Prey 14.10: Of Honor and Freedom

Source material: Worm, Prey 14.10

Originally blogged: September 9, 2018


Well this is a fine pickle. Let’s see how Taylor solves this!

Last time, Taylor once again proved much smarter than me, even though I was supposed to figure it out before she did. Hell, I had a major advantage, even, and she still beat me to it. Let’s see if I can be less of an idiot this chapter. :p

She was still fooled long enough for it to count, though, and now Jack and Bonesaw know where Amy (and seemingly Victoria, who might be an issue for them) is, and intend to make it so she isn’t. There or elsewhere.

Oh cod, Bonesaw probably wants to turn her into part of an amalgamate so she can use Amy’s power on her creations like she asked of Amy in Interlude 11h. I’m guessing she’d find it appropriate to mash her up with Victoria in particular, if she knows anything about their relationship.

Meanwhile, Taylor needs to do what she can to save Amy and probably Victoria. She has a couple school stories worth of time to do it, but I kinda doubt it’ll be that easy.

I’m guessing we’ll see the return of some of the tactics she used last time she was protecting Amy from one of the Nine, such as using her bugs to reduce visibility for the Nine, and perhaps setting decoys in a bunch of spots in Arcadia High. She should probably make the decoys seem to collapse if sliced through, so the Nine have to take a closer look to determine if they got Amy or not.

Like I mentioned at the end of the previous chapter, I have a feeling Bonesaw will die soon, possibly in this chapter, but Jack might make a break for city limits.

I don’t really know what else to speculate on, so I think it’s time to jump in and see what Taylor does with this situation!


Arcadia high was the school every kid in Brockton Bay wanted to attend. A big part of that was the fact that everyoneknew that the Wards attended Arcadia, and attending meant that any one of your classmates could be a superhero or superheroine.

Not that great if it turns out that classmate is your bully.

Sophia was a bit of an exception here, though. I suppose it was probably because of her background that they didn’t enroll her to Arcadia. Or maybe Winslow was just a lot more practical choice for her.

To anyone else, you could just as easily be one, too. It wasn’t a rich kid’s school like Immaculata, but it was a good school.

Certainly better than Winslow, I should hope.

Every classmate treated other classmates with the utmost respect.

I don’t believe that and I don’t think you do either, Taylor, as much as your daydreams of going to a different school may have caused you to convince yourself of this.

Both the students and the school itself maintained a certain status and pride as a consequence.

Much to the pleasure of its principal, Abacus Cinch.

I’m sure Piggot has pulled some strings to improve this school’s PR, too. After all, it’s where the Wards go, and if the PRT is giving the Wards education at a reputable establishment, the Wards in turn seem more reputable themselves.


The windows of the building were all shattered, empty of glass, and the fields were a patchwork of overgrown grass and mud. Now it was something else, and it inspired entirely different feelings.

Now it’s a battleground.

Now any of your classmates could be one of the Slaughterhouse Nine.

To anyone else, you could just as easily be one, too.

The front gate looked like it had aged a thousand years, the sharp corners of the cut stone had rounded off, the ivy that once wound around it had withered.

Woah.

Descriptive dramatics to emphasize how much more ominous it seems now without it literally changing appearance? Result of Leviathan’s mess? Someone going wild with a power while under the effect of the miasma? All of the above?

The windows of the building were all shattered, empty of glass, and the fields were a patchwork of overgrown grass and mud.

I think I’m going with the second option, though the windows are Shatterbird’s work.

With the faint tendrils of colored mist that surrounded the grounds, it looked like a prime location for a horror movie.

Have I mentioned how much I love the visuals of this series of chapters? 😀

(#(Yes I have.))


I had little doubt I was in the right place.

Panacea’s the healer, top floor. Jack is the slasher, the blond girl the chemist-tinker.

Yeah. And Glory Girl is the one who’s in no shape to fight, though she’ll still punch pretty damn hard if she gets the chance.

Panacea’s the healer on the top floor, Jack is the slasher, the blond girl is the chemist.

Yeah, keep telling yourself this. Just be wary of the small changes – for instance, this re-telling leaves out “tinker”. If she forgets that part down the line, she might think Bonesaw is just a regular chemist.

I recited the words as a refrain, as if I could hold the names and identities of the major players in my short-term memory by constantly reminding myself of who they were.

Good luck.


The school was on a hill, meaning the water that was producing the miasma was far enough away that only traces of it reached this far.

Huh, that’s helpful.

The little vapor that got to the school was held at bay by the stone wall that ringed the school. The design suggested it had been intended more for aesthetics than for utility, but it was serving a purpose nonetheless.

Let’s hope as many people as possible out of the ones who are inside have stayed inside and are therefore unaffected, then.

On the other hand, lets hope there are few people inside, because Jack is definitely going to slash at everyone he sees on his way to Amy. It’d be stupid of him not to.

Panacea’s the healer, top floor, Jack is the slasher, the blond girl the chemist-tinker. Panacea is the healer, top floor, Jack is the slasher, the blond girl is the chemist-tinker.

Good, “tinker” is back.

It seemed like the mechanical spiders had lost track of me. They would probably give up the chase and return to their master, but it was one less thing to worry about for the time being.

I mean, aren’t you following their master anyway?


Jack and the tinker would have gone in through the ground floor. I decided to land on the roof.

Oh right, flight is a thing. I gotta get used to that.

This is a good idea. She avoids direct confrontation and gets closer to Amy, probably faster than Jack and Bonesaw do in spite of their head start.

The second I was on terra firma, I reached for my phone to check. No signal.

I suspect Jack is jamming the signal with some sort of jamming device (possibly of Bonesaw’s making – as the real Lisa pointed out, she’s a tinker in general, after all). In 14.9, he was the one to ask Taylor if there was signal when there was. I’m thinking he had just turned off the jammer then.

I needed to signal someone about what was going on. I was woefully underequipped, and I doubted my ability to win this alone, especially when my opponents weren’t as disadvantaged as I was.

Bug beacon?

I could use something like a giant nine crafted out of bugs floating over the school to signal that the pair was here…

That might work, but it might also make people think you’re one of the Nine, putting the 9 up there like the Dark Mark above a magic murder scene.

but there was no guarantee that someone would come. There was also the possibility that it would lead to the good guys dropping another bomb on us.

Oh yeah, good point.

That would get the healer and maybe even me killed. Panacea had to survive, or everyone in the city would die in the aftermath of Bonesaw’s miasma.

Unless Taylor ends up coming up with some other solution (Othala? but Taylor can’t find her easily with Jack jamming her ability to ask Cherish, and that’s if she even remembers what Othala’s power is), I’m considering Amy’s survival a foregone conclusion. Because what Taylor says here is true – if Amy dies, Wildbow’s gonna be nearly out of characters.


Panacea is the healer, she’s on the top floor, Jack is the slasher, the blond girl is the chemist-tinker.

I tenderly touched the cut on my face. Jack must have pulled back as I used the tinker as a shield, because the cut was fairly shallow.

Do not mistake that for him caring if she gets hurt, though.

It was long, though, and my fingertips were wet with blood after I touched my hand to it. I couldn’t distinguish the blood from the black fabric of my gloves, so I couldn’t tell how much it actually was. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

Perhaps not.

At least it didn’t spray all over Lisa’s face.

There was a door on the rooftop, and I used my knife to pry the doorknob partially off, then gave it a firm kick to remove it.

