Snare 13.1: The Game Begins

Source material: Worm, Snare 13.1

Originally blogged: June 9-10, 2018


Sugar. Spice. And everything nice. These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect little Arc.

But Professor Wildbow accidentally added an extra ingredient to the concoction… Chemical Slaughterhouse!

Thus, ARC 13 OF WORM WAS BORN!

And it’s called…

Snare?

Interesting. In terms of its relation to bugs, that mainly makes me think of spiders and their webs. In a more (para)human context, that implies a trap of some kind, likely one that our protagonists are going to walk right into.

It’s also worth noting that we’re likely focusing on Mannequin and Cherish in this Arc, and Cherish’s power can be seen as her manipulating the webs of emotions and relations in people’s heads. She’s also been known to ensnare victims, like that one guy in her Interlude.

So, what are we in for this chapter?

Perhaps we’ll have Taylor going to check on Tattletale or her dad in person? Or maybe we’ll focus on her efforts to make things better in her territory?

Honestly, I really don’t know. First chapters of Arcs are almost as hard to speculate on as Interludes. I’m probably better off just jumping into it and seeing what’s up!

Arc 13, Snare. Let’s go. 🙂


(Using their ultra super powers, TATTLETALE, GLORY GIRL, and BITCH have dedicated their lives to FIGHTING CRIME and the FORCES. OF. EVIL!!!)


Brian was waiting for me as I passed through the door and into Coil’s underground base.

Oh, hello.

He held a paper out to me.

Sirs and Madams,

The terms of engagement are as follows:
1.  Three days to each member of the Slaughterhouse Nine so we can conduct our tests.

Ah, they’ve received a formal reply! Nice.

Tests will be performed one after the other, with eight rounds in total.
2.  A successful test or the removal of a candidate who has failed a test will earn the tester bonus time.  3-12 hours for a successful test depending on the number of candidates remaining and 24 hours for an execution. 

Seems like a decent way to handle the issue of “fewer candidates makes it easier for the later ones”.

3.  Should a tester suffer a sound defeat at the hands of any individual during their allotted time, they will be penalized one day of allotted time. 

As already happened with Mannequin. And hey, this gives a (minor, relative to the risk) incentive for others to fight Slaughterhouse members.

4.  Each tester operates independently, with no hands-on assistance from other members of the Slaughterhouse Nine.  Assistance may be bought, bartered or otherwise rendered in a hands-off manner, possibly including medical assistance, information, provided equipment and suggestions.

Seems reasonable.

5.  Candidates may receive assistance, hands-on or otherwise, from Brockton Bay residents only. 

Ooh, underline, don’t think we’ve seen that in this story before.

And yeah, I suppose it would be a bit cheaty if they called in the Triumvirate to help or something.

We are fully aware that Legend and his teammates are in Brockton Bay.  Should they interfere with a tester, all candidates will lose the protection of any rules, all terms offered here will cease and the threat implied in point eight will be carried out. 

I was not aware of that. I suppose it makes sense that they would come when it became clear the Slaughterhouse Nine were there, though, especially given Armmaster’s status as a candidate.

This only applies to confrontations with the active tester. 

In other words, the Triumvirate can absolutely fight the Slaughterhouse members as long as they’re not having their turn. That’s a nice clause to include.

6.  The Slaughterhouse Nine will handle the punishment of any members of their own team, in the event of failures, the inability of the tester to perform at least a partial round of testing or killing a candidate without notification. 

I’m sure Bonesaw has some ideas.

7.  Should the defending parties have two or more candidates remaining when the eighth round of testing concludes, the Slaughterhouse Nine will depart Brockton Bay without incident and refrain from returning for three years at a minimum. 

Jack really is taking this seriously and making the terms relatively fair, not just between Slaughterhouse members but between the Slaughterhouse and the candidates’ side. There are so many loopholes he’s patched up here that would’ve been beneficial to the Slaughterhouse Nine.

Let’s see that implied threat mentioned in point 5.

8.  If and when the Slaughterhouse Nine do eliminate five of the six candidates, or if any candidates leave the city, the Slaughterhouse Nine are prepared to penalize the city for their failure. 

Yep. Vague but effective. Actually, effective because it’s vague.

I can’t say I’m surprised at this.

And honestly, the fact that I think Wildbow would be totally down for writing about the penalty is the main reason it’s somewhat up in the air who will win. Hell, even more so now that “if any candidates leave the city” is involved as a condition that doesn’t require either Bitch or Regent to be eliminated.

I wonder if Panacea has gotten the memo.


Mannequin is the first to carry out his round of testing.  He has two days remaining.

We will be in touch.

See ya soon!

“Where is everyone?” I asked, handing the paper back to him.

He pointed down the hall.

I take it “everyone” covers the Undertravelers? Or did this somehow result in Hookwolf’s schism ploy breaking apart?

“Christ,” Brian said, shaking his head as he walked, rereading the terms.  He opened the door for me.

Coil was inside, at the end of a long table.  The Undersiders sat at one side of the table, with Circus sitting at the farthest edge, beside Coil.  The Travellers, minus Noelle, sat along the other side.  I took note of the blond teenager who wasn’t even wearing part of a costume.  Oliver.

Oh nice, Circus too. How about Trainwreck, is he around now that the team he was undercover in has been pretty much obliterated?

And hiya, Oliver-who-is-not-Ballistic!

Coil was the opposite, as fully covered as ever.  Everyone else was costumed but they had their masks and helmets off.

Well, guess we’re adding Circus to the group of people who’ve seen Taylor unmasked.

I hope Circus has a significant speaking role here. She seems like a fun character.


