Source material: Worm, Prey 14.1
Originally blogged: July 30-31, 2018
Another day, another chapter, another Arc! Howdy! It’s time to read some Worm!
Previously, this would be where I’d speculate on the Arc title, but I already did that [here] for this one. I’ll probably be moving it to the Arc Thoughts in the future anyway, splitting the “next Arc speculations” section into pre and post reading the title.
So with that out of the way, I guess I should speculate on the specific chapter, huh?
First chapters in Arcs are almost as difficult to speculate on as Interludes, but at least I have a decent idea what I think the Arc is going to be about (though there’s probably way more to it than just “Siberian’s turn and probably Traveler backstory”), so that’s something.
I don’t think we’ll be jumping straight into Siberian’s hunt, though I don’t think we’re going to dawdle either. It is very possible that we’ll get one of the other remaining Nine’s turn first (probably Bonesaw in spite of her, ahem, handicap – devoting half an Arc to defeating her properly would follow on nicely from Snare, Jack’s supposed to go last though he might make an exception because of Bonesaw’s little problem, and there’s no way we’re dealing with Siberian and Crawler), too, transitioning into Siberian being the major threat in the latter half.
Of course, all of that might be complicated by the ongoing assaults on the Nine.
Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent. What I meant to go on to say is that we might start off with a lower-action chapter as Taylor attempts to deal with the mess Mannequin and Burnscar left in her territory and perhaps tries to make sense of what she and Brian want to be to each other.
So yeah, let’s have a look at what Prey has to offer!
The noise of the microwave beeping jarred me from the first restful sleep I’d had in some time.
I moved my head, and my pillow moved in response.
“Tried to tell them to stay quiet,” Brian said, his voice low, “They’re not the most considerate pair in the world.”
Who? Alec and Aisha?
“Muh?” I mumbled something, and even I wasn’t sure what I’d intended to say. I’d been deep in the throes of some dream that felt strangely familiar, and I’d been pulled out of it quickly enough that I felt momentarily disoriented.
So are Dandelion dreams common for parahumans (though they don’t know it)? Do they just happen, or is it a result of something that happened nearby while she was asleep? Is it a vision, or a normal dream based on the visions that only her subconscious remembers (the disorientation might point to the former)?
This raises questions, guys.
I wiped at my mouth where I’d drooled a little, and was suddenly aware that Brian was there. I felt my face heat up as I realized I’d been leaning -and drooling- on his arm.
Wait, did the two of you fall asleep on the couch together? That’s adorable.
Wildbow has pulled out the giant roped hook and is dragging me back towards the ship whether I like it or not. He might get me back on board yet.
Alec and Aisha were unmasked and rifling through the ‘kitchen’ to find something to eat.
Speaking of ships, I could absolutely see these two together someday.
(#Arc 14 #chapter 14.1 #14.1p1
#and the battle against muscle memory starts all over again)
Brian and I both spoke at the same time, with me mumbling something to the effect of, “Sorry, I must have fallen-” before shutting my mouth.
Damn it, he’ll have me back on deck long before the end of this chapter if they keep being this adorably awkward.
He waited, giving me a chance to talk as he wiped at the damp spot on his arm, then finally broke the awkward silence with, “I’m glad one of us slept.”
Okay, so they didn’t fall asleep together. It’s still adorable, though. It means he’s been willing to let her sleep leaned against him for however long while he sat there wide awake.
…there’s no way Alec and Aisha didn’t tease the hell out of him. I would’ve liked to see that, honestly. 😛
“Not a wink.”
He did look tired. Not just like someone who had spent the night sitting upright, but like someone who had just finished a swim from one edge of the bay to the other.
Yeeah, he’s still gonna need some time to recover.
Clearly this is Danny’s fault for failing to get the ferry running so Brian had to swim.
“I hope I didn’t keep you awake by leaning on you. Don’t even know when I nodded off.”
“It wasn’t you, and I didn’t mind. It was…” he searched for the word. “Okay.”
‘Okay’. How was I supposed to interpret that? Or did he intend for it to be vague and noncommittal?
If he did, he succeeded. I still think it’s vaguely positive, though. Very vaguely, but still.
I shouldn’t even have been worrying about that. I blamed the fact that I was just waking up. Brian was in a bad state. Was there something I was supposed to say?
Hey, thoughts are not beasts that can be kept in check easily.
Something I should do? Every gesture that normally demonstrated caring or sympathy or whatever else was a tender point for him.
I don’t know, this stuff is hard.
A touch on the arm was an invasion of his personal space, which he was keenly aware of at this point.
Yeeeah, if you’re averse to things going for your head right now, he’s probably gonna be a thousand times as bad with any unexpected contact.
Asking how he was doing was a reminder that he wasn’t ok. Would offering to help him out or giving him support make him feel more powerless, like he’d felt when Bonesaw had gone to work on him?
And on top of everything, there’s the machism his dad imprinted on him, which might make him slightly more averse to being on the receiving end of the support.
Honestly, though, he handles that aspect of his background fairly well. He could’ve become so much more of a dick as a result of that, but here he is as a sweet and sensitive guy.
(#trying to counteract my muscle memory so I can reprogram it to say 14 also makes me keep messing up other parts of the writing)
No. That last one was probably okay. “You want anything? Breakfast? Coffee?”
Just as long as you don’t patronize him it’s probably fine.
So far so good.
I nodded, stood and rolled my shoulders. Outside of the fact that none of the sleep I’d picked up over the previous night had been in a bed, I felt recharged.
When was the last time she got proper restful sleep? At the end of Arc 11 proper?
Scrapes and bruises I’d only been dimly aware of were gone, as were the more obvious, attention-grabbing injuries.
Oh yeah, I suppose they went when Brian healed her.
That, in turn, made me think of the circumstances that had led to my good night’s sleep and healing job. It was bittersweet. Like a young child that was being forced to stand in a corner, feeling as low as she ever had, her stomach full with the entire birthday cake she’d just devoured.
