Source material: Worm, Interlude 10
Originally blogged: January 21, 2018
What’s up, you Worm-loving fucks? ❤
So today we’re up for an Interlude that will presumably be numbered somehow, but I haven’t turned the page yet, so…
Interlude 10. Looks like we are taking the approach I suggested based on the Interludes in Extermination, unless it turns out the next chapter (which I also know to be an Interlude, unless Sharks didn’t mean consecutive Interludes and there’s a 9.7) is Interlude 11. For now, though, I’ll be tagging this as Interlude 10a.
My primary suspects for whom we might be following are Imp or Regent (to check in on how he feels about what he just did), but we might take some time to check on someone else. For one thing, we haven’t seen Danny since 6.9, and while the fact that he has already had an Interlude reduces the chances he’ll get another, it’s still possible (though unlikely) that we’ll follow someone who runs into him. Or maybe we’ll even get to know one of the Slaughterhouse Nine, though it seems a bit early for that. Emma is also an option, but I’ve changed my mind on how likely that is since the end of the previous chapter, since we very recently got to know one of the Harpies and Emma – having moved to Portland, possibly permanently – has become less relevant for now.
Hm. With there being two Interludes (”Gee, Krixwell, how come Wildbow lets you have two Interludes?”), I suppose it’s also possible that we’ll be getting Interludes from both of my primary suspects. Given my track record of guessing Interlude POVs, that seems unlikely, but it’s possible.
Anyway, let’s just jump in and see whom we’re getting to know better today!
(#i10ap1 #oh jeez that last tag is gonna be annoying to write)
“I’m letting you go,” Regent lied.
Looks like we’re getting Regent! Wildbow is generally good about establishing which character is the POV immediately, by mentioning that character first, or at least very close to first.
And yeah, I suppose that does qualify as a lie, in the sense that he’s about to go into how he’s not actually letting Sophia go. Although you could count it as a deceptive truth – he is letting her go… to the other side of town.
He made Shadow Stalker drop to all fours on the ground and forced a grunt from her mouth.
Wait, he wasn’t letting her go at all?? So is he about to make her try to attack him?
With the same ease as he moved his own body, he made her load her bolt and spin to point her crossbow at him. There was no danger of her shooting him; he was fully in control from start to finish.
So does that mean he doesn’t have the ability to pick the control back up later, and was just making a show for the other Undersiders?
Does he have the ability to let someone go? Without sleeping? Or was the sleeping thing a lie too? Is he still in control of the other people he’s dominated before?? But then again, we’ve seen how using this power puts him at risk of backfire…
This raises so many questions.
He could feel her striving and straining to move her finger, to pull the trigger and plant an arrow just above his collarbone. Every iota of her willpower must have been focused on the task.
Sorry, Sophia, not gonna work.
“There’s a catch,” he spoke. “My power? Once I’ve figured someone out? It’s a lot easier to control them, after. Any time you come near me, I can do this. I can use my power and retake control in the blink of an eye.”
He had her raise her crossbow and point it at her temple.
“Next time I get control? I’m keeping you for a full day. Maybe two, if I feel like pulling an all-nighter. And here’s the funny part,” there was no humor in his voice, “I’m going to do it even if I’m in civilian clothes, if my power tells me you’re in range. You won’t even know when it’s coming. You’re now a liability to the Wards, and you won’t ever know when or where I’m going to get control again…
“Unless you leave. Skip town. Join another team.”
This is all stuff we’ve seen before, so there’s not much to say. Other than that some of this seems like it might be a lie now… but why? Of course Sophia would be the only one here who could tell that he was lying, so who is he trying to fool?
I suppose the nod might’ve been Regent too.
He had her nod, stiffly, awkwardly.
He felt her rising heartbeat, the slight increase in her breathing, which he managed, controlled. Her muscles clenched, an involuntary reaction just beyond the scope of his control. She’d realized what he was doing. Rather, she knew what he wasn’t doing.
He wasn’t letting her go.
He wasn’t letting her go, despite making a show for the Undersiders to convince them he did…
…and, assuming the sleep thing was a lie too, the whole thing about being able to retake control is a way to have the Undersiders not question it if they catch him still controlling her later.
“Now let’s walk you off to the other end of the city before I release you. I don’t think you’re quite stupid enough to try and follow us, but I think my teammates would be more comfortable if they were sure.” He rolled his eyes.
Something that Taylor didn’t notice.
That said, he turned her around, activated her power and walked her through the door.
Hah, I like that he literally walks her through the door. I didn’t realize he did that the first time we saw this.
Regent looked at the others, shrugged. “Good enough?”
Decent acting. I suppose that makes sense given your sort of theatrical costume design.
Using the shadow form, she could cover a lot of ground very quickly. For long minutes, he exercised her power, the ability to be as light as a feather, enjoyed it. He even liked the running, too, when he turned off her power and just legged it. This girl was in good shape. He could tell she exercised regularly, that she ran on a regular basis. Running was almost effortless, and it felt good, even with the aches and pains of the recent brawl. Months or years of practice had fine tuned her body.
Well… good to hear you’re having fun, I guess.
Fighting had been much the same way, but it had been even better. Her muscle memory had been so primed for punching, kicking, takedowns and evading that he’d almost been able to let her go on autopilot, let her body handle things on its own.
Heh, nice. Going on autopilot sounds risky, though, when it comes to keeping control.
Not that he could, really. But it had been easy. He loved that sort of thing. Maximum reward for minimum effort.
Yeah, that is rather nice.
That same philosophy of minimizing the work he had to put in, sticking to what he enjoyed and the things that interested him, it was an advantage here. Brian, Lisa and Taylor had their own dynamic. They were friends.
…are you saying you don’t consider them to be friends, and/or that you’re not a friend?
I suppose Alec has kept himself a bit distant.
