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Literature / Pale

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"Something terrible happened, of a scale that words cannot easily convey. We need you to look into it. No need to solve it. Simply... look into it."

Pale is the fifth Web Serial Novel written by Wildbow, following Ward, and was first published on May 5, 2020. It is set in the same universe as his 2013-2015 web serial Pact and takes place about six years later, but is not a narrative sequel.

There are three methods of becoming a practitioner: being part of a family of practitioners, stumbling across knowledge belonging to Others by chance, and finally, making direct deals with Others in order to gain their knowledge. The third happens to be the oldest, and the road our protagonists end up going down. Three teenagers, Verona, Lucy, and Avery, are awakened as practitioners in order to solve a mystery in the town of Kennet, Ontario.


New chapters are posted Tuesdays and Saturdays, while smaller updates are made on Thursday to help ground and establish the setting. It can be read here.

Tropes include:

  • Above Good and Evil: The Carmine Beast is described as such- she handled matters concerning war, murder, carnage, blood, execution and justice, but acted out of necessity.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Verona's father is very emotionally and verbally abusive.
    • The Graubard family take draconian measures when it comes to disciplining their children. Kids who screw up enough get turned into dolls, which are human enough to practice but Other enough that they have to follow orders.
    • A.J. Musser's father wouldn't accept his son not being amongst the best in their school, and forced him to swear that he'd get top marks, with the alternative being death. Knowing that he didn't have the brains to do so, A.J. killed his roommate, who was very intelligent, in order to take his intelligence.
  • And Then What?:
    • Lucy mulls over this trope a fair bit after the Carmine Contest. The vast majority of the story was building up to the fight for the Throne, with everyone praying that John would win... and then he lost and Charles has taken over, so what the hell do they do now?
    • Jessica Casabien's goal as a practitioner was to find the echo that her cousin lost and restore it to him. Once she actually does that, she isn't sure what to do now.
  • And You Thought It Was a Game: Gabe initially believes that the Hungry Choir's ritual is along the lines of the SCP Foundation- a very detailed project with a lot of people working on it. Unfortunately for him, it's not.
  • Animal Motif: Verona wears a cat mask, Lucy a fox mask, and Avery a deer mask while in their practitioner garb. During the awakening ritual, they each talk about why they relate to their chosen animal.
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  • All There in the Manual: There are extra materials beyond the standard chapters featuring in-universe material, like a brochure for the town and the notes Lucy took after the Awakening ceremony.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Sprites and fairies (as opposed to fae) are individually not that intelligent, but together their intelligence coalesces and they can scheme just as well as individual fae can, having ensnared Francis and four other children for years.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The end of Gone Ahead, which is the culmination of the Bristow/Alexander fight arc: Nobody really wins. Bristow gives himself to the brownies rather than give up the school and his tenants. Ray ousts Alexander as the headmaster and tries to pulls things together. John simplifies things by killing Alexander before he can come after the trio. But Bristow's Aware now have no guidance, Alexander managed to throw some spanners in the works before he died, relations between Lucy and John have cooled, and the repercussions are coming in hard. The trio becomes very unpopular after Bristow was ousted and Alexander vanishes, and they have to leave the BHI early because while Alexander was willing to waive the fees, whoever the new headmaster turns out to be won't, and the trio can't otherwise afford to pay them.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Arguably the Bristow/Alexander conflict. Alexander barely manages to pull the trope out of Evil vs. Evil territory by being personable, charismatic and somewhat reasonable, but at the end of the day, both men are petty, scheming, self-serving bastards who'd sell their own mothers to the Dark Spring for an advantage.
  • Breaking Old Trends: Pale is the first major work written by Wildbow to be written from a third person perspective as opposed to a first person one, and to have the POV constantly shift between protagonists rather than a single main one with occasional interludes.
  • Breaking the Fellowship: After the events of Summer Break. The trio are still friends, but Avery now lives in Thunder Bay and Verona is more focused on Kennet's undercity than the actual Kennet. Crooked Rook outright states that 'the practitioners of Kennet' is no longer a term that applies.
  • Call on Me: After their meeting, John gives them dog tags from his fallen comrades and tells them that if they go into battle and throw them down on the ground, he will be right behind them.