Nice work!

The lock was built into the handle, and it didn’t take long to figure out how to open it when I could see the internal mechanisms. It wasn’t exactly high security, more intended to keep kids from getting onto the roof than keeping people on the roof from getting in.

That would make a lot more sense if this world didn’t have a bunch of villains who could fly and this school didn’t have several students who would benefit from roof access for reasons the school is supposed to support.


Just past the door was a set of stairs that led down into the top floor of the building. It looked like a janitorial closet.

I suppose that’s a reasonable place to stick the roof access.

I sent Atlas down to check before venturing down myself, and I began distributing my swarm through the school. I prepared silk lines across doorways and hallways to inform me of others passing through, placed ants, earwigs, centipedes and pill bugs on the walls to give me a sense of the layout, and sent flies to scan the interiors of each room to see if I couldn’t find anyone.

The swarm has taken the building.

Again, I repeated the refrain in my head, reminding myself about who was in the building. I wasn’t sure it was helping, but I didn’t want to get tricked again.

Neither do I. :p


There were two hallways and three classrooms my bugs couldn’t enter without dying on the spot. That marked out a relatively small area that the Nine could be.

I take it they’ve still got the anti-bug vials.

The biggest issue was that I couldn’t find Panacea. Did that mean she was in close confines with the enemy? It wasn’t a good thought.

Hrm.

I suppose that means she can’t find anyone, considering she’d have to question if every female in the building except for Bonesaw could be Amy. She knows Panacea is the healer, but she doesn’t know what she looks like.

There’s also the issue that Amy might resist help this time, affected by the miasma or otherwise.

As I laid silk lines across possible entryways to alert myself about enemy movements, I was careful to check each area before I advanced further into the building. My eyes searched for details while my swarm scanned the walls and the ground.

Gotta watch out for traps and security measures and such. This is a school, but it’s one that’s a likely target for some villains due to the superhero population, so they need to be especially secure, and they’ve got the PRT on their side.

Then again, we just saw how the roof door was secured.


I was a short distance away from the Nine when I saw a wet spot on the wall, complete with discoloration of the paint.

Something Bonesaw planted?

I sent bugs in, and they felt shards of glass on the floor around the patch. I wouldn’t have said that the swarm smelled anything, but there was something heavy in the air as flies beat their wings, the muscular action simultaneously drawing oxygen in.

Probably not anything good, if I were to guess. Miasma?

Whatever it was, it was dense, cloying, odorless and colorless, only extending a dozen feet around the spot.

Except Taylor should know how the miasma feels to the bugs by now.

And it’s certainly not colorless.

Could this perhaps be something Amy did to keep the miasma away if it should happen to make it into the school?

Another thing this sounds like is Brian’s darkness, but I’m not sure I’d describe that as colorless either, even though black is physically a lack of color. “Colorless” carries more connotations of transparency, which the darkness very pointedly does not have.

But if it were to be Brian’s darkness… why? How would he have ended up here?

…Lisa and Trickster, at the very least, may have gotten down from the building they were left on. Bentley was roaming the streets, but he was not ridden down by “Lisa” and “Brian” like they claimed (hey look! another hint I didn’t think hard enough about – it makes little sense for Lisa to bring specifically Brian on Bentley), so why would he be down there? Either Lisa brought him down or he’s affected by the miasma and ran off on his own.


I backtracked and picked a different route. My pace slowed to half of what it had been as I searched for other telltale details. Twice, I found similar traps, both with that odourless smoke, and twice I had to change my route.

I guess that’s just what it is. Traps set up by Bonesaw or Amy.

Hopefully the latter, so the Nine might run into them.

I paused outside the bug-killing zone. Flies had ferried spiders to me, and I started organizing them to produce lengths of silk cord. I left them behind while I creeped closer and listened in.

Don’t you know it’s rude to eavesdrop? 😮

Then again, it’d be appropriate for Skitter to be the fly on the wall.

“…minds do think alike. I did something very similar for Siberian.” A girl’s voice.

Hm. I assume she’s talking to Amy – what has Amy done for Victoria that Bonesaw has (to some extent) done for Siberian?

Or maybe it’s “done to”. Bonesaw doesn’t see the difference.

Could it be something about the mind rape? Did Bonesaw make Siberian love her, like a daughter or otherwise? I don’t see why she’d do that.

There’s also the issue of when Bonesaw did whatever this is. Did she do something to/for Siberian before or after Siberian got injured by Taylor’s swarm and the Bakuda barrage? The latter is more akin to Victoria’s current situation. Maybe it has to do with patching someone up using resources from other beings?

We still don’t know whether or not Siberian is still alive, “alive” or dead, for that matter.

“Shut up. We’re nothing alike.” Another girl.

That’s Amy, all right.

I guess they’re putting off killing her in case she’s changed her mind about joining them.

“We could be! Haven’t you ever wanted to start over? I could make you younger! We’d be the same age! And wear matching outfits! Oh! I could do plastic surgery, we could be twins!”

I love her so much.


“Did- did you do that to yourself? Make yourself young?”

I doubt it. She acts the age, so if she did this, it’d be because she felt like this is how young she actually was on the inside.

“No.” A male voice. “Rest assured, Bonesaw’s immaturity is genuine. Both an asset in how it makes her that much more creative, free in her ways. A detriment in other ways.”

It’s the core of the Slaughterhouse Nine. The heart that drew them together. Jack may be the leader, but that’s because he’s the one who brought structure to the team, preventing it from collapsing in on itself. Bonesaw brought them together, Jack kept them from clashing.

“Doesn’t… that bother you? Him saying that about you?”

It seems like she’s trying out some of Lisa’s tactics, to some extent. Stalling for time with talk, and trying to sow some dissent between the opponents in the process.

Either that or this is just a question that naturally comes to mind and she has no ulterior motives behind asking it. Could go either way.

“Jack knows what he’s doing.”

One nice thing about these lines: Taylor now knows Bonesaw’s name, and also got a reminder of Jack’s just in case.


“I do. I know a lot of things,” Jack spoke, his voice smooth, almost seductive.

Stop it, none of these girls are even remotely within the range of ages you should be seducing.

I think.

“Don’t. I know you’ve got a silver tongue. I don’t want to hear it.”

I get the sense that Amy has been able to avoid the miasma. Good.

“You prefer the alternative?” Jack asked, his voice cool.

“It’s a silver tongue or a silver blade cutting out yours.”

I could picture him holding that knife of his, the threat all too clear.

There was a long pause.

He spoke, “I suppose not. So let’s dialogue.”

Time for some talk, huh. Well, at least this buys Taylor some planning time.

Though we really do not want Amy reluctantly joining the Nine right now.

“Go ahead,” Panacea’s voice was small, almost defeated.

“What’s holding you back? You’re capable of so much, of changing the world, of destroying it, but you’re so very small, Amelia Claire Lavere.”

Oh boy, pulling out her birth name, reminding her of her villainous father…

His voice was almost mocking as he said her name.

“That’s not my name.”

I’m with Amy. It doesn’t matter what’s on her birth certificate, what her name is is her choice.

That she’s not old enough to make it legally official does not matter.

“It’s the name you were born with. Imagine my surprise when I found out your relation to Marquis. In my last visit to Brockton Bay, I crossed paths with each of the major players. I met the man. I must tell you, Amelia, he was a very interesting character.”

