Interlude 11f: Five Nights at Noelle’s

Source material: Worm, Interlude 11f

Originally blogged: April 12-15, 2018


Interlude 11f (Anniversary Bonus)

Howdy! Krixwell here, back for another chapter of Worm!

Five Slaughterhouse members down, three to go. I’m guessing we’ll be meeting the Newbie last (unless Hatchet Face takes her spot) so we’re probably in for either Crawler or Bonesaw today. I’m hoping for Bonesaw, because crazy and unpredictable sounds like fun right now, but I’d be down with the creepy crawlies too.

As for who Bonesaw might want to recruit… Panacea sounds like a weird but plausible option, if I’m right about Bonesaw having a specialty in medical equipment and thus probably also a medical background. We’ve established that Panacea’s power can be used offensively, too, and she is the daughter of a known bigshot criminal – those things might appeal to the Slaughterhouse as well.

But yeah, if Panacea is an attempted recruit, I don’t think it’ll work, unless she is forced like Hookwolf was (and I doubt that’s happening in two chapters in a row). Panacea has a spiteful, slightly darker side, and might be tempted by the prospect of dropping the exhaustion that comes with her responsibilities, but I think at the core, she’s a very good person who cares about fulfilling those responsibilities at the expense of her own health.

Incidentally, if Amy is Bonesaw’s attempted nominee, she’s likely to be the POV character for whichever one of these Interludes is about Bonesaw. Perhaps we’ll learn something about those secrets of hers that would wreck her relationships if they came out.

(Crawler, on the other hand, might go for Night, as I’ve previously speculated.)

So yeah! Without further ado, let’s jump in and see what happens!


If each of the tens of trillions of universes were like pictures, then they were organized into a mosaic, constantly rearranging itself and shuffling.

Ooh, are we getting multiverse cosmology lore?

Also, who would know stuff about this, besides a new character? Dinah?

…I guess Professor Haywire wouldn’t technically be a new character, but I highly doubt that’s whom we’re following. Even besides them being a super minor character who’s been mentioned exactly once so far, in passing, I don’t think they’re in Brockton Bay.

Then again, that didn’t stop up from following Rainbow Dash. ;p

Anyway, let’s take a moment to think about flexibility, love and trust what’s actually being said here. So the universes’ relative positions and borders are constantly shuffling? Except we also know that a hole between two realities can be sustained over an extended period without suddenly being a hole into a different reality, or tearing open from the universes moving in different directions. So I don’t think this is quite that physical, at least not in a conventional, euclidean sense.

Taken in as a whole, it was a muddle. Depending on how it shuffled, sometimes patterns emerged. A predominant color, perhaps, or lots of scenes that were blurs of motion and activity.

Parallels between the universes.

I really like this metaphor so far.

Hm. Could we be seeing the perspective of a Dandelion? That sounds a bit intense. Also, if that’s the case, I highly doubt the POV character is about to be invited to the Slaughterhouse Nine. :p


But there was more to it. There were faint sounds, for one thing, and they weren’t just two-dimensional. Just the opposite – they were each a fully realized world, and each was continuous, like a slideshow or film reel that extended vast distances forward and backward from any of the scenes of focus.

I suppose this metaphor, if taken with any sort of literalness, requires at least five-dimensional vision.

Things got even more complicated when each of the slideshow reels forked out and branched as they moved further away. The only thing stopping them were the terminus points.

“Further away”, in this case, appears to be along the temporal axis. Let’s upgrade that to six-dimensional vision, then.

What’s a terminus point? I feel like that’s a math/geometry term I’ve heard at some point, but I don’t know what it means.

The first terminus wasn’t complicated. The now, the present. It moved inexorably, steadily forward, consuming the individual realities as they ceased to be the future and became the now.

Again, “forward” appears to be temporally.

So if one terminus point is “now”, then I guess the terminus points are where the branches convene? In that case, is one of the more complicated terminus points the arrival of the apocalyptic threat 2-15 years from now? And is that local to the Wormverse only?

The other terminus was somewhat more ominous. Every branch ended at some point, some sooner than others.

…you’re right, that’s ominous. A branch ending, in this context, would mean the end of a timeline, and if all branches of a universe end, the end of that universe.


Hm. Does “terminus” refer to the ends of a line? That would make sense, given the apparent etymology of the word.

And in that case, does that mean the past does not exist?


Dinah Alcott knew that those branches were ones where she had died.

Ohh. The end of the road for her.

So we are following Dinah, then! And apparently she has the power to see not only the branches of the future in the Wormverse, but to see other universes as well, and branches of their futures.

That’s pretty awesome.

Right now, there were a lot of them, more coming into view with every passing second.

That’s bad.

Is it related to the Slaughterhouse member of the day taking some form of interest in you?

Almost all of the images in the mosaic were either black or crimson. Either the lights were on and everything was covered in blood, or they were off, and she was effectively blind.

Welp.


Wait, are those other universes in the mosaic also branches, spread out from past moments, where Dinah is alive?

Is there actually a difference between that and them being other universes like Earth-Aleph to the Wormverse? Did Earth-Aleph branch off from the Wormverse shortly before the dandelions began empowering people?


She concentrated, and the mosaic organized into two portions, one slightly larger than the other. In one half, that death-terminus came very soon. In the other, it was some distance off.

Hmm.

I suppose this kind of sorting is how she arrives at the numbers.

She judged the size of the individual parts, and the number snapped into her head.

Which was not to say her power didn’t help her out with that. The numbers are far too precise for there not to be a probability calculator in her head.

43.03485192746307955659 percent chance she would die in the next thirty minutes. The chance was steadily ticking upward with each passing second, with possible realities becoming impossible and fading from her view, or being replaced with other possibilities, effectively shifting over to the other side.

That is not a good number.

…I’m curious as to how Wildbow decided the decimals, whether he used some form of randomizer, or just key-mashed a numpad. I’m inclined to think the latter, especially because there seems to be a bias towards the middle and higher digits, 4-9.

