Prey 14.8: Potent Agnosic Miasma

Source material: Worm, Prey 14.8

Originally blogged: September 1-2, 2018


Howdy! Let’s wiggle a bit – it’s Worm time again!

Today, I’m expecting a somewhat low-intensity chapter, a dénouement to the Arc, as I feel like the Nine’s revenge belongs in a separate Arc from everything that’s been going on in this one and the Arc would grow quite long if it were all in one.

I’m not sure what exactly I think will happen in this one, but I’m guessing the question of which scholar Siberian used to be might get answered (because he’s at the center of this Arc and it doesn’t seem like a big enough question to drag out over a longer time), perhaps by Lisa after learning about the swan and what Legend said.

I suppose we’ll see the Undertravelers reunite and go back to one of their bases, unless we’re skipping to the next day. They may also be left thinking about what’s ahead of them with regard to Bonesaw’s punishment.

So yeah… let’s crawl in and have a look!


“How did it go!?” Tattletale called out to me before I’d even landed.

Pretty well if you don’t count the total destruction of at the very least 15 blocks of the city, and probably many more.

Actually, I had a thought earlier today: What if the reason Legend was fighting in the area and not caring about the destruction was because he knew it was in the planned bomb strip and had, perhaps, been evacuated?

I set Atlas down on the ground and hopped off. “Whatever the fuck they just dropped on the city, it apparently took out Crawler and Mannequin.”

Oh, huh, she didn’t figure it out, even seeing the time stop bubbles?

I guess she didn’t think it was important enough to ask.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Tattletale said. “I think that was Bakuda’s stuff they just used. What about the other members of the Nine?”

How did they verify that Mannequin and Crawler were down? Did they actually see the corpses in the chaos? I suppose they’d have to be sure before transmitting it on the radio.

“They’re on the run. Last I saw, Siberian’s creator looked pretty rough. Not sure if the spider bites and stings will kill him or if Bonesaw will manage to counteract it. Depends on whether Legend and the other heroes can keep up the assault long enough to keep Bonesaw from getting to work.”

…right.

I don’t think he’s going to die like that.


I could see Bitch react to the mention of Siberian’s creator. She looked startled, then scowled.

…you okay?

“You found them?” Tattletale asked. “Siberian and Legend?”

“Yeah. Legend told me to scram, in case Bonesaw deploys the threat she’s been holding over our heads, and so I don’t get in the way. I would have fought to stay, but he’s an intimidating guy to argue with.”

That’s fair. I wouldn’t want to argue with him either, even if I don’t think he’s the type to get aggressive about it.

It’s more a sort of… Dumbledore-esque kind of intimidation.

Grue nodded. “I wouldn’t feel bad about it. It means we can serve as backup if the heroes lose.”

“And this threat? Do we know what it is? Some zombie apocalypse?” Regent asked.

Your turn, Lisa.

“No.” Tattletale shook her head. “She sees herself as an artist. She’s going to want to do something that catches us off guard, something that scares us in a way that simple horror movie monsters don’t.”

Hmm.

Not to mention that she herself doesn’t seem to consider her usual creations scary.

I feel like she’d do something that’s not going to make everyone the same. She’s not going to mass-produce her art, y’know, so she makes it so each one should have a unique touch.

Hmmmm.

Something that takes people’s inner demons and puts them on the outside?

Some kind of subtle change that puts everyone right into the Uncanny Valley? Except Bonesaw might not have the concept of that.

Making people disturbingly like the Endbringers?

Hm, I suppose all my guesses so far are appearance-related. That doesn’t really sound like Bonesaw’s style.

Forcing people to have trigger events and/or making them not have control over their powers?

There are a lot of ways this could go.


“I don’t know about you guys,” Sundancer spoke up, “But monsters scare me enough.”

Aw. 🙂

“Says the girl who can vaporize buildings and give Leviathan pause for thought,” Regent said, giving her a sidelong glance.

And Regent continues to be on-point.

“Leviathan broke half the bones in my body. The only reason I’m standing here is Panacea,” Sundancer said, a little defensively.

Fair enough.

Man, the Endbringers play rough.

“You two do raise a point, though,” Tattletale cut in. “Capes are powerful. If she wanted to scare the locals, she’s done that. I’d be willing to bet the ace she has up her sleeve is going to be more aimed at scaring people like us, like Legend.

Makes sense.

She wants to terrorize the strongest, target people who everyone looks up to and fears.”

And, if she wants to add some extra fear to the mundane side too, she could also make the heroes look scary to them as a bonus.

Just us?” I asked.

“She’s shown she knows how to disable powers,” Trickster said. “If she did that on a larger scale, then-”

I believe that has been brought up as an option before, but I forget by whom.

But somehow that doesn’t quite seem like the Nine, though, let alone Bonesaw.

“No,” Tattletale shook her head. “She wouldn’t have used the dust and the darts if that was the big reveal. It doesn’t make sense tactically, because we could have come up with a way to deal, and Skitter’s partially immune anyways.

And artistically, it’d be like giving a preview of her secret masterpiece. Probably not something she’d want to do.

And it doesn’t make sense artistically, either. You have to think of her as less of a scientist or doctor and more of a performer.”

Yes! Lisa has the right idea here. This is how I have been thinking of Bonesaw for some time now.


A thirty story skyscraper tipped over and crashed to the ground in the distance. The rumbling crash of the building’s collapse seemed delayed in getting to us.

Far enough away for the speed of sound to matter, or the sound being affected somehow by one of Bakuda’s bombs? You choose!

(I’m leaning heavily towards the former.)

…also fucking thirty stories and it isn’t even a building Taylor feels the need to name. I know that’s not much compared to some buildings over there in the States but that’s super tall compared to anything near me.

I could see Legend, more through the flashes of his lasers than anything else, but everyone else was out of sight, specks I couldn’t have made out if they weren’t on the ground.

Clearly they’ve got some distance on the chaos here.

“If we’re lucky, we won’t have to worry about Bonesaw’s plot,” Trickster said.

How so? Do you mean if the heroes manage to finish off the Nine here?

Not gonna happen.

“Plan for the worst,” Grue replied, staring into the distance, “If you’re right, you’re prepared. If you’re wrong, you’re pleasantly surprised.”

Yeah, that’s fair enough. And very character-appropriate.

“Heard that one before,” Imp commented.

Hah.

“Still true,” Grue replied, sounding annoyed.

“Can’t plan for this,” I said. “I’m growing to hate tinkers. People with enhanced senses and tinkers. And fire manipulators. Sorry, Sundancer.”

Hehe, yeah, those groups do keep giving Taylor trouble in various forms.


She shrugged.

I turned back to the subject at hand, “We can’t guess what she’s come up with because her tinker abilities make her so versatile, and that means we can’t preemptively set up any countermeasures.”

So what do we do?

Tattletale tucked her hair behind her ear. “Fits in a vial, assuming that vial she was showing off was the real weapon, something to do with water, she said… you guys haven’t been drinking anything except bottled water?”

Yeah, like I mentioned before, at least they can’t just taint the water supply.

Unless they go tainting wherever the PRT is getting their water from. And even that wouldn’t hit the Undertravelers, as they get theirs from a separate source.

There were head shakes and the occasional muttered “No” from the rest of the group.

“I’ve even been making my tea with it,” I said.

I mean, what else would you be using?

“And we know there’s going to be a strategic purpose behind it, beyond causing terror,” Tattletale went on.

Do we?

I suppose it would make sense for it to, but the opposite is actually part of why I said I didn’t think it’d be why they’d just knock out people’s powers. It seems too cheap for Jack to approve of it before they got knocked down a peg or five.

“You’re getting into that headspace again, Tattletale,” Grue said. “Tunnel vision.”

