Snare 13.9: Monochrome

Source material: Worm, Snare 13.9

Originally blogged: July 21-22, 2018


There’s a lightning storm outside. Let’s read some Worm.

So! Last time, shit went downhill harder than a cross between a bicycle and a sailboat with a strong wind on its side.

Shit obviously doesn’t belong down there, so now Taylor and co. need to figure out a way to beat their paralysis before Bonesaw fucks them up too much, and ideally to convince her to fix one mr. Brian “living freezer room” Laborn, so they can transport the shit back uphill.

Yeeeah, this ain’t gonna be easy. The wind and the hill are against the sailcycle now, and it’s intent on picking the vehicle apart and reshaping it into something completely different, like a biboat.

My extensive use of this analogy may or may not have something to do with me having just been out biking against strong wind.

As for more specific predictions, I’ll defer to Pastwell [here]:

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 also this ask about whether Grue will live or not [here] and a couple more long-term things. TLDR: His chances are really bad.)

In hindsight, I’m going to up the minimum survival number to four or five. And that’s still not counting Grue, so if he does survive, he doesn’t count against that.

Other than that, I don’t really have any other solid predictions. I just want to move on and see what creative way Taylor gets out of this one.

Let’s go!


By the way, intro posts take a while to write. We’re back to a sunny blue sky now.


“With the shoulder bone connected to the,” she paused, “Hip bone…”

Dem bones, dem bones, dem – dry bones! 😀

…so I just looked at the Wikipedia page for the song (to make sure I was remembering the English lyrics right) and found out that it’s originally about a biblical scene (Ezekiel 37:1-14), and the full original lyrics carry a necromantic vibe even when you don’t separate it from the context that it’d be the Christian god doing the resurrections in question. That’s… darker than expected and super fitting for Bonesaw.

Also, in the second half of the song, the bones are disconnected, which bodes about as much ill for the Undertravelers as connecting them strangely.

Speaking of which I only just realized what Bonesaw was connecting. 😛

Who is she working on?

Bonesaw sang to herself as she drew a scalpel from her sleeve, investigated it, then laid it on the counter.

Ah, alright, just preparing.

“And the hip bone connected to the… back bone.”

That one’s actually in the song, except backwards.

Still, though, just with the shoulder-hip connection, this is already someone who’d probably not be very happy with their life.


She drew a pair of forceps from beneath her dress, another two pairs of forceps were retrieved, joining the first.

Oh, so that’s how you spell that.

“And the back bone connected to the… knee bone. And the knee bone connected to the… hand bone.”

Sounds like a wonderful existence.

Has anyone made fanart of the being her song describes?

I was scared. I could admit that. I could barely think straight, I couldn’t move, and whatever she’d dosed me with was rendering me unable to use my power. It was there, it wasn’t like what Panacea had done; it hadn’t shut it down entirely.

Better hope you’re somehow resistant to drugs and venoms/poisons so it wears off before it’s meant to.

I could sense what my bugs did, and I could maybe give them crude instructions, but I couldn’t do anything even remotely complicated or delicate.

Hm, that’s more than I was expecting. Good, you may be able to do something uncomplicated and indelicate. Brute force it.

But yeah, that’s probably not the solution here, not on its own.

“And the neck bone connected to the-” She rocked her head to either side as she finished, “Head bone.”

So is she doing this on purpose? Singing the connections incorrectly, I mean? She’s getting some of them right, so I get the feeling that she’s just gotten used to odd connections to the point where she just sings it like that because she has no sense of it being incorrect anymore.


I could see the open door of the refrigerator out of the corner of my eye, but couldn’t turn my head to get a better look. Brian could see us from where he hung.

*waves awkwardly*

I didn’t want to go down without a fight. I couldn’t give specific directions to my bugs, but if I tried, maybe I could give one.

Yes, try that. Although it feels too early in the chapter for it to work, especially with being her first plan. This seems like the kind of chapter that requires a failed attempt and/or an extended time of helplessness.

Maybe, just maybe, I could rely on my subconscious to guide them, even if my conscious mind wasn’t up to it.

This is a good plan. If it were later in the chapter I’d be about as certain it was going to work, at least partially, as I am now that it won’t.

I suppose it’s possible that it could work slowly, over the course of almost the entire chapter.

I controlled my breathing, in then out, and gave the order.

Are we not going to find out right now what she asked the bugs to do? Alright, in that case, we’re almost certainly looking at a slow-working order that will come into play later on and successfully help Taylor and co. escape. In the meantime, we’ll be getting more personally acquainted with Bonesaw’s brand of terror.

This sounds like fun to me!


Attack!

Oh, or she just wanted to wait a paragraph break before saying it, letting the word stand alone to emphasize how short and to the point it is. Fair enough.

So if she’s relying on her subconscious… well, we’ve seen how that works. If she’s subconsciously commanding the bugs and then blacks out, they’ll follow her command continuously.

Let’s hope she managed to convey who the target is, though.


If the commands could be analogous to words in my head, this was a shout. There was no control, no guidance or direction. I didn’t have the facility.

Doesn’t sound like she did.

I guess everyone’s getting stung, then, except maybe Skitter herself.

Better that than at Bonesaw’s mercy, I suppose.

Still, every bug in reach, within a range of five or so city blocks in every direction, began to converge on our location, veering towards Bonesaw.

Sweeeet.

Oh, and even if it doesn’t work on Bonesaw, this ought to alert Regent and Genesis. Regent is controlling Shatterbird, so he could have her escape Hookwolf’s alliance in the confusion, follow the bugs and attack Bonesaw using her.


She noticed almost immediately, drawing the can of aerosol spray she’d used to wipe out the first swarm I’d set on her. One hornet managed to sting her, and with my power as limited as it was, I couldn’t stop it from contracting its body in such a way as to inject its venom into her.

Why would you stop it?

…oh, right. Grue. Need her alive.

I wouldn’t have if I could.

Ah, okay.

(Seriously, I genuinely stopped right before that.)

The rest of the bugs died on contact with the spray, their bodies shutting down.

There’s gotta be a limit to how many bugs it can help against, right?

Except my order was a continuous directive, much as my calling my bugs to me had been when I’d passed out while fighting Bakuda. It worked on its own, without my direction.

I feel like the parallels are intentional. The entire situation is parallel to her encounter with Bakuda, and now she’s using a technique she found out she could do in the aftermath of that? That’s gotta be on purpose.

So what are the metanarrative reasons for these parallels? Is there something about Taylor’s growth since Arc 5 that Wildbow is trying to point out here? Or is it just a result of what Bonesaw would naturally do?

It was eerie to track their movements, to see just how much initiative they took without my conscious mind guiding them.

It does seem like they’re targeting specifically Bonesaw, at least.

They spread out, navigated past obstacles, they organized into ranks and tried to attack her from behind, while she was spraying the ones in front of her.

So if this is running off of Taylor’s subconscious, that suggests this is the kind of thing she doesn’t even really need to think about to do anymore.

Some of the flying insects were even dropping spiders onto Bonesaw.

Nice, they’ve even got the teamwork going.


This is working better than expected, but it still feels early.


“This is annoying,” I heard Bonesaw comment. I couldn’t see her in my field of view, which was primarily limited to the floor, Imp’s mask and if I looked as far to my left as I could manage, the fridge that held Brian.

How well are your protections holding up?

I do suspect that this alerting Regentesis is going to be the more important consequence of this attack.

Few of the bugs were getting past that spray, and even the droplets of the spray that had settled lingered on Bonesaw’s skin, hair and clothing were enough to kill or incapacitate them on contact.

This spray is really serious business for the bugs, huh.

(By the way, I think Wildbow missed a word he meant to erase.)

I was unable to respond to her statement. I focused on breathing, and taking in every detail I could. My eyes could still move, my fingertips could twitch, but nothing else.

Man, the damage Ballistic could do with a couple twitchy fingertips if his power wasn’t suppressed.

“Just so you know, I’ve rendered myself immune to all those pesky little venoms and allergens,” she said.

Ah, makes sense.


“And I can turn pain off like I’m flicking a switch. Don’t want to do that on a permanent basis, but it does make this easier to deal with.”

Huh, neat.

