Snare 13.5: Ravens and Writing Desks

Source material: Worm, Snare 13.5

Originally blogged: July 1-2, 2018


Boop.

Howdy, everyone! It’s time for some more Worm!

Last time, Burnscar turned up the heat on Skitter’s territory, Skitter lost hope in the survival chances of the defenders in Slaughterway’s Game of Death while playing fair against enemies that don’t, and Charlotte was great, taking initiative to protect the kids.

This time, I think we’re going to figure out where Bitch went during the escape from Burnscar. Did she run off on purpose, due to what Burnscar said about her relationships to her teammates? Did she get captured? Did something else happen to put her out of touch with her team?

The second option seems unlikely, because we know Burnscar was spending most of her time off-screen fighting Genesis. It’s possible that Bitch got captured by a different Slaughterhouse member, but why would they do that while it’s not their turn?

We might also get some further discussion on the alternative approach to the game that Taylor suggested, although there’s a good chance we’ll eventually skip to the execution of that plan, in order to keep it an unspoken plan. I certainly hope it involves the shogi idea, though.

So yeah, without further ado, let’s go looking for Bitch! Probably.


Bentley had been turned on his back, and Sirius had one side of Bentley’s ribs in his jaws, pulling.

Oh, hey.

So was that where she went? Just going to fetch Bentley before coming back?

Bitch was holding the other side, tugging on it with her entire body in an effort to pull it apart.  Bastard was chained to a streetlight, lying on the ground with his chin on his front paws.  He had shrunk from the size he was before.

…is she performing an operation on Bentley?

Oh wait, I see. She’s doing the thing they did with Lucy, pulling out the real dog from inside the hellhound exterior.

With Lucy, the real dog inside was hit by the bullets, but with Bentley, what took him down was a gas. Could it have killed only the hellhound while leaving the normal dog inside alive?

She’s alive.  After Bitch had gone incommunicado, I’d worried Burnscar had gotten ahold of her.

Ahh, right, bug sense. No need to go out to look for her.


The flesh of the bulldog’s monstrous form was decaying, sloughing off and putrefying into a liquid slop over the span of seconds.

Been a while since we had a good ol’ flesh liquification in this story.

As the tissues connecting the bones disintegrated, they became loose, bending in place.  Bitch was trying to get the ribcage apart before the remainder of the flesh collapsed in on the dog’s real body.

That would probably not be pleasant, if he’s alive in there.

Anything your bugs can do to help, Taylor? They’re probably not strong enough to do much about the ribcage, but maybe there’s something else.

“Found her,” I spoke into my phone as I hurried towards her, my rain boots splashing.  “Yeah.  Contact the others about meeting.”

Oh. She did go out. Fair enough, that was a hasty assumption on my part.

Wait, are we not hearing the other side of this phone call? Hmm. Is that because it’s not important, or because it is and it’d mess with later reveals?

I’m leaning towards the former, but it’s still suspicious. Wildbow hasn’t done this before.


The pain in my legs made me gasp if I stretched my foot out the wrong way, and each gasp only triggered the pain in my ribs.

We’ve barely started the chapter and it’s already not a good one for various ribcages.

The air was heated, though there were no fires in the immediate area.  The hot, smoke-filled air combined with the pain in my ribs to punish even my shallower breaths.

So. You wanted to be a cape, Taylor?

“The fuck are you doing here?”  Bitch asked.

Good to see you too.

I drew my knife and held it by the blade, extending the handle towards her.  “Helping.”

Firmness. She’s not asking if Bitch wants help, and certainly not if she needs help, she’s just… “I’m helping whether you like it or not, now take this knife.”


She didn’t respond, but she took the knife and climbed partway into Bentley’s body to start cutting him out of the protective sac.  I stepped in and used my shoulder to help leverage the ribcage open.

Her actually accepting the help is probably the closest thing to gratitude you’ll be seeing from her, for now at least.

My legs screamed with the strain, but I could deal with the pain.  It would be better to suffer some pain than let Bitch get crushed inside Bentley’s chest cavity.

That would probably be less than ideal, at least for Bitch.

She climbed out with the bulldog draped over her arms, falling to her knees the second she was free.  She laid Bentley down on the ground.

“Is he okay?”

Did the gas get into him?

She checked.  “He’s breathing.”

Yay!

“Good.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t act like you care.”

Well, I do.


“I do care.”

“Fuck you.  You heard what that psycho whore said and now you think I like you.  I don’t.”

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“I’m not thinking anything along those lines.”

“You’re probably already trying to figure out a way to use it against me.  Fucking hate people like you.  Manipulative, two faced-”

Hmm. I wonder what Bitch thinks of Tattletale, besides “talks too much”.

Meanwhile, Taylor probably won’t like being described like this, but she might recognize why Bitch would see her that way.

“Hey!” I shouted, cutting her off.  Sirius growled at me.

Bitch brandished my own knife, pointing it at me.  “Do you know how much fucking simpler my life gets if I get rid of you?”

“Uh… Maybe simpler isn’t that great…?”

I’m not sure that “simpler” is just because Taylor creates external problems for her.

“It doesn’t.  You might get the Nine off your case for a few days, but you’d be facing every test after that all on your own.  Believe it or not, I’m on your side.  I want to help you through this mess.”

Taylor, I don’t think she was talking about the Nine at all.

“Don’t bother.  Go, leave.”  The knife didn’t waver.

…is Taylor ever going to get that knife back?

“I’m not going anywhere unless you’re coming with me.”

“Getting cocky because you think I can’t cut you.  Don’t forget that you can be chewed.”

I don’t think it’s so much that she thinks you “can’t” as that she thinks you “won’t”.

