Plague 12.7: Playing With Dolls

Source material: Worm, Plague 12.7

Originally blogged: May 20-23, 2018


[pre-intro]

Howdy, everyone! What’s up?

Oh, you’re waiting for some guy to start liveblogging chapter 12.7 of Worm? Sounds like a good time. Well, have fun with that whenever it starts! See you later 🙂


…oh wait.


Plague 12.7

Howdy! Welcome back to the liveblog! 🙂

Last time, Skitter did an excellent job organizing the relief efforts in the immediate wake of the Shattering in her territory, right up until Mannequin stopped by to unorganize them again. Even if he’s chased off now, he’s killed at least four people, probably more, including the paramedics, so he’s already put a serious spanner in the works for the relief efforts after he’s gone.

Now Skitter is pissed. Well aware that Mannequin’s power offers him a potentially even stronger advantage over her bugs than all the other enemies who were strongly defended against them had, she’s still challenging him to “make him regret” what he’s been doing.

I want to clarify that while I used this at the end of the last chapter:

…that was just to represent Skitter’s attitude. I do not think it will actually end in death for Skitter or even Mannequin, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Mannequin takes out a couple more civilians while ignoring Skitter’s attacks.

One thing’s for sure: In order to have any chance of winning this (on her own, anyway, but backup ex machina here would be less acceptable than it was in Gestation, where it counted more as setup – if anyone’s going to help, it should probably be one of the civilians or Charlotte), Skitter is going to need to be clever. I’m sure she has what it takes to come up with an effective strategy here, though I’m not clever enough to think of one myself at the moment. It’s not like we didn’t know Skitter is smarter than me in many ways. 😛

I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with, so without further ado, let’s go play with our action figures!


Mannequin lunged for me, his bladed toes biting into the ground for traction. He moved fast enough that his arms trailed behind him like twin ribbons in a strong wind.

He stopped several paces away from me, turning his body to swing at me with his right arm and the three foot long blade that was attached to it. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he’d fall well short.

Much like Jack’s blades, the extra reach lends itself to more powerful hits in open spaces. Better watch out!

But his arm extended on a chain, giving the swing just enough reach to put the blade on a collision course with my head.

I’m not sure whether extending the reach in the middle of the swing rather than before it is a good thing, though. It’s useful if you’re in an enclosed space and risk hitting things otherwise, or if you need to hit more quickly with reach, but I think that comes at the cost of impact force?

I parried it with my baton.

Nice.

The hit was heavy, more like trying to fend off a sledgehammer than what I’d expected. I almost lost my grip on my weapon.

Yeah, it may be a blade, but he’s using it like a sledgehammer. Much like how, even though it’s shaped like a sword and has the same cutting edge advantage as a sword does over an axe (more cutting edge means you don’t have to hit as precisely to do damage), a greatsword is actually a polearm because of how you have to use it.


As the blade bounced off my baton, he reversed the direction his upper body was turning to start spinning like a top.

By putting one arm forward first, he increases the distance the other arm has to build momentum for the sledgeblade. This next hit is going to be even harder.

His one attached arm hurtling around him, he sprung at me. I threw myself back and away, escaping by a mere two inches.

Watch out for the arm! Presumably he took into account Skitter backing away from the body lunge when aiming his arm swing.

Unless I’m reading this wrong and Skitter just avoided the arm swing rather than the lunge.

His spinning upper body had, with his right arm spooled out, caused the chain to wind around his body. He began reeling it in, the arm and blade drawing a lazy circle around him.

!!!

Ooh, I think we found his weakness. Too much spinning and such, and he risks tying himself up, leaving him open to attack while reeling in, or even so tied up that he can’t do much. That sounds like it would be a glorious way to defeat him.

I backed away, thinking I finally had a chance to get my bearings.

Right, leaving him open to attack and giving the opponent time to do other things.


As his detached arm reeled in, the fingers folded backwards around the end of one of his feet, gripping it.

What is he doing now? Detaching one of the blades to use as a sword? That doesn’t seem worthwhile, though, especially if it messes with his balance.

He retracted the blade at the toe of the other foot and dropped that foot flat on the ground. The motion seemed to unbalance him, and he teetered, almost falling over.

Yeah, like this but on the other foot. But if he does this, he could detach the other blade and not get the balance issue I was talking about.

But I stand by what I just said. It doesn’t seem worth it to switch to detached swords when he can do all the stuff he can do with his body.

Then in one sudden motion, he righted himself and thrust out with his other leg and the three-foot blade that was now attached to it.

…alright. Couldn’t he do that without detaching the other one, or did the pointy end just not give him enough foothold to do it?


I didn’t have time to get out of the way, to bring my baton up to defend myself or even to do more than belatedly realize his near-collapse had been a feint.

Well, fuck.

Knights, am I right?

He caught me in the stomach with that same surprising strength as before, then slashed up toward my collarbone with enough force to lift my feet up off the ground.

That does not sound healthy. Spider silk, do your thing please.

I landed hard on my back, my armor absorbing the brunt of the impact. The sides of my armor panels bit into the ribs of my back where they curved toward my body.

Oof.

Keeping the lessons I’d learned from sparring with Grue in mind, I tried to scramble back and away while Mannequin righted himself and put the forearm and hand he had connected to his foot in the right place.

Feint or not, it really does seem like Mannequin’s weakness is having to take time to make sure all his body parts are where they should be.

Before I could get to my feet, he started striding toward me.

But of course, he’s had a lot of practice at that, so it’s not much time.


I drew my bugs around me to conceal my movements as I rolled to one side, set my feet under me and sprinted to his left.

Yes, good, creative use of her power is exactly what Taylor needs here.

And also maybe some extra sets of eyes to watch the opponent’s moves through.

While still beneath the cover of my bugs, I was struck from behind and knocked face first to the ground. The surprise was as bad as the pain.

That’s the problem with cover. It often also covers your perception of the enemy.

Through the swarm, I sensed him approach until he stood with one foot on either side of me.

Oh, hello there.

I felt him wind his fingers into my hair and pull my head up and back. I struggled, trying to catch him in the knee with my baton, but he wrenched me to one side, and I felt a blade press against my throat.

This is far from ideal.

At least we know a simple knife has trouble slicing her throat, but this guy might have some better blades.


As he’d done with the gray-haired doctor, he pulled the blade hard against my throat in one long, smooth motion, adjusting for the curvature of my neck.

Sounds like the armor is doing its job.

With the way the threats are ramping up for each Arc, it’s going to be good to have all the Undersiders (except Bitch, regardless of whether she stays or goes) in this kind of armor, assuming Taylor successfully completes that project without her customers dying or her progress being obliterated by the Simurgh or something first.

By the way, if Wreckedton Bay – or at least Taylor – is going to have to deal with the remaining two Endbringers as well, I’m about 80% sure we’ll see the Simurgh before Behemoth. Behemoth seems to be a stronger immediate threat, while the Simurgh apparently makes things bad after her visit more than during it, suggesting that we should ideally have more time to process the ramifications of the Simurgh’s visit (like we’ve been doing with Leviathan’s) and that Behemoth is more suited for a later boss.

(But of course, neither is going to be the final boss.)


In one heartbeat, I formed and initiated a plan.

Oooh, here we go.

(Helmaks, Taylor!)

I grunted and made a choking sound, which was all the more realistic because he’d just pulled a length of metal hard against my windpipe; I did want to grunt and I did choke.

And that’s what they call method acting.

Then I went limp and had every bug in the area cease moving. Like snowflakes, the flies began drifting down from the air.

Oh, nice, playing dead!

But what does she intend to achieve with this? Just that Mannequin lets go of her? If she plays dead for much longer than that, he’ll probably go back to killing the civilians.