Anyway, how exactly do new realities become possible? Shouldn’t any reality that could be a result of a future moment along a branch be visible as another branch from that moment even before she gets to it physically?

Might that have something to do with influence from outside the universe, such as the dandelions empowering someone somewhere in the world?

Or maybe it boils down to quantum mechanics?


Anxiety crept up on her. She wanted her ‘candy’, to take the edge off, to help clarify her thoughts.

Of course she does.

Incidentally, those quotes seem to imply that she’s fully aware that it’s not candy.

She knocked on the door to her room. She heard Coil say something on the other side and tested the knob. Finding it unlocked, she stepped through.

Might want to tell him about the chances of something bad happening, unless she thinks that’s the cause.

Coil sat at his desk, on the phone. She didn’t want to talk to him, but she wanted to die less.

Yeeah.

I’m honestly glad to hear Dinah doesn’t want to talk to Coil. This relationship is fucked up enough without Dinah seeing Coil favorably beyond him being in charge of the “candy”.

“It’s unfortunate,” Coil was saying. “Step up recon, call in a secondary team to ensure twenty-four seven surveillance. We’ll want a replacement for our Leah the moment they start recruiting again. Yes. Good. Let me know.”

Oh! Damn, Coil, back at it again with the moles, huh?


He hung up.

“Coil?”

“What is it, pet?”

“Forty-four point two zero three eight three percent chance I die in the next half-hour.”

Straight to the point. Nice.

Also, at least she didn’t launch into the full sequence of 20 decimals, as hilarious as it would be to see that typed out in words here.

Actually, you know what, I want to see that, I’m gonna make it happen.

(Wait, shit, it’s increased, like she described, so I don’t have the updated 20-decimal version to go with. Oh well, let’s use the old one.)

Dinah: “Forty-four point zero three four eight five one nine two seven…”

Coil: “Pet–”

Dinah: “…four six three zero seven…”

Coil: “That’s enough decimals, p–”

Dinah: “…nine five five six five nine percent chance I die in the next half-hour.”

Coil: “Oh, fina– wait what?”


He stood from his desk. “How?”

“Blood or darkness. Don’t know.”

Troublesome.

“The chance I die in the next thirty minutes?”

She thought, and felt the mosaic shift into a new configuration. Coil’s face predominated each tiny scene, active, speaking and alive in some, unmoving or dead in the others. “Forty two point seven zero nine percent for the worlds where I don’t die. Don’t know about the worlds where I’d die first.”

Hm, so whoever (probably today’s Slaughterhouse member) or whatever is the cause of this, they/it does not only target Dinah.

“And, say, Mr. Pitter? The chance he dies?”

“Forty point-” She stopped as Coil raised a hand.

Yeah, we don’t need all the decimals, we already got the point.

“So whatever it is, it happens here, and involves everyone here. Chance of survival if we leave?”

“Ten point six six four-”

Oh jeez, leaving is way worse than staying.

“No. Chance the average person in the city lives if we leave?”

That’s an odd question. Are you thinking Shatterbird or someone else with a large radius is the culprit?

“Ninety-nine point-”

“So we’re targets. It’s not an attack on the city. If we mobilize the squads? To one decimal place?”

Oh, okay, it does makes sense to ask about when you put it like that.

“Forty-eight point one percent chance I survive, forty-nine point nine percent chance you survive.”

So oddly enough, they seem to have the best survival chances if they stay put and don’t mobilize anyone to defend them. It’s like the threat in question would get pissed at them for trying to fight back, or something.

Also, I suppose the fact that it’s so unpredictable whether they’ll live or die points to Bonesaw.

Heh, if that’s the case, I love the irony of picking someone with the power of prediction as the POV character for a chapter about someone whose main characterization so far is “unpredictable”.


“No difference. Worse if anything,” he said. She nodded, and he rubbed his chin, thinking.

Yeah, that’s 17.3% worse for you.

Time was running out. She fidgeted.

“I need some candy, please.”

“No, pet,” Coil said, “I need you focused. What-”

Dinah seems to think the candy makes her more clear-headed, which sounds backwards, but seems believable that she might think while under its effects.

Then again, maybe she’s right. The interaction between drugs and a thinker power could have odd results.

She interrupted him, which always she tried to avoid doing, but she was feeling desperate. “Please. I’ve been using my power a lot. I’m going to get a bad headache, and then I won’t be useful to you.”

She knows how to appeal to this man who cares about her only for how useful she is.


“No,” he said, with more ferocity than she had expected. “Pitter isn’t here to administer it, and won’t be until this situation is over. Listen. Chance that we survive Crawler’s attack if my soldiers use the laser attachments I’ve provided? The purple beams?”

Ah, okay, so he’s narrowed it down to Crawler. Time to find out what the hell their deal is!

Crawler? It took her a second to get her mental footing. Coil was using his power. She wasn’t sure how it worked, but she could always tell when he was doing it because the numbers always started changing all at once, and he knew things he couldn’t.

I do wonder how he found out for sure it was Crawler in his other reality.

He’d know about things and numbers she might have told him, except she didn’t remember telling him.

Coil is basically save scumming the Q&A sessions, sort of, as we saw in his Interlude.


“Thirty Nine point one-”

“If I deploy the Travelers that are on site at the moment?”

“Thirty point-”

Things are really not looking good for the prospects of fighting back doing any good.

Is this related to why Hookwolf wouldn’t want to attack them?

He pushed his monitor off his desk in a fit of anger. It crashed to the floor, pieces of screen rolling and sliding onto the rug at one end of the room.

Hey, if you’re gonna destroy property in frustration, try to do it in an alternate world, like with your little funtimes. That way you get the satisfaction of destroying property without actually ending up with destroyed property.

Striding around the desk, he seized her by the arm and pulled her out of his office.

“Candy. Please,” she said, whispering.

I think Coil has other priorities right now, Dinah.

“No.”

Gripping her wrist so hard it hurt, he drew her into the main area of his underground complex.

Where are you going? Some high security room?

“Get battle ready!” Coil shouted. It was so out of character for him to shout. “Threat incoming!”

