Interlude 12: Carrots and Sticks

Source material: Worm, Interlude 12

Originally blogged: May 30 – June 2, 2018


Hello, and welcome to Whose Liveblog Is It Anyway, where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter!

So! I think we’re done with Taylor’s POV for the Arc, unless there are some more chapters between this and the other Interlude. It’s time to see what someone else is up to!

I would like to get an Interlude from the perspective of Sierra or Charlotte, to help flesh out their characters more and show a bit of how they feel about being in Skitter’s employ from their own perspective. Considering there are two Interludes here, maybe I’ll even get both?

Alternatively, perhaps we’re checking in on a couple of the other groups, like for example the PRT (ideally via Battery), or the Slaughterhouse Nine? Among the latter, only Cherish has had an Interlude from her own POV, so all the other members are still available.

Whatever the case, I’m sure it’s going to be interesting. Let’s jump right in and see what we’ve got!


“Which one of you dripping rectal cysts is brave enough for this one!?”

Hi there, Skidmark!

So are we going to be following him, or someone around him? Scrub might be a good one to follow, being new to having a power and new to the Merchants’ elite of parahumans.

The cheer bubbled up from the crowd, until it reached a crescendo that he could hear from his aircraft/podium.

Looks like it’s the perspective of the man himself. This ought to be… interesting.

The wind ripped around him as he stood at the nose of the aircraft, his cape fluttering.  Squealer’s vehicle was like a helicopter made by someone who had never seen a helicopter before, who’d decided to add their own improvements to the design when they were finished – more whirling blades spaced equidistant around the thing.  Topping it off, it was roughly three times the typical size.

Heh, nice.

“Green armband means poison, and this is a poison half of you wastes of air have already tasted!  We’re gonna make it as bad as it gets!  The worst of bad trips!”

Hm, alright, what the hell are they up to here? Is this just an arrangement to get together to do drugs?

It made me think of Newter at first, but if he were attacking the Crew, getting tagged by Newter would be something they don’t want.

He held a bowl of pills that were dusted with assorted powders and raised it over his head, “One handful, then you take a nap in one of the coffins we have up here.  Moment the lid shuts, you’ll find out what’s in store for you.  Some have rats, some have spiders, some have nothing at all and some…”

Welcome to Fear Factor.

A beam of light speared down from the base of the fat bodied helicopter, sending chunks of earth where it hit ground.  The moment it faded, a coffin fell into the hole that had formed, followed by a downpour of gravel.

Well, at least this one fits the container.


“Get buried alive!”

The noise of the crowd was more bloodthirsty this time, unmasked and unashamed in their savagery.

I haven’t missed them.

“Hope you rancid pukes have friends to dig you up!  Put up with that shit while you’re on the trip of your life, and you get yourselves a green fucking armband!  For the rest of the night, everything is as free as your mother’s pussy!

But I do like Skidmark’s way of talking. It’s awful and raunchy, yes, but it’s also really distinctive and good. There’s a reason I quickly identified who was saying the first line in spite of my previous track record.

…also is that a yo mama joke or is he calling them motherfuckers? Either way, it works coming from Skidmark.

For as long as you hold on to that baby, anything you buy direct from one of us head honchos is ten percent off!  So which-”

Huh, that’s neat.

I wonder if it stacks. Up to a limit, I guess – I doubt Skidmark and co. give out completely free drugs to anyone with ten green armbands.

He stopped.  There was a thump as the microphone hit the surface near Skidmark’s feet and then a violent but all too brief noise as it struck one of the propellers at the side of the aircraft and was promptly annihilated.

…uh, alright? Something take you by surprise?

I hope it’s Siberian, just so I can make a certain joke about cats and tongues.


Skidmark’s hands went to his stomach, where blood and organs were spilling out.  He turned to run, but more slices appeared in his arm, his buttock, his back and the back of his neck.

Jack, what are you doing? Why Skidmark?

Not that I particularly disapprove of getting him out of the way, though I’ll miss the creative wordings.

Also, this doesn’t sound like it’s Skidmark’s perspective anymore. This is the perspective of an onlooker, and I suspect that onlooker is either Jack Slash or Scrub.

No longer in sight of the majority of the crowd, he continued to try to crawl away, only for his reaching fingers to be separated from his hand, flying away from him in a spray of crimson.

Another reason why I don’t think we’re seeing Skidmark’s perspective: I don’t think he’s going to survive for more than a few paragraphs from now.


The aircraft lurched and began to turn, but this maneuver ended up spelling out Skidmark’s doom.  The surface beneath him was already slick with blood, and with only one hand’s worth of fingers to grip with, he slid.  He used his power to change the surface and force himself upward, but it was too little, too late.

What a way to go.

…I hope he lands right in one of the coffins.

He dropped into the blades of the spinning propeller and was puréed in a heartbeat.

Oh jeez. And here I thought he was sliced up enough already.

Standing on a rooftop across from the aircraft, Jack flicked his wrist and snapped the blade of his straight-razor back into the handle.

Hiya.

So, was that entertaining to you?

Smiling thinly, he looked over his shoulder at his teammates.  Bonesaw sat astride Siberian’s shoulders, in the midst of braiding a lock of the feral killer’s hair.

Oh my cod, I love this. Please tell me there’s fanart of this moment.

Shatterbird and Burnscar stood on opposite sides of the group, the former holding a book in one hand, the latter with images in flame dancing a quarter-inch off her skin, showing people and familiar objects, many of the images replaying the scene of Skidmark’s demise in miniature.

Huh, that’s a really neat use of the power.

Bonesaw’s automatons were spread out over the remainder of the roof, and one of her Frankenstein creations waited patiently at the far end of the roof.  Hack Job, she’d called it?  It had started to rot alive, and Bonesaw kept it out of the way so as not to offend the sensibilities of her teammates.

I bet she doesn’t really get why the others have a problem with that, though she’ll help her family be comfortable.

