Sine Die 14.8

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I managed to keep Crone Mara from seeing the smoke while we worked on binding her hands behind her back.  The wire was a little more brutal than I might have liked, but it was what the Knights had on hand.

When that was done, I stepped away.

I’d spent so very long in darkness.  Ever since the fight with Ur, really.  The Drains, the mirror world, where small patches of light were surrounded by vast tracts of shadow.

While I’d watched ‘Alexis’ die, I’d become aware of how very cold I was.  Not necessarily emotionally cold, but in terms of my humanity.  There was a lot to be said for having that warmth emanating from within one’s own body.  It meant that no matter what happened, no matter what emotions or events we experienced, we at least had that simple aspect of humanity.

I couldn’t quite phrase it right, put words to the idea.

But something swelled deep within me, as the sunlight touched my body, reached past gaps to touch things within, and touched the exterior, that little sliver of flesh I still retained, down the center of my face.  The light was warm, and it approximated the sort of warmth I’d been missing, existing in such cold, dark places.

A quiet, simple sort of joy.  The same kind that came with a hot meal, or sitting by a fire.

Holy hell, had it ever been a long night.

I turned my head, looking past the trees.  I could see the town, and I could see the darkness that still lingered within.  The sun was rising over it, but the light didn’t touch the town.

We had to go back.  Plunge past the surface and into the darkness.

I wasn’t in a rush.  I stood there, the sun shining on my face, letting the others deal with Mara, looking after the injured and the dead.  Teddy.

I felt the lightest of weights settle on one shoulder, tiny feet shuffling on one thicker branch that extended from what would have been my collarbone to my shoulder.  Opening one eye, peeking, I could see Evan there, wings slightly spread, face turned to the sun, same as mine was, both his inner and outer eyelids closed.

“It’s nice,” I said.  “Sunlight.”

“Yeah,” he said.  He opened his eyes, saw me looking, and hopped around, looking up at me.  “You broke your wing.”

“Yeah.  I can fix it.  If I’d used the Hyena to cut it off, it would be another story.”

“Yeah.”

“How are Peter, Roxanne, and Green Eyes?”

“Warming their hands by the fire,” Evan said.  “I could go get them.  It’s okay so long as we stay beneath the tops of the trees.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Is that an okay I should go or an okay I understand?”

“I get it.  I’m… not rushing, right now.  There’s so much to do, but right this moment, I don’t think we’re going to get attacked and killed if we let our guard down.  Just for the moment, maybe, let’s let our guard down.”

“Sounds good.”

I didn’t resume my previous position, face turned to the light, enjoying that it had no qualifiers, here.  That it wasn’t flickering bulbs that only reminded me of how dark everything else was, a confusing strobe or angle to hide handholds, or something that filtered through from a world I didn’t belong to.

I did watch the others, semi-consciously sticking to the light in the center of the clearing.

The Behaims and Knights were seeing that Mara was confined, and were drawing a circle around her.  If Mara had been talking, I would have wandered over to that end of the clearing, but her mouth was closed.  The treeline blocked her view of the plume of smoke.

Only a matter of time.  I wasn’t sure what her reaction would be to the burning of her house.

Rose watched over it, but didn’t participate, gloved hands clasped behind her back, holding the mirror.  The satyr and maenad sat on the fallen trees, talking, the satyr drinking from a flask, handing it over for the maenad to sample.

A younger Knight wandered over, and the maenad offered up the flask.  The guy drank, sputtered, and coughed.

Mara was forced to sit in the little circle they’d drawn, almost a parallel to the one she’d drawn around herself, to ward me off.  They backed off, standing guard around her.

I saw Rose say something, holding up a hand, then she turned to spot me and head my way.

Old fashioned Rose, in old fashioned clothes, hair tied back into a short braid, with two lengths framing her face.  Her expression was serious, unsmiling.  She held her arms out to either side for balance as she made her way through the deeper patches of snow, mirror in one hand, her rifle slung over one shoulder with a strap.

I waited a few seconds, then moved forward.  I still managed to meet her halfway, even though I’d given her the headstart.

We met each other’s eyes.

She shifted her hands so they were both in front of her, holding the mirror in both.  I saw her glance at Evan, then meet my eyes again.

“Being around you is terrifying,” Rose broke the silence.

“I can imagine, knowing what you know now.”

“It’s not the ‘doomed to kill each other’ thing.  I imagine you have that same sort of fear.”

“No,” I said.  “Not exactly.”

She frowned at me.

“I don’t really feel afraid in the conventional sense, anymore,” I told her.  “One of the first things that came with this transformation.  I conquered my fears and they just… went away.”

“Went away.”

“Don’t have to worry about them anymore.  I still worry, I have concerns for the welfare of Evan, and Green Eyes, and for… our friends.  But I don’t succumb to the grip of terror and panic like I should.”

“How nice for you,” Rose said.  She looked at the wing I was holding.  “Is it fixable?”

“Yeah.  Just need someone to stick it in place.”

“You could have asked me,” Evan said.

“You’re not strong enough,” I said.

Evan coughed.  “You still could have asked.  Some might feel insulted, being ignored like that.”

Rose stepped forward, putting her hands on the wing.

I flinched, but, after a moment’s delay, I let go.

She held the wing, maneuvering it as she brought the stump to the hole at my back.

Rose flinched as the wood at my back shifted, working to take in the wing.  Where I’d been hesitant, even protective of the wing, her reaction was more one of fear.

“You were calling me terrifying,” I said.  “I guess this is part of it?”

“Not like you’re thinking,” she said.  “You’re hard to predict.  Every time I look away, you’ve changed.  A monster in the mirror, then by the next time I see you, I’ve done my research, I know you’re a threat to me, and you’re invading the house I’d warded you out of.  Then, before I know it, you’re functioning, working despite the confines of the mirror world, striking down your enemies.”

“After which point I’m outside of the mirror, attacking the Behaims.”

She frowned.  “Killing, not just attacking.  It got rewound, but… very easy to imagine myself at the end of your blade, having seen that.  Now it seems you’re transcending normal human limits.”

“He flies!” Evan said.  “He transcends with style.

I tested my wing, putting my hand into the available spot, stretching it to its full length, and then with drew my hand out, folding my wings.  Lopsided as they were without my arm as part of it, I was most comfortable folding one in front of my body, touching the ‘hand’ of the larger wing to my right shoulder.

“Do you keep going?” Rose asked.  “Is this one step in a journey to becoming something else altogether?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

She nodded.

“Is Mara ready to talk?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, echoing me.

“Okay,” I said.

She’d come here for a reason.  I didn’t ask her what it was.

I had the sense that the both of us were being exceptionally careful about what we said.

I didn’t want to disturb this small peace I’d found here in the clearing and the sunlight, and Rose-

“Alister was bothered, I think, seeing how the two of us interacted,” Rose said.

“Bothered?”

“I’m marrying him.  It’s not a game or a gimmick or anything of the sort.  There’s strategy and power plays involved with it, but it’s not like I can or will back down or stab him in the back or anything.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“He made this quip, and it cut me pretty deep.  Commented that he wondered if what he saw in our interaction was what he had to look forward to in the marriage.”

