Plague 12.6: Crowd Control

Source material: Worm, Plague 12.6

Originally blogged: May 16-18, 2018


Howdy! It’s that time again!

Last time, Taylor made her way home to make sure her dad would be okay when the Shattering hit, and made arrangements to save as many other people as she could along the way. She sort of succeeded at the first part, though more because of what she did in 11.1 than what she did in 12.5.

But now Coil wants her to prioritize her territory next. It’s time to take a look at what sort of carnage Shatterbird has made out of the people Skitter swore to protect. Hopefully Charlotte’s warning managed to spread and save a share of the people there, if that’s even where she was when Taylor called, but it’s also possible that people didn’t believe her.

In retrospect, this is probably exactly why the Slaughterhouse Nine chose right now as the time to let Shatterbird go through with the Shattering of Brockton Bay. Most of the nominees and people who might be around when they were warned would be away from their territories in order to attend the Lake Heroic meeting, many of them not going back in time to take measures to protect their territories from the attack.

…oh jeez, I wonder how Bitch is reacting to what just happened. If she’s realized that her base, full of dogs, probably got hit too. Though that’s on the edge of town furthest away from where Shatterbird roughly seems to be, so maybe the song didn’t reach it. They did say it would reach most of the city, not all of it.

Anyway, yeah. Skitter’s territory, massive carnage, painted crystal red, though maybe not as much as it could’ve been if things went well for Charlotte. That’s pretty much what I’m predicting for this one.

Let’s jump in and take a look!


I never thought I’d be thankful in any way that Leviathan had trashed my hometown.

Would it happen to be because he broke a lot of glass that Shatterbird could’ve used now?

Or maybe because the water is washing away the blood and glass shards?

Leviathan’s tidal waves had shattered many of the windows and the residents had put plywood, plastic and boards up in their wake.  It meant there was less material for Shatterbird to use against us.

Got it in one. 🙂

Countless people had been spared from injury and death due to Shatterbird’s glass shards because Leviathan had gotten to us first.

In a way, Leviathan was less dangerous than Shatterbird, largely thanks to the shelters and forewarning system. Shatterbird also has much, much greater range for quickly killing tons of people, though Leviathan did have the sinkholes to try for.

Though I doubt Shatterbird could match Leviathan’s murders-per-day record of nine million. Although she might get close if she went to a city like Tokyo or New York (New York City alone doesn’t have enough people to hit nine million, but its population is almost twice as dense as central Tokyo). Then again, she might be limited to doing something on this scale only once in a while – a cooldown, if you will – which would drastically limit her kill per day ratio even in such cities.

By the way, it feels so weird to talk about cities with that many people. 9 million, 13 million, 38 million if you include the greater metropolitan area of Tokyo… And here we Norwegians are with 23 times as much total land area as the Tokyo metropolitan area, 148 times as much as central Tokyo, 413 times as much as New York City – and 5.2 million people to fill it.


But even without the glass, there was still sand.

Clearly what we need to defeat Shatterbird is a magical pink lion.

Anyway, I considered mentioning the sand in the intro post, but I decided “painted crystal red” was too poetic to sully with “and maybe a bit of white/yellow/brown from a sandstorm and the tannish brown of corpses, plus whatever colors are on their clothes and stuff…”

I stepped out of the way as a trio of people moved down the street, supporting each other as much as they were able.  Each of them had been blasted by the sand, their skin left ragged.

Ouch.

It had turned a bruised combination of black brown and purple where it hadn’t been scraped off and left raw, red and openly bleeding.  One looked as though he’d been blinded.  The sandburns covered his upper face.

There’s a reason one particular tool we use to remove material so we can change the texture of a surface is called sandpaper.

Two ambulances had stopped at an intersection just a block away from where I had announced my claim of territory.  At a glance, I could tell that they’d had all mirrors removed and all glass stripped from the dash, doors and windshield.

More of Coil’s people, unless the hospital took the same precautions at Sierra’s warning.

Those that had emerged from their homes and shelters were gravitating towards the ambulances.  There was still dust settling on the streets, and I could taste it thick in the air, even through my mask.

It seems like Wildbow’s eyes had recently been opened to the possibilities in using the sense of taste when describing something. Only two chapters ago, we had Taylor tasting Lisa’s blood (…now that’s something that sounds a bit different out of context), and now this.

I wondered if we needed to be getting masks out to people.  It couldn’t be healthy.

Probably wouldn’t hurt, at least. Unless of course the masks had an eye portion with glass lenses. That would be a bad idea.

(#vampire taylor)


Heads turned as I approached.  I’d put my costume on again, and I had a swarm of bugs following in my wake, giving me more presence.

Yeah, that’s a head turner, alright. But I’m not sure they’re going to be very happy with Skitter. This is the sort of thing she was supposed to protect them from, and it just happened, so even if many of them would rightly conclude that this was not something she could’ve stopped, even those might still be too caught up in the heat of the trauma to think clearly, and many will take the scapegoat that’s conveniently walking down the street.

When people were this hurt and scared, it didn’t take much to tap into that primal part of their psyches and intimidate them just a little.

…true.

Oh, and another group of people who might take this out on Skitter: People who genuinely think she’s working with Shatterbird, or even that Skitter did this.

Surveying the scene, I could already tell there were going to be issues.

Hundreds, thousands of hurt people, many in critical or potentially critical shape, there were only two ambulances here, and the hospitals would be overcrowded.

Yeeah.

I wonder what Panacea is up to. I’m guessing once she realized what was going to happen or had just happened (it sounded like the Slaughterhouse Nine had trouble finding her, even with Cherish on board, so they may not have been able to warn her), she had to make a decision on whether to continue running from her problems or go back to the closest hospital and offer her services to help out in the crisis.

I don’t think she likes it (not that anyone should like what just happened), but I do think she’d go with the hospital option.

People were going to panic when they realized that they wouldn’t necessarily get help.  They would get upset, even angry.  This already unstable situation would descend into all-out chaos.

In terms of sheer destructive power, Shatterbird is just as analogous to a natural disaster as the Endbringers are (though the Endbringers are more specifically themed after them: tsunamis for Leviathan, volcanic eruptions for Behemoth, and probably hurricanes for the Simurgh). But unlike Leviathan, she’s also a terrorist. Both things are in play here.


