Shell 4.1: We Heard a Little Girl Got Seriously Burned

Source material: Worm, Shell 4.1

Originally blogged: June 18, 2017


Howdy, everybody! Who’s ready for me to start reading Arc 4 of Worm? I sure am!

I haven’t turned the page yet, so I’m about to find out what it’s called…

…”Shell”? Interesting. That’s surprisingly short and concise; the first arc not to have an “-ation” name. The obvious metaphorical meaning is of course a facade, a shield between oneself and the world. Someone might be coming out of their shell in this Arc, or maybe going into it.

It might be Taylor – she’s very much got a shell to come out of, for instance the one she’s built around herself because of the Harpies. We might see more Taylor-Danny bonding, perhaps!

It could also be about Rachel, like I suspected with Agitation. Perhaps she’ll become a little bit more sociable by the end of the arc?

Knowing Wildbow, though, it could have more or other meanings. And hey, it could be completely literal and deal with Taylor controlling a bunch of crabs, who knows. (You do. That’s who.)

Let’s see what Wildbow has in store for me today!


“You actually showed up.”

I looked up from my math textbook to see Emma looming over me.

Okay, hi, we’re jumping right into the Harpy plot. I’m sure this will be a happy-go-lucky chapter where nothing upsetting happens to Taylor, yes, definitely.

She was wearing an expensive dress that had probably been a gift to her after one of her modeling contracts,

She’s a model? That probably doesn’t help with Taylor’sbody image, but good for Emma, I guess.

and her red hair was up in the kind of complex knot that looked ridiculous on ninety-five percent of the girls that tried to pull it off. She could make it work, though. Emma was one of those people who just seemed to ignore the social awkwardness and minor issues that plagued everyone else. She didn’t get zits, any style she wore her hair or clothes in looked good on her, and she could break pretty much any social code of high school and walk away unscathed.

God, I hated her.

You could say there’s a kind of envy being portrayed here, but at the same time, Taylor has plenty of other reasons to hate Emma too.

She might be pretty but she’s an ass.

Mr. Quinlan had ended class fifteen minutes early and instructed us to do some self study, before leaving the room.

Oh hey, a new teacher. What’cha teaching?

For most, that was a chance to play cards or talk. I’d set myself the task of getting all the homework done before class ended, to free up my weekend. At least, that had been the plan, before Emma interrupted.

Homework, one of the many civilian banes of those with a secret identity.


“Funny thing is,” I replied, turning my attention back to my notebook, “You’re the only person today who seemed to notice I was gone. If you aren’t careful, I might actually think you cared.”

Ooh, nice comeback. I mean, it kinda gives Emma some ammo in the form of “no one notices if you’re gone”, but still.

I wasn’t being entirely honest there. My art teacher had noted my absence, but that was only after I’d reminded her I hadn’t turned in my midterm project.

Yeah, Emma doesn’t need to know that.

“People didn’t notice you were gone is because you’re a nobody. The only reason I paid any attention to it is because you bother me.”

Ah, yeah, there it is. She caught the ammo and immediately put it to use.

I bother you,” I looked up from my work again, “Wow.

I like how calm Taylor is here, to be honest. Like, every word she says oozes “go away, I don’t care anymore, just let me do my homework”.

“Every time I see you, it’s this irritating little reminder of time I wasted being your friend.

We still don’t know why that changed so drastically, really. Maybe it was just that Emma ended up in the wrong crowd, but I feel like there might be more to it.

You know those embarrassing events in your past that make you cringe when you think back on them? For me, that’s basically every sleepover, every juvenile conversation, every immature game you dragged me into.”

I smiled, then against my better judgement, I told her, “Right. I love how you’re implying you’re even remotely more mature than you were then.”

Damn! Taylor’s on fire today, yet Emma’s the one getting burned!


Strange as it sounds, I was actually relieved to have Emma here, getting on my case. If this was all she was able to do to me today, it meant I probably wouldn’t have to deal with any ‘pranks’ in the immediate future.

Ah, yeah, that’s good.

What really ratcheted up the anxiety levels was when she ignored me and left me alone. That was, generally speaking, the calm before the storm.

I see.


