Prey 14.6: Insectivore

Source material: Worm, Prey 14.6

Originally blogged: August 24-26, 2018


thriller, thriller night… la la lalala la la, lala… beast about to strike… thriller, thriller night… la la lalala la la, lala… thing with forty eyes, girl…

Oh, hi! Sorry, didn’t see you there. Maybe I should get some extra eyes of my own.

So. Last time Weld and Skitter worked together to take on Mannequin and to a lesser extent Crawler. Neither of them are properly defeated yet, though now at least the other heroes have joined the fray. But Crawler’s coming to fuck them up.

I think this chapter is going to be very much a direct continuation of the last chapter, a part 2 of the Mannequin/Crawler battle (with more focus on Crawler). Eventually we might also make it to the second barrage of bombs. I wonder, will Taylor have to figure that out by seeing the heroes withdraw, or if someone who recognizes that Skitter doesn’t deserve to get blown to smithereens – Weld or Legend, I’m thinking – will show the courtesy of warning her, and maybe even help her get out of the blast zone. Or maybe she’ll have to find out the hard way.

I’m definitely hoping for the second option. I like both Legend and Weld for being genuinely good guys, and I’d like them to keep that up. I think Legend is still distracted by Siberian, but Weld at least ought to warn Taylor– fuck, I just remembered, Legend is probably still the only one who knows about the second wave before Piggot orders the retreat, isn’t he. Damn it.

Well. Guess it’s gonna be time to dance at some point.

For now, though, let’s jump in and try to do something about Crawler!


I wonder if any of Bakuda’s bombs could manage to hurt Crawler. She was capable of reproducing people’s powers as bombs, and seemingly only needed to have observed them in order to do it. She couldn’t have reproduced the one power we know for sure can hurt Crawler so far, because she was arrested and killed before that power was bestowed on Scrub, but she may have had access to other powers that could do it.


tumblr_inline_pdz27qupJJ1sxgvvn_400.png

Oh hey, I was right [here, just below intro].


“Wards!”  Weld hollered.  “Crawler and Mannequin, like we discussed!  Close ranks around Victoria!”

I’m all for Weld having a speaking role.

So now that everyone’s out, it’s time for team tactics. Let’s see what they’ve got in mind!

His words broke the spell that the scene had over Vista and Flechette.  Surprising that there were so few Wards here, on a level.  Kid Win wasn’t in sight, nor was Chariot, and Clockblocker was under the sway of his own powers.

Yeah, this was optional.

Shadow Stalker, Aegis, Gallant and Browbeat were dead or gone.

Right, Browbeat… moved, was it, when his family evacuated? As for Shadow Stalker, that’s a story you’re quite personally familiar with, ain’t it, Taylor? 😉 Though not as familiar as you think.

The final sorta-maybe member of their group, Glory Girl, was being eaten alive by Crawler’s acid.

…wait, hang on. If the acid doesn’t keep the shield down, could it reform around Victoria, keeping some of the acid in? That would be bad for any attempts to save her.


Vista and Flechette moved to positions just behind and to either side of Weld.  The group blocked Crawler’s view of Glory Girl.

Miss Militia directed the adult heroes with a series of short commands and hand signals.  Ursa and Assault led the way with Miss Militia, Prism, Battery and Triumph following, clearly aiming to flank Crawler and close the distance between them and Mannequin.

So the adults are on either side of him now, while the kids stand right in his path.

Somehow that feels a bit backwards.

Crawler spat, and Vista used her power, reducing the distance the spit traveled to a tenth of what it might have been.

Sweet!

Crawler leaped, and she widened the distance between him and everyone else so he stood in the midst of a clearing.

I really, really like Vista’s power. 😀

Flechette fired a bolt straight into Crawler.  It penetrated his face and stuck there.  Little surprise on that front; I’d seen her stick Leviathan with one of those giant needles.

Hm. So will he regenerate so that the bolt eventually falls out?

Crawler’s face bubbled around the wound where it was rejecting the foreign object.  Almost imperceptibly, it began to slide out.

Yep. And “eventually” implies too much time.


He rumbled with a low, guttural laugh, mocking.  Was he enjoying himself?

I mean, he seems to enjoy getting tougher. I’m sure he feels a bit of satisfaction when attacks don’t do much, and even more so when they do hurt him.

He was a masochist, and it was the rare thing that could hurt him.

Hmm. Does he actually enjoy the pain, or is his focus on the strength boost the regeneration gives him? The latter is how it has seemed so far.

Miss Militia interrupted his gloating with a shot from a rocket launcher.  His claws dug deep into pavement as he resisted being knocked over.  She used her power to reload the rocket launcher and shot him again, uprooting him.

This is one of the differences between Crawler and Siberian. They’re both (near-)invulnerable, but Crawler can at least be moved.

Triumph used a full-power shout to send Crawler sliding across the clearing Vista had made.

FUS RO DAH!

Vista widened the distance by stretching the landscape.

They all make a good team.


Prism and Battery went after Mannequin.  Prism split into three copies of herself, complete with fireproof suit, closing in as Battery used her power to cross the distance and trade blows.

Called it [here, search “duplicates”]!

I was only peripherally aware of Prism, given how she was based in New York, but seeing her in action reminded me of how she operated.

She was a self-duplicator, always producing two other versions of herself, but there were nuances.  So long as one duplicate lived, she would survive whatever happened to the others, but they didn’t last long.

So each duplicate can end up being the one that lives on?

And this makes her three times as difficult to kill, just for a moment. Presumably there’s a bit of a recharge/cooldown time or something that keeps her from spamming it. It also make her able to deliver lots of blows at a time.

She could also expend them to enhance herself.

…interesting. Enhance how exactly?