Oh yeah, didn’t we hear about this already? Or was that about Allfather… Oh, no, it was Kaiser, wasn’t it. I think that was in Interlude 11b, Jack talking about having met Theo’s dad.


“I don’t really want to know.”

“I’m going to tell you. And I have another motive, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Marquis was a man of honor.

I can’t imagine Amy likes how similar this is to what Lisa threatened her with all the way back in Agitation.

He decided on the rules he would play by and he stuck to them. He put his life and limb at risk to try to keep me from killing women and children, and I decided to see if I could use that to break him. I admit I failed.”

Marquis is a pretty decent depiction of Lawful Evil. That doesn’t necessarily mean he followed society’s laws, but he followed his own.

Also this sounds like Jack went out of his way to kill as many women and children as he could.

“He killed Allfather’s daughter.”

“No, Amelia, he didn’t.”

There was a pause.

“Did you kill her?”

“No, Amelia, I am Allfather’s daughter!”

I feel like this would’ve hit harder if more had come of the threat against Amy’s life from the Empire. I suppose it did result in her finding out who her father was, though.

But if Marquis didn’t kill Allfather’s daughter, why did he tell Lung that he did? Was he tricked into thinking he did? Or maybe he’s like Taylor and thought that being unable to keep Jack from doing it was roughly as bad as doing it himself?

There’s another option here for what Jack is getting at, but I highly doubt that’s the case, since everything we know is stacked against it: Amy is Allfather’s daughter. Marquis kidnapped her, and lied to Lung about the teenaged daughter of Allfather threat against Amy for some coddamn reason.

“No. What I’m saying is that Marquis would not have killed the girl, even under duress; that was one of the rules he set for himself. If he was going to violate that rule, he would have done it when I’d tried to break him.”

Ahh, I see, so trying to break him involved putting him in situations where the only easy solution would involve killing girls.

Incidentally, I like how this is something I could’ve figured out when the way Marquis was caught was introduced, if I’d just put two and two together and questioned why Marquis would kill a girl just for being annoying if he was so against it that he got caught by dropping an all-female team on him.

“Allfather put a contract on my head before he died, because of what Marquis did. Because- It’s how I found out he was my dad.

I WAS KIDDING

Wait, which “he”?

Jack’s power doesn’t fit with Marquis, so I guess he’s not saying he’s Amy’s brother. But then that would mean Allfather put a contract on his son’s head…

*rereads this quote a couple times*

I guess Jack’s power might have come from his mother’s side. Because the best I can figure here is that Marquis claimed responsibility for the murder to protect his son, Jack, which led to Allfather scheduling an assassination on Amy (which Marquis knew about) and, after Marquis got arrested, putting a bounty on Jack once he figured out what had actually happened.

A letter from Dragon to Carol.”

Oh, or I forgot to switch who was talking in my head. That works too. Scratch everything I just said, I guess.

That would be a pretty cool AU, though.

(#it’s not entirely impossible that this is where jack is going with this #but i doubt that)


“Carol… Ah yes, Brandish. Well, I suspect either Dragon was manipulating you, or your father was manipulating Dragon in an effort to get a message to you.”

Hm, perhaps. But why? So Amy would know who her dad was?

“A message.”

“That he’s there, that he exists. Perhaps he sought to ensure he wasn’t forgotten by his child. He was an old-fashioned individual, so it makes sense that he’d seek immortality through his progeny.”

Fair enough.

Bonesaw piped up. “That’s stupid. Why do something like that when someone like me could make you immortal for real?”

I mean, he is stuck in the Birdcage for the foreseeable future.

I’m still not sure he’ll be there forever, but I’ve become less adamant about that whole theory with time.

“Shush, now. Finish sewing yourself up while Amelia and I talk.”

“Okay,” Bonesaw said. Her voice overlapped with Panacea saying, “Stop saying that. It’s not my name.”

I don’t think that’s helping, Amy.

“Isn’t it?”

It’s no more her name than yours is Bob, if she doesn’t want it to be.

There was another silence.

“You’re your father’s daughter. Both of you are bound up in rules you’ve imposed on yourselves. His rules defined his demeanor, the boundaries he worked within, the goals he sought to achieve and how he achieved them. They were his armor as much as his power was. I would guess your rules are your weakness.

This is coming from a man who is very much Chaotic Evil.

Rather than focus you, they leave you in free fall, nothing to grasp on to except your sister there, and we both know how that has turned out.”

I suppose they would know about that mess. The Nine had Cherish around for a while after their falling out.

Sister. I made a mental note of that. There were four people in that room.

Yep. I’m not entirely convinced Victoria, even in her diminished state, isn’t going to get a good punch in before this is over. But against whom? Bonesaw would be my first guess.


“I- how do you know this?”

“Our emotion reader picked up on some. I’ve figured out the rest. As you might expect, I’m rather familiar with damaged individuals.”

*looks at the people he’s been surrounding himself with*

Yeah, sounds about right.

Bonesaw giggled.

I didn’t like the way this was going. I looked down the hall to see the doors. Each door had once had a window on the upper half, but there were only slivers left, the rest scattered over the floor. In an ideal world, some distraction would present itself, or the conversation would become a heated argument and they would distract each other.

What would you do with such a distraction?

I could rise from my crouching position, step forward, aim my gun and fire. Unload the gun’s clip on Jack and Bonesaw.

Oh right, the gun.

I’m still not convinced it’ll work as well as she thinks, but a full clip might do some damage, at least.

Or I’d miss, resulting in the messy deaths of Panacea, her sister and I. I really needed that distraction if I was going to do this.

Hmm.

She can’t use bugs as her distraction directly. That’d just tip everyone off to her presence. But maybe she could use them to do something else that could create a distraction?

Fly in some cymbals or something.


“I’m not… not that type of damaged. I’m not a monster,” Panacea protested. As an afterthought, she added, “No offense.”

Hehe.

“I’ve been called worse. I almost relish being called a monster. As though I’ve transcended humanity and become something from myth.”

“Myth.”

He would enjoy feeling like a legend, yeah. Something with impact. Something that resonates.

How fitting that he is named after one of the most well-known serial killers in history.

“And according to Cherish, it may well be a destruction myth.”

Yeah, seems like it’s going that way.

“What?”

“She recently informed me that the world is going to end because of me. Not quite sure how or when. It could well be that I’m the butterfly that flaps his wings and stirs a hurricane into being through a chain of cause and effect.”

Yep, and I think he’s already done that.

Also, it’s kinda appropriate that he’s bringing chaos theory into this and comparing the end of the world to a hurricane, considering there’s an Endbringer with a hurricane theme.

Though I’m fairly sure the final threat is going to make the Endbringers look like Über and Leet.


“I don’t want the world to end,” Bonesaw said. “It’s fun.”

Relatable.

“It is. But I expect it won’t end altogether. There’s always going to be survivors.”

Keep in mind that in order to prey on them, you’re going to need to survive yourself.

“True.”

“And it makes for an interesting picture. After everything’s gone, there’ll be a new beginning. Who better to craft the remains into a new world than you and Mannequin?”

Hang on.

Do they not know what happened to Mannequin yet? Or was Lisa right to say she’d believe it when she saw it?

Or is Bonesaw intending to recover Mannequin’s bits and revive him?

“And Amelia?”

“And Amelia, if she so chooses. We could be like gods in a new world.”

Gods in a new world? Don’t forget you need to die on a bed and get cool magic pajamas first.