“Ah,” I said.

“Ouch,” Evan said.

Rose shrugged, looking away.  “If I can show that I can function like a decent human being in the company of the vestige-cum-bogeyman that’s destined to destroy or be destroyed by me, well, maybe that counts for something.”

I bristled a little at the emphasis on my being a monster, but grit my teeth.  I managed to sound civil as I said, “Yeah.  I can respect that.”

“I’ve got to lay groundwork.  It makes no sense if we survive the remainder of the night, save the city from the abyss, and the consequences of everything we’ve done catch up with us and destroy us all the same.”

“Laying the groundwork for the future.”

“I’m trying to.”

“I’m glad,” I said.  “For too much of tonight, especially since I found out about where we really come from, from Russel, I haven’t felt like I’ve had much of a future.”

“Don’t say that!” Evan said.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t answer, don’t clarify.  You’re talking crazy!”

“Like I won’t survive the night,” I said.  “Or I won’t be me anymore.  If I lose my eyes or my mind, they’re the only part of me that are still Blake.  If they go, then it isn’t much different from being killed by a dragon or a crone or whatever else.  I’m having a really hard time picturing life as it’ll be in two weeks.  A few errands I should run, favors I owe.  Ur, the witch in the Drains, the Abyss.  But when those errands are done…”

I reached for the word, the phrasing.

I couldn’t figure out Rose’s expression as she stared at me, which made it even harder to finish.

“Flying together!” Evan finished for me.  He pecked me in the side of the head.  “I knew you were being too reckless, going after that dragon!  You sound like you’ve already lost your mind, you lunatic!  We’re supposed to go flying!”

I reached up and cupped him in my one hand.  I closed my fingers gently around him, until only his head poked out.

“Flying!  Adventures!  You, me, and maybe Green Eyes if she has to come along and if she promises to stop calling me a chicken nugget!  Winging through the air without a care, dang it!  Over water so Green Eyes can do the dolphin thing and jump out of the waves!  And then we’re supposed to fight monsters, and I go full throttle firebird Evan and raaaaaaaagagargh!

The incoherent sound he made as he finished was a little more emotional and raw than he might have intended.  More like he was screaming at me than finishing his sentence.

He sat there, panting hard, tiny body swelling against the confines of my hand with each huff.

Raaaaaaaaagh!” he tried again, just as raw.

“Evan,” I could just barely hear Rose speak.

“I want that,” I said, meeting his eyes.  “Believe me, I want it.  Maybe not the fighting monsters part.  Maybe a bit more quiet instead, sitting around, enjoying each other’s company, but I want it.  Really really truly.  The problem is that I’ve come this far by trusting my gut, and my gut isn’t telling me very good things.”

I looked from Evan to Rose.

“I didn’t know,” Rose said.

“Until I said it out loud, I’m not sure I did, either,” I said.  “I don’t know if I can stop anymore.  I don’t know if I like what might happen if I keep going.”

“All this time, I’ve been so frightened about the possibilities, that you could turn on me at any moment, that everything I am could be consumed and subsumed, a monster taking my place, and you don’t even care?”

“I care!” I said, wings spreading, advancing a step.

I became aware that Knights who’d been standing on the other side of the clearing were now pointing guns at me.

Rose’s expression, the fact that she now had one hand on her gun, which was still around behind her back.

“I care,” I said, relaxing my posture.  “I want to ride a damn motorcycle again, I want to hang with Evan and my other friends and fail at art and try my best at being a broken human being, helping people.  I want it so bad it aches.”

“I want it too,” Rose said.  “But when I looked at the two of us, I can’t help but feel you burn brighter, or darker, or colder, I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense.  I don’t like what happens when you burn, Blake, when you go after things you wanted, and I couldn’t help but feel you wanted it more, somehow.  Enough that you’d tear yourself to pieces, even as you fought me over this life.  Destroy us both.  And there was this feeling, this belief, that I was the only one who could win and not destroy us both in the process.”

“That’s how we are, isn’t it?” I asked.  “I have the desire, the want.  You have capability, without…”

I tried to find the word.

“Instability?  The ability to do without changing in the process?”  Rose suggested.

“Fragility, more than instability,” I said.  “I see it more as loss, taking damage to something fundamental.  Ties back to the mirror thing, the vestige.”

“I think I remember that from the book, actually.”

I shrugged.  “Probably.  You got the artsy-fartsy creativity, damn it.  Harder for me to be original when waxing poetic.”

Rose sighed.  “Shit.”

“Shit,” I said.

‘Where do we go from here?”

“When I look at where we stand, if I face the fact that one of us is bound to kill the other if we keep up this senseless tug of war over Russel Thorburn’s fractured life…”

I trailed off, gestured inarticulately.

Evan struggled, and I realized I was still holding him.  I let go of him and he flew around, settling on Rose’s head, at the hairline.

“…I don’t want to be the sort of person who wins that fight, I guess,” I said.  “Because I can’t help but feel like I can’t do that without becoming the monster I’m afraid I’d have to become.”

There was a long pause, as if the both of us were afraid to say anything.

Rose glanced around, as if remembering where she was.  She turned, saw the guns, and gestured to the others.  Telling them to stand down.  The guns that had been pointed at me were lowered.

Evan seemed to consider, then flew over to my shoulder.

“Nincompoop,” he said.

“I’m a bit of a nincompoop,” I said.

“A huge nincompoop.  A massive butt.”

“Massive.”

“Yeah,” he said.

There was another silence.

I realized Rose couldn’t talk.  Not without risking saying something that would challenge my resolution.

“Rose,” I said.

“Yes?”

“I forfeit.”

I saw her swallow hard.

“If I try to win this tiny war of ours, over Russel Thorburn’s life, or Ross’s life or whatever his name was, and you or your husband haven’t crossed some line?  Assume I’m too far gone.  Evan, that goes for you too.  You can both tell the others without lying.”

“I’ll exercise my own judgment, thank you very much,” Evan said.

“That’s a good idea,” Rose told him.  “I’m biased, kind of comes with having your life on the line”

I glanced up at the sun, filtered by heavy clouds and the branches at the edge of the clearing.  “The errands I needed to run.”

“I already made promises to deal with Ur.  I could do it in your name.  The final stroke.”

“It’s art,” I said.  “I wouldn’t mind leaving some kind of mark behind.”

“I can do that,” she said.  “The Abyss… that’s a little trickier.”

“I’ll do what I can to look after the Abyss tonight,” I said.  “There’s also the witch in the drains… I made a promise to her.  I don’t know if it counts if it’s on my behalf or if you’ve destroyed me and taken on some of my essence, but it’s more complicated, a flower to the grave of a Zoey Artana, I’m not sure exactly where, but-”

“Write it down?” Rose asked.

She fished in her pocket for paper.

Working the pen proved difficult with wooden hands.

“Your writing is worse than mine, and I don’t even have hands,” Evan commented.

“You can write?” I asked.  “With what?  A pencil nub?