It made her an effective partner for Battery.  Both were all about the setup followed by execution.  Prism formed her duplicates and spread them out while Battery attacked, then drew her duplicates back into herself in a flash of light before delivering a crushing strike.

That’s pretty cool!

Ahh, I see, the enhancing represents the union of the multiple light rays into one strong one, the reverse interaction (between a prism and light) of the one the splitting represents.

…did that sentence make any sense?


Mannequin was holding his own.  The hits that did land seemed to have little effect, as he went limp and bent with them.  It seemed he was keeping to the old adage of a supple willow bending in a hurricane that topples a sturdy oak.

Yeah, that sounds like Mannequin’s style.

Even when Battery was moving at super speed, he was quick to take the advantage of a kick that went too high or a sweep aiming to knock his feet out from under him.  He ducked beneath the former and hopped over the latter, then using his grappling-hook hands to haul himself a distance away.

In case there was any doubt about the speed of Mannequin’s perception and reflexes. Jeez.

He managed to get close enough to cut down two of Prism’s duplicates, then pointed his hand at her third self, extending a blade from the base of his hand and firing it like a harpoon.

Uh oh.

Battery used up her charge and swept it aside before it could strike home and finish off the heroine.

Good work!


Gotta go and get ready to see The Incredibles 2. See you tomorrow!

[End of session]


Incredibles 2 review

The Incredibles left some massive footprints to fill, and the sequel filled them excellently. If you like the first movie, you should definitely watch the sequel. (And if you haven’t watched the first movie, you should watch both.)

Apart from the issue of the movie being somewhat inaccessible for people with photosensitivity issues, my only negative criticism is that the pacing was a little slow in the beginning. But the slow bits were essential and it does result in a good sense of building tension, so it’s not a huge issue.

The plot was engaging (if a bit muddied by a lot of subplots, though those were individually good as well), and the fights creative and well-choreographed. While the main plot had some basic similarities to the first movie, it was different enough to not feel like a rehash.

This movie is an excellent example of good sequel-making – it does something new with the original premise and expands on themes and elements from the original. It picks up things that were given less focus in the first movie and elaborates on them, without losing touch with the core themes.

So in summary: Good movie, excellent sequel, 9.5/10 stars!


[Session 2]

The Incredibles 2 was good, but it’s not the superhero fiction you all came here to see me react to. Let’s get back to Worm!


Ursa, Triumph and Assault were getting into the thick of things with Crawler while Miss Militia and Flechette aided them from a distance.  Ursa was creating forcefields in the rough shape of bears, two at a time.

Oh, heh, so that’s what they are.

Weld stood, defending the two female members of the Wards.  Glory Girl was looking worse for wear with every passing second.

Maybe we can’t rule out her death quite yet. Still, though, her having to choose whether or not to allow Amy to help her would be much more interesting than her just dying to pile some extra angst on Amy. Which might not even be a net positive in terms of amount of angst on her, compared to Victoria being alive and hating Amy.

“Weld!”  I shouted, drawing the beetle as close as I dared with the heat and smoke beneath me.  “What can I do!?”

“More bombs on Mannequin!”  He shouted.

Good call, good teamwork. 🙂


My right wrist is numb from air guitaring frantically to Heir Conditioning just now. And my neck is not much better from the headbanging. The track is so fucking good.

Actually, the entire album it’s on, Strife, is so fucking good. @tenseimusic really knows his stuff. I don’t care if you’re not a Homestuck, go listen to this album if you don’t hate rock music with a passion.

(#(It’s not a huge time investment
#it’s only about 20 minutes long.))


“I’m out!”  I replied.

“Then get out of here!  You’ll be one less person we have to protect!  Our front line’s pretty thin!”

Hm. Fair enough, honestly, though I’m not sure Skitter’s going to take the implication that no bombs = needs protection super well. But look what we’re dealing with, lady. You probably should get out of here, even without the looming threat of the second barrage of bombs.

Weld half-turned to glance back at Glory Girl, and I could see his expression change as he saw how bad she was.  It was reaching the point that we might have to leave her for dead.

Yikes.

Hey, do you think Bailey could carry one more person?

She could send Bailey off to Amy using the continual order feature, carrying Victoria, and stay behind herself.

There were spots where the muscle had necrotized enough that I could make out her internal organs.  If the redness was any indication, the acid was extending to her vitals.

Yeah, fuck, she needs to get to Amy fast if she’s to survive.

“Evac Victoria and Cache on your way out!”

Yeah, Weld sees it too, but question is, can Bailey lift that much?


Evac.  The last time I’d had a scale to check, months ago, I’d weighed a hundred and eighteen pounds.  With my gear, my costume, maybe that added up to one hundred and twenty.  I had my doubts the beetle could manage me if I was even ten pounds heavier.  How could I carry someone larger than me, in addition to myself?

Yeeah.

Even without Taylor, Bailey might not be able to carry the evacuees. Especially Cache.

Though maybe Cache is lighter than he seems because of his power. Even though the power doesn’t literally put people inside him, it might have a weird side effect of making him parahumanly “hollow”.

Maybe I didn’t have to.

Had to think out of the box.  If I could get her out of here, and if the beetle could manage her, I could remotely pilot it to Amy.

Yes! And if you’ve got time and range, you can do multiple trips.

I think time is the biggest concern there.

Those were two pretty huge ifs.  No, couldn’t pin my hopes on that.

I saw Cache using his power on himself.  He was barely able to crawl, but he surrounded himself in his dark geometry, disappearing as it condensed down to a point.  He’d taken himself out of this dimension.  I wasn’t sure if it was a journey of no return or a way to get some respite.

Probably the latter, I would imagine. Well, that means one less evacuee.

Though… if he can do this and open a portal back later, why didn’t he join the other heroes in his pocket dimension earlier, instead of being frozen? Can he not do this when there are others in there? Or maybe it was so that he’d know when it was safe for himself and everyone else to come back.


