Snare 13.4: Fire Escape

Source material: Worm, Snare 13.4

Originally blogged: June 24, 2018


A young man sits in his living room. It just so happens that today, the 24th of June, 2018, is the day this young man intends to begin reading the chapter or Worm with the most Homestucky chapter number so far. Though it was 17 months ago he started reading Worm, it is only today he will be given a chapter with this distinction. Well, unless you count 11.1 and 12.6.

What will the chapter of this young man’s day be about?

> Young man: Speculate.

Your name is KRIXWELL JACE. You are a LIVEBLOGGER, and for almost a year and a half now, you have been slowly reading through the work of SUPERHERO FICTION known as WORM, all the while RECORDING YOUR THOUGHTS FOR ALL TO SEE.

Today, you don’t have many SPECULATIONS to talk about before you begin. When you last left off, the PROTAGONISTS were already BADLY HURT before BURNSCAR showed up to challenge them, and you find it FAIRLY OBVIOUS that the conflict with BURNSCAR is going to be the main focus of the chapter.

Exactly how the PROTAGONISTS are going to get out of this situation alive is HARD TO FATHOM. Perhaps it would’ve been easier if only TATTLETALE had been present to exploit BURNSCAR’S BACKGROUND and LACK OF DESIRE to remain part of her team when lucid from her ADDICTIVE POWER. At least SKITTER appears to have noticed the EMPTINESS IN BURNSCAR’S VOICE, which might eventually tip her off to it.

SKITTER’S POWER OF BUG CONTROL may be of limited assistance, due to BURNSCAR’S ability to BURN NEARBY BUGS WITH EASE. However, it did work out against LUNG in the past, as SKITTER IS QUITE CREATIVE.

> Krixwell: Shut up and liveblog.


A little bit of context: Homestuck has at least four main arc numbers, but 4/13 is by far the most important one. So 11.1 (111) and 12.6 (a variant on 6/12) both count as Homestucky numbers, but 13.4 (a variant on 4/13) is a much bigger deal.

(#though 4.13 would’ve been better
#sadly arc 4 only went to 11 chapters (plus two interludes though))


Bad, bad, bad, bad. 

Taylor is very concerned about bathrooms all of a sudden. Wait, what do you mean this story isn’t written in Norwegian?

Jokes aside, Burnscar doing this really is terrible news.

Burnscar stood with Mannequin just behind her, sporting a red shirt and black jeans, cigarette burns running down her cheeks, and a dead look in her eyes.

Hm. Looks like Taylor is noticing more of Burnscar’s lack of true happiness among the Nine. If she can put things together, she might be able to tattletale this situation.

Bitch, Grue, Sirius, Bastard and I stood a dozen feet away, walls of flame like bonfires barring our escape routes to the rear or sides.

The arena has been defined.

Droplets of rain fell all around us, making ripples on the inch-high water that flooded the street.  The air was thick with the smell of smoke.

Man, even when they’re up against a fire-based enemy, there’s just no avoiding the water. Although maybe that’s a good thing here.

We’d at least had time to mentally prepare for the idea of facing Mannequin.  My strategy had been last-minute, but I’d been in the right frame of mind to fight a tinker, to anticipate ambush and tackle someone with decent offensive abilities, strong defenses and a crapton of tricks up his sleeve.

But now, she’s in the frame of mind to fight a tinker but up against a blaster/mover, all while hurt from the fight against Mannequin.

Burnscar had flipped things on us; she was in a totally different ballpark from Mannequin.

A ballpark is also known as a court, and

tumblr_inline_pau00ydHCb1sxgvvn_1280.png

If I had to guess, her offensive capabilities were top-notch, even if they didn’t break the scales like some other members of the Nine.

Sounds about right based on what we saw in her introduction.

I couldn’t even guess where she fit on the spectrum of defensive ability, but she’d been with the Nine for a little while and she was still alive, so that was some indication.

Imp might have something to say about that. Her own power doesn’t seem to defend her much except against fire, but Bonesaw’s can.

And utility?  She had every trick a pyrokinetic like Lung had at his disposal and she could teleport through flames as well, opening up a mess of tricks and avenues of attack.

I really liked the fireball teleport she did in Jack’s Interlude, that was a cool trick.


Wait a minute. Look, Burnscar, I know you have a fire theme and red is appropriate for that, but… don’t you know how deadly red shirts are? Sheesh.


“Happy now?” She asked Grue.

I doubt it, but he can’t throw the rules at her anymore. There wasn’t a rule about the turns going in Jack’s predetermined order.

“Not so much.”

Burnscar’s voice was flat, without humor, like an actor reading the lines from a script without actually emoting them.  “I am following the rules, now.  Let’s see.  Trying to remember how this is supposed to go. Test you, you pass or fail, and then I kill you.”

Um. I’m not sure that’s entirely correct?

I mean, a) isn’t that supposed to be specifically for the candidates (though one of them is here), and b) isn’t she only supposed to try to kill the candidates if they fail her test?

“You only kill Bitch if she fails,” I said.  Opening my mouth was more automatic than intentional.

Exactly.

The majority of my focus was on our current situation.  Options.  What avenues of attack did we have?  What about self-defense or escape?

At least Taylor has her priorities in order.

Attack-wise, I guess the only good option is the doggos again. They might not be entirely fireproof, but the OG doggos did decently against Lung. However, Burnscar can easily evade the doggos by teleporting. Bugs would be able to spread out more, but would be less likely to deal enough damage to get past Bonesaw’s protective measures.

Self defense… Well, the darkness ought to help make them harder to hit, but Taylor may have a limited time to really sense anything in it, as Burnscar is likely to continually burn her bugs. If Burnscar pulls a Lung and surrounds her whole body in fire, it will be hard for Taylor to track her movements in the darkness without sacrificing bugs, unless she can place one in a spot on Burnscar somehow untouched by the fire. Another relevant question is whether Burnscar, like Oni Lee, would bring the bugs with her when teleporting.

