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Sample: Pact 4

December 31, 2013

Moving on with Pact.  It’s the story I’m moving forward with.  I’m putting the fourth chapter here while I work on making the story’s site look good & maybe do a bit of tidying up for the chapters I’ve already done.

I’ll be aiming to get the new site, Pact 1.5 and a bit of polish for this Saturday.

I finished toweling myself dry and wrapped the towel around my waist before I opened the shower curtain.  I used my fingers to comb my damp hair away from my face before approaching the mirror.

I could see Rose’s reflection, her hair pressed flat where the back of her head pressed against the other side of the mirror, looking the other way.  The mirror in the upstairs bathroom was a part of the pedestal sink, surrounded by florets.

It was an uncomfortable setting, with unfamiliar things in unfamiliar places.  Having someone, something like Rose nearby.  Strange smells and tastes, with even the water having a taste to it.  It was drawn from a local well, according to Rose.  I had been forced to use the only shampoo available, and the smell of it was thick and cloying in the humid air of the bathroom.

All of this was helping me to get a sense of why Molly had been so driven to empty shelves and remove pictures from the walls.  My grandmother had a presence here, and it was a presence that felt like it could override my own.

Especially when my own presence seemed somewhat limited.  When I looked in the mirror, I saw only the bathroom, and I saw Rose, her back turned.

No reflection, using different soaps and shampoo that made me smell different, no longer having the little trinkets and touches I’d surrounded myself with over the past year or two, it all made me feel less like me.

Each of those things had a flip side, seeing a reminder of our grandmother’s work in the mirror, smelling our grandmother’s lavender-scented shampoo and soap, seeing her trinkets and small touches wherever I looked, I felt like she hadn’t quite left.  Her presence was still here.

Which it was, kind of.  We had stumbled onto one lingering threat.  The books my grandmother had written, left untouched, still waited in that study.

How deep did that particular danger run?

“Hey,” I said.  “Did you ever share scary stories with Molly and Paige?”

“A little,” Rose answered, without turning around.

“You remember the stories we told about the house?  Some made up, some real?”

“Kind of,” she said.  “We weren’t all that close.  I mean, we were the same ages, give or take a year, but we weren’t friends.”

Really?” I asked, and there was a note of surprise in my voice that seemed to startle her.  She half-turned, caught a glimpse of me, naked but for a towel around my waist, and turned away just as quickly.

I hiked up the towel to be sure I was safe, made sure it was secure, and then said, “It’s fine.  I’m decent, and it’s not like we’re not related, right?”

“Right,” she said, but she took her time.  I caught her giving me a glance, bottom to top and back again, before she frowned a little.

“Was it that you weren’t friends after grandmother announced the whole ‘granddaughter only’ thing, or-“

“Before,” Rose said.

“Before,” I said, considering the idea.  “I considered them good friends.  We exchanged emails, we looked forward to seeing each other…”

I trailed off.  Rose was already shaking her head.  A strand of blond hair had come loose of the pin behind her head.

Rose said, “I know Molly about as well as I knew Callan or Roxanne, which isn’t much at all.  Then the ‘granddaughter only’ thing came up, and that was that.  We were rivals.”

“It doesn’t upset you that she’s dead?”

“It does!” she said, “Really, it does.  But… if you told me Mrs. Niles died, I’d be about as upset.  Someone who was a small, peripheral part my life is now gone.  It’s sad, it’s a reminder that we’re all very mortal, and there’s obviously a lot more going on besides that, with you as the heir for the property and me as… this.”

“But Molly doesn’t rate much higher than an elderly neighbor who you say hi to if you happen to see her,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” Rose said.  “There are nice memories, but there are bad memories too.  Over and over, stuff would come up.  If we weren’t dealing with a situation, we were reeling from the last one.  Ways to weaken me, to take me out of the running, mom and dad sort of keeping it going.  It kind of soured all the rest of it.”

“Soured it?,” I said.

She gave me a funny look.  “Aunt Irene pulled strings to screw up Paige’s chances of getting into University, and she almost succeeded.  Uncle Paul went crazy, Paige went crazy, and we had four straight months where I was genuinely afraid.  My car got vandalized, and they emptied a can of orange juice concentrate under a seat.  The frozen pulp you mix with two cans of water.  By the time I realized what was going on, the smell was so bad I couldn’t drive the car, and no amount of cleaning would make it any better.”

“Doesn’t sound like Paige.”

“That one was Ellie, I’m pretty sure.  She made a comment, then alluded to my brake lines, and I basically stopped driving after that.  When I think of family, that’s the first thing that comes to mind.”

I couldn’t imagine giving up that independence.  The apparent distance between myself and Rose was growing, hearing all this.

She continued, oblivious, “Those are the memories I have, which didn’t really happen, apparently.  But they’re part of what make me me, whatever I am, and so I don’t have any lingering fondness for the extended family, real memories or fake.”

I nodded.  “I remember sharing the stories about the house, even seeking them out, so I had tidbits to share on future visits.  We’d laugh, be suitably horrified, and whatever else.  Paige and Molly had it easier, because they had siblings to tap for stories.  But it’s like… I could tell them how our great grandfather was a robber baron, kind of?”

There was no recognition on Rose’s face.

“He ruthlessly cut out the competition, scared people, beat them, stole from them, up until the day he hired a few goons to go beat someone up and they got caught.  He ran and came to Canada, where was approached by a widow, our great grandmother.  Grandmother Rose’s parents.”

“I didn’t hear that one.”

“The letter she wrote us told us that bastards tend to do better as husbands in this family than the gentlemen do.  So I can’t help but think… how far back does this business with the demons and devils go?  There’s a bit of bloody history tied to this family and this house.  Was grandmother the first to go down that road, or has it been at play from the beginning?”

“I don’t know,” Rose said.  “I don’t want it to be a big thing, because our bloodline is apparently in a kind of debt, and I don’t want to be in debt to anything like that.”

No longer comfortable with the topic, I bent down and rummaged in the cabinet beneath the sink for basic toiletries.  One drawer revealed a narrow can of shaving cream with a woman’s silhouette on it.  It had been there for so long it refused to budge when I tried to lift it.  Further back was a plastic packet of the cheapest disposable razors around, pink.

I opted to shave anyways, tearing the can off the bottom of the drawer.  Sure enough, the razor nicked me no less than five times.  They had been there for so long that temperature had bent the blades.

I preferred to bleed and be clean-shaven over the alternative.  Without a reflection to go by, I had to be meticulous.

It was disconcerting to see Rose standing there, studying me, when I tried to look to see if I’d missed a spot.  I ran my hand over my face, searching for the roughness of scruff, then washed my face to get rid of the remainder.

“Bit of shaving cream at the back there,” Rose said, pointing to the nape of her neck.

I fixed it.

“Putting the more dangerous stuff aside, we should get to studying,” she said.

“Know what we’re up against,” I said, while drying my face.  I tended to the small cuts, but it didn’t make much of a difference, with the cut already on my cheekbone.

“Exactly.  Having information can’t do any harm, can it?  How were you as a student?”

“Horrible,” I said.  I could see her face fall.

“But I can do this.  I have a good memory.  I struggled at school because I don’t have a lot of patience.”

“How far did you get in Essentials?”

“The introduction,” I said, preparing my toothbrush.  I’d managed some before fatigue caught up with me, and I’d napped.  I’d woken, mid-afternoon, and decided to shower to clear my head.  I didn’t function that well when I was grimy and unshaven.

“Only?  I’m nearly done,” she replied.

I looked up at her in surprise.

“Apparently I don’t sleep,” she said, and she sounded somewhat distant, even disconnected.  “I don’t get hungry.  I don’t really breathe.  I barely have a heartbeat.”

“You were up all night reading?”

“More or less.  My focus sucks right now, because I still feel drained from earlier, but I read where I could, then wandered, looked over the library, trying to get a sense of what books are there.  Or at least the books the mirror’s facing.”

