Snare 13.8: The Freezer Gruem

Source material: Worm, Snare 13.8

Originally blogged: July 15-16, 2018


Hey, everybody, what’s good? Well, Worm is, so let’s read some!

Last time, Taylor tried and failed to enlist the Protectorate’s help against the Nine, but in some way, the conversation she had with Miss Militia and Legend (the rest of the Protectorate members who were around acted as background props, though for all I know the fact they were present for that might have a bearing on their views on Skitter later) gave Trickster an idea.

I don’t know what the specifics could be, but I suspect Trickster’s idea involves us learning more about him and his team. We’ve been getting more build-up for the revealing of those details in this Arc than any before it, especially in the last chapter, and I think it’s about to pay off – if not in this chapter, then at least before Trickster and Skitter’s excursion ends. And, hell, failing that it’ll still probably be before the end of the Arc (which I suspect is coming up soon).

Maybe the idea also involves bringing in someone he knows in Brockton Bay who hasn’t been introduced before? I don’t know. I’m also not sure how that would come to mind based on the conversation Skitter had.

But hey, there’s a way to find out…


“I was a lot more comfortable with the risky plan when it was something I thought of,” I said.

Hah!

I suppose that’s a reasonable bias. She can more directly keep track of the thought processes involved in her own plans.

“You said calculated recklessness, right?” Trickster asked.

Coddamn it, how did it not occur to me before that “calculated recklessness” is pretty much Trickster’s whole style?

“Part of that ‘calculated’ bit is control. Keeping the chaos to a minimum, so we can anticipate and plan.”

So whatever this plan is, it’s something Taylor views as risky and chaotic.

This sounds like fun!

Trickster leaned against the door of the vehicle. “That may be a bit of a problem.”

“You think?”

Here’s what I mean about this being Trickster’s style: He sows chaos on the battleground, but it’s controlled chaos, controlled by him. We saw him do this to great effect against the Wards in Sentinel. He also seems to go with the flow more than Skitter, making rapid decisions in the moment rather than planning things out.


The truck passed over a pothole. Our teams were out in force, our members divided across three trucks.

Ah, alright, so their duo excursion is over. There goes that prediction deadline. Though that does just mean it falls back to the end of the Arc.

I take it they’re on their way to execute or set up the pieces for Trickster’s approach.

I rode with Trickster, Sundancer and Tattletale. Regent and Ballistic were in the second vehicle. Bitch and her dogs rode in the third.

Sounds like a good arrangement!

Hey, when you say “Regent and Ballistic”, does that mean “Regent, Shatterbird-who-is-also-Regent and Ballistic”? I mean, otherwise the balance here is 4-2-(1+dogs).

This was Tattletale’s first time venturing out of Coil’s base in a little while. Her power was limited when she could only get information by what we communicated to her, and this was the kind of situation where we needed her at full strength.

Makes sense. She’s superpowered Sherlock, she needs to be able to spot clues.

If nothing else, it felt better to have another teammate on the field with us, with Grue’s absence.

Doesn’t feel as empty, huh?


“Sorry,” I said, “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I know Grue isn’t your teammate. You didn’t have to come to help.”

Hey, there’s a reason I’ve been calling you “Undertravelers” for a while. For the time being, you’re practically one team.

But yeah, that’s fair.

“We’re all in this together, right?” Trickster said. “You mind if I smoke?”

I do, but go ahead. At least I don’t have to share a car with you.

I shrugged and Tattletale shook her head. He rolled down the window and lit a cigarette, placing it through the mouth-hole of his hard mask.

What about Sundancer?

…I suppose he already knows her answer.

That would be his way of dealing with stress. We were all tense, and we all had our ways of coping.

Fair enough, I suppose.

Trickster smoked and stared off into the distance. Sundancer fidgeted. She frequently realized what she was doing and forced herself to stop, only to pick up something else. Her leg would bounce in place, then she would stop doing that and start drumming her fingers on her kneepad in some complicated pattern. It made me think of a pianist or a guitarist fingering the strings.

This is both relatable and adorable. :>

Tattletale watched people, her eyes roving over the rest of us. Her cheek bulged slightly where she touched the tip of her tongue against the backside of the wound Jack had left her.

I wonder how much she’s learning on the way, about various people.


And me? I retreated into my headspace, I supposed.

That does indeed sound very much like your thing.

Although I wouldn’t trust your headspace to destress you.

I was maybe similar to Tattletale in that I took note of each of the others, but my thoughts were less about simply observing than about cataloguing and mentally preparing. What options did we have? What tools, weapons and techniques did we have at our disposal?

I suppose if not planning stresses her, then preparing as an anti-stress coping mechanic makes sense.

Who was going to be backing me up during this operation, and how reliable were those people?

The Travelers may have their internal problems, but I haven’t seen anything to suggest they’re not reliable in a pinch.

It was constructive, maybe, but exhausting. There were so many angles to consider, and the stakes were high. Brian’s life, Brian’s quality of life.

Ah, yeah, here’s the part where it changes from destressing to distressing. Amazing how much a simple vowel can change the meaning, isn’t it?

The rest of us weren’t in the Nine’s clutches, but it would take only one mistake before any one of us could be in the same boat, wondering just how horrible things were going to get for us.

Yeah, there’s a lot that can go wrong when going up against these lunatics.


Maybe fatigue factored in, but the more I thought on our allies, the less secure I felt.

Trickster: Knows what he’s doing in a fight, can change up the battlefield a lot and leave the enemy confused, came up with the plan, might get killed or worse by the Slaughterhouse Nine.

Sundancer: Can deal massive damage, could probably take out most of the enemies singlehandedly, might get killed or worse by the Slaughterhouse Nine.

Tattletale: Excellent source of information, might get killed or worse by the Slaughterhouse Nine.

Everyone: Might get killed or worse by the Slaughterhouse Nine.

