Infestation 11.5: Museum of Debauchery

Source material: Worm, Infestation 11.5

Originally blogged: February 16-20, 2018


The invasion of 11.5

Hey! Krixwell here, because the rotation in the Blog a little more!

This Time that man’s strength. Where this is happening. More specifically, we have to go to the Agreement of the Seller redband.

Indeed, it could be better, if this is not the Case. But it is, and Taylor and Lisa for him.

So we know Trading plan bloodshed today, so there is, of course, the Question is: whose Blood is that? Doesn’t sound like this Event in the short term, and You already had a special Attack against the territory of Taylor today, I doubt very much that You or Your Subject is Your Goal. That being said, I think that Target innocent People, and Taylor is difficult to maintain the “pure Intellect”. This can create Conflicts with Lisa, if You want to give Priority to Their Hats to keep, or Follow the original Purpose, but I don’t think that we really like. More Than That Brian.

So, without further ADO, let’s jump!


The intern responsible for translating the previous post has been fired, thrown into the darkness and eaten by a Norwegian grue. We here at Krixwell Liveblogs Inc. apologize for the inconvenience.


Infestation 11.5

Howdy! Krixwell here, back to liveblog some more Worm!

This time, where doing it man. Where making it hapen. More specifically, we’re attending a Merchant redband arrangement.

Actually, it might be better if that didn’t hapen. But it is, and Taylor and Lisa are there for it.

So, what we know is the Merchants are planning bloodshed tonight, so the obvious question is: Whose blood? It didn’t sound like this arrangement was on short notice, and they already had a separate attack on Taylor’s territory today, so I highly doubt she or her subjects are their target. That said, I do think the targets are going to be innocent people, and Taylor will have trouble sticking to “pure recon”. This might lead to conflict with Lisa if she decides to prioritize keeping their cover or sticking to the original goal, though I don’t think that’s really like her. That’s more of a Brian thing.

So yeah, without further ado, let’s jump into it!


Leviathan’s attack and the waves had done a huge amount of damage to the shopping center, and it seemed like the Merchants had interrupted the efforts to shore it up and rebuild.

Oh yeah, I remember the mall’s last appearance, besides the previous chapter, being when Taylor took note of it while chasing after Leviathan.

Construction equipment had been left behind and bore the decorations of the same hooligans that had hotwired and taken them for their own use.

I’m not sure I want to know what the Merchants do with this sort of equipment.

The bulldozer closest to me had been spray painted in hues of purple, blue and red, and it had bras, children’s toys and defaced flags strung around it, among other things.

This poor bulldozer…

Clothes racks from one of the clothing stores in the mall had been tied crudely to the scoop and the jutting parts had been clubbed into rough points, as if they thought they could use the vehicle to run into people and impale them.

Eesh. Custom assault vehicles, sort of.


Trash cans had been dragged into place around the mall, and burned with an acrid smell of melted plastic and rancid meat.

Ew.

Countless Merchants had gathered, some perching on piles of trash or rubble as lookouts, and it seemed like everyone was striving to be heard over the music that blared from the countless speakers that were set up in and around the mall.

I bet their music is terrible too.

Overall, this arrangement sounds a lot like some sort of awful rave so far.

Not every set of speakers was playing the same music, or even the same kinds of music.

Oh wow. Going a bit hogwartsy, eh?

The blend of a half-dozen techno, dance and rap tracks devolved into a single grating, uneven noise.

Yeeah. I think I’m winning that bet, regardless of the quality of the individual tracks.


Senegal put his hand on my shoulder again, and I didn’t stop him.

Fuck off, dude.

As a group, we approached the side of the building where two larger guys were standing guard. They noted the elastic bands that Lisa and Minor wore, handed each a red elastic, and then waved them through.

Well, that was easy.

“They’re with us,” Lisa spoke, gesturing towards the rest of us. The guy gave Senegal and I the go ahead to pass, and I took the offered rubber band and pulled it around my wrist. The second we were clear, I brushed Senegal’s hand from my shoulder. He smirked at me in response.

Yeah, yeah, smirk it up.

“No faggots,” the other man spoke.

Dammit. I knew this might be an issue, yet I somehow didn’t see this coming.

I guess Brooks and Jaw can’t be together here after all. They’ll have to remain star-crossed lovers.

…incidentally, this is why I initially suggested Minor and Senegal as the third couple (I’m not sure if I did that explicitly, but I at least did it implicitly) – as they’re two of the more intimidating guys, that might dissuade comments like this.


We looked back and I saw Jaw and Brooks with a small crowd around them.

Jaw looked at Lisa, and she gave a discreet hand signal, making a fist and tapping her leg twice.

According to old superstition, little homophobic fairies live inside people’s legs and cause trouble, so sometimes you gotta knock on leg.

A moment later, Jaw was stepping in close and slamming the heel of his hand into the doorman’s nose.

Alright! Bit more violent a solution that I was expecting, but you ain’t gonna see me complaining.

He fell roughly on a pile of rubble, and his ‘friend’ who’d been guarding the door with him stepped forward. Jaw caught the man’s hand and pulled him in close, smashing his skull into the man’s nose.

Y’know, I’m not sure whether this confrontation counts as trouble or if it’s actually helping them fit in even more.

As the man fell, blood gushing from his nose, Jaw straightened, cracking his knuckles.

Nice!

If it wasn’t already clear, Jaw is my favorite of the escorts so far. Might change if we learn more about him, though.


“Anyone else want to complain?” Jaw asked.

Nobody did. I was surprised at how quickly people backed off and went back to whatever they’d been doing before.

Speak now (and get beaten to a pulp) or forever hold your peace.

Jaw collected two red elastics, put a hand on the small of Brooks’ back and nudged him inside.

The interior was so crowded we could barely navigate, and it was rank with the sweet and sour smells of sweat and garbage that had just started to reek. Body lice had found hosts with a full fifth of the people here, and more were spreading to new hosts in the shoulder to shoulder press of the crowd.

This place is just fantastic.

The tide of bodies around us might have crushed us if our bodyguards weren’t clearing the way.

Surprise! It’s a Tide ad.

…actually, no, this whole arrangement manages to be the opposite of a Tide ad.

Senegal and Minor simply pushed through the crowd with enough force that some fell over, while Jaw and Brooks followed our group. Nobody complained too loudly, and from the way others took it in stride, it seemed this was the norm.