Out of character is serious business, as the ancient Tropese saying goes.


The soldiers that were at ease in the lower area of the base jumped to action, grabbing weapons and protective wear.

So, uh… wasn’t this one of the things the numbers just indicated they should *not* do? Did Coil just get so fed up with the bad chances that he went “screw the numbers”?

It wasn’t going to make a difference. The numbers weren’t changing enough. But he was already upset, so she didn’t tell him that.

I suppose his influence could theoretically make it worth a shot, but it doesn’t seem like it’s doing that in practice.

So does he have another reality where he didn’t mobilize the troops?

Trickster, Oliver and Sundancer appeared, running along the metal catwalk. Sundancer had her mask off, and her permed blond hair was damp against her scalp with sweat.

And the Travelers, for that matter.

Are the soldiers going to use the purple beams, and Coil and Dinah going to leave the premises, just to fill out the bad idea bingo card?

Also, Oliver? Ballistic?

Oliver was in casual clothing, like Trickster. He was good looking, his features chiseled. Athletically built. Trickster wasn’t. He had a hook nose and long hair that didn’t suit him, but she knew he was smart, and she would have guessed it even if she didn’t know, just going by the way he looked at stuff.

Yeah, Trickster’s a guy who seems to know what he’s doing.


“What’s going on?” Trickster asked.

“My pet has graciously informed us that Crawler of the Slaughterhouse Nine is less than thirty minutes away from entering this complex and murdering us all. Suggestions outside of the obvious would be appreciated.”

Can’t accuse him of not being straightforward.

And now you gotta think outside the box.

“Trickster and I could go and try to stop him,” Sundancer suggested.

Outside of the obvious, Sundancer. I’ve asked my pet. You try that and we’re all more likely to die.”

For some reason. Maybe Crawler gets stronger the more you hit him?

Also apparently Crawler is a him.

“Why?”

“He’s a regenerator,” Coil answered, sounding irritated at having to explain, “And he regenerates exceedingly quickly. More to the point, he has the added advantage that any part that grows back is stronger than it was before, typically with extra features, growths and increased durability to render him more resistant to whatever hurt him or give him other capabilities.

Ahhh. So for example, you cut off his arm, it might grow back with spikes or a pincer.

That is if he still has anything that can still be considered an arm. Taylor’s narration in 10.6 said he didn’t appear to be humanoid, and it kinda sounds like these changes might be permanent.

These adjustments are not only permanent, but he’s been working on it for some time.”

Ah, yes, they are.


Trickster added, “I read up on these guys after you mentioned them the other night. Crawler eventually becomes immune to whatever was hurting him, and he’s that much less human, afterward. He wants to get hurt, wants to further his transformation, like a crazed masochist or someone with a death wish.

Hm, makes sense. If you’ve got a power like this and you like it, or just want to become more powerful, it’s reasonable to a crazed mind to want to hasten it.

By now, he’s probably immune to slashing damage, at the very least, and quite likely other forms of physical attacks. Probably lasers too, having likely been up against the Triumvirate repeatedly like Siberian.

Throws himself into suicidal situations and then comes out stronger. Which may be why he’s here. The soldiers?”

Trickster might be right, though there is still the recruitment plot.

Then again, maybe this isn’t about recruitment so much as stealing a valuable resource: Dinah.

And if the Slaughterhouse Nine have both Bitch and Dinah, that might be reason enough for the remainder of the Undersiders to want to do something, and for Coil to support that desire. Though he’s smart enough to know that the Undersiders still don’t have that much of a chance, so he might not approve of following through on it.

Coil shook his head, “He’s immune to conventional ammunition and explosives, and most likely to most unconventional forms of ammunition and explosives as well. The laser attachments might have some small effect, but not enough to draw him here.”

Hm, good point. I mean I did say he’s probably immune to lasers just before Trickster suggested that he was here for them.


“Which makes me wonder all of a sudden how he found us,” Trickster added.

So far, the Slaughterhouse members have all seemed to have fairly good intel on their targets.

And they have someone who’s good at finding people, so there’s that too.

Coil shook his head, “One thing at a time. If he is here because he’s seeking someone who could harm him, the only individuals on site who would be capable are Sundancer and your Noelle.”

Hm, interesting. I do suppose “solar heat” isn’t a damage source you come across often, and whatever is actually happening to Noelle seems new and unknown.

That gave the three teenagers pause.

“Noelle? But who even knows about Noelle, except-”

…Tattletale?

Coil raised his hand to silence Trickster. “Pet, the chance that Crawler would seek out Noelle first, given the opportunity?”

Oh yeah, good call.

She felt the images filter out until she was looking at a pattern of scenarios. The vague shape of the hulking figure, the open vault door. The images snapped into two groups, one vastly larger than the other.

“Ninety three point four percent.”

Damn.

…but is it to let her damage him, or to recruit her? Or both?


Shit,” Trickster swore. “That’s why he’s here. Just like Leviathan, Crawler’s coming after her?”

We don’t know for sure that Leviathan was coming after her, do we? But it is a kind of suspicious parallel if he was.

“I find every piece of evidence we gather only supports our working theory on your teammate,” Coil said. He turned to Dinah, “The chance of survival if we were to give him what he wanted? Give him access to Noelle?”

So what is that working theory? That she acts as some sort of freak beacon (or freakon)?

“Hey, no,” Trickster said.

At least ask about the chances for Noelle’s survival as well.

“Eighty-one point nine percent chance we survive the next hour-”

That’s the best chance yet.

But of course, it leads to a classic moral dilemma.

(#yes that’s right #crawler looks like a trolley)


“A start,” Coil noted.

Something about the image bothered her. She pushed forward, seeing the possible realities that unfolded after that. Very, very few extended any meaningful distance into the future.

…well then. “Oh but we almost certainly die within an hour and ten minutes.”

“Six percent chance we survive the next five hours.”

Which is pretty interesting, because it suggests that this situation would last for at least one hour before Crawler killed them.

