Execution 13.8

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“Jerry?” one of the Satyrs asked.

“Don’t worry, Itys,” the High Priest said.  He sighed, and I could see the cloud of cold breath in front of his face.

Sandra put her hands in her pockets.  I saw her gaze move past the High Priest to me.  Her eyes were half-lidded, as if even this eventuality hadn’t truly startled her.  She remained poised.

“Can you explain?” one of the Maenads asked.

“Yeah,” the High Priest said.  “I can explain, but it’ll be after.  For now, form ranks.  No permanent damage or killing of any of the Duchamps… but we are dealing with them.  Get ready.”

I saw Sandra shaking her head a little.

“That right, Blake?” the High Priest asked.  “No hurting or killing the Duchamps.  I’m laying out my terms, here.”

“I’m not making any promises,” I said.

He turned his head, so his face was in profile, only one eye turned my way.  He gave me a disapproving look.

“I’m not stupid,” I said.  “You haven’t promised anything.  You’ve alluded, but that means nothing, in this world.”

“Uh huh,” he said.  “I promise, then, to aid you in your efforts against the Duchamp family, provided you promise to refrain from doing permanent harm or killing the individual members.”

“If they don’t give me cause.  I’ll exercise self defense.”

“Agreed,” the Drunk said, turning his head back to face Sandra.

“But I like Sandra,” one of the Bacchae said.

“I’m with Thais,” another said.

There were less committal murmurs of agreement, with that.

Sandra smiled a little, but it wasn’t a happy one.  It looked more apologetic, sad.

“I guess karma comes back to bite me in the ass sooner than later,” the Drunk said.  “Dissension in the ranks.”

I saw the one Maenad glaring at me.

She elbowed one of the women next to her, a Bacchae or Maenad, I couldn’t see the details, and muttered something.

Enemies.  Blaming me for acting in self defense.

Green Eyes emerged from the snow next to me.  I’d been so focused on the Drunk and Sandra that I hadn’t noticed her retreat.  Evan shook off more snow.  He wasn’t in any shape to fly, being as damp as he was, so I had to bend down a little to pick him up and lift him onto my shoulder.

“I won’t lie,” Sandra was saying.  “I anticipated something along these lines.  For years, I thought you’d suddenly show up, after finding the right kind of power, or the right contact, and you’d react.  Take action.  Fix what was broken.  I didn’t anticipate it in the here or now.  Your timing sucks.”

“If the timing was more convenient, I wouldn’t be doing this,” he said.  “I’m capable, I have resources, but I’m not about to tackle your family when you’re having a good day.”

“Yeah,” she said.

I saw the plume of breath as she sighed.  “Damn it.  How are we doing this?  Are you going to sic all of your followers on me?”

“That would be rude,” he said.  “Not very fair.

She didn’t respond.

“Can’t help but notice that Hildr isn’t here.”

“Standing watch over the men that he was attacking.”

“You’re going to tell Hildr to attack, aren’t you?” he asked.  “First chance you get?”

“Yes.”

The Drunk winced.  I was looking at his back, but I could tell.  He spoke, “We’ll let you walk away without taking you hostage if you promise to call her off.  Keep her out of this.”

Sandra looked at the five or so Satyrs, the four Bacchae and the three remaining Maenads, at me, Green Eyes, Evan, and then back at the Drunk.

“You get a one-minute head start,” Sandra said.

“Ten minutes.”

Three.

“Starting from the time you meet with the other Duchamps,” he said.

“From the time you let me go.  I’m not joking around, Jeremy.  The stakes are high, here.”

“No,” he agreed.  “Not joking around.  I let you barter me down to three minutes of head start, let me decide when the timer starts.”

“Fine.”

She didn’t move.

The frantic screaming continued in the background.  The Other I’d loosed was still active, recently freed by Evan.

“Remember how we put it back then?” she asked.  “No asking for forgiveness.”

“I think,” he said, “We meant there was no need.  ‘We do what we must’, remember?”

“Because that worked so well for us, you think?” Sandra asked.  Another small sigh.  “I’m being a bitch.  It got us halfway, at least.”

“Yes,” he said.  “Goodbye, Sandra.”

The word held a kind of weight to it.  Finality.

“Then you realize this is goodbye,” she said.

He only offered a curt nod.

She turned to leave.

I could see the tension in the Drunk’s minions.  The stares that were directed his way.

“I don’t get it,” I said.

“Oh, God, that’s good,” Evan said.  “Means it’s not just me.”

“The context doesn’t matter too much,” the Drunk said.  “What matters is that we have limited time before Hildr comes barreling our way.  All of my followers together could stop her, I’m almost certain, but Sandra knows that.”

“It won’t be alone,” I said.

“No, she won’t,” he said.  “Your bird can’t possibly keep her from tracking all of us.  We’ll need to move.  Now.  She’s faster than she looks, I’m sure you know.”

“We’ll split up, then,” I said.  “I’m not done here.”

“What do you have left to do?  You wanted to weaken the Duchamps.”

“I have three more targets here.  A fourth elsewhere.”

“Names given to you by Duchamps, if I heard right?  Your announcement, after killing Crooked Hat and Gudbrand?”

I nodded.

“Who are you after?”

“Mason Hall-McCullough, the Ritchie brothers.”

“Ah,” he said.  “If I’d known you were after the old man, I might have decided differently.”

“Why?”

“There are some individuals you don’t want to cross,” he said.  “You can deal with him on your own.  The Ritchie Brothers… if it’s them you’ve got me on board.”

“Just like that?”

“Are you complaining?”

“No.  But I don’t trust events when they work in my favor.”

“My god is, in some respects, a god of fertility, madness, and beasts, among many other things.  In some respects, in a narrow, particular fashion, Those two could be said to fall within my god’s domain.  I still despise everything they stand for, and that’s all I’ll say on the subject.”

I don’t mind a vote of confidence on the ‘they deserve killing’ front, I thought.  On the other hand, I didn’t like ‘that’s all I’ll say‘, either.

“Can you give any tips on their appearance?  I’ll need to find them in the crowd.”

“Red-blond hair, red-blond beards.  Green jacket, for the one, black jacket for the other.  One of them has a book.”

I nodded.  “And Mason?  You’re okay with going after the brothers, but are you saying Mason doesn’t deserve to die?”

“He might.  He might not.  I don’t know him well.  If he did do something worth being killed for, I doubt anyone would be in a position to find out.”

“That was my understanding,” I said.  “I was thinking he could be a trap.  A name given to throw me off, a situation where I’d almost definitely lose.”

“As opposed to a genuine target?” the Drunk asked.

“A genuine target, yeah.  Maybe one of the Duchamps named him because they know something none of the rest of us do.”

“And maybe,” the Drunk said, “He’s both a genuine target and a fight you’re bound to lose.”

I frowned.

The Drunk gave a signal.  His Satyrs and Maenads began to move out, away from the main group.  His own feet crunched in snow as he headed to the side of the backyard, toward the neighbor’s yard.

When I didn’t join the general retreat, he paused.

“What are you thinking?” the Drunk asked.  “You’ve faced down the troll once.  If you stay here, you’ll endure a round two.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“But you’re not running.  I know you’re quick, elusive, but…”

“I’m thinking,” I said, “That this may be my last chance to get to the Ritchie brothers and Mason the Benevolent.”

The Drunk stared at me.  His stubble was almost at the point of being a beard, and his eyes looked damn tired.

“You don’t have to follow,” I said.  I offered a hand to Green Eyes.  She climbed up onto my back.  “But I can’t let them go.”

“Word is you were human, not long ago.  Did you forget that mortals like me get tired, after hours of tension and stumbling around in the cold and darkness?”

“No,” I said.  “I’m counting on the fact that mortals like them get tired.”

I headed up to the porch the Maenad had jumped off, then hopped up to the roof, landing knee-deep in snow.  A small avalanche of snow occurred beneath my feet, but I maintained my position.  I scaled the roof.

I saw Sandra rejoining the group.

Snow crunched around me.

Two Satyrs.  They were surprisingly adroit, on the steep, ice-and-snow laden roof.  But then again, they were goat men.  They wore only sweaters and gloves, despite the cold, no jackets, one with a scarf, the other with a hat.  All despite the fact that the weather really demanded a hat, scarf, gloves, and coat.

One prowled forward, crouching at the apex of the roof.

“You need more allies like this,” Green Eyes murmured, looking down at him.

“Hm?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“She said-” Evan started.  Green Eyes swatted at him, and he managed a brief flight before landing on my shoulder again.

“I see the Ritchie brothers,” she said, pointing.

The Duchamps were gathering at the house where snow had fallen, blocking the front of the house.  Some were moving around to the back.  Others were facing Sandra, where she was talking to a group of ten individuals that was about eighty-percent male.

The husbands.  Maybe one or two of the people in the group might have been female family members or allies of husbands.

