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Plague 12.2: Count Hookwolf in Disguise

Source material: Worm, Plague 12.2

Originally blogged: May 4, 2018


Villains and slaughters and meetings, oh my!

Howdy! Krixwell here, back again for more Worm. 🙂

Last time, Taylor took care of a rat infestation and learned that Alec has been nominated for the Slaughterhouse Nine, along with others, and that Hookwolf has called in to a villain meeting.

This ought to be interesting. My predictions haven’t really changed since the end of the last chapter [here]: In short, Hookwolf taking the initiative, Kaiser being gone and Skidmark being more socially powerful may cause some interesting differences between this meeting and the one in Hive. Oh, and any lingering conflict there might be between the E44s. Also, the fact that tensions are higher between Coil and each of the E44s than they were between Coil and E88 at the time of the first meeting, though I’m sure Coil will remain as affably evil as ever.

Maybe we’ll meet some new villains too, like we did in 5.1? 5.1 introduced some of my favorite characters outside the Undersiders – maybe this chapter could repeat that feat?

Incidentally, it’d be kinda fun if a hero with a personal stake in the Slaughterhouse situation somehow found out about this meeting and decided to attend. Maybe not Armmaster, since he’s under house arrest and probably still recovering from Mannequin’s attack, but perhaps Panacea? I’d be much more interested to see her than Army anyway.

Without further ado, let’s see how this goes!


I’d spent nearly sixteen years in Brockton Bay, living a half-hour’s walk away from the ocean and I couldn’t remember ever being on a boat.

Which is not for lack of trying on Danny’s part.

Well, I mean, he probably wasn’t trying to get Taylor on a boat, that would probably be much easier. But he was trying to get a boat running that Taylor would’ve gone on at some point. Probably soon after he got it running, to celebrate.

So, anyway, does this mean the meeting is taking place on a boat?

How sad was that?

Hehe. Maybe just a little.

But hey, I live near marble mines and I’ve never had the chance to mine marble… okay, bad analogy 😛

Also I guess the boat she’s clearly leading up to here might just be the means of transportation to the meeting spot, but I think it’d be cooler to have Hookwolf inviting his fellow villains to a personal yacht or something. It would certainly be fancier than the last villain meeting.

Heh, or maybe they’ll all have to cram into a single rowboat in the middle of the bay.

I mean, I was sure I’d been on a boat before.  My parents had to have taken me on the ferry when I was a baby or toddler.  I just didn’t remember any of it.  My parents were introverts, by and large, and their idea of an outing had been more along the lines of a trip down the Boardwalk, a visit to the Market or going to an art gallery or museum.

Sounds kinda nice. 🙂

Maybe once in a while we’d go to something more thrilling like a fair or baseball game, but no… this was the first time I could remember being out on the water.

How about swimming? Did they at least teach you, or let the school teach you, how to swim?

Now I’m imagining a much happier Danny swimming a slow front crawl alongside mini-Taylor. Maybe her mother too, swimming happily on the other side. And little Taylor, maybe 8-9 years old, swimming awkwardly in the middle with a big goofy grin…


It was exhilarating, the boat ride.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  I loved the feeling of the wind in my hair, the slight turbulence as the boat bounced on the short waves.

Sounds like a small motorboat. There goes the yacht idea, unless Hookwolf just happens to have parked it elsewhere and this is taking them out to it.

It wasn’t that different from how I had enjoyed riding Bitch’s dogs, and there was none of that primal, deep-seated worry that the hulking monster I was riding would turn around and snap my face off.

I mean, normally that wouldn’t be an issue with motorboats, but look at the world Taylor’s living in. There could very well be someone around with the power to bring boats to life and give them faces.

I’d almost think I had been destined to fly, based on how thoroughly I enjoyed myself, and that it was only bad luck that I’d gotten other powers instead… except I remembered flying with Laserdream as the Endbringer attacked, and that hadn’t been the most enjoyable experience.

Hah! To be fair, there’s a bit of a difference between hanging precariously and uncomfortably from a flying object and being unaffected by gravity yourself.

That might have been a special circumstance; I’d been dealing with the fact that I’d had a broken arm, I’d recently puked my guts out, I’d been soaking wet, and an Endbringer had been working on wiping my hometown and everyone I cared about from the face of the planet.

That too. Most things are probably not that enjoyable during that sort of situation. Like this one time I was watching this sitcom I liked while my house burned down around me. By the end of the episode, I was feeling kinda down, very sweaty and a little bit charred, even though it was almost objectively a really good episode.

(#i’m kidding of course
#you can tell because it was a really good episode of a sitcom)


That day would almost feel like something that had happened in a dream, if I hadn’t spent every hour of every day since living in the aftermath.

Perhaps more specifically a nightmare?

But yeah, I do really like that Wildbow is getting much more mileage out of the aftermath of Extermination than out of Extermination itself.

Coil’s people had dropped us off along with two sleek motorboats, depositing them at the water’s edge.  Grue was in one boat with Bitch, her three dogs and a puppy she had on a long chain.

the anchor

I wasn’t sure if the puppy conveyed the image we wanted, but with her attitude towards me lately, I wasn’t willing to comment and risk her going off on me.

Yeah, probably best to just let it be. Let it be. Let it be. Let it be. There will be an answer. Let it be.

She’d remained angry after I’d called her out on her screwing me over and setting me up for Dragon to arrest, but she’d left me more or less alone.

For now, at least.

I… have little to no hopes for this Arc improving their relations. Or, if it somehow does, that might happen before Taylor finds out about Rachel’s latest plans of betrayal.

(#no puppies were harmed in the making of this post)


The puppy was cute.  It was skittish, especially around people, which seemed a little odd.

Oh! It’s the wolf pupy!

It wasn’t the kind of dog I’d expect Bitch to favor.  Too young, not vicious or intimidating in appearance.  On the other hand, skittish as it was, it had an aggressive streak.

In short, it’s behaving like a young wolf.

It constantly hounded Bentley, nipping at his flanks, then spooking and running away the second the bulldog looked at him.  It had made for a fair amount of noise when we’d been getting the boats into the water.  One for Bitch, her dogs and Grue, one for the rest of our group.

D’aw.

Our boats weren’t out on the ocean.  We traveled through the area downtown where Leviathan had collapsed a section of the city.  It was now more or less an artificial lake.

Ooh, Lake Heroic! Weren’t there some ruins sticking up around the middle where some people lived, essentially using the lake as a moat? Those would be a fairly decent meeting spot. Especially since they’d have a good range of clear sight to see any incoming Slaughterhouse members and most of their members can’t fly. Then again, it’d also be difficult to evacuate.

The water was fairly still, lapping gently against the ruined roads and collapsed buildings that surrounded the crater, but with the speed these boats were capable of going, even waves a half-foot high made us ramp slightly off one and then crash down onto the next with a sudden spray.

I’ve gone rafting once, so this just sounds fun to me. Maybe not the best introduction to being out on the water, though.