But his use of his power gave me another idea.  Glory Girl had powers too.

Yeah, but how would you use them to evacuate her?

“Can she fly!?”  I shouted.

It somehow managed to slip my mind that that’s one of them.

“What?”  Weld asked.  He glanced up at me, then turned his attention back to the fight.  His body was tensed and ready to act the second Crawler made a move for his teammates.

I don’t think this is quite what Taylor is going for, but I’m thinking that – like how I suggested that a side effect of Cache’s power might be being “hollow” – anyone with flight might, as a passive side effect, be lighter than they should be.

It seems Taylor is going for Glory Girl actively using her flight to help out the evacuation, even if she can’t fully lift off on her own.

“Ask her if she can fly!”

“She’s insensate!”

Insensate. Good word.

“Try!”

He turned back to the superheroine and said something I couldn’t make out.

“Uhh… can you fly?”

If she responded, I didn’t hear it.

Weld extended his arms into two long poles.  They extended ten feet, then fifteen, then thirty.  Reaching back, he caught Glory Girl with the ends, bending the tips to encircle her body.

Nice! Metal “tentacles”!

“Wait!” I said.

He glanced up at me, then over at Crawler.  The villain was spitting at Assault, who slid on the ground to evade the spray.  Crawler took advantage of the gap in the defensive wall to stampede toward Vista and Flechette.

Shit. Vista, do your thing!

Vista increased the distance, but not as fast as Crawler crossed it.

Well, at least she listened to me. That’s a change of pace. :p


Under pressure, choosing the protection of his teammates as his top priority, Weld ignored my plea for a moment to think.  He twisted his entire body to haul Glory Girl into the air, throwing her at me like a catapult might throw a boulder.

Clearly, she can fly. In the same way a fly ball to Because can – ballistically.

I changed my orientation so I’d be ready to catch her.  Rather than try to wrap my arms around her, I moved so we were racing alongside her as she arced through the air.

Good call. Don’t reduce her speed too abruptly or let yourself get knocked off Bailey.

It gave me only a second or two to make the call about grabbing her.  I didn’t want to get that acid on me.

Understandable. I think the acid might be trapped on her, though? Unless the forcefield is still down?

I grabbed at the two things that seemed safe – the intact portion of her lower costume and her hair.  I pulled back, hauling on both, but the beetle wasn’t able to offer the necessary lift.

Uh oh. Down we go.

She was insensate with pain, and she struggled at what I was doing to her.

Well, she’s conscious. That’s probably not that good a thing in this situation.

I momentarily wondered if she’d hit me or the beetle with one of those punches that could crush stone. Worse, if she grabbed me and I couldn’t break away, I’d plummet to the ground with her.

That might be bad.


“Fly!” I screamed the word.  “Lift up, Glory Girl!”

Let’s see if this works. I guess it kinda has to.

Her face was melting on one side, her eyes a ruin, her ear and the surrounding area of her head a bloody mess.  I wondered if she could even hear me.

Narratively, I mean. Though it’s possible that Taylor is indeed going to plummet, I guess. Wouldn’t be the hardest hit the story has thrown at her.

I was getting dragged down.  How long before I had to make the call about letting go?  It would mean letting her fall back into the burning city street.  Maybe her forcefield would protect her, but the acid would continue to eat into her, until it got at something especially vital.  She would die, slowly and painfully.

Yeeah. Amy wouldn’t be pleased.

Burning to death would almost be a mercy.

“Rise!  Fly!”  I shouted.

w i s e   f w o m   y o u w   g w a v e

She began to lift up.  I took the opportunity to let go of her hair, grabbing at the one hand that wasn’t covered in acid.  I pulled on her hand, and she followed my lead.

Yay!


We moved as fast as my beetle was able.  I knew she could fly faster, would have compelled her to even push me and the beetle forward if I thought I could have handled the navigation.

I mean, she can fly faster when not being digested alive.

As a group, we passed over a red scaled wingless dragon that I took to be Genesis, wading through the flames on her way to the site of the battle.

Heya!

My beetle needed a name.  Had to have a better way of referring to it.  A hercules beetle, but bigger, a giant.

Oooh, naming time!

Hm. Like a hercules beetle but giant. So maybe a name of a large figure from Greek mythology? Like Atlas (though I don’t think Bailey’s strong enough for that name), Chronos (doesn’t fit very well either), etc., or the more general Titan. Or a name of an actual giant, which is a separate thing in Greek mythology from the also gigantic titans. I don’t actually know any names of giants, though.

I suppose if you get more specific and focus on Hercules, then maybe you could go bigger by naming the bug Zeus? Making him the father of Hercules beetles.

I thought about Hercules, about the myth; Hercules had borrowed the burden of the giant who carried the world.  Atlas.

Alright, sure! That was my first guess from “hercules beetle, but bigger, a giant”, even if I hadn’t connected Atlas to Hercules specifically.

I stand by my claim that the name Atlas has connotations of strength that don’t particularly fit him… actually, I suppose if it’s compared to other beetles, he’s incredibly strong. Fair enough!

(Also Atlas is a titan, not a giant. Though he is giant, the adjective.)


“Come on, Atlas,” I urged him, “Faster.”

Taylor doesn’t need to use vocal commands. I’m 100% sure she only said this so she could reinforce to herself that his name is Atlas now. Make it official by actually saying the name. 🙂

Dumb to talk to him, when I knew for an absolute fact that he couldn’t understand me.  Maybe I was talking to myself.

Totally.

We found my teammates still clearing a path through the edge of the area.  They were all walking, the dogs in a formation around them, Bitch holding up the distant rear with Bastard.

Better seek out Amy ASAP.

I landed.  Glory Girl didn’t have the strength to stand, and collapsed like a rag doll.