Of course, because they can’t have any sort of decency at this arrangement! That would be wild.

Here, I was coming to understand, might made right.

Yeah, sounds about right.


Judging by the packs of people, ‘might’ wasn’t necessarily physical strength. Those who had the force of numbers at their backs or the better weapons could do what they wanted.

Which pretty much describes the Merchants as a whole, and by extention Skidmark. He’s currently terrorizing the city simply by virtue of how many people he’s got behind him.

I wonder what power(s) he has. Hopefully not ones that match his name, I suppose.

If they didn’t have numbers, sheer physical strength or weaponry that put them one step above the other guys? They became victims instead.

This group is such a mess.


“Want to buy a lady? Or maybe a sir?” one of the vendors leered at Minor.

It really feels like Wildbow is going out of his way to give the Merchants every single negative trait.

Anyway, no thanks.

Got one already.

A group of men and women were gathered in a ‘stall’ behind him, watched by another Merchant. Were they whores or slaves?

Bit of both, probably. The need for what seems to be a guard isn’t exactly a good sign.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to think too long about it.

Me neither.


Okay, it’s getting late, I’ve been rather slow and I really don’t seem to be in the mood for the Merchants’ brand of shit tonight, so I think I’ll end the session here. We’ll pick this back up tomorrow. See you then!

[End of session]


By the way, in case it’s unclear, I was answering the vendor from Minor’s POV. I haven’t “got one already” myself.

The “no thanks” still stands, though.


[Session 2]

“No,” Minor answered. “Have a girl.”

“Get a second! Or do you want something else? Got bullets, got some treats. Booze? Bad? K? Decadence? Madman? Nose powder?”

Hm. It does seem this guy has the persistence of a true salesman, at least.

All of those except booze are drugs, aren’t they?

Jeez, these people really aren’t even trying to protect themselves against undercover cops, heroes and the like. Although I suppose actually arresting someone at this arrangement would be difficult.

“Not interested,” Minor answered.

“Not. Interested.” The Merchant rubbed his chin, looking skeptical, “Right.”

Yeeeah, he isn’t going to take no for an answer. Is Minor gonna have to beat him up, like Jaw did with the guys at the entrance?

“Wait,” Lisa grinned. “Decadence sounds good. How much?”

Hm, I guess we might as well play along.

“Twenty per.”

Twenty of which bill?

“Bullshit,” she replied. “Not even if it was pure, which it probably isn’t. Eight bucks.”

Ah, that bill. I suppose twenty dollars per gram(?) is pretty expensive.

“Ah, we have an expert here, do we? Can’t blame me for trying. You have to understand, it’s hard to get product with things the way they are. Ten.”

I suppose he does have a point. Supply and demand, and all that.

“Eight.”

Haggletale ain’t budging, though.


He looked around, stared at her for a few seconds, then conceded, “Eight.”

She drives a hard bargain.

“For me and two of my buddies here. That’s twenty-four bucks?”

The man nodded eagerly, “Twenty-four.”

Hm, seems like a per-package deal. Unless that’s one gram or less per person, it’s a bit cheaper than I thought.

I don’t know drug prices. I think that’s a good thing.

She forked over a ten and a twenty and collected her change and three pills. She turned to me, “Open up. It’s ecstasy.”

…you sure about this?

I really doubt Taylor is.


“I dunno,” I answered her, feeling legitimately nervous. I didn’t want to refuse her outright and blow our cover, but I definitely didn’t want to get high.

Yeah, figured as much. It’s not really Taylor’s thing.

I was uncomfortable enough with the idea to begin with, but doing it here, in this kind of chaos?

And while you’re here for a specific, undercover purpose?

“Trust me,” she told me.

Obediently, I opened my mouth.

I guess she has a plan. That, or she Knows the pills to be fake.

She pressed one small pill down on my tongue. I closed my mouth. She turned to Brooks and gave him one as well.

As our bodyguards led us through the crowd, she leaned over until our heads were touching, “Sugar pills. A little sleight of hand on my part. Just for appearances. Don’t stress.”

Ahh. A bit of both, then! I guess she came prepared for this, and probably picked Decadence because it looks the most like the pills she brought.


“Could’ve fucking told me,” I hissed. I wasn’t sure if she could hear me over the pounding music, but if anyone could fill in the blanks in what I’d said, it would be her.

How?

More people were pushing product and stolen goods at the edges of the mall, some pimped others or prostituted themselves, while yet others were scrounging through the stores and then offering their finds for cash or barter.

Are we moving on from the in-depth descriptions of the casual debauchery around here? I hope so.

The roof at the center of the mall had collapsed and what remained was shored up, but there was a gaping hole that was open to the darkening sky. Beneath that hole, the party was already underway.

Honestly, this place barely qualifies as a party by any reasonable standards. It’s more like… a barrel full of surströmming, lutefisk, drugs and semen, being blasted with terrible music and bad energy from all directions.

But at least the fish seem to be enjoying it despite the simile sort of implying they’re all dead, so I guess maybe that counts.

(#pinkie pie would revoke its party badge)


People were dancing, fighting, clustering in groups or chanting. Sometimes two or three at a time.

To be fair, the first two can overlap, especially in the cases of cool fighting or bad dancing.

(Seriously, I’ve watched videos about what made Monty Oum’s fight animations so good, and it had a lot to do with how much like dancing it was.)

And hey, it’s not like you can’t chant in a tight group while you dance-fight, either.

As we found some breathing room, Lisa gathered the group together. I withdrew the picture, “We’re looking for this guy.”

Oh right, that’s still a thing. I’m not sure we can expect to see Bryce here in person, but it’s worth a shot.

Nobody disagreed or debated the point, not even Brooks. Senegal had dropped the smirk and was all business as he remained at my right shoulder, tall enough to see over the top of the gathered people.

Please stay that way.

On the far end of our group, Minor did much the same thing. That left Lisa and I between them. Brooks and Jaw left to go looking on their own.

Alright, see ya.


In front of us, someone got tackled to the ground. His attacker began pounding at his face, while the people around them cheered.

Wooo!

Okay, yeah, I’m being sarcastic, but I do somewhat wonder what’s up with these two.

We detoured around that group, which brought us face to face with an exhibition.

Guess we’ll never find out.

So what’s this next exhibition at the Weymouth museum of debauchery?