He let go of my hair, and my mask clacked hard against the floor. I heard a girl scream, heard noises and shouts from everyone else.

Seems it was convincing enough for the audience. For all they know, they just witnessed their one supposed protector getting her throat slit.

I swallowed, partially to check that my throat really hadn’t been cut.

That would be a problem.

My costume had saved me. I wished the gathered onlookers hadn’t witnessed the scene.

I think this scene benefits from what we saw in 9.6. We saw back then that slitting her throat didn’t work with a knife, which was believable, and because we’ve seen this on that smaller scale already, it became more believable as a result. It came with a sense of consistency rather than “oh, okay, guess that works”.

This would’ve still made sense without the incident in Sentinel, because we’ve know her costume is quite tough from the start, but I don’t think it would work quite as well.

It would have been better if the bugs had blocked their line of sight, as their noises of fear and alarm were going to get his attention.

Ah, yeah, I thought about that too but forgot to mention it. I already expected his next priority to be further civilian slaughter, but it doesn’t help to immediately remind him of it.


I just needed a second to think. Mannequin could press an assault indefinitely, until he succeeded in cutting my throat open or delivering that mortal wound.

Taylor does definitely have weak spots he could hit (such as the back of her head), and her costume seems to be stronger against slashing damage than bludgeoning and piercing, both of which Mannequin can turn against her. She is by no means unkillable to Mannequin.

It was like sparring against Brian, but worse in every way. Mannequin was stronger, faster, he had more reach, he didn’t get tired, he was good and he was out to kill me.

That’s the second time sparring with Brian’s been brought up. I guess it’s time to put a lot of what he taught her into practice.

He was versatile in a way no ordinary human could be. He couldn’t be caught in an arm-lock – his limb would just come free or bend in some screwed up way.

Yeeah, that wouldn’t work at all.


He could sense me somehow. How? It had been reckless of me to assume that he used sight to get by, especially when he didn’t have eyeholes in his mask.

…ooh, that’s a good point. If you can figure out what sense he uses, that might help you block it.

Maybe it has to do with temperature and heat signatures? Monitoring temperature and other environmental factors is very important for biospheres, so maybe he’s turned those sensors outward to replace his normal senses?

The fact that he hadn’t noticed I was faking meant he wasn’t relying on sight, or his sight was limited enough that he couldn’t make out the lack of blood through the cloud of bugs around us.

Right. I suppose getting your throat slit through the armor is a hard sell if the attacker can see it.

If he wasn’t hearing my breathing, I doubted he had super hearing either.

Taylor’s had enough of that one after her first encounter with Lung.


Did he use radar, like Cricket? It would be my first assumption, except my bugs hadn’t heard anything of the sort.

Nope.

No. This line of thinking wasn’t accomplishing anything.

I heard him sharpening his blades against one another with the sound of steel on steel.

At least it’s not steel on flesh yet.

I could sense the movement, from the bugs that were drifting down onto him. A man in the crowd whimpered, and Mannequin turned towards him.

yet.

The metal singing in the pauses between the scrapes of blade on blade. Mannequin was standing still, observing.

…hmm? What is he observing, exactly? He’s turned towards the crowd…

I had to come up with a plan of attack, or others would pay the price. My deadline was the point, I suspected, that someone lost their nerve and tried to run.

That seems likely.


If I was going to attack, I needed to find a weak point. But he was smart. Before the disaster that had turned him into this, he had been on the brink of solving many of the world’s crises. Overpopulation, renewable energy, effective recycling, world hunger.

Once again, this man… it’s such a shame what he became.

Even with tinker abilities offering the means, it took someone special to manage that and actually make progress.

Yes, exactly! He wasn’t just greatly powered, he was a great man in terms of ambition and ideas and drive to actually follow through on his big plans. The powers just made that possible.

It was a given that he wouldn’t have any blatant weaknesses. Any measure he didn’t think of himself, he would have shored up by now, by virtue of being a longstanding member of the Nine. He’d fought heroes and villains better than me, and he’d learned and improved in the process.

Yeah… this ain’t gonna be easy.

In that respect, perhaps, he and I weren’t so different. I’d developed in much the same ways. The difference was that he had years more experience. That, and he was batshit insane.

Hehe. Just give it time, honey, I’m sure you can become both experienced and batshit insane one day. 🙂


What would I do in his shoes, with his power?

Hmm.

No offense, Taylor, but I don’t think you’d be the type to do things on quite the same scale as Sphere.

I wouldn’t leave any vital openings uncovered. That was a given.

Oh, right, she meant nowadays, when he’s Mannequin.

Another good question might be “what would I not be able to do?”

My focus -Mannequin’s focus- would be on designing way to make himself a completely closed system. It wasn’t just sensible, it was the whole point of his transformation. He’d have perfect recycling of all waste, dissipation of excess energy by diverting it to mechanical movement, intake of energy by absorption of heat.

Absorption of heat, you say? That’s the one thing here that’s not closed – maybe it’d be possible to somehow take advantage of that?

I’m not sure how, though. Locking him in a freezer until he passes out isn’t really an option here.

Could that be a clue as to how he sensed the world around him? Heat? Or was it something completely different? Radiation? Radio waves? Electromagnetics?

It might be all of the above. We do know he uses electromagnetics to keep a couple parts of his body attached, though.

It’s worth noting that sensing the world via radio waves would technically count as a form of sight, probably.


Putting myself in his shoes, I had to think of his motivation. Why this form? I’d make myself resemble a doll or a store mannequin because… it was an eternal reminder. Didn’t his wife and kids die when the Simurgh attacked? There was a story there.

…ooh, I think we might be in for some more details on what the Simurgh does, beyond my suspicion that she represents a hurricane via aerokinesis. There has to be more to her than just the suspected aerokinesis for her to get that reputation that she creates more trouble in the aftermath.

I kind of figured the mannequin form was a symbol of false humanity. Maybe that’s still the case, that whatever happened made him feel like he wasn’t fully human? But I’m not sure that’s quite what we’re going for when it’s an “eternal reminder”.

But what else? Why resemble a human?

That’s the biggest spanner in the idea that it represents outright inhumanity. It’s why I say false humanity instead – it’s like a human, but not, as opposed to something blatantly inhuman like Crawler or Night’s unseen form.

To mislead? Maybe the configuration of ‘my’ organs and parts wasn’t human in the slightest. I might have gone the Aegis route and built-in redundancies for everything I could spare.

That does sound reasonable. For all we know, his brain could be in his leg.

I wouldn’t need a heart, kidneys, or a conventional digestive system, bone marrow or any of that stuff.

Hmm. Maybe not a heart per se, but he’d still need something to distribute the energy to where he needs it. That, or his entire body would need to accept the energy.

Everything I could strip away would be more room for equipment, more room for all the pieces and parts that help turn ‘my’ individual body parts into perpetually self-sustaining systems.

Hm, but yeah, everything is supposed to be separately self-sustaining, so I guess that would have to be the case anyway. So then all the pieces would have the most vital portions, making him hard to kill without killing every piece?

But then we’re back to the issue of where his brain is. Does he even have just one brain, or do each of his limbs think separately? He doesn’t act like they do, so I’m inclined to guess he only has one that somehow transmits signals to the other pieces. Radio signals?


His torso was the biggest section of his body. It wouldn’t have his heart, lungs or any of that, because he didn’t have a circulatory system. More likely, it contained his brain, his sensory organs/system, and whatever mechanism he was using to remotely control his arms, legs, hands and feet.

That does make a lot of sense. Gotta have a little extra space for those.

And didn’t his torso have a little window on the front? (Which I guess has to regularly survive Shatterbird, so it’s probably not made of normal glass.) That might be the weakest point available, though probably not a weak point.