  • Calling Out for Not Calling: Lucy calls out Wallace for not calling her after his surgery, he admits that he was at fault, having missed the chance to reply because his anxiety overwhelmed him.
  • Canada, Eh?: Pale takes place in Kennet, a town located in Western Ontario somewhere along Lake Superior's eastern shore.
  • Canon Immigrant: The Forest Ribbon Trail mentioned by Maricica to Avery first appeared in a document for Pact Dice.
  • The Conspiracy: There's one in Kennet that was responsible for killing the Carmine Beast. As of One After Another, we know that there's at least three people involved (at least one man and one woman), at least one of them is a practitioner or picked up enough knowledge to fake it, there's at least one Fae and one goblin involved, their aim seems to be taking the Carmine Beast's seat for some reason, and they don't want this to result in any more casualties than necessary. The only ones we know for sure aren't involved are John, Toadswallow, Miss and Alpeana. The main conspirators have been revealed to be Edith, Charles and Maricica, and Bluntmunch, Cig and Lis have been confirmed to have allied with them.
  • Continuity Nod: Maricica mentions Grey Isbolde, a Dark Fall fairy cursed to carry rats in her womb who got banished to Canada. According to Word of God, this fairy became the Winter court fairy Arthild that Johannes used during his demesne challenge in Pact against Faysal.
  • Contrasting Sequel Protagonist: Our protagonists to Blake and Rose at the start of Pact: Blake and Rose were part of a practitioner family, which the Pale trio are not; Blake and Rose were stuck as diabolists, which the Pale trio are not; Blake and Rose had to essentially forge their own path with only books for guidance, while the Pale trio have no books, but a group of more-or-less friendly Others helping; Blake and Rose started in a town full of practitioners, while the Pale trio start in a town which only had one other practitioner; Blake and Rose had nearly the entire town against them, while the Pale trio have no apparent enemies; and Blake and Rose were grown adults, while the Pale trio are young teenagers.
  • Creepy Child:
    • The Hungry Choir is comprised of hundreds of cannibalistic children.
    • To outsiders the Kennet Witches fall under this trope as well since they're three children with incredible power who aren't associated with a major family who are under the auspices of Other patrons.
  • Dark World: Undercities in a nutshell, they can be dark reflections of cities with the worst aspects taken and exaggerated. This doesn't just mean wrecked buildings but morally inverted residents who liberally murder each other in the street. Kennet's is no exception.
  • Deader Than Dead: Those who die in the fight for the Carmine Throne as contestants don't just die, they're completely unmade.
  • Deal with the Devil:
    • Louise makes a deal with a mysterious man named Matthew in which in return for getting more time to live, she helps some people with their questions. Downplayed in that the deal appears to have been entirely fair.
    • Charles Abrams, the former sole practitioner in Kennet, made a deal with a group of Others for protection after he became Forsworn.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: The trio start out clashing with Nicolette and many other characters during the Blue Heron arc, but after the arc wraps up, they're on good terms with all of them.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: At one point when Verona is confronting challenges for her demesne, we get this gem (though the redundancy perhaps makes sense in a world where it can't be assumed):
    The next contender was a pigeon the size of a pigeon, wearing a rat mask.
  • Digital Abomination: Nex Machina are a type of abstract Other spawned by the Internet that specialize in hunting those who've cut themselves off from the non-digital world, and often exhibit phenomena such as "glitching out" or tuning screens to static. Variant include the God in the Machine, a literal Deus Est Machina formed from people "worshipping" a computer, to Ghosts in the Machine which are formed from the echoes of those who died near technology.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: In the April Fools' Day chapter, it's revealed that the masterminds behind the murder are Cherrypop and... Clem's truck. Not Clem herself, her truck. Fortunately, it is All Just a Dream.
  • Double Entendre: Wye's remark on Mr. Howes and Ms. Arland, two Lords of a remote portion of Ontario north of Toronto.
    That would be Mr. Howes visiting Ms. Arland. Again. Which was fair. They were heading two very remote Lordships to the north of Toronto, with very little to do except each other.
  • Driving Question: Who killed the Carmine Beast, and why?
  • Dug Too Deep: Bristow mentions having met a tribe of Oddfolk or "Subhumans" descended from miners who found fossils related to "practices [not taught] at the Blue Heron Institute"note  deep underground and were twisted by them.