Stylus.  Gotta have it for some of the handheld games,” he said.

Rose took the piece of paper.  Her eyebrows went up.  “That’s a bit of a trip.”

“Maybe on the honeymoon,” I said.  “Considering that I’m giving you-”

She raised a hand.  “If this works out, then I promise.  Even if it means going to Wisconsin for my honeymoon with Alister.”

I nodded, smiling just a little.

“Okay?” she asked.

“Okay,” I said.  “Yeah.  There’s tonight still to do, and this is contingent on you looking after the others, Evan in particular, and-”

“With regular purchases of video games,” Evan cut in, more than a little sullen.

“Even if it means regular purchases of-”

“Blake,” Rose said, cutting me off.

I stopped.

“It’s okay,” she said.

She lied to your face so many times.  She didn’t take the oath just so she could.

I dismissed the thoughts that whispered through my mind, sowing doubt.

She made your friends keep your identity and your origins a secret from youSubverting people you genuinely loved.

“You’ll probably need to use the Hyena to destroy me,” I said.  “Otherwise, I’ll just come back, and you can’t taint our existence with Conquest, so you need to be doubly careful, if you’re going to-”

“Blake.  I’ll do what you need me to do.  Whatever our differences, we both want the same sort of things.”

I nodded.

She made you weaker, when you needed to be strong.

The voice of doubt in the back of my mind had taken on a different quality.  Gravely, deeper, a more fundamental sort of doubt.  Where the initial suspicion might be to worry they weren’t my own thoughts, I had no doubt they were.  They were thoughts welling from a deeper part of me, one that didn’t do a lot of talking.

“You’ll do it, then?” I asked.

“Yes,” Rose said.  “I’ll do it.”

There were rules, expectations.  Everything we’d done up to this point had emphasized the need for carefully worded deals.  Our deal here was… pretty godawful, in terms of terminology.  There were too many holes to exploit.

Rose, perhaps, wasn’t willing to test what we’d made, here.  I wasn’t willing to reflect too deeply on it.

“We should get moving,” I said, to forestall the voice of doubt.  Worrying that it might say something I couldn’t simply ignore.  “None of this is much good unless the town survives, and if the universe really is conspiring against us-”

“Me,” Rose said.  “Conspiring against me.”

“Then it goes double.  We’re racing against a lot of tilting dominoes if we’re going to keep the universe from dismantling our little truce.”

Rose nodded, then hesitated.

“What?”

“I have one thing I need to ask for.”

I went still.

“I know I’m already asking for and taking so much, but… can we please not call him Russel?  I really can’t picture us as a Russel.

“Ross?”  I asked.  “Russ?”

“Ugh.  Awful,” she said, but she smiled a little.

I managed the smallest smile back.

“Rusty?” I offered.

“Forgive me!  I give up!” Rose said.  “I yield!”

She raised her hands, and held them up as she turned to go make her way toward Mara.

Her hands dropped after the first few steps, as she worked her way across the one patch of deeper snow.  Slower going.  She was heavier than I was, but not as strong, nor quite as tall.  She sank in deeper into the snow, worked harder to move despite that fact.  She had more substance.

She turned her head to one side, glancing at the smoke, and I caught a glimpse of her expression.

A smirk?

I was frozen in place as I watched her continue onward.

The tension, anger, and stillness eased out of me as I saw her raise a hand to wipe at one eye, then the other.

Not a smirk.  Just overwhelmingly relieved.

“Are you okay?” Evan asked.

“I think we’ve long since established that that is one of the worst questions to ask a person who can’t lie.”

“You’re not okay, are you?”

I looked at Evan, “Are you?”

He ruffled his feathers.

“Nincompoop.”

I couldn’t put words to what I was feeling, to describe how I felt.

“I’m going for Peter and Roxanne and Green Eyes,” Evan said.

“Shit,” I said.  “Green Eyes.  We can’t tell her, or at least, we really, really shouldn’t.  We need to figure out what to do about her, because I can’t see her being okay with it.”

“Yeah,” Evan said.  “Oh wow, yeah.”

“Mum’s the word,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.

He took off.  I watched him go, turn, as if to check on me, then go again.

I turned my face skyward, and for just a moment, enjoyed the sun.

The others were talking in the background.  I heard Tiff say something about Mara, then my name, a question.

I heard Rose say something.  I was pretty sure it was, “Leave him.”

Ironic as it might have been, I let my head turn away, and I started my way toward the others.  Faster than Rose.

Rose, arms folded, stood off to one side.  She was giving me the opportunity to confront the monster I’d defeated.

“Mara,” I said.

“Monster,” she replied.

“You’re going to break your word,” I told her.  “I’m not picky, but I want you to start by telling us what, if any, involvement you have in Jacob’s Bell being swallowed up by the abyss.”

Start?” the young crone asked me.

“Start.  Because when you’ve told us that, you’re going to swear oaths and you’re going to break them.  Over and over, until we have no doubt that you’ve relinquished all relationships with spirits and the practice.”

She squared her shoulders, raising her chin.  “You think so, do you?”

“I know it,” I said.

I could somehow breathe easier now, even though I didn’t breathe.

A burden had lifted from me.  I felt taller.

“You know so very little,” she said.

“Oh, for sure,” I answered.  “But I know this.  All that you’ve built, all that you are, the cycle that you’ve built your power on, it’s one has been turning for a very, very long time, and that counts for something.  You asked me if I was going to kill you.  I told you I wasn’t so merciful.  I intend to make you kill yourself, in a roundabout fashion, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“If you don’t swear never to practice or take action against another intelligent being again, on your blood, on your power, on all that you are and were, I’m sure one or two of these guys would be willing to finish you off with the Hyena,” I said.

Mara didn’t respond.

“You started the wheel turning, Mara,” I said.  “If you refuse to swear, then you’re killing yourself, in a way.  You’re stopping the wheel from turning.  I don’t think you’re capable.  You have no choice but to swear it, because if you swear that oath, you get to live to the end of this lifespan.  You have to live, given the choice.  You don’t avoid death for as long as you have, if there’s any question.”

She hung her head.  I saw her hands move.  They’d changed color, the wire cutting in.  The binding hadn’t been cruel, but she was twisting it up, doing it to herself.

I wondered momentarily if she was doing something.  A plan, a working of some sort.

“I could trade you information,” she said, looking up at me.

“You could,” I said.

“If I can keep my power,” she said.

“Then I guess we’ll have to do without,” I said.

“You have little idea what you’re about to walk into.  One small piece of knowledge stands between everything here and ruin.  If you wish to talk about a lack of choice, then you should know you have little choice but to take my offer.  You must spare me.”

“Blood Hags survive for as long as they do by taking the lives of others,” Tiff said.  “Not to be confused with sanguine hags, like Bathory.  From what Mara said, she took an immense number of young lives to live as long as she has.  Stepping into their shoes.  I don’t know about you guys, um, I’m really not feeling the mercy.”

Pretty strong words and sentiment, coming from Tiff.  There were a number of murmurs and mutters of agreement.  More to the point, nobody disagreed.

