Source material: Worm, Infestation 11.3
Originally blogged: February 5-9, 2018
Wait, no, that’s not right. CUT!
Nope, wrong again. CUT!
Okay now it doesn’t even start with the same letter. CUT!
Ah, there we go, finally.
Oh what the hell, let’s just roll with it. Infestating 11.3 it is.
Welcome back to the liveblog! It’s time for me to continue reading about Skitter’s rise to power in Skitterville, and the upcoming confrontation with the Merchants! 🙂
Last time, Skitter was approached for help by a redhead whose little brother had been taken by the Merchants. Knowing Taylor and her heroic side, and the sheer dedication she has to getting Dinah out of her bad situation, I feel like she’d want to stage an attack on the Merchants for the express purpose of saving this one child even if she didn’t already have reason to fight them. Hopefully that ends better than her dream attack on dream Coil’s dream base.
Whether or not we’re getting the beginning of her attack in this chapter is a better question than whether there will be one. That could really go either way – it depends entirely on how much worth narrating happens before the attack, which I have no idea about. I feel like it might be good to have a buffer chapter before we get into it, though.
If we don’t delve into the attack, I guess we’ll be following Taylor back at the Hive, making arrangements regarding the extra supply packs and maybe hiring some of the most eager employees (it’s a bit early for that promise of hers to have its full effect, but a couple early birds may show up), that kind of thing.
So yeah, whatever happens, let’s dive into it.
Lights! Camera! Action!
I sat cross-legged in my chair on the second floor of my lair.
Hive it is!
A mug of tea was warm in my hands, and the room was dark. Only a faint light filtered in through the slats at the top of the metal shutter that covered the window. My mask rested on one knee.
This paragraph has a weird sort of mixture of cozy and dramatic. I like it.
My attention swept over my territory, with an emphasis on the centermost area near where I’d held my speech.
Via your power, I presume?
The reach of my power wasn’t quite good enough to extend to the outer edges of my territory, which left me anxious.
Hm, yeah, that’s not good.
I was craving one of those moments when my power would go into overdrive and increase its range.
For some reason.
I wonder if this could be a symptom of Taylor’s power actually being really fucking powerful, but restricted by something, such as a mental block. Perhaps if Taylor could get over that mental block somehow, she could control insects from an insane distance. Hell, maybe even worldwide if she gets really over it.
But what would this block be about? Hive (the Arc) and Extermination, the two examples of this sort of overdrive, have quite a few things in common. Mainly the truces, but also that the enemies were ones Taylor could go almost or entirely all out on without too many qualms. That being the reason behind the overdrive doesn’t quite work, though, because Purity’s lackeys fall under the same category as the ABB.
Maybe it has something to do with how much Taylor genuinely embraces what she’s doing? She joined in on the assault against the ABB because she wanted to. Same goes with Leviathan, even if it wasn’t exactly for the thrill of it. Meanwhile, Agitation was an act, Shell was a trap, Taylor was really against the gallery attack in Tangle, and Buzz… well, Buzz is a lot like Extermination in that Taylor wanted to help for the sake of the city and civilians. Hm. Maybe it just wasn’t intense enough, but that doesn’t sound right, especially if we’re comparing to Hive, so I guess that’s a bit of a spanner in this theory. Besides, Taylor did seem to be rather into what she was doing in the last chapter, even if she’s rather stressed right now over the Dinah situation.
Minutes passed as I followed my ‘subjects’ and did what I could to get to know them.
Like any true Big Skitter, gotta know who the subjects are.
My bugs remained on the backs of people’s elbows, at the small of their back, and I’d maybe put a small fly in their hair if it was long enough that they wouldn’t feel it. Not enough to bother anyone, or that anyone would necessarily notice, but enough for me to track their movements.
To be clear, under the mental block hypothesis, the overdrive isn’t Taylor getting over the mental block temporarily, but rather her being in a state that weakens the block. If she were to actually get rid of it, her power might be waaay stronger.
Two groups arrived within a minute of one another, each at different points of my territory. Thirty-two people in all, with eight in the first group and twenty-four in the other.
Hrm. That’s big enough that it seems clearly planned. Maybe the Merchants will be the ones taking initiative here?
Also, the distribution reminds me a lot of the Atrocious Basejumping Benefactors back in Gestation.
Both groups reacted, jumping and backing away as my swarm swept over them.
To be expected, really.
I could feel the vibration in the air as one in the second group laughed. The others joined him.
Guessing the first laughing one is the leader of the group. Possibly Skidmark himself?
I’d held off on attacking, just using the bugs to get a headcount and a sense of who was there. There were men and women, young and old. Each of them had weapons of some sort, and fifteen in total had guns.
Yeah, that really tears any doubt that they’re here for a fight to pieces.
The Merchants were responding to my bid for control. Good.
Better to dive into it than crawl through it, I suppose.
Besides, it does imply they see you as a serious threat.
I sipped my tea and found it was lukewarm. I took big gulps in the hopes of finishing it before it got cold.
Suddenly the coziness is fading.
One of the Merchants in the first group shouted something, loud enough for it to carry down the street, and fired a gunshot. Impulsively, I tried to tune into my bug’s hearing and interpret what he was saying, but the strangeness of the noise stopped me. It didn’t translate from a bug’s ‘ears’ to mine.
Hm. That’s interesting. Maybe try a different kind of bug? You’d probably run into the same issue, but maybe there’s a type that has slightly more similar hearing to humans?
The first group started running down the length of the street. They scattered, with smaller groups of two people each heading to different buildings.
Hrm. That could be an issue. Good thing Taylor can largely fight them from where she sits.
Finding the windows boarded up and the doors locked or barricaded, they started tearing at the plywood and planks. Some struck at the doors with their improvised weapons.
Good. Anything that slows them down helps.
There were people inside two of those buildings. Not many, but still. Those were my people.
Right, fuck. I was thinking about the potential difficulty of fighting with Merchants on twelve sides around you (this was before it hit me that she could just fight from where she’s sitting), but this is really undesirable too.