  • Dying Town: A constant danger in the background is Kennet becoming this. The Carmine Beast's death has led to Knotting that could slowly lock Kennet from the outside world, cutting the ski town off from their needed tourist trade.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Almost all the Witch Hunters- they became Aware by being preyed on by Others, leaving quite a few of them with deep-seated issues as a result.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Toadswallow first appeared in Poke under his real goblin name, Sir Turdswallow.
  • Eldritch Location:
    • The Carmine Beast's domain. It takes a day to get there no matter how far or fast you go, you have to be travelling away from civilization, you have to follow an injured animal to get there, and the entire place is covered in blood. Kennet starts to take on these traits after Charles becomes the new Carmine and makes it part of his domain. The day's travel requirement is said to be true of all the Judge's domains for practitioners and Others.
    • The Forest Ribbon Trail, one of the Paths, realms which have become untethered from pretty much everything, unrecoverable even to the Abyss, and home to a dangerous Other known as the Wolf. It actually happens to be one of the safer Paths, and is the most common one used as a first path for North American practitioners due to being well explored.
    • The location where the Hungry Choir hold their rituals is described as a version of Kennet with some of the details changed- rooms in houses aren't what they should be, the moon flickers, there's four hands on the clock.
  • Equippable Ally: All goblins have the ability to become a weapon based on their theme. While they can alter the form their weapon takes, it's something that is done with great difficultly.
  • Exact Words:
    • As the page quote says, the trio were Awakened specifically to investigate the Carmine Beast's murder. While the trio interpret that as 'do everything in your power to find out what happened and apprehend the culprit', some of the Others (those involved with the conspiracy) interpreted it as 'investigate, but don't put yourselves out trying to solve it', and become angry when the trio actually try to solve the murder and learn more about practicing to help with that.
    • Alexander scrys the Trio and learns that they've told the Others that came with them that they can leave. At no point in his narration does the term "bound" come into play when describing the Others, causing him to overlook the fact that the Others are not under the control of the trio, so his death at John's hands completely blindsides him.
    • Everyone the Trio asks says they didn't kill the Beast. It turns out that despite Maricica blinding her and the Choir mauling her, it was the Carmine Beast herself who decided to tear open her own throat, making it technically true that none of them were directly responsible for killing her.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Charles previously agreed to stand down as Kennet's resident practitioner and let some new ones take over; however, he is absolutely appalled when the chosen new ones turn out to be three young teenagers, says that he would never have agreed if he'd known that the Others had chosen children, and repeatedly urges the girls to walk away and not take the deal.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: A major part of the series, and a major hang-up in the Trio's relationships with the Others of Kennet, is that anyone might be the Carmine Beast's killer and Trio are sworn to deal with the culprit. Though as the story goes on, the suspects are gradually whittled down, though sometimes only the audience knows a suspect has been cleared thanks to Dramatic Irony.
  • The Faceless: Miss, one of the Others- there's always something conveniently covering her face and hands, and even her fellow Others can't see past it. Matthew doesn't even seem to know what type of Other she is.
  • Fairyland: The Blue Heron Institute goes to one of the Faerie Courts as part of a class trip, various flashbacks explore the disparate courts inside and the wilds outside of them.
  • Fisher Kingdom: The Roles help keep things stable and balanced in the areas they rule over. With the Carmine Beast dead and her seat unfilled, things are getting steadily more out of whack in Kennet.
  • Foreshadowing: In Gone Ahead 7.5, Musette, the ghoul who befriends dying children, manifests and then immediately stares at Laila. A few chapters later, Laila dies, though Musette's not around at that point.
  • The Four Gods: Matthew briefly mentions that an equivalent to the Judge system governing Kennet and the surrounding areas outside of the control of Lords in the East is none other than the Azure Dragon, the Vermilion Bird, the White Tiger, and the Black Tortoise.
  • Freak Out: After entering his home unannounced, John freaks out and holds Verona at knifepoint and Lucy at gunpoint. Once things are cleared up, he's quite polite and is no threat to the trio, but Lucy is understandably very shaken up afterwards.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The trio were Awakened because the Kennet Others needed to have someone investigate the Carmine Beast's disappearance. However, while the trio were told that they didn't need to solve the disappearance and could take all the time they liked, they've been investigating it very seriously and thoroughly. Several of the Kennet Others aren't very pleased with their diligence, and don't seem happy with having practitioners around again.