I got my first good look at Lisa since I’d left her bleeding in Ballistic’s headquarters.  The scar ran from the corner of her mouth to the corner of her jaw, and dark stitches ran down the length of it.  The slang term for this kind of injury was a Glasgow smile or a Chelsea smile, but the term seemed ill-fitting.

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I think I prefer her real wide smile.

Where Lisa often had a grin on her face, the cut pulled the corner of her mouth down into a perpetual lopsided-frown rather than a smile.

Hrm.

I don’t like it. But hey, it’s the sort of thing that happens when you’re dealing with fuckers like Jack.

Bitch gave me a dark look as I entered, but many of the others were smiling.

Is she extra pissed at Taylor for something? Running off instead of helping with Tattletale, maybe?

“The people in my territory are singing your praises, Skitter,” Ballistic said.

Oh yeah, I suppose the first part of her run would’ve been through his territory.

It’s time for Skitter to hear about how much good she did on that run. That’s something she needs to hear, so I appreciate Ballistic bringing it up.

“My territory too,” Alec added.

“I didn’t do anything that special.  My power did the work.”

Wow, Skitter, you sure know how to avoid looking positively on your accomplishments effectively.

“And you kicked Mannequin’s ass,” Trickster said.  He leaned back in his chair, balancing on two of the legs, his feet on the table.  “You had a busy night.”

Yeah, that’s for sure.

Although I’m not sure Mannequin has an ass, technically. I don’t think so. Much like Leviathan, actually, until Skitter happened.


“Honestly, I didn’t kick his ass.  He got some of my people, he thrashed me, I got a piece of him.”

He bruised you, while you reduced him to a shambling headless mess.

Well, more shambling than usual.

“No,” Lisa said, her voice quiet.  She couldn’t really move one corner of her mouth when talking, so her words came out slightly slurred.

The one who mainly uses her power to verbally manipulate people and who would’ve won Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award many times by now if she’d been a witch, gets the injury that slurs her speech and mars her smile.

I think Jack did that on purpose.

I saw her work her tongue in her mouth and then take a sip of water, wincing.  Brian had updated me: the cut had probably damaged one or more of her salivary glands, and she’d have dry mouth until it healed.

That sounds very uncomfortable.

Maybe forever.  The really scary part was that she might have suffered some nerve damage as well.  How much of that half-frown was because of the direction of the cut and the way the stitches pulled, and how much was because her nerves were damaged enough that her face was drooping?

In that case she might never be able to properly smile again, even if the scar itself heals.


I highly doubt Amy would be willing to help. She hates Tattletale even more than she does Taylor.


She caught me looking and gave me a wink.  She took another gulp of water and cleared her throat before speaking again.  “They took one day from Mannequin because they thought he lost.”

Heh, nice, she caught onto that.

“If the enemy thinks they lost,” Brian said, “That’s a good enough reason to think you’ve won.”

Well, in this case at least. It’s not always true. It’s possible for both sides to lose.

I just don’t think that’s what happened with the Skitterquin fight.

I privately disagreed, but I didn’t say anything.  I pulled up a chair and sat at the corner of the table furthest from Coil, wincing at the pain in my ribs as I bent down.

Really can’t blame her for wanting to be as far away from Coil as is available.

“So,” Brian said, “You intend for something like this to happen when you made your suggestion, Tattletale?”

Yeah, how well-planned was this?

Lisa shrugged, “Sorta.  Thought he’d take the bait, didn’t know how far.”

Fair enough.


“It’s not all advantageous,” I said, thinking aloud.  “Yes, we’re now in a position where we could win, with some planning or luck, and the plan we were hashing out at our last meeting might be easier, now.  But we’re also facing pretty heavy consequences if we fail… heavier consequences.

Like I predicted back when Tattletale made the suggestion. It’s pretty obvious that if you make it a game, the opponent will want an incentive, a consequence in case they win.

And there’s a lot of places where this could go wrong.  We don’t even know who all the candidates are.”

Hmm. I think you do, actually? You just don’t know that Burnscar passed on picking one and Jack’s candidate was turned into a backpack.

Also I guess you might not know that Noelle is one.

Oh, wait, she doesn’t know about Panacea either. I think Hookwolf made it clear that he was one, though. So that means she knows about four out of six and believes there are two more than there are.


“Me, Bitch, Armsmaster, Noelle, probably Hookwolf and someone in Faultline’s crew?”  Alec said.

Close.

Wait, was it mentioned to them that there are just six?

“No.  Jack said they picked two heroes.  Hookwolf, yes.  But their last pick is a hero, not one of Faultline’s,” Lisa said.

Oh, good catch.

Is your power taking it further to tell you which hero?

“And we can’t say for sure who this person is or what actions they plan to take,” I said.  “Too much hinges on everyone else’s willingness to cooperate and play by the rules, and the stuff that happened at the last meeting of the city’s villains makes me skeptical.”

Yeah, I can’t blame her for that.

Brian nodded.  “It’s important that we find this person, make sure they play along, so we don’t wind up losing before this game of theirs even starts.”

I agree. Panacea is currently the most likely to leave the city, and that’s before considering that the Nine may not have managed to tell her about the rules.

“There’s other problems here,” I said, “We can’t forget what Dinah said about Jack.  If he leaves town, it could mean disaster.  If we win, we could all lose in the long run, because it’d mean he left town and Dinah’s prophecy would come true.

That’s a very good point. Gotta open that extra slot – and possibly break the Nine apart entirely, thanks to Jack’s central position, potentially causing each of them to wreak havoc on the city separately, not caring about the game anymore.

