Shell 4.10: 2 hp

Source material: Worm, Shell 4.10

Originally blogged: July 6, 2017


Shell 4.9 was a short chapter with a hell of a cliffhanger. So, for the first time in this liveblog, I’m going to start another chapter immediately after finishing the previous one. We’re gonna be in this for a bit longer today, guys!

Last chapter, the Undersiders were escaping from Bakuda, and just when they thought they’d won, something caused Taylor excruciating pain. Who? What? How? Why? When? Which? Whence? Whthese aren’t making sense anymore? Whichth?

That’s what I hope to find out as we move into Shell 4.10.


I came to the gradual realization I could open my eyes, as though it was something I had forgotten how to do.

“Just five more minutes, mom.”

Seriously, though, I really like this sentence. It really captures the feeling.

I tried it and regretted my decision instantly.  One of my eyes wasn’t seeing anything, even when open,

Welp.

and the other was out of focus, with images failing to make sense even when I could make something out.

Did the sheer brightness of the white blast do this to your eyes?

As I screwed my eyes shut, even the pink glow of light passing through my eyelids was like fireworks exploding in my retinas.

Oww.


When I tried to piece together what had just happened, my thoughts moved like molasses.

“If you little fucks had any sense, you’d know that getting the upper hand on me, just for a moment?  It’s something you should be fucking terrified of,” a voice hissed.

…I did say it was quite a gamble.

It took me a few seconds to place the voice, way longer than it should have.  Bakuda.

Honestly, it’s a wonder Taylor’s still alive. A suspicious wonder.

I was beginning to hurt.  Like papercuts, but blown up to two hundred times the size, and each of those papercuts was one of my muscles.

It’s becoming clear that Wildbow has a way with words when it comes to describing how much something hurts.

My skin was prickling with stings that were gradually feeling more and more like a burn.  My joints throbbed as though every single joint had been torn out of its individual socket and people were banging the still-alive ends of them against the pavement in a grim rhythm.

…case in point.


I opened my good eye again and tried unsuccessfully to focus.  Three crimson ribbons… no.  I was seeing triple.  One crimson ribbon was extending along the side of my mask, dropping from the edge where the mask covered my nose, dropping in a straight line to touch the ground.  Where it made contact with pavement, there was a steadily growing puddle.  I realized I was bleeding.  A lot.

Not particularly surprising after that hit. I do like the phrase “crimson ribbon” for a blood stream though.

“Leaving me lying there with a grenade launcher in my hand and ammunition all over the fucking street was asking for it.  Fuck, just the hugging and being all relieved, as if you had actually beaten me?  You were begging to be shot.”

Should probably have checked the body.

Always check the body.

Especially when you can’t easily see whether or not the eyes are closed.

I wasn’t going out like this.  Not without a fight.  I could barely move, though, let alone take action.

You have fought. Just not successfully.

My desire to do something was almost more excruciating than the pain that throbbed and thrummed through my entire body.

This reminds me a lot of Purity. Maybe the desire to do something is a theme of this Arc. In retrospect, it makes sense – Tattletale wanted to do something about Taylor’s Harpy situation, and later the others wanted to. Grue wanted to do something, and did something, the moment Aisha texted him for help. Purity wants to do something against the ABB. And now this.

And I don’t just mean “do something, anything, doesn’t matter what” – no, it’s about wanting to do something constructive, helpful, useful.

What could I do?  My mind wasn’t working as agonizingly slowly as it had been a moment before, but my thoughts were still bogged down and broken up.  Stuff I should have known without thinking about it was vague, uncertain, disjointed.  Too many thoughts were orphaned, disconnected from everything else.  I would have hit something in my frustration if I’d been able to move without everything hurting.  I settled for clenching my fists.

Once again, Wildbow excellently captures the feeling.

School.  Trouble at school?  Me?  The trio?  No.  Why was I thinking about school?  What had I been thinking about before I got frustrated? Wanting to fight back somehow.  Bakuda, school, fighting back.

Huh. I was not expecting this to get brought up here. But yeah, “fighting back” works well as a substitute for “do something” – Tattle wanted to help Taylor fight back, Grue fought back against his mother’s boyfriend for Aisha, Purity wanted to fight back the ABB for Aster’s sake, and now Taylor wants to fight back against Bakuda… for whom? For herself? For Brockton Bay? For the Undersiders?