This simile is further proof that Agatha Trunchbull should never have children of her own.
Okay. Still a little out of it.
Maybe you should go for a morning run to clear your head.
(#Arc 14 #chapter 14.1 #14.1p1
#hah! #Krixwell 1 – muscle memory… okay muscle memory is still in the lead
#but i did manage to write that pretty smoothly
#did have to backspace a 3 so maybe it’s more like Krixwell 0.9)
I joined Aisha and Alec in the kitchen. “Morning.”
“Sup,” Aisha said, curt. She’d found some frosted cereal and was pouring herself a bowl. She gave me a sidelong glance that wasn’t so flattering.
Oh boy, does she not approve?
I suppose Taylor leaning up against Brian right when Brian’s at his most vulnerable (or rather, recovering from that) could give Aisha the wrong idea.
“How is the man?” Alec asked.
“Stressed, anxious, not sleeping. Can’t blame him.”
“And you’re using all that to get closer to him?” Aisha asked.
Huh. I seriously didn’t expect her to make it explicit that quickly.
I suppose she always was a blunt one.
I blinked. “No.”
“Looked awfully cozy,” she replied.
It’s still unlikely that Alec didn’t tease Brian, but I suppose Aisha probably didn’t given that this is how she looks at it.
I glanced back in Brian’s direction. He was standing at the window at the other side of the building, peering outside, his back to us.
“I drifted off. An accident. Trust me when I say I feel bad enough about doing anything to make him feel less than a hundred percent comfortable when he needed rest.”
I kind of like how matter-of-factly Taylor is denying this. It gives me the sense that she doesn’t have anything to get embarrassed or defensive over.
“Bet you a thousand bucks he didn’t mind,” Alec said. Aisha gave him a dirty look.
(#Arc 14 #chapter 14.1 #14.1p1
#this one almost became chapter 13.8)
To clarify, “It gives me the sense that she doesn’t have anything to get embarrassed or defensive over” was not meant to imply that I thought she did. My point was that her composure is good for convincing others she’s telling the truth (which she is).
(#I don’t struggle as much with muscle memory when I’m typing one handed because of my ice cream popsicle
#it’s still way too hot for my cold-loving Norwegian self)
“He’s nice enough that he wouldn’t want to disturb me, even feeling like he does right now. He must have gone out of his way to stay still.” I didn’t look at either of them as I filled the kettle the rest of the way and put it on the stove.
Yeah, that’s Brian alright.
“Sure,” Alec drawled. In a more normal voice, he said, “But what I’m saying is he wouldn’t mind. Now, it’s been a little while, but there was a time when I had someone in my bed every night.”
“When you were with Heartbreaker,” I said. From the look of disgust on Aisha’s face, and what I imagined was a similar expression on my own, I suspected we were on the same page. At least on this one thing.
Yeeah, fuck that guy.
Actually, don’t, unless you can’t give birth. He has enough victims.
“Sure. Cape groupies, my dad’s girls, people I used my powers on toward the end.”
Cape groupies? Like, people who would flock to you because you and your dad were capes?
There wasn’t even a trace of guilt or shame on his expression, no regret in his tone. He just looked bored.
Honestly, I suspect talking about this stuff is prone to making him look even more bored than usual, the lack of emotion being partially a coping mechanism.
He went on, “What I’m saying is that I’m speaking from experience. Having someone cuddled up beside you, even if it’s a little bit of a pain in the ass, having that body contact isn’t so bad. Especially when you’ve had a bad day.”
He’s got a point.
(#i’m back to two-handed writing
#hey muscle memory let’s tango)
Was that Alec trying to be supportive? I glanced at Aisha, and she gave me something of a dirty look.
Yes, I think that is Alec trying to be supportive. It certainly got a lot more heartwarming and a lot less mocking than his initial bet line seemed.
I was awkward, screwed up and feeling guilty on a lot of levels, from Brian to Dinah to the people in my territory that I hadn’t seen to.
Skitter, on a therapist couch: “I’m taking time to work on my mental health instead of being out there, taking care of my territory and saving Dinah…”
Therapist: “And how does that make you feel?”
[El Goonish Shive panel]
Elliot: I AM HISTORY’S GREATEST MONSTER!
Brian was traumatized, and that was layered on what he’d described to me as an unfamiliarity with social situations and emotions. Alec was fucked up in a way I couldn’t even label. Aisha wanted to protect her brother but didn’t know how, lashing out at me instead. Damaged people.
Yeah, but at least you’re not alone about it. You have each other.
Much of the water in the kettle had been heated, already, and it didn’t take long to boil as we got our individual breakfasts together. I took it off the stove and began preparing Brian’s coffee and my tea. After a moment’s consideration, I began preparing bacon and eggs, and rummaging around for toast, bagels or english muffins. I’d use whatever I found first.
Or you could combine them!
…I doubt that’d be much good.
Tattletale, Bitch and three of the dogs came in through the front door.
Oh hey! I was just wondering where you were.
I didn’t miss how Brian turned to face the door, tendrils of darkness creeping through the gaps between his fingers and crawling up his arm.
At ease, soldier. They’re friendly.
Well, Lisa is, anyway.
It took him a second to relax. Tattletale threw me a package. I opened it and found a pair of glasses. I slid them on.
I like how she just throws the glasses. I mean, to be fair, they might’ve been well protected in the package, but still. 😛
Leaving the food cooking on the stove, I brought Brian his coffee. Maybe some normalcy would help.
“Morning,” I said.
Honestly, I too quite appreciate it.
(#I’m still writing ‘#arc 13 #chapter 13.’ on the first try but at least i can write the right thing without getting my fingers in a twist now)
“Morn,” Lisa replied. “We were out making sure there wasn’t trouble. Very, very quiet, after the last couple of days.”
But is that very, very quiet in the sense that there’s no trouble, or in the sense that everybody’s dead, Dave?
Rachel glanced at me but didn’t say a word.