It’s a risk, though.


I gave Sirius a glance, making sure to keep my head still so I didn’t give off any sign of hesitation or doubt.

She’s clearly making conscious use of what she learned from that dog psychology book.

“If you were going to hurt me, you would’ve done it while Burnscar was threatening you.”

Problem is, that would’ve entailed showing weakness by taking Burnscar’s bullying and obeying her. Then again, the other option would’ve showed another form of weakness.

Bitch was probably relieved that Skitter and Grue found a third option.

“I don’t like being told what to do, so no, I wouldn’t have.”

Exactly.

I doubt that, I thought.  You don’t like being told what to do by a stranger, maybe, but I’d bet you could be happy if you had a stable environment and consistent leadership. 

An alpha, perhaps? In other words, Grue or Coil.

I suppose this would be why Taylor advised Brian to make his leadership position official.

“If you carry out their tests and join them, they’ll be telling you what to do for the rest of your life.”

How is that not consistent leadership, Taylor? It doesn’t check the other box, stable environment, but still.

“I don’t care about the test!” she shouted.  I could see Sirius tense, ready to attack.  “I just want to be left alone!”

Okay, yeah, this I can understand.


I believe Bitch when she says she doesn’t care about the test(s). Yes, she heavily indicated at the end of 11a that she was intrigued and wanted to see what the tests were all about, but there’s been a significantly different attitude from her since then. She doesn’t seem to actually want to join the Nine.

Which has some implications if the Slaughterhouse Nine lose the game the intended way. They were to take a volunteer, but none of the nominees actually want to join. Not even the other likely option, Hookwolf. So what do the Nine do if noone steps forward?

I’m not sure the game will get to that point, though. I doubt the Nine will win the game, but I suspect their defeat / staving-off won’t be through the game.

Most notably, I suspect that if Jack dies (which can happen if I’m right about Theo), the Nine will break apart. That way, the “Slaughterhouse Nine” will be over, but six or seven powerful psychopaths will still be loose in the city to be dealt with individually in the future, possibly clashing against each other too.


“I know the feeling.”

“You don’t know anything!”

To be fair, Taylor’s not actually one of the nominees. She’s not the one who was pinned down by Siberian and put on the spot by Burnscar. But the Nine haven’t exactly left everyone else alone, either.

“Screw that!”  I jabbed a finger in her direction.  “Maybe my life hasn’t sucked as much as yours did, but I’ve been there!  I’ve been hounded every fucking day by people who only wanted to make me miserable!

Oh. Right.

That’s still a thing, and the Slaughterhouse Nine being compared to the bullies is still an apt parallel.

Every day, getting so tense that I’d feel like throwing up in the shower before leaving for school, and I’d have headaches before noon!  I spent weeks hiding in the bathroom during lunch breaks because they wouldn’t fucking ease up on me!”

I still maintain there had to be better, more sanitary hiding places for that.

“Boo hoo.  I could tell you what put up with.”

Oh my cod this is turning into misery olympics.


I shook my head, and took a deep breath.  I forced myself to calm down before I spoke.  “I’m not interested in a pissing contest, Rachel.”

Thank you for stopping this here, although I would actually have been interested in Bitch’s perspective. I suppose we got some of that in her Interlude, though.

“Because you’d lose.”  She poked the knife in my direction, as if to punctuate her statement.

“I totally have a worse life than you. Here, let me stab you to prove it.”

“Because this isn’t a competition, and yeah, I’d lose.  I’m trying to tell you that we’re not that different.”

I do appreciate that Taylor acknowledges that yes, she’d lose that. It helps put a little more weight on the “this isn’t a competition” part.

She scoffed.

God, my legs and feet hurt.  My ribs weren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows either.

Which parts of the ribcage would be the sunshine? I mean, the rainbows would obviously be the bow-like rib bones themselves, but where does the sunshine go? Would the sunshine be filling up the chest cavity? Or maybe it would make up the part of the spine that’s commonly depicted along with the ribs?

Except Taylor doesn’t say “ribcage”, she says “ribs”. Maybe the ribs are made up out of some sort of mixture of sunshine and rainbows? Then again, rainbows are made up partially of sunshine in the first place. Maybe there are some drier parts of normal ribs that would be pure sunshine, while the wetter parts would be rainbows?

Also, what would the medical implications of this be? I don’t think sunshine and its wet byproduct rainbows are particularly good defenses for the internal organs, and may have trouble keeping the chest from collapsing in on itself. You need quite a lot of sunshine to apply a noticeable force on something. I don’t know how much mixing water into it helps with that, though, so maybe rainbows are a little sturdier.

So yeah, that’s probably a good thing, Taylor.

I felt like I had to do something to distract myself.  If it hadn’t been my legs that hurt, I would have wanted to pace back and forth, or run, or something.  I tried to focus on Bitch.  “Fine.  Don’t believe me.  Here’s the nitty-gritty facts, then.  You’re a member of our team.  We need you, and whether you like it or not, you need us.”

Better hope this doesn’t make her question how much she does.


She scowled.  “I-”

“Don’t say you don’t.  Don’t say you could manage on your own.  You’ve seen these guys, and you’re not stupid.”

True.

She looked down at Bentley, putting one hand in front of his snout, as if to check he was still breathing.  “All you’re spewing out of your mouth-hole are words.  You only want to help yourself.”

I mean, yes, of course they’re words. What else do you want her to spew out of her mouth-hole, exactly? 😛

I wished there was something I could have hit, something I could have thrown.  I settled for an enraged groan.

Bitch is an interesting character, but a frustrating person.

“What’s it going to take to convince you!?  Why can’t you understand that I can and have put myself in harm’s way for you?  That despite all the shit between us and everything we’ve gone through, you’re my friend?”

