Extermination 8.7: Kittycat Corner

Source material: Worm, Extermination 8.7

Originally blogged: December 16, 2017


I’m Batman.

And, uh, I’m Krixwell. Howdy, everyone! I’m Batman. …yes. Hi to you too.

So, it seems we have a special guest for today’s liveblog. Surprise! …yeah, I’m pretty surprised myself. I’m Batman. Yes, Batman, we know. I’m Batman. *sigh*Anyway, I guess Batman will join me as I read I’m Madison. YES, WE KN– wait, what did you say? I’m Batman.

*ahem*

Anyway, last time was a multifaceted safari ride even though Taylor was stuck to a bed most of the chapter. I’m Batman. *glares* By the end, Taylor was up and running, attempting to escape Legend, Armmaster and Miss Militia’s mysterious talk, but she happened to run into a particular booth and learned a secret that shook her to her core – namely that I’m Batman. NO! Will you stop interrupting me, please? That Shadow Stalker was none other than Batman. Okay that’s it. Leave! Now! I’m Batman? Yes, yes you are, and I want you out, you’re ruining this intro! I’m Batman… I don’t care right now. Please, just… leave? Wait, where’d he go, he was right there a second ago.

Oh well, at least he’s not here anymore. As I was saying, Shadow Stalker turned out to be none other than Sophia Hess. The border between Taylor’s civilian life and her cape life keeps crumbling and that was one heck of a blow. In this chapter, Taylor is going to have to start processing this discovery, but she’ll probably be interrupted by PRT officers finding her in there. After that, I think this chapter will also give us the talk between the Protectorate higher-ups and Taylor.

Without further ado, I’m Batman. Waahh!! OH COME HERE YOU FU


Sophia Hess was Shadow Stalker.

That she is.

I tried to pull all the individual pieces and clues together, fill in the blanks. Did this mean Emma was a cape, too? No – I’d seen Emma in the presence of other capes. At those times, I knew, she’d have reason to be in costume if she had powers.

Yeah, and the two times this happened, Shadow Stalker was involved, which you may recall was the reason I dismissed the idea of it being Emma Taylor had just found here very quickly.

Madison is more questionable, though.

I’m Batman. Dude, didn’t I tell you to get out of here? Scram.

But those times I was thinking of, when my cape and civilian lives had crossed? Emma had been at the mall, where Shadow Stalker had been on duty. She’d been at the fundraiser, too. As Shadow Stalker’s plus one? Emma’s dad had been there as well. Was that a clue?

It… is possible that Emma knows Shadow Sophia’s secret, I suppose.

A sick feeling in my gut told me that Emma knew about Sophia and Shadow Stalker.

I could even guess that Emma had found out sometime before high school started, while I was at nature camp.

Holy shit, is this the cause of everything?

Is this why Emma betrayed Taylor? Because she discovered that her new friend was a superhero, so much cooler than Taylor?

It would have been an exciting revelation, a juicy secret, being a part of the cape community. Seduced by that drama, Emma would have turned her back on me, became Sophia’s best friend. The civilian sidekick and confidante to the young heroine; it was cliche, but cliches had their basis in something.

This secret is potentially a reason for most of what’s happened so far in the story, indirectly. This secret may have led to Taylor’s bullying, which led to her trigger event, which led to her becoming a cape, fighting Lung, joining the Undersiders, helping bring down Bakuda and the Arbitrary Bitrate Benefits, starting the War of the Docks, etcetera etcetera.


I was probably wrong on some level, but it gave answer to questions I’d assumed I’d never get an answer to.

It’s the best answer available so far, at least.

A hand seized me by the back of the neck, hauled me to my feet.

Ah yes, there they are.

Numb, I wobbled, relying heavily on the painfully hard grip to stay balanced. He turned me around, and I saw Armsmaster, his lips curled in a silent snarl of anger.

Hello. Yeah, I may be optimistic about what Legend and his pals wanted to talk to her about, but I never said Armmaster would be happy about it. Especially after what Taylor just pulled.

A glance at his shoulder showed no sign of the ragged mess from when I’d last seen him, but there was no arm either. I thought I saw a glimpse of a flat expanse of skin. Panacea’s work?

Yeah, makes sense. Panacea may be a good healer, but straight up regrowing limbs is probably a bit much for her. Or at least, it would take a lot more time than she has.

What are you doing here?!” he roared the words to my face.

When I couldn’t formulate an answer for him, he marched me out of the curtained enclosure, kicking the curtain so it slid shut, moved me towards the nurse’s station where Miss Militia and Legend were talking.

Oh yeah, Armmaster is pissed right now.

And Taylor is worse off because he found her in a room where there’s no doubt that she found out a hero’s real face (though he doesn’t know that she knows who that face belongs to).


I apparently didn’t move fast enough for him, because he swung his arm forward, forcing me to stumble forward to keep my feet under me.

It’s been a bad day. Much like Panacea, Armmaster has every right to be in a bad mood right now, and Taylor’s escapades (or escape-ades, in this case) are not helping.

It was looking increasingly likely that I would get arrested, but my thoughts turned to the trio, and their crime and punishment. Had Sophia, Emma and Madison had gotten off easy because Sophia was a superhero?

Hm. The Wards at Arcadia High have an agreement with the school, if I remember correctly. It’s entirely possible Sophia does too.

I had my suspicions that the schools worked alongside the Wards, things wouldn’t work if they didn’t, and the schools were a government institution just like the Wards were. Did Sophia get easier treatment? Two weeks suspension when she deserved expulsion?