At least we’ve got priority targets now?
Using my swarm on them would have been easy, but this wasn’t just a question of taking the Merchants down.
It’s also about protecting those people… and the one problem I see with prioritizing some of the Merchants is that it tells observant Merchants where Skitter doesn’t want them to go.
I needed to do it so effectively and undeniably that they would hesitate to come back.
Ah, right, that too.
If I did it well enough, ideally, word of mouth would help keep others from trying anything similar.
That would be helpful indeed.
Why did that line of thinking sound so familiar?
…hm. ABB… Bakuda. This was a large part of her reason for her attack on the Undersiders, wasn’t it?
It dawned on me: Bakuda. She’d said something similar when she’d been doing her monologue and pretending to be the new leader of the ABB.
Well, that was disquieting.
Still, my reasons were different.
Different alignments, different deeper goals, but on a more shallow level you are absolutely doing similar things for the same reason: Attacking someone to maintain control of a territory by intimidating your other enemies.
I wanted to protect my people. Bakuda hadn’t been motivated by an interest in anyone but herself.
But yes, this contrast is an excellent showcase of chaotic good versus chaotic evil.
I dismissed that line of thinking and gathered the swarm into a vaguely humanoid shape with a head, arms, and a torso. I tried to balance it on two columns like legs, but I erred in favor of dissolving that into one column for the lower body over risking having it fall over.
Whenever she did this in the past, I figured it was just a really dense cloud of flying bugs, but I suppose it does make more sense to have them balancing on top of (or clinging under, in the case of arms) each other while cheering on their favorite sportsball team. Not least of all because they won’t buzz as much that way.
A good thing the ground was mostly dry, there, or I would have required far more bugs to maintain the shape with the lowermost critters constantly drowning or being pushed away by the motion of the water.
Oh yeah. Wait, there’s dry ground? I thought that was but a myth.
I piloted the swarm-figure slowly towards the first group. Someone noticed and turned away from the door he was trying to smash down with his makeshift club.
Maybe they’ve got someone from the former Empire who decided to join the Merchants instead of one of the E44s, and who’s heard of Skitter’s ability to turn into a bug person.
Either way, though, I doubt that club’s going to help that much, at least as long as Skitter has spare bugs.
He shouted and laughed, drawing the attention of others.
Drawing said attention away from getting into the houses, and away from potential attachs from the back.
Running forward, he swung the club at the swarm like he was trying to hit a home run. The head was scattered, dashed to pieces, and he laughed again.
gg, dude, but that head’s probably about to grow back.
Until the rest of the swarm dogpiled him. Then he started screaming.
Or that. That works too.
Roughly half of his ‘friends’ laughed at him. Lots of laughter. Were they all on something?
Honestly, considering who they are, chances of that are good.
What, though? Could they be using a drug that might actually be a combat advantage?
The remaining four people hurried to his side and tried to claw the masses of bugs away from him. As they got bitten and stung in retaliation, they backed away, brushing the bugs off of their arms and legs, leaving him to his fate.
The bugs I had in the area coalesced into another vaguely humanoid shape. Then another. In moments, I had a half-dozen figures in a loose ring around the group.
This is exactly the kind of ominous shit you need to do to really intimidate them. First show them what you can do with one of these things, then pop up a scary number of them.
Good job, Skitter. 🙂
I moved them forward, and my enemies backed away from them. I used this to herd the Merchants until they stood back to back in a tight circle, surrounded.
Niiice. Now it’s pretty much just a matter of coming down on that circle, isn’t it?
They had their weapons raised, but they had to know how ineffectual the baseball bats and guns would be.
Sometimes people just like to hold weapons because they feel safer with them, even if they know the weapons are ineffective. A toy gun can be surprisingly comforting.
Then I waited, keeping the swarm-figures remaining as motionless as possible. If it weren’t for the man still thrashing on the ground, screaming, it would have been eerily still and quiet.
Yesss. Build up the antici…
So, how are you guys doing tonight?
I’m having a good time!
Little bit sleepy from questionable sleep schedule choices over the last few nights, but otherwise I’m doing good. 🙂
How’s the weather?
Over here, the weather is… well, dark. Can’t see shit, capt’n.
I think it’s clear, though.
You know, since I can’t see any falling snow or hear any rain. 🙂
Alright, time to quit this charade and get back to the story.
Watched any good books lately?
I used to read a lot.
Not really sure what happened.
But hey, if you like long fantasy stories in rich worlds, check out Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.
Anyway, that’s enough tomfoolery.
Shall we get back to Worm?
I think we shall.
The second group was oblivious to the events a few blocks away as they roamed through my territory.
A woman in the group was singing, loud enough that her voice would be carrying to nearby residents.
shit shit shit shit shit
That ain’t a subdivision of the Merchants.
Hello there, Slaughterhouse Nine.
[Hook, line and sinker.]
She was letting them know that trouble was near. I noted that she was holding a plastic tank of gasoline, if the topographic map I was getting from my swarm-sense was right, and the box in her other hand could easily have been matches. That wasn’t good.
Yeah, no, nothing about these eight being here is good.
How long until Taylor realizes that one of the figures is oddly shaped, like a mannequin?
Still, her group had yet to do anything. I kept an eye on them and waited.
Hm, biding their time, I guess. Maybe waiting to see if Skitter will attack first?
Someone in the first group made a run for it, rushing for the space between two of the swarm-figures that surrounded his group. He didn’t make it. The swarms both intercepted him, and he went down, howling in pain.
Wait, hang on, I think I got the groups switched up. The group surrounded by the swarm figures is the eight-person one, and the singing person is in the larger group.
Alright, I think that was a false alarm on my part, then. I don’t think the Slaughterhouse would act like the surrounded group has, nor that Taylor could take out two of them already.
That certainly helped wake me up a bit, though.
Unease gave way to panic as the group realized they were trapped. A woman shoved a man into the nearest swarm, trying to use him to clear the way, but she only got two more steps before the wasps, black flies, mosquitoes and hornets caught up to her.
