Source material: Buzz 7.12
Originally blogged: November 14, 2017
Howdy! Krixwell here, ready to read-y some more… Worm…y!
Last chapter, the Undersiders got more of a glimpse at what Coil is actually like, and what they’ve already been contributing to. Turns out he, like so many other characters, is a piece of shit. (Though he’s still nowhere near the top of the Worm douche scale so far.)
This chapter, I believe will primarily be spent dealing with that new knowledge and deciding what to do. It could really go either way at this point.
There isn’t really anything left to say, so let’s jump into it!
“We’re not to blame for what Coil did,” Grue told me.
“We sure helped it happen.”
Hm. Starting off strong with two opposing opinions. Taylor thinks that because the Undersiders blindly took money to do something that helped their boss do something they didn’t know about, that something is on them. I’m inclined to agree, but only partially – most of the blame is on Coil, but the Undersiders have some culpability as willing henchpeople.
“There was no way we could know what he was really doing.”
“Because we were complacent, not paying attention. Because of that, and because we assisted Coil in distracting the capes, Dinah has been held captive for what, three weeks? Almost a month?”
The only reason they didn’t know is that they didn’t try to know. They were content with taking their reward without thinking of what kind of consequences they were enabling.
“Almost a month,” Tattletale echoed me.
I looked at Tattletale, noted how she was refusing to look anyone in the eye, and I had an uncomfortable thought. “Did you know about this?”
I don’t think she did. Her behavior since she paled in the last chapter has seemed surprised and disgusted, even before it became clear to her that Taylor figured it out.
“I-” She stopped to give a little sigh and briefly make eye contact with me before staring back down at the ground. “I had an idea, sort of. I didn’t think it would be this ugly. It’s hard to explain.”
Ah, I see.
“Try,” I spoke, my voice hard.
“She disappeared from the middle school near Arcadia the same day we robbed the bank. Obviously, Coil wanted to ensure the Wards weren’t close enough to interfere, probably why he was so keen on us doing the bank job, after I suggested it. I made the connection, after. I just didn’t think – Nothing he said or did led me to think it would be a serious kidnapping.”
She figured out they had enabled the kidnapping, but wasn’t prepared to see Dinah being drugged and abused like we saw in Coil’s basement.
“What else could it be?” Grue asked her.
“Her uncle’s one of the mayoral candidates in the election this Summer, you know that? I knew Coil was putting a lot of value on getting hold of her, I thought maybe he was kidnapping her to use her to ransom for the uncle’s campaign funds, or to get the uncle to drop out of the race in a more direct play.
I wouldn’t characterize this as a “non-serious” kidnapping, but it does seem less… permanent and abusive.
I had a suspicion he got her to cooperate with some sort of incentive. Figure out she’s unhappy at home, give her a place to stay and some sort of bribe.
Well… technically that is what he did. Though as it turns out, that bribe happened to be “candy”.
Either way, it’s more fitting with his methods to date, and it would have been short term or more benign. Not so bad.”
Yeah, it does fit into his MO, if we compare with how Coil gets others to work for him.
“Kind of off there,” I said, bitterly.
“I’m aware,” Tattletale answered, with just as much emotion in her voice. “I don’t like it either.
Yeeah, me neither.
He’s been around me enough, communicated with me enough, to have an idea of stuff that I won’t necessarily know or think to look for.
Filing this under evidence that Tattle’s Knowledge needs to be at least somewhat consciously targeted.
I didn’t even know she had powers, or how Coil would have found this out or found her. This is out of character for him. Ruthless, power hungry.”
I mean we knew he wanted power. That was a whole spiel he had back when he laid out his master plan. He’s power hungry, just relatively realistic about how much power he can maintain and thrive with.
The ruthlessness is more camouflaged.
“If it bothers you that much, tell him to fuck off,” Bitch cut in, sounding irritated.
“It’s more complicated than that,” I said. “We can’t just walk away and leave her like that.”