I mean, on the other hand, Sophia was already essentially on probation as a Ward. If anything, she should get in more trouble, not all of which the school was at liberty to share information on with the rest of the people in the room. That’s what I was referring to when I said that the running team might not be the only thing she got Sophia in trouble with.

This would also explain the sheer magnitude of how pissed Sophia was when she attacked Taylor at the mall.


Had my teachers been looking me in the eye while calculating ways to make things easier on their resident superhero?

Maybe. More likely that it was some combination of ineptitude, laziness and ignorance, on top of being influenced by the school’s link to the Wards program.

Perhaps.

Armsmaster slammed my upper body down against the counter of the nurse’s station, hard. I grunted, as much in reaction to being brought back to reality as in reaction to the blow.

Okay, Army, I get that you’re pissed, but be a little gentle, please? We just had that body fixed.

“Armsmaster!” Legend’s tone was a rebuke to Armsmaster for the show of force.

See? Leggy agrees.

(Sheesh. Army, Leggy… we’re being invaded by Rubies up in here.)


More able to take it in stride than the leader of the Protectorate, Miss Militia asked, “What happened?”

“Escaped her cautionary restraints, caught her peeping on one of the blue tags.”

Hm. If not heroes and villains (which this seems to support, as Army would’ve said “heroes” if that was what he meant), I suppose the tags might be indicators as to whether the person’s identity is safe for someone to come in. Taylor’s injuries didn’t require her mask to be taken off, so she got a red tag, and the nurse-in-training was asked specifically to check on those with red tags – in other words, those she could check on without learning the identity of.

“Damn it,” Legend muttered.

“Who?” Miss Militia asked, “And how bad?”

“Shadow Stalker. Saw her unmasked.”

“I see,” Miss Militia spoke,

Yeah, that’s fairly unfortunate.

“Nurse? Would you see that everyone without clearance is put to work elsewhere, while we resolve this?”

Sounds like they’re going to discuss the matter of Shadow Stalker’s identity, see how much Taylor admits to knowing. That, or she’s changing the topic to what they originally wanted to discuss. Either way, they don’t want anyone else in the room.


“Yes ma’am,” the reply came from a man I couldn’t see.

I struggled to turn over, failed. When I found I couldn’t budge Armsmaster’s grip, I gave up, slumped onto the counter.

This is a man whose main weapon is handheld and heavy. Of course he’s going to have a strong grip.

“Who is she?” Legend asked.

“Skitter, member of the Undersiders, a group of teenage villains,” Miss Militia replied. “Master-5, bugs only.”

Okay, so Legend is not specifically aware of her.

I wonder if he’s going to remember hearing “Skitter deceased” from the armband.

“This situation is serious,” Legend spoke, walking around the counter until I could see him. I saw nurses and others behind him staring, some of them being ushered away by an older nurse in scrubs. “Do you understand?”

Oh yeah. Can’t have a villain knowing the identity of a hero, unless it’s by the hero’s own choice like with New Wave.

He nodded at Armsmaster, and Armsmaster eased his grip some, as if it would make it easier to talk.

I was opening my mouth to speak when the thought struck me – If Sophia was Shadow Stalker, did she know who I was?

I doubt it.

She’d heard me talk in costume, hadn’t she? I knew from the time the trio had overheard me in the bathroom and doused me in juice, that at least one of the girls could recognize my voice.

…ah, shit. That’s a really good point.

And if this is actually the case, that adds another layer to her hatred of Taylor, as she was a member of Grue’s team.


I shook my head a little, as if it could get my thoughts back on track. “Nobody explained anything. You guys were going to arrest me, so I thought I’d leave.”

Ahahaha, I love that casual phrasing. :p

“Hospital personnel aren’t permitted to talk to patients, liability reasons,” Miss Militia told me, echoing what I’d heard earlier.

“Figured as much when the nurse didn’t answer my questions,” I muttered. No use dragging that nurse-in-training down with me. She’d been nice.

Yeah, don’t get her in trouble.

“But Panacea did have words with me when she was putting me back together, and-”

“Panacea is a member of New Wave,” Armsmaster spoke, and I got the impression the explanation or excuse was meant more for Legend than it was for me, “She’s not official.”

In other words, “We’re not responsible for this.”

Interesting wording, though. “Not official.” I suppose that’s at least partially because the team is not government-funded.

“She’s the only person who would talk to me!” I raised my voice.

“I would ask you to keep your voice down,” Legend spoke, his voice hard, “There’s very few ways a situation like this can go, with a cape’s civilian identity at stake.

Best not to let anyone overhear what goes on in here.

If you start shouting, specifically shouting what you know, it would severely curtail what options you have left to you. Understand?”

Yeah.


When I didn’t come up with a response right away, he added, “If the tables were turned, if it was you who had your identity uncovered, you would want us taking the same firm hand, giving you that same respect.”

…would they?

I couldn’t help but chuckle silently for a second there. The armor of my mask clacked against the countertop as I let my head rest there. Respect? For Sophia?

Heh.

Besides, I had suspicions that if the tables were turned, Shadow Stalker wouldn’t be pinned against the counter of the nurse’s station.

Yeah, probably not. The Protectorate are very naturally going to trust the heroes more than the villains, including a former villain on probation as a hero.

Wait, was it former villain or formerly an anti-hero? I don’t remember. My point stands either way.

Taking a deep breath – no use digging myself in deeper – I asked, “You were talking options. What are they?”

“If you were judged to have used an Endbringer situation to your advantage,

…ironic that they should bring that up right now, given Taylor’s suspicions.

you would meet the most serious penalty we can offer. Those who violate the Endbringer truce are almost always sent to the Birdcage,” he let that last word hang in the air.