She violently swung her arms around herself in a futile attempt to fight off the bugs, and succeeded only in throwing herself off-balance and falling to the ground.
The spiders, ants, centipedes, millipedes, beetles and all of the other crawling parts of the swarm rolled over her, burying her beneath their mass before she could stand.
So that’s three or four down of this eight-person group. Nice.
The remaining four Merchants in the first group exchanged muttered words, some kind of plan.
Oh, good, reinforcement that this was the eight-person group. I was a little worried that I’d been right to have it the other way around, correctly predicted the eight-person group being revealed to be the Slaughterhouse and looked like a complete idiot (even moreso than I already did) by discounting it as a false alarm due to catching myself on a “mistake” I hadn’t actually made.
Then three of them broke for it, each headed in a different direction.
I don’t think that’s gonna work, sorry guys.
So the larger group hasn’t really done anything yet. Are they waiting for the smaller group?
I wasn’t sure what outcome they expected. A mass of bugs caught each of them, and they all went down, limbs flailing, screaming.
Yeah, one of the cool things about swarms is that multiple parts of them can act at once…
That left only one. He dropped into a crouch, his hands on his head, and looked frantically around for some kind of escape route.
Yeeah, I think this one gets the message.
Let him go to tell the story? Nah, it’s not like Taylor’s going to kill the rest or anything, and who knows what she’s going to do with the larger group.
So I gave him one.
Alright, maybe she will do that anyway. Or maybe this is just another trap.
The swarm-figures parted enough that he had a chance to retreat. It took him ten seconds to notice it, and another few seconds to build up the courage to make a run for it.
He bolted. Seeing the general mass of insects down the road, he decided to turn into a series of alleyways.
So far, so good.
I let him run for a minute.
Ah, yeah, she’s totally playing with him.
He was halfway down an alley when I drew the ambient bugs from the vicinity into a loose humanoid shape, not as dense as the others. Still, seeing it stopped him in his tracks.
“Hi. Yeah, you’re not going anywhere.”
He turned to retreat the way he’d come, only to find another swarm coalescing into a second figure at the other end of the alley. His head whipped around as he realized he had no escape routes left, and then he screamed, a primal, despairing sound.
Taylor’s doing a really good job here so far. If this keeps up with the other group, I think it’s more likely that the Slaughterhouse will show up as antagonists later in the Arc, as dealing with the Merchants seems easier than one might expect in this part of the story.
I mean, sure, Skidmark and the other parahuman Merchants could be a bit more of a challenge, but still.
The swarm figures moved towards him at a glacial pace, with more bugs joining them every second, to give them more mass and more raw attacking power.
What did I tell you? Skitter totally had a good sense of theatrics.
His composure cracked before they even reached him, and he charged headlong into the swarm that had been at the far end of the alley. Bugs tore into him, pinching and stabbing him, and he made it nearly to the edge of my power’s range before his legs buckled.
Damn, not bad.
He landed on top of a pile of the trash that the nearby building’s residents had been stacking in the alleyway, and the swarm started mauling him.
Group one down.
I finished my tea, then made a face. The teabag had leaked grit, and some had settled into the bottom of my cup. Bitter.
I put the empty cup down at the base of my chair, and then I turned my attention to the second group.
Alright, so are they up to anything yet?
We’ll see how Taylor fares against the second group tomorrow. Until then, you’ll just have to shiver with more antici… *gets smacked*
[End of session]
I made the Undersiders using this character creator!
Huh. I didn’t see this last time – I guess that really was the perfect spot to end the session.
I didn’t even need to think about it.
“I’ll do it,” I told the redheaded girl with the dreadlocks.
Ooh, jumping back a bit, are we?
Unless we’re jumping… sideways, between Coil’s realities, but that would require Coil deliberately making one of the Taylors take a different approach, and I highly doubt he’d know about this as it happened. This is probably just a regular flashback.
She looked surprised. Odd. She’d asked me, but she hadn’t expected me to help?
I suppose when you’re desperate, you try everything, even if you don’t think it’ll work.
Or had she expected me to demand something from her in exchange?
Also very possible. I mean, Skitter is a villain, and she did just ask something in exchange for her protection of the area (only that people follow her rules, but still).
I’m gonna take a stab in the dark and say… hm… Gloriosa.
“Sierra,” she answered me.
That’s a good name! Doesn’t bode well for Skitter’s ability to finish the mission, though – one misstep and it might become unwinnable.
“Let’s walk, Sierra,” I said. “I need details if I’m going to help. The more you can tell me, the better.”
Naturally. Gotta have as much information as possible – knowledge is power.
She joined me as I headed towards the sidewalk, and after taking a moment to compose her thoughts, she started telling me what had happened. “Three weeks ago, everything was so normal. I was finishing up at college. Bryce, my brother, went to Arcadia High. My uncle was staying with us because he was down on his luck, as my dad put it. I’m almost positive it had something to do with his drinking.”
Bryce is a pretty decent name too.
Also, three weeks ago, would that be before Leviathan? It’s unclear to me exactly how much time passed between 8.8 and 9.1.
It does sound like it, at least. I wouldn’t think life immediately after Leviathan would qualify as seeming “so normal”.
“Then Leviathan came. The sirens woke us up early in the morning, we hurried to the shelter, and by the time it was midday, we were standing in front of what used to be our house.
Actually, maybe I should save that until I know whether the uncle survived. That “we” could very easily be just Sierra and Bryce.
Flattened, everything we ever owned was gone.”
I’m guessing Sierra wasn’t exactly expecting to hear that either.
From the look on her face, it seemed like I’d surprised her again. What kind of image did she have of me?
What kind of image did you have of villains until you became one? This isn’t a new situation to you, you’re just on the other side of it now.
“Thank you. We- we stayed in a family friend’s basement, and they had another family there as well, on the upper floors, so it was crowded.
The living conditions after Leviathan’s attack manage to be sea-related even in the few, mythical drier places.
But it was better than the shelters, or so we thought. My dad, my uncle and I worked with one of the cleanup crews.
Uncle’s still alive, for now at least.