Tattletale was at the back, steering the thing.  It seemed counter-intuitive, with the boat going the opposite direction she pushed or pulled the stick.  Still, she seemed competent at it.

Yeah, but that’s probably just something you gotta get used to. I have a clock that goes backwards in my bedroom, and after a few years of that, I have no trouble with it most of the time.

Better than Grue, which I found slightly amusing.

Hehe.

Y’know, I wonder what would happen if Rachel got to steer.

From time to time, I was finding myself in a strange emotional state.  As I stayed alert for it, I was able to catch those moments, try to pick them apart for what they were.  The high-end motor whirred and the boat bounced over the waves, the wind and water getting in my hair, all while we headed into the most ridiculously dangerous and unpredictable situation we’d been in for weeks.

Thrill, perhaps?

It was one of those moments; I felt almost calm.

…huh.

A sense of calm like “this is how it’s supposed to be”?

It’s also the calm before the storm, but how much that factors into Taylor’s emotions is unclear.

For a year and a half, I’d spent almost all of my time in a state of constant anxiety.  Anxiety about schoolwork, my teachers, my peers, my dad, my mom’s death, my body, my clothes, trying to hold conversations without embarrassing myself, and about the bullies and what they would do next.

Like father like daughter.

It’s not much fun living like this, I’m sure.

Everything had been tainted by the constant worries and the fact that I’d constantly been preparing for the worst case scenarios and maybe even setting up self-fulfilling prophecies in the process.  I’d spent every waking moment immersed in it.

And now she’s calm as opposed to anxious. That’s good! Like Leviathan prevented her from truly enjoying flying, the anxiety did the exact same thing with other enjoyable activities and made her an overall unhappy person. Right now, she’s finally in a state where she can actually enjoy what’s going on, as dangerous as it may be.

Let’s hope Taylor stays in that state for a while, for her sake.


Either I was stressing over something I’d done or something that had happened, I was concerned with the now, or I was anxious over what came in the future: distant or near.  There was always something.

I guess you could say she felt…

tense?

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But yeah, I’m sure there are a lot of people who relate deeply to Taylor’s narration here.

To those who do: I’m so sorry you have to live with anxiety pulling you down. It sucks and I hope things get better for you.


And that was before I’d ever put on a costume and found myself caught up in my double-crossing plan against the Undersiders and everything that had stemmed from that.  Before Dinah and running away from home, before I’d decided to go villain.  Stuff that made some of what I’d been worried over before seem trivial.

Yeeah, it’s been a while since stuff like for example schoolwork was a concern, and even when it was, all we really saw was homework that I can’t believe so many people did, and Taylor’s art project… I still wonder what that art project was, by the way.

Telling us that would probably have been a good opportunity for some more early fleshing out of Taylor’s character. More so the more room there was for personal touches to the piece, though Taylor would probably underexpress herself in order to avoid standing out, just like with her clothes.

Anyway, more to the point, Taylor has even left the bullies behind, only running into one of them once in a bullying capacity since she left home. After that attack, Sophia only really climbed back into relevance through the reveal that she was part of Taylor’s new life too.

And now Emma’s in Portland, Sophia is staying the hell away from Regent (probably also in Portland or working on moving there, but most certainly leaving), and Madison… who knows. Maybe she’ll pop back up at some point, but she never felt all that important compared to Sophia and Emma. Though presumably her becoming relevant again would do something about that.


So why could I feel calm now?

I think it was that realization that there were moments where I was helpless to act, oddly enough.  This boat?  Speeding across the Endbringer-made lake?  I had to be here.  There was no other option, really.

Huh.

Taylor’s brain, constantly: “oh no things might go bad here what can i do”
This situation: “nothing”
Taylor’s brain: “huh. okay.”

As I clutched the metal rim of the boat with one hand while we soared forward, the wind in my hair, I could accept the fact that I couldn’t do anything in this time and place to get Dinah out of captivity sooner.

This is kind of interesting. Taylor has hangups about bystanderism and complacency that do make sense, but overall, Wildbow seems to be using that as an example not to follow. We’ve seen, plenty of times, Taylor stressing herself out about her desire to help. Now we’re seeing Taylor allow herself a moment of calm, of complacency, and it’s probably the mentally healthiest moment we’ve seen from her in the entire story. If I’m not misinterpreting Wildbow’s intentions, we’re seeing an argument between the narrator and the narrative about how deeply one should care about helping people around oneself at one’s own expense. The narrator argues fiercely for always putting others first, using Charlotte and Tattletale as surrogates for the audience, but the narrative is highlighting how unhealthy this actually is for her.

I don’t think Wildbow is teaching that we shouldn’t care about helping others. He probably means some of what Taylor is saying, stands by her stance on bystanderism. But I do think he’s trying to show us that there needs to be a balance.


With that in mind, I surrendered myself of that responsibility for the present.  Much in that same way, I cast off all the other worries, great and small.

I really like this scene so far.

A light flashed ahead of us.  Three blinks, then two.

Morse code? Or just a general identification thing?

“Regent!” Tattletale called out.

Regent raised a flashlight and flashed it twice, paused, then flashed it twice again.

Seems like the latter.

There was one flash in response.

Grue slowed his boat as we reached our destination.  Our meeting place was in the center of the lake, one of the buildings that still partially stood above water, leaning to one side so a corner of the roof was submerged, the opposite corner peaking high.

Seems like a nice enough place for our villain picnic.

Heh, and here I was theorizing about a fancy yacht earlier 😛

Come to think of it, a yacht would probably be dangerous. Too much glass, making it vulnerable to the one Slaughterhouse member who flies.

Tattletale didn’t slow our boat like Grue had his, and instead steered the boat in a wide ‘u’ to ride it up onto the corner of the roof.

Heh, neat.

Regent and I hopped out to grab the front of the boat and help pull it up.  When Grue rode his boat aground as well, a little more carefully, we helped him too.  Bitch hopped out and spent a moment using gestures and tugs on the puppy’s leash to get her dogs arranged and settled.

And thus, the Undersiders have arrived. 🙂


Hookwolf and his Chosen had situated themselves at the corner of the roof that stood highest from the surrounding water.

Because of course they place themself highest, towering over the others.

But seriously, metaphors about their opinions on themselves aside, it does make sense to put Hookwolf, the one inviting to this meeting and presumably taking charge, up high where everyone can see him, especially since there doesn’t seem to be a central table this time (well that makes some of my speculations pointless in retrospect).

Hookwolf stood with his arms folded, densely covered in bristling spikes, barbs, blades and hooks, only his face untouched by the treatment, covered by his metal wolf mask instead.

He’s ready in case trouble comes, and as a bonus, makes himself look even more powerful.

Othala, Victor and Cricket were sitting on the raised edge of the roof behind him.  Stormtiger floated in the air just beside Cricket, and Rune had levitated three chunks of pavement into the air behind the group, each the size of a fire truck, like weapons poised at the ready.