Good to hear they take it seriously, at least.


I had to keep myself from laughing again. This shit was too ridiculous. This was Sophia. She was five times the villain I was.

Yeah. She does seem to take her hero work seriously, but she’s still a total bitch both in and out of costume.

The only difference between us were the labels that we stuck on ourselves. I told him, “It was an accident.”

That’s true. No use lying when the truth is the best option anyway.

It didn’t even occur to Taylor that something like this could happen before it did.

“Okay,” Legend told me.

Armsmaster told him, “Skitter here has been building a fairly strong reputation as an adept liar, so be cautious.”

Has she now.

I suppose it makes sense that Armmaster would see it that way, when she didn’t come through on her supposed recon mission, even after she got the last bit of information she said she wanted to get (though Army doesn’t know about that part).

“Oh?”

“She’s fooled my instincts and my hardware on more than one occasion.”

Nice, she’s actually got him thinking that she managed to fool his lie detector.


“Well, I suppose I’ll have to keep that in mind.” When Legend returned his attention to me, his lips were creased in a frown.

‘course, this isn’t exactly helpful for Taylor.

What could I say to defend myself now? Anything I said would be colored by Armsmaster’s undeserved comment on my personality.

It’s deserved, but only from Armmaster’s perspective.

“Another option would be for you to join the Wards. We were willing to offer you this when we got around to talking to you, before seeing you on your way.

Called it!

You would be placed under varying degrees of probation based on your past crimes, but you would earn a paycheck, you’d have a career-”

Much like Sophia.

…who is now another reason for Taylor to not take this deal. Based on what we saw in Interlude 3, the Wards are open about their identities. Joining the Wards would not only mean working with Sophia, but also Sophia finding out Taylor’s identity in turn.

With Sophia as a Ward, cape life might be pretty terrible. Taylor’s doing this to escape from the Harpies, after all.

“No.” The word left my mouth before I even thought about it.

Yeah, figured as much.

How honest do you feel like being about your reasons why, Taylor?


And when I did think about it? No. Not with Sophia there. No way, no how. If I stepped on her turf, I suspected one of us would kill the other. Besides, there wasn’t one thing about joining the Wards that was even remotely redeeming.

How so? Becoming officially a hero isn’t redeeming?

“No?” he sounded surprised.

“Just… no. I’d sooner go to the Birdcage.” I was surprised that I actually meant it.

Yeeah. Taylor might’ve had a different tune if she hadn’t just found out who she’d end up working with. Honestly, it’s probably better this way – if she hadn’t, and then went to meet the Wards, she’d get the nasty surprise a bit too late, and possibly have it be mutual.

My contempt for the heroes was growing. Armsmaster had refused to cooperate with me on any level. Glory Girl and Panacea hadn’t done anything to earn my respect when I ran into them. Topping it off, they had a personality like Sophia’s on their team? I couldn’t even imagine joining them, now.

…fair.


“I don’t think you understand what you’re saying,” Legend spoke as if choosing his words carefully.

Is there a third option?

I took a deep breath. “Is there a third option?”

Ahahahaha!

There have been cases of “I just said that” but I don’t think it’s ever been this accurate before!

“You do not get to negotiate!” Armsmaster roared. Heads turned.

Calm down, man.

Feeling a flare of anger, I retorted, “So he gets to yell, but I don’t?”

We have the authority here!” Armsmaster shouted.

I… don’t actually think he does get to yell. Right, Legend? I feel like this is the kind of thing Armmaster is getting demoted for.

“The only authority you have is the authority people give you.” It wasn’t me who responded. The voice was male, familiar.

“Grue!” I called out.

!!

Hi there! Are you supposed to be here?

I… would not be too surprised to see Grue accepting an offer to join the Wards. The Undersiders’ trust in Coil is at a low right now, and becoming a Ward would provide Grue with a more legal, and more stable, way to earn a good salary to use in order to care for Aisha.

“You’re alive,” Grue responded. “We thought-”

“Is she okay? Tattletale!?”

Aw, they heard the “Skitter deceased” too. Somehow that ended up slipping my mind.


“I’m at about ninety percent,” Tattletale’s voice informed me. “You’re the one that gave us a scare.”

Oh phew.

Okay so I know, I know, I said it’d feel a little bit like a cop-out if it turned out “losses” did include those who were “down”, but honestly I’m just really relieved to have her back. Favorite character all the way. 🙂

I sagged in relief.

Same.

“I would ask you to step back and let us handle this,” Miss Militia told him. “If any of you do decide to stay, and Skitter divulges the confidential information she’s happened upon, you could be just as culpable, face the same restrictions and penalties.”

That seems fair, at least as long as she’s giving them advance warning like this.

Grue replied, “So you want us to leave a teammate in your custody, here? No. That’s ridiculous. I can’t speak for the others, but I’m staying.”

Eyyy, he called her his teammate! 😀

Teammate. He’d said I was his teammate.

There was a pause.

He did! 😀

“All four of you, then,” Miss Militia replied, sighing, “I expected as much. I simply thought you should be informed.”

Yeah, I appreciate that.

Also, “four” – sounds like we’ve got the whole gang present, including Rachel, who seemed to be left behind when Taylor was brought in.


“Skitter,” she went on, “Just to be clear, you would be well advised to keep your mouth shut, until we’ve come to a consensus here. Or you could get your team in trouble.”

…you mean in general, not just about Sophia Stalker?

“Noted,” I replied.Armsmaster let me stand, but he settled his one hand on my shoulder, held on with an steel grip that left me no illusions about my ability to walk over and join my friends.