“Really, Taylor? Tell me, what are you doing with yourself? You’re not going to school, you have no friends, I doubt you’re working. Are you really in a position to call me immature, when I’ve got all that going for me and you just… don’t?”

Yes. Yes she is.

It’s not about what you have, it’s about how you act.

I laughed loud enough that heads around the classroom turned in my direction. Emma just blinked, bewildered.

I like the change of pace with how Taylor acts towards the Harpies. This seems like something the Taylor of Gestation or Insinuation wouldn’t dare to do.

As much as I didn’t want the money, I was technically twenty five thousand dollars richer than I had been thirty six hours ago. Twenty five thousand dollars were waiting for me, and Emma was saying she was doing better than me, because she got a few hundred dollars every few weeks to have her picture taken for mall catalogs.

Bitch please, I just robbed a bank yesterday… wait, did I say that out loud?”

Also, I notice that even though she doesn’t want it, Taylor seems to be considering the 25k hers, as opposed to the money she got from her initiation into the Undersiders, which she wasn’t willing to actually use back in 3.1.

“Fuck you, Emma.” I said it loud enough for others to hear. “Get a clue before you try to insult people.”

With that said, I grabbed my stuff and strode out of the classroom.

Roasted.

Y’know, I really like how this implies to Emma that Taylor has more going for her than Emma knows about, which will probably have Emma’s curiosity running wild – much to her own chagrin. It’s brilliant.


I knew I was going to pay for that. For standing up to Emma, for laughing in her face. It was the sort of thing that would push her to get creative and think about how best to get revenge for that small measure of defiance.

Yeah, but it can also create doubt in Emma’s mind that you’re really that easy to mess with. Standing up to her has been a long time coming.

I wasn’t that worried about skipping out of class five minutes early. If history was any precedent, Mr. Quinlan probably wouldn’t be coming back before class ended. He routinely left class and just didn’t come back.

Heh, I remember a teacher I had who would sometimes do that less than halfway through the class, or even right at the beginning.

Popular guesses among my classmates leaned towards Alzheimers, or even that our geriatric teacher with a sagging gut could be a cape. I was more inclined to suspect that drugs or a drinking problem were at play.

I like the cape theory, myself.


I felt good. Better than I’d felt for a long, long while. Admittedly, there were painful stabs of conscience when I thought too much about the fact that I’d actually participated in a felony, or the way I’d terrorized the hostages. Could I be blamed if I went out of my way not to dwell on it?

Just rationalize it and you’ll be fine…

But yeah, this seems like an important step towards Taylor ultimately deciding to stay a villain, which I think is looking more and more likely. The conversation with Tattletale before the robbery was similarly important, as it established to Taylor that not all villains are all that different from the heroes, or at least planted the seed for that train of thought.

I’d slept like a baby last night, more due to sheer exhaustion than sound conscience, and I woke up to a day that kept surprising me with good news.

So far this chapter has a way more positive tone than I was expecting from Emma’s presence, and I’m liking that.

Brian had met me on my morning run, and he treated me to coffee and the best muffins I had ever tasted, while we sat on the beach. Together, we had taken ten minutes to go over the morning papers for news about the robbery.

Nom nom!


We hadn’t made the front page for any of the major papers, the first bit of good news. We made page three of the Bulletin, coming behind a one and a half page story on an Amber Alert and a General Motors advertisement.

I guess the PRT used some of their influence to lower the story’s priority to make the Wards sound less bad.

Part of the reason we hadn’t attracted all that much attention was probably because the bank was hedging about the amount taken. While we had escaped with more than forty thousand dollars, the paper was reporting losses of only twelve.

Huh. I wonder how much they say about the property damage.

All in all, the story had been more focused on the property damage,

Oh, a lot, apparently.

most of which was caused by Glory Girl and the Wards, and the fact that the darkness we’d used to cover our escape had stopped all traffic downtown for an hour. I’d been quietly elated by all of that. Anything that downplayed the magnitude of the crime I’d helped commit was a good point in my book.

Really, the traffic thing probably caused more problems for the general populace than the bank robbery itself.


The next mood booster was the fact that I’d gone to school. It sounded dumb, rating that as an accomplishment when others did it every day, but I had been very close to just not going again.

It is an accomplishment. Good job, Taylor!