The scene was set at the front of a woman’s clothing shop, and the window had been shattered. Where the mannequins stood in the display window, there were three women and a girl.

The mannequins make me think of Parian. I doubt she has anything to do with this, though.

The women were trying on their clothes, openly undressing and then dressing in whatever the throng of people around them threw their way.

we finally found something I can get behind

Their eyes had the glazed over looks of people who were on something, and their skin shone with a faint sheen of sweat. They smiled as they posed provocatively and hugged the mannequins, showing off the clothes.

…provided they’re doing this of their own free will.


As if the clothes were what the crowd was there to see, and not the skin that was revealed while the women changed.

Of course. The Merchants are well known for being a fashion-minded sort, don’tcha know?

The teenage girl at the far right of the stand was another story. She was dark-haired and the makeup she wore looked like it had been applied by someone who hadn’t used makeup before.

Okay, if this one gets involved in the dressup game, I won’t be as okay with it.

She clutched the collar of her sweatshirt in both hands and stepped back as the crowd surged forward, reaching for her. Being barefoot, she couldn’t step down from the display platform without stepping onto broken glass, and any attempt at running would only lead her into the reaching mass of Merchants.

Eeesh. She clearly doesn’t want to be here… probably a kidnapped victim, like Bryce.

If she’d taken the same drugs as the other women, fear had already sobered her up. She looked entirely alert and she looked terrified. No red band on her wrist. She wasn’t here by choice.

Yeeah, that much was obvious even without the lack of her band.


Someone climbed up onto the platform, grabbing at one of the women. He wasn’t up there for two seconds before the crowd dragged him down and threw him to the ground.

…well, at least there’s some form of protection for the women.

The people around him stomped and kicked him for his temerity.

Ooh, “temerity”. That’s a cool word I haven’t heard before.

That was social cooperation on a really twisted level. From my interpretation, they weren’t doing it for the women, but for themselves.

Oh, absolutely. “Don’t interrupt the show!” “Don’t fuck this up for us!” “Don’t hog the goods!”

They all wanted the women, but if someone stepped up to take one for himself, they’d collectively beat him, for trying to take what they’d silently agreed to share by way of watching.

Sounds about right.


That meant the teenage girl’s situation was especially grim. She couldn’t run, and if she didn’t give the crowd a show, they’d lose patience with her and treat her just as they had the other guy, or worse.

Ugh. Yeah, she’s fucked.

Not literally, if she’s lucky.

If she did give them a show? With the way emotions were running high, I expected things would turn ugly right around the moment the crowd started to get bored. Exhibitionism would only buy her time.

I suppose so. That could go worse than the alternative, even.

“Let’s go.” Lisa pulled on my arm.

Oh yeah, definitely want to avoid getting pulled into the same sort of situation.

“We should help her.”

Lisa glanced at the girl, “There’s at least a hundred people here that need help. We can’t save them all.”

Not without taking down the Merchants overall, unfortunately. And certainly not right now.


“We should help her,” I growled the words, “I won’t fucking sleep tonight if I walk away from this.”

Taylor is a damn good character to put in her story role of “torn between heroism and villainy” because of how strongly she has the capacity for both.

On one hand, she’s good-hearted and definitely has a heroic attitude towards saving innocents, a tendency to take it upon herself to keep everyone else from harm’s way and an unhealthily strong guilt when she can’t, even if it’s not really something she’s responsible for in the first place.

On another hand, she also has a penchant for rebelliousness and can be quite inventively cruel when it serves her needs, which she’s pretty good at convincing herself is fine, and her power is well suited for villainy.

In short, she’s an amazing representation of chaotic good in a nominally villainous role.


Taylor’s heroic side actually has a lot in common with Spiderman. Great power, great responsibility, all that jazz.

She’s nowhere near as good at the banter, though.


“You’ve got a little superhero showing through, there,” she whispered right into my ear.

Hehe, yeah.

Hm. Is this the first time we’ve seen someone use the word “superhero” in this story? We see “hero” all the time, but I’m not sure we’ve ever seen the super- prefix.

*blog search*

Okay, no, not by a long shot. It’s shown up on occasion, starting in 1.1, but it’s happened more rarely than one might expect from a story like this one. Blog search returns only three pages of results for “superhero”, compared to eight pages for just “hero”, though it’s worth noting that that includes cases of me using those words in my commentary and I’m more likely to use the shorter version.

“I am going to help her, with or without you,” I hissed, “Even if that means using my powers and throwing subtlety to the winds.”

Oh wow, Taylor’s really fired up all of a sudden.

Yeah, I was expecting a conflict like this to pop up sooner or later. Taylor isn’t one for pure recon in places with lots of people who need help.

But are you sure about this, Taylor? Keep in mind you’re uncostumed. You’d have to act like you were affected by the bugs like everyone else, at the same time you were directing them.

“Okay, okay. Probably don’t have to go that far. Hold on.”

Whatcha got in mind?


Lisa pulled on Minor’s arm, and he bent down so she could speak in his ear.

Minor straightened, and with one fist clenched, he made his way through the crowd, pushing people to either side, and then stepped onto the stage.

Oh boy.

Time for Minor to show what he’s good for against the crowd, while… the girls pull the teenager out of there during the racket?

The insults hurled his way were impossible to make out over the noise of the music and the larger crowd. He ignored them as he stepped behind the girl, caught her around the waist, and then threw her over one shoulder. She screamed.

…that works too, I guess. I suppose the crowd isn’t quite as eager to attack a guy like Minor?

“I’m buying this one!” he hollered, “Whoever brought her, here’s your fucking money!”

Huh. Well, I suppose that might work.

He revealed what was in his clenched fist – money and pills. The sugar pills Lisa had brought? He cast them into the crowd, and in that instant, the exhibition was over.

Huh. The “whoever brought her” might not be happy, but this should have the added effect of pleasing the crowd as they scramble for the scattered money and “drugs”.

The crowd tore into one another, fighting over what had fallen onto their heads and shoulders, or drifted past them onto the ground. The other women backed into the clothing store.

Just look how pleased this crowd is!


As Minor plowed his way through the crowd, Lisa lunged forward. She caught the wrist of an older man, and I saw that she’d just stopped him from turning a knife on Minor.

Nice work!

I moved to back her up, kicking the guy in the side of the knee. He dropped the knife and it skittered along the floor to the boundary of the crowd.