I’m honestly not sure I’d go that far when describing their relationship.

Actually, that’s not true. I’m sure. I’m sure I wouldn’t, because I’ve had plenty of opportunities to and have avoided it.


Friendship is a mutual thing, Taylor. I get that Rachel has strong developmental reasons for behaving like she does, but I have never once seen her make the slightest bit of effort to treat you like a friend when you didn’t force her to.

(#that i can remember anyway)


“You are not my friend,” she didn’t look up at me as she uttered the words.

This seems to imply a certain degree of dishonesty, a sense that she’s not certain enough about it to look Taylor in the eyes as she says it.

Unless of course it’s a setup to Bitch doing exactly that as she more forcefully repeats herself.

“Fine!  I’ve accepted that.  But you’re my friend, even if I don’t like you half the time.

That’s.

Not how friendship works, Taylor.

I know you’re not all that experienced with it, besides a certain treacherous harpy, but still.

Maybe we should get you some friendship lessons. Man, where’s a hole between realities when you need one… ah, here we go, straight to Ponyville. Go on, Taylor, right on through here, look for a big purple crystal castle, tell them princess Krixwell sent you.

You’re my teammate.  We’re similar.

Is that your idea of what makes Bitch your friend?

The only difference is that you went through your shit years ago, and I just got through dealing with mine a few weeks after I joined this team.  We’ve traveled down the same paths.  Whether you like it or not, we’re kindred spirits.  We both struggle with the social-”  I trailed off.

Yes, being similar can make it easier to befriend someone. It gives you something to relate to each other over. But there are plenty of people who are similar without being friends. Hell, plenty of people who are similar and enemies.


Bitch had reacted to something I’d said towards the end there, flinched, almost.

The kindred spirit thing, or the social struggles?

I sighed.  This isn’t accomplishing anything.  I looked at my territory.  The plumes of smoke had turned the sky a gray-black in color, some of which glowed faintly orange with the reflected light of the fires.

I mean, this is probably the most important interaction the two of you have ever had, but yeah. It’s kinda fruitless so far, in-universe.

The occasional spark floated through the air from one of the fires that burned around a nearby corner.

The world is in flames. Taylor’s world, anyway.

No.

Skitter’s world.


She broke the lingering silence, “Coil told me that people would leave me alone if I got powerful enough.  If I had allies, if I had money, if I scared my enemies enough.”

That… doesn’t sound quite right, except maybe the last part.

“When was this?”

“Before I joined the Undersiders.  He didn’t tell me who he was.

Oh! I just figured it was during the talks about the territory plan.

Left me a phone with some cash, then called me a while later.  Fucking words that sounded good.  Learned my lesson.”

Words that sound good. The M.O. of the snake.

Not a snake. THE snake. The snake with legs that tempts the innocent.

Hey, it’d actually be oddly appropriate for Coil to lose his legs somehow while getting his comeuppance.


She’d spent years on her own, on the streets with only the company of her dogs, running any time a cop or cape came after her.  I itched to ask her if she’d suddenly had an increase in the amount of trouble she faced before she came to Brockton Bay.

Hmm. That does sound like something Coil might do. Stage more trouble to manipulate her into accepting his offer.

Trouble that could be precipitated by a certain ambitious supervillain?

No, it wasn’t the time.

Yeah, may want to hold off on that for now.

“You know that joining the Nine would get you the opposite of that.  It wouldn’t be the kind of power that gets you left alone.  It would be a life of being constantly chased, always in the company of people who are ten times as manipulative and two-faced as you think I am.”

And constantly running into trouble, on purpose.

“I know,” she spat.

See, I’ve been waiting for someone to confront Bitch about this, and now that it’s kind of happening, I actually think it’s no longer necessary? In-universe, anyway. From a story perspective, I do think this needed to be seen.

She picked up Bentley, then adjusted her grip to touch his nose with one hand.

Boop.

Whatever.  Down to brass tacks.  I gave her a second to cool down, then spoke, “They killed your dog, hurt Bentley, killed my people and torched my territory.  I want to take these fuckers down, no holds barred, and we’re going to need your help if we want to pull it off.  Screw going on the defensive, I-”

Oh yeah, they really do need Bitch. She’s got the strongest offensive capabilities of the Undersiders, and while the Travelers have some good offensive powers too, they can’t afford to spare that potential if they can help it.


“You had me at no holds barred,” she growled, rising from her crouch.

Good to know you’re on board. 🙂

I didn’t dare to open my mouth, not with the risk of angering her and changing her mind.  I nodded instead.

Good call. You know how she feels about people talking too much anyway.

Together, we limped back to my lair.  Every step I took was a chore.  Where Grue and I had supported each other, Bitch didn’t offer me anything.

There’s still some distance to go, but with Bitch opening up a bit near the end here, I’m finally beginning to believe the friendship can be cultivated post-Extermination.

Also, while I think this line supports my point, it does also remind me of one thing that could be argued to be a borderline friendly gesture from Bitch: In Hive, when she let Taylor borrow her coat in order to hide her marks from being held by half-dragon Lung.

It bothered me a little; we could have ridden Sirius if we’d cooperated to help each other onto his back, but that wasn’t apparently in the cards.

…still some distance to go.


My bugs found Genesis a few blocks away.  Or, rather, they found something that approximated a blend between a slug and a rabbit.

That sounds…

That sounds adorable. At least the way I’m imagining it, with a rabbit’s head and fur on the body shape of a slug. The other way around might not be as adorable.

My bugs identified two bulbous eyes, two tentacles or floppy ears and a body that hugged the ground.

Yay, I got it right and it’s adorable!

