Buzz 7.8: Cut and Run

Source material: Worm, Buzz 7.8

Originally blogged: November 1-3, 2017


Hello, students, and welcome to physical education class! I’m your new teacher, Krixwell Jace. Starting today, I’ll be running you ragged while relaxing in my bed with a computer on my lap, because I am a good, efficient teacher who is in no way a hypocritical slouch.

Last time I taught a class, Purity dropped every pretense of not being a murderous piece of shit after the government found out she’s a racist high-profile criminal not fit to raise a child. After some convincing of Brian, the Undersiders are on their way to attempt to stop what Purity thinks they started, but Brian and Taylor were intercepted by three of Purity’s subordinates. Now they’re forced to fight the tanky airbender, Stormtiger, and maybe also the other two, in order to escape.

Which is what this lesson be about, because I’m a strange teacher who picks up where he left off with another group. We might also cover meeting up with the rest of the Undersiders if we have time.

Strange, none of this sounds like normal P.E. syllabus content. It’s possible I don’t know how to do my job.

Anyway, I want everyone to run fifty laps around my liveblog, to Worm up!

(#yes it was all for that pun)


Stormtiger raised one hand in the direction he’d come and created a blast of wind to clear a path through Grue’s darkness and reveal Hookwolf and Cricket.

Looks like we’re going up against all at once. At least Grue can somewhat slow down these two, for about as long as they can keep Stormtiger from blowing it all away.

That’ll change if Stormtiger can create a full-fledged local storm that he doesn’t have to keep actively controlling, though.

“Fancy this,” Hookwolf chuckled, looking down at me, “We decide to attack the blockades and avoid being hemmed in like the ABB was, and we happen upon you?”

“Not looking for a fight,” I told him.

Well, they kind of are. Just not this fight.

“Stormtiger, find the others of her group.” Hookwolf snarled, apparently not considering my words worth responding to.

It seems like Hookwolf is assuming they’re nearby and forgetting that Stormtiger’s presence is the only thing keeping Grue from just covering everything in darkness again.

“Can’t,” Stormtiger spoke, from where he stood above me. “Not smelling them.”

“You smelled her.”

That’s because she’s actually, y’know, here.

“And I smelled the two uniforms from the ambulance. Other one’s bleeding, sitting near the ambulance somewhere over there. Darkness boy isn’t around anymore or I’d be able to smell him.”

Are you sure about that? After all, he’s the Scentless Man, as we’ve covered extensively.

…or is he?

(yes he is)


He was wrong. My bugs could feel Grue out there. If the driver had been injured, that might account for why Grue had lagged behind. But Stormtiger couldn’t smell Grue?

It’s certainly something that ought to come in handy.

Hookwolf turned to me, “The dog girl. Where’s Bitch?”

“Not here.”

“I know that,” he growled.

At least he’s getting the picture.

It makes sense that Hookwolf would ask specifically about Bitch. She’s the one with the most offensive firepower besides Taylor, and Taylor’s power probably doesn’t affect Hookwolf himself when he’s in his wolven form. Alec might be able to do something to trip him up, but Bitch is realistically the best bet against Hookwolf. On top of that, Hookwolf has reason to have a personal grudge against her.

His hand dissolved into a mess of knives, hooks and spearpoints, then solidified into an oversized claw with fingers as long as his torso. He flexed them experimentally. How did you even classify that? Ferrokinetic shapeshifting?

I guess? Specifically weapons, by the sound of it.

See, this kind of thing is why the Protectorate’s classification system needs to be very flexible if they want to catch as much of the power’s detail as possible.

Also:


I crawled backward a few feet, trying to maintain distance between us. Stormtiger reached down and blocked my retreat with one blade-covered hand.

“Stay, Skitter. Good bug girl.”

I looked up at Stormtiger and spoke, “We split up earlier today. One of our members had a source, we heard about the email that went out when the news stations and papers did. Decided it’d be better to back off, just in case.” No harm done by admitting that much.

Not only does admitting this much do no harm, other than confirming that the other Undersiders aren’t hiding nearby, but if they believe it, it can be helpful, by letting them know that the Undersiders are not responsible for the leak.

“Don’t believe you,” he snarled. “Doesn’t explain why you’re here.”

“That’s because-”

Eh, fair enough. I didn’t think they’d make it out of this without some kind of fight, anyway.

I stopped as the two of them turned away. The ‘paramedic’ a few feet from Stormtiger had bolted, and was drawing a gun as she ran toward the closest patch of darkness.

Nice! Stay alive, please!