So I wasn’t even hurting her. Damn it.

“It’s still annoying.”

Well, fuck, you may have just made yourself the first patient.

Or maybe the last. It depends on whether or not she sees her operation as a punishment or as a privilege.

I could feel my bugs congregating on her as she put the aerosol down and fumbled around inside her pockets. Test tubes: I could feel the long, smooth glass. She dropped something into each, then stabbed the aerosol can.

…something to make it more effective?

The smoke that plumed out killed most of the bugs in the area. I couldn’t follow what she did with the can and the test tubes.

Probably nothing good.


“It’s interesting,” she said. I felt small hands on me, and she heaved me over so I was staring at the ceiling, and at her. Clouds of what looked like steam were rising around her. From the test tubes?

Yeah, looks like Taylor’s going first.

It was having the same effect on my bugs that the aerosol had. She’d erected some kind of gaseous barrier.

Ahh.

“See, there’s this part of the brain that people who study parahumans call the Corona Pollentia, not to be confused with the Corona Radiata.

Pollentia… just looking at the word without looking it up, it sounds like it might have something to do with growth or reproduction, possibly in a metaphorical sense.

It’s a part of the brain that’s different in parahumans, and it’s the part that’s used to manage powers, when the powers can be managed.

Nice. We’re going there, explaining some of the biology behind this stuff.

More specifically, there’s this part of the Corona they call the Gemma, that controls the active use of the power, the same way there are parts of the brain that allow us to coordinate and move our hands.”

So does that mean there’s a part for the passive, subconscious use of the power? Maybe something’s wired up backwards for Imp.

She ran her fingers over my exposed scalp, massaging it, as if she were feeling the shape of my head. “The size, shape and location of the Corona and the Gemma changes from parahuman to parahuman, but it tends to sit between the frontal and the parietal lobe. Beneath the ‘crown’ of the head, if you will.

Alright, so fairly centrally.

They can’t really lobotomize the Corona in criminals. Some of that’s because the location and shape of the Corona depends on the powers and how they work, and trial and error doesn’t work with the scary bad guys who can melt flesh or breathe lasers.”

Ah, yeah, that might be a problem.

And then there’s potential side effects.

Like, what if the corona only keeps their control of the power, not the power itself, making the power go haywire after the removal? Or what if removing it damages other parts of the brain?


She tilted my head back and felt around the edges of my mask, trying to find the part where she could pull it off. “I’m really good at figuring out where the Corona and the Gemma are. I can even guess most of the time, if I know what powers the person has. And I can pry it wide open, make it so the powers can’t be turned off, or I can temporarily disable it, or modify it. The powder I blew into your face? It has the same prions I put in the darts I shot your friends with.

Prions?

Assuming that’s just a more specific term for the things that make the power stop working, we kind of already figured that out.

Cripples the Gemma, but it leaves your powers intact. Can’t experiment with your abilities if I’ve fried your whole Corona Pollentia, right? Right.”

She has a point there.


She angled my head and stared into my goggles with her mismatched eyes. “Dealio is, the Corona’s way too small to be doing what it’s doing. As parahumans, our brains are doing these amazing things.

“Dealio”.

And yeeah, there’s a limit to how far you can stretch the scientific explanations of these powers.

The framework, all the details our minds are using to decide what works and what doesn’t, the sheer potential, even the energy we’re using, it’s too much for our brains to process, and it’s waaaay too much for a growth that’s no bigger than a kiwi.

That’s still bigger than I was imagining, but I suppose it’s a reasonable size.

All of that? It’s got to come from somewhere. And the other reason you can’t just carve out the Corona? If you do, the powers still work on their own. The person just can’t control them. It becomes instinctive, instead.”

Eyy, called it!


She began feeling around my mask for a seam, buckle or zipper, searching.

So, uh, how did you attach this, Taylor?

She talked as she grabbed the part of my mask that bordered my scalp and tried to peel my mask down towards my chin. “So you can see why I find it very interesting that you still have the ability to control bugs, even when your Gemma is out of order.”

Makes sense. Gotta find that subconscious controller.

She gave up on pulling my mask down. The armor panels made it too difficult, and the fabric wouldn’t tear. She snapped her fingers, and one of her mechanical spiders stepped close. She removed one of the tools at the tip of the spider’s leg – a small mechanical circular saw.

“…getting this mask off is clearly not a job for human hands alone.”

It buzzed like a dentist’s drill as she turned it on. She began taking my mask apart, thread by thread.

Time for a face reveal, it seems. And quite likely a brain reveal, if Taylor’s unlucky.

“I’m ten timesas excited to take your brain apart, now! You might give me a clue about the passenger.

I guess that’s her nickname for the part responsible for the subconscious or instinctive use of powers?

See, I think it’s something that’s hooked into your brain. It was alive up until your powers kicked in, it helped form the Corona, then it broke down.

Ohh, interesting. She seems to be suggesting that the Dandelions left something behind.

I’ve seen it at work when I’ve provoked and recorded trigger events, seen it die after. But I’m pretty sure some kind of trace is still there, linked in, cooperating with us and tapping into all those outside forces you and I can’t even comprehend, to make our power work.”

Sounds about right, honestly.


Breathe in, breathe out.I was having to consciously maintain my breathing. Whatever her dust had done to me, it had also jammed up the part that handled the more automatic things.

Hm, I wonder if that’s important somehow.

My pounding heart wasn’t in sync with the speed of my breathing, and I was beginning to feel dizzy and disoriented. Or maybe that was the powder. Or fear.

I mean, to the functionality of the gemma or to the escape. It’s obviously important to Taylor in the moment.

“But I haven’t been able to find it. It’s not physically there, or it’s so small that I haven’t been able to track it down.

Maybe it’s not enough to look up, down, left, right, back and forwards. Maybe it’s attached along the fourth dimension we can’t look in?

If your ‘passenger’ is strong enough to let you work around a disabled Gemma, if your powers work without your say-so, maybe it’ll be easier to spot.”

So not only did the subconscious command not take out Bonesaw, it gave her an objective.


Her progress through the fabric of my mask was slow. She stopped to clear loose material from around the tool.

Turns out underneath Taylor’s mask is another mask.

And another one underneath that one.

And so on.

“Don’t worry. I’ll put your skull’s contents back when I’m done looking.

Very reassuring, thank you.

Then we can get to the real fun.”

She peeled my mask off.

Shit, I should’ve saved my joke about there being more masks underneath for this line.

Breathe in, breathe out.Don’t want to pass out. Or maybe I should? Maybe I didn’t want to be conscious for what came next.

Unless you think you have a way to stop it, I wouldn’t recommend it, no. But I’m not sure Bonesaw would let you be asleep while she performs her art.

…I just realized why I came to think of that option: Cupcakes [here]. Pinkiesaw won’t let Skitter Dash doze off there, because she wants to have fun with her friend before the end and can’t have said friend sleeping through it.

Her scalpel slid across my forehead, so fast and precise that it barely hurt. I caught a glimpse of her untangling her fingers and her scalpel from my long hair before the first dribbles of blood flooded down into my eyes.

This chapter’s existence just made the Cupcakes April Fool’s gag even more dramatically ironic, didn’t it? 😛

Let’s have a look at what’s in Taylor’s head, shall we?


It stung, and I was momentarily blind before I managed to blink the worst of it away. I wanted to blink more, faster, but the response was sluggish at best. I couldn’t tell if my contacts were helping or hurting matters.

I guess at least they’d be shielding the pupil from the blood? Unless they started sliding.

I was put in mind of the incident just days before I’d gone out in costume. The bathroom stall, the showering in juice.

…oh yeah, this is absolutely the kind of situation where Skitter’s power would get a boost.

In fact, we’ve already seen that mentioned, indirectly. Her usual range is 2-3 blocks unless it’s grown again, but with the subconscious commanding, she pulled bugs from five blocks away.

It had started with cranberry juice in my eyes and hair. How had I gotten from there to here?

You fell headfirst on a rock with some raspberries hanging over it [here], and now the juice from those is sliding down your forehead.

Also, I didn’t think of it at the time as far as I can remember, cranberry juice is red. That’d really emphasizes the Carrie reference.


