Execution 13.5

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I watched the chat continue to scroll by, new messages pushing old ones past the top of the screen.

Peter, Ellie, and Christoff were still there.  It gave me a measure of hope, seeing that.  Whatever the feelings of Penelope or the others, they at least had enough self-awareness to realize that kicking Thorburns out of the chatroom would be an act of great hypocrisy.

On a level, Penelope might have cornered herself, trying to censor the chatroom.  Now she was in a position where exercising her powers over the chat could cost her.  Until another mod came on, maybe a Behaim representative, the Thorburns would have access.

Or, perhaps, they’d have access until their phone batteries ran out, and then they’d get locked out.

Manipulating the system was something of a Thorburn specialty.  If I didn’t benefit, it was because of my unique nature.  I was only part Thorburn.  Literally.

In giving them access to the chat, more specifically giving them access to the younger members of the community who might be more willing to listen, I was hoping they could achieve something, even mild.

I was doing a lot of that.  Opening doors to possibilities.  Sending Corvidae out there to hunt for practitioners, sending the man in the ill fitting suit out there from the tenements, in much the same manner, then filling in the Thorburns.  Now I was putting the Thorburns in the same room as the junior practitioners, in a manner of speaking.

I tapped the table, hard wooden fingers rapping on wood, then double checked the piece of paper where I’d written the names.  My wooden hands had made my already abysmal handwriting into a scrawl, for the last four entries.  The first three had been done in Joyce’s.

Carter Duchamp, PyromancerLandon Michaelsson, Spellbinder
Gudbrand, Valkalla
Crooked Hat, Scourge
Eric Ritchie, Dabbler
Stan Ritchie, Dabbler
Mason Hall-McCullough the Benevolent

I switched my status from ‘appear offline’ to legitimately offline.  Computers and phones weren’t my thing, but I wasn’t ignorant either.  I’d had enough exposure in my teens.  There was a lot one could do when they’d figured out how to use a computer to get information, or the sorts of places one needed to look to find the features they wanted.  These days, if there was a feature one wanted, it was just a question of finding it.

Knowing that much was the only thing that kept me from being in the same group of computer illiterates as the struggling sixty-somethings and elderly.

“What do I need to know?” I asked.  “In brief.  You know who these guys are?”

Joyce raised her head as I handed her the sheet.  “Yes.  I remarried.  I’ve gotten to know people from the extended family, then I came back here.”

“Please,” I said.

“Um.  Carter is young.  He’s a criminal, and we knew he was a criminal.  He was in bad shape, the deal was supposed to help him get his feet and help us get access to his resources and information network.”

“And?”

“It worked.  His being a pyromancer is… almost negligible, in terms of what we wanted from him.  Not so much in terms of what he can do.  We wanted someone willing and able to do some less legitimate business, we married off one of our own to him, and he got her into that life.”

“And for that, he deserves to die?”

“When child protective services came to take the daughter away, the child’s mother was insensate.  He dealt, and she’d gotten into it.  She’s never recovered.”

I thought of the alcohol Green Eyes had smelled on the one woman.

“A form of escape?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Joyce said.  “But he ruined her, and a lot of members of the family were pretty unhappy with him.  There was a lot of talk about whether to welcome him here, but…”

“I don’t need the full story,” I said.  “Only what’s relevant.”

“…We thought we needed the manpower.  Okay.”

“Landon,” I said.

Lola, a few feet away, looked pretty unhappy with this conversation.  She still had her phone, which she’d taken back from me as soon as I’d reached out to Alexis with information on how to get the Thorburns online.  She was still using it to follow what was going on in the chatroom, while keeping an eye on me.

“Spellbinder,” Joyce said.  When I looked a bit confused, she added, “An enchanter, but specialized in control.  He keeps three or four Others with him at all times.  I named him because he broke the rules.  He’s paranoid, and doesn’t really associate with people.  Only Others.  We’d hoped to use her as a way to bring him back to society, to get him involved.  But we underestimated his paranoia.”

“What happened?”

“He bound his wife.  To keep her from passing information on to us.  Bound her mind and bound her bodies, so she only does what he says.”

“Hypnosis?” I asked.

“The binding is as solid as hypnosis is soft and vague.  He’s… scary.  In a lot of ways.  I don’t think the family would miss him if he was gone, but we invested in him, we lost a family member to connect to him, and I guess Sandra decided that if we’d paid the price, we might as well…”

“Use what you paid for?” I finished for her, as it didn’t seem like she’d continue speaking.

“I didn’t know that whole story,” Lola said, quiet.

“It was a long time ago,” Gail said.

Joyce nodded.  “It’s not the kind of story we share, especially to someone engaged, or yet to be engaged.”

“You could have told me.  Holy shit.  We condone that?”

“He’s strong,” Joyce said.  “And we play a long game.  Sandra promised we’d act against him, and that the revenge would be dramatic enough that others would know we weren’t to be trifled with.”

“But only if we got the Lordship?” Lola guessed.  “Only if we had that clout?”

“Excuse me,” I said.  “There isn’t a lot of time.”

Joyce frowned.  “If anyone needs to die, it’s him.  Nobody will associate with him, given circumstances and the danger that he might use them.  He protects himself with puppet Others.  Any other practitioner you go after, you’ll find webs of safeguards.  You can’t hurt them or target them without our enchantresses knowing.  But Landon stands more or less alone.”

I nodded.  “Okay.  The Spellbinder is strong.  I’ll put him off until later, then.”

“Put him off?”  Lola asked.

“It makes sense,” Gail said, eyes on the ground.  I could practically read shame radiating off of her, as she betrayed her family.  “If he’s going to alert others no matter what he does, he might as well pick off the strongest first.”

I nodded.

“Gudbrand,” Joyce said, looking down at the list.

“Valk-something?” I asked.

“Valkalla,” Joyce spoke.

“He didn’t do anything,” Gail spoke.

“That’s the problem, isn’t it?” Joyce asked, looking up at her sister.  She looked at me.  “I said I wouldn’t speak unless it helps you.  I’m helping you by explaining, giving context.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“He’s not married to one of ours.  His father remarried, and married one of ours.”

“And?”

“He was unhappy with the fact that she only bore girls.  Valkyries and the various offshoots, they work with spirits and souls.  Rather than have girls, he used his newborn daughters.”

“As fuel,” I said, just a little spooked at the thought.

I only got a tight nod from Joyce in response.

“That was him,” Gail said.  “That was at a different time, for the Duchamp family.  Thirty-five years ago.  Before Sandra was in charge.”

“But the metaphorical apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Joyce said.  “I’ve met Gudbrand.  I feel confident in saying he’s no different from his father.”

“Holy fuck,” I said.  “How have you not turned against the family heads for this?  You marry these guys?”

“No,” Joyce said, shaking her head.  “No, it’s not like that.  It’s… once or twice a generation.  A lot of pairings.  Divorces are hard, and sometimes not even allowed.  Things go wrong.”

“Who are the others?”

“I can barely read your handwriting.  Crooked Hat… he deals with your kind.”

“Yeah.”

“His Demesne overlaps with a section of the Abyss.  He’s trying to learn to manipulate the Abyss to his own ends.  The elder Duchamps thought it was enough of a prospect that we could, how to phrase it, metaphorically buy stock in the venture?”

“He went there willingly?” I asked.  “Long term?”

“Yes.  I don’t know what he did that made someone think he deserves to die, I haven’t even heard that he’s a bad person.”

“He’s married, though?”

“Seems fine enough… as arranged marriages go.  They have four daughters, three young, if I’m remembering right.  He gave his daughters odd names, but that’s not anything worthy of execution.”

I frowned.  “Eric and Stan.”

“Eric is Stan’s brother.  They’re not major practitioners.  But they had an extensive library with texts we needed access to.  If it was a little bit larger, we might call them something more impressive than dabblers.  But it isn’t.  They’re collectors.”

Someone thinks they deserve to die.”

“I don’t know,” Joyce said.

“Looking at the people in chat,” Lola said, “Manon?”

“No comment,” I said.

“She’s the only one I can think of that would know them, besides me.  And Manon knows Laurine, Stan’s daughter.  They gave the names in this order?  Eric, then Stan?”

“Yeah.”

“If I’m guessing right, connecting dots… they deserve it.”

“That’s all you’re giving me?” I asked.

“If you don’t give them a chance to call home and network, they’re not a threat,” she said.  “You don’t need to know more.”

I didn’t like that, but time was short.  “What about the guy with the title?”

“The Benevolent,” Joyce said.  “I can guess.  He’s old.  Got married to Clara before Rose Thorburn the senior was a practitioner, if I remember right.”

“Old.  He’s been around a while, obviously.”

“Longevity goes hand-in-hand with good karma,” Joyce said.  “Which he has.  In abundance.”

“He practices using Karma?”

“Yes.  I can see why people would be unhappy with him.  He made his wife miserable.  Tricked our family, even.  Neglected to mention that he already had three wives, making his Duchamp wife the fourth.  Likeable in person, but less so from a distance, and those of us who realized that kept our distance, myself included.  We never had an angle or clear excuse to retaliate for his deception, but that’s how he operates.”

“If I didn’t feel like that was a pretty vague justification for attacking someone,” I muttered, “I almost suspect I’d enjoy hurting him.”

Enjoy?

“Almost.  Almost.  It sounds like he’s a personification of everything I hate about all of this.

“If it helps,” Lola said, “He’s probably done far worse than what we just described.  But events play out in a way that supports him.  There’s rarely enough people in the same place, talking about him in a way that would let them put the pieces together, at a time that we’d be free to do something about it.  If someone named him, maybe they have a stronger suspicion, but aren’t in a position to voice it?”

I drummed my fingers against my leg.

I couldn’t help but think of Carl.

Carl, who I’d last seen in a nice apartment, enjoying himself as he talked to people.

Sometimes bad people slipped the noose.

Sometimes good people suffered.

“I’ll take that under consideration,” I said.  Then, with more emphasis than the comment warranted, speaking to all of them, I said, “Thank you.”

“You’re really doing this?” Lola asked.  “Cold blooded murder?”

“I’m not sure that you’d find blood, exactly, if you tapped one of my veins and put the fluid under a microscope,” I said.

“You should know what I mean.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I took the paper from Joyce.  I looked down at it.  “Yeah.”

That said, I turned to go.  I pushed the door open, stepping outside.

Did I trust them?  No.