I would not want to go up against Armmaster in an arm wrestling contest.

Ex-friends? I wasn’t sure where we stood. I hadn’t expected them to come to my defense.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Sounds like their reaction to “Skitter deceased” might’ve got them thinking.


Grue looked much as he ever did, a human shape wreathed in smoky darkness.

He looked much as he ever did, which is to say not much at all.

His skull mask showed through, when he was still like this, but his face was impossible to make out, let alone his facial expressions.

Unfortunate when trying to figure out where you stand with someone.

Even his body language was masked beneath the layer of darkness, when it was billowing around him like it was, making him seem larger. I thought maybe he had his arms folded, but I couldn’t be sure, and he had his feet planted shoulder width apart.

And his voice has the distortion going for it.

Basically he’s pretty inscrutable at the moment.

Regent looked a little worse for wear. He was wet, dirty, spattered in blood, and he had a long cut running from the side of his neck to his shoulder, down to his elbow, all neatly stitched up.

I remember the wave in Interlude 8 / 8.3 was mentioned to have incapacitated Regent a bit, though not enough for the armband to go “Regent down, CD-5″.

I hadn’t heard any alerts about him being taken out of action, so I assumed it wasn’t that serious. That, or it was serious, and my broken armband hadn’t caught the message.

I mean, who knows what happened to him after that wave.


Bitch, by contrast, looked to be in better shape than anyone present, physically.

Oh, physically, sure.

Gonna take her some time to get over the deaths of her doggos, though.

She stared at the ground, hands jammed in the pockets of mud-caked, soaking wet jeans. Her hair was wet, pulled straight back and away from her face. A hard plastic dog mask was raised so it sat on top of her head, cord dangling. She was intact. Physically.

Yeah. Physically.


Mentally? Emotionally? Her dogs were the closest thing she had to family, and she had watched seven or eight of them die. She was rigid with tension and repressed anger, but she didn’t have anyone to direct it at, so it broiled inside her, just waiting for the slightest of excuses to be released and vented.

Yikes. Yeah, be careful with this pressure cooker right now.

That said, maybe you’ll be able to help her release some steam in a more healthy manner.

I wondered if Grue had told her to keep her hands in her pockets to keep her from lashing out and hitting someone.

Possibly.

Tattletale was on crutches with one leg bent to keep it away from the ground, had a bad bruise on her face, but was otherwise in one piece. Her eyes darted to watch the three heroes and myself.

Relatively good shape, considering the kind of drop we last saw her in.

Did Panacea help her out a bit? Man, if healing Taylor made her grumpy…


“Skitter escaped her restraints and uncovered another cape’s secret identity, and we can’t say for sure whether it was intentional or not,” Miss Militia explained to the rest of the group. “In the interest of protecting that cape, who I assume isn’t well enough to join the discussion…?”

Certainly didn’t look like it. Jeez, that would be really uncomfortable for Taylor.

She looked at Armsmaster, who shook his head.

“…We’re left with three options,” she finished her thought. “Jail time, especially if it’s discovered that this was intentional. Joining the Wards under a probationary program-”

Regent snorted.

Heh. He doesn’t even know about the main reason Taylor said no to that, and he still finds it silly to even consider.

Granted, he also doesn’t know that she wanted to be a hero to begin with.

“Or, as a final option, some sort of collateral.”

“That option is generally reserved for capes we can trust,” Armsmaster spoke, his voice low.

What do you mean by collateral, though?

My pulse picked up as I heard Armsmaster’s words. This was a dangerous situation, all of a sudden.

“Collateral? Explain?” Grue asked Miss Militia, apparently not gathering the deeper meaning of Armsmaster’s statement.

Yes, please.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve run into a situation like this, though this is a first for an Endbringer event that wasn’t a blatantly intentional attempt to gather information on a rival. In the previous case, the villain couldn’t be detained conventionally, and the Birdcage wasn’t yet running.

Sounds like a difficult situation.

To top it off, he… wasn’t Protectorate material. For reasons I won’t explain.

I wonder if this is someone we’ve heard of.

My first thought was Lung, but I’m fairly sure he could be detained conventionally as long as they kept him out of fights. Unless he can start the transformation without being in a fight, but it doesn’t seem like it.

Or, could, I suppose might be the right tense there.

Yet every individual involved was concerned that if we didn’t resolve the case, it would be a costly loss of resources on both sides with an ongoing pursuit by the heroes, and there would be potential escalation leading to serious harm or death on one side or the other.”

Yikes.


Grue nodded, “So?”

“So he agreed to reveal his real face to the other cape, so that any abuse of the knowledge on his part could or would be just as damaging to him.”

On one hand… that’s pretty reasonable.

On the other hand… shit.

Shiiit.

There’s no way Taylor’s going to be pleased with this, but it’s either jail time, working with Shadow Stalker and revealing her identity anyway (clearly the worst option), or this.

Reveal myself to Sophia? No. On so many levels, no.

Yeeah.

“I’m sorry,” I told her, “That doesn’t work either.”

Armsmaster tightened his grip on the armor of my shoulder until I could feel the pinch.

Armmaster, internally: “for fuck’s sake girl we’re trying to help you here take the goddamn offer”

Miss Militia leveled a very cold look at me. I saw Tattletale staring at me. I met her eyes. She was easiest to look at.

I think Tattle knows what’s up, starting now.

Unwilling to reveal identity to the other cape: The other cape is one of the bullies.

“You’re making a difficult situation even more difficult for you, by being stubborn,” Legend spoke.

“Knowing Skitter, I’m sure she has her reasons,” Grue replied.

Oh, she does.


“She always does,” Armsmaster replied.