It’s also worth noting that the torso can split in two. I wonder if he keeps the halves of his brain separate?

Unless he didn’t want to put all his items in one basket. It was easily possible for some of that stuff to be in his thighs and forearms.

His brain definitely needs to be connected to the remote control stuff, but maybe it’s remotely connected to the main center for that?


If I were him… I would have spent hours carefully balancing the ‘ecosystems’ of each individual part of my body. Something that exacting and that fine tuned would be sensitive, fragile.

Ah, yeah. If you can just get past the protective shell, it’s probably not hard to mess it up.

They’d be resistant to impacts, I wouldn’t go around getting into fights if they weren’t. But heat and cold? A crack in that exterior of his? It could wreak havoc.

Absolutely!

I like this logic because it’s entirely in tune with what biospheres are and what they do. This is exactly why I thought it was logical for a biosphere cover to be impact-resistant. You don’t want it to be damaged in any way, because you risk messing up the life inside if you let something in or out that isn’t supposed to go in or out.

Okay. I was getting a sense of him, maybe. That said, none of that mattered if I couldn’t hurt him in the first place. Maybe I was thinking about this all wrong.

Hmm.


Bugs dealt with threats that were encased in hard shells all the time, didn’t they? They dealt with other species of bugs. There were a hundred solutions there, if I was willing to look for them.

This once, it would make sense to send bugs up the orifices, but he doesn’t seem to have any.

That was the spark of inspiration I needed. In a matter of seconds, I had a plan.

Fuck yes, let’s go!

It wasn’t a good plan, but it was something. As a just-in-case measure, I could try some other smaller plans, on the off chance that they might distract or even work.

You’ve got my attention either way.

Having those options, if nothing else, would make me feel better. Mannequin had just brutally and unquestionably kicked my ass in the span of fifteen seconds, and it was going to be at least two minutes until I could even begin my plan, judging by how long it had taken my bugs to deliver the supplies from my lair.

Ooh, it’s a plan that involves more resources, huh. Interesting.


The same instant I had that thought, I started everything in motion. Every flying insect near my lair headed indoors to gather what I needed.

I made a mental note to make a more easily accessible opening to my lair, so I could do this faster in the future.

Sounds like a good idea.

I made another mental note to set up a clock with ticking hands, so I could have bugs ride the three hands and have a precise way of tracking time when I was in my territory.

…that’s actually super clever.

I supposed it would have to be an old-fashioned clock, since Shatterbird had screwed up everything else.

Yeah, probably.

I had to guess. Roughly two minutes until I could start my plan.

As I lay face down on the floor of the factory, I tried to control my breathing so he wouldn’t notice I was still alive. The beat of my heart in my chest was so intense I was worried it would give me away.

I’m more concerned about her body heat, but I guess corpse!Skitter probably shouldn’t have cooled down much yet anyway. It’s only been a few minutes at most.


Staying still was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do, and I had done some hard things before.

She’d rather like to skitter around.

*puts on sunglasses* YEEEEAHHH

Knowing that he might leap for someone and end their life any moment, it had me on edge. Every second I could buy here counted because every second I didn’t have to fight him was crucial.

Yeah, playing dead has really helped out by giving her time to make a plan and start executing it while not having to constantly avoid Mannequin’s attacks at the same time. Now she just needs to stay “dead” for long enough to properly execute whatever her plan actually is.

“Mommy,” the word was drawn out. Had to have come from someone young. A toddler? “I don’t want to be here!”

I don’t think anyone does. Well, except Mannequin, maybe.

The rhythm of steel rasping against steel ceased. Mannequin went still.

Shit. So much for my reprieve.

Welp. Here we go. I guess Skitter is going to have to distract him from the child by rising from the grave.


I pulled myself to my feet and stirred all of the bugs in the area into action.

They rose from the floor like a dark whirlwind. I sheathed my knife and gripped my baton in both hands.

The dramatic resurrection of Skitter!

“Mannequin!”

He stopped and turned his upper body to face me. His head cocked to one side.

“…didn’t I kill her?”

“Yeah,” I said. “You didn’t get me.”

Honestly, it would’ve been so much cooler if she’d played it off as her having the power to get resurrected every time she died or something.

He turned back around and started walking toward the mother and the little boy. The pair were huddled between an empty metal frame and a workbench.

But he’s not interested. Welp.

“Hey!” I shouted. “Come on! Fight me! Don’t you have the balls to take on a teenage girl? Or are they one of the things you cut away!?”

Hah!

…they probably are.


He didn’t slow or hesitate at my words.

“Bastard!” I ran for him. It was a hundred percent possible he was baiting me, forcing me into a situation where I had to do something stupid or let the mom and the little kid get hurt.

There’s a good chance of that, yes. Either that or he just doesn’t care about Taylor anymore.

Maybe if I’d been a harder person, I could have let him hurt them, knowing it was smarter in the long run. But I wasn’t capable of doing that.

Yeah, in that case she would probably have taken the tactical advantage of staying down.

What could I even do? I had to make the call in the three or four seconds it took me to cross the floor of the factory. He was more than half-again as tall as I was, and my weapons couldn’t do anything to him.

I guess the best she could do with her weapons would be to knock him off-balance, but with how his body works, that would be of limited use.

I threw myself at the backs of his legs, colliding with the back of his knees and his calves. Not all of his precarious balance was an act.

…or she could do it with her body. Fair enough!

He teetered and collapsed backward onto the floor, his legs on top of me.

Reminds me of a recent incident involving me, a ditch and my new bicycle.


“Go!” I screamed at the mother. “Run!”

She did. Mannequin reached out to extend a blade into the back of her leg, and she fell, but someone else hurried forward to help her.

Ooh! Some people in the crowd are actually carrying on the helping at their own risk now!

Mannequin’s left leg snaked around my throat in an impromptu headlock.

That sounds potentially more effective than slicing.

I tried to slip out, to force his leg apart. Even though I could move it, I couldn’t squeeze my head through the gap.

I think you must’ve misunderstood, Taylor. I said get him to tie himself up, not tie you up. :p

Not counting the time I’d spent lying on the ground, buying time, how long had I lasted? Less than thirty seconds?

To be fair, the only real advantages you had were the armor and a little bit of melee combat training.

Four blades sprung from the calf of his right leg. He extended it high above me, and they began to rotate, slowly at first, then faster, like the blades of a fan. Or a food processor.

The term is “whirling blade pitcher”, thank you very much.


He had me in a headlock, but the rest of me was free to move. Gripping my baton with both hands, I swung it into the whirling blades with as much strength as my leverage afforded me.

Nice. Put a spoke in his whirl!

My baton went flying out of my grip, but the blades stopped. My heart sank as I saw them begin to rotate again, slowly.

Well, that’s unfortunate.

They didn’t return to the same blurring speed they’d been at before. A few seconds passed, and they retracted back into his leg.

Looks like she did manage to damage something!

Either that or he just changed his mind.

I might have been relieved, but I was still in his grip.

I’m sure he has plenty of other ways to kill you.

Go go Gadget murder weapon!

He heaved me upward, positioning himself with two hands and one leg on the ground, the other leg holding me up high. My toes scrabbled to touch ground and fell short.

Time for some yoga!

The grip on my neck wasn’t perfect: it wasn’t cutting off my blood flow, it barely impacted my breathing, but it still hurt, and my neck strained with the weight of the rest of my body.

Oww.


I drew my knife and gripped the handle. Then I drove it at my throat.

What?

Or at Mannequin’s leg, which was folded around my throat. Same idea.

There’s… a bit of a difference there. :p

I aimed at the ball joint, striking a mere two or so inches from my own face. Once, twice, three times.