And it might still be for nought if I’m right about Theo.

Hell, a lot hinges on whether the Protectorate is on the same page as us.  If they arrest him and take him out of town…”

Yeah, whoops.

At least they know about the prophecy. Now it’s just a matter of whether they believe it.


“It could mean the end of the world.”

Or something pretty damn close to it.

“Right,” I said.

“Hookwolf has proposed an all-out attack,” Coil spoke for the first time since my arrival.  “He wants to gather the more powerful members of his alliance together into an army and attempt to overwhelm the Nine and kill Jack Slash in the chaos.”

Sounds like a plan. A brute force plan that’s not going to work in this story (there’s too much focus on clever solutions over raw strength for that kind of plan to be a satisfying solution, not to mention it seems to completely avoid the main protagonists having an impact on it), but a plan.

So if the Slaughterhouse Nine were to lose this all-vs-all battle, would they all each have a day deducted?

“That won’t work.”  Brian shook his head.  “These guys specialize in dealing with crowds, and they’re experienced when it comes to that sort of thing.”

Good point.

“Hookwolf believes our local capes are collectively strong enough to do what other groups couldn’t.”

Honestly, I think he just wants to lead an army.


And the army would include someone happily riding on Shrek’s shoulders.

(#Homestuck)


“Maybe they are, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  We should be focused on what we can do,” Brian said.

Yeah. Let’s let Hookwolf do his thing while the protagonists take care of the issue with a more clever tactic. There’s still the Shogi plan, for one thing, which Taylor thinks will be easier with the testers taking turns.

“You guys are better set up for information gathering and escapes,” Trickster said.

True. Masters of the getaway, and all!

“We could take them on, depending on who it is and how small the group is, but I don’t know how well we’d do in those circumstances.”

I stand by what I said about Sundancer being good against Mannequin. Hell, maybe even against Siberian – she can handle blows easily, but what about heat?

(Legend doesn’t seem to be able to hurt Siberian with his lasers, but they seem more like “punchy” lasers, if you know what I mean?)

Also, Trickster would probably be good against Jack – Jack relies on his blades, and Trickster can replace them with other things. Leaves or sticks or something, for example. He could similarly mess with Bonesaw’s tools, and put people into the fire Burnscar makes underneath herself / teleports into or in the way of her fireballs.


“We should mix up our teams, then,” Brian said.

Ooh, good idea.

“Just between us, we’ve got three candidates.  Noelle, Regent and Bitch.  Three targets.”

Yep. Half the heat is going to be on the Undertravelers, and that’s before considering the schism.

“Crawler couldn’t reach Noelle where we’ve got her stashed,” Trickster said, “I’m not sure what the others could do.”

Make sure not to light any bonfires in there.

But yeah, I’d reckon Siberian could bust through that vault door. Doesn’t matter how thick the obstacle is if you’re an unstoppable projectile.

“What about when Siberian comes after Noelle?” I asked.  “Will the same measures stop her?”

Eyy, Taylor and I are on the same page. I like when that happens.

“Probably not,” Trickster replied.

“This would be a lot easier if you’d tell us more about her,” I pointed out.  “Unless you think she can hold her own against the Nine, we’re going to be helping protect her.”

It would probably help, yes.

Feed me, Trickster. Feed my curiosity.


Trickster frowned.  “There’s not much to say.  She’s in containment, and if she doesn’t stay where she is, things would get worse, fast.”

Come on….

“So she’s dangerous, and she’s not entirely in control of her power?”

He tilted his chair forward until it was flat on the ground and set his elbows on the table, hands clasped in front of his mouth.

Time to get serious.

He glanced down the table at his teammates.  I wasn’t sure, but I thought maybe he glanced briefly at Coil.

Hm. Is that a glance of “am I allowed to divulge this”, or of “do I want him to hear this”?

I would think Trickster’s told as much as possible to Coil, but who knows. Might be more secrets here.

With a resigned tone, he told us, “She’s dangerous enough that if Siberian got to her, I think she’d make it out okay.  The rest of us wouldn’t.”

Damn.

No wonder Crawler’s interested.


The table was silent for a moment.  I could see something in the faces of the Travelers.  Pain?  It wasn’t physical, so perhaps it was emotional?  It could be fear, guilt, regret, or any number of other things.

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Clearly this means they trapped Noelle in a mirror for thousands of years.

(#Loreweaver
#I’m just poking a bit of fun at a friend about a theory he’s particularly embarrassed about
#though it was a perfectly good theory at the time
#even for those of us who were caught up)


Trickster’s words reminded me of what Sundancer had said back when she and I had fought Lung.  Sundancer had held back in using her power because she was frightened about hurting bystanders or killing the people she attacked.

Oh yeah! I guess Noelle is in a similar position now, although there seems to be a mental part to it as well that makes her want to “feed”.

Her power was too hard to use without hurting someone.  Ballistic was the same.  Was Noelle another case of the same thing?  That same too-powerful ability, only on a greater scale?

At this point it’s becoming a theme of the group, although Trickster’s and Genesis’ powers are a bit subtler.

Brian sighed.  “We’ll deal with Noelle’s situation when it comes up.  We have three targets they’re going to be coming after, with a fourth if we consider that Mannequin’ll be after Skitter.

Right, there’s that too.

If we split into two groups, then we can maintain enough offensive power to defend ourselves against the ones like Mannequin, Burnscar, Jack or Shatterbird.”

So basically, the idea is to mix and split. I hope we get Trickster and especially Sundancer with Taylor, though I wouldn’t say no thanks to getting to know Ballistic and Genesis better either. I suppose that’s more likely from a writing standpoint.