Grue turned his head sharply to look at the hero.

a) What exactly do you mean by that?

and b) you just revealed to the Undersiders, knowingly or not, that you know Taylor better than they’re aware of. Welp. Seems like Taylor’s little secret might be coming out in the near or immediate future, whether she likes it or not.

It’s about time, I suppose.

No. He wouldn’t.

I’m not sure about that, but at the very least he just gave them a hint that might lead to some uncomfortable questions from Grue.

And then there’s Tattle.

“Well, you’ve made a good case,” Tattletale spoke, “Let me make mine?”

“One second,” Legend spoke. He turned to Armsmaster, “I need more details on this group.”

Fair.

“The one that is speaking is Tattletale, member of the Undersiders,” Armsmaster spoke, his voice a hair away from being a growl, “A master manipulator, penchant for head games, likes to pretend she’s psychic but she isn’t. We don’t know her power, possibly clairvoyance, psychometry, or some combination thereof, but we’ve got her pegged as a Thinker 7.”

Sounds good. I mean, I have no idea what the 7 means, but Thinker is accurate.


I wonder if the similarity of the words Thinker and Tinker ever causes confusion in the Protectorate.


“Seven? I’m flattered,” Tattletale replied, grinning.

Maybe she knows what it means, maybe she’s entirely bullshitting… I can’t tell.

“It’s reason enough to end this conversation here and now,” Armsmaster spoke, “Before you find some angle.”

…fair enough.

“Fine,” Legend nodded, “That’s all I need. Miss Militia? Escort them away?”

Green-black energy leapt to Miss Militia’s hand, materialized into the shape of a gun. She didn’t raise it, and she kept her finger off the trigger, but the threat was implicit.

Looks like we’re done here. By declining both working with the Wards and revealing her identity to Sophia, Taylor has implicitly made her choice: Jail time.

Masters of the getaway, it might be time to do your thing.

“You start a fight here,” Grue spoke, “You better pray to some higher power that you can fucking spin this well enough with all those others looking, because it’s an end to the truce if you don’t, too many eyes on this.”

That’s a good point.

Grue turned his head, and I leaned forward a little to see what he was looking at. There were capes at the far end of the hallway, staring at the scene, kept out of the main triage area by a set of PRT officers. Trickster leaned against a wall with a cell phone raised, recording video.

Hah! Hi there.


“It’s not a concern,” Legend spoke. “Miss Militia?”

“Come on, let’s walk,” she told the others.

Well. The Undersiders can’t very well break the truce either.

“No,” Grue replied, his chin raising an inch, challenging, defiant.

Tattletale raised one hand, “If could just say my piece, I-”

“Quiet,” Armsmaster interrupted her.

But in this situation where neither party has power over the other even with threats of violence… the Protectorate can’t tell the Undersiders what to do and expect them to do so.

“Nobody ever lets me talk!” she spoke, turning on her heel to walk away, flouncing, almost.

Ahaha!

Still frustrated about the incident last week, are you?

It was a bit theatrical, overacting. I wondered if someone that didn’t know her would catch it. “Whatever. Grue, let’s go.”

Heh. It’s time to play along – Tattle seems to have a plan.


Grue looked at her.

“It’s cool,” she gave him a little smile, then she offered me one, “Hey Skitter, don’t sweat it. We’ll handle this, kay?”

“Kay,” I muttered.

Kay.

In a way, I was relieved at the idea of them leaving. I had no idea what I’d do, but it was a relief anyways.

Oh, I thought she wanted Skitter to come with them. Then again, Armmaster’s still got his steel grip on her.

Miss Militia raised her gun a fraction, waved it toward the others to prod them onward. One by one, they turned. Tattletale led the herd in walking away, followed my Regent and Bitch. Grue was the last to turn away, with Miss Militia following him.

See ya, guys!


When they were out of earshot, Legend floated over the counter to land in front of me.

“We’ve given you three options. Pick one or I’ll choose for you.”

Well. It’s clearly between jail time and an identity reveal that would either make life even more hellish or, though Taylor doesn’t expect it, less.

Besides the possibility of Sophia possibly gaining a tiny bit of respect for Taylor also being a cape, there’s also the fact that it would act as a mutual blackmail. As it stands, Sophia doesn’t know that Taylor knows her identity, nor will she unless Taylor’s identity is also revealed to her. But if Taylor does reveal her identity to Sophia, Sophia will know that Taylor has the power to strike back if Sophia continues bullying her. On the, uh, third hand, Sophia would have the exact same power over Taylor.

But I mean, what happened during the Cold War? Both countries did what they could to not piss off the other enough for the other to go “fuck it”.


I opened my mouth, closed it. The only things I could think of to say would only get me in more trouble.

This working? This on? Good. The tinny female voice rang out from the armbands of the two heroes.

Tattletale you magnificent bastard. I’m so damn glad to have you back.

Armsmaster snapped his head around. I followed his line of sight to where Grue, Regent and Bitch were standing in between Tattletale and Miss Militia.

And there is nothing she can do! If she tries to force her way past them, she breaks the truce.

For those of you who don’t have a front row seat, the very well armed Miss Militia is currently doing her best to point a Beretta 92fs at my head. If this broadcast ends prematurely, you can all rest assured that the Protectorate is willing to kill and break the truce if it means censoring its dark, dirty little secrets.

I. Love. This. So. Much.

Legend grabbed me, hauling me into the air as he crossed the length of the room, Armsmaster hurrying behind as we raced towards the scene.

Ahahaha

There’s nothing you three can do about this!


