Insinuation 2.8: Catfight, Dogfight

Source material: Worm, Insinuation 2.8

Originally blogged: March 16, 2017


Hello again! It’s time to read some more Worm. Last time, we left off with Taylor getting hounded by Bitch’s pets, which in Taylor’s current state could easily kill her. How is Taylor gonna get out of this?

I’m not going to say too much in this post – though almost every time I say that I seem to end up with a wall of text – let’s just jump right in!


One thing I will say before we start, though: I don’t think this is all about the money, like the other Undersiders claimed. I know Bitch is a bit sociopathic, but you don’t go attacking someone with hellhounds just because them being hired means you’ll get a fifth instead of a quarter, right? Unless you’re really desperate for money, and with the kind of salary these kids get, why would she be? Is there some secret she has that requires massive quantities of cash to be poured into it?


“Call off your dogs!” Brian shouted.

The largest of the dogs, an ugly Rottweiler or a mutt with strong Rottweiler blood, seized my wrist in its jaws.

Oh, good, at least it seems they’re not in hellhound form at the moment. Taylor wouldn’t be able to recognize breeds if they had been – last time she saw them, she didn’t even recognize that they were dogs until told.

My knees almost buckled in response to the pain, which only worsened when it abruptly snapped its head to one side and wrenched my arm.

Yowch!

I fell, and in a heartbeat, the other two dogs – a German Shepherd and a hairless terrier with a missing ear and eye – were on me.

The prey is down. Attack. Kill.


The German Shepherd set to barking and snapping at my face, occasionally catching the hair that hung in front of my face to pull at it. The other started raking at me with its claws and nipping with its teeth, trying to find somewhere on my legs, body or backside that it could set its teeth into.

What exactly does Taylor mean by “body” that excludes the legs and backside? Front torso?

While those two were at it, the Rottweiler still had my wrist in its teeth, and it began pulling, as though it wanted to drag me somewhere. I grit my teeth at the pain and tried to think something I could do that would amount to more than curling up into a fetal position to protect my arms, legs and face.

“Call off the fucking dogs!” I heard Brian bellow, again.

Taylor is being very… uh… receptive? I mean, I understand that it’s hard in this situation to actually think of anything else to do, but it still seems like she’s rather inclined to basically just sit through it, without showing weakness by giving the pain a proper response.

Sort of like how she treats the bullying.

Maybe that’s completely off-base, I don’t know.


A tooth or claw scratched my ear. I think that’s what spooked me, because my composure broke and I cried out.

Oh, there we go.

Just a second or two later, a much longer span of time than it sounds like when a pack of dogs is tearing at you, there was a whistle. Hearing the noise, the dogs abruptly backed off.

I guess… I guess Bitch wanted to see how long it took for Taylor to lose her cool? Or maybe she just wanted to see it, see the emotional reaction to pain, that proves she’s in control of how someone else feels.

Just like the bullies.


The one eyed terrier offered one hostile bark followed by a long growl even as it walked away, as if it still had enough mean left in it that it had to let it out somehow.

Pff. I like the idea of “mean” as a physical quantity.

Lisa and Alec helped me to my feet. I was shaking like a leaf. One of my hands gripped the forearm of my other arm, as much to stop the worst of the trembling as to cradle the injury. I had tears in the corners of my eyes and I was clenching my teeth so hard my jaw ached.

Bitch is gonna get some shit from the other Undersiders for this, I’m sure. What a warm welcome!


On the opposite side of the room, Brian was rubbing the back of one of his hands. The three dogs were sitting in a neat line ten feet away from a girl who was lying on the ground. The girl had blood running from both of her nostrils. I recognized her from the picture I had seen on her wiki page. Rachel Lindt. Hellhound. Bitch.

Did he just fucking punch her down? I guess it’s deserved. So did she whistle before or after the punch?

“I fucking hate it,” Brian growled at the girl, putting emphasis on the swear, “When you make me do that.”

Apparently not the first time, either. This probably ties into Brian not being comfortable with Rachel being out on her own – I get the feeling that he’s the one who usually keeps her sociopathic tendencies in check.

(#♦️)


Bitch propped herself up a bit, half against the wall opposite me, so she had a better view of the room. A better view of me.

How much has Tattletale told her about Taylor’s power and personality? Bitch probably has reason to expect retribution – better pay attention to the person she just attacked.

