Possession 15.4

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Be careful, Green Eyes had told me.

Had she suspected?  Known?  She’d been around the Abyss long enough to see how it operated, the gears turning, certain individuals raised up, certain individuals dashed against the metaphorical rocks below.

The Ink Man had told me that he wanted to get in position, or something along those lines.  He too had known.  He’d wanted this role.  Or one of them.  I could imagine other exits, each one guarded.

I was aware of the presence of others, of the murmured conversations, laced with anxiety and emotion.  They wanted out, much like someone who was drowning wanted air.  They’d faced a share of what the Abyss could dish out, they were in pain, wounded, or suffering from the loss of friends and family.

I wasn’t sure how much sympathy they’d have for my dilemma.

My thumb traced the side of the throne.  Anyone else might find it uncomfortable, but I was largely made of wood.  Minor discomforts didn’t tend to come up anymore.

“That’s all for you, Blake?” Evan asked.

I nodded.  I couldn’t bring myself to look back at them.

“The shards of the sword.  We left them on the street.  They got washed away.  Now they’re here,” Rose said.

I nodded again.

“The locket… I barely remember the locket,” she said.  “I figured that the locket being this weird force, just coming and going as it pleased, it was a Faerie thing.”

“No,” I said, and my voice was a little raw, as if I’d been screaming for a long time and hurt something.  “Not a Faerie thing.  A me thing.  It wants me to guard the door.”

“If you guard the door, you can open the door, right?”  Nick asked.

“Or would you have to fight us before you could let us through?” the High Priest asked.

The noise in my head was getting worse.  It felt like all the noise and chaos of the Library, at its very worst, had seeped in through the cracks the Barber had made in my skull, and now it played at the periphery, crackling at the edges.

“The Abyss has a way of thinking,” I said.  “It gives, then it takes, and it generally takes more than it gives.”

“That doesn’t answer the question,” the High Priest said.  “Does it?”

It does, I thought.

“Do you think it’s going to make you fight us, as part of the price for letting us out?” the High Priest guessed.

“I think,” I replied, bristling just a little, “that letting you guys go is part of the give.  But this, this whole setup, it’s the take.

“It’s…” Rose started, but she left the sentence hanging.  I had my back to her, so I couldn’t see her facial expressions.  “…Not as bad as other parts of the Abyss.”

“Cushy gig, as these things go,” Alister said.

I shook my head.

I knew I was making enemies here.  The words were soft, gentle, but only barely.  I could sense the tension that drove them.  Not much different than if they were all spoken between grit teeth.  It might have been a skewed opinion, maybe nudged by the influences of the Abyss, but I could sense their fear, a weight pressing on me from behind.

“I don’t think you get it,” Evan said.  “All you guys who were telling Blake he should sign up for the Seal of Solomon deal, you never got it.”

“Got what?” Tiff asked.

“Blake’s meant to fly,” Evan said, as if that explanation made any sense to them.  “I was his familiar, even if I don’t remember, and I got the wings, and Blake got to be the magician, and then Blake was the monster, and I remember that.  Or this, I mean.  But if there was any justice in the world, then I’d be the wizard or the monster and Blake would have the wings.  Because I’d be a great monster, and Blake… he’s meant to fly.”

“I can almost understand what you’re getting at,” Ty said.

“I can’t,” the High Priest said.  “I’m afraid you’re speaking bird, little one.  Your perspective isn’t one we’re in a position to grasp.”

Jeremy sounded tired.  The oldest person here, and he wasn’t that old.

Evan, by contrast, was the youngest.

It explained the vaguely condescending tone, but it, at least in Evan’s eyes, didn’t justify it.

He snapped.  “You jerks!  Just listen to me.  It’s a trap!  A very obvious trap!”

“For the Bogeyman,” the High Priest said.  “Who is at the center of this, with all of the rest of us as collateral damage.”

“For Blake, yeah,” Evan said.  “So let’s treat this like we would any other trap and take a hike!  Literally!  We can go, we find another exit.  We fight the guy waiting for us there, and then we leave.”

I was already shaking my head.

“No?” Evan asked.

“We can,” I said.  “But it wouldn’t work.  The Abyss is smart.  It’s doing what it does for a reason.  I’m not sure, but I think we’d be starting over from scratch.  Have to fight through the gauntlet, the head games, find our way through, and at the end, there’s no guarantee the Abyss wouldn’t have something like this waiting at the next exit.”

“We knocked down one barrier,” Rose said.  “Jeremy, can you use your god, knock down this one?”

“I’ve asked a lot of my god in the last little while,” the High Priest said.  “I’m concerned that he’s too fond of lose-lose dilemmas to simply hand us a solution to this one.”

There was a bit of noise.  Someone had dropped to a sitting position with a crunch and a few snapping branches.

“Blake, you made a deal with Rose,” Alister said.  “That you’d step down, let her win the struggle between you two.  What were the terms?  Does this qualify?”

“The idea was that I’d destroy him,” Rose said.

“This would count,” I said.

“No!” Evan said.  “Damn you!  This is- no!  You don’t get to jump straight to that!  Do you know how hard I’ve had to work to keep Blake alive while he’s throwing himself into danger and fighting dragons and demons for your sakes?”

“I’m aware, Evan,” Rose said.  “But we need to discuss the options here.”

“No we don’t!  We can pretend this isn’t an option because it really isn’t, or it shouldn’t be!  If we start talking about this like it’s an option then Blake’s going to decide it is and if it’s talking it’s not something I’m good at!  I can push him out of the way of dragons or demons or whatever but I can’t push him out of the way of being an idiot!  The last time I let you guys talk he talked himself into letting you kill him!”

The noise in my head wasn’t abating.  It didn’t get worse, but it certainly wasn’t getting better.

“He’s agreed to let you destroy him so you don’t both get destroyed, the least you can do is not talk about this like it’s a possibility!  Find another way, or I’m done!  I’m gone!”

My head turned.

Two eyes peered out of the darkness.

“What is ‘this’?” Alister asked.  “Is it so much worse than death?”

“Yes,” the voice belonging to the eyes said.

Green Eyes crawled through a gap in the trees.

There was a coldness in her eyes as she looked at the main group.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” I said.  “Leaving might be hard.”

“You shouldn’t have left me behind,” she retorted.  “Again.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m actually sorry.”

“I could hear you from a little distance away.  The nugget is loud.”