I don’t think this is going to make people feel more secure that this is not a trap, though.

Last time, there was a no-powers rule in place. The hosts don’t seem to be holding to that this time.

She sat on the edge of one of the chunks, her feet dangling over Victor’s head.  Menja stood just behind Rune on the floating piece of shattered road, twelve feet tall, fully garbed in her valkyrie armor, a shield in one hand and a long spear in the other.

Seriously, even I’m half beginning to doubt whether this could be a trap at this point. Hopefully they’re just trying to make it clear that they’re in charge and won’t be taking kindly to shenanigans.

Any corpses they have to drop into the lake won’t be found for a while.


I almost missed it in the gloom, but when I did spot it, it was almost impossible to ignore.  On every patch of skin I could see in the Chosen’s group, scars and scratches had just barely healed over.

Ah yes. Shatterbird’s work… I wonder if Taylor will recognize that.

There were still faint indents and lines of pale skin that marked where the deep lacerations had been.  The little scars made patterns across their skin, some spraying out from a single point, others running parallel to one another, going in the same direction like a snapshot of rainfall imprinted on their skin.

I guess that’s not really too far from what it is. It’s just from a different material.

With that many scratches and scars, they must have been hit hard.

They were, but as far as we know, all of that except for like one scar on Cricket was from one attack.

Faultline’s group was gathered to one side.  Faultline, Newter, and the new member Shamrock wore more concealing costumes than their usual.

I guess that’s like with Taylor removing the glass from her costume – they’re trying to protect their bodies more from powers like Shatterbird’s or Burnscar’s (they might also be hiding their wounds from their previous encounter with her).

Faultline’s face was covered in a tinted visor, and her arms and legs were covered in opaque gloves and leggings.

I hope that visor isn’t made of glass. Faultline seems smart enough to avoid that, at least.

Labyrinth and Spitfire were fully decked out in their usual concealing robe and fire-retardant suits, respectively.  Only Gregor showed skin.

He kinda has to for his power’s sake, but fortunately he’s somewhat resistant to at least some of the effects they’re protecting themselves against.

The barnacle-like growths of spiral shells that covered his skin had multiplied on one side of his body, until there was more shell than skin.  The skin around it was crimson enough that it stood out in the gloom.  It looked tender.

Huh. Apparently he does have some additional defense.


I saw a flash of light above us, and spotted Purity in the air high above the rooftop, using her power to create a flare of light, extinguish it, then create it again.

Hah! I see how it is. Who needs a flashlight for signalling when you’ve got Purity over here?

There was an answering series of flashes from across the water.  It was a different set of signals than the ones she’d set up with us.  It made sense for the light signals to be different from group to group, so Purity could keep track of who was coming and where from.

Yeah, sounds about right. And if someone uninvited observes from the shores and tries to use the same signal as someone they saw go through the process, Purity will know something’s up.

The main reason we’d agreed on this meeting place were the seclusion it offered, and the fact that it was just hard enough to access that the Nine wouldn’t be able to approach without us knowing.  Hopefully.

Shatterbird being the one exception. And her clothes are probably quite reflective, which in a bit of a problem for a stealthy arrival in the dark with someone who creates light on guard duty.

Theoretically, though? Shatterbird could probably take the entire group on top of a block of glass and fly them all across. The only thing stopping her would be a weight limit, and as far as we’ve seen, she doesn’t seem to have a particularly low one.


All at once, an incoming boat made its presence known.  As though a switch was flipped, there was the sound of something that sounded like the combined noise of radio static coming from a bank of speakers, an eighteen wheeler with the muffler off and an onrushing train.

Woah.

It wasn’t just noise – the vehicle flickered with flashes of electricity and lights that people could probably see from anywhere downtown.

Surprise! It’s the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000!

Anyway, could this be Trainwreck? Or are we looking at the introduction of one or more new characters here?

It would seem odd for Trainwreck to be given this much attention unless he’s more important than ever before in this chapter.

Seeing it approach, I had no doubt it was a tinker contraption.  It was the size of a small yacht,

Well at least the word “yacht” did make it into the chapter! It’s the little victories…

but it looked outfitted for war, with what looked like tesla coils crossed with old school tv antennae fueling its forward momentum and sending arcs of electricity dancing over the waves in its wake, as though it was riding on a current of lightning.

Huh. Maybe I wasn’t too far off in jokingly comparing it to the weird-looking mechanical vehicle/contraption that is the SSCS 6k. Does this thing make apple cider?

Also, is this Chariot, risking his (already compromised, unbeknownst to him) cover by hanging out with the villains?

That doesn’t seem quite right. I think my money’s on a new character for now.

Various guns had been placed haphazardly around the upper deck, each manned by a Merchant.  Skidmark stood at the highest deck with Squealer, the driver.

Ahh.

Of course they’d have a vehicle tinker.


Squealer had apparently never grasped the concept of elegance in design.  From what I’d read and heard, she went for size, augmentations and additions when she built her vehicles.

A bit pragmatic, huh? Well, that means this vehicle is probably packed to the brim with utilities and weaponry. Might come in handy if the Slaughterhouse were to attack here after all.

She was kind of the polar opposite of Armsmaster in that regard.

To be fair, Armmaster’s power lends itself well to making tons of additions without damaging the aesthetics. But yes, he was absolutely concerned with looking good.

The hull of their boat scraped against the edge of the building, nearly running over the boat that Grue and Bitch had come in on.

Classy as always.

All of the lights shut off, and the Merchants descended onto the roof.  Skidmark, Squealer, Mush, Scrub, Trainwreck, the telekinetic whirlwind lady with the long hair and one other.

Oh hey, I was right about Trainwreck being on the boat. :p

Telekinetic whirlwind… did we see that in action in Infestation?

Another reason for this meeting place had been subtlety, keeping out of sight and off the radar.  The Merchants apparently hadn’t gotten the message.

Ahaha, or they just didn’t care.


“Hey!” Hookwolf growled, “What part of keep a low profile don’t you fucking understand?”

And within moments of Skidmark arriving we already have the first verbal conflict of the meeting.

Skidmark smirked, raising his chin to give it an arrogant tilt, “We did.  My Squealer built a box that cancels out light and noise at a certain distance.  Nice and in your face up close, almost invisible and silent when far away.  Isn’t that right, baby?”

…okay, I’ll give you that one, that’s kinda neat.

Squealer just smiled.  It probably wasn’t as sexy or cute as she thought it was.  Aisha, when left to her own devices, was a pretty girl who dressed trashy.  Squealer, I felt, was more of a trashy woman who dressed trashy.

One thing you do with trash is burn it. Taylor’s thoughts are already making good progress on that front.


“Hey, Faultline,” Skidmark’s smirk dropped off his face as he realized who else was present.  “What the motherfuck were you doing, fucking with my party!?”

Oh yeah, that’s right, he wouldn’t know why they attacked. From his perspective, it came out of nowhere.