Heh. Skittered. 😛

I fell on top of it, covering it with my body to prevent anyone else from taking it, then grabbed it for myself at the first opportunity.

Sweet, she’s got a weapon she’s used to wielding now.

Senegal helped clear the crowd out of the way so Minor had an exit route, and I stood, pointing the knife at anyone who looked like they might make a move for us.

…I mean, you’re probably the second least intimidating person in your group right now, knife or no knife, but anything that helps, I guess.

The size and muscle of our bodyguards posed too much risk for the Merchants here, with the potential rewards of getting the girl from them being far too scarce compared to the immediate rewards that were in arm’s reach.

Ah yes. Follow the path of least resistance, folks.

The crowd let them be and continued to scrabble for the bills and pills.

Bills ‘n’ pills :p

I like when Wildbow decides to indulge in a little bit of wordplay. See also Judge Peter Regan lapsing into alliteration [here, search “exorbitantly expensive”] for a moment in Interlude 6, for instance, though I’m not quite sure whether that was intentional.


We legged it in making distance from there, and the girl screamed and kicked the entire way.

Unsurprising. It’s not like she knows why this huge, scary man just disrupted the show to “buy” her.

People around us laughed and hooted. I couldn’t make out everything that was said, but there were lewd comments and dirty remarks cast our way.

Of course. At least they seem to be taking it well. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I was swiftly losing faith in humanity. Not that I had much to spare.

Wow, you had some left of that stuff?

Taylor’s faith in humanity has been pretty low since the start. (Honestly, that’s another point in favor of Taylor’s villainous potential.) And over the course of the story, she’s been through experiences that took it down even further, notably coming to a head in Extermination 8.8.


How many people had joined the Merchants after everything went to hell? One in two hundred of the people who’d declined to evacuate the city? One in a hundred? One in fifty? How many of these people had been ordinary citizens until civilization broke down?

And how many of them were like this all along, just below the surface?

Had I passed any of these people on the street while going about my day?

Entirely possible. Hell, maybe you’d just think they were “slightly awkward people with poor sense of boundaries”.


We headed into a hallway that branched off into a side entrance and bathrooms, but the rubble blocking the door and the lack of water in the bathrooms left little purpose for the area beyond being a quieter spot, away from the party. Lisa signaled, and Senegal moved to stand guard at the entrance.

Nice, got a bit of a calm spot here.

The hallway now held only Minor, Lisa, me and the rescued girl, along with two small groups of younger people. There was a couple making out at the far end of the hallway, getting hot and heavy, oblivious to their audience. Nearer to us, in the alcove that led to the out-of-order bathrooms, there was a trio of teenagers that were so plastered with drink that they couldn’t sit upright. Empty bottles were scattered around them. It was as much privacy as we’d get.

Honestly, it’s more than I’d expect you to be able to find.

And hey, you’re lucky enough that neither group seems to be paying attention.

Minor put the girl down, and she immediately shrank back, getting her feet under her as if ready to bolt.

Again, completely understandable.

“You’re safe,” Lisa assured her. “We’re not doing anything to you.”

I wouldn’t blame her for not believing this, but let’s hope she does.

The girl wiped at her eye with the back of one hand, smearing thick eyeshadow and eyeliner across her temple. “But-”

“She’s right,” Minor spoke, standing, “You’re as safe as you’re gonna get for the next little while.”

I suppose it does help that she’s hearing this from both the big scary guy and the girl following him around.


“Oh god,” the girl sobbed. She moved forward, ready to give Minor a hug, but he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. He didn’t speak, but only turned to Lisa.

Not one for affection with strangers, I guess.

“Don’t thank him. Thank her.” Lisa looked my way. “We wouldn’t have gone out of our way to help if she hadn’t been stubborn.”

Ooh, how is Taylor going to handle this? :3

Before I had a chance to respond, the girl threw her arms around me, hugging me tight.

😀

Lisa motioned to Minor, and he headed off to join Senegal in guard duty, leaving the rest of us alone. Better, probably, if the girl’s state left her uncomfortable or spooked around guys.

Ah, yeah, that would make sense. Although to be fair, she did just try to hug the guy.


[End of session]


Also: If you’ve got asks to send in, you might want to hold on to them a bit. Due to technical issues, Sharks can’t currently access the screener blog, and we might have to make a new one instead, in which case any asks sent in since my last ask session will be lost. I’m sorry about the inconvenience and any asks you’ve sent that might not make it to me.


[link to a poll]

Do you have Tumblr?

  • Yes
  • Yes, I got it to follow your liveblog
  • No

By the way, I’m curious.


[link to new screener blog]

+

Sharks:
Hi, everyone!

Krixwell’s screener here. I just want to say that I’m really, terribly sorry for fucking up so badly. Unfortunately, it isn’t looking like we’ll get the other account back, so here’s the new one! I’d again like to say how sorry I am for making such a stupid mistake, and I’ll strive to be more careful in the future!


The results are in…

…and they’re honestly kind of surprising. I knew I had plenty of non-Tumblrite readers, but I wasn’t expecting a majority!

Though I suppose Reddit is the main place this blog has been advertised (by Sharks) – besides reblogs, which my format doesn’t lend itself all that well to – so maybe that was to be expected? Perhaps this says more about my preconceptions than anything else.


[Session 3]
Alright, let’s return to the mall of scum and villainy!


“Thank you,” the girl sobbed into my shoulder.

“You’re welcome,” the shoulder replied.

I hugged her back, reflexively, a little shaken. Why had it taken this long for someone to say that simple thing to me? I’d wanted to be a hero, once upon a time.

Oh, huh. That’s a good point. All this time, she hasn’t really had that said to her – not in this way, at least.

So in keeping with the current larger plot of Taylor beginning to get pulled in the other direction, back to heroics, we’re now dealing with the issue of gratitude and thanklessness towards heroes and villains, respectively, and the idea that Taylor may want to be the kind of person people would want to so genuinely thank like this.

I like this.

“I didn’t do anything,” I managed to get the words out.

I mean, besides the initiative, which is what’s important here, you did get in a sweet kick on the knife guy.

“Thank you,” she repeated.

I stood, letting the girl rest her hands on my shoulders to get to a standing position herself. I glanced at Senegal and Minor. No problems there.

Yeah, you’re not going to be able to easily convince this girl to not be grateful to you for a very long time. Not without betraying all your principles, at least.