Regarding Leviathan being analogous to a tsunami:

It would’ve been quite appropriate if he’d sunk Honshu rather than Kyushu, or if the Fukushima disaster (which happened in March 2011, so before Worm even started but still topical by the time Leviathan was introduced) had taken place on Kyushu instead.

Honshu is quite a bit bigger and more populous than Kyushu and Newfoundland, though, so it’d paint his powers as even stronger than they already are. Maybe Kyushu was indeed mentioned because Wildbow wanted to reference the Fukushima disaster but found that Honshu was too big and important, and so went for a different island while still getting the reference through by hitting Japan.

But then again, even if he wasn’t specifically referencing that disaster, Japan is well known as a frequent target of tsunamis. Hell, it’s where we got the word from. So even without Fukushima, Japan as a target of the tsunami Endbringer is super appropriate.

I wonder if Hawaii and/or Iceland have been struck by Behemoth and New Orleans by the Simurgh.


I told them I’d protect them, but there was no stopping this. 

Yeah. That is true, but good luck telling them that.

I wasn’t on my game.  My thoughts were on Dad and on Tattletale, not on these people and all the factors that I was supposed to take into account.

Yeeeah. The only thing Skitter actually did to protect these people from Shatterbird was call Charlotte, and she didn’t even take the time to ask where Charlotte was (though admittedly that might be because she was supposed to be here, unlike Sierra), so we can’t be sure that even helped these particular people.

She did do her best to protect the people she was capable of protecting on the way to her dad, though. That counts for something as far as I’m concerned.

But here’s a question: If Taylor hadn’t focused on her dad, would she have actually had a chance of making it to the territory in time to make a difference?

But I didn’t have a choice.

I gave the order, and my swarm spread out, flowing through the crowd.  It was enough bugs to get people’s attention.

“Hi, there. Bug girl’s in the house.”

I just hoped the benefits of having the bugs there would outweigh any fear or discomfort the bugs generated.

Which benefits do you mean in particular? Intimidating would-be aggressors? Scoping out the crowd? Giving them the sense that you are present and intend to take care of the situation as best you can?


Using the bugs I’d spread around the area, I augmented my voice, allowing it to carry.  “The most important thing is to remain calm.”

“Please do not attack me or each other in a panic- and grief-fueled rage.”

But yeah, if she can actually convince them of this, that would be good.

More people turned toward me.  I stepped closer to the ambulances, where paramedics were working with some of the most critical cases.  I felt like a charlatan, a pretender.

Because you’re not practicing what you preach?

The look of mixed fear and incredulity from the paramedics didn’t help.  Still, someone had to take control and organize before people started lashing out, and the city’s heroes were apparently occupied elsewhere.

There is a lot to do around town right now, I’d imagine, and they’ve practically allowed you to take responsibility for this area, so they might be relying on you doing exactly this.

“I don’t intend you any harm,” I reassured them.  “If you’re unhurt and able-bodied, there are people who need your help.  Step forward so I can direct you to them.”

Ooh, good call.

Silence and stillness stretched on for long seconds.  I could see people who had no visible injuries, who were staring at me, unwilling to respond to my appeal.

It’s like with the supply crates. It’s hard to be the first one to step forward, even if you want to, but once someone does, more will likely follow.

Generally speaking, the types of people who lived in the Docks weren’t the sort who were used to being neighborly, to putting society’s needs above their own.

Fair enough.


Fuck me.  My head wasn’t in the right place.  I’d forgotten.  I’d been taught in the first aid classes you had to be direct and specific when dealing with people in a crisis.

Ah, yes, that’s good advice specifically because of what I just said about stepping forward, and because of bystander syndrome (which itself is often a result about the other thing). “Someone help me!” isn’t going to be half as effective as “You there, help me!”.

Asking for help was begging for disappointment, because people would hesitate to step forward, or assume that someone else would handle the job.  Instead of asking for help, we were supposed to single someone out of the crowd of bystanders and give them a clear, identifiable task.

Exactly.

Something along the lines of, ‘You in the red shirt, call nine-one-one!’

And yeah, that’s a bit better than the vague “help me” I used as my example, too. This way the person knows exactly what you want them to do and can start doing it immediately.


And now that I’d fucked that up, I’d entrenched them.  The status quo was now quickly becoming ‘not listening to the supervillain’, and it would be twice as hard to get them to go against the rest of the herd.

Damn. This is going south, and that’s where Taylor and the shockwave just came from, so we don’t want to go back that way right now.

…I wonder what made south the bad direction for something to go in English. In Norwegian, it’s west (something that is going badly “går rett vest”, “is going straight west”), and I similarly wonder what’s behind that.

Maybe it’s that south is down on maps these days? But why would the idea of bad things going downwards (notably, “going down” is a value-neutral phrase for something happening) be transplanted onto a map? And it’d need to be a fairly new development, since on older maps, down would… be… west. Huh. Maybe that is the origin and the difference is in when the speakers of each language adopted the idea?

I should probably just look this up. :p


So, because I’m guessing at least a couple of you are as curious about it as I am, here’s what I found about going south and west with a little quick research:

Wiktionary has this about going south, citing Christine Ammer’s The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms:

The origin is unclear. Common belief attributes it to the standard orientation of maps, where south is the downwards direction. Alternatively, it could stem from a euphemism used by some Native American for dying.

Norwegian Wiktionary didn’t have anything about going straight west. However, the Norwegian language council has this (translation mine):

“To go west” has in English long been used about dying (or breaking). The origin is probably the frightening thought of ending up where the sun sets (possibly far out at sea).

Some sources instead mention that it is criminal slang for ending up at an execution site in West Midlands in England. That is impossible for us to judge. The Wild West in America can at least be ruled out, as such an origin would be known in the Anglophone world.

The idiom supposedly spread wildly during the First World War. It probably came into Norwegian through sailor jargon. Tor Myklebost writes: “Seamen never say about their deceased mates that they’re ‘dead’. ‘He went west,’ they say.”

Straight west is a natural extension of west in Norwegian, and has long existed in its geographical sense.

Previously, the expression was often that something went north and down in Norwegian. Down in Denmark, projects rather go down and home, and in the east ((TN: Sweden)), to the woods or to hell, which of course also exists here. They can otherwise go in the sink, or worse. Things can further go ad undas ((TN: Latin, to the waves)), to the devil, in the dogs and to pieces – if it doesn’t simply bust. There might not be quite as many expressions for things going well.