Cherish stood in Crawler’s shadow, pale, her hands clasped together.  Her shoulders were drawn in, as if she was afraid she would be struck any second.

Wow, she’s really not comfortable in the team after her little secret came out. I suspect not everyone took it as, uh, well as Jack did, but even if no one actually hurt her because of it, a fear that they’re going to if she steps across the line again is quite understandable.

Also, are we actually going to learn what Crawler looks like now, or are we going to leave it at the mention of his shadow? Whatever the case, it sound like he’s relatively big.


Crawler, the most monstrous member of the group, loomed over the rest.  His chest was ten feet deep from front to back, his head the size of a small car.

Yay, we’re getting a description!

And yeah, that’s really big.

He combined the most effective features of a bear and a panther.  Sinuous, flexible, bristling with quiet menace, but also brawny with muscle.  He had armor plates covering him, with scales where armor wouldn’t allow him optimum flexibility, and spines and coarse hair where the scales wouldn’t do.

He reminds me a lot of Bitch’s hellhounds, but bigger and a bit different.

Head to toe, he had the coloring of an oil slick, black by default, but scintillating with rainbow hues in just the right light.

Huh, that’s actually really cool.

No wonder he didn’t show very well in the image Taylor saw.

A hundred black orbs studded the length of his body, set into the plates of armor.  Caustic venom virtually poured from a mouth that bristled with mismatched fangs, spattering precipitously close to Cherish and eating at the concrete rooftop.

Niice.

I suspect this isn’t the last we’ll hear about the orbs.

Perhaps most unnerving of all were his six legs, each forking at the knee or elbow joint, with one larger limb ending in scimitar-like claws and a smaller set of limbs for each; tentacles for the rear four legs and a long fingered human’s hands for the forelimbs.

Oooh, that’s really freaky and cool.


Jack spoke, with no small amount of irony.  “Looks like Skidmark’s hosting a party.  I think we deserve a night on the town, after waiting as long as we did to reveal ourselves.  Be sure to thank our hosts.

I think you might want to revise your verb tense there, in that first sentence.

I’m sure our invitation was lost in the mail.”

Hehe.

Smiles spread across more than one face.

Crawler was the first one off of the roof, throwing himself into the night air to land in the dead center of the crowd.  The others followed quickly after, Shatterbird and Burnscar launching themselves to the far corners of the massed crowd, conjuring up storms of glass shards and flame to block their victim’s retreat.

I still don’t really sympathize much with the Merchants, but at least this wasn’t something they signed up for.

Bonesaw’s creations poured over the edges of the rooftop to herd the remainder of the crowd and keep them contained to one area.

…how many does she have now?

Or is this just referring to the spiderbots and such, perhaps?

It was just four of them left on the rooftop.  Siberian, Bonesaw, Jack and Cherish.

The same group that went to warn Alec and Rachel about the Shattering.

Siberian reached out and gripped Cherish by the shirt collar.  More graciously, she extended a hand toward Jack.  He gripped it tight.

Gotta go fast? Gotta go faster faster fasterfaster Siberian X?


“Thank you,” he said.

Catching a ride with Siberian was something of an art form.  Cherish had yet to master it, not even biting her tongue or keeping the short shriek from escaping her lips as Siberian stepped off the edge of the roof.  Jack, for his part, allowed himself to go limp the second Siberian pulled at him.  The four of them collectively dropped, Bonesaw riding atop Siberian’s shoulders, gripping her hair to maintain her position.

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They were spared the messy fate of being pancaked on the pavement by a quirk of Siberian’s nature, transferring to each of them.  Jack staggered, more because he’d let his whole body relax so he wouldn’t jar something when Siberian tugged at him, but he let go of his teammate’s hand and straightened.

Interesting.

So how is Cherish doing?

Cherish dropped to her knees.

“Much obliged, Siberian.” Jack said.  “Go.  Have fun.”

Siberian, listen to me. You are not two people, and you are not one person. Yooou… are an experience! Make sure you’re a good experience. Now – go! have! fun!

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Siberian reached up and set Bonesaw down, and then was gone, one footstep carrying her into the midst of the crowd.  She didn’t care if she hit anyone.  Anyone unfortunate enough to be in her way was pulverized, their limbs broken, chests shattered and necks snapped by the impact.

We’ve barely gotten into the chapter and the killcounts are already skyrocketing.

Even those in the general area were caught by the flying bodies and hurt just as grievously.

Ouch.

Bonesaw laughed, and it was a sound without reservations, not shaped by social constraint or culture or self-censorship.  It was the laugh of a child, free and without a care.  One of her mechanical spiders leaped onto her back, and wound several of its limbs around her chest.

Oh look, a cute little murderous backpack for this sweet and murderous and innocent child!

…did I say murderous? I, uh, um, I meant… m… ma… musical! Sure, that’s it.

Two limbs extended to connect to her wrists, so the mechanical arms mirrored the dimensions and length of her own.  The ends fanned out into an array of scalpels, needles, saws, and other instruments so one tool sat between each of her splayed fingers.

Looks like a handy device!

The smallest gestures of her hands forced instantaneous rearrangements of the tools, so another was ready for her to grasp and use.  Two more spiders lunged forward and pulled one of Siberian’s screaming wounded away from the rest of the crowd, dragging it inch by inch toward the advancing Bonesaw.

Time for some on-site surgery?


The crowd might have turned to fight her, but they lacked the courage.  They scattered.

If they teamed up, a large amount of Merchant mundanes could probably take on Bonesaw, but they’re too unorganized and cowardly.

But I can’t blame them for the latter under these circumstances.

Jack twirled his closed straight-razor around his fingers.  “Cherish, stand up.  You’re missing the show.”

Obediently, Cherish raised herself up.  She lifted her head just in time to see a blur of white and black against the night sky, followed by a large explosion from the side of Squealer’s flying aircraft.

…maybe I was hasty in concluding that Siberian couldn’t use her power to super-jump.