Although she’d want to look at Taylor in this situation for other reasons too.

Seeing her in person just confirmed my impressions of her from her picture online. She wasn’t attractive. An unkind person might call her butch, and I wasn’t feeling particularly kindly towards her.

There goes Taylor thinking about people’s appearances primarily in terms of attractiveness again… And apparently she finds butchness unattractive. Hmmmm.

Most of her features looked like they would have been better fit on a guy rather than a girl. She had a square face, thick eyebrows, and a nose that had been broken more than once –

So how many trans-girl headcanons did this description spawn?

I’m not saying afab girls can’t have features that “would have been better fit for a guy”, but I’m sure a lot of people might read it like that.

maybe broken again just a moment ago, given the blood trickling from her nostrils.

Sounds about right. Grue probably packs a hard one.

(#that’s not intended as innuendo but i sure as hell ain’t doing anything to fix that)


Even as far as her physical build went, she was solidly built without being fat. The trunk of her body alone was bigger around than mine was with my arms down at my sides, just by virtue of having a thicker, broader torso and having more meat on her bones.

Sounds like a build often used in fiction for girl bullies (that aren’t of the Mean Girls variety like the Harpies are). Also P.E. teachers for some reason.

A lot of fiction does present P.E. teachers as bullies…

She was wearing boots, black jeans with tears all over them, and a green army jacket over a gray hooded sweatshirt. Her auburn hair was cut shortish.

Short hair is another typical trait for fictional P.E. teachers. Does Bitch have a part-time job at a school?

“BENCH PRESS THIS HELLHOUND THIRTY TIMES”
“um ms lindt, where did you get tha–”
“WELL AREN’T YOU A NOSY LITTLE BRAT”

I can’t believe I’m only at 2.8 and I’m already starting a high school AU.


Wait, can you make a high school AU out of a work where most of the characters up to this point actually go to high school and it plays a semi-prominent role?


I took a deep breath. Then, speaking slowly so I wouldn’t stumble over my words or let a tremor into my voice, I asked “Why the fuck did you do that?”

Heh, I love this. Just, after getting mauled, Taylor’s just like “*sigh* what the fuck dude.”

Although suddenly I hear Taylor as Arin Hanson and that’s weird.


She didn’t reply. Instead, she licked her upper lip clean of blood and smiled. It was a mean, smug sneer of a smile. Even though she was the one lying on the ground with a bloody nose, she somehow had it in her head that she’d beat me. Or something.

I mean… She’s not entirely wrong. She got to see you defenseless and suffering – from her perspective, getting clocked by Brian (or maybe slapped – he was rubbing the back of his hand) was probably just worth it.


“God fucking dammit!” Brian was shouting. He went on to say something else, but I didn’t really hear it over the buzzing of my power in my ears. I realized I was clenching my fist, and habitually forced myself to relax it.

This usually happens because of the Harpies.

I genuinely think that Bitch is currently the Undersider counterpart to the Harpies, and I suspect we’re in for an arc (whether or not it coincides with an Arc as in the official divisions of the story) about her and Taylor learning to get along reasonably well. How long that will take is very much up in the air right now, though.


Then, like I had done so many times over the past few days and weeks, I searched for a reason to justify why I was backing down. It was almost reflexive. When the bullies got on my case, I always had to take a moment to collect myself and tell myself why I couldn’t or shouldn’t retaliate.

That’s… actually a bit worrying.

For a few moments, I felt adrift. Around the same time that I realized I couldn’t find a reason to back off, I realized I had already wrenched free of Lisa and Alec’s support and crossed half of the room at a run.

Uh oh.


I reached for my bugs and realized I’d been using my power without thinking about it. They were already gathering at the stairs and by the windows. All it took was a thought, and they started flowing into the room in greater numbers. Cockroaches, earwigs, spiders and flies.

“You think you’ve won? You think you’ve beaten me? Think again, bitch – lower. case. b.


Not as many as I might have liked, I hadn’t been using my power for long enough to gather those from further around the neighborhood, but it was enough to count.

This is definitely one of Taylor’s biggest weaknesses – she essentially needs to “charge” her power by drawing in the bugs, and she can run out of power in a specific area.