Having skipped a week of afternoon classes and three days of morning classes, it was dangerously easy to convince myself to just skip one more. The problem was, that just made the prospect of going to class again that much more stressful, perpetuating the problem. I’d broken that pattern, and I felt damn good about it.

Vicious cycles are really hard to break, and if you can do it, you deserve to feel good about it. That goes out to any of you readers dealing with vicious cycles, not just to Taylor.


Okay, so I had to admit things weren’t a hundred percent perfect as far as school went. I’d talked to my art teacher, and she was giving me until Tuesday to hand my midterm project in, with a 10% deduction to my mark.

Hrm. Extensions don’t usually give deductions around here, but I guess that’s fair. Or would be if the circumstances were within Taylor’s control, at least.

I’d also probably lost a few marks in various classes for being absent or not handing in homework assignments. One or two percent, here and there.

That doesn’t sound like much, but I don’t know. We don’t use percentile marks in Norway.

But all in all? It was a huge relief. I felt good.

I’m glad you do. 🙂

(But will it last out the chapter?)


I caught the bus to the Docks, but I didn’t head to the loft.

Where ya going?

I made my way up the length of the Boardwalk, until the shops began thinning out and there were longer stretches of beach. The usual route people took was driving in through a side road outside of town, but for anyone hiking there, you had to take a shortcut through a series of very similar looking fields. My destination was just far enough away that you’d think you’d maybe missed it.

Hm, so not really in town anymore, it seems.

Officially, it was the Lord Street Market. But if you lived in Brockton Bay, it was just ‘the market’.

Or at least at the edge, I guess. It’s still a “street”, after all.


The market was open all week, but most people just rented the stalls on the weekends. It was fairly cheap, since you could get a stall for fifty to a hundred dollars on a weekday and two hundred and fifty to three hundred on weekends, depending on how busy things were.

Ah, I suppose if you just sell enough or at high enough prices, you’ll make that back quickly.

The stalls showcased everything from knick-knacks handicrafts put together by crazy cat ladies to overstock from the most expensive shops on the Boardwalk, marked down to ten or twenty five percent of the usual price. There were ice cream vendors and people selling puppies, there was tourism kitsch and there was a mess of merchandise relating to the local capes. There were racks of clothing, books, computer stuff and food. If you lived in the north end of Brockton Bay, you didn’t have a garage sale. You got a stall at the market. If you just wanted to go shopping, it was as good as any mall.

Sounds like a really cool place to shop! Especially considering the whole stall rental system means it’ll be a fresh experience every day.


I met up with the others at the entrance. Brian was looking sharp in a dark green sweater and faded jeans. Lisa was dressed up in a dusky rose dress with gray tights, her hair in a bun with loose strands framing her face. Alec was wearing a long sleeved shirt and slim fit black denim jeans that really showed how lanky he was.

Looking nice!

Still no Rachel, I see.

“You weren’t waiting long?” I asked.

“Forever,” was Alec’s laconic response.

“Five minutes at most,” Brian smiled, “Shall we?”

Hehe.

(”Shall we?” kinda makes it sound like Brian and Taylor are going to a ball together or something… maybe that’s just the shippery part of me talking though)

We ventured into the market, where the best the north end of Brockton Bay had to offer was on display. The worst of the north end was kept at bay by the same uniformed enforcers that you saw at the Boardwalk.

What were those called again? I forgot. Was it just Enforcers?

While Alec stopped at an isolated stall featuring cape merchandise, I commented, “I guess Rachel can’t exactly hang out with us, huh?”

Oh yeah! Her identity is public, so if she goes out she’ll be recognized! That didn’t occur to me until now.

Brian shook his head, “No. Not in a place like this. She’s well known enough that she’d catch someone’s eye, and from there, it’s only a short leap to figuring out who the people she’s hanging with are.”

Yeah, I kinda figured one of the Undersiders was about to point that out too. I swear I didn’t read ahead; the question just made me realize the answer.

“And if she saw that, she’d go ballistic.” Lisa pointed to a rotund old woman carrying a fluffy dog in her arms. It was wearing a teal and pink sweater, and was trembling nervously. I didn’t know my dog breeds well enough to name it specifically, but it was similar to a miniature poodle.

Aw, poor doggeh.