As she got close to her destination, still running, she turned on the spot and raised her gun to fire at Stormtiger and Hookwolf.

So far, I like Coil’s mundane soldiers.

Hookwolf barely reacted as the bullets punched into his chest, and even that was just the inevitable force of being shot.

Hm, yeah, not surprising. I was going to mention it when he made the claw, but forgot: Given that Taylor calls it ferrokinetic shapeshifting, I think Hookwolf’s whole bodymight be, in a sense, made of iron, even in his human form.

His apparent invulnerability to bullets seems to support that. Though it’s a little unclear if the bullets bounced off (or, equivalently, stopped and got stuck in his clothing) or if he just didn’t react to getting holes shot in him.

Stormtiger raised one arm as if to protect himself, but the bullets were already veering off before they could hit him, leaving a trio of hazy trails in the air where they had turned.

Damn, that takes some pretty strong wind.


“Handle her, Cricket,” Hookwolf spoke, pressing a hand against his collarbone where a bullet had struck him.

Hm, looks like he does feel it, just not very much.

The scarred girl with the buzz cut dashed forward, reaching behind her back to draw two scythe-like weapons, each only about as long as her forearm.

Mini scythes, huh? Nice.

I guess fighting with that would be like fighting with a sickle? Or maybe they are sickles and Taylor just couldn’t think of the word – she says “scythe-like”, after all.

But last time something an opponent was using was described by what it looked like, it turned out to spit foam instead of fire, so I’m not taking for granted that these weapons are ordinary.

Coil’s soldier turned to fire at the incoming villainess, but Cricket ducked to the right, then evaded left, in time with the noise of the gunfire.

Hm, interesting. She’s not immune, and she can’t deflect, but she’s a master at dodging.

Headcanon: Cricket has a lot of dodgeball trophies at home. I guess it’s only a matter of time before she gets booted off the team now, though.

The distance between them closed rapidly. I didn’t see what happened next, as Coil’s soldier disappeared into the darkness and Cricket followed her in.

Hm. This could be tricky for both of them. Cricket can’t hear the gun pop off rhythmically to time her dodges, and she can’t see where the shots come from, but on the other hand the soldier can’t see where to aim.

By the way, unless her power involves something that would help her here, she almost certainly was using the rhythm of the shots (and maybe her view of the shooter) to dogde, not the sound. Most modern firearm bullets go at supersonic speeds (thus the crackle of a bullet speeding past – it’s a sonic boom), and even the quieter subsonic ones go very, very quickly. Dodging those based purely on when the sound reaches her, especially at this short a distance, would require not only a super quick reaction time, but super quick movements.

(Handgun bullets are not exempt from going at supersonic speeds, though they’re among the slower ones. They can rarely exceed 1500 ft/s, i.e. 457 m/s or Mach 1.34.)


Hookwolf turned back to me, “Suspiciously competent for an ambulance driver. Pretty fucking sure that’s one of Coil’s people. What are you doing with her?”

I didn’t answer.

Aw, shit.

That’s a good point. The E88 finding out the Undersiders are under Coil’s protection and even employment would be bad news. They’re pissed off enough at the Undersiders as it is.

My bugs reacted to a funny noise from the direction of Cricket and Coil’s woman, but I couldn’t hear it myself. Grue’s power did strange things to sound. I had more immediate concerns.

Strange things?

Interesting. That’s not the same as completely drowning it out, which is the impression I’ve been left with so far. We may have a solution to the issue of how Armsmaster was able to navigate the darkness here.

Hookwolf dropped his hand to his side, and I saw how the bullet had penetrated skin, but had failed to get any further than the interlocking grid of metal that sat in place of Hookwolf’s muscle.

I’m gonna consider that a confirmation – it explains how he manages to look human in spite of being made of metal, too.

It also reminds me of this comic. (tw: drawings of blood, death)

He smiled. “I was hoping you wouldn’t answer. It means we get to interrogate you.”

Why do I feel like your definition of “interrogate” involves torture?


Options, options, what were my options? Bugs? They were around, but I got the impression that Hookwolf wasn’t going to suffer that much if I swarmed him, and Stormtiger had some kind of aerokinesis, which was bound to be pretty effective against the lightweight bugs.

And Cricket’s off doing who knows what in Grue’s darkness.

Knife, baton? Not much better. These guys were capable in hand to hand. I wasn’t.

Taylor’s capable enough to hold off Sophia for a bit, but these guys aren’t Sophia.

Basically, Taylor’s fucked unless she gets really creative. Fortunately, that’s one of her strong suits.