“Want food?” I offered. “I’ve got some stuff on the stove. There’s some bacon if you want to give some to the dogs, Rachel.”
Is feeding them that healthy?
“It’s bad for them. And I don’t give my dogs human food.”
Yeah, figured that might be the case.
And I guess not feeding them human food is in part to prevent them from learning the habit of begging for it?
“Right. Thought they might want a treat, sorry.”
“But I’ll have some,” she said.
Well, that’s something. 🙂
Honestly, that’s one of the friendlier bits we’ve seen from Rachel, even if it were just the bacon she craved and not the social stimulus of eating breakfast with the team.
I returned to the stove and started preparing breakfasts. I served Brian first, then prepared some toast and bacon for Bitch and some scrambled egg for Lisa. It was almost a relief, having something concrete to do, a way to help, when I didn’t know how to act around Brian.
Very understandable. Keeps you from just standing around awkwardly.
By the time I had Bitch and Lisa served, the Travelers had been roused by the smell of breakfast.
This chapter can just stay true to the synopsis of “the Undersiders and Travelers have a nice breakfast together” until the end. I like this. It’s low-key in a good, relaxing way.
Of course it’s the calm before the storm – that almost goes without saying – but it’s a very nice calm.
I offered them some breakfast, and Ballistic took over at the stove to cook for his team.
So the mental image of Ballistic accidentally launching breakfast through a wall entered my head, and my train of thought drove on down to Ballistic’s trigger event. Not so much what it would be as what would happen after it: He’d probably activate his power by accident and have trouble turning it off, so anything he touched would go flying off immediately. He must’ve made such a mess. 😛
We arranged ourselves on the ground floor, Alec and Aisha sitting on the stairs, Lisa and I sitting on the couch, and Brian in the corner by the window, looking distracted. Bitch seated herself on the floor, her back to the wall, her dogs at her side.
It’s a bit haphazard, but it works.
While we waited for the Travelers to get settled, I asked, “I’ve been meaning to ask. What is Bastard?”
Oh hey, we’re getting some development on this now. 🙂
“You mean what breed is he?” Aisha asked.
“No,” I said. I left it at that.
Looks like Taylor has definitely figured out that he’s not a regular dog.
I wonder how much Rachel will be willing to say about how she got him.
“He’s a wolf.” Bitch scratched the skin at his shoulders, digging deep.
“No shit?” Alec said.
“Where do you even find a wolf?” I asked.
Bitch didn’t venture an answer, so Lisa spoke, “She didn’t find him. He was a gift. And since it didn’t come from Coil, that means-”
Lisa, you’re being a little bit rude.
“Siberian,” Bitch finished.
“That’s crazy,” I said. How long has it been since we had a chance to talk and touch base like this? “She’s crazy powerful. Majorly scary. And she just, what? Handed you the wolf cub and told you that she’s picking you to be a member of her team… how?”
Well, sort of, yes!
And yeah, it’s certainly been a while. Since Arc 7 or so, I’d say, although some of it probably happened off-screen.
“She told me with words.”
Oh right, the others wouldn’t expect that.
“She doesn’t talk,” Brian spoke up.
“She told me,” Bitch repeated. “She showed up, I tried to fight her, didn’t work. She explained, she left. Left the cub at my place.”
“I tried to fight her” – Taylor and Brian probably aren’t going to be too pleased with that.
Also I feel like she’s leaving out some relevant details here, but if you consider Siberian’s way of communication normal – better than most, even – I suppose it makes sense to put it like this.
The detail that your power works better on wolves might be worth mentioning, though.
I saw Lisa glancing between Bitch and me with a curious look on her face. When I raised an eyebrow at her, she shook her head a little and then turned to Bitch,
Hm. Maybe Lisa has noticed that Rachel and Taylor are on better speaking terms than usual.
“That’s potentially a problem. What’s to say Bonesaw or Mannequin didn’t put some sort of tracking device in him?”
…that’s actually a really good point.
I don’t think they’ve done it, especially since they had Cherish at the time, but it’s a good point nonetheless.
But yeah, good luck getting Rachel to leave him behind or something like that.
Also, would a tracking device survive him getting powered up?
“They didn’t,” Bitch said.
“How can you be sure?”
Maybe because of nuances to Bastard’s behavior?
“He smelled like the forest when I got him.”
While I see the point, they could’ve just put the tracking device in and then had him run wild for a while. They’ve been in town since at least Sentinel, they’ve had plenty of time.
“It would have taken them seconds to stick it in him. It would mean there was a way to find you. Find us.”
They already had that when they gave her Bastard, so unless they expected to lose Cherish, there wouldn’t be much reason to do it.
“No. Doesn’t make sense, what she was talking about. Being free. Accepting that we’re animals.”
She wouldn’t put a wireless leash on you, is that what you’re saying?
“I wonder about that,” Lisa said, pulling her feet up so she was sitting cross-legged on the sofa. “Maybe she was playing you?”
Rachel didn’t seem to even entertain that notion.
“Is she really that smart?” Alec asked. “Jack is smart. Bonesaw, Mannequin, sure, to varying degrees. But Siberian?”
I mean, why not? She behaves ferally and all that, but she’s got a brain. Presumably.
“My instinct?” Lisa shrugged. “She’s an actor. Playing up the feral angle, hiding a deeper strategy. She might even be playing a long con on her team. Or maybe her intentions are pure but she’s keeping them in the dark about the key stuff.”
I wonder if the rest of the team even knows she can talk.
“Like?” Trickster asked, as he found a seat on the arm of the chair Sundancer was sitting in.
Lisa said, “Brian’s new powers. He was copying powers from the people who were in the darkness, yeah?”
Wait, are you suggesting that Siberian is the monochrome duplicate?
So the Siberian we’ve been seeing might be the black and white duplicate of her original self, a duplicate which is – as I talked about in regards to Brian’s duplicate having a small fraction of the power – ridiculously powerful.