“Oh my god.” I wasn’t sure who it was.

It sounds like someone recognized Taylor (or one of the others here) and for some reason I have a freaky feeling it’s Madison Clements.


It was the girl we’d rescued, staring at me.

Oh, okay. No Madison here, which is probably a very good thing for Taylor…

Can you imagine, though?

“What?”

So what prompted this? Did the rescued girl recognize Taylor from somewhere, or notice something about her, or…?

“You go- you went to Winslow High.”

She did recognize her!

Man, what if this girl was one of the lower-level Harpies, blindly following along with the Trio in hating on Taylor…

“No,” I stepped back, pulling my shoulders out from beneath her hands.

…y’know, on one hand this would be a perfect moment to reveal this girl to be Madison. On another hand, I figured Taylor would’ve immediately recognized her. But on a third hand, she was established to be wearing a ridiculous amount of makeup…

“Yes. You’re the locker girl. I almost didn’t recognize you without the glasses, but everyone at school knows who you are. You’re with the Merchants now?”

Okay, yeah, this isn’t Madison. But Taylor’s apparently more well-known than I think she was aware of.

Also, funny she should mention the locker incident. That’s kind of a major cause for Taylor’s presence here.

But yeah, what is she supposed to say? Either word makes it back to Winslow and maybe Danny that Taylor’s with the Merchants (unless she can get this girl to keep her mouth shut about it), or she has to reveal that she’s undercover, which is a line of discussion that very quickly leads to “I’m a cape”.


I totally called the potential for Taylor to get recognized here 🙂

[Both links: here, search “Danny”]


“You’re thinking of the wrong person,” I said, with a note of irritation in my voice.

Hm.

I don’t think this is going to work, even if we did recently establish that you look visibly different now.

“No, I’m almost positive. You were that girl that got shoved in that rank locker with all that stuff they carted away in biohazard bags. The girl who went so mental they had to have a group of cops and paramedics haul you away for the first month of the semester.”

Yeah, rub it in, why don’tcha.

“Enough!” I shouted, suprised at my own temper.

Yeah, that ain’t gonna dissuade her from thinking you’re that girl.

The group of teenagers who were having drinks by the bathroom turned to look at us.

Aaand you’ve drawn more attention. Great!


Seeing my burst of anger, the girl did a complete one-eighty, from awe and surprise to desperate apologies. That didn’t necessarily improve things. “Oh god, I’m sorry. You know, I didn’t think about how it would bother you, saying that. I really did want to help, you know, to do something back then, but-”

And now you’re reminding her of the fact that you didn’t. Nobody did.

At least she realizes what she just did wrong.

“But you didn’t,” I growled at her. “Just like everyone else, you left me in that locker. You didn’t go get help. You didn’t report the people who did it, not even anonymously. You felt bad? You wanted to help? Is that supposed to mean something to me? Is it supposed to be some consolation? You were too lazy or cowardly to step up and do anything about it, but hey, at least your heart was in the right fucking place, huh?”

Yeeeah. You just fucked up, miss rescued girl.

The juxtaposition here between the girl falling into bystander syndrome during the locker incident and Taylor having just rescued this girl when she could’ve left her alone is very, very good.

On top of highlighting the commentary on bystander syndrome even more, it also reminds the reader, or at least me, that the locker experience would be a major reason why Taylor is so prone to guilt over the idea of being a bystander herself in the first place. As she put it, she wouldn’t fucking sleep if they didn’t do something here, and this being brought up reminds us that she knows very personally what it’s like to get bystandered.


“No, that’s not…” there were tears in her eyes, and she was having trouble stringing words together. I should have felt bad, for going off on someone who was probably in a pretty delicate emotional state, but I wasn’t feeling particularly gentle.

That much is becoming clear.

It’s also another example of how much Taylor has changed over the story. Sure, she always had the capacity for pure rage, but she’s gotten much more willing to actually show it. She’s become a lot more assertive, for better and worse.

“You obviously heard the story about me being hospitalized, you probably helped spread it.”

That could very well be the case, given how eager she was to recount it in no hushed tones just now and how she didn’t think of how it would make Taylor feel.

“You don’t understand,” she said. She startled as Brooks passed Minor and Senegal and approached us with a brisk stride. It threw her off her stride, and she stumbled over her words as she tried to pull her excuse together. “Um. It, um. It was Emma Barnes, she-”

Of course it was.

Also, hi, Brooks. What’s up? Where’s your “boyfriend”?

Brooks had reached Lisa’s side and informed her, “Found him.”

Oh shit.


They already found Bryce and we haven’t even found out what sort of bloodshed is being planned yet.

This won’t be a straightforward rescue, will it.


“Emma Barnes what?” I asked the girl, trying to bring her focus back to the conversation we’d been having.

It says a lot that Taylor is pissed off enough to continue this even with the news that Bryce has been located.

She looked from Brooks to me, and I could see how lost she was.

“Found who?”

“Nevermind,” I cut her off before she started stumbling over her words again.

Yeah, that’s fair. Anything she’d say would probably just piss you off even more.

“What’s going on?” the girl asked.

Time to decide whether you can trust this girl with the real reason you’re here.

And more importantly, whether you actually want to.


“We came here for an errand,” Lisa answered her, “Up to ‘locker girl’ here to decide if you can tag along.”

Good. I don’t think Taylor would appreciate if you made that decision for her.

“You can’t- you can’t leave me here,” the girl said, eyes widening. She looked to me, pleading.

If she does come along, it becomes a question of whether they make a detour to the exit first. And even then, the exit is not actually safe for the girl, so the detour would end up with them going significantly outside the building, then coming back, which is a bit impractical and could cause them to lose track of Bryce. (Come to think of it, that’s probably what Jaw is doing, keeping track of Bryce while Brooks went to get Lisa & co.)

I guess maybe they could send the girl off to the exit with Minor (as much as she doesn’t like the girl right now, I think Taylor would object to sending her with Senegal, and Brooks is the one here who knows where Bryce is), while the rest of them go to rescue Bryce.

I sighed. “She can come.”

“More dead weight,” Brooks frowned.

…alright, in this particular case, I’ll accept that assessment.


I raised an eyebrow. “For someone with the primary job of giving people medical care, you’re pretty dead-set against helping others.”

Pfft, good point. Maybe that’s why he’s ex-military.