The information Cherish had volunteered about Coil, true or not, had left me with lingering doubts.

Did what she said seriously not occur to you before?

I mean, besides the idea that he’s close to his goal.

I was also acutely aware of the distinct lack of chemistry and camaraderie among the Travelers. They were keeping secrets, with no promises of divulging the information in question.

This is another bit that makes me feel like we’ll be learning what those secrets are soon. Even if Taylor doesn’t (i.e. even if it ends up being in an Interlude).

Whatever the reason may be, they’re not working together because of friendship, at least not anymore.


The last time we’d all been in a car with Trickster, he’d noted that there were two major problems that Coil was helping them with.

Oh right, he did, didn’t he. Well, one of them is clearly Noelle, but the other one… Well, I’ve already theorized about them being on the run from Cauldron (or some other threat), and this nugget that I’d forgotten about strikes me as further evidence for that.

Noelle was obviously one. A part of me could buy that there was something serious going on with her, something that necessitated the help of someone like Coil. Another nagging part of me was thinking that there were still too many unanswered questions.

You’re telling me? 😛

This really feels like the setup for a chapter where we’ll be getting some answers.

That or a huge troll, and unlike certain other authors I’m familiar with, Wildbow doesn’t seem like the trolly type.

What was holding them together as a group? How fragile was that tie?

Apparently there’s some kind of promise they made to each other? That’s pretty much all I solidly know. I do have my theory that it’s a common threat they’re running from, but I don’t know if that’s accurate or how the promise would fit into that.

Was this really what I needed to be dwelling on?

I mean, it could be relevant if their bond happens to be strained in this particular fight, which may be how we end up learning about it, but in-universe there’s not much reason to think that’s likely to happen. For Taylor, at least.


I thought over my arsenal and the options I had with my power. I’d developed enough techniques that I was starting to have trouble keeping track of them all. Should I name them? It seemed like something out of a kid’s show, shouting out the names of the abilities as I used them. ‘Firebug attack, go!’ ‘Silkwrap Strike!’

Ahahaha!

“Go, Skitter, use Rodrotter!”

I shook my head a little. I was tired. My mind was wandering.

It’s wandering into fun places, though! You should be tired more often.

Well, probably not, that’d get you killed, but still.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had more than five hours of sleep, and I’d barely slept at all last night. Fear and adrenaline usually clarified things, so it probably said something that I was feeling a little dazed despite what we were going into.

Is it still the same day as the first ambush?

Some of that was the constant aggression. Since the Nine had made their presence known, I’d barely been able to relax and let my guard down. After Mannequin had started killing people in my territory, taking even a moment to myself made me feel like I was insulting their memories, that I was failing the next batch of people who would become victims of my enemies.

Ouch.

That’s the thing, though. They’re not just your enemies, they’re enemies of the whole city. Whole country, even.

Yes, I will admit, you being there was probably the main reason Mannequin came to your territory, but you are not responsible for his actions. Hell, if he didn’t kill people there, he would’ve killed people somewhere else, somewhere you weren’t around to stop him at all.


“We should stop here,” Tattletale said.

Yes, good, please distract Taylor.

That was apparently order enough, because the driver pulled over. The long seconds of stillness after the truck had stopped said volumes. We didn’t want to get out of the car, we didn’t want to face the Nine, deal with their traps as we tried to catch them in our own.

Snare.

Two or three seconds passed with tension thrumming in the air, every one of our nerves on edge, ready to act, react, even now.

It’s go time.

The sound of a slamming door from one of the other trucks was the little push we needed to move. We climbed out of the truck and joined the others. Bitch had been the first one out. She had Sirius, Bastard and Bentley with her.

Ah, yeah, she would be the first one out. No dawdling for this gal.

We ventured over to a fallen section of wall, peering over it to get a better glimpse of what would be the battlefield.

This so far feels a lot less structured than the previous ambush.

So, what, did they invite the Nine to a brawl or something? …probably not.


The final two members of our group arrived a moment later. Shatterbird landed, stumbling, and Genesis began to materialize in a massive form.

Ahh, so Regent didn’t bring himself along in the car, he was flying along.

Which he’s clearly not used to being able to do. 😛

We were close to the site of our last fight. The Nine had been on their way to Dolltown, and we’d ambushed them, divided them, and then provoked them into extending out of position. Having done that, we’d kidnapped Shatterbird as she lagged behind and then looped around to capture the wounded Cherish.

Yes, I remember. My memory’s shitty sometimes, but that was just two chapters ago. 😛

Now the Nine were inside Dolltown.

Well, that’s probably not good. I hope Parian’s still alive.

I could only hope the noise and fighting of our last encounter would have given most of the residents the time and the motivation to run.

Let’s hope they didn’t go “eh, Parian will protect us if they do show up here”. I mean, sure, trust in your protector and don’t panic, but there’s a limit to what she can do.


“How’s she handling?” Tattletale asked Regent.

Well, he clearly hasn’t mastered landing yet.

Also it’s gotta be a weird thing to control. He’s a body controller, but Shatterbird’s flight is controlled via her telekinesis (which full body control gives him access to for reasons), which controls the glass that in turn pulls on the body. It’s quite roundabout, a true mobius double reacharound.

“Not the easiest power to use,” he muttered. “It’s not a physical power, so I’m learning to use it from scratch.

No muscle memory to learn from.

Doesn’t help that she’s really, really, really pissed off. I think she’s a serious control freak. My control’s slipping a bit.”

“Sheesh, she’s such a control freak. She wants to have total control of her own body, can you believe that!”

“How much is it slipping?” I asked. “Is there a chance you’ll lose control of her?”

“Always a chance. But I think I’m okay, so long as she and I remain pretty close to each other.”

How close is “pretty close”, exactly?


“Tattletale, Where are they?” I asked.

Somehow the capital W error here made me think of Scooby Doo.