Mara bowed her head once more.

“Power,” she said.  “I can offer you power, then.”

“It’s not going to work, Mara,” I said.  “I know you’re pretty much compelled to strive for survival, and I’m guessing you’re numb to the sheer number of lives you’ve taken, but it’s kind of a big deal.  We’re not interested in bargaining.  We’re giving you one path if you want to live out the rest of that stolen lifespan of yours.”

“As I see fit?” She asked.  “At my home, unmolested?”

I didn’t glance at the smoke.  Let her realize on her own.  Face a life with fear of onrushing death.  Let her do it without her creature comforts, or the routine she’d maintained for countless generations.

I didn’t give her an answer to her question.  “Take the first step on that path by telling us whether you’re involved.”

“I was the architect of it all,” she said.  “I’ve been striving to these ends since the township was established.”

There was a dull rumble.  Cracks sounded elsewhere in the forest.  Birds took to the air.

“Peter?” Ellie asked, alarmed.

“No,” Rose said.  “Peter’s fine, as far as I can tell.  He’s over that way.  The trees fell… elsewhere.”

“She lied,” Alister’s female relative said.  “She’s losing her hold on this place.”

“That means she has no involvement,” Rose said.  “Do you know who is involved, Mara?”

“Laird Behaim lives with a dark thing, one of the demons your kind deals with, living in his corpse, peering from the wound,” Mara said.

More trees fell.  More birds took to the air.

I saw Alister’s relative breathe a sigh of relief.

“Try again,” I said.  She knows more than she lets on, about goings-on in Jacob’s Bell, to know that that was even a possibility.

“Yes, I know who is responsible,” Mara said.

Not a single tree fell.

“Who?”

“Rose Thorburn,” Mara said.

I could hear something rumble.  As if the very earth was cracking.

Here, however, we were safe.

“Ah well,” Mara said.

“Straight answers,” Rose said, stern.  “Who’s sinking Jacob’s Bell?”

“He’s been safe in his demesne all this time,” Mara answered.  “Sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one.”

“Johannes?” Rose asked.

“Yes,” Mara said.  “In the time you’ve wasted here with me, he has left his demesne.  Until I forswore myself, I was watching.  Paying attention to my surroundings.  If you leave now, and your path isn’t barred, you should get there in time.  But your path will be barred.  You’ve lost, for your arrogance.”

The trees were silent, spelling out the truth to her words.

“Hillsglade House,” Rose said.

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144 thoughts on “Sine Die 14.8

    1. Yeah, I thought that might be the case before. The pointers towards female have to do with interactions with family, particularly while young, while the ones towards male have to do with stuff. Ross apparently did have a thing with Alexis, but she’s bi and so that points nowhere.

      1. The signifier to me is that despite the fact that Blake is the “male” half, he doesn’t act like and was insecure about not acting in the traditional/stereotypical male manner. Almost as if the male half that is Blake is trying hard to fulfill a role that does not exist for Russel Thorburn. For what little traditional ideas of gender are worth anyway.

        Rose, at least, seems to lack this kind of insecurity in herself.

        1. That… kinda makes sense? I mean, there are definitely other explanations that could work (Rose doesn’t have the same insecurities because all that went on Blake), but I could kind of see this happening.

          1. I feel like the only reason I’m not really sold on it is that if it were a thing, I feel like there’d be something more obvious looking back on Blake’s past narration. There were never any moments with him and Rose that seemed like they leaned in that direction- no Blake being weirdly jealous of Rose, or questioning himself, or really thinking much about his mirror-clone being a girl at all. Not that any of these would definitely happen if they were trans, but…

            1. At least in my theory, Blake and Rose are both cisgender; only the original was trans. Specifically I was thinking biologically female (housefight-related logistics seem to indicate a female firstborn) and self-identified as male (men’s clothing, motorcycle, and Ivy’s birth seems timed about right for changing self-identification in a way parents were convinced would stick).

              Of course, even cisgender males worry about being insufficently manly plenty, and I can see someone transgender being even more worried about fitting in with the guys.

            2. Also the large amount of sex he had in the cult doesn’t really line up, unless they were all much more accepting of (and yet never mentioned) him being trans. That is, unless he had SRS while living rough.

              While it’s a nice idea, I think you’re right that it’s not supported by the text.

        2. Umm, I would say that Blakes relaxed attitude towards male-related stuff is actually pretty normal for a man who doesn’t care much about a whole lot of other traditional things because of the horrible family he grew up in. I could easily see the original person being not entirely happy with being male, but I think you’re reaching to try to make that conclusion based on his emotions.

          Remember that cultural issues are reinforced by fear and a desire to fit in, and that’s one thing that we’ve seen very little of out of Blake, even before Strike Three with Ur.

          1. Honestly I don’t think there is that much reason to think Russ or whatever was transgender. And we can’t use Blake’s current personality as a guide because of the hackjob Grandma Rose had Barbertorum do on the original to get Blake and Rose.

            It reminds me of how I see so many WMG entries about characters having Aspergers. A lot of the time it’s just fitting a convient label on something, then forcing it into a catagory.

    2. I really like this idea. It’s the best explanation of the name: originally Rose then changed it to Blake. It would be a lot more impetus for him to leave home, especially since coming out is basically the most definitive way he could destroy his hope of inheriting and his parents would have been pissed. It’s a bit more explanation as to why grandma considered him in the running. It would have made the Carl thing even worse and Alexis even more important. And it doesn’t contradict anything I can think of.

      1. Theory isn’t crazy enough. Clearly it wasn’t originally one person, but twins. Who were both transgender. And randomly french. Then grannie used the Barber to play mix and match. And battleship.

        1. forced two terrified people into a blender and magically constituted them into two damaged individuals with the traits of both? sounds par for the course for an average Mage from the setting. we know Rose SR didn’t care much about her family. sure didn’t care about Sacrificing a baby to capture the Barber.

          1. One thing that seems to be pretty sure about Granny Rose. She knew her others, but when it came to people she sucked. And that’s the problem with any plans she would have set up. They would have involved lots, and lots of people.

      1. Christmas is on Thursday. We’re either going to get an empty stocking or, given Mara’s foreshadowing, a lump of coal in the form of whatever’s going to disrupt them.

  1. Typo thread!

    “We should get moving,” I said, to forestall the voice of doubt. Worrying that it might say something I couldn’t simply ignore. None of this is much good unless the town survives, and if the universe really is conspiring against us-“

    Missing quotation mark.

    1. kind of comes with having your life on the line” –> period

      it’s one has been turning for –> ‘that’ has been turning for

  2. Nooooooooooo!!!!! Blake, you idiot! You’ve robbed us of the epic Blake vs Rose final showdown we’ve been waiting for since the beginning of the story. . . Nincompoop

    Poor Green Eyes. Blake is basically her biggest connection. Without him, she’ll probably fall back into the abyss.

    I really don’t trust anything Mara is saying now, except maybe the Behaim Demon. Johannes is too swell a guy to doom innocents like that.

    Can Rose and Blake do a fusion dance to become a scourge with innate wood powers?