  • Hate Sink:
    • Verona's father, Brett Hayward. Multiple readers have noted that he's a far more effective villain than whoever was behind the murder of the Carmine Beast despite not being an especially big part of the narrative, because he's a narcissistic, abusive arsehole who constantly abuses Verona while whining about how hard his life is.
    • Musser becomes this starting in Reid's interlude due to him being a petty, misogynistic Jerkass and having a practice that revolves around stealing the implements, familiars, and demesnes from practitioners he deems unworthy of them. Goes Up to Eleven once he starts his brutal colonizing of lord-less areas of Ontario.
  • Hope Spot:
    • The trio befriend one of the people trying to survive the Hungry Choir's rituals, Reagan, and wind up talking with her. Reagan winds up blind after another participant wins, but the trio are prepared to keep helping her and even have a necklace of eyes they picked up. Unfortunately, Nicolette Belanger interferes with Avery's attempt to walk the Forest Ribbon Trail, which throws all their plans into disarray. The trio can't go to the ritual, and all the participants lose and become waifs.
    • During the Blue Heron arc, the students on Alexander's side are trying to buy time and do their best to survive and fight back without getting thrown out until Alexander comes back. It looks like they'll almost make it out OK... and then Kevin Noone kills Laila, and while Alexander does return, the Trio wind up as his enemies. Then John kills Alexander, which opens a whole new can of worms for everyone.
    • During the battle for the Carmine Throne Avery throws the ring used to control the Hungry Choir to John, only for a glamour bird to take it, and sealing John's unmaking at the hands of Charles.
  • Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action: Tashlit, an Other, was born of the union of a human labourer and a sea serpent Other whose mind had been swapped with that of a highborn lady.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: This trope comes up a lot in the Vanishing Points arc. Bristow's fate at the hands of the brownies is unknown, but there's a very strong possibility that they're cutting off parts of him and incorporating him into the food they're serving everyone in the BHI. Because it's impossible to verify whether this is happening or not, a lot of people in the BHI have gone off the food there.
  • Immortal Life Is Cheap: The revival abilities of Dogs of War, think a solldier Revenent and you're not far off, this makes them ideal frontline soldiers. John Stiles is constantly tossing himself in front of various dangers because he can come back from such damage while the Kennet Witches can’t.
  • Interspecies Romance: Matthew Moss, a human practitioner, fell in love with and married the Girl by Candlelight/Edith James, a composite spirit possessing a human body.
  • It's All About Me: Asher Hodgston, a practitioner, decides that he wants to get married and have a family. Fine, except that he wants a perfect family, and marrying a normal woman and having children with her would mean that they wouldn't be perfect. So instead, he crafted them out of divine clay and brought them to life with the aid of the Other mentioned in Back Away 5.5 that needs 7119 marked people to manifest, not caring that in the process, he was contributing to the future deaths of millions. Once he's found out, he offers no apologies and won't even admit that he was wrong to do it, and worse, he was in the process of creating twins despite already having five children.
    • Francis is furious that the rest of the Carmine Throne contestants don't care that his fellow Witch Hunters were messily killed, even though the Witch Hunters were intending to kill all of the contestants, and would have done so in a heartbeat if they'd met in different circumstances.
  • Karmic Death:
    • Alexander is so focused on trying to destroy his human enemies and inconvenience his former allies at Blue Heron that he fails to notice a non-human one sneaking up behind him. Bonus points for him only moments before viewing a scene 20 years ago where he told a story about almost being killed by an Other because of his tunnel vision.
    • The Witch Hunters storm Kennet wanting revenge for Raphael's death and target every practitioner and Other they can find, without stopping to find out whether any of them were A, responsible for his death, or B, evil/a threat. Most of the group then decide to go interfere with the fight for the Carmine Throne despite not understanding what it is or the consequences, while maintaining an attitude of "we're not Others or practitioners so fuck you, we can do what we want and you can't stop us", including trying to shoot the Roles. Almost all of the group who try to interfere wind up dead or very badly hurt.
  • Kid Detective: The trio (all in their early teens) are tasked with looking into the disappearance/murder of the Carmine Beast. Lucy in particular takes this very seriously from the start and compiles detailed notes of all the attendees at their Awakening ceremony to act as a suspect list (and a convenient character list for readers to refer to).
