theory, but it’s possible that Rosalyn would have enough clout with the spirits to get the ball rolling anyway.

      1. Though something to be noted is that no matter what Rake identified as gender wise, they wouldn’t have been able to afford a sex change operation.

        That said if the original was a woman who identified as a man, that’s another thing that went to Blake. Did Rose get anything?

        1. I suspect Blake has less of the original’s personality than he assumes. Demons can’t create, and Rose’s personality had to come from somewhere.

          Rose got the long-term planning, Blake got the improvising. If it’s a good idea and it wasn’t thought up under immediate threat of death, it probably came from Rose. Even when Blake does come up with good ideas like calling Internal Affairs on Liard, it doesn’t have many steps to it.

          Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Tarot draw for Rake would be Hanged Man with the right and High Priestess with the left; waits patiently and gathers knowledge when not under pressure and acts on intuition under stress. Rose’s draw of Chariot would probably correspond to how acting as High Priestess tended to work out.

          Blake’s draw of Fool is probably about him specifically. In some games played with Tarot, Fool always loses but is always a valid play, so it can be sacrificed to save other cards for later hands. Its interpretations also fit Blake’s status as a Vestige.

          As for what this actually means, I expect that if Rake got the house without getting split, he’d have done his best to stay in the house, read books, and come up with a plan. Then he’d carry out the plan and improvise when something went wrong.

      2. There’s no real way to know how exactly the spirits would react, since different mythologies handle nonstandard gender identities differently. I was thinking it might be easier to get Rose accepted as a female human diabolist if it wasn’t necessary to make an artificial body, which would explain why Peter isn’t next in line. Granted, Peter does have a female twin he’s on bad terms with, but if Paige had been created as heir I’d expect her to be straight.

    1. I wonder if the name of the town is an allusion to Jacob’s Ladder, although instead of something going up into heaven it’s dragging everything to hell? 😉

  27. I’m hoping the ‘end of pact’ is not really an END of the Pactverse, but rather, Pact is going to be broken up into smaller, more logical ‘books’. It is just so damn interesting…

    1. “Blake” is actually Old English or somesuch for “black”. Remember the bit where Blake said all that was black?

      (I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t know that if it wasn’t for RWBY. I wonder how Blake knows it? The bogeyman, not the faunus.)

  28. Ahhh,Diabolus ex machina of the Code Geass variety….If the players are rational(non stupid as in most fiction) and dislike conflict,ensure conflict is maintained by some evil accident that forces them to keep fighting….

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