One recurring thread in the Norwegian one is references to the sea. I have in the past suspected that it had to do with that, as the sea is to the west for most of Norway. But by the sound of it, the idiom originated outside Norway and spread here via sailors.

Also worth noting is that both the English and Norwegian etymologies appear to possibly have to do with death. It’s worth noting that in several mythologies, west is the direction to the underworld, so maybe some influence there might have been involved too.


With my curiosity sated for now, let’s take a break to read some Worm.

Now, now, don’t worry, I know you all came here to read me prattle on about idiomatic etymology. We’ll be back to that before you know it, but for now, let’s do something else for a little while, okay?


Which left me three unpleasant options.  The first option was that I could abandon that plan, look weak, and lose standing in the eyes of everyone present.

Not really worth even thinking of unless the other options are significantly worse.

Alternately, I could speak up again, appeal to their humanity, beg, plead, demand, praying all the while for someone to come forward.  That was the second choice, and it would make me look even worse to everyone watching, with only a miniscule chance of success.

Is the third option basically the same but forcefully? Because that’s probably the best option. If they won’t listen and help out of the goodness of their hearts, it’s time for intimidation.

The silence stretched on.  I knew it had only been five or six seconds, but it felt like a minute.

It’s amazing how long six seconds can be. *glances over at Dungeons and Dragons*

The third of my ugly options?  I could make them listen.  Goad them into action with threats and violence.

Intimidation, yes. Actual violence, preferably not.

It meant I risked provoking the same sort of chaos and violence I was hoping to combat, but I suspected that chance was relatively minor.  I could get people to do what I needed them to do.  I’d maybe earn their respect, but I’d probably earn their enmity at the same time.

Yeah. You’re already on thin ice as an easy scapegoat. You don’t want to stomp on that ice.

Could I do this?  Could I become the bully, even if it was for the greater good?

…oof. Right. Bullies.

I was going to hate myself for doing it, but I’d left my dad behind to be here.  I wasn’t about to fail.

Add one more card to the guilt pile!


“Alright,” I said, sounding calmer than I felt.  My fist clenched at my side.

I hesitated.  Someone was approaching.  I felt them passing through the bugs I’d dispersed through the crowd.  Charlotte.

Oh, hi! Are you going to save Taylor from having to do this? Perhaps with a rousing speech about how Skitter went against bystander syndrome to help you, and how they could at least do the same?

“You’re not wearing your mask,” I said, the second she was close enough to hear me, my voice quiet.  “Or the paper cube.”

Hm. Maybe she was not wearing her mask in order to seem less threatening when she went out to warn people? But why not the cube?

Is it an act of rebellion because of what just happened to the territory and the fact that she wasn’t told about the Nine being around before it was this late? I don’t think that fits with how she was acting on the phone, though, and there’s no reason for Charlotte to assume Skitter knew before she found out about the Shattering.

No, I think she’s coming to help, but wants to appear like a regular person for whatever reason.


“The cube got crushed when I was helping someone.  I was glad you didn’t use your power,” she said.

Oh, okay. That just leaves the mask, which is easy enough to explain.

Then, loud enough that some people nearby could hear her, she asked me, “What can I do?”

Oh hell yes!

Remember what I said about the flock needing one person to be the first to break formation before they all did? That’s what Charlotte is doing. She knows how that works and is actively stepping into the situation to be that person for the rest of the crowd.

Go Charlotte!


I owe her one hell of a favor. 

Yes. Yes you do.

Unless you or someone else pulls something really good, Charlotte is going to be the MVP of this chapter for that move alone.

I’d had my bugs sweeping through nearby buildings since I’d arrived.  I hadn’t really stopped, even after I got home.  I had found several of the wounded.  A man lying prone, two kids huddled near their mother.  The mother’s face was sticky with blood, her breathing quick.

Ouch. Is the man breathing?

The children were bleeding too.  I could sense a man stumbling blindly through what had been his home, hands to his face.

You really should switch to a more eye-friendly shampoo, pal.

I almost sent her after the blind man, but reconsidered.

I pointed at a warehouse, and spoke loud enough for others to hear, “There’s a woman and two little kids in there, you won’t be able to help them alone.”

Ooh, good idea, inciting more people to help by making it absolutely clear that they are needed. That everyone needs to work together.

Which was a large part of why I had chosen them.

Yeah, I see what you’re doing, and I like it a lot.


I spotted a twenty-something guy with an impressive bushy beard and no shirt.  Aside from one cut on his stomach and some smaller patches of shredded skin where the sand had caught him in the back, he seemed to be in okay shape.  “You.  Help her.”

And this allows her a second chance at the assertive, specific directions she failed to give earlier.

He looked at the older woman beside him.  His mother?  She was clearly hurt, and had the remains of two or three white t-shirts bundled around her arm.

Ah, yeah, some of them aren’t going to want to leave behind their closest to go help.

It was clear the limb had been caught by the sand; it looked like a mummy’s arm, only bloody.

Oh jeez.

Anticipating an excuse on his part, I pointing to the nearest group of injured and told him, “They’ll look after her.  There are people who need you more.  Second floor.  Go.”

This is how you do it. Good job, Taylor.


Also, I guess the fact that Taylor only mentioned the woman and children indicates that no, the man is not breathing.

I already figured the blood on the mother’s face was at least partially from her husband, and the breathing a reaction to what had just happened to him and the children, but there was a chance he was still alive but very badly hurt.


He looked at his mother, and the look she gave him was answer enough.  He helped her hobble over to the group of people I’d indicated, leaving her in their care, and joined Charlotte in running for the warehouse where the woman and kids were.

And the hole has opened. Now it should get a lot easier to convince people to help out.

Now I just had to keep my momentum.

“You and your friend,” I spoke to a middle-aged guy and his buddy.  “There’s a guy slowly bleeding out in the factory there.  Go help him.”

Especially since she’s able to do this now.

The second that passed before they moved to obey left my heart pounding.

That little moment of “will they listen to me now”…

But then they do, much more quickly than the last guy, and things are good. Well, as good as they can be under these circumstances.


I turned to the next person and stopped.  He was one of the few people with actual bandages on his wounds, and he stood near his family.  Even with the gauze pads strapped to his face, I recognized him from earlier.  Or, to be specific, I recognized the little boy R.J., and I knew this man as his father, patriarch of the rat infested house from early in the day.

Ooh! Hello!