Coil stopped, then sighed. “Thank you, pet, for clarifying that.”

Yeeah, that was pretty important.

She nodded.

“Awesome,” Trickster responded, his voice thick with sarcasm. With a more serious tone and expression, he said, “Let’s not give him access to Noelle. Agreed?”

It does sound like that turns out badly, yeah.

“Agreed,” Coil conceded. “Any further ideas?”

Time’s running out. She looked at the numbers for herself, even though she felt the initial throbbing pains at the base of her skull that foretold the encroaching headaches. 53.8 percent chance I die in the next thirty minutes.

Bad numbers: the chapter.


“Pet,” Coil said.

What she didn’t get from his tone, she grasped from the vague images she saw of her most immediate possible futures.

That sounds ominous.

“No,” she pleaded, before he’d even told her what he wanted.

“It’s necessary. I want you to look at a future where we survived, and I want you to tell us what happened.”

Ohh, that’s a pretty neat touch. Her ability lets her see moments from each branch, but she can focus on a specific branch and look through it for the course of events that led there. Sounds like that takes a lot of mental power, though.

“No. Please,” she begged.

Now, pet.”

I feel like it says a lot about how much mental power, that Dinah doesn’t want to do this even though it seems to be their only solid way out of this mess.

This isn’t going to be pleasant.


“Why is she so against this?” Trickster asked.

“Headaches,” Dinah answered, pressing her hands to her head, “It breaks my power. It takes days, sometimes weeks before everything is sorted out and working again.

Sounds like not just a headache, but a full-on burnout.

Headaches the entire time, until everything is sorted out, worse headaches if I try to get numbers in the meantime. Have to be careful, can’t muddle things up. Can’t lie about the numbers, can’t look at what happens, or it just becomes chaos.

Huh, that’s interesting, she’s sworn to honesty by the power, or she risks it leaving her for a while.

Also, if looking at what happens causes a burnout, I suppose the glimpses she already gets of each branch are part of why the power causes headaches if she uses it too much normally as well.

Safer to keep a distance, to make and follow rules. Safer to just ask the questions and let things fall into place.”

I suppose that makes sense.


“We don’t have time to play twenty questions,” Coil said. “Would you rather die?”

Good question.

Would she? She wasn’t sure. Death was bad, but at least then she’d go on to the afterlife. To heaven, she hoped. Finding an answer and surviving would mean days and weeks of absolute hell, of constant pain and not being able to use her power.

This twelve year old girl is seriously considering whether death would be preferable.

Fuck you, Coil, for putting her in this situation.

“Pet,” Coil said, when she didn’t give him an immediate response, “Do it now, or you won’t get any more candy for a long while.”

AND KNOCK OFF THE PET THING


She could see those futures unfolding. He would. She could see the pain and the sickness she experienced, the full brunt of her power without her candy to take the edges off, complete with all of the details she didn’t want.

Abstinence symptoms can be a bitch.

And on top of that, it sounds like the power is genuinely harder to deal with without the drugs.

Worst of all were the feedback loops. To go through withdrawal from the drugs, from her ‘candy’, while simultaneously being able to see and experience echoes of the future moments where she was suffering much the same way?

Oh jeez, ouch.

Also, confirmed, she knows exactly what the “candy” is.

It was a massive increase in the pain and being sick and mood swings and insomnia and feeling numb and skin-crawling hallucinations. There was no limit to these echoes, the feedback from her futures. It would never kill her, knock her out or put her in a coma, no matter how much she might want it to.

Yeeeah, any form of illness with this power sounds like hell.


She had come close to experiencing it once, early on in her captivity. Never again. She would obey Coil in everything he asked for before she risked that happening again.

Hm. Except if she wants to go on without ever experiencing this… that means she’d need to take the drugs continuously her whole life.

“Okay,” she murmured. She picked out one of the paths where they survived. Even looking too closely at it made her head throb, like it was in a massive vise and someone had just cranked it a fraction tighter.

Ow.

So yeah, let’s see what you can do here.

Some of the possible worlds around the fringes of her consciousness disintegrated into a mess of disordered scenes as she pushed forward. The scenes and images of the less possible worlds flew around her mind like razor-sharp leaves in a gale, cutting at everything they touched. “It hurts.”

The more she zooms in on one branch, the more the others start beating on her…

Metaphorically, at the very least.

“Now, pet. As quickly as you can.”

He didn’t know. It was something else, like trying to will herself to stick a hot poker in her body, in her brain, knowing it would remain there and burn her for weeks before it cooled.

That does sound a little unpleasant. A teeny bit.


[End of session]


I solved it, guys.

Wildbow’s most well-guarded secret, the truth behind it all, the Deepest Lore of Worm.

It is all so clear to me now.

The mysteriousness. The goal to take control of local government. The snake motif.

Coil…

Is a snerson.


[Session 2]

Let’s do this thing! The thing that I was doing, but then stopped doing, because I had done that thing for a while. That thing.

What was that thing again?


But she did it, because as much as it would hurt, it would hurt more if she didn’t get her candy. If Crawler got his hands on her, it wouldn’t hurt at all after those first few moments of pain, but that was bad too. It meant dying.

Yeah, that ain’t ideal.

She focused hard on that scene, taking it from an image small and vague enough that it could have fit on the end of a pencil to something full size. Her head exploded with pain.

How big is “full size” relative to the end of a pencil, though? For physical representations of images, that term could range all the way from an A5 sheet of paper to a full school board, or even bigger.

She caught fragmentary images as she felt herself double over and heave the contents of her stomach onto the metal catwalk and Sundancer’s legs and feet.

Whoops. Doubt Sundancer’s super happy about that. It’s better than dying, though.

Sundancer could have yelled, but she didn’t. Instead, she fell to her knees and grabbed Dinah by the shoulders to steady her.

Sundancer is a good.

It was just in time, because Dinah felt fireworks erupt in her brain, felt her body go spastic. Too much, too fast. The image was overly sharp and detailed, overwhelming her senses, shredding all sense of time and present.