Is this headed towards the Undersiders not only terminating their agreement with Coil but actively going up against him to free Dinah?
Because I really don’t think he’s gonna give her up through negotiations.
“And some of us are kind of relying on Coil for some major stuff,” Grue spoke. “Some of us have people we can’t leave behind.”
Ahh, right, Coil was helping Grue with the whole Aisha situation, among other things funneling part of his income through a seemingly legal employer.
I looked at him, surprised, “I don’t want to say your sister isn’t important, but… are you really willing to let Dinah stay in captivity, just for Aisha?”
…yes. I think Grue might be willing to do that.
In D&D terms, Grue strikes me as a True Neutral character, whereas Taylor is Chaotic Good. Sometimes the differences between their alignments on the axis of morality causes conflicts between them – Grue is sometimes inclined to not do the “Good” thing in favor of what keeps him and those closest to him safe, whereas Taylor has the heroic (”Good”) instinct to not only harm others as little as possible, but also put herself in harm’s way if it can protect innocent people.
As for the remaining Undersiders, Bitch is the only one I’m decently sure about, but she and Tattle both seem to be Chaotic Neutral (or Chaotic Dog and Chaotic Fun respectively). Regent might be True Neutral along with Grue.
“If it comes down to it? Yeah.”
I stared at him.
“I’m being practical, Taylor,”
He’s being neutral.
Grue lapsed into using my real name, “People are suffering all around the world. We ignore what’s happening elsewhere every second of every day, focusing only on our country, our city, our neighborhood, or on the people we see daily.
He does have a point.
We only really care about the pain and unhappiness of our loved ones, our friends and families, because we couldn’t stay sane if we tried to support and save everyone.
Spoken like a true True Neutral character.
Nobody could try to do anything like that, except maybe Scion.
Oh hey, long time no hear-about!
I’m applying that concept to a smaller scale. My family and my team, they take priority, and they take priority in that order. If I have to choose one way or the other, I’m going to take the option that includes Aisha and you guys.”
Not gonna lie, I feel like every single word that just came out of Grue’s mouth validated my view of his alignment from the last post.
“This is different from ignoring starving kids in a third world country or ignoring some homeless guy on the street,” I told him, “You’ve seen Dinah in person, you’ve looked her in the eye. You’re already involved, you’ve played a role in her situation.”
Doesn’t mean she necessarily falls into his category of “people to care about”.
“I’m not saying I like it, I am definitely less sure I want to work with Coil, now, but I’m saying it’s something that we should discuss and come to a consensus on.”
Working with Coil would help facilitate more harm of a similar kind, and there’s a difference between not being willing to help someone who is already being hurt and being willing to allow more people to be hurt.
I looked at the others, “You feel the same way?”
Bitch gave me an annoyed look. Okay, I wasn’t expecting an ally there.
There’s a reason I split the non-Taylor Undersiders between True Neutral and Chaotic Neutral. None of them are evil, but none of them strike me as Lawful or Good either. (If anyone is, it’s Tattle, being Chaotic Good along with Taylor.)
Hmm… Actually, despite me having suggested he’s on the same page as Grue alignment-wise, Alec might be an ally here. He might see himself in Dinah – forced to work for big-name villains at a young age, without familial comfort (no, Heartbreaker and his concubines do not constitute “family” from what we’ve heard) – and decide he’s with Taylor on this one.
Tattle is likely to be on her side, too. Besides Taylor, she’s the one showing the most visceral and guilt-ridden reaction to this.
Regent shrugged, “I’ve told you where I come from, how I grew up. I’ve seen similar stuff before, only it was my dad’s powers, not drugs. I’ve got a high tolerance for that shit.”
Hm. Sounds like it kinda backfired, huh. Instead of relating especially much to Dinah, he instead sees her more like one of his father’s other victims, something he got used to while growing up.