I was swinging for a fourth hit when he shifted positions. I couldn’t be sure if he had hoped to gradually strangle me, to leave me dangling until I started begging or if he’d been poised for something else, but he’d apparently changed his mind.

That did seem to be what he was doing. Did he get sick of the stabby stabby?

He turned over, his leg unfolding from my throat at the same instant one large hand closed over my face.

“Hey, don’t stab yourself in the face while you’re up there. Here, let me cover it up for you.”

“Mmmfffmfmf!”

He whipped me around himself in one tight circle, then let his arm go free from the socket, the whirring sound of chain feeding out swiftly becoming distant as I hurtled across the room.

Well, this is gonna hurt.


I crashed into a pile of wooden boards that were riddled with nails and screws.

Classic.

The metal points jabbed at me but didn’t penetrate my costume. I tried to get my feet under me, but the boards only slid underfoot. His hand was still attached to my face.

Pfft.

Mannequin can still control it from where he is, though, right?

He began to pull me forward, no doubt to repeat the process. Half blind under the grip of his hand, I reacted in a heartbeat, slamming the point of the knife into the gap between his hand and my face.

Nice!

Tattletale had said it was strong enough to serve as a crowbar. I was glad to discover she was right. Between the pull of the retracting chain and the leverage of the knife, I freed myself from his grip, his fingertips scraping hard against my scalp.

Woo!

Also hey, there we have the vulnerable spot I was talking about earlier. This is probably going to leave marks under Taylor’s hair.

Flying back to him, his arm clicked back into place. I tried to blink a blurry spot out of my vision, only to realize I had a scratch on the right lens of my mask where I’d hit it with the knife’s edge.

Eesh. As a fellow glasses-wearer, I can easily imagine how annoying that scratch is going to be.


The pain from being thrown around was belatedly making itself known. Bruises, I could deal with. Just so long as my body moved where and when I needed it to. I felt the dull ache of a building headache.

Hm. A headache is not good – it has seemed to mess with her power a bit before, if I remember correctly.

From where I’d been gripped in the headlock?

Okay. Still in one piece, more or less. How much time had I bought? One minute? One and a half? Could I hold out for long enough? Could the bystanders?

I think the answer to that is a loud, resounding…

maybe?

The moment my bugs arrived would be the moment I could begin my plan. I’d still have to survive after that, and there was no guarantee it would work. In fact, my gut was telling me it was a long shot.

At least she has the unspoken plan guarantee on her side. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she’s trying to do.

Thirty seconds to a minute. I was panting for breath, counting every second that he silently stared at me as something I should value.

He seems to like doing that a lot. Maybe there’s more to it, like perhaps a sense that’s kinda slow?

What was going on behind that expressionless mask? Was he coming up with a battle plan? Maybe, maybe not. He didn’t really need one. It could be that he was calculating how best to destroy me: not just killing me, but ruining me.

I don’t know. He does seem to delight in taunting, but he appears to be quite efficient with his killing tactics.

There were enough ways he could do it. Inflicting lifelong scars and injury. Or he could go down the opposite road and murder the civilians, leaving me as the only one standing.

That last one seems more like his style based on what he was doing when she came in, but the former is also in line with his body modification thing.

Both were very real possibilities, both devastating in their own way.

And “both” is also an option.


Or maybe, behind that hard shell, he was in the throes of mental anguish. Maybe he was spending every second of every day reliving the day he lost his family and his dreams to a nigh-unstoppable, malignant force.

Reliving it from the other side of the situation? I suppose it’s possible.

There was nothing I could do about his past. Whoever he had been before, he was a monster now. I had to pull out all the stops to try and stop him from hurting anyone else.

Yeah. I don’t think there’s any redemption waiting for him in this story. Maybe in fanfics, but not in canon.

The only Slaughterhouse members who seem potentially redeemable right now are (from most to least redeemable) Burnscar, Bonesaw and Cherish, and that’s from the generous POV of a Steven Universe and MLP:FiM fan. I don’t think any of them will actually get a redemption.

It was time to enact battle plan number one, one of the two ideas I had in mind that almost definitely wouldn’t work.

Alright, let’s see this thing.

I’m guessing she’s right that the first battle plan isn’t going to work. Gotta build up to the one major plan that does.

I set my swarm on him. Up to this point, I had kept them largely at bay, using only the bare minimum necessary to keep track of my surroundings. Now I smothered him, piling them on every available surface.

Yeeah, I don’t know. Maybe it could mess with his senses and give Taylor a more immediate sense of what he’s doing, but beyond that, I don’t know what it’s supposed to accomplish.

It didn’t accomplish a thing, of course. He started running toward me, weapons at the ready. He wasn’t impeded in his movements, nor were his senses -sight or otherwise- impaired.

R.I.P. battle plan one.


I ducked beneath his first swing as he closed in, but I couldn’t avoid the follow-up hit. His second swing scraped off the armor on my shoulder and struck my chest.

Ouch!

Beyond the momentary pain, I was almost grateful for it, because the strike knocked me further out of his reach.

Well, that’s somewhat fortunate, I guess, as long as he doesn’t have more chain to extend his reach with.

Some of my bugs managed to squeeze inside the slots where his weapons had emerged.

Ooh! Now this is more promising.

The spaces didn’t perfectly match the bases of the blades, and the bugs were small. There was nothing organic inside the sheaths. Even the interior was completely sealed off.

But yeah, can’t have water or something get in there, let alone bugs.

Still, I managed to get bugs into the mechanisms, lodging their bodies inside the finer workings or killing one another to spill ichor and their bodily contents onto anything that felt sensitive.

Nice!


Mannequin stepped back, and I watched as he retracted all of his blades, the slots they’d speared out of sealing closed behind them. A wave of pressure and heat killed off every bug and likely most of the gunk I’d managed to smear inside.

Damn, he was prepared.

Yeah, I hadn’t figured that would work. Plan one down.

Time for plan bee!


But with that, it looks like it’s time to end this session. Let’s find out what the next approach is on Tuesday! See you then!

[End of session]


It just occurred to me that – while I obviously can’t play it for a very long time because spoilers – Cards Against Humanity with a Worm deck is probably a lot of fun.

Bonesaw’s latest amalgamation consists of Bakuda the bombshell, placing insects under the eyelids, and Parian’s custom-made sex dolls.

(#if you’re developing a cah deck for worm and you don’t have these cards already
#you’re welcome to use them)


[Session 2]
Yo! Let’s get on with this fight!


For plan two, I needed my baton. I could only hope it was in one piece.

Since Gold Skitter dropped her baton earlier in the chapter, hundreds or even thousands of pirates have set sail to search for it.

I used my power and my eyes to search the factory floor, while keeping my head still, so he couldn’t see what I was doing.

My bugs were almost here, arriving in droves.

Almost go time!

I found my baton lying against the wall near where I’d been pinned by Mannequin. I’d have to get by him to get it.

Hm, yeah, that’s probably too heavy for the bugs to carry even with the roach stretchers.

Fetch.I ordered my bugs, as Mannequin lunged for me again.

…or maybe not?

I didn’t have a second thought to spare as far as telling them how. For now, I needed to survive.

Good luck to both Taylor and the bugs, I suppose!

Maybe, just maybe, Taylor has enough subconscious control that it feeds them the rest of the information they need?


This time, his attack was frenzied. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought he was irritated. I hopped back out of reach of the first swing, then quickly backed up as he followed that up with a series of rapid rotations of his upper body, momentarily becoming a blender-whir of whirling blades.

Well, at least she got the “whirling” part in there.

I was so busy trying not to get hit by the blades that I missed it when he tilted.

Uh oh.

He balanced on one leg and kicked out wide with the other, letting the chain out so it could stretch the seven or eight feet to me. I was knocked back onto the wood pile a second time, landing on the edge and falling to the ground a second later.