I really do think the best solution here would be to tattletale it, but Tattletale’s not here, so Taylor would have to fill in for her, and she doesn’t have the same sort of knowledge about the exact cause of Burnscar’s emptiness and dead eyes that Tattletale has. Maybe using the “phone a friend” cheat could be worthwhile, but doing so without taking a fireball to the phone might be difficult.


I had my pepper spray.  My knife and baton were available too, though I doubted my ability to dish out more hurt than I suffered in an exchange of hits with Burnscar.

Oh yeah, the pepper spray. Been a while since we saw that.

Grue had his darkness, and both of the remaining dogs were in okay shape.  I had my bugs, but neither my costume nor my bugs would do well against the flame.

Once again, Taylor is up against an enemy with type advantage.

“I can still kill tall, dark and eerie and the alien girl,” Burnscar said.

Alien? Hm. It’s not a surprising comparison in itself, since Skitter’s mask does look alien, but it’s interesting nonetheless, as it sounds like Burnscar doesn’t know what Skitter’s thing is. I suppose that fits with how she seems a little ditzy with other things, like the rules. At least while she’s high on her power.

Anything the enemy doesn’t know can be used to your benefit, especially in a story with the theme of “knowledge is power”.

Also, I love that she calls Grue “tall, dark and eerie”. :p


“Bug girl,” I corrected.

Taylor, no!

“Don’t really care.  Bitch, the test is an old one, but it’s good.

Okay, so she doesn’t care (another potential downfall), but still, that was a mistake on Taylor’s part. It might not have helped that much if Taylor didn’t get super creative with it, but I do think they’d be better off if Burnscar didn’t know what Taylor’s deal was until it came buzzing down on her.

We don’t get to do it often enough, because it requires research.  Got to do it with Cherish because she gave us the necessary info.  Wasn’t very bright, but she did.

You’ve got my interest.

(We didn’t get to hear about Burnscar’s test for Cherish in 12.4, did we?)

Now that she’s on the team, she can give us all the info we need.”

Ah, yeah, I suppose that makes sense. Might not last much longer, though.

“You talk too much,” Bitch snarled.  “Get to the point or go the fuck away.”

The latter would, of course, be preferable.

“You’re going to have to face your greatest fear.  Destroy any hold it has on you with violence, blood and death.  I don’t want you to just conquer your fears. I want you to murder them, before anyone else can use your feelings for them against you.”

Ahh, I see. That really is an oldie but a goodie.

And Cherish really is perfect for digging up information about someone’s deepest fears.

But what’s Bitch’s greatest fear? Being on her own, without her dogs? Something to do with her “families”?

She put a special inflection on the word ‘murder’, making it clear she was being quite literal.

Hmm. Maybe she’s somehow gotten a living representation of the fear that she wants Bitch to quite literally kill. Or perhaps murdering the fear would entail making it so it can’t come true, in whatever way necessary? Sounds like a difficult task for anyone who’s deeply afraid of spiders or something.


I expected Bitch to say something along the lines of ‘I’m not afraid of anything’.  She didn’t.

She may be brusque and unwilling to talk about her feelings, but she’s not a liar and she’s not the type to show off.

Her eyes narrowed.

“What the fuck do you have in mind.”

“I’m not going to fucking hurt my dogs.”

That is not an unreasonable guess at what Burnscar is talking about, but I kinda feel like that’s not quite it.

“Not asking you to.  Dogs are easy.  Replaceable.  Sure, you might cry when they bite the dust, you love them.”  The lack of inflection or emotion in Burnscar’s voice made the words sound almost mocking.  “It’s sweet.  But that hole in your heart mends, time heals the wound, you get more dogs and you bounce back.”

That is true enough, I suppose.

“I think you’re underestimating how much she loves her dogs,” I said, “A wound like that never heals.”

Maybe not fully, but she seems nowhere near as broken up now about the dogs that died in Extermination as she was in Parasite and as she was implied to be in 8.8.

Bitch turned her head just enough to give me a hard look.

“Don’t tell her I’m a fucking softie.”

“I’m not saying she doesn’t,” Burnscar shrugged.  “I’m saying the idea of losing them isn’t what scares her the most.  So forget the dogs.  I’m not asking you to hurt them, maim them, murder them or anything like that.”

Good. Now what are you actually asking of her?


Bitch glanced at Bastard.  He was growling, barely audible, low and steady, and his hackles were raised.  Were they still hackles if they were mostly fragments of calcified muscle and bone spikes?

Fuck if I know.

“Kill them,” Burnscar said.  She pointed at Grue and I.

Yeeeah.

As unsympathetic as she can be, she’s a lonely girl who needs her friends even if she won’t admit it. The Element of Loyalty, here being asked to kill the closest people she has to true friends, murdering her connections before someone can use them against her and facing the fear of not having them.

Bitch laughed, if you could call it that.  It was more of a snort, with zero humor to it.  “That’s supposed to be my biggest fear?  I don’t give two shits about them.”

I’m not sure how much of this is an unwillingness to admit it to herself and how much is an unwillingness to admit it to anyone else.

I doubt it’s Cherish being wrong. Unless of course this is Cherish attempting to sabotage the testing by lying.

“You do.  They’re the closest thing to a human connection you’ve had your entire life.  Maybe you haven’t thought it out loud to yourself, but you’re terrified at the idea of losing them.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s specifically Skitter and Grue that are here. Throughout the time we’ve known Bitch, she’s had much more to do with those two than with Tattletale and Regent.

Hell, I even suggested, early on [here], that Grue and Bitch had a moirallegiance, a kind of relationship where one party pacifies a more hot-tempered partner. In Homestuck, that’s considered downright romantic. I’ve since abandoned this idea because it turned out Grue was kind of bad at it, but they’ve still had a fair bit to do with each other.