He considered Brian a friend, but it was more along the lines of someone he could play video games with, talk about movies. It wasn’t much different from if they were coworkers or roommates. He smiled at the thought. They kind of were, when it came down to it.
Yeah, thinking back, Alec and Brian’s occasional teasing of each other, and Alec’s “dork” nickname for Taylor, is the most friendlike behavior we’ve seen from him.
Also, the “roommates” part of that is about to change.
Regent knew he was a background character, for the most part. He played along, he didn’t make waves, he didn’t stand out. He wasn’t close to any of the others.
Getting a little meta, are we?
But yeah, up until this Arc, Regent has easily been the least relevant Undersider.
I suppose I should’ve seen the possibility of Regent’s body snatching being potentially permanent coming. Permanence is a defining trait of Heartbreaker’s power, after all.
He was cool with that. In fact, it suited him perfectly.
Is it that you don’t want to be close enough with them to end up hurting them? That you don’t want anyone to know the real you?
Either way, Alec is a broken kid who needs hugs.
He was cool with it because it meant that when they were all heading out to meet Coil, nobody noticed that he was distracted, or that he wasn’t joining in the conversation.
I didn’t think of it then, but I have noticed before that Regent has been rather silent compared to the other Undersiders… if he does still have control over other people, might those have been moments where he was busy controlling one of them instead? Has Regent been practically the core of a hivemind all along?
Similarly when he’s been “lazily” watching TV, were some of those times just excuses for his main body to not do much while he focused on one of the stolen ones?
His control got worse as the distance between himself and his puppets widened, which meant he had to devote more focus to Shadow Stalker and the act of keeping her movements fluid.
Ah, I see, so there is a sort of soft range to it.
Incidentally, I suppose I should’ve realized something was up when Regent talked about next time Shadow Stalker got “in range” as if that was something that wasn’t going to happen often, and then went and talked about how he was going to run Shadow Stalker all the way to the other side of town. Of course, that would’ve possibly been that he had a shorter range for taking control than for maintaining it, but still.
He ran into the same issues when he controlled more people, and there was the irritating side effect that his own coordination, speech and fluidity of movement all suffered to the same extent that his ‘puppets’ did.
So Regent can control multiple people, but it reduces his ability to control both them and his main body. Nice.
Were he to open his own mouth now and speak to Brian or Taylor, he might stutter or slur his words. It was almost more trouble than it was worth.
Brian: “Alec, are you drunk?”
I wonder if the intensity of this effect might be a product of the distance to the “average” location of all of Regent’s bodies, rather than each body’s distance to the body called Regent. That would result in Regent’s main body being treated just like his puppets, and the whole system being a hivemind where Regent’s main body is simply one of them.
That doesn’t mesh with the sleeping thing, but that’s up for debate as having maybe been a lie.
Almost. He was surprised to realize how much he’d missed this. It was like a high, a whole other set of emotions, of physical sensations. Real life, just being Alec, only Alec? It paled in comparison. It was dull.
Ah, okay, it’s been a while since he’s done this. I suppose he hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to do it since he came to Brockton Bay, and the people he had control over while he was under Heartbreaker are too far away now, even if the sleeping thing was a lie (still uncertain).
I guess this might be part of why he seems bored so often.
He wondered sometimes if dealing with his father had messed up something inside him.
It’s certainly not the healthiest childhood.
Also, another thing that makes a bit more sense now: Tattle’s power describing Regent as a sociopath. He doesn’t exactly seem concerned about the morals of what he does, nor how Shadow Stalker feels about it.
He could remember being young, maybe eight or so, fighting with two of his sisters over the fact that he’d wanted to watch the music channel and they wanted to watch some craptastic stop motion cartoon.
I guess siblings will be siblings, even when they’re being “raised” by a fucking vile piece of shit and his emotionally manipulated harem.
That said, these are kids with the potential for powers. Had Alec already gotten his at this point? Did he end up controlling his sisters and forcing them to watch the music channel?
They’d outnumbered him two to one, and he’d known he would lose the argument. So he’d thrown a tantrum, started screaming.
The entire atmosphere in the house had changed in a second. His sisters went from argumentative to conciliatory in an instant, changed the channel to the music, tried to give him the remote.
Was this his trigger event?? Or was his screaming just that effective at changing people’s minds?
One of father’s ‘girls’ came in and tried to quiet him down. When he hadn’t, she’d clamped a hand over his mouth.
Guess it’s the latter.
It hadn’t been enough. Dear Old Dad had come marching out of the master bedroom.
Nikos Vasil. Heartbreaker. Tall, wearing only boxer briefs, with a muscled, lanky physique, long hair plastered to his head with sweat.
Hi there, fucker.
Father had taken two or three seconds to assess the situation before using his power on Alec, his two sisters and the ‘girl’ with a hand over Alec’s mouth. He hit each of them with stark terror.
Yeah, you know what? Fuck you too.
The kind of fear you experienced when you were claustrophobic and you woke up in a coffin six feet underground.
Sounds like a fantastic way to raise children.
Then father had gone back into the bedroom and slammed the door behind him.
I hope you have nightmares.
You probably won’t, though.
It had been around summer when that happened, Alec mused. He didn’t have many ways to tell time, back then, since he hadn’t gone to school, and the days kind of passed. Still, it had been hot, he remembered. Between that summer and Christmas, Alec hadn’t opened his mouth to speak once.
That was only one of a dozen or so experiences that came to mind. So yeah, maybe father had broken something in the process.
Yeah, maybe. Maybe.
Maybe it had been the emotional equivalent of staring into the sun for far too long, too many times, being left almost half blind.
That’s a good analogy, especially given that the result seems to have been Regent becoming emotionally stunted/detached.
I guess that might be why he craves the sensation of the emotions running through other bodies. Hell, maybe that’s why he ended up with this power in the first place.