“You had something we needed.”  Faultline’s response was as measured and calm as Skidmark’s question wasn’t.

At least one of them seems to respect the truce and the idea that they’re not here to argue about past grievances.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little hard on Skidmark. It’s not like he just attacked Faultline over it, and it’s honestly no wonder he’s pissed.

“Who hired you, bitch?  Tell me and my Merchants won’t come after you in revenge.  All you’ll have to do is return that shit you stole or pay me back for it.  Maybe you can spit-polish my knob for a little goodwill.”

Oh yeah, of course. It kinda slipped my mind that Faultline’s crew primarily act outwardly as mercenaries and as such the others would assume someone paid them to attack.

Faultline could lie here and subject someone else to the Merchants’ revenge, but I don’t think that’s her style.

“Not going to happen.”

Especially the last part, I would assume.

“Then forget sucking my cock.  Pay me back and tell me who hired you and we’ll call it even.”

Apart from that particular unreasonable demand, he’s actually being fairly civil about this.

I mean, for Skidmark.


She shook her head.  It was more the kind of head shake that accompanied an eye roll.

Hehe. An appropriate response.

Skidmark went on, “You’re mercenaries.  Don’t tell me you don’t have the cash.  I’ll only ask for five mil.  One for each vial you took.”

…you know, I can actually believe that that is a good deal for those vials. But Faultline and co. have approximately no reason to make a deal in the first place.

Fautline didn’t answer him.  Instead she looked at Hookwolf and asked him, “Did we really need to invite him?  Does he contribute anything to this discussion?”

Oof.

…but it’s true, he’s not among those with ties to people targeted by the Nine. I’m sure his people would get caught in crossfire if Shatterbird went big, but how much would he himself care?

The only real reason he’s here is that he’s made himself a bigshot in Brockton Bay.


“He has nine powers on his team,” Hookwolf responded.  “Ideology isn’t important.”

That’s fair. We need all the powers we can get against the Slaughterhouse.

“He doesn’t have an ideology.  He’s just an idiot.”

Faultline going for the kill with every word she speaks.

“Enough of that,” Hookwolf snarled, his voice hard with a sudden anger.  “We don’t fight amongst ourselves.  Not on neutral ground.  Both of you shut the fuck up.”

Yeah, good. ORDER IN THE COURT!

Faultline shook her head and leaned over to whisper something to Shamrock.  The Merchants settled themselves on the side of the roof opposite our group.  Skidmark gave Grue the evil eye.

Oh? …ohh, is he still annoyed that Grue got to sit at the table last time and he didn’t?

Was he still resentful over what had happened at the last meeting?  Being denied a seat at the table?

Well, this time you’re in luck, Skidmark: There’s no table!


Another series of flashes served to alert us, indirectly, of incoming arrivals.  The Travelers appeared soon after.  Trickster, Sundancer, Ballistic each stood on the back of some kind of turtle serpent.

Heh, nice one, Genesis.

I couldn’t make out Genesis’s form in the gloom.

Mentioned separately to highlight that Genesis is relevant to how they’re arriving.

What little light was available came from the moon and Purity’s radiance from where she floated above us.  I could have used my bugs to get a feel for the shape Genesis had taken, but my habit was generally to place my bugs on clothing where they wouldn’t be noticed, and Genesis was effectively naked.

Oh yeah, that’s both awkward and easily noticed.

I didn’t know anything about them, but they were our allies.  I didn’t want to irritate her and upset anything between our two groups.

Yeah, probably best to keep relations good.


Coil was the last of us to arrive, maybe because he’d wanted to be fashionably late.

Oh, hi! I was kinda figuring he’d decided to sit it out and let his subordinates do the talking, but I suppose that doesn’t make much sense.

The two soldiers who’d driven his boat stayed behind.  Purity set down by where the boats had landed, followed by Fog and Crusader, who I hadn’t seen in the dark.

Oh, hi there.

Night stepped out of the lake, between our parked boats and onto the roof, water streaming from her cloak.  Had she been the just-in-case measure if an incoming boat hadn’t known the signal?

…huh. I don’t know what the physical characteristics of her monster form are, but if it’s good at swimming, then underwater in the dark is pretty much ideal for her.

She would be invisible in the pitch black gloom beneath the water’s surface, which would mean she wasn’t in her human form.

Exactly.


The way the Travelers and Coil had positioned themselves, we’d formed a haphazard ring.

Just the Undersiders, Travelers and Coil, or everyone?

“No cooperation here, no sirree.”

From the top of the roof, going clockwise, the arranged groups were Hookwolf’s Chosen, Faultline’s crew, us, the Pure, Coil, the Travelers and the Merchants.

Ah, okay, everyone it is. That makes more sense anyway.

“It seems everyone is here,” Coil spoke, taking in the collected villains.  Forty-ish of us in all.

Damn, these numbers go up pretty quickly.

“Not quite everyone,” Hookwolf replied.  “Victor, Othala.”

Hm? Are you asking them to fetch someone?

Othala touched Victor, and Victor raised one hand.  A fireball appeared in it, then disappeared as he clenched his hand.  He repeated the process two more times.

Or, uh, summon a demon or something.

“Who are you signalling?” Purity’s asked.  Her hand flared with light, ready to fire.

Ahh, I see.

Better not be signalling Shatterbird, Hookwolf.

“It would be a grave and stupid mistake if you invited the Nine,” Coil told Hookwolf.

It would, wouldn’t it? This battlefield has their enemies gathered in a tight spot, but it’s otherwise not particularly suited to the Nine’s strengths. Then again, Burnscar alone could do some serious damage, and these are a whole bunch of high-priority targets.


“We’re not stupid,” Hookwolf said.  Three answering flashes appeared over the water.  I heard the faint noise of a boat motor.  Everyone present on the roof readied for a fight, turning towards either Hookwolf or the incoming boat.  I used my power to call on local crabs, and to draw out the bugs I’d stored in the boat, keeping them close to me.

Eyy! Nine Arcs later, Taylor’s ability to control crabs finally comes back to relevance!

There were three more flashes, close, and Victor responded again.  In moments, the boat arrived.  It wasn’t the Nine.  It was the good guys.

Yay! But which good guys?

I would assume this is not a double-crossing in which Hookwolf has set the other leaders up to be arrested, but rather the good guys being invited to discussions that matter to both sides under the protection of the truce.

Miss Militia was first out of the boat, and Battery activated her power to haul the boat up onto ‘land’ in a flash before stepping up to Miss Militia’s side.  Triumph, Weld and Clockblocker rounded out their group.

This seems like a good crew. We don’t know much about Triumph beyond “he yell”, but the other four are characters I like.

Our circle made room, though half the people present seemed to be tensed and ready to use their powers with the slightest excuse.

Yeah, I think Hookwolf had a good reason for not telling the rest of the groups that he had invited the good guys. It would’ve spooked some of them away from coming, truce or no truce.