The Ritchie Brothers were there.  At this distance, given the circumstances, I couldn’t quite judge color, as the gloom turned everything into shades of gray.  But they were standing side by side, and I thought I saw the book.

“Red-blond beards?” I asked.

“Yes,” Green Eyes and the Satyr to our right said, at the same time.

She leaned forward, hugging me more, chin over one of my shoulders, my head effectively blocking her view of the Satyr, but I did catch a glimpse of her face, a suppressed smile.

“Your eyes suck, Blake,” Evan said  “You need animal eyes.  Or monster eyes.”

“Diagrams on the ground,” Green Eyes said, pointing.  “There, there, and there.  Like the one before, kind of.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I could almost make them out.  Spaced out at even intervals.

That made the approach harder.

“Maybe if you plucked out your eyes and let them regrow?” Evan asked.  As if the question wasn’t horrifying enough, he managed to ask it in a way that sounded innocent.  As if this was the most normal thing in the world.

“I think tampering with my perceptions is a bad idea,” I said.  “And I kind of want to keep whatever I’ve got left, fleshwise.”

“You don’t got much,” he said.

“Hey, yeah,” Green Eyes said.  “How much do you have, even?”

I declined to comment.

Just by being here, not even talking, the Satyrs were bad influences.

Still, it was manpower.

And, I thought, it was symbolism.

A more experienced practitioner like Jeremy wouldn’t have missed that.

I crossed the roof, and hopped down.  The landing was harder than I might have liked, with the added weight of Green Eyes on my back, but I still landed on two feet, and managed to avoid falling.

The Satyrs landed almost gracefully.

We hadn’t been noticed.

What did it mean for practitioners like the Enchantresses, so used to being aware, to tracking connections and more, to have to deal with an enemy they couldn’t track?

If I was targeting them, I imagined, it might have been entirely different.

I was aware of the Ritchie brothers.  Standing off to one side, talking with another bearded guy.  The diagram-drawer.

Mason the Benevolent was talking to Sandra.

I saw her check her watch.  Her stoat perched on her shoulder, leaning forward to look as well.

Tense, ready to act.

We’d spent a couple minutes talking.  In less than a minute, the troll would be loosed again.

Attack?” Green Eyes whispered.

I could hear the toll of the bell.  Faint, but there.

“No,” I said.  “Attacking is suicide.”

Especially with Mason the Benevolent there.

I glanced at the Satyrs.

Both were staring at me.  Glaring.

Because I’d killed the Maenad?  Or because we’d been enemies only minutes ago?

I pointed.

They nodded, small gestures.

I led them around.

Avoiding the diagrams.  Avoiding the route the troll was most likely to take.

Off to one side.

“Diagrams?” I asked.

Green Eyes craned her neck, twisting her body, scanning.

“There.”

Damn it.

“For trapping the living curse,” one Satyr said.  His hooves were making a steady chipping sound against the ice and snow, as he ran alongside me.  He was close enough to a mortal in how he operated that he did get tired, it seemed, as he was breathing harder, but I was guessing he had more stamina.

“Would they work against me?” I asked.

Shrug.

Right.

“Diagrams?” I asked again, after passing a house.

“No,” Green Eyes replied.

I pointed, then led the way.

Between two houses.  The Satyrs, like me, were fairly quick, and adroit enough to land atop one section of fence, where the back yard was walled off.

I pointed again.

Taking the long way around.  Half a block to the right, forward, and now half a block to the left.

Thing,” Green Eyes hissed.

I saw it a half-second later, as I came to a halt.

A gargoyle.

More animal than person, it had a jutting jaw and hair that was carved out of stone.  Its eyes glowed.  It had horns, claws, and wings, with spikes down its spine.

It was perched on the edge of the roof, above the back door where Duchamps were filing into the house.  Its head swept from one side to another, moving like a security camera might.  Except this security camera was attached to something the size of a small car.

The men had been airing grievances with Sandra, or asking for more information.

With luck, they were reacting to the loss of the High Priest.  The Drunk had been, going by what I’d seen earlier, a representative of their side, in the Duchamp contingent.  Powerful, somehow a leadership figure, and someone with Sandra’s ear.

I drew closer, using mounds of snow that had accumulated over a tarp-covered air conditioner and barbecue as cover.

“It smells like bad meat,” Green Eyes said.

The thing’s ear twitched.  Its head turned, quicker  eliciting a grinding noise, like the roll of a tire over gravel, yet audible from two hundred feet or so away.

I let myself drop to my knees, closer to the ground, harder to see behind the lump of snow.

When I looked again, the thing’s head was roving, scanning the surroundings.  A share of its attention was pointed our way.  Diagrams to cover from one angle, gargoyle from another.  If I’d circled the other way around, would I be running into a another form of defense?

“It-” Green Eyes tried, testing, her voice even quieter.  When it didn’t react, she whispered, “Smells like the little things back at the house.”

Homunculus?

I looked again.  This time, I saw the first of the men heading around to the back door.

Any second now, the brothers or Mason the Benevolent would disappear through the doorway.

“Evan,” I said.  “With me.”

“Yeah.”

“Satyrs, distract?”

I’d looked at them as I asked the question, and I saw the glances they exchanged, the dark looks on their faces.

“Nevermind,” I said.  “Just stay quiet.”

There was no time to waste, no room for planning or biding time.

I peeked, checked it was looking, then moved the second its head turned away, a full run.  In the doing, I underestimated how deep the snow was in the one yard, and my progress slowed.

I wasn’t going to make it to the shed that was supposed to be my next bit of cover before the thing looked my way again.

I saw its head turning, and simply let myself fall.  Arms spread, face down, landing in the snow, three-quarters of the way across someone’s backyard.

“Wait,” Green Eyes whispered, her voice breaking due to the smallness of her words, the individual components so faint they used parts that weren’t practiced much.

“Go,” she said, and she was off me.  Slithering away.  Or swimming.

I went, no longer burdened by my passenger.

To the shed, then the fence beyond.

I tensed as I saw her in the snow, freezing almost right under the thing’s nose.

It didn’t notice.

She was camouflaged.

She’d maybe even camouflaged me, being on my back, helping to offer just a bit more white to join the reams of snow.

I waited, now close enough I had to be careful of the humans seeing, making sure I wasn’t letting the Ritchie brothers or the Benevolent slip my noose.

I hopped the fence, landing in a crouch in snow, then moved to the side of the porch.  Snow had piled up and between rails in the railing, making it a simple wall.

Green Eyes approached me.  She extended a hand.

I started to reach for her hand, but she shook her head.

She pointed.  At Evan.

I didn’t dare speak, with the guardian homunculus so close.  I could only pass Evan to her, and in absence of words, will a message to her.

Don’t eat Evan.

She moved with glacial slowness, scaling the side of the house.

If I looked, I could see some of the homunculus.  Its flesh looked like it was ninety percent callus, the worst sort of callus that appeared on the feet, as dirt and sweat colored it yellow and gray.  Being homeless, working for a farmer, living at Carl’s commune, I’d had chances to build up some pretty gruesome calluses.

But it went a step beyond.  Large patches of its flesh had almost ossified, or calcified, or something.  It, in simple terms, looked as tough as dammit.

Makes me think of those biopunk movies, I thought.

Green Eyes reached the roof.  Helped in being silent and unnoticed by Evan’s presence.

As she moved through the snow, though, a lump of snow fell from the roof.  A miniature avalanche, much like the one I’d created earlier.

Green Eyes pounced on the gargoyle, setting her teeth into its neck.  Her tail scraped and stripped flesh from one wing, rendering it to tatters, and one layer of flesh from the thing’s side.  She made a screeching noise, and the thing howled at her, in return.

It was my cue.

I was nearly silent as I went around the railing.  The stairs had been shoveled clear, as had the porch, but there was enough snow to dampen my foosteps, and the noise of the fight was a distraction from the sound of broken branches.

My eyes were on the practitioners.  Their focus was distracted.  I could flank the group, hit them hard, and there were a half-dozen places I could escape to if I needed to.  Over the edge of the porch and into the neighbor’s yard, onto the roof, onto the neighbor’s roof, back to the backyard I’d just approached from…

The porch had two sets of stairs.  One leading into the backyard proper, the other had a gate at the bottom that opened to the driveway.  The gate was open, and the practitioners were there.

The Ritchie brothers, there.  Mason Hall-McCullough the Benevolent was there, too, but he was halfway down the driveway, at the side of the house.

All unaware.

Until the Satyrs behind me screamed.  Battlecry screams.

Eyes fell on them.  Standing behind me, still in the backyard.

My own eyes found them.  I saw the glares.  The anger.

It was Jeremy’s bad karma, quite possibly, that was bleeding over to me.  The Satyrs were upset.  They had loyalties to Sandra, and I’d killed one of their kin.

They were following the letter of the law, but not the spirit.

They’d revealed me.  Ruined the element of surprise.

I broke into a run, leaped into their midst.