Or maybe it was his own power. He could be two, three or four people at the same time, feeling what they felt. By the time he was a teenager, he’d experienced every kind of drug, in someone else’s body, had slept with himself as various boys and girls.
Well, that gives us a pretty good idea of what Regent would say to “would you fuck your clone”. Though it’s not quite the same, since a couple of the hurdles with that go away when the bodies are neither your own nor the same sex.
How was being just ordinary Alec supposed to compare?
Shadow Stalker wasn’t emotionally dulled. Her emotions were rich, uninhibited. She was passionate in her emotions: angry, judgemental.
Oh, absolutely. If I were to define her personality in just a few words, “passionate” would probably be one of them.
Even the negative feelings were something he could savor in their own way. He wasn’t really experiencing them – it was more of a very involved spectator role. Her fear was thrilling in the same way a fantastic scary movie was, with the detail and the immersion cranked up to eleven.
He leaped straight up into the air, then activated the shadow state. When she was as high as she would get, he had her grip her cloak in her hands and use it to guide her descent so she could land atop the roof of the gas station. He stopped, stretched her arms.
Heh. Stretching someone else’s arms isn’t something you come across often.
She was breathing hard, but not as much as his Alec-self would be after even half as much running. He could feel the endorphins being pumped into her body from the hard exercise, and he was all the more aware of it because he had his other body to compare to. She was an athlete.
I suppose being able to compare and contrast directly lets you be more aware of your own body, for better or worse.
He ran her hands down her chest, felt her breasts, the muscles of her stomach.
Sophia’s desire to kill Regent probably just skyrocketed way past the point it already was at.
Stretching once more, he clenched her hands, felt the muscles in her arms flex. He felt her shudder in revulsion.
She’s being groped by her own body.
“Almost forgot you were in there,” he murmured, barely loud enough for her to catch. Not that it mattered. She was as aware of the movements of her mouth as he was.
Yeeah, let’s not forget that Regent is essentially keeping Sophia prisoner in her own body.
He could mouth the words and she would probably understand. He smirked for her benefit as much as his own.
“So. Bet you’re wondering what’s up,” he commented. “Funny thing about having this control over you, I can feel your emotions, your body’s reactions.
Of all the people to open up to.
Like a really, really good polygraph test. I wasn’t even half done saying my piece back there when I caught on to the fact that you were too pissed and too angry to back down and walk away.
…of course she was.
There’s no way you’re going to leave town if I let you go, right?”
Yeah, no, probably not. She’d be terrified of being controlled again, probably, but her anger would override it and have her seeking out Regent to kill him.
He felt her struggle to open her mouth and respond. He could have let her, by giving her some limited control over her own movements, but he didn’t.
So that is a thing he can do, despite the instance of that last chapter being fake. Got it.
“Right. So I’m taking it upon myself to ensure this all goes smoothly. My teammates have other shit to worry about, and I’m kind of enjoying flexing my powers. So I’m dealing with this situation myself. You and I? We’re going to go another route.”
So what do you have in mind (if the sleeping thing wasn’t a lie)? Murder by suicide? Another way of putting Shadow Stalker out of play?
He fished in her belt and pockets and began withdrawing the contents. He tossed the things he couldn’t use over the edge of the roof. Billfold, spare cartridges for the crossbow, a small knife, spare strings for the crossbows, bandages, keys and a Wards ID card fell to the ground by the side of the gas station, in and near an overflowing dumpster.
Well, that’s gonna be annoying to retrieve, if Sophia does get her body back.
There were plastic cuffs in the belt, but he couldn’t be bothered to fish out every last one and throw them all away. At the right hip, he found two cell phones. Success.
Right… you gonna make a call and ruin Sophia’s agreement with the PRT? No, that wouldn’t work, they know about Regent’s control over Sophia.
One of the phones looked years out of date. The screen was scuffed so badly it was barely readable, and the plastic cover for the plug slot at the bottom was missing. The other was a touch screen smart phone.
I guess the older one might be part of her civilian identity.
He didn’t recognize the make or the model, and the interface when he turned it on and touched the screen was unfamiliar. Special issue from the Wards? Whatever. Not important.
It’s a WardPhone 3, running Android Sentinel.
Or maybe it’s the kind of phone you get in Undertale, with tinkertech allowing it to turn into equipment like a gun or a jetpack.
The smart phone was password protected. That was more Lisa’s thing, but he did have one trick up his sleeve. Holding her fingers above the keypad, he let them follow through with the most natural feeling sequence of numbers, ingrained into the mind-body connection through the habitual repetition of a sequence of movements over weeks or months. Muscle memory.
It took two tries. The first felt slightly off at the end. The second was spot on, and was rewarded with a vibration of the phone and a menu.
This Arc and all the opportunities to make hacker voice jokes…
“Contacts,” he murmured, pressing a button, “Weld, Clockblocker, Vista, Flechette, Kid Win… boring. Nothing I can work with, here.” Director Piggot? No. Some potential there, maybe, but she was probably on top of this body-snatching situation. Fully informed.
Which leaves the one other contact we know of.
He scrolled down. Beyond the contacts that had been pinned to the top of the list, there was a short list of contacts that were sorted in order of who had been contacted most recently. At the top of the list was an ‘Emma Barnes’.
Here we go. What the hell kind of trouble can Regent cause between these two now?
He checked the other, older phone. No password. A quick examination showed it was her civilian phone.
Ah, hang on, something else to do first. Although maybe he won’t make that call, since he doesn’t seem to know anything about Emma.
I mean, anything he knows that he knows.
“Taking this out on patrol? Is that stupidity or arrogance? What if you lost it?” He shook his head, then offered her a dramatic gasp, “What if it got into the wrong hands?” Her voice was far better for the gasp than his own was. He couldn’t help but chuckle after hearing it.