I nodded, toothbrush in my mouth.  On a level, I was glad I had an excuse to stay silent.  I was bothered, that she was ahead of me, that she would likely stay ahead of me, without a need for sleep.

How could I even articulate that?  On a level, I wanted us to be on the same page, so we could cooperate, play ideas off each other.

On another level, well… All of the most foolish and brutish Others have been captured, slain, consumed, driven off, or tricked away.  Recognize all Others for what they are, and know that they, by a process of elimination two thousand and six hundred years in the making, are cunning by nature, they are slave to those who are, or they were made to be cunning to better serve in their duties.  Wit is the greatest defense and the sharpest weapon, on battlefields such as these.

Essentials, chapter one, the introduction, on Others.  Laying down the ground rules, the most basic stuff we needed to know.  Others were liars.

What was Rose, if not an Other?  New enough she wasn’t bound by the old rules that forbade lying and mandated oaths, but still an Other.  Not of mortals or the mortal’s world.

“I’m glad you’re up,” she said.  “Three hours alone in this house was too much.  I don’t know how I’m going to get through a whole night.  Dealing with being what I am.”

For all that time had done to heal her weariness, it had made her emotions more pronounced.

In my case… well, it would have been easier to say if any emotion was showing if I could see myself.

“I really like your tattoos,” she said.  She fumbled for words for a second, which caught me off guard.  “I’m… actually envious.  I couldn’t pull that off, but it’s the sort of thing I’d get if I could.”

I looked down.  Small birds perched on tree branches, in pale grays, whites and yellows, against a backdrop of reds, in watercolor hues.  “Thank you.”

Were we similar in some respects?  In tastes?

Or was this a manipulation from a cunning Other?  What was there to guarantee that she was really me, with one not-so-small change?

I left the bathroom, making my way down to the living room.

“I take it you didn’t get to chapter eight,” she said, reflected in one of the glass picture frames along the stairwell.

“No.”

“Take a look,” she said.  Or it was all she could say, before there weren’t any surfaces for her to communicate through.  I made my way into the living room, and saw her there, waiting for me, in the mirror I’d taken from the bathroom.  The book lay on the coffee table.

Essentials, chapter eight.  Dangers a practitioner faces. 

I pulled on pants under the towel as I leaned over the book, reading the headings aloud.  “Being forsworn, betrayal within the coven, betrayal by familiars, covens, crusades, death, demesnes, execution, exquirere…”

“Skip ahead.”

I did, picking up the book to better flip through it.  “Lords, loss of implements, loss of sight, loss of soul…”

“Towards the end.”

“I’m not patient enough for that.  Give me a letter?  Or, better yet, point me to the section you want to talk about?”

“W.  Witch hunters.”

I flipped through until I found it.  “‘Witch hunters are markedly different from inquisitors.  Where an inquisitor is organized by an outside party, the witch hunter is in the employ of practitioners or Others.  Oft used to guard a Lord’s power, maintain a balance or hunt down rogue parties.  Witch Hunters do not use faith or innocence as tools, but use gifts provided by those they serve, alongside the protections the uninitiated enjoy, as well as the ability to circumvent defenses that would ward off practitioners and Others.'”

Rose was looking at me, expectantly.

“I’m not sure I follow your line of thought.”

“I want to see if you reach the same conclusion I do,” she said.

“You’re thinking of that pair of siblings we saw.  The ones who were getting all geared up to come after us.”

“I’m less focused on them than on the path.” she said.

I thought for a minute.  “Yeah, I’m not reaching the same conclusion as you, I don’t think.”

She looked a little agitated, nervous.  “I think we can go this route.  Avoid getting into the ugliest stuff, the books on demons and whatever else.  If witch hunters and inquisitors can survive this sort of thing, maybe we can too.”

“Borrowing power instead of using it?”

She nodded, too much, too quickly.  She was talking faster.  “Kind of.  Not getting in the thick of this.  We learn what we need to learn in order to survive.  We circumvent this whole situation.”

“While meeting her demands?  Getting a familiar, getting a tool, carving out a little world for ourselves?  Rose, I get what you’re going for, I almost get why, but that’s not going to work.”

With that, I seemed to have upset her.

Rose leaned closer to the mirror, “Why not?  We can do it, while avoiding everything else.  We need workarounds.”

“I get that, but the most basic, number one step?  The one I’m supposed to use to awaken myself… there’s a cost associated with it.  I give up the ability to lie.  What that one guy said in the vision?  There’s always a price.  Become a Witch Hunter, and you face obligations.”

Rose was getting more into it as she argued.  “We can minimize the effect.  Follow the letter of the law, instead of the spirit.  We get a familiar, but we go with the smallest, weakest spirit possible, something small, that won’t demand anything of consequence or challenge us.  We pick an inoffensive tool.  Carve out the smallest possible piece of land for our demesnes.  That only leaves us the problem of some reading, which is a good idea anyways, and getting married.”

“And the debt?  We’re supposed to clear the debt.  How do we do that if we handicap ourselves?”

“If that’s the one problem we have, I think we can find a way around it with some research.”

No, I wouldn’t convince her that way.  Better to get to the root of this problem, first.  “Where does the witch hunting factor in?”

“We figure out how they protect themselves, and we do the same things.  They have sponsors, sources of energy and tools.  So do we.  Kind of.  It’s what we inherited.”

“I don’t want to shoot you down…” I started.

“You don’t need to.”

“I know what you’re feeling.  I felt a  bit of it, when I saw the escape clause in the contract, if we wanted to back out of this.  That there was a way out.  Except I think this is a trap too, in a different way.”

“No, Blake.  We can do this, we just need to do it safely.”

“I don’t think this is a situation where we can do things in half measures.  We can’t be half-heir and half-witch hunter.”

“What’s the alternative?  You really want to do this?  Follow the path grandmother set before us, making infernal bargains to deal with our enemies, while somehow trying to get out of debt with whoever our ancestors got in debt with?”

I stood, making my way to the kitchen.  “I’m not saying I want to deal with devils or any of that.  I’m saying I don’t want to pay a price like the one we pay for ‘awakening’, if we’re not going to use what we paid for.”

She spoke to me from the toaster.  “I get a say in this, you know.”

I moved through the kitchen, looking for something easy to make foodwise.  Bonus points if it didn’t leave me feeling like crap afterward.  In the heat of the conversation, I was making more noise than necessary with the cupboards and drawers.  “You get a say, but it’s ultimately me making the decision and paying the consequences, isn’t it?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of attached to you, metaphysically.  You die, I’m going to be a goner too.”

“You think.  Either way, I’m the one who got injured,” I said.  “I’m the one who has stitches in my hand and a cut on my face.”

“At least you’re alive,” she retorted.

We were interrupted by a pounding series of knocks on the door.  Rose turned her head so quickly that the loose strands of hair flew out to either side.

I remained where I was, staring at the door.

The knocking repeated.

“Whatever this is,” I said, “I might need help.”

She took her time responding.

A third set of knocks, harder than last two others.

“Like I said,” Rose told me, “We’re attached to each other.  I’ll back you up.  Go.”

I nodded.

I grabbed a t-shirt from the backpack and pulled it on as I approached the door, stopping to peek out through the glass at the side.

Relief hit me in a wave, even in the moment my heart sank.

As the door opened, I saw two men in uniform.

One of them was very familiar.  I’d glimpsed him in the odd dream I’d seen, just before meeting Rose.

Police.

The other man spoke first.  “I’m RCMP officer Pat Macguin.  This is Chief of Police Laird Behaim.”

“Hi,” I said, guarded.

“Would you give me your name, please?” Laird Behaim asked me.  He had an intense gaze.  Pale blue eyes to go with very dark, straight hair, just starting to gray at the sideburns.

I’d seen him in the vision.  The man with the pocketwatch at the table with all of the blonde women.  I needed a moment to get my mental footing.  I searched for a response  “Um.”

“It’s not a hard answer to give,” the RCMP officer said.

“I just woke up from a nap, a little bit ago,” I said.  “Sorry.  I’m a little muddled.”

“Your name?” he asked.