“I have a low tolerance for people who get themselves into an ugly situation and then expect others to bail them out.”

On one level, that’s fair. On another… isn’t that standard fare on a military battlefield?

“That’s fine,” Lisa said. “Just so long as you do your job.”

“I always do,” Brooks retorted.

Yeah. Brooks may be a bit cranky about it, but other than that, he does seem quite professional. Hell, even Senegal does, even with a real, horrifying desire under the professional exterior.


“What’s going on?” the girl said, for the second time, “Who are you?”

“Just shut up and keep up,” I said.

SHUT UP AND DANCE W– wait, no

We joined Senegal and Minor at the entrance to the hallway, then followed Brooks’s lead as he strode across the mall. We got bogged down once more in the press of people dancing, jumping and grinding in the center of the mall. We would have lost sight of Brooks, but he hopped up onto the side of the water fountain by the collapsed stairwell to get high enough for us to see him. Minor and Senegal cleared the way for the rest of us.

Nice. Here we go, Bryce time.

“I’ll do the talking?” Lisa offered.

That sounds good.

“Sure,” I said. It made sense. If we did rescue Bryce, I didn’t want either him or his sister making a connection between Skitter and the girl in his rescuer’s group.

Oh yeah, good point. Better they think Skitter is Lisa, or that she sent some Coil mooks (67% true) in her place.


As we reached the side of one grouping of stalls, I spotted Jaw standing in front of Bryce. He had one steel-toed boot planted on the same wooden bench that Bryce was seated on, his broad gut almost in the boy’s face.

Huh. Did he already save the kid?

Beside Bryce was a teenaged girl with bleached blond hair, who was almost lying across the bench in her attempt to keep back from Jaw.

Another victim, or young villain? Either way, this is a pretty reasonable reaction to Jaw.

There was nobody near enough to Bryce to be his kidnapper, nobody with a weapon, no handcuffs or chains.

Yeah, I was about to comment on that, but I couldn’t figure out how to word it so I decided to move on in case the rest of the paragraph corrected that impression.

So did Jaw already get rid of the kidnapper, or… is there not one? Did Bryce come voluntarily and join the Merchants? That would be quite a twist. Poor Sierra if that’s the case.

Shit. I didn’t like what that suggested.

I don’t think I do either… except as a plot twist and story development. I actually think it’d be kinda neat, though unfortunate.


“This your boy?” Jaw asked, as he noticed us.

“Yeah,” Lisa said, without even glancing at me.

Hehe.

“What happened, Brycie? You join the Merchants and neglect to tell your sister, go to stay with her, and then give all the info on where she’s staying to your new friends? You that big a scumbag?”

Oof, that would be even worse than what I thought might’ve happened (him joining at or after the church attack), which would just be that first part about joining and not telling Sierra.

Bryce scowled. I could see him trying to look confident in front of his girlfriend. “Not what happened.”

Ahh, that’s what she is… probably.

So what did happen, then?

“Then tell me a story, kid. Keep in mind, what you say plays a big role in what happens in the next few minutes.”

Yeah… this could get a bit nastier.

And then, as I meant to talk about between posts, there’s the matter of reporting this back to Sierra. If Taylor came back without Bryce and told her the truth, unless that truth is very different from how it currently looks, I don’t think Sierra would believe her at first. She’d probably get quite upset at Skitter, and then if Skitter manages to actually convince her, at Bryce and just upset in general.

Point is, this doesn’t look like it’ll end with a happy Sierra.


The best case scenario, I guess, is that Bryce only joined to save his own skin from the way the Merchants treat their captives.


“There’s no story to tell,” Bryce glared at her. “Our house falls down, my family moves in with my dad’s friend. Everyone else goes to work, I’m left with two of the lamest fucking families ever.

Eesh.

So wait, was it boredom?

I was doing more chores in a matter of days than I’ve done in the rest of my life combined.”

How old was this kid again? Twelve-ish? I suppose this attitude makes some sense for a privileged kid of that age (Vista might disagree), but… look around you, dude. Do you really think doing some extra chores is your biggest problem nowadays? It’s certainly not something to go join the fucking Merchants over.


“Poor baby,” Jaw rumbled. Bryce looked up at the man and then looked away, angry.

Heh. Yeah, I don’t like chores either, but Jaw is right to be sarcastic about this.

“Got sick, then when I get better my sister drags me to this church, same fucking thing. Lame people, lame place, and I just know I’ll be doing more fucking chores to ‘earn my keep’. Fuck that. Some people came to trash the church, and I figured, hey, there’s a way out. Have some fun.”

Yeeah, and then you didn’t tell anyone who cared about you a damn thing, not even that you were okay.

Which it does seem like you were, even if the Merchants weren’t as fun as you thought they’d be.

He cast a quick glance at the bleached blond girl next to him.

Ah, yes, that kind of fun.

Maybe he was a bit older. I remember he was described as hard to tell the age of, but I’m not sure whether we learned his actual age.


Fuck.

Yeah, that about sums it up.


“Got a reality check for you,” Lisa told him, stepping closer, “Those people who ‘trashed’ the church? They hurt your sister.”

Judging by the way he’s talking, I’m not sure he’s going to care.

“What? No-”

Alright, seems he does care. Disbelief it is, then.

“She’s in ICU, bro,” Lisa lied.

And of course Lisa continues playing off of the fact that he does care about Sierra (which she might’ve Known rather than just guessed), exaggerating the hurt to manipulate him.

I mean, if it works, why not. Only thing is he’ll know when he gets out and meets Sierra again, at which point there’s a risk of him going back to the Merchants.

I didn’t get a chance to see where she was going from there, because Lisa was interrupted by a booming voice that rang through the entire mall.

Oh hey, took ‘em long enough. I kinda expected this to start up pretty soon after the arrival at the mall, but I guess there was quite a bit of pre-party for the Merchants.

Time to find out what sort of bloodshed those red bands are for.


So is it going to be Skidmark himself?

“Hey Sisterfuckers!”

…alright. I guess they go for a different kind of incest in their insults.

Appropriate enough considering how Bryce metaphorically fucked over his sister by joining them.

The music had died all at once, and a slow roar spread through the entire mall, rising to a climax. Cheering.

Yeah, it’s time for the main event.

All heads were turning to look the same direction. I followed their line of sight.

A crude platform had been pulled together at one side of the mall, where the rubble was piled highest.