“I can’t tell you how excited I am. It’s like Christmas, opening a present! Thank you!”

There we go, she’s out of scientific exposition mode and back to adorkable mode.

She bent down and kissed me squarely in the center of the forehead.

Did this cause shipping?

I mean, it doesn’t seem like it should, but it takes so little for some people to start shipping something, regardless of how fucked up it is. In both directions, in this case.

When she sat up, there was crimson all over her lips and chin. She wiped most of it away with the back of her hand, uncaring.

Yeah, you don’t have this kind of power and style and care about getting a little bloody.


She glanced at the circular saw, and it started up with that high-pitched whine.

Then it stopped.

Ooh, what’s up?

Regent to the rescue?

Or just Bonesaw changing her mind about how to do this?

“Clogged up with teensy-weensy bits of silk and whatever that armor’s made of, too slow. But don’t worry!

Oh, okay.

I have a bigger saw somewhere else. I was using it for one of the other surgeries I did earlier.

Well, that sounds nice and sterile.

Let me see if I can find it.” She stood, then stepped out of my field of vision. My bugs couldn’t feel her, but I could tell that she was carrying one of the steaming, smoking vials with her, as bugs died on the other side of the room, then the hallway, then a nearby room.

Ahh, yeah, makes sense. That would be a good reason for having more than one vial in the first place.


I tried to move and failed. My fingertips twitched, I could blink if I focused on it to the exclusion of everything else. My eyes, at least, moved readily enough.

Well, that’s something at least.

I couldn’t do anything. Even an instruction as basic as ‘find Bitch’ was beyond my abilities at present.

Oh right, she’s out there too, I forgot about that! Another potential rescuer. Maybe.

Bonesaw had talked about this ‘passenger’. My ally, my partner, after a fashion. Was there some way to use it? To put more power in its hands?

Possibly, but who knows what’ll happen if you give more power to a remnant of what is, in practice, some kind of eldritch god?

This might work a little too well.

Help!I tried, putting every iota of willpower into the command that I could.

That’s… actually a really good idea. “Attack!” was specific, but with “Help!”, it’s a lot more vague what the passenger should do, perhaps giving it more freedom.

But it might also be too vague for it to do anything at all.

Nothing. Too vague. Whatever aid my ‘passenger’ provided, it wouldn’t think of something I couldn’t.

Fair enough. That’s better for the story anyway. Let Taylor do the thinking for herself, she’s good at it.

Having this work well would reduce Taylor’s agency in the long run and make it uncertain which things were Taylor being skilled and clever, and which things were just the passenger calling the shots.

Incidentally, that may be why Bonesaw calls it the passenger in the first place. It’s there, but it’s not the one at the wheel.

My bugs didn’t respond.

It was the perfect time for a rescuer to show up.

That would be nice, huh?

My bugs had stopped going after Bonesaw because we weren’t aware about her current location, so they hovered in place, clinging to walls and feeling around for people who might be their target. There was a chance that they would bump into someone else. If a rescuer was coming, my bugs would see them.

Hmm. Better hope that doesn’t mean they’ll assume the rescuer is Bonesaw.

There was nobody. No people on their way.

So far, at least?

Also I suppose even if they did find a rescuer, they’d only assume it was Bonesaw if Taylor’s subconscious did.


None of my teammates were moving, either.

If I had the ability to use my power properly, I might have done something with the smoking vials that Bonesaw had left behind. Used loops of silk to drag them away, perhaps. I didn’t.

Where would you drag them?

My power was clumsy, now, a brute force weapon at best.

Taylor is good at the discrete, calculated uses of her power, but now she needs to figure out how to use brute force to its best effect.

And hell, I was just so tired. Physically, mentally, emotionally. So many burdens on my shoulders, so many failures that had cost so much.

And she may need to deal with this first, perhaps have a paralyzed meditation session.

She needs to take a moment to think of just flexibility love and trust.

We had fucked up here, had underestimated Bonesaw. I’d gone with Trickster’s plan to set Hookwolf’s contingent against the Nine and buy us the chance to infiltrate and rescue Brian, even though I’d known the strategy had too many holes, too many unpredictable variables.

Coddammit, Taylor, you’re gonna blame yourself for that too?

I mean, the decision to go attempt to get Bonesaw to fix Grue, that I could understand blaming yourself for, but this is a stretch, Taylor.

I’d been too tired to think of something else, too preoccupied and impatient because Brian was in enemy hands.

It’s a bit of a vicious cycle when she puts it like this, considering that one of the main reasons she’s so tired is that she’s blaming herself for so much.


I would have resigned myself to a fate worse than death, but how did one do that? How was I supposed to convince myself to give up?

Doesn’t seem like your kind of thing.

Wait.

It used to be the kind of thing you’d do, though not on the same scale. But then you started growing a spine (ironically around the same time as, and largely because of, your life becoming defined by your relationship to invertebrates) and stopped hiding from the bullies.

It would be so easy, on a level. It was alluring, the idea that I could stop worrying, stop caring, after so much pressure for so many weeks and months. After so many years, if I counted the bullying. I wanted to give up, but a bigger, more stubborn, stupider part of my brain refused to let me.

Please tell me it’s not the part that wants to save Dinah.

Please tell me it’s the part that wants Taylor to live on, for her own sake.

Bonesaw returned all too soon. “Threads, Skitter? These yours, or leftovers from before?”

Wait, what? Did the spiders start spinning when she was thinking about using silk to pull the vials?

Threads? I hadn’t set any tripwires. I should have, but I’d been more focused on a quick rescue mission than preparations for a potential fight.

Well, you’re the one who wanted your power to act on your subconscious. You don’t always know consciously what your subconscious is up to.


My bugs felt movement. Except nobody had entered the building, to the best of my knowledge. It was in one of the hallways. Big.

Hmm.

Genesis?

The huge stuffed animal I’d noted in the hallway.

Oh fuck yes! Go Parian!

Of course. Parian’s creations had deflated without her power to sustain them, hadn’t they? The stuffed thing was inflated, heavy, so she was here.

I suppose that makes sense, yeah!

My bugs couldn’t detect her, but she was here.

Hmm, I wonder where she’s hiding. Also, didn’t I end up concluding that Parian couldn’t see through her creations or something, back in Extermination? Although she’s definitely capable of sensing them and other… threads…

So does that mean Parian set up the threads Bonesaw mentioned, and/or sensed them? Maybe she’s coming to investigate why new threads are showing up out of what to her remote thread sense seems like thin air as the spiders weave them?


“Outlet, outlet, need an outlet. You’d think there’d be more in a kitchen, but nooooo,” Bonesaw muttered.

Heh. There are never enough outlets.

She passed through my field of view, holding a saw twice the size of the one she’d held before.

Oh, I was imagining something much bigger.

The stuffed animal moved forward clumsily. My swarm’s contact with it was intermittent as it made its way towards us, then past us, venturing into a hallway.

Oops, wrong way!

I suppose not sensing doorways remotely might make this a bit harder for her.

“Gonna have to cut a hole in your skull, Skitter. Unavoidable. I’d go up through your nose, but I couldn’t reach the top of your brain with the equipment I have.

Yeeah, honestly a hole through the skull might be more comfortable.

Going to make a little window. Just big enough to get my hand through.”

Pfft. 😛


She turned on the saw, and it screamed, a shrill whine on par with nails on a blackboard, but unending, ceaseless.

So nails on a blackboard then.

The stuffed animal was turning around, coming back down the hallway, towards us.

If I’m right about how Parian is sensing things, this is basically an invisible maze for her, where she has to “feel” her way around walls she can’t see.

Also, I suspect she can sense threads from further away than she can control the stuffed animals. That would be why she’d come back into control range, upon sensing the spider threads.

Have to stall her.

A hand-sized hole through the skull might be somewhat more comfortable than someone poking at the top of your brain through your nose, but the best option is “neither”.

I looked up at her, then deliberately blinked three times in a row.

The saw stopped.

…alright, that’s progress. What did Bonesaw read into that?

“Trying to say something?”

I blinked once, hard.

Blink once for yes, blink twice for no, blink three times for “I’m gazing into the cold unending void of the human soul, and the void is gazing back with the eeeeeye, of the tiger”.