Although the presence or absence of fur could still have a lot to say about that.

The insects I had resting on the surface of the water could feel it flowing up and to the sides of the slug.  A small mouth jetted streams of it at the fires of a building near her.  I assumed it was Genesis.  Educated guess.

Ahaha!

Taylor is a pretty serious character, but I love when her dry wit comes out in the narration.


One of these days, I was going to run up against something strange and assume it was her, only to be unpleasantly surprised.

To be fair, that is a possibility.

I drew words and symbols with the bugs.  Shortly after, the flow of the water stopped and the consistency of her body began to break down.

Time to wakey wakey!

She was on her way back.

Charlotte had taken the kids away, so my lair was empty as we made our way inside.

It’s like Burnscar, empty inside.

Oh my cod, is there an ironic stealth joke in play with Burnscar? Has she lost her spark?

Bitch assessed the area and then headed into the bathroom, going for the first aid kit.

How are first aid stocks in Brockton Bay doing these days? I mean, first there’s Leviathan’s damage to the city, then there’s the Shattering, and then there’s the other damage the Nine is causing…


“Want help?”

She glared at me.  Answer enough.

This is what Taylor didn’t do earlier. Ask.

I headed upstairs and stripped my mannequin of the costume I’d largely completed.  Then I removed my rain boots and began the torturous process of peeling out of the costume I was wearing.

Oh yeah, what did you end up doing with that? Did you put on the one you were making for Tattletale?

I’d put off investigating the damage in favor of finding Bitch sooner.

Ah. I guess it wasn’t as damaged as I was picturing.

Also, whoops, I just reread the first sentence of this paragraph and realized that no, of course she didn’t put on the one she was making for Tattletale, she just said that had been on the mannequin.

Not to be confused with being worn by Mannequin, though that’s an amusing mental image.


Removing my mask wasn’t a problem, but unstrapping my armor and getting my arms out of the sleeves made my ribs ache.  A fresh bruise had layered on top of the old one, black and purple over a purple-green.

Hey, it’s a Tattletale bruise!

On top of a Toilet Paper Roll bruise.

I had to pause for a minute to catch my breath before I began on the legs.

Yeah, better catch those legs too before they run away from you!

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[Squirrel Girl panel]

Peter: Hi Certain, I’m Peter.
Certain Nancy: See? See, that is exactly the kind of joke that proves you are 100% a dad!!

(I’m not a dad yet, but if I become one some day, you know I’m prepared with the dad jokes.)

I’d been wearing waterproof tights under my costume, and I cringed to think of the fact that I’d been wading in filthy water with the injuries exposed.

Eesh, that’s not good.

I got the first aid kit I’d brought down from my room and found a pair of tweezers.  Tatters of melted plastic from the leggings clung to the creases and edges of the burn.  Slowly, carefully, I worked my way down, removing the black fragments, digging in where necessary.  Every area I cleaned, I disinfected.  The largest burn covered my right heel, the top of my foot, and half of my calf, but the toes were okay.  The other marked the left ankle, heel and a patch small enough to cover with my hand on the shin.  There was less damage, but there was more melted spandex crusting it.  If I had second degree burns, it would be there.

Not gonna lie, there’s not much to comment on during these sections.

I do think I understand why they happen on-screen, though. Showing the nitty gritty of dealing with the injuries sustained in cape battles helps support the deromanticization of the cape life that’s a strong throughline of Worm.

I… don’t actually think I’ve talked broadly about that theme before. It’s just so thoroughly a thing that it has just felt like it went without saying.

(#Com’c
#Krixwell what the fuck are you doing referencing that
#no #bad Krix)


The disinfectant virtually hissed as it touched my burns.  I applied it liberally, then got out the gauze and antibiotic cream.

It hurt as much as the lingering effects of Bakuda’s pain grenade, but there was also the knowledge that it would take forever to heal.

At least unless you get Panacea to reconsider and join you.

I wouldn’t be able to wear skin-tight leggings over the injured area.

I suppose that’s a bit of a problem.

Bastards.  This pain was nothing compared to what they’d subjected my people to.  How many people had lost parents, loved ones, friends?  Homes?  I couldn’t even complain to myself about the burn without feeling guilty.

It’s not misery olympics.

You’re allowed to feel pain even if there are others who are feeling more pain, and you are not responsible for their pain. You suffered your pain while doing your best to prevent that. That’s nothing to feel guilty about.


Genesis was the first one to arrive upstairs, carried by one of her remotely controlled images, a crude rendering of a man who draped her in a chair and then faded as she woke.

Hmm.

The way her creations look cartoonish, the way some of them are “crude renderings”, does she essentially “draw” the creations in her mind (which is then translated into reality) when she makes them? Does the visual complexity affect how long it takes to form them?

“I couldn’t put out any of the major fires,” she said.  For someone who had just spent four fifths of the day sleeping, she looked exhausted.

Her power is probably quite energy-draining, and I doubt the coma her regular body is put into actually gets her any real rest.

“Thank you for trying.”  I took the wire cutters to the inside of my burned costume’s leggings.  Each squeeze got me only half an inch of cut material.

This might take some time.

“What next?”

“I’ve outlined a basic plan with Grue.  He contacted the others.  They should be arriving shortly, and we’ll all discuss it together.  Tattletale doesn’t think Burnscar’s going to come back anytime soon, but I’ve laid out spider-silk tripwires over the area, just in case.”

Oh, nice, I’d be down for catching up with the southern Undertravelers, hear what they’ve had to deal with. And some planning, though who knows if we’ll actually get to see that part. It might be better if we don’t, given the Unspoken Plan Guarantee.