And naturally, that requires a stage. I’ve actually been lowkey watching out for stage-like structures for a while.

The leading figures of the Merchants stood at the front, just behind a railing of metal bars that had been haphazardly welded together.

Howdy!


Skidmark held the microphone and wore his traditional costume, dark blue and skintight, with the lower half of his face and the area around his eyes exposed.

Lower half and the area around his eyes? That’s pretty much the whole damn face, isn’t it, leaving only a T-shaped bit to stick his nose into?

As costumes went, it was pretty lame, even with the cape that he’d added since the last time I’d seen him. Especially with the cape.

It’s been such a long time since I got the chance to do this…

There were people who could pull off that sort of thing, like Alexandria. Skidmark wasn’t one of them.

Capes make you look regal, powerful, in a way. Which is why it’s fitting that Skidmark added one between being a sad sack of potatoes and an important sad sack of potatoes. But in order to have the proper effect, you need to look powerful beyond just the cape. People can tell the difference between an actual powerful person and some pathetic douche who’s just trying to look like one by wearing a cape.


I’d like to officially apologize to potatoes. I’m sorry.


His girlfriend was at his side, her shoulder touching his. Squealer was streaked with oil stains, with some even in her hair.

Squealer, huh. The oil stains sound familiar, did we meet her in 5.1?

*blog search*

Yep. Skidmark, Moist and Squealer. I guess that makes the third person on the stage Moist.

She wore a white top and jean shorts that were each so skimpy that she was more indecent than she’d be if she had been naked.

Funny how that can work sometimes.

She had a remote control in one hand, and her makeup was practically caked on. Not so dissimilar from the girl we’d just rescued, in that respect.

Wow.

Not gonna lie, she sounds like a total mess.


Beside Skidmark, opposite Squealer, was Mush.

Mush… oh yeah, didn’t someone tell me at some point that Moist got renamed?

He bore a resemblance to a particular pink skinned, scrawny goblin of a creature from those fantasy movies.

Pfft. Hiya, Gollum.

Ssneaky little Undersiderses…

His hair was so thin he might as well be hairless, his large eyes were heavy-lidded with dark circles beneath them, and his skinny limbs were contrasted by a bulging pot-belly.

Huh, yeah, I can see the resemblance.

All of the worst features of an old man and a malnourished child thrown together. Except he was real; just an ugly, ill person.

I wonder if his power did this to him, or just a mundane illness.

(#not gonna lie my first thought was dobby)


Behind them stood their subordinates. I recognized Trainwreck, but there were five more I couldn’t place.

Oh, huh, Trainwreck’s in the Merchants now? I guess he’s one of Coil’s patented moles, like Chariot, then. That, or maybe he turned down Coil?

Five who, for all I knew, were new to the cape scene.

Interesting. More Leviathan triggerees? Judging by what we learned in Sentinel, they could be quite powerful.

Trainwreck’s presence was interesting. Was he still with Coil? On our side?

Good question.

“That’s more capes than they had a month ago,” I spoke, leaning close to Lisa and pitching my voice low.

Yeah, between their general growth and the high chances of an Endbringer event causing some people to get powers, that’s to be expected.

“They’ve been recruiting,” Lisa muttered.

When Skidmark spoke, his voice carried through every speaker and set of headphones in the building. “You quim-jockeys up for tonight’s main event!? They don’t get any better than this!”

quim-jockeys? 😛

Looks like Wildbow saw a chance to get creative with his insults here.

Well, “insults” is kind of inaccurate. That’s not what these things are in this context. I don’t really know what to call them, though.


The cheering swelled again, that ear-splitting sound you got when hundreds of people all tried to shout louder than the rest.

No thanks.

Skidmark raised his hands, and then swept them in a downward motion.

“Shut up.”

Twin shimmers not dissimilar to the heated air you saw above a hot road blasted towards the crowd.

Woah.

So is his power literally heating air, or…

I do feel it’s worth noting that Skidmark and Squealer both seem to have something to do with cars and driving. I don’t really know what the connection might be, thematically, between that and their debauchery, but there’s a good chance they both have powers relating to that. Maybe Squealer is a vehicle tinker?

Where the shimmers touched the ground, they changed the color of the flooring, creating bands of glowing ground six or seven feet wide.

Huh. Can he pick the colors? Maybe treat an entire road to this treatment… with like seven bands… possibly up in space… with no railings?

After swirling for a moment, the colors settled into a gradient, stretching from violet on one side of the line to a pale blue on the other side.

I will say this is a lot cooler and a lot prettier than anything I would’ve expected from Skidmark of all people. Does it have actual applications beyond being cool, though?


The people who found themselves in the middle of the effect were dragged towards the blue side, as if they were standing on a steep slope.

Oh, nice. I guess it’s a form of spatial or gravitational manipulation, then?

The crowd roared, and began pushing people towards the effect.

Because of course they would.

Anyone who touched the purple side was caught with a greater force, dragged through to the blue side and cast towards the bulk of the crowd, sliding on the ground with enough force to stagger anyone they ran into.

Hm. I think we can rule out gravitational manipulation by the fact that gravity gets weaker the further away you are from where it wants you to be.

The blue side seemed weaker, with anyone stepping on it finding strong resistance, as if they were trying to move against a strong headwind on oil-slick ground.

Interesting.

So in combat, I guess this gives him the opportunity to create one-way barriers and throw enemies off their feet. Not too bad, honestly.

Only a handful of people made it out without being pushed back by the effects of Skidmark’s power or by the crowd that ringed the area.

Pretty good strength on the effect, too.


Skidmark repeated the process to draw what I realized was a crude square in the middle of the mall, the ‘blue’ sides facing inward.

Guess he needed to round ‘em up. Why, though?

As he layered his power over the same area, the colors of the effect became darker, the ground below less visible and the effects on the people were all the more violent.

Oh boy, it stacks.

The blue sides had become dark blue, and instead of simply pushing against those who touched them, they threw people back towards the center of the ring.

The Merchants are gonna be even more eager to throw their comrades into the wall of “wind”, aren’t they.

“You piss-licking losers know what the red armband means!” Skidmark crowed, “Bloodshed! Violence! We’ve got ourselves a free for all brawl!”

Ahhhh.

…ahaha… nice.

Honestly? That’s a relatively good outcome. Provided it’s all Merchants in there, anyway, and provided it’s not just the warm-up.