Free speech is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?” I saw Tattletale’s lips moving as she broadcast the message. She wasn’t holding any buttons down on her armband, but it was going through with no difficulty. Miss Militia held a handgun pointed at Grue’s heart.

Killing a semi-hostage isn’t gonna break the truce any less than killing Tattle.

Other capes were in the vicinity, some of the Travelers, New Wave, out of towners. Not quite in earshot, maybe, but close enough to see everything unfold.

Excellent.

The heroine looked at Armsmaster as we arrived, “She said something about deep access, offered your name, then the armband asked her for your password. She knew your password.”

Ahaha nice.

“Armband, pause announcement,” Tattletale spoke.

Acknowledged. Her armband replied.

With his one arm, Armsmaster reached for his shoulder, but his Halberd wasn’t there. Photon Mom had apparently decided not to bring it when she’d carried him here. No EMP burst possible.

*sticks tongue out in Armmaster’s direction*

“Let’s negotiate,” Tattletale spoke, taking a step to one side, ducking a little to ensure that someone else was always in between herself and Miss Militia. Bitch scowled as the gun moved to point toward her head, with Tattletale roughly on the other side.

Ah, right, she wasn’t trying to aim at Grue, he was just in the way.

“Negotiate?” Legend asked.

“Sure. Let’s turn things around. You gave Skitter your three options. Here’s my three. Number one: Shoot us now, and confirm to everyone in this room, civilian and cape alike, hero and villain, that you’ve got something to hide. It doesn’t even have to be lethal, people will still have their concerns if you knock us out rather than let us talk.”

Yeah, no, that one’s out.

Legend nodded, “Okay.”

“Two: I do my little announcement, and the truce ends. I really don’t want to do that.

Yikes.

I recognize how necessary it is. But if you decide that one cape’s identity maybe getting publically revealed is worth the truce, well, that’s on you, not me.”

Yeeeeah, nope.

“And the third option is that we release the girl,” Legend guessed.

“You got it,” Tattletale spoke.

Tattle has really put them on the spot here, and I love it so much.


The only option the Protectorate has other than releasing Skitter is to take option 2 and bet on Tattle bluffing with her intentions to shatter the truce.

That’s not a risk they can take.


“Except that you could be bluffing,” Legend frowned. “You’re a master manipulator, according to Armsmaster.”

“True enough. You know, Alexandria was giving me a recap on what I missed, in exchange for my intel on the Endbringer. Let’s see… Armband, find me the largest break in casualties from the earlier Leviathan encounter.”

Oh yeah, the intel! Since she’s alive, the Protectorate can know about those!

Found.

“Mark this time period.”

Marked.

“The notifications in the minute before the mark?”

Sundancer down, ED-6. Eschutcheon deceased, CD-6. Herald deceased, CD-6.

If I remember correctly, this was when Taylor’s arm got broken. Herald was the guy Trickster exchanged for Clockblocker.

Ah, right, the largest break would be those minutes while Leviathan was frozen, of course. Is Tattle going to bring up Taylor’s importance in saving Clocky?

“What is the point of this?” Legend asked.

“Please replay us the notifications following the mark, until I tell you to stop.”

Fairly sure this would include Taylor’s request for a teleporter for Clocky.

Manpower deceased, CD-6. Aegis deceased, CD-6. Fenja down, CC-6. Fenja deceased, CC-6. Kid Win down, CC-6. Skitter deceased, CC-6. Kaiser deceased, CC-6.

Or, wait, I misunderstood. Taylor’s request would be during the mark, since the mark covers the entire break, not the beginning of it.

And there we have it: The moment Skitter’s armband broke and she was reported as deceased.

I could see Tattle going for “Are you going to persecute a ghost?”, but that doesn’t work for long.

“Stop.”

“What is the point of this?” Legend folded his arms.

Yeah, I don’t know either. Especially the first bit – if the point was only to bring up Skitter deceased, CC-6, then what’s the relevance of the bit before the break?

Also, Tattle’s kept bringing up the Protectorate having something to hide. Maybe it has to do with the apparent breaking of Taylor’s armband?


“Skitter’s right here, she’s not dead.”

“My armband broke,” I replied.

“Did it? Or did someone break it?” Tattletale’s gaze went to Armsmaster, her voice dropping in volume to ensure that our ‘audience’ didn’t hear.

I considered that possibility back when someone asked me what I thought had happened to the armband, but I don’t know why someone would intentionally do that.

Maybe so they could have Skitter join the Wards under a different name and costume, with the Undersiders not knowing a thing?

“What are you implying?” Armsmaster growled.

“I’m implying that you set things up to guarantee yourself a one-on-one fight with Leviathan. Who cares, after all, if some villains get murdered in the process, if it means stopping an Endbringer?”

…holy shit.

The breaking of the armband did happen when Leviathan crossed into Skitter’s area. Armsmaster knew enough about Leviathan to possibly predict that he would go there, allowing him to send Skitter there in the first place, having rigged her armband in particular. Then he could go there himself, potentially kill Skitter if she was there, and then claim Skitter was dead before he got there, just check the logs.

The one thing against it, besides him not having been particularly murdery in the past, is that he genuinely sounded surprised to see her alive. Was he acting?


Armsmaster raised his voice, “This is exactly the sort of manipulation-”

“Elaborate,” the one spoken word from Legend was sufficient to cut Armsmaster off.

She’s got his interest.

Army, if this is true and/or Tattle manages to convince Legend of that, you’re fucked.

“Armsmaster has a fancy computer system in his suit, set it up to predict Leviathan’s movements and actions. Clockblocker tagged the Endbringer, put him on pause long enough for Armsmaster to set up the playing field the way he wanted it, with that predictive program. Leviathan’s going after the people who can make forcefields, and Armsmaster uses this, dangles Kaiser like bait, puts more villains – Fenja and Menja- in the way to Kaiser.