    1. Oh but sinking the town into the Abyss doesn’t doom innocents, remember? The innocents are all that’s holding the town UP.

      He’s just convincing the innocents to move in the morning so the town won’t be there once they leave.

  3. Wait, what? Johannes was the obvious answer, but Alister was quite certain he wasn’t the correct one, courtesy of his cards. Could be a multi-part thing; Johannes isn’t doing it and doesn’t control an Other who is doing it, but he has been actively coordinating with the actual perpetrator instead of merely taking advantage.

    Either way, if he’s headed to the house, we’re probably going to find out what the Behaim superweapon can do when it goes all-out.

    Also a bit confused by how Mara was apparently tossing out random guesses and then letting the spirits tell her if they were true. That works? You can play twenty questions with the universe? Why hasn’t anyone done that? Why hasn’t everyone done that? I’d been assuming the karma hit for making wrong guesses would be deferred, or you could take one for saying something that you didn’t think was true even if it was.

      1. Consequences of lying only happens if the spirits know that you’ve lied. The spirits can seemingly tell if you knowingly lie, so you can’t get away with that without a karmic hit. But, if you say something you think is true, and it’s not, you’ll only get in trouble if someone calls you out on it.

        I wonder if you take a karmic hit for saying something that you believe is false, but is actually true? Also, I wonder if you’d get a karmic hit for saying “There are an even number of particles in the universe”. I expect the answer is that you wouldn’t; the spirits judge based on their knowledge, so at best you only find out what they know (which wouldn’t be everything).

          1. That’s assuming that symmetry exists, which is still experimentally unconfirmed. Anyway, it depends on what you’re calling a particle. Are photons particles? If so, then classically, the number of particles in the universe changes with every emission/absorption event. Quantum mechanically, photon numbers aren’t even well-defined in most practical cases. Even if you exclude photons, what about virtual particles, or any number of W/Z-mediated interactions?

        1. There are probably better ways to find out whether the number of particles in the universe is even or odd. Magic seems to be able to do basically ANYTHING, if you can afford the cost.

          I suspect you’d take a karmic penalty for being a smartass. Same if you said things that are neither true nor false. The spirits are trying to enforce honesty, and gaming the system seems kind of counter to that.

          1. they blatantly don’t give a single fig about Honesty, only the LITERAL truth. otherwise the Fae would have been exterminated due to the uncountable amount of bad karma they’d earned milleniua ago.

            1. i mean, if you mind control someone into slitting their own throat, or raping their own daughter, TECHNICALLY they did it with their own hands. thats the kinda stuff the current system is A-OK with, which is why im STILL Convinced SOMEONE or SOMETHING intentionally set it up this way, and is still alive,sitting around to this day laughing merrily as they/it look upon their handiwork

            2. I am actually almost sure that does count as the responsibility of the person who used mind control. I mean, if that worked the Karma system would be entirely toothless; Practitoners summon Others and compel them to do things all the time.

              That said, the system doesn’t seem to handle anything more convoluted than that, or at least not very well. If the person who does something is acting of their own free will, the backlash doesn’t seem to extend to people who convinced them to do it, even if they were being intentionally deceptive.

            3. Blake could hardly be any more blatant about his abuse of the karma system here if he said something like “I’ll abuse you, karma system! Just try and stop me!” out loud. You’d really expect him to suffer all the karmic backlash and other consequences for anything he forces Mara to do.

              He isn’t even in the right, karmically. Killing Mara would have been right along the lines of “an eye for an eye”, but I don’t see why the spirits would ever condone being exploited in this fashion.

            4. I’m not sure why the spirits would mind this. They haven’t minded extracting oaths at literal swordpoint before, and appear to feel that if someone becomes forsworn from events beyond their control, much less simple threats, it’s their own fault for making promises they can’t keep.

            5. “Blake could hardly be any more blatant about his abuse of the karma system here if he said something like “I’ll abuse you, karma system! Just try and stop me!” out loud. You’d really expect him to suffer all the karmic backlash and other consequences for anything he forces Mara to do.”

              No, Mara could have chosen to not answer, to give Blake the choice of killing her for her silence or not.

            6. Why’d she comply, anyway? I know she wants to survive (just like Isadora), but what Blake offered her isn’t survival at all. Now that she’s foresworn, she’s in many ways in a worse position than Maggie was at the end of her Histories chapter.
              To boot, ara is currently in the body of a child. A single goblin could kill her easily right now. How is she even supposed to survive the night?

          2. “How is she even supposed to survive the night?” Bond villainy — hopefully she won’t. Or hopefully someone else killed her. Either way, Blake won’t take the negative karma hit that he really doesn’t need right now.

      2. That’s nice to know, to whatever extent we can believe it. I keep looking at that section and thinking, hrm…are the spirits disturbed because the statements she is making are lies, or because they are the truth and in making them she’s breaking her promise not to answer?

        Once someone is forsworn, are there any further penalties for lies? Did her last statement go unanswered because it was really true, or because she was already powerless?

        1. The Hag was either being very petty or very clever. If she was being petty, she knew the truth would come out but didn’t want to cooperate. If she was being clever, the “truth” may not actually be so. Personally, I think it’s a trick/trap.

          1. Lying a second time makes her final claim the third, which could give it extra believability if she is in fact misleading them?

            For what it’s worth, even if Johannes is unintentionally sinking Jacob’s Bell or is somehow associated with another party that’s actually responsible, she wouldn’t be lying to say that he’s sinking it- it doesn’t preclude anyone else from also being responsible.

            1. No, I went back and counted. Two lies, one truth, one lie, and then the final claim, split into two sentences. That makes five/six, not an especially meaningful number.

            2. Three confirmed lies total, with the third getting the most dramatic reaction. I think any further lies after that would get a reaction, possibly even more powerful.

  4. You know, she could have just told them that earlier and they would have left her alone. For pretty much doomed herself to whatever happens next.

    And wasn’t the Hillglades House already on the way down? The only important things there are…. a demon that specializes in killing practitioners and the sleeping beauty circle….

    1. And Alister and his unstoppable time robot, to protect said circle. Which would be why Johannes is heading there personally, presumably with Faysal in tow; even with all his resources he’s short on things that can fight that.

      What’s odd, though, is that he’s moving to attack the circle at all. I still haven’t seen any clear sign of how the Behaim-Thorburn coalition plans to actually assault his demense, and they’re also busy investigating everyone else. If he’s generating the pull from inside his demense, it seems highly likely he could run out the clock for an additional twenty-four hours without much trouble. If he doesn’t think he can win the fight inside his demense, it is odd he’s opted to leave it and personally engage at least one and probably several powerful local practitioners, a family superweapon, and some number of additional bodyguards.

      He must be under time pressure we aren’t aware of.

      1. Him trying to send a huge part of the city into the Abyss probably goes against the natural order of things. You know, the things that drew Faysal to him to try and kill him?

        Honestly, it’s sounding like Mags had the right idea if that’s the case and Faysal did fall.