Or into her own hands under someone else’s control…
This Emma girl was listed in both of the phones. Now he had a strong suspicion as to who it was.
How much did Taylor tell you about Sophia?
A quick read of the received texts gave away Shadow Stalker’s name, but he already knew that. Taylor had let it slip, before.
Ah. That much, at least.
Her pulse was pounding now, and he could feel a growing sense of… what was that? Outrage? She was pissed at the invasion of privacy.
On top of everything else.
He tried a giggle on for size, to see if he could, and to see if it irritated her. It worked on both counts.
No text messages had been exchanged on the smart phone, so he dug through the archive of old texts on the crummy old phone. Lots sent to Emma. Some sent to a Madison. Others, relatively few, to a mom, a Terry and an Alan.
I wonder if Madison is in on the secret. I doubt it, which leaves her in the odd position of third civilian wheel, whether she realizes it or not.
When he’d gotten sick of paging through the texts in the order that they’d been sent, he went looking for the saved texts, the messages Sophia had deemed important or noteworthy enough to save from being deleted. What he uncovered was telling.
Some of the ones from Emma?
He had to do more digging to find the rest of the discussions for each message Sophia had saved, in order to get as much a sense of things as he could. It was hard, when each series of texts was in response to some event he hadn’t participated in.
It’s hard, being a kid and trying to make sense of someone else’s text history. It’s hard, and nobody understands.
Some were inane, others he just didn’t understand. Then he found one that gave him pause, that confirmed his suspicions about who Emma was.
It seems like Taylor hasn’t told them about her exact relation to Sophia, though she’s let slip that she knows Sophia’s civilian name and what that was. Mixed with how Taylor acts and talks when Sophia is involved, Regent seems to have put two and two together and figured it out for himself.
Emma: what r u doing with her bag?
Ohhh boy, we’re going way back.
And it actually kinda sounds like Emma wasn’t on board with it? Maybe?
Sophia: am in art class atm. was thinking i can fill it with paint when teach leaves room. put it in lost&found. her art midterm is inside so she might look for it and find it and
Sheesh, always with the art projects.
Sophia: be all yay i found it and then she looks inside and sees its fucked
I’m not sure to what extent Emma was on board with what Sophia was doing, but if she wasn’t, she had at least decided to humor the murderous cape whose identity she’d discovered. Given how Sophia reacted to Skitter finding out, that might’ve been a good idea, as far as self-preservation goes.
Doesn’t mean I’m forgiving Emma, but it’s starting to become more understandable.
Sophia: what did you say to make her cry? that was awesome. blew my mind.
Oh wait, this is more recent than I thought. This is after Taylor left her bag behind in 2.4, not the first time her bag got stolen (as described in Gestation).
Emma: (SAVED MESSAGE) crying hrself to sleep for a week? she told me she did after her mommy died
Sophia: you r so evil
But did Emma take that as the compliment it was intended as, or did it make her feel supremely shitty?
Emma: ya ya
Sophia: can i use that one on her? saving that one for posterity btw
Emma: won’t have same bite to it. brilliant bit was the suprise. that slow realization abt what i meant.
There are two ways to read this. One is Emma genuinely thinking about how to best hurt Taylor. The other is Emma trying to convince Sophia not to do what Emma regrets doing herself.
Sophia: teach me o master
Emma: wont be as good but i was thinking of that day. think i remember musc we were listening to when she got the phone call abt her mom.
Now why would you be thinking about that?
But oh cod, are you suggesting playing the same music during an attack?
Emma: we shld wait a while and then see if she cries agn if we play it in hallways or b4 class.
Whether you take pride or shame from it, Emma, you are brilliantly evil.
Sophia: and we cant get in trouble for just listening to music
Sophia: cant believe you were her friend.
Oof, if Emma does regret her actions, this one’s gonna sting.
I’ve been thinking the same thing for almost a year, though.
Emma: she was lame but not depressing and lame @ same time.
Who do you think made her “depressing”??
Regent closed the phone, threw it casually into the air, and then caught it on the way down. He did that a few more times, thinking.
So should he reveal Taylor’s identity to Shadow Stalker? Probably not. Will he? Maybe.
“Huh,” he said.
Long seconds passed. He knew he should feel bad for the dork, but he only felt annoyed. He felt worse about the fact that he didn’t feel bad than he did about what he’d just read.
Something to thank father for, maybe.
Yeah, probably. Also doesn’t help that one of your bodies has intense negative feelings about Taylor.
“You are not a nice person,” he spoke to Sophia with a note of irony in his voice. He could feel her try to respond.
You’re a mean one, Ms. Hess, and
He smiled slowly, “Let’s see…”
He thumbed through the phone’s menus until he found an email option. He verified it could send attachments.
The smart phone in his other hand, he found the web browser and did a search for local high schools.
Ohh boy. Gonna send these messages to the school?
Or maybe all the schools, since you don’t know with certainty which school they go to?
“Hmmm. What school do you go to? Arcadia? No. Immaculata? No. Clarendon? Nope. Winslow?”
He felt the slightest of reactions from her. A hitching of breath, maybe.
Or do that. That works.
And there was nothing she could do to stop it, because the reactions were hers only because they were involuntary.
“Awesome.” He searched for the web site for Winslow High School, and whistled tunelessly to annoy Shadow Stalker as he found the teacher’s emails. He began painstakingly entering them into the recipient field.
On the civilian phone, right? The one that probably still has numpad typing? That was such a pain, I don’t miss it at all.
When he’d done that, he began the process of attaching the texts to the email. It would have been mind-numbingly dull if it wasn’t for that gradually building sense of trepidation he was experiencing from his gracious host.
He typed out a message for the email itself:
found phone. stuff inside is concerning. thought u should see what ur students r doing.
Nice, that gets around the issue of the teachers wondering why Sophia would send this.
Her thumb hovered over the button that would send the email.