“Is that one blink for yes, two for no?”

That’s a stupid question, you’ll have no idea what the amount of blinks Taylor gives you mean! Especially if she gives you two.

Hey, Taylor, blink twice.

I blinked twice. Just to confuse matters.

y e s


“That’s confusing. You’re not just trying to delay the part where I carve up your brain, are you?”

Well, duh.

But it’s your fault it’s confusing. One blink would barely have been any more of a solid answer.

I blinked twice.

Hehe.

“Not getting what you’re trying to say. One blink for yes, two for no, okay? Now, do you actually have something meaningful to communicate?”

Yeah, that’s much better. 😛

Three blinks? Although one blink would probably be better when it comes to delaying her.

I blinked once, hard.

“Are you going to tell me to stop?”

Nah, that’s pointless.

I blinked twice. She wouldn’t listen if I did, and then it would be right back to the surgery. I trembled, but I didn’t take my eyes off her.

“Tell me when to stop. Last requests, threats, your friends, um… science, art-”

Time for a staring contest with the roof!

I blinked once.

Art? Heh, nice, sure, get her talking about art. To her, that would mean what she does, the surgeries and everything.

“Art? Yours? Mine?”

Another blink. If anything would get her talking, it was her ‘art’.

Yes!

Let’s just hope she doesn’t decide to illustrate her talking points.


“What do you want to know. About your friend there? It’s more research than anything else. Or maybe about you?”

I blinked. The stuffed animal was close.

Which friend? Grue?

“Art and you, huh. You want to know what I’m gonna do when we’re done with my investigation?”

Sure, why not.

Why not?Knowing had to be better than wondering. One blink.

Pfft. Sometimes, once in a blue moon, I’m in tune with Taylor.

“I’m going to go all out. Way I figure it, I set your Gemma lobe to attract bugs around you, then remove it, so you’ve got no conscious control over it. But there’s a point to it!

So she’d be a constant bug magnet?

I make some physical modifications to you, see. Implant some of Mannequin’s equipment so you’ve got enough sustenance to keep you going, and sustenance to keep the bugs you bring to you alive. You become a living hive, see? We could even make it so they crawl inside you and build nests there.”

Not gonna lie, that’s… not a bad idea, from the perspective of someone who thinks like Bonesaw. She’s got a sense of thematics in her art.


The stuffed animal pushed the door open and walked into the cafeteria.

Heya!

The room darkened as it passed in front of a window.

Well, Bonesaw ought to notice it soon enough.

Please don’t notice it.

“I’ve got a regular mod for your amygdala, to make sure you behave, and a frame I implant to your skeleton and heart to help control you, make you stronger, more durable.

Huh, she genuinely isn’t noticing it.

Fair enough. She is focused on her craft right now.

I figure we’ll try to go for a cosmetic shift. I have to say I admire this armor, so why not let take that to the logical conclusion? We’ll give you an exoskeleton. It’d be awesome.

Sure, makes sense!

Compound eyes, claws. We’ll see how far we can go. Won’t that be fun?”

Let’s see how far we’ve come! Let’s see how far we’ve come! 🎶


The stuffed animal had stopped in the middle of the cafeteria. Either it didn’t hear Bonesaw or something else had its attention.

I think for this to be effective, Taylor will need to use spider string to direct Parian. Problem is she can’t do that consciously, and first she needs to realize how Parian is sensing things.

I could feel that not unfamiliar sensation of darkness creeping in around the edges of my vision. Was I passing out? How much blood was I losing?

I take it it’s not Grue finally using his power.

I blinked three times. Stall.

Who knows how she’ll take that. “I have more to say”?

“No, no.” She stroked my hair, and my forehead lit up with a burning pain where she’d cut. “We should get this done before you drop dead. Don’t think I can’t see the changes in your breathing and pupil dilation.”

Right, sure.


She started up the saw and pressed it against my skull. The horror of what she was doing was compounded by the most god-awful noise, and a grinding vibration of my skull.

You know what just occurred to me?

She might not be Panacea, but Parian at least ought to be able to stitch Taylor’s forehead up a bit.

If it hurt, I didn’t register it, because the noise of the tool had drawn the stuffed animal’s attention. It charged for us, slamming through the glass sneeze guard of the dining hall’s serving counter.

Huh. So there is some sensory input through them. That, or Parian’s hiding spot is close.

It’s a possibility that she’s inside the thing. It makes for a decent hiding place, using it as an armor. The deflating and inflating doesn’t have to be by range, that might just be a thing she can choose to do in order to play dead.

It struck Bonesaw, hard, and the saw slid across my head, cutting through my hairline. I didn’t care.

Honestly that’s just a minor inconvenience at this point.

My rescuer was some kind of cartoonish dinosaur made of black and blue fabric. I could see the logo of this health club repeated several times over the stuffed animal’s exterior.

I guess you take what’s available.

Though it’s still possible that she made it. She might’ve worked for the health club before Leviathan struck.


Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Bonesaw slowly stand. The two combatants were at opposite points in my peripheral vision; Bonesaw stood to the far left, Parian’s creation to the far right.

*fighting game narrator voice* ROUND 1 – FIGHT!!

“That’s really rude,” Bonesaw said, putting inflection on each word. “I was having a nice conversation with Skitter, and you interrupt?”

The nerve!

She snapped her fingers, and mechanical spiders leaped from a spot I couldn’t see to latch onto the stuffed dinosaur, much as they’d done with me.

This sounds like an awesome kaiju movie premise.

PLUSHYSAURUS VS ROBOT SPIDERS
IN THEATRES FROM FEBRUARY 30TH

Needles, saws, scalpels and drills attacked the dinosaur, and it, in turn, smashed the spiders to the best of its ability. Though it clubbed the spiders into pieces with its hands, feet and tail, it still continued to march steadily towards Bonesaw, moving over me and the others.

Niice.

Bonesaw, for her part, was retreating, holding a pair of test tubes in one hand, dropping what looked like color-coded sugar cubes into them with the other.

Let’s hope that’s not something to dissolve plush or whatever threads these are sown together with.

She glanced around quickly, then lunged for a nearby counter, grabbing a bottle of water. She upended it over the test tubes, going for haste over precision. More than half of the water splashed around her feet.

I guess whatever this chemical formula is doesn’t need a specific amount of water.


Parian’s creation struck the villainess a second time. Bonesaw was thrown into a metal shelf unit with enough force that she dented it. One test tube slipped from her fingers.

WOO!

The other, she whipped at the stuffed dinosaur. It hit with enough force that it shattered on impact.

Let’s see what this splash potion of… something does.

The dinosaur struck Bonesaw a third time. Heavy as the impact was, Bonesaw was cornered and she couldn’t go flying as she’d done before. My view of the scene was limited to the back of the Dinosaur’s head, and the occasional view of an stubby-fingered arm as it was drawn back for a haymaker punch.

Come on, this is making for back gameplay footage! Get back on the screen!

It pounded her, one hit after another.

My heart sank as I saw the stuffed dinosaur begin to deflate.

Well, fuck.

It backed away from Bonesaw, and I saw a spreading area on its side where the fabric was thinning out, bleaching. Once the first holes appeared in the fabric, the rest of the process was swift. It crumpled almost explosively, revealing a figure inside.

Was I right? 😮

Parian threw off the cloth that had covered her and used her power to rip away her sleeve and part of her dress where it was disintegrating; whatever had eaten at the fabric of her dinosaur armor was continuing the process with her clothing.

I was!

Also, that’s a bit awkward for her.

Suddenly she’s naked in more than one sense of the word, and I think the literal sense is meant to emphasize the metaphorical one.


I could see Bonesaw too. Her face was bloodied, her nose gushing blood, and her cheek was a ruined, abraded mess. Whatever had eaten at Parian’s dinosaur had gotten on her too, devouring the edges of her dress, one sock and part of the shoe on the same foot.

Whoops. That’s the problem with splash potions. They splash.

“You killed my mom,” Parian’s voice sounded hollow.

Oh damn, it’s personal now.

“Prepare to die.”

“My teammates did most of the actual killing, so I don’t think I did, if that makes you feel any better.”

…why is her consistent lack of understanding of other people’s values and emotions so damn endearing?