“And stay there this time!”


He stopped spinning and retracted his leg, apparently unfazed after the dizzying act of spinning like a top.

However his sense of balance works, it’s probably not the conventional human way.

I saw my bugs tugging the baton, but Mannequin spotted them at the same time. He stepped back and placed one foot on top of it. With a kick, he sent it sliding across the floor, away from me.

Welp.

Fuck.

Also an appropriate response.

I’d have to take the slightly less efficient route. I grabbed a stout two-by-four as I stood. It was old, dusty, damaged by years of exposure, and the screws that clustered in one end were rusted.

Huh. It was actually lucky that she just got tossed into the timeout corner, where bad and naughty planks are sent to atone for their sins.

Better than nothing, as weapons went.

Absolutely.


His blades made that rasping sound as he sharpened them against one another, one edge of each blade, then the other. After doing it just long enough to lull me into a false sense of security, he lunged, blades spearing for my chest and throat.

This guy knows how to manipulate an enemy.

I struck out simultaneously with the piece of wood. It seemed to catch him off guard. I struck too soon to hit him, but he wasn’t my target.

Oooh! I think what Taylor has been setting up is about to break loose now, with this strike.

Y’know, like the bank robbery, which I’m sure will start next chapter. About time, really, after all these Arcs.

I clubbed at the uppermost blade, driving it down toward the floor. I tried to avoid the edge and strike the flat of the blade, but my strike wasn’t spot on. I didn’t see if I’d had any of the desired effect, because he collided with me, both blades striking the armor of my chest.

Honestly, it sounds like they’re about to form a very poor sport pile on the floor. Seriously, only two people, and it does stop from getting taller? That’s just inadequate.

Pain exploded in my collarbone and ribs, but I didn’t experience any of the telltale pain of impalement. My armor had saved me.

It keeps doing that today. She did good work with it. 🙂


Finding the tips stuck in the denser material of my armor, he whipped both arms to one side, throwing me a solid ten or twelve feet. I sprawled where I landed.

Oof.

I huffed out a breath, feeling pain in my chest with every movement. Then I smiled a little.

My swarm had finally arrived.

You are already dead, Mannequin.

The bugs flowed into the room as a singular mass and roughly half of them swept over Mannequin. He wobbled a little, then turned his attention to me, uncaring.

“This the best you got?”

So are the bugs that swept over Mannequin carrying something that they’re going to use while he doesn’t expect them to be a threat, or something?

Which was a good thing. It was better that he didn’t pay much attention.

This does point that way, or at least towards him underestimating the swarm being a positive and probably accounted for factor.

Behind him, the bugs moved in an almost kaleidoscopic pattern, slowly expanding outward from a center point, their arrangement symmetric.

…I don’t know what the point of this is yet but I’m pretty sure it’d make for a really cool visual.

(#omae wa mou shindeiru)


He paused and looked over his shoulder at the swarm.

“Ooooooh…”

Hmm. Maybe I was onto something when I talked about turning biosphere sensors outward, but looked at the wrong thing to sense? Maybe he senses the world around him via air pressure, and moving the bugs like this could stir the air in ways that are very confusing to him?

Except Skitter appeared to abandon her musings on how he sensed things, and that particular explanation is a bit far-fetched.

He was apparently able to sense my bugs on the floor, floating in the air.

Hm, interesting.

That much was apparent. He hadn’t, at the same time, been able to tell I wasn’t bleeding out into a pool on the ground, or that I was still breathing while I lay prone on the factory floor. My plan hinged on two things; whether his peculiar means of sensing things would let him grasp what I was doing here, and if he would be able to do something about it.

Alright, so it does at least indirectly have to do with his senses. But that’s apparently more a thing to overcome and/or use to make the crawleidoscope work, than the thing it’s designed to deal with.

The formation ceased expanding, then swept over him again. Once again, he wobbled, staggered a step.

Looks like it’s throwing him off-balance, at least.

He charged through the mass of bugs that now sat between the two of us, running towards me. I managed to parry one swing of his blade with my piece of wood, then jump out of the way of the second blade. When I tried to block his kick with the two-by-four, however, I lost my grip and it fell to the ground.

Expelliplankus!

He kicked me a second time, hard, and I staggered back, hand to my stomach, nausea building up in my throat. I controlled my breathing to keep my dinner down.

Yeah, please do. We don’t want too much vomiting around here.

Murder, blood, gore, creatures never meant to exist? Sure, that’s fine. Vomit? No thanks, that’s just gross.


Third pass with my swarm. They focused on his legs, and very nearly unbalanced him.

Honestly, I should probably have seen a focus on unbalancing him coming. There’s been too much emphasis on Mannequin’s excellent but precarious balance for it not to be essential.

I could see him pause, watched his head tilt quizzically. I bit my lip.

To his right, my left, the swarm had once again gathered in a tight cluster, and were expanding slowly, with controlled movements.

A second round of the crawleidoscope?

The swarm consisted of pairings of flying insect and arachnid. Every spider from my lair was clutching a bee, a wasp or a larger dragonfly, who clutched the spider in turn.

Oooh. Are we going to be binding him in silk?

A thousand pairs.

That is a lot of spiders and insects.

Connecting to one another, these bugs quickly drew out five hundred or more lines of webbing. Mostly dragline silk, this ‘net’ maintained enough of the sticky webbing to attach to him, draping over his artificial body and staying there.

I love this tactic. It’s the perfect way of making the bugs useful without finding a way to penetrate his casing. 😀


I hadn’t used the black widow spiders I’d brought into the factory earlier out of a fear that he’d realize what I was doing and counteract it before I could really get the ball rolling.

Ah, yeah, that would be a problem.

So I guess the crawleidoscopes are just straight up distactions for this whole thing. Make it so he doesn’t notice he’s getting tied up by getting him to focus on the other bugs.

I like it.

Now I gathered them up and brought them into play. I used all of the spiders I’d already placed on him, focusing on his joints, reinforcing the stronger webs that were already there. Their silk was nothing compared to the black widows, but it was something.

Every bit of string helps! Hopefully, anyway.

He moved without a problem, either unaware or uncaring. Silk strands stretched and snapped as he extended his arms, more broke free as he walked. Alone, the threads were negligible. It was together that they were stronger. Much like my costume.

Yeah, a single thread isn’t very strong, easily ruptured by someone getting it in their face as they walk through the woods, but woven together they become stronger than steel.

Spider silk is a really cool material.


He tried to retract the blade in his right arm, but it caught. Pressing the point against the ground, he bent it back into alignment. It retracted on his next attempt.

Having a bit of trouble, Mannequin? I’m sure things will only get better for you from here.

Totally.

My strike with the two-by-four hadn’t done much there. My second just-in-case measure hadn’t worked out.

Ah, right, that’s what did it. Well, it may have won you a moment, at least?

That same arm disconnected and extended towards me as he tried to grab for me, and I turned to one side just in time to avoid being caught. He fired the other arm out with an almost explosive force and I managed to catch hold of it before it got a grip on my costume.

Mannequin has such a hands-on approach.

My swarm made a fourth pass, focusing on the chain of his extended arm and the joints of his shoulders, elbows, crotch and knees where the webbing had already accumulated to some degree.

I suppose literal mannequin anatomy helps with Taylor’s aversion to putting enough insects in a certain area to get a sense of its shape.

Fifty or sixty spiders stayed on the extended chain, spitting out large amounts of their stickiest webbing.

Excellent!


He was trying to maneuver the arm I was holding to grab onto me, his fingers and wrist bending at unnatural angles as he sought a grip on my hands and wrists. He changed tactics, making the blades in the arm spear out at random, to make it as impossible to hold as he could.