Maybe it’s going to get interrupted by Imp showing up with news of whatever deal Cherish wanted to make. Hell, maybe even with Cherish herself in tow, though I can’t imagine anyone would appreciate that even after learning Cherish is willing to strike a deal. I don’t think Imp is as stupid as that would imply, either – it would be a super effective trap if Cherish was lying. “Hey Imp, help me walk right into a gathering of all your friends so I can kill them before we even enter the room.”


“A plan?”

“Of attack.  It’s easier if we wait until everyone’s arrived before I get into it, so I’m not repeating it too many times.  Might even be smarter, if Cherish is looking in and trying to read my emotions to figure out what we’re doing.”

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Let’s make a plan of attack! Start looking forward and stop looking back!

I do think Cherish might get involved, but not in that exact way.

Attack?”

“Being careful and being on the defensive isn’t getting us anywhere.”

The best defense is a good offense, they say.

“It’s keeping us alive.”

Barely.

It’s a really risky idea, and I’m not sure if it’s a good one, but it may be worth a shot if they can think of a good execution.

I shook out my costume and examined it.  Progress was too slow.  I put down the wire cutters and got the plastic lighter from my utility compartment.  I proceeded to burn through the material on the inside of the leggings, from the cut I’d made all the way to the crotch, then back down the other side, putting out any flame that lingered.

Careful. You’re not immune to fire to the nether regions.

I was nearly done when I finally responded,  “I don’t think it is.  We’re still dying.  It’s just… slower.  Can you honestly tell me we’re going to survive another two confrontations like this?”

And they have quite a lot of such confrontations ahead of them if the game keeps going.


“So you want to be aggressive instead?  Suffer a fast death?”

“Yes to the first part, no to the second.  Look, they’re good because they’re experienced.  Jack has been doing this for years.  He knows the exact balance he needs to strike, to be unpredictable enough that we can’t plan against them, but clever enough that we can’t catch them off guard.”

So… how exactly are you planning to catch them off guard with this?

“But you want to try.  To catch them off guard, I mean.”

“Yeah.”

And your argument for why you should is because that’s difficult?

Well, I suppose that’s the same argument that was made for going to the moon, and that was a big success. Sign me up!

“It’s suicide.  Like, what are the odds you’re going to make it through a third round?  If we have a fifty-fifty chance of dying in a given confrontation, that’s, what, a one in eight chance?”

If you assume three confrontations, yes.

“You’re better at math than I am.  Sure.  Except we’re not going to fight them head on.  Tell me, what are the limits on your abilities?”

“There really aren’t any.  If it makes sense, if it’s self-sustaining, with organs and an energy supply, it’s easier on me.  I don’t need to take up as much of the load with personal effort.  Bigger and denser forms are more taxing, too.”

Interesting. So she can do things that make no sense, but it’s more tiring. And she can make the forms gargantuan, but again, more tiring.

She’s got an insanely strong power, it’s just a matter of being able to use it without tiring herself out immediately.


“What about materials?  What can you use to put a body together?”

“I… don’t know.  I can control it, sorta, but my power chooses for me.  I visualize it as I use my power, I drift off, and I go into that sort of twilight state when you’re just barely almost asleep, and your mind wanders.

That is such a fitting state to be involved in this power.

Anything I haven’t firmly put together in my head gets filled in with the stray thoughts and imagination.  I never put too much effort into the material, unless I wanted something like armor or stone skin.”

So in other words, the power chooses it simply because she hasn’t particularly bothered to in most cases.

So ridiculously powerful.  If I had her power… damn it.

Yeah, sheesh. She could give Shatterbird a good run for her money in terms of both raw power and especially versatility.


“What about materials?  What can you use to put a body together?”

“I… don’t know.  I can control it, sorta, but my power chooses for me.  I visualize it as I use my power, I drift off, and I go into that sort of twilight state when you’re just barely almost asleep, and your mind wanders.

That is such a fitting state to be involved in this power.

Anything I haven’t firmly put together in my head gets filled in with the stray thoughts and imagination.  I never put too much effort into the material, unless I wanted something like armor or stone skin.”

So in other words, the power chooses it simply because she hasn’t particularly bothered to in most cases.

So ridiculously powerful.  If I had her power… damn it.

Yeah, sheesh. She could give Shatterbird a good run for her money in terms of both raw power and especially versatility.


“And special abilities?  You can give them to your forms?”

“I have to visualize the mechanism, the organs or whatever that make it work.  I only have a limited time before I’m knocked out, so time I spend on that is time I’m not working on other stuff.  Like the form I was just using, you didn’t see it, but-”

Ahh, that makes sense.

Maybe she didn’t have time to give the bunny slug (…bug? does that portmanteau mean Taylor could’ve controlled her?) legs?

“I saw it.”

“Right.  The bugs, right.  Well, I visualized the water suction system and the water gun, but because I didn’t focus on the body, it didn’t have arms or legs, and it was slow, and because it didn’t have vital organs, it drained me.”

So when they don’t have vital organs, what does it take to “kill” them?

“Okay.”  I held up my costume with the legs and feet reduced to tatters.  I turned my attention to a box behind my chair, tucked beneath a shelf of terrariums.  A small tide of roaches lifted it and carted it to me.

Wait, wait, wait.

Has she been making a backup costume in the background all along?

Of fucking course she would do that, she’s Taylor. She’d see this eventuality coming a mile away! How did I not see that coming?

If that’s indeed what’s in the box, of course.

Inside were the scraps of fabric and mask left behind after Mannequin’s first retreat.  I hadn’t wanted to spare any material.

Ahh. It’s not a backup costume, but it is stuff she can use to fix her main one.


“Why are you asking?”

“Trying to assess the resources we have at our disposal.”