Perhaps she’s left her true body behind (who knows, maybe the duplicate even turned out to be it’s own person and killed the original Siberian), or perhaps she has to follow her duplicate around in the shadows. If it’s the latter, it might be the key to stopping her, as she has a more vulnerable body to attack, but that still won’t be easy considering that the duplicate can be dissipated and recreated where she needs it.
Either way, this is really cool.
“He got the ability to grant healing from Othala. Regeneration from Crawler. But who was the shadowy figure he used to pulverize Burnscar?”
*waves hand in air* Ooh, ooh, I know, pick me!
“You’re thinking Siberian,” I said.
Lisa nodded. “Sure. What if she’s like Genesis? Or Crusader? What if Siberian has a very real, vulnerable human body somewhere nearby, always has, and the body she’s using is a projection? Maybe it’s something even Jack doesn’t know.”
And Brian, having used a fraction of this power, ought to have an idea of how it works. For instance, does she assume direct control of the duplicate?
That gave us pause. An in. A way to stop the unstoppable beast-woman.
People have been trying to do this for a very long time, and you may be the first to figure out how to do it.
It’s a little concerning that it’s been figured out this early in the Arc, though.
Alright, time to stop for the night. See you tomorrow for the next part!
(#total number of times muscle memory’s antics snuck past me before I hit post: 2
#i tagged the two first posts in the session as ‘#arc 13 #chapter 14.1’)
[End of session]
“No,” Bitch clenched her fist, and I could see her dogs responding to her body language, tensing. “Don’t buy it.”
Is it that you wanted there to be someone who actually could relate to your animal-like mind, even if it was Siberian?
“Why not?” Lisa asked, her voice gentle.
“What she said made too much sense. She said things and she understood. I’m fucked up. I know I’m fucked up.
Maybe she’s actually like that, regardless of how real her body is. But conversely, maybe she’s just really good at acting.
Maybe she’s Maybelline.
Not good at dealing with people. But I could deal with her. I understood her.”
This would require quite a solid understanding of Rachel to act, though. I’m inclined to believe Rachel’s right, that it’s not entirely an act.
“That doesn’t mean she didn’t lie, Rachel,” Lisa said. “It only means she understood you well enough to know how to deceive you.”
The question then is how? She’d been following Rachel, spying, yes, but a lot of it doesn’t really spell itself out without watching for a long time.
Cherish may be key to it, I suppose.
“No. It’s not-” Bitch stood abruptly, and Bastard yipped.
It’s not what? Fake?
“Rachel,” Lisa tried, but Bitch turned away.
“There’s one way we could try to find out,” I said.
Bitch turned at me and glared. There was a viciousness in the look that I couldn’t blame entirely on her grudge against me or the current conversation.
Come on, Rachel, Taylor’s throwing you a bone here.
No dog pun intended, but if a doggy brain were to make her like to chew on metaphorical bones, that’s a bonus.
Just like Brian, there was a minefield there. I couldn’t hope to guess at what would press her buttons.
Yeah, I’m sorry, I don’t think I can help you much. I’m a cat person.
“You’d want to know, right?” I asked. “You wouldn’t want to give her the benefit of a doubt if she was playing you.”
Makes sense to me.
“You assholes are saying I’m gullible.” If Bitch had hackles, they’d be standing on end.
No, they’re saying “better safe than sorry”.
Her fists were clenched at her side, her feet planted apart, as if she’d be ready to start swinging, whistling for her dogs to attack, at any moment.
“Hey,” I raised my voice. “Answer the question! Would you want to know?”
Firmness. Even in the question itself, she’s enforcing that.
“Then we get in touch with Cherish. We get an answer from her. She’d know.”
Nice, I was right about the method. And hey, I’m down for some more Cherish.
The difficult part is going to be getting it out of her, though.
“I’ll get in touch with Coil, then,” Lisa said. She got up and headed into the room where she and Aisha had been sleeping.
I focused on my breakfast, hurrying to finish it before it got cold. I’d been distracted by the conversation, and cold toast was depressing.
The mood of the chapter changed after they started discussing the Nine, and it’s staying that way judging by this paragraph.
When I looked up from my plate, glancing at the others to double-check that they were okay, that I wasn’t missing anything, I saw Bitch staring at me.
Seriously, what’s your deal this time, Rachel?
“You want more food?” I offered.
“You mean what you said?”
The stuff from last Arc? That they’re not so different, and they’re friends?
About the food? “I don’t follow.”
I mean, I very briefly thought she meant something about Cherish and Siberian just now, but looks like Taylor’s failing even harder to see that this goes beyond the current topic.
“Last night. You mean what you said?”
“You’ll have to remind me.”
…I suppose she did have a lot going on last night.
But yeah, this seems like a lead into a minor recap, which I think is a good thing, considering I did feel the need to reread the conversation from 13.5 before continuing into this post.
“You said something about doing the same thing for the rest of us for what you did for Brian.” She broke eye contact, looking down at Bastard.
Ohh, that thing from last night. Which… well, Rachel wasn’t there in the room, but Taylor wasn’t exactly quiet when she said that.
Hm, come to think of it, 13.5 was at least two days ago, wasn’t it.
My fight with Brian. “You heard that.”
“Mm,” she grunted.
I glanced at the others. Trickster was talking with his two teammates, Genesis still elsewhere, and Alec and Aisha were talking.
I guess it’s just occurred to her that the others may have heard it too.
(#i’m deliberately ending this one in the middle of a paragraph for reasons)
Alec was apparently demonstrating his power, making Aisha’s fingers twitch. Brian looked on with a glower on his face, but I got the impression his attention was divided between that dialogue and my own discussion with Bitch.
Alec: “Some girls are actually really into this trick, when the hand’s in the right place. Some dudes too, for that matter.”
Brian, internally: “Did she mean that?”
Alec: “Of course, I could just make certain muscles down there twitch directly. I’ve heard some really mixed opinions about that though.”
Brian, internally: “She did say it while things were pretty heated…”
Aisha: “Sounds pretty fun to me.”