“You’re crazy,” Panacea muttered.

“According to studies, clinically depressed individuals have a more accurate grasp of reality than the average person.

I doubt Bonesaw is clinically depressed, but who knows.

Or maybe he’s talking about Amy. Or just going “well why can’t the same apply to insanity”, which would be silly.

We tell ourselves lies and layer falsehoods and self-assurances over one another in order to cope with a world colored by pain and suffering. We put blinders on. If we lose that illusion, we crumble into depression or we crack and go mad. So perhaps I’m crazy, but only because I see things too clearly?”

Mmm.

It’s not a bad excuse.


“No,” Panacea’s voice was quiet. “Um. You’re not going to kill me if I argue, are you?”

Probably depends on what you’re arguing about, I suppose.

“I’m liable to kill you if you don’t.”

Right, because then she’d be boring.

“It’s not that you see too clearly. I think your view is warped.”

“Over the course of millions of generations that led to your birth, how many of your ancestors were successful because they were cruel to others, because they lied, cheated, stole from their kin, betrayed their brothers and sisters, warred with their neighbors, killed?

How many of those were happy?

We know about Marquis, so that’s one.”

Ouch.

How many were successful because they cooperated?I wondered.

Probably quite a lot more.

Jack probably had a rebuttal to my question, but I wasn’t about to speak up to hear it, and Panacea didn’t ask. She fell silent.

I was tensed, ready to move and shoot the second an opportunity arose. Anything would suffice. Anything would do.

Careful. Don’t get too trigger happy.


I visualized it, the steps I’d take to open fire, and I realized that the shards of glass on the ground between me and the door could provide them with a half-second of warning.

Ooh, good catch.

Slowly, carefully, I began brushing the shards aside, keeping my ears peeled for some clue about a key distraction.

“Survival of the fittest, it sounds so tidy, but it’s really hundreds of thousands of years of brutish, messy, violent incidents, billions of events that you’d want to avert your eyes from if you were to see them in person.

But not just that.

In spite of how the phrase often gets translated, fittest does not mean strongest. It means the most adapted. That includes those who survive because they cooperate and play an honest, productive part in their society. Hell, judging by the fact that we’ve evolved into a social species, it seems that’s what’s been working best for us. Survival of the fittest, for humans, seems to have favored those who get along with others.

And that’s a large part of what’s shaped us into what we are. But we wear masks, we pretend to be good, we extend a helping hand to others for reasons that are ultimately self-serving, and all the while, we’re just crude, pleasure-seeking, conniving, selfish apes. We’re all monsters, deep down inside.”

I’ll give him the self-serving part. Even empathy-fueled actions are to some extent self-serving, to relieve ourselves of the negative feelings associated with not helping. But that’s because these feelings and instincts are the way our biology asks us to comply with what it believes is the best course of action for survival and propagation.

We’ve evolved empathy because it works.


Again, one of those pauses that suggested something was going on that was visual and out of sight, rather than something I could overhear.

Hm. How would he illustrate this speech?

I suppose this is a school. Maybe the room he’s in is a classroom and he’s using the blackboard/whiteboard. But I suppose then Taylor should be hearing the telltale scritches of chalk or marker on the board.

Jack offered a dry chuckle. “Did that hit home?”

Probably. “I’m a monster” is something Amy has been telling herself for some time now, even if she denied it earlier.

“I’m… not that kind of person. Not a monster. I’d kill myself before I became like that.”

Or at least, “I might become a monster”.

“But you see how you could be like us. It wouldn’t even be very hard. Just… let go of those rules of yours. You’d get everything you ever wanted.”

Taylor would fit in better personality-wise, but Amy’s got a really good power and issues Jack can exploit to pull her in.


“Not family.”

Yes, family.” Bonesaw cut in.

Heh.

They really do have a lot in common, thematically.

“You guys kill each other. That’s not family.”

Uh. Each other?

Pretty sure Jack’s been doing his best to prevent that.

“You’re derailing our conversation, Bonesaw,” Jack chided the girl. “Amelia, when I say you could have everything you ever wanted, I’m telling you that you could live free of guilt, of shame, you could have your sister by your side, no more doubts plaguing you, no more feeling down.

And if she refuses, Bonesaw can make it so she’ll really always have her sister by her side.

Haven’t you laid in bed at night, wondering, praying for a world where you could have something like that? I’m telling you that you can have those things, and I promise you that the transition from being who you are now to being who you could bewould be much quicker than you suspect.”

He’s probably talking from experience with other formerly heroic newbies, if he’s not just lying.

“No.” The defiance was half-hearted.

He’s slowly winning her over.

Better end this before he pits Amy against you, Taylor.

“Amelia, you could let yourself cut loose and love life for the first time since you were young.”

Fuck, that one hits hard.


And just like that, her resistance crumbled. “I’ve never felt like that. Never felt carefree. Not since I could remember. Not even when I was a kid.”

Amy is pretty much the perfect target for Jack, short of someone who actually wants to be a villain.

“I see. From your earliest memory, what was that? In Marquis’s home? No? Being taken home by the heroes and heroines that would become your false family? Ah, I saw that change in expression. That would be your earliest memory, and you found yourself struggling to adjust to your new home, to school and life without your supervillain daddy.

And later, having her trigger event and beginning to heal people all the time…

By the time you did figure those things out, you had other worries. I imagine your family was distant. So you struggled to please them, to be a good girl, not that it ever mattered. There was only disappointment.”

😦

“You sound like Tattletale. That’s not a compliment.”

He really does, yeah.

“My ability to read people is learned, not given, I assure you. Most of the conclusions I’ve come to have been from the cues you’ve given me. Body language, tone, things you’ve said. And I know these sorts of things and what to look for because I’ve met others like you. That’s what I’m offering you. A chance to be with similar people for the first time in your life, a chance to be yourself, to have everything you want, and to be with me.

Jack is a lot better at sales pitches than Taylor.

I suspect you’ve never been around someone who actually paid attention to you.”

Well, there was one, but she kinda secretly hated that guy due to jealousy.

“Tattletale did. And Skitter.”

Oh yeah, that too. I’m glad to see her acknowledge that. 🙂

Trust me, Amy, if you’re gonna join a supervillain team offering to genuinely pay attention to you and care for you, the Undersiders are a much better choice.

(And thus my hopes are reinvigorated. Slightly.)


I startled at that.

Wasn’t expecting yourself to come up, huh? :p

“I meant on a long-term basis, but let’s talk about that. I imagine they were telling you ‘No, you aren’t. You can be good.‘”

Kind of?

“Yeah.”

“But you didn’t believe them, did you, Amelia? You’ve spent years telling yourself the opposite. You’re a bad person, you’re destined to be bad, by circumstance and blood. And even though you didn’t believe them, you’ll believe me when I tell you no, you aren’t a good person, but that’s okay.”

This is disturbingly real. I have real friends who struggle with this kind of thing.

“It’s not.”

“You say that, but you believe me when I say it.”

It’s mainly the “but that’s okay” part she’s denying, yeah.

There was another pause where Panacea didn’t venture a response.

“Isn’t it unfair? Through no fault of your own, the blood in your veins is the blood of a criminal, and that’s affected how your family looks at you. You’ve been saddled with feelings that aren’t your fault, and doomed to a life without color, enjoyment or pleasure. Don’t you deserve to follow your passions? A decade and a half of doing what others want you to do, doing what society wants you to do, haven’t you earned the right to do what you really desire, just this once?”