I’m halfway expecting him to either die or turn out to be a piece of shit by the end of this story.
Trying to get things normal again. Until word got out that one of the crews had been attacked, the women assaulted. Um. So they told me I couldn’t work with them.
I worked for one of the shelters instead. Handing out sheets, making beds, keeping track of names and passing on requests for stuff like insulin or other meds that people needed. Long hours, thankless…”
But very much necessary. You did good.
She put a hand to her face, “I’m rambling.”
You do seem to be giving a lot of information that may or may not be relevant to the mission, but lots of information is what Skitter asked for.
“It’s fine. Better that you give me too much information than not enough. Keep going.”
“My uncle got sick fast. He had a cold just days after Leviathan came, and it got complicated after, became pneumonia.
Ah, yes, here we go. Maybe he’s not dead yet, but this isn’t a good sign.
The hospital sent him out of town for medical care, and we got word he’d died just two days after that.
Respiratory distress or something. Drowning in his own lungs.
That sounds about right given the pictures on Wikipedia’s page on pneumonia that indicate fluids in the lungs.
Less than a week from the time he got the cold to the time he died.”
She stopped talking, and I didn’t push her, giving her time to compose herself. Had she been close to her uncle?
Perhaps… she didn’t explicitly indicate it much, but she does seem affected by his death.
“By the time we heard the news, Mom and Dad were sick too, and Bryce was showing symptoms. It wasn’t a cold. It was more like the flu, but with what happened to my uncle, we didn’t want to take any chances.
Yikes, that sounds like a really unpleasant moment. Learning that your uncle died of his sickness mere days after the rest of the family got sick with something similar? Not fun.
None of them could keep anything down, sinus problems, pounding headaches, tired… we went to the doctors and they said it could be toxic mold exposure.
Leviathan, did you really have to make such a mess of things?
The moisture, always being cold and damp, and not having enough to eat, being in that basement, with the foundation possibly cracked or the mold disturbed by the vibrations and damage in the attack… Um.”
I guess I was wrong to describe the basement as one of the mythical drier places. In my defense, though, I had to for the joke.
I wondered if this was pertinent to what happened to her brother, or if she was just really wanted someone to talk to.
I didn’t want rush her, but I did try to get her on track, “So your parents and brother got sick.”
She does seem to have a tendency to go down tangents.
I can relate.
“And I was left alone. I guess I was saved by the long hours at the shelter, I wasn’t spending half as much time in the house where they got exposed to the mold.
Ah, yeah, that makes sense.
I had to find a new place to stay. A guy from the shelter heard my story, offered to give me a room in the church. Near here. I was grateful, I took it.
I see. And your parents sent Bryce along with you, while staying in the basement themselves?
My brother got out of the hospital, and he came to stay with me.
Oh, right, they were hospitalized. Close enough, though.
He got the cot, I got the floor. A day and a half later, they came.”
Aaand they just can’t catch a break, can they.
She nodded. “They attacked the church. Nine or ten of them. We outnumbered them, but they had weapons, and they caught us by surprise.
One of them threw a molotov cocktail through a window. There were other families there, families with kids, so I grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to stop it from spreading.
That seems like an odd thing to do if they were actually trying to take over the church. I guess either that wasn’t actually their goal, or they thought they could take it over quickly enough to stop the fire themselves.
Spraying around- I couldn’t put it out, didn’t want to try in case I just spread it around, so I just contained it, for all the good it did.”
At least you tried.
I take it the church isn’t the target of the mission? It kinda sounds like it’s going to have gone from ashes to ashes by now.
She shook her head, “They came through the doors and began attacking people, one of them grabbed my brother, I- I panicked. I used the extinguisher to spray towards them and tried to pull him away.
Shame that wasn’t containment foam.
I wonder if containment foam would be effective at extinguishing fires. Probably dangerous to try, though. Don’t want to get stuck in it by accident with a fire raging around you.
We do know it’s not flammable, at least, or they wouldn’t have used it on Lung or on prisoners sharing a wagon with him.
I couldn’t, and others were approaching, so I left him and I escaped through the broken window where the bottle had been thrown inside.
Some might criticize Sierra for giving up and running away, abandoning her brother, but I honestly think it’s a good thing. She recognizes when she’s not able to do something about it herself, when to flee to seek help. That’s much better than getting captured alongside her brother and being unable to do that.
When I got back an hour later, there were fire trucks and police and ambulances there. My brother was the only one missing.
Well, that’s something at least.
The others were there, but badly hurt. Burned or cut up, beaten. Derrick, the man who’d invited me to stay there-”
But yeah, maybe the fate of Derrick isn’t super relevant?
She broke off, and she stopped walking, turning away so her head was facing away from me.
I waited patiently. When she’d turned back so I could see her face and started walking again, I gently asked, “Dead?”
Less relevant or not, though, worth letting her talk about it. Listening is a severely underrated way of helping people.
She shook her head. Quietly, she said, “They cut him up with a broken bottle. The doctor said they bent him over and shoved it between- he’ll have a tube running out of his stomach and into a bag for the rest of his life. And he might never walk again. You understand?”
So why did the Merchants attack? To hurt people just for fun? For resources the people inside were living off of?
“I think so.” Not that I wanted to.
Heh, yeah, that’s fair.
“Not about what they did, I mean, do you understand what I’m saying about these assholes, these… I don’t even have words to describe them… to say how much I hate them. God!”
Oh yeah, absolutely. They’re pretty disgusting.
“Keep going,” I urged her.
“I don’t know you. I barely know about you. I heard something about you in some bank robbery around the time I had exams-”
Yeah, that is pretty much Skitter’s only real claim to fame outside the cape community. That and the PRT fundraiser, which I think was supposed to be televised? I didn’t see any cameras mentioned there though, so maybe that particular part of the fundraiser wasn’t.
“That was me.”
“I don’t know how you operate. I don’t know your methods, outside of what I just saw back there. But I want you to know that I’ve always considered myself a pacifist. I’ve never been in a fight, I’ve always tried to stand up for people and give them the benefit of a doubt, to be fair and never do anything to hurt another person, even with words.”