Brian, internally: “And she was on the defensive…”
Alec: “I don’t have much of an opinion on these tricks, myself. I’ve tried being on the receiving end, but it’s just not the same when I’m controlling both bodies anyway.”
Brian, internally: “And no one wants to admit they wouldn’t stick up for any given teammate…”
Aisha: “Shame… I guess Brian might be able to help you with that now, though, if you still want to try it?”
Brian, internally: “Well, maybe Bitch might, but she’s an outlier.”
Alec: “Oh yeah, I guess he could. I’m sure he’d be down with that kinky, kinky stuff.”
Brian, internally: “And on top of that, she might not have wanted to admit to any remaining romantic feelings for me…”
Aisha: “…you were right, he’s totally not hearing a word of what we’re saying. Here, ten bucks.”
Aisha: “So about that trick you mentioned with the tongue…”
(#power perversion potential)
“Yeah,” I told Bitch. “We’ve been over this. I really don’t know how to make it clearer. If it came down to it, I’d risk my life to save yours.”
That is how Taylor does things.
But yeah, why is that, exactly, besides her tendency to value other lives above her own?
“I- I don’t know if I can really say. You’re my friend. We’ve been through a hell of a lot of crap together. We back each other up because we have to.”
That doesn’t sound like friendship, that sounds like the Travelers.
“You think I’d back you up?” The question was a challenge, brusque, barely-but-not-quite-anger.
Maybe these days we’re getting close to that point.
“Don’t know. Does it matter?” I glanced at Brian. He was paying attention to what I was saying. I felt momentarily self-conscious, struggled to find words that wouldn’t provoke a negative response from one of them.
It kinda does, though I can understand if part of Taylor’s motivation is that if she backs Rachel up, Rachel might one day grow to return the favor.
I settled for a middle ground as I thought aloud. “Life’s not fair. It’s not even, not balanced, not right. Why should relationships between people be any different? There’s always going to be an imbalance in power.
Holy fuck this is an unhealthy message.
I mean, sure, things are, in practice, going to be that way quite frequently, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to make it healthier, more fair.
The other person might have a higher social standing, they might have money, or more social graces. Isn’t it better to stop stressing about quid pro quo and just do what you want or what you can?”
Alright, fair enough. With the full quote, it works.
“Words,” Bitch dismissed me.
Yeah, but you asked.
“Words, sure. I’ll make it simple, then. I consider you a friend, I’ll help you when stuff goes down. And you… do whatever you think is right. Do what you want to do. I won’t stress about it, and unless you fuck with me like you did when we fought Dragon, I’m not going to hold it against you.”
This is probably a better way to put it to her, yeah.
I still don’t really get why Taylor considers Rachel a friend, but she does and she’s damn well going to act like it regardless of Rachel’s opinions.
She set her jaw, clearly irritated at the reminder. Whatever. I’d needed to make my point.
If she had been intending to give me a response, I didn’t hear it. Lisa ventured back into the room, and all eyes turned to her. She held her hand over the lower half of the phone.
Yo. So what does Coil have to say?
“For those of you who haven’t been in contact with Coil, we ended up locking Cherish in an overturned boat’s hold in the Boat Graveyard.
That’s up near the Trainyard, isn’t it?
She’s there now, with food and water, totally isolated, several layers of confinement, including but not limited to chains. She wants to strike a deal, in exchange for details on Siberian and the Nine.”
Not surprising. I figured she would latch onto them asking as a bargaining chip, which is why I said the hard part was getting the info they wanted out of her. What does she want in return for that bargaining chip?
“Letting her go? No,” Brian said.
Yeah, that needs to be out of the question.
“Not what she wants. She just wants a chance to talk to us,” Lisa looked at each of us in turn. “Two minutes to address us, and then she dishes out the dirt, gives us the location on the Nine, the details on Siberian and answers any other questions.”
Hm. Alright, seems fair enough. We might get some interesting tidbits out of it.
I’d like to suggest a video call, if they have devices capable of that. That way she can address them without being in range to manipulate their emotions.
“Nothing saying she’ll tell the truth,” Alec said.
Of course. Lisa might be able to help with detecting lies, though.
“And she’s in a position to say stuff that could create doubt or tension in our ranks,” Trickster pointed out.
“True,” Lisa conceded. “But here’s the thing. I’m getting the vibe she wants us to turn her down, so we’ll figure out the real scoop later and regret it.”
Hah! “I could’ve told you so!”
“What, you mean something like Siberian being here? ‘Don’t you wish you’d asked me to tell you where she was, because she’s standing fifteen feet away from you’?” Alec asked. “Yeah, that sounds like my sister.”
“How sure are you?” Brian asked Lisa.
“That there’s more to it? Seventy five percent, to ballpark it.”
Worth a shot, I think.
“Bad idea,” Brian said. I found myself nodding in agreement.
And now these two are on the same page in much the same way they used to be before Extermination. Nice. 🙂
Lisa raised the phone to her ear. “Nope. Don’t suppose we can change your mind?”
Oh, is she talking directly to Cherish?
There was a pause before Lisa hung up. “Eighty-five percent sure there’s more to this story than she’s letting on. She was all too okay with saying goodbye for someone chained up in a hot metal prison cell. That, or she thinks we’re going to call back.”
Cherish might be right about that last thing, the way this seems to be going.
Sundancer spoke up, “Can’t we? What are we really risking, here? I mean, what’s at stake? The worst case scenario, if we let her talk?”
The worst case scenario is that she tattletales you, and you’ve got the actual Tattletale with you…
“Can’t say, can we?” Lisa said. She tossed the phone in the air and then caught it. “Say one of us has something to hide that Cherish could reveal to the others. Nobody’s about to admit it.”
That seems likely. Hell, maybe this is how we learn about the Travelers’ backstory?
There were glances all around.
“But I think I have an idea.” Lisa smiled. It was her old smile. The scar was there, but it no longer pulled her mouth into a perpetual half-frown.
I can’t even see that smile and I’ve still missed seeing it.