Tattle Dattle Tale, where are they?
We’ve got some things to do now
Tattle Dattle Tale, where are they?
We need some help from you now

Tattletale pointed at a squat building a few blocks away. It had the look of a small library, maybe, or a hardware store.

I don’t have an idea of those buildings being similar or particularly distinct from other buildings.

A place meant to accommodate a lot of people for one job. “Somewhere in there.”

Ah, I guess that’s fair.

“Then we wait,” Trickster said. “And we cross our fingers.”

Good luck?


Waiting. The last thing I wanted to do.

Look, I get it, but consider this: Refusing to wait is what got Grue into this mess in the first place.

Using my bugs, I tried to scope out the area. Please don’t let there be people here.

There’s gonna be people here, isn’t there.

There were.

Yep.

I had to be subtle, not giving the Nine any reason to suspect I was around, but even if I counted only the people who had bugs on them already, there were far too many people in and around Dolltown.

Maybe they took the fighting as “they’ve dealt with the threat, they’re not coming back anytime soon”.

“Regent, can you stop Shatterbird from listening in?” I asked.

*shapes glass into earplugs*

“Sure,” he said. Shatterbird shut her eyes and covered her ears with her hands.

“LALALALALA”


I asked, “Tattletale, do you know where the Nine are, specifically?”

She shook her head.

That would probably have been helpful, especially with Ballistic on the team. Boom, bunch of rubble over them.

“There’re people here. I’m counting thirty or so, but there could be twice that many. I haven’t even taken a serious look at the building the Nine are in, because I don’t want to alert them.”

Anyone who’s in that building is probably fucked already.

“Ignore them,” Trickster said. “This is risky enough without splitting our focus.”

That’s asking a hell of a lot out of miss “four out of maybe thirty didn’t make it so it wasn’t a victory” over here.

“If I know where the Nine are, I can tell these people where to run, give them a chance.”

“It’s not worth the risk,” Trickster stressed.

Trickster is to some extent taking over Grue’s role in Grue’s absence.

He glanced at his teammates, “There’s still five or six of the enemy in the area. If they see what you’re up to and get any advance warning we’re here, this all goes balls-up, and we suffer for it. Grue dies for it.”

I suppose so.


Regent nodded in agreement.

I looked at the others for help. Tattletale remained quiet, and Sundancer, the one other person I’d hoped would be sympathetic, looked away.

This feels familiar. It reminds me of when Taylor found out about Dinah.

“Those are people,” I said. “Real people.”

“So’s Grue, and so are we. We look out for ourselves first. If we can take out members of the Nine, we’ll save more people in the long run.”

It’s a hard choice, but I think he’s right.

“The ends justify the means? You realize that when this all goes down, they’re going to die? Almost guaranteed?” I’d directed Sundancer to attack a group of people who included bystanders, but they’d been goners already, dead for all intents and purposes. This was something else.

Fuck, sounds like what they’re planning is quite destructive.

“Thirty people for the sake of hundreds. It balances out,” Trickster said.

Numbers.

Of course, Taylor has never really managed to think like that, for better or worse.

If we stick to the plan and if we’re successful.”

“Don’t fuck around or their deaths will be in vain.”


“I can’t agree with that.”

“Then make your call. If you’re absolutely certain you’re not going to fuck us over and give away the plan, if you’re positive that the lives you might save are worth risking our lives and Grue’s, you can go ahead. You don’t have anyone’s support here, and it’s all on you if you fail.”

At least he gives her the choice, even if he’s heavily indicating she shouldn’t try.

Tattletale spoke, “If you’re going to do something, you better do it fast.”

She pointed, and every pair of eyes in our group turned to look.

Purity streaked across the sky, followed by Crusader and a floating rock carrying a whole contingent of their group.

Oh shit! Have they too come to attack the Nine (perhaps inspired into action by the Undertravelers?), or did they just happen to be in the area?

The rest would be moving along the ground.

“Shatterbird, Genesis, go!”

Up to communicate?

…if that’s the goal, sending Shatterbird might be a bad idea.


Shatterbird took flight, calling up a storm of glass shards to accompany her. She flew low to the ground, relying on the surrounding buildings and ruins to keep out of sight.

Genesis had finished pulling herself together. Her form resembled Crawler, but with some additions.

Hm. Are they going to pass this off as Crawler having managed to reclaim Shatterbird but taken some damage in the process? Better hope Crawler isn’t with the rest of the Nine if that’s what they’re going for.

Growths on her back resembled Bonesaw and Jack. She tested her limbs, then looked at us.

…and apparently they’re going to pretend they have Bonesaw and Jack with them too.

That makes at least three members of the Nine who can totally call their bluff.

At me? I couldn’t tell. She had too many eyes to tell.

Hah.


Then she ran, stampeding off. Not quite as graceful as the real Crawler, but that was one more area where we just had to cross our fingers and hope she could sell the ruse.

Yes, but who are you intending to fool? Purity and her folks? Were they actually part of this plan somehow?

There was the dull rumble of a distant impact as Purity opened fire on Genesis. Genesis dodged into a nearby alleyway, leading Purity and the rest of her group off to one side.

But what is the benefit of attracting fire like this? Tricking them into attacking the location of the actual Nine?

And if Purity wasn’t part of the plan… why is Genesis in this form?

Shatterbird fired on Purity and her allies, guiding a torrent of glass shards toward the incoming enemies. Not enough to kill, or even to maim. It was enough to hurt and to piss them off.

Hell, even if the point is to get them to attack the actual Nine, why would they need to do this? Han Purity shot first anyway, so if they were to find the actual Nine themselves, they’d probably do the same thing.


Coil had informed Hookwolf’s contingent about the general location of the Nine. Sure enough, they’d gathered, girded themselves for battle and marched on, hoping to overwhelm through sheer firepower and force of numbers. Odds were good that it wouldn’t work. It hadn’t in the past.