I suppose if she looks at a full section of timeline at once, that’s a bit like making her brain deal with interpreting a huge number of moments at once, instead of just the one present moment we deal with at a time. No wonder it gets fried.

(Well, technically the brain does attempt to predict the future to deal with delays such as the one between the eyes and the brain. I’m kind of including that in the present moment, I suppose.)


It was long moments before she could even piece together what the others were saying and doing. She was lying down, her head on Sundancer’s lap, a cold cloth against her forehead. Oliver leaned next to her, holding a bowl of cold water.

It is done.

I have a feeling Coil is going to be pressuring her to tell him about what she saw immediately, with no regard for her state.

“-running out of time!” Trickster shouted.

Ah, right, we don’t know how long she’s been out, and they do have limited time.

Coil stood just behind Trickster, arms folded, staring out over the railing, at his underground base.

Considering tactics?

“Give her a moment,” Sundancer said. “Whatever that was, it just knocked the poor kid out.”

“That deadline she gave us? It’s here. Now.”

Oh wow, she was out that long?

I mean, it can’t be quite there. If it was, there’d be a ~40% chance each of them were dead already, including Dinah. But chances are we don’t have much time before Crawler busts in.


“I know, but pressuring her won’t help anything.”

A smell hit her. Like the bitterest black chocolate in the world and overly strong coffee, the odor so thick on the air that she could taste it. With her already upset stomach, it made her want to retch.

Would this be Crawler?

“Smells bad,” she said. “Make the smell go away.”

“She’s conscious. Is this smell a clue?” Trickster turned.

Hm, does he not smell it himself?

Is it all in her head? Maybe something from the future she looked into?

“No. It’s a symptom,” Coil answered him, not turning to look at her or them. “She may be dizzy, dazed, or she may rub or scratch at herself until she fully recovers. Don’t let her scratch her corneas or rub herself until she bleeds.”

He’s done this before.

It’s unclear whether Dinah remembers him doing this before, whether she’s been through this at his command before, but he’s done it.

Enough that he’s so aware of the symptoms that it’s like he’d read up on it on some medical website.

How many alternate Dinahs did he do this to?


Dinah tried to recall what she’d seen. “Darkness.”

Even in a timeline where they survived? We don’t have time to bring in Grue, even if his power could help out, so are we going for some form of dark hiding spots? I wouldn’t think it’d be an escape tunnel, unless the chance of survival if they leave has drastically increased.

“You mentioned that earlier, pet.”

“We were in the dark, and it smelled like meat. It smelled like sweat, too. And we were all pressed in close together.”

Hm, yeah, looks like it. Meat, so some form of pantry for the base kitchen?

Sweat could be just from the amount of people in there, but I suppose some rooms in the base could naturally have that scent. Like the training area’s lockers, or the laundry room.

“Where?” Coil asked.

“There was a metal door in front of us. Big. The vault door downstairs.”

…they’re hiding with Noelle?

I suppose that would be a good opportunity for some more clues as to what’s going on with her.

Then again, if Crawler has a high chance of going for Noelle first, wouldn’t that be the worst hiding place, as long as he can tell where she is?


“Noelle’s room,” Trickster said, an instant before Dinah put the pieces together.

“How many of us, pet?”

How many are there room for?

“Everyone here was there,” she looked towards the soldiers.

In other words, it’s getting further reinforced that they shouldn’t even bother trying to defend the base.

“Is she in there?”

“She was. Yes.”

Also, this. I got the sense last time that there was a risk of Noelle having bursts of violence, and that was why they kept her in the vault to begin with.

Hm, I suppose it does make sense that if the vault is built to keep Noelle in, it might also keep Crawler out.


Coil turned and swept her up in his arms. Her skin crawled at the contact of her body against his.

Ugh.

She didn’t say or do anything about it, in part because she wasn’t able, too sick, hurting too much. The other reason was because she had seen the numbers shift each time she flinched away from his touch or made her disgust known. Little differences.

Hm, that’s odd. The numbers do seem to already incorporate Dinah’s possible actions like everyone else’s, so is this a side effect of Coil’s power?

He was angrier with her, more curt, if she pulled way, if she complained about it.

Yeah… Classic abusive behavior, training her into not complaining.

There was safety in the numbers, in following the rules she set on herself. It kept her power in order, it ensured Coil was tolerant with her, and it meant she didn’t have to go without her candy for even a short time.

The rules?


Coil took the stairs two at a time as he descended to the ground floor, Trickster, Oliver and Sundancer hurrying after him.

Hey, Crawler, you stand out there and count to 200…

“You,” Coil called out, not even bothering to recall the employee’s name, “The vault door. Open it. Squad leaders, organize your groups!”

Why? Shouldn’t they be coming in too? I don’t know if they need organizing for that.

There was a faint crash in the distance, and a vibration rippled through the complex.

Hello! Please, come in.

Don’t forget to wipe your claws on the welcome mat!


“Pet, the chance that Crawler kills us, now that we’ve undertaken this route?”

“I don’t. I can’t.” Her head hurt so much.

You’re on your own now, Coil. You’ve burnt out your seer.

Try,” and in his hard tone, she heard the unspoken threat of having her candy taken away.

She did. The scenes had no order to them.

Oh, so it is still possible for her to do it at this point, but it’s messed up, and if she does it too much, it’ll probably go badly.

They were all jumbled, and trying to pull some semblance of order and sense into them was like thrusting her hands into fire and razor blades, thrusting her mind into fire and razor blades. A long groan of pain was drawn from her throat, and the strength went out of her body.

She can see things, but she can’t organize them like she usually does to get the numbers.

“You’re killing her!” Sundancer gasped.

“No,” Coil said, as if from a place far away. “I’ve had her use her power to check. This may be miserable for her, but she can’t die from it.”

Oh right, that was mentioned earlier.

Coil touching her, that overpowering phantom smell, the fear, the nausea…

If there’s anything left in Dinah’s stomach, I doubt it’s staying there very long.


“I need to barf.”