Yeah.

Amy is a very tragic character because of this exact thing.

But going with the Slaughterhouse Nine isn’t what she really desires. Which is why Jack is trying to convince her that it is.

“That’s not really that convincing,” Panacea spoke, but she didn’t sound assertive.

“I know. So I’ll offer you a deal. If you indulge yourself, we’ll surrender.”

Like fuck you will.

Hell, by the time she’s done “indulging herself”, there might not even be many people left to surrender to in Brockton Bay.

“What?”

“I won’t even make you do it now. Just look me in the eye, and honestly tell me you’ll do it. Drop all of the rules you’ve set yourself. I don’t care what you do after, you can wipe your sister’s memories, you can kill yourself, you can run away or come with us. And your side wins.”

Would you cure people of the miasma? Because if you don’t, their side hardly wins, no matter how much you surrender.

“Aren’t we winning anyways?”

Well, until the water turned to blood.

“Up for debate. I’m really quite thrilled with the current situation. Very enjoyable, and we’ve certainly made an impact.”

Which of course is what Jack is most concerned with.

“This deal is a trap. You’ll make me do it and then you’ll kill me.”

I mean, I’m not sure about the killing part. I think he genuinely believes that if you try, you’ll comply.


“I could, but I won’t. Do you really have anything to lose by trying? If I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you regardless of what you say or do. Three and a half words: ‘I’ll do it’, and we leave the city.”

Oh yeah, I do suppose he does also want to leave. That’s a bit different than surrendering if you ask me, but it does count as a victory of sorts for the city. Maybe not so much for the world if my Theo-ry is wrong, but for the city, sure. As long as they clear up the miasma.

Also, I appreciate that Jack counts ‘ll as half a word.

I almost stood right then, to open fire before she made a decision one way or another. I had to convince myself to wait, that no matter what they were saying, they wouldn’t leave right this instant.

Of course, Taylor has no reason to know about Theo or believe that Jack talking to him leads to the end of the world.

As far as she knows, she has to kill Jack before he can leave.

Then I heard the sound of glass crunching in time with someone’s footsteps.

Hello. Who have we got here?

Did Battery get back up or something?

Well, whoever it is, at least they might serve as a distraction.


With the length of time I’d waited for an opportunity, I was going to take what I could get. My heart pounded, my hands shook even as I gripped the gun as hard as I could, but I let out a slow breath as I drew myself smoothly to a standing position and stepped into the doorway, pointing the gun through the window frame in the door.

Good luck. You can do this.

Let’s hope whoever is coming doesn’t interfere.

They hadn’t heard me move. It left me a second to take in the scene and make sure I was shooting the right people.

They were in a music room that had been arranged with seats on a series of ascending platforms, backed by windows that had exploded inward, scattering the area with glass shards. At the bottom ‘floor’, there was a podium waiting for the teacher. Jack was walking up the steps to approach a girl.

Ah, I guess that might be the footsteps she heard.

I knew he was Jack because he was the only male present. He was wreathed in thin white smoke, wore a light gray t-shirt marked with blood stains and black jeans tucked into cowboy boots.

Nice outfit. The cowboy boots really make the look.

A thick leather belt had a variety of knives, including a butcher’s cleaver, a stiletto and a serrated blade.

‘Course, can’t forget the blades.

So what’s the difference between different types of knives when Jack uses them? I suppose the extended slice of the knives might be sharper with some, and the serrated ones might continue the serration, making the wounds look accordingly…


His teammate Bonesaw, was standing in the corner of the room just to my right. I could see the edge of a dress, an apron with tools and vials in the pocket, long blond hair curled into ringlets, and that same shroud of smoke around her, moving out to fill the room.

I wonder if Amy has asked them about the smoke. Maybe she knows Skitter might come.

The rest of her was obscured by the wall to my right and the shelves that stood behind the podium. It put her in an awkward spot for me to shoot. If I’d known she was there, I would have crawled over to the door at that end, gunned her down at point-blank.

At least Jack is the primary target, right? Since you need him out of the picture before he gets out of the picture by crossing city limits.

Panacea stood at the far end of the room, at the highest point. She had brown hair that was blowing slightly with the breeze that flowed in through the glassless windows behind her, topped with a flat top cap. Freckles covered her face, and she was dressed in a tank top and cargo pants. More than anything else, she wore a look of fear on her face that marked her as the victim, not the threat.

Apart from the expression, this is a good look for her.

And process of elimination meant the thing beside her was her sister. I would have called it a coffin, but it was clearly made of something living.

Wow. Amy, what the hell did you do?

It resembled a massive growth of flesh that had been shaped into a vague diamond shape, gnarled with horny callous and toenail-like growths that protected it and reinforced it at the edges. On the side closest to me, a girl’s face was etched into an oversized growth of bone.

What.

Why??

It was unmoving, decorative, with locks of long wavy hair that wrapped around the sides of the diamond. The ‘sister’ floated a foot over the floor.

I’m beginning to see why Bonesaw was comparing Amy to herself at the start of this section. This much more like her than like Amy.


It was so startling to see that I nearly forgot what I was doing. I drew in a short breath, then let slow breath out as I aimed the gun at Jack and squeezed the trigger.

[El Goonish Shive comic]

Aberration, narrating: Fancy magic…
Aberration, narrating: Fire and noise…

Aberration, narrating: All outdone…

Aberration, narrating and pulling gun: By humanity’s toys.
SFX: BOOM

(except I don’t think it’ll work)

I’d mentally planned to unload the gun on Jack and Bonesaw, but I’d forgotten about the recoil. At the same time Jack was struck down, my arm jerked up, and my mental instruction to fire nonetheless carried through.

Oops.

So she shot the ceiling? (But she didn’t kill the deputy.)

The second bullet hit the ceiling.

I whipped the door open and turned to my right to fire on Bonesaw, but my arm was numb, and her reflexes were sharp.

That doesn’t sound good.

She was already opening a door at the other corner of the classroom before I could shoot, making her way into the hallway.

Damn.

You should probably focus on checking out Jack first, though. Then again, that might give Bonesaw time to amass her spiders and other assorted toys.


I had a split second to decide if I should chase her or go after Jack. I glanced at Panacea, saw her staring. As if the eye contact snapped her out of a daze, she lunged toward Jack, one hand outstretched.

OH HELL YES

Amy Dallon getting in on the action!

She stopped dead in her tracks as he lashed out blindly with the knife. Reversing direction, she went for her sister instead.

…fair enough. He’s definitely got the advantage of range here.

Also, Amy, I hope you have a very good explanation for what you’ve done to Victoria here later. Did she get miasma’d and attack you or something?

Jack hadn’t been incapacitated. Aside from the impact of the gunshot, he didn’t even seem wounded. He was on his feet in a flash, spinning a hundred and eighty degrees to face me, his knife in motion.

Yeah, this is about what I was expecting.


I ducked back through the door, the knife delivering a glancing blow to my back. It failed to penetrate my costume.

The consistent fact that knives aren’t good against Skitter’s costume is neat.

Oddly enough, moving into the hallway and putting my back to the wall made me feel like I’d committed to fighting Jack, even if I might have been in a better position to go after Bonesaw.

Huh.

“Wake,” I heard Panacea speak. She said something else that I missed.

I felt a jolt, but it wasn’t physical. It shook me on an emotional level.