I suspect she appreciates him pointing this out to her.

“Right. I’m done now,” Tattletale replied.

“Is it such a problem?” Trickster leaned forward, “If you can give us answers about this thing, that’s good, right?”

Not if the answers are wrong because of the tunnel vision clouding possibilities from her intuition.

honk.

Tattletale shook her head, “If I’m digging deep enough for answers that I’m losing sight of other things, it means I’m probably speculating, and that tends to mean I’m generating false positives, heading down the wrong path to the wrong conclusions. I told Grue to stop me if I’m doing it, and Skitter’s right when she says we can’t anticipate what Bonesaw’s going to do, so it’s pointless anyways.”

I mean, to be fair, if anyone can anticipate it, it’s probably you.


“If we did want to take countermeasures,” I said, “We should maybe think about tracking down Amy. Or figuring out where she is.”

I kinda doubt we’re getting two Arcs in a row of the Undertravelers cooperating with Amy, as much as I’d enjoy that.

“Panacea?” Grue frowned. “She didn’t exactly leave us on good terms.”

“I know. But she can counteract whatever Bonesaw does.”

Hopefully, yeah.

“Unless she falls victim to it,” Tattletale said, sighing. “After two bad incidents downtown, I’d lay odds she’s heading up toward the docks. It gives her the best odds of finding a place that’s empty, where she and Glory Girl can hide out for-”

“Heads up!”

Makes sense to me.

So, uh.

Heads up for what?

I wasn’t sure who had shouted the warning, but I turned to look in the direction of the fighting, and I instantly knew it was Bonesaw’s work.

Huh. Didn’t expect anything so soon.

But is this the thing she had prepared, or something else she’s made?

The water was turning crimson. Where it was only one or two inches deep above the pavement, it turned a dark red that resembled blood. That alone might have been spooky enough, but it was spreading over hundreds of feet in a matter of seconds, and there was a thin red mist rising in its wake.

Holy fuck, I love this.

You, uh, might want to cover your breathing holes.


“Run!” Grue shouted.

I was on top of Atlas in an instant, and in the air a second later.

Oh yeah, that ought to help out.

But seriously, guys, try your darndest not to breathe in that mist. Or even let it touch your feetsies.

“How is it spreading so fast!?” I asked, while the others seated themselves on the two dogs.

“She must have set it up beforehand!” Tattletale called out. “Just needed the catalyst!”

I guess?

I didn’t feel the need to question that. It’s Bonesaw. Who the fuck knows what she can make these organisms do.

She checked to make sure Trickster and Sundancer were seated and had Bentley at an all out run a heartbeat later. Sirius followed just two steps behind, carrying Grue, Imp, Bitch and Ballistic. Regent joined me in the air, hanging in a less than dignified way from Shatterbird’s embrace.

Hehe. Yeah, dignity is a bit less important than getting away from that mist right now.

I needed only one glance to know they weren’t running fast enough.

Well, shit.

Alec and Taylor getting together to try to fix whatever this mist does to their friends, maybe seeking help from Amy (who might dodge this by way of Victoria flying them both out of reach)? That sounds like a fun premise.

How high does the mist go before it loses potency?

“Sundancer!” I shouted. “Cut it off!”

Oh yeah, I suppose if she evaporates the water between the mist and them…

It took her three or four seconds to pull an orb together, no larger than a basketball. It grew to twice the size as it flew, raking across the street to turn the pooled water into clouds of steam. I rose higher in the air to avoid being caught by the plumes of hot water. The steam turned from a clean white to pink and eventually red as the effect reached it.

That’s not good.

Sundancer’s miniature sun had slowed the progression down our flooded street, but it wasn’t enough. From my perspective, I could see the water on adjacent streets undergoing the same transformation, moving forward until it was adjacent to the others, then extending forward. It was a matter of time before it reached far enough forward that it passed through the side alleys and cut them off.

Welcome to this “low-intensity chapter”. Please, don’t mind the rapidly reddening water and the teens running for their lives. Your room is number 413, here’s your key, and I hope you enjoy your stay!


“Get to high ground!” I shouted.

It’ll be over, Anakin!

I hope this leads to them ending up at Palanquin.

Bentley leaped for the side of a building in an alleyway, scrabbled for a hold, then leaped to the building face behind him, attempting the zig-zag movement that the dogs had done so many times before.

Oh yeah, that makes more sense.

Except he wasn’t as agile as the other dogs, and I suspected he wasn’t as practiced at it as Brutus, Judas and Angelica had been. Added to that, he was carrying a heavy burden. One of his paws went through a window, he slipped, dug his claws into the wall and shifted to climbing the wall instead.

Whoops.

As long as he still gets up, I suppose that works.

It was too slow. The water turned crimson beneath him, and then the vapor began to rise, faster than Bentley was climbing.

Damn.

“Tattletale,” I breathed.

I massed thick clusters of bugs between them and the vapor, while Regent and Shatterbird followed Sirius and the others.

Yeeah, I doubt this one can be stopped by the bugs. At least it might give us some idea of what the vapor does, though.

It was enough to buy them time, but that meant precious little. No matter how much I pressed the bugs together into an airborne barrier, the vapor made its way through. Worse, the mist was rising to either side of them, approaching the top of the building.

Helped more than I would’ve expected, at least.

They reached the rooftop and Bentley heaved himself over the edge. They hopped off his back as they reached solid ground, and Tattletale stepped over to the corner of the roof to watch the rise of the red vapor.

Careful. You really don’t want to get into contact with the least bit of that.

It was only a floor beneath them.

Trickster pointed at the top of a building nearby, then looked up at me.

You want Taylor to land there?

I gathered my bugs there, again, pressing them together. Trickster looked increasingly impatient as the bugs massed, and the vapor reached the edges of the roof.

When they’re pressed together like this, can Trickster use them as a mass to replace people or other things with?


Danny just came to mind. I wonder if this gas affects mundanes.

At least it doesn’t seem to affect bugs.


I hurried over to the building, instead, then hopped off, sending Atlas over to the other rooftop. Trickster swapped me with Tattletale, and I hopped over to ferry myself to the roof again.

Oh, nice, that’s pretty clever.

Didn’t trust my ability to use Atlas to carry someone else, when I had to struggle to process his sensory inputs. Add someone else’s shifting weight and movements, and I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t drop them.

Yeah, that’s fair.

I was on the building again when Trickster swapped me for Sundancer. It left him, myself and Bentley standing on the rooftop.

Can Bentley get over there without a teleport?

I was on top of Atlas a second later, flying. The red mist crept in from the outside edges of the rooftop. He got on top of Bentley, looking less than comfortable holding the reins, and Tattletale whistled. It wasn’t as good as Bitch’s whistles, but Bentley perked up and ran, leaping for the side of a nearby building.

Well, let’s find out.


He and Trickster reached the second rooftop quickly enough. The mist was still rising, not just below us, but up around buildings nearly as far as the eye could see.

Niice.

Wait, does that imply that below this building there’s one of those mythical sanctuaries called “dry spots”? 😮

[I think past me missed the word “just”.]

“Shit,” Tattletale said. “Not good.”

Pfft. No shit, super-Sherlock. :p

Does your insight give you any idea of what this would do to you?

“There’s a taller building over there,” I pointed. “We should head there before the mist gets up here.”

Tall buildings. This city is just full of ‘em.

“I’d call it miasma,” Tattletale said. “And is there really any point?”

The word miasma has come up repeatedly for me recently. First it showed up in the Wheel of Time book I’ve been listening to, and then someone needed a reminder of the exact phrasing of “potent maternal miasma”, and now here.