Practitioners needed opportunity to practice.  To say words, to draw symbols, or use the right item in the right way on the right thing.

I faced a cluster, a pack.

“Deus-” one started.

I smacked him in the mouth with my forearm, goblin-chain-and-barbed-wire included.

I saw another drawing sheets of paper from his pocket.

I simply struck them out of his hand with the butt-end of the Hyena.

Throwing my weight against the group, I shoved the closest practitioners back into the ones behind.  They were a group, on or at the base of the stairs, without much room with the house, fence, and railing all in close proximity.

“I was asked to kill specific individuals,” I said.  It was easy to speak while I fought, as I didn’t really need to breathe.  My words came out strange, wind whistling past trees, albeit with force behind them.  “By Duchamps.  For Duchamps.”

Green Eyes and the gargoyle fell from the roof, in a heap.  She was covered in blood, and I had no idea how much of it was hers.

“Eric Ritchie, Stan Ritchie,” I said.  “You’re next on the list.”

I saw heads turn.

Stan and Eric.  A green jacket and a black jacket.  One had a thick mustache, but his beard was scarcely more than stubble, a step behind in growing in.  The other had thick glasses, a book in one hand.

“I’m on the list too!” Mason Hall-McCullough called out, almost cheerful.

“Wait your turn!” Evan shouted.

Some had fallen, being pushed back, or finding that snow, ice, and other’s people feet made for lousy footing.  I walked on them, pushing my way forward, keeping the rest on the defensive, retreating in a space that was almost painfully confined.

I was almost surrounding myself, leaving barely injured practitioners behind me, and there was nothing saying the Duchamps in the house couldn’t come out.

Except the Satyrs.

Even though they’d given me away, they were staying true to their role.  One had headbutted a practitioner, knocking him down, and the other was standing by the door.

In the time I’d looked, one practitioner had found opportunity to grab a fine chain  from their coat.

I stabbed to one side with the Hyena.  The chain was struck against the wall, falling loose from the practitioner’s grasp, the blade piercing brick, millimeters from cutting the webbing between the practitioner’s fingers.

In this, like this, Karma was on my side.

Declare my opponents, stick to the plan.  Be what I was supposed to be.

Using one hand to help, I grabbed the side of the gate, and I hauled myself up, perching on one corner post, Hyena held out as a warning, my eyes quickly moving between the various practitioners, searching for any more telltale signs, for lips that might be moving in an incantation.

Higher ground, albeit precarious.  I held the Hyena out, broken blade visible.  Light from a nearby streetlamp shone through the tangle of wood and bone that was my arm.

A bit of theatrics.

“I’m only interested in them.  Stay, and I’ll deal with them and leave,” I spoke.

For a long moment, I thought they were going to listen.

Then one practitioner in motley garb flung an arm out.

A toad.  A large toad.

Perceptions seemed to warp, the thing moving too fast toward me.

Thing was, it wasn’t foreshortening at play.  Not a thing growing bigger because it was closer.

It was getting bigger because it was getting bigger.

Evan took flight, and gave me a push as he did it.

I hopped back off the side of the gate and onto the end of the driveway, in front of the garage.

The goblin landed where I’d just been.  Its fingers had had iron worked into them, twisted into and under flesh, a pair of permanent gauntlets with pointed tips, permanent claws.

Those claws bit into the wood of the gate door.

The thing’s face had nails in it.  All inserted vertically, just under the skin.  Red, raw spaces between the individual nails, and around the spots where the nail had pierced or scraped skin on the way through.  Four nails surrounded each eye socket, a diamond shape, points nailing the eyelids into permanently open positions.

Its mouth was closed, its lipless grin literally ear to ear.

It wore armor, damn it, and it was hard to tell where armor ended and flesh began.  Much of it had been inserted through and beneath flesh.  I saw bits where muscle was hooked around or over spikes of dark iron.

It looked at my weapon, and the grin somehow got more intense.  Not wider, but it looked like it could barely keep its mouth closed.

It drew it’s weapons.

Two bound-goblin weapons.  A sword with so many spikes jutting out the side that I doubted it could cut.  An axe with a face etched into it, so much decoration I suspected it would get stuck if it was actually swung at something.

The goblin was showing off its stuff.  The weapons it was holding weren’t the only weapons it had.  More dangled from its waist.  A trophy collection.

The weapons, if I had to guess, were what the Hyena might have been if it hadn’t been insistent on taking an inconvenient form.  And if it were unbroken.  Goblins, quite possibly, of the Hyena’s general caliber.

I looked in the direction of the goblin king.

Was it pencildick or whatever the guy had been called?

The goblin came at me.

Fast, considering the armor it wore.

I backed away.  I only barely deflected the serrated sword with the chain and barbed wire around one forearm.

A practitioner beside me kicked me.  I bounced against the wall of the neighbor’s house, then twisted aside before the axe could hit me.

The face on the axe screamed on contact with the wall.

Brick shattered violently, with copious amounts of gore, torn intestines spilling from the open wound.  The air filled with the iron-rich scent of bloody feces.

Cosmetic effect?  Or something else?

On the off chance that it was ‘something else’, I made very sure to stay out of the axe’s way.

“They’re monsters,” I said.  “Monster enough their own family wants them dead.”

The goblin stabbed.  Wind rushed past me.

I felt blood well from the flesh around my face.  It filled my mouth.

I spat.

The goblin looked at it sword, expression eerily neutral with the nails in the skin and around the eyes, then slipped it into a loop of chain at its back.  It drew another weapon in the same motion.  Another goblin weapon.  A knife.

“They want them dead, even knowing the stakes, knowing the fight for the Lordship is happening right now,” I said.  “Knowing I have no interest in you, why defend them?  More than a few members of the family want blood and justice more than they want the Lordship.”

I backed up further as the goblin advanced.

It stabbed the hood of the car with the dagger, and dragged the blade down the side.

The metal on either side turned rusty, and sagged, more like old leather than car.

Smaller goblins began crawling out of the tear.  Being birthed by it, almost.  Naked, wet, and covered in blood.

I could see the dagger.  A female goblin was engraved on it.

Lovely.

The goblin slashed at the wall of the house, as we reached the midway point of the driveway.

“Diagram,” Evan said.

I’d almost forgotten he was with me.

Yeah.  If I kept walking back, I risked walking into the three or four diagrams I’d taken the long route around to circumvent.

I’d really, really wanted to do this subtly.  To do it clever, targeting the people I needed to target and then run.

“Or are you defending them because you’re monsters too?” I asked, edging to the right, circling around, hoping to avoid the diagrams.

The tolling of the bell seemed to get louder.

The smaller goblins had finished accumulating.  Each slash of the dagger was only good for two or three, it seemed.

They gave the larger goblin familiar a wider berth.

“Monster?” Mason the Benevolent asked, behind me.  “Tch.”

I ignored him.

The goblin pointed its dagger.

The smaller goblins moved as a group.  Charging me.

In that same moment, I felt the tug of enchantment.

I didn’t even need to look at the living room window to know there were enchantresses there.

The enchantment burdened me.  Evan fluttered, a short flight to one side, breaking the snare before it took hold, but it was a pivotal move at a critical time.  The smaller goblins pounced on me.  Ten to thirty pounds each, clawing at me and my clothes.  One reached my face, digging fingers into my mouth, hooking sharp nails over my teeth.

It tasted like butt smelled.

With eerie, easy confidence, the goblin strode forward, sheathing the dagger.

With a two-handed grip, it swung the axe.

I couldn’t react the way I wanted to, burdened by smaller goblins, but I managed to catch the handle with the blade of the Hyena.  When that didn’t stop it, I was forced to raise one hand, and press my palm against the flat of the Hyena’s blade.

The goblin was stronger than I was.  The axe inched closer.

I felt the snare taking hold again.

The axe blade touched the goblin on my face.

“Urp,” it said.

It screamed as it blew up, into gore amounting about three times its own body mass.

Evan flew by, and the axe slipped free, and the goblin familiar staggered.

It grabbed onto me for balance.  It switched around, changing positioning, and lifted me clean off my feet.

Strong.  Strong enough, as it happened, to heave me.

I didn’t move far, but I still moved.  I landed roughly, staggering backward, fighting to keep my feet.

I knew what I was in for.  Why the goblin had thrown me.

The diagram was expanding around me.

I reached out for Evan, and he flew into my hand.

I looked, and I saw the diagram, the shape of it.

I’d spent weeks of my life staring at the books, poring over them.  Seeing them out of the corner of my eye, or glancing over covers on my way to finding what I needed.  I’d seen them in Rose’s mirrors.  I’d seen my fair share of circles, of diagrams.

Only twenty or so minutes ago, I’d seen the diagram that had housed the box.  I’d carefully studied and examined the diagram there.  I’d used my analysis to hack it, for lack of a better term.  Understanding and circumventing it.