“Nah,” he decided. He felt a wave of relief from his host.
oh my cod regent
And then he presses it, once the relief sinks in a bit?
That relief swiftly faded as he turned her eyes to the smart phone and searched for Brockton Bay’s police force.
When he’d added that email to the list, he added another line:
contacting police to make sure something is done
Just try to get out of this one, Sophia!
He sent the email.
He felt an explosion of rage from within Shadow Stalker’s body. Her hands even shook with it. He laughed, and her anger mixed with his amusement to create something that sounded unhinged.
Wow, yeah, that’s one hell of a combination.
Probably was, when he thought about it. She had multiple personalities, in a way.
On top of each other.
He stepped from the roof, and waited until the last second to use her power. Her body exploded into a cloud of shadows. As she pulled back together, he felt a strong discomfort. Not quite pain. In seconds, she had condensed back to her normal form. The pain his hosts felt was something distant. It didn’t bother him half as much. He couldn’t be sure if it was because he instinctually prevented it or if it was something else.
I mean, it makes sense that it’d be like that if the power is meant for combat.
Hm, that gives me an idea.
So here’s a theory:
Whatever is giving people powers is doing it in order to equip them to fight whatever force is coming up, hastened by Jack Slash. Something knows that a deadly metaphorical storm of global proportions is coming, and while that something can’t fight this thing itself, it started preparing humanity for it by empowering them to fight it.
He resumed his whistling as he hopped up onto the railing of a bridge and walked atop it. He dialed Emma, felt a mild reaction from his host: Annoyance with a note of anxiety.
Ah, there we go. Time to fuck things up for Sophia a little more.
Emma picked up on the fourth ring. “What the fuck soph… what the fuck!? It’s three AM!”
Ahaha, I forgot how late it was.
“Terribly sorry,” Regent tried to sound convincing, but it came out sounding sarcastic.
Yeah, that’s not something I can imagine Sophia saying unless it’s incredibly sarcastic.
“You said you’d call me hours ago, to give me a recap.”
Well, the patrol… ran a little long.
“I’m sorry,” Regent didn’t trust himself to pull off a sincere apology, so he lowered her voice to a hush instead.
“What’s going on?”
Yeah, what’s up, Regent Stalker?
“I needed to talk to someone,” he spoke.
“…Are you hurt? What happened?”
“Nothing. There was this brawl at the headquarters, Dragon showed up, but that isn’t what I wanted to talk about.”
Yeah, chances are decent that Emma might hear about that through other means, so might be worth acknowledging it.
Regent held his breath, waited.
“Seriously, you’ve got me worried. You’re making it sound like this important thing, and you woke me up at ten past three in the morning, so it had better be important. Dish. Explain.”
On top of the time of the call, Regent is being a little too polite and sensitive-sounding, since he doesn’t know how Emma and Sophia usually talk when they’re not texting. It ends up sounding just slightly out of character to Emma – not enough that Emma goes “oh, this isn’t Sophia”, but enough that warning bells go off. OOC is serious business, as they say over in trope land.
Emma’s voice rose in pitch, irritated, “Seriously? That‘syour issue!?”
Maybe Regent is doing it on purpose, though. Trying to break down Emma’s (apparent) image of Sophia as this cool person who gives no fucks.
“I miss you.” He knew she wasn’t in town from the most recent texts he’d read on the phone.
Yeeah, I think he’s doing this on purpose.
“This doesn’t sound like you. Are you high, or did you get poisoned or something?”
“I really miss you,” Regent breathed into the phone.
Ahaha yeah, no doubt about it anymore.
Is he gonna play it off to the point where Emma thinks Sophia is interested in her romantically?
…which is something I can’t actually rule out being the truth.
“I’ve been in love with you from the beginning.”
Alright that went quicker than I was expecting. 😛
“Sophia, stop. If this is a prank-”
“Why do you think I pushed you to turn on that depressing little shit of a friend, way back then? I was jealous of her.”
This could very well be true. I’d really like to know how Sophia is reacting to this, emotionally.
“This is retarded. Don’t fucking call me again until you’re ready to grow up,” Emma growled.
“Please,” Regent managed to pull off a pleading tone, but Emma was already hanging up. He heard the dial tone and swore, “Fuck.”
Well… seed of doubt has been planted, at least.
He hopped down from the railing as he reached the end of the bridge. He commented, “Don’t think she bought it.”
If it turns out Sophia is ambivalent about that…
Sophia tried to respond, and for the first time, she almost succeeded. The distance between Alec and Shadow Stalker was too wide, now. It would only get worse. He could feel it in his other body, too.
“Let’s see,” he grinned, raising the smart phone. Her hand shook as she held it. “Ooh, maps.”
Oh boy, what can he do with those…
The map application still showed the last route Shadow Stalker had requested from it, detailing directions from a point in the south end of the Docks to a place downtown.
“Thirty-three Stonemast avenue.”
Again, that slight reaction from her that told him he’d found something.
So what about that location? Is that the start of the route, possibly Sophia’s home?
“That got your attention. Let’s go pay a visit.”
He set the phone to display directions from their current location to Stonemast avenue, and then he ran once more.
Welp, time to go fuck up someone else’s impression of Shadow Stalker, I guess.
Her movements were more awkward, now. Her reflexes were slower, her balance worse. Activating her power was becoming a chore, a slower, harder process. Above all, it required more of his attention. He had his Regent-self put his headphones in and turn on some music.
I guess they’re done at Brian’s place.
It was an excuse to ignore the others, and to have his attention elsewhere. They weren’t at their destination yet.
Shadow Stalker reached Stonemast avenue before Regent, Tattletale, Skitter, Imp and Grue got to Coil.
Well, at least we know where we are on the timeline.
It was funny, but with the route they were taking, if the timing was a little different, the group could have theoretically crossed paths with Shadow Stalker.