This is the first time it’s actually mattered to know what the difference between miasma and other things that spread outward is, so I may finally have to look up what it actually means.

Hmm. Looks like it’s a folkloric kind of “bad air” that causes disease (also known as “night air”), or a mythological “contagious power that has an independent life of its own”. (Amusingly, the Wikipedia article for the mythological version has Panacea in the “see also” section.)

Incidentally, that means there’s no real physical grounds for what Lisa is saying here, unless she sees reason to not call it mist. It seems she’s just thinking “that’s a nicer word with connotations to ill effects”.


“It might stop rising,” I protested.

Or peter out in intensity at a certain height.

“It won’t.”

“Is that an educated guess or-”

“It’s not.”

Right.

Will it ever stop being generated, then, by whatever modified bacteria or algae or whatever Bonesaw has put in the water? What are they using as fuel for the reaction?

I found myself at a loss for words.

“What does it do?” I asked. “Poison? Something else?”

Poison? Come on, Taylor, were you listening to what Lisa said earlier? Seriously, just regular ol’ poison goes against almost everything she said about how Bonesaw thinks.

“Probably something else. Or it’s poison, but it’s designed to do something besides kill us. How are the others doing?”

Yeah, just killing them is way too boring and unartistic.

I looked for Grue and Regent using my swarm sense. Grue, Bitch, Ballistic and Sirius were on a rooftop lower than us, Regent directly above them. Cursory exploration with my bugs revealed a glass dome extending around the rooftop.

How–oh! Nice use of Shatterbird’s power they, Alec!

My bugs could fit through gaps in the glass, which meant the miasma would as well.

Yeah, might wanna tighten that a bit.

I did what I could to block up the holes, and I knew it was useless.

Brian. Rachel.

Oh jeez. Are we actually taking some casualties from this today?

“I think they’re caught,” I said. “I-I don’t know what to do.”

“You have a gun. You have your bugs. If the Nine are going to let their guards down, it’s going to be now. All the ones who are still left are priority targets. Finish off Siberian and taking Jack and Bonesaw out of action will be doable.”

Damn, straight to the point. Make sure to keep flying higher than the miasma has gotten, though.


“You’re saying I should leave you.”

“Yeah.” She looked down at the rising mist.

Better fucking hope whatever this does is reversible or liveable, because if the miasma spreads sideways over the rooftop they’re on soon, then Taylor’s going to be the only one not affected.

This chapter got heavy.

“No. That’s ridiculous. Let’s get you to higher ground.”

Spending time that could be used to take out the Nine, to give the others more time before the miasma hits them. I have the feeling Lisa’s going to continue arguing that it’s pointless.

“It’s futile. You’d be buying us a little time, but this is looking pretty inevitable. Your time is better spent going after the Nine. If you can’t find them, or if it’s too dangerous, find Panacea.”

Makes sense, at this point. Especially if the effect of the miasma is a one-time thing rather than something that worsens the longer you spend in it.

“This isn’t negotiable. I- I can’t do anything for Grue and Rachel and Ballistic, Regent tried and he failed. Let me do this for you.”


(There are two characters from Steven Universe I associate with this line, and they’ve been assigned to Brian and Amy [here], but I’m going to let you get away with borrowing it this time, Taylor.)


Tattletale frowned. “Fine. But you’ll have to hurry. That’s a lot of distance to cover, and the miasma’s nearly here.”

Gotta be sure you can get back, too.

Trickster cut in, “Gather bugs together like you were doing, remember that they’re not as dense as our bodies are, so we need more than you’d think if I’m going to swap them for one of us.”

That makes sense, yeah. So he can use them like this, that’s handy.

I nodded and flew for the tallest building in the area. I turned around and waited for Trickster to swap me.

He didn’t. They stood at the roof’s edge, looking my way, and the dark red miasma climbed up the sides of the building around them.

Dammit, Trickster.

Are the two of you trying to make Taylor go off already but just willingly submitting yourselves to the miasma?

It felt like my heart dropped out of my chest. Brian, Rachel, now Lisa?

I guess she doesn’t particularly care about the Travelers compared to the Undersiders.

I couldn’t afford to turn around and confront them -time was too short- so I focused on gathering my bugs. I clustered them together, pressing them into a largish human shape. How many was enough?

Was he lying by implying that he was going to perform the swap?

I felt a jarring sensation as Trickster swapped my bugs to his location. Sundancer appeared beside me.

Okay, I think I see what’s going on. He didn’t want to swap Taylor to them because she’d have to wait for Atlas to get back and might get caught by the miasma herself that way.

Also, Trickster is very likely going to prioritize himself next, possibly being too late to save Lisa.

“Why?” I asked.

She shook her head, “They didn’t say anything. They were both really quiet while you flew off, and then Tattletale said ‘It doesn’t look like her plan will work out. Tell her I’m sorry.’

Oh jeez.

So they let Sunny go over there because she was the only one who actually wanted it.

Trickster teleported me here before I could say anything or ask what she meant.”

Well, maybe. Seems she didn’t get a say in the matter.


“Why isn’t he telporting Tattletale out? Or himself? There’s still time for…” I looked at the cloud. Not enough time to save both, now. “He could save one of them, and I could probably get Atlas there and get out of harm’s way before the miasma reached me.”

Yeah… they’ve given up.

“His power gets slower with distance and difference in mass,” Sundancer hugged herself, “Maybe it’s too slow, and he doesn’t think you’d have time to run. Or-”

Also a fair point.

“Or.” I said. The sentence didn’t deserve to be finished. There was the other reason. The notion that he was deliberately avoiding using his power, because he knew I didn’t have the time to get back to them before the miasma reached them.

Yep. It’s genuinely better for everyone if you manage to get out of this, it seems. If the miasma gets you, that might not be possible.

“Are you going to be okay?”

“I don’t know. When you’ve left, I’ll use my power, and I guess I’ll wait here until-” she stopped.

You’re immune to your power, right? Stick yourself in the middle of one of your suns, and the miasma might not be able to get you. Though you might go blind if you’re not immune to the brightness of the inside of a sun.

Until when? There was nothing saying this miasma of Bonesaw’s would disappear or settle anytime soon.

Especially if it’s continuously generated. You’d better hope they’re using a limited resource in the water to make this.


“I hate being alone,” Sundancer said. She settled into a sitting position. “It’s like, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually been on my own. When I was little, I was always with my mom, or always in school, always in afterschool activities. Ballet, violin, lyrical dance, voice lessons, acting lessons… never a moment to think for myself.

Sudden Sunny backstory and feels!

I wonder if some of those activities are part of why she named herself Sundancer.

Even after I stopped all that, I was with my friends. Always in a group.”

And this in a chapter where the girl who used to be lonely is facing the – probably temporary – loss of her friends to a seemingly unstoppable and nearly inescapable evil force.

But I’m not entirely sure Sundancer isn’t lonely, even in a group. Maybe her situation is set up to be a dark mirror of Taylor’s: Taylor used to be lonely until she joined the Undersiders. Sunny used to have friends, but now she’s lonely after joining the Travelers. Alone does not mean lonely and not alone does not mean not lonely.

I stared at Tattletale and Trickster. I couldn’t make out their faces, but my bugs could make out the shapes of sounds that had to be words. They were having a conversation, just like we were.

I can’t imagine theirs is much brighter.

“I remember you said it was lonely, being in the Travelers.”

Oh yeah, she did already make it that explicit.

“It was. It is. But I was still with them. Part of the group. The time I’ve spent in my territory is the longest I’ve spent on my own. Actually managing the territory, scaring off Hookwolf’s people, that was easy. Being all on my own was unfamiliar ground. Soul crushing. I wound up going back to Coil’s base and spending time with Noelle and Oliver.