I nodded.

Nugget,” Evan muttered, “says sushi girl.”

She approached me, but she didn’t climb onto me like she had in the past.  She climbed up the throne, flipped her tail over so it was on what amounted to an armrest, and reclined, sitting sideways.  If a fish could ‘sit’.  The sinuous nature of her lower body was especially clear with the way she’d draped herself back over the throne.

“You can’t,” I said.

“I know.  It’s not for me, and I’d be really bad at it,” she said.  “Won’t work.  Getting past this isn’t as easy as having someone else take the seat.”

She moved her head, rolling it back over the other armrest, facing skyward.  In the doing, she pushed her head under my hand, where I was still touching the throne.  I moved my thumb to flick a bit of hair away from where it trailed across her damaged face, but I left my hand where it was, the palm touching the bridge of her nose, the fingers and heel obscuring her eyes.

She’d healed, just a little bit, I noted, looking past the gaps of my fingers.

A benefit of being so close to the Abyss, perhaps.

She spoke, “He’ll live a long time.  It won’t be good living.  This is maybe one of the worst places for him to be, or it will be, once he settles in.  A perfect, personalized misery, just for him.”

“It’s not being destroyed,” Ty said.  “It’s being condemned.

“Essentially,” I said.

“What would you rather do?” Alister asked.  “As far as I can tell, it’s the exact same choice you made with Rose earlier.  Either we all suffer through being here, or one person does.”

I turned to look at him.

They looked as worn out and scared as I’d suspected.

He was right.  It wasn’t pretty, but he was right.

The Abyss wanted me to be its plaything.  I’d been given the power to affect change, to take action and try to defend my friends, and it had all led to this.

I started to move my hand, ready to move Green Eyes from the throne.  She seized my wrist.

She held my hand there, staring at me from an upside-down perspective.

“Why should he do it?” Evan asked.  “He made the hard choice once, so he can do it again?  No!  When’s the last time any one of you made the big sacrifice?”

“Missing a hand here,” Alister said.

“Thank you for that,” the High Priest added.  “I do owe you something for it.”

Alister nodded.

Big sacrifice,” Evan said, stressing the ‘big’.  “You know… um-  I’m not good with words.  Help me out here, Blake.  Green?”

I could hear the cries of the various denizens of the Abyss.  I could hear the tolling of the bell, even though it wasn’t here, and I could make out a deep rumbling, promising a reconfiguration, a change in broad strokes.

I opted to keep my mouth shut rather than risk the possibility that the noises in my head might become sentiments expressed through my lips.

Green Eyes answered Evan’s call.  “I don’t know what the nugget is saying-”

“And stop calling me a nugget!”

“-but the thing I keep hearing, over and over again, is that everything comes with a price.  What I’d like to know is, what are you paying Blake?  What does he get in the deal?”

The group exchanged glances.

“I’m not sure this isn’t another trick of the Abyss.  One more mouthpiece, so it gets what it wants,” the High Priest said.

“No,” I said.  I squared my jaw, and stood up a little straighter.  “No, Green Eyes is right.  This isn’t something you ask for without giving something in return.”

“What do you want?” Alister asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “As far as I can tell, there isn’t that much that’s worth enduring a personalized little hell for gods know how long.  You may have to sell it to me.”

“Blake,” Ty said.

“What?” I asked, and my tone was a little harsher than it maybe should have been.

He spread his arms, then dropped them to his side.  “I don’t want to say it, but apparently I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you.  I won’t say I regret it, but… I don’t remember it, and that’s making it feel really hard to justify.  There’s Tiff, and there’s Alexis.”

He put emphasis on her name.  It had the desired effect.

“I’m going to side with Blake on this one,” Rose said.

I looked at her in surprise.

“Green Eyes is right.  Everything has a price.  If we accept this option, let Blake make this choice, we’re going to pay somehow, further down the line.  We should give up something, to make it more equitable.”

She drew in a deep breath, then exhaled.

“Ty,” she said.

“Yeah?”

“Blake was cut from the same cloth I was.  The cuts were meant to achieve things.  Blake was rigged to surround himself with allies.  Just like he was created to ultimately destroy himself.  I don’t know how much choice he had in the matter.”

“It’s a fair accusation,” I said.  “I did get them involved.”

Rose nodded slowly.  Her breath fogged.  The trees and branches were so thick around us that it felt like they were closing in.  Like a piece of music that was rigged to sound like it constantly escalated in pitch, ad infinitum.

Ty had shown me the piece of music in question, now that I thought about it.

“You did,” she said.  “But I’m more inclined to blame the demon, but that’s… I’m so very tired right now, Blake.  This isn’t even certified over, and I’m exhausted on every measurable level, and several levels that can’t be measured.  I’m tired of blaming you.  So maybe I’m biased, and that’s coloring my perception.  Don’t let me come across like I’m stopping you two from resenting Blake.”

She was talking to Tiff and Ty.

“I don’t resent him,” Ty said.  “But-”

He couldn’t seem to finish the sentence.

“You can’t resent someone for something that you don’t recall,” Tiff said.  “Knowing Blake, admittedly not that well, I don’t think it was mean spirited.”

“It was selfish,” I said.

“And it happened,” Ty said.  “Alexis is dead.”

All at once, I was back atop the ruined pillar.  The Others were clawing their way up, the Barber’s minions, the fleshless bird, the lost souls, the broken crab-walking wretches…

I could see it all as though I were there again.

My focus was on the fight in front of me, trying to find an avenue I could use to attack.  I was injured, my chest in ruins, and the group was at the corner of the pillar, Barber to one side, the mob to the other.  The Timeless Knight was on the approach.

Then, as if someone else were taking control of a camera, moving it away from the scene, I could see Alexis, off to one side.  Surrounded.

She screamed, and the noise was drowned out by a toll of the bell.

Others, including the feathers and talons that had been cut away from the skinned raven-man, were closing in, doing as much damage to each other as they were doing to her.

I saw the scene from Alexis’ perspective.  Looking over at the others.  Looking up at me.

She screamed something, the view distorting with each word.

Then, just before the Others could get her, she slipped beneath the railing, holding onto the edge, climbing down.  Clearly intent on climbing across the underside, to get under the stairway that was so burdened with Others.

Except there were more Others beneath, climbing up.