Yeah, it’s good to know.

I heard a car door slam outside.  That would be either Grue or a collection of the others.

Hi!

Genesis used her hands to shift her position in her seat.  I glanced at her legs.  They were thin.  Atrophy.  She’d been in a wheelchair for a while.  When I looked up, I saw she’d caught me looking.

She’s skipped leg day for a while.

“If you have a question, I’d rather you ask than keep wondering.”

Might as well, if she’s okay with it.


I felt my face heat up, and quickly turned my attention to the fabric of my old costume.  I used the roaches to arrange a patchwork on the floor, using the tattered scraps.  My spiders crawled from the terrariums to begin connecting the pieces.  It didn’t have to be pretty.

Practicality and function first. Classic Taylor.

“Really.  Ask.”

“Were you disabled because of your power?  A side effect, or something that happened in costume?”

I’m guessing no. I think it’s more likely it had to do with her trigger event, or that the trigger event had to do with a preexisting disability.

She shook her head.  “I’ve been in a chair since I was four.  No, if anything, it’s the other way around.”

Other way around?  My first thought was trigger event.  The second was, maybe that idea about people being stronger if they get their powers at a younger age is true after all.

Signs point to yes. Vista is quite powerful, Dinah is quite powerful, Bonesaw can seemingly bring the dead back to life (sort of), and now this?

There’s also another possibility: Cauldron. Perhaps Cauldron contacted a parent who was seeing her disability and seeking a way to help her, for example.

As I mentally categorized my musings, I felt them connect with a bunch of other thoughts.  Of the six Travelers, three were among the more powerful capes in Brockton Bay that I’d met.  In terms of sheer destructive effect, Sundancer and Ballistic were top-notch.  Genesis was top of the line in sheer utility and versatility, a combatant that could endlessly return to the battlefield with whatever form she wanted, provided that her real body was left unmolested.  Topping it off, Noelle was apparently so powerful she had to be kept in quarantine.  Trickster was impressive, if not quite in the same class as his teammates, and I had no idea what Oliver was all about, since he didn’t have powers, as far as I knew.

If you’re going on the offensive, you’ve got good company.

I have previously theorized about the Travelers in general having Cauldron powers, and considering the sort of sheer effect and versatility we know they can provide thanks to Shatterbird, the overall power levels of the team being like this actually supports that idea.

Oh, and on top of the Travelers’ abilities being among the most powerful, you also have the highest-rated Master in town on your side. Well, the highest-rated resident Master – Cherish is probably higher-rated, if she’s rated at all, considering how effective her power is. And hey, depending on how thoroughly she intends to betray the Nine, you might have her on your side too.


How had they come together?  If I ran with the theory that Genesis somehow had her trigger event at four and was more powerful as a result, did that mean the other powerful members of the group had done something similar?  If so, how were they connected?

Yes, that is a good question.

I think Taylor bringing this up is a good sign we’ll be learning more about it in not toolong.

Or was I thinking along the wrong lines?

Taylor, this kind of theorizing is my job. I know I’m not that great at it, but still. 😛

I do feel like this line is going to act as a lingering hook that I may have found the answer to before the question was posed. Maybe. Like I said, I’m not that great at this, but I do like my theory. But yeah, I guess what I’m saying is that this line makes me feel slightly more confident that yes, Taylor is thinking along the wrong lines.

My bugs counted the people who’d exited the car and were heading through the storm drain.  A group.

Better hope it’s the right group.

“The others are coming in.  Your team and Regent.”

She smiled a little, but it was almost a sad expression.  Resigned.

Hm… alright? That’s certainly a reaction.

Also, sounds like Tattle’s staying back. That’s a shame, she’d be good to have here.


Back when I’d first talked with Sundancer, I could remember asking her about her experience with the Travelers.  What was it she’d said?  Intense, violent, lonely.  Lonely despite the fact that they were constantly in each other’s company.

The Travelers are a group of people who have gone through a lot together for a long time.

But I’m not sure they’re friends.

I couldn’t exactly remember what Sundancer’s explanation for that loneliness had been.  It had been vague, hadn’t it?

Yeah, pretty sure. Vague is kind of the operative word with respect to the Travelers’ backstory and internal dynamics so far.

Seeing Genesis’s expression, I suspected Sundancer wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

Seems so.


The others made their way upstairs, followed by Bitch.  They gathered around my room, all standing.  I moved to stand, myself, but Trickster gestured for me to stay seated.

She’s the host, she gets to be the one who sits and looks like she’s in charge.

“You okay?” Regent asked.

“Alive.  Hurts like hell.”

Through my swarm-sense, I felt a truck park outside.  Grue let himself in through the front door.

Hey.

Before long, all were present.  Grue dialed Tattletale and put the phone on speaker.

Oh, good.

When I said she’d be good to have here, it wasn’t just because I like her. It was also that her power is immensely valuable for planning what Taylor is suggesting.

“Yo,” her voice came through.  “Me and Coil here.”

Coil I’m less thrilled about, but hey, I suppose it only makes sense that he’d be involved too.

So, how about Imp, is she here?


“Skitter wants to attack the Nine, remove a tester before they get their turn.”

Who’s talking? Coil?

Trickster whistled.  “Risky.”

“Look at it this way,” I said.  “Um.  How many police forces and superteams have tried to beat the Nine?  How many divisions of the Protectorate or alliances of cape teams have tried to beat them?”

Taylor, this is a bad opening when trying to convince people that you can beat them.

I mean, I think I see where you’re going with this, in that the police forces and teams have fought them directly and made themselves easy prey to the Nine’s specialty, crowd control. But still, if you’re trying to boost morale for your idea, maybe consider not starting with “how many people have tried and failed to do what I’m suggesting”.