I tried to convince him, “Didn’t you leave Heartbreaker because of stuff like that? Aren’t you just getting back into the same situation with Coil?”
“I left my father because he was trying to control me and force me to be someone and something I wasn’t. It wasn’t even remotely interesting or fun any more. The day that happens with Coil, I’ll leave him too. For now, it’s a good gig.”
Eh, fair enough.
Coil is doing the same with Dinah, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
These are the people I’ve been associating with? I looked to my last hope for a backup and support. Tattletale.
I don’t know, Taylor. They seem like good people.
She had her thumbs hooked into her belt, her shoulders hunched forward a little, where she leaned against the wall. She didn’t look happy.
Yeah, she seems to have been hit hard by the guilt here. But is it hard enough that she’ll want to do something about it personally?
When she met my eyes, she gave a little shake of her head.
“Coil’s not stupid,” Tattletale told me, “He knows what he just did, he had every reason to suspect that one or two people in our group might find his methods distasteful. He calculated this. He’s testing us, making sure we’ll stick around when it’s time to make the hard calls.”
Hm. Sounds like all the more reason to leave, honestly.
But the problem is that other than morals, the Undersiders have nothing to gain from leaving, and several things to lose.
“If this is a test,” I spoke, feeling my heart sink, “I think I fail.”
“Don’t say that,” Tattletale spoke. “Grue’s right, we need to discuss this as a team.”
Damn. Taylor just suggested leaving the team over this. This schism could be interesting.
Also, isn’t discussing this as a team what you’re already doing?
“Discuss what? Whether to stay with Coil?”
“Yeah,” the word was a half-sigh coming out of her mouth.
Grue for one has made his position clear.
“That you guys even think it’s negotiable is pretty fucked up,” I replied. The anger and betrayal I was feeling made my tone harsher, harder.
Taylor’s beginning to slide back towards her opinions of the Undersiders from Insinuation.
I don’t know what I expected, but I stood there for a few seconds. Maybe I was waiting for an apology, some sort of excuse, or an admission from them that I was right.
Sorry, it’s not coming.
None of them opened their mouths to offer any of that.
I turned to leave, pushing the hatch open as I stepped back into the gravel lot that surrounded the high-rise in construction.
“Come on Taylor,” Grue called out behind me. I didn’t listen.
“Hey!” He raised his voice.
What do you have to say here, Grue?
I didn’t reply. I was too angry, and as moronic as it sounded, I didn’t want our parting words to be me cussing at him.
That’s more Circus’s style.
“parting words”. She’s seriously thinking about leaving for good here.
I was three paces away from the hatch when I heard the crunch of gravel behind me. I wheeled around to see Grue closing the gap behind me, one arm outstretched, as if to grab me.
My temper exploded at the same time my bugs did, spilling out from beneath my costume. At my instruction, they swept between Grue and I, creating a barrier of sorts.
I was already thinking of how I’d deal if it came down to a fight – his costume covered his skin, but I remembered the vents on the edge of his mask, that redirected the flow of his darkness from his face out the edges of his mask, so the skull image would stand out. In a pinch, my bugs could get in that way. His power didn’t really affect me, but would a slow trickle of my bugs into his mask compensate for his obvious advantages in hand to hand fighting?
Hm. It certainly sounds like an advantage, especially once those bugs get to his eyes.
I heard the growling of Bitch’s dogs. They weren’t full size, but they were bigger than normal, locked into the beginning stages of their transformations.
…right, that’d be a problem. Skitter vs Grue, she might win, but Skitter vs all the other Undersiders sounds a bit harder.
In the dimly lit lot of the construction area, I could see their shadows through the haze of my swarm. Dealing with them would be hard, if not impossible.
“No,” Grue spoke, on the other side of the swarm. “Fuck. Let her go.”
I turned and fled.
The loft was empty, with only Angelica present.
Oh hey, there she is.
So Taylor went back to the Loft. To pick up her things?