My head turned, taking in the scene, but even though Alexis could see me between the slats of stairs, I couldn’t make her out through the jumble of bodies.  All I might have seen, had I been given the time and perhaps a bit more light, were her fingers, clutching the slab of wood of the stairs.

She was scratched, and she made a call.

She dropped.  One floor down, to the next set of stairs.

A bad landing, a tumble, taking several Others down with her, landing in a heap.  Her limbs were bent in odd ways.

The image lingered on her, making sure I knew.  Her eye was open, a glimmer visible from a distant candle.  It didn’t blink, even as seconds passed.

The vision faded, clearing away.

But even though the vision faded, Alexis remained.  Shrouded in the darkness at the edge of the little glade here, her eyes glittering as if from candles that weren’t here.

“I can’t make a call,” Rose said.  “I’m biased on too many fronts.”

“I suppose the question,” Alister said, “Is whether one death and two lives cast into chaos is worth demanding this fate from him.  That’s really for you two to decide.”

Alexis hunched over, and I saw another little flame join the lights that danced in her eyes.  A lighter.

Cigarette lit, she straightened.  She saw me looking, and raised one hand in a wave.  Her arm was broken.

A ghost?

An Other?

“I invited them to this world, I’m responsible for them,” I said.  I watched as Alexis moved through the shadows, a little further back from the rest.

“I’ll amend my statement,” Alister said.  “It’s for you three to decide, between you.”

“If it spares them-” I started.

Green Eyes clutched my wrist tighter.

“No,” Ty said.  “I can’t ask him to do that.  I shouldn’t have even brought it up.  I’m just-”

“Tired,” Rose said.

“Yeah,” Tiff said.  “I don’t want to do this like this.”

They were too nice.  Too good.

“Two out of three say nay,” Alister said.  “Bringing us right back to square one.”

Alexis, continuing her circuit around the clearing, stopped by the throne.

She stayed behind it.

Taunting me?  I wondered.  Or is it offering something else in the bargain?  A fresh Hyena, a locket, and now an Alexis?

“If you have any last wishes, things you want us to resolve on your behalf,” the High Priest said.

“I already promised that,” Rose said.

“Why does it feel like you’re more on his side than ours?” the other Behaim asked.

“Because I’m tired of taking sides,” Rose said.  “So long as everyone takes sides, the scales will inevitably wind up tipping, and we suffer for it.”

“Rose,” the High Priest said, and his tone was grave.  “What choice do you think we have?  We need out, and I’m not hearing answers.  You’re only working to convince yourselves that it’s too inhumane to make a fragment of a human being sacrifice himself.”

“We could choose to stay,” Rose said.  “It’s not a very good choice, but it’s a choice.”

“You’re testing me,” he said.

“A little,” Rose said.  “This is actually my first visit to the Abyss.  I’m not sure my head is on straight, right now, and a part of me feels a little insecure about how everyone else is doing.  I might be testing you a bit to see if you’re responding rationally.”

“Do you know who thinks they’re being rational?” Evan asked.  “The Angel.  You know, the dog that’s waiting for us out there.”

“Dog?” Green Eyes looked at us.  She flipped over, so her chin was on the armrest.  “I didn’t see it.”

It’s gone?

“That gives us hope that getting past this means we won’t get blocked by the angel,” Alister said.  He managed a smile.  “We only have to figure this out.  Does Blake take a seat, or do we stay here forever?”

The noise in my head was unbearable, but looking at Alexis gave me some relief on that front.

On the other hand, it made me feel so guilty I felt like I might go to pieces over it.  Whether I turned to the monster or the human, I was being assaulted, pushed into a corner.

“We trick the Abyss,” Rose suggested.  “Abandon the question, take a third path.”

“I’ll remind you,” I said.  “It’s here, it’s watching, it’s listening, and it isn’t stupid.”

“Mmm,” she said.  “Then… can we make a deal?”

“Saying that so soon after saying you want to mislead it,” Green Eyes commented.  She was looking at Rose, and her eyes were narrow.  Slits in the gloom.

“Not helping,” I said.

“I swear I’ll approach this deal with honest intentions,” Rose declared.  “Blake received the passion to strive for a future, I received the ability, but no passion, no drive, and no goal.  I have only an arranged marriage while you have my fiancé‘s engagement ring, and a future rife with conflict and chaos, due to me by my bloodline’s karma.  Now… I’m staking the open nature of my future on this deal.  If I’m dishonest in this bargain, I give the Abyss the right to claim my future, in addition to any and all other costs I pay.”

“I’m not sure I agree with this,” Alister said.

“Would you rather we get married and live out our lives here?” Rose asked.  “Or are you going to say that Blake should give up his existence because he’s only a fragment of a person?”

“Wouldn’t dare,” Alister said.  “I know you’re a fragment too, if a more substantial, prettier one.  But while I’m commenting one way or another, I have to wonder if the pair of you being in agreement isn’t just as disastrous as the two of you at odds.”

“I wonder,” Rose said.

“What’s the deal you’re making?” the High Priest asked.

“Look at Blake’s feet,” Rose said.

They did.

I did.

The branches that made up my feet had broken away.  They’d split up, and they’d set root in the forest floor.

Sealing me here.

When had that happened?

The sensation in my head was getting worse.

To be filled with noise and violence and ruin, yet frozen in place.  Eternal restlessness.  Only freed when it came time to guard the gate, to dash the hopes of others.  A far cry from my hopes to leave the world a better place than it had been before I was a part of it.

Once I realized it, I might have screamed, snapped, broken.

I looked at Alexis, and rather than relief, I thought I might break in an entirely different manner.

“I hereby request Blake,” she said.  “I request passage to the outside for me and my allies.  In exchange, I’ll give you what you desire, and I’ll give you us.  You’ll have my services as a scourge.  Bit of a step down from being the town’s diabolist, but I’ve done a bit of it before, and I can do more.  A lifetime of service.”

The silence lingered.

Birds moved through the trees, just out of sight.  Rustling, nervous, their cries hesitant.

To be a birdwatcher, but to have the birds forever out of sight…

I wondered if I’d find the rusted hulk of my bike somewhere in this mess of trees and snow.  It’d top it off, as far as the taunting went.

For a moment, in the midst of the disturbance in my own head, the idea fresh on my mind, Alexis lingering in my field of vision, I thought I heard the rev of the bike.

But the sound was a tearing, a breaking.

The trees, burdened by ice and snow, dropped the debris on either side of the throne.  They stood straighter, and more trees did the same.