“What? The sweater?” I asked.

“The sweater. The dog being carried. Rachel would be up in her face, telling that woman it’s not the way a dog should be treated. Screaming at her, maybe threatening violence, if one of us didn’t step in to handle things.”

I still love the humanizing nature of Rachel’s love of any and all dogs. I kinda wish I’d known more of her humanizing traits, but I’m sure that’ll come along in due time.


“It doesn’t take much, does it?”

“To set her off? No it doesn’t,” Brian agreed, “But you gradually learn how she thinks, what pushes her buttons, and you can intervene before a situation happens.”

Brian has previously indicated feeling responsible for keeping Rachel pacified. To my Homestuck eyes, their relationship looks almost undeniably like a moiraillegiance.

That actually makes me think… It’s not at all a prerequisite for writing moiraillegiances or kismesissitudes or even auspisticisms (different types of relationships treated as romantic in Homestuck), but I wonder if Wildbow was a Homestuck at this point in time. I mean, this was written at the height of the Homestuck fandom’s reign, so there’s no way he hadn’t at least heard of it, and it seems to me he might like it if he gave it a chance.


Lisa added, “The big trigger for Rache is mistreatment of dogs. I think you could kick a toddler in the face, and she wouldn’t flinch. But if you kicked a dog in front of her, she’d probably kill you on the spot.”

“I’ll, uh, keep that in mind,” I said. Then, double checking that nobody was in a position to overhear, I figured it was as good a time to ask as any, “Has she killed anyone?”

What will you think if the answer is “no” and you find out two of the others are people Armsmaster believes to be known murderers?

“She’s wanted for serial murder,” Brian sighed, “It’s inconvenient.”

Such a hassle.

“If the courts actually gave her a fair trial, if she had a good lawyer, I think she’d get manslaughter at worst, maybe reckless endangerment. At least for the events that happened then.” Lisa said, her voice pitched low enough that nobody else in the crowd would pick it up,

Hm, interesting… Tell me more.

“It happened just after her powers manifested. She didn’t know how to use her abilities, or what to expect of them, so the dog that she had with her grew into the sort of creature you’ve seen the others become, and because it wasn’t trained, because it had been abused, it went out of control. Cue the bloodbath.

Oh boy. Yeah, that’s unfortunate to say the least.

In the time since then? Maybe. I know she’s seriously hurt a lot of people. But nobody’s died at her hands since we’ve been with her.”

Whether that means she’s not as murderously insane as she comes across as or that the Undersiders are good at pacifying her is still a bit unclear, but I’m leaning towards the former.

“Makes sense,” I said, distractedly. So that’s one. Who was the other murderer in the group?

It could be any one of them, really, but I don’t think any of them would actually do it on purpose, or at least not without thinking they had to. Self defence, for example.

Or, well, if any of them would do it on purpose, it’s probably Tattle. We’ve seen that she has a penchant for cruelty, she’s just more inclined towards psychological cruelty.


Alec returned from the stall wearing a Kid Win shirt.

“I like it,” Lisa grinned, “Ironic.”

Watch and learn, Alanis.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out Alec actually thinks Kid Win is cool.

We continued our roundabout walk through the market. We were still on the outskirts, so there weren’t many people around us. Those that were around us weren’t likely to overhear, unless we used words, names or phrases that would catch their attention.

“So you know that bank robbery we did? That was fun.”

“Undersiders rule! Wards drool!”

“I sure am glad nobody around here knows we’re Grue, Tattletale, Regent and Skitter!”

…speaking of which, still waiting for Taylor’s response to that name. You’d think the newspapers would mention it.

“Where do we go from here?” I asked.

“It’s just a matter of handing the cash over to the boss later tonight.” Brian picked up a pair of sunglasses and tried them on, “He takes it, does what he needs to with the papers, and gets back to us with our pay. Clean, untraceable.

I guess it is about laundering and converting it into digital money, then.

Once we’ve picked up our share, we kick back for a little while, plan our next job or wait for him to offer us another one.”

Actually, never mind the digital money part. They’ve got to “pick it up”, and the Undersiders paid Taylor in cash back in Insinuation.


I frowned, “We’re putting a lot of trust in him. We’re giving him a pretty big amount of money, and we’re expecting him to come back and pay us three times that amount? Plus whatever he feels the papers are worth? How do we know he’ll follow through?”