  • Klingon Promotion: Suggested in Lost For Words 1.3 as why the Carmine Beast was killed- her absence leaves a role that needs to be filled, so it's possible that whoever had her killed did so with the intention of taking her role. With the discovery that the masterminds took her meat and fur, Miss and the protagonists theorize that they intend to use her remains to take the role by force. Later arcs confirm this, as the culprits are attempting to make the furs into a garment that they can wear to give them precedence as her successor.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Since part of the deal Louise made was that she'd forget about her meeting with Matthew and his party until the time was right, she immediately forgets about making the deal in the first place.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to Pact, the previous story in this setting. Most of the characters share at least broad goals, most of the Others are introduced as allies, and there is much more focus on learning the Practice and doing cool things with it, as opposed to the struggle for survival Blake and Rose had to go through. The setting still has a definite dark side to it, but there's more emphasis on how people are able to carve out reasonable lives in it.
  • Loophole Abuse: By winning the Hungry Choir's ritual, the winner can eat whatever they like, and the choir cannot deny them their prize. As such, a winner can interfere with a ritual by simply saying that they're intending to get something to eat, and the waifs can't stop them or interfere with them. A winner can also eat the leader of the Choir, and the leader can't even fight back.
  • Magical Underpinnings of Reality: Via the Paths one can find their way to the very workings of reality itself, but save for potentially Hazel, while there are Finders that have observed them, no one else has ever managed to directly visit them.
  • Masquerade Enforcer: Like Pact itself this shows up, every practitioner is bound to do this to protect Innocence, but the higher you climb in the power hierarchy the more you're obligated to do so. This is especially true for Judges such as the former Carmine Beast.
  • Medium Blending: The Extra Materials for 2.9 and 7.3 are told in the form of comics.
  • Monster Rights Movement: Part of why the Kennet Trio was recruited by Miss, as a return to the old ways where Others and humans could work with each other instead of Practitioners dominating things. Played With in that the girls aren't completely trusting of all Others and won't help those who are obvious misanthropists.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Mr. Hayward's MO. Whatever happens, he's always the victim and everyone else is doing him down.
    • Edith spends most of Dash to Pieces 11.4 refusing to acknowledge that she destroyed her own marriage with her misdeeds, the trio simply told Matthew what was happening.
  • The New '20s: According to the brochure for Kennet, the story takes place in 2020, placing it around six years after Pact concluded.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: The Carmine Beast's appearance (to Louise, a non-practitioner) in the prologue has many of the tropes typically associated with the rising of some Eldritch Abomination (bigger than most buildings, defies standard laws of reality, causes eyes to start bleeding when it's looked at, revelation linked with madness etc.) but it is so obviously wounded and in pain that Louise reacts with sympathy rather than terror. Soon after starting their investigation, the trio get told that the Beast tended to mete out the bloodier form of justice in disputes, but was generally considered a necessary semi-evil.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Kennet is a small town of around five thousand people, the main industry is ski tourism in the winter, and it has very little going for it the rest of the time, according to Verona.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: After the events of Summer Break: Charles is the new Carmine. John is dead, Guilherme has fallen to Winter, and while Matthew was forced to let Edith go free, their relationship is in tatters. Kennet is getting even more knotted, a large portion of the town has left, and a whole Undercity has formed. Avery now lives in Thunder Bay and Verona is focusing on the Undercity, so the trio's friendship has become even more strained. Nobody, practitioner or Other, seems to really know what to do now.
  • Not Hyperbole: John Stiles, a spirit of war, gives the trio some dog tags that came from his fallen comrades as a way to call for his aid. Should they need his help, they can use one to call him and he will be right behind them. Literally, right behind them:
    “They’re connected to me. Throw one down, stride forward into conflict without looking back… I’ll be right behind you.”
    “No more than five steps behind, armed. I’ll give it back to you after, or give you another one, provided you aren’t being frivolous in calling me there.”
  • The Oathbreaker:
    • Charles is Forsworn, due to being provoked into accidentally breaking a sloppily-worded promise of hospitality note . His story serves as an early warning for the trio of just how carefully they need to be with promises they make.
    • Alexander Belanger later forswears Seth Belanger for not living up to an oath he made to his dying grandmother that he'd do his best to better himself, as retaliation for not choosing a side in the Belanger/Bristow war.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • One from Musser of all people when the Witch Hunter's answer to his magical bullet catching glove is to pull out and fire a cannon at him.