Maybe I can finally stop being confused by Genesis’ power. I think I’m getting it, but it’s still weird for me to think about.


Sundancer cut in, “Which makes me wonder…  Sorry if this is a crummy idea, but what if we waited for Jack’s turn, and then tried to kill him?”

It’s risky, letting the time pass like that, but it does make sense that he’d be putting himself out there a lot more.

“No guarantees there,” Brian answered her.  “I think we’ll have to be proactive in going after him.  Maybe we can use Hookwolf’s distraction, maybe he’ll get cocky and make a mistake.”

Certainly possible.

“Doubt it,” Tattletale said, “He’s lasted years doing what he does.”

But this is a fair point. He clearly knows what he’s doing.

I couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

“Besides, he goes last,” Tattletale finished.

Was that mentioned before? Either way, I’m not surprised.

“To get back to what you were saying, you were proposing dividing the teams?” Coil spoke.

Yeah, though I’m not entirely sure why.

“Yeah,” Brian said.  “Bitch has offensive power of her own.  Skitter does too.  If there’s no complaints, we could play this largely geographically.  Maybe me, Imp, Bitch and Skitter?  If you guys can put your differences aside?”

Oh no.

This can’t end well, especially once Skitter finds out that Bitch is embracing the candidacy.

Also who’s Imp?

…Is she here? Taylor didn’t mention her, but that’s standard fare by now. I actually really like that treatment, because it makes it super easy for the reader to forget about her too.

Then again, I suppose she didn’t specifically mention Regent either when she came in.


“No problem,” I said.

“Whatever,” Bitch answered, noncommital.

Yeah, no, this is going to be a problem.

It was only when Brian mentioned Imp that I realized Aisha was present.  I’d almost missed her.

Hah! I was hoping this was the case.

…also is this the first time it’s been explicitly confirmed that Imp and Aisha are the same person? I mean, it’s been obvious ever since she appeared out of costume in Parasite, but I don’t recall the names being used together before.

I wanted to believe that it was because she was sitting at the end of the table and there were four of my teammates between us, but I couldn’t be sure.  It would be damn nice if there was some sort of gradual immunity to her power.

Hehe.

Well, at least Tattletale’s mostly unaffected thanks to her power, and Grue seemed to be fully aware she was there already (though that’s probably because he arrived with her).

I wonder if anyone else is surprised like Taylor.

“And maybe someone else who isn’t raw offense?  Circus?”  Brian suggested.

Yes please.

Though I wonder what her perception of the Undersiders is, considering her reaction to being invited.

Coil spoke before Circus could reply.  “No.  I pulled her off of a task as a precautionary measure, as I had one aspect of my long-term plans derailed last night with Trainwreck’s demise at the Nine’s hands.

Ahh, okay, he did get caught up in that.

I would rather she did not fall to an unfortunate coincidence of the same nature.”

“I would prefer to keep this one safe because she’s particularly useful to me.”

At least he’s kinda upfront about it?


“What happened?”  Sundancer asked.

“They’ve eliminated the Merchants,” Coil said.

Quite thoroughly, although only parts of the group were present. Honestly, to eliminate the Merchants, killing Skidmark would probably be enough.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.  The Merchants were scum of the worst sort.  It wasn’t just that they polluted everything they touched and did some reprehensible things.  They reveled in it.  They wanted to be the lowest of the low.  On the other hand, it was a point for their side.

For a moment there I though Skitter was about to have more sympathy for the Merchants than I did. But nope, pure numbers.

Seven or eight parahumans we no longer had to fight the Nine with.

Yep.

“Also, I would prefer her involvement in my operation stay under wraps.  She can defend Noelle and myself for the time being.”

I guess that’s fair. At least she’ll be helping out.


“Then Trickster?  Or Genesis?”  Brian asked.

“I would rather stay close to Noelle,” Trickster said.  “If Genesis is willing, that would be fine.”

Let’s get to know her a bit!

“And that leaves Ballistic, Sundancer, Trickster, Noelle, Regent and Tattletale for the second group.  We stay together, we keep an eye on our territories to watch for trouble from Hookwolf’s contingent, and we keep an eye out for opportunity.

Sounds good!

Tattletale?  You’re good watching the downtown areas?”

Lisa nodded.

“And Skitter has the sensory abilities to check areas of the Docks where the Undersiders have territory.”

I mean, she does have to move around a bit to make that work, but that should be fine.

“I’ll need to visit each area in turn.  Unless we have some people to pass on messages, and a means of communication.”

That would certainly be good to have in any case.

Maybe Genesis’ power would be useful for that?

“I arranged a delivery,” Coil said.  “You’ll each be provided with a satellite phone before you leave, with mobile phones to use when the towers are in operation again.  It won’t be immediate, but I have shipments of new generators, appliances, laptops and other necessities on the way.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping Shatterbird from using those phones against them if she finds out about them. Unless they have plastic screens, I guess.

With the information Hookwolf has provided us about Shatterbird’s power, I think we could shield the most necessary pieces of equipment with soundproofing in case of a repeat incident.”

Ooh, good call.


“My bugs did hear something just before the blast hit,” I said.  “Is her power ultrasonic?”

I wonder if Bitch’s dogs started acting up too.

“Something like that.  Tattletale believes that Shatterbird’s power causes glass to resonate at a very particular frequency, where it generates that same resonation in other pieces of glass with the aid of her power, perpetuating the effect until it runs out of large pieces of glass to affect.”

Sounds legit.

Hm… large pieces, specifically? So it won’t shatter smaller shards or tiny bulbs and such?