Behind her, the TV had been left on, a low level of background noise and activity to reassure the dog, maybe, or just Alec being lazy about turning everything off.
Angelica moved very slowly as she climbed down from the couch and approached to investigate me. Whatever her past experiences, she had never learned to like any humans other than Bitch, so I only got a cursory sniff before she turned to shamble back to the couch.
Whatever energy she’d expended to get to me, check me out and return to where she’d been resting, it didn’t leave her with enough of a reserve of strength to hop up.
Aw, exhausted doggo. I guess that’s why she didn’t join the others to Coil’s place.
She settled down under the coffee table, watching me with her one intact eye, a perpetual wink, if winks could be wary or threatening.
Fog had done a number on her. It was hard to believe, but she was better than she’d been a few days ago.
Bitch had intended to use her power on the dog, but Lisa had advised against it, warning about the threat of cardiac arrest. As a consequence, Angelica had spent the better half of a week so lethargic, weak and still that I’d frequently looked at her and wondered if she’d stopped breathing. I wasn’t so attached to her that I’d be upset if she died, but knowing how much the loss of a dog would gut Bitch had given me enough of a reason to worry about the critter.
It was strange to think I was walking away from this: the loft, the dogs, and the others.
You still have a little time to potentially change your mind, but I’m not sure what’d make you do that.
I didn’t know how to parse what I was feeling or thinking. I felt angry, betrayed. Standing in the living room of the loft, the feeling of being lost was particularly keen. I didn’t have a plan, and I’d had a plan for a while, now.
If you walk out of here, where will you go? Home? Will you finally return and put Danny’s worries at ease?
For my first year and a half of High School, it had been all about getting through to the end of the day, reaching the weekend. When the weekend came, it was about recuperating, rebuilding my mental and emotional strength to face the coming week.
And then came the Undersiders.
Then I had gotten my powers. I’d reached my very limit, the moment I might have cracked, and my powers had given me something else to strive for; being a superhero.
Whoops, I got a little ahead of myself.
There’d been so much to do, so much to plan, prepare and research, that it had given me a reason. I was hesitant to define it as hope, but it had given me something to focus on beyond the next twenty four hours.
And then came, after months, the night you finally became Skitter. The night you fought Lung.
Everything else had flowed from that point. Meeting the Undersiders, committing to a new plan as an undercover agent, with a new goal of getting info on them and their then-anonymous boss. When I couldn’t do that in good conscience, I changed my plan to getting to know the others, being a friend to Bitch, bonding with Brian.
And now, that is breaking down.
Admittedly, I’d had varying degrees of success, in the short period I’d traveled that road, but it had been enough for the present.
It was a thing to do.
And now I was adrift.
I was, in a way, back to square one. I had to get through today, then get through this week. I’d figure out where to go from there. I headed to my room.
In fact, you’ll be worse than back to square one if you decide to pursue the heroic career. You’re already known as a villain, and as an enemy of certain groups.
My backpack sat beside my bedside table, and a quick investigation revealed it still contained a lot of what I’d stashed in there a week ago, back when I’d expected to spend a few days at Brian’s. Clothes, basic toiletries, cash, an unused disposable phone.
All neatly packed already. Handy!
I added more money, the card with the info for my supervillain bank account, and a few more things.
Hm. I wonder if she’d go to the Protectorate with this money and all the information she has on Coil, the Undersiders, the Travellers and so on, now that she’s cutting ties with the Undersiders.
Checking the room for anything I thought I might need, I found myself looking at my dresser. Resting on top were the katana I’d claimed as a prize from one fight, and the piece of amber Brian had given me.
Looking at nostalgia-inducing items while she’s here – not at all surprising.
I wonder, is she going to take the amber with her? Does she want to keep a reminder of Brian?
I stuck the amber in my bag, surrounding it with clothes to pad it, and then zipped it up.
The alarm clock marked the time at 6:40 in the morning. If Coil hadn’t called for the meeting at this strange hour, if I hadn’t been packing, this would be about the time that I headed out the door for my morning run.