Y’know, when her organs are visible and being subjected to deadly acid, I find this very understandable. It’s a wonder she was even able to fly, though that’s a power. I don’t think we’ve ever seen powers entirely disabled by physical damage that didn’t specifically target the gemma, even physical ones. And flight can be either physical or mental/special depending on how it works. Though I’d lean towards physical by default.

(Shatterbird’s flight is purely mental because it’s not really independent flight, it’s telekinesis on her glass clothing.)


“Holy shit!”  Regent said, as he saw the extent of the damage.

Damn, that might be the largest reaction we’ve ever gotten out of Regent to anything.

Amy went white as a sheet.

f1x th1s.png

“Heal her!  Just don’t touch the spots where the acid hit her!”

Was I focusing on the wrong side of this? I’m not sure Victoria is here enough to understand what’s happening, but maybe Amy is reluctant to violate Victoria’s consent again, even to save her life.

There’s also the issue of whether she dares to use this opportunity to set right what she did last time.

I’m not going to say “what she did wrong”. Amy did nothing wrong.


“I don’t know what happened?”

“Crawler spit on her, then knocked out her forcefield.  Move!  Fix your sister!

Taylor’s right, Amy. If you don’t do this, or don’t do this quickly, Victoria’s dead. If you do this, she’s alive but might be mad at you.

Which is worse?

Fuck, I actually suggested earlier that the former might indeed be less angsty for Amy.

It does matter that it’d be Amy’s fault, though.

She staggered forward and reached out toward Victoria.

“No,” Victoria mumbled.

Ah, there we go. She is here enough to understand this much. But does she understand that it’s this or death?

And Victoria actually voicing a denial of consent makes this even harder for Amy, even if that denial of consent comes from a position of not truly understanding what’s happening.

“You’re dying,” Grue spoke.

“No,” Victoria repeated herself.  “Not-”

She coughed sharply and mumbled in the same breath, and didn’t bother trying to correct herself.

I have no idea how this is going to ultimately play out but one thing’s for sure: It’s gonna suck for Amy either way.


“Do it anyways,” Tattletale said.

Out of everyone here, you’re probably the least helpful one to be saying that. Unless you’ve been further changing Amy’s impression of you off-screen.

Victoria swung with her good hand, slamming it into the sidewalk.  Cracks spiderwebbed out from the impact site.  She coughed.  “No.”

Jeez.

Also that’s another physical power that’s still effective even as she’s severely physically incapacitated.

“If she hits me, she’ll kill me,” Amy said.

And it’s not farfetched that she would right now.

“Okay,” Tattletale said.  “If she doesn’t want help, you shouldn’t give it.”

Taylor: “Heal her.”
Victoria: “No.”
Brian: “You should accept help.”
Victoria: “No.”
Lisa: “Heal her anyway.”
Victoria: “No.”
Amy: “No.”
Lisa:

then perish.png


“She’s not thinking straight.  What I did-”

Is she cutting herself off because she doesn’t want to talk about what she did, or is someone cutting her off by challenging her to elaborate on what that is?

Or maybe Lisa, who surely already knows what Amy did, has something to say.

“Doesn’t matter,” Tattletale said.

And it’s a victory to the third one.

Amy shook her head, talking over her, “She’s always been emotional, passionate, unrestrained, and she’s channeling all this new emotion into hate, because it’s the closest equivalent.”

To love?

And yes, that sounds like the Victoria I’ve come to know. I’d also add “rash”, though I suppose that’s implied by the mixture of the things Amy already said.

“New emotion?” Regent asked.  “You mean you mindraped her.”

You’re one to talk.

But yes. By accident and about as much Victoria’s fault as Amy’s, but yes.

Amy looked like she’d been slapped across the face.  I wasn’t surprised, but hearing it said out loud was unsettling.

“Seriously?”  Imp voiced the incredulity that everyone else seemed to be feeling.

Okay but seriously, if any of you actually still care about saving Victoria, you probably should save this conversation for later.


“It was an accident,” Amy said.

Yes, it was.

Maybe hearing out Amy’s side of this could help Victoria change her mind. I wouldn’t count on it, but she kinda needs to if she’s to survive.

“How do you do that by accident?”  Imp asked.

“Enough,” Tattletale cut in.  “Victoria, listen, I’m going to pour some sterile water over you, and hopefully it’ll flush some of the acid away, okay?  I don’t know what else we can do for you.  I know you can’t see, so don’t be surprised when it happens.”

Where did you get sterile water?

Are you lying to her?

Victoria turned her head slightly, but she didn’t respond.

“Okay,” Tattletale said.  She didn’t have water in her hand.  Instead, she grabbed Amy and shoved her in Glory Girl’s direction.  Amy looked at her, scandalized and horrified, but Tattletale only mouthed the word ‘go’.

Yep. I kinda had this option in the back of my head too: That Amy’s power feels like, or can impart the feeling of, having flowing water poured over you.

I suppose I could go back to Extermination to see how Taylor felt when the power was used on her, but I think I’d rather just watch this play out for now.

Amy knelt by her sister and touched her hand.  Glory Girl’s back arched as if she’d been electrocuted, and then she went limp.  Paralyzed, unable to resist.

Ahh. Good call.

I guess the water lie was just to buy time to do this. No need to have it actually feel like water if Amy’s going to paralyze her.


“I’m sorry,” Amy said.  “So, so sorry.  Oh god, this is bad.”

None of the rest of us spoke.

It’s the medic’s time to take charge. Gotta listen to the doctor’s orders.

“I can’t- can’t figure out what this venom is.  I can’t touch it to see if it’s organic, um, I can only see what it’s doing.  At least part of it is enzymes.  It’s denaturing proteins in her cells and using the byproducts to build more enzymes, and it’s breaking down lipids as a side effect, shit.