Hah, yeah. That would’ve been something.
At least his control was improving as the gap between them closed.
Thirty-five, thirty-four, thirty-three. It was a residential area. The houses here weren’t in the best shape, and a lot of houses had trash or belongings in the yard. Thirty-three Stonemast avenue had a toddler’s toys sitting on the front lawn. The hedges between the property and the neighbors was overgrown, and the tree at the front of the property looked dead.
Not the best-looking of places, huh.
It might have seemed deserted, but someone had taken up the effort of picking up the detritus the tidal wave had brought in and piling it at the front corner of the lawn, by the driveway.
Never mind, it looks wonderful!
He walked her through the front door, felt rising anger and worry from his host.
That anger and worry peaked when a young man, nineteen or twenty, stepped from the living room to the front hall, heading towards the kitchen, and saw her. The man stopped and stared.
Boyfriend, perhaps? One who is unaware of Shadow Stalker’s cape identity, maybe?
“Mom!” He shouted.
A tired looking middle-aged woman entered from the kitchen, holding a four-year old girl in her arms. Regent had grown up around lots of kids. He liked to think he was a good judge of ages.
Or maybe he’s Sophia’s brother?
That said, it seems a bit unlikely that Sophia’s parents don’t know she’s a Ward… though unlike someone like Dennis, Sophia didn’t start out as a hero. Maybe she refused to let the PRT inform her parents?
The woman stared at Shadow Stalker, then turned, “Terry, take your sister upstairs.”
“Now!” the woman barked.
Whatever the case is, these people don’t seem to be very happy about seeing Shadow Stalker. Maybe it’s because of her reputation, or maybe there’s more to it.
But also, Terry was one of the people on Sophia’s contact list, so there’s clearly some relation.
Terry moved to pick up the child, who was looking increasingly concerned over the raised emotions and the strange person in their hallway. Regent reached out and grabbed Terry’s arm.
…I think Regent remembered the name, too, and decided Terry should be present for whatever he intends to do. Which might be taking off the mask.
“Chill, bro,” Regent was making a guess here. From the way the boy stared at Shadow Stalker, he knew he’d hit the mark.
“Yeah,” Regent grinned behind her mask. “Duh, moron.”
The woman stepped between Shadow Stalker and Terry, a look of fury on her face, “Sophia! Kitchen. Now!”
Hm. Did she know, but not the rest of the family?
With a swagger, Regent walked Shadow Stalker into the kitchen. There was a flurry of hissed words between Terry and Shadow Stalker’s mother. Among them was a surprised, hurt, “You knew!?”
Oh boy, Regent’s really stirring up some shit here.
Regent sat down at the kitchen table and put her feet up. Dirty water pooled on the table’s surface.
It was nearly a minute before the mother came storming into the kitchen. She pushed Shadow Stalker’s feet off the table.
Yeah, we’ve got a pissed one over here.
Like mother like daughter, I guess, if this sort of temper is normal for her.
“Explain!” she demanded.
“What?” Regent lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
“We had a deal. You could do this thing of yours, but your siblings were not to know!”
Regent fucked things up for Sophia simply by walking in the door… Maximum reward, minimum effort.
“It’s a pain in the ass,” Regent said. He pulled off Shadow Stalker’s mask and started tapping the edge against the table, idly.
“It’s the rules in my house! If it’s going to keep you out of prison and on the straight and narrow, fine. But I will not have you glorifying violence-”
The mother stopped mid-sentence as Regent opened Shadow Stalker’s mouth in a very real yawn.
Holy shit, Regent. The best part is it all sounds in-character.
Funny that his other self yawned as well, in that sympathetic reaction to someone else yawning.
The mother slapped the mask from Sophia’s hand. It clattered to the ground. “Listen to me!”
“Whatever,” Regent drew a crossbow and turned it over in his hands.
The mother stared at it. Her voice was hushed as she spoke, “That doesn’t look like the tranquilizer dart the Director showed me.”
…oh boy, as if he wasn’t already getting Sophia in trouble. Damn, Regent, you’re good at this.
Regent quirked an eyebrow, “Oops.”
“What are you doing, Sophia? Do you want to go to jail?”
“I’m bored,” Regent replied.
And jail would of course be less boring…
“You do not have the right to complain about something like being bored! I work two jobs for you three! I put in overtime, I attend every school function, I come into the office every time you get reprimanded because you’ve got anger issues! You aren’t even taking care of your sister, or helping out around this house! What do you think-”
I suppose it’s fitting that Regent, the guy who can sense nervous systems and send impulses through them, knows how to hit a nerve.
“And now you’re making me even more bored,” Regent cut her off.
The mother slapped Sophia so hard that her head turned to one side. Her cheek burned.
“Don’t you dare,” the mother intoned.
Shadow Stalker stood at Regent’s directions, then pointed the crossbow at the mother.
It’s still in character and I’m not sure that’s a comforting thing.
The woman’s eyes widened, and she hurried to back away as Shadow Stalker advanced. They stopped when the mother’s back was to the wall by the kitchen door, with Shadow Stalker’s crossbow bolt pressed against her throat.
I mean, I don’t think the regular Shadow Stalker would do this to her mom, but it’s still eerily like her.
“I think I’m done with listening to you whinge,” Regent whispered.
“Whinge”? *looks up* Huh. Never heard that synonym to “whine” before.
“What are you doing? What’s wrong with you?”
“Like you said,” Regent shrugged, “Anger problems. I promise you, you don’t have the slightest idea of what I go through.”
Ahaha, the dramatic irony of that statement right now is rich.
When in doubt, be vague.
“If you’re talking about Steven…”
Huh, I think that marks the first time I read the name “Steven” and thought of Steven the goldfish from The Adventure Zone before I thought of Steven Universe.
So who’s Steven? Is that her boyfriend?