Kinda fitting, really.
(Also, Coil called the meeting? Well, better mark that down as another thing I was wrong about.)
Leaving like I was, hurrying to be gone before the others caught up with me, I was leaving a lot of stuff behind. Clothes, furniture, pictures. Without even realizing it, I’d sort of begun making this space my own, decorating and personalizing it. Settling in, in a way I hadn’t when I’d been planning to betray the group.
In a way she specifically avoided.
I was putting clothes on over my costume when Lisa’s voice came from the doorway, “Where are you going to go?”
Too late, Taylor.
And hey, it’s the one member Taylor has connected with the most except for Brian. The one whose whole shtick is knowing what to say.
I turned to look at her, and her expression changed. Was it the look on my face? I wasn’t sure what emotion I was conveying. Anger? Disappointment? Regret?
“A motel, maybe,” I said. “Why? Are you going to have to hunt me down? Tie up a loose end?”
“You know we wouldn’t.”
I… have a feeling Taylor might admit what she was originally planning by the end of this exchange.
“Sure. I suppose he’ll send the Travelers after me if he goes that route.” I pulled my mask off and put it away in the backpack.
…fair point. The Undersiders are too unreliable given their personal attachment to Taylor.
“I don’t even want to look at myself in the mirror, right now. Even if we came to some sort of agreement, made a plan to save her together, go against Coil…” I trailed off, trying to find the words, “I can’t face everyone else and pretend like things are normal. Even if we were working to save her… it feels disrespectful. Dinah deserves better than that.”
“Believe it or not, Brian’s as freaked out as you are. If he’s being weird or out of character, it’s just him defaulting to his core programming, you know what I mean? Like Bitch getting angry, or you going quiet and wary.”
People cope with things in different ways, a lot of which are like this.
But, Tattle, I think this is pretty much the problem. Taylor is upset at seeing what the core programming really is here.
I shrugged, tied my sweatshirt around my waist, told her, “In hindsight, I don’t think it was that out of character for him. Part of the reason I’m leaving.”
“Is this leave permanent or temporary?”
“Are you going to do something stupid like try to rescue Dinah yourself?”
“Don’t know,” I repeated myself.
Heh. Well, at least she’s sort of acknowledging that she might come back. Mostly, though, she’s saying there’s a lot she doesn’t know about her future.
“You’re aware that there’s an outside chance that if you try, we might have to try and stop you. Depending on what agreement the rest of us come to about the current sitch.”
Tattle is being rather generous with that “try and stop you”.
“Do what you have to, I’ll do the same.”
I slung the bag over my shoulder, faced the door.
Tattletale spoke, “I’m not saying goodbye, because this isn’t. I’ll resolve this situation with Coil and his captive myself, if I have to, if it means we can have another civil conversation in the near future.
She really cares about Taylor, but she’s resigned to the idea that she needs to let Taylor make her own choices.
Stay alive, don’t do anything rash, and be open to hearing us out in the future? Surely our friendship is worth doing that much?”
After a moment, then I gave her a single nod.
Lisa moved out of the doorway to let me through. When I turned in the direction of the living room and the stairwell, Lisa almost deliberately turned in the other direction, toward the kitchen. As if following me to the exit constituted some vague sort of farewell, and she was sticking to the idea of refusing to say goodbye.
I was halfway down the stairwell to the first floor when I heard it. A whining noise, like you might hear from a particularly large baby preparing to scream. The nasal ‘wa’ sound stretched out, so loud it was painful to listen to. A siren? An air raid siren.
This sounds a bit too loud to be Tattle having stopped managing to restrain her feelings.
I reversed direction and ran back up the stairs. Tattletale was already in the living room. The TV was showing evacuation directions in a rotation of images: Leave your homes. Find the nearest shelter. Follow the directions of local authorities. Leave your homes…
Well, shit. What’s prompted this?