It tilted and bounced against the side of a nearby building, scraps of metal shearing off to land in the midst of the crowd.  A series of small detonations that ripped forth from the interior of the aircraft cast just enough light for Jack and Cherish to see Siberian striding across the deck, one of the Merchants in her grip.

Her hand grip, or her mouth grip?

In a heartbeat, she’d torn the woman’s limbs from their sockets and buried her teeth in the woman’s neck.

Om nom nom.


Bereft of a pilot and working internal mechanisms, the aircraft crashed heavily in the midst of the crowd.  The Merchants who had gathered in the street for Skidmark’s festival of poison scattered, abandoning their fallen friends, trying to find an escape route or hiding place.  The screams of panic were twice the volume of any cheering they’d done earlier.

I think it’s safe to say that after this, the Merchants aren’t going to be much of a thing anymore, unless one of the higher-ups survives and restabilizes things. Which isn’t going to be easy.

Siberian hopped up to the highest point of the wrecked aircraft, the twisted remains of a propeller that should not have borne her weight.  Her hair blew in the hot air that rose from the heap of burning metal.

Can she decide not to be affected by gravity at all?

She glanced around to see where she might do the most damage, spat out a gobbet of meat and then leaped off to one side, out of sight.  The propeller didn’t even move.

Hmm.

Maybe the propeller is affected by the same thing that protected the other Slaughterhouse members on their ride – an ability to spread her power to things and people she’s touching. In this case, making the propeller just as resistant to forces as she is until after she’s jumped off it.

“Are you going to partake?” Jack asked Cherish.

She doesn’t seem to be in the mood for it.

“Why are you still talking like I’m a member of this team?  I tried to manipulate all of you, and I failed.”

Ah, she doesn’t get it yet. Jack doesn’t give a shit. Hell, might even like it. That kind of chaotic behavior is right up his alley.

A couple of the others (Siberian, for instance) seem to be giving her a hard time, but to what extent that is because of the betrayal is unclear.


“We’ll deal with your punishment at a later date.  Bonesaw is working on something.”

…oh boy.

Cherish’s eyes widened.  “I knew she was… I read her emotions towards me… I knew she was thinking about something.  But hearing you say it out loud.  Oh god.”

Giddiness, perhaps?

But yeah, that’s not something you want to hear.

“Rest assured, Cherie Vasil, you dropped out of reach of God a long, long time ago.” Jack smiled at her.

Heh.

She turned away, looking over the scene, as if it could distract her from her thoughts and fears.

I mean, if she wants to, it’s worth noting that besides Siberian, Cherish is the member with the best shot at fleeing. If anyone else were to flee, the team would get Cherish to track them, but they can’t exactly do that if Cherish herself is the one on the run. But then again, Siberian isn’t so bad at the hunt either.


Crawler threw himself into the point where the crowd was thickest.  Bodies flew as he moved on his two rearmost legs and swept the other four claws and two tentacles through the ranks of the Merchants.

Got a lot of limbs to keep track of.

When everyone within his broad reach was dead or suffocating from the paralytic venom, he turned toward the wrecked aircraft and began advancing with a more measured pace.

So the venom’s paralytic, too. That’s… kind of ironic, honestly, considering that injecting substances and being stuck in one position for a while is kind of what they came her for.

Each of the hundred eyes along the length of his body blinked to clear away the blood and dust that had spattered him in his all-too-brief spree.

Oh. Oh jeez, so that’s what the orbs were.

…I kinda love it.

It does make sense as a defensive measure, too – more eyes in weird positions means more angles he can see. It’s going to be hard to attack from a direction he can’t see you coming from.


Jack watched as someone drew a gun and pointed it at Crawler, then reconsidered.

Yeeah, that’s just gonna get you killed faster, pal.

He turned it toward Bonesaw, and found himself face to face with Hack Job.  He was cut down a moment later.

At least he tried?

Hack Job exploded in a puff of white dust, already having left to dispatch more gunmen that might harm Jack or his maker.

That’s a pretty good way to put him to use.

Another figure appeared next to Jack and Cherish.  Jack assumed it was Hack Job until he turned his head.

…hm? Who else can teleport around here?

Burnscar?

Other than her, I can’t really think of any (well, there’s Trickster, but he’s different), so I suppose the alternative is PRT reinforcements from out of town, like in Extermination. Burnscar seems like a much more likely option.

“Oh hoh,” Jack assessed the man.  “What happened here?”

Hm, apparently not.

Mannequin stood, headless, streaked in paint and dust that marred his white body with dark colors.  His right arm ended at the elbow, the remainder missing.

Oh! Hi there. I guess I was wrong to assume the figure appeared via teleportation because of Jack’s assumption that it was Hack Job.

See, Jack? That’s what happens when you assume: You make an ass out of you and me. :p


One by one, the other members of the Nine seemed to notice Mannequin’s appearance.  Shatterbird stepped back from the ruined husk of a massive suit of steaming armor and started flying their way, accompanied by a cloud of bloody glass shards.

Man, the in-universe art this could result in if only the victims were Homestuck trolls. 10-13 blood colors to adorn the cloud of shards, from all across the hemospectrum…

Bonesaw turned away from her patient.  She spoke to the man, pushing him away.  She might have said something like ‘run’.

Huh, that’s… odd.

The man stumbled five or six steps before his body began to swell.  His right arm bloated up to three or four times the usual size, turning crimson, before it exploded violently, sending shards of bone and a spray of blood into the people nearest him.

I wonder what Bakuda would think of this tactic.

He screamed, only for his cries to grow shorter and more frantic, as the rest of him reached that critical mass.  In another ten seconds, the remainder of his body detonated.

Is this what they do to the sheep in the Worms games? Is Bonesaw behind that?


Bonesaw was already skipping over to the rest of their group, grinning wide, “Mannequin!  Aww!  Did the villain break you?  Poor baby.  Like a little girl with a ken doll.”

I mean… I did give 12.7 the chapter title “Playing With Dolls”. :p

A blade sprung from Mannequin’s remaining hand.  Bonesaw tittered.