Now, the patriarch was rather critical of Skitter even as she helped out. Maybe he’ll be the first to go down into the scapegoat territory I’ve been talking about? On another hand, he might’ve had some time to think and properly appreciate what Skitter did for his family. But then again, talking in Skitter’s favor might be R.J.’s role, going against his father’s cynicism with youthful optimism.

“There’s a blinded man in the brick building over there,” I told him, facing him squarely.  “Go help him.”

“Why?” he challenged me, his voice gruff, his gaze hard.  “I’m hurt.  If I go, I’m going to miss my turn with the ambulances.”

I get it, but you’re also one of the few people who’ve actually gotten some sort of treatment. If you looked particularly wounded, Skitter wouldn’t send you, even if she wanted to test your willingness to obey. Bottom line, the blinded man needs more help than you do right now.

Asshole.  There wasn’t even a shred of gratitude for what I’d done to help him and his family, and he didn’t even seem to need his turn at the ambulance that badly either.  I had to resist the urge to hit him or set my bugs on him.

You did promise him a fistfight if he wanted one. It’s technically still “after the countdown”.

Or maybe it’s now before the countdown, since the countdown was a count-up and thus went backwards?

That’s how time works, right?


Worse, I couldn’t help but feel like he was seeing through the image I was trying to portray.  Seeing the girl behind the mask, who was just trying to pretend she knew what she was doing.

He’d probably like to think he does, at least.

I turned to the next person, a solidly built woman with scratches and the sandburns I was quickly coming to recognize all over her face.  She had even taped half of a sanitary pad over one eye.  It wasn’t my brightest move, but I asked her, “Are you going to whine like a little girl, too, if I ask you to help someone?”

Uh oh.

Dial back the salt a little. You abandoned the bully tactic, thanks to Charlotte. Don’t let the patriarch mess with that.

She smiled a little and shook her head.

…hah! I think she shares Taylor’s opinions on the patriarch. “Heh, ‘like a little girl’! Serves that old grump right.”

“Good.  Go.  Left side of the building.  He’s blind, and there’s nobody else there to help.  I think he might have inhaled sand, he’s coughing pretty violently.  Don’t push him to move too fast or too much.  Take your time walking him back, if the bleeding isn’t too severe.”

A bit of useful information. That helps.

She obeyed, moving off with a powerful stride.  When I looked, R.J.’s dad was gone. He was stomping off toward the ambulances, keeping the crowd between us, dragging his wife at his side with R.J. hurrying to keep up.

…well. Be that way, see if Skitter ever helps you with your pests again.

Knowing how angry he was, I had to hope he wasn’t the type to take out his anger on his family.

Oh cod. No thanks.

I could absolutely see that being the case, though. I hope R.J.’s going to be okay.

I didn’t want to be indirectly responsible for their pain.

And I just don’t want them to be in pain, regardless of who’s responsible.

Sometimes it seems like who’s responsible is what Taylor focuses on, rather than the pain itself, and given how she treats her various points of guilt, I’m don’t think that’s reading into things too much.


I think that’s where I’ll end it for tonight. See you Friday for more idiomatic etymology interspersed with Worm!

[End of session]


By the way, before I go:

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Happy Norwegian Constitution Day!


[reblogging the previous post]

And also: Happy birthday to my cat, Mozart!

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*<:3

(#a good birthday boy)


Here’s a thing I’ve been forgetting to mention:

Imp’s power reminds me of the Gray Men (also known as the Soulless) from the Wheel of Time series. They’re servants of the Dark One who are nearly unnoticeable, and are consequently used as assassins. They’re not invisible, but the gaze of most onlookers, even ones who are actively on guard, will just slide right over them. In many cases, witnesses will report seeing the victim fall but not seeing the murderer, even though it happened right in front of them, in plain sight.

Imp’s power is stronger, though, since even if she does get noticed, her power can then cause people to forget about that shortly after. Gray Men are hard to notice, but they don’t mess with your memories once you do.


In the same vein as using Skitter’s power on changelings or breezies, I wonder if/how Bitch’s power would work if she directed it at MLP timberwolves, which are wolves, but are made of wood.

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I’m leaning towards the conclusion that it wouldn’t work because Worm operates more with physical magic than idea-based magic. MLP’s timberwolves reflect the idea of a wolf, but not their biology. I think that would be the case with most powers affecting wolves, but Bitch’s power in particular is highly dependent on wolf biology to make the transformation happen. What would her power even do to make wolves made of wood into hellhounds?

Now, her power working on these guys is way more plausible:

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Though I don’t think Cerberus particularly needs it.


[Session 2]

Anyway, let’s get back to the chapter!


There were more people to pick out of the crowd, more orders to give.  It was all about setting them up so that refusal made them look bad, both to themselves and to others.  Social pressure.

That does sound quite effective.

By the time I’d sent two more groups, some of the others were coming back to be directed to the next few injured.  I gave them their orders.

Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Just… not the Bonesaw way [here]. :p

Which only raised the greater problem.  How were we supposed to handle these people who were hurt and waiting their turn?  They were scared and restless.

Handling things after a disaster like this isn’t easy, and for this area, a lot of that burden has fallen on Skitter.

I would probably not know what to do in the slightest.

That unease bled over into their friends, families and maybe their neighbors, who were scared for themselves and the people they cared about.  Already, they were gathering around the ambulances, pleading for help from too small a group of people, who had their hands full saving others’ lives.

Maybe calling in extra help from Coil might work? Even with how much Taylor has already relied on him and how we’ve been talking about there possibly being a limit to how much he’ll accept, this ought to be a special case. In this case she actually needs the help far more than in for example the rat incident.

Some were simply asking the paramedics for advice while keeping a respectful distance, others were demanding assistance because they felt their loved ones were more important than whoever was getting care or attention at that moment.

Of course.

The paramedics couldn’t answer everyone.

They need to be able to focus. Maybe distracting the crowd somehow could help?


People in this area formed closely knit packs.  They would step up to defend the people they cared about far more quickly and easily than they had with my appeal to help strangers just minutes ago.  I didn’t trust them to remain peaceful if this kept up.

Yikes. That sounds like a recipe for street brawls, and on a larger scale, gang wars or riots.

What the hell was I supposed to do with them?

As lost as I felt in that moment, I managed to look calm.  My bugs gave me an awareness of the situation, and my eyes swept over the scene to get a sense of the mood and what people were doing.