“My aunt, my best friend, my cousin… they were all here.”

“Wrong place, wrong time?” Bonesaw shrugged.

That’s not helping, Bonesaw!

Ahaha

She slapped at a wasp that had managed to get in position to sting her. She wasn’t in the area of her anti-bug smoke anymore.

Well, that might be helpful?

“They told me to run, to protect the kids. But they were supposed to escape while I handled that,” Parian sounded lost, dazed. “I thought they’d get away, so I played dead. I didn’t know.”

She did play dead! I’m not sure if she means while she was in costume or not, but I do lean towards that.


She wasn’t a fighter, I remembered. She had held her own against Leviathan, but she didn’t have experience. I wanted to scream at her, to make her stop talking, to do something to Bonesaw.

Sorry, Taylor, not everyone is as straight-to-the-point as you are.

(Although I suppose Parian isn’t exactly “straight” to anything.)

“If it makes you feel any better, some of them might still be alive. We didn’t kill them all.”

That’s the closest she’s said to anything actually comforting, but that’s only until you remember what they did to the ones they didn’t kill.

Parian snapped her attention to Bonesaw, “What?”

“Some we left alive, so I could give them five-minute plastic surgery. My spiders handled most of it. Implants under the skin, some chemical dyes for hair…”

Of course, Bonesaw doesn’t realize that Parian ain’t gonna take that all that much better.

Also damn, she did that stuff in five minutes?

“Plastic surgery?” Parian shook her head. “What? Why?”

“To make them look like us. They’re all running around out there, drawing enemy fire and freaking out. It’s funny.

“Oh your family might still be alive, thought they look like us now and they might get Purity’d sooner or later.”

And of course, it’ll take a dozen visits with doctors less talented than I to get something even resembling their old faces back. Can you imagine how many people are going to double take when they look at them, before they’ve all been fixed? Like, ‘Oh no, it’s Siberian!’, except it isn’t.”

You’re really not helping your case. 😛


[Session 2]

*boops readers’ noses*

Let’s get back to it!


Parian flung one hand in Bonesaw’s direction. I didn’t see what happened next, but the bugs that were still drifting in Bonesaw’s direction to attack her were telling me that there were threads stretching between the two of them.

Ooh, nice!

A bug settled on the point of a needle where it had impaled the side of Bonesaw’s neck. Twenty or thirty needles with attached threads extending between them and Parian’s sleeve.

Get the point yet, Bonesaw?

Bonesaw crunched something in her mouth, “You’re playing so rough. Ow. I think you broke one of my teeth, with your dinosaur.”

Clearly she doesn’t. 😛

Parian ignored her. A twist of her hands, and Bonesaw was lifted into the air, spread-eagled. Bonesaw’s skin stretched where the needles pulled at it. Parian advanced towards the villain.

Hey, Bonesaw? You fucked up.


Broken tooth? No. When I’d kicked Cherish earlier, hadn’t she said that Bonesaw had reinforced her teeth?

…fuck, that’s a good point. Is Bonesaw intentionally enraging Parian further?

Surely the psycho would have done the same for herself.

She was lying.

And there was nothing I could do to alert Parian.

Are you sure? Maybe your subconscious can find a way, using the bugs.

Parian picked up one of the scalpels Bonesaw had placed near me. Her hand was trembling even after she had it in a white-knuckled grip. “I don’t want to do this. I never wanted to fight. But I can’t let you walk away. That’s the most important thing.

Imp, internally: “Yeah, no, that won’t work.”

I guess this is why Bonesaw’s lying. She’s hiding her protections to catch Parian off-guard with them.

I’m willing to compromise what I believe in, compromise myself, to do that.”

Willing to kill?

Bonesaw rolled her eyes.

Wall! Barrier!

What do you mean to accomplish? Get in Parian’s way so she doesn’t foolishly run into Bonesaw’s close melee range?

My bugs left Bonesaw’s presence to form a barrier between her and Parian, but they were too few. Too many had died against Bonesaw’s bug killing smoke. Parian ignored them.

I wonder what Parian thinks of the bugs. Is she aware of Skitter at all, besides as an unknown victim of Bonesaw lying around here?

In one motion, Parian stepped close and stabbed the scalpel into Bonesaw’s throat. Then she did it again, and again, stabbing over and over, hysterical.

Well, this probably ain’t ending well.

It wasn’t enough blood. I knew it, and Parian had to know it.

Yeeah, this isn’t working.


Bonesaw spat into Parian’s face. Her own flesh burned as whatever chemical she had been holding in her mouth spilled down her lip.

I guess she’s reinforced the flesh in her mouth too, in order to be able to hold it.

Parian, for her part, dropped the scalpel, tore her mask off and staggered blindly in the general direction of the sink, her hands over her eyes.

Ah, yeah, I would imagine a chemical that burns flesh would be especially bad to get in the eyes.

No.

Of course, putting her back to Bonesaw was probably a bad idea.

What I wouldn’t give for the chance to change this, to act, to offer even one word of assistance.

I wonder if any capes with time powers had trigger events that caused them to think something like this.

Hm. One… word of assistance? It might be too complicated for her right now, but it could be possible to write something with the bugs, or reproduce speech like she did with the Protectorate.

Bonesaw turned her head and spat again, some residual chemical directed at the threads. When that didn’t achieve the desired result, she repeated the process. The threads snapped and she dropped to the ground.

Here she comes.

“Burned mah tongue,” Bonesaw said, to nobody in particular. Or to me?

Pfft, I guess she’s not going for stealth after all.

She stuck it out to demonstrate. It was scalded, blistered and covered with dead white flesh in much the same way her lip was. She spat again.

Eesh.

So where did she hide whatever custom gland secretes this chemical, exactly?


Parian reached the sink, cranked on the tap. There was no water. She threw herself to one side, feeling along the counter for something, anything to wash out her eyes.

Oh right, of course. Leviathan kinda fucked that whole option up.

“You’re lucky I’m so nice,” Bonesaw said. She lifted up the tattered bottom of her dress to dab at her lip and tongue. I could make out test tubes, equipment and pouches, all belted to her thighs and stomach. “If I was a less forgiving person, I’d make you regret that.”

“Luckily I have a bunch of less forgiving friends who can do it for me!”

Parian sagged to her knees, hands still on the counter, heaving for breath.

She might already be regretting it.

“But instead, I’ll leave you alone to think about what you’ve done,” Bonesaw said. She plucked some of the needles out of her skin. “I’ll finish with these guys, and later, I can show you what I can do with a needle and thread. It’ll be fun. Common interests!”

Pfft! She’s kind of right, though.

“Making friends, Bonesaw?”

Oh cod, who’s this. Jack? Regent?


No.Any vestige of hope I’d had disappeared.

Not Regent.

I’m going with Jack, then. He’s the kind of guy who would say this, and when I first read the line it was in his voice in my head.

Jack leaned over the counter. Burnscar stood beside him, looking troubled.

Heya!

And Burnscar too, howdy!

“Jack! Yes! I’m having lots of fun! These people are so interesting,” Bonesaw smiled.

I love her so much.

“You hurt yourself,” Jack frowned. “Your mouth.”

I like how he can tell it’s she who hurt herself, not Parian (visibly up and moving) or Skitter (the place is filled with bugs) who hurt her.

“The doll-girl ambushed me. But I’m okay. I can fix myself after I’m done here.”

Yeah, no big deal.

“You’ll have to finish fast. We’re going.”

“No!”

…huh. Saved by the Jack?

I guess the reason they’ve decided to go is the ongoing assault on their location.


“Yes. The enemy’s recouping from the first few hits, and they’re stalling Siberian and Crawler.

So wait, are you talking about Genesis or the actual Crawler?

I suppose it’d be the latter.

Only a matter of time before they engage in one good flank and blindside one of us three. We leave now, and all they remember is how hard we hit them and how little they could do.”

I guess so, though they might also remember driving you into retreat. That’s also a form of victory.

“But I have research!”

“Bring three. We won’t be able to bring them all along, and you know they get messy if you leave them like that for too long.”

Well, shit, Taylor’s most certainly going to be among those three.