Steven. Regent could feel a reaction from Shadow Stalker at the name. “I’m not talking about Steven.” He put some inflection in the name. He dropped the crossbow to one side, stepped away and stretched. The mother didn’t budge from where she was pressed up against the wall. “I’m going to my room. Don’t disturb me.”
I wonder what sort of chaos he can stir from there.
He bent down and grabbed the mask, but he didn’t put it back on. He stepped out into the hallway, and saw a vacuum cleaner parked in the corner. An extension cord trailed from it to a neighboring room. An office? He unplugged the cord from the wall and the vacuum, and then headed upstairs, winding the cord into a simple coil.
Electricity would disrupt your control, right? Or was that too a lie?
Either way, not gonna be pleasant for Sophia if Regent decides to have her phase through that.
Or maybe he intends to trap her there for a while? Tie herself up like the Undersiders did with her before the mission, which means Sophia will have to call for help (if he makes that possible for her) if she wants to be let out?
Shadow Stalker’s body was a cocktail of emotion. Fear, anger, anxiety, worry, panic and sheer fury. Regent staved off the worst of the physical reactions, the trembling and the heavy breathing, and managed to make Shadow Stalker seem calm as she reached the top of the stairs.
Terry was up there in the hallway, staring, uncomprehending.
Oh boy, gonna say anything to him?
Regent found her room, then shut the door. It was small, old-fashioned, with wood paneling on the walls.
Apparently not. Room it is, then.
The furniture was limited to a twin-sized bed, a vanity with a mirror, candles and cosmetics littering the top, a bookshelf and a combination computer desk and dresser with a computer and a printer perched on top. The wall behind the pictures showed Shadow Stalker with a redheaded girl. There were a lot of photos with them laughing. Emma?
Not a bad room.
“Emma?” he asked. That slight alteration in her heartbeat and her breathing told him he was right.
Seems they’re pretty damn close. I mean, we kinda knew that already, but I wasn’t expecting pictures in her room. Maybe that’s just because that’s not something I ever did with my friends, though.
Not gonna lie, the pictures might be fuel to the fire for the theory that Sophia does have feelings for Emma. I mean, we didn’t really hear anything about that in 9.6, but it’s still possible – it’s not like Lily’s narration screamed “I LIKE PARIAN” either, as obvious as it gradually became. Same with Taylor’s budding romantic feelings for Brian.
He found a picture of Shadow Stalker – Sophia – with her family. Her mom looked younger and far less tired there, and was pregnant.
Four years ago, maybe?
Shadow Stalker looked twelve or so, and her brother looked sixteen or seventeen, sporting a fantastic looking afro and a less fantastic attempt at a moustache.
They were clustered around one another, but only the mom was smiling.
I suppose smiling isn’t really this family’s thing.
Regent’s eyes fell on the man who was cut out of the photo, only his hand on the mom’s shoulder, and a sliver of his torso and leg were visible at the edge of the picture.
Ahh, I guess that would explain a bit. The dad leaving would be why the mom has to take two jobs now, which in turn is why she’s so much more tired now.
“Steven?” he asked. Raw hatred boiled up inside Shadow Stalker, for both Regent and the man that couldn’t be seen in the picture.
“Steven. So what did he do do you? Believe me, I’ve seen it all. Hit you? Touch you?”
No reaction from either of those. Verbal abuse? Emotional? Something else? He didn’t care enough to quiz her more.
In any case, it’s clear that Sophia doesn’t like him.
He grabbed the lighter from beside the scented candles and began pulling the photos off of the wall. Using the lighter, he burned a hole in the photograph where Emma’s face was.
Picture of the burnt pictures with the smartphone, send to Emma?
“Well,” he said, his tone dry. He had to cough to keep himself from letting her anger turn his voice into a growl. “You sure rose above that shit, treating your classmates like you do, getting in fights, not helping out dear old mom.”
“You deserve every bit of what I did to you today.”
Again, he had to struggle to maintain control as she exploded with emotion. It didn’t help that his other self was trying to listen to what Coil was saying. Better to avoid testing her.
Hm. I wonder if learning of the impending purge of the Earth is going to pull his attention away from Shadow Stalker.
“You and I are more alike than you’d suspect, I think,” he said. “We’re both arrogant assholes, yeah? Difference is, I admit it, I don’t dress it up and tell myself that I’m a bitch and that that’s a good thing.” He burned Emma’s face out of another photo.
“So, let’s tie all this shit together. I have been working with a goal in mind, believe me.”
So far, it’s seemed to be “fuck shit up for Sophia”, but I guess he had more in mind.
He got a piece of paper out of the printer, then found a pen in one of the drawers. He was careful to rely on her muscle memory when it came to the handwriting.
So he’s got cords.
And now he’s writing a note.
Is he going to start writing about why Sophia committed suicide?
I thought I could manage.
I’m too angry. Too lonely. I hate myself for what I’m doing. Hurting people.
I hurt my mom. I hurt my classmates as Sophia. I hurt people as Shadow Stalker, and I hate myself for enjoying it.
I thought I could manage it. I had Emma. She had my back.
Except she turned me down. I loved her, really loved her, and when I confessed she turned me away. Acted like it was a joke.
This is the right thing to do. I won’t be able to hurt anyone anymore.
Terror surged through her body like ice water. When he laughed in reaction, it came out shaky.
Yeah, no fucking wonder she’s scared!
He littered the burned photographs around the piece of paper, with Emma’s face missing from each, then drew an arrow from the crossbow’s cartridge and laid it across the bottom edge of the paper. It was overdramatic enough to work.
Theatrical to the end, huh?
Well, not your own end, but you get what I mean.
He stood on the chair and began wrapping the extension cord around the base of the light fixture. He grabbed the cord and hung off it for a few seconds to verify it could hold her weight. The light fixture itself was flimsy, but the frame it was attached to was bolted securely into the wooden beams of the ceiling.