Hm. It is a bit unfortunate that we’re not getting any New Wave members among them, but I suppose they’ve had enough of the Slaughterhouse Nine for some time, and they know it’s runaway Amy they’re after. Though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe.


“It seems we have a problem,” Miss Militia spoke, as her group took her place between the Pure and us Undersiders.

Ah, yes, you’ve noticed too?

“We do,” Hookwolf said.  “Two problems, actually.”

Hm?

“Two?” Purity asked.

Hookwolf pointed at the Travelers, then pointed at Grue and the rest of our group.  “They’re being cocky, think they’re being clever.  Figure we should get all this out in the open, at least so you’re aware.  You too, Coil, Miss Militia.”

Ah, did he figure out the structure of Coil’s control over the city, and the way it would normally give Coil’s interests a lot of say in the council?

But what does Miss Militia have to do with it? Has she been working for Coil all along? That… doesn’t seem like her.

“Perhaps you’d better explain,” Coil responded.

Hookwolf pointed at each of us in turn, “Grue has been making attacks against my people in the upper downtown area.  Howling has been heard in the Trainyard.  Bitch.  Regent was sighted in the college neighborhoods.  Skitter made a move to take over the Boardwalk and claim it for herself.  Tattletale is either abstaining, or more likely, putting herself in the middle of the Docks and keeping her head down.”

Not quite on that last one – her shelter is closer to downtown, isn’t it?

So yeah, the Undersiders are each taking territories. What makes you tie this to Coil?

Hmm. I guess it does make sense that he’s connected them to the Travelers, at least, since they’re in on it and doing the same thing.

So is he just connecting the two groups together, and singled out Coil and Miss Militia as people who might be interested to know about it? I think Coil might have an idea.

Then again, Coildiers have been visibly involved in some of the takeovers. I suppose it’s kinda easy to connect it all back to Coil when you think about it.

Miss Militia, though… does that have to do with Battery’s actions at Skitter’s takeover announcement? The way the PRT are essentially letting some of the Undersiders and Travelers take over territory without a fight?

“So?” Tattletale asked.

Hookwolf ignored her.  “Downtown we’ve got Ballistic attacking my people in the upper downtown neighborhoods, north of this lake here.  Sundancer was spotted in the shopping district, Genesis at the downtown coast, near the south ferry station. Trickster has been driving looters out of the heart of downtown, the towers.  You seeing the pattern?  All of them alone.

And around the same time.

Sundancer: “That’s not where my territory is, I was just looking for a good burger place.”

Most of them making moves to take a piece of the city for themselves.”

Yep!

“We already knew they were talking territory,” Miss Militia responded, “This isn’t a priority.  The Nine-”

It’s fallen by the wayside a bit in the past, but my old headcanon that Miss Militia’s voice sounds like Princess Celestia’s is flaring back up.

Though right now she seems to be talking a bit like her sister, Princess Luna, instead. Hmm.

I think the bottom line is that if Worm were to get a professional animated show, I’d be so down with Nicole Oliver or Tabitha St. Germain as Miss Militia.


“They haven’t taken territory,” Hookwolf snapped back, “They’re taking the city.  Split it up all nice and proper between them, and now they’re taking advantage of the distraction the Nine are giving them to secure their positions before we fucking catch on.”

Okay, that last part might be taking your conspiracy theory (that is otherwise right on the money) a little too far.

Grue looked at Trickster, and there was some kind of unspoken agreement between them.  Knowing Grue, I was certain he was deliberately ignoring Coil.

Sounds reasonable. Might want to not give Hookwolf more fuel to his theory that Coil is involved.

No use volunteering more information than necessary.

Exactly.

Trickster spoke, “We didn’t know the Nine were around before we put this into motion.”

I guess the unspoken agreement was “no use keeping up the act”.

There was a flicker of surprise on Purity’s face.  “So Hookwolf is right.  You are taking over.”

Not every conspiracy theory is false. 🙂

“Something like that,” Grue responded.

What was Hookwolf’s game?  Had he brought everyone here under a different pretext so he could ambush us on this front?

Nah, I think he’s just nabbing the opportunity, going the other way. Still a little bit hypocritical after his reaction to Faultline and Skidmark – this might not be arguing, but revealing this to the PRT and other villains is still a way of putting the Undersiders and Travelers at a disadvantage. Hell, if they step too far now, he might even be able to create a later truce to team up against the Undersiders and Travelers, after the Slaughterhouse Nine have been dealt with. That could be the main conflict in a future Arc.


“This isn’t of any concern to us,” Miss Militia spoke, stern.  “The only reason we’re here is to get information on the Slaughterhouse Nine, their motives, and strategies for responding.”

Interesting. “We don’t care if they’re taking over the entire city.”

At least she’s focused?

“That might help you in the next week or two, but a month from now you’ll be regretting it,” Hookwolf told her.

Perhaps true.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think we have any other choice,” Miss Militia replied.

“We do,” Hookwolf said.  “They want us to lose our territories to them while we busy ourselves dealing with the Nine-”

Does he actually believe this part of it, or is he just saying that to manipulate the rest into turning on the Undersiders and Travelers?

“That’s not our intent,” Trickster cut him off.

“Pigshit,” Skidmark muttered.  He looked angry.

Oh, you stay out of this. The grown-ups are talking.

Even Purity had a hard cast to her face, or what I could see of it through the glare of her eyes and hair.  These were people who thought highly of themselves.  Whether that self-esteem was deserved or not, they didn’t like being played for fools.

Which just leaves the question of who’s playing them, for them to figure out for themselves. Either way, there’s someone to be angry at.

What was that about no in-fighting, Hookwolf?


So here’s a thing: I actually like Hookwolf as a character now, ever since his Interlude. He’s being antagonistic here, but he’s also being interesting.

On some level I liked Kaiser as a character too, but as a person, I despised him to the point that it practically became a running gag. He became the sort of character whose main redeeming feature is that they’re fun to hate.

Hookwolf, on the other hand, is a man who with just a slightly different worldview could be a decent, quite likeable person. I could actually see a redemption for this guy being done without completely changing his character, though I doubt that will happen in canon. Steven Universe this ain’t.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that while he does still manipulate others a bit, which is something I actually like in characters most of the time, he does it in a way that is nowhere near as shitty and abusive as Kaiser’s manipulation, from what we’ve seen so far. Though he also seems far less skilled at it.


(Some character traits I’ve made it clear that I like: “cheerful”, “skilled manipulator”, “hard to predict” – is it any wonder Tattletale is my favorite?)


All at once, this meeting had become about us versus them.  The Travelers and the Undersiders against everyone else.

Good job, Hookwolf.

But let’s not forget there is still an actual threat that warrants this meeting to deal with too.

Hookwolf said, “Then agree to a truce.  So long as the Nine are here, you’re hands off your territories, no fighting, no business.  We can arrange something, maybe you all stay at a nice hotel on the Protectorate’s tab until this is dealt with.  That’ll mean we can all focus on the real threat.”

You mean the one you haven’t been focusing on?