Where was Grue? I felt out with my power, and found him at the back of the ambulance with the driver. Whatever he was doing, I hoped he would do it soon. I needed his help.

Yeah. He’s more skilled at hand to hand, though I have to question even his ability to do something against these guys.

…if Coil’s woman is still alive, and makes it out of the cloud, getting Stormtiger to face Taylor might help. He can deflect, but he needs to know the bullet is coming. Probably.

I looked for Cricket, and found her in the blackness, dragging Coil’s soldier back toward us.

Welp.

I saw her emerge from the darkness, one of the miniature scythes buried in the woman’s upper arm, the other buried in her thigh. With a full-body effort, Cricket swung the woman forward and pulled the scythes free. Coil’s soldier rolled onto the ground before Cricket. If her powers didn’t give her an edge in fitness, she was pretty damn fit for her frame.

Is the soldier conscious, or even alive?

Was Coil’s woman dead? No. The woman was breathing. She was making lots of short, fast breaths, not moving, but she was breathing.

One out of two ain’t bad, but these E88 goons have a standing order to kill anyone they encounter, so I’m not sure how many more paragraphs it’ll last.

Hookwolf watched for a second before turning back to me. “Maybe I’ll give Stormtiger some practice at getting answers out of people. Those claws of his? They’re compressed air. Every second, he’s drawing in more air, shoving it into that claw shaped space, to make them denser, harder.

Interesting. Not much new information, but the fact that he’s continually making the claws harder might be worth noting.

I’m guessing this compressed air somehow sticks together and acts like one object per claw? Because otherwise, it should be possible to just blow them away, although… Stormtiger is basically continually reforming them. Maybe they’ll start dispersing if his concentration is broken.

And when he releases it…” he offered me a low chuckle.

Come on, Grue. I couldn’t handle this alone.

When he releases it… I guess that makes for a strong outward wind, akin to an explosion? Is Stormtiger himself immune to being pushed by air?


“Want to see what happens when one of them is buried inside you when he turns it into one of his blasts of wind?” Hookwolf asked. Again, the low laughter at my expense.

Ah, yeah, that sounds unpleasant.

Grue was moving toward me with purpose, now.

Oh, good.

I stirred bugs from the ground around him to place them on his body, get a sense of what he was doing. He was carrying something three and a half feet long, nearly a foot wide, a rounded off shape that was all smooth metal.

Hm. Okay?

I can’t tell what this is. There isn’t even anything that jumps out at me as a first guess.

Shit.

I flipped over and scrambled away.

Kinda sounds like Taylor has some idea, at least.

Stormtiger was behind me, and he kicked me in the back as I tried to rise up and start running, shoving me back to the ground, hard. I was glad for my mask as my face bounced off the pavement.

Ouch.

Go with it. Remembering the tips Brian had given me during our sparring session, I used the fact that Stormtiger had created a bit more distance between us and continued to move away as fast as I could manage.

Yeah, can’t very well kick you in the back again if you’re too far away after the previous kick.

“Running?” Hookwolf laughed, “You can try.”

[screenshot of a poem]

Eagles Can Fly

Monkeys can climb
Crickets can leap
Horses can race
Owls can seek
Cheetahs can run
Eagles can fly
People can try
But that’s about it.

Poetry from Doki Doki Literature Club aside, is he about to chase after her in wolf form?


“Gun oil,” Stormtiger called out, whipping around to face Grue. “I smell gun oil.”

Is that what he’s carrying? A barrel of oil?

Or… a coddamn bazooka?!

That would certainly explain why Taylor’s in such a hurry to get the hell out of Dodge.

Grue hefted the long metal object back with both hands, then flung it forward.

…that doesn’t sounds like something you’d do with a bazooka, though.

He didn’t drop both his arms as he let go. Instead, he used his left hand to follow up with a directed blast of darkness to cover it as it rolled into the clearing.

I clamped my hands to my ears, painful as it was with the bandage on my right ear.

A grenade launcher? Though it sounds like he’s throwing the whole thing. Some kind of giant makeshift bomb? Why would he prepare to throw that towards Taylor was, though?

Grue’s right hand was already withdrawing a gun from his jacket pocket as he backed up.

Ah, okay, I’m going back to the barrel of oil, to be ignited with a gunshot once Taylor is out of harm’s way.

His arm jerked twice as he fired the gun at the oxygen tank he’d fetched from the back of the ambulance. The first shot missed. The second didn’t.

…close enough. Makes a whole lot more sense to keep this in an ambulance, anyway.


It was so quiet I thought I’d been deafened by the sudden explosion. Hookwolf’s delayed scream of pain and rage was a bittersweet relief.