I suppose the unfrowning has to do with Brian healing her, like with Taylor’s small scars and such.
“Brian, got any books here? Or magazines?”
“Upstairs. Aisha, go grab something. Any book on the floor of my room.”
Alright… I’m not seeing the plan yet, but I trust she knows what she’s doing.
“Why-” She hesitated when she met his eyes. “Whatever.”
It was a minute before Aisha ventured back downstairs with a novel. It looked like a suspense thriller.
You know it’s thriller, thriller night!
“Here’s the deal. Everyone closes their eyes. We close our eyes while the others take their turns tearing a page out of the book. The higher the page number, the worse our inner thoughts and secrets.
Oh, are they going to collect the pages, then look at the numbers without knowing who picked which ones, in order to evaluate how bad the inner thoughts and secrets are overall?
That makes sense.
The last page, Uh, three hundred and fifty-five, we’ll say, is the worst of the worst. Unforgiveable to the point that someone here would kill you and the rest would be okay with it.”
She rifled through the pages of the book, “Anything below one hundred and fifty, it’s tolerable. Stuff we’d be ashamed for others to know, but we’d be okay with them knowing for the greater good. We each stuff it in between the couch cushions, until we’ve got a crumpled mess and none of us know who tore out which page.
Looks like I did figure it out.
If we’re more or less safe, if the numbers aren’t too high and we think we can stand to have Cherish dish out the dirt on the others, we’ll take her up on the deal.”
I’m just going to go ahead and predict that the Travelers will overall have high numbers compared to the Undersiders, though I suppose we won’t find out.
Also there’s no way Lisa isn’t going to know or at least have a good idea of who picked which pages.
Nobody disagreed with the plan, but I supposed that doing so would look bad. I closed my eyes as we went around the room, until Lisa tapped me on the shoulder and handed me the book.
Slå på ring, slå på ring, slå på hvem du vil
Slå på kjæresten din om du vil
Den du slår på slår du så hardt, så hardt, så hardt…
Where did I stand? What secrets was I keeping, and how highly did I value them?
I had my deal with Coil, with the real possibility that I might wind up his adversary. Lisa knew that, as did Brian, but the others didn’t.
Question is, would they have a problem with it?
I suspected that Aisha could be convinced to roll with it when Brian did, so long as we didn’t push too hard. Alec and Bitch would go with the majority. The Travelers? They had other stakes in this.
The Travelers are really the main unknowns in this exercise, from our point of view.
That was more dangerous.
One-sixty. I tore it out and stuck it in the couch, sat down and handed the book to Lisa.
Sure, that sounds reasonable.
(#’slå på ring’ is a norwegian variant of ‘duck duck goose’)
It took another minute for the rest to decide.
“So, in order… twenty-six, one-twenty-two, one-forty, one-forty-one, one-fifty-five, one-sixty, one-seventy-five, two hundred twenty-two, and three-twenty-five.”
This is one of those lines where I feel like writing out the numbers in letters just makes it look like a (crumpled?) mess, so lets make this digital: 26, 122, 140, 141, 155, 160, 175, 222, 325.
Total: 1466. Average: ~163.
The average ain’t too bad, but that 325 sounds nasty. I’m guessing that’s either Trickster or Tattletale. Regent might be somewhere in the middle (having nasty backstory but being fairly nonchalant about it), and Imp is probably the 26 (having not really been a cape long enough to build up much baggage and not seeming to be much for secrets).
“That’s a no, then?” Brian asked.
The 325 really points towards no, yeah.
“Something like that,” Lisa replied. She picked up the phone and dialed.
“What are you doing?” Trickster asked. “You said we wouldn’t go ahead if we didn’t all agree.”
Ah, yeah, jumping the gun a bit, Lisa.
“You’re right. But I’m going to try to haggle with her,” Lisa replied.
“Hello? Yeah, you already know the answer. No-go. Uh-huh. Sure. What if I asked for the Travelers to leave? You could address the rest of us.
I’m not at all surprised to see the Travelers being implied to be the source of the highest numbers, but… Lisa. Surely you see the flaw with your idea here? Cherish can still reveal details about the Travelers without them being present, which would only delay the murderous rage or whatever reaction people might have to the higher secrets.
…well, it’d be only the reaction the Undersiders might have. Maybe Lisa has figured out that the big secrets are specifically internal secrets, that it wouldn’t matter if the Undersiders heard them but the other Travelers shouldn’t?
You and I both know you’re doing this to sate your boredom than for any grander purpose.”
I’m than a little sure Wildbow or Lisa accidentally a word there.
Also, boredom is a powerful thing.
There was a pause.
“Good.” Lisa put her hand over the mouthpiece.
Alright, I suppose we’re doing this without the Travelers present.
“Does that really work?” Trickster asked. “What if we wanted to keep stuff from you? She could tell you while we’re out of the room.”
Yes, thank you for pointing this out.
I think Lisa already knows a lot of the secrets, so she’s better equipped than most to make judgment calls on this, but still.
“Do you want to keep anything particular from us?”
He shook his head. “But how do you know your teammates didn’t pick the high numbers?”
…hasn’t anyone filled Trickster in on Lisa’s power yet? 😛
“I don’t,” Lisa flipped through the pages. “But just going by what I know about our groups, I think our team is going to be more concerned about what outsiders think.
You guys are going to be more concerned about what your teammates think. Am I wrong?”
Alright, fair enough. I did kind of suggest that myself, just with less emphasis on how much they care about what outsiders think.
“We could do another blind vote,” she suggested, “In case anyone wants to say they’re not cool with these new terms.”
“Speaking as the person who took two-twenty-two, I really don’t care all that much,” Alec said.
I suppose he didn’t let his nonchalance weigh in all that much.
“I picked a higher number because I thought it would bother those guys. I figure my team knows enough.”
Ah, that’s fair.
“Exactly as I said before,” Lisa said. “Anyone else have any major objections?”
I shook my head. I could deal with the team knowing about my plan. If things went south, they’d find out anyways.