There was no dodging the question.  “Blake Rosine.”

Laird Demill raised his eyebrows.  “Paul’s son?  No, wait, that would be…”

“Peter.  He’s my cousin.  My dad is-“

“Bradley Rosine, by process of elimination.  Yes.”

The RCMP gave Laird a look.

“I’m fairly familiar with his family,” Laird said.

“You’re alone, Mr. Rosine?”

“Only person in the house,” I said.

“You’re injured,” the RCMP officer said, to me,  “A cut on your cheek?  Can I ask what happened?”

The sudden change of direction caught me off guard.  It didn’t help that this Laird guy was staring at me, studying me while the officer quizzed me.  He would be weighing my answers.

There was a danger here.  I felt a chill, and it wasn’t just the cold air from outside.

I couldn’t get arrested, or I’d get dragged out of the house, far from any protection it afforded.

But this man, here, Laird Behaim, was an enemy.  Would I be worse off if he realized I wasn’t yet ‘awakened’?

I couldn’t get caught in a lie, and I wasn’t too sure I wanted to look like I was trying to word things too carefully.

“Car broke down by the side of the highway.  I tried to take a shortcut through the woods, because I could have been hit in the highway.  Something cut me.”

“Where were you at four o’clock this morning?”

“Sleeping, I think.  I kind of woke up early, so I’m not sure.  Can I ask what this is about?”

“In a minute.  Can anyone or anything confirm your location?”

“Joel Monte, my landlord and friend.  I woke him up to borrow his car, maybe around five.  He’s going to be upset, the car broke down and I had to leave it behind.  I haven’t even had time to think about getting a tow, if it hasn’t been towed already.”

“You said.  His number?”

I gave it.  The RCMP officer glanced at the chief of police, who walked down the stairs, phone up to his ear.

“That’s a different area code than the one in Jacob’s Bell.  You woke up early, borrowed a car from your landlord at an unholy hour, and decided to drive to another town to visit…”

Laird was nearby, in earshot.  I wasn’t sure the RCMP officer was safe, either.  “My cousin Molly inherited this place.  She isn’t here.  I’m not sure where she is.”

“You can understand where I’m a little confused about this sequence of events,” he said.  He sounded unimpressed.  “Why?”

There was no good answer to give.  “Can I ask what this is about?”

“Answer my question, first.”  He wasn’t playing ball.

Damn it.  What was I supposed to say?  I didn’t have time to think.

When in doubt… honesty.

“The car broke down, and coming here seemed like it was less hassle overall.  Molly wasn’t here.  I thought I should stick around.”

All true.

“Which doesn’t explain why you were driving in the first place.”

“It sounds stupid.  I had a bad dream.  I decided to go for a drive, get away.”

He gave me a look that conveyed a whole idea.  ‘That does sound stupid‘.   But he was too polite to say it out loud.  The inconsistency of my actions, he must have thought I was on drugs.

Laird returned to the porch.  The look he gave me, too calm, too casual, made me shiver.

“Landlord confirms the time,” he said.  “And a car was found on the side of the highway.”

I jammed my hands in the pockets, where the cold was starting to numb my fingers.  “If you visit the sandwich shop at the rest stop, just a little up the road from where the car was picked up, the manager and a middle aged blonde woman can confirm.  She gave me a ride here.”

“We’ll check,” the RCMP officer said.

“What’s this about?” I asked.  I knew, but I wasn’t supposed to know.

“Can we step inside?” Laird asked.  “You look cold.”

“Not without a warrant,” I said.  Better to seem unfriendly and overly emotional than risk letting an enemy inside safe territory.  “What’s this about?”

The RCMP officer answered, “Molly Walker, the owner of this house, was found mauled in the woods.”

If I’d harbored any concerns about seeming too blasé, they were gone in the instant I heard those words.  “M-mauled?”

“Brutally attacked by a human, if the tracks are any indication,” the officer said.  “We’re not offering any particular details at this point.”

“I- uh,” I said.  I stopped, then tried to start again, but the words didn’t escape my mouth.  It didn’t help that I didn’t know what to say.

I’d known, but to hear it like this, from very human sources, minus all of the mystic crap?

“You what?” the RCMP officer asked me.

“She has family in town.  They moved to be closer to our grandmother.”

“We know.  We’ve spoken with them,” the officer said.  “They pointed us here.  We’d like to come inside and see if there’s anything that could explain the attack.”

I shook my head.  “No.”

“Irene Walker gave us permission to investigate the premises.”

Which meant letting this Laird Behaim person into the house.

“It- no.  It’s not her call,” I said.  “I’m sorry.  I can give you the number of the lawyer.  The way I understand it, the house would pass on to me, if Molly was dead.  It’s my property, it’s my say.  Not without a warrant.”

“This isn’t reflecting well on you, Mr. Rosine,” the RCMP officer said.

“I know,” I said.  My mouth was dry, and my eyes were tearing up from the cold and the recent announcement.  “Yeah.  I- I’m sorry.  I need time to process the news, and I’m not going to make good calls, as tired and confused as I am.  It’s better if you talk to the lawyer.”

“Mr. Beasley?” Laird asked.

“Mr. Beasley, right,” I said.

“I’m familiar with him,” he said.  When the RCMP officer looked in his direction, he said, “There’s a great deal of concern over this house, in local circles.  The town is booming with the addition of the train station and the proximity to Toronto, property prices are soaring, and the amount of good land that can be bought is somewhat limited, due to certain geographical concerns rooted in this property.  The last time I paid any attention to the money, this property was worth twenty million dollars.”

“It’s worth more now,” I said.

“I imagine.  A great many locals are very interested,” Laird said, his eyes fixed on me.  “Mr. Beasley has been handling the bulk of the disputes for the family.  I know him.  With your permission, I’ll talk to him and see what we can’t figure out.”

“Please do” the RCMP officer said.

“I’d like to have a moment to talk to Mr. Rosine here, if that’s alright.  If he’s telling the truth and he has inherited the property, I wouldn’t mind the chance to talk this through with him.”

The RCMP officer didn’t seem happy with that.  “You’re aware of the time constraints?”

“Of course.  I’ll talk to Mr. Rosine, then the lawyer, and we can meet for dinner?  I’ll fill you in.”

The RCMP officer took that in.  “Alright.  I need to make some calls.  Call me when you’re done.”

Laird nodded.

Together, we watched the RCMP officer trudge away through the snow, his boots squeaking.  When he was gone, Laird withdrew a pocketwatch from his coat.  He popped it open, looked, and then closed it, holding it in one hand.

His implement?

“I admit, thought it was a girl, here.”

“No,” I responded.  “I’m just as surprised to be here as you are to see me here.”

“Well, if it helps, I think you’re innocent,” he said.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Here’s the honest truth; I wasn’t lying when I said I wanted to discuss things with you.”

“You’re a pretty honest guy, huh?” I asked.

Stupid.  Stupid question.

“I suspect you and I both know why,” he said.  “Can we do away with pretense?”

I sighed.  “Sure.”

“I believe you’re innocent because I know who killed Molly Walker.”

“Who?” I asked.  I was getting colder, now.

He only shook his head.  “I can’t say.  It will probably go unsolved, the media will report it, but it won’t be sensationalized.  Good officers will most likely put in a genuine, honest effort and find nothing.”

“Doesn’t this kind of conflict with the oath you swore, when entering office?  Or are you faking the police thing?”

He smiled.  “Rest assured, I studied for my position, I earned it, and I’ve maintained it in good conscience.  I’d rather talk about you.  Would you be up for a walk?”

“A walk?” I asked.

“If you’re worried, I can promise you my protection for as long as you’re in my company, I’ll take you somewhere where we can talk, then bring you back, as safe as I can manage it.”

“Which is how safe?”  I asked.  “I don’t know what your protection is worth.”

“You’re thinking I’ve limited myself somehow?” he asked, clearly amused.

“I’m thinking anything is possible.”

“Knowing what I know, if positions were reversed, I would trust my own daughters, who I care about deeply, to the care of someone of equivalent power.”