Hm, makes sense – fits with the way her first instinct when the Merchants attacked was not to counterattack, but to minimize damage.
I guess this is mainly Sierra trying to explain why she’s willing to ask a villain for help, though, with that comment about benefit of a doubt.
And maybe also that she doesn’t want Skitter to hurt too many people if she doesn’t have to? Though maybe the Merchants have made themselves an exception to that, and Sierra does seem to be fine with asking Skitter without actually knowing how she’s likely to go about this.
“Okay.” How long had it been since she slept? I was having trouble following her train of thought.
Kinda like other people might feel about me when I talk about Homestuck shirts and a not too many sentences later I’m going on about the narrative roles of Olaf versus Jar-Jar Binks [here].
“So I think it should mean something extra, something special, when I’m telling you to hurt them. Fuck them up. Hurt them as much as you think they deserve, then double that. Triple it, just- just make them-”
Yep, we’ve got a shaken pacifist over here.
This reminds me of the Norwegian people’s reaction – including mine – to the Utøya attacks, which I have talked about before on the blog. It really shook us to the core, and we had lots of people advocating the death sentence for Anders Behring Breivik (though I don’t think that was ever really a legal option for law enforcement – even if they had reinstated the death sentence as a reaction to his crimes, I don’t think they could use it for a crime committed before it was reinstated without some seriously good reasons), or otherwise harder punishments than we normally allow.
I seriously would not blame someone for murdering him the second he came out of prison, if he ever did.
(#and no i’m not gonna call him fjotolf hansen
#i know i’ve made a big deal about respecting people’s chosen names before #but i respect *NOTHING* about this man
#he does not deserve it
#besides there’s a very very high chance he only changed it to something stupid for attention
#fits his prison m.o.)
She stopped yet again, choking on her words.
I had a hard enough time keeping afloat in a conversation when I was Taylor. How was I supposed to do it as Skitter? What was appropriate, what was expected? I hadn’t figured any of this out, yet.
Yeah, you’re gonna need to learn that if you’re going to hold this position.
I put a hand on her shoulder, and she flinched. I left the hand there, and I measured out my words. “Trust me when I say I have that handled.”
Capsaicin stings to the rescue!
And maybe some dog bites too, if you can get the other Undersiders in on this.
She looked at me, and I gave her a small nod.
“God,” she muttered.
Heh. Can’t believe you’re actually doing this?
“Tell me more about them, and tell me anything about your brother that might help me identify him.”
Ah, yes, that would be good to know. Especially if it’s something about his shape, so Taylor doesn’t need to see him to know not to sting him.
She startled, as if shaken from a daydream. She reached into her pocket and handed me a folded picture. It was hard to pin down the kid’s age. He was skinny in a way that suggested someone who was going through a major growth spurt but hadn’t yet filled out. He had large, blue eyes and a snub nose. There wasn’t a hair on his face, and his black hair was spiked so the top stuck up in every direction. Like so many guys, he didn’t seem to know how to style his hair. He ignored the sides and back in favor of overdoing the parts he could see when he looked in the mirror.
Sounds like a bit of a mess, to be honest… at least he seems very recognizable. Although I kinda doubt the Merchants let him spend much time styling his hair.
The boy could have been a tall eleven year old and he could have been a young-looking sixteen.
That’s quite the range.
“Bryce?” I asked her.
She nodded. “Bryce Kiley.”
Nice. I don’t think I’ve heard that surname before – Wildbow seems to have a preference for using some of the less common ones. Hebert, Hess, Laborn, Wilbourn, Vasil, Lindt, Piggot, etcetera.
“Is there any chance he escaped?”
“No. I’ve checked all the usual places. His friends, our old house, what’s left of it. I stopped by the hospital where Mom and Dad are, and the nurses say they haven’t seen him.”
Worth asking, at least.
“How long ago did he disappear?”
“Two days ago.”
Ah, more recent than I had expected. Fair enough, I suppose otherwise she’d have gotten in touch with the Protectorate by now.
I nodded. I vaguely recalled that the forty-eight hour mark was when police considered a missing person as good as gone.
Ahh, right. I guess maybe she went there first, and it’s gotten to that point, so she’s now looking for other sources of help, like the Protectorate or Skitter.
That didn’t mean I wouldn’t try. It also meant I could feel less guilty about handling things here, with my territory, before starting my search.
I’m not sure I follow that logic, but I think we all know Taylor doesn’t need any more guilt on her mind right now.
“Did you get a look at the people who took him?”
“Some. The one nearest me, he was fat, white, and he had one of those bushy wild man beards. You know the kind I mean? It sticks out everywhere, no grooming-”
Yeah, I think I know what you mean.
“I know what you mean.”
“And his hair was really long and greasy, so it stuck to his scalp.”
Spoiler: Snape fused with Dumbledore and Victor Dursley.
“Then there was one woman. Maybe middle-aged, bleached blond hair. Trailer trash. And she was with this tall black guy with a scar on his lips.
On one hand, it’d be quite the twist if it turned out that these church attackers weren’t Merchants after all, but rather the Slaughterhouse Nine (with a new member), but the methodology, the fact that nobody died, and the themes of this Arc so far suggest otherwise.
He was the one who was grabbing Bryce. He had a bottle in one hand he was drinking from and a length of pipe in the other, so I think he was the one who used the bottle on Derrick…”
“I don’t think anything major. Um, most of the guys were shirtless, and the ones who were wearing clothes were wearing t-shirts, some with no sleeves or with the sleeves torn off. Oh. And a lot of them had these bands around their wrists. Plastic, colored, sometimes one or two, but the black guy had a lot.
Hm. Some sort of ranking system?
Hang on, “tall black guy with a scar on his lips”, lots of bands suggesting high ranking… Sounds like we’re dealing with Skidmark himself here.
I remember seeing the ones on the black guy’s wrist, and thinking it didn’t seem like something he would wear on his own.”