I think he might be a teensy bit annoyed about it.

Behind the child tinker, those in the crowd who had been struck by the blood and flying bone of her first victim were starting to scream as their bodies swelled as well.

Oh cod, it’s contagious!

Jack frowned.  “Bonesaw.  You know my rule about epidemics.  You have to play fair with the rest of the group.”

“Leave some toys for us!”

“No epidemic!  I promise!”  She said, drawing a little ‘x’ over her heart, “Four or five cycles.  No more.  Each transition is going to have only about half the catalyst of the last, and eventually they’ll be able to fight it off.”

Fair enough.


Shatterbird landed in their midst.  Behind her, a swell of orange light from Burnscar’s flames coincided with a peak in the crowd’s screams.

Coincidence? I think not.

Mush’s titanic form of sand and debris had ignited, and he flailed madly.  Shatterbird ignored the chaos that her teammate was causing, studied Mannequin and then spoke in a voice that was dripping with judgement, “Mannequin failed.”

Well, there goes Mush.

Shatterbird’s power is awesome, easily one of my favorite, but I’m not really a fan of her personality. Bit of a bitch, honestly. She got fifth place when I ranked the S9 after Arc 11½ [here], but that was massively helped out by her power and the fact that we knew very little about the three below her; on a personality scale she’d get seventh at best (over Crawler, whose personality is still almost a total mystery).

“It’s a shame you can’t see the disapproving look on Shatterbird’s face, Alan,” Jack commented, smiling.

No sense of vision confirmed.

Why is Jack calling him by his old name? Is it just a way to humiliate him further? Not cool, bro.


Mannequin pointed the blade in his hand at Shatterbird, a threat and a warning.  Jack tensed, studying Shatterbird’s expression, waiting to see if this would start something.

Does that sound entertaining to you, Jack?

“A loss is allowable,” Jack said, when the fight didn’t erupt.  “Most of us are more forgiving than Siberian, and allow a failure or two from our candidates during the rounds of testing, no?  It’s okay to let them win from time to time.

But this wasn’t one of the candidates.

It gives them that spark of hope, so we can snatch it away and leave them all the more devastated.”

Right, of course Funtimes McEdgehog would be the type to think like this.

He looked at Shatterbird and she inclined her head in a barely perceptible nod.

“Which raises an interesting topic,” Jack said.  He spotted Siberian and indicated for her to approach.  Two corpses were stacked on her arm like meat on a kebab, and she cast them aside with a motion of her arm before approaching their circle.

The involvement of food in this description is probably not an accident.

Crawler was one of the two group members who had yet to rejoin the group.  He was engaged with a young man with a glow that suffused his hair and emanated from his eyes and mouth.

Is that Scrub? I seem to recall something like this from Infestation, but I think I just assumed it was because his power was going haywire.

White flashes appeared with little accuracy and devastating effect, carving spherical chunks out of the brute.

Yep, that would be him.

I’m sure Crawler loves this – it’s a power he’s unlikely to be immune to, and which adds lots of space for new body parts to grow from.

This only encouraged the monster, and Crawler eagerly paced closer, his wounds closing together with a startling rapidity.  So few things could hurt Crawler these days that Jack rarely got to see the regeneration in full effect.

Yep, he loves this. Let’s see what he gets!

Crawler’s healing powers appeared to play out in fast-forward when compared to even the regenerators who could heal wounds in seconds.  Hundreds of pounds of flesh were replaced in one or two heartbeats.

Damn!

One eruption of light hit Crawler in the dead center of his chest.  It made him pause, no doubt removing one of his hearts and some of his spinal cord.

Crawler is kind of like Aegis but without the looks and way more deadly.

The boy with the glowing hair pushed his power into overdrive, calling forth a series of flashes that exploded in close succession.

Oh neat, so that’s a thing he can just choose to do now.

One caught Crawler in the face, revealing only a cross-section of his head, complete with a bisected brain, a skull six inches thick and the interior of Crawler’s mouth.  Crawler collapsed.

Ooh… how long until he gets back up?

I mean, there’s no way that’s gonna kill him. After all this buildup and with the nomination plot ongoing, having Crawler just unceremoniously die to Scrub, within the first chapter we actually see him in no less, wouldn’t fly.


Siberian watched as the boy ran, then turned as if she intended to give chase.

“No,” Jack instructed.  “Let him go.  We need to leave some alive.”

To tell the tale?

He had other motivations, but he would remain quiet on that particular subject.

…hm, interesting. Got something planned for Scrub like with Purity/Theo?

Crawler’s brain grew back to its full beach-ball size in one or two seconds, followed closely after by the healing of the skull, the reappearance of his facial muscles, then his skin, hair, spines, scale and armor plating, roughly in that order.

If he were fighting Taylor in addition to Scrub, he’d probably have a bunch of bugs buzzing around inside his head now.

He shook his head like a dog with water in its ears and looked around, searching for his quarry.

Hehe, I like how he’s literally shaking off having his face and half his brain removed from existence.

We didn’t even need Greenfire this time!


“After, Crawler!”  Jack shouted, “You can fight him another time!  Group meeting!”

Crawler hesitated, then loped over to their gathered circle.  Burnscar lobbed a fireball high over their heads, and then dropped down from the airborne projectile to land in a crouch.

Heh, that’s a nice way to do it without setting fire to the ground around her allies.

Somewhere in the background, there were the screams and explosions of the fourth or fifth cycle of Bonesaw’s work.  Of the crowd that had been gathered in the street, only stragglers remained.

These people are pretty damn deadly.

“I wanted to give you all a chance to cut loose before we got down to business,” Jack said.  “It seems a teammate of two of our prospective members wants or wanted to strike a deal.  Cherish, do you happen to know if she is still alive?”

“Y’know, just so I don’t have to say stuff like ‘wants or wanted’ all the time.”

“Tattletale lives.  She’s very close to the buried girl right now.”