    • After Lauren Snyder is abruptly shot in the head, the reason for her condition is abruptly revealed: her familiar got tainted by something and she bound it inside herself to contain it. The something is implied to be some kind of demon, and the horror that was fighting her is so freaked out at the prospect of fighting a demon that it forfeits the contest immediately and accepts its own death as a result.
    • Verona has this reaction at the end of Gone and Done It 17.9, when Musser makes his Lordship claim over Kennet, with the specific intention of taking everything that Kennet has.
  • Outside-Context Problem:
    • The Forest Ribbon Trail has a lot of rules about what those traversing it can and can't do. However, it has absolutely no rules or guidelines for what to do or what will happen if a complete outsider decides to intervene in someone's attempt to traverse it and leaves them stranded there. Thankfully, Avery makes it out OK.
    • Practitioners and Others can't lie. Snowdrop can only lie, so anyone who's not aware of this can easily be deceived.
    • The Station Promenade is a Path with strict rules about how Finders and Others traversing it can move, using tile patterns and only moving when the clocks around the Path aren't stopped. But then the Wolf from the Forest Ribbon Trail appears, and it can move when the clocks have stopped...
  • Painting the Medium:
    • Each chapter has a specific piece of art featuring the trio with one of the girls highlighted, to show who the viewpoint character is. Interludes have one of the art pieces, but without the girls. The Break chapters all use Lucy's art, but the art is getting darker and a crack in the background is becoming more visible as the fight for the Throne wears on (compare Break 1's art to Break 4's). In Summer Break, Lucy's art completely breaks the moment she finds out John is gone forever, and Charles is the new Carmine Judge.
    • Following the events of the Battle for the Carmine Throne, the Fall Out arc has each of the trio by themselves in a separate piece of art, reflecting both their physical and mental isolation from one another, as Avery has moved to Thunder Bay, and while Verona and Lucy stay in Kennet, they've somewhat drifted apart in the aftermath.
    • Interlude 18.y's banner is a collage of all three banners to represent Lis' omniscience over most of Kennet.
  • Parents as People: Avery's parents love her, but they're busy and part of a big family (themselves, five children and the kids' elderly grandfather), so she gets overlooked a lot. Connor Kelly also seems to subscribe to the "keep the peace over actually solving problems between the kids" school of parenting, which, while understandable considering how loud and hectic his family is, doesn't help when the problems need a lot more than that.
  • Passing the Torch: Pale's protagonists were picked by Others to take up the role of the resident practitioners in Kennet, after the last one became Forsworn.
  • Proportional Aging: Being an Other doesn't necessarily mean being immortal or even long lived. Opossums only have an average lifespan of two years, maybe up to four if they're very lucky, and a view of a potential future where Avery's older but Snowdrop's not present makes Avery realize that she has to do something if she wants Snowdrop to stick around.
  • Purple Is Powerful: An Incarnation of Authority Lis observes is clad in all purple in a literal example of the trope representing power.
  • Poke in the Third Eye: The trio uses the nettlewisp to screw with augurs trying to scry on them.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: John gives Edith a scathing one when he discovers her role in the Carmine Beast's murder, and what she helped do to Yalda.
  • Recruit Teenagers with Attitude: Reconstructed- young teenagers are more malleable to outside influences but also easily underestimated. Further, Miss, the recruiter, has inherent abilities in seeing someone's inner character which aids her in making the choices. The final decision was also made based on who could work together as a group with complimentary strengths.
  • Ret-Gone: The fate of anyone who fails the Hungry Choir's ritual is implied to be the destruction of their connections as they become a waif. Gabe falls victim to this in Interlude 1.z, as does Reagan in between Out On A Limb 3.1 and 3.2. It does leave some discrepancies, as Sharon finds out through talking with Mr. Lai that his books didn't add up to how classes were balanced. Zed also mentions at one point that when Brie lost both feet to the waifs, her family duly believed that she'd always lacked feet, but couldn't explain why she'd never owned a wheelchair.
  • Rule of Three: As in Pact, three remains a very powerful magical number.
    • Deliberately invoked by the Others who chose the Pale trio to awaken, as three is a powerful number in practitioner rituals.