Seems like she’d have been better off with an arrangement like what Grue and Imp have, but this doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you tell your boss while divvying up territories.

But being alone, agonizing over everything that’s been going on, no distractions…”

The miasma had reached the rooftop where Tattletale and Trickster stood.

Welp, here we go.

Trickster was pacing, while Tattletale stood with her back to me, her hand rubbing Bentley’s blunted snout.

It took only a few seconds for the mist to close in around them. There was no immediate reaction. The two teenagers and the dog simply stood, silhouettes in a stirring cloud of vapor that ranged from ruby-red to crimson in shade.

But are they still themselves? Are they standing there like that because they want to?

I swallowed past the growing lump in my throat.

“And now I’m alone,” Sundancer said. “You’re going to go after the Nine, and I’ll wait here, all on my own, going crazy as I wait and watch and see just what happens to them.”

And it’s not as easy as “hey, come with me”.

Man, if Trickster knew any of this it’d be downright cruel to send Sunny up here. Should probably have asked if she wanted to go, first.


“If I’ve picked up on anything over the last few months of wearing a costume, it’s that humans are stronger than you’d expect,” I said.

Legend, with finger guns: “eyyy”

It was as much to myself as to Sundancer. “We can endure a hell of a lot of punishment before we break, and even after we’re broken, we tend to keep on going. Could be physical punishment: getting stabbed, getting scarred, broken bones. Could be mental: losing a loved one, being tortured, even the way I feel like breaking down and crying over the fact that just about every other member of my team is probably fucked, but I’m holding myself together? Humans can put up with a hell of a lot.”

Yeah, true. If there’s anything that sets humans apart from many other animals, it’s endurance, mental and physical. We just won’t stop.

Of course, we’ve got nothing on certain microbes, but still.

“I don’t think this is the right time for optimism,” Sundancer said, bitter.

“Optimism?” I shook my head. “No. It’s a double-edged sword. If we weren’t so resilient, so tenacious as a species, I don’t think we’d be having this much trouble with Jack.

…also true.

I don’t think Mannequin or Siberian would even exist like they do now. I’d almost call it pessimistic. Almost.”

They would qualify as broken people that kept on going. Down a dark path, but they kept on going.

She didn’t reply.

“Speaking of Jack and Siberian-” I started.

You should probably get going?

“Go.”

I left, taking off and heading for the spot I’d left Legend. Looking over my shoulder, I could see Sundancer creating her orb and bringing it down on top of herself. As it had done back during our fight with Lung, it didn’t burn the area directly around her.

Ohh, nice. It’s like a little bubble the power doesn’t affect.

And Tattletale and Trickster… were still standing in the midst of the miasma. They weren’t reacting or doing anything, but they weren’t signalling for me to come back, either, and they weren’t hopping on top of Bentley to rejoin the action.

Maybe that’s its basic effect. No zombie apocalypse, just… unmoving people. Just standing there, eerie in their unresponsiveness. Quite possibly awake and physically unable to do anything, even use their powers.

Something was up, I just had no idea what.

I consoled myself with the bittersweet idea that Bonesaw would want to draw this out. It wouldn’t be as simple as murdering my teammates.

And simply paralyzing them doesn’t sound like the full effect, as eerie as it’d be when applied to a whole city.

It wasn’t exactly reassuring, especially when I thought back to what had happened to Brian, but it gave me hope that this wasn’t the last time I’d see my teammates. My friends.

I appreciate that the word is actually brought in here, emphasized like this. It helps to drive the point home.


I rose higher as I approached the epicenter of the miasma. It had continued to rise, and the place she’d used the catalyst was the place where the vapor had spread the most.

Makes sense, since it has had more time to rise.

I could see how it was threaded through the streets like veins, surrounding buildings in a crimson embrace, spilling out into the ocean.

Looks like blood, spreading in veins through the city… those are the artistic sensibilities of a biology tinker at work, for sure.

The water of the bay, I noticed, hadn’t changed. Was the salt killing whatever organisms she’d designed to spread this effect?

Oooh!

Now where can we find tons upon tons of salt and a way to make that rain down over the entire city…

There were areas of high ground where the effect was diminished or gone. There were hills here and there where the area hadn’t flooded and miasma wasn’t reaching so far into those spots.

You keep claiming there are dry spots, but I’m not sure I believe you.

Hopefully that meant the civilians wouldn’t be so affected; the high ground where flooding wasn’t an issue would also be the place where people congregated for shelter.

Makes sense.

However, these are also likely places the Nine might be hiding out, unless Bonesaw has made them immune to the effect.

And even if she has done that for herself and Jack, we still don’t know if she knew about Siberian’s real body.


I just realized something: Last chapter, I made note of the fact that Siberian had prioritized using his power to protect Bonesaw and Jack over his real body. I was forgetting the fact that the real body is immune to Siberian’s protection.


A series of bright flashes caught my attention. Between the distance and the cloud of red vapor, I could only barely make him out, but the staccato lasers let me identify him as Legend. He was fighting.

Oh hey, guess we know where to go. Legend is such a good beacon.

I wonder how he’s gonna take Taylor coming back after he told her to scram.

I sent my bugs down into the miasma, drawing them together into a swarm and placing them strategically, painting a mental picture of the area, the layout, and the positions of the combatants.

Yes, good.

Just to be safe, I drew closer to a rooftop. It wasn’t safe to land, but I had hopes the building would offer me some cover against Jack.

Smart.

I held the bulk of my swarm at bay, waiting for the moment I could assist Legend in fighting the Nine.

He wasn’t fighting the Nine.

Ah, shit. Hookwolf’s contingent? Someone brainwashed by the miasma?

Legend was shooting at teammates. He shouted something, but neither my ears nor my bugs were able to pick out the words.

So here’s the question: Is this self-defense, or has Legend himself been caught by the miasma and is the one to watch out for? The former is more likely considering he flies.

Also, does the miasma make the affected people attack each other, or just those unaffected?

Really wished I could use my bugs to hear.

That would be so handy.

Had they gone berserk? Rage?

No. I could sense others hiding. In fact, it seemed to be the primary concern of the people in the miasma.

…huh.

Hiding, staying out of trouble, putting distance between themselves and the others. Even Legend was pulling his punches. His lasers were nonlethal, as far as I could see.

Miasma of fear? Of disturbing peacefulness? Both?


Paranoia?

Oh man, yes, that’s a good one! Everyone’s afraid of the rest attacking them, and either hiding so they can’t, or making sure to attack first. And this way, people won’t be able to cooperate well, which has been one of the biggest problems the Nine have faced in this city.

Weld, who I identified by his lack of a costume and the metal growths on his shoulders, was standing with his back to a wall. His hands were blunt weapons, and he was swinging them through the air to threaten anyone who approached.

“Don’t you dare!”

“No, don’t you dare!”

A small figure who could only be Vista was backing away from two adults. She got too close to Legend, and he fired a spray of laser blasts at her.

Hm. Can she do much to stop those with her power?

I suppose she could make space do a little twist and redirect the lasers, but this is Legend. He can just twist them right back.

None hurt her or penetrated her costume, but she staggered and fell.

Also lasers are fast. If fictional lasers were as fast as they physically should be, you wouldn’t be able to see them before they hit you.


I could sense the ground bulge, spearing up in a pillar.

The ground, or the space containing it?

As the ground beneath them stretched in the pillar’s vicinity, others staggered or got disoriented. At the pillar’s top, a roughed-up Vista bent the growth she’d created to place herself close to the rooftop and hopped down onto solid ground. She coughed.

I’ll give you this, Bonesaw: You certainly made things interesting around here!

Seriously, out of all the ways to mess with a group of characters’ heads, paranoia is among the very best ones.