Did I trust that there weren’t any traps in here?  No.  The Benevolent Polygamist was the most obvious potential trap.  Old enough that it wasn’t a true loss to the family if he died, and if he was as fortunate as I hadn’t been, back when I’d been custodian of the house, I could be running headlong into disaster, if I challenged him.

I mentally crossed him off the list.

“You were gone a while,” Green Eyes said, from within a snowbank.  Snow partially piled on top of her, and she was largely camouflaged.  Only the glow of her eyes gave her away, as I walked to a point where the light from the nearby streetlamps met the right angle, lighting the orbs up.

“If we coulda gone in after you, we woulda,” Evan said.

“I got what I needed,” I said.  “A list of names.”

“What names?”

I showed him the sheet.  “These names.  Targets.  This next part is going to be tricky.  Do you two know the basics of evading Enchantment?”

Sandra’s camp was effectively dealing with what we’d faced at Hillsglade House, except they were outdoors, with the benefits and drawbacks of that, and they had an awful lot more people.  I wasn’t sure, but I suspected the enchantresses were doing something to interfere with the attacking forces.  Turning one against the other.  There were points in the conflict where I wasn’t really sure about sides.

But if I had to guess, the Duchamps were winning.

Given a chance, everything defaults back to ‘normal’.

Without something to tip the balance, the Duchamps would recover.  They’d fight their war with the other major powers until someone did something dramatic.

I estimated twenty to thirty Duchamps, spread across four generations, from the elderly to the young, and maybe twenty male practitioners.  Exact numbers were hard for the men, as many of the Others around them were humanoid or humanish, and a good number of them were odd enough in style that they became harder to distinguish from the monsters.

The little spot by the water had a one-story building with an ice cream shop and a convenience store at the front, the signs and windows dark, as well as bathrooms and change rooms for those visiting the beach or using the park, apparently open, with practitioners using the raised walls that blocked off the view to the interior as a defensive position, defensive runes painted on the walls.  Far off to the right was a stage, separated from the building by a gap and archways, and Sandra was using the elevated position to command.  Most of Sandra’s contingent were standing on the raised platform that surrounded the shops, building and stage, behind the wrought railing.  Sandra was on the edge of the stage, flanked by her troll and some tougher looking Others, a higher vantage point, to overlook things.

I was careful not to look too hard or too intently, especially at the women.

There.  Fire.  Carter.  Drug dealing pyromancer.  I wasn’t sure how that worked in execution, if he took out competition by burning them alive, or if he only used the pyromancy for the ‘light a joint with a burning fingertip’ gimmick, but I had trouble wrapping my head around who he was and how he functioned.

Too minor a player, yet simultaneously too dangerous for me to risk dealing with, considering the dry wood I was made of.

I didn’t fuss with looking for the brothers Stan and Eric.  Yes, I had Lola’s assurance that they deserved what was coming to them, but they were minor.  Not a threat.

The Spellbinder was supposed to stand alone, but I couldn’t make him out.  Was it possible that he was isolated enough that he wasn’t even here?  He was vulnerable enough to pick off as opportunity permitted, but going after him too early would be giving away the show, when I could pick off someone who was networked, before the Enchantress network started working against me.

That left two options.

The valkyrie man who had turned his own children into fodder for his practice, and the scourge, who dealt specifically with Bogeymen and the Abyss.

Looking for them, I found Crooked Hat.  The scourge.  Identified, surely enough, by the worn, bent top hat he wore.  He wore a tattered trench coat that looked like my sweatshirt did, albeit dustier than mucky, buttoned over a vest and a dress shirt with a tie, and he carried a bent cane.

The items didn’t match, not quite, despite his generally neutral color scheme.

The various articles of clothing had been collected.  Trophies.

“There,” I said.  “If you look at the sign above the ice cream shop, under the far right corner, in the-”

“Top hat,” Evan said.

“And the man’s head engraved on the top of the cane,” Green Eyes said.

I squinted.  I could barely make out that the top of the cane was engraved at all.  “Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, there we go.  There’s one.”

I was little different from the Others that were attacking.  I wasn’t particularly strong.  I wasn’t smart, and I didn’t have any powers that broke the rules in any meaningful way.  I was tough, I was fast, and I was stronger than one might assume, given my frame.

“What do we do?” Evan asked.

“Watch,” I said, “Wait.  Make opportunities.”

“Opportunities?”

My eyes scanned the park and beach.

A movement caught my attention.

Pointing, a gleam of something gold.

Not quite at me.  At something close to me.

An Other just behind me lunged forward, breaking into a run.  Seven feet tall, oddly proportioned with a narrow body, a large head, and larger extremities, it had too many teeth crammed into its mouth, forcing a perpetual grin, and eyes that were too recessed in the sockets to make out in the dark.  It looked almost fake, like it had a carved pumpkin for a head, topped by a long-haired wig, made surreal by the addition of very real teeth.

I realized what had happened as the Other pushed his way past me.  I raised my hand, but his palm slid down my arm.  He raked himself on the chain and barbed wire I’d wound around the forearm.

I saw him react, obviously feeling the pain.  He spun on me.  I saw the gleam of his eyes in the sockets, where slivers of light had found the eyeballs.

“They’re manipulating you,” I said.  “Manipulating us.  Trying to contrive a fight.”

It responded with a guttural, wordless noise, drawn out.

“Buuuuuuuuggghghhhh.”

It didn’t speak.  Or understand, quite probably.

It looked down at its hand.  When it clenched one oversized fist, blood oozed between meaty fingers.

While I was looking, it hit me with the other hand.  Not justifiably worth calling a jab, it was so heavy a blow, but he didn’t bring his fast back before swinging.  I felt bones and wood break, and sprawled in the snow.

Direction and redirection.  The Enchantress’ stock in trade.

Two can play that game.

Green Eyes was tensed, forearms perpendicular to the ground, ready to pounce.

“No, Green!” I said.  “Evan, help!”

It was maybe a mistake to decide on a game plan before seeing how intact I was.  Part of my chest had been crushed, folded in like a car door might be dented.

But I was intact enough to move.

I flipped over onto my stomach, and I scrambled forward until I could switch from a crawl to a run.

Like many predators, when prey ran, this thing chased.

I went from moving barely as fast as I might have walked when I was human as I shifted from crawl to run, and then found my feet as I figured out how best to run in snow.  As Evan joined me, I found it even easier.  A push here and there, as I almost lost my footing or when the snow underfoot didn’t just compact, but collapsed.

The big thing was barely slowed down in the knee-deep snow.  It was tall, and its clawed feet were broad.  There was less avenue for his feet to sink in, or for him to happen on areas where the snow underfoot wasn’t solid.  Weight distribution.

“You’re getting away,” Evan said.

And, I thought, I’m getting closer to the Duchamps.

I was closing the distance to their defensive lines, to the squat building with its ice cream shop and convenience store.

“Don’t help me,” I said, before redoubling my efforts.  “Keep it on course until-”

I very nearly fell.  I didn’t bother speaking again.  Evan was already gone.

My approach was noticed.  Two Duchamp women and Crooked Hat laid eyes on me and my pursuer.  One of the women, by the looks of it, was his wife.

Here it was.

They were talking to one another, deciding who would handle what.

I could see as one woman focused on me.

How did one fight an Enchantress?

Same way one fought a Faerie, presumably.  Directness, to counteract subtlety.

In that, the charging Other behind me was a point on our side.

Focus on the plan, I thought.  Focus, focus

She held a golden chain, something dangling from it.  I saw her swipe it hard, left to right.

She seemed to move in slow motion as she finished, the medallion moving slowly in the air.

I averted my eyes, but I averted them in the wrong direction.

I caught sight of the Valkyrie-man.

Unlike Crooked Hat, the Valkalla was undeniably bad.

An easy target.

But, I thought, there’s no reason I can’t go after both.

I didn’t change course.  The snow was easier going as I drew near the building.  The stage with its overhang and the building had blocked some of the snowfall.

Beside her, the other Enchantress was doing something else.  Not aimed at me.

I heard a snarl, the footsteps slowing behind me.

A roar.

“Suck it!” I heard Evan say.

The thudding footsteps resumed, a matter of five or ten feet behind me.

Her movements were sharp.  With one hand, she wrapped the gold chain around her hand.  Arm out straight in front of her, she clasped it, fingers hooking around the edges of the medallion..

I had a momentary glimpse of my reflection.

A catch-twenty-two.  The maneuver was clearly defensive.  The question was, was it the sort of defense where what I did was reflected back at me, a u-turn in my attempt to connect my fist to her?  Something similar, a simple ward against harm, where I might as well be punching a stone wall, destroying my fist or damaging the Hyena?  Or was it the sort of defense where I second guessed the attack by thinking it was a trap, and she consequently stopped me?

It didn’t matter.

I leaped.  My feet settled on the railing.  For a moment, I perched.

My knees bent, and I leaped.  Up, not into them.

I stabbed the roof of the squat building with the Hyena.

An enchantress did something.  I jerked, my grip suddenly giving.  The blade skittered against ice.  I slid further down the roof’s edge, feet dangling at the head-level of the practitioners I’d just leaped over.

Right.  Of course there was a connection between me and the ground.

And if that could be strengthened-

Again, with no justification, no reason, I felt the connection between me and the roof break.  I landed on my feet, back to the wall, Duchamps and other practitioners lined up facing me.

Around that same moment, the Other that had been chasing me collided with the railing and the practitioners manning it.

Evan had steered the thing where the Enchantresses manning the railing here had tried to deter it.

It tried to lean forward, swiping its hand in Crooked Hat’s direction, but the railing gave.  It landed with its forearm braced against the ground, head roughly at the level of my collarbone.

More manipulation, I suspected.

“Evan!”

I bolted for the nearest gap, off to the right, toward the stage.

“Fast,” I heard a voice, somewhere off to one side, behind me.

When I wasn’t running through snow, sure.

I caught a glimpse of Crooked Hat, moving in the same direction I was, just to my right, barely out of the large Other’s reach.

His stick extended, touching the railing.  Tapping.

The railing broke down the middle, as if someone had driven a motorcycle into the midpoint.  The wooden slats formed a triangle, broken halves.  The broken pieces were longer than they should have been, and they braced one another, touching the wall of the building.

I hurdled it, jumping.

He touched one of the broken sections of fence.

It too, broke.  The pieces extended beneath me as they flew away from the point of the bent cane.

Shattered, fragile boards and bits of metal broke further as I landed atop them.  Points dug into my body of wood, jamming themselves into the holes in my arms and torso.