  • Shared Universe: Takes place in the same universe as Pact, but is not a narrative sequel.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Wildbow confirmed on the Parahumans Discord that various incarnations of the Forest Ribbon Trail referenced The Path.
    • Snowdrop's shirts reference various opossum memes, such as 'scream at own ass' and the screaming opossum.
    • The April Fools Day chapter is one long shout out to The Avengers, with Nicolette as Hawkeye, Guilherme as the Winter Soldier, Zed as Iron Man, Edith as the Black Widow, Lucy as the Scarlet Witch, and John as Captain America.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Thankfully averted; after the incident with Verona's father in Shaking Hands 9.9, Canada's child services get called on him.
  • Stay on the Path: One of the (many) rules of the Forest Ribbon Trail; if you leave the path or turn back, you become Lost and turn into an Other, trapped there forever.
  • Super-Sargasso Sea: Pale introduces the Paths, which are home to things that have even been forgotten by the Abyss, including Others that predate the Seal of Solomon.
  • Teacher/Student Romance:
    • Avery wants to have one with her teacher, Ms. Hardy, but Lucy and Verona tell her that it's a terrible idea and she doesn't have a chance, even if they waited until Avery was 18 and had graduated.
    • In the 7.3 Extra Materials, Alexander implies that Bristow was in a relationship with a 19 year old student of his at one time.
  • Theiss Titillation Theory: Used by Faerie now and then. The most consistent example is Maricica who uses her thin, moth-like bat wings to cover herself as she struts about basically naked, which makes poor Avery hot and bothered. Maricica's interlude shows that she learned the possibilities of this trope from the Fae potentate titled 'The Consort'.
  • Threshold Guardian: Trussed are this as a profession. They're basically centuries-old wardens who are so old they've fused into the background. In Millicent Legendre's Interlude, an example named Talbot shows up, he's dedicated himself to keeping some horrible goblin poison from escaping and killing the earth.
  • Time Skip:
    • There's one of about five weeks in between Interlude 3.z and Leaving a Mark 4.1.
    • Fallout 14.1 skips ahead to about a week after Summer Break.
  • Title Drop: As Alexander Belanger says in the 7.3 Borrowed Eyes Comic:
    Alexander: And now you know. I've told you, impressions are dangerous when you're an Augur. We seek verifiable Truth. Those precious futures and realities that can be described as fixed by the Threads, by the Hours, by the Blade, by the Bough, and by the Pale.
  • Transformation Name Announcement: At the end of any Contest for a Judge seat, such as the Carmine Contest, the winner must announce what they'll call themselves, so Charles Abrams calls himself the Carmine Exile.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: While ten year old boys being douchebags is hardly uncommon, Declan Kelly's behaviour has worsened to the point that after Dash to Pieces 11.10, Avery has a fight with her father over how bad Declan's misogyny has become and how lacklustre Connor's response has been, and multiple readers were expressing their concerns in the comments.
  • Truce Zone: As the Blue Heron Institute is considered a neutral zone for practitioners, it is exempt from being taken up by a Lordship as that would defeat its very purpose.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Verona considers her father to be this, as his reaction to her thinking in advance about all the chores he might ask her to do and doing them to a very high standard is to give her more with no thanks or even acknowledgment that she did a good job. He seems to think this of her (and possibly the world in general,) as when she calls him out on this he simply says that nobody ever praises or thanks him for his daily grind.
  • Utility Magic: Combines a bit with Mundane Utility with Practitioners and some Others using magic to make their lives easier.
    • In Leaving a Mark 4.9, Verona uses a darkness rune attached to her towel to keep herself from getting tanned.
    • Specific rituals are referenced that give Practitioners perks like not having to worry about eating, the ability to spell a name the right way the first time after hearing it, or to protect themselves from loud noises, explosions or whatever element they work with.
  • Vagueness Is Coming: At various points during the Blue Heron arc, Bristow and his supporters say that some kind of threat will hit Canada at some point in the future, but we're not given any more details. When Miss and Toadswallow discuss it in Summer Break 13.6 they think it was an excuse for Bristow to seize power rather than having an actual threat in mind.
  • Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World: The trio has to balance investigating the Carmine Beast's murder and their duties to Kennet with things like school and their familial duties. It gets difficult.
  • Was Once a Man: Matthew is a former practitioner who is now more Other than human; Edith is a composite spirit who possessed the body of a woman who tried to commit suicide.