“And,” Lisa said, “She probably has a reason for hitting the entire city like she does.”  She took another drink of water.  “Big pieces of glass help transmit the signal, maybe smaller shards help her in another way.  Probably helps or allows more delicate movements.”

They also make for excellent weaponry.

“I’m not saying I’m not happy to be getting more concrete information on how they operate.  I just wish it was against the ones we don’t have any idea how to stop.  Like Crawler and Siberian,” I said.

Yeah, that would be useful, wouldn’t it.


“We use the same strategy we used to fight Aegis,” Brian said.  “When fighting an opponent who won’t go down, you run, you distract, you occupy them with other things, and you contain them to buy yourself time to do what you have to do.”

Distractions seem like the only part of this that might work on Siberian. Running is hard to do against an enemy with Siberian’s speed, and it’s gonna be incredibly difficult to contain her. Bakuda’s time bomb might work to take her out, but the Undertravelers don’t have access to that.

He was right.  It just wasn’t ideal.  Avoiding or containing them was easier said than done, for one thing, and it was less an answer than a stopgap measure.

Yeah.

“We’ve addressed the most pertinent crisis, then,” Coil said.  “Is there anything else?  Any ideas or requests?”

“I had an idea,” Aisha said.

Ooh, what’cha got?

No,” Brian said.  “I know what you’re about to say, because we talked this over.  It’s a bad idea.”

“Let’s hear it,” Trickster spoke up, leaning forward.  Brian scowled, and Aisha smiled wickedly.

Judging by Brian’s behavior last Arc, it might be a bad idea because it puts Aisha specifically in danger.

“The biggest threat from these guys is that they could strike at any time, from any direction.  So why don’t we spy on them?  We find out where they are, and then we keep tabs on their movements.

Yep. She’s the perfect spy, and Brian doesn’t want her to go wandering into the enemy’s lair like that.

I can handle one shift, Genesis does the next.  They won’t notice me, and Genesis can stay concealed.”

She can? …I suppose the spying tactic from the Lake Heroic meeting, a small form, counts towards that.


“It’s far too risky,” Brian said.  “You joined this team so I could stop you from getting yourself killed.”

Ahh, makes sense. She’s under his watch, as opposed to going out solo.

“It would be nice to know what they’re up to,” Trickster cut in.

“They won’t even know I’m there.”

Quite literally.

Unless Cherish can hear her.

“You think they won’t know you’re there,” Brian said.  “There’s a distinction there.  It’s important, and it could either lead to a minor advantage-”

“A huge advantage,” Aisha said.

They both have good points here. I think Aisha will be mostly safe as long as Cherish’s power doesn’t override hers, but that’s a risk.

“-Or it could lead to you being turned into a human test subject for whatever fucked up idea Bonesaw had recently,” Brian finished, ignoring her.

A pretty huge risk.


“No!  I got a power, and it’s a useful power.  Except you don’t want me to use it, because you think it’s going to stop working all of a sudden, or someone is going to see me-”

Or hear her, in this case.

It’s worth noting that Dragon could see her, but that was likely because Imp’s power doesn’t work on silicon brains.

Dragon saw you,” Brian said.  “And you’re only alive because she doesn’t kill people.”

Of course, Brian doesn’t know Dragon has a silicon brain.

Looking at Brian and Aisha, I knew this discussion would get worse before it got better.  I cut in before either of them said something regrettable.  “Imp.  It’s a good idea, but they do have a way of sensing you.  Cherish can sense emotions, and if Dragon is any indication, your power primarily works through sight, hearing and touch.

Thank you.

(♣)

Like Grue’s.  She can probably find you and track you down.”

Hm. I don’t think Dragon is a good indication here, but there might be something to the comparison here. They are family, after all, and while there’s no genetic heredity going on, that might still have an impact on their powers.


I think the teacher back in 9.3 said something about powers running laterally in the family, too, i.e. between siblings. That may even have been foreshadowing for Imp’s introduction a few chapters later.


“We don’t know that,” Aisha said.

“It’s a pretty good educated guess, I think.  I know you want to be useful, but we can make more use of you if you’re with us, going up against someone like Mannequin or Shatterbird, who are far less likely to be able to see you.  Help us defend ourselves.”

Yeah, fair enough.

I’m not sure Mannequin isn’t covered by the same arguments, though. I don’t think he’s perceiving the world through touch and certainly not sight, and hearing doesn’t seem to be the only thing he’s got.

(I’m still partial to my theory that he’s perceiving the world through the sorts of sensors that would be involved in biospheres, such as temperature and humidity. He might be able to sense Aisha’s heat signature.)

“This sucks!”

“Imp,” Grue said, as he glanced at the others at the table and frowned, “We’re in the company of our employers and our peers.  Let’s stay professional and discuss this after.”

Aisha: “Y’know, Professionalism is my middle name.”
Brian: “No, it’s not.”
Aisha: Aisha Professionalism Laborn.”


Professional?  You asshole, you’re the one who’s refusing to use my talents because I’m your sister.

Touché.

I’ve been on the team longer than Skitter was when you guys were robbing a bank and fighting the ABB.”

That’s true. Hell, Tattletale framed the bank robbery as Skitter’s… introduction party, sort of. Though now that the truth is out about her involvement in Skitter’s story, she may have had ulterior motives beyond Coil asking them to do it: “If I’m gonna convert her, I need to show her the fun side of villainy right away.”

“You’re younger, and she’s more level-headed-”

True, Skitter is a bit more mature.

“Enough,” Coil said.  It served to shut them both up.

Professionalism, mr. Laborn.