You know as well as anyone else that this relationship with your team, it’s like winning the lottery for you.”

You do realize you’re pointing out that Bitch has reasons to not want to join the Nine, right? Unless you follow it up with the idea that the Nine could give her the same sense of human connection, but that’s more Bonesaw’s deal.


Bitch scoffed.

“Sure, it’s shitty as relationships go,” Burnscar continued, “Anyone else would find it depressingly lame.  But they’re the best you’ll get.  The best you can hope for, because you’re fucked up.  Believe me, I know when someone’s fucked up.”

Heh, I suppose she does have personal experience.

“Like I said, you talk too much.”

Yeeah, Bitch isn’t happy about her feelings being laid out like this.

“They’re the best you’ll ever get, and according to Cherish, you’re losing them.  Whatever bond you made with them, it’s fucked up now.  Maybe you did it, maybe them.  Maybe both.  But it’s dying a slow death, dog girl.  Rip off the band-aid and finish off these losers who aren’t going to be your friends in a few weeks anyways.  Do it, and I let you and your dogs walk away.”

Ahh, so that’s how she turns it into a positive from the perspective of getting into the Nine.

But yeah, Cherish is right, she is losing them. The whole thing has been breaking apart for a while.


I haven’t really mentioned it, but it’s painfully clear that it’s all up to Bitch here. Skitter and Grue can’t defend themselves well against the doggos in their current state (at best Skitter can sic her bugs on Bitch, but they won’t do much against the dogs), so if Bitch does give the word, they’re fucked.

Then again, I have been predicting that Bitch would eventually end up fighting the other Undersiders.


“Why the fuck should I listen to you?”

why should we listen to you.png

I dunno, maybe because of the walls of flame?

“Because if you say no, if you try to run or walk away, if you attack me, I’ll consider your test a fail.”

Making her eligible for elimination. I’m a bit unclear on whether she has to fail each individual tester’s test for that tester to kill her – though I would think so – but if she doesn’t, she’d lose her protection if this happened.

“So?”

“I’ll have no reason to hold back.  Your team dies, your dogs die, and you’ll wish you were dead.”

I wonder if that means she’d torture Bitch herself, or she’d give her over to Bonesaw.

“Fuck you,” Bitch retorted, but she glanced at Grue and I, and I could have sworn I saw doubt.  Was it indecision?  The way Burnscar had framed this, Bitch either had to admit she cared about us and fight for our sake, or Bitch could attack us to secure her safety and her dogs.

What will it be, Bitch? Will you join the Shadowbolts or fix the bridge [here]?


I should really be speculating about Bitch’s decision, I suppose, but here’s the thing: I don’t fuckin’ know.

Bitch does seem at least somewhat unwilling to betray her team right now, but she has expressed mild interest in joining the Nine before, and she has a history of selfish decisions. Killing the Undersiders would statistically be the better option for her own sake, if you ignore the bonds she doesn’t want to admit to having.

I think Skitter and Grue don’t stand that much of a chance if she does attack, but if she doesn’t, they’re up against Burnscar instead, which isn’t much better, so that doesn’t actually tell me much. At least they’d have the doggos on their side, but still.

Maybe acting could work as a third option – pretending to kill the Undersiders? But that’s not really Bitch’s style, and while Burnscar seems a little ditzy with some things, she still doesn’t strike me as someone who would fall for that.


I couldn’t say which road she’d take, not with any kind of certainty.  My gut told me it wouldn’t be the answer I wanted.

That does tend to be the way this story works. Honestly, that’s one of the stronger arguments for the “will attack the Undersiders” side.

She’s considering it. 

I want to make it clear that while I compare Rachel to the Element of Loyalty, I by no means think she’s good at it.

Which meant I had to take matters in my own hands.  Burnscar held the advantage, and Bitch was leaning her way.  I needed to flip things and take that certainty away from her.

Ooh, now this is going to be interesting.

I drew from the capsaicin-treated bugs in my armor compartment.

Um.

Okay, I thought she was just going to talk, but what is she doing now? Is she going to try to trick Bitch into thinking Burnscar just burnt her, or something?

There hadn’t been any point in using them against Mannequin, but they might incapacitate Burnscar.  The trick was catching her off guard.

Ah, yeah, I suppose that’s true. She’s still fairly calm, so it should be easier to do than it would be in the midst of battle.

But you should’ve let her think your thing was aliens. Now she might be on the lookout for bugs, if she’s got any sense despite her claim that she doesn’t care.

“You’re doing it wrong,” Grue said.

What?

“What?”

What?

“Did you even read the rules Jack gave us?”

What rules lawyering does he have in mind now?

Or is he gambling on her inability to remember the rules in order to convince her that there’s a rule she’s breaking that isn’t actually there? That seems like it might backfire later.


“Yes,” Burnscar frowned.  “I did.”

“Then why are you doing it differently than he did?”  Grue pointed at Mannequin.

Oh, is he asking for a deadline?

He was buying us time, using Mannequin’s inability to talk and Burnscar’s less than firm grasp to throw her off her stride.  He didn’t know it, but he’d also provided me with a distraction.

Excellent. Good work, Grue.

My capsaicin-laced bugs made their way down my back and the backs of my legs.  Near the surface of the shallow water, they spread out, sticking to shadows, the cover of burning rubbish and the darkness that swirled around Grue.

I guess she figured she shouldn’t use flying ones. Easier to spot, especially in large numbers.

“Doing it differently?  This isn’t that complicated,” Burnscar said.

“How’s it going to look if you do it wrong?  I imagine Mannequin’s going to get punished for fucking up,” Grue said, “But he at least tried.  If you screw up here, right at the beginning, you really think your team is going to be impressed?  No, they’re going to be embarrassed.