Yeah, that just makes it even more likely it’s a rank thing. Maybe he wasn’t the one to come up with the idea, for that matter.
“Ok, that last bit is especially good.” Were they a way of marking status? More bands for higher status, with different colors meaning different things? “Anything else?”
I suppose the colors could have meaning too. Especially if the group is subdivided.
“I can’t think of anything major right this second.”
“Okay.” I thought. But she might come up with something more? “Where are you staying?”
She hesitated to answer, but she finally relented and admitted, “Nowhere. I was out all last night, looking. I was going to go back to the place we’d stayed at first, our family friend, but…”
…guest bed on the ground floor of the Hive?
“The mold problem, and you said it was crowded. That won’t do. You’ll come with me.”
I love how Taylor doesn’t even seem to think twice about it, at least not before saying it.
So does that mean she was downstairs while the scene I read last time played out? Better make sure she doesn’t come upstairs while Taylor’s mask is off.
Although Sierra knowing Taylor’s face could make for an interesting subplot.
Concern flickered across her face. “I don’t know-”
“It’s better if you’re close, so you can answer any questions I have and so I can keep you informed.”
That seems reasonable.
She frowned, and I could practically see her working to think of a way to get out of my offer without offending. I knew if she didn’t come with me, she’d probably wind up searching for a mediocre to unsatisfactory place.
Her hesitation is very understandable. Sure, Skitter is being very open to helping her with her brother, and claims to have good intentions for the neighborhood in general, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she can trust the villain enough to go live with her.
“This isn’t really negotiable,” I told her, just to forestall any excuses.
Heh. “I’m not going to let you weasel your way out of me helping you.”
Because I do think helping Sierra with her living conditions for the time being is Taylor’s main motivation here. The thing about staying close seems to be as much an excuse to do that as whatever Sierra was going to come up with for not letting Skitter do that.
For her part, she didn’t argue.
We made our way to the beach, and after I’d checked both ways, I led her into the storm drain. It took some urging to get her to enter the darkness, and I had to grip her hand to lead her into the oppressive black.
This is where children go to get killed by villains and/or clowns.
I unlocked the barred door that led into the cellar and locked it behind us.
When I flipped the switches to light up the ground floor, her eyes went wide. “You have power. Erm, electricity.”
Hehe, yeah, in this world I suppose that needs to be clarified sometimes.
But yes. Skitter has both.
“And running water. Stay here a moment.” I took the stairs two at a time to get to the second floor. Nothing too sensitive there, but I did walk up to the stairs leading to the third floor and slid a panel across the stairwell. With my keys, I locked it in place. I didn’t feel it was that obvious to anyone glancing around the room.
Hm, alright. I guess this might be why she was on the second floor at the beginning of the chapter.
Or will be, I guess.
It looked like a section of wall until you saw the keyhole. I verified the bugs were all locked up tight in their individual compartments in the lids of each terrarium, then headed back to Sierra.
You know what would be cool? A Skitter lock. A door that is locked or unlocked by manipulating bugs. I can think of ways to make something like that, though I suppose certain other powers might be able to cheese it.
“I’m making tea,” I spoke, as I came down the stairs. “You want some? Are you hungry?”
I really don’t think Sierra was expecting Skitter to be so hospitable.
“I’m not a tea drinker, and I haven’t had it in years, but that suddenly sounds like the best thing in the world.”
I suppose this tea ties back to the beginning again. I wonder if Skitter’s going to be like “Oh, I can sense some Merchants entering my territory. I’m gonna go sit upstairs and deal with it. Don’t come up, I wanna take my mask off so I can drink the tea.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have a kitchen table or chairs or even a living room for us to have the tea. There’re beds in the other room, if you want something to sit on, and you can make yourself comfortable there.”
Better than nothing, I suppose.
“This is strangely domestic for a villain.” I turned to look at her and she hurried to add, “I mean-”
And there it is. The V word.
(No, not vagina. Why would you think I meant vagina.)
Maybe that’ll help it sink in for Taylor why Sierra has been reacting the way she has.
Also, hey, villains gotta live somewhere too!
“It’s fine. I’m not offended, I am a villain. But I’m also a person under this mask. Someone who prefers tea to coffee, who enjoys reading, who…” I floundered. “…likes sweet and savory foods but dislikes anything spicy or sour. Point being, I’m someone who wants to make sure youget taken care of. Especially if you’re among the people I’m protecting in the territory I’m claiming. Go. Find a bed.”
…I really like this reply.
Not gonna lie, I hope Sierra sticks around here after this Arc. I like her dynamic with Skitter.
Obediently, she went to do just that.
I put the kettle on, then got the sugar. What did I have that would go well with tea?
I got out a box of graham cookies with chocolate on one side. I poured out the tea into mugs and put a teabag in each. I poured milk into a small measuring cup so Sierra could have milk with her tea if she wanted, and similarly doled out sugar into a small bowl and placed a spoon inside it. Then I tore open the box of cookies and sorted them onto a plate.
Domestic, hospitable Skitter is pretty neat.
I put everything onto a tray and went to find the room where Sierra would be seated.
She was lying on the bunk bed, already fast asleep.
It wouldn’t surprise me if she hasn’t had a good sleep over the last two days. Now she’s in a decent bed in the nice – if not fully-furnished – hive of someone who claims to want to protect her and seems genuine about it. I think Skitter’s reply to her comment about domesticity really did help her feel more comfortable about all of this.
Sleep well, Sierra.
Quietly, I set the serving tray down on one of the luggage trunks at one corner of the room, collected my own tea and went upstairs to the second floor.
And we’ve come full circle.
Aaand it’s time to deal with the second group, isn’t it?
[End of session]
krixwell, My Dude. get some got damn sleep. treat yoself to a nice relaxing snooze. Take Care Of Your Body
[a postponement post mentioning that I’d gotten three hours of sleep over the previous 48]
As it happens, Sharks sent me this ask just as I was getting ready to finally get some sleep. I went on to get about twelve hours of precious zees, and today I’m feeling a lot better. 🙂
Hoiwdla! Let’s get back to Taylor’s defense against the Merchants entering her territory!