That sounds quite effective, honestly.

When that failed, he whipped the chain.

But apparently not enough.

I let go of the hand just in time to avoid being caught by the tail end of the whiplash. He reeled it in, and it got about three-quarters of the way in before he ran into a slight snag.

Hopefully it won’t go in or out now.

[Windows notification window]

Sticky Arms

Do you want to turn on Sticky Arms?

Sticky Arms lets you use the SHIFT, CTRL, ALT, or Windows Logo keys by pressing one key at a time. The keyboard shortcut to turn on Sticky Arms is to press the SHIFT key 5 times.

(#my art #sort of
#all i did was change the text)


The last quarter of the retraction process was a fraction slower. Silk glue gumming up the works, I could hope. I saw him look at his arm, then flex the fingers, as if to test them.

If he can’t detect the silk, this must be quite confusing to him.

While he was distracted, I made a fifth pass with my formation. I tried to be more subtle about it, carefully draping the silk over him rather than letting it pull tight against him with enough collective force to move him off-balance.

Clearly you need the Silk Touch enchantment to harvest Mannequin.

…yeah, no, that Minecraft joke was way too forced.

He attacked, stretching out the arm I hadn’t gummed up. The pain from the most recent hit to my stomach slowed me down, and his fist collided with me, knocking me over for what seemed like the hundredth time.

Skitter’s like a bowling pin at this point, with how regularly she gets knocked over.

I managed to backhand it off of me before he could do anything, and hurried to my feet.

Time to gum up this arm too?

While the arm was still partially extended, I managed to deposit spiders on the chain. They immediately began straining to produce silk glue on and around the mechanisms that allowed the chain to retract. One spider wasn’t much, but all together, it added up.

In a lot of cases I would be like “this would be cool in animation or live action”, but this? This reminds me of a different medium. This is more like the process of taking down a video game boss one limb at a time.


I could pinpoint the moment he realized what I was doing. Extending the chain, he flung it across the room, the blade cutting a wide swathe.

Trying both to stop Taylor and to throw off the spiders?

I ducked clear, but two bystanders were struck down, screaming. When he moved to retract that chain, the mechanism stalled.

Ouch. Well, at least the silk worked.

His body was like Armsmaster’s powersuit, but every piece of equipment he added necessitated that he cut away a pound of flesh.

Sure wish you had the tiny tech specialty, huh, Mannequin?

Actually, probably not. He seems like he’d be thrilled at the idea of being less human.

I was inclined to suspect that, crazy as he was, that reality made him more inclined to go for elegant, efficient design over more rugged craftsmanship.

Hmm. Maybe.

The propeller blades in his ankle, the chain retraction mechanisms in his arms, they were built to be lightweight, to use minimal energy, and achieve maximum effect at the same time.

But yeah, this does make sense in general. Especially from the specialty perspective – energy efficiency is another thing that’s really important for the sort of structures Sphere was planning to build.


He tilted his head, looking at the arm that was stubbornly refusing to retract back into place.

I made my sixth sweep with my bugs. As the swarm passed, his head snapped up, looking at me. As much as he could without eyes, anyways.

“Oh come on.”

He knew what was happening.

Defeat, that’s what!

A better cape than I might have had a quip there, an insult. I hurt in too many places, in my ribs, my stomach, my shoulders, neck, back and legs.

Worm as a story doesn’t seem to do these sorts of quips very often, but maybe that’s more because of who our protagonist is than because of battle banter not really being much of a thing in the Wormverse. Between Mouse Protector and this comment, this does seem to be the case.

Some of the pain was fierce, like a red-hot poker being driven with a constant, ceaseless pressure into the body parts in question. I couldn’t spare the breath.

But yeah, it’s clearly also a bit of realism. The capes don’t banter too much because they’re focused on the fights and getting through the pain.

The chain dropped from his elbow socket, and I watched as he paced over to his fallen arm, picked it up, tore the remaining chain out, and clicked it into place.

Uh-oh. Seems the magnets are pre-installed in case of chain failure, not added later to fix it.

Maybe gluing the arms into place in the sockets would work?


I just realized which video game Mannequin fits right into:


ARMS.


“Come on,” I muttered under my breath.

Blades speared out of slots all over his body, some of which I hadn’t even guessed were present.

– F I N A L F O R M –

Then he began spinning furiously, every body part rotating the individual blades with enough force that webs were cut before they could be secured in place.

Well, this is unfortunate.

Different tactic. This time, the swarm took its time passing over him, thirty or forty spiders working at a time, their work relentless, ceaseless. Each spider cut the threads so they drifted down like strings in the wind.

Niiice.

Falling gently instead of being stretched taut, they would drape over the spinning blades, attach to other trailing silk, and form a looser cloud.

I’d anticipated this.

…of course she did. Good job!


The part where I was caught off guard was when he changed tactics, going after the civilians for the second time.

Shit.

“Hey!” I shouted after him.

I’d hoped to be more subtle about my second phase of attack.

Half of the swarm I’d brought from my lair was still waiting for the instruction.

Hmm.

Earlier she was talking about how she needed something from the base. Was she just talking about the spiders, or is whatever that was about to come into play with phase two?

I deployed them while running after Mannequin, stopping at the wood pile to get another two-by-four.

Someone screamed as Mannequin started cutting into them. Two or three people, cornered by the monster. One already in harm’s way.

This was always something that might happen. I would honestly be much more surprised to see all the remaining civilians get out of this entirely unharmed. Well, by Mannequin, I mean.

“Fucker! Stop!” I shouted, my words useless.

I think he knows this is getting to you. That’s probably a large part of why he’s doing it.

I moved on to the second phase of my attack. As I’d done with the pens, markers, the candles and the bottles of disinfectant, I’d instructed my bugs to arrive with supplies in hand.

Yes… now which supplies? I really can’t even begin to guess what she’s got in mind. Maybe something to increase the effects of the spider webbing?


Some carried the scraps of silk cloth from my work on the costumes: The masks I’d made as trial runs, the belts and straps. As with the silk that drifted in the air, they were caught by the blades rather than being cut.

Ooh, larger patches to really mess him up!

Mannequin soon had a dark blur whirling around his upper body.

Sweet!

Other bugs packed the remainder of my costume design supplies. Tubes of paint were rigid enough to be cut by the blades, creating small, wet, colorful explosions. A large bottle of glue made its way to my hand, and I hurried to tear off the lid before a large group of bugs carted it off to him, holding it upside-down over his head so streams of the stuff could spill onto his head and shoulders.

That’s a really bad shampoo you’re using there, Mannequin!

Man, he’s going to be such a colorful mess once Taylor is done.

Packages of dye were torn in half by his blades, expanding into clouds of black, brown, gray and lavender powder, sticking to any liquid on him, filling every gap to highlight the hidden slots for his weaponry and the seams where everything fit together.

Ooh, that’s helpful too!

Especially if part of the goal is to locate the seams and get something through them.


Swinging underhand, I brought the two-by-four up toward the widest part of the buzzsaw whirl that was Mannequin. Through luck as much as intent, I managed a glancing blow on the end of the blade, knocking it up toward the ceiling. The momentum of his rotation managed the rest. He tipped and crashed onto his side, literally falling apart in the process.

WOOO!

Lengths of chain connected everything, but nothing was in the right socket. Some sort of built-in defense mechanism against heavy impacts?

I guess so?

My swarm flooded over him to draw out more lines of silk and to spill glue -both organic glue from my spiders and brand name supplies- where possible.

He’s getting glued to the floor while split into lots of pieces and covered in colors. I love this way to defeat him!

He began to reel the various parts in, slowly. I hurried in to grab the one arm he’d disconnected from the chain and hurled it away. Then I seized his head.