Huh. So the venom makes more of its functioning part from the parts of Victoria’s body.

Oh god, and there’s more to it.  The fluid the enzymes are swimming in is some kind of acid.”

Yeeah, this is pretty bad.

So, Amy can’t recreate Victoria’s flesh, and she can’t interact directly with the acid. If they get rid of the acid and enzymes, maybe she could use bugs to provide the new material she needs, like she did when she made Atlas by fusing them?


“Can you fix her?”  Tattletale asked.

“So much to do,” Amy mumbled, “Have to counter the acid with some kind of physiological byproduct, have to stop the enzymes from liquefying her entire body, and repair the damage.  Trying to make some kind of firebreak to stop the spread of the venom, withdraw the proteins the venom is using to propagate itself.

This seems like a really difficult job, yeah.

There isn’t enough tissue in her body for everything I need to do to fix her.”

And that’s where the bugs come in.

“Fixing her body and healing all the damage can come later,” Tattletale said, as if she were reassuring Amy.  “For now, keep her alive and fix what you did to her head.”

Right. Which requires messing with her brain again, though in a much more controlled fashion.

“I have enough to manage without worrying about that.”  There was a note of desperation in Amy’s voice.

I’m going to give Amy the benefit of the doubt here, that she’s telling the truth about wanting to focus on the rest first and not just making an excuse because she kinda doesn’t want to remove Victoria’s romantic love for her.

Also the benefit of the “everything we’ve seen of Amy interacting with Victoria since the fuckup indicates she wants to fix it”.


“It’s as much a priority as anything else.  I said it before, if you don’t do it now-”

So they’ve been talking about it off-screen, though the others didn’t understand what exactly it was (though Regent might’ve pieced it together) they were talking about?

“Shut up,” Amy snapped.  “I need to focus.”

We watched her work.  The dissolving began to slow, then fix.  The wounds weren’t closing, but the necrotized edges of the ruined flesh was turning from black to crimson.

Crimson is usually a color that’s not good to be seeing on a body, but it’s better than black.

“You going to go back?”  Tattletale asked me.

I wouldn’t advise it, but Taylor’s more heroic than I am.

I shook my head and glanced over to where the clouds was glowing orange with the reflected flames.  “Nothing I could do.  Too much fire, it cancels out my power, and it’s dangerous for Atlas.”

Yeah, fair.

Also I’m sure Lisa’s going to take note of the fact that Taylor’s named Atlas now.

“Atlas.  I like that.”

It’s a pretty good name!


I shrugged.

I turned to Amy.  “Do you want me to bring bugs?  Maggots eat only dead flesh, which might be helpful if-”

If the dead flesh can’t be interacted with?

“No.  I can handle that.”

Alright. But you could probably use the bugs to fill the gaps.

“Or I could get some of the more useless bugs, like the ones you used to make Atlas, for raw material.”

Yes, exactly!

Amy turned to give me an incredulous look.

Alright, guess she doesn’t want to make her sister part bug. Fine.

“You said you didn’t have enough tissue to patch everything together.  If you wanted to put together a placeholder…”  I trailed off.

“Nice,” Regent said.  “She could be a human-spider hybrid.  Add some insult to injury with the mindrape thing.”

Pfft. Regent is on point today.

Taylor: “Don’t be silly. Spiders are too useful.”

I could see Amy tense.

“That’s not what I’m saying,” I told him.  “Amy was saying the enzymes were dissolving proteins and other stuff.  The bugs would be a source of protein, vitamins, carbs…”

Okay, that is actually a good point though.

“I’m a little surprised you know that,” Grue commented.  He didn’t take his eyes off of Amy and Glory Girl.

Taylor’s whole thing is bugs, she’s fond of knowing what she’s dealing with, and she had three months of prep time before she started going out in costume. I’m sure she’s done way more research on bugs than she’ll ever need. And that’s on top of what she can just straight up sense of their biology.


Hang on. Let’s rewind a little bit:

“Atlas.  I like that.”

I shrugged.

Am I reading too much into things, or is this a subtle reference to the title of Atlas Shrugged? :p


“My power tells me some of it,” I said, “And I did some reading after we took over our territories, trying to research that stuff.

I didn’t even feel the need to mention the time she’s had to research stuff after she started caping.

It was an idle thought, but I was thinking that if we got into a food shortage, I could feed my people with bugs.”

Well, wouldn’t be the first time she stuck them into someone’s mouth, I guess.

And in some cultures, people do eat insects. In Japan, you can even get wasp cookies.

Imp made a gagging noise.

“Wow,” Regent said.  “See, you just started off by making me think you were warped and creepy because you were suggesting Panacea turn Glory Girl into some sort of bug-borg, and now you’re making me think you’re creepy and weird because you wanted to feed bugs to people who aren’t your enemy.”

Pfffft.

Seriously, I wish we got to see this side of Regent more often. He’s fun when he makes on-point comments like this.

“It was just an idea,” I said, maybe more defensively than I should have, “And bugs are nutritious.  People all over the world eat them.”

They do, it’s true.

I mean, I wouldn’t want to, but…

“Have you?” Grue asked.

I kinda love how off-topic this has gotten.

I shook my head, “But I would have tried them first, if I decided to go ahead with that plan.”

“Please,” Amy cut in.  “Can you?”

Taylor: “What, eat a bug right now?”

I turned to her.  It took me a second to realize what she meant, after the line of questioning from the others.

Yeah, she’s not asking you to demonstrate the eating of bugs. :p

I love this little tangent. If I did numerical ratings for the chapters, I think this last post or so’s worth of dialogue would add a point or two on its own.


“Yeah, of course,” I told her.  I began calling a swarm to me.  I’d already exhausted the surrounding area of most, and the ones I hadn’t already called forth were buried in the deepest recesses and most awkward areas, where it was so inefficient and time-consuming to bring them to me that I’d left them where they were.