Oh, so they took her to Coil’s base, then. Seems reasonable.

“Oh, you hear that, Crawler?  Your candidate and this Tattletale might be friends.”

“No,” Cherish said, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the group, “They barely know each other.”

It’s a small world.


“Too bad.” Jack shrugged, then he went on, “This Tattletale wants to play a game, leveling the playing field between us and the others.  If we cannot reduce our selection to a single candidate, we take the first to volunteer and we leave.  Our loss, and a hit to our collective reputation as a penalty.”

This isn’t quite how I remember the deal, which suggests I may have misunderstood it.

Why?  It’s a bad idea,” Cherish said, “She knew you’d want to do this, knew you’d set yourself up with a situation where you could fail.  Where we could fail.  There’s no reason to do it.”

She’s right. For now.

Tattletale kind of let the Slaughterhouse Nine come up with the terms for what happens if they win, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

Jack shook his head.  “Oh, but there is.  Limitations foster creativity.  Tell an artist to paint anything, and he may struggle, but tell him to create something specific, in a set amount of time, for a certain audience, and these constraints might well push him to produce something he might never have come up with on his own.  We grow and evolve by testing ourselves.  That’s my personal philosophy.”

Ahh, so basically he sees the additional creativity it takes to make the tests hard enough to with certainty whittle it down to one nominee as a reward in its own right.

I’m not so sure the others will agree with that.

“That’s not really a test,” Shatterbird spoke, “There hasn’t been a round of testing since I joined the group where we didn’t whittle it down to one candidate.”

Fair point.

“We could forego the final test, pitting them against one another.”

Shatterbird turned to him, “Ah.  But, again, the last test where we had to go that far was… mine?”

I wonder who she defeated.


“True.  Would there be any complaints if we added another restriction?  Perhaps a time limit?  We take turns.  Three days each to carry out our tests.  A failure, such as the one that Mannequin evidently suffered tonight, and you’re penalized one day.

It seems they’re actually going to be on board with making things harder on themselves. They’re mostly in it all for fun, so they’re willing to turn up the difficulty of the game in order to make it more fun.

This might’ve been a better move on Tattle’s part than I thought.

A successful test might add some hours to your deadline, while the removal of one candidate buys you an extra day.”

I suppose this works.

“That’s not very fair to the first few of us to go,” Bonesaw said.  “They’ll have to test more people in less time.”

Oh yeah, good point – it’d work better if it wasn’t turn-based.

“They also have an easier time removing candidates from the list.  More chances at a longer run.  In fact, just to be fair, we may have to adjust the time awarded for a successful test, so there’s less for the first few of us to have a turn.

I guess that’s true too.

Do you all trust me to decide on something fair?”

Not really.


There were nods or noises of agreement from Bonesaw, Burnscar, Siberian and Shatterbird.

Mannequin can’t exactly nod right now, even if he does trust Jack to make it fair.

“Mannequin?”

Mannequin tapped one finger on the blade that still extended from the base of his hand, drawing forth a single ‘clink’.

One clink for yes, two for no?

“That’s five of you in agreement.  Crawler?”

I guess that does mean yes, then.

…can Crawler speak? He does have a mouth, at least.

The monster stretched, his musculature rippling.  When he spoke, his voice was a rumble of broken sounds that only barely resembled words, “No point.”

Ahh. Not one for games, huh?


“Ah, you feel your only road to self-improvement is your power.  While I would love to return to this particular debate, I can agree to disagree so you all can get back to your fun.

I guess they’ve discussed this a lot.

Look at it this way.  Our usual method has our quarry running scared.  To even get them to fight, you have to corner them, which you are admittedly very good at doing.  Like this, however, they have reason to band together, to fend us off, and protect the candidates who decide to eschew our tests and face our reprisals instead.

Of course, the Undersiders in particular are quite limited in who they can band together with right now.

More would fight you, and you’d have a higher chance of finding another individual who could harm you.”

That’s probably true, yeah.


[Session 2]

Howdy! Let’s get back to the Slaughterhouse Nine and their

frivolous fun.png


Crawler tilted his head one way, then the other.  He rumbled, “Fine.”

“Which only leaves you, Cherish, our errant rookie.  You’re dejected because you know Bonesaw has a punishment in the works.  But you mustn’t lose heart.

“We’ve got something awful planned for you, but stop worrying so much!”

You’ll still have a chance to redeem yourself, and maybe even escape reprisal for your juvenile stunt.  I think Mannequin should start us off, and he’ll be penalized one day from his time limit for his loss tonight.

Huh. Well that ought to help motivate her.

As for Mannequin, is it fair to penalize him retroactively like that? I’m not sure either way.

And you’ll have to deal with the bug girl, to make up for this embarrassment.   Make her suffer.”

Hm. Either this is a hell of a coincidence, or Jack knew where Mannequin was. Mannequin hasn’t done anything to indicate who defeated him.

Mannequin tapped once on the blade.

I know we established already that this means yes, but I suspect he would very much like to use it on Skitter.

So Mannequin is now officially Skitter’s assigned enemy. Fair enough! I’m not sure I’m interested in a one-on-one rematch between them, but Wildbow could make it work. He certainly did with Lung, though Lung’s power is unusually well-suited for scaled-up rematches.

Lung has been quite thoroughly removed from the main setting and overshadowed in terms of threat level, but there’s still a small part of me that says we’ll be seeing him at full power for a round three.


“Cherish, you’ll go second.  Your last chance to impress us.”

I wonder how many of these turns we’ll get per Arc, if the idea doesn’t fall apart. Two, maybe? That would keep us busy for four more Arcs, though, which might be too much.

Cherish nodded, as mute as her headless teammate.

“Good.  Two days, Mannequin, then three for our Cherish.  To be fair, we should have a rule that says you cannot take out a candidate until they fail your test.

That seems reasonable, since there’s a rule that encourages taking out candidates.