Alright, so they were indeed part of the plan.

But… why the ruse?

But, we were hoping, it would put the Nine in a position where they had to decide whether to hold their position or respond to the immediate proximity of this many enemies.

Ah, I see. Them arriving at all is meant to pull the Nine out into the open.

Shatterbird and Genesis were tasked with distracting Hookwolf’s forces and preventing them from mounting a direct attack on the Nine’s real position. We couldn’t save Grue if Purity leveled the building.

Ohh. Yeah, that makes sense.


So much hinged on how the next few moments played out.

“The Nine are distracted. I’m going to help the people run.”

Oh boy, good luck.

The lack of response was as damning as anything they could have said.

Yeeah. “Your choice, none of our business as long as it doesn’t fuck up the plan.”

I waited until Purity fired again, then used the rumble as an excuse to stir various bugs into action. I did a body count, placing bugs on people’s right feet, trying to calculate how many there were and how they were distributed.

There was a crowd inside the building with the Nine. People huddled in a room with Crawler, who lay on the ground with his chin resting on his forelimbs, facing them.

That’s probably not the most comforting roommate to have.

I couldn’t find Grue. Was he in that group? No.

How would you even recognize him without putting bugs all over? Are the bugs individually sensing some sort of identifying characteristic?


On the other side of the building, four people were gathered at one window. A grown man, two grown women, one of whom was nude, and a child.

Hello, there.

We still need one more, and it appears to be Mannequin.

A man clad in hard armor crouched in one corner, working with tools.

…who the… Colin, is that you?

There were enough cool bodies around them that I would’ve known who they were even if the body types hadn’t fit.

I mean, it could be Mannequin, but I wouldn’t have described him quite that way.

“Found them,” I said, pointing, “They’re watching.”

“They’re not stepping outside?” Trickster asked.

Not yet, apparently.

So if they’re watching, surely they’ve seen that Jack, Bonesaw, Crawler and Shatterbird appear to be the targets of the enemy fire, despite two of them being in the same room?


I shook my head.

“Damn.”

I could see Menja leap from Rune’s floating rock and grow as she fell. She was nearly thirty feet tall when she landed, the road cracking under her weight.

I wonder whether she grows upwards and downwards or just upwards.

Like, while she’s growing, do her feet approach the ground faster than her center does?

Rune leaped off the rock and landed on the husk of a building that hadn’t survived Leviathan’s attack. A few seconds later, a large section broke off and lifted into the air.

Looks like the theme of the paragraph is the band of capes on the rock, a rock band if you will, breaking up.

She didn’t stay on top of it for long, choosing instead to gather more ammunition, moving on to other ruined walls and sections of building.

And the same goes for buildings, apparently.


This would be a balancing act. Unless the Nine didn’t plan on defending themselves or running, there would be something of a sweet spot. A point where the enemy forces got close enough that the Nine were forced to act, yet not so close that anyone else was endangered.

This is a strange plan. So much that could go wrong here, sheesh.

Now that I knew where the Nine were, I could focus on the civilians. I drew out messages for everyone who was hiding in their homes, along with arrows pointing them away from the Nine and Hookwolf’s army. If someone decided they didn’t want to move, I nipped them with a biting insect or two to prod them.

Nothing like a mosquito bite to say “hey! listen!”.

Dozens of people made their way to safety, following my instructions and running for their lives as they headed out back doors or out of windows to avoid being seen.

Good job, Taylor!


There were still way too many people in the room with Crawler. And I still had no idea where Grue was. Slowly and carefully, I navigated my bugs through the rooms of the building the Nine had occupied: A makeshift dining hall with a kitchen, a room solely for storing garbage, then a small open shower with three stalls.

Hm. This doesn’t really sound like a library or a hardware store.

It had been some sort of office building with no computers, desks or cubicles.

Huh.

Something big, firm and formed of cloth… one of Parian’s stuffed animals?

Oh hey. That sounds… potentially bad. Was this her hideout?

It lay prone on the ground, on the other end of the building from where the Nine were poised, so large and fat that it wouldn’t be able to fit through any of the doors.

Hmm.


I found another cluster of people on the top floor. Three adult women and two children that ranged from toddler age to five feet or so of height. Damn it, why did there always have to be kids?

Kids are everywhere!

“I can’t find Grue.”

“He’s in there,” Tattletale said.

“How sure are you?”

“Pretty darn sure.”

Good to know.

“Then how long before we can move on to the next phase?” I asked. “I found some people, which solves one problem.”

Hm? How so?

“As soon as the Nine act,” Trickster said. “Tattletale?”

“They’re not wanting to move. Something about the hostages.”

Are they perhaps already in hiding, from Parian??

Or maybe they need the hostages for something? I suppose there’s a reason they’re still alive.

“Hookwolf doesn’t care about hostages,” I told her.

“I know! But the Nine are still holding back.”

I suppose it would be possible for them to be holding back because they think the hostages will prevent the attack, but why did they take the hostages in the first place?


“Regent-” I started.

“Don’t distract me,” he said, rushing through the words, “I can barely dodge all this shit they’re throwing at me.”

Yeeah, they’ve got a lot of ranged firepower and it’s currently all focused on him and Genesis. That’s gotta be like a bullet hell.

I followed his line of sight to Shatterbird. Purity opened fire, and Shatterbird used a cone of glass to block the worst of the kinetic energy and refract the light. Or something.

Hard to tell how stuff works with super-light, huh?

It didn’t work that well. Shatterbird was knocked to the ground. She managed to take flight just in time to avoid Newter, trapped the boy in a cage of glass shards, and then flung a barrage of tiny glass shards at Purity and her group.

Don’t hurt Newter, please, if you don’t have to.

I could see the glints of the shards catching the light as it flew through the air.