The bell tolled twice in the time it took me to catch my feet.  In those two tolls, I was forced to draw on instinct borne of that manner of study.  To guess, and guess well, and figure out where to put my feet and my body, with Evan’s help to guide my positioning.

Something flew past me in the moment before I came to a stop, and I heard glass crash on the far side of the street.  I went utterly still, and watched as the diagram snapped into a completed shape.

Nothing flared to life.  Nothing went off.

“Sorry,” I said to Evan, releasing my deathgrip on him.

“S’okay.  Watch your step.”

I did.  I made my way out of the diagram, staring the Goblin down.  The practitioners were all behind it, watching from a distance.

For a third time, I felt the snare start to settle around me.

Evan stirred, and it broke, more easily than before.

I didn’t feel the binding resume.

“I think I’m good,” I said.  “Go help Green Eyes if she needs it.”

“You sure?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

He flew off.

I saw the goblin familiar watch Evan fly off toward the house, over the roof to where Green Eyes and the Satyrs had been dealing with the homunculus sentinel.

I saw its eyes narrow.

Bad feeling.

I ran for it.

The goblin didn’t turn away from watching Evan as it glanced at me sidelong.

It opened its mouth.

It wore braces, in a manner of speaking.  Machinery wired into teeth, into mouth, and down its throat.

That machinery consisted of three barrels.  One was empty.  One had an arrowhead sticking out of it, and the other had a dozen needles bristling from the end.

He held the axe out to ward me off as it fired the crossbow bolt, moving head and mouth as if it were speaking.  Except it was firing a weapon, with the snap of machinery kicking into motion and a crack of gunpowder.

But the Hyena and the full bearing of my body struck his axe arm.  He proved too strong, too heavy with armor and too big for me to really move.  All my effort and I only nudged.

I didn’t even make out the crossbow bolt striking Evan.  I saw only the bird fall, with a scattering of feathers that fell much, much slower.

I dragged the Hyena down the shaft of the axe, twisting my body out of the way of the axe, cutting the back of metal-clad fingers.  In the doing, I found some flesh.  He loosened his grip, and I tore the axe from his hand.

He backed off fairly quickly after that.

Rage told me to press the attack.  I wasn’t sure if it was rage borne of the monster part of me or the human part.

Evan.

I turned my head to check on Evan.  Which was perhaps the only thing that saved my eyes.  I’d almost thought the goblin had retreated out of fear.  He’d retreated to have room to fire, at optimal range.  The goblin familiar opened his mouth.

The needles, as it happened, were a kind of shotgun spray.

They tore into my shoulder, into my head, and the side of my neck, but they didn’t strike the flesh of my face.  Branches as thick as a finger were shattered by needles as thick as, well, needles.  The sort one put threads through.

I staggered back, until I was at Evan’s side, where he’d landed in deep snow.  Feathers lay not so far away.

I cupped him in one hand.

“Ow,” he said.  “Ow.”

The mad fluttering inside my body stirred, as I touched him.

He had a gash running down the length of his body, head to tail.

“Can’t fly,” he said.

Wordless, not trusting myself to speak, I grabbed him.  I lifted him into a cage of safety within my own body.

I touched bloody and feather-strewn snow, then crushed it in my fist.

The monster demanded revenge for daring to hurt Evan, and it was hungry, angry, violent.

The human wanted revenge for different reasons, in different ways, but it wanted it all the same, just as much.

All together, though?  The human and the monster together?  What that wanted, what I wanted, was different.

Absently, I drew a streak of blood and snow and the occasional scattered feather across my chest.  To clean my hands, because my clothes were grimy enough with Drainstuff it hardly mattered.

The mission.

The brothers were there, in my peripheral vision.

Watching.

The goblin had drawn a flail of some sort.  A weight on a chain.  It came for me, the weight tracing a lazy circle around it.  I retreated rapidly, closer to the brothers, to the other practitioners.

Twisting, I charged them.

No revenge.

My focus here, the problem I was trying to fix, it was them.  The real monsters.  The monsters who made worse things possible.

“Only them!” I called out, as I saw the practitioners reacting.  “At the request of a child!”

I could only wonder if those words had an impact.  If it slowed the response.

I saw a diagram expanding.

Their buddy.  He’d been busy while I fought.

I touched the trace of sparrow blood at my chest with knuckles that gripped one weapon, and held out the one hand in the direction of the diagram.  Moving around as the diagram grew, like an explosion in slow motion.

I swung the axe underhand, catching the one in the groin.

Reaching over, I pulled the looser chain and barbed wire away from my arm.  I only managed a half-foot of length.

But the goblin was giving chase, slowing as light erupted from the growing diagram.  Blinded, it turned its head to one side.

I hooked my arm over the brother’s head, and pulled the chain against his neck.  A human shield, between me and goblin.

The weight came around, and struck the top of his head clean off, meat and only meat striking the side of my face.  Several practitioners dropped to the ground as they avoided the flying sphere.

“Back,” Needledick said.  “Back.  No collateral damage this time, please.”

The goblin stopped, letting the weight strike ground, then car, before it stopped.

There was a moment of silence, me still holding the body upright against my own.

“Only them,” I said.  “And him.

I looked at Mason Hall-McCullough, and I let the body drop.

“I can handle this,” the practitioner spoke.

The old man smirked, looking down at me.

“Can you?” I asked.

He smiled.

I advanced, and approached him.  He stood by the trunk of the car.

I saw no trap.  No diagrams.

He spread his arms wide.

“If you think it’s right,” he said.  “Strike me true.”

I stabbed him in the chest with the Hyena.

Turning back toward the house, I saw the Satyrs and Green Eyes, covered in blood, Green Eyes cradling one arm.

I pointed.  I got a nod in response.

I wiped the blood off the Hyena and onto my pant leg as I moved on.

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209 thoughts on “Execution 13.8

    1. WAY too easy. He’s totally got contingent reincarnation or something.

      Wait, maybe this is part of how he gets good karma. He graciously and theatrically allows his opponents to strike him.

    2. I would expect that the karma master has no need of any of that. His stockpiled karma would presumably be enough to let him come out of any situation unscathed. If that was a kill, it seems like he expected that Blake’s attack would not be righteous, and thus karma would favour him and deflect the attempt.

      There was a lot of expectation that The Benevolent would be a hard kill, both from readers and characters. After all, karma has historically not been on Blake’s side. Subversion of those expectations makes some sense, but as I said, this may not be over just yet.

      1. Eh, that might be his primary defense mechanism, but I can’t believe he’d actually depend solely on his Karma stockpile. That stuff isn’t entirely reliable.

        1. It could turn out that Sandra pulled some enchantress mojo so Blake stabbed the wrong person, thus letting her call him out for lying/not upholding an agreement later on. Or she set the old man up because she didn’t like him either.

    1. Benevolent has a lot of good karma. Which means that he’s going to get into a reasonably nice afterlife. If he lives, there’s a chance, however slight, that Barbatorem will get him and he won’t get into an afterlife at all.

      Why would he bother fighting when he can get away from Barbie and heap up even more good karma by getting murdered in a dramatic fashion?

  1. “Makes me think of those biopunk movies,”

    Boil confirmed as existing as fiction in Pactverse? Teaser for Boil being the next web series?

    Also looks like Mason did deserve it. Or so it would seem? Still whatever he did must have been bad if it overwrought the karma he normally carries.

    1. I think his plan is? was? to have his karma let him survive the wound. Hence the theatrics: He openly invites the spirits to judge him, banking on his karma to get a favorable result.

    1. Or, and let’s not forget, Bad karma passes on through generations, Or, maybe he was an old man who lived a good life, and didn’t mind dying and letting his kids inherit the Karma, gaming the system for that extra bit as he went.

    1. Perhaps, but letting the personal slight pass in favor of pursuing his promises netted Blake some positive karma, I suspect.

  2. Hmmm.
    I feel like that’s gonna come back to bite Blake.
    You don’t devote an entire lifetime to playing the game of the spirits and winning, a game full of symbol and meaning, without setting up your death to have some significance.
    There must have been a karmic trap there, a temptation, a prize, and a cost, tied to his practice.

    1. I can’t help but agree, do we have any clues as to what that might be though? He said to strike him true if he thought it was right, could that be a trap?

      Also, first pact post. Yay

      1. Well yeah, it’s sort of a mirror to the situation with the ogre twins. Blake asks them whether they’re monsters and they tell him to fuck off. But this guy doesn’t say anything, doesn’t let Blake easily massage his conscience with confirmation, but lets him make the decision on his own and live with the consequences.

        I’m thinking there might be more to this guy. Could he have been on the chat, and sent his own name in for whatever reason?

      2. There was a lot of emphasis on Blake killing people in the right order. Didn’t he just screw up the order? I thought the Benevolent was last.

    2. I just had a “duh!” moment.
      Everyone else was scared of trying to work against Hall-McCullough because they were framing it in terms of trying to set things up that work against him or weaken him, which are indirect actions. But his specialty is indirect action and influence in its purest form: karma.
      Blake came after Mason Hall-McCullough very directly, so countering all his good karma by making it irrelevant, and thus making him very easy to deal with.