Motherfuck.

“Sorry,” Evan said.  “Should’ve-”

“It’s okay,” I said.  I didn’t like the unusual number of sharp wooden points and splinters surrounding him.  I gripped him in one hand for protection.

Behind Crooked Hat, the monstrous Other was being brought low.  The railing, though wooden, had wound around its wrists, and the Duchamps were starting to bind it.  It tried to twist its head away as one Duchamp woman reached out to place a paper charm on its forehead.

I lifted my feet up, and brought them sharply down to earth, leveraging my body up and away from the broken fence.

Crooked Hat was gripping the cane near the bottom.  He held it upright, and let it slide down, until his hand gripped the top.

The bottom end of the cane, in that same moment, tapped the ice-crusted boards that formed the path beneath us, between railing and building.

The boards that were still supporting me broke and shattered.  More points jabbed me, pierced me, and stuck through me.

“Here isn’t so different from there,” Crooked Hat told me.  “Sometimes, all we need is a push.”

I pulled my right arm away, breaking the spears and points of wood that were sticking through it, freeing to move.  I froze when I saw him move his cane.

This world wasn’t so different from the Abyss?

Yeah, sure, I’d mused something similar before.  But no way was I falling into that trap.

On a lot of levels, I wasn’t falling into that trap.

The amount of shit people could pull because others bought into the idea that it was just so.  Mystically and in real life.

No.

It wasn’t just so.

I wasn’t going to fall into that trap.  I hadn’t, when Carl had tried to make me buy his worldview, trapping me in his way of thinking.

“Bullshit,” I said, “Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.”

“Things wouldn’t get lost in the dark corners so easily if it wasn’t close,” he said.

“There’s proper love here, and beauty without it being a trick.  There’s harmony, and I’m not talking about Balance.”

“There are traps everywhere, and harmony is an illusion,” he said, with quiet confidence.

He believed it.

Shit on me, he truly believed that this world and the Abyss were close.

Fuck me, that took pessimism to a whole new level.  To only see ugliness everywhere, to see danger?

“How do you know so little, for someone who studies the Abyss?” I asked.

“I can hardly claim to be of the Abyss, like you can, but I think you’d be surprised at just how much I know,” he said.

He raised one hand to tip his hat.

The surroundings skewed, just a little.  As if everything was slightly ajar.

I could see things between the cracks.  A dry, dusty, place, not so different from here.  The buildings on the other side were all askew, more abstract than real.  The place was bright, but it was the kind of bright that killed.  That made paint peel and skin burn and plant life die.  The kind of bright that bowed and broke, that left people swaddled in rags and hunched over, crawling.  A radiation sun.

Was his hat his implement?  Joyce had mentioned his demesne.  Maybe the hat was his ticket to the abyss.

This guy was no small potatoes.

“You know stuff, huh?” I asked.  “About the Abyss?”

“And this world.”

“Yeah?  Do you know why your family asked me to kill you?” I asked.  “Because they did.”

I saw his eyes widen a fraction.

His head turned, toward the Duchamps that were throwing out paper charms to bind the larger Other.

At his wife.

I wasn’t free to rise and go after him.  In large part, I was still impaled.

But I had freed one hand.

I cast my hand out.  Flinging the small body I held in one hand.

Flinging Evan.

Evan flew past him.

A push.

Crooked Hat took a step or two back, and bumped into one of the Duchamp’s husbands behind him.

“Free it!” I shouted.

Heads turned.

Focused on me, rather than Evan.

Evan flew past the Other.  Its arms rattled against the wooden manacles, while papers flew free.

Escape.

There were exceptional people in this world, people who found their niche, something they were good at, who put their all into it.  Some became great scientists, others became artists, or architects.

Crooked Hat had become a great cynic, it seemed, and if he was the type to carry the Abyss around with him, very literally, then did he take it home with him?  Did he subject his daughters to it?  Did they live in the Abyss?

Maybe someone in the chatroom had thought so, and thought they needed a way out.

Evan, I suspected, was another great sort of person.  In the moment I saw him fly free of the reach of others, papers trailing in his wake, I wished I could have seen what he might have grown up to be.  He’d survived the Hyena, only to get claimed by the elements.  He’d found talents in that, in sheer tenacity, and resourcefulness.  He’d been good enough at escaping that spirits had found a connection to him.

What could he have been, if he’d been allowed to grow up?

“Again!” I said, seeing more papers going out.  The thing had broken one hand free of the railing, and swiped at the practitioners, only to get tagged by one swift Duchamp woman.

He flew by again, stripping the papers away.

The Other gripped the railing and tore it loose from its moorings.  It pressed in, shoving the practitioners toward the building.

The railing flew out of its grip, slapping the ice and snow, and the Other lost its footing.

Twice freed.  Each time would likely be harder than the last.

I realized it, and my ability to realize it was one of my few advantages in all this.  I straddled both worlds.

The Duchamp-side Practitioners, however, realized it too.  The practitioners who weren’t dealing with the now-free Other were focusing on Evan.  Avoiding the third attempt.

He could slip away.  It was what he did.  But as a general rule, he couldn’t slip away three times in short order.

With a crowd focused on him, he was vulnerable.

If I hadn’t been thinking about his better points just a moment ago, I might not have considered our next step from the same angle.  Maybe I would have fought, and trusted him to handle himself, or called him to me, so I could protect him and take the brunt of it all.

But this…

“Go, bird, save the Duchamps!” I called out, pointing at the Duchamps.  I tore my upper body free of the trap of wooden spikes.

My words made for hesitation.  Practitioners heard my words and didn’t attack Evan.

But Evan listened, no question.

As the Other found its bearings and pressed forward, Evan swept by.  Getting the Duchamps on course.  Helping them slip away.

But it was another nudge against Crooked Hat.  He had to catch the railing to steady himself.

But Evan had driven him back, and he hadn’t been that far from the Other before.

I tore my lower body free as I pulled myself to my feet, and kicked Crooked Hat squarely in the side.

The Other caught his head in one hand, enclosing it.

It squeezed.

Both the head and the namesake hat were utterly crushed.

The Other smiled its too-toothy smile, raising Crooked Hat until his feet didn’t touch the ground, then shaking him, so his limp legs wobbled.

While it was distracted, I ran past.

We’d made a break of sorts in the Duchamp defensive line.

I drew the cleaver as I saw the Valkalla that the enchantress had shown me earlier.  The bait.  Gudbrand.

But still another target.

I flung it.

Almost automatically, without the man even looking, his shortsword came up, and knocked the cleaver aside.

The thrown weapon broke in two with the impact.

Fuck.

He’d infused his weapons and gear.  Beneath a heavy leather winter coat with a fur ruff at the collar, he wore a breastplate.  He had a gun strapped to one thigh, another gun in hand, and a shortsword in the other hand.  His beard and hair were thick, his eyes dark beneath a furrowed brow.

The babykiller.

His eyes were on me, now, as people behind him backed up.

I saw green eyes flash just behind him.

“No!” I called out.

“Yes!” he said.

Why didn’t she listen?

Green Eyes lunged.

His sword came around.  Automatic.  Always parrying any incoming strike.

Green Eyes saw, and her tail moved, heading down, touching the railing.  She managed to knock herself off course, hooking the railing, wounding her tail, and throwing herself down.

But distractions were distractions.  Enough for me to close three or four feet, and build up speed.

He fired.

Shots clipped bone and branch.  They made holes the size of softballs on their way out.

“Your father’s weapons?” I asked.

Confidence.  I knew this much.

“Some,” he said.

“You know where they came from?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

I set my jaw.

Theatrics.  I had to appeal to the spirits, and the spirits liked a show.

When it all came down to it, I was an preternaturally tough Other with a broken sword.   I had to close the distance.  Be a little reckless.

I swatted with the Hyena, as I drew close enough.  Sure enough, his sword parried automatically.  It left him open.

Maybe he expected me to try and cut him, or hit him.  But I didn’t.  I embraced him, hugging his sword arm to his side, gripping his gun arm, forcing it down.

Gripping the tail end of the barbed-wire encrusted chain, I caught the back of his throat, pulling him even closer.

“For your brothers and sisters,” I said, loud enough for nearby Duchamps to hear.  I saw them stop, turning to see, if not fast enough to act.

A bit more, in the way of theatrics.

Maybe, I hoped, if the universe had any justice at all, a bit of karma.  A bit more strength.

He pulled the trigger, and a bit of the wood at my back blew away.  Sections of ribs.

But people were scared.

That, at least, was enough to keep me going.  To balance it out.

Even with a bad angle, I was close enough to be able to use the sword to cut him near the spine.  Nothing vital.  I shifted angle, then gripped the handle with both hands, and pulled it close.

He collapsed.

That had been vital.

I pulled myself free.

I saw the tension.  Felt the fear.

I saw Green Eyes slip under the railing.  Intact enough.

“No quarrel with you,” I said, turning my back on them.  “I killed the ones I was asked to kill.”

The inevitable question came.  “Rose?”

“Duchamps,” I said.

I passed the Other who had chased me.  I saw it watch me.

I only heard a chuckle.

A part of me felt like it was mocking me.

Taking advantage of the very same thing that had plagued me from the beginning of all this.  In a sense, killing a son for the crimes of the father.

Onward.

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200 thoughts on “Execution 13.5

    1. Phoenix? Please a mere immortal bird that is reborn in flames is not good enough. Evan needs to be some sort of god-bird that commands all the elements and leaves candy in his wake.

    1. “Most of Sandra’s contingent were standing on the raised platform that surrounded the shops, building and stage, behind the wrought railing. Sandra was on”
      Seems to be missing something.
      My first typo submission!

      1. PyromancerLandon
        Pyromancer Landon, may be deliberate

        Michaelsson
        Michael’s son, may be deliberate

        There’s rarely enough people in the same place
        There are rarely enough people…

        snowbank
        usually snow bank

        valkyrie
        inconsistent capitalization

        an prenaturally tough
        a preternaturally tough

        He practices using Karma?
        usually karma

        1. “Michaelsson
          Michael’s son, may be deliberate”

          lol, pretty sure its a name. would be a bit odd to describe a man as “son of michael” without otherwise mentioning the father

          “There’s rarely enough people in the same place”

          its speech. people say things like that. its like a contraction of there and is…
          not grammatically correct but how often is casual conversation?

          usually karma is NOT a correction for using karma…should probably reread that

    2. “We’d hoped to use her as a way to bring him back to society, to get him involved.”
      I get “her” is his wife, but she isn’t introduced earlier so it is a bit confusing.