I almost groaned in frustration as I tried to connect the individual ideas, and simply couldn’t complete the thought.  I only wound up huffing out a breath, wincing at the pain that caused.

Ow.

Seriously, Wildbow is great at writing this kind of situation.


“Oh?  The ineffectual little girl with the bug costume is awake,” Bakuda’s whirring voice announced to the night air.

I thought she already knew that. Guess she was talking to one of the other Undersiders.

Also, “ineffectual” – the exact same issue Purity was having trouble with.

Grue said something, a short distance away, I couldn’t make it out.

Bakuda replied with an absent, “Shush, don’t worry.  I’ll get to you in a moment.”

Honestly, Bakuda feels like a fucked up nurse in this scene.

I heard something, and saw a pair of pink boots appear in front of my face, the image swimming and drifting lazily.

“Bad day?” she bent over me,

I was going to express confusion, but then I realized Taylor is lying face to the side on the ground. Not face up on something like a hospital bed. My imagination may have taken the nurse Bakuda thing a bit too far.

(Next step might be “hellooo nurse”)


“Good.  See, one of my new minions is on staff at the Protectorate Headquarters.  A guard where Lung is imprisoned, understand?  Wasn’t in a position to free him, but she got the full story from him.

Oh, interesting. So that’s how she found out about this all. Also, if Bakuda has one goon on a Protectorate payroll, she could easily have more.

I know you were the little freak that led to him getting sent there.  So you get special treatment tonight.  You get to watch what I do to your friends.  I’ll start with the boy in black, then move on to your unconscious buddies over there.

Welp.

Glued them down just to be safe.  Once your friends are as good as dead, I give you to Oni Lee.  He was a very good boy when it came to the change of regime, and he’s been bugging me to give him something to play with.  What do you say to that?”

I guess that rules out the “civil war between Bakuda and Lee” idea for good, at least. Granted, it was already weakened by the bits right after I came up with that.

That’s the good news.

I was only half listening.  Like a mantra, I was mentally reciting the same thing, over and over.  Bakuda, school, fight back.

“Bakuda, school,” I mumbled.

Bakuda, go back to school now or you’ll be late, Taylor commands it.

Hearing how reedy and thin my own voice sounded was more terrifying than anything else that had come to my attention in the past few minutes.

“What?  Does the bug girl want to say something?”  She bent down and grabbed the armor that hung over my chest.  With a jerk, she hauled me into a half-sitting position.  Being tugged around like that was torture, but the pain helped sharpen my thoughts into a semblance of clarity.

“Yes, Bakuda, I said you need to go to school or you won’t get perfect attendance!”

“I don’t even go to school anymore, you little fuck!”

“Yes, exactly, you need to go back. Is that pink tiger over there yours?”


“School.  Bakuda failed,” I answered her, my voice only marginally stronger than it had been on my last attempt.

I… guess “go back to school” wasn’t too far off?

So yeah, Taylor knows about something that ought to be a bit of a blow to Bakuda’s ego. I’m not sure it’s gonna help much, though – it seems to me that dragging that up will only make her angrier.

The black-red lenses of her goggles bored into me as I composed my thoughts to speak again, trying to sound more coherent. “Smart as you think you are, failing like that?  What was it?  Second place?  Not even second?”  I managed something approximating a chuckle.

Nearby, Tattletale smiles in her sleep.

She let go of me and stepped away as if I was on fire.  As my head hit the pavement, I very nearly blacked out.  Had to fight not to.  Embrace the pain.  Keeps you awake. 

Try to focus on the fashion atrocity that is her current outfit, too, that might help.


A short distance from me, Grue’s voice echoed.  I could only make out the first word.  “She’s” or “Cheese”.  He laughed.

Clearly he’s talking about cheese, Bakuda’s ultimate weakness!

It spooked me that I couldn’t understand him, that I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t understand him.  I wasn’t hearing as well as I should, I knew that.  But that wasn’t all of it.  What else?

Maybe he’s saying a word you don’t know?

The distortion.  The explosion or explosions had damaged my hearing, maybe, and I couldn’t make out his words with the effect his power had on his voice.  Just figuring that out, knowing I could figure it out, made me feel a hundred times better.