I suppose what Amy’s done was meant to speed Victoria’s recovery?

As for the jolt… they’re not close enough to Cherish’s location for Bonesaw to have gone and fetched her this quickly, surely. That’s just not believable.

They didn’t have time to do it before coming here, either.

My voice abandoned me, not that I wanted to speak. I felt as if I stood on the very edge of the grand canyon and any movement, even one to step back onto solid ground, was guaranteed to send me falling to certain death.

So what is this? Is this the effect of that colorless gas from earlier?

The levitating construct of flesh slammed through the door and the door-frame that Bonesaw had used to make her exit. The mask of bone drew upward like an opened lid, to reveal a clear sphere, containing vitreous fluid and a teenage girl with blond hair.

Is this inspired by Bentley? Did Amy recreate whatever biological mechanisms are responsible for creating a living copy of the original dog inside the hellhounds?

And apparently Bonesaw did “something similar” to this for Siberian.

Her eyes were open, but she looked half asleep, her hair fanned out around her, floating in fluid that seemed thicker than water. Her arms were outstretched, but her hands and lower body were hidden by the meat that surrounded her. The edges of the shell that were unfolding around her were curved forward like the horns of a bull.

Whatever the case is, this has just the right balance of disturbing and glorious and oh I just realized what’s happening with Taylor. It’s Victoria’s fear aura.


This kinda weirdly reminds me of the space baby from 2001: A Space Odyssey.


If the sister had come after me, I wouldn’t have been able to fight back. Like a deer in the headlights, I stood there, unable to think or compel my body to move.

Some people get more stubborn with the fear aura, but Taylor is apparently among those who get paralyzed.

How about Jack?

She rotated in mid-air slowly, as if getting her bearings. As ponderously as she had moved one moment, she went tearing after Bonesaw in the next, slamming through walls as momentum carried her too far and as she turned a corner too tight and sheared through the drywall, tile and window frames.

Well, at least this school was already in disrepair.

I could hear Bonesaw laughing with childlike glee as she fled.

I love her so much.

“Not smart, not smart, either of you,” Jack chastised us. “See, with Victoria gone, you’ve left me here with a hostage.”

Oh great.


I stood with my back to the wall, gun in hand. Ten bullets in here, four spent, if I’d counted right. I’d always sort of rolled my eyes at how movies treated guns and counting bullets, but it was harder than I’d thought.

You’d think counting the shots fired wouldn’t be difficult, but then everything happens so quickly.

The shock and disorientation that came with firing a gun tended to disrupt even basic arithmetic.

That too.

I couldn’t remember how many times I’d fired during the fight in the parking lot.

“I’ve been turning every microbe that touches my skin into an airborne plague, Jack,” Panacea spoke, her voice low. “You should be dead now.”

I take it that’s what the heavy air was about.

But unfortunately Bonesaw has helped protect him against that kind of thing too.

“And me?” I called out, feeling a pang of alarm.

I think you’ve managed to dodge it? Maybe?

“I didn’t know you were there. You should be dead too. Sorry.”

I mean, clearly neither of them are dead yet, so something’s not quite right here.

But hey, I have previously speculated on Taylor being resistant to these sorts of things due to her bug affinity.

“A benefit of little Bonesaw’s smoke,” Jack answered. “If I recall correctly, it’s something of a safeguard in case she accidentally deploys a concoction she hasn’t immunized herself or the rest of our team against. The fact that it works against bugs and small rodents is a side benefit, rather than the intent.

Oh, huh.

Bonesaw’s work has made us members of the Nine more or less immune to disease anyways.”

“And the gunshot?”

That too.

“Subdermal mesh. There’s more protection around the spine and organs, and you landed that shot pretty close to my spine. It hurts quite a bit.”

Hurts, but ain’t gonna kill him.

He did just tell her where she should be shooting, though. And that shooting isn’t entirely pointless. Pain can incapacitate.


“Skitter! I don’t care if I die,” Panacea called out, “I’d rather live, if only to turn Victoria back to normal, but… just don’t worry about the hostage part.

Sorry, Amy, Taylor really needs you alive.

If I have to die so you can kill this fucker, I will.”

It’s very noble of you, though. And a bit disturbing due to the low desire to live (that’s another thing Amy and Taylor have in common sometimes), but noble.

It isn’t that simple.Killing a monster like Jack or Bonesaw? That was one thing. I could push myself to do it. Killing a bystander in the process? That was something else entirely.

Let alone a bystander who is the key to saving everyone you hold dear including yourself.

Man, though, healing thousands of people who are paranoid that the girl who wants to touch them might be a member of the Nine might be a hassle. Maybe microbes could be the solution, just as it is the problem?

Jack seemed to be able to interpret my pause. “I suspect, Amelia, that she is worried about the hostage. The monster that dwells in Skitter’s heart is very similar one to yours. It’s a lonely thing, desperate for a place to belong, and the only thing it wants to be brutish to is her.”

He’s not wrong.

“Don’t pretend you know me, Jack,” I called out. “You already tried to fuck with my head, you guessed wrong.”

True. Like he himself admitted, he didn’t know her quite right enough to pull it off.


“I had bad information. Cherish has her uses, but she was never going to be a long-term member of the group. The people who can are truly special. Bonesaw, Siberian, me. Perhaps Mannequin, but it’s hard to say. He’s not terribly social, but he’s been with us for some time.”

Hm. Still doesn’t seem to be aware of Mannequin’s fate.

I stayed silent. I could hear his voice changing in volume as he spoke. Was he moving?

Hrm.

There were two doors leading into the classroom. Was he moving toward one, aiming to leap out and strike at me? I glanced down the length of the hall. Bathroom, janitorial closet, another bathroom, storage room… it made sense that there wouldn’t be other classrooms adjacent to a music room with minimal soundproofing.

That does sound reasonable, yeah.

“You two have your differences, of course. Amelia, you’re burdened by guilt, as you’re burdened by your rules and so much else. I’d like you to think again about how nice it would be to be free-”

Nah, Jack, I think the ship has sailed. And not the fandom-related kind of ship.

“No,” Amelia’s interruption was curt, almost defensive.

“Alas. Well, while I’m interpreting you two, I’d say Skitter is driven by guilt.

That does seem like a good way to describe the difference between them. Taylor takes guilt and uses it as motivation to carry on. Amy’s guilt causes her to shut down and withdraw.

What makes you feel so guilty, bug girl?”

A lot of things she shouldn’t feel guilty about.


He’s trying to distract me.

Yeah, and also get you talking about things you’ve done that might be offputting to Amy.

I scampered along the length of the hallway, keeping low enough that I wouldn’t be visible from the window while I moved to the point just beyond the effects of the bug-killing cloud. I could send bugs after Bonesaw and the sister -Victoria, was it?- but Bonesaw would still have that cloud of smoke around her.

Yeah, you should probably just let Victoria handle that side of the fight for now.

I doubted my ability to achieve anything on that front.

“There’s always some guilt related to family. Tell me, what would your mother think, to see you on an average day?

Dude.

You made her not remember that.

Or can’t you remember her with the miasma? I’d almost forgotten.”

Oh, okay, he pretended not to realize that so he could make a jab about the lack of memory with the miasma.

…I think. He might be telling the truth here, but it just comes across so smug, I have a hard time believing he didn’t set that line up for himself.