And here I thought it was going to be Taylor doing the tattletaling. Looks like Grue can do that pretty decently too.

And I bet they’ll take it out on the person who embarrassed them.”

Sounds about right.


Mannequin tapped on Burnscar’s shoulder.  She turned, and he parted his mouth slightly before drawing an ‘x’ over it with one finger.

Hm… is he saying he’s not going to tell on her, or that she shouldn’t let Grue talk, or…

“Mannequin says you’re lying.”

Ah. I guess that works.

Crap.  My bugs weren’t in position to attack yet.

At least if she keeps talking to Grue, there’s still some time.

“You really going to gamble on that?” Grue asked.

“Yeah,” Burnscar said.  The flames around us swelled in size.

Fair enough.

Wait, is Mannequin actually allowed to interfere like that, or does that count as assisting?

I suppose restricting him from giving her a little tip like that is a bit too strict a reading of that rule.

I had no time left for subtlety.  I gave the order for my bugs to attack directly, closing the distance by the fastest and most obvious routes available.

Here we go, let’s see how Bonesaw’s squishy-protection deals with this.


They rose from every corner and shadow in the area, approaching Burnscar from every direction.  I directed them towards the exposed skin of her hands, ankles, face and neck.

I don’t think this is going to be anywhere near as effective as it is cool, but damn is it cool.

The second they landed, they bit, stung and clawed at her.  I even felt a few touch her face.  Then I felt her move.  For an instant, I thought she had some kind of enhanced strength or speed that let her throw herself to one side like she did.  Except it wasn’t her.  It was Mannequin that moved, throwing her to one side, so she landed in the midst of a flaming pile of trash.

Y’know, normally getting thrown into a flaming pile of trash would be a bad thing.

Also if this isn’t assisting…

The bugs on her were burnt to a crisp and she promptly disappeared.

“Run!” Grue shouted.

Where? I haven’t heard anything about her walls of flame going down.


Bitch hauled on Bastard’s chain, shouting, “Go!”  She climbed halfway onto Sirius’ back, unable to climb up higher with her injured leg.  Grue and I followed as Bastard crashed into  one of the walls of flame, sending burning trash flying and spreading out the flaming water.

Fair enough. I guess going through one of them quickly is going to burn less than staying put.

Bitch rode Sirius through the break, and Grue and I hurried after.

Hot.

How well is your costume holding up, Skitter?

I stumbled as the heat built.  I was supporting Grue as best as I was able with the pain in my ribs protesting even the slightest movements of my arm, let alone trying to support a nearly-grown teenage boy.

Ah, right, they don’t get the luxury of riding a super fast doggo out.

The heat of the flames increased.  I think we could have made it if it was just one or two steps, but it wasn’t.  Five paces failed to carry us out of the flames.

Damn, these are thick.

We were too slow to keep up with Bastard and make use of the way he was scattering the flames for us.

And that day, Bastard split the Red Sea, but unfortunately, Skitter and Grue had too much distant Egyptian ancestry to be allowed through.


I fell in the same moment we finally got free of the flames, and Grue fell with me.

Hey, make sure you get those feet out too.

There wasn’t fire underneath us, but I could still feel the heat, intense, accompanied by a blinding pain.  I was on fire.

Hey, maybe it’s a good thing you fell. You’ve both already stopped and dropped, now it’s time to roll!

The water was too shallow to extinguish the fires as they licked around us, and even rolling in it failed to do anything substantial.

Well, shit.

Uh, what other ways are there… covering the flames in some sort of fireproof fabric? But I doubt there’s much of that nearby.

Grue smothered us in darkness.  I’d fought alongside him before, I’d been under the effects of his power countless times, but this was different.

…interesting. Can he modify the exact properties of the darkness to make it better suited to putting out fires?

I was hurting, I wanted to find solutions, and now I couldn’t see.  I couldn’t even use my swarm sense to assess the situation, because the flames Burnscar had spread around the area were limiting my bugs’ movements.

Oh, that kind of different.

Our enemies, Mannequin and Burnscar, were similarly out of my reach.  I felt a swelling panic as I thrashed, trying to immerse myself.

tumblr_inline_pau8ilB2hz1sxgvvn_640.png

[fake tweet]
Skitter (@SkitteringAround):

Status update: Lying on the wet, hard ground, blinded and on fire and trying to escape a psychopath who wants me dead. I used to think escapism was fun.

(#i edited the code for an actual tweet to make this
#i don’t know if there’s an actual user with this @name
#skwitter)


I felt something heavy on top of me, then three quick taps on my shoulder.  A signal?  Grue.

What are you doing, pal? It seems like Grue has some form of plan, but I’m not sure what it may be.

I didn’t fight him as he used what must have been his jacket to pat me down and splash water onto me.  I felt the water touch bare skin.

Yeeah, looks like her costume really didn’t handle the fire. Makes sense. I’ve been talking about how it might not handle heat, but this wasn’t just heat, this was the costume actually catching on fire, making it the fuel.

The pain and the heat continued as Grue hauled me to my feet, but the rational part of me knew he wouldn’t do that if I was still on fire.  I was burned.

Makes sense.

It hurt, but I wasn’t in imminent danger from anything or anyone except Burnscar and Mannequin.

Heh.

tumblr_inline_pau9730xQS1sxgvvn_640.png

[fake tweet]
Skitter (@SkitteringAround):

I’m not in imminent danger from anything or anyone except these two dangerous people who totally want to kill me. Super safe.


Using my power, I found difficulty at every turn.  Everywhere I sent my bugs, I encountered fire.  I felt like a blind person tapping their cane around himself to get a sense of the surroundings, encountering only danger, destruction.

That’s… pretty much exactly what she is, except for the cane being metaphorical.