Bonesaw would probably want to bring Grue, due to her ongoing research on where his power comes from, but it might take a while to pack him up, so that might not be an option.

Imp is probably of interest due to the backwards effect of actively focusing on her power, but Bonesaw might not have realized that yet.

She might bring Parian in order to bond over needles and threads.


“Only three?” Bonesaw pouted.

“Only three.”

“Then, um. Skitter…”

That one was obvious. Bonesaw is too intrigued by Skitter’s ability to use the bugs while her gemma is disabled to leave her behind.

I felt hands seize my feet and pull me away from my teammates. Burnscar. She held me under one arm, my head and arms dangling. Beads of blood dripped down to the floor.

Huh, she’s pretty strong. Bonesaw’s work, perhaps?

“Um, um. Tattletale. I want to see what her brain looks like, too.”

Ah, yeah, that’s fair.

“Tattletale it is.”

“And Trickster! Because Ball-of-fire girl killed Hack Job. I want another.”

Oh! RIP Hack Job.

Also, she might be a bit disappointed to find that Trickster’s teleporting doesn’t quite work as well for the purposes of being a meat shield as Hack Job’s did, but it is really good for sowing chaos on the battlefield.

It kind of requires intelligence to use effectively, though.

Hack Job?

Oh right, Taylor doesn’t know about that whole thing yet. She’s just been thinking he was Hatchet Face. Which is half true.

“Trickster it is. Finish off the rest.”

“Can I leave Brian there? I have to show my art to people to get known.”

Honey, you’re already known for your art. You’re a famous, uh, artist! Sure, doesn’t hurt to have some more exposure, but do you think you’ll get that from a piece hanging in some random former health club’s freezer room?

“Brian, is it? Hm. I think that’s a very good idea.”

…why?

I can hear that you have ulterior motives for going along with this. I just don’t know what.


“Yes! Then we’ll go from first to last. The girl with the horns.”

Imp?

If you’re gonna find a solution here, you’d better do it quickly.

The small circular saw started up with its high-pitched whine.

Then it stopped. I could hear a strangled noise.

What?

Is the paralysis wearing off on Imp or something?

“Aw. Look at his heart beating! So fast!”

Oh! I guess the strangled noise was from Grue?

Burnscar turned, and I could tell they were looking at Brian.

Another strangled noise, trying and failing to form words. It was so forced and ragged that it made my own throat seize up in sympathy.

Is there anything he can actually do from there? Maybe he could cover the entire room in darkness (Bonesaw hasn’t stopped him from using his power, since that’s what she’s been trying to get him to do) so the Nine can’t find their targets as easily?

That would still leave Skitter, Tattletale and Trickster in their clutches, but it might save the rest.


“You don’t want to see your sister die, huh? That’s sweet,” Bonesaw said. “Maybe you should have taught her the basics. Don’t have to see her if she’s going to walk straight into a modified wolf trap. Did you know?

Oof.

Wait, wolf trap… a Wolfsangel, perhaps? Were you hoping to catch Hookwolf with the trap he’s named after [here] for the irony of it?

She turned off her power just so she could beg for help. From us.She’s not very bright.”

…I’ll give you that one. I can understand the desperation but damn that was a bad move.

He made a sound that might have been a growl or a howl of rage, but there was no volume to it, and it was more high-pitched than anything else.

A growl or howl would be quite appropriate given the involvement of a wolf trap.

“Don’t worry!” Bonesaw said, “I’ll take good care of your friends.”

No you won’t.

I felt a hand pat my cheek.

But I do think she genuinely believes what she’ll do with them constitutes taking good care of them.

“Come now, Bonesaw,” Jack said.

“It’s just so funny, watching him react. His heart beat faster when I touched her.”

This fueled the remaining Brian x Taylor shippers, didn’t it?

“It did. But we should go. Burnscar? Torch the ones we’re not bringing.”

That’s probably faster than having Bonesaw do it anyway.

Of course, that’s bad news for the protagonists.


“I wanted to!”

“You had your chance, little b.  You got distracted.”

Heh, Little B and Big B.

I could feel the heat of nearby flame as Burnscar manifested a fireball in one hand.

Another problem with this for the protagonists: If Grue does flood the place with darkness, the flame will be much easier to hit the targets with as long as they get Jack and Bonesaw out of the way first. Not because it lights up the darkness, which it wouldn’t, but because it’s an area effect.

Darkness rolled over Burnscar’s feet, a carpet.  There was no direction to it, and very little volume.  It pooled on the ground and spread.

I guess Bonesaw did limit his power.

“Yes!  He’s doing it!  Can I look?  I just want to get the hard drive!”

Hard drive?

“No.”

“But-”

I could feel my heart pounding, pounding, then stop.  The pain was gone.  I was gone too.  I had no body, only perception.

…what?

Is.

Is this a Dandelion thing?

There’s no one here who could be having a regular trigger event, but a) the idea of potential subsequent triggers has been brought up before (if it’s that, I think it would be Grue having it), and b) it’s possible this is a separate kind of Dandelion moment, perhaps tied more to Taylor’s attempts to empower her “passenger” than to anything else here.

Alternatively, maybe this is what the edge of death looks like in this ‘verse? But a genuine out-of-body experience not tied to the Dandelions or a power seems a bit too… paranormal for Worm.


The scene was familiar.  At the same time, I couldn’t have said what happened next.  It was like a book I’d read years ago and promptly forgotten, too strange to commit to memory.

Okay, yeah, definitely Dandelions.

Two beings spiraled through an airless void, past suns, stars and moons.  They rode the ebbs and flows of gravity, ate ambient radiation and light and drew on other things I couldn’t perceive.

tumblr_inline_pc9sk1qdS91sxgvvn_640.png

[El Goonish Shive comic]

Ethereal being: We must be brief. We can only communicate this way for less than one literal second.

Tedd: This is you talking to me?
Ethereal being: We are thinking at you.

Ethereal being: Our kind is both of, and not of, your reality.
Ethereal being: In terms you will comprehend, we feed on excess magic energy in the environment.

Tedd: There’s magic energy just floating around out there?
Ethereal being: Yes. Naturally, and unnaturally, occurring.

Ethereal being: Our kind helps maintain the health of your world by feeding on magic and preventing extremes in ambient magic.
Tedd: So you’re like algae eaters, only with magic instead of algae?

Ethereal being: We prefer to be compared to whales.
Ethereal whale: We like whales.

There be whales here.

They slipped portions of themselves in and out of reality to reshape themselves.  Push further into this reality to ride the pull of one planet, shift into another to ride that slingshot momentum, or to find some other source of momentum elsewhere.

Taylor is getting better at comprehending the Dandelions. This would be at least the third time she’s had this sort of experience, even though she never remembered them, so maybe that’s to be expected.

Ten thousand thousands of each of the two entities existed simultaneously, complemented each other, drew each other forward.

There were two of them last time too.

And back then they arranged another meeting. I wonder if these might be the same two, and this the same meeting they arranged then.

Hell, maybe there only are two, total.

They shrugged off even the physical laws that limited the movement of light, moving faster with every instant. The only thing that slowed them was their own desire to stay close, to keep each other in sight and match their speeds.

I also wonder whether there’s some form of mating ritual going on, or if they’re just “friends” or “family”, in whatever sense those terms may apply to them.

Yet somehow this movement was graceful, fluid, beautiful even.  Two impossible creatures moving in absolute harmony with the universe, leaving a trail of essence in their wakes.

I’ve said this before, but I still love the way Wildbow describes the Dandelions.


I focused on one of them, and I got the sensation that this wasn’t a scene I’d seen before.

You’ve seen what they do when there’s a trigger event. But that might not be what’s going on this time.

I could see what it saw.  It was looking forward, but not in distance.  Ten thousand pictures at once.

Forward in time?

If Taylor can see what it sees, maybe this is the Dandelions reaching out to her to bestow a prophecy? Warn humanity about the future threat Dinah predicted?

Seeing situations where it arrived at its final destination.  Earth.  The farther forward it looked, the broader the possibilities.  It was looking for something.

This seems similar to Dinah’s ability, and I’m not surprised. The Dandelions have shown traits similar to powers we knew of before, with them wiping out memory in a way similar to Imp’s power.