So each prospective member must be informed about the test and what it requires, they must fail, and they must be eliminated or punished, until one remains.  For those of you who want to show how superior they are over their teammates…” he cast a sidelong glance at Shatterbird, “There are several paths to success.  Remove several candidates, conduct a full round of testing, see that your candidate succeeds above any of the others, or all of the above.”

Of course Shatterbird would care about that.

“I like it,” Bonesaw said, “It sounds fun!  But what about Siberian?  How is she supposed to tell them the rules?”

Oh yeah. She’s not fond of speaking, and as far as the Slaughterhouse Nine probably know, she can’t.

The same goes for Mannequin, but he at least can write. I would not be particularly surprised if Siberian can’t, or refuses to.

“We’ll help her out on that front.  Same test as usual, Siberian?”

I guess someone else could just write it down for her.

Siberian nodded.  She reached out to Bonesaw’s face and used her thumb to wipe away a spatter of blood before licking the digit clean.

Same procedure as every year, James.


“In any case, we’ve hashed this out enough.  I’ll think it over tonight and have something proper to present to you and the capes of this city who will be our… opposition.  I can add some rules, to cover loopholes and keep this little event manageable.

Oddly enough, this whole thing has me feeling a lot better about the challenge than I did when it was first introduced. That’s the opposite of what I was expecting to happen here.

I wonder how much of this Tattletale saw coming.

It’s still concerning that she incentivized the S9 to be more brutal with their tests, but at least it resulted in more restrictions on their side. The turn-taking is one of the better ones – the recruits will only have to deal with one member trying to test them at a time.

Panacea, Armsmaster, Bitch, Regent, the buried girl and Hookwolf.

It seems they haven’t managed to find out Noelle’s name yet.

So wait, who are we missing here? Labyrinth wasn’t a nominee… right, Oni Lee. Got it.

Six nominees, eight Slaughterhouse members, and a bunch of people invested in helping the nominees. The game is on.

Burnscar didn’t nominate one, and I’ve already dispatched mine.  That’s six candidates, we need to remove five.  And when we’re done and we’ve established our superiority, we can kill this Tattletale, her friends, and everyone else, just to make our point.  Good?”

The fact that Tattletale seems to have made herself and the rest of the Undertravelers into primary targets for the Slaughterhouse Nine is another concerning detail.


There were signs, nods and murmurs of agreement all around.

“Good.  Go.  Have fun.  Mop up the stragglers.  Don’t worry about leaving any alive.  They already know we’re here.  No more than five minutes before we leave.

But… what. Jack. Just about forty paragraphs ago you said, and I quote:  “No. Let him go.  We need to leave some alive.”

…alright, fair enough, I guess in the time this meeting took, enough people – Scrub included – fled the area to satisfy that condition.

We can’t have our grand battle with the locals so soon.”

Hehe, that’s a good reason to leave, yeah. It’s not climactic battle time yet!


His monsters returned to their carnage.

This is an… oddly cute sentence, actually. Just the way Jack refers to the Slaughterhouse Nine as his monsters. Sure, it’s probably just the fact that he’s in charge and can direct these people largely to his whim, but on some level it also feels like a term of endearment.

He watched them at their work and their play, noting all of the little things.  He knew all too well that Shatterbird pretended civility, but she got as restless as Siberian when things got quiet, and she would look up from whatever book she read every thirty, fifteen or ten seconds, as if waiting for something to happen, craving it.

Boredom is a powerful force.

Siberian would begin to look at her group members in a hungry way.  She didn’t need to eat, but she enjoyed the experience, wanted it the same way someone else might crave their morning coffee.  Stimulation.

That sounds very familiar.

tumblr_inline_p9nu8lE3qn1sxgvvn_500.png


Following from tagging practices on my personal blog, I tag posts involving #food, mainly for the sake of people with eating disorders.

But… now that we have a confirmed cannibal in the cast, does that mean I should start using that tag on any post involving humans?

tumblr_inline_p9nuvhcYTB1sxgvvn_250.png

(#this is a joke #i’m not actually asking)


Crawler, he knew, wouldn’t show any signs of boredom or restlessness.  When he lost patience with things, it was an explosive affair, almost unmanageable.

Oh jeez.

Keeping this group in line was a matter of balancing carrots against sticks.  A constant, delicate process.

I can certainly believe that. And that’s all while making sure no one’s unhappy with the balance of carrots and sticks someone else is getting compared to the balance they’re getting, unless they deserve to be.

Every member sought something from the others, however solitary they might strive to appear, carrots that Jack could use to keep them as part of the group and entice them to stay, to cooperate.

Like how Cherish sought total control and adoration, how Bonesaw seeks a sense of family and steady access to victims volunteers for her experiments, etcetera…

I know I’ve said some things that might have made it sound like I thought they don’t have individual motivations beyond “having fun without restrictions”, but that’s not really the case. I just haven’t been aware of what those motivations were for all of them, and thus had to fall back on that general one.

It was not easy: what served as a stick to one might easily be a carrot to another.

Crawler is a good example of that in a more general sense, with his whole thing about wanting to get hurt.


Shatterbird, who had deigned to observe for the moment, hovering over the scene, was an individual who craved validation.  She would be insulted to hear it spoken aloud, but she needed to be powerful in the eyes of others, civilian or teammate.

She’s lucky she’s got such a ridiculously powerful power, then.

Or maybe there’s a causation here in one or both directions.

She could tolerate much, but an insult or a joke at her expense could push her over the edge.

So she’s… fragile.

As carrots went, a simple word of praise could satisfy her for a week, and an opportunity to shine could sate her for a month.  It was why he allowed her to ‘sing’ each time they arrived somewhere new, even as he found it repetitive and boring, brooking the same scenarios time after time.

I suppose it would get repetitive after a while, but you gotta admit it’s a really good dramatic entrance.

“Hi, we’re here, fuck you and your city!”