        1. I think the Abyss counts as part of the natural order of things. Summoning bogeymen doesn’t seem to come with an automatic Karmic backlash like demonology, although generally they’re summoned to do things Karma doesn’t approve of.

          It is where Blake went after Ur got his connections, but I think that’s more a matter of it being the universe’s garbage disposal and collecting pieces that no longer fit quite right, and he wound up there because Ur put him in a state where going to the Abyss was appropriate, not because Ur is innately connected to the Abyss.

          1. Yeah, nothing is natural about the entire town sinking into the abyss. It’s instigated, not a natural event. It’s like the town was being held up on columns, and if those columns eroded and it fell then it would be natural, but he’s taking a sledgehammer to the column instead.

          2. The Abyss, in and of itself, counts as part of the natural order. It’s where things go to be processed into Others, or spirits. I suspect that below the point where only spirits can go, there’s the realm Faysal alluded to, which distributes them onto the Earth, and the cycle begins again with new practitioners, new Others.

      2. Depends. If he feels there’s even a slight chance of anyone stopping them, or knows there are people attempting to oppose him regardless of whether they’re likely to succeed or not, then it’s just good sense to interrupt that sort of nonsense before it actually becomes a problem. If he actually is in a bad enough position to where he needs to take the fight directly to them instead of just as a precaution, then things are about to get very messy but will at least be over quickly.

        Kind of makes me wonder what’s supposed to happen after this. If they do save the town and establish a lord, will this be where the story ends or will Blake acquire a new target?

        1. The thing, though, is that he’s leaving his demense to do it. So far his pattern has been to sit back and occasionally call up some of his seemingly endless supply of various powerful Others to do his work for him, because his demense is such a powerful defensive asset. If he can’t count on his minions to handle the matter without his personal intervention, I’d expect him to fort up. Sure, attacking personally means he has the initiative, but on the defensive he’d control the physical space where the battle is happening and receive a boost to his personal power.

          I strongly suspect that either the actual Abyss-pulling effect is generated from outside his demense, meaning that his enemies could disrupt it without having to attack him directly, or an external factor means he really wants to wrap this up in much less than twenty-four hours. Or maybe he’s worried about The Barber; I’m not entirely convinced that the demense-bypassing powers trump the super-demense with angel familiar, but I can see Johannes being more worried about the one demon than everyone else in the town combined.

  5. Ehh, I’m a little doubtful this is Johannes. Mara doesn’t directly answer Rose’s question by saying Johannes did it. Instead she describes him which may just be her dodging the question in a rules lawyer-y way.

    Also lol at Mara pulling an Ozymandias.

    1. Mara does say that Johannes is sinking Jacob Bell, but not that he planned for it or started the situation. He may be sinking it but at the same time being manipulated into doing so, or just taking advantage of the situation at hand.

      Another theory, the more she lies, the more she loses her hold on the forest, up to the point that the forest will fail to respond to any more lies. Maybe three lies are too few for her to lose all hold on the local spirits, her being thousands of years there, but she might be playing with that, it might be that she intentionally lied to them until they couldn’t tell anymore using the reaction of the forest. As she is older than the trees there, that might be unlikely.

      Also, I’m betting that Mara survives this. They won’t have time to make her completely forsworn, she will probably escape, regain her power during her current lifetime (she will have decades to do so) and move on being Mara.

      1. It could be argued that using “he” without specifying a person by name strongly implies “he” is the response to Rose’s question.

        On the other hand, can we be sure she’s not involved somehow? The forest called her out on her not being the primary mastermind who was working towards this end since the town was founded. If any one part of that hyperbole-laced statement is false, you’d expect a reaction from the forest. For instance, she could in fact be behind it all, but might not have started planning it until a week after Jacob’s Bell was created. I would’ve thought Blake would’ve been more careful about that kind of thing, given that he was just lamenting how poorly-worded his and Rose’s agreement was.

          1. Mara said yes, it was Johannes that she had been describing immediately prior. Not necessarily yes, Johannes was the answer to Rose’s earlier question.

  6. Okay, so what are the terms being laid out?

    Is it that she gets to kill him when all of this is done? Or that once he’s finished all his tasks he’ll just disappear? Or that if he goes to far they need to put him down?

    1. I think he’s officially announcing that he as he presently exists will not make a bid to become the real one, and that if he does try it means he’s officially become a monster and she and Evan can truthfully tell everyone that so they know to side with Rose.

  7. Do Blake and Rose have to directly kill one another to become complete? I understand that supposedly if Rose kills Blake she’ll become complete and vice versa. The question is, if a third party kills one, does the other half automatically gain the rest?

    1. No, Barber doesn’t work like that. Anything a demon destroys is gone for good, so that split was a permanent divide on matters relating to them. Rose has the talent for example, but if he kills her then he doesn’t get the talent. It goes with her to hell.

      Likewise, if he kills her his friends won’t automatically jump to his side given he, you know, killed her?

      1. Either you missed or I misunderstood Blake and Rose’s thoery that they are destined to try to kill the Other for they would regain what was losses ie, the main reason they’ve had conflict with each other (at least since Blake turned into Groot)

        1. They’re definitely fighting to be “the real one”, but having it default to fusing them back together seems rather un-demonic. I think the winner gets to have a physical body and gets all the connections and maybe the original name, but the personality traits of the loser are lost.

          1. It would be awfully demonic if the winner also gained all of the loser’s memories, up to and including the moment of death and any potentially psyche-shattering revelations about themselves.

            It’s a mirror. Mirrors can show you exactly as you are, and that is not always a good thing. And once you break a mirror, there’s no fixing it; just because you put all the fractured shards back into the frame doesn’t mean it’ll ever work right again.

    2. Well originally, when a third party killed blake, things were set up so that rose got all his blake-ness and became whole-ish (not entirely because she already filled in some of the gaps with spirits, messed up memories, and conquest-ness).
      Whether those things RDT set up will work again or not is anyone’s guess.

      Knowing RDT’s insane planning abilities and foresight? Probably. Any good plan’s quality is measured by the quality and quantity of your backups and contingency plans.

      1. Well, Rose got the real-ness. I’m not sure if the plan was for Rose to get almost everything*, get a select subset of traits back, get Blake back as her Mirror-Vestige battle familiar, or for everything RDT loaded onto Blake to get permanently lost. Kind of doubt scenario four, since Rose at least used to have real trouble with handling herself in a fight.

        *definitely not being male, the Thorburn Diabolist is female

        1. Well if you recall, directly after losing blake and gaining his connections, she attacked the boundary circle Laird put up, and said she Trusted her instincts. Instincts were blake’s half of things and trusting them is something he’s good at and comfortable with. After he was gone from this world, she got that along with his friends.
          So my assumption is number one or two. Four is unlikely given that the intent was for blake to gain things that would belong to rose in the passing, and three is odd given the problem with number four as well as the whole “doomed to destroy one another” thing…

          1. I think Rose being so hung up about realness and monsterdom should set alarm bells off. I doubt she should trust all her instincts, either. Particularly when it comes to Blake. 😛

            Even now, she has a tendency to discount him when he’s inclusive about how they have both been screwed over by all this and reverts to “me” without seeming to realise it. That could be the Identity in her talking… But, she’s not totally the original one when it comes to that, either, even if she’s got whatever counts as it.