I guess that’s what happens when you detonate something inside a darkness bubble. Although considering what happened there is roughly analogous to a sudden, strong outward wind (much like when Stormtiger releases his claws), I doubt the darkness bubble survived it.

Wasting no opportunity, Grue marched forward, gun in hand. Stormtiger had been farther away, and lay face down on the ground, bleeding badly but intact, from what I and my bugs could see. Grue stopped, aimed, and shot him once in each leg.

Nice work!

“Hey!” Cricket’s voice was strangled, strained. I wondered if one of the injuries that had given her one of those scars had done something to her vocal chords. She lowered one of the scythes toward Coil’s soldier. “I got a-”

Did Brian shut her up?

Grue covered her and her hostage in darkness and turned toward me and Hookwolf. The message was clear. He wasn’t negotiating.

Hah, nice.

I was pretty sure I couldn’t have made that call, even knowing that stopping for the woman’s sake was almost inevitably going to lead to a worse situation.

Yeah, Grue is a lot more willing to potentially sacrifice a teammate. Pragmatic rather than cautious, and all that.


Hookwolf staggered to his feet. He’d taken more damage from the blast than anyone, and his skin hung off in tatters around the arm he hadn’t yet transformed, most of the trunk of his body and his thigh, with lesser damage over the surrounding area.

Fortunately for him, he’s a bit more resistant inside the skin.

Beneath the tatters of skin, as I’d seen with the bullet wound, there was only blood-slick bands and blades of metal. Hooks and knives all laid side by side in the general shape of human musculature.

Huh. He’s not just made of metal, he’s made of weapons, just like the things he shapeshifts into.

I guess he puts a whole new spin on the phrase “human armory”.

Hookwolf thrust his damaged arm out to one side, and the muscles unhinged like a swiss army knife, revealing still more blades and hooks that unfolded, swelled and overlapped to cover and patch the injured area.

Even the similes used when describing his body go to weaponry!

I wonder, does he have control over this? Did he consciously decide to shapeshift everything but his skin into weapons?

His arm grew with the use of his power, and the resulting limb was three times the normal size, ending in what looked like a two foot long fishhook.

So now both arms are huge, and he’s Allen Walker on one side and Maui on the other. Nice.

(#except maui’s hook is bigger)


“Skitter,” Grue called, “Run!”

I climbed to my feet and hurried toward him. Hookwolf turned to face me, then lunged my way, closing more distance than I might have anticipated. I abandoned my attempt to rejoin Grue and headed to my left, straight into the darkness.

Probably a good call.

My bugs dotted the surface of a mailbox, three paces into the blackness. I ducked around it as Hookwolf blindly followed me in. Swinging blindly, he struck a fire hydrant, but no water was forthcoming.

Taylor has a distinct advantage in here, thanks to her bug network.

He lunged left, gouging chunks of brick from a wall, then he leaped right, striking the mailbox and cleaving it in half.

Coming up: A eulogy for the mailbox.

[Homestuck]
The mail is the one final hope for resurrecting a dead planet from its ashes, and the letter carriers are the brave soldiers of God in this righteous crusade. They are the defenders of the light of knowledge, free communication, and the exchange of ideas. They are the bold toters of all those little papery conduits of freedom, the white postmarked angels that whisper a message on their deliverance, a promise to the yearning: “There is hope yet.”
Liberty. Reason. Justice. Civility. Edification. Perfection.
MAIL.

Rest in post, my dear.


I was already scrambling in Grue’s general direction, the mailbox well behind me.

I felt a surge of relief at realizing that Cricket had abandoned her hostage in favor of going after Grue, to initiate a brief exchange of blows.

While Grue has a gun and is pretty good at hand to hand, Cricket seems to be parahumanly good at dodging hits. Grue, however, has the darkness on his side.

Hm… maybe he should employ the shadow man tactic again, to make Cricket dodge an attack that isn’t real, setting her up so she can’t avoid a real one.

Unfortunately, my relief was short lived, because the combat wasn’t brief in a good way. Grue fired the gun twice, and twice she dodged the bullet, standing only ten and seven feet away from the barrel. It wasn’t superspeed, either, though she was quick. Her movements were simply too efficient, and if there was any delay in her reactions, I wasn’t seeing it.

It’s almost like her power is literally to have zero reaction time. Or maybe it’s her perception of time that’s affected, so that she can think and react at (to an outside observer) high speeds, but not move her body at increased speeds.

If it’s the latter and she can’t turn it off, boring conversations must be hell.