I wonder if the Dandelions could do some of the other powers we’ve seen, like teleporting things around or firing bendy lasers or empower doggos. But honestly, I don’t think so. The Dandelions seem to be more about empowering others to fight for themselves.

Earth being their final destination is interesting. I’ve figured they were sort of ethereally over the planet, but I guess that’s too literal. I suppose they’re out in space somewhere, connecting psychically to the humans they appear for, and slowly making their way to Earth. Possibly in order to deal with the upcoming threat.

It’s also possible that Earth is their dying ground, given Karahindiba.

I’m fairly convinced the Dandelions are benevolent, or at worst neutral and looking out for themselves by empowering humans to take out what would be a threat to them, but if Taylor remembers any of this, it’s possible she’ll conclude that the Dandelions are the threat.


And it communicated with its partner.  Signals transmitted not through noise, but wavelengths transmitted across the most fundamental forces of the universe.  In the same way, it received information, it worked with its partner to decide the destination.

I suppose if they shift between realities, they just need to figure out which reality to shift into in the end?

It viewed a world, one point in time in the present, and in a heartbeat, it took in trillions of images.  Billions of individuals, viewed separately and as a tableau.  Innumerable scenes, landscapes, fragments of text, even ideas.  In that one heartbeat, I saw people who were somehow familiar.

But does that mean they’re truly familiar to Taylor, or familiar to the Dandelion whose senses she’s borrowing?

A young man, a teenager, out of place among his peers, men who were burly with muscle.  They were drinking.  He was tan, with narrow hips, his forehead creased in worry above thick glasses, but his mouth was curled in the smallest of wry smiles over something one of the men was saying.

Hmm… Alternate universe past Danny?

A snapshot, an image of a moment.

It was my world, my Earth it was looking at.

Oh. This universe’s past Danny?

[Rereading this section, I think this might’ve been Brian, though that would raise the question of why he doesn’t wear glasses anymore.]


Coming to a consensus, it transmitted a decision.  Destination.

So this would be why we haven’t seen them come to our world. They decided on the Wormverse.

The reply was almost immediate.  Agreement.

More signals passed between them, blatant and subtle.  A melding of minds, a sharing of ideas, as intimate as anything I’d seen.  They continued to communicate, focusing on that one world, on the possible futures that could unfold, committing to none, but explored the possibilities that lay before them.

And being along for the ride, I suppose that means Taylor also gets to explore the possibilities.

They broke apart, the two massive beings that spiralled together, and I gradually lost my glimpse into what they were thinking, what they were communicating.

Interesting. So maybe these visions happen specifically in relation to two of them meeting?

Whatever view they’d had of the future, they were losing it.  It was too much to pick through on their own.

Oh, I see. That makes sense.


Where have I seen this before?  I thought.

When a Dandelion couple went on a mall date.

But somewhere in the course of forming and finishing the thought, I’d broken away from whatever it was I’d seen.  It was slipping from my mind.

Aww.

I’m looking forward to seeing whether or not the Nine are as out of it as Taylor after this, though.

The void I was in was not the world of the entities, but Brian’s world.  Brian’s power.

Wait, wh- oh. Oh, he’s flooded the room, hasn’t he? At least up to Taylor’s eyes.

The darkness coiled around me, through me.  It was different, slithering past my skin to brush against my heart, tracing the edges of my wounds, the gouge in my skull that Bonesaw had made with her saw, slithering over and through my brain.

Is… that a good thing? I don’t think darkness entering your brain is usually a good thing, at least symbolically speaking.

I could feel my power slip just a little out of my reach, my range dropping, my control over the bugs just a touch weaker.

So did his power just get upgraded so he could block out people’s powers with it too?


But I could still see through my bugs.  I could still feel what they felt.  They’d gathered for the barrier I’d tried to erect between Parian and Bonesaw, and they’d dispersed in the time since, touching everyone present.

Nice.

Burnscar had put out her flame, was cradling her hand to her chest.  I could feel Bonesaw and Jack, standing a short distance away.

Yeah, looks like they felt something, plus whatever is going on with Grue’s power.

I could feel Trickster, Sundancer, Tattletale, Parian, Ballistic and Imp.  I could feel Grue, hanging from the wall of the walk-in freezer.

Roll call!

I could feel another person, someone who hadn’t been there a moment ago.  A man standing in the darkness.

…hello there, mister ominous.

Are you some sort of… avatar of Grue or something, a new body made of solid darkness?

I’d speculate on it being another member of the Nine, but the Nine don’t actually have any properly humanoid men right now besides Jack.

I doubt it’s Regent.

…yeah, no, “Grue’s new body” is actually my strongest guess right now.

The man strode forward, uncaring about the darkness.  He caught Burnscar around the face with one broad hand, and he brought it down hard against the counter.

Friendly, can seemingly see in the darkness… I feel like I might be on the money here, as drastic as my theory might be.

I was dropped to the ground.  Burnscar fell across me, limp and unmoving, and the man flickered out of existence.

Huh. Is he going to show up again somewhere else in the darkness?


The darkness slipped away, retracing its steps through my body, undoing its passage between my organs and joints, through and inside my blood vessels.

See ya, darkness.

Maybe. For all I know, this might’ve been Grue’s last hurrah.

A clearing formed.  An expanse of dim light, lit only by one shaft of light that managed to come in through the corner of a window.  Burnscar’s head was pulverized, unrecognizable.

Damn.

She lay limp, unmoving, dead.

One down!

(Two if you count Hack Job.)

“Interesting,” Jack said, looking down at his fallen teammate.

Cold as fuck, dude.

“Yes!  I’m almost positive I got this on record!” Bonesaw squealed.

Through the darkness? …I suppose it makes sense she’d try to develop a way to record through the darkness while testing it.

Or maybe she means just when the darkness started flowing, so she can figure out where it came from.

Also, cold as fuck.


“Which you’ll have to leave behind.  We’ll retreat.”

“I just need the hard drive!  I’ve been trying to get data like this for ages, and it’s a new system!”

Just let her grab it real quick, man. Save yourself the arguing.

Bonesaw started to head for the walk-in fridge where Brian was, but Jack grabbed her by the back of the neck.  “No.”

Does he think Brian would be able to kill her too if she went in there, maybe? Hell, I suppose that might be true.

“It’s ‘kay!  Two seconds!  I’ll be right back!”  She slipped out of his grip, running into the freezer, opening one of the cases that looked Mannequin-made.

Well, let’s see how this goes.

The darkness continued to dissipate around Brian, and I was aware as a masculine figure flickered into existence in the midst of the cloud, in one corner of the walk-in freezer.

There he is!

It was Brian, but it wasn’t.  It was colored in monochrome, with one eye open, the other half-formed. Markings in white covered his flesh, spiraling out from one pectoral, covering his chest and stomach.  His hands were white to the elbow, and he was sexless.  A ken doll with only more white patterns between his legs.

“Are you a boy or a girl?”
“I’m a villain.”
“No, I mean, what’s between your legs?”
“White patterns.”

Memes aside, he looks awesome. I wonder if the white markings and monochrome rather than black means this power upgrade gave Grue some light to balance his darkness?

Or maybe he was white and the markings were in black?

And here I thought Siberian was the zebra of the cast.

[akdjlhashdfk]


Almost casually, he reached out and seized Bonesaw’s hands, which gripped the drive.  He raised her off of the ground, her feet kicking, and she grunted as his grip tightened.

I’ll be sad to see her exit the story, but she absolutely should die.

“The things I put up with,” Jack said, seemingly unconcerned.  He whipped out his knife, slashing at the pseudo-Brian.  There was no effect.  “Hm.”

Can’t slash through darkness and light, pal.

Slashing through the actual Grue might work better. Maybe.

Grabbing a meat cleaver from the kitchen counter, he hacked at Bonesaw instead.  It took three swings to sever her arms at the wrists.

“She’ll be fine, she can fix that with her mouth.”

She hit the ground running,

Didn’t make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb 

her stumps jammed into her armpits.  They disappeared over the counter of the dining hall, Jack helping Bonesaw up.

It does look like Bonesaw might get out of this alive, actually.