Coil set her down and held her by the wrists as she leaned forward to cough up mouthfuls of bile. Her stomach was already empty of food.

Yeeah. Ew.

“The number, pet?”

Sundancer bent down to hold her, so her shoulders weren’t being twisted with her arms held behind her by Coil.

She can’t, Coil.

“Three point one percent,” Dinah gasped out.

Oh, looks like she can, just barely.

And those odds look a lot better. Good work, Dinah. I wish you hadn’t had to do it, but good work.


“Reassuring,” Coil said. The vault door opened before them. “Trickster? Would you announce our imminent arrival to Noelle?”

“Yeah,” Trickster sighed. “Fuck. I hate to do this, but can I get a number?”

For what, Noelle hurting or killing you?

“Trickster!” Sundancer admonished him, sounding horrified, “You can see how much pain it’s causing her.”

Again, Sundancer is a Good.

“It’s important. Kid, what’s the chance that Noelle kills us?”

There was another series of crashes, closer.

Dinah shook her head, “Please. I just want to put everything back together. Every time I use my power, it all falls apart and it hurts.”

It is a pretty important question, especially if Dinah was looking for a timeline where they survived Crawler specifically, though I don’t think she was. The lower chances getting killed by Crawler could be caused by getting killed by Noelle instead.


“Pet, it’s the last question we’ll ask you tonight. I promise,” Coil said.

So she did. She reached for the number. It can’t kill me. It doesn’t do permanent damage. It just hurts. It’s my brain telling me my power shouldn’t be used to find answers like that.

Is it? I suppose that makes some sense.

With most other powers we’ve seen, the host body (including the brain) has seemed to be fine with the use of the power, though in some cases not fully capable of using its more intense abilities due to the rest of the body’s inability to handle the results (such as getting knocked out by sensory overload). But I suppose what’s happening here is along the lines of the sensory overload thing, and the brain saying “don’t do this” because it’s too much.

The words she used to convince herself did little to soften the pain that came with digging for a number once more. She screamed, and tears flowed down her face as she sank into Sundancer’s arms, screwing her eyes shut.

I wonder how Sundancer is going to look at Coil and Trickster after this. She’s rightfully horrified by what they’re forcing this 12-year-old girl to do to herself, and she’s demonstrably attributing it to the right people – she said Coil was killing Dinah, not that Dinah was killing herself.


“Nine point eight percent,” she managed. Was she being carried? They were venturing inside, past the first of the two heavy vault doors.

Alright, so the chance is three times higher for Noelle to kill them than Crawler, but still significantly lower than the chances of Crawler killing them if they stay out. Sounds good to me.

How much time had just passed? Where was Trickster?

Her grip on the present moment just keeps getting weaker.

“That’s good information to have, pet,” Coil said, from somewhere near her. “Squad leaders. As you gather inside the containment room, I want you organizing your troops into ranks, your backs to the door.

Ahh, that’s fair. So is that to defend against Noelle?

Weapons need to be locked, loaded and ready to fire. Be sure to equip the laser attachments and battery packs. Don’t venture any further than ten paces inside.”

I doubt Trickster’s gonna like this plan, even if it is necessary.


There were affirmative responses. Dinah could hear guns cocking.

Another crash, the closest yet. The sound of rubble and concrete falling echoed through the underground complex.

“I thought there were supposed to be people here?”

Although I’m not sure he’s actually made it in yet.

“He’s here,” Coil said. “Last people inside, hurry. Close the first door.”

Dinah opened her eyes. They were in a concrete room with steel girders at set intervals, as if forming a cage against the inside of the room.

Seems like a reasonable design considering this room is a cage.

It smelled like meat that had gone bad.

Oh hey, there we go. Now it’s a real smell.

The second vault door slowly swung closed as the last few stragglers slipped through the gap. Employees, technicians, people in suits, some soldiers. They packed in close at the end of the room closest to the door, their bodies pressing against her. Three fifths of the chamber were left unoccupied.

Except for Noelle, I’d imagine?

We’re so close to the prophecy being fully fulfilled. All we need now is for the lights to go out, either turned off by Coil or turned off by a power outage caused by Crawler.

Come to think of it, it’s probably the latter. Many timelines were dark earlier, which I suppose suggests that the darkness covers the entire base. And it’s not like this base has windows, either.


And on the other side of the room – darkness. Trickster was emerging.

Wait, what?

Did Trickster somehow teleport off to actually get Grue after all? But I thought his teleportation was limited by line of sight, not to mention the distance from this base to Grue’s, so I don’t think that’s really possible.

Unless… could line of sight work through cameras and screens? That sounds like it’d be a really powerful workaround for teleporters limited by line of sight. Trickster could, for instance, have a wristwatch-like device that shows him camera feeds from various Coil-co. locations, and use that to teleport to each of them.

“How is she?” Coil asked.

Orrrrr I could be completely overthinking things and it’s just that the lights are on in one end of the room and off in the other, and Trickster is “emerging” in the sense that he’s walking into the light part.

Duh.


“Scared. Hungry. She said she didn’t get her meal tonight,” Trickster answered, his voice quiet.

Aw.

Coil folded his arms. “She did. I personally observed the delivery. I suspect she’s needing more food as of late. Unfortunate we find this out now.”

Hm, so that would imply she’s developing into needing more energy for her body. A larger form, perhaps, or a more powerful one?

Also, does she genuinely believe she didn’t get her meal, or is she just saying that in hopes they’ll give her more? If it’s the former, her memory may be failing too.

“She asked me to turn out the lights on this end of her room. Said it would be easier if she can’t see us.”

Ahh, that would explain the darkness in this timeline.

Are all the dark timelines from earlier the ones where they escaped here?

Also, it sounds like Noelle is fighting an instinct to kill. I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse if this, whatever this is, continues.


The main reason I’ve discounted the theory that Noelle is turning into an Endbringer is that Tattletale’s power said Leviathan was never human. But it just occurred to me that the same Interlude showed us that Tattletale is basically super-Sherlock, and we’ve seen several times that her power can be wrong once in a while if it’s basing things on insufficient information.