And Taylor’s teammates and friends are affected, too. If this is the extent of it, we might have quite an interesting Arc or so ahead of us of the Undertravelers being unable to cooperate properly.

Sunny’s gonna be an interesting case given her aversion to being alone mixing with an aversion to trusting others.

Okay, at least she wasn’t someone who could kill me if this went the wrong way. I called out, “Vista!”

Are you sure about that, Taylor? She may not be able to squeeze you directly, but I wouldn’t underestimate her. Especially when she’s like this.


She whirled on the spot to look at me, then swiftly began backing away.

Yeah, I was under no impression that Vista would trust Taylor.

I raised my hands to show her I meant no harm, “Hold on! I’m safe!”

Not gonna work.

“That’s just what they would say!” She retorted.

They?

Bet you’re even among those who work to keep up the illusion that Bielefeld exists!

So does this paranoia instill the idea that everyone is some enemy in disguise, rather than that the person they actually are has turned on you?

“Who? The Nine? In what universe would I be a member of the Nine?”

Oh, I think there are some of those. The only reason you weren’t a nominee was that none of the people picking the nominees related specifically to you.

“Shut up! Don’t try to convince me! Just… just back off! Leave me alone until all this stops!”

Assuming it will stop on its own.

She was breathing so hard I could see her shoulders rising and falling through the protective suit she wore.

A thought struck me. It was working through the suit? The mask had to have filters for smoke, why hadn’t it worked against this miasma?

Hm. I was going to argue, but I suppose that assumption makes sense considering they’re in suits meant to be used in a battle involving fire.


“I just want to help.”

“Leave!”

Leaving is probably the best thing you can do for her right now.

She used her power, extending the pillar she had used to ascend to the rooftop. It missed me by a wide margin, but the threat was clear enough.

“at least she wasn’t someone who could kill me”

I regretted it the instant I did it, but I moved forward to avoid any further movements from the shaft of asphalt.

Oh boy.

If I was going to fall, I wanted to land on the roof, instead of the alleyway a dozen stories below.

Fair enough, but then you’d be stuck on the roof with a paranoid Vista.

“No!” The word was as much a scream as anything else. She extended the shaft well over my head and then pinched it off so the top part fell.

Time to get the fuck out of the way!

I’d seen her fight Leviathan, and she’d done the same thing then, if on a somewhat bigger scale. I had Atlas carry me out of the way and watched the teardrop shaped piece of asphalt crash to the floor of the alley.

Seriously. Do not underestimate her.


That, apparently, was enough to get Legend’s attention. He rose from the street level and surveyed the scene. He’d taken off the hazmat-style mask and filter, and what little I could see of his expression was drawn.

Shit.

By the way, I concluded that he was affected when it became clear that one explanation could cover both him and his targets.

His eyes were narrowed, a vein stood out on his forehead, and he furtively looked from Vista to me and back again.

“Legend,” I started. How was I supposed to address him when he was like this? When I didn’t even know what was going on with them?

He probably thinks the two of them are conspiring or something.

Not that it mattered. He raised one hand in my direction, and I veered away, taking evasive maneuvers. It missed me by a foot, circled around and struck me off of Atlas before I could cancel out his momentum and change direction.

Yeeah, Taylor, this is not the best of situations.


I think it’s time to stop for the night. See you tomorrow, if they don’t get me first.

[End of session]


[Session 2]


You’re all just after my liveblogs!

(#well you’re getting them)


Legend had clearly set his lasers to ‘stun’, but it still hurt. Hitting the rooftop hurt more.

Heh, I see what you did there.

I could feel a piece of armor crack beneath my weight, hear my things spilling to the ground.

Taylor’s armor is pretty sturdy, so that says a lot.

I coughed out half a lungful of air and involuntarily sucked in another breath to cough again. It was humid, tasting slightly off, almost stagnant.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, did she just breathe in the miasma?

When I opened my eyes, I was seeing red, and not in the metaphorical sense. I was in the midst of the miasma.

Yep. Paranoid Taylor incoming.


Still coughing, I struggled to my feet. The back compartment of my armor had cracked as my weight had come down on the lip of the roof. My weapons, the epipens, the cell phone and the changepurse lay on the ground.

I’m guessing she might find herself with a need for some of this stuff later, but having had to leave the things behind on this rooftop.

“Stay down!” the junior heroine screamed.

I wonder how quickly Taylor’s own paranoia sets in.

If I hadn’t still been reeling from my fall, I might have been able to avoid it. As it was, the section of rooftop behind me bulged up into a wall and then folded down over on top of me.

Hm. Well, at least if Vista limits it to keeping Taylor down rather than squeezing her, it might protect Taylor from Legend.

It bent to accommodate my shape rather than crush me, leaving only my head and shoulders sticking out.

Hah, nice.

“If you try that trick on me, little girl, I’ll shoot you,” I heard the threat from the air above us.

I suppose she could do it with an arm of asphalt or brick reaching out to grab him, Lapis-style.

This was going south, fast.

Yeeah.

“I’m going to turn my back and run,” she responded. “If you try shooting me in the back, I’ll show you what I can really do.”

This is a good way of dealing with this, honestly. Mayking it explicit what she intends to do. Though there is the issue of whether Legend believes her.

Also, let’s hope for Taylor’s sake that Vista’s changes wear off on their own after a while.


There was anger in the threat that caught me off guard. Was it this miasma that had pushed her to that level of anger?

Y’know, when she put the word “paranoia” on it, I really thought she’d figured it out, but she hasn’t been acting like it.

I wasn’t feeling anything like that. Had something about the way he had talked provoked her? Or was that the norm for her?

Hmm. Y’know, I was assuming it just takes a little time to set in, but what if Taylor’s power makes her immune or resistant to toxins because of her affinity to bugs? Granted, she was still affected by the paralysis dust and partially affected by the anti-power elements in that…

I tried to think back to my prior experiences with her and found nothing.

As in, you don’t remember her acting anything like this, or you don’t remember your prior experiences at all?

The latter would be a result of the miasma trying to suppress anything in your memories that would tell you to trust people. This would also explain why Legend called her “little girl” rather than her name, if that’s not just an indication of disrespect.

(We do know Taylor remembered Vista from the Leviathan fight, at least before she ended up in the miasma.)

What was her name?

Yep, there we go, it’s setting in and removing all reason for Taylor to trust anyone.


Was I suffering from brain damage? Another concussion?

And there goes the knowledge that Bonesaw is behind this.

Maybe the space girl did it! Or the pew pew guy! 😮

I did a series of multiplication, addition and subtraction in my head and found no problems on that front. Not general brain damage, apparently.

Amnesia?

Sort of, yeah. Very specific amnesia, targeted to make you feel a certain way about everyone around you.

My name is Skitter, I thought, Taylor Anne Hebert. Sixteen. Born in Brockton Bay.

Oh hey, got some new information here. Taylor got a middle name after, presumably, her mom (Annette to Anne is not a big leap), and apparently she’s sixteen rather than fifteen like I’ve been thinking. I suppose it makes sense she would be, considering this started in the later half of the school year and the school year was how I worked out the age. My mistake on that part.

Also, I like how she’s putting her cape name before her civilian name now. It fits with the way her cape life has taken over.

Student at Winslow High. Ex-student. Member of the Undersiders.

Yeeah, I don’t think you can really call yourself a student there anymore. It’s been at least a month or two since you were last there, and you don’t seem to have any intentions of going back.

No problems on that front.

My line of thought continued absently, as if I wanted to reassure myself that I was mentally intact. My parents are Dan Hebert and Annette Rose Hebert.