Monochrome Brian lunged after them, but the floor of the freezer shattered beneath one foot.  He lost his orientation, then flickered out of existence once more.

Damn, between this and pulverizing Burnscar’s head, he’s clearly super strong. He doesn’t have the same protection of the surface under him that Siberian does, though.

I could see Brian from where I lay, as I struggled to breathe with the one-hundred and whatever pounds that were piled on top of me.  He hung there, haggard, glaring at nothing in particular.

I suspect he’s been seeing through the eyes of his monochrome avatar.

The man didn’t reappear, but the stream of incongruent events continued; I could see one of Brian’s ribs twitch like the limb of a dying insect.

That doesn’t sound like a good thing, unless it turns out Brian works like the hellhounds now and there’s a baby Brian cradled in his chest.

With a glacial slowness, his body parts began retracting back into place.  The metal frames holding his intestines and organs into place bent, then gave way in the face of the inexorable pull.

Niice.

I still don’t fully know how this happened, though I suspect it has to do with the idea of double triggers, but I’m all for Brian coming out of this in one piece and stronger for it.


It took a long time.  Five minutes, maybe ten.  But his skin crept back, tearing where it had been pinned to the wall, joining back together, then healing.  Even the scratches that had criss-crossed his chest since he’d fought Cricket began to mend.

So this double trigger event, or whatever it actually was, seems to have given Grue at least two new powers: Monochrome avatars and regeneration. The latter doesn’t relate much to the power he already had, but they both relate heavily to his needs in this particular situation. A way to fight back and a way to pull himself together.

The healing stopped before it was entirely finished.  I saw the figure appear again.  The monochrome, half-formed Brian.

I guess he can’t do both at once?

Mercilessly, it tore out the metal studs that had impaled Brian’s limbs to the wall.  It caught Brian, then laid him carefully on the ground.

Oh yeah, I suppose healing while those were still there might be a bad idea.

He couldn’t walk, so he dragged himself towards us.

Better than what he could do when they got here, at least.

He had another trigger event.  Two new powers?  Three, if I counted the way his power was diminishing my own? 

Oh yeah, I guess that might be worth counting too, though it feels more like an upgrade to his existing power.

(The monochrome avatar also ties in with his existing power to some extent, but it can be used separately.)

He touched my hand, held it between his own.  I could feel something thrumming through me, willing me to take hold of it.

Can he heal others too? Get rid of their paralysis?

It took me a minute to figure out how.  The exposed bone of my forehead itched, then sang in an exquisite agony as it mended.  My skin was next.  My seized up muscles were last.  My power was last to mend, and I regained my control, though the diminished effect continued.

He can! That’s awesome. The Undertravelers have their own healer now!


So is the amount of new powers here common for double trigger events, or does it imply that someone else here also had one?

Also, does Eidolon actually have the power to have other powers, or has he simply had a whole bunch of trigger events?

And third, this idea being confirmed as a way to gain new powers opens up so many options for future development for everyone!


I clenched my fist, struggled into a standing position.  Brian hurried to Aisha’s side, grabbing her.

I guess he’s going in the order of who was closest to him, but I still feel like the shippers might’ve latched onto the fact that he healed Taylor before Aisha.

Four new powers? 

Apparently so!

I hadn’t heard about anything like this.

Yeah, sheesh. We knew double trigger events might be a thing that could happen, but the most we’d heard of it potentially accomplishing was getting rid of the Manton effect. It’s dangerously close to being a deus ex machina (if it hasn’t already crossed that line), especially with it solving every problem the Undertravelers had in this situation. I could see this being controversial when it originally came out.

I still like it, though. It feels more like the introduction of an interesting new concept than a hack job of a solution after Wildbow wrote his characters into a corner.


“Come on,” he said, his voice hoarse, “Don’t have long.  I-  Damn it!”

What do you mean you don’t have long? Is this a temporary power boost?

His darkness flowed out from his skin, heavier than I’d ever seen it, slow to expand, but it seemed to generate itself.  It slithered through me yet again.  Slithered through my bugs.

I wonder, if Taylor were to be outside the darkness but the bugs were in it, would it interfere with her control of those bugs?

It was minutes before the darkness dissipated.  When it did, Tattletale was standing.  Parian was standing on the other side of the room, eyes wide.

Huh, now he’s healing through the darkness?

The three Travellers were huddled together.

“What the hell was that?” I asked.  “Brian, hey-”

You okay, Brian?

Let’s hope this didn’t burn out what life he had left, right after it spent a lot of his energy pulling him together.


I stopped.  He was on all fours, his head hung, his cheeks wet with tears.

I reached out for him, but a hand seized my wrist.  Tattletale.  She shook her head at me.

Hm. What knowest thou, oh oracle?

While I backed off, Tattletale reached for Imp, whispered something in her ear.

Imp bent down and took off her mask.  In a voice far gentler than any I’d heard from her before, she said, “Hey.  Big brother?  Let’s get out of here.”

I guess he needs to hear her to get out of the trigger event mindset?

Brian nodded, mute.

Aisha could approach him, but I couldn’t?

I’m sure Lisa has her reasons.

He stood, refusing Imp’s offer for help in standing.  He clutched one elbow with one hand, the arm dangling; it wasn’t an injury, I was pretty sure.

Maybe a side effect of what just happened?

He’d healed the worst of it.  It was something else, some kind of security in the posture or something like that.

Oh, right, that posture.

It’s super commonly used to show nervousness, but I suppose it makes sense for it to provide a sense of security in general.


Darkness boiled out of his skin, a thin layer.  It moved slower than it had before, thicker, more like tendrils sliding against one another than smoke.  Just like the arm he had across his chest, gripping his elbow for stability, it was a kind of barrier, armor or a wall erected against the world.  He walked slowly.

Hey, don’t make yourself a cocoon, you already went through one metamorphosis today. If not a literal one.

Nobody complained, despite the proximity of our enemies and the fact that the darkness he’d spread out had to have alerted Hookwolf’s contingent about our existence.

What, and the giant swarms of bugs heading towards this place wouldn’t?

Were there just not that many bugs here?

I watched Brian as I walked behind him.  I’d just been paralyzed, about to receive involuntary brain surgery.  Now, in a much different way and for different reasons than before, I was again unable to offer him a hand.  I couldn’t even talk to him without being afraid I’d say the wrong thing.

Probably best to let him be for a bit.


Even compared to being in Bonesaw’s clutches, I felt more helpless as ever.

This is a good ending line, but I’m quite distracted by the use of “as” instead of “than”.


End of Snare 13.9

This was pretty good, though I could see it being controversial for giving Brian a bunch of new powers that were super convenient for the situation, almost out of the blue.

It is convenient, but in a way that matches my theories for how trigger events work. There were quite a lot of the powers – which is a little more iffy and might cause misguided accusations of Brian being a Mary Sue – but that was pointed out by Taylor and will likely be addressed further, so I’m not too worried about that.

Bonesaw was somewhat less on the funny side this time than I was hoping she might be (I was prepared for the fact that this might be the case since it was a very serious situation), but she still had her moments. Such a precious little monster.

She also didn’t get anywhere near as far into fucking up the Undertravelers’ bodies as I was expecting. That’s a good thing for the Undertravelers, of course, though I was actually kind of hoping for more on that front too, mainly for the character development as they deal with the consequences? However, the exposition on how powers and brains interface, the Dandelion scene and especially Brian’s powerup make up for it.

In other status quo news, Burnscar is dead (and less importantly, Hack Job, though that might be something I’d missed from a couple chapters back). That means there’s a second open spot in the Nine, signalling that the nomination game plot is likely getting moved away from in favor of taking out the Nine gradually.

That’s probably a good thing to do. If they just took out Jack, I do think the Nine would fall apart (though Siberian and Bonesaw would probably stick together), but I’m not sure the six or seven remaining Nine running around Brockton Bay individually is that much better.

Next chapter: The wind-down, I think. First they need to get out of here and fetch Regent and Bitch (Regent can let Genesis know she should dissolve via Shatterbird), though. We’ll likely learn more about Brian’s state, either from him or from Tattletale, and maybe hear Imp’s story from the horse’s mouth.

See you then!

3 thoughts on “Snare 13.9: Monochrome

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