A picture was gradually unfolding, and it was an ugly one.

How bad is it?

We ran, Grue leading the way.  We fell four times.  My legs and back were burned, Grue had his injured leg, and we were running slightly downhill.

I guess that’s better than uphill, at least. Downhill leads to water, and is easier.

He was clutching my shoulders hard enough that it hurt, and leaning heavily on me with every other step, while my legs had none of the strength needed to support him.

These two have no business running right now, but they don’t have much choice.


When we moved past the darkness, we were standing in the midst of the shattered Boardwalk.  We half-slid and half-climbed down the ruined area to the beach, and walked over to the water’s edge.

How’s the situation around you looking? Fire everywhere?

From our new vantage point, we could see what Burnscar had done.

My territory was on fire.

Fire everywhere.

Grue’s shadows still covered the ground levels of the area, but I could make out the tops of the taller buildings.  Not every building burned, but there were enough.  Rain fell around us, but it wouldn’t matter against a blaze like that.

Yeeah. Rain doesn’t help if the fire is too big to smother.

In the gloom, the plumes of smoke that were as thick around as any building appeared black against the light gray backdrop of gray rainclouds.

Considering the state of Brockton Bay these days, you know what this is?


“Come on, Taylor,” Grue said.  He tried to pull me to my feet, and I didn’t move.  “We can deal with all that later.  Right now, we’ve just got to get away.  We survive.”

Man, the Nine just keep fucking over Skitter’s territory. Shatterbird, Mannequin, now Burnscar…

“Survive,” I muttered.

I’d been prepared to die against Mannequin if it meant removing one monster from the world.

Honestly, I can’t blame her for that part. I was more disturbed that she briefly seemed to have lost the will to live because the Nine had compromised her mission to save Dinah.

It was a pretty good indication of how much I valued my life at these days.  I’d cut ties with my dad, dropped out of school, helped get Lung arrested and started chain of events that had led to the ABB terrorizing tens of thousands of people.

Which it seems I wasn’t quite off the mark about.

Taylor is so deep down the rabbit hole of negativity that she’s very close to being straight up suicidal.

I’ve never seen Taylor as a protagonist meant to be emulated. She has some very good qualities that it doesn’t hurt to mimic, of course, but overall she strikes me as a cautionary tale, especially in later Arcs. A tale about what happens if you don’t focus on yourself from time to time, don’t allow yourself to be happy or value your accomplishments.

Taylor is miserable, and I think a large portion of the story so far has been meant to show how she ended up like that, so we might avoid making the same mistakes.

I’d served as a distraction so a power-hungry supervillain could kidnap a girl and keep her drugged up in some underground cell for months.  I’d stood by to let a man die.  I’d become a full-fledged villain.  Pledged to protect people and then let them die horribly.  Not once, not twice, but three times.

You did the best you could.


What the hell had I been thinking, wanting to become a superhero?

I think I summarized it a few posts back, in the first Skwitter edit: You used to think escapism was fun.

You wanted to escape from the life you had, and if you protected people along the way, that was good too. Then Tattletale happened and you became a villain and things went downhill from there because of factors you couldn’t control.

And all of a sudden, the life you ended up with was worse than the life you started with, but by then you’d thrown away the latter.

You know, it isn’t too late to go back. It might be hard to make that choice due to the connections and promises you’d be breaking, things may be awkward with Danny for a while, and the Nine would still be around, but you can go back to an approximation of your old life.

The biggest problem as far as staying safe while doing so would be Cherish, and she seems like she’s intent on betraying the Nine for her own safety.


“Come on,” Grue urged me.

I stood, leaning against the concrete wall that divided the beach from the street above.

Survive.

“Genesis is going to be there,” I said.  “We need to go find her and help her.”

…right, they had her real body moved to Taylor’s territory.

Considering that’s how they put it, she’s probably not able to move, at least not very easily, with her real body.

“We’re too hurt to do anything,” Grue answered, “Genesis can handle herself.  She can always make a new body with her powers.”

That was my first thought too, until I remembered her real body is in there. Unless of course they haven’t gotten around to moving her in yet. I forget, was there any time in between their arrival in Taylor’s territory and going to Ballistic’s to talk to Amy?

Now that I think about it, I don’t think there was. I guess they haven’t moved Genesis’ real body yet, then?

“And her real body?  She had it sent to my lair.”

I don’t know, I confused myself on that matter.

Grue paused.  “Your lair could be on fire.”

Yes, that’s the problem.

(I guess they did get her sent along already.)

“Exactly.”

He considered for a few moments.  “Alright.  Just let me call Bitch.”

Yeah, let’s figure out where she went and see if she can go fetch Genesis.

“Don’t.”  I stopped him as he got his phone in hand.

Um. Why?

Because she actually considered attacking you?

“What?”

“A call at the wrong time, her ringer going off, it could mean alerting the enemy about her position or distracting her.  Wait.”

Oh yeah, that’s a good point. Fair enough.


He nodded, and we ran.

Grue was letting his darkness dissipate, for the most part, as we were under cover and out of the way.  We made our way to the storm drain, using the wall for support.

The storm drain that goes into the lair?

We headed through the secured doors and into my cellar, then up the stairs to the main floor.

Yeah. How are things looking here?

> Skitter: Examine room.

My lair wasn’t burning down, but I could see the faint flicker of flame on nearby buildings through the slits on the shutters.  A quick investigation with my power showed that it wasn’t anything serious.  I set bugs in place as an early warning system.

Good call. Even if it’s nothing serious now, it doesn’t mean it won’t get worse.

We headed straight for the bedrooms.  I wasn’t expecting to see what I did.

Hmmm.

Burnscar showing up there would be quite the twist.

More likely, though, it’s something to do with Genesis’ real body.

There must have been fifteen of them.  Kids, none of them older than ten, some as young as four.