Yeeah, there’s no way this isn’t a ploy to make their territories defenseless.

Stay in a hotel until the Nine were dead, arrested or driven out of town.  He couldn’t seriously expect us to do that.

And, also, this would put nine powers, some quite useful, out of the battle.

[Nine? There I go forgetting about Imp again.]

Besides, the Slaughterhouse Nine would very likely attack the hotel, because of Bitch and Regent.

“I’m inclined to agree,” Coil answered, after a moment’s consideration.  “Perhaps now is an opportune time to share this information:  I have sources that inform me that should Jack Slash survive his visit to Brockton Bay, it bodes ill for everyone.”

Yeah, might be good to put that out there. Get everyone on the case of attempting to kill Jack.

I still have no faith that it’ll work, though. I don’t think the climax of this story is going to happen when Taylor is around 30.

Hell, even the short time scale of two years seems far off if we keep going at the pace we’re going and the point I’m at within the story (I’m aware that I’ve passed the quarter mark, though I think I may have forgotten to post the ETA calculations that informed me of that) without any larger-than-usual timeskips.


“That’s vague,” Faultline spoke.

Might want to expand on what you mean by “everyone”, Coil.

“I’ll be more specific.  Should Jack Slash not die before he leaves Brockton Bay, it is very likely the world will end in a matter of years,” Coil spoke.

That’s better, thank you. 🙂

“Bullshit,” Skidmark answered.  The others were showing varying reactions.  I doubt many bought it.

Yeah, not the most believable story without the context of Dinah’s power. Maybe Coil will have to talk about that too, but that would be giving away part of the secret to his success and making himself a target for people interested in taking this “source” for themselves.

“You contacted us to say something very similar a couple of days ago.” Miss Militia said, “But I have the same questions now that I did then.  Do you have sources?  Can you verify this?  Or provide more information?”

Oh, so he has been trying to get this information out there. That’s good.

Behind her, Weld reached into his pocket and withdrew his smartphone.

“More information?  Yes.  I have sought further details and pieced together a general picture of things.

Heh, is Weld looking for something relevant on his phone or is he just kind of bored?

Honestly, I would’ve expected that from Alec long before Weld, so I’m leaning towards the former.

Also, sounds like Coil has been probing, asking Dinah for further details. Before her Interlude, of course.

Jack Slash is the catalyst for this event, not the cause.  At some point in the coming years, Jack Slash kills, talks to, meets or influences someone.

I see. But it’s something that’s pretty much constant as long as he makes it out of Brockton Bay.

This causes a chain of events to occur, leading to the deaths of anywhere from thirty-three to ninety-six percent of the world’s population.”

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m pretty sure Jack would be thrilled to hear this.


Actually, what if it’s too late?

What if that “someone” was Theo?


That gave everyone pause.

Coil went on, “If Jack Slash is killed, the event is likely to occur at some point in the more distant future instead.”

Though “more distant” may not be as distant as people would be likely to assume.

So years in the future, but not many.

“Dinah Alcott,” Weld spoke.  All eyes turned to the metal-skinned boy.

Oh hey, Weld pieced it together! Nice work, buddy.

“Beg pardon?” Coil asked.

“Thursday, April fourteenth of this year, Dinah Alcott was kidnapped from her home and has not been seen since.

Oh nice, a canon date for the bank robbery. That was back when the exact amounts of time passing were fairly clear, so I’m pretty sure that can be extrapolated to give canon dates for everything that happened in Arcs 1-3. Maybe 4 too.

Dinah had missed several weeks of classes with crippling headaches in the months before her disappearance.  Investigation found no clear medical causes.  Police interviewed her friends.  She had confided to them that she thought she could see the future, but doing so hurt her.”

That must’ve been a pretty cool thing to have a friend who could do at that age.


“You think Dinah is Coil’s source.  That makes a lot of sense.”  Miss Militia turned from Weld to Coil, and her voice was heavy with accusation, “Coil?”

“Did you kidnap this girl?”
“N… n… yes. I did.”
“Shame on you. Now, about this threat…”

“I did not kidnap her.  I offered Dinah training and relief from the drawbacks of her abilities on the contingency that she immediately cut off all contact with her family and friends and provide me a year of service.”

Oh sure…

Actually…

That’s completely within Coil’s MO and does explain why she was okay with accepting the candy in the first place when she was so clearly aware of what it actually was. These days she’s definitely there against her will, but it’s very Coil to first get her on board willingly by offering her something she wanted very badly.

He lied so smoothly, flawlessly.  What really rattled me was hearing him refer to her as Dinah for the first time.

Oh damn, that’s right, he didn’t ever call her that until now, even when Taylor wasn’t present. Hell, not even in his narration.

*shudder*


Coil added, “She took a week to decide, then contacted me during one of her attacks.”

Okay, no, this part I’m sure is a lie.

Of course, the heroes weren’t about to take his word for gospel.  Miss Militia’s lips pursed into a thin line.  “Could I contact her to verify this?”

That would make sense, but at the same time, Dinah would have reason to lie, unless she felt desperate enough to beg the heroes for help at the cost of getting no candy for a while.

“No.  For one thing, I have no reason to let you.  Also, the process of gaining control of her power requires that she be kept strictly isolated from outside elements.  A simple phone call would set her back weeks.”

Oh, sure.

“So Coil has a precog,” Hookwolf growled, “That explains how he always seemed to fucking get the upper hand when he pit his mercenaries against the Empire.”

Well, it’s part of it.


Coil clasped his hands in front of him, “I knew you might come to these conclusions if I volunteered this information.  You all should already know I am not a stupid man.  Would I weaken my position if I did not wholeheartedly believe that what I was saying was correct?  Jack Slash must die, or we all die.

He makes a good point here. The only flaw is that yes, he would, if some hidden benefit of successfully convincing everyone to go after Jack Slash would far outweigh the loss.

“And to maximize our chances for this to happen,” Hookwolf added, “The alliance of the Travelers and the Undersiders must concede to our terms.  They hold no territory until the Nine are dead.”

Until they are dead? That’s a loophole and a half. The Slaughterhouse get chased out of town, some of them perhaps killed, the truce ends and Hookwolf can be like “No, guys, we agreed that you wouldn’t hold territory until the Nine were dead. The Nine aren’t dead, they just left.”

I think the other villains would take that as the bullshit it is, but many might support it because they don’t want the Undersider-Traveler takeover either.


Coil deliberated for a few seconds.  “I think this makes the most sense.”

Coil, you’re a manipulator, surely you see the loophole?

Then again, you did stumble with the wording back when Dinah was introduced.

Skidmark and Purity nodded as well.

Coil’s response caught me off guard.  He was throwing us to the wolves to maintain his anonymity in things.  I felt my heart sink.

Yeah, he is, but part of the whole territory deal is intended to benefit him in the overall takeover. He wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think the territories could be reinstated afterwards without much difficulty, I suppose.