Taylor does raise a good point.

“Precedent,” Brian said as he tried on another pair of sunglasses, lowering his head to examine himself in the mirror that was hanging from the side of the stall.

But yeah, the Undersiders have dealt with this guy for a while and obviously trust him. Plus, if he tries to cheat them, Tattle (most likely) knows who he is. There’s a lot the Undersiders can do with that information.

“He hasn’t screwed with us yet. It doesn’t make sense for him to to pull a fast one, when he’s already invested more than that in us. If we were failing most of our jobs, maybe he’d keep the money to recoup his losses, but we’ve done well.”

“Okay,” I nodded, “I can buy that.”

Yeah, whoever this guy is, it seems like you can trust him to deal fairly with you.

[ahahahaha]


I felt kind of conflicted about the ‘take it easy and wait’ plan. On the one hand, taking a break sounded awesome. The last week had been intense, to put it lightly.

But on the other hand, taking a break gets you no closer to figuring out who the boss is?

Or maybe you kind of want to do another heist?

On the other hand, it sort of sucked that we wouldn’t be out there on another job, since I’d be waiting that much longer for a chance on getting more details on the boss. I’d just have to hope I could find something out tonight.

Look at it this way: You’ll have plenty of time to get to know the Undersiders better, and interact with them. That can help you find out more.

“Come on,” Tattletale grinned at me, grabbing my wrist, “I’m stealing you.”

“Huh?”

THIEF! :O

(:D)


“We’re going shopping,” she told me. Turning to Brian and Alec, she said, “We’ll split up, meet up with you two for dinner? Unless you want to come with and stand around holding our purses while we try on clothes.”

“You don’t have any purses,” Alec pointed out.

“Figure of speech. You want to do your own thing or not?”

relatable

“Whatever,” Alec said.

“You’re a jerk, Lise,” Brian frowned, “Hogging the new girl to yourself.”

Is that jealousy I hear? 😉 *waggles eyebrows*

“You get your morning meetings with her, I want to go shopping, cope,” Lisa stuck out her tongue at Brian.

“Alright,” Brian shrugged, “Fugly Bob’s for dinner?”

FUGLY BOB’S

That’s, like, the most 2011 restaurant/diner/whatever name I’ve ever heard, I love it

“Sounds good,” Lisa agreed. She turned to me, eyebrows quirked.

“I’m down for Fugly Bob’s,” I conceded.

“Don’t spend so much you draw attention,” Brian warned.

I’m down for Fugly Bob’s too. I need to see this place, it sounds amazing.


We parted ways with the boys, Lisa wrapping her arm around my shoulders and going on about what she wanted to get. Her enthusiasm was catching, and I found myself smiling.

Murderer. I had to remind myself. One of these three was a murderer.

I guess figuring out who’s the murderer, and dealing with that, is going to be a fairly significant plot thread for at least the first part of this arc.


End of Shell 4.1

“Okay, hi, we’re jumping right into the Harpy plot. I’m sure this will be a happy-go-lucky chapter where nothing upsetting happens to Taylor, yes, definitely.”

I was being sarcastic!

This was a relentlessly positive chapter, and I loved it. Not much actually happened plotwise beyond “Taylor isn’t having any of your bullshit today, Emma” and “the Undersiders arrive at the market”, but it was quite a good time nonetheless. You don’t always need the plot to zoom by at the speed of light, and that’s something Wildbow seems very much aware of.

Next chapter, we’re presumably going clothes-shopping with Tattletale, though I’m not sure how much Wildbow will dwell on that before they meet up with the boys at the most 2011 food place ever, Fugly Bob’s. Depends how much Tattle-Taylor bonding he feels like showing.

Maybe the arc will have Taylor taking turns one-on-one bonding with each of the three possibly-murderous Undersiders, all the while aware that they might be a murderer and trying to figure out which one.

Hell, that could be another reason for the title Shell: A shell game. Which cup is the ball of murderous backstory hidden under? Who knows! If the game is rigged like they so often are, none of them are actually the murderer, meaning Armsmaster was wrong or lying.

Well, all I can do is read on and find out! See you next time. 🙂

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