Bitch saw me approaching and raised her fingers to her mouth, but I didn’t give her a chance to signal her animals. I kicked for her face like I might kick a soccer ball, and she aborted the whistle to cover her head with her arms. My foot bounced off of one of her arms and her entire body recoiled as she flinched.

Considering the force people can kick a soccer ball with… don’t underestimate the power of kicks.


…how much does a human head weigh relative to a soccer ball, anyway?


Because I hadn’t slowed down before reaching her, I had to use my hands to stop myself from running into the wall. A line of red hot pain ran down my arm at the impact, starting at the point where the Rottweiler had bitten my wrist.

Ouch.

So how are the other Undersiders reacting to Taylor’s attack? I doubt we’re going to see until it’s over, since Taylor’s perception is currently focused exclusively on Bitch.

Reminded of the dogs, I glanced to my right, and saw the largest of them standing, ready to come to his master’s aid. I brought a large share of my bugs in between myself and the beasts. The last I saw of them before the swarm blocked most of my view, the dogs were rapidly backing away from the swarm, startled.

I think I’d be startled too, if I were them.


Finding myself standing over Bitch, braced against the wall, I pressed the attack. Her arms were covering her face and chest, but I saw her exposed ear as a target and brought my foot down on it. Her head bounced against the floor, and blood bloomed from the top of her ear.

Ow.

I do find it interesting that so far, other than actually calling for the bugs, Taylor has only used her power for defense against the dogs.

The sight of the blood almost stopped me, but I knew that backing down now would give her a chance to set them on me again with a whistle. My toe found her exposed stomach, and as she drew her knees upward to protect her belly, I aimed a sharp kick between her legs. I managed to get kicks to connect firmly with ribs three times before she brought an elbow down to protect it.

Damn, Taylor.

But yeah, I don’t feel sorry for Bitch here. She attacked first, and this isn’t disproportionate to what she had the dogs do to Taylor.


I didn’t get a chance to do any more damage, because the dogs had gotten over their fear of the bugs and were closing in, circling around me and Bitch as the swarm extended. I abandoned my assault on Bitch to step away and face them. I knew I could set my bugs on them, but something told me the dogs weren’t about to yelp and run away while their master was being hurt. I might have the swarm attack them, but if the pain of the bites and stings didn’t stop them, they’d attack me and I’d be in the same situation I’d been in a minute ago. I doubted Bitch would call them off a second time.

Taylor the Tactician, through and through.


A shadow fell over my vision, like a jet black curtain sweeping in front of me, blocking my view of half the room and the dogs. It dissolved into wisps of black smoke a second later, and I was startled to see Brian right in front of me, between me and the dogs.

“Enough,” he intoned. The little one-eared cyclops of a terrier snarled at him in response.

I guess he’s mainly just using the darkness generation here to get her attention.

I like the terrier. Its excess quantities of mean are kind of cute, somehow.

There was a sound I didn’t recognize. It was only when Bitch tried again, more successfully, that I realized the first sound had been a weak attempt at a whistle. The dogs looked to their master and then retreated, still edging away from the swarm. I backed away a little as well, being careful to keep Brian between myself and the mongrels.

I think Bitch just surrendered. I imagine her lying there waving a tiny white flag.

Bitch coughed, then raised her head to look me in the eye. She rubbed her ear with one hand, and her palm was red with blood as she pulled it away. As the German Shepherd approached her, she rested the same hand on its head.

I’ve been noticing that Wildbow tends to not describe which side of the body something applies to, like which ear Taylor attacked on Rachel, which eye and ear the terrier is lacking, which hand someone uses for a task, etc. I suppose that lets some readers imagine the scene mirrored relative to other readers’ interpretation.

Personally, I imagined Rachel as lying on her right side, head pointing to the left from Taylor’s perspective, which means the ear being attacked would be the left ear. It then stands to reason that she’d be using her left hand in this paragraph – but other readers might imagine it as the right hand, and I think that’s equally correct.


The other two dogs moved closer to her, as if they could protect her, but their attention was fixed entirely on me and Brian.

These poor dogs (presumably – you never know what could have human or higher intelligence in a superhero setting) don’t know what’s going on between the Undersiders. All they know is someone’s fighting their master, so they’re going to do what they can to help.

When a good few seconds had passed and Bitch had made no further overtures of aggression towards me, I sent an instruction to the swarm to make their exit. I could see Brian visibly relax as they faded into the cracks.

The guns have been tossed on the floor.