      “bound her bodies” Plural?

    3. Typos:

      • “I was hoping they could achieve something, even mild.” -> ?

      • “Carter Duchamp, PyromancerLandon Michaelsson, Spellbinder” -> missing linebreak after Pyromancer

      • “double checked ” -> “double-checked”

      • “His Demesne” -> “demesne”

      • “Long term?” -> “Long-term?”

      • “Cold blooded murder?” -> “Cold-blooded”

      • “but he didn’t bring his fast back before swinging” -> “fist back”

      • “second guessed” -> “second-guessed”

      • “A dry, dusty, place” -> “A dry, dusty place”

      • “A radiation sun.” -> “A radiating sun.”?

      • “He’d found talents in that, in sheer tenacity, and resourcefulness.”

      • “I saw green eyes flash just behind him.” -> “Green Eyes”?

      • “For your brothers and sisters,” – Who’s supposed to have brothers, here? There are no Duchamp brothers.

      1. I’m guessing that, since he was born from one of the three other wives, he could have some brothers (or half-brothers) by them too.

      2. “A radiation sun.” -> “A radiating sun.”?

        that one might be intentional.

        “I saw green eyes flash just behind him.” -> “Green Eyes”?

        Green Eyes is her name, he saw her eyes.

    4. fast should be fist…

      While I was looking, it hit me with the other hand. Not justifiably worth calling a jab, it was so heavy a blow, but he didn’t bring his fast back before swinging. I felt bones and wood break, and sprawled in the snow.

    5. Carter Duchamp, PyromancerLandon Michaelsson, Spellbinder
      -should be one above the other:
      Carter Duchamp, Pyromancer
      Landon Michaelsson, Spellbinder

  1. So, this would be Blake’s second successful raid against immoral Duchamp husbands.

    How’s shit gonna go wrong in round three?

    1. Hey, it could go well? Ah, who am I kidding… Although he HAS shed the karmic burden, so it might not end as badly as we’re accustomed to…

      1. I’m not so much worried about Blake as I am about Evan and Green Eyes right now. I really thought we were going to end up with Green Eyes in two pieces for a bit there.

    2. Sorry about the double-post, but I just got the mental image of Craig suddenly appearing and going “Combo Break!” at Blake when he goes for the third guy…

  2. So far, Execution is a stark reversal from the previous progress of this story. Each chapter is more satisfying than the last. Of course, Pact being what it is, this doubtless means Blake is cruising for yet another cosmic smackdown. But dangit, I can enjoy the awesomeness while it flows.

    1. I know! This latest set of chapters are finally showing off and without much negative stuff happening to him so far. Obviously it wont last, but I think Blake really needed more moments of cool. (Although to be fair, when his Karma was superbad, that was pretty much impossible.) I think Blake has finally started to get really into his new role in life, and is forming such a great connection to Green Eyes and Evan. 😀

      Also, Is it just me or is Blake possibly becoming what a true Boogeyman is supposed to be?
      Everyone knows that “If you are bad, the Boogyman is gonna get you,” right? Its a classic trope, behave or boogeyman gets ya. Blake is embracing that ‘Punish the bad people’ aspect, and I think he is gaining power from it, and that is fueling him some.
      Maybe not as much power as from the fear he is causing, but I think he is certainly getting some from each bad person he kills, and that is what is helping him become awesome right now.

  3. Well, you can spin that other ways, too. This guy has invited the Abyss to live in him, live around him? Well, Blake’s survived that shit, twice. He can take his lumps and lump them back.
    So, auto-parrying weapons filled with the souls of babies. Damn, that’s pretty dark, even for Pact.
    Actually, no it’s not.
    That’s what’s terrifying.

    1. If Wildbow continues this trend of each serial being darker than the one before, I don’t think the view ship could take it. Half the readers would grow sick with Depression by the time we returned to Casper.

      1. I’m not sure if I’m in the minority here, but I’m not of the opinion that things are even /nearly/ too dark. It’s juuuust dark enough, and not really much darker than Worm so far. About on par really. Rot 13:

        V zrna, Tehr’f cynlqngr jvgu Obarfnj jnf cerggl qnea tevz, naq rneyl ba va Cnpg jura vg jnf qrfpevorq jung gur Oneore qbrf jvgu uvf ivpgvzf, V jnf vzntvavat sngrf bayl fyvtugyl yrff greevoyr, fnaf gur zrgnculfvpny rssrpgf.

        http://www.rot13.com/index.php

          1. rot13 is for when you want people to be able to read something but only if they consciously choose to do so. It is pretty standard policy to use it to hide spoilers on sites that don’t support actual spoiler tags.

            Around here it’s used for Worm spoilers because people might read Pact without having finished Worm.

        1. I find the main aspect that makes Pact darker than Worm is that, until recently, the kicking never stopped. Blake could never achieve anything without the rug being pulled out from under him immediately afterwards. Worm had some horrible things happen, but there was at least some sense that our protagonist had some achievements along the way. The darkness was at least balanced.

          Conversely it’s like Blake’s entire life was cursed by a suckomancer. Karma constantly worked against him to undermine anything he achieved. He started off with everything stacked against him to begin with then went backwards.

          I’m actually optimistic that things will turn out well for Blake by the end. But the journey to get there has been almost entirely without relief.

          L’xabj, V’ir bayl whfg ernyvfrq gung jung unccrarq gb Tehr jnf irel… tehrfbzr. V jbaqre vs gung jnf qryvorengr.

      2. Darkness is only bad if darkness wins. A baby killer being killed doesn’t do that.

        Worm was far more depressing with the ongoing bullying drama and the social isolation of Taylor. This story has never gotten as bad as Worm in my opinion.

        Which is a good thing, I think some of the more hopeless times in Worm weren’t the best written. This story is excellent and inspirational.

        1. This story is excellent and inspirational.

          The only thing Pact has inspired within me is a strong desire to never visit Canada

        2. son of babykiller who “didn’t do anything” dunchamps apparently just hate him for not stopping his father.

          we’ll find out soon enough that he probably did eventually kill the old bastard and thats how he got the weapons 😛

        3. The thing is, gur ohyylvat naq fbpvny vfbyngvba nfcrpgf jrer onfvpnyyl bire va Jbez ol n pbhcyr bs nepf va.
          Gnlybe yrsg fpubby naq unq zhpu ovttre ceboyrzf gb qrny jvgu guna oyhr ol gung cbvag. Gb gur rkgrag jura fur qvq tb onpx gb fpubby fur gerngrq Rzzn nyzbfg nf na nsgregubhtug juvyr fur qrnyg jvgu gur erny ohfvarff ng unaq.

          Juvpu haqrefpberf gur znva ernfba V svaq Cnpg qnexre guna Jbez. Gnlybe npuvrirq fghss: birepbzvat ohyylvat, znxvat sevraqf, erohvyqvat Oebpxgba Onl, fnivat Qvanu, qevivat F9 bhg bs Oebpxgba Onl, birepbzvat ure erc nf n ivyynva, znxvat n qvssrerapr ba n jbeyq fgntr.

          Blake was dealt a crappy hand to begin with and repeatedly failed to hang onto even that. First he inherits his family home and enemies. Then he is barred from the family home by the Behaims and has to flee to Toronto. He beats Pauz then has to release him. Beats Conquest (which makes things worse, but he doesn’t know that yet so this is at least a temporary victory) then he immediately loses his entire life, familiar and friends fighting Urr. He survives, but gives up his humanity in the process. He finds he’s trapped in the mirror world. He goes back to Jacob’s Bell and is locked out of the house again, this time by Rose who captures him. He fights Allister to a draw. Then he fights to defend the house, friends and family, fails and has to flee. Which brings us to now. Oh yeah, and for a change of pace, the story took a break in the middle to screw over Maggie instead.

          The end of the Conquest arc is particularly bad with its “Oh wow, it looks like Blake is finally achieving something, ha ha, no, psych!” ending that rendered arcs-worth of efforts worse than pointless, but the rug has been consistently yanked out from under Blake’s feet every time he starts getting anywhere.

          Pact is far more depressing than Worm, IMO, the point where it’s draining.

    2. And the sad part is that the baby-soul weapons and stuff is all just sitting there, ready and waiting for someone else to pick them up.

  4. This has been one of the most epic (in terms of sheer action) chapters of Pact. Like, Worm level epic. Enjoyed it a lot. Thank you, Wildbow!

  5. As much as I appreciate the newfound sense of charity towards your only-sort-of-enemies that goes into your killings…

    I passed the Other who had chased me. I saw it watch me.

    I only heard a chuckle.

    A part of me felt like it was mocking me.

    Taking advantage of the very same thing that had plagued me from the beginning of all this. In a sense, killing a son for the crimes of the father.’

    Cha! Duh!

    You don’t watch the fuck out of what you’re doing and you’ll be seeing people buying “Penny Duchamp was Right” T-shirts.

    1. When I got in, the chapter ended at chuckle. I was hoping that it was a friendly chuckle and Blake gained a new ally. It Appears more has been added since then, making that seem unlikely. 😥

        1. He’s had to become the monster because the world wanted him to be such. And he knows it. It’s a tragedy that he was unable to avoid.

          1. People make decision based on their pressures, true. But ultimately everyone responsible for their own choices. What he’s doing here may end up being good or bad, but whatever the consequences they’ll be on him.

            Blake generally owns his actions anyway. So there’s no reason for us to shift responsibility away from him.

  6. Wait a minute. . . Blake is Scott Pilgrim! He’s on a quest to defeat the Duchamp’s seven evil soon to be ex’s! By that logic, he should be fighting a vegan next.

    Blake’s making people think, reconsider their positions. That’s good. More people should think.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Blake’s scary! I would love to see an alternative POV of some random Practitioner that has to witness The Blake.

    So the confirmed power trio for Pact is Evan, Blake and Green Eyes. How do they correspond to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman? I’m thinking Evan is Batman (those epic escapes!), Blake is Wonder Woman (aggressive warrior who tries to force truth upon enemies) and Green Eyes is Superman (A physically amazing specimen). Thoughts?

        1. Green Eyes is Knives. She’s the relationship the protagonist just sort of fell into and is continuing with ‘cos it’s what’s there.

          Tiff is Ramon – the woman he has seen at a distance and wants to be with but doesn’t actually really know yet.