            Put it this way… she seems totally surprised that Blake could have any wishes or wants beyond fighting and ending her. Which tells you a lot about how she’s been thinking about all this.

            Both have been focused on survival, yes. But, not in the exact same ways or for the same reasons… Worse, she’s the one who seems on board the whole “end the Monster Other Me who so can’t be Real” thing. I think she needs to do some soul searching about that. 😐

            1. And, like, Blake isn’t dealing with the fallout of when he carried the can? Or the bleed effect isn’t targeting the anybody with the name “Thorburn”? Rose might be in the eye of the storm, but others are getting battered by it. Denying that? Not helpful.

          2. Rose saying that she was trusting her instincts about attacking Laird’s barrier was how things got filled in for her when Blake, who was the one to actually figure out how to break the barrier, got Urred.

    3. I would assume that after Ur broke their connection there is no more relation between either of the two. So if Rose kills Blake, Blake will be dead and Rose will get nothing. And in turn the the prophecy and destiny is crap.

    4. I believe you have that backwards: Rose and Blake can ‘steal’ traits from each other. For example, Blake’s friends became Rose’s, then we’re partially reclaimed by Blake. When this happens, the other one is lessened. If it happens enough, the other will be destroyed.

      If either of them were to kill the other, presumably those traits would be just lost.

  8. So what was vague. Was the deal between them that after this thing is done Rose kills Blake, OR that blake isn’t going to try to win, and if he does try, he’s a monster and Rose should kill him?

    Oh man, Green will totally try to devour Rose when she finds out about this. Blake was kinda retarded. The Abyss showed HIM scenes he wasn’t around for, of the people he loves conspiring against him. Why the hell wouldn’t it do the same thing for her?
    Any time Rose and Blake agree, have a decent conversation, and actually walk away happy or relieved- it usually is a baaaaad sign.

    Blake said the parts of him that were whispering doubts about rose and the deal they made were from a part of him that “that didn’t do a lot of talking”
    Can someone explain this to the best of their knowledge? He said it was his voice not the abyss talking so…. huh?

    Lastly, Evan’s picture of the future and Green doing her dolphin thing has to be the most adorably moment in Pact. Not saying much, but it has to count for something!

    1. It wasn’t really a deal at all. Blake expressed his intention of not trying to win the fight for their existence and Rose promised to do a few things for him in the future if he’s not there to do it himself.

      Blake very much believes he’s not long for this world and can’t imagine a future for himself so he’s stating that now while he has a chance because who knows what will happen later.

      It’s debatable if Rose plans to kill him later. I think him saying outright he doesn’t want to kill her was enough for the moment and given she wanted to try and be a decent human being, I don’t think she will try to kill him unless Blake does something very evil or tries to kill her. She encourages Evan to make his own judgement call too and admits she’s biased which I don’t think she would say if she was already plotting his death.

      Or maybe I’m just being optimistic hoping those two will somehow work things out and live as happily as their able to with their current circumstances.

      1. It would be a grade A-Miracle if things somehow managed to work out happy for one of them. Both? That would be not just improbable, but something that redefines impossible in the setting. Something that shatters that which is known, and forges a new world of possiblities. Something that redefines impossible.

        Granted things like that happening can be some of the most awesome moments in stories.

      2. The thing is Blake has accepted that he’s changing, and not in a good way. Gradually through the story he’s been loosing bits and pieces of himself, and what’s been replacing them isn’t good stuff. Blake at the start of the story would be horrified at some of the things he’s done now. Blake Thorburn has gradually been replaced by the Thorburn Boogeyman, the original eroded and chipped away at and replaced with bone. He looses any more of himself and he will just be the Thorburn boogeyman, a thing of wood and vengance. And he doesn’t want that. So he’s trusting that Rose is going to be human, that she did get enough of the original, or that the others helped her build up as he was wore down.

        Blake knows that even if he wins, he will in the end loose. So he won’t play the game till their are no winners. He’ll defy the fate others wrote for him by concieding gracefully.

    1. Something tells me that both would feel like suing their parents for that one, too. Given that neither are happy with the options, I think it’s safe to say that the original hated their name and why their parents chose it. 😀

      Things Rose and Blake unanimously agree on, so you know it’s across the board:-
      The Lawyers suck.
      Karma (and the universe) sucks.
      Their English lessons sucked.
      Evan is cute. (Different reasons.)
      Having friends is awesome. (Different reasons.)
      Gran was a total bitch.
      Peter is a sod.
      Ellie is a delinquent pain.
      Only an idiot trusts Roxanne.
      And, it’d be cool if parenting required a licence, first.
      😛 😉

  9. Add me to the bandwagon of not knowing what was up with the deal between Blake and Rose. Evan, however angry and heart broken he was, was calm at the end. So I get the impression Blake isn’t sacrificing himself. I gave a quick reread to the whole passage and I still get that impression. I get the impression Blake said “I am not fighting you anymore and if I do, go on and kill me (but not otherwise)”.

    But then why shouldn’t they tell Green Eyes? This is good, kind of, no? This keeps Blake alive and relieves him of some of his weight. If anything, I think Green Eyes would be sad to see Blake win over Rose and become more human. That could open a breach in their relationship. Would Green Eyes get angry because Blake is giving away so much and receiving so little? I can understand that. I fully agree with that. Blake has gone through worse than Rose, yet he is the one who has to content himself with having lost his friends and his humanity. But… the decision has been made, and it was Blake’s decision to do. Not much she can do about it.

    On a different note, my heart broke a little as Evan roared. It made me want to cry a bit. You could feel just how sad he was. You did a fantastic job there, Wildbow. An amazing, fantastic job.

      1. No, no. If Blake gave up on the fight over Russel so that he wouldn’t die, then it makes no sense for Sushi to kill Rose. I can’t even see her attacking Rose. She might get very angry, but I don’t think it would be bad enough as Blake implies.

        1. Well, Blake is not just giving up, he’s admitting that he’s not sure that he’s going to stay that way, because he’s not completely in control of himself, and he’s giving Rose permission to kill him if he goes over that line. Any plan with a contingency of “kill Blake” is going to raise some concerns with the group of people who care if Blake lives or dies. It is especially going to raise concerns with the subset of that group which is people who care if Blake lives or dies BUT do not care if Rose lives or dies, of which Green Eyes is probably the sole member.

    1. I wonder if there’s a way for Blake to cede the identity tug-of-war without actually fighting it to the death? Back in chapter 1, there was a clause in RDT’s will about the heir being able to give up her claim at will (admittedly with likely consequences). That sets a bit of a precedent for Blake’s “I forfeit” having some weight in and of itself. Maybe there’s a ritual Blake and Rose can perform that would formalize his statement, effectively letting Rose “win” while Blake simply walks away?

  10. I’m reminded of something from All Star Superman.
    “What happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object?”
    “They surrender.”