Meanwhile, the actual Shatterbird is just shaking her head internally (since she doesn’t have control of it externally), nitpicking the details of how Regent is using her power. “If you’re going to take control of me, at least do things properly.” Elitist to the end.


“Draw some fire towards the Nine’s location, if you can,” I said.

Half the point of the ruse was to keep that from happening, but it ought to put a spring in the Nine’s step.

“I said don’t distract me!”

But he listened. Shatterbird interposed herself between Hookwolf’s advancing group and the building holding the Nine and their hostages. Purity fired, and again, Shatterbird’s glass couldn’t absorb the full brunt of the hit.

It being accidental on Purity’s part helps.

She was hammered down into the ground again, and what didn’t hit her struck the building, not far from where the Nine were peering through the window.

“Make a move, you fuckers.”

“Come on, come on,” I whispered.

The Nine reacted. It just wasn’t what we’d hoped for.

Well, fuck.

So which thing were you hoping for, exactly? That they’d fight back?

Crawler stood and rumbled some words my bugs couldn’t make out, and the hostages fled. The Nine made no move to try to stop them. Just the opposite. They revealed why they’d kept them on hand.

This sounds very bad.

Is this very bad?

I think this is very bad.

The hostages made their way out the doors and into the streets surrounding the building. Purity was so distracted by Genesis and Shatterbird that she didn’t seem to notice what was happening at first.

Fuck, are they going to make Purity kill the civilians by accident?

Tattletale watched with her binoculars. “Oh no.”

“Oh no?” Trickster asked.

Oh no.


Tattletale looked at me, “Track their movements. The Nine! Don’t lose sight of the Nine!”

Ohhh. They’re a diversion. A crowd for the Nine to blend into, to the extent they can, or to distract as the Nine slip away through another exit.

The hostages scattered in every direction, and some invariably headed towards us. I saw what had concerned Tattletale. Even though I knew where the Nine were, I was still caught off guard.

…wait, did Bonesaw do something to the hostages, too?

Bonesaw’s talents apparently included crude plastic surgery. If ‘crude’ was even the right word.

Why wouldn’t they.

So what did she do? Cover their eyes so they’re all running blind? Nah, anyone in the Nine could blind them, that’s too easy.

Every hostage wore the appearance of one of the Nine.

Oh fuck

Ahahaha!

That is genius!

Well fucking played, Nine. Well fucking played.

The group that headed towards us had three Jacks, a Siberian and a Bonesaw. Their expressions were frozen, their eyes wide with terror. None of them were perfect, one was too heavy in physique to be Jack, and the Bonesaw had apparently been a short-statured woman who’d had her shins and forearms sawed to a shorter length and reattached.

Yeah, I kind of figured they wouldn’t have the exact physique of the Nine, since that’s part of what Taylor used to recognize them with her bugs.

The resemblance was close enough that someone could mistake them for the wrong person at a glance, and that was all the Nine needed.

Yeah, damn.

This is glorious. Horrible, but glorious.


“Decoys,” the word was hollow as it left my lips.

“And the Nine are moving out,” Tattletale reported. “Leaving the front of the building. Get ready!”

Better keep really solid track of where everyone is. Especially Burnscar.

I used my bugs to draw a message for the people still hiding in another part of the building.

Crawler was the first to leave the building, charging out the front door, plowing through one or two of the Nine, and barreling towards Hookwolf’s army.

Presumably none of the decoys look like him and Mannequin, at least. Well, at least not him.

The other members of the Nine headed out. A real Burnscar, Jack, Siberian and Mannequin at the tail end of their mass of fleeing decoys.

Sticking together, huh?

“Bonesaw’s not leaving,” I said.

Oh yeah, hm. Gonna do one last operation for the road?

“Doesn’t matter! Now!” Tattletale shouted.

Probably does matter, but do as you wish.


Trickster hurried to my side, binoculars in hand. I pointed, and I could feel a pressure building around me. It was slower than his other teleports, more jarring. It didn’t matter. Our group was soon indoors.

Slower… is that because he was teleporting more people at once?

Me, Tattletale, Trickster, Sundancer and Ballistic.

So who or what did he replace them with?

The interior was rank. They were smells I’d gotten to know since Leviathan’s attack. Blood, death, and the dank smell of sweat.

Hard to escape those, these days.

Trickster had replaced all of the kids and the three adults that had been accompanying them.

Ohh, that’s why it was a good thing she found people!

And I guess it was slower because he knew where they were but couldn’t see them?

He hadn’t brought Regent, because Regent was focused on Shatterbird.

The teleport would probably be quite distracting, and they don’t need him inside.

That was part of the plan. Leaving Bitch behind wasn’t. I could understand it if it was because of a lack of mass to swap with, but my doubts about the Travelers and about Trickster specifically led me to ask, “You figure Bitch will cover our retreat?”

Hmm.

“And if one of the Nine is here,” Trickster said, his voice low, “We don’t need her dogs making noise.”

…that is a fair point, though it’s a bit different if they intend to get into a fight. But so far, it seems stealth is the goal.

If they’ve driven the Nine out of here and it doesn’t matter that Bonesaw remained, what exactly are they trying to accomplish?


“Right.” Okay. Made sense.

I led the way, as I had the best sense of the layout. Bonesaw was excitedly pacing back and forth. The rest of the place was quiet.

Excitedly… because she’s seeing her handiwork in action?

“There’s only a few places Grue could be. Confined spaces my bugs couldn’t get to.”

Oh, right. That’s what they’re trying to accomplish, duh.

I actually forgot.


“Makes sense that they’d improvise a cell to contain him,” Tattletale said.

Especially knowing that Skitter was on the other side and that she can detect things via her bugs.

I nodded, swallowing.

Worn and damaged posters and fliers referred to yoga and pilates classes.

Ah, there we go. That makes sense with the layout of this place.