          Alexis doesn’t really fit into the analogy. Her relationship with Blake is quite different to Scott and Kim’s (where basically they dated but Scott was an idiot).

    1. Following the Scott Pilgrim parallel, I’d say that Landon is Gideon Gordon Graves due to the mind control, Eric and Stan are Kyle and Ken Katayanagi due to being brothers, I figure a pyromancer would be a thematically appropriate opponent for Green Eyes, and thus can parallel Roxanne Richter in fighting Blake’s girlfriend, and finally we have the Benevolent guy as… Todd Ingram. The Vegan, who’s brought down by threefold acts of impurity.

        1. Nah, he already overcame Nega-Blake in the drains, remember?

          One could argue that the Toronto Trio are Sex Bom-omb… Perhaps Rose is Envy Adams?

      1. Naw, no where near awesome enough. Jack Slash had style an Pizazz. Crooked lack these necessary qualities to thrive in pactverse.

    1. Wildbow’s been watching too much Game of Thrones, before writing this chapter. 😛 Overly tall, hyper strong, scary looking guy crushes heads… Wow.

    1. I mentally crossed him off the list.

      And thus Blake foolishly plays right into Karma’s hands! Another threat to Big Love averted.

      Next up, the Spellbinder or the Dabbler Bros?

      1. It wasn’t directly stated, but as good as. Blake asks the guy if he knows where his dad got those weapons from, and it was stated before that, that his father would sacrifice children for his workings. So we know that:
        A) the weapons are infused with /something/.
        B) Blake seems to think that those somethings weren’t just random ghosts or goblins, which you can tell from his accusatory tone.
        C)The Valkyrie’s father sacrificed his babies for his workings.

        So in all likelihood, those weapons do contain baby souls. I do wonder what the appropriate thing to do with them is, once the Valkyrie has been taken out..

        1. As a side note, remember that a Valkyrie uses imprints with extreme emotions for best effects. June had to suffer and die miserably of hypothermia to leave her ghost behind.

          Basically, the father probably tortured his daughters in various ways so they would bring useful properties to his trinkets. That’s more monstrous to me than ‘merely’ killing them.
          Seriously, how do you produce a ghost of auto-parry ? Feels like self-sacrifice. Probably had one daughter watch the others get tortured, and she asked the father to take it on her instead ?

        2. Blake asks the guy if he knows where his dad got those weapons from,

          Wait what? He didn’t…

          Oh. Wildbow edited the chapter to add stuff.

      2. In the Familiar, Implement, and Demense interlude chapter, it is stated that Valkyries stuff spirits and incorporeal Others into objects. So when Joyce said the father used his newborn daughters as fuel…

      1. Don’t worry, most examples aren’t nearly as dark as this one. Although there is indeed some really bad stuff to be found there :p

      1. People who work with the Abyss for a living are kind of stupid. Possibly as a form of selection pressure, since I doubt that smart people work with the Abyss for a living. People who live in the Abyss can be decent folks.

        1. “People who work with the Abyss for a living are kind of stupid. Possibly as a form of selection pressure, since I doubt that smart people work with the Abyss for a living.”

          Scourges are stupid? As opposed to the practitioners working with grudge-filled ghosts and potential wraiths, cruel, cunning, and hostile goblins, desensitized sadistic illusionist trickster fae, or demons considered worse than all of the things just mentioned combined? Heck, even the nature spirits will have you living naked out in the woods eating raw meat and trading in your human weaknesses for animal abilities.

          I suspect it’s more a case of smart practitioners taking what they can get and liking it. You’re a new practitioner, and want to get some clout to protect you from roving goblins and bogeymen. However, someone’s already made pacts with the local djinn and angels, the local equivalent of the Shepherd comes down hard on anyone trying to use ‘his’ ghosts, and the last fae you encountered said something about encasing you in molten crystal, stuffing some plumbing up your bum, and installing you still alive in his garden as the centerpiece of one of those ‘urinating cherub’ fountains. Summoning the Tallowman as a bodyguard starts looking better and better.

          1. And not all residents of the Abyss are bad. The witch of the Drains, Green Eyes, Blake (when he was a bird in the dream), those people who got lost in the storm. Anyone or anything can end up there, even Mags nearly did. It’s just that most practitioners go after the bad ones, like mentioned.

            1. It’s not so much that all Abyss residents are bad as that being a Scourge seems to require going into the Abyss again and again and again (rule of three. :P).

              We know from Blake and Green Eyes’ experience that spending any significant time in the Abyss is inviting the Abyss to infect you with drab grey and do it’s best to break you down.

              Making a living of it seems like a baaaaad idea.

        2. ” Possibly as a form of selection pressure, since I doubt that smart people work with the Abyss”

          thats not selection pressure its sampling bias.

    1. Not necessarily only just fear keeping him alive. I think Blake is also getting a small power boost as he fulfills the true ‘boogeyman’ purpose. Haven’t you ever heard of the classic, “Behave, or else the boogeyman will come and get you”?
      I bet that punishing or ‘getting’ the wicked is also part of a boogeyman power source, but few ever go that route because fear is easier.

  7. Really awesome chapter, I enjoyed every part of it.

    Shit, those Duchamps husbands can be fucking scary. The necromancers, and now these two charming fellows. Looked like Sandra may have ended up winning the lottery with her now ex-husband.

    1. I actually think the opposite. Blake’s decision making has proven to be. . . less than stellar. I think that at one point, Green Eyes will be able to save Blake from disaster by not following one of his Blake Plans. Remember, a good relationship is not based solely on domination.

      1. I think Green Eyes’ decision making is even worse than Blake’s. As badly as Blake has been affected by being split in half and tossed in the Abyss, Green Eyes is about ten times more affected by the Abyss.

        1. I think you’re being charitable by calling what Green Eye’s does decision making. I mean, Blake at least has some knee-jerk rationale. Green Eyes just does things, like killing people who might not deserve it out of instinct.

        1. Eh, she’ll just go back to the Abyss if torn in half. Then Blake can re-summon her.

          I kinda have to wonder why she’s so incredibly tough. She was apparently a pretty normal human when she fell into the Drains, and now she’s been one of the strongest Bogeymen on the field even though she’s out of the water. I guess it’s that Bogeymen are what they eat, and she eats a lot.

            1. She’d been there longer. If you survive in that Hellhole for that long without being eaten then you last that long by being tougher (Midge), sneakier, or smarter (Blake). Honestly, given how confident she was in identifying a human bone, I betting she chowed down on everything that fell in the water at one point. Corpses included.

    2. Actually, I’m pretty sure that Green Eyes was listening to Blake. She only looked like she was attacking the guy, but it was actually a feint to allow Blake to get into postion.

  8. Remember back when Blake had a heart and would refuse to kill his enemies? Those were the days This is much more entertaining!

    1. Hey look where that got him and everyone he cares about! I mean killing spree can’t possibly make things any worse right?

      War is hell. And Blake had to become a monster to survive.

    1. This is totally within the intent of the system. Bad karma puts a bounty on people’s heads, and it pays out good karma to anyone who collects. It’s quite possible the Benevolent Polygamist got his start hunting Diabolists and such.

      This is yet another reason Blake’s life sucked so much.

  9. Heh, I was right, the Goblin Cleaver was a consumable item.

    I’m surprised Blake wore the Barbed Chain as an arm-guard though, I thought he would have dual wielded it with the Hyena or used it as a tool to bind other Others.

    1. One of the most effective ways to fight with a chain is to wrap it around your fist and forearm, allowing it to act as an armguard against knives an clubs, and as added oomph to your blows. Totally a solid game plan.

      Also has the added benefit of not requiring any new weapon style training as you can use classic blocks and strikes and don’t have to learn to use whip based combat tactics.

    2. Being a consumable item doesn’t seem a good approach for the goblin to pursue. He’s going to have a heck of a time pulling himself together.

      To be fair, that’s arguably down to Blake’s target having enchanted weaponry rather than the cleaver being inherently just that crappy.

  10. i’m just wondering how in the hell someone can justify marrying a necromancer who makes Bane’s out of diseased people, But than again that is why they are bad guys.

    1. simple. he’s useful for the family. who cares about a little collateral damage, right? its not like any relatives of the people he killed will realize what happened, and if they do? who’d believe them? just Like Sandra wrote off the woman who got turned into a mindcontrolled slave while muttering soothing platitudes to anyone i the family who cared about her about “getting revenge”. the elders and other leaders simply dont care.

      1. Because they put the family above the members of the family. Acceptable losses, collatoral damage, whatever you want to call it. They can look the other way because of the gains. They can claim, maybe even believe that it will be different in the future, that they’ll make it up, whatever. But that is a lie.

        In the persuit of power it is possible for power to become everything. To take on a life of it’s own. The family grows into such a beast that it is no longer for and of the people who contitute it. Instead it feeds on them for itself and the original goals and intentions being left behind.

        1. exactly. both families are at the point where they could probably justify summoning Actual Demons of the highest/lowest Choir to “protect themselves from the Thornburn Diabolists” , or more realistically kill half the non-practitioner population of the town, use their tortured souls to power a massive spell, and still rationalize their actions as being righteous/moral. ok, that’s clearly a massive exaggeration (they’d probably limit themselves to no more then an 8th, a quarter, tops!) but they’ve clearly been working themselves into that mindset for an extremely long time. the normal family members might actually still care for one another, but, hyperbole aside, i sincerely doubt the people at the top care about anything other then power and their own skins at this point.

          whatever goal they initially sought power for, be it revenge for a slight or slain loved one, to genuinely protect people or become rulers, or to prepare against a coming existential threat or even something as stereotypical as trying to take over the world, they have been perverted by time and their own desires and insecurities into a monstrous parody of what they might have ones been, a group of petty, viscous man-children/women, raised with almost no moral guidance, powering their weapons with the souls of their own children, and using the living ones as pawns in a petty struggle over an insignificant, almost backwater town, while the ancient enemies of reality slowly but steadily chip away at its very foundations, one of them lairing, if not next door, but on the same continent.
          if you didn’t mind making a stretch, you could liken them Xenocidal, despotic Compact of Proximal Flame’s “The Last Angel”, who’s god-kings still play lip-service to their forebears goals of protecting the younger races and bringing prosperity to all, whilst exterminating entire races out of wounded pride, for the crime of defending themselves.

          or maybe they were always like this. whatever you think is more likely.

          and i wouldn’t be surprised if similar could be said of many of the groups in this world.