Oh damn, nice. Is this Sierra’s work, perhaps?

Or maybe Genesis’ power is glitching.

There were three to a bunk, sitting up or lying down.  Charlotte was with them, the eldest.

Ah, Charlotte, not Sierra. Same basic idea, just not the right individual.


“Don’t be mad,” she said, in a small voice.

really can’t see Skitter being mad about this.

“Mad?”

She spoke quietly, as if the kids wouldn’t hear, “I didn’t know where else to take them.  Sierra said we had to hide, that Mannequin was coming.

Ah, right, that order was a thing that was recent enough to still be in effect.

I saw him killing people without even moving.  He went after families, but he was focused on the parents, not the kids.  He killed them and let the kids run-”

Interesting. A bit of a soft spot for the little ones?

“Stop.”  My voice was harder than I meant it to be.  “I don’t want to hear it.”

I get that. Skitter is already feeling shitty enough about not being able to save everyone.

This is my failure. 

Case in point.

“I didn’t know where else to take them.”

“You did good,” I said.  I sounded like Burnscar did.  No emotion behind the words.

Burnscar and Skitter may be more alike than either of them would like to admit.

“Someone else should have come here.  A girl or a woman, probably with an escort.”

Huh, yeah, I suppose they wouldn’t know Genesis’ true age.

Charlotte didn’t answer, but moved aside.

Genesis.

Oh, hi there.

I wonder if she’s conscious.


Genesis slept on one of the bunks I’d set aside for my employees.  Her face was contorted in an expression of concern.  Average looks, if a little round-faced, she had long eyelashes, and her auburn hair was a mop.

That last part makes me imagine a daughter of Bitch and Regent.

She had to sleep to use her power.  Could we afford to disturb her?  If we tried to move her and she woke up, would it mean taking her out of the middle of a fight where she could do something to Burnscar or Mannequin?

This limitation could be quite interesting if combined with someone who had trouble sleeping.

Anyway, this seems to link Genesis’ power to the dreams. In her sleep, she can be whoever, whatever, she wants to be. In her dream, she’s the star. It’s she who makes that catch.

All the more metanarrative reason for her to be disabled in some way outside the use of her power. And conversely, that may be why she has this power in the first place.

“Where are the rest of my people?” I asked.

“Sierra divided us into teams and sent each of us in a different direction, telling us to get people to evacuate.  I almost ran right into Mannequin.  I hid and saw him attack.”

Sounds like Sierra knew what she was doing.

I felt out with my power, sticking exclusively to the building interiors, to avoid inadvertently barbecuing my bugs and frittering away my resources.  I used the bugs in the area to try to get a headcount.  The geography and the spread of people in this area was becoming familiar to me.

She’s been constantly sensing it for weeks, after all. It’s like she’s been sitting there, staring at a map.

Very few were still alive and in this area.  Too many had died.  How many bodies were there?  Thirty?  Forty?

And all because of the Nine who aren’t even that many. Only a few of them, for that matter.


I didn’t want to think about it.

Completely understandable.

“Charlotte, did you come in through the front door or the other entrance?”  I asked.

There’s another entrance?

…I suppose that would be the entrance via the storm drain. This place was probably built with an actual regular door somewhere.

“Front door.  I was thinking about taking these kids and running for it, but I didn’t know if you’d want-”

I think there’s a good chance she’d want that, at least now that the place is on fire.

“Secrecy is not that important right now.  Take them down to the storm drain and stay there.  It’s more or less fireproof, it’s not going to collapse on their heads, and it’s a better hiding spot than this.”

Oh yeah, good call.

It seemed like getting orders invigorated her.  “Okay.  Come on, guys.  Get ready, shoes on, this way.”

Relatable. Now that she knows what the boss wants her to do, she can do it without worrying that she’s messing up.


The kids began to get sorted and follow Charlotte’s instructions as she herded them out of the room, staying by the door to ensure nobody was left behind.  There were no complaints and there was nothing like chatter or crying from the kids.

That’s…

I don’t know which adjective to use to describe that, but it doesn’t feel right.

It’s like the kids have fully accepted and internalized that this is happening to them and they need to do what the big girl says to stay alive.

How many of them had watched their parents die for them?  They were so stoic, or shocked.

Poor kids.

Grue looked at me, “What are you thinking?”

“They take cover, we stay.  I’m going to try to use my swarm to get a sense of where Genesis is and how the fight’s going.

Seems reasonable.

The second things go south or this area gets too dangerous, we get her out of here.”

“You’ll need this,” Charlotte said.

Hm? Something Genesis gave her?

I hadn’t noticed it with all the people in the room.  At the foot of the bunk, in the corner of the room, there was a folded up wheelchair.

Oh, alright!

Might not be easy wheeling her out in a hurry, but if they’re careful I think they can do it.

Can’t ever be easy. 

Hehe, of course not!


“That might complicate things if we have to run for it,” Grue said.

I didn’t have a response to that.

I guess you’ll just have to roll with it.

Charlotte left with the kids, and we took the time to manage our wounds.  I headed into the ground floor bathroom to run cold water over the burns on my legs and back.  Grue sat on the toilet’s lid and began gathering the necessary things from the first aid kit.

They really need and deserve a short rest right now.

My power found Genesis, but only briefly.  She was big, some sort of flying pufferfish with a hard exterior and tentacles.

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It was a hard image to piece together.  She floated slowly over the streets, and the bugs that I had on her died as Burnscar pelted her.  I tried to send some bugs after her, but she disappeared into the side of a burning building as they approached.

Damn teleporters, am I right?

I tried and failed to find where she’d teleported to.  Frustrating.  Whatever her destination, it was a place my bugs couldn’t touch, so I had to wait for her to move away or start attacking from another vantage point.

I wonder what sort of range she has on her teleportation.