Ahh, so that’s the point of showing both before and after the pause. Before had a natural distribution, whereas afterwards there were only villains after – *looks back at the list* Wait, no. Never mind all that. Where does Kid Win fit into this? Did he just get in the way without Army planning it?

Sure enough, Leviathan marks Kaiser as a target, charges through the conveniently arranged villains, and goes straight to the spot where Skitter is.”

“Oh no,” I heard Miss Militia mutter under her breath.

You’ve got her too.

“This is nonsense,” Armsmaster spoke, stabbing his index finger towards her, “Heroes died too.”

Tattletale didn’t hesitate a second in replying, “To your credit, if any credit is due, that was an accident.

Also, the two heroes who died did so before Leviathan’s villain-killing streak. The one hero in the streak was only “down”, unless he died after Taylor’s armband broke.

Your program can’t account for that many variables, probably, in the chaos of a bunch of capes trying to keep Leviathan pinned down. Either way, Leviathan did as you wanted, followed the path you plotted. You used a directed EMP blast to nuke Skitter’s armband, ensuring that she couldn’t report Leviathan’s position and call in reinforcements, buying you time to take on Leviathan one on one.

The EMP blast that we were just reminded of the existence of as Army tried to get his Halberd out to use it on Tattle. Good writing, that.

Who cares if she dies, after all? She’s a villain, and you’re positive you’ll win, that it’ll be worth the body count you just allowed Leviathan to rack up. Except you lost.”

And was saved from bleeding out by Skitter of all people. The irony is thick.


Armsmaster scowled at her.

“This is a serious set of accusations,” Legend spoke.

“Sure.”

Absolutely. If any of this is true and provable, Armsmaster’s fucked.

“But it’s speculation.”

Tattletale shrugged, “Take Skitter’s armband. It’ll have damage from the EMP hit.”

😀 And there’s our potential proof.

“You bitch,” Armsmaster snarled, “This is a lie.”

Wrong Undersider.

“Check the armband,” Tattletale repeated, “And you’ll see the truth.”

“Convenient that this would take days or weeks to check,” Armsmaster spoke.

“True, so how about I just do another announcement? Tell everyone that’s still wearing an armband an abbreviated version of the same story I just told you? How do you think they’d react? If you’re really innocent, I’m sure your name would be cleared eventually, after the test results came back from the armband.

Reminds me of the process Armsy was so pissed about having been through after Taylor rotted Lung’s dick off.

If it’s wrong, we get get in everyone‘s bad books for fucking around with an Endbringer situation.

Sounds solid enough, though either way, Armmaster’s reputation is going to take a hit. Question is whether it would be temporary or permanent.

It just occurred to me that this absolutely falls under “taking advantage of an Endbringer situation”. If Armmaster is found guilty, he’s almost certainly going to the Birdcage.

Hell, I’ll even submit to being detained while you get things checked out. You can take me from there to jail if I’m wrong. Either way, you get some jerk in custody.”

Heh.


Legend frowned.

Armsmaster lunged forward, swatting Grue aside with his armored hand. He shoved Regent aside, reached for Tattletale.

*shakes head sadly*

Army, Army, Army… are you trying to break the truce even further? Right now you’re just up against accusations of breaking the truce. If you attack Tattle, it’s a certainty.

A laser to the right shoulder spun him around, sent him sprawling to the ground. His armor smoked where the laser had made contact.

Something Legend is well aware of.

“Who!? Why!?” Armsmaster flopped over, saw Legend with one open hand aimed at him. “Legend?”

Miss Militia pointed her handgun at his lower face.

You’ve lost, Army.


“So, I’m guessing you don’t want this getting out,” Tattletale spoke, looking at the heroine, “Let us walk away, I keep my lips sealed.”

“I know you were tired, that you hadn’t slept all last night,” Miss Militia told Armsmaster, ignoring Tattletale, “Frustrated, your dream taken from you. But to go this far?”

Yeah, damn. I’ve known you were a reputationaholic dickbag for a while but this is quite the leap.

“It was for the greater good,” Armsmaster replied, without a trace of shame or humility, “If it had worked, Leviathan would be dead, the man holding Empire Eighty-Eight together dead.

Aaand it’s a confession.

And are you seriously saying that you going one-on-one with Leviathan would give you better chances of killinghim, something even Scion doesn’t seem capable of? Geez, man, you were admittedly awesome in that fight, but get over yourself.

All of us survivors would have been legends, and this city could have risen from the ashes, become something truly great.”

“It didn’t work,” Tattletale spoke, “Couldn’t.”

Hah! I just realized the dramatic irony of me thinking Armmaster would die with a heroic sacrifice to redeem himself. I hope you guys got a good laugh out of that! 😛

“Shut up. You’ve said enough,” Armsmaster spat the words, looked away from her, breathing hard.

This is what happens when you don’t let her talk.


“The way the Endbringer’s physiology works? You could detonate a small atom bomb in his face, he’d probably survive. Take him two or three years to recover, but he’d survive.”

Sheesh.

“Shut up!” Armsmaster raised his head to shout at her. He stopped, eyes flickering to me. When he spoke again, his voice was almost calm. “You don’t know everything.”

That’s true, but the irony is still great.

You don’t know everything either, Army, and one of those things happens to be what Tattletale is all about.

Knowledge is power and her power is knowledge.

No.

“Her,” he pointed a hand at me, “She’s not who you think she is.”

Weeeell shit.