It took me three tries.
On the third attempt, the beetle, supported by others and a crack in the pavement, successfully struck the match against the side of the box as the other bugs adjusted its position. A small flame flared at the end.
What are you using this match for? Gonna set fire to the rain the Merchants? Or maybe we aren’t going back to the second group after all.
Other bugs leveraged matches out of the box the woman had dropped, gripping the matches in their mandibles, sometimes two or three bugs to one match. Like a relay, they touched one match to another, passing on the flame from the beetle’s match to each of the others.
How fitting that I’d read about this on the starting day of the Olympics.
It wasn’t long before there were more than thirty beetles each with a lit match in its mandibles. Some died from the heat their own matches generated, but most were able to stand it.
I could imagine the visual of it; kind of like a small sea of tiny flames like lighters at a concert. Or maybe it was closer to a lynch mob, a crowd holding torches, radiating with an imminent threat of violence.
Hm, it does sound like we’re back to the Merchant fight – I don’t remember anyone dropping a box of matches when I read the first part four days ago, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Or it might’ve happened offscreen while we were flashbacking.
It was a shame it was closer to noon than midnight. I imagined the effect would have been even more exaggerated in the darkness.
That would’ve been really cool.
The woman stepped away, pulling off one of her wet shoes. She threw it at the bugs, and it rolled over a few. A heartbeat later, it burst violently into flame. It didn’t make a difference.
Nice try, at least.
The swarm that was armed with matches was already too spread out for one shoe and one small fire to slow them down at all.
Gonna have to try a little harder.
The woman’s attempts to remove her other shoe made her fall over, and she suppressed a grunt of pain as she landed.
First time didn’t work, so you go through the trouble of trying the other one? Sounds like you don’t have a lot of options.
Soo… now I’m questioning whether or not we’re back to the Merchants, again. Is it just this woman right now? Did we perhaps skip Taylor dealing with the rest of the 24-person group?
She successfully kicked off her other shoe, and then began simultaneously fumbling with her belt while trying to crab-walk backwards away from the advancing sea of tiny flames.
Ahh, I see, she’s figured out that shoes are too small, so she’s taking off her other shoe so she can get access to her pants.
I’m not sure baring the skin of her legs while being attacked by bugs is a good idea, but using the larger pants makes a whole lot more sense than the other shoe.
I could picture it. It would be intimidating: A sea of bugs acting with a backing of human intelligence, each with their tiny torches.
It’d be scary enough without the distinct sense that the bugs are operating with human intent to hurt you.
Doubly intimidating if a swarm of bugs had made you drop and spill a can of gasoline onto your shoes and the cuffs of your pant legs.
Yeah, alright, might wanna take those shoes and pants off.
She successfully undid her belt, then began trying to remove the tight-fitting jeans she wore. The woman got as far as getting her jeans around her ankles before she got stuck. Some beetles and roaches took to the air, carrying matches to the ground behind her, cutting off her retreat.
Really wish you’d worn sports pants, don’tcha.
She screamed at the others in her group, but nobody leaped to her assistance.
Alright, not just her. Got it.
A beetle fluttered forward and touched a match to her jeans. In an instant, the bundle of cloth at her feet was on fire.
Aaand that’s gonna hurt.
She tried to pat it out, but her efforts to remove her shoes had gotten trace amounts of gasoline on her hands.
Her right hand ignited, the insects on it dying, and she threw herself to one side to thrust it into a hole in the road where water had collected, her feet still kicking as she tried to remove her jeans.
At least this happened to her at a time where you can’t move ten feet without getting wet.
Gasoline transferred to the water’s surface and flickered with the faintest of flames.
Smoooke on the waaater! Dun dun dun, dundun dun-dun…
One of her friends finally stepped forward to help her, grabbing her under the armpits and dragging her ten feet down the road to a spot where more water had collected.
Case in point.
Together, they worked to put out the flames, dousing her bundled jeans into the water. I could maybe have stopped him, driven him away, but my interest was more on spooking them than causing grievous physical harm.
Yeah, that’s fair.
I wouldn’t lose much sleep over burning her with the things she’d intended to use on others, but I wouldn’t stop her from putting herself out.
It’s more about doing it in the first place.
Apparently seeing the woman get set on fire by the swarm had done its job in unnerving my enemies. The group scattered, and I let them run.
See ya! Maybe soon, if Taylor’s as kind to you as she was to the guy from the eight-person group.
One by one, I took them down by creating the human shaped swarms and then attacking them. Some fought, others ran, but each of the Merchants succumbed eventually, choking on the bugs or losing all self-control in the face of the pain the attacking swarm inflicted.
Excellent work, Skitter. 🙂
The human shapes were less efficient than a regular swarm, but I imagined the psychological effect was that much greater.
Oh, absolutely. Not much quite like fighting humanoids made out of bugs to give you nightmares.
A swarm of bugs was something you could encounter any day. An uncannily human figure that you couldn’t hurt with any conventional weapon, who threatened incredible pain if it got close enough? It was something my enemies would remember, and it was something they could tell others about.
Yeah, sounds about right.
I gathered the swarm into a figure that stood next to the woman with the burned feet and her friend. I drew more and more bugs into the swarm, bloating it and drawing it up to the point where I couldn’t make it any larger, without the bottom half giving way. I gauged it to be somewhere close to twelve feet in height.
“You gonna keep trying to fuck with us, pal?”
Then I let it fall on top of them. That polished off group two.
I stood from the armchair, stretched, and pulled on my mask. I bent down to pick up my mug, then headed downstairs to check on Sierra. She was still sleeping, but I’d known that.
Did you have bugs on her?
I’d felt secure about removing my mask only because I had bugs on the girl, to keep track of her. I’d know the second she stirred.
Of course she did. Not sure why I even wondered about the security of taking off her mask. I really should’ve predicted this.
I went into the kitchen before sending a text to Coil:
Merchant burn victim & other wounded near Sandstone & Harney. Send medic?