Makeshift signs and notices had been raised since this building had been used for the rich-person exercise classes. These were more pragmatic, detailing chore schedules, contact information and watch rotations.

Heh, “rich-person exercise classes”.

It sounds like this place has had a couple different functions in its time.

These people had been getting by, maybe in the same way I’d been trying to get my own people organized. I felt a growing outrage at what had happened here, what had happened to my people.

I really want to know whether or not Parian’s alright.

Why? What purpose did this chaos serve?

Entertainment? A sense of vindication for their pasts? Stimulation?


We checked a small sauna. No luck. No less than three storage rooms, sealed tight to keep vermin out, turned up empty.

The place I’d mentally labeled the dining hall turned out to be something of a restaurant.

Ahh.

More notices about food rationing covered menus and signs advertising healthy eating.

Naturally.

…hey, it just occurred to me that Bonesaw being in the building might matter because she might be going to Grue right around when they find him, in order to do some of her thing?

Alternatively, it’s possible (though unlikely) that Grue was among the decoys.


I headed around the long counter and into the kitchen. Crates of supplies had been opened, the contents sorted into piles. There were also other supplies that didn’t look regulation.

…interesting. How did the– are these the special supplies Flechette arranged?

Several 5-gallon jugs of water that were designed to fit into water coolers were stacked in one corner, and neither I nor my bugs had seen any water coolers in here.

Sounds like it.

I stopped outside the walk-in freezer and stared at the handle.

Oh, did you realize they might’ve stored Grue in here?

“Skitter?” Tattletale asked.

“There’s only three places left where Grue could be. The other two places are the regular fridge over there and a closet in the basement that I think is too small to hold him and still let him breathe.”

Sounds like this is a good chance.

So is she hesitating because she’s not ready to see whatever the Nine have done to him?

“So if he’s not in here…”

“Right,” I said. “Trap free?”

Oh yeah, that’s another good reason to hesitate.

“As far as I can tell,” she replied. “No, if they were going to trap it, they’d lock it first, chain it shut.”

Make it more obvious, “go here, here’s what you’re looking for and also death but mostly what you’re looking for”.

Swallowing, I gripped the handle and hauled the door open. It took me a second to process what I was seeing.

Hi, Grue. How are you?


Brian was in there. And he was alive.

Yay!

I couldn’t have been unhappier at that realization.

Yay! 🙂

There was no power to the walk-in-freezer, so it was warm. The interior was maybe ten by twelve feet across, the walls were metal, with racks on either side. Brian was hanging by the wall at the far end, propped up enough that his shoulders were pressing against the corner bordering the wall and the ceiling, his arms outstretched to either side like a bird hung up for display, his head hanging forward.

Sounds comfortable! 🙂

(And vaguely religious.)

It was some sort of collaboration between Bonesaw and Mannequin. He’d been partially flayed, the skin stripped from his arms and legs and stretched over the walls around him. His ribcage had been opened, splayed apart.

Look, he’s had a fun time!

An improvised metal frame held each of his internal organs in place, some several feet from their intended position, as if they were held out for display, others placed on the shelves of the freezer.

Welcome to the museum of biology!

Cases covered in a ceramic shell seemed to be pumping him full of water, nutrients and other fluids that must have been helping keep him alive.

Like a beer hat! Does he have a foam hand, too? 🙂


His head was untouched. He looked up at us, and he looked harrowed. The look in his eyes was more animal than person, his pupils mere pinpoints in his brown eyes.

Oh boy, they may have driven him to insanity, at least somewhat.

Tiny beads of sweat dotted the skin of his face, no doubt due to the warmth of the room, but he was shivering.

“Oh.” My voice was a croak. “Brian.”

Ribbit.

I took a step forward, and he seized up, his entire body twisting, his hands clenching, eyes wrenching shut.

“Get back!” Tattletale gripped me by the shoulder and forced me out of the freezer.

I’m sorry, Taylor.

This is no longer the Brian you once knew.

“I- what?” I was having trouble processing. “Trap?”

Tattletale had a dark look in her eyes. “No. Look closer at the walls and floor.”

…bits of brain?

Numbly, I did as she’d asked. They looked like hairline cracks, spiderwebbing across everything from the walls to the shelving and even the ceramic cases that Mannequin had set up. Except they were raised, over the surfaces. “Veins?”

…he is one with the room.

The room is Brian.

“Exposed nerves. Artificially grown, connecting from him to the rest of the room.”

I wonder, if Regent hadn’t been preoccupied with controlling Shatterbird, would he have been able to sense this?

I stared up at Brian, and he stared back at me.

There was no way to help him. I couldn’t even get inside the room to try to comfort him in the smallest ways, not without causing him unbearable pain in the process.

Well, this is quite the fate. :/


Brian moved his lips, but no sound came out. He tried to raise his head, as much as the ceiling allowed, his eyes raised towards the sky. There was a cauterised scar just above his collarbone.

Ahh. They removed his vocal cords.

“I could make it quick,” Ballistic said.

“No,” I told him.

Look, Taylor, I understand, but in this situation euthanasia is probably justified. I don’t think even Panacea could help him here, due to the technological stuff involved.

But time to say goodbyes might be nice, at least.

“It’d be a mercy.”

“No,” I shook my head. “No. We have options. Panacea-”

I considered that several paragraphs before I actually managed to work it into my commentary, yet I still ended up talking about it right before Taylor did.

“Is nowhere to be found,” Tattletale told me, “And given what happened with Mannequin, she’s going to be as far as she can get from downtown.”

That is also true.

“Then Bonesaw,” I said, clenching my fists. “Bonesaw can fix him.”

How do you intend to get her to do that?

Does Regent’s control work with tinker powers?

“She’s not going to fix him. I doubt she’d do it on pain of death,” Tattletale told me. “Skitter-”

“We’ll try,” I told her. “At least try.”

Fair enough.