Well, at least it’s something.

It took some time to bring them to the area.

“How was the battle going?”  Grue asked.

Are we in for more chat while the bugs arrive? I’d be down for that.

“The heroes seemed to be managing, but I don’t know how things are going to turn out,” I said.  I looked at Shatterbird, who floated above us.  “We could use her help.”

A little risky, since the heroes might not immediately recall that Shatterbird is under Undersider control, or be sure that she still is, or will stay so. But if they can get past that hurdle, she could do a lot of good.

Though Regent has to stay close to her to maintain control, doesn’t he. So he’d have to go near the battle himself, which means he’d be at risk of getting Crawlered. And if he got taken out, Shatterbird might break free and fuck everything up.

“Don’t trust myself to control her if she’s too far away,” Regent spoke.

I made a face.  “Right.  But she could carry you?”

To get there, perhaps, but it’s probably a bad idea to stay that way during combat.

“She almost dropped me once before.  It’s pretty hard to hold on to someone, especially without the leverage you have when you’re on the ground.”

True enough. Taylor should understand, she’s been on the held side of that arrangement before.

The first bugs were arriving in front of Amy.  She began dissolving them into their constituent parts and pressing them into Glory Girl’s abdomen.  When she raised her hand, they were gone.

Nice.

She held her hand out for more to gather while keeping one hand on Glory Girl.

Minutes passed before Amy stood and wiped her bloody hands on her pants.  “Done as much as I can.”

Thank you.

I’m guessing she didn’t fix the brain thing, though, which Lisa might press her on further.


Glory Girl didn’t look ‘done’.  Scars crawled across her body, angry-looking, surrounded by burns from the acid and flames.  Her skin in areas where the flesh had melted away was so new and stretched so thin that it was translucent, and there was little to no body fat to pad the area between skin and muscle.

She looks a bit less, y’know, glorious.

“Fix her,” Tattletale said.  “You know what you did to her, you know it was wrong, undo it and walk away.”

Yeah, here we go.

“Can’t,” Amy shook her head, “I said I’ve done as much as I can, but there’s so much more I need to fix.  The parts I made with the bits I took from bugs will need to be replaced with real flesh.”

That’s not what Lisa meant and you know it, Amy.

“That’s her choice.  You saved her life, good on you, but you need to let her make the call.”

Right, fair enough.

Yet you’re asking Amy to mess with Victoria’s brain again without consent, even if it’s just to set right what she did.

“Why do you care so much?  You’re a bad guy.”

That’s a good question. Why does Lisa care so much about this? Does it have to do with her sense of sanctity of her own brain? Or is she just genuinely interested in helping Amy get over some of this stuff and then become a villain?

“Oh yeah,” Tattletale replied in a dry tone, “I’m evil, right?  Maybe that’s all the more reason to listen if I’m saying that something’s fucked up and wrong?”

Sounds like it’s closer to the former. If she’s telling the truth.

Also, this puts an interesting perspective on Lisa’s relationship with Alec. He doesn’t make people emotionally love him like his dad does (actually, the rape thing is super appropriate in relation to the difference powerwise between Heartbreaker/Cherish and Alec – the other two make people love them emotionally, while Alec used to make people love him physically), but it’s still a connection that could strongly affect Lisa’s opinion on him.

(#’appropriate’ does not mean i approve)


Amy shook her head, “She needs to eat, and I need to rest.  I can speed up her digestion, like I did with breaking down the bugs inside her.  But I need so much material that it’s going to take a lot of food if I’m going to get everything she needs.  One night, and I can make her normal.”

Huh. That’s not that bad, really.

Tattletale shrugged, “That’s fine.  Just undo what you did first.”

But yeah, Amy’s deflecting and Lisa won’t have that.

“If she fights me and doesn’t let me finish-”

“That’s her choice.”  Tattletale repeated herself.

“No!  That’s- that’s not her.  That’s the change I made doing the talking, or the aftermath of it.  Even if I removed all the neural connections that have been made since, there’s so much more in the emotional cocktails and hormonal balances.

Hm.

Hmmm.

Fuck, we’re back to the issue of consent when brainwashed. Just a different kind of consent, and with the brainwashing having the opposite effect of what it was “supposed” to.

She’s channeling it into anger instead of… instead of love.”

Love.  The implications were so fucked up.  It was the sort of thing Heartbreaker did.

Yep.

The difference is Heartbreaker does it on purpose.


She hugged her arms against her body.  There were tears in her eyes.

“You need to fix her mind now.  For you, not for her.  Maybe she’ll forgive you at a later date, when she’s thinking clearly again,” Tattletale said.  “Maybe then she can approach you, you two can start interacting again, you rebuild that trust over months or years, and you can finish healing her body when she gives you her permission.”

Honestly, yeah. Yeah, I’m with Lisa here.

“Or I can fix her now, undo what I did and then walk away forever, because I don’t deserve forgiveness and she shouldn’t have to live like this because- because a wrong committed fucked with her focus or made her too aggressive or-”

Lisa’s approach is way healthier on all fronts.

And this is not your fault, Amy. Seriously.

Hell, if the focus/aggression thing was as much of a problem as you seem to be making it in your head, she shouldn’t even have been allowed to fight in the first place.

“It wasn’t like that,” I said.  “She didn’t have time to react.  I was watching.  These injuries Crawler inflicted were not your fault.”

Thank you, Taylor. 🙂

Now tell yourself that about a couple of the things you’re blaming yourself for.

These two really do have a lot in common sometimes.


“Doesn’t matter.  She would have reacted sooner if she’d been getting enough sleep, if her emotions weren’t off kilter.”

Like I was saying. This is a Taylor-level self-blame.

“Amy-” I started.