He swung a punch as she closed in. Cricket leaned out of the way, then swung her scythe to rake him across the chest. From the way he staggered, I knew she’d struck home.

Well, shit.

He jabbed, she avoided it as though it were easy, then followed up with two more swings, and he failed to avoid either. He staggered back, clutching one arm to his chest.

Don’t die on us, man.

He blanketed the area around them in darkness, filling the clearing, and Cricket immediately switched to swinging blindly and ferociously around herself as she advanced toward where Grue had been. Grue backed away, but this had the unfortunate effect of putting him closer to Hookwolf, who was doing much the same as Cricket.

Trapped between a blindly swinging murderer and another blindly swinging murderer.

Y’know, I’m not sure that’s how that saying goes.

Grue turned and ran to create some distance and avoid being hemmed in.

Fortunately there’s a third dimension in this world.


[Session 2]


Then every bug in the area reacted to that sound I couldn’t make out, the one I’d heard when Cricket went after Coil’s soldier.

Hm. Curious. Last time, it seemed like it could’ve been something from Cricket vs Coil-lady, but that’s not the case right now. Is this something Cricket’s power allows her to do? Crickets are known for being obnoxiously loud.

It was loud enough for them to hear through the darkness, but… entirely out of my range of hearing.

Maybe she can communicate with bugs, and didn’t count on being up against an enemy with direct control over them?

I couldn’t say for sure, but I got the impression the ones closer to Cricket had heard it a fraction of a second sooner.

“Grue!” I screamed into the oppressive shadow. “Move!”

Well, seems Taylor has pieced together that Cricket is doing something, even if she can’t quite tell what.

Cricket turned toward him and lunged in one motion, bringing both scythes down in an overhead swing. Grue moved out of the way just in time.

Maybe it’s a form of sonar/echolocation.

“She has radar!” I shouted, my voice barely audible to myself. Didn’t matter. Grue could hear me.

A radar would be completely blocked by the darkness, presumably. This is a sonar, which the darkness just does “strange things” to.


Cricket passed one of the mini-scythes into one hand and then used her newly freed hand to wipe bugs from her skin. They were gathering on her, and she was starting to feel it. Good.

Right, their stings should be a bit harder to dodge. At least there’s someone in the enemy’s party whom Taylor’s power can work offensively against.

Again, that pulse emanated from her. She maintained it this time, and my bugs began to suffer for it.

…though not without complication, it seems.

Their coordination suffered, they began to move slower, and their senses – such as they were in the darkness – began to go haywire.

Well, that ain’t good.

After a second or two, I thought maybe I was starting to feel it too. A bit off-balance, nauseous.

This reminds me of Agitation, though back then I turned out to be wrong about Taylor feeling side effects of her bugs having to navigate in warped space. The headache she got back then was Panacea’s work.

Grue was hunched over, his hands on his knees, but I wasn’t sure if that was Cricket’s power or the injuries she’d inflicted. From the way Cricket was moving, I gathered that she couldn’t see us. Was it echolocation? Did it not work if she simply blasted the noise continually rather than use it in bursts?

I suppose blasting the noise continually would cause the returning sound to get drowned out.

Maybe Taylor should try to keep Cricket doing this continually so as to negate the sonar, but that comes at the expense of the bugs and her own coordination.


Annoying as it was that everyone seemed to have a way of dealing with my bugs, I was at least putting her in a position where she couldn’t both find us and deal with them.

Yeah, that’s fortunate.

I was having trouble getting a sense of her powers. I’d heard of her, seen pictures, read up on her on the wiki and message boards. She was rarely more than a footnote, typically a suspect in a murder or arson case alongside Stormtiger and Hookwolf. Never had I come across something like ‘Cricket has limited precognition’ or ‘Cricket is a sound manipulator’.

So far it’s seemed like a mix of echolocation and either “no reaction time”, “bullet time perception” or “limited precognition”…

Hm. The echolocation could be seen as an extension of bullet time perception, I suppose, since it’d give her brain more perceived time to actually process the echos.

The bugs started to fall away from her, losing their grip or ability to navigate through the air. Knowing our advantage would soon disappear, I advanced towards her, drawing my knife.

Better make use of the time you know where she is and not vice versa.

I checked on Hookwolf, and found him scaling a building a distance behind me. Was he trying to rise above the cloud of darkness to spot us or get his bearings?

Hm, good luck with that, I guess. Grue, you might want to send some darkness up the side of that building.


I was three paces from Cricket when I felt the sound die off, then resume again for one brief second. Another radar pulse.