      “I can handle this” – He gained more good karma by limiting the collateral damage.
      “If you think it’s right” – He gained more good karma by offering his opponent the option of taking the necessary time to make a moral choice. (Blake had already thought this through and made his decision, though.)
      ‘He spread his arms wide’ and “Strike me true” – He gained more good karma by instructing his opponent to follow through on his decision and by sacrificing himself to protect the others (and Others) who might have been hurt if he had tried to defend himself or have the others fight for him.

      1. Helping others to keep their goals is good karma, iirc.

        I have not read the next chapter yet, so I may be wrong on my theory, but I like it so far. 🙂

      2. This makes an awful lot of sense. Indirect attacks are a huge majority of how practitioners operate, Duchamps especially. Karma works great against those, because they have tons of moving parts- tons of room for things to go wrong.
        Sword to the torso? Simple. Concise. Not nearly so susceptible to things going wrong.

    1. “Three.“
      two opening quotes instead of an opening and closing

      into a another form of defense
      into another…

      Nevermind
      usually Never mind

      foosteps
      footsteps

      headbutted
      usually head butted

      deathgrip
      usually death grip

      “Not very fair.
      no closing quote

  3. Whoops.

    Blake just killed the guy with a fistful of karma, that can’t be good. As well as bit off more than he can chew in a crowd full of badasses.

    Welp, you keep hitting, eventually you’ll bust. I do appreciate you not hammering on the motive decay button under duress but what can I say, you’re fucked.

    Mason Hall-McCullough reminds me of Col. John Konrad from Spec Ops: the Line for some reason.

      1. Doubt it. The binding circles were targeted against living curses like that guy last chapter and Corvidae. It’s possible that the husbands heard “Thorburn Bogeyman” and assumed he was created as an instrument of vengence by the Thorburns instead of being a Thorburn.

        1. Blake didn’t mention his name before Sandra left. She could potentially have noticed by connection. However, given that Karma is something you just ambiently have, it’s quite possible the guy also has future sight powers.

    1. Either he put himself there, he asked to put himself there, or he’s used to having particularly nasty threats shoved his way as part of Duchamp family protocol because his entire practice is about beating hopeless odds.
      Obviously, it’s worked out for him.
      Until now. I wonder, maybe this is a genuine sign from the spirits that Blake has the karmic momentum now? Working with karma is a lot like working with a god, I bet, and we’ve seen what happens when you lose a gods favour.

      1. Blake allowed a blow against someone he cares about to go unpunished in favor of pursuing his promises before he set about killing his third trio of wicked husbands, with Mason being the third kill in the third trio. Add in the favor of the spirits from the two trios he killed already (necromancer and ogre mages, the first three husbands) and Blake has a lot of good karma to his favor. Some residual trouble from the Drunk, but the satyr battle cry bled that off.

        1. I like that explanation about letting Evan’s injury go unanswered.

          “If you think it’s right,” he said. “Strike me true.”

          I still dont get karma and balance, but the guy represents everything Blake hates about practitioners. How they worry more about Karma than doing the right thing and putting themselves in situations to simply collect good karma and let someone else get the bad karma.

          I think he expected Blake to hesitate. But Blake is willing to take on bad karma if it means completing his mission.

          1. Here’s what could have happened…
            I stopped for a second. The old man smiled, as thought he’d been vindicated.
            “I used to have seven generations of diabolist bad Karma haunting me.”
            He managed to get out an “Oh Shi-” before the Hyena drove into his chest.

            1. Nah, nah, Blake is genre savvy.

              initial stab “Before I fell into the Abyss, I had the karmic weight of the Thorburn line holding me back. Worked off some of it before a demon of the first choir cut my ties.”

              follow-up stab in heart “I learned a lot between becoming a practitioner and falling into the Abyss. Want to know what I learned about karma? It’s possible to be a good person with bad karma, or a bad person with good karma. Family legacy can be a factor, as can manipulating the system.”

              third blow to saw off Mason’s head “I don’t know the full extent of what you’ve slipped past the spirits, but I’m willing to bet that a kid wouldn’t risk lying just to put someone with karma as good as yours who DIDN’T deserve to die on the list.”

  4. I feel like there’s something more going on with Mason but not sure. It could be possible Mason didn’t account for Blake being able to justify killing him in his head enough that the spirits considered it okay.

    I’m really hoping it’s some kind of trap though. You don’t get to be old and have that much good karma if you’re not smart.

    1. Of course, he might simply be so used to having the deck stacked in his favour – stacked towards symbolic acts, negotiations, careful application of boldness and caution – that Blake’s Gordian approach is unexpected.
      All I can say is, knot that he was necessarily good – and I’d bet he was tied up in some pretty tangled stuff – but he ended with a pretty poignant last line; it struck a cord.

  5. Hmmm, I’m thinking there’s some sort of trap there, but Blake was making a big show of playing up how justified his actions were. Sticking to his promises of only going after those who he’d been asked to kill. The line about being ‘asked to kill by a child’ is probably worth some good karma. Especially since he didn’t go after the one that got Evan critically injured.

    I am expecting some sort of Karmic consequence, but probably not as a bad a one as Mason was probably expecting.

    1. I think your underestimating that fact that if someone asserts a karmic standpoint, but is proven wrong, then it’s a huge karma hit. Which is thinking behind this being a total trap.

      1. Blake and Rose debated early on about being falsely accused by the community as a way of wiping out karmic burden. Kinda rings similar here doesn’t it?

  6. Glad that Evan is protected for a bit.

    I think that it may be Mr. Benvolent who was trapped here, Sandra said that eventually she would take action against him, and Blake provided the perfect opportunity. She comes out correct someone else takes the karmic burden and the Karma hoarder polygamist dies.

    1. Which means that Sandra might be starting following up on her promises to change things for the Duchamp brides.

      Making Blake’s attempt at changing things a bit more obsolete.

      I love it.

      1. In that case, I think he would have provided impetus for change that Sandra might not otherwise have taken. There would always have been something more pressing to deal with rather than making them pay. Always something to do other than erode her own powerbase-she promised that she’d make them pay, yes. Eventually. When they were secure. But it’s so easy to just…put it off. Because they’re never going to be totally secure.

    1. I count this as his fourth rule of three victory against the monsters.

      The first was the Hyena, Conquest, and Ur, all of whom he won significant victories against, i.e.,found ways to stop them from doing monstrous things. He may not have finished the job against Ur, but the writing is on the wall(or the floor, in this case).

      1. Ur won a couple of rounds. that probably counts as a combo breaker.

        there was that goblin mentioned in Johannes territory who kept killing in threes

  7. Huh, an easy kill. I do not trust it.

    Also the goblin prick hurt Evan! The nerve of some things that are meant to symbolize the worst of humanity. Gosh.

  8. Guys, remember when we first learned about how karma works? It directly foreshadows this moment.

    “Karma has very little to do with good and evil,” the blonde woman said. “It has a great deal to do with right and wrong.”

    “Can you have a surplus?” I asked.

    “You can. It’s equally problematic, in many ways,” the woman said. “Such individuals have good fortune, find life conspires to do them well, all leading up to a moment where an opportunistic Other manages to work around this good fortune and brings about their downfall.”

    Sure, there’s some possibility that this is still a trap, but given how much this event matches that line, I’m thinking not.

    1. I still think it’s too easy. Blake didn’t do anything especially fancy, he just walked up and stabbed him in the chest. If Isadora, The Barber, Faysel, or a Djinn had done that, I could buy it, but Blake doesn’t have any special connection to Karma.

      1. I don’t think you have to do anything fancy or have any special connection to karma. Remember, bad karma doesn’t mean that your dice always come up snake eyes, because that’s too obvious(from the same chapter as my previous quote, . Likewise, good karma doesn’t mean that you win every fight. Mason was too used to easy wins from karma, and it didn’t have his back this time. That’s it.

        There are a ton of factors weighing on Blake’s side, too, including, if I’m counting correctly, three rule of three victories against the monsters, which is his purpose as an Other. If Mason really was a monster, then his challenge was basically an appeal that was bound to lose.

        I suppose we’ll find out on Tuesday, but like I said, I think Blake will be moving on to his next target.

        1. The guy is pretty old and has been at this for a while. I seriously doubt that he’d actually trust everything to just his karmic protection if he didn’t have reason to be confident it would work.

          1. Self-delusion is an important facet to gaming the karma system. Convincing yourself of untrue things so you’re not lying when you say stuff, just like any other form of deception, is a tangled web to weave. He might be confident, he might have a subjective reason to be confident, but whether or not that subjective reason is an objective reality is another question.