She shook her head so violently that I stopped mid-sentence.  “I can almost feel right about this.  I patch things up, and then I go.”

A clean break might actually be good here, I suppose.

Amy bent down and touched her sister.  Glory Girl stirred and sat up.  With Amy’s help she stood.

“You’re lying to yourself,” Tattletale said.  “And you’re making things worse.”

Probably, yeah.

“Just- I’m just keeping her complacent.  I’m okay with it if she doesn’t forgive me for it.  Don’t deserve it anyways.

You do deserve it.

And yeah, we don’t want Victoria punching anyone right now.

tumblr_inline_pe1bcaRrMs1sxgvvn_1280.png

[El Goonish Shive panel sequence]

Ashley: Who… Wh-who…

Magus, casting a spell: Calm

Ashley, noticeably calmer: I… what?

I do this, and then I’ll go somewhere I can be useful.  Only reason I haven’t made more of myself and my power is because of the rules and regulations about exploiting minors with powers.

What?

I mean, I’m not surprised such rules exist, but how have they been keeping her from using her power?

Either go into government or don’t work at all, and didn’t want to go into government because they would have made me a weapon.  And because I needed to be with my family.”

Ahh, I see.


She smiled, but it wasn’t a happy expression.  “Burned that bridge.  But I’m sixteen now, I can get a job somewhere, start making a real difference with my power.”

I guess sixteen is the age limit on those rules and regulations, in spite of the Wards’ limit being eighteen.

Also apparently Amy’s birthday is in the latter half of the year. Marquis, when given the year but not a date, thought she’d be seventeen [here], which suggests she hasn’t had her birthday yet this year.

“And the last thing you’ll do for your family is this?  Hypnotizing your sister when she’s already mad at you for assaulting her and fucking with her head?”  Tattletale asked.

Right. Probably not the best parting gift.

“The last thing I’m going to do is fix her.”

Yes, good.

“A means to an end.”  I stepped forward a little. “Trust me when I say I’ve been down that road.  I don’t recommend it.”

Hm? I’m not sure what Taylor is talking about here.

“You don’t understand.”

“Wasn’t it only a little while ago that you admitted you couldn’t figure out what you needed to do to put things right?  You asked me to make the call.”

Oh yeah. Is that still standing?

“Because you had the experience in making calls on morality in dangerous situations, situations where I can’t even think straight,” Amy said.

…you know things have changed between them when Amy defers to Taylor for calls on morality.

Her voice hardened a little, “But I have the impression that you don’t have that same expertise when it comes to family.”

Oof. That’s gonna sting.

Hey, I wonder how Danny’s doing.

I thought of my dad, and it sat heavily enough in my mind’s eye that I couldn’t formulate a response.

Grue formulated one for me.  “You’re one to talk.”

Yeeah.


“I’m trying to fix this!”  Amy raised her voice.  “Why are you making this a thing?  Why do you even care?”

Tattletale shrugged.  “I talked about it with Grue, Bitch and Regent.  We were considering offering you a place on the team.”

I have reason to believe she won’t take it (either that or the askers have been sneaky in a way I approve of), but still: Hell yeah!

Also, did she not talk about it with Imp, or is Imp forgotten right now?

I looked at Tattletale in surprise.  I glanced at Bitch.  Even her? 

Huh, yeah.

To be fair, Lisa never said the three of them all agreed. Even if Lisa was the kind of liar that stuck to technical truths (like I thought she might early on), what she said wouldn’t actually mean she successfully convinced any of the others.

Amy scowled, “As if.  You’re such hypocrites.  Regent mind controls people all the time!”

In before someone, most likely Regent, points out that technically, it’s body control.

“Regent mind controls the monsters, the bad guys,” I said.

“Taking advantage of bad people for selfish ends.”

Well, yeah…

Though, uh, does Taylor know about the people at Regent’s base?

“What you’re doing is selfish,” Tattletale cut in.  “You think you’re doing it for her, but you’re only doing it to soothe your own guilt.”

I suppose that would be the core of the “lying to yourself” Lisa mentioned earlier.


“No,” Amy said, as if that was that.

She glanced at me.  “Thank you for bringing her to me so I could help her.  Um.  I don’t want it to be a nasty surprise, so you should know I didn’t give the bugs I designed any proper digestive systems.  They’ll starve to death before the week’s over, but the Nine will be gone by then.  If they aren’t, we’re all fucked anyways, aren’t we?”

Well, shit.

Does that include Atlas?

It probably includes Atlas.

I looked down at Atlas, then back to her.  I clenched my fists.  “I’m using them to help people.”

“For now, sure.  In the future?  I couldn’t be sure.  So I put a time limit on them.  Let’s go, Victoria.”

Yeah… I kinda saw something like this coming, though I’m not sure how clear I’ve been about it. Amy’s just not the type to be willing to give villains permanent benefits.

“Hey!”  I shouted.  My swarm stirred around me as the pair turned to walk away.

What’cha gonna do? You can’t really attack them all that well if you were to go for that. You shouldn’t, anyway. That’d be rude.

“No,” Tattletale said, putting a hand on my shoulder.

“But she-”

“She’s not thinking straight.  We’ve all been there.  You don’t want to start a fight.  We’ve got other enemies to focus on without making more.”

Lisa’s right. Besides, Amy’s done a lot to help them, even if it turns out it’s just temporary.

I was pissed off enough that I wanted to hit someone.  I couldn’t even articulate the entirety of why I was so angry.  I’d gone out of my way to be nice to her, to empathize, to save her sister, and save both of their lives.  And this was how she repaid me?  A slap in the face, a final gesture to make her distrust for me as blatant as possible?

Fair enough, but I honestly think she was telling the truth about saying that so it didn’t become a nasty surprise when it happened.