“Careful!” I shouted, adjusting my momentum and hurrying to back away. Too slow. She was already pivoting to swing at me.

Uh oh.

The handle of one scythe struck me in the side of my throat, the actual blade hooking around behind my neck to halt my retreat.

Uh oh.

Before I could do anything, she pulled me toward her. I stumbled forward, and she adjusted her grip to swing the other scythe up and into the side of my stomach.

Um. Hi there.


I doubled over and crumpled to the ground.

Grue shouted something, but his words didn’t reach me through the darkness.

Probably “SKITTER!”

So yeah, with what this chapter has shown about how sound works with the darkness (namely that it’s heavily muffled, but not completely blocked, which makes a lot of sense if you consider the darkness to be similar to a dense gas), Wildbow is off the hook for the whole gallery Armsmaster thing. At least mostly so.

Cricket emitted another radar pulse, then lunged for Grue.

I don’t blame Taylor for not being intricately aware of the difference, or for not caring at the moment, but it still bugs me a little every time she calls it a radar.

She caught him in the arm, this time. Then she backed off, going for the continuous, sense-warping noise to put my bugs on the fritz once more.

It’s the Undersiders’ turn to attack.


Grue raised his borrowed gun and his arm bucked with the kick. Cricket was oblivious as the gun fired off several times in a row, but whatever she was doing with her power was screwing with Grue’s ability to aim.

Hm, interesting. I was assuming the effect on Taylor was a result of her getting disorienting inputs from the bugs, but if it affects Grue too, that’s evidently not the case.

I’m thinking this might be specifically some form of infrasound. Consciously inaudible sounds near the border between infrasound and audible frequencies have been connected to feelings of fear, unease, sorrow and anxiety, sleep disturbances and even optical illusions through resonance with the eyeballs (there’s a hypothesis that such sounds are responsible for many supposedly haunted locations). This kind of sound causing disorientation and nausea is not far-fetched.

None of the bullets struck home. He stopped. Either he was out of bullets, though it seemed too soon for that, or he wanted to conserve ammunition.

Yeah, might wanna save those for when your aim is getting better.

I climbed to my feet, feeling my side protesting in agony. The blade hadn’t penetrated my costume, but the sides of my stomach weren’t armored and the cloth had done little to soften the jab of it, even if it had prevented me from being cut or disemboweled. Cricket was bigger than me, stronger, and she knew how to use her weapons. It had hurt.

ow


When I was sure I could move without falling over, I lunged, knife in hand.

I’d hoped that if I was quick about it, I could act before she used her radar again.

Sonar.

I wasn’t so lucky. She was already moving by the time I realized she’d made another pulse of noise, scythe points whipping around toward the side of my head, where my mask provided only partial coverage.

Damn.

I had too much forward momentum to avoid walking straight into the incoming blades.

I half-fell, half ducked, and instead of driving my knife into her back like I’d intended, I wound up burying it in the side of her thigh. Whatever technique let her dodge bullets, it apparently didn’t work if she couldn’t see.

Hey, sweet maneuver!

As much as it might have hurt, she didn’t waste an instant in hefting her weapon to retaliate and swinging down at my head. I wasn’t in a position to get out of the way.

Ah, shit.


Hm… not wasting an instant to retaliate kind of sounds like another instance of no reaction time.

I suppose that’s also potentially a natural result of bullet time perception. I’m leaning more and more towards the power that lets her dodge bullets being that.


Grue caught her by the wrist mid-swing and pulled her off-balance before she could follow through.

Nice work!

She moved fluidly, considering the blade buried in her upper leg. She reversed her grip on her weapon with her free hand, stuttered her power to create what I took was another radar pulse, then readied to swing it at Grue.

She’s good at going with the flow.

I twisted the knife, and pulled it out of her leg with a two-handed grip. Or, to rephrase, I pulled the knife through her leg, dragging it horizontally through the meat of her thigh, toward her hip, and out.

Oooh, that’s gonna hurt.

She toppled, and Grue put his hand on my shoulder to pull me back away. Cricket lay on the pavement, pressing her hands to her injury.

Enemy down, for now.

That leaves Hookwolf Kong.


“You okay?” Grue asked me, as he cleared the darkness within one foot of the both of us.

“I’m bruised but yeah. I should be asking you that question. How bad is it?”

Grue took some nasty hits there. He really could use a spiderwoven outfit like Taylor’s.

He banished the darkness around his body, and in the gloom, I saw how the blades had neatly cut through his jacket and t-shirt to draw criss-crossing lines of red across his chest.


This may or may not be an accurate image of Grue.