“This isn’t a trick?” I asked.

His smile faltered a little.  “This line of questioning is getting a touch grating.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“This is not a trick,” he said.  “My primary aim here is to find out who you are.  You’re an unknown quantity in a very delicate ecosystem.  But we can talk about that more after.  I suspect you’ll gain more information than you give up.”

“Right this minute, with everything that’s happening, I’d rather be safe and warm than have information,” I said.  “A bit of time to grieve might be nice.”

“What if I offered to help streamline matters on the legal front?  You’ll be safer and warmer here than in a prison cell, awaiting a trial,” he said.

I considered the idea.

“I’d find that a little more tempting,” I admitted.

“If you’re interested, I’ll wait while you get your coat and whatever else you deem necessary.”

“Give me a minute,” I said.  I shut the door.

I made my way to the living room.

“Don’t,” Rose said.

“It’s answers,” I said.

“It’s dangerous,” she responded.  “We can go the safe route.  Like I was saying before.  There’s too much we don’t know.”

I found my jacket.  “We’ve skimmed the little black book.  Behaim… they’re one of the covens.”

“There’s a better word than coven, but sure.  They’re a local institution, maybe the oldest here.  All the more reason to stay.”

“He’ll fix the legal situation, which is maybe the biggest concern right now.  I don’t know if we can do anything against ordinary people, if the cops decide to kick down the door.”

“Blake!  I don’t get a say?”

“You do,” I said.  “But… you were saying how you were going kind of crazy, alone?  I’m going to lose it if I’m cooped up.  I have to keep moving.  I had to before I left home, and it only got reinforced after.  If there’s an opportunity to stretch my legs and get answers, while preserving my sanity, I’m going to take it.”

“Blake, no.”

“Yes,” I said.  “Come with, as much as you can.  I wouldn’t mind the backup.”

I pulled on my coat, then rummaged in the closet to get a new scarf and hat.  There were two that were plain enough to wear.  The nurse’s?

I stepped across the threshold, half-convinced I’d get shot or something equivalent.  When I didn’t, I carefully locked the door.  I stood there, hand still on the handle.

“You promise to smooth over the legal issues?”

“I’ll make this as stress free for you as I can.  Nobody will enter the house, if I can help it, which I can.  I promise you this.”

“The house is safe?” I asked.

He sighed.  “You don’t know very much, do you?”

“I’m a fast learner, but not as much as I’d like to know.”

“I assure you, the house is safe.  I don’t know of anyone who could or would damage the house or property.  If it was that easy, we would have removed it already.”

I turned, joining him in walking down the long, snow-covered driveway.

“Let me cut to the chase.  I’d like to talk about a hypothetical scenario with you,” he said.

“Sure,” I said.

“Global politics, if you don’t mind?”

“I don’t really mind.”

“In this scenario, we’ve got a situation involving a number of countries. If you will, there’s America.  I’m rather interested in America for the purpose of this discussion, but that’s just me.  Powerful, perhaps overly proud, large, keepers of the peace.”

I glanced at his uniform.  “Sure.”

“Then a European country.  I would say they are very traditional, seductive, beautiful, very prone to holding grudges.  More history, more set in their ways.”

I thought of the blonde women I’d seen at the table with him.  “I can picture it.”

“There are others.  Imagine a small, very old, and somewhat backwards nation.  We’d then have a broad swathe of nature with very few settlements, as well as a very vibrant country that has just come into an inexplicable amount of wealth, which is liable to burn out quickly on its excess.  As well as other bit players who shouldn’t be ignored, but who aren’t of import in our discussion, here.”

I tried to put faces to the descriptions, but it wasn’t easy.  Perhaps the man in the twisted tower, with the talking dog, for the latter?  The girl with the checkered scarf…  If I went by process of elimination…

“I’m picturing an aboriginal woman,” I said.

“I can imagine such a woman leading this very old nation, yes.”

“A young woman, in heavy clothing, with a rabbit, in the middle of the uninhabited, natural setting?”

“Mm.  Quite right.”

“And… a long haired young man, for the wealthy country.”

“Yes.”

“If I were to add to this scenario, where would you fit a teenaged girl with a checkered scarf?”

He frowned, “I’m at a loss.”

“So am I,” I said.  The girl who had been talking to the Other, with the face that stretched.

He thought for a second, nodding and smiling a greeting at someone who apparently recognized him in passing.  When we were clear, he said, “Ah.  Someone who intruded on important meetings, perhaps.  A new arrival to the scene.”

“Is that so?”

“Too new and too small to be a serious threat.  Self deluding, even, dealing in things she doesn’t fully understand.  A complicated situation.  I’d call her a terrorist before I called her a local power.”

“Fair enough.  Can we call her Maggie, or is that mucking up the metaphor?”

“We could call her that.  Maggie Holt, I believe.”

I nodded.

He took in a deep breath, opened his watch, then closed it, without looking at it.  “In this imagined scenario, we have a country in, say, our equivalent of South America.  This hypothetical country is unpredictable, has a history of being aggressive, and it just so happens they are the only one in this imagined scenario who have nuclear weapons at their disposal.”

Nuclear weapons.  It seemed an apt descriptor for the books I’d seen.  Dangerous to handle, dangerous to use.  Once they were brought to the table, everyone would lose.

“In this little story, the dictator died, and a successor was assassinated in short order, let’s say.  Now another one has taken the helm, and nobody is entirely sure what type of person the young man is… which is very concerning, considering the weapons he has at his fingertips.  He could be reckless, he could be mild mannered, he could be a merchant, a politician, or a student, but he’s an unknown quality, and appearances can be deceiving.”

“I can picture that,” I said.

“Should this small southern nation cease to be a concern, everyone else profits, and the nukes being removed from the picture is only a small part of that.  The other countries would be elevated to a new age… and the country who is most powerful will take the helm, quite possibly forever.”

If Hillsglade House was the small country…  Jacob’s Bell the region…

“Is it so important?” I asked.  “The… resources or whatever you’d gain?  A few acres?”

“When things develop to a certain point, it takes on a different tone.  Population, wealth, whatever else, they attract attention from everyone.  With the current status quo, our little world here is small enough to be left alone.  Understand, our little metaphor here falls apart when we cease talking about the area that falls within, say, a thousand kilometers around us.  I could start talking about other planets with their own drama and politics, if I really wanted to maintain the narrative, but those thing really aren’t our focus.”

“I understand,” I said.  I also understood that the ‘metaphor’ was making it very easy for him to outright lie, but that was a given.

“When our little world here grows, everyone with an established power base can ride the cresting wave.  Prestige, fortune, status, with others visiting, or attempting to get in while the going is good, and paying a good price to do so.”

“Alright,” I said.  “I’m starting to get a sense of this.”

“The trouble is, when the road block,” he half-turned to gesture back at the house, “Is removed, and when things start developing, there will be a very small window of opportunity in which one of the local powers I just described might take the helm.  If one doesn’t, it’s liable to be a more distant entity, and it’s likely to be someone we couldn’t hope to stand up to.”

Halfway across the world… in this analogy… someone from outside Jacob’s Bell?  Another, greater power.

The families here were small in the grand scheme of it all, and before the city grew and drew attention, they wanted to solidify their positions.

He opened his pocketwatch, then closed it without looking down, like a nervous tic, then continued.  “America rather likes the status quo, and if we were to see this small hypothetical country fall right now, it would be bad for America.  America wouldn’t take power, nor would the European country.  It would be left to the newcomer, with all of his wealth, excess, and arrogance.”

I thought of what I’d read.  The warning to stay out of the north end.  “This hypothetical wealthy country wouldn’t happen to be to the north?”

“Yes, to the north, Mr. Rosine.  I would like to see the small southern entity with the proverbial nukes be a very stable, calm, country for the time being.  America would protect it, and things would be very calm and very peaceful for long enough that the wealthy newcomer might fade in his glory.”

“So it isn’t really friendship, is it?  It’s… buying time.  Then there’s nothing to stop America from crushing the little country.”