I’m gonna go ahead and headcanon that Taylor’s maternal grandmother’s name was Roseanne and giving daughters a shortened version of their mother’s first name as a middle name is a tradition from that side of the family.


I struggled, wiggling to try and free myself from the hump of solid concrete. I could inch myself out.

Oh nice, so she’s not entirely stuck until this wears off or Vista undoes it.

I’m guessing Vista has run off by now? But Legend is probably still a threat.

What would my mom think to see me now?

“Does my daughter wrapped in concrete count as a sandwich?”

I tried to picture her expression.

Again, that gap, the chasm. Nothing.

Hm. Can she not remember their faces? Or is it specifically the idea of how her mom would act, designed to make her not know if she could trust her mom not to take advantage of the situation in some way?

I could have been hit by five more of those laser blasts on ‘stun’ and it wouldn’t have hit me as hard as the realization that I couldn’t remember my mother. Couldn’t remember her face, the details, her mannerisms. Even the happy memories we’d shared, the little moments I’d clung to over the past two years, they were gone.

All she has is the name.

And even that might slip soon.

There was only an empty void where they should have been.

I couldn’t remember my dad, either.

This is a really heavy chapter and I love it.

The other Undersiders, their faces, their costumes, their personalities and mannerisms, all gone. I could remember what we’d done: the bank robbery, fighting Purity’s group, lazing around in the old loft, even the general progression of events from the moment I’d met them. But the people were blanks waiting to be filled in, and I couldn’t go from thinking about one name to thinking about the events that were related to it.

In other words, she has no idea who anyone is. And by the sound of it, she’d know there are enemies in town, but not who any of them are. The way this all leads to the reaction of “that’s what they would say!” is becoming clear.

I felt a rising panic as I struggled to work myself free. I didn’t know the people who were on the rooftop with me: the man who floated in the air, wearing a sturdy hazmat-style firesuit and a blue and silver mask that left only his mouth, chin and wavy brown hair exposed. I couldn’t recognize the girl he was shooting in the back.

Ah, shit, he did it. I guess it’s time for Legend vs Vista, full power.

I saw her fall face first and writhe with pain. He shot her two more times, and she went limp. Out cold.

…or that can happen.

Hey, at least this way we get a solid answer to something I questioned back in Agitation: Does knocking out Vista immediately undo her changes?


I couldn’t make the mental connection between the Nineand their appearances or their powers. If I didn’t have the benefit of being able to remember my actions over the past few minutes, it would have been impossible to say whether the two people here were allies or enemies.

Well, that’s something, at least.

But yeah, this kinda puts a major spanner in the works for your main objective in this chapter.

Everything suddenly made sense. The infighting, the tactics they were using, the mixture of hostility and paranoia. Legend was attacking with nonlethal blasts because he couldn’t be sure if he was attacking a teammate or one of the Nine, so he was striving to take everyone out of action with as little permanent damage as possible.

Yeah, sounds about right.

Sundancer’s worries about being alone struck me. We were all alone, now. Every single one of us.

Huh. It’s interesting that Taylor manages to connect that to the name Sundancer.

And yeah, I don’t remember if I said anything about it – if I didn’t, I should have – but I realized at some point during yesterday’s session the connection Taylor is pointing out here. It’s a good throughline.

From teams to individuals, everyone was fending for themselves because they couldn’t afford to trust the others.

And it would ruin us.

Yep. This is a pretty damn harsh punishment by the Nine and I love it.


It would be impossible to mount any kind of defense against the Nine if we were fighting them as individuals.

I mean, to be fair, that’s exactly what you were trying to fly off to do. But getting affected by the miasma changes a lot.

The man with the blue and silver mask floated over to where I was, ready to dispatch me, to knock me out, just in case I was a threat.

Might wanna get the hell out of dodge, if you can.

“Help?” I called out. It was a spur of the moment response. My mind raced as I tried to form a plan.

Yeeah, unlikely to work.

Even a bad one would serve. I lied, “I’m stuck. Break me out?”

It seems I was right back in Agitation: Knocking out Vista doesn’t revert what she’s done. Not immediately, anyway. Maybe killing her would, though.

I stared up at him. His face was riddled with conflicting emotions, his body language tense. There was a nervousness there that belied simple amnesia.

Hmm. Paranoid or not, he is a hero at the core.

We’d been warned about drinking the city’s water. It might mean the effects were more pronounced for the people who hadn’t been informed. Or there might be side effects.

Hm, perhaps. But I doubt that applies to Legend?

“Stay,” he ordered.

He stayed at the level of the rooftop as he floated out above the street, aiming more blasts at the others.

Fair enough. Looks like he decided to trust her enough to believe she was stuck and couldn’t do much from there, but not enough to let her free. Basically, “I might not need to knock her out but I’m not going to give her free reign.”


This wasn’t rational for him, it didn’t jibe with my knowledge of him.

What knowledge? That he’s knocking everyone out?

That could mean there was something about the miasma that was making him irrational.

Sure.

I waited for long minutes as he continued firing down on the others. He cast me one sidelong glance, then flew off in pursuit of someone I couldn’t see.

This whole thing oddly enough doesn’t change that much between Legend and Taylor. He was already unsure what to make of her.

Even after I was able to start wiggling myself free, it was slow. I measured my progress in half-inches. My chest, small as it was, proved an issue.

Awkward.

…did I accidentally predict this predicament by opening this chapter’s intro post with “Let’s wiggle a bit”?

Coupled with the armor at my front and the remains of the armor at my back, it made getting free an issue. Several times, I stopped breathing for a good minute before I forced myself back under the concrete sheet to be able to breathe again, then I did it again.

Damn, girl’s good at holding her breath.

As much through the wear and tear on my armor as anything else, I managed to slide my upper body out on the fifth attempt. I took a second to breathe and rest, and then began the slow process of getting my midsection and hips past the mouth of the concrete shelf.

wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle


I directed every curse word I knew at the belt and armor panels I’d placed around my hips as I tried to work myself free.

While this is better writing, I would honestly have enjoyed actually seeing this string of curses written out.

My hips and rear end were proving as difficult as my chest had been, and with my upper body being further away, I couldn’t get the same leverage push myself out with my arms. Minutes passed as I grunted and struggled.

Surely this all is someone’s fetish.

I could hear inarticulate screams, shouted threats, screamed warnings and the noise of destruction on the street below as paranoia gave way to violence.

I doubt only the capes are affected, so I’m sure some of the civilians are fighting too.

I brought Atlas to my side, but even with his strength and his horn, he wasn’t strong enough to affect the concrete.

At least she remembers Atlas.

I used his help to squeeze myself out, bracing his horn against the lip of the concrete sheet and pulling.

Nice.


When I was free, I gathered my knife, baton and gun from where they had fallen and fit them into the few remaining elastic loops in my ruined utility compartment.

Oh, alright, she’s still getting some of it with her.

Cell phone was a yes, but I didn’t have a spot for it, so I tucked it in the chest compartment of my armor.

The cell phone is potentially useful for getting around the paranoia. It contains contacts that she can be reasonably sure are people she can trust to some extent.

Similarly, I stuck the epipens and changepurse through the space between my hip and the belt, wedging them in next to the straps.

I double checked that Atlas hadn’t been hurt by Legend’s lasers and then climbed on top of him.

That’s the second time Legend’s lasers have been tied to his name after she stopped remembering who’s who. But each time, she’s been thinking about something that happened before that point, just like the mention of Sundancer having issues with being alone (in the paragraph directly following the first instance of this). Does she remember that the name is tied to the power, but not that the person with that power is the one with that name?

There was destruction below, and signs of the mad fighting between capes. Sheets of paper frozen in time, a mailbox destroyed, a light-post toppled, all still in the midst of the red water.