            1. Honestly, I think that there was no trap.
              That guy’s karma was defending him since the moment his name was spelled because Blake doubted at every turn if he should attack him. I expect Mason imagined that he could easily out bluff anyone.
              But as it turns out, karma just means that you doubt killing the guy, not that you have a problem doing the actual act

      2. The obvious possibility is that Mason is gonna pull through. People survive stabbings all the time. Now Blake just walks away and hunts spellbinder.

        1. Well, the wound was delivered with the Hyena. I don’t think the prognosis for unhealing stab wounds to the chest is quite so good. Then again, it’s possible that a god of healing or someone owes him a favor and is strong enough to overcome the Hyena’s cursed wound powers.

    2. I think we saw the same thing to some degree Laird too. The Universe disturbs the pile, by setting Laird against Blake, thereby burning BOTH their stockpiles.

  9. “Urp,” it said. It screamed as it blew up, into gore amounting about three times its own body mass.

    I… can’t help it but find this cute in the weirdest of ways. I am imagining a high, cute “urp” sound, meaning “oh no, this is bad”, just before it explodes into blood and guts.

    Wildbow, don’t you dare kill Evan :< You meanie. I'm annoyed he got hit though. He has never been hit on the first try, but now he was.

    1. Question for randomness… Should Evan being healed inside Blake’s body for now. How many spirits will Evan absorb that’s being empowered by the fear?

      By any chances will Evan get a new form after all the spirits inside are enjoying the theatrics joyride right now as he’s now eating them?

  10. “Strike me true!” and millions of karma, followed by a stab in the chest. He probably survived that. Slid the blade neatly between the heart and a lung, or something.

    Blake’s gonna feel his family’s burden soon, I think. It’s like his karma is a truck that’s attached to a chain around his neck. He’s finally gotten moving forward, but if he stumbles, the truck will roll over him. And then pull him along by his neck.

    1. Well, he did say he was on the list.

      Then again, there was a period of time between when he said that and when he got stabbed in which it is reasonably possible no one was looking at him. So it’s possible he swapped with something during that time.

  11. I think he screwed himself by asking for it. The monster in Blake had a mission, so there was no doubt or hesitation in his mind..

    Can someone get bad karma for striking someone that asked to be struck?

    Thorburns have enough bad karma anyway. Just add killing this guy to the debt.

    1. I think he screwed himself by asking for it.

      It’s possible he screwed himself by the way he asked for it:

      “If you think it’s right,” he said. “Strike me true.”

      He said if you think it’s right, not if it is right. Technically, even if Blake was wrong about it being right, as long as he thought it, he not only had permission, but was explicitly asked to strike. Also, if I understand karma right, when someone with high karma asks for something, the universe tends to make it happen. Careful what you ask for and all that.

    1. Maybe its like the necromancer Blake let bleed out. Its up to the spirits now to see if this guy is aloud to live,

      That or Sandra fucked him. “Convinced” him to sacrifice himself to hinder Blake in the near future. Plus revenge for not telling them about his other wives.

  12. I feel like this could be the end of the arc. If so, we could have a nice interlude to explain all the new ways Blake is going to get screwed from stabbing Mr. Karma Hoarder.

  13. I think mason tried to pull a protagonist move. we’ve seen Blake use words and delaying tactics tons of times to allow his friends to get into position or manipulate people into agreements. When mason said the line, Blake was supposed to hesitate. If he did, something or someone would have stopped him. Blake didn’t hesitate.

    Or alternately the benevolent thing is bullshit and mason has a stockpile of Barbatorums on deadman switches that Blake didn’t know about but mason thought he did.

  14. Notes:-

    1. The Ritchie brothers

    “My god is, in some respects, a god of fertility, madness, and beasts, among many other things. In some respects, in a narrow, particular fashion, Those two could be said to fall within my god’s domain. I still despise everything they stand for, and that’s all I’ll say on the subject.”

    I’m thinking they “dabble” by engaging in paedophilia-by-proxy using animals, manipulating both with drugs & magic with porn distribution on the side to keep things profitable? Ewww…I can’t believe I even thought about such garbage 😦

    Karmic Death: Dies from knowledge Blake acquired through dabbling (I know, pretty weak, I’m reaching here)

    1. Mason the Benevolent

    Rule-of-three & Tempting Fate is involved here

    • “I’m on the list too!” Mason Hall-McCullough called out, almost cheerful. (invoked himself as third in line among those present with a little extra form Evan telling him to wait his turn as 3rd)

    • “If you think it’s right,” he said. “Strike me true.” (two dead guys before him and a guy that specialises in Karma manipulation lines up as no.3 to Tempt Fate inviting the universe to strike with Laser-Guided Karma from a bogeyman that has been delivering Karmic Death)

    1. The Richie Brothers:
      From earlier comments when he first got the names and the death by groin-to-offal conversion (wisely left to the imagination of the reader), I’d say one was sexually abusing their niece while the father looked the other way, perhaps in exotic ways, but it’s not really needed to meet the prior hints.

  15. So Evan is currently badly injured. Maybe even dying. And stored inside Blake’s ribcage. Blake’s wooden ribcage. So if Blake gets set on fire, would that turn Evan into a Pheonix?

    1. After the Spellbinder is bound, pencildick is gonna get what’s coming to him.

      Go for his eyes Evan! Dig in and crap in his eye socket!

  16. You know, I like the way the karma hoarder died. It fits with the information we have, it is dramatic, it is funny. He has been hyped all this time as some sort of impossible target. Everyone has said that there was no way Blake could face him. And in the end, he was the easiest of the kills. Karma was just trying to scare Blake away, make him doubt (he is so certain of his kills… Oh, someone mentioned him? Surely he is evil).

    I am bothered that he seemingly was stupid enough to die the way he did. It makes me think that he was just a gambler who won many gambles against Luck, but lost this time. However, that makes for an unappealing character, and is incredibly unlikely. He is hundreds of years old if I recall correctly. He has just been lucky all his life, and was too confident in his luck?

    Anyway, my biggest problem with his death is the way it was pulled off. It ends with a cliffhanger, which honestly, doesn’t work. If he is truly dead, we are left to wait for a few days only to get confirmation he is dead. That is a very boring outcome to wait for and it only makes us confused for no reason. If he is dead, I think the chapter should have been a bit longer and confirmed it.

    1. “If he is truly dead, we are left to wait for a few days only to get confirmation he is dead. That is a very boring outcome to wait for and it only makes us confused for no reason.”

      Well, the author can’t be TOO predictable. If he always followed that formula, then we’d KNOW the karma guy was alive.

    2. It ends with a cliffhanger,

      No it doesn’t. It’s a hilarious anticlimax, but his death is supposed to be certain right now.

      Only paranoid reader suspicions insist that we have to wait until the next chapter to be sure there isn’t a shocking twist. But that’s reader suspicions. That’s not the narrative itself saying “find out next week… on Pact!”

        1. The word “cliffhanger’ means something. The story is not being ambiguous and conveying to the reader ‘tune in next time’.

          Cliffhanger: Rose and Alister’s engagement. What the fuck! How? How fucked is Blake now because of this?

          Cliffhanger: Blake turns around and stabs Laird. Fuck! Will Laird survive? Did Blake break his oath? Can he escape Conquest?

          Not a cliffhanger: A character’s apparent demise that is convincing enough that the main character and all his friends are satisfied that the job is done, moving on without comment, and without anything to contradict their impression.

          Even if there were a fakeout later (which there won’t be) that doesn’t make the apparent death earlier a cliffhanger. The chapter is perfectly hilarious the way it is, with an anticlimax after all the buildup. It’s certain. Blake’s certain. That we happen to second guess everything we see without explicit double secret confirmation doesn’t mean the narrative itself is any worse for “not really” confirming it.

  17. “I guess karma comes back to bite me in the ass sooner than later,” the Drunk said.
    Boo hoo. Think about who you’re working a deal with.

    Makes me think of those biopunk movies, I thought.
    In one of them, does the protagonist have an octopus thingy named Dolores?

    “I’m on the list too!” Mason Hall-McCullough called out, almost cheerful.
    “Wait your turn!” Evan shouted.

    Levity aside, how does Mason know he’s on the list?

    The goblin stabbed. Wind rushed past me.
    I felt blood well from the flesh around my face.

    Friggin’ Jack Slash…
    (Spoiler alert: Jack Slash has a superpower that lets him stab people from a distance.
    Spoiler alert: This spoiler alert is a joke.)

        1. I’ve noticed that when I post a comment with, say, “Taylor,” I get a notice that my comment is awaiting moderation. The comment above? Didn’t get that, despite talking about Jack Slash. Given that the Slasher has a fair number of spoilers associated with him, I did not expect that.

      1. This line may clarify a little:

        “Just by being here, not even talking, the Satyrs were bad influences.”

        If it didn’t, think of what Satyrs are known for, what kind of relationship Green Eyes wants from Blake, and why she might be asking how much -flesh- Blake has left.