“It would be a temporary alliance, I’m afraid.  I don’t believe there’s a way around it.”

“What if the nukes were… given up to greater authorities?”

“Who would you trust to handle such things?  The southern country and any country that received these goods would, in this scenario, become immediate targets, because nukes that are changing hands are far, far more dangerous than nukes that are sitting idle in one place.”

“What if the nukes were destroyed?  In exchange for certain concessions, to protect the southern country?”

“Impossible.  In this scenario, I’d describe it as radiation.  Ugly elements would be let loose.  Elements that are contained so long as the nukes are intact, you understand.  If it’s even possible to destroy those things.  The person who put the things together was very, very conscientious.”

“They can’t be given away, because they’re too dangerous.  They can’t be destroyed, because they’re too dangerous,” I said.

“In the best case scenario for our hypothetical little world,” he said, “our little southern country remains dormant for some time, and is cleanly, quickly wiped out of existence, in a matter of weeks, months or years.  I’m sorry.”

Analogy aside, he wasn’t sugarcoating it.  Somehow that made me feel better.  I had my hands jammed in my coat pockets, and I kept them there, but I pressed my arms tighter against my body.  “The nukes?”

“The nukes are left where they are and everything is paved over, with numerous measures taken to ensure it remains that way.”

I felt cold, and I wasn’t sure how much of it was the fact that I’d stood in the open doorway for long enough to let it soak into me, and how much was emotion and physical reaction.

We walked on for a bit.  People greeted ‘Chief Behaim’ as they passed him on the sidewalk.  He greeted them warmly in turn.

“No consideration to the poor bastard who didn’t even want to take over?”  I asked.

“I suspect the poor bastard is as good as dead already,” Laird Behaim said.  “I am sorry.  If it helps, I don’t think I’ll enjoy the part I play in it.”

He sounded sorry.

“Would you like a coffee, Mr. Rosine?” Chief Behaim offered.

I looked for a mirror and found one, meeting Rose’s gaze.  I still felt numb, cold, a little less like a complete person than before.  Slowly, surely, this situation was chipping away at me.  A little warmth in the form of good coffee would go a long way.

“Sure.  Please,” I said.

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105 Comments
  1. Someguy permalink

    “No reflection, using different soaps and shampoo that made me smell different, no longer having the little trinkets and touches I’d surrounded myself with over the past year or two, it all made me feel less like me.”

    Obviously, Blake needs Old Spice’s Red Zone After Hours Body Wash to smell like a man & not like a lady.

  2. Landis963 permalink

    Psh. Hasn’t Behaim realized that when you say stuff like “The poor bastard’s as good as dead already.” you’ve all but guaranteed his survival?

    • You also don’t tell the guy that has the nukes that he has nothing to lose by using them…

      • Petra permalink

        Of course he has something to use. He’s not a sociopath, and he cares if innocent people are going to end up paying for his actions – which fits into the nuke analogy, alas. I suspect whatever Blake has the power to unleash wouldn’t be much good for anyone else.

        The question is, how far can he be pushed before he resorts to using them?

      • Petra permalink

        *something to lose, sorry

  3. anewguy permalink

    “All of this was helping me to get a sense of why Rose had been so driven to empty shelves and remove pictures from the walls.”
    I think that name should be Molly?

  4. notes permalink

    Ambitious. Wit being a weapon, the weapon sets a high standard, and one difficult to follow. The general restriction on lying, likewise. Great satisfaction in unraveling tangles bound by those rules; equally great difficulty in writing them, I suspect.

    There will in time be issues with repetition of ‘it’s a bad idea, but I’m doing it anyway’, likewise the ‘haven’t gotten around to studying’ when failure means death. There are limits, of time and health and sanity, but within those… what else has he to do more important than his own survival? (N.b.: an answer to that question is its own story).

    Ignorance provides obvious and appropriate challenges, but it will be important to carry through the truth that growing in knowledge and power will not so much remove the protagonist’s problems as shift which ones present and persist.

    If this snippet is representative, the story will be one of trust and betrayal, multilateral and multilayered, with direct action being the nigh-vestigial culmination of success in plotting – though there’s also a story in the defiant novice demanding that checkmate be proven.

    Rose’s essential humanity or lack thereof will be important.

    Insufficient data yet to guess at further patterns.

  5. MrVoid permalink

    I love it, the world you are building is interesting and you’ve already established enough plot points to last as long as any writer could generally need. Though I’ve forgotten if you’ve answered these questions before: how long do you intend to make Pact (arc/ chapter-wise)? and, how far have you Pre-plotted in advance?

    • I don’t tend to pre-plot, beyond having ideas in mind and slotting them in as needed. I have ideas.

      I’m aiming for Pact to take 1-1.5 years, but I’ll let the story dictate it’s own length. Freedom from preset confines is part of the appeal of a serial over a novel, after all.

      • MrVoid permalink

        *raises champagne glass* To good ideas in a new year!

  6. theant87 permalink

    So pact it is. Any general idea how long this story will last? I know you mentioned that worm was much longer than anticipated but a few years right? Regardless look forward to reading it, and we need to set up a trope page for this story.

  7. Alexander permalink

    I am really looking forward to Pact. I can already tell this will be a great successor to Worm!

  8. mrizumi permalink

    I guess its time for an international revolt. In these situations, I tend to root for the little guy. I’d write more, but I’m pretty sure I already messed up the metaphor.

  9. The scale grows…

  10. mrizumi permalink

    Oh! I get it! Granny really wasn’t a lier!

  11. thyrfa permalink

    I’m still not totally clear on what rose is/ how she came to be. Help?

    • mrizumi permalink

      I reckon she was created as a loophole to give Blake (? Don’t have names memorized yet) an opportunity to inherit the estate (and debt). I assume we will find out a bit more as the story continues.

      • Landis963 permalink

        She was clearly hacked in as a way to give Blake the estate. However, there’s some alt-universe stuff going on – Rose was distant from Molly and Paige, didn’t leave the house when Blake did, and caught a whole lot more bullying from pretty much everyone else in the family as a consequence.

        Incidentally, I think I’ve figured out why Paige was “out of the running.” She would not have stayed in the house at all. She would be off at school, and the house would be useless to her. That plus her twin connection to Peter means she’s bottom of the barrel.

  12. oliverwashere permalink

    Blake calling himself a poor bastard is reminding me of how there’s precedent for incest in his family. This chapter seems to be separating Blake’s and Rose’s histories and personalities at least so if that relationship does happen it won’t just be narcissism. I’m not sure how I’d feel about it though, mostly since Rose hasn’t been proven to be his sister or even human.

  13. Pentatonic permalink

    I’m so excited! Congratulations on the start of your next big story. I very much look forward to following it.

  14. Happy that this is the one you decided on! It was definitely my favorite. I like Blake, but I hope Rose gets a bit more agency in what goes on later. She can’t be stuck in the mirror forever. Things are still hectic but Blake is pretty much just doing whatever and Rose can only watch and be ignored.

    It seems like you’ve got a ton of world-y stuff in the works. There’s been just the right amount of info-dropping to tantalize without going overboard. I’m really interested to see just why those books are considered ‘nukes’ to everyone else.

  15. George Maddux permalink

    Woo! I’m calling ~10 chapters before Bradley here takes up those ‘nukes’!

  16. Maggie Holt? As in the Maggie Holt series mentioned several times during Worm?

    Does that mean Pact exists in the Wormverse as a book told from Maggie’s perspective or is her name just a joke/reference?

  17. I like it. It was a close call, for me, between Pact and Boil, but this really makes it for me. (I’d still love to see Boil in the future, if that’s possible)

    Also, The Named, my Worm-inspired web serial, has shot past ten posts and is heading toward twenty. 🙂

  18. Yggdrazzil permalink

    And another great great great story is about to unfold 🙂 I’m really excited to witness it coming to life, though in practical terms it means I have to wait a lot for new pages instead of being able to read the thing in one go!

  19. Owesome permalink

    Y’know, this sounds like every game of Diplomacy I ever played.