How thoughtful. Plus, helping them out like this could be a bit of salt on the wound. “Hey, I trounced you completely and with ease. Have some medics to help you get over your crushing defeat at my hands.”
No use having the woman die from any complications from her injuries. Besides, maybe he could get her to offer up information in exchange for her freedom.
Well, this too.
I dialed Lisa next.
“Hey, Boardwalk empress,” she answered me.
I prefer to call her a queen, for obvious reasons, but empress is also fitting.
“Tattletale. How’s it coming?”
“It’s not. I’m gathering intel on the enemies in my territory. A few have migrated my way in response to what the rest of you are doing, regrouping.
Ah, I guess that’s the price of waiting – the enemies still think it’s a place they can go.
I’m trying to see if there’s any useful tidbits of info I can pick up, and if there’s maybe a way to fuck with all these guys at around the same time, so they know there’s nowhere left to go.
Of course she wants to fuck with them. 😛
In the meantime, I’m helping Grue out, figuring out where he’s got Merchants hiding in his area.”
“He’s doing okay?”
“No problems, last I heard. You? I saw that cloud of bugs earlier.”
I guess Tattle’s territory isn’t too far away. Though to be fair, the cloud would be visible from a pretty good distance.
“Made a big play. Everyone here should know this is my territory, now.
Yeah, a “play” is a good way to describe what she did, even if she does mean it in the sense of a “play for power”, a move in the game of capes.
Merchants tested the waters, I dealt with it. Remains to be seen if this works out in the long run.”
The biggest problem I see with Skitter’s way of going about this – something I thought of one of these last few days but forgot about before getting around to posting about – is that she needs to sleep. Normally that wouldn’t be that much of a problem as long as her enemies didn’t identify her sleep schedule and exploit that to attack while she herself was off-guard (something which her eventual employees (drones?) might help mitigate the damage from), but here’s the thing: Taylor promised her subjects that she’d keep the insects from bothering people in the ways insects normally do. How is she going to do that while asleep?
To be fair, she has controlled bugs while unconscious before, to the hilarious distaste of John Cleese. But that might just make things worse, depending on what her subconscious gets up to at night.
“Hmmm,” she replied, “I’m getting the impression you’re a little further along than the rest of us.”
“impression”, you say? 😉
“If that’s the case, then that’s great. I want to be in Coil’s good books.”
“I want you to be too. You know I’m here to help if you need it.”
That’s good to know. I hope Taylor needs it often…
“Yeah. That’s why I’m calling, actually. I need to find someone.”
Ooh, good thinking. Where’s Bryce?
I gave her the rundown on everything Sierra had told me. She stopped me when I got to the bit about the armbands.
“Those aren’t for rank,” she informed me. “But you’re not wrong in saying they’re like status. They’re more like… boy scout badges.”
Oh, huh. You get them for feats, then.
I feel pretty safe in guessing that a lot of those “feats” involve killing people, or worse.
“Boy scout badges?”
“From what I can gather, you get one for attending one of the Merchants’ ‘events’. Colors are supposed to represent what the each one was about.
Ah, fair enough.
It translates to a kind of respect, showing you’re loyal, whatever.”
That does makes more sense than rewarding them simply for sheer brutality.
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“And neither am I, to be honest,” she replied. “And that bothers me.
I’m not sure what’s not to understand here, but it’s not like I have any right to get on these girls’ cases about not understanding one thing I (think I) did.
So in the interests of getting intel and maybe getting a lead on this missing boy of yours, do you think you could get away from your territory, tonight, to join me in figuring this out?”
I was going to use this quote to comment on Tattle saying “missing boy” without Skitter having mentioned his gender, but then I remembered that we just skipped over Taylor telling Lisa everything.
The point I was making still stands, though, even if it doesn’t apply right here – I like when Lisa’s dialogue has her casually mentioning details she hasn’t actually been told.
“I don’t want to leave just yet.”
“Merchants are throwing a big bash tonight, so I doubt they’ll be attacking your territory. In fact, I’m wondering if they were attacking your territory to get cash or stuff to barter at the event as much as they were responding to your claim.”
Huh, yeah, I suppose if they already had plans to attack the area, that explains why it happened so quickly.
“And Chosen aren’t a threat right now? They haven’t said or done anything yet?”
So sign of them yet, no. I suppose they’ll be an issue eventually, though.
“Not yet, no. Haven’t run into any.”
“Grue and Imp are probably going to want to wind down and go on the defensive later today. You can have one of them babysit your territory if you’re worried. You have no good reason to refuse. Come on, let’s go see what a Merchant’s party is all about.”
Oh, so the bash isn’t just a reason Taylor can come out, but also the reason why she should – it’s what Tattle was thinking of as a source of information.
Attending a Merchant meeting, presumably in civilian clothing… this could be interesting.
End of Insinuation 11.3
This was a pretty good chapter! We got Taylor being great framed by Taylor being cool.
She’s come a long way in combat, and finally made use of her power’s rather large (even when not in overdrive) range to fight from a distance while sipping her tea in a place of safety. And she wrecked her enemies, to the point that we skipped over her dealing with two thirds of them.
The highlight of the chapter, though, was the flashback to what happened between the end of last chapter and this fight. I really like Taylor’s compassionate side and her dynamic with Sierra, and I especially enjoyed this particular exchange:
“This is strangely domestic for a villain.” I turned to look at her and she hurried to add, “I mean-”
“It’s fine. I’m not offended, I am a villain. But I’m also a person under this mask. Someone who prefers tea to coffee, who enjoys reading, who…” I floundered. “…likes sweet and savory foods but dislikes anything spicy or sour. Point being, I’m someone who wants to make sure you get taken care of. Especially if you’re among the people I’m protecting in the territory I’m claiming. Go. Find a bed.”
I really do hope Sierra sticks around for a while.
And then, at the end of the chapter, we got some Tattletale, which is always as good thing. And based on what she said, it’s pretty clear what the next chapter is going to be about: We’re going to be attending, or spying on, a Merchant get-together along with Tattle, which sounds like a lot of fun.
See you then!