        Though it’s debatable how much that would matter, considering he’s made of wood and bone 😛

      2. greeneyes wants a relationship with blake but may run into the mermaid problem despite having female genitals since we recently learned blake’s face is about all hes got at this point…luckily the same solution still applies

    1. Man, Blake still had a dick not that long ago. When did he lose it?

      Because in 12.03, he still had his, ahem, ‘groin’, and butt:

      There was more flesh at the legs and buttocks, out of sight, and I hadn’t yet seen my groin turn to wood and bird, but I assumed it was a matter of time.

      But two chapters ago in 13.06, he revealed

      The only flesh I had was at my face.

      Did he forget to install that particular bit of flesh in his new non-mirror body in 12.06? Or did the clockwork knight leave a bunch of Blake manparts lying in the snow for Alister and Rose to find in 13.01?

      1. Running joke from the Worm comments, that everyone’s default reaction to Skitter was “Eh, I can take her”. Often followed by “OH GOD NOT THE BEES!”

  18. blood made molly stronger right? so wildbow’s blood(from the god of pact) could heal evan…. fix him and it gets to stay where it is

  19. Was green flirting with the goat-men? I wasn’t sure what else she could have meant when she said blake needs more allies like them and then smacked evan before he could tell blake what she said.

    So. The benevolent. That was easy, considering all the internal debate about how hard he would be to kill…

    Uh. I missed something. Help? What good did getting sparrow blood on his knuckles do?
    I mean, I’m sure something happened when he got evan’s blood and feathers on his chest, but it was unintentional- putting the blood on his knuckle WAS intentional, so… why?
    That entire last tenth was hard to follow what was going on.

    Something about a slow motion explosion, a flail, and a human shield? Did he loose the goblin axe or take it with him? Did he swing it at his target, or throw it (since “swung” could go both ways)?

    Getting so much practioner blood and flesh on him, his clothes, and his face- is that good or bad?

    1. I think possibly the sparrow blood could have either help lend Evan’s evasion powers to Blake or possibly be symbolic, lending weight to Blake’s decision to go on with his mission vice seek vengeance.

  20. If Mason Hall-McCullough does not appear in the story again, I will be as put out with Wildbow as I was when I read that a certain darkness exuder… well you know what happened there.

    1. Why? Because you think just running him through was too easy?
      Honestly I’m more concerned about fell and his soul coming into play somehow/

  21. Hey How do you guys imagine a meeting between Blake, Harry Dresden, and The Winchester brothers would turn out? That’d be interesting.

      1. And because I’m still amused at this, my brain kicks out:

        “But you’re a chlorofiend.” “The FUCK is a chlorofiend?” “Dean, I think he means plant monster.” “Why doesn’t he just SAY plant monster?” “… I’m just going to let you three work things out while I go back to saving the town.”

    1. No clue how the Winchester brothers might react, but I could see Dresden and Blake getting along just fine, after Harry tries to catch/kill Blake a couple times.

      What would be scary is getting Bob and Evan together.

      “Evan, I’m made of wood. Now that you’re a flaming sparrow of destruction and death, you cannot land on my shoulder.”

    2. Sam- “Dean, there it is, the thing that’s been killing people in this city”
      Dean shoots at blake, to no avain
      Dean- “The hell?”
      Blake- “Great, more friends of yours?”
      Dresden- “Ah, sorry fellows. He isn’t a chlorofeind. I thought so, but after a lengthy discussion-”
      Blake- “You tried to kill me seven times!”
      Dean- “I’m sorry, a chloroform what now?”
      Sam- “Chlorofiend. Think djinn mixed with swamp monster, and put it in a tree”
      Blake- “labels are dangerous, be careful what you put one on”
      Dean- “See? Dangerous. Let’s gank the son of a bitch and get back to the wiskey I had opened before he got this job”
      Dresden- “Uh, hello? Guys? Still here. He’s not a chloro-”
      Dean shoots again
      Blake- “would you STOP that!”
      Dean- “sammy. SAMMY! What do we do? How do we gank think this?
      Blake- “you want to do what to me?”
      Sam- “lets leave for now. Maybe cas has something for us”
      Dean- Nah, screw that” Dean draws an angel-blade “I got something right here”
      Blake Draws Hyena “Alright, if you want to play it like this. I reserve the right to defend myself and cause permanent harm or death in retaliation for my well being. If these terms are acceptable to you-”
      Dean charges
      Dresden stops dean and puts his hand up to stop blake
      Dresden- “what is WRONG with you guys?”
      Dean- “I’m not the one killing townfolk in the middle of nowhere in freaking canada!”
      Dresden- “He isn’t! Well, he is, but he isn’t, er- I mean-”
      Sam- “Uh, dean. We have a problem”
      Dean- “WHA-oh. Oh that’s not good”
      Blake- “oh great. Molly’s at it again. See that army of Others coming at us? That’s what I’ve been dealing with, and those that summoned them. Plus or minus some monstrous practioners-”
      Dean- “what?”
      Sam- “witches and other magic-using humans and can we please get out of the way of the army coming at us?”
      Blake- “,,,Practioners that I’ve been asked to take care of on behalf of their family members. Uh. Where did henry go?”
      Other army coming in closer
      Blake- “quick question. You guys are inquisiters or witch hunters?”
      Dean- “Oh buddy, we hunt a lot more that witches”
      Blake- “Do you know how to deal with ghosts turned gods, enchatresses, sorcerers, or demons?”
      Dean and sam trade glances for the twelth time
      Sam- “Yeah, of course. We’ve dealt with tons of demons. Why?”
      Dean- “yeah yeah, that’s all just another tuesday for us. can we cut the chatter and get out of the friggin ARMY coming at us?”
      Dresden, from afar- “Holy crap you guys are still there? Hurry up!”
      Blake- “Ah. There he is. Well common you two, I think we can work out an agreement or two to deal with out respective… problems”
      Evan- “Anyone else concerned that everyone is WAY to calm about this?”
      Blake- “Well like he said, it IS tuesday”
      Dean- “great, we’re working with a tree that talks to himself. Fun trip to peaceful canada my ASS”

  22. As somebody who has been following wildbow’s fiction since worm, I’m pretty much expecting Blake (blessed he might be for following our sense of values) to fail horribly?

    The question is how will he fail, and what would be the best possible reaction?

      1. only time she ever failed iirc was in the face of 90+% chances against delaying the end of the world.

        just that even winning at every turn the world seemed determined to try and fuck her…

        wildbow is an evil god. dionysus is like “chill bro”

  23. We know some goblins go in for extreme body modification, but none of the ones mentioned before got to me – this did.

    And I am going to agree with several other commenters and say that Benevolent’s end doesn’t make sense as-is. Especially with Sandra talking to him just before that. I am personally thinking it is a way to force Blake back to an even more fun part of the Abyss. Drains –> Tenements –> ???

      1. Goblins are weak to elementally charged iron. As long as it’s just Iron they are fine and dandy. Run some current through that though and I bet things get real interesting.

  24. Gonna take a shot at what I think happened to Benevolent.

    He maintains a great deal of good karma, despite, somehow, being worthy of killing. The universe considers him to be “good.” Knowing that Blake is a Thorburn relative of some sort, and perhaps even knowing he was the heir for a time, Mr Benevolent may have thought Blake had a lot of negative karma .

    I do not think many others or humans can actually detect karma levels directly. Isadora seemed to be capable of it. Blake hasn’t mentioned it. I think what we just watched was a game of Karma Chicken. Except Mr. Benevolent had no clue that Blake had good karma, despite the killing he had been doing.

    In other words, Mr Benevolent thought that the universe would intercede in his behalf. (“If you think it’s right,” he said. “Strike me true.”) He gave Blake permission to strike him, but only if Blake was sure he deserved it. He almost certainly was expecting karma to make Blake doubt, which would in turn would prevent Blake from striking true.

    Whoops.

    1. I just feel like he wouldn’t have lasted this long if he was the sort of person to a) engage in karma chicken with Others of unknown attributes and karma levels and b) lose karma chicken against Blake’s karma level. He might do one of those things, but not both.

      1. Remember that Blake’s been telling the Duchamps what he’s doing, and even told them his targets. If a relative of Mr. Benevolent’s wife happens to be an accomplished enchantress, it’s possible that Mr. Benevolent might have been… misled in all the confusion with the demon running loose just a couple minutes before, and Jeremy breaking away from the Duchamps.

    2. I was thinking something else, actually. Right before Blake went off to lose against Ur, Isadora sent off a whole bunch of good luck his way. It’s possible that’s what saved him from dying outright. If this Mason fellow has the truly staggering quantities of good karma everyone’s been saying he has, he might be able to cheat death to an extent.

      1. I don’t know about that.

        I mean, let’s say Blake had like -7000 karma from being the Thorburn practitioner.

        Isadora gives him karma, but not nearly enough to completely pay off the Thorburn debt. Maybe +500?