Half of them already do, I doubt Alec would care much, and Rachel… is Rachel.
Oops, I forgot Aisha in that last sentence.
I think she would be down with it, too.
The Travelers made their exit, Shatterbird came inside to stand guard by the door, and the rest of us settled down.
This casual mention of Shatterbird coming inside caught me off-guard. :p
Lisa dialed and put her cell on speaker phone. It rang twice before Cherish answered.
Let’s do this thing.
“Finally,” her voice came through the line.
“Your two minutes start now,” Lisa spoke.
“I should get four, since I’m dealing with only one group.”
Ehh. I see the logic, that because she’s allowed them to haggle it down, she should be allowed to haggle it up. Four might be a bit much, maybe?
“One minute, fifty-five seconds,” Lisa replied.
Cherish, you should probably have haggled that before the time started.
“Where should I start? Hey, little brother. Want me to tell them the sort of things you really did when you were back home?”
“Eh, why not.”
“It’s sort of tedious,” Alec replied.
“I wonder. Rape culture is a funny thing. People gloss over some pretty shitty, creepy, wrong behavior, little brother, when they know the person in question.
Ooh boy, here we go.
So she’s going for the body control sexytimes. I suppose it’s not a coincidence that Alec brought up his experiences with sharing his bed earlier.
But you raise the reality of what they’re doing, and it’s a whole lot harder to shrug it off.”
I guess she’s about to describe in detail the process his victims underwent, from their perspective?
Though she doesn’t have that much time if she intended to go on to the others.
Rape. It was a loaded word, but Cherish was right. She was a horrible person, to be sure, but she was right. Did I really want to face what Regent had done, before we knew him?
Not really, and he himself acts like it’s no big deal, which spreads.
Ooh, I wonder if Cherish is going to bring up what he did to Sophia.
Rape. Murder. He’d said, this very morning, that he’d done what he did because he’d been young, but that was just an excuse. The deeds were still done, the consequences very real.
The people are real. The cases are real. The rulings are final.
“You’re really one to talk, Cherie. You’ve done what I’ve done, many times over.”
Ah, yeah, I suppose she would. Doesn’t excuse his actions, though.
“I’m not pretending anything. I am what I am, I don’t put on a facade,” Cherish retorted.
Are you implying that Alec does?
“That’s a blatant lie. If you showed your true nature to the world at large, your face would be too ugly to look at.”
“Shallow Hal would be so out of there if he saw you on the street. His dick would go so flaccid it’d loop in on itself and rival what the dork over here did to Lung.”
“Ouch,” Cherish layered on the sarcasm. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do. You’re delaying me, so I have less time to work with. Why don’t I get started? Let’s talk about your first kill?
She’s not exactly hurrying things along, herself.
Gang member, a kid. You used him to kill his boss. His older brother, in fact. Because daddy wanted you to. Then dad ordered you to kill him. But you didn’t make it fast, did you? You made him stab himself with a fork, over and over, and over…”
I wonder if some of that was intended as self-harm, letting himself feel a fraction of the pain of the fork stabbings in order to punish himself while looking like he was embracing his father’s orders?
“Keeping in mind that I was hanging out with you and the dirty old man and our brothers and sisters. Nature and nurture, I was kind of fucked on both fronts. It was a matter of self-preservation to keep you guys entertained, and that was the sort of thing you liked. Sorry, like, present tense.”
Right. I don’t think that self-preservation accounts for everything, but the nurture really has a lot to say here.
“Maybe, maybe. And the drugs? When daddy had you practicing your powers, you ‘hijacked’ a few people at a time, used their bodies to get high with no consequences for you, you threw orgies for yourself…”
“Again. I was a kid.”
I feel like “kids will be kids” is a weird excuse for anything involving drugs and orgies.
“Teens will be teens” on the other hand…
“How much does that excuse?”
There was a pause. I looked at Alec, and he rolled his eyes at me.
“Ughh, just like she’s always been.”
Was he like Brian? His emotions buried deep inside? Or were they simply not there?
I think it’s closer to the latter, but I do think he has some emotions locked deep inside too, with the lack of emotion being partially Heartbreaker and partially a coping mechanism.
“What about darkness-boy? Want to talk about what happened yesterday?”
So what are the threads she has to pull on here? Just reminding him of the bad shit and blaming him for getting himself into that situation, needing to be rescued?
Honestly it seems like the strongest thing she’s got is how he feels about Taylor, and those seem to be fairly out in the open.
I clenched my fists. Lisa raised a hand, telling me to stop.
“You’re running low on time, Cherie,” Alec said.
Yeah, not gonna get through even half of them at this rate.
“I’m happy for the chance to talk. Bonesaw’s alive, you know. She has hands, borrowed from Mannequin.
Ah, I see, she got his help to get back in action.
Honestly, though, I legitimately do think she could sew on new hands while holding the needle in her mouth. I’m thinking stolen from some civilian or other.
She’s plotting what she’s going to do to Grue. Think about that. She’s going to take him apart, and it’ll hurt worse the second time around, because she makes that sort of thing a matter of personal pride.
Honestly, though? I’m not sure I believe that. Bonesaw never seemed like one for revenge or for deliberately making something hurt more. She’s just interested in her art and her science. But I suppose we haven’t seen her with something to want revenge for before.
She’s thinking about it, daydreaming on the subject, and she’s a smart enough cookie that she’ll figure it out.”
That part I believe, though. I just think it’s got more to do with figuring out where his powers come from and especially how his new power works, than with revenge.
Brian turned his back on the phone, staring out the window. I wanted to reach out to him, to help ease the weight that idea must have set on his shoulders, somehow.
But of course, the point here isn’t whether it’s true or not. It’s how it makes them feel. Cherish is good at emotional manipulation even without using her power.
“Bitch, you know that Skitter’s going to betray you again. Look at her. She prides herself on being smart, and you know the best way for someone to make themselves feel smart? They make others look stupid, and you’re the stupidest person she has access to.”