I also think some of Taylor’s anger is because she’s started bonding with Atlas and doesn’t want to lose him.


“I could try,” Grue said, “I’ve seen her power, but I don’t get the full picture, I might kill it.  Or fuck it up somehow.”

Hey, Brian, what were you using your power for earlier?

“Please,” I said.

He raised one hand and created a wave of darkness.  It passed over the two girls.

Amy: “What the… Grue!!”

I brought Atlas to Grue, and he laid one hand on the shell.  I could feel shifting in Atlas’ mandibles, head, thorax and abdomen.

I hope he can do this. I’m fine with the relay bugs being temporary, but Atlas is too cool to let go of.

The shifting stopped the same instant I saw Glory Girl spear straight out of the top of the cloud of darkness, flying high with Amy in her arms.

Damn it, she figured out what he was doing, didn’t she (does she know about Brian’s new power yet?). Or at least decided to get out of the dark.

“Did you finish?”  I asked.

“Couldn’t say,” he sighed.

Guess we’ll have to find out by trying to feed a giant beetle.

What do you feed it, anyway?

I searched Atlas with my power, trying to get a feel for his physiology.  As with all the other instances, everything about him was invisible if I wasn’t looking specifically for it, a black hole in the database of knowledge my power provided.  He was created, and there was no genetic blueprint that my power could decrypt and analyze to figure out what part served a given function.

Ahh, that makes sense. Normally the power just tells her what it can glean from the DNA.

When I reached the area Grue had affected, I found it even darker, untouchable.  The nervous system wasn’t something my power could interface with.

…maybe Regent can?

“I had to model it off of something, and I get the feeling I don’t have the same innate knowledge that Panacea does,” Grue told me.  “The only thing I have any knowledge about is myself.  I don’t know if it’s going to work, but he has a human digestive system.  Or something close to it, that worked with his body.  Near as I can figure, everything connects to what it’s supposed to.”

Better hope Grue knows his human biology.

I know I had trouble keeping my focus up when it came to the digestive system. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t take biology when the natural sciences class split up into more specific ones.

“Thank you,” I said.  “Really.”

Tattletale was still watching Glory Girl and Amy disappear.  She glanced down at Atlas, “You’ll have to figure out a diet that gives him every nutrient he needs, and pay a hell of a lot of attention to him.  If you give him something his body can’t process, it could poison him like that.”  She snapped her fingers.

Yeeah, makes sense. This isn’t going to be an easy pet to feed.


I nodded.  It was still better than nothing.

Sundancer was still clearing a path.  I climbed on top of Atlas and rose above the ground, swaying a little in midair as I tried to control his flight enough to hover.

I wonder if Brian accidentally changed something that would affect the flight stability.

“Go,” Grue said.

“What?”

“Scout, search.  Check on the fight.  You’re restless.”

He knows her well. 🙂

“Don’t like how that thing with Panacea ended.”

Grue shook his head, “Me either, but we should focus on what we can do in the here and now.”

“And I’m restless because I’m frustrated.  There’s nothing for me to do here.  I can’t handle the fire, can’t do anything if I’m with you guys.”

Guess there’s nothing for it but to go home.

Hey, maybe you could go looking for Jack and Bonesaw? Just keep Atlas and yourself out of Jack’s line of knife.

“Search for Jack and Bonesaw so we can put them down,” Regent said.

*finger guns towards Regent*


I shook my head.  “They disappeared.  Literally.  I’m not sure if they’re dead or if they found a hiding spot.”

Maybe it’s some bullshit Bonesaw did, like hiding them inside other people or something.

“That’s something we can work on,” Tattletale said.  “Siberian was heading to a destination, right?  Heading southeast?”

…did we know that?

I suppose maybe she didn’t know where exactly the others were when the Undertravelers said the rest of them were fighting them.

“Sure.”

“Did you see what direction Jack and Bonesaw were headed?”

I nodded.  “Northeast from a point a few blocks that way.”  I pointed.

So they might be getting back together somewhere to the east, then?

“Then I think I know where they went.  It’s quite obvious when you think about it.  A place they could have researched in advance, unoccupied by anyone of consequence, capable of withstanding hits from virtually anything, supplied with food and water…”

Oh! One of the Endbringer shelters?

Obvious?  Maybe only to Tattletale.  Still, with her hints, I could follow her line of thought to its conclusion.

“The emergency shelters for Endbringer attacks,”  I finished for her.

Bingo.


End of Prey 14.6

And with that, I’m pretty sure this part of the Arc comes to a close, surprisingly enough without anyone having to dodge Bakuda bombs.

This was very good. I liked the bits of the Protectorate+Wards vs Mannequin+Crawler battle we got, how Taylor contributed to it and the way Weld accepted without hesitation that she wanted to contribute, but the real star of the chapter was the tangent about eating bugs the whole scene with Amy healing Victoria and arguing with the Undersiders (especially Lisa, who seemed to care a lot about the mind-manipulation in play) about the best course of action forward. At least she intends to undo what she did, even if she’s prioritizing the bodily repairs and then plans to run off again and find a job as a rogue healer without working for the government.

Regent was really good in that part. More of that Regent, please.

One thing I didn’t realize until right at the end was how much the Travelers were backgrounded here. Apparently they were present (but perhaps out of earshot?) for the whole healing scene, but they were barely mentioned and none of them said a word. Neither did Rachel, for that matter, but I’m used to that.

Anyway, it seems we’ve found our next destination: An evacuation shelter. I hope it’s the same one Taylor visited during Extermination, though that might be a bad choice on the Nine’s part, since Leviathan fucked the place – and the door in particular – up.

In there we’ll quite likely find Jack, Bonesaw, however many of Bonesaw’s latest victims, and possibly even Siberian. Sounds like fun!

I don’t really have any other predictions for it right now, so… See you there!

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