A path had formed.

I could see Peter and Ainsley there, at the end of the path.  Peter had one arm around Ainsley, the two of them hunched over, trying to stay warm.

The other members of the group practically broke out into a run, on seeing the path.

I remained where I was.

“Stop!” Alister bellowed the word.

“Stop!” Evan shouted, a shriller sound.

Most did.  When one of the younger Knights continued to run, Rose touched a knife to her palm, then gestured, tripping the Knight and sending them careening sideways into a tree.  A rough fall, but no damage.

“Not yet,” Rose said.

She turned to look at me.  The roots hadn’t released my feet.

Just in front of me, Green Eyes was tense.  Her mouth was slightly parted, narrow fish’s teeth more clear without the lips in the way.

It was harder to convince the others to stay put when the way out was there.  The deal was the same, me being imprisoned here, them going, but the choice wasn’t in my hands anymore.

“Not yet,” Rose said.

They were restless, freedom so close.

As if to taunt them, the branches began to slowly descend, the way disappearing.

She approached me, even as the exit was fading.  She put hands on my shoulders.

“You could have thrown me off the side of the pillar,” she said.  “Or at least let me fall.”

“Could have,” I said.

“Alister,” she said.

“Yes?”

“Do you know the familiar ritual off the top of your head?”

“You’re not considering-”

“I’m not,” she said.  “Honest.  I’m not.”

“Then yes, yes I do.”

The front of my torso was destroyed, and though it healed, the healing was only partial.

Rose seized my heart, and hauled it out of my chest.

Narrow cords of wood, the roots of smaller plants, entangled branches, all followed, like so many veins and arteries.

“Woah, what!?” Evan cried out.

Green Eyes hissed, violent.

“Shhh,” Rose shushed them.  Her eyes and much of her focus on my heart.

“If you do anything to him-” Green Eyes said.

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Rose ordered, with a bit of Conquest in her voice.

Green Eyes shut her mouth, though she was tense.

I stared down at it.  A dark thing, a knot of wood encasing a bird, or a bird made of wood, both and neither, thumping and thrumming and beating without rhythm.

“Not a real heart,” Rose said.  “Spiritstuff, filling the gap.”

“They’re running,” Alister commented.

I looked to see.  Tiff and Ty were staying, and Nick was lingering, but backing slowly toward the exit.

Rose frowned.  “That makes this harder.”

“What are you thinking?” Alister asked.

“The Abyss has a claim to Blake.”

“Yes.  It’s going to claim us if we don’t get out of here.”

“What if there’s no clear Blake to claim?” Rose asked.

“Whatever you’re going to do, do it,” Alister said.

“Give me a prompt, any prompt.  Need a bit of ritual in this.”

“Um.  I, practitioner’s name, invite you to the world of man and mortal.  Let this be the port-”

“Skip ahead.”

“He accepts your hospitality.  Then you offer shelter, hospitality, demesne, sustenance…”

“That’s enough,” Rose said.  She glanced over her shoulder.  “I, Rose Thorburn, invite you within.  Let my body be the gate and the dwelling.  We were once one, then two, and now we will be an incomplete whole, for just a short time.  I offer you mercy, and I bare my throat to you, knowing what you are to me.  May my body be your shelter, my strength your strength, my being your sustenance.”

“Damnation,” Alister said.  “Should have known what I was getting into, marrying a Thorburn.”

I replied, “As the willing spirit, I accept your offer.  I agree to share in my own power and strength.”

Rose continued, “I give you me, my body for your spirit, for enough time that we might put old affairs to rest.  I give you time, up until we reach the moment where one might destroy the other.  I give you this with the hope that we both will strive for balance, and the knowledge that we will likely not find it.”

“I accept,” I said, not because I didn’t have better words, but because we were out of time.

Rose pulled, and the dark tendrils of the Abyss’ wood held on to my heart.

Alister handed her the Hyena.  Green Eyes tensed, now out of the chair.

Rose cut, severing me from the body, and I lost my eyes, my wings, and everything else.

The scene was broken, two sets of sound, two different views.  I might have been viewing it all through a shattered television screen with two sets of audio out of sync.  Out of the left eye, I could see my mother fussing over me.  Out of the right, she was standing still, distracted, fixing her hair.

In the left, I was Rose.  In the right, Blake.

Rose’s view was fractured, in a thousand pieces, painting a very different picture.  She was taller, simply by virtue of the images reflected through each piece of glass.

Blake, getting ready for church.  Rose… the time and placement of it wrong.

“Your grandmother b- -e there,” our mother fussed.  “Inheritance.”

It was a broken soundtrack, a bad edit, with imagination left to fill the gaps.  Rose’s memory of the event was rearranged, putting her at home, with our parents, just before the big meeting at Hillsglade House.

For me, it was much the same.  A whole section cut free.  I had no memories of my mother fussing over me.

I reached out, as if I could touch it, affect how things were arranged, then thought twice about it.

I couldn’t dwell in such a small, dismal, broken space.

I tried to find my way, to approach the surface.  Perhaps I could take one eye, to see the outside world.

Slowly, things were taking form around me.  Making this a place I could navigate, or operate in.

I was only spirit now.  Relatively small, compared to what I’d once been.  From a human to a fragment of a human possessed by the Abyss, now only a fragment of spirit.

I could hear Rose’s declaration, from far away.  Not a memory, but the real world.

“You can have both of us, you could break us, and it might even be easy!” she said.  There was definite Conquest in her voice.  “Or you can let us go, and the deal I proposed will hold!”

I didn’t hear or see the response.

I tried to, listening and looking for cues.

Instead, I only heard Conquest’s amused chuckle, echoing through the shattered space.

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119 thoughts on “Possession 15.4

  1. The papercut girl had told me that she wanted to get in position, or something along those lines.

    But diary girl hasn’t said a word since Blake entered the abyss. That was the ink man who said he had his sights higher.

  2. Go Rose! Sort of. It is literally impossible that agreeing to serve the Abyss for the rest of their lives will not come back to bite them and/or everyone they’ve ever met.

    Ah well, Blake was technically already a Scourge.

  3. I’m kind of conflicted. On the one hand, Rose managed to out maneuver the Abyss. Sort of. It has my respect and goes in Crowning Moments of Awesome and Heartwarming. On the other, you killed Alexis off! How could you?