    • Mayhem permalink

      Does that make Blake Austria? (Surrounded; either highly successful or eliminated early?)

  20. Meister permalink

    So… What happens when that small, south american nation conquers its neighbors, and tells everybody to screw off if they don’t want a Hiroshima on their hands?

  21. Mayhem permalink

    Well, damn. I guess that means I’m breaking my straight-male-protagonists by male authors moratorium. Again. Damnit.

    At least you’ve yet to indulge in any of the Science Fiction/Fantasy:= Male Fantasy habits that the moratorium was in place to avoid.

    …I really hope Rose isn’t evil. I like her.

    • What are the big issues that bug you on that front?

      I won’t say I’m perfect, but I’m a big consumer of writing, comics, webcomics, serials, art, tv and movies. A geek. I think a lot of stuff that bothers you (as in ‘you guys’ my general audience) bothers me too, so I’ll naturally work around it and try to avoid it.

      • Shoal permalink

        I’m not Mayhem, but I have a similar moratorium and primarily it’s because I’m tired of reading stories about straight white farmboys discovering they’re the most important person in the universe, tired of reading novels where the author blurb says he’s married to a woman and yet from the descriptions of the female characters, it seems he has never actually interacted with a woman in his life. It gets old, that’s all. I don’t want to read a story I’ve read a thousand times already.

        But I’m reading this anyway, because it’s interesting, and it’s new. It helps that I couldn’t tell whether you were male or female from your previous writings: that means you’re doing something right.

      • Mayhem permalink

        Thanks for the response! What with the new year I was busy a couple days.

        The gist of it was what Shoal said (including the positive: I couldn’t tell your gender from your writing, which was good.)

        Generally, I had just started to feel like I was reading straight male authors’ fantasies, rather than their works of Fantasy. Things that are upsettingly common in sci-fi/fantasy (All of these come from things I’ve read/watched recently and came out in the past 10 years):

        *every woman between 14 and 59 (or human-equivalent) is described in terms of her sexual attractiveness, which is, almost uniformly, beautiful/stunning/etc. (Attractiveness only mentioned in men on rare occasions when relevant to plot/central to their character, which would be appropriate if it weren’t for the other…)

        * The surprising number of plot points that consist of:
        –the protagonist resisting the sexual temptations of a seductress who wants to bone him for some contrived reason–BUT HE MUSTN’T.
        –FAE BEINGS OF UNSPEAKABLE POWER AND BEAUTY really, really want to boink the male protagonist. Or for him to boink their underling and impregnate her. Or whatever.
        –The male protagonist blundered into EXCUSE (“primitive local custom”) that dictates he must now sleep with/marry/make a concubine of this buxom lady, and she’ll be offended/ashamed/cast out if he doesn’t!
        –Basically, scenes where the central conflict is whether the protagonist is gonna stick his dick in some lady or not are an enormous turnoff for me. (The scene in Peer included, though at least there was a pretty legit reason on her end and the conflict on his end was different/more interesting than those conflicts almost always are–it probably wouldn’t have grated at all if I weren’t so fed up with that kind of scene. (It also occurs to me that the agency/morality divide was nonstandard, too (in general with these kinds of scenes, if the woman in question has agency then she is evil, and if she doesn’t she’s innocent and good), so I really think that’s the one rare instance of such a scene that is legit but sets off the buzzer anyway))

        * >30% of women in the story want to bone the protagonist. Bonus points if it’s over 70%–or if there was only one woman in the story to begin with.

        *Any kind of Nice GuyTM/Chivalry/etc wankery.

        *Anything where despite the fact that a lot of women (in universe) can do/survive/etc X, a male character is a man who can do/survive/etc X, and this automatically makes him REALLY SPECIAL.

        This should be a low bar, you know?

      • Kim permalink

        Mayhem,
        Apparently you haven’t read anything by a teenage boy scared to death about even trying to think like a woman. (they do get published, occasionally…)
        Then women just don’t show up at all.

        (and I liked the scene in Peer. Bonus points for the princess NOT LIKING the protagonist).

      • Reveen permalink

        Bonus bonus points for the princess immediately ordering the guy’s ass kicked. LIKE A BALLER.

    • Quite Possibly A Cat permalink

      Wait, we’ve gotten the main characters sexuality or Wildbow’s gender? Maybe the avatar Wildbow uses, but their is no guarantee Wildbow is actually in the picture

      • Reveen permalink

        What are you talking about? Of course Wildbow is actually a pig.

        Or a wild boar, precisely.

      • Mayhem permalink

        Pretty sure I saw wildbow’s gender come up at one point after I finished worm? But I can’t find it now. Hope I didn’t misgender you wildbow!

        As far as Blake’s sexuality:

        “I’m supposed to marry a guy. I’m getting the impression this isn’t the first obstacle I’m going to run into.”

        “Gay marriage is legal,” she said.

        “I’m not gay.” I said. “I wonder if the lawyers will allow me any leeway, here.”

        He didn’t say he was straight, but if he was bi that interaction wouldn’t make a ton of sense.

      • Mayhem permalink

        Oh, hah, this includes wildbow’s first name.

      • Kai permalink

        Everyone knows Wildbow’s real name is John, Blake has stated “I’m not gay”, Blake is definitely the protagonist- I don’t see how any of that was remotely questionable.

  22. Hrm, seems likely to me at this point that Rose is a magical construct. Grandmother invested a lot of power into creating an alternate Blake so she could get a loner with the right attitude into the house.

    Grandmother might have even been ruthless enough to have arranged for the witch hunters to kill Molly, in order to help pay the “price” for the creation or Rose. Betrayal of blood, etc.

    After all, creating even a small alternate dimension or borrowing a piece of one to establish an alter ego of a grandchild in might be very expensive power wise, and the purpose of all this is to reduce the family’s debt, correct?

    I do have to wonder though, which of them actually has the greater claim on the house? Rose as the artificial female human or Blake as the real male human.

    Blake needs a familiar very quickly – one who can help him see the true nature of things, because he needs to know the truth about Molly, one way or the other, ASAP.

    • Someguy permalink

      I suspect that Rose IS Grandmother, pretending to be a construct, waiting for the right moment to bodyjack Blake to get out of the debt and pass it along to the next heir.

      • Aye, I could see that. While reading what I wrote, I realized I left out something. Blake needs to know the truth about both Molly’s death and Rose, ASAP, not just Molly’s death.

        I’m also wondering. If Rose is a construct, I wonder if Blake could make her his familiar? He was told he shouldn’t consider a dog or rat as a familiar, but what about Rose? That could lead to some bizarre scenarios, and some interesting ones – especially if Rose is actually the conduit that the inheritance is passing through.

        Making Rose into a familiar would make her part of him, presumably dependent on him and possibly faithful and obedient to him. The thing is that she’s got more opportunity to study than he does since she doesn’t sleep. Could she possibly make him a familiar of hers before he’s ready to do the same to her?

        Yea, I can see this going in all sorts of crazy ways.

  23. Russell permalink

    Well, I was apprehensive about Pact earlier on, but this chapter changed my mind. I’m looking forward to Saturday.

  24. Great to see you’re continuing this.

  25. Chiro permalink

    Looking forward to the new site and new chapters =)

    I notice that, when the police officer said Molly was ‘mauled’, he didn’t actually say she died of it. I was half expecting Blake to be tripped up by knowing she was dead when he shouldn’t have.

    Is the pocketwatch a reference to a certain other protagonist, or is it just that pocket watches are cool?

    • Meister permalink

      Its clearly a reference to Clockblocker. Clearly the cousin of of the godfather of his paternal uncle in this dimension. I mean, obviously.

    • Mayhem permalink

      He did screw up by knowing she was dead when he shouldn’t have. When he says

      The way I understand it, the house would pass on to me, if Molly was dead.

      1)If he didn’t know she was dead, wouldn’t he ask if she was alive?
      2)While technically this doesn’t say “Molly is dead,” it’s a weird phrasing unless you know Molly’s dead.