Fair enough.

“You think so?” Bakuda hissed at Grue.  Her words were easier to make out, since her mask was reconstructing them so they were perfectly enunciated and monotone, even if it obscured it behind whirs and hisses.

Apparently Bakuda understands what Grue’s saying, at least.

She kicked me in the face with one of those pink boots.  Having to move my head hurt more than almost having my teeth kicked in.

Ow.

She grabbed at my costume and dragged me several feet.  Being moved cranked all the other hurt up a notch.  On a scale of one to ten, it was a good solid nine point five.  Nothing I could do could make it hurt more, so I found the strength and willpower to reach up and grab at her wrists, for all the good it did.  She let me go and then shoved me to turn me on my side.  The movement made me want to throw up.

Welcome to the Bakudaland Un-Fun Fair!


Seeing Grue helped ground me, as I fought the nausea and panted tiny breaths at the pain.  He was bound in a half-sitting position against a locker with what looked like lengths of sticky gold ribbon.  Where was Tattletale?

Hm. Bakuda mentioned unconscious friends, plural, so I don’t think Tattle has gotten away from her, which leaves the options that Tattle is just outside Taylor’s current field of vision, or that Bakuda moved her.

“Let’s see how smart you two are after I give tall, dark and mysterious his treat,” Bakuda threatened,

Bakuda: “Open up so mommy can give you a doggy treat!”
Grue: “I’m not a dog.”
Bakuda: “Sit!”
Grue: “I am sitting!”
Bakuda: “Good dog, best friend. Now open up.”
Grue: *sigh*

“Let’s see… here.  Here’s a real gem.  Two-twenty-seven.

Oh boy, here we go.

Now sit still.  If you even think about using your power, I’ll just shove it down the bug brat’s throat instead, set it off.  Not like you’re in a position to stop me from getting the job done, even if I’m deaf and blind.”

True that.


She removed her pink gloves and threw them aside.  Then she withdrew a set of what looked like long, narrow scissors from her sleeve.  Except they were blunt, not sharp.  Like pliers, almost.  They clicked as she closed them on the tip of what looked like an inch-long metal pill.

“No need for surgery, since this isn’t going to be long term.  What I’m going to do is slide this up your nostril and into your nasal cavity.”

:V

She reached into the darkness that was leaking from all around him and fumbled around his face. “Just need to get your mask… helmet… off.  There.”

Shit. Now she’s seen him unmasked, so if she sees civilian Brian somewhere…

If Grue’s mask was off, it was hard to tell.  His head was just a roughly human-shaped blur of shadow.

Ah. I guess that had stayed there for a while, since Bakuda isn’t counting it as him using his power.

She reached into that layer of darkness with one hand and pushed the capsule into the center of it all with the other.  “And in it goes… slowly, don’t want to activate it prematurely, and the effects will only be really cool if it’s deep.

deeeep mann

See, my two-twenty-seven was something of a happy accident.  I’d taken readings of little Vista’s powers, thought maybe I could make a space distortion grenade.  Purely by accident, I cracked the Manton effect.

Oh shit.

Or at least, whatever I’d done when I put the grenade together, it bypassed the Manton effect.  You idiots know what that is?”

The effect that for example prevents Vista from expanding the space inside your body. Are you saying this grenade does exactly that?

She stopped and cracked her knuckles, leaving the scissor-like tool sticking straight out of Grue’s face.  “It’s that little rule that keeps pyrokinetics from boiling your blood, that limits most powers from affecting people’s bodies.  Or, depending on what theory you’re going by, it’s the rule that says your power either works only on organic, living things, or it works on everything else.

That’s a fitting way to say it. It makes a little more sense given the exceptions we know of, like Taylor and Regent, or even Aegis (though that’s his own body).


“So think about it.  A spatial distortion effect that only works on living material.  I set this thing off, and all living matter within three feet of the capsule is reshaped, warped, shrunk, blown up, stretched, bent.  It doesn’t actually kill you.

Yikes.

That’s the second most amazing thing about it, besides the Manton bypass.  Everything still connects to everything else.  Totally nonlethal, but it’ll make you wish you were dead every second of the rest of your miserable fucking existence.”