        So Blake would still have very bad karma, just slightly less bad than he had before. And this benefited Rose and the Thorburn line in the end, as they inherited that -6500 karma from Blake instead of the full -7000.

        I think the real answer to his survival of Ur is not good luck for him, but bad luck for the Thorburn line, because what’s worse for Rose than your own reflection coming back to haunt you and unconsciously try to steal your friends and life away? And making Blake suffer through the Drains was a nice terrible fate, too, just as a bonus.

  25. Haven’t seen anyone else mention this, but who else have we seen, in this chapter, come right back from a major sharp weapon strike into the chest? That’s right, Blake, the one who just stabbed Benevolent. I’m just saying, just cause someone was stabbed right in the chest doesn’t in any way mean that person is dead. it ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings, and I haven’t even seen any fat ladies, let alone heard any singing. In fact, I’d wager that Benevolent was lucky enough that Blake’s strike didn’t actually hit anything vital, funnily enough. Maybe like this guy: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2734580/When-DIY-goes-horribly-wrong-Metal-bar-goes-right-mans-head-dismantles-old-house-China-SURVIVES.html

    Which means, since Blake didn’t strike true, that his cause must not really be just. I mean, obviously. If your cause is just, strike true, right? So if it doesn’t strike true then it’s obviously not a just cause, ’cause likely that Other, who obviously isn’t bound by the Seal of Solomon, was lying the whole time. Blake was probably just lying to cause dissension in the ranks — honestly, who can know the motives of a revenge demon stick thing from the Abyss like that, so now is the time for all good men to pull together and we have naught to fear but fear itself and the Duchamp men need to rally around Benevolent, proclaiming that Benevolent was right and help him rebuild his personal karma pile, I mean, pull together with the Duchamp family under Benevolent’s benevolent leadership, and all that jazz.

    1. Here’s a video of exactly what Blake should have done. Warning, bloodiness and screaming are involved, so possibly NSFW. It’s some scientists who are measuring the acceleration and striking force of a Navy Seal who’s attacking a semi-realistic ballistic-gel dummy, however, so definitely nothing illegal. The point is “how” the guy attacks with his knife, which is what Blake should have done to Benevolent. But Benevolent specifically asked Blake to hit once, which is what Blake did instead of doing this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yb4B7BTkMs&t=26m10s

  26. Heh I just realized a really simple answer. An answer we’ve seen before.

    Jeremy is on Blake’s side now, at least in a manner of speaking.

    Jeremy can call upon Bacchus from time to time to help him, but Bacchus does NOT require Jeremy to act. Remember Sandra’s pregnancy should have been a girl, but Bacchus apparently decided otherwise.

    Bacchus might have taken a hand and screwed up whatever Mr. Benevolent was trying to do.

      1. He DOES love tragedies and plot twists. What qualifies more then the noble and good “benevolent” being stabbed by a heathen turned ally and working with his most faithful servant?

        If Jeremy’s god sees the benevolent as good as the universe does (which he probably does), then seeing him die would otally fit the tragic storyline he is so used to.

          1. Very true! Plus those with multiple wives don’t last long.

            Huh, I guess that makes two gods that assist blake. One more and he’ll have enough good karma going for him to make up for all the bad crap happening to him!
            Okay… maybe not, but still,…

            1. What? No, I was talking about men in greek tragedies. Not real-life people.
              In most tragedies the guy with multiple wives or multiple lovers dies, usually horrifically

              Because we were talking about how blake killing the benevolent may have been helped by jerry’s god, who likely saw the benevolent as a good and moral person, due to the karma, and seeing a good person getting shanked is typical of a greek tragedy. And if blake is working with his favorite disciple, it;s not unlikely that blake had some divine help yet again.

              I’ve already read articles like that. And while the science behind them slightly bugs me, I tend not to argue with the theory that those with multiple wives live longer. Not saying I totall agree with it, as in THIS one they are talking about those that live to be an old age, instead of the average lifespan of all polygamous men vs all monogamous men, but I agree enough to not argue with it.

        1. plus the greek-roman gods WERE a group of bickering sociopaths with a liking of kicking the anthill whenever they were bored, so that WOULD fit with the behavior they exhibited in the mythology ( you know, zeus/jupiter repeatedly cheating on Hera, Hera murdering Herakles’s family out of a combination of vindictiveness and being too cowardly to ever really confront her husband , what they did to Prometheus and so forth). so if Dio DID pull the rug out from under the Benevolent, it would fit his family’s pattern of behavior..

          1. So it’s a good think for blake his new friend up high gets bored easily.
            Hey, you think Dio is liking blake’s story as much as we are?

            prometheus totally got the short end of that stick.

      2. Bacchus arranged things so that Sandra had a boy child, despite powerful family enchantments that were supposed to guarantee girl children. I think that clearly indicates he doesn’t give a flip about the Duchamps. Bacchus, if he’s on anyone’s side, will be on his priest’s side. If his priest strays too far, that can change, but Bacchus definitely stuck an oar in already to mess with Jeremy’s wife.

        1. thats the name of the monster women who take advantage of drunk men to eat them

          you’re thinking of dionysus (whos probably the oh god of hangovers among other things)

          1. …What. No. What do you think the Bacchae (Roman term; Greek term being Maenads) were even named for? Their (Roman-named) god, Bacchus.

            The terms Bacchae and Maenad are both even in this very chapter of Pact, come on.

            1. i just mean don’t know that I’d be calling him bacchus even if everybody knew it was the roman’s name for the same guy

            2. Ya. And the way Pact works (wiith multiple versions of Conquest, etc) Dionysus and Bacchus are probably different entities. There may find en be more than one of each.

        1. id just loose all interest in the story and future ones myself. it’d be a warning sign of wildbow’s work degenerating towards 40k levels of depressing 😛

          1. you know what i mean. from dark to “why bother getting attached? everything is pointless, everyone is equally despicable, and everyone with a shred of decency dies horrifically due to the stupidity and incompetence of everyone else”

  27. Hey Wildbow. Longtime reader here. I’ve loved reading your stories and seeing you grow as an author and it actually inspired me to start writing inbetween work as well. I won’t link because I find that crass, but I just wanted to say thank you. I was always curious though, how come you dont use adsense? I’m struggling on the decision right now so I’d love to hear your reasoning.

    1. Honestly? I disable ads on most sites I browse, and enable on a case-by-case basis, depending on my level of trust and degree of support for a given creator/site.

      On the one level, I just feel it would be hypocritical to shove ads in my reader’s faces. On another, it’s just that I find ads aesthetically unpleasant, and I’d rather the site was crisp and clean.

  28. Malcom’s death can be pretty easily explained. Jeremy pointed out : “He might. He might not. I don’t know him well. If he did do something worth being killed for, I doubt anyone would be in a position to find out.” makes me think that he usually ties up his loose ends karmically. By him asking Blake “to strike him true”, he probably isnt expecting there to be someone out there who is able to speak anything truthfully bad about him…..and he obviously thought wrong.

  29. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m expecting Mason to pull a Ben Kenobi — “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

    What if Mason is now considered a martyr? He DID die at the hands of a monster while standing for what he thought was right. Does martyrdom imply new kinds of power in the Pactverse? Does willingly going to the death create a ghost-like entity, an outpouring of power into an Other in the shape of one who has died?

  30. “She’d never get to read the third book of the Maggie Holt series, or see the movie they were making of the first book.”

    From Worm. Wut?!

    1. Right, and in 9-5, too:
      “Doesn’t matter that I have nine months of seniority over Kid Win, being thirteen means everyone expects me to be squealing over Justin Beiber or the Maggie Holt books, or dressing in pink or-”

      He mentioned the Thorburn house too, in 30-4:
      “A quaint old house on a hill, surrounded by rose bushes, a grandmother… Not my grandmother. I barely knew my Gram. I shook my head. The house on a hill had been a memory of something I’d read, once.”

      Probably more. He just likes alluding to his other works. Wouldn’t you?

  31. Evan getting stuck into Blake’s ribcage is evoking the theme of caged birds in my mind. It makes me see their restraining of Evan from his awesome firebird potential in a different way from the original thought that they were protecting Evan’s innocence(since he can’t really die). Then there’s the fact that Blake’s ribcage is made of flammable wood and that being reborn as a phoenix might cause some friction, so they’re holding him back because they’re prioritizing themselves over Evan’s growth. I wonder how long Evan’s wonder towards Blake will last, because I’m pretty sure when it falters is when the resentment will start.

    1. Uh… Evan can’t fly at the minute. He’s that badly injured, it’s going to take a while for him to recover. Even if he can, that is. 😦

      This is temporary. (The last person to imprison Evan when he can fly is Blake. He’s got all of Ross’ love of motorcycle freedom. Rose got none of it.)

      1. Actually, there’s a related thought: Rose is also not a gamer (even a casual one). Blake is. Poor Rose! Even Candy Crush is better than nothing! The Barber really left a lot out of her, when you think about it. 😦

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