Her stick was easy enough: the threat of physical harm, or the embarrassment of being made to lose control.  Were she to attack a member of the group, Siberian or Crawler would retaliate, and they would hurt or kill her.  It would be inevitable, unequivocal.

Yeah, no way she’s winning against either of those, especially if she’s physically fragile on top of being emotionally so, which seems likely.

The idea of the shame she’d feel in that ignoble defeat held her back as much as anything.

Huh.

I’m beginning to see the connection between her and Hookwolf (every Slaughterhouse member went for someone with something in common with them, but it was less clear – no pun intended – between Shatterbird and Hookwolf). This is very much warlord-like behavior.

It also heavily reminds me of Armmaster, but there’s a crucial difference: Armmaster cared about how everyone else saw him. Shatterbird seems to care more about how she sees herself, something that is affected by how everyone else sees her.

Armmaster was, is, confident in his own abilities and worth and just wanted people to recognize that, while Shatterbird seems to be less confident and wants people to see her be powerful so that her worth can be reflected (oh hey, mirrors, looks like we’re back to glass again) back at her from others. She’s a fragile person who acts tough to make herself believe that she is.

Recognition versus validation.

At least that’s what I’m getting from this. For all I really know I might be totally off the mark here.


…hey, maybe that’s why Shatterbird looks kind of like a peacock, with her colorful garb and all. After all, what does a peacock use his colorful feathers for?

Looking tough.


Siberian watched as Bonesaw began excising and stitching together groups of muscle and collections of organs she and her mechanical spiders were harvesting from the fallen.

Just gonna make a new creation right here on the spot? Fair enough, I suppose they probably don’t have any particularly better places to go do it.

It was taking on a vaguely human shape.

Siberian was tricky.  He doubted anyone else in the group was even aware, but their most feral member harbored a fondness for Bonesaw.

Huh. The tiger’s got a softer side, it seems.

Siberian had little imagination, and was perfectly comfortable rehashing the same violent and visceral scenarios time and again, but she nonetheless enjoyed Bonesaw’s work.  She saw a kind of beauty in it.  Even more than that, he sometimes wondered if Siberian didn’t reciprocate Bonesaw’s desire for family.

D’aw.

Bonesaw alternately referred to Siberian as an older sister or the family pet, but Siberian’s fondness for Bonesaw bordered on the maternal, like a mother bear for her cub.

“My Big Sister is Our Pet Tiger” sounds like the title of an anime.

I mean, just the other day I found one called “My Mental Choices Are Completely Interfering With My School Romantic Comedy”.

…by Fall Out Boy.

Did anyone else in the group note how Siberian seemed to keep Bonesaw’s company, to assume she would accompany the young girl when she went out, and carefully kept Bonesaw in sight at all times?

Cherish is probably aware of it, at least.

Also I know Jack sees it as maternal, and it may very well be, but these sound like the exact same symptoms you’d see in someone with a crush. I would not be surprised to find a pedophile among the Nine. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now, though.

(#My Mental Choices Are Completely Interfering With My School Romantic Comedy
#it’s an ecchi so it’s fairly perverted #though not explicit
#(at least not on crunchyroll; idk if there’s an uncensored version)
#but more importantly it’s really hilarious
#the premise is that the mc has a curse that basically makes his life a constant game of would you rather
#at any moment he can be faced with a two-option choice and he has to pick one or get a crippling headache
#the options are rarely particularly dignifying for him)


Siberian’s stick was Bonesaw, the possibility of losing the girl’s company in one way, shape, or form.  Threats against the girl would be met with a fury like no other.  Boredom, similarly, would see Siberian stalking off on her own to amuse herself, a scenario that grounded the group until Siberian’s return hours or days later.

In other words, neither stick is particularly helpful for Jack.

Such usually meant a hasty retreat as the heroes who had realized that they could not defeat Siberian came after the rest of the group.

…right, that’s a problem for them too. Siberian’s one of their strongest defenses against such attacks.

Bonesaw wanted a family.  Her stick was disapproval, a revoking of any ‘love’ from those closest to her.

Bonesaw continues to be the best.

She was far younger, emotionally, than her outward appearance suggested.  She had bad dreams at night if she didn’t sleep in the embrace of one of her older teammates, usually Siberian.

Aww, poor thing.

When she didn’t sleep, or when her mood otherwise soured, she was as intolerable as any of the others, and among the most dangerous.

Oh, she’s absolutely dangerous. I’m not denying that.

She’s downright adorabloodthirsty, to borrow a Homestuck term.


Crawler wanted to be stronger, and remained with the group because it put him in constant danger.  His other motivation was more subtle.

Oh?

He was patiently awaiting the day Siberian might honestly and brutally attempt to take him apart.

Huh. I suppose that means he’d be interested in subtly antagonizing her, which might be a problem for group control.

The only stick Jack could wield was the possibility that the group might dissolve before that happened.  On the other side of the coin, the day Crawler decided there was no longer any threat that could evolve him further would be…

Bad?

troubling.  It was why Jack had ordered Siberian to let the boy with the glowing hair go.

Ahh, I see.

Finding the lad again would give Crawler something to do, and it would give Crawler a taste for what Siberian had to offer.

That makes sense.


Burnscar was more sensitive, in many respects.  She had to be managed, provoked or set up to use her power so she remained in a more dangerous mindset.

We haven’t really heard much about Burnscar since Interlude 11c, but I still like the setup we’ve got with her power being addictive and her being stuck among the Nine. It’s quite tragic, for better or worse.

Too much one way, and she became depressed and scared, vulnerable.  Too much the other way, and she became reckless, potentially attacking him or one of the others and sparking disaster.

A careful balance, especially since she actually has a motivation to attack the others on the team.

Mannequin had his mission.  Few things bothered him as much as seeing someone try to help others and succeed where he had catastrophically failed.

Ahh, right. That would be why he was so interested in stopping the relief efforts.

To keep Mannequin in line, Jack could remind Mannequin of who he had once been.  A simple casual utterance of the name ‘Alan’ served as effectively as a slap in the face to someone else.