I looked at the others. Sundancer was on the other side of the kitchen, hands on the edge of the sink. Ballistic had his arms folded. Trickster leaned against one counter, silent, not looking at the scene.

I really can’t blame any of them. Sunny’s probably halfway to puking, and I can totally understand Trickster not wanting to look at this mess.

“Every second you make him go on like this is cruel,” she said, her voice hard.

What does Grue himself think?

“So is every second you spend arguing with me. I’m not negotiating, here. I’m willing for him to suffer if it means there’s a chance we can help him.”

I’m on Taylor’s side in theory, but in practice I don’t think there’s much of a chance. At least if we don’t take Grue’s protagonist armor into account.

She met my eyes, looking like she wanted to slap me, yell at me, or both. “Fine. Then let’s hurry.”

I gave Brian one last look over my shoulder before I hurried off, leaving him behind. The others followed.

See you later, Mr. Freeze…r Room.


I was using my bugs to track the positions of the Nine, where Siberian and Crawler were in the thick of the enemy. Mannequin apparently wasn’t aware of my presence, so I had my first real opportunity of tracking his movements as he scaled walls and disappeared into manholes to emerge half a street away.

Nice.

Burnscar used her fire to bombard the enemy and divide them.

Going for the heads-on approach, huh?

Another reason why Bonesaw staying matters: It might mean the others will try to circle back after drawing the enemy away.

Jack was more pragmatic, striking from hiding, threatening his decoys to get them to run out of cover and draw enemy fire, and using every hiding space that was available. He was quick, smart, and devastating in how he operated.

That’s Jack in a nutshell, yeah. Quick, smart and devastating.

No movement was wasted, and every time he emerged from cover and swiped his knife, someone suffered for it. As far as I could tell, he was evading Night and Fog.

Those ought to be some of the worst enemies to be up against with this tactic, though. Fog cares not if you’re hiding around the corner.

I suppose Night’s not exactly in a good position to use her power in this battle.

My bugs could detect some noise from him that I was parsing as a mocking laughter. Maybe my imagination. Probably my imagination.

I could see it being the case.


[Session 2]
Let’s see if we can’t catch a Bonesaw!


I was getting a sense of what Brian had described, once upon a time; that anger and outrage that didn’t even come close to connecting with a fire inside, with burning rage or anything like that. It was cold, dark, and numb.

We found her in one of the exercise rooms. Yoga mats had been stacked together to serve as mattresses, forming a kind of sleeping area.

Sounds decently suited for operation, too.

Most of the Dolltown residents who had been living in this facility were dead now, their cold bodies lying in pools of blood. One of the culprits was at the window, clutching the frame. Bonesaw.

Hello!


I gathered my bugs, directing them her way.

Wait.

Are you sure that’s actually her?

“Wait!” Tattletale cried out.

Once again, this Arc is named in a way that implies traps.

I turned to see her stagger. I whipped around to see Bonesaw. She was whirling around in response to Tattletale’s shout, her eyes wide. There was a chain stretching from her wrist to the base of the window.

Yeah, that ain’t Bonesaw.

Not Bonesaw. Decoy.

Which of course raises the question: Where is the real Bonesaw?

Tattletale crashed to the ground, followed soon after by Trickster.

I think the answer might be “too close for comfort”.

Sundancer and Ballistic crashed to the ground a second later.

This is bad. This is really, really bad.

“Why won’t you go down!?” The voice was petulant.

Hm, interesting. Is Skitter somehow immune to whatever way Bonesaw is doing this?

I followed the voice and saw one of the corpses move, rising to its feet. Bonesaw unzipped the covering of dead flesh she’d covered herself in and shucked it off.

Ahaha, nice disguise!

She was wearing a yellow sundress and yellow rubber boots with a short blue jacket, but her hair and each article of her clothing were stained dark brown with the blood that had been on the corpse.

It’s probably a wonder you can even see that they used to be yellow and blue.

A small tube was in one of her hands, “I shot you with three darts! It’s rude!”

Ah, yeah, darts that couldn’t penetrate the costume did actually cross my mind. I’m not sure why I didn’t write it.

Better not allow the temporary changes to the costume to reveal any skin, or turn the back of your head towards Bonesaw.

Also I love that Bonesaw thinks it’s “rude” to not go down when being darted. Best antagonist, hands down. 😛


I glanced down. Three pea-sized darts with flesh-toned feathering were stuck in the fabric of my costume. One in my dress, one in a panel of armor on my chest, and another in the side of my stomach.

“You know, shooting me with these is also kind of rude. Not to mention turning my teammate into a freezer room.”

“Bonesaw,” I growled.

Taylor goes for the less bantery approach, of course.

“Skitter, was it? Bug girl! I really want to find out how your power works!

That’s not a good thing, for Skitter anyway.

I’ll take your brain apart and find the mechanism so I can copy it! Is your costume spider silk? That’s awesome! You know the right materials to work with! No wonder my darts didn’t work!”

Hey, at least she appreciates good work when she sees it!


“What did you do to them?”

Oh, right, the darts may very well not just put people to sleep.

“Paralyzed them, obviously. Living flesh is so much easier to work with.”

Hmm.

I wonder if that has anything to do with the Manton effect, if that’s even a thing.

Paralyzed. I glanced at my teammates. Why couldn’t I have finished their costumes? Stupid. I’d spread myself too thin. I should have finished one costume, then moved on to the next. Maybe then I would have saved someone.

I suppose that does make sense, but there’s no way you’d be able to predict this. Don’t beat yourself up too much about it. You’re doing that with too many things already.

“Oh, and I dosed them with a little something extra. Because Jack said there’s no point in doing anything halfway.” She gave me a sage nod, as if sharing some universal truism.

Right. Now what the hell kind of something extra did she add…

“You’re going to give them an antidote to whatever you injected into them, then you’re going to go to Brian and you’re going to fix him.”