“Lots,” Trickster said.

“Too many to count.  The Nine play things like my team does on good days.  They pick their fights, avoiding confrontations or disappearing when they aren’t certain they can win.

Oni Lee really would’ve been a good fit.

When they do fight, they hit where it hurts.  We do that.  Look at what Regent did to Shadow Stalker, what I did to Lung on both occasions.  And they terrorize their victims.  We do the same thing, unintentionally or not.  Grue is scary with the darkness, Bitch’s dogs make people shit themselves.  Me?  Everyone’s at least a little creeped out by bugs.

Especially Clockblocker.

I like how she’s calling a bit of attention to the whole “common fears[here] theme of the Undersiders.

Tattletale and Regent are unnerving in a whole different way.  The Nine are us on steroids.”

I suppose they are!

Hey, Taylor, remember that whole thing we talked about earlier about how similarity doesn’t automatically mean friendship? I know we were talking about individuals, but I still think this counts as an example of my point.

Incidentally, between Taylor talking about how she and Bitch were similar, thinking about the similarities between the Travelers in terms of power level and view of the team, and this, I think we’ve found the red thread of the chapter. Similarities.

Another pair of things that would be similar: The shogi plan and the plan used in Parasite.


“That’s not a very flattering comparison.”  Grue folded his arms.

True.

Seriously, Taylor, where are you going with this?

“No.  But I think it’s on target, and I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that they wound up considering two members of our group for the Nine, Cherish’s motivations aside.  So let’s avoid playing things like Jack wants us to, let’s not do things the way better heroes have tried and failed.  We play this like they play this.

Ahh, that’s where. “Let’s be more similar than they expect.”

Unpredictable, calculated recklessness, we don’t get caught up in a fight, and we think through every part of the plan.”

That is a pretty solid strategy in general, too.

I’ve previously compared Taylor to the leader of an army, the tactician calling the shots. I was talking mainly about her use of the bugs and clever strategies in fights, but she can absolutely use the same qualities to lead the Undertravelers to victory.


The Slaughterhouse Nine as Undertravelers

  • Siberian – Bitch
  • Jack – Skitter
  • Burnscar – Sundancer
  • Mannequin – Regent
  • Shatterbird – Genesis
  • Crawler – Grue
  • Cherish – Tattletale
  • Bonesaw – Imp
  • Hack Job – Trickster

(#i actually almost forgot imp
#feel free to ask about the logic behind some of these)


Grue shook his head a little, as if in response to some thought that crossed his mind.

What’s in your head? Imp? Is she there and only you’re aware that she’s there and talking to you?

“You will have my assistance,” Coil said, “Jack Slash needs to die, and you’ll have access to all of my resources should you move forward.”

Excellent.

“Alright.  Thanks.  Bitch is on board, I think?”

Bitch nodded.

“Everyone needs to be willing to do this if we’re going to move forward.  I’m not just talking about attacking these guys.  Sundancer, Ballistic, you guys have been holding back for a long time.  I know it’s asking a hell of a lot, but… are you guys prepared to kill?”

Are you?

…yes, I think she is, actually, with these fuckers as the targets. Although we’ll won’t really find out until she gets (what she thinks is) the chance.

At least we know Imp is prepared to kill.


Silence hung in the air for a few long seconds.

“Yeah,” Ballistic said.  “If it’s monsters like that?  I think I could.”

Sundancer hesitated.  She hugged her arms against her body, lips pursed.

It’s kind of interesting how this works. Like, this natural hesitation to take a life that most people have in them. I absolutely don’t think I could do it – I literally wouldn’t hurt a fly – but at the same time the logical, detached side of me is going “these guys deserve no hesitation, killing them would be a clear benefit to the world”.

By the way, neither of these two would make particularly pretty corpses out of their enemies.

“Mars,” Trickster said, his voice quiet, “You’ve killed before.”

Mars is a neat nickname. It kind of fits with her cape name, considering Mars is a planet, one of the bodies that dance around the sun.

Also, Trickster, might that not be why she’s hesitating?

“Accidentally.”

Exactly.

I thought back to her hesitation to use her power, back when we’d fought Oni Lee and Lung together.

Yeah, I remember she talked about her power causing a lot of collateral damage and being hard not to kill with.

“These guys aren’t bystanders, they’re not people,” Ballistic said.  “They don’t even resemble people.  They’re freaks, monsters.  The worst this planet has to offer.”

On one hand, he ain’t wrong.

On another, he ain’t right. We have seen humanizing traits from a few of the Nine. Mainly Burnscar and Cherish, some from Bonesaw, even a smidgen from Shatterbird. They are people. Extremely fucked up people who should die before they spread more death and suffering, but people.


“It’s not that simple.”

“By killing them, you’re saving dozens, even hundreds of people,” I said.

Thousands, potentially.

Hm, that reminds me. If Jack Slash dies, then there won’t be an incentive for Theo to follow through on the deal he struck with Jack, because Jack won’t be around to commit those thousand murders in Theo’s name if Theo were to fail. In other words, even if that deal was going to speed up the future threat like I suspect (the threat may have to do with Theo’s power – it may be later without the deal because Theo might have his trigger event later), Jack still needs to survive.

But then why wouldn’t him dying after leaving Brockton Bay have the same effect as dying before making that deal? Maybe it’d be too late by then, Theo having had his trigger event already?


“It’s not that simple!”

“It really is,” I replied.  “I don’t think we need an answer now, but you need to let us know before we begin.”

Is it? You haven’t killed, Taylor, not directly. You don’t actually know what it’s like.

“What else do you need?” Lisa asked, through the phone.