Nearly half a year ago, I’d gotten my powers when I was trapped in a locker, wanting to be anywhere but where I was then.  I’d reached out, my mind extending out for something, anything to distract me and draw my focus away.

…hey, look, isn’t that basically how I originally interpreted it? Although I think I focused more on the search for someone to communicate with.

So what’s this mini-recap leading into? I could see this going two main ways: a) Taylor really doesn’t want to be here, in this situation, and gets a power boost, or b) speculation on Burnscar’s power and trigger event.

There’s a good chance Burnscar’s trigger event involved her getting stuck in a burning building and wanting to be somewhere else. So the Dandelions made her capable of going somewhere else, via the fire.

I wasn’t trapped in a locker, but I felt very close to how I had then.  Except it wasn’t the feeling that I was trapped.  My power’s range hadn’t increased.

I guess I was half right?

It felt like that in a different way.

In that she’s looking for something to distract her?

Or perhaps that there’s somewhere specific she would rather be?

“We can’t do this,” I said.

“Hmm?”  Grue had torn open his pants leg and was suturing one of the cuts.

Hmm indeed.


“We can’t endure this.  We won’t last.”

Are you talking about the entire nomination game?

“We got unlucky and took the brunt of it.  We’ll get a breather.”

“Will we?  These guys are experts in preying on weakness!  They’re going to target us and come after us until we can’t defend ourselves, they’ll kill us, then they’ll go after Panacea, or Armsmaster, or Hookwolf, or Noelle, and they’ll do the same thing!”

The nomination game kind of works as a countermeasure to this. Since they’re doing it turn by turn, they have to split their attention between the candidates, and can’t all gang up on one group at the same time (though that’s close to what happened here thanks to Burnscar getting tagged in).

However, they’re probably still going to go as close to this tactic as the rules will allow.

“Taylor.”

I pushed myself to a standing position.  “They’re going to do the same thing they’re doing to us, and they’re not just going to win.  They’re going to ruin everything while they do it!”

They’ve made good progress on that already.

So this feeling Taylor had… hopelessness, and perhaps the desire to leave the city entirely?

“Stop!”

I hobbled past him, and he grabbed my wrist.  Between anger and the fact that my sleeve was wet with the water of the shower, I managed to rip my hand from his grip.  “Don’t.  Don’t do that.”

Grue just wants her to calm down and look rationally at it, but this isn’t rational Taylor at the forefront. This is the Taylor who sees this situation as the nearly unwinnable bullshit it is and is reacting to it emotionally.

I’m not so sure she’s wrong to do so, but right now they need to focus on making it through the current situation.


“What do you think you’re going to do?”

“I’m going out there.  They’re just bullies.  They’re powerful, they’ve got every advantage, but that’s all the more reason we can’t let them get away with this.

Bullies. It always comes back to bullies.

She’s right, though, that’s what they are.

I’ll bait them out, or find where they’re hiding.  I can take Burnscar down if I can get the right bugs to bite her, or sting her enough times.  I just have to do something.

Imp may have a couple things to tell you.

I can’t just stay here and let them get away with this.”

Hey, at least you have a really nicely-ranged power. Not as great as Shatterbird’s, but still. You’re one of the few here who could actually do something without putting yourself directly in harm’s way.


“You’re so hurt you can barely walk.  If they find you, you won’t be able to run.”

“Sick of running.”

I suppose she has been doing a lot of that in this story, both in and out of deadly situations.

Literally and metaphorically.

He stood and followed me.  He got ahead of me despite the fact that he was probably hurt worse than I was.  I ducked around him, and he pushed me against a wall.  “Don’t do this.  If you want to get revenge on those guys, if you want to help your people, you need to stop, rest, recover and plan.”

Stop. Rest. Recover. That’s really what she’s been needing to do for so long.

I struggled briefly, but the pain in my ribs and the burn on my back made that far more trouble than it was worth, and it was already pretty futile.

Yeah, no, I don’t think you’re going to overpower Grue physically.

Hated this.  Hated feeling weak, even if it was Grue I was comparing myself to.

My bugs alerted me to movement from Genesis.  I didn’t say anything to Grue, and simply waited as she grabbed her wheelchair, unfolded it and transitioned into it, before wheeling out into the hallway.

…alrighty then. Good morning, sleepyhead.


“Did we wake you?” Grue asked.

“No.  I can’t be woken by anyone except myself if I’m like that.  It’s more like a coma than sleep.  You were watching me?”

Ah, okay, that’s handy, unless there’s a threat to her body.

I suppose I should’ve seen that coming after she slept in a room with around 15 scared kids without waking up.

Grue and I nodded.  He must have felt self-conscious, because he backed off, letting go of me.  I did note that he positioned himself between me and the end of the hallway.

Still doesn’t want her to run off, but he at least doesn’t want to be physically restraining her anymore.

I wouldn’t be able to run for the cellar or the front door without going past him.

It didn’t really matter.  He was right.  Maybe I would have gone on if he hadn’t stopped me, using my anger and frustration to drive myself forward until I got myself killed.

That… sounds about right, yes.

Grue and Genesis had, in their individual ways, interrupted that.  I felt simultaneously angry at him and embarrassed that he’d had to stop me.

It’s okay, Taylor. You just let the situation get to you, and considering what the situation is, that’s 100% understandable.


“What happened?” I asked Genesis, trying not to look at Grue.

She glanced between the two of us.  “Realized Mannequin was using a gas, got a form together to fight that and occupy him, like you recommended, but he wasn’t there when I reformed.  Burnscar was.”

Yeeeah. She kind of took everyone by surprise.

“Mannequin forfeited his turn.  Burnscar went up next,” I explained.

“Ah.”

“You manage to stop her?”  Grue asked.

I doubt it. Chase her away, maybe, but not stop her.