Yup, that’s about what I thought.

He rarely needed such considerations; Mannequin was predictable, manageable.

Would you say he’s easily manipulated, perhaps, like an action figure?


And Cherish, who would not survive their stay in Brockton Bay… after a fashion.

What do you and Bonesaw have in mind? Making her part of another chimera?

Hope was her carrot, but she had only sticks waiting for her.  He met her eyes and knew she knew what he was thinking.

Well, sort of.

She was all too aware an ugly fate awaited her, but didn’t know what it was.  The fear helped curb her.  Still, he would have to watch his back.

I mean, yeah. You’ve basically taken away all reason for her to stay loyal to you and the team.

Carrots and sticks.  A game of constant balance.  A thousand factors.  Even now, he was taking notes on their candidates, deciding what would work and what wouldn’t.

Probably a good idea, getting an early start on that in case one of them becomes the new member.


Armsmaster and Regent were abrasive enough that they would likely prick Shatterbird’s pride.

…oh hell yes, I would actually love to see Regent and Shatterbird interacting.

Bitch would be a risk at first, but he trusted his ability to manage her and stop any fights from erupting.

Is Jack aware of Bitch’s doglike mind? At least he has experience from managing Siberian.

Siberian would become jealous of any growing relationship between Panacea and Bonesaw.

That’s an interesting notion. Also somewhat scary. We don’t want a green-eyed tiger.

The buried girl was only a candidate because Crawler hoped she was strong enough to fight him.  Either she would fail to hurt him and he would grow tired of her, or she would succeed and he would have no reason to stay in the group.

So far it seems like none of the candidates are particularly good for the group’s stability. The only one left is Hookwolf – I suspect he’ll be an exception. Notably, Bitch, the other candidate I think has any chance of actually ending up on the team, is the one that Jack seems to think will be the least trouble out of the ones he’s already mentioned.

That left him two candidates who might work.  He doubted either Hookwolf or Bitch had what it took to stay in the group long-term.

That may be the case, but these two have been my main suspects all along. Hell, even before Hookwolf’s Interlude confirmed he was a nominee.

They would soon be replaced, killed by an enemy or a member of the group, but they would not upset his carefully staged balance while they remained members.

Yeah, fair.


The interesting thing about this whole setup with Bitch and Hookwolf as the clearest potential members of the Nine is that it’s not at all clear which one it will be, if either.

Hookwolf acts both as an out if Wildbow doesn’t want to have Bitch join the Nine, and as a distraction if he does. If Hookwolf were replaced with another unlikely option such as the remaining four, Bitch being the one to succeed would be too obvious, but with Hookwolf there’s a legitimate chance that he’ll end up on the team as Bitch is somehow pulled out of it.

This also compounds the issue of how far in the Bitch plotline will go. She’ll probably be confronted about hiding her nomination soon (in fact, Grue might already have done that offscreen, once he took a moment to stop worrying about Tattletale), but how long will it take before it all comes to a head? Will Bitch be stopped from pursuing the nomination, or will she end up failing, or will she end up among the Nine and be confronted then? Hell, even then, she might be knocked down from the position and then have Hookwolf take her spot.

One thing that’s worth noting is that if the Nine fail to whittle it down to one candidate, they’re not going to pit them against each other like they usually would, but instead take the first volunteer. Bitch is the only candidate who is actually okay with her nomination. It’s very possible that the candidates win Tattletale’s game but Bitch still ends up among the Nine, as the volunteer.


He could manipulate the outcome of this little contest, see that one of the two lasted to the end.  It would be hard, requiring the best he could employ in subtlety and head games.

I like it.

The wind blew flame-heated air at his back, thick with the smell of smoke and the sweet tang of blood.

Delicious.

He smiled.  These challenges, after all, served as his own carrot.

Jack Slash would play strategy games on the hardest difficulty.

Watch out, Coil, there’s a new chessmaster in town.


End of Interlude 12a

Apart from Cherish’s Interlude, we’ve only really seen the Slaughterhouse Nine from the outside before, and mostly isolated from each other. This chapter was exactly what we needed: A chance to see them all together, from inside the group, and flesh out each of them and how they interact with each other.

The chapter went further to do that than by just showing them acting as a group, too. We also got Jack Slash’s insights into the motivations and vulnerabilities of each member, in the form of carrots and sticks, as well as some of the less obvious relationship dynamics in the team, such as Siberian’s motherly (possibly romantic, as skeevy as that is, but I said I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt and that’s what she shall receive) affection for Bonesaw. I love that. 🙂

Oh, and the Merchants are pretty much fucked now. That happened too. Turns out the answer to “Will Skidmark blend?” is yes.

Next chapter… hehe. So before I started writing this post, I peeked at the next chapter link to confirm that the two Interludes of this Arc were in a row without any surprise regular chapters sneaking in between them (though I didn’t think that would be the case), and I found out that apparently the other Interlude is called Interlude 12½. Looks like Wildbow still hadn’t quite figured out how to deal with these multi-Interludes consistently. :p

Honestly, it makes it feel like Interlude 12½ was an afterthought, like, “Hey, maybe I should have a second Interlude here, but I already named the first one without a letter…” I kind of doubt that’s the case, since it seems like Wildbow writes his chapters well in advance, but that’s the vibe that numbering gives me.

Anyway, my predictions for next time are pretty much the same as for this one, though obviously without the one that actually happened in this chapter. I’m holding out hope for either Charlotte or Sierra’s POV, or for a check-in with someone on the other side of the rift Hookwolf created. I’d like to get to know Battery more, for one thing.

I suppose it’s also possible we’ll follow a Traveler and get some more information on what’s going on with Noelle and/or on the Travelers’ tight-knit backstory, now that Hookwolf’s schism has forced the Travelers’ cooperation with the Undersiders into the spotlight and Noelle has actually been seen.

So yeah! Good chapter, and I suspect the next one will be quite interesting as well. See you then!

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