(#oh wait he has a scepter #and he’s a king #this might actually be regent

#incidentally one of those criss-cross wounds is from a sickle

#which i compared cricket’s mini-scythes to)


An uglier wound marked his right arm from elbow to wrist, all the more visible because the cut had extended to the cuff of his costume, leaving the sleeve to hang loose around his elbow.

Ouch.

“Looks worse than it is. I’ve fought people like her before, in sparring and fighting classes. She was showing off with the first few cuts. Shallow, inflicting pain, not really meant to disable or deal real harm.”

Huh… why, though. Just showing off, or not actually wanting to harm the enemies too much, á la Taylor?

“That’s stupid,” I muttered. “I’m glad, but it’s stupid.”

Yeah, in an actual life and death fight, it really is.

“She probably didn’t think about it. I’d bet it’s something she learned and incorporated into her style while fighting for a crowd.”

Oh right, the fighting ring. No fun for the audience if one of the fighters is dead in three seconds flat.

He looked over in Hookwolf’s direction, then winced at how the movement pulled against his injured chest. “We should go.”

“Agreed.”

Yeah, if you can get away without fighting Hookwolf more than absolutely necessary, that would be good.


Grue opened a path in the darkness for the faux paramedic, we checked that she was alive, and then helped her limp to the ambulance, with me doing most of the heavy work for once.

Oh, good, Cricket didn’t make good on her attempted threat when Grue blocked her.

I hurried to grab some first aid supplies, packing ointments, pills and bandages into a bag. Coil’s soldiers retreated back toward the police barricade before I was finished, each supporting the other.

Problem: The E88ers were going to attack that barricade. Hookwolf might still be in a condition to do so – are the police there capable of defending themselves against a solo Hookwolf?

Grue flooded more of the area with darkness while I gathered most of the swarm back around myself. I left only the bare minimum of bugs necessary to navigate the sightless world of Grue’s power and the ones I needed to track Hookwolf’s presence.

Nice. Good to stay aware of where he is, in case he comes after you.

There were more I couldn’t touch because they were caught helpless in the endless, subsonic drone that Cricket still emanated, but I had enough that I could deal.

Eyy, infrasound confirmed!

I mean, besides the things I mentioned about known effects of infrasound on humans, it was a 50/50 shot, but still.

We hurried away before Hookwolf thought to attack the spot where the ambulance had crashed.

Time to skitter out of here!


We were nearly four blocks away before Grue felt it safe to dismiss the darkness around us. Rationally, I knew we were safer in the shadows, that it would prevent most ambushes, but a primal part of my psyche was glad to be in the light and noise once more.

Yeah, I can’t imagine the darkness doesn’t weigh on you psychologically after a while.

I shot Grue another worried look as we walked. “Looks like it’s my turn to give you some stitches. You going to be okay?”

“Fuck.” He touched his chest tenderly, not giving me a direct answer.

Just said all you needed to, pal.

“What were her powers? Overclocked reflexes and what was it you said? Radar?”

Sonar.

“Enhanced reflexes is a better guess than what I’d come up with. She was making some sort of subsonic drone. It was the source of that disorientation effect. She could use it like echolocation or something.”

“It’s times like this I can say it’s worth having Tattletale on the team. I hate not knowing someone’s powers.”

Heh, I know how that is.

Although for me it’s not a matter of life and death.


We stopped at an old church with boards up where there should have been stained glass windows. Litter and more than one half-full trash bag occupied the ground at the base of the building. Together, we walked inside.

Looks like we’re taking a formerly religious pitstop.

Is this where we’re supposed to meet up with the rest of the gang, or are we just stopping here to stitch up Brian?

Regent was perched on the lip of the stage beneath the altar. Tattletale sat on the back of one of the benches, her feet resting on the seat. Bitch paced at the rear of the church, the point farthest from the front door, and her dogs moved like gargantuan silhouettes in the darkness of the aisles.

Howdy, everyone!

If it weren’t for the light filtering in between the plywood on the windows, I wasn’t sure I would have known they were there.

Sounds like it’s quite dark in here, besides that little bit of light.


“Grue!” Tattletale leapt from her seat. “What happened?”

“Ran across Hookwolf, Stormtiger and Cricket. Those three like to cut people,” Grue spoke. “We were lucky to get away as intact as we did.”

Huh, I suppose that is the common thread between them, besides being E88ers under Purity’s command.

“Sit,” I ordered Grue. Hissing between his teeth, he pulled off his jacket, then turned his attention to his T-shirt, which was sticking to his chest with the blood that had leaked from the cuts. Rather than have to remove his helmet and drag the cloth over his injured chest and arm, he tore his shirt where it had been cut, and pulled it off in tatters.