Even if I couldn’t remember her face, who she was, or even where she was, I could feel a pang of regret that knotted in my gut.

or even where she was

ouch

I grit my teeth to remind myself to keep from opening my mouth and grasped the cords that my bugs had threaded together. I looped them around Atlas’ horn, and then I ran down the hallway, still keeping low.

…what is she doing? Is she making a web to catch him in?


Just to check, I tried bringing bugs into the hallway. The smoke was still present, if thin. They still died, just a little slower than before. I returned them to their previous location. No use wasting them for nothing.

“Skitter,” he called out in a sing-song voice. With the acoustics of the hallway, I couldn’t pinpoint his location. “Aren’t you going to reply?”

This is reminding me of Discord’s introduction in MLP:FiM, where he starts out as a disembodied voice ringing through a castle wing.

Jack actually reminds me somewhat of Discord in general, now that I think about it.

Just as I was trying to locate him, he was attempting to do the same for me.

Seems like it, yeah.

At least hallways aren’t great for Jack’s power, unless you end up stuck in a long one with him.

I decided to give him what he wanted.

“You’re pathetic, Jack.”

Olly olly oxen free!

I’d intended to provoke him, and I’d succeeded.

I suppose someone who wants to be remembered for greatness and impact doesn’t take kindly to being called pathetic.

I’d also intended to pull the silk cord taut as he stepped into the hallway, tripping him.

Nice!

And… you’d… succeeded?

No, I suspect she didn’t.

Instead of opening the door, he leaped through the open window in the upper half of the door, tucking his knees against his chest.

Pfft! What an exit!

He landed with a short roll, spotted me, and slashed.

Dodge!

I brought my arms up around my face to protect it. The feeling of the silk cord’s weight dropped to virtually nothing as the slash cut it.

Oops. Well, at least your face is intact.


I’d been given tips on fighting, even if I couldn’t remember by who or by whom. Catch them off guard.

That would be by Grue. The real one. 🙂

My arms around my face, nearly blind, I charged him.

Certainly an unconventional move, which is exactly what she wants here. 😀

He caught me in the side with a kick, but I had enough forward momentum that I crashed into him anyways. We fell to the ground, and I reached for the smoking vial that hung around his neck.

Wildbow, DMing the world: “Now where are those grappling rules again…”

This kind of close range combat is exactly what you want against a range specialist like Jack. He can’t slice very easily like that, especially if he himself isn’t immune to his own power. Though do suppose he could stab.

Jack already had the stiletto in one hand. He jabbed it toward my face, my eye, and I jerked my head back out of the way, abandoning my attempt to get the vial. Using one elbow, he shoved me to one side, then flipped over, simultaneously reversing his grip on the knife in his other hand and driving it down toward the side of my head.

Looks like he’s got experience in dealing with it, though.

I rolled with the momentum he’d given me to escape before it could pierce my ear or my temple. He was already following up, slashing both knives at me, one after the other.

This would be cool in motion.

He knew how to fight, of course. He’d said he’d been at this for a while.

Hated this. Hated fighting without knowing enough about my opponents.

The miasma really makes things difficult. Maybe Taylor could get Amy to cure it real quick?

Oh right, another snag I’ve forgotten to consider: Healing the miasma’s damage would involve messing with brains.


I tried to get my feet under me, but it was slow and awkward as I was unable to use my hands. I had to wrap my arms around my head to shield my face against the continued flurry of slashes. Jack had a knife in each hand now, and he wasn’t giving me a half second between cuts, if that.

Wow.

Watch out for Jack sticking his hand out to cut you from the side.

My forearms and hands didn’t cover enough of my head. I could feel the cuts nicking my ears, slashing through my hair by my temple. A few slashes made their way through gaps between my arms and fingers.

Oww. This is clearly unsustainable.

Blindly, I rushed for the classroom. Needed a second to breathe, to think, before I was whittled down to a bleeding ruin. I could hear footsteps behind me. I felt a hand seize my shoulder.

Jack? Or Amy?

I whirled and knocked it away, felt another knife slash crossing the back of my head.

But if the knife slash is coming from the back after she whirled around to knock the hand away…

I had blood in my eyes, my ears were a bloody ruin, and cuts burned like fire around my scalp and neck.

A shout. Not Jack’s. I heard it again, the same words, but I couldn’t make them out. There was blood in my ears.

Amy, we need you over here. Badly.

I stumbled into the classroom, and Panacea was at my side in a moment.

There you are. 🙂


“Fix me,” I gasped. I couldn’t tell where Jack was, and I was hurting enough that I couldn’t think to strategize. He hadn’t followed. “Fast!”

She touched my forehead, and I could feel the cuts knitting together.

Thank you. Now if you can fix the miasma damage, that’d be nice, but convincing you might take longer than we’ve got.

But there was another injury that wasn’t mending.

“The red miasma took away my ability to recognize people. I don’t know anything about the people I’m fighting. Fix my brain.”

“I don’t- I can’t.”

You really don’t have much choice at this point, Amy.

There are people who need you to do this.

“If you don’t fix me, Jack could win, and billions could die. If you don’t cure whatever it is that Bonesaw’s done with this miasma, I and tens of thousands of others could die of a degenerative brain disease.”

Seriously, Amy, I totally get your reluctance, but it really matters now.

“You don’t understand. I can’t cure brain damage.”

Still going with that lie?

I do suppose she doesn’t have any experience with it.

My heart fell.

“I- my- the last time I did it, the last time I broke my rules, everything fell apart. You’re asking me to do the exact same thing Jack was. To break my rules again.”

The difference is Taylor’s asking you to do it for good.


“They’re just rules.” Where was Jack?

“They’re the only thing holding me together.”

He’s getting away. This stupid girl.

Please don’t snap at her, Taylor. Though she really does need to take a moment to consider the consequences here.

“You were willing to die if he took you hostage. I’m asking you to sacrifice yourself in a lesser way. Fall apart if you have to. But undo what Bonesaw’s started.”

I…

Yeah. This is a fairly good way to sell this. Not entirely healthy, maybe, but hopefully effective.

“This is worse than dying,” she said, her voice quiet.

Jeez, how Lawful can you get.

“Ask yourself if it’s worse than the slow, degenerative death of thousands and the potential end of the world.”

She stared at me.

Kinda pales in comparison if you ask me.

But yeah, Amy, if you refuse this completely, that’ll be the most selfish thing you’ve done throughout the story. More so than what you did to Victoria, even.

Even as she looked at me, aghast, I felt something awaken in my mind, barriers crumbling.

Good on you, Amy. 🙂


“This is bad. Every second is time you’re suffering more permanent damage.”

“That’s not a huge priority. I’m more worried about Jack, and all the others who got hit harder by this stuff than I did.”

Quite a lot of those out there.

“It’s a parasite that’s producing the improperly folded proteins. I can stop it, and I think I can make them create a counter-agent that counteracts the proteins and promotes healing in the brain. Can’t make them fix the lesions, but I can promote plasticity in the brain and new connections to old information.”

Sounds much better than nothing.

Still sounds like Taylor will have permanently lost some of the memories, though. Maybe other functions of the brain too.

What if she regains most of it but still doesn’t remember her mother?

Her voice was so quiet I barely heard it.

But I could remember the others; I remembered Tattletale and Brian. Rachel. I could remember Alec and Aisha. The dogs. Our enemies. My dad. My mom’s face popped into my mind’s eye and I could feel a relief as I let go of an anxiety that I hadn’t been consciously aware of.