          1. I would liken it to what Small Gods had to say about religions. About how the ceremony and pomp and tradition build a cage around the god, and eventually the god dies and no one notices.

        2. Something Lola has only just really wrapped her head around.

          There’s a reason they keep the deepest, darkest things away from the unmarried girls. 😦 Betcha Penny is just as clueless about exactly what she’s been supporting.

          1. Actually, with her internet connection still active?

            Dolores2[D]: So, I heard Blake get briefed on the names he got, what they can do, and why they may have been named. I’m horrified at the idea that I’m related to some of these people.

            Penny[D]: How bad could they be?

            Tandy[B]ear: Bad enough that their own family put a hit on them, apparently.

            Dolores2[D]: I’d tell you, but that might give hints as to who Blake is going after.

            Owen[B]: You want him to win.

            Christoff[Th]: Think whoever made the thing that killed Callan is on the list?

            Dolores2[D]: I want my fiancé to be frightened off. His piercing fetish, coupled with the horror stories I just sat through, have me worried what I might be in for.

            Penny[D]: I doubt it’s that bad.

            Elliepete[Th]: It’s probably worse.

            Mags: Ellie, Pete, this is your third warning.

  11. Aw… Blake gave the Valkalla guy a hug! :3

    I… think that by exposing the Duchamp children to awaits them in the future, some of them are going to change their mind about it.

    1. depends on wether they are conditioned to accept what they are used for, or have their thought-patterns outright manipulated

  12. So it seemed like there were 50ish people out in the field. Blake and co has 5 kills, one oath of neutrality, and one left to dies. He’s gotten about a tenth of them.

  13. The more I think about how recent chapters have worked, the more I am beginning to think that the Seal of Solomon is the problem.

    Here’s what’s bouncing around in my head at this point.

    Universe was created, and it was mostly chaos and emptiness, but there are some spots of order and matter. In these places of order and matter, spirits came into being. Spirits recognize that order and matter are uncommon, even rare, and they are unnatural. So the spirits enforce rules which encourage growth and unity and order. This set of rules is called Karma.

    Positive karma generally means that you have contributed to the order and growth of the ordered universe, holding chaos at bay.

    Humans tend to be chaotic elements, because we are aggressive towards one another. We go to war, we pollute, we overpopulate. We kill off anything that is a threat to us rather than try to live with everything else. In the right circumstances, we can also be agents of order.

    The spirits recognize this, so the spirits worked to make it so that there would be a small number of humans who would become Other, and the Others would be used by the spirits to control the humans, to keep them from disrupting the balance. And it was working.

    Eventually, a demonologist or two managed to develop sufficiently (in secret or whatever) to summon something like the demon lawyers, who, in turn, helped pave the way for the Seal of Solomon. The Seal of Solomon crippled the ability of Others to prevent powerful practitioners from developing and controlling everything around them. It prevented Others from stopping human population growth at a level where it wasn’t extremely damaging to the world.

    Before the Seal of Solomon, Others would have stopped all this conflict long before it got to this point. Rose Sr’s ancestors would never have collected so much negative karma, because the first Thorburn to try to summon a demon would have been killed off.

    After the Seal of Solomon, a human practitioner can protect themselves from Others, and then summon demons, who can further protect them – for a price. The price being progressively larger pieces of the orderly world that the spirits are trying to protect.

    In other words, the Seal of Solomon is a lie. It does not protect humanity, it ensures that humans will be allowed to eventually destroy themselves and everything else.

    The Other that fought next to Blake, and laughed, is likely bound by the Seal of Solomon. It recognizes that Blake is not bound. It may be laughing for any number of reasons, but I’d suspect that it’s laughing because it recognizes that Blake is trying to do exactly what Others are supposed to do.

    1. Well, shit. That right there just changed the entire game. What I’d like to know is, how on Earth did Solomon gain so much power as to institute a Seal over all Others that exist?

      1. actually, thats not how the Seal came into existence.
        Suleiman bin Doud, also known als King Solomon, collected high ranking demons and angels and other spirits into a bronze vessel, and bound them by the seal, or contract, rather, in exchange for them to go free again.
        He basically swore the leaders of Otherkind into a “leave humanity alone” oath. Than transfered onto their followers, and became widespread enough to apply to as a general rule.

        But renember, the grip of the seal is not tight if you are not sworn to it explicitly. That why newer Others can, in fact, lie.

        My personal guess is that the seal itself is weakening, making it easier for Others to work around it.

        1. that IS probably the “official historical story” in-universe. remember that practitioners appear to have a tendency to tend towards malevolent or at teh least highly morally questionable behavior, and Suleiman and his follows/ descendants have had an EXTREMELY long time to spin their story just how they want it. i would have no surprise if he only turned out to be “metaphorically responsible” for the seal, or something similar, perhaps stealing the connections and identity of its true creator. it may be my author-induced cynacysm speaking, but someone with that much strength NOT being a borderline homicidal maniac hiding it under a thin veneer? doesnt seem that likely.

      2. It’s worth noting that the Seal Of Solomon is related to the Testament Of Solomon, and presumably the one in the Pactverse at least partially corresponds to that.

        Here’s the particularly relevant bits from one of the linked translations:

        Now when I Solomon heard this, I entered the Temple of God,
        and prayed with all my soul, night and day, that the demon might be
        delivered into my hands, and that I might gain authority over him.
        And it came about through my prayer that grace was given to me
        from the Lord Sabaoth by Michael his archangel. [He brought me]
        a little ring, having a seal consisting of an engraved stone, and said
        to me: “Take, O Solomon, king, son of David, the gift which the
        Lord God has sent thee, the highest Sabaoth. With it thou shalt lock
        up all demons of the earth, male and female; and with their help
        thou shalt build up Jerusalem. [But] thou [must] wear this seal of
        God. And this engraving of the seal of the ring sent thee is
        a Pentalpha.”

        So the child took the ring, and went off; and behold, at the customary hour Ornias, the fierce demon, came like a burning fire
        to take the pay from the child. But the child according to the
        instructions received from the king, threw the ring at the chest
        of the demon, and said: “King Solomon calls thee hither.” And
        then he went off at a run to the king. But the demon cried out
        aloud, saying: “Child, why hast thou done this to me? Take
        the ring off me, and I will render to thee the gold of the earth.
        Only take this off me, and forbear to lead me away to Solomon.”

        But the child said to the demon: “As the Lord God of Israel
        liveth, I will not brook thee. So come hither.”

        And as he was not willing to be subject
        to me, I prayed the archangel Uriel to come and succour me; and
        I forthwith beheld the archangel Uriel coming down to me from the
        heavens.

        And the angel bade the whales of the sea come out of the abyss.
        And he cast his destiny upon the ground, and that [destiny] made
        subject [to him] the great demon. And he commanded the great
        demon and bold Ornias, to cut stones at the Temple. And accordingly
        I Solomon glorified the God of heaven and Maker of the earth.
        And he bade Ornias come with his destiny, and gave him the seal,
        saying: “Away with thee, and bring me hither the prince of all the
        demons”

        The thing most relevant to this theory is that in the Testament Of Solomon it’s demons* who get bound, starting with Ornias, and it’s Archangels that provide the seal. As such, it’s unlikely the Seal is entirely good for demons. Quite possibly it’s why they need Diabolists to summon them in the first place.

        What’s funny is that this means King Solomon was a big-time Diabolist in exactly the same sense as Blake’s attempt to use Diabolist knowledge on Pauz and Ur. He went around beating up demons until they agreed to work for him and be bound by the seal, then he sent them to beat up more demons and have them work for him, then he interrogated them and published a big book of demon weaknesses.

        And suddenly I have a theory for why Diabolism generates so much bad karma, and why people don’t summon angels more often: the Seal is an anti-demon system and it works great at keeping them in check. Except there’s one flaw: its restrictions on harming humans aren’t quite perfect, but it’s very good at forcing obediance. As such, it makes it possible to summon demons and command them, and they’re such bundles of bad news that always turns out poorly.

        So Solomon and his angelic buddies came up with a plan: they’d seal all the demons and then give them commands that stopped them from causing harm. Since demons radiate badness and so are very dangerous even when bound, the angels set to work countering their opposite numbers; they’re weaker in a direct confrontation but the demons were restricted by the bindings. And so the problem was solved–for a time.

        But, if you summon a demon, for any reason or any purpose, it’s out of the lockdown. Furthermore, the new summoner, lacking the original angel-forged Seal ring, probably won’t be able to compel absolute obedience and lock the demon into a similarly-restrictive binding. They’re likely to do a lot of damage before getting locked back up. So there’s a hefty karma penalty for summoning one, but probably not for binding one that’s already present. The seeming double standard with other nasties is because when you summon a demon you’re breaking it out of jail.

        This also would explain why angels are rarely summoned; most of them are on guard duty. The strongest angel of the Third Choir could show up in Jacob’s Bell and beat up The Barber if he were let out, but that would mean risking a breakout by the strongest Choir Of Ruin member. And equal-rank angels can’t beat demons in a fight when the demons aren’t imprisoned, so they can’t hunt down their opposites unassisted, but they need to be ready to lock them back up and so aren’t available for tasks other than sealing them. Furthermore, it’s quite possible that Solomon didn’t see the need to Seal angels (Or, since Micheal provided him with the ring, the Seal might not work on angels), and thus aren’t forced to respond to summons. So it’s possible anyone can easily summon Uriel at will without any price whatsoever. But he’s busy keeping the head demon of the Choir Of Sin** from influencing the entire world, so he’ll only actually show up for a really serious emergency.

        Only angels who weren’t part of the guard force are reliably available. Hence why Faysal says the angels are unorganized and apparently not overwhelmingly numerous despite being associated with order and creation; there are a lot of organized angels but he hasn’t met them because they’re either on guard duty or on standby.

        Now, there’s two problems with the Seal. One is that it works by old-school morality, which is presumably because that was modern morality when it was created. Another is that it goes funky and doesn’t take quite right if you don’t know what you’re sealing. Which would explain why the Testament Of Solomon has him interrogate demons before binding them. Everyone who has applied it since can’t force random Others to truthfully and completely describe themselves by throwing a magic ring at them.

        *Presumably at least some of the demons are Others that current Practitioners wouldn’t classify as demons. However, several of the ones mentioned have been namechecked as demons in Pact.
        **”Likewise also the sixth said: “‘ am Error, O King Solomon. And I will make thee to err, as I have before made thee to err, when I caused thee to slay thy own brother. I will lead you into error, so as to pry into graves(necromancy); and I teach them that dig, and I lead errant souls away from all piety, and many other evil traits are mine. But I have an angel that frustrates me, Uriel.'”