It made sense, on a basic level, and I could see why the other groups were agreeing.  I mean, our territory wasn’t worth risking that the world ending.  Coil was apparently willing to delay his plans, or pretend to delay his plans while he carried them out in secret.

Yeah, that’s true. A territory dispute is a bit small-fry compared to the apocalypse.

But I would be giving up my territory, condemning Dinah to more days, more weeks of captivity.

And that? That’s even more small-fry on the grand scale of things, at least when it comes to Taylor’s territory. She cares especially much about saving private Dinah, but she’s also helping lots of people along the way.


It’s going to be interesting to see how Sierra and Charlotte react to the news.

really didn’t like that idea.

“Easy decision for you guys to make,” Trickster said, chuckling wryly, “You’re not giving anything up.

You tell ‘em, Trickster!

In fact, if we went with your plan, there’d be nothing stopping you from sneaking a little territory, passing on word to your underlings to prey on our people, consolidating your forces and preparing them for war, all while we’re cooped up in that hotel or wherever.”

Yeah. This whole scheme leaves the Undertravelers’ territories defenseless while their enemies prepare.

He was right.  I could imagine it.  Not just weeks, but months lost.  We’d just lost the element of surprise thanks to Hookwolf outing us here, and the local villains and heroes were now all too aware of the scale of what we were doing.  Add the fact that they would get a breather?  A chance to regroup and prepare?  To retaliate?  Regaining any of the ground we lost while we helped hunt down the Slaughterhouse Nine would be excruciating.

Yeeeah.

And it doesn’t sound like Hookwolf even wants you on board to help with that, either.

“Hey, howsabout you guys just sit on your asses for a while? No reason.”


Taylor could use a hotel vacation, though.


At this point, I don’t think they’ll be actually properly talking about the Slaughterhouse Nine until next chapter.


In those weeks or months it took to retake territory and slog ahead with constant opposition, there could be further delays.  It would mean that my plan to efficiently seize the Boardwalk and surrounding Docks would fall apart.  I’d have to pull away from my people and my neighborhoods to help the others fight off attacks.  I wouldn’t be able to offer exemplary service to earn Coil’s trust and respect in the mess that ensued.  The opportunity to free Dinah would slip from my grasp.

Aaand we’re back to Dinah again. THIRD BASE!

Wait, shit, that Who’s on First reference sounds so wrong.

Worst of all, there was no reason for it.  We’d claimed more of the city as our territory than they had assumed, and now Hookwolf was building on that, giving them reason to worry we had other sinister motives.

He doesn’t seem to be quite as skilled at manipulating the individual as Kaiser was, but he knows how to direct a group’s thoughts.

“No,” I murmured, barely audible to myself.  I could see some of the other Undersiders -Grue, Tattletale and Bitch- turn their heads a fraction in my direction.

Ooh.

Defiant Taylor speech?

*starts chanting* Speech! Speech! Speech! Speech!


“No,” Grue echoed me, his voice carrying across the rooftop.

Defiant Undersider chorus?

Maybe Undertraveler?

No?” Coil asked, his voice sharp with surprise.  Was there condemnation in there?  It was very possible we weren’t going the route he wanted.

Uh oh. He’s not used to them going against him.

Maybe it’s time to part ways from the Undertravelers’ sugar daddy and make the territories independent? But that doesn’t work well for Taylor, who relies heavily on Coil’s money for improvements to her territory, and on being a good employee to save Dinah.

Grue shook his head, “We’ll help against the Nine.  That’s fine, sensible.  But Trickster is right.  If we abandoned our territories in the meantime, we’d be putting ourselves in an ugly situation.  That’s ridiculous and unnecessary.”

Well put.

Trickster nodded at his words.

“If you keep them you’ll be putting yourself in an advantageous position,” Purity intoned.

How?

“Don’t be stupid, Undersiders, Travelers.” Faultline cut in, “You can’t put money, power and control at a higher priority than our collective survival.  If Coil’s precog is right, we have to band together against the Nine the same way we would against an Endbringer.  For the same reasons.”

Are you guys just not listening? They said they would help. Hookwolf’s the one trying to keep them out of the fight, with the “hotel” thing.


Faultline just accused the Undersiders of being stupid. Maybe that means it’s Tattletale’s turn to talk, given how much she hates being called stupid.

“And we will,” Trickster said.  “We just won’t give up our territory to do it.”

“Because you’re hoping to expand further and faster while the Nine occupy the rest of us,” Hookwolf growled.

How about this: Anyone who does that must give themselves in to the PRT and face the consequences associated with abusing an Endbringer situation.

“We agree to this like you want, and you attack us from behind.”

Like you can be trusted not to do the same.

“We haven’t given you any reason to think we’ll betray a truce,” Grue told him, his voice echoing more than usual, edged with anger.  The darkness around him was roiling.

“You have.  You’re refusing the terms,” Purity said.

That is…

That’s just stupid.


This argument is starting to feel like it’s from A Series of Unfortunate Events.

The characters aren’t quite as stupid as most ASoUE side characters, but it’s got that same sense of hopelessness.


Hookwolf was manipulating this.  He wasn’t as subtle about it as Kaiser had been, it was even transparent, what he was doing.  Dead obvious.

Oh yeah. But it works.

At the same time, the scenario he was suggesting was just dangerous and believable enough to the Merchants, to his Chosen, and to the Pure that they couldn’t afford to ignore it.  Coil couldn’t talk sense into them without potentially revealing his role as our backer.  Even the heroes couldn’t counter his argument, because there was that dim possibility that he was right, that they would lose control of the city to villains if we continued to grab power.

He’s got them spun around his finger.

Which was admittedly the case.  Dealing with the local heroes was one of our long-term goals, for Coil’s plan.

True that.

We were fighting for Coil’s plan and Coil wasn’t helping.  He remained silent, inscrutable, sticking to the situation that worked best for him and him alone.  Damn him.

Yeeah. He’s just racking up the “damn him” points with every major appearance.


“You’ll be earning the enmity of everyone here if you refuse,” Hookwolf said.  Was there a hint of gloating in his tone?

“I’ve won. You know I’ve won.”

“We’ll be ruining ourselves if we agree, too,” Grue retorted.

“I strongly recommend you agree to this deal,” Purity said.

I don’t think they’re very receptive to your advice, Purity. You’re one of the beneficiaries from this nonsense.

“No, I don’t think we will,” Trickster said.

“No,” Grue echoed Trickster, folding his arms.

Good work, boys. Stick to your guns.

There’s a bumpy ride ahead.

That only provoked more argument, along many of the same lines.  It was clear this was getting nowhere.

I turned to Miss Militia, who stood only a few feet from me.  When I spoke to her, she seemed to only partially pay attention to me, as she kept an eye on the ongoing debate.  “This isn’t what we need right now.  Hookwolf’s made this about territory, not the Nine, and we can’t back down without-”

Miss Militia seemed to be particularly interested in keeping the meeting focused earlier. It’s a wonder she hasn’t interjected more.