“No more fighting,” he said, his voice calmer, “I’m directing that at you, Rachel. You deserved whatever Taylor gave you.”

Thank you, Brian. Taylor needs someone who takes her side. This isn’t going to ease relations between Brian and Rachel, I’m sure, but still.

(#♣️ #♦️ #?)


She glared at him, coughed once, and then glanced at the other two before turning her angry gaze to the floor.

“Taylor, come sit down. I promise we’ll-”

“No,” I interrupted him, “Fuck this. Fuck you guys.”

“Taylor-”

“You said she wasn’t cool with me joining. You never said she was pissed off enough to try and kill me.”

😦

That’s fair.

I don’t expect (and certainly don’t want) this whole venture to end just like that, though… will Brian manage to convince Taylor to stay?


Bitch and Brian started speaking at the same time, but Brian stopped when she started coughing. As her coughing fit subsided, Bitch looked up at me and snarled, “If I ordered them to kill you, Brutus would have torn out your throat before you could scream. I gave them the hurt command.”

Yeah, I kind of got that impression. Especially with the smile afterwards – Bitch had gotten what she wanted; Taylor was just wrong about what it was.

I wonder which dog is Brutus. My money’s on the rottweiler, but I wouldn’t complain if it was the terrier.


I laughed a little, just a little more high pitched than I would’ve liked, “That’s great. She has her dogs trained to hurt people. Seriously? Fuck you guys. Count this as another failed recruitment.”

A hurt command is genuinely useful, though! It can be used to incapacitate without getting a life on your conscience.

I headed for the stairs, but I didn’t get two steps before that curtain of black appeared again, blocking my way. Brian’s powers in the wiki had been listed as darkness generation. I knew where the stairs and the railing for the stairs was, so I put my hand in front of me to make sure I wasn’t walking into an opaque forcefield, and on finding it to be more like smoke, I kept moving.

watch out for the stairs 8^y

As I entered it, the blackness slithered over my skin, oily with a weird consistency to it. Combined with an absolute lack of light that left me unable to tell whether my eyes were open or shut, it was ominous.

I mean, usually there’s proprioception for the eyelids, at least for me, but opening and closing your eyes and seeing the exact same thing does feel a bit bizarre.

As my hands made contact with the railing, a pair of hands settled on my shoulders. I wheeled around and knocked them away, my voice raised as I half-shouted, “Back off!”

sneaky sneaky


Except the words barely reached me. The sound echoed as if from a distant place, and had a hollowness to it that made me think of someone shouting from the bottom of a deep well. The darkness didn’t just block off the light. It swallowed up noises as well.

Huh, that’s interesting. It’s even more voidy than we already knew.

That’s going to make it so much more useful in combat too – your number one weakness when your enemy can’t see where you are is that they can hear where you are.

Taylor has recently had some very personal experience with that principle.

I’d let go of the railing when I turned to face the other person in the darkness, and I had a moment’s panic when I realized I couldn’t tell where the stairs were anymore.

watch. out. for. the. stairs. :y


The texture of the darkness was inconsistent, making it hard to identify the full scope of my movements. I was reminded of those times I had been underwater and lost track of which direction the surface was. I could tell which way was up, sure, but that was about it.

Vision is the sense humans rely on the most… When that isn’t working and we’re not used to it, we get trouble like this.

Sensory deprivation. When those two words came to my mind, I felt myself relax some. Brian’s power mucked with your senses… Sight, hearing, touch.

Balance? Proprioception?

Huh, that actually explains the eyelid thing.

Does the power not work on security cameras, then?

I wasn’t limited to those three. Reached out with my power, I identified where all of the bugs in the loft and the factory below were.

That’s really damn clever! She now has a frame of reference!

Still gotta figure out which way the stairs are oriented though.

Using them to ground myself like a sailor might use the constellations, I figured out where the stairs should be and found the railing. The hands hadn’t grabbed for me again, so I hurried down, down the stairs and out of the oppressive darkness.

Well done! You made it down the stairs without falling!


I was only a few paces from the door when Brian called for me, “Taylor!”

Looks like Brian made it down the stairs too! Damn, these people really are supers.

[This was not me expecting Brian to be hindered by his own darkness.]

When I turned to face him, I saw he was alone. “You’re going to use your power on me again?” I asked, wary, angry.