Looking calm is important. It contributes to her air of authority and order and makes people more likely to listen to her.

I spotted a mother picking at one of her son’s wounds, and I realized what she was doing.  I hurried to stop her.  “What are you doing?”

Yeeah, that doesn’t sound good.

Riding the highs and the lows of emotion from the past hour or two, I might have come across sounding angrier than I was.  She quailed just a bit.

Oops.

“He has glass in his arm.”

And if you take it out, it’ll leave room for the blood to come spilling out.

He did.  There were slivers of glass no longer than the nub of lead in an old-fashioned pencil, sticking out of his cuts.

It just occurred to me that on top of all the wounds themselves and the property destruction that’s going to make it hard to find warm places to sleep, there’s probably a high risk of infections from these wounds too. Eesh.


“Those are probably okay to remove,” I told her, “But avoid disturbing any close to the arteries, here, here and here.”

Yeah, glass in the arm is better than bleeding until he can get help from someone who can patch him up.

“He doesn’t have cuts there.”

“Good,” I told her.  “But you should know for later, for when you’re helping others.”

Good thinking. And Taylor’s implicitly saying “you’ll be doing this for other people too, riiight?”, putting more of that social pressure on the woman by implying that her helping others is something that should be taken for granted.

She pointed at her leg.  Sand had flayed the skin of her foot and calf and turned the muscle a dirty brown color.  “I can’t really walk.”

Then others should come to her. Simple as that.

“You won’t need to.”

A plan was coalescing in my mind.  A way to give people something to do and give them some indication they’d eventually get help.

See: distracting them. 🙂

But yes, by putting them to use, she keeps them away from bothering the paramedics, while at the same time getting the benefits of more people doing useful things.

The problem was, I needed materials to carry this out, and there wasn’t much nearby.  It meant I had to get the materials from my lair.

Hm. Alright. What sort of materials do you need?

I wasn’t willing to leave for any length of time, though, and I didn’t want to spare Charlotte, either.

And Sierra’s off at the hospital, probably making sure her family is alright.

Would’ve been nice to have some Coildiers around right now.

So I guess bugs are the best remaining option other than informing someone from the crowd on how to get into the Hive, which I doubt Taylor wants to do.


I had to use my bugs.  That wasn’t so simple when the things I was retrieving weren’t small.

Yeah, figured they wouldn’t be. If they had been, the bugs would’ve probably been her first choice.

I had a box of pens and markers in my room, for sketching out the costume designs.  I also had first aid kits in my bedside table upstairs and in the bathroom on the ground floor.

Hm, yeah, that sounds useful. Especially the first aid kits.

Bringing all of that stuff here meant opening the boxes and retrieving everything I needed, carting them here on a wave of crawling bugs, past puddles and flooded streets.

Finally the pens, markers and first aid kids can experience the joys of crowdsurfing!

I collected markers, pens, bandages, ointments, iodine, candles and needles.  Especially needles.  Smaller bottles of hydrogen peroxide.  At least, I hoped it was the iodine and hydrogen peroxide.

Hard to tell without reading the labels.

So “materials” meant mainly medical supplies. No wonder there weren’t many around, besides the ones in use by the paramedics.

I couldn’t exactly read the labels.  The bottle shapes felt right, anyways.

So here’s a thing – if she’s gotten better at processing audio input from the bugs, enough to recognize the kind of music someone was listening to while in a stupor, could something similar have happened with visual input? Maybe she would even be able to read if she tried?

Though if you go by the theory that she got better at listening through the bugs because she subconsciously tried to understand Grue using them [here], there wouldn’t be a clear reason for the same to have happened to sight. Yet.


More people returned with the injured.  I administrated my bugs while I gave new directions to the rescue parties.

Just carrying the things on a tide of bugs wasn’t going to work.  The crawling bugs couldn’t pass through the water, and there was no way to have flying bugs carry things – too many of the objects were too heavy, even with the flying insects gathered on every inch of their surface and working in unison.

Dang it.

And even water-walking insects can’t do that while weighed down.

Minutes passed as I tried different configurations and formations of bugs, trying to wrangle things like the small bottle of hydrogen peroxide with my swarm.

This plan… might not work out.

Then I saw the woman with the maxi-pad eyepatch and a man of roughly the same age carting someone to the ambulance using a blanket attached to two broomsticks as a stretcher.

Ohh… Inspiration! I guess flying insects might be able to lift things if a mini-stretcher were to make it possible for more of them to help out?

I could do the same thing.  I called on my black widow spiders, drawing some out from the terrariums where I had them contained.  Wasps carted them to the necessary spots, and I had them spin their silk around the objects in question and tie that silk to the necessary bugs.

Niiice.

Silk looped around the neck of a marker, then around a series of roaches, who could then be assisted by other bugs.  I did the same for the other things, the iodine, markers, pens, candles and more.

So do the roaches act as the stretchers here, with the items tied to them so they don’t fall off?


When I was done, I called the swarm to me.

Minus the non-roach crawlies, I would assume? Since they can’t go through the water.

I turned my attention to the injured who were clustering around the ambulances.

“Listen!” I called out, using my bugs to augment my voice.  “Some of you have been picking the glass out of your skin!  I understand it hurts, but you’re slowing things down!”

How so? By not doing other things?

I got some confused and angry looks.  I held up my hand to forestall any comments or argument.

“Any paramedic, nurse or doctor that helps you has to make absolutely sure that you don’t have any glass embedded deep in your body.  I don’t believe x-rays can detect glass-”

That would make sense. X-rays are a form of light, and glass is translucent, at least to the visible range.

I paused as a paramedic snapped his head up to look at me.  Okay, so I was wrong.  I wished he hadn’t reacted, though.

Ah, okay. Fair enough!

I suppose even if the glass is translucent to x-rays (which I don’t know), that would still be detectable because flesh isn’t as translucent to them?

People were paying attention to the paramedics, they’d noticed, and it wasn’t critical that these people know the exact details of the treatment they’d get.  If he’d just let me lie or be wrong, this would have gone smoother.

Yeah, but I can’t fault a trained medical professional for reacting to medical misinformation.


“Or at least, glass as fine as the shrapnel that hit you,” I corrected myself.

Now that might be a different story.