      1. Yeah, by the end of Worm zbfg bs Rnegu’f cbchyngvba jnf qrnq qhr gb Fpvba’f enzcntr, vapyhqvat rirelbar va Terng Oevgnva, nf jryy nf zbfg bs gur znva pnfg.

      2. Yes, I did read that, but to be fair, you can’t compare the scale of the final arcs to this one yet. Unless the plot of Dragon Age Inquisition gets factored in and demons fall from the sky….

    1. I think she’s still alive, actually. Apparently become a Bogeyman associated with book burning, if I’m reading the physical indicators correctly, but still alive and potentially summonable by a Scourge.

      1. There are a lot of imperfections in Alexis’ appearance and behaviour that I think are partially to foreshadow her bogeyman status (which is, incidentally, the only way Alexis + Blake could ever really happen).

        Things like the smoking (and the negative dental effects – requiring dentures), Blake’s spirit infusing her altering her appearance (and perhaps giving the Abyss the foothold it needed to claim her), the cuts Diary Girl inflicted on her, etc.

        I also wonder whether Alexis’ apparent desire to fix “broken” people (e.g. Blake, Tiff) will come into play somehow.

        If so, the Abyss is either going to cherish or deeply regret making Alexis a bogeyman.

          1. I feel like the Abyss doesn’t play games that contain a losing outcome. For instance, here they weren’t going to get out without giving the Abyss something.

    2. On the other, you killed Alexis off! How could you?

      It’s fine IMO. Alexis was never really developed anyway. Blake just kinda obsessed over her.

      Now that she’s out of the picture, Blake can finally fully turn his attention to his true love, Green Eyes. . . Wait a minute. . . Wildbow, how could you?

      1. Well let’s face it Alexis was kinda a flat sattilite character. Not that I didn’t like her, but I do prefer Green Eyes.

        Now if time was wonkey in the Abyss we could all theorize that somehow Alexis ended up in the drains and became Green Eyes.

          1. wait, actually no. it didn’t seem like blake was more than dipped in the drains before he skipped a month and the house escape wasn’t that far off real time (that or rose’s plan sucked even more than I thought and was guaranteed to get all of her allies eaten before it could ever have paid off 😉 but at least its apparently linear.

            1. Unknown how long Blake actually spent in the drains – we know he slept at least once, and spent long enough that he lost track of day-night cycle. He was probably there a few days to a week, displacing him a month, while they spent maybe an hour or 2 in the Tenements, displacing them maybe 6-8 hours. So, barring some more accurate estimates, I’d say it’s some consistent time dilation going on (oh hey relativity shout-out, someone calculate how fast the abyss is moving relative to us)

              Speaking of, the town should be very much awake and reeling by now

            2. Attempting to reply to xdrngy below – the button wouldn’t appear for some reason.
              It might also be due to a strong gravitational pull. Since the Abyss is in many ways a potential well in terms of connections (in a way, power), it could be seen as similar to a very large stellar body. Something like a black hole, i guess.

    3. There’s a fair chance that she’ll come back in some horrid form or other. But she was always far more relevant to the story as an instrument of motivation/characterization for Blake than she ever was as an actual on-screen character, so her death probably shouldn’t surprise us.

  4. Typo thread?

    Instead, I only heard Conquest’s bemused chuckle, echoing through the shattered space.

    “Bemused” means “puzzled, confused, or bewildered”. Maybe you meant “amused”?

    1. The ink man had told me that she wanted to get in position, or something along those lines. She too had known. She’d wanted this role.
      shifted from the paper girl based on the first comment (I think), but genders for all following sentences are still female

    2. to affect change
      unless this is about Blake changing Change, should this be “to effect change” (to cause change to come about?)

      or am I getting the usage wrong again…

    3. Interesting. I’ve only ever seen “bemused” used the way wildbow used it here as wry amusement. But consulting dictionaries you appear to be right, it only means puzzled. Then again, with the popularity of the incorrect use, the meaning may change.

      That’s my something new for today: bemused=puzzled.

    1. I mean, in hindsight of course Conquest would be in there too. Rose has been drawing power from him for a while now. But I don’t think Blake is in any position to fight him right now.

      Boy, I sure hope the better part of C-word is bound up tight in that mirror, or things are about to get gnarly.

        1. I’m kinda reminded of the end of Final Fantasy VII where Cloud had that final duel with Sepherioth. I half expect a fight whoosh and boss music.

        1. It doesn’t matter if he’s “that big,” so much as it matters that he’s almost certainly going to be bigger than tiny little spirit Blake is right now.

          1. Mind you… part of the reason why Conquest could get a foot in Rose’s door in the first place was because she wasn’t whole. This may not be a full joining, but this is the closest to entire she and Blake have come since they got Barbered. Which could make Conquest’s possession a lot harder. Not only has Blake been invited, he’s also kind of on home turf. 😐

  5. Hmmmm. . . hmmm. . . OK.

    So Blake’s a spirit now. I wonder what will happen. Will he snowball into a Corvidae-like being? Will he possess Rose?

    I’m officially nominating Evan for MVP of Pact. He may very well be the best thing out of Toronto.

    The relationships are starting to get complicated. Blake and Green Eyes have a mutual affection towards each other, while has (had) a heavy one sided admiration of Alexis. Tiff was warm for Blake, but apparently didn’t like his wood. Maggie was rejected (in Blake’s thoughts) but was open to a relationship. Rose and Alister are fiances but (according to Blake, who I don’t fully agree with) don’t love each other. Now Blake is inside of Rose rooming with a C-word. Does that mean Green Eyes luvs Rose now? Can she join in the marriage? What’s the current status?

    As always, Rose ends up being the voice of reason. Good job!

    1. “As always, Rose ends up being the voice of reason”

      You imply she is the only reasonable person-Blake was too,despite his insticts.

  6. I understand what’s going on in my head…but my heart is full of whats. I don’t even know anymore, other than that this is ridiculous and I am enjoying it so, so much.

    Meanwhile, Evan is keeping it classy. There are no better advocates for not committing main characters to personal hell than dead bird children.

    1. I’m re-reading Worm, and “this is ridiculous and I am enjoying it so, so much” is a great summary of why the Pact chapters make great palate cleansers. Worm doesn’t have an Evan, after all.

  7. Also, the Abyss is a douche. It sealed him there so it could torment him with an And I Must Scream scenario until he was mad with rage. It did it while in the middle of the deal at that. That’s dirty….