It would be of even less use against Taylor down here where it’s more open and there’s no stairs to fall down.

“No. Not in the open, not uncostumed, and not on you. It was stupid of me to do it in the first place. I wasn’t thinking, I just wanted to stop you from bolting. I can barely tell it’s there, so I forget how it can affect other people.”

That’s fair. It makes perfect sense, too; it really is one of those powers that are almost useless unless you’re immune to them yourself.

I started to turn away, ready to walk, but Brian took a quick step in my direction, and I stopped. Brian tried again, “Look, I’m sorry. About using my power on you, about Bitch.” I cut him off before he could get any further, “You don’t have to worry. I won’t tell anyone what you guys showed me tonight, I won’t be attacking you guys if I run into you in costume. I’m pissed, but I’m not that pissed.” I wasn’t sure how much of that was a lie, but it seemed like the thing to say.

I wonder if “I won’t tell anyone” is a lie, because if it’s not, then she’s already put aside what she thought her main goal of this venture was.

When he didn’t say anything in response, I added, “You guys offered me a choice. I could take the money and go, or I could join. Let me change my mind. After what your teammate just did, you owe me that much.”

“If it were up to me, I’d kick Bitch out and keep you,” Brian spoke.

That might be the line that convinces Taylor. As I’ve discussed before, I think the real reason she agreed to join, deeper than the reason she acknowledges, is that she finally found peers who appreciate her. Here, Brian is reminding her of that fact, and it just might cause Taylor to stay.

From my perspective, it’s not all that surprising to hear this from Brian – there’s clearly a bit of a strained relationship between Rachel and Brian. But from Taylor’s perspective, well… she’s not used to peers thinking higher of her than of others.


His words were like a bucket of water in my face, waking me up.

wake me up (wake me up inside)…

Little do you know, Regent’s power is invisibility and carrying around invisible water buckets.

I’d been pissed, furious, and why? Because I’d felt betrayed and disappointed. The irony of that, given my whole reason for being there in the first place, didn’t escape me.

The whole reason? You sure about that?

I wouldn’t have been as disappointed and betrayed as I was if I didn’t enjoy their companionship on some level. Here Brian was, expressing similar sentiments from the other side of things.

She admits it! At least a little!

Progress.

I let out a long sigh. I guessed, “But you won’t?”

“It’s complicated. As much as I want you on the team, we count on the boss for our allowances, information, equipment and for fencing anything we steal. We count on her to deploy our heavy hitters. We’d lose all that if we kicked her out.”

The boss does pay them to “stay together and stay active”. Kicking anyone out would break that first clause.

“I became a-” I almost said superhero, “cape to get away from that shit, from assholes like Bitch.”

To be fair, you can’t really expect not to meet assholes on your caped adventures, but it’s more about the specific kind of asshole.

There was also the fact that Tattletale spooked me, but I couldn’t say that out loud.

Pfft. :p


“Come back inside, Taylor. Please. I personally guarantee I won’t let her pull another stunt like that or I’ll quit the team. You’re hurt, you’re bleeding, your clothes are ripped, and you left your bag with the money upstairs. I’m trained in first aid. At least let us patch you up, get you in some new clothes.”

Yeah, that would probably be wise.

I glanced down at my arm. I had my right hand clasped around my other wrist, and there was blood on the sleeve of my sweatshirt. And my costume was still upstairs? Fuck.

Oh right, the costume’s there too. No choice, then.

“Fine,” I sighed, “But just so you know, I’m only coming back because she doesn’t want me to. I quit, she wins, and I’m not fucking having that.”

Brian smiled and opened the door for me, “I’ll take what I can get.”

Spite is a strong motivator. 🙂


End of Insinuation 2.8

That was a really good chapter! We got a pretty good fight, more insight into Grue’s power, Taylor almost giving up on everything the arc has built up so far, Taylor admitting to herself that she likes the Undersiders on some level and deciding to stay… All in all, I had a lot of fun reading it.

Where do we go from here? Well, Taylor is still under the impression that she’s here to betray the Undersiders. If my hopes for the story’s direction are to come true, we need at least a few chapters (or maybe an entire arc) to build up Taylor’s relationships with the other Undersiders to the point where she makes the final decision: to not sell them out and instead stay permanently.

[A few chapters. Right…]

I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Wildbow has in store for me. 🙂

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