He may not want to date Taylor, but at least he’ll rip his shirt off for her.

He sat down, shirtless, his helmet on. I began getting the stuff out to clean his wounds[.]

“Did you guys run into trouble?” Grue asked.

“Just enough that we’ve been getting a little restless. Bitch took down some thugs, but they scattered, and word’s probably out that we’re in the area.”

Hm. I guess that means Purity will be prepared, but that was the case anyway, considering she practically invited them.

“Purity?” He asked.

“She’s out there,” Regent spoke, in his characteristic distracted, disaffected manner, “We saw the lights and heard the noise as she was knocking down more buildings. She moved away from this area a little while ago.”

At least she didn’t go after this church. Might not be a coincidence – murderous rage or not, I can imagine Purity maybe being somewhat Christian, although she’s certainly not acting in the spirit of the religion.


Tattletale turned to me, “Here, give me that. I’ll work on his arm.”

I duly handed over the cleaning solution and some antiseptic wipes. I heard Grue mutter, “Shit, I hope Cricket isn’t the type to put poison on her weapon.”

That would suck.

It would also explain her feeling less of a need to cut deep.

“Don’t say that!” I gasped, horrified.

“Not to worry, either of you,” Tattletale sounded exasperated. “My power says no.”

Ah, good.

I nodded, but my heartbeat was still cranked up a notch from that momentary alarm. When I glanced up from the stash of medical stuff I’d grabbed from the ambulance to see how Tattletale was doing with Grue’s arm, I saw Grue’s skull-visor pointed at me. Was he looking at me? What was he thinking? What expression was on his face?

Maybe he’s studying how Taylor is reacting to him being hurt. Seeing how much she cares.

“I’m thinking guerrilla strikes,” Grue spoke, turning to Tattletale, “We have the dogs, we use their mobility to harass, catch any roaming groups off guard, take them down, disappear before reinforcements or heroes show.”

Hm, might work out. I do think we’re gonna have to directly fight Purity by the end of the Arc, though.

Tattletale shook her head, “One problem with that.”

“Which is?”

She pointed at his chest. “You may not be poisoned, but you’ve lost some blood. I’d lay even money that you’d pass out if you did something as high exertion as riding the dogs.”

Damn.

“Don’t take a bet with Tattle,” Regent chimed in, “She cheats.”

Hehe. I’m sure you’re talking from experience… in fact, didn’t the two of you bet on whether Taylor would show up for that second meeting?

“We need to end this fast,” Tattletale said. “Not just because of Grue’s injuries, but because Purity’s going to wipe out our neighborhood soon if someone doesn’t stop her. We take the most direct action we can.”

“Direct action,” I echoed her. I didn’t like the sound of that.

Straight to the source.


“We go straight for Purity.”

“Fuck that,” Grue shook his head, “There’s no way.”

I’ll admit her powers come with a high risk of vaporization of both dogs, bugs, and people, and her flight makes it very difficult for the dogs to be much help. It’s not an even battle by any stretch of the imagination.

All the better for a boss battle, though.

“Way,” Tattletale retorted. “It’s not pretty, it’s risky, but it’s our best bet at ending this, one way or another. Thing is, we’ve got to move fast or our opportunity will disappear.

Opportunity… is there something you’re not telling us yet?

Skitter, we’d better get started on the stitches, I’ll explain while we do it.”

Ah, fair enough.


I swallowed, nodded, turned my attention back to the bag of medical stuff, and found the needle and thread.

“Like you said before,” I told Grue, quiet, pulling the pre-threaded needle free of the spool, “Let me apologize in advance.”

“Damn it,” he muttered.

Hehehe.

Turnabout is fair play.


End of Buzz 7.8

That was a pretty decent fight. Between oxygen tanksplosions and darkened knife attacks, Grue and Taylor used some neat tactics to deal with the three rather tough enemies they faced. Speaking of which, it’s pretty clear that the difficulty of the enemies in the story is increasing.

Next up is Purity, unless another random encounter gets in the way, which likely won’t happen. Tattle seems to have some time-sensitive knowledge that can help, but I don’t think we’re going to learn whatever it is until it’s already being used – the timing of the chapter ending and Tattle saying she’ll tell the others about it during an activity we’ve already skipped over once before seems perfect for an unspoken plan guarantee. So hopefully next time we’ll get to see that unspoken plan played out!

See you then!

One thought on “Buzz 7.8: Cut and Run

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