Here we go.

Man, this would be a great time for my occasional hypothesis that Tattle knew all along to turn out true. Not sure the rest of the Undersiders would take it quite as well, though.


I spoke quickly, “Grue, shut him up.”

Grue raised his hand. But he didn’t blanket Armsmaster in his darkness.

Yeeah, Grue already noticed that something was up, and now you want him to stop someone from telling you what? Not gonna happen.

“She’s a wannabe hero. Has been from the start, since the night Lung was first brought into custody.”

Grue’s hand dropped to his side.

I’m also curious about Miss Militia’s reaction. Has Army told her about Skitter?

“I met her that night. She said she was a hero, that you Undersiders mistook her for a villain. I didn’t think twice about it until she arranged a meeting with me, the night before the bank robbery. Told me she had joined your group as an undercover agent, getting the dirt on you so she could hand that group over to us. Talked to me again the night you raided the fundraiser, out there on the balcony. Told me if I let her go, she’d get the details on your boss to me. Guess she hasn’t gotten around to figuring that little detail out, yet.”

Man, if you’d just stopped before that last sentence, you would’ve left Taylor in a lot more trouble than you just did, I think.

The Undersiders know for a fact that Taylor has figured out that detail, about a week ago (or a little more? the timeline is getting a little less solid for me as time goes on, but I do believe they mentioned to Coil that the events of Buzz happened the day after those of Tangle, and the meeting was a week after Purity’s rampage), but now Army implied that she hasn’t gotten back to the Protectorate about it yet.


I tried to speak, to say something, even ‘I changed my mind’. My throat was too dry to form the words.

Armsmaster turned, shouted at the capes who stood watching, “You want to look down on me!? I tried to save this city, I got closer to killing the fucking Endbringer than Scion!

Yeah, right.

That girl is the person you should be mocking, spitting on! A wannabe hero without the balls to do anything heroic! Planning from the start to betray teammates for fame!”

Isn’t… isn’t that literally what you just did? Under the truce, Kaiser, Fenja, Menja… they were all your teammates.

I stepped back, swallowed hard.

“Is this true?”

I turned to look at Grue, but he wasn’t asking me. The question was for Tattletale.

I mean… fair. Why trust the accused over the fountain of knowledge who is still unambiguously on your side.

“Yeah,” Tattletale confirmed, sighing.

Well. Cat’s out of the bag.

Bitch stared at me wide eyed, teeth bared,

And, uh, Bitch isn’t exactly a cat person.

(I didn’t even set that up on purpose…)


Bitch stared at me wide eyed, teeth bared, as if all basic human expression had left her as she regarded me. Regent looked me up and down, turned away, as if in disgust, one fist clenched hard enough to make the area around the long stitched up cut on his arm stand out in white.

Yeeeah, they’re not taking it well.

But how about Grue? Grue, the one Taylor got the closest to besides Tattle. Grue, her romantic interest up until his rejection a week ago. Grue, the leader of the team.

I couldn’t see Grue’s face, could barely make out his body language, but I knew that it would have stung ten times worse than anything else if I could see his expression in that moment.

Sounds about right.

Tattletale was the only one who didn’t look surprised.

Hah! She knew, didn’t she! 😀

I backed away a step, and nobody moved to stop me. The heroes were preoccupied with Armsmaster, the Undersiders couldn’t or wouldn’t go around the gathered heroes to follow me.

Fair enough, really.

Some of the capes that were in the vicinity were staring at me. Murmuring. Panacea was among them, looking at me as though I were from another planet.

Oh man, Panacea must be so confused by this new knowledge, what with how dead set she was about Taylor being a horrible person and all.

And the kicker, that Panacea doesn’t specifically know about? When Taylor did all those things that got Panacea thinking of her like that, she still thought of herself as a hero.


I turned and ran out of the hospital, out the door and into the street, kept running.

Except I had no place to run to.

Welp.


End of Extermination 8.7

Hooooo boy. That was one hell of a ride.

Time for bullet points, I think.

  • Tattletale’s back, bitchesss! I was completely wrong before – it didn’t feel like a cop-out at all. Possibly because I was too busy being really relieved at the non-death of my favorite character and amazed at her brilliance in the rest of the chapter to care… But honestly, if anything, this might just make her “death” even better in retrospect. It’s difficult to make the audience believe that a major protagonist like this is dead, and Wildbow pulled it off so well that he got me, a usually relatively optimistic person, to be far more pessimistic about her chances of returning than Taylor. This in turn allowed me to empathize more with Taylor’s worry over her friend. Fantastic writing.
  • Her brilliance was already mentioned, but it deserves a point of its own. After turning up alive, Tattle proceeded to dominate the situation beautifully, and I loved it.
  • The mysterious conversation was, as I predicted, meant to be about Taylor possibly joining the Wards on a probation like Sophia, but it turned out so much more interesting thanks to Taylor discovering Sophia’s identity, not to mention Tattletale’s intervention. I know this is the third bullet point mentioning Tattletale’s brilliance in this chapter, but can you really blame me?
  • Armmaster… what the hell, man. Well, say hi to Bakuda and/or Lung from me if one of them’s still alive.
  • And then there’s the final development. The cat’s out of the bag and the mouse is running away. What do you do now, Taylor?

I suppose that last thing is what we’ll have to begin dealing with next time. It might be time to look for Danny, and/or check whether his house is still intact, too.

So yeah, I love this chapter. See you next time! 😀


[postscript]
I wonder if some of you still visit the Tebble of Constants every once in a while, even though I post chrono links at the end of each session these days, just to keep up with the “titles” I give the chapters.

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