    But what does being Scourge bring to the table? They take things out of the Abyss, not bring them in for changing.

    1. There’s a reason the Abyss does this whole gatekeeper business instead of just sealing off all the exits. It sends particularly hefty Bogeymen out to inflict pain and fear and drag more things in over the long term. A Scourge can help with that. Even if it means Green Eyes, Alexis, and some others get long-term positions as Rose’s elite guard, it’s still likely to be a net positive overall.

    2. Boogeymen are supposed to spread the influence of the Abyss, and also bring things back in. Remember during the War that there was a boogeyman carrying a woman, and a bunch of other people, because he had a quota?

    3. And not only the stuff the three previous responses mentioned, but we have an example a few chapters back of a Scourge so good at his job that he effectively brought a little bit of the Abyss everywhere he went.

      Who knows? That condition might even actually be a common Scourge occupational hazard.

  8. And you know what else hurts. Tiffany and Tyler are starting to resent him. Ouch….

    I blame Faysal for all of this. As a parting gift, the Abyss should at least pony up a portable copy of How to Kill Angels.

    1. The name was “The Killing of Angels”. It might not teach how to kill angels. I choose to believe that it would describe (or show) something so impossibly sad that it would cause Ultimate Despair on whatever reads it. Like what happened to Kathryn, but more generic, instead of targeted.

  9. “To be a birdwatcher, but to have the birds forever out of sight…”
    Wow, right in the gut. Honestly I was cringing while imagining how hopelessly /forever/ his future would be. Man.

    I’m interested to see Blake and Rose talk this out, and discover all the details of the other’s story

    Also, fuck Conquest. Knew they’d have to deal eventually but I was hoping for some sort of miraculous diffusion of that situation

  10. Ugh. I know everyone is biased in their favour (and understandably so, no one wants to sacrifice themselves when someone else can be the scapegoat), and they are in the Abyss, but it really isn’t that hard to understand Evan’s point. The Behaims and Rose have lost a lot of power and also members of their groups, but that was happening thanks to the war one way or another. Alister lost an arm, which is a big loss, but not THAT big of a loss. The Priest… lost the favour of his wife. And most of this has happened while they are looking for personal gains. Whereas Blake has been betrayed by his friends, been labelled as public enemy #1 and given up any number of body parts (which regrow, but flawed) all while trying to save people. He keeps putting himself on the line for the sake of others. The only other person we have seen do a sacrifice of similar magnitude is Johannes, even though he knew he didn’t have any other options. Blake is the last person that deserves an eternity of personal hell. And that’s not taking into account anything he did before the war.

    I forgot if I had any other comments on the chapter… xP Great chapter as always. That ending was unexpected and very emotive. I like that we get to see the world through the eyes of a spirit, and that Rose’s memories seem to be more broken? I also like the symbology of Blake’s heart being a caged bird.

    1. It’s defiantly easy to see Evan’s point. However, when you’re stuck in the “personal hell”, and the simplest/easiest solution to leaving and putting this behind you is letting the monster who was on a murder spree earlier stay, Evans point kinda loses some weight.

      1. Not to mention the fact that I’d rather be Blake on the throne than Johanness with a Barber in his eyes. At least it’s plausible that Green Eyes and Evan can still visit Blake on the throne (although the Abyss would make them pay for it).

    1. Now that I’m thinking about it, that could backfire badly. I’m envisioning Conquest kicking ass across the Abyss, then leading it to war with earth. Not a fun thought.

      1. Conquests goal is not to wage war, but to conquer.
        Throwing him down there, to have him become an agent of the Abyss? A potential extinction level event for the rest of the earth…

      2. I feel like the Abyss would rather tear down an incarnation than build one up – they’re pretty much the epitomy of refusal-to-change. Also, I can’t imagine no other incarnations have found their way down there; clearly no Earth-killing war yet.

  11. So am I completely out of line here in wondering if maybe Conquest has been behind the Abyssal visions and the lose-lose deals? Remember, their contest is still ongoing and Conquest is only forbidden from exercising his powers in Toronto. He’s already done the evil traumatic vision whammy before, so that’s well within his power. So is giving someone a small favor in exchange for taking something fundamental from them. And getting Blake to surrender to the demands of the Abyss when it’s just Conquest posing as the Abyss is a perfectly legitimate tactic.

      1. ooooh, it gets better!
        Now, with Blake a little spirit inside Rose, together with a portion of Conquest, because Rose tapped his power quite a few times now… He can finally finish that contest started so long ago.
        Conquest, still working on his own agenda, inside rose, manipulating her, outright like a Possession (what was the title of the arc again?).
        Conquest possessing Rose, Conquering her “other half” (less than half, but doesn’t matter right now) from within makes sense, since she is also still in the running for Lordship of Jacobs Bell, I presume (or did I overlook that she forfeited?).
        Which, again, makes perfect sense if she is just a vessel for Conquest, he conquers.
        In retrospect, it make no sense whatsoever for Rose to participate in that little “Who will be Lord of a little town in the nowhere of Canada?” game. Unless Conquest is having a hand in making her decisions.

        The Abyss and the Lawyers, in Conquests agenda they can stick it.
        Also, the deal Rose(Conquest) made with the Abyss specifically states that she owes it for the rest of her life, but when Conquest takes over her body, she effectively ceases to exist, which frees him from the deal.

        Of course, as final straw, it is all the Lawyers great plan!
        They are advocates of the demons, which strive to end all existence.
        The Abyss is an integral part of the continued existence in the universe, as its meta-physical ‘compost heap’. So if the deal gets enacted, they have a foothold in the Abyss and can destroy/consume it from within.

        BUT! an empty hand (which held the straws a moment ago), can still harbor a secret.
        Granny Rose’s great plan of fuck-everything-up is still in motion.
        To what end?
        Tune in next time when Blake meets opponent in his third trial of the Abyss, a welcoming applause for Cooooooooooooonqueeeeeeeeest!

    1. Cool theory but I’d almost be dissapointed if that was the case. There hasn’t been any precedent for Blake and Roses thoughts to being intermingled or entwined in any way, or at least in the sense of a pathway for stuff to bleed in from one side or the other. On top of that it would take away the clout of the Abyss as being this big freaky manipulative sentient purgahell and would cheapen a lot of the interplay going on between Blake and what we presume to be it for the past 7 chapters.