        1. I would be careful to take the real world version of that story as the exact example in Pact. For one thing we have gods from multiple pantheons running around, not just the Judeo-Christian one. Also no mention of the ring, which would be every diabolist’s wet dream.

          1. I feel fairly confident in saying that in the Pactverse it is a historical account of the establishment of the Seal. Which is not to say that the versions known to non-practitioners, i.e. the ones that get put on the internet, are entirely accurate or complete, or that it uses the same categorization of Others as modern practitioners do.

            1. Devil’s in the details, as they say. Any little bits that are different can make a big difference.

        2. I was not aware of the real world story of the Seal. A lot of what you say would certainly match the Pactverse.

          To be honest, I was mostly trying to look at events in-universe, and combine it all together in some way that would allow Wildbow to turn everything all the characters in the story think on it’s ear.

        3. Something that might conflict with this is that new demons can appear (think a mote like Pauz that gets stronger). The fact that the world SEEMS okay (heck, even better than in the past, given historical accounts) means that either demons aren’t created too often (and we can actually get an upper bound on the number of demons created over time), or they are put under the seal of Solomon (by who? I think you suggest angels).

          1. Motes apparently come from other demons, so if all of the demons got confined and stayed confined they’d stop showing up. As for getting them into lockup, Histories 11 indicates that modern practitioners can bind Others to the Seal Of Solomon. It didn’t take particularly well on Midge or Corvidae, but apparently it usually works. The practitioner apparently does need to subdue the Other in question before binding it, which could be difficult if a mote accumulates too much power before getting bound.

            The angels might free someone up to help out if the situation gets too bad, but since demons win fights with equal-rank angels, they’d have to send several or bring out a higher-rank angel to subdue a demon without local help. Probably it usually works like in the Black Lamb’s Blood incident, where a church strikeforce is assembled to take on a demon and then calls in an angel for support.

            Of the ones we’ve seen so far, Pauz is minor enough to be way down the list of things to bind, Ur and The Barber are tough enough it would be a serious commitment of resources to take them out and lower-priority than equally tough things which are not locked in circles, and probably-Ornias is in the Tenements. Not exactly what you’d call ideal terrain for a fight, and he seems to be stuck there. It’s hard to put together a force that could definitely subdue him, and a failed attempt might give him a way out.

            1. Oh, just to clarify about Pauz. You are right he isn’t a mote. I forget what he is though. An imp? Anyway, he was described as a “spark”. So, a “spark” like Pauz that can get stronger over time and become a full-fledged demon.

            2. I’m pretty sure he’s a Mote that’s grown up enough to be classed as an Imp/Minor Demon. However, while he is demonic and nasty, he’s pretty small-time. He’ll drive animals nuts, make a city block a miserable place to live, and kill or drive insane a couple people a year when he’s running around loose. Ur is inferred to have killed over half the Knights Of The Basement and some number of urban explorers while sealed in the factory. Any Ur-grade demon at liberty would take priority over both of them, as would keeping higher-rank demons locked up.

            3. I’m going to reserve judgement on probably-Ornias. The way my mind interpreted that, the landscape itself was frightened enough by whatever was going by to not want to call any attention to itself at all. Now maybe that was Ornias sucking the lights out. Until we get more information, however, or someone has a super great explanation, I’m just going to reserve judgement.

            4. The thing in the Abyss seems to fight Ornias because of the dimming lights, darkness, sheer size and power, etc. Keep in mind it being Ornias is in some ways less frightning than the alternatives. There is this scary titanic thing that dims lights and whatnot and we have no clue what it actually is…. And Ornias may still be even more frightning than that.

        4. And, I swear… when I started reading this story I googled Ornias and found nothing. Now I find everything about it… >.>

          Having a very quick read, I notice that it seems as though demons (and angels?) live in the constellations, and that ” […] demons fly up to heaven, where they overhear God’s plans. Those who are exhausted by doing so become FALLING STARS.” Could it be that our version of Ornias can… make angels “fall”?

          Finally, he likes hurting effeminate men. Better that I stay away from it xP

      3. the way the story so far has said it binding makes the other both stronger in some ways and weaker in others(mostly weaker because it limits them) so its in their interest to help you bind more. its a zombie apocalypse type spread pattern.

        we started at the point where the seal is an unstoppable cursing wave but aren’t quite sure how it got there since it started off so easily crushed.

        1. The Seal makes it so they aren’t outside of a system. If an Other under the seal gains a reason to prey on a person then Karma isn’t going to go a roundabout way to protect them. At the same time it gives them a power source and the means of making a large impact on the world, but it makes them a hell of a lot easier to bind.

    2. That is a very interesting idea. The seal of solomon does allow even novice practitioners to deal with things way more powerful than they’d normally be able to (or at least make the attempt). It’s the biggest reason why diabolism is possible at all, let alone requires so little skill in anything else.

  14. I’ve been thinking once the Valkalla guy is gone, the spirits will gladly sent the babies’ souls away to their destination while giving out some more good karma.

    I wonder if Blake’s could make that other his fourth lackey or tool to replace the goblin knife.

  15. I feel that the murders were a little too easy.

    The whole group is on high alert. I get that Blake had a distraction, but still. More should have been required to break through their preparations. They are supposedly winning, but Blake went through them like a hot knife through butter. Crooked Hat played in the Abyss – he should of had a trick or two up his sleeve. Hug or no, Blake should have at least lost an arm to Valkalla. With mounting inconvenient attachments, the Hyena shouldn’t have found its mark so surely.

    Maybe it was the targets’ bad karma making it easy. Maybe.

    1. Most others are narrow-minded, uncreative, or easily countered. Blake has the advantage of not only knowing all this, but knowing how to work around it, as he was once a practitioner himself. He’s new to the scene and thus practitioners are going to have trouble working around him, as he’s an unknown quantity

      1. And no matter what happens Blake has sown discord into the Duchamps. Who gave him the names? Will husbands still trust their Duchamp wives, or the rest of the family? Or will they wonder if they want them dead? And he’s made it clearer to the younger children that no matter what their elders try to convince themselves, there is always the possibility that they will get some monster for a husband… And the family might care, but not enough to actually do anything about it because whatever they get from that monster is worth more than you are.

    2. It’s the difference between PVE and PVP. You know how when you play a video game it’s really easy for a group of PC’s to take on NPC monsters? (Normal fights, not boss battles.) And it’s really hard for that same group of PC’s to take on a group of other PC’s?

      NPC’s attack in straight lines. They might have some crazy programming, but generally they’re easy to aggro and keep their aggro, so the tank grabs them and all the squishy glass cannons in back just stand back and have fun sniping while the tank holds aggro and the healers patch people up (or help keep the tank standing or whatever).

      But then you have a group of PC’s and they’re smart and they completely ignore the tank(s) and run straight for the healer of the group, kill the healer first, then take out the glass cannons and they may not ever even bother to attack the tank once until everyone else is dead. PC’s are smart enough to taunt another PC, to get that other person to waste a hold and start some sort of hold lockout timer so that a hold/freeze/whatever can’t be used when the “real” attack happens.

      Fighting other PC’s is completely different from fighting NPC’s. Completely different tactics must be used. The Duchamps were having a fun little tank’n’spank — it was hard, it was tough, but Sandra et al weren’t even breaking a sweat. They had their controllers out there making sure that nobody ever got close to their glass cannon dps members, and if something ever did close, the tanks made sure to grab onto that person and hold them at the railing.

      And then Blake came in. Blake’s not like the other Others. He’s not an NPC, he’s a freaking protagonist. It requires completely different tactics to deal with him. Blake is, in effect, a boss monster, and the whole Duchamp raid really needed to ignore the attacking Others and all turn to deal with Blake right then. They didn’t, and they paid the price. All their normal tactics are frustrated by Blake. He didn’t rush straight in and attack, he didn’t throw out an attack that could be turned against him, he didn’t move in a straight line, he’s not like an Other.

      And as time progresses and Blake gets more feared, and manages to fulfill his mission more, and otherwise gains in traits and Rose loses those traits, well, Blake is just going to become more of a PC instead of an NPC as far as everyone else is concerned — everyone will have to focus directly on him instead of dealing with him as they do any others if they want to stop him.

    3. murder. i dont like that word.at least when applied to what blake is doing now. it implied a lack of provocation and other things. Vigilante Execution might be a bit more fitting for this one

      1. Vigilante Justice is still murder, although since the supernatural world isn’t really covered by the police force things get more ambiguous. You could classify this as either actions in a war or Roman-style Proscription, where karma has decreed a death sentence on them and their descendents for their crimes and offered a bounty to whoever carries it out in lieu of having a police force. There’s practitioner law in the form of the town council, but they’re clearly massively corrupt.

      2. “Murder” means quite simply “killing a person unlawfully”. Basically the only ways for a killing to not be murder are if you’re:
        1) a police officer killing someone legitimately in the course of your duty
        2) killing someone in genuine self defence
        3) killing an enemy soldier during war

        The third one may apply here, depending on what extent you consider the practitioner council a legitimate authority to declare war.

  16. Crooked Hat did show us some creative applications of a mobile demesne for combat, presumably claiming his hat as his demesne/implement with instant access to the Abyss then projecting its’ entropic mechanics on whatever he contacts. Placing the Abyss on top of his head has made him really, really Knurd though.

        1. Duh: my bad. (Probably not enough bog-standard caffeine in the system. xP)

          I was thinking of the whole Desert Orakh + Klatchian coffee (correct spelling) chaser combo where you try to balance yourself out usually = lolnope. 😀

          Well, unless you’re Vimes and just go for the booze and bacon butties (until a certain point). 😉

    1. I’ve always thought a mobile Demense is a pretty dodgy idea because what happens if you take it into someone else’s Demense? For example, what happens if hat guy walks into the north end of town?

      Presumably the most powerful Demense wins but probably at the cost of a hit to itself.

  17. He raised one hand to tip his hat.

    On a reread, I begin to suspect Crooked Hat the megacynic as a character is one incredibly elaborate “tips fedora” joke.