For a few seconds, anyways.  Aisha scowled.  “Enough is right.  I’ll see you guys later.”

Aw, leaving to cool off?

I can’t blame her, honestly.

But I also wouldn’t put it past her to go against the group’s wishes and attempt to spy on the Nine anyway. Perhaps not right now, especially since she doesn’t know where they are, but down the line it’s certainly a possibility.

“Hey!”  Brian stood from his seat.

I think I wasn’t the only one to look up at him and wonder why.

Heh, nice one, Imp.

He looked at us, similarly confused, and then sat down just as quickly as he’d stood.

Imp’s power is so good.


Lisa looked pensive.  I nudged her and asked, “You okay?”

I wonder if she remembers Imp when this sort of thing happens, or just knows about her.

tumblr_inline_pa2loubxKr1sxgvvn_400.png

[El Goonish Shive panel]

Jerry: I will know that on the last day of my previous life I met three interesting, wonderful girls and made an important promise to them. Knowing my basic nature, I will do my best to keep that promise.
Jerry: All of this knowledge, however, will be as though I read it from a book. The actual memories will be gone.

More importantly in this particular context, how much of what just happened is she aware of?

“Yeah,” she replied.  Then she looked at Coil, “Hey, while you’re asking for suggestions, I have an idea?”

…is she about to help Imp out here by repeating the exact same idea while Grue doesn’t remember he has a sister? Using just Genesis rather than both Genesis and Imp?


“Anything helps.”

“You think you could get your hands on some surveillance hardware?  Skitter’s working on some new costumes, and I was thinking we could have something like small cameras mounted on our masks or helmets.”

Hm. That didn’t go quite the way I was expecting.

Why exactly does she want this? Is she less aware of Imp than I thought, and wants this to be able to determine what’s going on, why her power keeps telling her about someone she doesn’t remember?

“I can inquire with my usual suppliers.  Why?”

“Well, we’ve got one teammate that’s sort of hard for the rest of you to keep track of, and I think it might help.

Alright, fair enough. I’m not sure they should do it while Shatterbird’s in town, but it’s not a bad idea.

And if nobody objects, I’m kind of wanting to take a less hands-on approach from here on out.  I’ve batted a pretty low percentage as far as injuries over the last few months of action… Glory Girl, Bakuda, Leviathan, now this incident with Jack.

Ah, yeah. Might want to become a pitcher instead at this rate.

If I had a means of communication and the gear to give me some eyes on the scene, I think I could be more useful.”

Oh! Now it makes sense.

She’s going back to her original idea of what she should be doing for the team. Grue might be a little more willing to let her do it this time.


Coil looked at Brian.

“I gave you a hard time about your having to take the same risks as the rest of us, back when you first joined, but I think you’ve done your share.  So long as you’re contributing,” Brian said.

Yep, looks like he’s fine with it.

Coil nodded. “I’ll see what we can prepare.”

Lisa smiled a little, using only the one side of her mouth.

I wonder if this change has anything to do with her injury, besides making her think about how frequently she gets injured. Maybe she feels her role as the manipulative “face” and speaker of the team has been hurt by it and she’d rather give that up and be the eyes.

I feel like the fact that we just cut off right here with the reminder of her mouth is a good sign that I’m right about that.


[Session 2]


Our canine mounts raced through the streets with impunity.

Oh hey, it’s been a while since the last dog-ride.

The glass that covered the roads, the lack of windows, windshields or working dashboards in the few cars that still ran all contributed to the glacial pace of traffic.

At least it’s still kinda moving?

There was little for the dogs to watch out for, no moving vehicles and few bystanders.

Never mind.

Every stride the dog took made the bag I was carrying bang against my hip and made every injury I had explode with pain.  I clenched my teeth and endured it.

Ouch.

There weren’t many other options.  I could hardly complain to Bitch.

Yeah, she wouldn’t take any of that.


Bitch was well in the lead, and there was a kind of aggression to how she rode.  She pulled ahead, evading cars by only a couple of inches, forcing them to swerve, and she goaded Bentley faster with kicks and shouts.

What’s the rush?

We hadn’t raised the topic of Bitch and her nomination for the Nine.  I think the others hadn’t wanted to add tension and the possibility of argument or violence to the already complicated situation.

Huh. I think I’m going to count that as a bit of development for Grue, because I’m pretty sure a couple Arcs ago he would’ve been very quick to confront Bitch about the fact that she didn’t tell the rest about her nomination.

I know hadn’t.  My last real interaction with Bitch was when we’d parted ways after the fight with Dragon.

Not exactly a positive one, no.

I’d told her we were even, but there had been some anger and hurt feelings on both sides.  I was the last person she wanted to have grilling her.

Especially since a part of why she’s acting like this is that anger and those hurt feelings.


Bitch made Bentley slow to a walk as she reached my territory.  It still took us a good thirty seconds to catch up.

Using my power, I signalled Sierra and Charlotte.  Grue, Bitch and I climbed down from our dogs and then led them forward.

Are they all going to be staying at the Hive until the nominations are over?

“Mannequin slipped by you once,” Grue said.  “You going to be able to keep an eye out?”

Quite a lot of eyes, perhaps.

“I had some ideas, but I’m running low on resources,” I said.  “Let me see what I can do.”

Ideas? Color me intrigued.

Genesis began to appear a short distance away, near Bitch.  A blurry, beige and yellow, vaguely human-shaped figure coalesced into being.

Hi there!

So is her body still at Coil’s base, like with the Lake Heroic meeting?

The shape then sharpened into features and alter in hue until there was the figure of a teenage girl, vaguely cartoonish.  By the time we reached her, she looked indistinguishable from a regular girl.