Niiice.

I knew he wouldn’t have anything particularly valuable in his head. It was too obvious a target. But it was easy to get my hands on, it wasn’t connected to too many other things, and there was a chance he might want to keep it.

Ahaha! I love that last phrase in this context.

“Y’know, maybe he might want to keep his head? Seems kinda greedy if you ask me, but hey, we all have things we feel attached to.”


Holding the head, I hauled back, pulling more chain from the neck. With one hard pull, I hauled half of his body in my direction, the exertion making every injury I had screaming in protest. Another pull, and I dragged his body another half-foot back, but I got one or two feet of length from the neck-chain.

Suddenly an engine starts whirring, and a large, sharp propeller pops out the back of his torso and starts spinning rapidly. Around it, wheels show up too.

Skitter accidentally found out how to start Mannequin’s lawnmower mode.

Even with stuff gumming up the works, his chest clearly had stronger mechanisms inside it than the rest of his body did. The chain began slowly retracting.

I suppose that’s a natural result of it being larger, and the thing that pulls in most of his limbs.

Someone appeared behind me, and his hands gripped the chain, just a bit behind my own.

Ooh! A civilian deciding to help out?

It would be interesting if it turned out to be the patriarch, but that seems a bit far-fetched. For one thing, he has no obvious reason to come here, and for another, he’s shown no sign of such character development.

No, I think this is one of the civilians from the crowd.

Unless of course it’s Grue, but I’d imagine he’d be taking care of his own territory now, or of Tattletale, not randomly showing up in Skitter’s fight.

He added his strength to mine, and Mannequin’s body was dragged another two or three feet back.

TUG! OF! WAR!

TUG! OF! WAR!

TUG! OF! WAR!


“Where?” he asked.  It was a burly bystander with a thick black beard, thick rimmed glasses and a red and black striped t-shirt.  One of my people.

I like this design.

I turned and let go to point.  There was a metal frame that had once stood around some equipment.  Now it stood empty, just a connection of metal bars.

It’s easy to forget abandoned factories are not just open battlefields sometimes.

So is she trying to imprison him by getting his head stuck between the bars, gambling on him not detaching it?

“Stand back,” he said.  I let go and backed off.  Without me in the way, the bystander was able to haul Mannequin another four or five feet towards the frame.  Another haul, and they were close enough to the frame.

Wooo! Nice work!

I hurried forward, gripping the head, and winding it through and beneath the bars, tying it in the crudest of knots and tangling it in the bars in the process.  It dangled, the stump facing the ceiling.

Hey, I guess I was sorta right about his defeat involving getting him tied up with his own chains?

Fifteen feet of chain trailed between it and Mannequin’s body.

Jeez, man, how much neck do you even need.

Honestly, it seems like he should be using his head as another sledgehammer when it’s like this.


Mannequin had only just managed to reel in the chain and reconnect his remaining arm, and was using it to attach his legs securely into place.

Hey, buddy, you’ve got a little kink in your neck over here.

I had only seconds.

Having my bugs in the area, I knew exactly where to find what I was looking for.  I hurried over to the corner and hefted a cinder block.

Ooh, what is she doing now? Making the knot more secure?

I wasn’t halfway back to the head when I saw Mannequin stand.

I misread that as “Mannequin’s stand” and I’m not even a Jojo fan.

I abandoned my plan, dropped the block and stepped away, circling him, putting distance between myself and his head.  His attention seemed to be on me.

Has he even noticed the situation with his head yet?

Had I pissed him off?

He wasn’t spinning any more, and I could see the damage the bugs had wrought.

I would not be surprised by all that Taylor just did getting him a bit irritated.

Dense webs and scraps of cloth had collected across his body, and only half of the blades had succeeded in retracting in the face of the silk, glue and other gunk.  Color streaked him, both liquid from the paints and powder from the dyes.

Looking good, pal. You could go to a fancy gala like this! I’m sure you’d fit right in.


I gathered my bugs into another formation.  We were running low on silk, but I’d have to deal.

He stepped forward, and his movements were more awkward than usual.  Good.  That might mean the ball joints weren’t in pristine condition anymore.

What is it with Taylor and messing up men’s balls?

He moved again, disconnecting the chain to free himself from the metal frame I’d tied the neck-chain to.  He wasn’t focusing on me.  I felt out with my bugs and sought his target.

Huh. I guess he didn’t care enough about keeping the head attached, after all. I wonder if he can easily reconnect the chains? It doesn’t seem that way, what with the leg, but maybe that one sustained damage to the chain’s connectors rather than the chain itself?

So is he looking at the crowd again or is there someone here that Taylor isn’t aware of? Imp, maybe? Though again, I’m sure both Grue and Coil would want her to be in her and Grue’s territory right now.

His arm.  It crawled weakly for him, using the fingertips to scrape forward.

Ohh.

tumblr_inline_p95kvqBlZE1sxgvvn_1280.png


The moment I realized what he was after, I redirected a portion of my web-spinning swarm to the hand.  Then I limped to my left to put myself between him and his target.  My swarm passed over him.  The seventh strafing run.  He slashed at it as it passed in a surprising display of emotion.

What? What is it going for?

He reached into the hole where his neck and head were supposed to be and withdrew a small knife.

Ohh. A detached weapon, as a last ditch effort.

I adjusted my posture.  He was a tinker, and that knife could be anything.

That is a very good point.

He pressed a switch, and it was soon surrounded with a gray blur.  I recognized it as Armsmaster’s tech.

Well, fuck.

So he ran off with that knife. That’s probably not good.

Oh yeah, he used it to carve his exit, didn’t he.

A weapon with that exact same visual effect had done horrendous damage to Leviathan.

Yep. Your armor’s not going to save you from this one.


He stepped forward, and I stepped back.  Behind me, the arm jumped.  Mannequin was using the telescoping blade to help push it in the right direction.  It was trying to take a circuitous route around me.

What, to attempt to slowly stab Taylor in the back? Or is he going for the crowd?

My bugs made their eighth sweep past the headless Mannequin.

He lunged for me once again.  This time, there was no blocking the hit, no letting my armor absorb it.  His movements were ungainly, unbalanced by his lack of an arm, but he stood nine feet tall, usually, and that meant he had reach, no matter the type of weapon he was wielding.

And that’s before you let his arms extend to ridiculous lengths.

I backed off, rapidly stepping away, all too aware that my spiders weren’t working fast enough to stop him before he landed a hit.  I was swiftly running out of room to retreat.

Well, this took a bit of a turn, huh.

Nice last ditch effort, Mannequin. Gonna have to give you that one.

There was a sound, a heavy impact followed by the noise of ringing metal.  Mannequin stopped and whirled on the spot, striding back the way he’d come.

What?

The sound came again.  I chased, trying not to limp, knowing there was little I could do to stop the monster.  I crossed half the factory floor before I saw what had earned Mannequin’s attention.

The man who’d helped me with Mannequin had the concrete block in his hand, and for the third time, be brought it down on Mannequin’s head.

Oh damn. He literally picked up what Skitter was putting down, and now he’s a prime target.

The head came free of the chain and fell to the ground, rolling briefly.

Tonight, heads will roll!


The man hefted the cinder block again, saw Mannequin approaching, and changed his mind.  He dropped the block onto the head and then ran.

Yes, good. I like this guy, I don’t want him to die from having too much bravery and too few survival instincts.

Mannequin didn’t give chase to his attacker.  Instead, he stooped down to pick up his head, then stood straight.  I stopped where I was.

With any luck, he’s got enough in there to at least give him a minor headache.

For long moments, Mannequin held the head at arm’s length.  Then it fell to the ground.

“Ehh, screw it, I don’t need a head. Maybe this way I can at least join the Headless Hunt when I’m dead.”