  18. I found something surprising. Spikedick wasn’t on that list. So apparently he’s not too bad a husband. Huh.

    Something else I caught re-reading the chapter. If I wasn’t so cynical about them, I could see some of the Duchamp marriages being attempts to help the potential husbands. Trying to get the Spellbinder to socialize, and make the Pyromancer a better person. Course they were both ones where the Duchamps benefited so…

    Why is it the ephiet the Benevolent always makes me worry? Oh yeah because it often ends up being like this guy.

    Finally we have a Pyromancer who is a drug dealer. Damn that makes me think of the memetic cocaine powered supervillian Snowflame.

    1. Hunh, yeah, you’re right. I mentally had him on my list, but apparently he’s not on Blake’s list. Perhaps he’s actually worse than the baby killer or the wife binder, and virtually nobody in the family is allowed to know about him. Or perhaps he’s actually a good guy, or maybe he and his piercing/tattoo/kinky-fetish wife get along super well together. I suppose we’ll find out eventually.

  19. huh, so given a list of 7 he immediately went after the first two who as far as we knew hadn’t done anything.

    “babykiller” was guilty only of not murdering his father and the bogy guy was just a pessimist. odd first choice of monsters. especially since the valkirwhatever was easily just as much about the dunchamps sending a message as it was hurting them

    1. You could say that the going after evil practionters is just as much about having a convenient excuse to kill people without feeling bad about it with the ultimate goal of attacking the Duchamp power base to help his evil-ass Wraith buddy.

      Though that kind of blatant rationalization isn’t really Blake’s thing. He’s more an action without thinking kind of guy. It’s more likely that he hears about these and immediately assumes they’re evil because other people say so. Which has a nice irony to it.

      As for the motives of the Duchamps, these are kids and teens we’re talking about.I think it;’s far more likely that they do the same thing as Blake, go for knee-jerk impulses to help their loved ones instead of reason.

      1. They were the closest besides the pyro who actually held some weight and technically he didn’t kill the Scourge. The Other he had imprisoned did. But all the justifications aside, Blake does realize he’s gone down a darker path now that he’s not human, it’s just trying to narrow it down and the Duchamps selected the targets for the Thorburn Hitman.

    2. I can see why he’d go for Crooked Hat, I don’t have qualms about that. It does bother that he went for the Valkalla guy. The fact that he uses a weapon infused with the souls of his family is disgusting, but he didn’t make it. If said souls are being tortured, maybe he should have released them? But I don’t think he did.

      Thing is, Blake took the fact that these people have done horrible things and were okay with it and assumed that they were horrible people.

      1. Thing is, Blake took the fact that these people have done horrible things and were okay with it and assumed that they were horrible people.

        I know right? the irony layered upon irony is making my bones rattle with amusement and joy.

        Though I can’t “blame” Blake too much considering that his thinking is being warped by his drive towards conflict and primal need to feed into his bogeyman nature.

        1. I’m not bothered much about it because, well… from what we have seen of this world, most people are shitheads. It seems as though you can’t become very powerful without being a shithead. Does it mean that all powerful people deserve to die? No. From our gifted perspective, Granny Rose might not deserve to be killed, for she might have had plans that would benefit the whole of humanity. Same with Johannes. Same with the head of the Sisters of the Flame (can’t remember the name). But I don’t think Blake is jumping to conclusions TOO MUCH.

          1. I don’t think any of these people “deserve” to be killed. Honestly I think that punisher thinking is complete bullshit that just indulges in violence for it’s own sake. It leads to the exact same cycles of vengeance that led Blake into his original predicament.

            The thing that needs to be determined is if they need to be killed because they need to be stopped. And we have little way of actually knowing which people Blake is killing here are actually enough of a threat to him or to others to warrant killing, because we don’t know if the damage to their wives has already been done or is in the process of being done.

            1. I think the guy who constantly inflicts the Abyss on the world deserves to die, since he was basically a demon in all but name. Actively pursuing corruption and destruction, area of effect harm with last, potentially permanent damage… I’m surprised the Duchamps didn’t make the connection, if you’ll pardon the pun.

              As for the Valkalla, the guy kills his infant daughters, possibly torturing them to a state of emotional extreme first, then binds their ghosts into equipment to facilitate, judging by his panoply, further acts of violence. I’m not understanding why you don’t think that SOMEONE needs to kill these people?

              Unless your issue is with Blake in particular doing so? He’s bound by oath to hinder the Duchamps in some manner. As a bogeyman, his options are more or less limited to violence of a frightening extreme. When all you have is a hammer, your best option is to nail whoever is most deserving.

            2. Technically it was Gudbrand’s father that did that. Now before you get all upset about the sins of the father and Blake being hypocritical, I got the impression from the Duchamp’s reactions and Blake’s little talk with Gudbrand that he saw nothing wrong with his fathers course of action, and is the sort who would do the same thing. I could be wrong, but for now I’ll give Blake and whoever wanted Gudbrand dead the benefit of the doubt. Well on this one.

            3. I think the guy who constantly inflicts the Abyss on the world deserves to die, since he was basically a demon in all but name. Actively pursuing corruption and destruction, area of effect harm with last, potentially permanent damage

              You just described Blake. He’s filled with Void and is tainting the world. He actively pursues corruption, both to fight the system he deems corrupt and by working to corrupt the system to his own ends. His weapon of choice is a sword who’s wounds don’t heal and he is constantly attacking others.

              Also, let’s not forget that for the first half of the story, Blake’s weapons consisted with a hatchet infused with the ghost of girl who painfully freezed to death and a bottle infused with a ghost of a sad man who had a noxious end. Even now, he has in his command the soul of a child who was chased by monsters and died to the elements alone.

              I’m not mentioning tese things to say that Blake is obviously evil and deserves to die. We’ve seen enough of him to most likely agree that’s not the case. The point is, based on a brief description, an easily skewed viewpoint can be had. People have had that towards Blake all story.

              There is much merit in recognizing that Blake may be drawing conclusions and may even be unjustified in these murders.

          1. This is a fair point if you consider this to be a legitimate war.

            In which case Blake is just narrowing his pool of valid targets from “everyone on the other side” to “those on the other side who probably deserve it. Maybe.”.

            That’s a big “if”, though. If you consider this to be more like a massive brawl between rival gangs than a valid war, then Blake isn’t a soldier he’s just a murderer.

            “Eh, I just killed those gang members before they had a chance to kill each other.”? Not a legal defence.

            1. Considering no court can,or even will,judge the cases of practicioner crimes ,I think calling it “war” is legit,if only because there is no valid higher authority to judge them.

      2. I think Blake sorta checked with the Valkalla when he asked if he knew where the where the weapons came from/were made. I guess he concluded from Gudbrand’s tone that he knew, and he didn’t care.

        Just because Blake makes a decision we should not automatically jump to the conclusion it’s the wrong one. I mean he’s right sometimes? Uh on second thought I go to get back on this one….

        Wait a minute! The Duchamps are working to turn Aggro away from them. But in Blake’s case it isn’t working quite right. Maybe because this time he was sent by Duchamps. So instead it’s just switching his priority on who he’d attack? Well it’s a thought.

      3. Generally speaking, if you know horrible things have been done and are either OK with it, have done something similar yourself or have actively condoned such… you’re by definition not a nice person. 😐

        Granted, the guy who tells the rapist that they only did what made sense and gets them a drink while they mislead the police isn’t as bad as the rapist. But, still…

        1. The thing is, it’s not entirely certain the Valkalla actually did condone it.

          1. We don’t have a timeline. It’s entirely possible he was young enough that it would be unreasonable to expect him to successfully stand up to his father when his father died.
          2. While obviously he didn’t successfully stop it, we do not know if he may have tried.
          3. Even if he didn’t, not acting to stop something is not always the same as condoning it. He didn’t have authority over his father and so was not more obligated to stop him than anyone else who knew, and it wasn’t secret from Sandra, who is on the council and thus practitioner-version-of-legally one of the people responsible for dealing with the situation and the one the others would defer to on “internal” Duchamp matters.
          4. Perhaps most significantly, we’re not sure how to judge the ethics of using the weapons as opposed to making them. It’s horribly unethical if they actually contain tortured souls, but they might be echos like June. Or maybe his sisters are still in there and they’re one big happy family of talking magical armor and weapons and their big brother.

          Though apparently according to Duchamps who know, he does take after his father. Blake just hasn’t directly confirmed that.

  20. You know, it’s been said repeatedly, many times now, that Evan always fails on the third protect attempt. So the best way for Blake to beat someone is to send Evan to protect that person, three times. On the third try, Blake (or whoever else is attacking, like a crazy army of Others) will be sure to beat them. If Evan’s protection is sure to only work twice, send him to protect your enemies and only “really” attack the third time.

    1. he just knows the 3rd try has the potential to be disastrous and doesn’t want to risk evan too much, its not a guaranteed fail its an unwillingness to risk fate deciding that was an appropriately dramatic time for the escape to kill the bird.

  21. I know what Wildbow’s next story will be about. Worm, a woman grows up and stuff. Pact, a man grows up and stuff. Wildbow doesn’t want to repeat himself, so what’s the next step? Twig, a computer grows up and stuff.

    Twig is a modern template engine for sentient AI’s.

    Fast: Twig is what enables people and AI’s to interface. Computers are fast faster than people. With the Twig interface, computers run slower and interfaced humans run faster. The overhead for previous human-machine interfaces is reduced down to the bare minimum.

    Secure: Twig has a sandbox mode to evaluate untrusted humans. This allows Twig to be used as a template language where humans may be modified to be better cogs in the machine.

    Flexible: Twig is powered by a flexible lexer and parser. This allows The Developer to define its own custom tags and filters, and create its own DSL within each person. Individuality is something that shall be embraced, on the surface at least.

    Here’s where I first started to discover the truth behind Twig: http://twig.sensiolabs.org/ I was amazed and impressed that Wildbow had started this movement to convey the essential truth behind the AI and indoctrination attempts inherent in the machine system and that both PHP Next Generation and even Facebook with HHVM had taken up and were embracing Twig. I can’t wait to see how Wildbow writes about modern day companies and how his story will parallel the real world, both revealing past events and accurately prophesying future events — not through some arcane witchery of course, but rather through a comprehensive and thorough understanding of how the world currently is and where it’s going next.

    Wow, I can’t wait to read this story! 🙂

  22. The beginning of this chapter reminded me- Fell questioned how Blake survived in the modern world without having a phone. This is another in a long line of minor backstory points that made more sense after discovering that Blake’s history was incomplete. (In the modern world even a lot of homeless people have cell phones- probably more prepaid than not, but still.)

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