This is gonna be such a nightmare for Piggot to clean up, PR-wise.

Everyone had fled or been knocked out of commission. The fighting had migrated to several scattered spots nearby.

I didn’t know exactly what to do, so I focused on helping the wounded, making sure they were okay.

But what if the wounded are members of the Nine? 😮

I turned an unconscious girl over into the recovery position, and started to drag a wounded man out of the middle of the road. I stopped when he started struggling and fighting with me and just left him there.

“What if she’s a member of the Nine? :o”


I felt lost. Was I helping the enemy when I was propping someone up to make sure they didn’t choke on their own vomit or drown in a puddle? If I used the plastic cuffs I had in the changepurse, would I be tying someone up, leaving them helpless against one of the Nine?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I checked my cell phone. No service.

Well that’s helpful.

This is a satellite phone. What did they do to stop it? Do they have jammers of some kind? Or was the phone damaged in the fall?

I was alone here. Everyone in the world was a stranger.

When it first started, Sundancer’s spiel about being alone seemed to come kind of out of nowhere, but it has turned out to be incredibly thematically important to the chapter. Well done.

Vibrations rocked the street. I saw the wounded man stir in response.

What now? My first thought after the supposedly deceased Crawler was Behemoth, but I highly doubt he’s showing up right now.

Oh man, y’know, Dragon would be really good to have here right now. She’s immune to the miasma, and people might even not forget her the way they do most people, even if they don’t know why not.

A monster. Bigger than a car, fangs, teeth, claws, and a thorny exterior. It didn’t act like it had seen me.

Ooh, a hellhound?

…this could turn out badly.

One of Bitch’s dogs? Or is it Crawler?

Apparently Taylor still remembers that someone named Bitch on her team has hellhounds.

But not that Crawler is supposed to be dead.


If it was Crawler, and I acted like he was friendly, he’d tear me to shreds. I could draw my gun to threaten him, defend myself… except that wouldn’t do a thing to slow Crawler down.

And she can still connect the name Crawler to his power, just not to his appearance.

If it was one of Bitch’s dogs sans rider, then there was little point in staying. I didn’t even know if it was suffering from the miasma’s effect. If it was Crawler…

The miasma didn’t appear to affect bugs, but bugs and dogs have very different brains.

I drew my bugs around me as a shroud, simultaneously forming decoy swarms. I ran, my footsteps splashing, and called Atlas to me. The second I was out of sight, I climbed on top of him and took to the air once again.

Yeah, time to go.

Couldn’t settle down, couldn’t stop. I had to treat everyone I met as an enemy.

That’s how everyone is thinking, and look where that’s getting us.

I was beginning to see where the paranoia came in.

Yeah.


“Skitter!” a voice called out.

!

Someone remembers her name!

I stopped.

A blond girl, waving at me.

Victoria? Lisa?

Oh right, Lisa would be resistant to this, wouldn’t she. Just like she’s implied to be resistant to Imp’s power.

I drew my gun and leveled it at her.

Yikes.

The smile dropped from her face. She brought both hands to her mouth as she shouted, “It’s me! Tattletale!”

You say that, but…

I hesitated.

How tragic would it be if I shot my friend, so soon after I’d wanted to scream at the heroes for fighting among one another?

Very. Do not shoot your friend.

“How did you get here?”

“On the dog. I don’t remember its name, but it wasn’t as affected as we were. This effect is tailored for people.”

Makes sense.

I looked in the direction of the creature I’d seen. Had that been the dog they’d come on?

They? So Trickster and maybe Sunny are here too?

I drew closer, but I kept the gun aimed at her. I glanced around. “Where are the others?”

“Most are hiding,” she said. “My powers kind of let me work around this gas, I think. I brought Grue, too.”

How is he working around it? Is he keeping a bit of darkness in contact with Lisa to borrow some of her awareness? Except it seems to me that Taylor would notice that.

I looked around. What she was saying felt right, even if I couldn’t remember her powers, specifically. “What is this? Amnesia?”

Kind of.

Agnosia. We haven’t forgotten. Just… can’t use the knowledge we have.

Huh. I didn’t know that was a thing.

Looking at the others, I think they’re hallucinating. If it’s prions, like Bonesaw used with the power nullification darts, it fits. Hallucinations would match with heavy prion exposure.”

Interesting.


“Prions?”

“They’re small enough to pass through water filtration and gas masks.

Ah, thus answering Taylor’s question earlier about how the miasma was affecting the people with gas masks to help against smoke.

Badly folded proteins that force other proteins into identical shapes, perpetuating the problem. If she found a way to guide them, or specifically target the parts of the brain she wanted, she might get results like we’re experiencing. In a really bad case, it’d cause lesions in the brain and give you hallucinations.”

Makes sense.

I looked around. “How long does it last?”

“Forever. It’s incurable and it’s terminal.”

Well, fuck.

I swallowed. “But Panacea could fix it.”

If you can figure out who Panacea is and get her to trust you.

She nodded, then smiled wide. “There’s hope, right?”

“Right.”

She jerked her head to one side, then used one hand to brush the hair back out of her face. “Let’s grab Grue and formulate a plan.”

Or, I suppose, let Grue borrow Panacea’s power to fix it, but if she’s not confident when dealing with brains…

She turned to leave, but I stayed where I was. After three steps, she turned around. “What’s wrong?”

“How can I trust that you’re not leading me to the Nine’s clutches?”

I didn’t lower the gun. “Sorry, a little paranoid.”

She frowned. “That’s fair, but we’re short on time. If others are getting lesions on their brain, then that means they could die soon. Seizures, violent mood swings, loss of motor control… Creutzfeldt-Jakob was a prion disease, but the progression here’s faster.”

I suppose the mood swings are part of what would make Legend act more irrationally than usual.

I shook my head. “Crews-what?”

Yeah, I’m not familiar with it either. But I can tell you’re probably saying it wrong, Taylor. It’s clearly a German name, so it’d be pronounced “Croyts-felt (Yah-kob)”.

“Neurological disorder caused by eating the meat of a cow infected with mad cow disease. You get the prions in your head, and you slowly die while suffering personality changes, memory loss and vivid hallucinations.”

“And it’s faster here.”

Eesh.

Actually, now that mad cow disease is mentioned, I think I might’ve heard about it after all. Just sat way back in my head.


She nodded. Her expression was solemn. “Hours instead of weeks. And as people experience mood shifts with anger and fear, or if the hallucinations get worse-”

They start killing each other before the prions do.

“The fighting among teammates will, too,” I finished. “It could get ugly.”

“If we’re going to save everyone, we need Amy. For that, we need to ask Cherish.”

Ohh, yeah, good idea. And since the redness doesn’t spread to the sea, she won’t be affected.

Though she’s not exactly trustworthy anyway.

I shook my head. “Who?”

“Um. You remember capturing a member of the Nine?”

Two, even?

Did I? We’d ambushed them, walked away with captives, yes. But we’d lost someone too.

Yep.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“And we confined one?”

I nodded. This was working. I could piece together the information. We’d called that person on a phone, hadn’t we? “Cell phones aren’t working consistently.”

For some reason.

“Is it safe?” a male voice asked.

Hiya, Grue.

“Sure.”

I stayed silent.

He stepped out from around the corner to stand by the blond girl. “This is Skitter?”

Nice to meet you!

 


She nodded.  “Skitter, this is Grue.”

I didn’t recognize him any more than he recognized me.  I kept the gun trained on them.

“This is slowing us down.  What’s it going to take to get you to trust me?” she asked.

Good fuckin’ question.

What would it take?

“The fight with Empire Eighty-Eight’s mooks.  When I made the human-shaped tower of bugs for the first time, and they shot into it while I crouched inside…”

That was with Bitch, not Tattletale.