On another hand, if Leviathan was human at some point, what would the narrative point in a mostly trustworthy source saying he wasn’t be? Was something planned to rely on Tattletale believing the Endbringers were never human? I suppose if Noelle were to be turning into an Endbringer, inaccurate beliefs about Leviathan may cause her to not be able to figure that out, but that still feels like a stretch as far as justifying such a misdirection for the audience goes.

A third option is that Leviathan was never human, but the other Endbringers were. That would imply that Leviathan was the source of their power somehow. I’m not sure I like this hypothesis.

Also, another point against this theory is Noelle’s increasing hunger. That seems to clash with the existing Endbringers appearing not to need substinance, though it might be a result of an incomplete transformation.

So yeah, currently there are more things pointing away from Noelle transforming into an Endbringer than towards it, but it’s something that’s worth keeping in mind nonetheless.

She’s definitely turning into something, and she probably ain’t gonna stay contained indefinitely.


“Do it,” Coil ordered. He strode over to one of his squad captains and spoke in the man’s ear. Dinah thought she might have overheard something about night vision goggles.

Ah, that makes sense. They’ll still be able to tell if Noelle fails to keep the killer instinct in check.

She closed her eyes, as if it could help shut out the pain that continued to tear through her skull.

The pink of the light shining through her eyelids turned to black as the lights went out.

And we’ve officially reached the future. Dark, cramped, and smelling of meat and soon sweat.


“I’m sorry,” A girl’s voice whispered in Dinah’s ear. Sundancer?

I would guess so.

Dinah tried to answer, but her voice came out in a croak.

“I’d help you if I could, but I can’t, you understand?” Sundancer whispered to her. She had her arms around Dinah.

Hmm. I wonder what would happen if Taylor and Sundancer had a talk about Dinah. Sundancer is resigned to the idea that while what Coil is doing to Dinah is horrible and she wants to stop it, she just can’t. Meanwhile, Taylor is doing her best – sometimes a little too much – to do just that, even though she doesn’t have much greater chances than Sundancer as far as I’m aware.

She smelled like barf, but that was Dinah’s fault. “It’s not just that my friends and I are in a bad spot, or having to help Noelle, or even that I don’t think I could save you on my own… We made a promise to each other, when everything began. Fuck, it sounds so stupid, sounds so lame, when I say it like that.”

…oh?

Does this also have something to do with the internal issues in the Travelers that you were talking about in Hive?

There was a crash nearby, the sound of metal on metal.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are!”


Then a massive impact against the vault door made the room shudder.

I told you he’d come here…

Is the vault door strong enough to withstand his attacks?

Sundancer kept talking, as if oblivious to the ongoing attack. “When you’ve been through hell and back again with a group of people, when you’ve all lost everything, and you collectively stand to lose more? I- I don’t even know what I’m saying. Maybe there’s no justification for letting you go through what you are. I just… they’re all I’ve got. I’m sorry.”

I see, so it’s a loyalty thing. She can’t do anything because she risks having to cut ties with the Travelers, and they’ve gone through so much together that she really doesn’t want that to happen.

That explains why she sticks with them despite the problems she was talking about in Hive, too.

Dinah reached up and fumbled around until she found Sundancer’s hand. She didn’t have a response, couldn’t speak if she’d been able to think of what to say. She just held the hand tight.

This is nice.


A series of hits collided with the metal door. A roar rattled through the air, painfully loud despite the muffling effect of the intervening wall. It was a roar heavy with frustration and anger.

“Hey, guys, let me in! Come on, it’s boring out here!”

I wonder how strong he really is, offensively. His power seems primarily defensive, even if the parts that grow back get “stronger”.

There was the sound of guns cocking. She almost missed it in the midst of the steady, relentless crashes that came from the metal door.

What do you see, soldiers? Noelle making a move?

“I’m so hungry,” a girl’s voice echoed through the chamber. She’s close.

This whole scenario seems right out of a horror game.

“I know, Noelle,” Trickster answered. “Just a little while. Let’s go back to the other side, away from these people.”

Yes, that would be nice.

I like how gentle he seems when dealing with Noelle.


Noelle sounded like someone who was very, very tired. “Can’t wait. Can’t wait at all these days. I can smell them.”

Wait for what? Food?

She wants food as badly as I want my ‘candy‘, Dinah thought. The difference is that she can and will take what she wants, even if it means eating one of us. I don’t have that power.

Hm, yeah, seems like and apt comparison.

God, her head hurt. Worse, she knew this was the calm before the storm. Her head would hurt more with every passing hour until she wanted to die.

Nothing quite like feeling shitty and being fully aware that it’s going to get worse.

“You can hold on,” Trickster said, his voice gentle. “You don’t want to come any closer than that. You know what your power does. None of us want that.”

What does it do?

By the sound of it, it’s something unusual, considering it’s something that could harm Crawler, but not something that would kill him (but probably would kill a mundane).


“No.”

“And these guys, as good as they are, I can’t be positive that one of them won’t shoot you in a moment of panic. We don’t want that either.”

Yeah, probably not, though I do suspect it might prevent trouble down the line.

“I’d live. Don’t want to, but I’d live.”

“You would. But would I? Would Oliver and Marissa, if you went berserk? They’re in here too.”

Marissa is a nice name for Sundancer. I like it. 🙂

Sundancer spoke up, calling out, “Remember the promise we made together.”

Whatever happens, you stick together?


Noelle didn’t reply. The silence lingered, punctuated by the heavy blows on the metal door, echoing through the concrete chamber.

“Come on, Noelle. Let’s go back, before you or someone else here does something they’ll regret,” Trickster urged.

Yeah…

The banging continued.

“Come with me, Krouse? We can talk alone?”

Oh yeah, that was Trickster’s civilian name! I forgot about that.

“That sounds good,” Trickster said.

Dinah felt the tension in the room ease. The pain in her skull didn’t get any better. She set about the tedious task of trying to reorganize the images in her head.