I stopped as she turned her head, stepped a little closer and tried again, “We, or at least have people depending on me.  I can’t let Hookwolf prey on them.  We all need to work together to fight the Nine.  Can’t you do something?”

Miss Militia is among those who know about Taylor’s original scheme. I’m sure that might help her be more inclined to believe Taylor here, especially when mixed with Battery’s reports. Battery might also be relevant to bring into this side discussion.


Miss Militia frowned.

“Please.”

She turned away from me and called out, “I would suggest a compromise.”

Nice. What do you have in mind?

The arguing stopped, and all eyes turned to her.

“The Undersiders and Travelers would move into neutral territory until the Nine were dealt with.  But so would the powered individuals of the Merchants, the Chosen, the Pure, Coil and Faultine’s Crew.”

Hm, nice. Though it is still worth noting that the Merchants, the Chosen and probably the Pure practically have small armies of mundanes that could still be sent to take territory and terrorize citizens.

“Where would this be?  In the PRT headquarters?” Hookwolf asked.

Where exactly are the PRT headquarters these days anyway? Apparently Armmaster’s house arrest apartment is part of it, at least.

“Perhaps.”

“You were attacked as well, weren’t you?  Who did they go after?”

Ooh, this might get an interesting reaction from Taylor if Miss Militia answers honestly. Not just finding out Armmaster was targeted by the Nine, but finding out that he didn’t get punished as hard as they were going to punish her for a smaller crime.


“Mannequin went after Armsmaster.  Armsmaster was hospitalized.”

That was some small shock to everyone present, though I might have been less surprised than some.

Huh.

Well, I guess she’s less surprised by Armmaster being someone the Nine would be interested in.

Armsmaster as a prospective member for the Nine.

Yeah, that.

I mean, even from Taylor’s perspective of the guy, it seems like a stretch, but she has reason to be somewhat less surprised.

“What you suggest is too dangerous,” Faultline said.  “We’d all be gathered in one or two locations for them to attack, and if Armsmaster was attacked, we could be too.”

That is true.

“And their whole reason for being here is recruitment,” Coil spoke, “Perhaps the plan would work if we could trust one another, but we cannot, when many here were scouted for their group, and may turn on their potential rivals to prove their worth.  We would be vulnerable to an attack from within, and we would be easy targets.”

Funny you should mention that. *glances at Bitch*


“We could make the same arguments about ourselves,” Grue pointed out, “If we agreed, we’d be sitting ducks for whoever came after us.”

Yeah. As I said, they would almost certainly attack this “hotel”.

“I think the Protectorate can help watch and guard nine people,” Coil replied, “I’m less confident of their ability to protect everyone present.”

That’s a fair point.

So Coil wasn’t willing to play along if it meant losing his ability to stay where he was, but he was willing to make life harder on us, his territory holders.  Did he have some plan in mind?  Or was he just that callous?  Either way, he was an asshole.

He’s Coil, he can have it both ways.

“No.  I’m afraid that compromise won’t work,” Hookwolf said, squaring his shoulders.

Miss Militia glanced my way.  She didn’t say or do anything, but I could almost read her mind: I tried.

It was a good attempt. Thank you.

Hookwolf wasn’t about to give up anything here.  He had us right where he wanted us, and he was poised to kill two birds with one stone: The Nine and his rivals for territory.

You’d think this sort of manipulation would constitute a breach of the truce, honestly.


“It seems,” Hookwolf said, “The Travelers and the Undersiders won’t agree to our terms for the truce.  Merchants, Pure, Faultline, Coil?  Are you willing to band together with my group?”

But yeah, I suppose the truce proper isn’t really in effect yet.

And it’s looking that it’ll be Undertravelers vs Empire Mercoiline.

Maybe having it both ways was Coil’s plan here? Getting a foot in on either side of this conflict?

Purity, Coil and Skidmark nodded.  Faultline shook her head.

“You’re saying no, Faultline?”

Ooh! Another ally? Or are they going to pull the same schtick they did last time and go with “whoever pays more”?

“We’re mercenaries.  We can’t take a job without pay.  Even a job as important as this.”

Looks like it.

Well. The Undertravelers have money to spend, but so does the guy who provided them with that money in the first place.

Question is whether he’ll make a bid or let the Undertravelers have Faultline.

Besides, the other groups probably aren’t poor either.

“I will handle your payment here as I did for the ABB, Faultline,” Coil said, sounding just a touch exasperated.

Alright, guess he’s going for it. I suppose his main objective is to get as many people against the Slaughterhouse Nine as he can.


“And Miss Militia?” Hookwolf asked, “A truce?”

“Keep the business to a minimum, no assaulting or attacking civilians,” Miss Militia said, “We still have to protect this city, there’s no give there.  Don’t give us a reason to bother with you, and we’ll be focused wholly on the Slaughterhouse Nine in the meantime.”

Those seem like reasonable terms.

“Good.  That’s all we ask.”

The leaders of the new group crossed the roof to shake hands.  In the process, things shuffled so that our group, the Travelers and the heroes were near the bottom of the roof.

The underdogs.

…That would be a good name for an AU version of the Undersiders led by Rachel.

The heroes moved off to one side, as if to guard us from any retaliation, making the separation in forces all the more obvious.

I appreciate that they seem to protect the Undertravelers here, whether it’s intentional or not on their part.


“You guys are making a mistake,” Grue said.

“I think you have things the wrong way around,” Hookwolf said.  “Nobody wants to break the peace at neutral ground, so perhaps you should go before things get violent?”

Yeeeeah, this could’ve gone better.

Tattletale asked, “You won’t let us stick around and discuss the Nine, who they attacked, what our overall strategies should be?  Even if we aren’t working together as a single group?”  She paused, looking deliberately at Faultline, “You know, the smart thing to do?”

Hah, nice one. :p

She was met only with cold stares and crossed arms.

There was little else to be said or done.  We’d lost here.  I turned and helped push our boat into the water, then held it steady as everyone piled in.  Tattletale had started the motor, and we were gone the second I’d hopped inside.

Well. See ya, folks.


End of Plague 12.2

Well, that could’ve gone at least 6% better.

Hookwolf had a strong showing here, flexing his group manipulation skills against the Undersiders and Travelers. After hypocritically chastising Faultline and Skidmark for arguing on neutral ground, he expertly turned the conversation to be about the Undertraveler takeover and spun that into a reason to limit their involvement and attempt to get them to leave their territories undefended.

Now they’re outside the alliance that has been formed, and most of that alliance harbors animosity for the Undersiders. Well played, Hookwolf.

Next time, the Undersiders and maybe the Travelers will have to figure out what the hell they do now. Do they attempt to join in on the fights against the Slaughterhouse (not that they need to go out and find them), or avoid the Empire Mercoiline altogether while managing their territories?

I think I’ll leave my speculation at that for now, because I really fucked up by doing this chapter in one piece, and need to go sleep.

Until next time – good morning!

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