    2. No, monkey’s-paw favors are the Abyss’s core operating mode, while to Conquest they’re definitely second best. He’s more about lamentations-of-their-women than regret.

    3. Conquest’s visions trick against Blake involved finding the related ghosts (basically animate memories of the incident) and flinging them at him. It wasn’t a personal power of his, but more him exploiting the nature of ghosts to inflict their dying agonies on everyone around them and using that to dredge up Blake’s similar memories.

  12. Frankly I wasn’t terribly optimistic in this happening, but this chapter made me respect and actually appreciate Rose. I’ve understood why she operated, but frankly she never escalated much past infuriating burden to tolerate at the outset and backstabbing obstacle to over come later on. This is the most decent thing she has done to him in this entire story and out of anyone I thought would come to Blake’s aide, I’ve never been more pleasantly surprised.
    Foot note, shout out to Evan, the heart of this whole d**n series.

  13. The Alexis-visions weren’t exactly clear, but if she bogeys out Rose can probably summon her later to see what her deal is. Who knows, she may not be horribly destructive…

  14. So now Blake is dwelling as a spirit in Rose, that’s a possession too.
    And still not having any rest.

    Alexis bogeyman ideas:
    The Tattoist Scribe: Scratching the words and images of pain and suffering with her broken arm on her own skinspace, then transferring them with the needle-like touch, so you get instant Abyss tattoos.

  15. This was an awesome chapter. Praise the Wildbow!

    Comments:

    1. Wow, Evan in this chapter was absolutely phenomenal. There’s nobody better to blame Blake for his recklessness than the sidekick who has to save him all the time.

    2. Rose’s deal was also great, though I can’t tell how in-character it was. This sounds like the kind of thing she should be incapable of doing because of the Barber. I do love all the big declarations; nobody does them as well as Rose.

    3. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize this, but Rose has made a concerted effort throughout most of the story to be a scourge, rather than a diabolist. I’ve been complaining about the lack of diabolism, but that does put a different spin on things.

    4. What’s up with Conquest, at the end? Will he get the guardian role?

    5. IIRC Blake is still going to be betrayed by one of his allies. I wonder how this development will affect that.

  16. Remember what Mara said in 14.9?:-

    “Look at the pair of you. Rose and Blake Thorburn. Your heart sits at the centre of your being, Rose’s head rests at the centre of hers. But the darkest places have taken your heart, and a working of the universe has taken your other‘s head.”

    “In this moment, bereft of a sound heart, your mind is the critical tool.”

    “And the inverse is true for Rose?”

    The young girl smiled at me. Sly, humourless, almost mocking.

    “Two spirits, two bodies,” she said. “A ragged cut, so the twain shall never meet again. Any connection that forms between you will be twisted and warped.”

    In this form, it’s 3 spirits, 1 body along with Abyssal taint & Demon Warp. Rose is heavily strung along by C-word &/Or powering him somehow, the Abyss is screwing all sides, the Demon Warp is screwing the Blake-Rose connection further… & Blake is now currently a wisp in this maelstrom of shit.

    Should Blake have listened to the noise in his head instead of following his heart?

    1. I’m pretty sure the noise in his head was straight out of the Abyss, so there’s no way that could’ve been a better option. Right now they at least seem to be acting against the Abyss, so that can’t be too bad.

  17. ive been waiting for this to happen since the first time blake saw a woman in his reflection of the mirror.
    yes.
    yes.
    a million times yes

    1. I will share that enthusiasm when all the shoes have dropped and this decision doesn’t destroy every good thing around them.

      I will definitely share the hell out of it, though.

      1. In the end, when the world stops spinning around you, when the mist clears and you finally see, when you finally recognize the world for its true face.
        Will you stop it from tearing itself apart, or will you avert your gaze, ignore its cries for help, and let it burn to nothingness, to peace?
        It does not matter to ask the questions “Can I save them?” or “Are they worth saving?” but to make the decision if you even try.

    2. Hmm, i have a small story, or rather, the beginning of a story. about 5k words now.
      Originally wanted to post it under a tumbler or something, but lets check this out reading terms of service

  18. Evan nails it. Blake has had to give up so much already. Sure everyone thinks it might be best if he just gives this up for them… But if he does then I’m sure it will come back to bite them somehow. Horribly. Because this would have been the point at which there would never be any hope anymore.

    I wonder why the Abyss has such a mad on for Blake?

    1. Because he aided a God in pushing back a demon trying to eat it? Because he provided another Demon within a major figure? Because he keeps following conflicts where the Abyss is eventually called into action in some form or other? Because he keeps winning against things that should by all rights kill him and that makes for an excellent Gate Keeper?

      1. if your theory is it likes him for saving it why is it such a raging douche to him now when it was at least semi-tolerable in the drains?

        1. its offer for endgame drains blake of the potential future i mean. where hes a top tier predator hunting monsters and with the hope for growing strong enough to beat the wind guardian in a race(not a murder, an escape) to the exit, dating greeneyes and growing partially feathered fully functional wings (without even costing him an arm and part of a leg)

          …oh but now that abyss likes him he gets his own personal shit realm taunted with wings he can’t use, rooted to a throne unleashed only to fight and smash hopes

        2. Because it seems to go through phases.I think it was a chapter or two ago Blake said: The Drains was patient, the Tentements were a bit more excitable, and the Library, between Molly and the Barber, was aggressive.

  19. To be honest, right now Rose is in a very dangerous situation.

    Her current allies see her with three major advantages.

    First, she can call up demons.
    Second, she can tap into the essence of an incarnation of conquest
    Third, she has just absorbed the essence of an incredibly gifted combatant.

    She’s young. Untried. Uneducated in anything except the most rudimentary manner, and finally, she’s got no library to teach her how to safely use her gift, if she is tempted to do so.

    In other words, Rose is now more than a loose cannon, she’s a loose nuclear bomb.

    1. On the bright side, the only group that has people left that can meaningfully threaten her at this point are the Behaims, who are basically out of big guns and are left with regular guns and control over the local police.

      1. Well, there is Briar Girl, who has been conspicuously absent.
        There are also plenty of individuals and groups left in Toronto who might stick their nose in. The Knights came from there, for instance.

  20. I’m imagining Blake and Rose partitioning control of the body so that they can go on a double date with Alister and Green Eyes, with each of them getting half of Rose’s face.