Yikes.


Don’t just lie there and watch, I thought.  Do something! 

Yeah, you’re kind of running out of time.

“Just click, whoosh, you’re ugly enough to put the elephant man to shame.

Poor elephant man, getting badmouthed like this even 121 years after his death.

tumblr_inline_osokpgskpz1sxgvvn_1280.jpg

Mr. Merrick, don’t listen to her.

Wind up with a head four times the normal size, bumps like tumors all over, every feature and part the wrong shape, wrong size.  Reshapes the brain, too, but that’s usually just some mild to moderate brain damage, since I’ve got it calibrated to focus on the external features.”  She laughed.

But yeah. Yikes.

It was that dry, repetitive, inhuman sound.  When she spoke again, she enunciated each word separately.  “Irreversible.  And.  Fucking.  Hilarious.”

Wildbow did an excellent job with this villain and making her come off as a true bastard.


I reached for my bugs, but I couldn’t draw my thoughts together enough to give them any complex commands.  I just called them to me.  That still left me to help Grue.

It’s gonna take a bit of time for the bugs to arrive, isn’t it?

My utility sheath.  Slowly, as much due to my need to be discreet as to my inability to move very quickly without incredible pain, I moved my hand behind my back, reminded myself of what was there.

Bakuda didn’t fully disarm her? She’s seen the baton in action, so she knows the utility sheath is a thing.

Pepper spray – no go.  It would burn her skin, but the goggles and mask would keep most of her face safe.  She was scraped and bloody, so maybe I could spray her body… it wouldn’t be fun on her wounds, but would that save us?

It might at least buy you some time.

Pen and paper.  Cell phone.  Change.  No, no and no.

Baton.  I didn’t have the strength to swing it, or the leverage or room I needed to extend it.

Hmm.

Epipens.  Not much use, and I didn’t trust my strength or coordination as far as being able to both inject her and depress the syringe.

Yeah, that’s kind of useless on the offensive.

That was it for the contents of my utility compartment.  I let my hand go limp and dangle behind my back as I braced myself to move it, and my fingers brushed against something.

Hm?


The knife sheath at the small of my back.  I’d strapped it in at the lowest point it could be on my back, while being both covered by my armor and easy to reach.

Knife worked.

Nice.

There was a faint click as Bakuda adjusted the scissor-plier things and removed them from Grue’s nose.  They weren’t gripping the capsule anymore.

Well, that’s certainly something you need to get out afterwards.

“This should be a show,” she gloated, standing up straight before I could figure out where to stab or cut.  Didn’t want to kill, but had to stop her.  For Grue.

Cut her toes!

They may not be what she uses to activate this particular bomb, but it should at least give her trouble walking.

My hand was still behind my back, gripping the knife handle with the blade pointing out the bottom of my hand.  I shifted my position a fraction so my angle was better.

“Hey, bug girl.  What are you up to, there?  Flopping around like a fish on dry land?  Pay attention, it’s going to look really cool when parts of his face start bulging out of that little blotch of shadow.”

Bakuda’s too busy gloating to pay proper attention, of course. The age old villain mistake.

I tried to formulate a response, some reply that would add sting to what I was about to do, but a wave of weakness swept over me.  Darkness began to creep in around the edges of my vision, again.  I straightened my legs in an attempt to cause myself more pain, force myself to alertness again, and it failed to push the darkness back.  Was Grue using his power?  I looked at him.  Nothing.  I was just blacking out.

I kind of had the same thought Taylor did, but couldn’t find a reason for him to do it. I guess he might’ve done that if he had resigned himself to his fate and didn’t want Taylor to see it happen.

I couldn’t pass out now.

Toe Rings.

Yes, go for those!

With no witty reply, no quip or even an angry yell, I brought the knife down on the end of her foot.  Two thoughts struck me simultaneously.

I’d hit something hard.  Was her foot or boot armored?

Well, shit. Maybe you just hit one of the rings, though?

Had I even gotten the right foot?  Tattletale had never said which one had the toe rings.  Or if both did.

That’s… a good point.

As a wave of blackness swept in front of my vision and faded just as quickly, leaving me only dimly aware of her screams.

Sounds like it hurt, at least!