“Bomb?” I asked, raising my voice to be heard over the siren, “Bakuda leave something behind?”
Lisa shook her head.
It’d be just like her to, really.
I’d seen her in the presence of Lung, around Glory Girl, Bakuda, Purity, Night and Fog. Looking at her, now, I saw an expression on her face that I hadn’t seen in any of those scenarios. There was no trace of her vulpine grin, none of her characteristic humor or reckless abandon.
Sheesh, must be bad.
“Then what is it?” I asked her, though I already had a dark suspicion. Even the Bakuda’s terrorism campaign against the city hadn’t warranted the sirens, and that left very few possibilities.
Her response was one word, final. “Endbringer.”
“What- but-” I turned toward the stairs, then back to Tattletale, “My dad. I’ve got to-”
Tattletale cut me off, “He’ll evacuate or get to a shelter like everyone else. Taylor, look at me.”
“The others and I, we talked about this possibility. It came up before we met you. You listening to me? You know what happens, the usual response.”
“But the real evidence to my ‘cops and robbers’ theory,” Lisa continued, “Is the reaction you see when someone crosses the line. You’ve heard about it happening. Someone finds out another cape’s secret identity, goes after the cape’s family. Or a cape wins a fight and decides his downed opponent isn’t in a state to say no if he’s feeling lusty? Word gets around, and the cape community goes after the fucker. Protecting the status quo, keeping the game afloat. Bitter enemies call a truce, everyone bands together, favors get called in and everyone does their damndest to put the asshole down.”
“Like we do with the Endbringers,” I said. I sheathed my knife.
By the sound of it, the Endbringers are terrible enough to warrant a truce á là Hive simply by their presence in the city.
Interestingly, what’s happening here seems to treat a single Endbringer much like a natural disaster approaching the city. Maybe that’s sort of what they are. Maybe it’s not so much a team as a designation, for someone who has been fucked up to such an extent by their power that they’re practically a single-person natural disaster roaming the planet.
“We all decided we’d go. That we’d try to help, however we could. But you weren’t a part of that talk, and there’s tensions in the group. You’re pretty much not on the team, right now, so if you don’t want to-”
I understand what you’re getting at, Lisa, but you’re telling the person who’s preparing to leave the team specifically because the rest of you weren’t willing to help out a single innocent person that it’s okay if she’s not willing to do her part in protecting a whole city full of innocent people.
“I’ll go.” I didn’t even need to think about it. I would never be able to forgive myself if I walked away, knowing there was something I could have done to help.
End(bringer) of Buzz 7.12
Man, Brockton Bay can’t catch a break. First Purity’s rampage last week, and now this?
This was a really good chapter. The conflict between the Undersiders went a lot further than I’d expected it to, and it was excellently written. And then just when Taylor was about to leave, suddenly there’s a fucking Endbringer to deal with.
I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming chapters, to finally learn what is actually up with those. I’m not convinced they won’t be practically Lovecraftian horrors and the like, but whether they are or not, I’m very interested to see what Wildbow throws at me.
Speaking of upcoming chapters, I’m curious now. Is this the final chapter of Buzz, with Taylor and the Undersiders going out to help out against the Endbringer in Arc 8, or is this Arc extra long? It seems to me that going up against the Endbringer would be a multi-chapter thing. Let’s have a look…
Interlude 7. Nice.
I doubt it’ll be from the Endbringer’s perspective, but we might be going into the perspective of either a civilian or another cape to watch their response to the Endbringer alert. It might provide some answers to what they actually are, or that might be saved for 8.1. We’ll see!
Toodles for now!
Even if they are supremely fucked up mentally and physically by their powers, to the point of possibly being Lovecraftian or the like, I suppose at least some Endbringers must be somewhat sane. The Simurgh is suspected to be able to read minds, and for people to work out that theory, the Simurgh needs to be sane enough to act or speak with others’ thoughts in mind.