Also, seems like Cherish is hurrying things up a bit.
I tensed. I would have been lying if I hadn’t said I hadn’t seen something along these lines coming, but it ultimately depended on Bitch’s reaction.
Yeeah, this could go a lot of ways. Has Rachel taken what Taylor said earlier to heart?
“I fucking hate people who try to manipulate me,” Bitch growled. “Next time I see you, I’m knocking your teeth in.”
You do that, Rachel. You do that. 🙂
…try not to break your hand on her reinforced teeth.
There was a pause.
“Ah well,” Cherish said.
“And your time is up,” Alec said. “So, now’s the point where you fuck us over and don’t say a thing.”
Don’t give her ideas.
“Why would I do that? I want you to deal with the Nine. You killed Burnscar, didn’t you? If you dealt with Siberian, life would be a lot easier for me.”
Oh yeah, that’s true. If she tried to escape, Siberian would be the greatest threat.
“So we’re right?” Lisa leaned forward. “There’s a weakness. She has a real body somewhere?”
“She does. Right now it’s actually not too far from you.”
…and I quote:
“What, you mean something like Siberian being here? ‘Don’t you wish you’d asked me to tell you where she was, because she’s standing fifteen feet away from you’?” Alec asked. “Yeah, that sounds like my sister.”
Fifteen feet away. I remembered Alec’s joke.
Yup! Looks like he wasn’t far off!
“Near that hole the Endbringer made,” Cherish said. “Both of them, the real Siberian and the body.”
Wait… which is which?
I suppose “the real Siberian”, to Cherish, is the monochrome duplicate.
“You know what she looks like?”
“He. A man. Middle aged or older. Unkempt. Doesn’t eat much, probably thin.”
So is Siberian trans or something, then? Is the duplicate designable (possibly female to throw off suspicion), or an extension of their idea of themself?
That wasn’t what I would have expected.
“Right now? Siberian’s chasing down one of the candidates. She’s taken on the next round of testing.
Not surprising. I wonder who her prey is.
Simple test. Hunt them down and if she catches you, you fail. She eats you alive as punishment. Wonder how many she can knock off before you take him down. If you take him down.”
Well, at least the difference in sex means Cherish uses different pronouns for the two bodies.
I’m inclined to go with “they” for both of them for now because their gender is unclear, but as a matter of clarity from Wildbow’s side, Cherish’s usage is quite helpful. I might resort to it if the “they” becomes too confusing.
“Who’s she after? We gotta know.”
“No you don’t. Way I figure it, you go into the fight blind, you still stand a pretty good chance of offing her. No skin off my back if a few of you die in the process.”
My bet is Armsmaster. I’ve been meaning but forgetting to say, but I think he’s going to be highly relevant in this Arc. He got almost as much attention as Siberian did in the Interlude.
Also you should probably arrange for Cherish to be punished in some way for each member of the Undertravelers that doesn’t make it, and make sure she knows that.
“You need enough of us alive to deal with the rest of the Nine.”
Good point, though just getting Siberian out of the way ought to be a major boost to her survival chances.
“Maybe, maybe,” Cherish taunted us with her tone. “But shouldn’t you hurry? The hero is going to die.”
Well, that narrows it down to Armsmaster or Panacea. I stand by my bet.
It was Panacea or Armsmaster. Both were complicated. Panacea wouldn’t be able to defend herself, but Armsmaster was a whole mess of complications.
His power is to make the complications real small so he can stuff them all over the place in his armor.
We hurried to get suited up. My mask in ruins, I wrapped a scarf around my lower face and covered it with bugs.
Works for Miss Militia.
I drew them around my eyes to hide the frames of my glasses.
And again we’re seeing Taylor be very casual about bugs right on her face.
As I finished up, I glanced at Bitch. Her knuckles were white, her posture rigid.
Ready to go fight this fucker, Bitch?
She was pissed.
Let’s just hope it’s at Siberian.
Also, they never did end up asking about Bastard.
I made sure I had all my gear, then joined the rest in filing out. Grue and Tattletale were the last out the door.
Glancing back to check on Grue, finding his posture and expressions unreadable beneath his darkness and costumes, I caught a glimpse of Tattletale messing with one of the pouches on her belt.
What’cha got there?
The pages we’d torn from the book were folded into a tight square, and she was pocketing them for later study.
Ahh. Gonna try to get her power to tell her who’s who, huh?
She saw me looking.
“You going to be okay with this?” She asked me. “You’re the best equipped to find Siberian’s real body and stop her. Him. Them.”
And speaking of changing the subject…
But yeah, I suppose she is, what with her bugdar and everything.
“I’ll deal somehow.”
End of Prey 14.1
Huh. I suppose Siberian is the prey now. Among others. Honestly I think everyone is prey in this Arc.
This was a very nice chapter. It started out quite casually with a cozy breakfast and adorable shipping fuel, neatly segued into Cherish trying to manipulate the Undersiders, and gave us the revelation that Siberian has a vulnerable male body for the Undersiders (and probably the Travelers) to go after. We also got a scene of Rachel taking the initiative to understand Taylor for once, which was nice.
Even as the tone got a little darker, he content less breakfast-centric, and Cherish’s attempts at manipulation sent off icky vibes, the chapter stayed pretty casual right up to the end, which I appreciate. It’s a calm between the storms, and hoo boy we’re in for a storm.
This isn’t going to be anywhere near as easy as “show up nearby, find Siberidude (Dudeberian? Siberiman.) with the bugs, off them and go home”. There’s got to be complications, and I’d say the monochrome Siberian counts as a big one. Her prey might also cause trouble in his own way. Please tell me he’s not trying to fight her head on…
He’s trying to fight her head on, isn’t he.
Come on, Colin. She’s very close to an Endbringer in melee power, and you’ve already used up aaaaaaaall the luck against one of those. It didn’t work out for you then.
Anyway, this ought to be a wild ride, and I’m looking forward to it. See you soon!