A shrug and a nod from the paramedic.  I got my mental bearings and continued, “If you’re pulling the glass out of your cuts and wounds and you lose track of which ones you’ve tended to, they’re going to have to explore the wounds to investigate, queue you up for x-rays and maybe even cut you open again later, after the skin has closed up, to get at any pieces they missed.”

Ahh, yeah, that makes sense.

I could see uneasy reactions from the crowd.  I raised my hand, just in time for the first of my swarm to arrive.  I closed my hand around a pen as the cloud of airborne insects delivered it to me.  They dispersed, and the pen remained behind.

I wonder if the pen was visible through the swarm before it dispersed, or if it just looked to the crowd like Skitter just made a pen out of bugs.

“I’m going to give some of you pens and markers.  We’re going to have a system to make all of this easier on the doctors.  Dotted lines around any injuries with glass sticking out.  Circles around wounds where the glass may be deeper.”

I like this plan.

The paramedic waved me over.

Ah, yeah, I suppose it would make sense for him to have some input on this.

I moved briskly through the crowd to the stretcher.

“Tetanus,” he said, when I was close enough.  “We need to know if they’ve had their shots.”

I don’t know what tetanus is – a disease or infection, I presume – but adding more information to the system is a good idea. The more they can tell just by looking, the better.


“They probably haven’t,” I replied, using my swarm to augment my voice, but not to carry it to the crowd.

“Probably not.  But we have to ask, and time we spend asking is time we could spend helping them.”

Exactly.

I grasped the hand of a grungy old man who stood next to me, stretching his arm out.  “Have you had your shots?”

He shook his head.

I used the pen to draw a ‘T’ on the back of his hand, circled it and drew a line through it.  I pressed the pen into the old man’s hand, “You go to people and ask them the same question.  If they haven’t had their shots, draw the same thing.  If they have, just draw the T.”

Seems like a good pair of symbols to use. Quite straight-forward.

I saw a glimmer of confusion in his eyes.  Was he illiterate?  I turned his hand over and drew a capital ‘T’ on his palm.

Huh. Alright.

“Like that, if they have had their shots” I said, raising his hand for people to see, then turned it around.  “Like that if they haven’t.”

And by doing this, she’s ensuring that people know he’s coming and what to expect. Good. 🙂


He nodded and took the pen, turning to the not-quite-as-old man beside him.

Good luck!

I addressed the crowd, “Remember, dotted line around the wounds if you can see the glass or if you’re absolutely sure there’s no glass in there, circle if you can’t tell.  Once you or someone else has drawn the dotted line, you can take out the glass if it’s smaller than your thumbnail.  If it’s bigger, try to leave it alone!”

Sounds reasonable. Glass that’s smaller than a thumbnail probably doesn’t go much further than the skin. Though there is the risk of long pieces that look small on the surface.

“We need some elbow room,” the paramedic told me.  His blue gloves were slick with blood.  People were standing within two or three feet of him, watching what he was doing, trying to be close enough to be the next to get help when he was done with his current patient.

Skitter: *brings down an enormous swarm of flies over the paramedics, causing the crowd to back up*
Skitter: “Better?”


That wasn’t the limit of the potential patients, either: there were the injured that Charlotte and the others were retrieving.  The people who hadn’t been able to get here under their own power.

“We’re changing locations,” I called out.  I could see them reacting to that, balking at the idea.  “If you’re able to stand, it’s going to be a long time before you get the help you want.  There’s plenty more people with worse injuries.  Suck it up!”

Changing locations… in order to find and help more of the injured?

I waited for someone to challenge me on that.  Nobody did.

Looks like they’re getting it.

“If you listen and cooperate you’ll get the help you want sooner.  We’re going to gather inside the factory right here where we’ll be clear of the worst of the dust.  It’s dry inside, and there’s enough space for all of us.”

Ah, makes sense. 🙂

Though you keep using that weird word.

(#i don’t think the factory produces milk any more than the parking garage did)


It took some time for everyone to get moving, but they did.  My bugs passed me some candles and a lighter and I started handing them out with the pens and markers.

And then they went into the factory, set down the candles, used some chalk to draw on the floor, and summoned a demon who promptly destroyed them and all of Brockton Bay. The end.

Worm was a good story, guys! So let’s see, where do I find Ward…


I followed the mass of people into the defunct factory that was next to the ambulances.

Sheets and cloths were pulled from machinery and laid atop boxes and on the ground, so people had places to sit and lie down.

I guess the factory functions as a makeshift hospital.

Gradually, people set about the process of marking the types of wounds and the presence of glass, buried or otherwise.

“Disinfectant?” a woman asked me.

Oh yeah, got any of that in the Hive?

I turned.  She was older, in her mid-fifties, roughly my height, and she had a pinched face. “What about it?”

“You’ve been pulling things out of the clouds of flies,” she told me, “Can you produce some disinfectant for us, or are you limited to art supplies and candles?”

Hah, I was right about how it looked! And it’s sort of backfiring. :p

I got the impression of a strict schoolteacher from her.  The kind who was a hardass with even the good students and a mortal enemy to the poor ones.

Eesh.

I’m just gonna go ahead and headcanon that she’s also the founder of a wrestling club, based on one of the hardass teachers I had.


I reached out my hand, and a portion of my swarm passed over it.  Thanks to the fact that many of them were in contact with the bottle, it was easy enough to position my hand and know when to close it.

Oh yeah, I suppose a couple of the things she mentioned earlier were disinfectants. Like the iodine?

The bugs drifted away, and I was left holding the three-inch tall bottle.

My theatrics didn’t seem to impress her.  Her tone was almost disparaging as she said, “Nobody uses hydrogen peroxide anymore.  It delays recovery time.”

Huh, interesting.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” I said.  “If the wounds heal over embedded glass, it’ll be that much more unpleasant.”

That is a very good point.

“Do you have medical training?” she asked me, her tone disapproving.

A tiny bit, yes.

The wording does make it sound like she’s implying that she does. That ought to come in handy if she does.

“Not enough, no,” I said with a sigh.  I had the swarm pass over my hand again, picking up the hydrogen peroxide and depositing another plastic bottle in its place.  “Iodine?”

“Thank you,” she said, in a tone that was more impatient than grateful.  “We’re going to need more than this.”

I’m not so sure she can produce more. Maybe if she sends the bugs into other houses, someone’s got iodine in their cabinets? But how would the bugs open the cabinets? Better get lucky and find someone who’s left it out, and even then there’s the issue of identifying the bottles.