  • We Used to Be Friends:
    • Avery had a best friend before the serial started, Olivia, but Olivia transferred to another school and had no time for Avery after that.
    • Gone Ahead 7.x has a flashback to just after the Blue Heron Throne god was taken down, with Alexander, Bristow, Charles, Musser, Raymond, Durocher, and Crowe unwinding in a bar together. Crowe left the group because she didn't like how cut-throat they were, Bristow and Alexander fell out, Musser sided with Bristow, and Alexander forswore Charles.
  • Wham Episode:
    • Shaking Hands 9.9. VD targets the one thing he sees that makes Verona happy - her bag with all her magic supplies - and breaks everything inside in a fit of pique, causing her to flee the house as a cat. The trio find the depression in Kennet's spiritual landscape - with the furs at its epicenter. The chapter ends with Verona taking out her frustration on the security measures keeping the furs undetected - alone in the room with every ward the culprits put up collapsing around her.
    • Summer Break (the chapter, not the arc): John loses the fight for the Carmine Throne. Charles wins and styles himself the Carmine Exile. The girls have lost, Musser walks away scot-free, and Kennet becoming knotted is not getting better because Charles is making it his new seat of power.
  • Wham Line:
    • In False Moves 12.z, Miss uses one of these in-universe to catch Reid, Wye, and Raquel's attention: "Solomon was forsworn in the end."
    • At the end of Left in the Dust 16.10, Anthem Tedd breaks the news that Musser has taken Toronto and its surrounding regions and half of the remaining free areas have capitulated.
    • At the end of Gone and Done It 17.9, Musser officially makes a Lordship claim in Kennet.
    Musser: Practitioners and Others of Kennet, murderers of Milo Songetay, enemies of the Seal, and all who have colluded with the Carmine Exile, I intend to take all you have.
  • With a Friend and a Stranger: Verona and Lucy have known each other since early childhood, but Avery is a newcomer to their dynamic prior to all three being Awakened.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: A constant theme of the story is practitioners forcibly binding Others to their service and using them as power batteries regardless of whether or not they pose an immediate threat to innocents, mainly on the basis that they're not human, which clashes with the trio finding such attitudes an offensive mindset to have regarding sapient beings. The fear of such happening to them is the main reason why the Kennet Others don't want practitioners apart from the main trio around.
  • Where It All Began: The battle for the Carmine Throne takes place in the very arena where the Carmine Beast died, thus starting the story.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Kennet is located somewhere along Lake Superior's eastern shore, with the closest known RL city being Thunder Bay. It's also south of Swanson, which may put it in the stretch between Pukaskwa National Park and Michipicoten.
  • The Wonderland: The Paths are each an example of this trope. Historically they've been confused with dream worlds because of how the laws of physics bend and break inside them. In truth, they are simply outside of reality, as opposed to places like the Abyss which are under it. A Path is accessed by some nonsense arrangement of items done in a way no one person would reasonably set up in real life. They have denizens of their own who are similarly out there.
  • The Worm That Walks: One of Bristow's tenants is a swarm of vermin turned Other that takes on a humanoid shape in order to serve as tech support. Unlike most examples it is friendly, if standoffish.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: It's implied through Hazel's journey through the Paths that time doesn't pass at the same rate while traveling through them, as she's surprised when she meets a Lost that tells her it's been decades since she first entered.
    • The three children the Beorgmann releases haven't aged in the eight years they were stolen.
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: Despite the girls' efforts throughout the story, they are unable to stop the Carmine's killer from entering the arena wearing the furs.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: The brownies deliver the trio three perfectly cooked and chosen meals the day after Bristow goes with them. The trio reject the meals and Verona later throws up from stress.
  • Your Days Are Numbered:
    • In Blood Run Cold 0.0, Louise is established as slowly dying from complications brought on by diabetes.
    • Reagan is fully aware that she likely won't survive the Hungry Choir's rituals. She's unfortunately right.
  • Zen Survivor: Guilherme has an air of having survived and endured heartbreak and conflict his entire life- and wants to pass on the wisdom he's accrued through the most vague bullshit doublespeak imaginable. Almost the quintessential Zen Survivor which is the form he eventually takes upon falling to Winter and permanently losing the ability to grow or change forevermore.