“We can’t do anything until you find them.  I know the local technology is down, but-”

Is it Imp’s time to shine, informing them of how she’s actually already found them?

I mean I don’t know if she’s even here, but still.

“But the local police and capes brought in emergency communications, just like Coil did for us.  I’ve been listening in on the radio transmissions.  Narrowing it down.  I could pull an all-nighter, listen in, and figure it out.”

Sounds good, I suppose.

I mean, even if Imp tells them, the Nine were talking about torching the place she found and relocating. I don’t think that’s going to be dropped just because they couldn’t find the culprit. It’s still a good idea to do it since they have reason to believe someone knows where they are.

“That’s as good an excuse as any,” Grue said.  “If I’m going to help with this, I need to know that you’re on the ball.  I don’t do this unless everyone that’s going to be on the battlefield gets six hours of sleep before we begin.  By that time, Tattletale will have a location.”

Seems like a reasonable demand.

He faced me square on as he said it.

“I don’t have normal sleep patterns,” Genesis replied, “In fact, I need to be awake to recharge.”

Oh, huh.

That’s kinda neat. Fits with the idea that she truly lives when she’s asleep.

“Exceptions allowed, of course,” Grue said, without turning away from me.

Heh, he’s really challenging Taylor on this. “Sleep for once, you workaholic doof.”


Six hours of sleep, with everything I had on my conscience?

“Sure,” I lied.

Pfft, sounds about right.

Workaholic isn’t really the right word. Guiltridden works, but I’m not sure Grue would think of Taylor’s behavior that way, and it’s more descriptive of the reason than the thing I wanted him to be commenting on.

“But we attack first thing in the morning, or as soon as Tattletale pins them down.”

“First chance,” he agreed.

As long as everyone’s gotten that sleep, of course.

“Is there any possibility that we could deploy Noelle?”  I asked Trickster.

“No,” Trickster said.

Nah, that cat needs to stay in her monster-proof bag for a while. Maybe they could take her out against an Endbringer.

“If she’s as powerful as you say-”

“If Noelle used her power in this battle you’re talking about, everyone loses.”

Sheesh.


The Travelers were way, way too fond of that line.

Hehe.

“Then, Coil, what kind of munitions do you have?”

“Most.  I can provide virtually anything, given time, but for tomorrow morning?  Well, tell me what you need.”

Tell me what you want, what you really really want

“I’m thinking explosives.  How much can you provide?”

TEAM SLAUGHTERHOUSE IS BLASTING OFF AGAIN…!


“Hold on,” Lisa cut in.  “You’re talking about Ballistic and Sundancer using their powers without limits, you want to use Noelle, now explosives?”

“no holds barred” indeed.

“And I’m talking about me using black widows, brown recluses and every nasty bug I have at my disposal.  I’m talking about us packing guns and grenades.  All of us.  No holds barred.”

Brown recluses were the ones that really pissed Lung off, weren’t they?

Trickster rubbed his chin.  “Okay.  They broke the unspoken rules between capes, so there’s no reason to actually follow those rules.  Sure.  But do you actually have a plan?”

Judging by how she was talking earlier, I think she probably does have some ideas. And I don’t think we’re about to hear what they are. End of chapter in 1-2 paragraphs, maybe?

“Yes,” I replied.  “Keep in mind that this could change pretty dramatically depending on where we find them and what they’re up to when we run into them.”

Okay, no, this isn’t an end-of-chapter-y bit like I was expecting.

And yeah, they say no plan survives contact with the enemy. That probably goes double for these enemies.

There were some nods from the others around the room.  My bugs had finished connecting the tattered pieces of fabric.  It wasn’t pretty, but a few tugs to test it showed it was as sturdy as anything I’d made.  I draped it over my lap.  Until my legs healed, I’d be wearing my new costume for my upper body, with the tattered cloth as a skirt to protect my burned legs.

Huh. That’s pretty neat.


Then I told them what we’d be trying to do.

Ah, but that is an end-of-chapter-y line.

*scrolls down to confirm*

Hey, three paragraphs and it ended without us learning the plan like I was suggesting. I got the number of paragraphs slightly wrong but I’ll still call that a win.


End of Snare 13.5

No holds barred. This is getting quite interesting.

I enjoyed this chapter quite a bit. We had a throughline of similarities, with Taylor pointing out similarities between herself and Bitch, similarities between the Travelers and similarities between the Undersiders and the Nine, and each part was quite good.

The part with Bitch was definitely the highlight, though. Instead of focusing on locating her and getting her out of some sort of trouble, we got a really good interaction between Taylor and Rachel, in which they both opened up with each other more than ever before, for better and worse. I think they came out of it with some positive development of their relationship, and while there is still a long way to go, I stand by what I said at one point during the scene: This is one of the most important interactions for the development of their relationship so far.

I think it’s fairly likely now that the Travelers’ shared backstory and their overall high power levels have something to do with Cauldron. Yes, it’s possible they all triggered young, possibly together, but this chapter strongly hinted that that’s not the right track.

And finally, there’s the meeting. Taylor may need to work on how she introduces pitches like this, but it ultimately worked out. The no holds barred tactic seemed to get approval, with less reluctance than I’d honestly expect. And apparently she wants to blow the Nine the fuck up? I can’t blame her.

Sundancer’s reluctance to kill may prove troublesome later, we’ll have to see. A fair bit of time was devoted to establishing that, so I doubt it’s entirely irrelevant.

Next chapter, well… it’s time to attack. We’re not going to learn the plan until we’re seeing it in action, so I think it will for the most part work out, though complications may occur in the later stages.

See you then!

One thought on “Snare 13.5: Ravens and Writing Desks

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