Seconds stretched on as his arm flopped its way towards him.  My spiders swarmed it, surrounding it in silk.  Only the blade was really allowing it to move, now, the fingers struggling around the silk to move it into position for the next sudden thrust of the blade.

And it’s not like she can silk up the blade, either.

Mannequin turned his attention to his arm, and I set my swarm on it.  A thousand threads of silk, each held by as many flying insects as I could grip it with, all carrying the arm aloft.  I brought it up to the ceiling, and began fixing it in place, building a cocoon around it.

Hah, nice!

My enemy turned his attention to me, his shoulders facing me square-on.  As he no longer had a head, I found his body language doubly hard to read.  Had I irritated him, doing that?

Probably.

He stepped forward, as if to lunge, and the silk that wreathed him hampered his full range of movement.  His leg didn’t move as far as he intended, and his missing arm displaced his sense of balance.  He collapsed.

I think Taylor’s won this. Now it’s just a matter of how much Mannequin can take before he officially gives up.


“Want to keep going?” I asked his fallen form, my heart in my throat.  I stood ready to jump and react at a moment’s notice.

“I’ll bite yer legs off!”

“You don’t have a mouth.”

Slowly, he pulled himself to his feet again.  Twice, he used the knife to slash at the silk.  On the second attempt, I hit him with the formation of bugs for an eighth sweep of the silk net, hoping to throw him off-balance enough that he’d stab himself.  No such luck.

It was worth a try.

Standing straight, Mannequin shifted his grip on his knife and then raised one finger.  Wagged it left and right, that same gesture of disapproval, condemnation.

Heh. Back where we began.

And then he collapses one last time?

Then he turned to leave, striding for the door.  I didn’t try to stop him.  I didn’t have it in me.

Or that. Fair enough.


I watched him leave with my bugs.  Felt him get three, four, then five blocks away with my power, before he was out of my range.  The second he was gone, all the strength went out of my legs.  I collapsed onto my knees in the center of the room.

…I was just wrong about who was about to collapse one last time. :p

I hurt all over.  If Mannequin hadn’t broken something in my ribs or collarbone, he’d fractured something.  But pain was only part of it.  Physically, I was exhausted.  Emotionally?  Doubly so.

Yeeah. You just fought one of the most dangerous people in the United States.

And won.

Charlotte appeared at my side and offered me a hand.

Oh, hey!

The murmurs of conversation started to sound around me.  I tuned it out.  I couldn’t take the criticism, and I didn’t deserve any praise.  How many people had been hurt while I fought Mannequin?  How many people had died because I hadn’t been on the alert?

Aaaand we’re back to guilt.

The answer, Taylor, is “many fewer than would’ve died if you hadn’t done all of this”.


With Charlotte’s help, I stood.  I shook my head at her offer for support standing.  Moving slowly and carefully, not wanting to embarrass myself, I walked over to the dismembered head.

Oh right, he didn’t get that with him. Trophy time!

Heh, that reminds me of my first ever D&D session, where I ruined the DM’s plans for a character to return by chopping his head off to take as a trophy. A couple months later I finally listened to the song the session was based on and found out that decapitation was the only way to keep Shivo the Buff down. :p

It was miniscule, but there was a drop of black fluid beading at the seam in the neck where the chain had been threaded.  Apparently that was enough of a flaw for Mannequin to abandon it.  I left it where it was.

Huh. Gotta be a perfectionist with his specialty, I guess.

Then I hobbled over to the body of the gray-haired doctor.  Getting onto my knees was painful, but I did.  I gently turned her head and stared into her open eyes.  Light blue, surprised.

Surprised? Sounds like she was the first victim inside, then.

“I’m sorry,” I told her.

I couldn’t think of anything more to add or say.  A minute or two passed before I gave up on it.  I left her eyes open; using my fingertips to close her eyes seemed presumptuous and trite.

And here you thought Trickster was weird for talking to a corpse just four Arcs ago, Taylor. 😉


I cut the threads with my bugs and let the arm fall from the ceiling.  More than one person was startled at the sudden drop and impact.

Heh.

“Throw the head and the arm into the ocean,” I said, to nobody in particular.  “If you can find a boat, drop it somewhere deep.”

Come on, Amethyst, don’t drop those limbs in the sea like tha– oh, oh right, this isn’t Steven Universe.

“Okay,” Charlotte said, her voice quiet.

“I’m going to go.  I’ll be using my bugs to watch for more trouble,” I said, as I began limping toward the door.

…where? You could use a patch up yourself after that battle. I understand why you don’t want to be here right now, but it seems like the place you should be.

I’d won.  So to speak.

Taylor… please. Yes, four people got killed. That was not your fault, and once you found out about the threat, you did your darnedest to keep him from killing anyone else. This would’ve been an all-out massacre if you hadn’t been there. You did great, you won against all odds, and you really shouldn’t feel guilty about this one.

(Of course, Mannequin made your relief efforts out to be the reason he was doing it, but I honestly don’t know if I believe that at all.)


End of Plague 12.7

Looks like Taylor has another piece of guilt to plague herself with.

This was a pretty good fight. I was absolutely right – Taylor did end up using a simple but clever tactic to turn the tide of it and stop getting knocked around so much. I really liked a lot of what she did here, including but not limited to playing dead to give herself time to think, the crawleidoscopes and the use of webs, glue and dyes to create a sticky situation for Mannequin.

(Look. I knew. You knew. We all knew, it was just a matter of time before that particular overused pun reared its ugly head. I valiantly held it off as long as I could, but in the end, I’m only human. Supposedly.)

Pacing-wise, it did feel like Mannequin’s last efforts stretched out more than they maybe should near the end, but not so badly that it ruins the experience. Besides, I’m liveblogging, meaning everything is more stretched out for me than for the average reader, so maybe it’s just me.

Other than that, I guess my only complaint is that Taylor found a way to spin her victory to a negative because of events she wasn’t in a position to stop, but that’s more a frustration with Taylor than with Wildbow’s writing. It’s completely in character, I just wish she’d learn to stop doing that, for her own mental health’s sake.

Maybe that’s why we had the bit at the end about Mannequin’s head? I mean this bit:

It was miniscule, but there was a drop of black fluid beading at the seam in the neck where the chain had been threaded.  Apparently that was enough of a flaw for Mannequin to abandon it.  I left it where it was.

Like Mannequin left his head behind because of a tiny flaw, Taylor is letting a (relatively, I mean; four lives is still nothing to scoff at) minor failure overshadow a major victory.

Next chapter, I’m guessing we’ll have Taylor beating herself up some more about the lives she failed to save rather than feeling good about the lives she did save. She’ll probably also be heading back to the Hive and see for herself what it’s like after the Shattering.

If she could, she would probably be trying to contact the Undersiders to hear how Tattletale is doing and tell them about the encounter with Mannequin, but just about every phone in town is busted now, so I don’t think she has any good means of doing so without physically going to their locations.

Actually, maybe that’s where she’s headed. She’s dealt with her territory like Coil wanted, so now she’s going to go follow up on Tattletale and/or Danny? Though I’m not sure she’s actually finished dealing with her territory just like that.

Whatever the case is, I’m looking forward to the next turn Wildbow’s going to throw at me. Maybe Taylor will run into another Slaughterhouse member soon? Who knows. (You do.)

So yeah, that’s it from me for today. See you next time!

(#at least ‘sticky situation’ isn’t *quite* as groan-worthy as every time ‘apple of my eye’ shows up in mlp:fim
#usually as a lazy lyric when an apple family member is involved
#the worst one is in the extended intro song where every mane six member’s name is punned
#’you’re the applejack of my eye’
#ughhhh)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s