  11. I have to say that Blake’s doubts about Rose don’t require any supernatural explanation. Leaving aside what he and she are and just looking at what she’s done, they’re pretty straightforward common sense.

  12. I was glad to see that the way Rose convinced the Knights to back her up was sharing the details on how to defeat Ur and binding herself to do it. Correct tactic!

  13. It’s just as likely to say that she was losing her hold (if that’s even what was happening) because she previously said she would not tell them. So..it’s possible she and Rose (probably Rose Sr) orchestrated the town falling into the abyss, Laird has a demon peering out from his corpse,

    Furthermore, would it take more power to keep some trees from falling over, or to knock them over? Perhaps she’s exerting power to make them fall. She loses some power from her lies, but she has so much power banked from 1000 lifetimes that she can deal with it.

    She actually need not even be lying. Just because somebody asks you a question doesn’t mean that you have to answer them. “Yes” and “No” are pretty straightforward and would be very difficult to get away with saying without it being taken by every spirit as an answer, but “He’s been safe in his Demense this whole time” could easily be a non-sequitur. If that seems far-fetched, remember that this is HER territory. She’s been cultivating the spirits there for a long time.

    And finally, remember that a person is only forsworn if they break an oath. So far, I don’t know that she’s done that yet.

  14. Because when you’ve told us that, you’re going to swear oaths and you’re going to break them. Over and over, until we have no doubt that you’ve relinquished all relationships with spirits and the practice.

    I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, it’s clever. On the other hand, it doesn’t really suit Blake. He used to respect karma and the spirits. Yes, he grew hostile to the status quo (though his use of the term is liberal enough to the point of meaninglessness), but this still feels like something neither Blake nor the Monster would ever do. I mean, a few paragraphs before he complains about Rose intentionally botching her awakening ritual so she could lie to him. I don’t see how that’s consistent with what he does to Crone Mara.

    But that’s only my secondary concern. My primary concern is that this is evidence that one can FORCE oaths on people, and the spirits consider them valid. In which case I reiterate my question which comes up every month or so: Why is Pactverse not an ironclad dictatorship by e.g. King Solomon or anyone else who could have enforced nigh-perfect loyalty via oaths? (Start by binding one practitioner or Other to you via an oath, then use them to bind others. Repeat until world domination is achieved.)

    1. Practitioners would probably react to that in a manner similar to of their reaction to a unstable Diabolist, as in burn s/he in fire. The delay in their reaction would put the said dictator in a similar position of that of Johannes, he gained power quickly, but everyone and their mom does want them getting anymore.

      1. Conquest was doing something like this to Fell and his ancestors. He wouldn’t even have faced much opposition, given that the other big players in town had a vested interested in keeping him in power. It looks like he simply wasn’t strong enough to keep propagating the effect, though.

        1. Erm. Propagating the effect outwards to more people, not forwards in time. Although I suppose the latter isn’t working out too well for him either.

        2. He wasn’t trying to make it cascade by sending Fell’s family to forcibly recruit others. If he had that would have worried people who were strong enough they didn’t have to worry about Conquest personally subjugating them. Isadora would probably have gotten rid of him if it looked like he might get enough minions to enslave her.

    2. It’s evidence that you can coerce oaths, which is not quite the same thing and pretty well-established. Mara could have refused, at which point Blake would have gotten one of his associates to kill her. I think oaths given under mental compulsion might count, but that’s a somewhat rare resource.

      And I’m going to reiterate my response that it could theoretically happen, but at some point literally every unenslaved entity in the entire world is going to team up to stop it, and it is highly unlikely that the practitioner will have over half the power in the world on his side before then. Now, King Solomon did set up the Seal, but that very likely required voluntary help from lots of people who would not support an effort to make himself Dictator. According to the Testament Of Solomon, he received the sealing ring from Micheal and needed help from Uriel to seal Ornias.

    3. Those oaths are only binding if you are awakened. Nothing to stop an unawakened from saying “I vow I will never act against you.” then stabbing a knife in the back. Secondly you can break an oath. You’ll be foresworn if you do, but still doesn’t mean someone won’t decide “Fuck it, he needs to die, knife to back.”

  15. But Blake is the one free of bad karma…

    Wondering how many more chapters we have. And just how bad it is for Mara to have had her house burned.

    Her lies to break power were interesting. Curious if there will be other backlashes. She has such a long and evil history.

  16. “Until I forswore myself, I was watching.”

    Well, this rules out the possibility that they’re ALL true – she forswore herself. But I wouldn’t necessarily take the trees falling or not falling as 100% accurate. Perhaps when she mentioned Rose she forswore herself and the other times she was just making trees fall, or something.

    1. Unlikely. It was one of the Behaims who said she lied, and they seem to know what they’re doing. Probably saw the connection fray.

  17. Ooh, good point. It may not be visible to us or Blake but the practitioners present should be able to watch her connections weaken. Still seems smarter to put a knife in her spine but maybe that’s just me.

  18. Off-topic
    Can anyone recommend me a web novel series or something like that? The theme is not that important. I like SF and fantasy, especialy time travel (i love Mother of learning). I’ve read Worm and had a great time reading it. I just wish it isn’t romance oriented, filled with vulgar language or just oriented on sex.

      1. Thanks for the tips. I started reading The Legion of Nothing but stopped, can’t remember why. The others look good, will check them out.

    1. Winter’s Tale is just now getting off the ground, but it fits your criteria reasonably well. It has an entry on webfictionguide, or if you don’t feel like searching the actual site is emrysvaughn.com

    2. Super Powered by Drew Hayes. The chapters are short but the story is interesting and there has been some good character development.

  19. I think Johannes’ familiar is playing a much larger role in the fall of Jacob’s Bell.

    He focuses on opening gates and passageways (like one to the abyss)

    Is either an angel or a powerful spirit similar to one (because devils are angelic beings too)

    And Grandma Rose explicitly told the grandchildren NOT to allow their familiars to take the form of a dog. This is important for a reason that hasn’t been disclosed yet. (Nobody else has a dog either, though cats are commonplace)

    It would also answer why Alister was told that it wasn’t Johannes. It’s his familiar.

  20. Blake is just like ken kaneki from tokyo ghoul, after all he is becoming a monstro while trying To retain is humanity… And failling badly but To protect his friends he will not hesitated To give away himself and i think just like tokyo ghoul this can only end in tragedy for our protagonist… Be becoming a monster that will try To kill his friends or just really killing everyone that he cared and becoming the monster that he swore To fight against

  21. “I flinched, but, after a moment’s delay, I let go.”

    Thought he didn’t flinch… wasn’t that specifically brought up to show how inhuman he was. I swear I didn’t imagine that.

    1. Not sure if that’s directed at me, but I don’t hate Blake. By this stage of the story, he’s actually pretty awesome. My main complaint has been that he’s a very hard character to get to know and empathise with in the early stages of the story – for reasons you’re now familiar with.

      This is also Blake after 14 arcs of character growth.

      1. Actually,it was directed to people like glassware and ,to a lesser extend,Reveen,who spun everything Blake did since he became a boogeyman to a negative light,in the comments of the past few chapters.

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