    This is a development that is simply ripe for shenanigans.

  21. Also, though we did not see how Rose integrated Blake with her spiritual makeup, given the situation and themes I think it’s safe to assume that she did it by eating his heart. Which is pretty fitting.

  22. so anyone else think Green Eyes is up to something? she seems to have known the abyss was going to try to make Blake a gatekeeper. i just keep thinking about how Tiamat, the primordial ocean goddess and chaos monster in Mesopotamian myth, created Kulullû, basically a merman, to serve in her army of monsters in her war against the gods of creation. wild speculation, i know.

  23. Did anyone else notice that Conquest may very well have accepted Rose’s invitation to move inside her? She didn’t, after all, specifically mention Blake by name.

    “I, Rose Thorburn, invite you within. Let my body be the gate and the dwelling. We were once one, then two, and now we will be an incomplete whole, for just a short time. I offer you mercy, and I bare my throat to you, knowing what you are to me. May my body be your shelter, my strength your strength, my being your sustenance.”

    I think the case could be made, and Conquest would definitely make it, that by “using” his essence to shore up her presence and to give her further resolve, they were once one, and then when she stopped they were two. She offers [Conquest] mercy, and bares her throat to [Conquest], knowing what he is to her. May her body be [Conquest’s] shelter, etc.

    Then Blake replied, “As the willing spirit, I accept your offer. I agree to share in my own power and strength.”
    Perhaps Conquest simultaneously replied, quietly so that only Rose and some random spirits could hear, “As the willing spirit, I accept your offer, giving nothing of my own power and strength and accepting your willing gift of all that you are as my own, now that you’ve bared your throat to me.”

    She really should have spelled that invitation out a little bit better and specifically mentioned Blake by name. It’s going to come back to bite her.

    1. Yeah, my first reaction to that was, “Who’s ‘you’?” And there’s already a precedent for the “respond quietly” strategy (even if Blake and company don’t know that).

      But did Rose stop using the Conquest voice regularly at any point? I don’t remember.

      1. The precedent being johaness’s demesne claim? Because the local powers which resided in that zone still heard him, so should rose still have heard C’s claim?

        Side note- if rose and blake were once “rusty” and you add conquest in the mix after they become a “incomplete whole”, should we call this new being “Crusty”? Because that’s a great name for her.

        1. “so should rose still have heard C’s claim?”
          Perhaps she did, but it was already too late for her to say anything about it to anyone else. Also, yes, if we have Rose/Conquest/Blake all in one body, the person should be called Crusty. 😀

    2. I think the case can be made that when conquest used his power to force rose to answer his questions about blake, it could be said that he exerted enough “conquest” over her to overrule her “rose”-ness, thus making them one-ish.

      Plus, rose already mentioned how much more vulnerable the two are to possession- you’d think she’d make more specific offers when it came to such matters.

      Seriously, what is it with thorburn women and thinking possession is always a great idea?

  24. I’m confused. How come no one commented on seeing alexis? Was it because she was staying out of sight of everyone but blake, or was she an illusion because the abyss is a dick?

    If the former- uh…. why? Why the hell would she do that?
    If latter- abyss is a dick. Also, I don’t see the point of showing him her dying AND showing an illusion of her ghost-thing, unless it wants to drive him insane or something?

    So… blake now exists inside of rose? That kinda blows. I mean, he still isn’t free and is still trapped. Granted, he isn’t in his version of hell, but still. I want him to be free.

    Lets see.. blake promised the abyss a better meal. He gave it the library, a demon trapped in the most powerful sorcerer he knows, a bunch of people including knights and alexis, AND the abyss now has the thorburn diabolist heir as it’s own personal scrouge, as a prettier replacement of the one he killed. Wow, when he delivers, he really delivers.

    Does this mean rose is now whole, with all of hers and blakes connections and stuff, or are they still part of the tug-of-war thing? Because seeing Green Eyes now having feelings for rose would be AWESOMELY HILARIOUS to watch.

    What happened with the locket, the hyena, and conquest’s pendant?

    Lastly- how did alister and rose hold the hyena? Did the hand-spikes get taken off at some point, or are they just badass like that?

    1. From top to bottom, the Hyena is hard to wield, but not impossible. Blake used it many times as a human. And I guess we will know what will happen to the items next chapter?

      If Sushi Girl doesn’t show feelings for Rose, can we have someone make that happen please?

      As far as Alexis is concerned, I believe the Abyss’s idea was to either A) entice him with the possibility of being reunited with Alexis if he takes the gatekeeper position B) Debilitate him by making him feel guilt for Alexis’s death/Otherness, maybe making him feel as though he deserves his personal hell.

      1. I would LOVE reading that fanfic, if/when it gets made…

        Ah, that makes sense about alexis. Thanks for that. Abyss is indeed a dick.

  25. “I can push him out of the way of dragons or demons or whatever but I can’t push him out of the way of being an idiot!  The last time I let you guys talk he talked himself into letting you kill him!”

    Oh, Evan. Never change.

    Your inevitable death at the hands of something horrific is going to hurt.

  26. Anyone else think, while reading through this chapter, that things would end here with Green Eyes volunteering to stay with Blake and the two being lovers in the Abyss holding back the monsters while allowing those who still had humanity to pass?

    1. The thought never crossed my mind. I assumed Green would totally vote for that, but given how much of a dick the abyss is, even rooting him in place after giving him wings, I assumed he’d find a way out, someone would find a way out for him, or he’d try a way out only for it to blow up in his and everyone’s face (since it’s only the fourth chapter in the arc).

      Lets face it, anyone who makes it that far into the abyss and survives that long, doesn’t have much humanity left. Most that get that powerful stay in the abyss, while the others have some mission or something like that they feel driven to complete. 99% of the time, it’s not a good mission, and usually murder or revenge. An eternity of conflict and getting worn down by the abyss, without being able to enjoy the parts of his life, having the ghost or whatever of alexis haunt him, not being able to fly or move… honestly, I would hope someone killed him and green together rather than have to endure that.

  27. “‘Nugget,‘ Evan muttered, ‘says sushi girl.’”
    Nice one.

    Blake’s being broken down more and more. Comparable to Skitter in ways that describing would, pardon, skitter on the edge of being a spoiler so I’ll back up a bit. Interesting comparison, and a bit of an unfortunate fate. Can’t wait to see what comes next…

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