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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.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Your child loses her friends and is virtually ignored by almost everyone around her for over a year, and you don't even notice.
    • Without your knowledge, your child gets involved with powerful supernatural beings, putting her in all kinds of danger, and even if you did know about it, you can't help her without getting into danger yourself.
    • From the Kennet Newsletter extra material: Your son and two of his friends witness a near car crash and stick around to see if anyone needs help or their presence is needed... and then go missing.
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    • Avery has a moment where she wonders how her parents would feel if they found out she died at camp far away from home after witnessing Laila die in front of her.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the end of Gone Ahead, 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, 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 (since the conspirators intend to destroy him once he's forced to take the seat), Toadswallow (since he seems to be working for his own side), and Miss (the conspirators seem annoyed at her picking good candidates to Awaken, and sending them to the BHI to learn things the Others of Kennet didn't want them to know). As of Shaking Hands 9.9, Edith is the first confirmed member of the conspiracy.
  • Creepy Child: The Hungry Choir is comprised of hundreds of them.
  • 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.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: In the April Fools' Day chapter, it's revealed that the masterminds behind the murder are Cherrypop and... Edith and Matthew's truck. Not Edith and Matthew themselves, their truck. Fortunately it is All Just a Dream.
  • Driving Question: Who killed the Carmine Beast, and why?
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Foil: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 theorise that they intend to use her remains to take the role by force.
  • 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.
  • Medium Blending: The Extra Materials for 2.9 and 7.3 are told in the form of comics.
  • Mundane Utility: In Leaving a Mark 4.9, Verona uses a darkness rune attached to her towel to keep herself from getting tanned.
  • The New '20s: According to the brochure for Kennet, the story takes place in 2020, placing it at 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, and has very little going for it, according to Verona.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Parents as People: Avery's parents love her, but they're busy and part of a big family (themselves, five children and the kids' grandfather), so she gets overlooked a lot.
  • 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.
  • Power Trio: Deliberately invoked by the Others who chose the Pale trio to awaken, as three is a powerful number in practitioner rituals.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • 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.
    • Being an Other doesn't necessarily mean being immortal. Opossums only have a 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 realise that she has to do something if she wants Snowdrop to stick around.
  • 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.
  • Shared Universe: Takes place in the same universe as Pact, but is not a narrative sequel.
  • Shout-Out:
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Time Skip: There's one of about five weeks in between Interlude 3.z and Leaving a Mark 4.1.
  • 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.
  • 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 acknowledgement 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 main reason why the Kennet Others don't want practitioners apart from the main trio around.
  • 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 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 example it is friendly, if standoffish.
  • 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.

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