The nausea was welling again, and just like it was with my consciousness slipping away, the need to puke building.  I was going to throw up, but I could choke if I did it with my mask on.  If I wound up on my back, I could even suffocate.

Yeah, might wanna try not to do that.


Grue was saying something.  Couldn’t make out his words.  Sounded urgent.

Is he trying to instruct Taylor what they need to do next?

The woman was screaming in my ear.  A litany of curses, threats, horrible things she was going to do to me.  Unconsciousness called to me, seductive, safe, painless, free of threats.

Bakuda definitely didn’t like that move.

If it was even unconsciousness. The chilling idea that I could be dying dawned on me, gave me the briefest moment of clarity.

Woah.

I focused hard on the jumble of distorted images and sounds, where I was, what people were saying and screaming at me.

Nothing like a little near-death to sober you up quickly.


The woman was rolling on the ground next to me.  As she kicked her leg, a spatter of blood marred the one lens of my mask that I could see through.

I find it interesting how Bakuda is now “the woman”.

What was the woman’s name again?  Bakuda.

Oh, that’s why.

Woman, Bakuda, all that matters is that she’s not exactly happy with this development.

The very tip of the knife was still lodged in the pavement where her foot had been.  That was the hard thing I’d hit: pavement, not armor.  There was a lot of blood.  Hers.

Did the knife just go straight through?

A bit of her boot, pink and crimson.  Two smaller toes with painted nails, pink and crimson, in the midst of the mess of blood.

Smaller toes? Shit, the rings were on the larger toes.

I tried and failed to pull the knife free, though it was only embedded a quarter-inch deep in the ground.  The effort that left me gasping for breath with big lungfuls of air.

This entire chapter so far has been Taylor fighting at 2 hp, and Wildbow’s done it well.

Each breath made me feel like I’d inhaled barbed wire and hot irons were pressing against my sides.  I was praying the urge to vomit would go away, knowing it wouldn’t.

I wonder how much Wildbow has gotten seriously injured or otherwise physically hurt. These vivid descriptions probably come from some real experience.


Grue.  What was he saying?  I could barely understand Bakuda with her robotic enunciation.  Understanding Grue was a dozen times harder.  Like another language.

Live knee vuh yife?  Knife?  The knife.  He needed it.

“Will you be muh wife?” bit early for that

“Give me your knife”

But how will Taylor do that when she can’t get it loose?

I let myself fall onto my front, face toward the ground, so I wouldn’t choke.  The knife-holding hand stayed put, but my arm bent at a bad angle, eliciting a stab of pain.  My wrist and elbow awkwardly twisted, strained to return to a natural position.  I resisted the urge to let go, kept my grip on the knife handle.

Ow.

Are we going for pulling it out via rotation?

The ground gave before I did, and the knife came free.

Oh.

My arm straightened, stretching out in front of me, the knife gripped in my black gloved hand.  I looked up from the knife to see a blurry image of Grue struggling under his bonds, the last thing I saw before darkness and merciful lack of consciousness claimed me.

You did a good job here, Taylor.


End of Shell 4.10

Wildbow really knows how to write characters who are seriously hurt.

That especially shows in this chapter, which is in its entirety about fighting back at the brink of unconsciousness. Wildbow is good at writing that situation, the chapter was entirely that situation, and as a result, the writing of this chapter in general was stellar.

In the end, Bakuda seems to be down, sort of, and Grue appears to be getting loose using Taylor’s knife, but Taylor and Regent are unconscious, Tattletale might be missing(?), Bitch is still missing, and there are still loads of Atrocious Balloon Blowers around. Grue’s gonna have a hell of a time getting everyone out of there.

As such, I’m not sure if 4.11 is going to have Taylor waking up in the Trainyard, back at the Undersiders’ HQ or somewhere else. I guess I’ll just have to wait and find out next time!

See ya then 🙂


[postscript]

[screenshot of Worm comments section]

Fiona:

whoa

wildbow:

dude

(Very rarely, out of curiosity, I dare to peek at the first comment or two on a chapter. I don’t go further because I don’t want to risk comments made after the next chapter was released, and I don’t want the commenters to give me too much unscreened input.)


Incidentally, Shell 4.10 was posted on what was very much a “whoa. dude.” day for the Homestucks too. One of the most famous such dates.

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