“I’ll see what I can do,” I told her, trying not to sound exasperated.

Yeah, this might not be so easy.


She headed for a group of people and knelt by one of the wounded who was lying on a sheet.  I could see her posture and expression soften as she talked to them.  So she wasn’t like that with other people.

Ahh. The villain effect, huh?

Whatever.  I’d been prepared to be hated when I committed to villainy.

That’s good, because that’s really something you should be able to see coming.

I gathered all of the supplies I’d brought and sent more bugs out to scout for more.

What I wouldn’t give for a working cell phone, to find out about how Tattletale was doing, even to ask after my dad.  But cell phones had computer chips, and computer chips had silicon.

Called it!

There’s also the issue of the screen, but that’s more survivable for the phone’s functionality, and some phones may have plastic screen covers instead of glass.

Everything that was electronic and more complicated than a toaster was probably fried, with exceptions for some tinker-made stuff.

Hm, interesting. I guess some tinkers use super advanced computer chips that don’t use silicon.

There was no use dwelling on the fact that two people I cared about were gravely hurt.  I couldn’t do anything about it now, and time spent wondering was time I wasn’t protecting and helping these people.

Yeah, probably best to focus for now.


In terms of protecting these people, I spread my bugs out over every surface, until a potential threat wouldn’t be able to take a step without killing one.  It would serve as advance warning in case any members of Hookwolf’s alliance came through to make trouble.

Nice!

I spread out some flying insects to try to detect airborne threats like Rune.

Most of the flying bugs, however, I was using to sweep over my surroundings, checking buildings and building interiors.  I wanted first aid kits, anything these people could use to clean their wounds.

Just about anything useful would be good to have.

Noting the lack of suture threads, I had my spiders start using their silk to spin something long, thick and tough enough, threading it through the holes of needles for their use.

Oooh, nice.

It would slow down my costume production a touch, but I could deal.

How long does it take these spiders to produce their silk?

“That doesn’t look very sterile,” a woman said, from behind me, as I checked the length of the thread one set of spiders had produced.  It was the pinched, gray-haired woman from just a little bit ago.

The last sentence came as no surprise. I figured it was her before I even read “woman”.

She does have a point, though.

“More than you’d think.  I raised these little ladies myself.  They live in terrariums.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s clean enough to thread through someone’s open wounds.”

True, but it’s probably the best you’ve got, at least if the lack of thread was counting whatever the paramedics have left.

“No,” I replied, feeling a bit irritated, “But in the absence of good alternatives, I’d rather use this and then supply everyone here with antibiotics at some point in the next day or so.  Which they probably need anyways.”

Yeah, there’s a good chance of that.


“People use antibiotics too often,” she said.  “I try to make a point of using them sparingly in my clinic.”

Yes, but now is not the time to worry about that.

Seriously?  “I think situations like this are the exact right time to use antibiotics.  These people have open wounds, they’re undernourished, dehydrated, stressed, their immune systems are probably shot, their environments are filthy, there’s probably countless other reasons.”

Exactly – people do use antibiotics too much, but that’s because using them too much for lesser things eventually makes them useless, preventing their use for more major injuries as the bacteria evolve to develop immunity. This is absolutely the sort of scenario where it’s justified.

She said something, sounding even more irritated than before.  I think it was a repeat of the question from earlier, about my credentials in medicine.  I wasn’t listening.

Yeeah, time to tune her out.

The paramedics hadn’t come out of the ambulance in several minutes.  A check with my bugs found them lying on the floor of the ambulance.  No blood, as far as I could tell.

Well, this doesn’t sound like a positive development.


Ignoring the woman, I turned and headed for the door, hurrying outside.  She barked something snide at my back.

I was battle ready as I approached the ambulance and checked the area.  Nobody.

Hmm…

Cherish’s power is well suited to taking out the paramedics from a distance while they’re in the ambulance, but her usual M.O. as far as we’ve seen would normally lead to bloodspray.

Then again, there might be something in the ambulance the paramedics could inject to kill themselves bloodlessly.

But I’m not sure why she’d attack here and now. More likely, a patient decided to knock out the paramedics and run off for some reason.

Stepping inside, I checked on the paramedics and the patient with an oxygen balloon strapped to his face.  The paramedics were beyond help, dead, their heads twisted at an ugly angle.

Yikes.

Probably not Cherish, unless she got them to twist their own heads, or got the patient to do it. What’s up with the patient?

The patient hadn’t been dispatched the same way.  I checked his throat to find him still warm, but he wasn’t breathing and he had no pulse.

While this does support the idea of the patient doing it and then offing himself, somewhat, I don’t see why Cherish would do it that way. She’s perfectly capable of suicide-murdering three people at once. So I think that’s further evidence it wasn’t her.

Hmmm… Crawler, maybe? But again, why?

I squeezed the balloon, and huge amounts of blood bubbled from what I had taken to be a shallow cut in his chest. The bubbles meant the oxygen was leaking from his punctured lung.

Yikes.


This chapter got a lot more interesting all of a sudden.


This wound – there was no way he could have had it when he came into the ambulance.  It was fresh.  All three of the people here had been executed.  It had been done in cold blood, clean, and I hadn’t even noticed with my bugs on watch.

Hmm… Maybe Cricket would be able to dodge the bugs? Though I don’t recall her doing that in Buzz.

Fog would probably be able to get in easily, but he’d have to pull himself together in order to kill them in these particular ways, and that’s something Taylor would probably sense.

Which left me very concerned for the people I’d left in the warehouse.  I hopped down from the back of the ambulance, checked my surroundings, and then ran across the street.

Welp, yeeah, if whoever did this is no longer in the ambulance…

I was a single step inside the door when I saw him.  Tall, faceless, featureless, but for the chains and ball joints that connected his ceramic-encased limbs.

Oh, hi there, Mannequin! Have you seen any brutal murderers around here recently, by any chance?

One hand was raised, a single finger raised, ticking from side to side like a metronome.  Like an old-fashioned parent scolding an errant child.

Is he… scolding her for trying to help these people?


The other hand was folded back, a long telescoping blade extended from the base of Mannequin’s palm.  The blade was pressed to the neck of the gray-haired doctor, so she had to stand on her tiptoes, her head pressed back against his chest.

Ahh. “Now, now, Skitter, don’t do anything funny or the doctor gets it.”