      On the other hand, “was found mauled” is a grammatical cue that she’s dead, and he’s pretty clearly shocked, so…

      • Chiro permalink

        Yeah, he screwed up a bit there – he ought to have asked if she was dead. But the police didn’t do the whole “Ahah, gotcha! We never said she was dead! You’re nicked mate!” thing I was half expecting them to.

  26. Vamair permalink

    I’m really excited you’ve decided to go with Pact, I was rooting for it and is looking forward to new chapters. Am I allowed to try and translate a few chapters to show them to my friends? I’m including credentials and a link to the original, of course. Though I’m sure the translation is going to be tricky with all the verbal games I foresee.

    • You’re welcome to try, just talk to me before you attempt to monetize anything, and please do attribute it.

      And yes, the careful wording is liable to be an issue, there.

      Let me know how it goes.

  27. Kachajal permalink

    Yesss. Quite happy to see that. Thank you!

  28. really good. i liked this alot, especially the country analogy.

  29. I’ve set up a tv tropes page for Pact. its really bare bones right now (and the intro needs to be redone) but its a start.

  30. Looking forward to see more.

  31. I can’t help but notice that since Behaim is speaking in hypothetical metaphor it’s pretty easy to argue that nothing he says can be a lie. I guess it’s hard to say for sure since our protagonist is a complete newb who wouldn’t know either way.

    • Happy Yeti permalink

      I noticed this too. It depends on if the no-lying rule is only on literal lies or on making someone think something is true that isn’t. If it’s the former, Behaim could be lying his ass off during the “hypothetical scenario”. If it’s the latter he couldn’t.
      I’m not sure which it is: on the one hand I don’t think he’s lying here, but on the other hand I think the ‘only literal lies are forbidden’ is more interesting.

      • GeeJo permalink

        The traditional approach to Fae and the like is to allow them to deceive through truth. Literal lies are the only things disallowed in such a scenario.

      • Mayhem permalink

        Your “letter vs spirit” question has a wrinkle to it that I hadn’t thought of before!

        “We’re allies, Blake. Allies, understand? Look, the letter said a magic user can’t lie, right? I’m a unicorn from outer space, and I can’t speak English. See?”

        The sentence about being a unicorn isn’t intended to be believed–as she’s saying it as an example of a lie. And she’s backing up the claim that they’re allies, not the claim that she’s not a magical construct. So an “intent to deceive” clause might not trip here even if she were bound by the restriction.

  32. I like this. I like Rose as ambiguously friendly, but I really hope she doesn’t turn out to be a puppet or evil. Or get fridged, for that matter.

    I have a bit of the same problem I had with Worm: that the home-town (and in the case of Worm, the home-dimension) has a hugely disproportionate number of the important characters compared to the size of the world. I can imagine there being a better excuse for that in this case. I hope that, unless it’s a key plot element, you give such an excuse relatively soon.

    That’s my only comment at this point, besides praise.

    • Important characters? I’m not sure what you mean.

      Oh, I see where I may have gone astray. The Behaim family isn’t really ‘America’ in the sense of the world at large. Only in a metaphorical sense, as far as the area is considered.

      • I’ve rewritten a section to try to frame it better. See the paragraphs following the line, “”Is it so important?” I asked. “The… resources or whatever you’d gain? A few acres?””

      • Right; I got that.

        As to the “important characters” thing, it’s more a general sense that there’s no way an entire planet-worth of off-camera events wouldn’t impact the main storyline more than it does. In Worm, I think you did about as well as humanly possible — it would be unfair to ask you to plot out what’s going on in South America or Los Angeles Omicron at the same level of detail as you do Brockton Bay Alpha — but it still niggles a bit.

        But in Pact, it looks as if this will pretty soon be getting into high stakes stuff — at a minimum, risking wiping the town off the map or turning all the people into demons or something — and yet there’s no evidence that anything like that has happened before. It would be pretty easy for you to say something like “this town is at a principal junction of ley lines, there are only 18 more powerful ones in the world, and 13 of those are politically stable because of the resident gods” or “witch hunters have exterminated magic in all continents but North America” or whatever. That way, instead of a world in which every small town is a potential ground zero for whatever high-stakes magickal apockalypse that the plot deals with, we have one where it’s entirely plausible that the events we’re seeing are among the most interesting ones in the world. (And you still have plenty of freedom to bring in new characters from off the map).

        Obviously, you’re in charge; if you think that this wouldn’t help, you won’t do it. But it would really help my suspension of disbelief, and I don’t see any downside to it. In fact, by raising the relative status of the local area, it would actually raise the stakes, and allow you to plausibly put the world in the balance (which, if Worm is any indication, is very much your style).

    • I believe Wildbow explained why there were so many capes in Brockton Bay in the Myriad draft, but that explanation never made it over to Worm. The fact that Brockton Bay is completely saturated with villians and got hit with the events of arcs 8-14 were also reasons for the PRT to send the big guns there.

  33. Pandemonious Ivy permalink

    First Worm/Pact crossover (re: You’re WELCOME)

    This was it. The final step. After the demons, deaths, and danger, I just needed to draw the last rune and I could get Rose back. Blood dripped from my hand as I quickly finished the inscription on the floor.

    Light exploded upwards, sending me forcefully into a nearby wall. A high pitched keening assaulted my senses.

    Concussion? No, the portal.

    I glanced upward to witness the fruit of several months of labor. A transdimensional portal sat among the circular trail of blood and wood. With a wince I rose and took a bold first step through it. A brief sensation of cold air was my only warning.

    The ground- hell, even the very air- was twisted, distorted. It was difficult to breathe or see very far with the amount of dust floating about. Ridiculously large swarms of insects didn’t do anything to help, admittedly. Shielding my face with my shirt did very little, but it did give me a chance to focus on the keening sound, which was even louder than before.

    A few yards away, an army was waging war. That’s all it could be. Several thousand…things flew, ran, or otherwise translocated themselves in one general direction, where explosions of all shades and sizes went off, only to be consumed by a golden light. Squinting revealed nothing about what they were attacking, but one of the creatures passed close enough- wait, was that my portal?

    I spun around to find my portal still safely behind me, but I did find it somewhat disheartening to look across the battlefield and see what appeared to be several hundred transdimensional portals flickering erratically. The creature was long gone by now, but it looked human but in some strange garb. I gave a quick minute to examining the army in more depth only to be amused- and more than a little disturbed- to realize they were wearing costumes.

    What the hell is this place? Some kind of hell? I wouldn’t be too surprised, given the things i’d seen.

    I swatted at a handful of bugs that landed on my shirt only to have a panic attack as a portal opened near mine and a mass of the critters spilled out and…were they looking at me?

    “Nope. Fuck that noise.” With that, I skipped back through my unfortunate experiment and immediately set about to dismantling the circle. Even going so far as the rip up the floor itself, it took a good hour after the portal went down before I was satisfied with my work.

    I’d taken the time to calm down and resign myself to the pursuit of a different way to free Rose. But before that, I suddenly had a strong compulsion to call an exterminator.

    On second thought, I’d look up the numbers for a few dozen. Just to be safe.

  34. Pandemonious Ivy permalink

    On a completely different note: This story has me excited. I think that’s the best praise I can give it. The story itself, not just the author, has me gleefully expectant for what comes next. I have minor fears that obvious plot trails will be explored, but I have enough hope that I’m not too concerned. Great chapter, great way to bring in the new year.

    • I gotta say, I’m enjoying it myself. I was actually looking forward to writing more, and I can see that continuing.

  35. Oh, man. Oh, man. Good choice on Pact. But… wow. Is this gonna be as good as Worm? Can you do it? Or will you forever be that guy who wrote Worm and some other stuff. As is, I think you’re on the path to greatness, but that’s just me.

    • Pandemonious Ivy permalink

      I think our expectations and the author’s motivations will turn out a lot better if we stop comparing it to Worm, to start with. A general “Wildbow did good by us last time, let’s see what he can do now” is fine, but constant comparisons to Worm might erode his confidence/our enjoyment. Kind of how a little brother doesn’t want to perpetually /live/ in his older sibling’s shadow; acknowledge that greatness lies in the family, then rate each one based on its own merits.