The noise the crowd made reached a peak it hadn’t even approached before.

How is this the thing that makes me go “I’m glad I’m not there”?

“Last five standing in the ring get a prize!” a mean smile spread across his face.

I misread that as pizza.

I don’t have a good feeling about that prize, though.

Even from where I stood on the other side of the mall, I could see how bad his teeth were. “No rules! I don’t give a shitstained fuck if you jump in at the last second or if you use a weapon! Anything goes!”

Including murder?

But yeah, anything goes can make for some interesting fights, if not exactly fair ones.

It also makes me think of a boy who turns into a girl when doused with cold water and back when doused with hot water, but that’s a whole other matter.

(#ranma 1/2

#(context: ranma comes from the saotome school of anything-goes martial arts))

[Huh. Actually explaining my reference for once. That’s rare.]


People howled, hooted and jeered, but I could see some of the faces of the people trapped in the ‘ring’. Most of them weren’t cheering.

Sure, sucks for them. But most of them chose this life, did they not? When you willingly join a group like the Merchants without being just… dumb like Bryce, I honestly don’t care about your woes.

If there’s anyone in the ring who didn’t join willingly to partake in the debauchery, that’s a whole other matter, but as far as I’m concerned? Most of these people deserve a good beating.

“Fuck me,” Lisa whispered, “He’s trying to get people to have trigger events. That’s how he’s recruiting parahumans.”

Oh cod dammit.


I’m sure some fans like the idea of Lisa whispering “Fuck me” to Taylor in a completely different cadence…


“Our contestants don’t seem to be too excited!” Skidmark shouted. “Need an incentive? Let me tell you cockgarglers what you stand to win!”

Hm. Well, at least it can’t be a fakeout prize if he’s being upfront about what it is before they fight and using it as an incentive like that. I still think it might be something horrible, like a sex slave or something.

He snapped his fingers, and one of his powered subordinates, a woman with long hair covering her face, hurried forward. She held a metal box.

Alright… I doubt she’s got a sex slave in the box, but who knows. The woman’s power could be making containers have hammerspace.

Besides, the thing in the box could easily be symbolic, like a key or something.

Skidmark placed the case on the railing and popped it open. He placed what looked like a metal canister on the railing, then withdrew the next. By the time he was done, five metal cylinders were spaced out in front of him.

Oh right, five winners.

He picked up the center canister and began unscrewing it. “Before, we gave our winners the pick of the pick, the best stuff our boys and girls have been able to grab from the rich assholes with their fancy-as-fuck houses and jobs!”

But now?

Every eye in the place was on him.

“But tonight is fucking special, because we won the lottery when we found this shit!”

Oh boy.


He withdrew a stoppered glass vial from the canister and gripped it in his right hand.

Don’t tell me that’s the stuff the Dealer was selling? The stuff Upsilon uses and presumably produces? Powers in a vial?

With his other hand, he held the stainless steel canister. He thrust both hands over his head, each object clenched tight.

“Superpowers in a can!”

It is!

Now that’s a game changer. How did they even get ahold of this stuff? Did they steal it from Faultline’s Crew, after they found out more about the Dealer, or something?

I don’t think the Merchants were the ones who attacked the Dealer in the first place. That happened too long ago to make any sense with the way Skidmark is talking about this.

Anyway… offering them up as a prize and incentive for winning a brawl is actually pretty genius. It weeds out both those who don’t have the motivation and those who don’t have the skills to fight with the powers for the Merchants. He’ll find the most useful members to give the powers to this way, with the one flaw that it doesn’t account for loyalty once the powers are gained.


End of Infestation 11.5

This was a bit of a mixed bag for me.

There’s nothing really wrong with the chapter, but I personally didn’t really enjoy the in-depth exhibits of how awful the Merchants are all that much. It feels like… we get it. They’re awful people, horribly unsympathetic, rife with debauchery in every way. That had been fairly thoroughly established already. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be exhibits like this to be seen in this particular place, but by the end of the second session, it ended up being grating. It felt like it was a bit much.

(I knew we were heading into this sort of territory, to some extent, ever since the idea of going to a Merchant arrangement first came up, but I thought Lisa would counterbalance it more than she has so far.)

But my third session with this chapter, this one, really salvaged it. There were three main scenes in that: talking to the rescued girl, talking to Bryce, and the beginning of the main event. All three were excellent: I loved Taylor’s outburst at the girl’s careless words and the juxtaposition of the girl’s bystanderism during Taylor’s trigger event with Taylor very pointedly overriding her group’s bystanderism to save the girl. I loved the twist that Bryce is a little, privileged shit who joined the Merchants without telling his sister. And I loved the way Upsilon and the Dealer are being brought into this by way of Skidmark having somehow gotten hold of super juice.

Huh, I suppose that’s why we established last chapter that Lisa knows about case 53.

So yeah: Bit of a mixed bag, markedly stronger in the latter half. My issues with the first half are highly subjective, though, so your mileage may vary.

Next chapter… I guess it’s in the Undersiders’ interests to get those vials before the brawl ends and the Merchants who win can drink them. Otherwise the Merchants, the Undersiders’ greatest enemy at the moment, become significantly stronger – plus five capes is nothing to scoff at.

It might be time for this to stop being a recon mission.

Wild idea: The escorts join the brawl (judging by how Skidmark’s power seems to work, it should be possible to enter willingly, though it might throw you into the air in the process) and fight for the price.

I don’t think that’s actually going to happen – a stealth mission to steal the prizes is probably better. Worth noting that they’ll presumably be guarded by the existing Merchant capes, though. Hmm, maybe a swarm of bugs could lift the vials or the cans?

However they choose to go about it, getting those vials away from the Merchants does seem like it should be top priority, at least. There’s also the matter of getting the rescued girl and maybe Bryce safely out of the building, though, which the two Undersiders might decide to do first.

See you next time!


[postscript]
By the way: I’ve kind of wanted to avoid comparing the Merchants to juggalos, since juggalos have an undeservedly bad rep already (it’s a music fandom, FBI, not a damn gang), but… I can’t. The whole arrangement reminds me of a perverted version of a juggalo gathering (not that I’ve actually seen one of those, so I might be writing out of my ass), and Skidmark’s dialogue reads a lot like Gamzee Makara, a juggalo-based Homestuck character, to me.

One thought on “Infestation 11.5: Museum of Debauchery

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