Welp, here we go.
Is he actually going through with this?
He found moisturizers and soaps on top of the vanity. Using them, he rubbed the end of the extension cord, making it slick. Holding the end, he began tying it into a crude hangman’s knot. When he failed to do it right, he used the smart phone to find a video of how to tie one, then turned the volume all the way down.
“Here’s the thousand dollar question,” he mused, as he began following the steps outlined in the video, putting the knot together, “Will your boss tell your mom what happened with me controlling you? If she keeps her mouth shut, well, this paints a pretty ugly picture, doesn’t it?”
Let’s be real. If Piggot can keep this quiet, she will. The Wards getting infiltrated is bad PR.
But whether that means she won’t tell the parent of the victim what happened when the victim gets murdered is a bit more uncertain.
A tear rolled down his cheek. He scoffed a little, blinked the tears out of her eyes.
“But if she does tell, if she lets mommy know, then shit hits the fan. It looks pretty fucking bad for her, and if word gets out, it’s as bad as it gets for public relations.
Which is exactly why Piggot, if she does tell Mrs. Hess (or whichever name she goes by now, after parting with Steven), will do everything she can to get her to not tell anyone.
Scary, dangerous parahumans. Not just lives at risk, but you could be controlled. Ooooh, scary. Nobody would ever be able to trust their coworkers or neighbors. It’s the kind of stuff they want to keep quiet.”
“Looks bad for me, sure, but you saw the fight earlier. It’s not like you guys are that big a threat. Like I said, I’m arrogant that way.”
He reached to plug the extension cord into the wall, but found it too short. He sighed and went to unplug everything from the computer’s power bar and use that to extend the length of the cord so he could plug it in.
This is about as relatable as this scene gets, isn’t it. Coddamn cords.
He grabbed her alarm clock, stood on the chair, and plugged it into the noose. He put her hood down, and then set the alarm clock inside her hood, blinking 12:00, 12:00, 12:00.
It’s hiiigh noon…
So what, are you going to let the alarm clock alert the rest of the family?
“Any last words?” He slid the noose around her neck. It was slimy with the soaps and other shit he’d poured on it.
Better make ‘em good, if he actually lets you make ‘em at all. If you repent hard enough, then maybe he’ll let you live.
Keeps coming back to that word, doesn’t it.
He gave her enough control to speak, but retained control of her arms, legs so she couldn’t escape, and held her diaphragm so she couldn’t draw in enough air to scream for help.
“Why?” she breathed.
“You fucked with my teammate,” he shrugged her shoulder.
He didn’t let her finish. “I dunno if I care all that much, but it’s the sort of thing I’ll do because it feels like I should. Dunno. There’s also the fact that you’re dangerous, and you’ve outlived your usefulness, so… unless you can give me a convincing reason.”
Regent is a damn scary guy, y’know.
I wonder if Sophia’s ever said that sincerely before.
But I’m also not sure if it’s going to be enough.
“Not that convincing.” He raised one foot, then kicked the chair, hard.
It rocked, but didn’t tip over.
Phew. Still a little more time.
He chuckled lightly, feeling the confusion and the relief from his host. It was a thrill unlike any other. “I think I made my point.”
Oh, good, that might mean it’s time to stop this charade without any deaths. Right, Regent? …right?
She wanted to respond, but he didn’t let her. She was bewildered, just as scared as she had been before.
“I’d like to think that you have much less reason to hang around this city than you did an hour ago.
Better to leave than hang around in this city.
Even if she hears how you were controlled by yours truly, mom’s not going to be so comfortable having you around in the future, given the dim possibility of a repeat performance. Things are going to be awkward with Emma there, too. Your career as a hero here isn’t looking good, either. Eff why eye, I was telling the truth about my ability to assume total control faster, easier, if I’ve controlled someone before.”
I see. Yeaah, better GTFO from Brockton Bay. Portland’s become less attractive, too.
He fished out a set of the plastic cuffs and put them around her wrists, then worked her fingers to pull the end and cinch the cuffs tight, behind her back.
“I can feel your emotions. I know I’ve convinced you. You leave town, and if you don’t want me paying a visit, wherever you wind up, you keep your mouth closed about tonight.
They don’t need to know this was all my doing. Things get messy that way, yeah?”
He gave her limited control, and she nodded, fractionally, as if afraid to move.
Yeah… can’t blame her there.
“If I do get control again? I won’t pull my punches. Or my kicks.” He tapped her foot against the back of the chair. Her heart leaped in her chest.
“You can’t feel my emotions, so you’ll have to trust that I’m capable of it. You know I’m Heartbreaker’s kid. You know I’ve killed before.”
So he has.
Again, she offered a slight nod. She tried to speak, but he didn’t let her. No need, he could guess, from what she was feeling. The anger was gone now. There was only fear.
Yeeeah, you’ve broken her.
He glanced out the window. There were flashing lights. A PRT van? Or maybe a police car.
Something to do with the email? Seems odd for that kind of email to get such an immediate response, though, so I doubt it.
Maybe the PRT sent people to check if Shadow Stalker had returned home?
A chuckle escaped her lips. “Well, I’ll leave it to you to get out of this situation. When you do? Get the fuck out of my city.”
Y’know, I may have had my doubts, but I think Regent is more than capable of keeping control of a territory.
He let out a breath, and then relinquished control of her body back to its owner.
End of Interlude 10a
Regent is scary as fuck when he gets the chance to be. Coddamn.
This was a fantastic chapter. The sheer terror of Regent’s power, even as it was presented from his own perspective… holy shit.
Just. Holy shit.
So. Next time, we’re following someone else’s perspective. I’m going to stick to my primary guess of Imp for now, see what she has to tell us, such as about her origin (though I think I’ve got that mostly figured out already) and what using her power is like from her own perspective.
See you then!