She shook her head “I don’t remember that.”

How many people had I been with, then?  I would have said one, but I felt like someone else was involved.  Had they arrived late?  I could remember hurrying off.

I guess maybe she’s remembering that Grue was there after the fight.

She spread her arms wide.  “I’m sorry.  I might not look like it, but it’s affecting me too.  I’m just using my power to uncover the answers we need.”

It’s very much a useful power to have in this situation.

I nodded.  That would have been reassuring if I could remember what her powers were, or if I could think of something about her I could quiz her on.  It was like two blind people playing hide and seek.

That actually sounds kinda fun. Relying on other senses both to hide and to find each other.

“Look, come here,” she offered.

I hesitated.

“You can keep the gun.  I’ll keep my hands above my head.  Grue, stand back.”

What does she have in mind now?

He stepped away and leaned against a wall, his arms folded.

I landed Atlas and stepped forward.

She got on her knees, and with her hands above her head, she walked through the flooded street on her knees until her forehead was pressed against the barrel of the gun.

This does not seem like the greatest idea so far.

“I trust you.  I know I’m a pain in the ass sometimes, I know we’ve had our ups and downs.  I know I’ve kept way too many secrets for someone who calls herself Tattletale…” She smiled. “But I trust you.  Now, even if you don’t recognize me consciously, what’s your heart telling you?”

“I know you’re in there somewhere.”


In truth?  It wasn’t telling me much.  If I didn’t think on it, if I just went with the vague impression I associated with the name Tattletale, the smile, the fountain of information…

I backed away a step.  “I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to trust you.”

Honestly, same.

“Darn it.  Um.  Let me think…”

“Do you want to go ahead without her?” the guy asked.

That would be less than ideal.

I turned to look at him.  The idea of being left alone here-

“Go somewhere safe,” he suggested.

Grue does seem to trust Skitter on Tattle’s word, and defaults to his usual concern for the safety of his teammates.

I frowned.

“If the Slaughterhouse Nine find Panacea first, or if things get much worse-”

“I want to help, really,” I said.  “But it’s just that…”

It’s just that you don’t know if they’re the Nine or not?

I trailed off.

“You want to help, but you’re suspicious.  And you feel bad for being suspicious, because of everything we’ve been through, our close calls?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  I was double checking everything he said against my own awareness.  Was he saying anything that indicated he knew something I couldn’t?

Everything they’ve been through…

“I know how scared and suspicious you feel because I feel the same way.  Except I trust Tattletale.”

Why, exactly?

If you tell Taylor why you trust Lisa, that might help unlock Taylor’s trust.

“I do too,” I said, “And I’d trust her if I could be sure she was Tattletale.”

“Trust your heart.”

Hmm. Fair enough, I guess.


I wanted so desperately for it to be like in the movies, where people could trust your heart.  Where you were holding the gun and you had to choose between shooting the evil clone and shooting your friend, and you just knew.

Yeah, it’s not that easy in this world, huh.

He gestured around us with one hand. “This doesn’t work.  This is going to lose us the fight, and all the danger we’ve been through in our fight against the Nine will be for nothing if they win here.”

Echoing some of Taylor’s own sentiments here.

I shook my head.  “I don’t disagree, but that line of thinking isn’t going to make me drop the gun.”

“Then can I try acting from my heart?”  he asked.

I swear, if this leads to a kiss, I’m…

…actually gonna enjoy that a lot.

Before I could respond, he started approaching me.  I backed away a step, kept the gun leveled, but I couldn’t bring myself to shoot as he advanced.

He stepped in close, ignoring the gun, and wrapped his arms around me.  My forehead pressed against his shoulder.  It wasn’t the most comfortable hug I’d had, not that I’d had many.

Okay, close enough.

It felt awkward, stiff, clumsy.  But somehow that made it feel more right, like a real hug would have felt off somehow.

A real hug wouldn’t seem right because for most intents and purposes, you don’t know each other.


He was warm.

Grue?

Then, without waiting for me to give an answer, Grue stepped back, taking hold of my left hand and pulling.  I followed without complaint.  I couldn’t complain.  If I doubted him now, after this-  I’d be ten times as angry at myself as he was with me.

Looks like it worked.

“Priority number one, we get in contact with Cherish,” Tattletale said, grinning.  “From there, we can decide whether we want to track down Panacea or go after the Slaughterhouse Nine.”

“Right,” I said.

The Undersiders are back in business. Well, part of them.

“Keep checking your cell phone.  The second we have service, call Coil.”

“Coil is?”

“Our boss, and since he’s hidden away, he won’t be affected, so he’ll be able to place the name and fill us in on the details the agnosia has blocked from us.”

That’s assuming he wasn’t out on a grocery shopping trip when this hit.

“Okay.”

“It’s not the end of the world after all,” Tattletale smiled.

I nodded.  I was acutely aware of the gun in my right hand.  I felt like I should put it away, but with the way we were moving and my general sense of unease, I couldn’t stop and do it.  Hated this.  It reminded me of school.

I suppose she couldn’t trust anyone at school either, in case they were in with the Harpies. Like that one girl from before her trigger event.

The reminder made me angry, and it somehow made all of this seem worse.  I muttered, “Sooner we’re fucking cured of this miasma, the better.”

“Hey!”  Tattletale paused, pointing at me with a stern expression on her face.  “Don’t swear!”

Are you just messing with Taylor now?

Or did the miasma genuinely make you not like swearing? That does sound like something Bonesaw might do. :p

But it should be affecting Taylor too in that case, I suppose.

[Did you guys hear a whooshing sound?]


End of Prey 14.8

Ahh, yes, a lightweight, low-intensity dénouement chapter indeed.

Sure.

No, but seriously, this was great. I really love everything about this one, from the aesthetic of the city under the miasma’s effect, to the mad scramble to avoid the effect, to Sundancer revealing how much she’s a dark mirror of Taylor in terms of loneliness and friendship as Taylor is facing her friends giving themselves up to an unknown threat, to Legend and Vista, to the precise effect of the miasma, to Lisa bringing them together but Brian ultimately being the one to make Taylor trust them… Just, everything. This was a damn good chapter and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this plays out from here.

The final line of the chapter was kinda weird, I suppose. It feels like a joke I didn’t quite get, but there are ways to read it that don’t seem so jokey.

Anyway, next chapter, I guess they’re off to find proper reception so they can call Cherish and find out where Amy is. Man, if Cherish enjoyed trying to sow seeds of discord before… Hell, she might even be jealous at Bonesaw for managing to do this so effectively.

There’s also Coil, who’d be a good resource if Lisa is right about him being safe from the miasma.

Finding Amy isn’t enough. They also need to get rid of the miasma, which would likely require finding either Bonesaw, a fuckton of salt, or both. This ain’t gonna be easy, and I’m surprised it seems we’re doing this in the same Arc. Unless we’re going right into the next one from here, perhaps with an Interlude next chapter. We’ll have to see.

If that’s the case, maybe the next Arc is titled something like Spray (might be a little too close phonetically to Prey), or Cannibal(ism), or… something else that might indicate bugs turning on each other. I don’t know.

So yeah, see you next time!


[postscript]

Undersiders are confused 3

Undersiders are confused 2

Prey 14.8 was a really good chapter.

(#my art #kinda #used a creator #still though
#i had to pick out the pokémon from the list and such
#and yes that’s brian the umbreon
#taylor the beedrill
#lisa the psyduck
#bonesaw the togepi
#jack slash the scyther
#and siberian’s creator the primeape
[actually a Mankey])

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3 thoughts on “Prey 14.8: Potent Agnosic Miasma

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