I like this visual.

She had auburn hair, freckles, and thick glasses.  A small smile touched her face as she stretched her arms and legs.

She sounds cute!


“Everything good?” Grue asked her.

“Good enough.  I’m going to keep this shape until Coil’s people can deliver my real body.  Then I’ll need to recuperate some.”

Hm, interesting. Does that mean she wouldn’t have been able to go with them on doggyback? Or was it just not worth the risk of being attacked?

“Sure.”

Bitch scowled at me.  Bastard, her puppy, stood beside her.  He had received the brunt of her power, and looked roughly as large as an adult great dane.

Not so little anymore, huh?

The features were different from her usual dogs.  The spikes had more symmetry to their arrangement, and the muscles looked less like tangles.

I suppose if her power is actually designed for use on wolves rather than dogs, it only makes sense that the results would be neater.

It tugged briefly on the chain that led from her hand to its collar, and she pulled back sharply.  It didn’t pull again, though it was easily powerful enough to knock her over.

No pulling on the leash while going for walkies!


My people met us as we entered the neighborhoods where my lair and the barracks we’d set up were.  Sierra and Charlotte were in the lead, the three ex-ABB members behind them.  The O’Daly clan stood at more of a distance, all either members of the family, friends or romantic partners.

Would that be the family of the other group of people that showed up in 12.8?

Other, smaller families filled in the gaps.  My ‘gang’ numbered nearly fifty people in total.

Damn, got some real growth here! Skitter’s crew is bigger than the Altruistic Borderline Bimbos were at the start of the story now.

“Holy crap,” Genesis said.

“It’s why we wanted to set up base here,”  Grue said.  “Skitter’s the most established of us.”

Makes sense to me!

“I’ve been focusing on structural repairs and building when I’m not helping my teammates,” Genesis said.  “I don’t have many threats to get rid of, and it was the best way for me to be productive.  And meanwhile you’re further than I expected to get in half a year.”

Wow.

And yeah, she’s been getting busy, alright.

A bit too busy, maybe, but I’m not going to deny that she’s done some good work here.

I couldn’t bring myself to feel proud.  “I guess I’m motivated.”

Oh come on, Taylor.


Genesis whistled, looking around.  There were some looks of confusion as she strode forward into the crowd.  I suppose it was unusual for a teenage girl to be in the company of three known supervillains and a mass of monstrous dogs.

I mean, considering some of the supervillains aren’t any older, it’s more a matter of being seemingly out of costume among them.

“Sierra,” I said.  “Status?”

“We’re nearly done with the second building.  There isn’t a lot of elbow room, so we’ve been cleaning up the road.”

Sounds good!

“Good.  No trouble?”

“Not that I know of.”

I pulled the bag from over my shoulder and handed it to her.  “Distribute these to the people in charge of the various groups.  Work it out so you can pass on messages quickly, and get any necessary information to me asap.”

What’s this? The satellite phones Coil talked about?

“Okay.”  She grunted as she took the bag.

“Genesis,” I spoke.  “You said you were doing some rebuilding?”

She slapped her stomach, “Made some mortar, just a matter of sticking stuff back where it’s supposed to be, if it’s obvious enough.”

I…

I guess that’s a thing she can do.

So is her power basically that she can create things and optionally take control of them?

“Want to see what you can do, before your body gets here?”

She nodded and headed off.  My minions rapidly backed away from her as she began dissolving.

Or is it that she made a form that naturally produces mortar??

Like I said, her power still confuses me.


“Charlotte?”

“Yes?”

“How set up is the building you guys were working on?”

“Mess is cleaned out, but we haven’t moved much in.”

I like how Skitter is talking as a leader in this section.

“That should be fine.”

“We ready?” Grue asked.

I turned to face him and Bitch.  “Just about.  Bitch, there’s a space set aside that we can use for your dogs.  We’ll patrol through the various territories in an hour or so, stop by your territory and pick up some supplies for them, and you can bring your dogs here.”

Eyy, that’s something she might appreciate. Maybe. If we’re lucky. Probably not.

I had to resist adding an ‘if that’s okay’.  Firmness would work best with her, even if it did carry the risk of provoking her.

True. And it’s not like, even with the firm tone you used, you told her to bring her dogs here. Just that she could.

“Fine.”

“Good,” Grue said.  “Let’s go rest and eat.  We can wait for Genesis and the other gear Coil’s dropping off.”

Hey, I know it’s a fair distance away from here, but I wonder how Fugly Bob’s is doing. Did it survive Leviathan? Was it out of range of the Shattering? Are their burgers as greasy as ever? This is me asking the important questions.


I had enough bugs nearby to start setting up my early warning system.  With the assistance of a horde of flying insects, I began guiding spiders through various points of my territory.

Spiders, huh. Is she going to do something similar to Parian’s strings, perhaps?

They drew out lines of silk across alleyways and doors, windows and rooftops.  I couldn’t spare the spiders, so I placed ants on each line.  They would feel it if there was a vibration, not as well as the spiders, but well enough.

Yep, that’s the same basic concept. I like this.

Ten thousand tripwires for Mannequin to navigate past.

To be fair, if anyone in the Slaughterhouse Nine can do that, it’s probably him, but it’s still quite a large amount to get past. Especially while also dodging the airborne insects.

My expectation was for the lines to maybe give me an early warning of Mannequin’s approach, sometime in the coming hours, maybe in the dead of night.

Let’s hope it works. And doesn’t raise too many false alarms.


I didn’t expect to find him in the span of a minute.  A figure on a nearby rooftop was striding through the webs and avoiding the bugs.