      *slides two cents across the table*

      • Right, but whether it’s vocalized or not, the idea is there. He’s always going to be trying to escape Worm, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be a Don Mclean, forever trying to escape the shadow of his own work, or a Beatles, going down in history.

      • As someone who just finished Worm (started mid-November) I’m very interested in reading Wildbow’s work with some break time to consider and think about foreshadowing. I like Wildbow because of how well of a job he did when writing up Worm, not just for the writing but for how he was able to establish mysteries early on and discovering them piecemeal but also for the nuances he establishes in their abilities. (For example: I could have come up with Rose, an alternate universe female-Blake that resides in a mirror, but I would never have thought deeply enough to establish the mirror-world the way she sees it).

        The book “Physics of Superheroes” takes a simplified assumption to what Wildbow uses. However, where the Physics of Superheroes assumes that each hero gets a single “miracle exception” to their power before laws of nature determine interactions, Wildbow seems to give 2-10 exceptions and sticks with them, leading to far more complexity to his powers and leaving room for unexpected interactions and applications. THIS is one of his strong suits and since I really like this genre, I’m looking forward to seeing how this world ticks. Especially how Rose ticks.

        As an unrelated note, I’ve been listening to Avenged Sevenfold’s “Welcome to the Family” on loop while reading this. It just fits so well xD

  36. Sampatrick permalink

    My only real hope about this serial is that, instead of approaching everything from a direct angle, that Blake ends up cheating at all the magic stuff. Similar to how Taylor acted at the end of Worm, I suppose.

    • Pandemonious Ivy permalink

      That’s what it seems like Rose is trying to do. Blake is the “I’m tired of this shit let’s do it right and be done” and Rose is the “Let’s do this BETTER than good and get it done faster”. I’m interested to see how that dynamic develops.

      • I think Rose is trying to get out of it the easy way, though. Rather than doing it better, it’s doing it with minimal effort (which I think would leave the last part about the debt near-impossible to resolve). If I had any doubt of Rose being a trap, it was this suggestion. However, I’m hoping that Blake does try to cheat out several of the pact-users, especially if Rose is an Other that can lie.

  37. eduardo permalink

    Great start. Donating as soon as possible.

  38. AlsoSprachOdin permalink

    I just realized that Rose’s full name is “Rose Rosine”. And Rosine is apparently a French diminutive of Rose.
    So I guess from here, we simply have to ask what is in a name.
    Roses most generally symbolize love and beauty, of course, but if Rose can be associated with a particular color, religion or *something*, it could change the symbolism completely.
    And, “Blake” apparently might come from two different nicknames, one for people with very dark skin or hair, and one for people with very light skin or hair. So that seems to narrow us down to white and black roses.
    Going back to the color associations, Rose’s blonde hair – which Blake likely has as well – might be an indication towards the white option, symbolizing purity, secrecy, innocence, reverence, worthiness.
    Not sure what we’re supposed to get out of that, and Black roses do symbolize black magic, so that’s obvious as all hell. They also symbolize death, hatred, farewell, rejuvenation, rebirth, tragic romance, as well as Irish nationalism, anarchism, etc.
    Maybe “Rose Rosine” is supposed to be understood as “Rose Rose”, that is, you know, a normal rose – red. And then we’re back to love, respect, courage, passion and such.
    Arghh, it’s late, I got nothing.

  39. Unmaker permalink

    Someone may have said this before – I haven’t read all the comments yet.
    Rose’s change of heart (suggesting being a witch hunter) may have to do with the fact that, if Blake enacts the awakening, it probably binds her as well … in which case she can no longer readily lie … which means it becomes much harder to conceal information from Blake that she knows he will not like. I sort of doubt she was created out of nothing, so there is probably some information she knows that he does not.

  40. MrVoid permalink

    I apologize for filling the comments section with questions that you’ve probably already answered, that I’ve forgotten, and cant be bothered to search through the thousands of comments on Worm for, but I do want to know if you are going to be doing donation based bonus chapters this time around. Also, if there are donation chapters, will their primary content be from others perspectives, additional details about the world taken from the books or something that I haven’t considered here?

    • I’m debating a few ideas.

      Interludes are one.

      Grandma Rose’s diary/perspective, back in the past.

      Extracts from books are another.

      • All of those things sound like they’d be really fun to read to me, so why not a mix of all three, depending on which is story appropriate/happens to kindle your enthusiasm at the time? An interlude chapter if you want to tease us with information or perspective about another character, a diary chapter if you want to lead us to a horrible realization about the true nature of something that Granny messed with in the past, and book extract chapters for general development of the setting.

        (Also, I PMed you on SpaceBattles, it’s in no way urgent or important, I just did it because I forgot to add a note to my last donation- if you don’t like reading the notes on donations anyway, then don’t worry about it haha.)

      • Reveen permalink

        I’m liking the journal entry idea, getting a first person account of the characters dark dealings without actually seeing them, so your imagination fills in the gaps. I love it when games do that (Amnesia etc.), but I haven’t seen much of it in prose.

      • Unmaker permalink

        I second Admiral Skippy’s vote. Ultimately, this must be fun to write if it is to continue at high quality, so whatever you like best at the time fits that idea. Also, flexibility would give you more ways to drive the plot forward, deepen understanding, or in general achieve whatever intermediate aims you have.

      • Pandemonious Ivy permalink

        I’m curious now, would this be for our benefit or more interactive?

        Like we donate for a bonus chapter and get a page or two from a book. Would this be A) a book that Blake/Rose already read and we’re just getting the details from it or B) something they’d only read as a result of the donations, and we’re getting to impact their studies?

        Either way is cool, but you’re tricky enough that I had to ask.

      • The former. What they already read, most likely, just in more detail/more complete.

  41. Socks permalink

    To be honest, Pact wasn’t my favourite story, but I really liked all of the previews, so I suppose I was bound to be disappointed no matter what you chose.
    It’s getting much more interesting. I’m getting a bit paranoid about Rose as her differences with Blake become more apparent. I’m getting quite into this one.

  42. I really like how this is going. The delicate political situation is something I am quite interested in. I hope that we don’t get the witch hunter version.

  43. Zero permalink

    Interested that this is your choice Wildbow. It’s a genre that I think will suit you more than most if the others (biopunk being the exception). I’m really hoping that Blake is going to be smart here. I get the impression that the story is more or less contemporary, so unless you’re doing magic as outside context handwavium (which given Worm I think is highly unlikely) I hope we’ll see Blake and by inference Rose start to use the trump over magic capabilities of the 21st century. I sort of get hints of it in some if your phrasing.

    Of course that would be terminal for Rose, but moral grey areas are clearly a speciality of yours!

    It would be truly fascinating to see a story of the death of magic as a result if a random element being inserted into the schemes of wizards and summoners. An observer mediated apocalypse of a kind. But that’s just me hoping for something REALLY different from the genre mainstream.

    Hooked.

  44. Keratin permalink

    It feels really weird to catch up on a story like this and not have some moment a few chapters back to reread and stew over obsessively. I’ve already given the introduction a quick scan to see how it fits in now that I have a feeling of what the story’s working from.

    I can’t say I’m entirely sold on the whole “Sorcerer Tycoon” premise you’ve got going here, but I also can’t deny getting a giddy thrill from seeing a potential roadmap for the whole story laid right in front of me from the get go, either. One of the only real pet peeves I have about this sort of fiction is when the plot elements get a little too videogame-y and ad hoc, but the characters introduced here do seem to have agency and their own distinct motives, so it’s all good. I like Rose’s concept and her interactions with Blake, but I’m not sure if it’s as promising a dynamic as the interactions between the two seeming main characters should be.

  45. Landis963 permalink

    Incidentally, pact.wordpress.com is taken by “People Against Conversion and Terrorism,” some creepy anti-proselytizing thing from the looks of it.

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