“Oh… do I have to?”
“Yes.”
“Alright, fiiine.”

Incidentally, Bonesaw might not understand who Skitter is referring to as “Brian”.

“Brian? Oh! You mean the boy we put in the freezer!

Well, I suppose there weren’t too many options.

I’m still trying to figure out where his power comes from. The darkness comes from inside him, but what’s the source?

The edgy, dramatic answer would be his heart, I suppose.

Besides the usual, I mean. So I took everything apart to see, but he wasn’t cooperating. I told him I’d make the pain stop forever if he would just show me, but he was so stubborn!” She stamped one foot.

This explains a lot about the state he’s in.


I’d let Brian’s name slip. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I wasn’t thinking straight.

It’s very understandable, given the situation.

“But no, I’m not going to do that,” she said. “I don’t censor my art because it offends people.”

oh my cod she’s so precious ahahaha

“I could convince you,” I told her. My swarm flowed forward, and she backed away. Her eyes, one green and one blue, flashed as she took in the breadth of the swarm, the composition of it.

Eyy, she did do the heterochromia thing!

She was probably already brainstorming some solution.

That or studying the movement of the bugs in order to figure out how the power works.

I wasn’t going to give her a chance. I drew my weapons, one in each hand, and charged through the swarm, straight for her.

Don’t forget the protection she’s given herself.

At least you’re on relatively equal footing thanks to the silk costume, but I really would not underestimate Bonesaw’s melee skills after her moves in 13.6.


My bugs served to give me a half-second of early warning as they felt her jam one hand into the side-pocket of her dress. I turned on my heel, the burn on my leg screaming in pain as I did it, and threw myself to the right as she brought one hand to her mouth and blew a billowing cloud of powder into the space I’d been occupying.

That’s probably worse than poisonous, so yeah, better dodge that.

I got my feet under me and lunged forward again. I didn’t get two steps before I was tackled to the ground.

By one of your allies?

It was a mechanical spider the size of a large dog.

Ah, fair enough.

Hey, time to figure out whether they’re arthropod-like enough to be controlled. 😛

It had been folded up inside one of the bodies. Its legs latched around me.

Huh, so not only did Bonesaw herself hide in the bodies, she’s hidden other things in them. How many bodies are left? I suspect she’ll have something different in each.

There wasn’t much strength in them, and even with my less than fantastic upper body strength, I managed to pry the first two legs apart.

Nice.


I had almost got the spider off me when another caught me from behind. A third and fourth caught me an instant later, seizing my head and shoulders and my legs, respectively.

Alright, maybe not something different in each, but still.

There’s a certain irony to Skitter being restrained by spider-like things.

Bonesaw exhaled a second cloud of dust into my face.

Well, fuck.

End of chapter?

I held my breath for as long as I could, but there was a limit. When I did breathe, my chest seized up, and my ears immediately started ringing violently, a headache settling into place. The muscles in my arms and legs locked up.

Looks like the powder does roughly the same thing as the darts. Maybe the darts were tipped with the powder, for that matter.

She sprayed an aerosol around herself, killing my bugs. Not that it mattered. My facility with my power was getting clumsier and clumsier as the headache increased in intensity.

Ahh, I suppose that’s part of the extra. Weakening their access to their power to make them truly paralyzed. Thereby not doing it halfway.

No, no, no, no, no, no.

“Bring them,” she said. The mechanical spiders leapt to obey. Within moments, me, Tattletale, Trickster, Sundancer and Ballistic were being dragged inch by inch towards the dining hall. Towards Grue.

No, no, no.

You fucked up.


It took long minutes for us to get there. I could hear faint rumbles of the ongoing battle and Bonesaw’s humming. It was all I could do to keep breathing. It was like my body had forgotten how, and it demanded my constant attention to maintain that simple rhythm.

This sounds like it would feel similar to drowning to some extent. Not that I’ve tried that.

With the aid of her spiders, she stacked us like logs. Ballistic and Trickster went on the bottom.

Pfft.

I couldn’t even grunt as the spiders leveraged me onto the pile alongside Tattletale. I stared down at the mask of the third person below us.

That makes it sound like it’s not Sundancer. Parian, perhaps?

Imp. She’d got Imp.

Oh.

Welp.

Guess we know what happened to her, then. :/


Bonesaw crouched so her face was level with mine. “This is going to be fun.”

Oh, I’m sure it will be. 🙂


End of Snare 13.8

Bonesaw is so good and so horrible, I love her so much. Not as a person, mind you, but as a character she’s fucking fantastic.

Trickster’s plan worked pretty well, but they came too late for Grue to be in particularly good shape, and in an effort to get Bonesaw to fix him, Taylor, Ballistic, Trickster, Tattletale and Sundancer ended up at Bonesaw’s mercy. Damn, that’s a shitty situation to be in.

But hey, at least they found Imp?

The situation reminds me a lot of when Bakuda got her hands on the Undersiders, with our protagonists being paralyzed at the mercy of a crazed villain who intends to fuck with their bodies. The stakes are higher, though, because of how Bonesaw does things, and this time, I don’t think they’re coming out with just a concussion.

I do think at least three of them are going to make it out of this situation alive, not counting Grue, but there’s little chance this isn’t going to lead to permanent changes for at least one or two of the protagonists, unless they somehow manage to convince Bonesaw to fix things without using that to her advantage.

Which, incidentally, is the only way we could get Grue home.

Regent is are out there still, but he has no reason to believe something’s wrong inside yet, so I doubt he’s going to be coming to their rescue. I suppose it’s possible that a stray light blast from Purity could cause an opening for the Undertravelers somehow.

I’m guessing there’s either one or two chapters left in this Arc (not counting Interludes). The next one’s probably going to be horrifying and hilarious and I’m very much looking forward to it.

See you then!

One thought on “Snare 13.8: The Freezer Gruem

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