I didn’t have a chance to move, to speak, or to use my power before he retracted the blade.  It slid across her throat, shearing through the skin, and arterial blood sprayed forth to cover some of the ground between us.

…I guess he didn’t care about using the doctor as a hostage after all.

I suppose it makes sense. There’s not much bugs can do against his casing, and he knows that.

She collapsed to the ground.

You will be forever fondly remembered by the members of your wrestling club.


Mannequin’s knife hand went limp, dangling at his side.  His other hand remained in position, finger wagging, as if admonishing me for what I had been doing.  Saving people from the Nine, tending to the hurt and scared.

Seems I was right the first time.

I should have anticipated this.

I stepped forward, almost without thinking about it, and he dropped his other hand while taking three long steps to back away from me. His movements were ungainly, as if he was about to collapse to the ground with each one.

Why is he backing off? Does he not know what Skitter’s deal is? I suppose it makes sense that he might not.

No sooner had I wondered why when I saw his feet.  His ‘toes’ pointed at the ground, and blades had sprouted from slots at the front of each foot.  He was perched precariously on the honed knife points, walking on the blades.

Are we sure Shatters is the bird of the team?

Reaching behind my back, I drew my baton and knife.  I tensed as he moved in reaction, closing half the distance between us, lurching three or four feet to the right, then back again.

I suspect the baton would be far more effective than the knife, but I don’t expect either to be super good. An important part of making biospheres is making sure they don’t crack open at the first impact, so I suspect that even if it’s ceramic, it’s probably fairly tough. Tinker ceramic or something.

Reaching behind my back, I drew my baton and knife.  I tensed as he moved in reaction, closing half the distance between us, lurching three or four feet to the right, then back again.

I caught on immediately.  He was evading the bugs that had been hovering in the air between us, the knife-stilts that extended from his feet delicately avoiding contact with the bugs that were on the ground.

I hope there’s fanart of Mannequin in a ballet dancer outfit.

Might be time to pull in the swarm and make it hard for him to dodge. Even if it’s not dark, fighting inside the swarm has its benefits for Taylor as long as the enemy can’t avoid the bugs, especially against a knight like Mannequin. He can attack from unexpected angles, and being surrounded by bugs can help Taylor sense incoming attacks from behind.

The contact he did make with the bugs was gentle, sliding against them like a brush of wind.  I only noticed because I was paying attention.

Hrm.


He didn’t need to avoid my swarm.  He was taunting me.

Ahhh, right.

Letting me know exactly how he had gotten so close without me realizing it.

Mannequin poses what I consider an interesting challenge to Wildbow as a writer because he can’t talk, meaning Wildbow has to find good ways to have Mannequin communicate through body language… with a body that is very different from a typical one.

I flicked out my baton to its full length.  He responded by doing the same with the telescoping blades that unfolded from his arms.  His weapons were longer, both sharp.

Mixed with the chain joints, Mannequin has a pretty clear reach advantage.

Overall, Taylor’s practically mundane in this fight, unless she finds a good way to use her swarm to enhance her senses like I described earlier.

Hm. Maybe the workaround for Mannequin dodging the bugs is not to make the swarm denser, but to allow visual input and have eyes all over the room?

It’s probably going to take a bit of a beating for Skitter to consider that, I think, but that might be the solution here.


Not taking my eyes off him, I used my bugs and my peripheral vision to track the other people in the warehouse.  Too many were too hurt to move, and those who could move had backed into corners and to places where they had cover.

Well, at least some of them are a little safer. It’d be better if some of them had dared to help those who couldn’t move, though.

Still, this was his battlefield.  He had far too many hostages at his disposal.  He was faster than me, stronger, tougher.

And harder and better too.

I was pretty damn sure that his power was as complete a counter to mine as anyone could hope for.  Anyone who had paid attention to the news in the past five years knew who he was, what his story was.  Mannequin had once been a tinker who specialized in biospheres, terrariums and self-contained ecosystems.  A tinker who specialized in sustaining life, sheltering it from outside forces; forces that included water, weather, space… and bugs.

Ah, yes, that too on top of what I was talking about with impacts. This more so, even.


The only difference between then and now was that he was using his power to help and protect himself and himself only.

“Motherfucker.”  Even without intending to do it, I used my swarm to carry my voice.  His head craned around, as if to look at the swarming bugs who had just, for all intents and purposes, spoken.  Eventually his ‘face’ turned back to me.

Can I just say? I really like the swarm speech thing. It’s a super cool effect.

“I have no idea how the fuck I’m going to do it,” my voice was a low snarl, barely recognizable as my own beneath my anger and the noises of the swarm.  “But I’m going to make you regret that.”

Damn! Skitter’s fired up now!

tumblr_inline_p8y0a0MBj91sxgvvn_250.png

So fired up that she comes across as badass even while admitting her weakness to the enemy and the crowd. Nice.


I have no idea how the fuck she’s going to do it either, or if she’s going to be able to, but we’ll have to find out next time. See you Sunday for more 12.6!


Oh my cod

[Discord]

LHC:
>See you Sunday for more 12.6!
…Krix…
that is
the last sentence of 12.6
what

tumblr_inline_p8y0umgIaJ1sxgvvn_400.png

Ahahahaha!

Hey, looks like I was right about that being a good stopping point! 😛

(#ahahahaha #looks like it’s time for a wrap up post)


End of Plague 12.6

That was an alright chapter. Not super exciting until Mannequin showed up, but sometimes we gotta take a moment to deal with this kind of thing. Taylor’s story isn’t all about the battles and deadly situations.

Skitter did really well dealing with the crowd in this chapter. While I did find myself with not too much to comment on at times, it was neat to see Skitter take charge so effectively, once she actually got people to listen to her.

I still really like Charlotte’s role in this chapter. The way she stepped forward to help Skitter get the crowd to join in on helping was a real power move, and shows a bit of character development as she stepped forward as an example against bystanderism, the exact thing Taylor chewed her out for after she stood up against bystanderism for Charlotte’s sake.

Mannequin showing up did help the chapter become more interesting at the end, though it was primarily setting up the next chapter.

So, next chapter, it’s bug girl versus bug-blocker. Well, that can only go well, right?

Okay, but seriously, it’s not like Taylor hasn’t been up against enemies who are mostly immune to her bugs before. She’ll probably think of something good to get around it! 🙂

See you then!

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3 thoughts on “Plague 12.6: Crowd Control

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