Oh!

Well, that was quick.

I stopped.  “Mannequin.”

Everyone else froze.  Even the dogs seemed to mime their master’s stillness.

Hah.

But he was already leaving, moving with surprising swiftness as he pushed through another few lines of webbing at the edge of the roof furthest from us.

Leaving? I guess he was just scouting, then?

A second later he was on the ground, moving through an alleyway.

Ah, never mind. Just leaving the rooftop.

“We could go after him,” Grue asked.

“We couldn’t catch him, I don’t think,” I said, “And he may be trying to bait us into a trap.  Or maybe he wants to loop around while we give chase and kill my people.

And even if you do go after him, there’s the issue of fighting him. Admittedly you do have much more firepower right now than Skitter did when she fought him solo and won.

Shit, I didn’t think he’d come so quickly.”

“We weren’t exactly inconspicuous.”

That’s fair.


I frowned.

Mannequin was on guard for a trap, enough that he’d probably noticed the tripwire and decided to retreat.

Yeah, makes sense. He’d know that Skitter would be aware of his imminent arrival this time.

Besides, I doubt he likes spiderwebs after last time.

Mannequin and I had an estimation of one another, now.  Neither of us wanted a direct confrontation.  Both of us would be wary of traps or trickery.

Traps or trickery.

Did I not predict the involvement of a trap the moment I saw the title Snare?

He was a tinker, he would have prepared something to ward against the tactic I had employed last time.

Hm. Notably, he’s a biosphere tinker. Biospheres keep things contained. That’s perfect for designing a trap if he’s willing to turn his expertise outward again.

Topping it off, amassing people to please Coil had the unfortunate side effect of making me more vulnerable to Mannequin’s attacks.  He could hurt me without even getting close to me, the second I let my guard down and gave him an avenue for attack.

I suppose so.


The only ambiguous advantage we had over him was that he was working with a time limit.  He needed to test Bitch and get revenge on me, in addition to dealing with all of the other candidates, and he had less than forty-eight hours to do it.

Gonna have a busy couple days ahead of him.

I wasn’t so sure that was a good thing.  It was beginning to dawn on me what we were in for.  Forty eight hours of being on the edge of our seats, unable to sleep deeply, constantly watching for attack from Mannequin or from Hookwolf’s contingent.

No, no, you’ve got that wrong.

552 hours, watching for attacks from each Slaughterhouse member in succession. Maybe more, considering there are time limit bonuses available. Maybe less, if Bitch gets taken out or someone suffers a time limit penalty.

I guess Siberian’s turn might give them a bit of a break in there, but not much.

Also not all the tests involve attacking, but if they’re hiding Bitch, it might happen nonetheless. It’s also worth noting that Bitch may sabotage things from the inside because she actually wants to take the tests.


When we were done, we faced seventy-two hours of the same thing.  We’d be that much more tired, that much more likely to make a mistake.  Then we’d have to do it again.  And again, and again.  Eight rounds in total.

Ah, okay, she didn’t forget about that.

All in all, barring Bitch being eliminated or some time serious bonuses or penalties happening, it adds up to 23 days of nonstop terror.

From my altercation with Mannequin, I knew we wouldn’t make it through even the first few encounters without some loss, some injury or casualty.  By the time the eighth round of testing rolled around, what kind of condition would we be in?  What condition would my territory be in?

Almost certainly not a good one.

You’re probably much better off if you can end this before it gets that far.

I’d initially seen Tattletale’s deal with Jack as a good thing, a miniscule chance at success, with some drawbacks and negative points.

I didn’t, but Jack went for a more fair approach than I ever expected, so I’ve turned around on it somewhat. But maybe I was just seeing some of the problems Taylor didn’t at the time?

The more I dwelled on it, the more daunting it seemed.

“You okay?” Grue asked me.

“A little spooked,” I admitted.

The main benefit of the deal is that this will be less immediately intense and more based on stamina. Without it, the Nine would be testing on top of each other, whereas this adds structure and a bit of time for the candidates to rest between each test.

Well, there’s that and the Slaughterhouse Nine allegedly leaving the city if they lose, and leaving excess candidates alive.


He set a hand on my shoulder.  “We’ll make it.”

Speaking from the perspective of someone who had gone toe to toe with these guys, I wasn’t so convinced.

At least you won that. It was hard, and it’s definitely not going to be easy to make it through eight rounds, but you proved that it’s possible to beat them.


End of Snare 13.1

This was a fairly good planning chapter. We got implicit confirmation that Coil is still looking out for his subordinates, a mix-and-split tactic that’s going to let us get to know Genesis a bit better, a bit of conflict between Grue and Imp that I think will be interesting going forward, and a look at the growth in Skitter’s ranks!

Meanwhile, Mannequin is sneaking around Taylor’s territory, and he doesn’t have much time to waste. Taylor suspects he’ll resort to a trap, and between the title Snare and biosphere being meant to contain things, I think she’s right. Perhaps we’ll see that take shape within the next two chapters.

Next time, however, the focus may be on getting the new temporary residents of the Hive situated, possibly going on a tour of the territories, and maybe showing more of Genesis’ personality. (We saw some of that this time, though not enough that I really commented on it – she seems fairly upbeat, though, which I like.)

So yeah! See you soon for the next chapter!


[postscript]

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention in the main chapter thoughts post:

Taylor’s being more reluctant than ever to acknowledge any of her own accomplishments as something positive. I think that will be something of a throughline in this Arc – hopefully she can come around a bit on that by the end.

One thought on “Snare 13.1: The Game Begins

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