“No.  I wasn’t prepared to fight her, but she couldn’t really hurt me either.  She left.”

Ah, a stalemate.

“Can you get a body together to fight the fires?” I asked, hugging my arms against my chest.

Maybe one that spits large amounts of water?


“I’ll try.  My reserves are low.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to stop them.”

It’s okay. You tried.

Grue got his phone out while Genesis retreated back to her bunk.  I made my way upstairs to curl up in the armchair.

The bed strikes me as a much more comfortable place to curl up, but to each their own.

So many dead because I couldn’t save them.  I felt doubly guilty because my reasons for regretting their deaths were partially selfish.  It was a deathblow to my plans to seize my territory, earning Coil’s respect and make inroads into saving Dinah, one way or another.

Things are not going great, no.

I took off my mask and let it drop to the ground.  My costume, I saw, was in tatters where it had burned.

Repairing this ain’t a quick job, either.

Our enemies were good, they were smart.  Mannequin had been toying with us, and we’d taken that advantage and beat him to the ground with it.  But every action was calculated.  Cherish was informing them, Shatterbird was apparently smart in other ways, and Jack was the brains of the operation.

At least it’s looking like Cherish might be down with messing things up for the Nine in some way, depending on the terms of her deal. As the informant, she’s quite important given the “knowledge is power” theme.

Shatterbird is smart, sure, but she’s arrogant. That arrogance is likely to be her downfall.


Had Jack calculated things so everything would play out the way he wanted, like Mannequin was?

Oh sure, that sounds like something he’d do.

Grue appeared at the top of the stairs.  “Bitch isn’t replying.  We should go look for her.”

Uh-oh.

“Okay.”

“You okay?” Grue asked.

Pissed.”

“But otherwise okay?”


“Me too.  Though I get that you have more reason to be angry.”

“I just-” I stopped, clenching my fists.  “I don’t-”

Don’t see the point of it all?

I blinked back tears.  Fucking contact lenses.

I’ve already seen one reason not to get contact lenses today, outside the story. This just seems to reinforce that for me.

In any case, I like wearing glasses.

He wrapped his arms around me in a hug.

My face was mashed against his shoulder, his grip was too tight, my back was sore where his hand touched a spot near the burn.  There was also that mess of awkwardness from when I’d confessed my feelings for him, that now seemed so minor and distant compared to everything that was going on.

It’s a hug. Just… appreciate it for what it is and what it means.

“We’ll get through this.”

“No,” I said, pulling away,  “Not like this, we won’t.  We fight them every time they come, we’re going to be worn out, exhausted from always being on our guard, and if these past fights have been any indication, we won’t make it through eight rounds of this.”

She’s right. Maybe they should try to do what they can to end this early.

I think killing Jack would do that and break up the Nine, but I’m not sure if that’s necessarily a good thing. It would leave the remaining psychopaths unchecked in Brockton Bay.

“The way you phrase that, you don’t sound like you did in the shower.”

What?

Am I forgetting something or is this something we haven’t heard of before now? Did… did she sing in the shower without realizing he was there to hear it?

I shook my head.  “No.  Because I’ve realized Jack wants us to focus on each of his people, one by one, because he knows it’s going to play out like it has so far, and that we won’t make it through eight rounds of this.

Okay, I guess not.

Shower…?

Anyway, as for what she’s actually saying, I suppose she has a point. This is all distracting from their original plan, which could still work.

Shogi.

Let’s change that dynamic.  We take out testers before they get their turn.  We go on the offensive.”

I suppose it would give them a bit of an element of surprise.

Also, I think Imp would like this.


“Offensive?  Dinah said that a direct attack would be suicide.”

“So we go for the indirect attack.  They want to play dirty?  Let’s play dirty back.”

Sounds good to me!

And hey, you know what tactic seems to fit with that? Shogi.

I don’t know, I guess it’s just that that was a really good idea that didn’t go anywhere immediately because of the nomination game. I would like for it to come back into play with this change of tactics.


End of Snare 13.4

> Krixwell: Review.

This was a really strong one, though more on the emotional front than the combat front I expected the chapter to focus on going in.

First we got a really good Bitch scene, where it came to light in front of Grue and Skitter how much she cares about their companionship, in spite of how Skitter still thought Bitch was considering going through with the attack Burnscar was asking for. It would be interesting to see how that would’ve gone if Skitter and Grue hadn’t gone for third and fourth options. Then we had the escape, in which Bitch totally left her teammates behind. Who knows where she’s ended up now. Perhaps Burnscar got a good hit in before Genesis showed up?

Second, Charlotte and Sierra are both really good. Keep up the excellent work, girls.

Third, Taylor’s breakdown. That was the real highlight here. The situation is really getting to her, along with all the other pressure she’s put on herself, and her reaction to that boiling over felt quite genuine. Fortunately, Grue is a good friend and was able to stop Taylor from getting herself killed immediately.

And finally, Taylor’s come up with an idea for how to deal with the Nine… potentially better, by going on the offensive. I hope this involves the shogi plan.

Hey, Jack would succeed if he tried to cut Bonesaw. What if Jack weren’t controlled by Jack at the time?

Anyway, next chapter, we’re probably going out to find out what happened to Bitch after the escape, and perhaps talking a bit more about what going on the offensive against the Nine actually entails.

See you then!


[postscript]

“Hey, Jack would succeed if he tried to cut Bonesaw. What if Jack weren’t controlled by Jack at the time?”

This does not apply exclusively to Jack, by the way. Bonesaw claimed that Jack would be able to do this because he had the same safeguards, suggesting that anyone with the same safeguards could do it, and probably some of if not all the members of the Nine for whom the safeguards don’t apply, too. Presumably she didn’t want to protect the Nine from the other Nine.

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2 thoughts on “Snare 13.4: Fire Escape

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