Noelle and Trickster talking hopefully helps keep her calm and distracted from the hunger. As long as it doesn’t lead to her eating Trickster, that’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, Dinah’s still trying to use her power even after everything she’s just been through.

Building a house of cards in an unpredictable wind. Every time the numbers changed, what she’d started to sort out fell apart.

And considering they seem to change as every moment passes, that house of cards is doomed.


She’d have to wait until a period of calm before she made any real headway. The passage of time would help as well. Then it wouldn’t be so painful to use her ability.

I thought it was going to get worse?

She got caught up in the painstaking operation, and it was some time before she realized the banging had stopped. Still, the gathered people in the room waited. Just in case Crawler was bluffing them, waiting until they opened the door.

That is probably a good call. Especially since he seemed well aware that they were almost certainly in there. Otherwise he probably wouldn’t have banged on this door anywhere near as long.

Long minutes passed before Coil gave the order.

Dinah was blind. Her power too fragile and painful to use, so she couldn’t see the future that awaited them outside the door. Her heart pounded in her throat as the door was opened. The first squads moved out, fanning through the complex to find if Crawler was lurking in some corner of the underground base.

…I think we might not actually get to see Crawler in this chapter.

The mood of this last portion has been very horror-game-esque, and while I’m not big on watching or playing horror stuff, I do know that one of the best ways to maintain scariness for a monster is to not show it until you absolutely have to. Instead, convey its presence with other senses, like sounds, things that don’t allow the audience to become certain of the monster’s form. The uncertainty as to what the monster is like is key.

That’s part of what’s going on with Noelle too, I think, besides her form being saved for a future reveal. For the reader, there’s a degree of uncertainty as to what is happening to her (much like there is for the characters, but the venn diagram between what the characters know and what the readers know is not quite a circle), and it makes it all the more worrying.

They returned and gave the all-clear.

For now. Maybe.


Emerging from the gloom, she squinted in the face of the flourescent lights. Claw marks gouged the outside of the solid steel of the vault door, each at least half a foot deep.

This is another way you can do it – have the monster leave marks to be seen after it’s moved on.

Marks that give a vague indication of what abilities it has, without giving the full picture.

The catwalk had been torn down at one side of the complex, and innumerable boxes of weapons and supplies had been crushed or scattered across the floor.

Gotta check whether they’re hiding in the boxes, y’know.

Besides, crushing boxes is good for venting frustration when your target hides behind a vault door.

“Candy?” she asked. “My head hurts.”

“You can have your candy, pet. Go to your room, I’ll call Pitter in and send him to you.”

And this is basically Coil saying it’s over.

Is he right? I don’t know, but the soldiers did scour the building for Crawler and come back, so he’s either well hidden (and he doesn’t seem the subtle type) or gone.


With her armed escort, she headed to her room. She collapsed gratefully on her bed.

She knew she’d regret it, but she used her power. She had to know. It would be one more use, to hold her over, and she would stop using her power for the next few days, at least. Weeks, if Coil let her.

Know what, exactly? Whether Crawler will come back?

Or maybe, whether she’ll be saved, now that Sundancer brought up that possibility?

She clutched her covers and bit her pillow as her head erupted with pain. More than half of the groundwork she’d so carefully laid in place over the past hour fell apart as she pulled the scenes into two groups. Minutes passed before she had her number.

31.6%.

If it’s the latter, which I think it might be, that’s not that bad a chance.

More than four percent higher than it had been yesterday.

Okay, definitely not about Crawler, and this is something she checks repeatedly. I think I was right.

Thirty-one point six percent chance she’d get to go home someday.

Bingo.


I forgot to mention that Night is practically an embodiment of the horror writing rule I was discussing. I feel even more so than before that Night would fit well as Crawler’s nominee.


End of Interlude 11f

Sundancer is a Good, and Coil’s a dick.

So! In this chapter, we watched as Dinah saved everyone, at great personal difficulty.

I think it’s worth thinking of this chapter as split in two: There’s talking tactics, and there’s the horror portion.

There was a lot of discussion of tactics in this one, which… kinda drew long, but was a pretty decent demonstration of Dinah’s power and an alright way to introduce us to Crawler’s power. It grew especially interesting once the final solution of having Dinah look into the future more thoroughly and find out what they were going to do came up, which was an aspect of her power I did not see coming. Uh, no pun intended.

I think I like the horror section better – trapped in the dark with a potentially dangerous person sniffing at you from inside, and a definitely dangerous monster banging at the door from the outside. It does feel like it didn’t quite pay off, though, somehow – Trickster calmed Noelle down with relative ease and a gentleness that didn’t match the horror tone surrounding it, and Crawler was quite effectively stopped by the vault door. (The latter isn’t quite as much of a problem as it could’ve been, because it’s previously been solidly established that it’s a really strong door intended to keep berserk!Noelle in check.)

Overall, it was a fairly decent setup and used the uncertainty surrounding Crawler and Noelle’s appearances effectively, but ultimately the ending felt kind of anticlimactic. It was certainly not bad, though.

And then there’s Dinah. It was nice to see Dinah’s perspective on her situation, and I’m very glad that she does not like Coil. She has learned to not cross him, and does have a heavy addiction to the drugs that will be especially hard to break due to her power, but she does not like him. His abuse hasn’t gotten to the point where she starts telling herself he’s good to her, that what he’s doing is okay, that she doesn’t want to go home.

Sundancer (civilian name Marissa, which is nice) was also very good in this chapter, being protective of Dinah, but admitting to Dinah – to Dinah, talking directly to her – that her hands were tied by her bonds to the Travelers. I would love to see Taylor and Sundancer discussing Dinah, though it’s very unlikely to happen.

Speaking of Taylor, I have a feeling she’s a big part of why the chance of Dinah’s release is ticking up.

So yeah! Not one of the solidest recent chapters, but I enjoyed it.

Next up is either Bonesaw, the newbie or Hatchet Face. Probably Bonesaw, I’m thinking. See you then!

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4 thoughts on “Interlude 11f: Five Nights at Noelle’s

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