Phew. 🙂


“The parasites will replace existing parasites over time, and they’ll die if it gets cold, now. Or if you raise your blood alcohol content. Get drunk after a week or two to clear them from your system, and don’t drink tainted water.

Drunk Taylor sounds like an interesting experience. Powers/magic mixed with alcohol lead to fun results sometimes.

If everyone clears them from their systems, the miasma’s effects will be gone by the end of winter.”

That long, huh. Well, still. Better than dying in hours.

“They’re probably what she seeded all over the area, before using the catalyst.”

“I’d believe it.”

“And the damage, can you reverse it?”

“The minor damage, yeah. But I can’t do anything for the people with more serious brain lesions unless I attend to them directly. There’s other healers out there, I know they’re not as good, but maybe they can do something to fix that.”

Othala might actually be able to help, especially since she can heal multiple people at once. (Brian wasn’t able to while borrowing her power because the power reduction made it only last a few seconds per touch.)

I nodded.

Precious seconds passed.

“Let me know the second I can go,” I said. “Jack’s going to attack, or pull something.”

“If we’re lucky it’ll be a muscle.”

“Trying to engineer a large-scale solution to help as many people as soon as possible. The parasites will leave your body through your sweat, spit and urine, and enter the local water supply to override the others, and anyone you cure will cure others in a sort of reverse-epidemic.

That’s.

Weird but effective.

I have to make sure this is engineered right, or nobody’s going to get cured. If I screw it up, it could be worse than what Bonesaw did.”

It’s a sensitive business.


My leg bounced on the spot with anxiety and anticipation. Jack was up to something and I was sitting there.

Hey, be patient. Because you are a patient. Patient zero for the city’s cure.

I tried to distract myself with a change of subject, “Where did you get the material for what you did for Glory Girl? That sarcophagus thing. You have to use living material, so…”

Yeah, damn good question.

“They weren’t human.”

“That’s not that reassuring.”

“I used pheromones to lure stray cats, dogs and rats to us, then I knit them together. Victoria didn’t have enough body fat to stay warm, and she was wearing out faster than I could get her nutrition.”

…I see.

“She’s going to return to normal, though?”

“Just a little more time. I have to ensure she’s totally together inside the cocoon, then disconnect her from it, and make sure she reaches a physical equilibrium afterward. Once I know she’ll recover…” she trailed off.

“Amy-”

Right, there’s that whole thing about leaving to consider.

If you really want to leave your family, Amy, I’m sure there’s one that will have you. They’re called the Undersiders.

“Go. You’re done. Go after Jack.”

I hesitated. There was a look in her eyes, dark. She wasn’t meeting my gaze.

She doesn’t want to talk about that part.

I turned and ran. Atlas was waiting on the rooftop as I ascended the stairs.

Too much time lost. My body was a counter-agent for Bonesaw’s prion generators, but I had to find Jack and Bonesaw. I could scout the area with my bugs, vaguely sense the areas they’d traveled by seeing what spots murdered my bugs on contact, but I still had to track their movements.

Time for a chase to the city limits?


Glory Girl was hovering over the school, searching for Bonesaw. The ‘cocoon’, as Amy had called it, was damaged much as the school gate had been, but Glory Girl was still intact inside.

Huh.

The fact that she was looking made it very possible that we were facing the worst case scenario.

She’s lost track of them…

And now they’re probably headed out of town.

The bug-killing smoke extended outside of the school gates. It was hard to verify if they’d gone that way and corked the flow of the smoke or if it was traces from before. My only resource and means of detecting it was my bugs, but testing it meant killing them by the dozens, if not hundreds.

Which is not very helpful, yeah.

If they stayed on the grounds and I left, it could mean something ugly for Amy and Glory girl. Conversely, if they’d left and I stayed, it could mean disaster for everyone else.

Hey, look, another trolley!

I left, flying Atlas in an ever-expanding circle, reaching out with my bugs to scan the surroundings.

With a mixture of relief and fear, I realized that Bonesaw’s extermination smoke was stronger a half mile away.

A half mile that’s suspiciously in the direction of the closest city limit?

I’d been lucky enough to guess right.

They’d split up. Two trails, extending down different streets.

Ahh… which means you need to figure out which one belongs to Jack.

My bugs felt around to see where the death-zone was, a few dropping dead each time, their numbers whittling down. It was like a game of battleship, with constantly moving ships and limited ammunition.

You can feel the cannonballs dying whenever they hit a ship.


Three trails. I stopped in mid-air.

Fuck.

Siberian?

Three?

I gave chase to the nearest one, abandoning Atlas to pursue the subject into an alley, through a hole in the wall and into a derelict building, past a pile of rubble… this wasn’t right.

Yeah, this sounds like Siberian.

So what about the other two, is one of the trails Siberian’s real body instead of Jack or Bonesaw?

It was too nimble, moving through spaces too small for even Bonesaw.

Oh, I guess it might just be one of the spiders.

And before I even returned to Atlas, there were a half-dozen trails in total that were branching out around us. In another few minutes, there were a dozen.

Good move, Bonesaw. Good move.


Our group had used this method some time ago, using Grue’s power to slip away from the bank robbery. But how were they doing it? It wasn’t just the wind carrying the gas down misleading alleys. Were there living creatures carrying vials of the stuff?

Mechanical spiders, Taylor.

Though I suppose living creatures isn’t out of the question.

Mechanical spiders.They’d found their maker, and Bonesaw was using them to distribute the vapor and cut off my swarm sense.

After the last two chapters, it feels nice to figure out something before Taylor does.

They’d escaped.

Bye bye!


End of Prey 14.10

Thoroughly solid chapter!

I’m pleased with the fact that the Nine were trying to convince Amy to join them rather than to kill her. They need the members, and this led to a pretty interesting dialogue.

I’m not sure how much to care about the revelation that Jack apparently killed Allfather’s daughter rather than Marquis. It seems like Jack told Amy that to drive home that Marquis wasn’t all bad, but I don’t think his code against killing women and children redeems him much at all. I suppose it’s what Amy thinks about it that matters, though, and Amy is far more likely to respect someone’s dedication to a personal code of honor than I am.

(Let’s also take a moment to consider that – while children are one thing – specifically sparing women is not actually all that honorable in a modern setting like this. If he can spare the women, he can spare the men. If he can kill the men, he can kill the women. Treating them this differently is just sexist if anything, and I’m not even sure which gender it’s sexist against. Possibly both.)

Anyway, I did enjoy Jack’s attempts to convince Amy. He clearly knows what buttons to push. The parallels to Lisa are not lost on me, either – Jack is showing himself as roughly as much a dark counterpart to Lisa as Cherish is, and it’s very fitting that we got to see him do that to Amyin particular. I have to admit, he did manage to make some of what he was saying sound quite good – silver tongue indeed.

Incidentally, I’m oddly proud of this post [the one about survival of the fittest].

The fight against Jack was very good. It’d be fun to see that one in motion, I think, with all the strategic moves and rapid slashes and everything. 🙂

Next chapter… well, the Nine have escaped and the miasma’s cure has been put into motion, so I’m not sure what Taylor can do from here. Range bugs or no, she can’t cover all the paths Jack and Bonesaw might’ve taken for much longer. She could try guessing, but she’d need quite a bit of luck. Besides, it’s a shell game, and Jack is smart enough to know that the ball isn’t supposed to be under any of the shells.

[Order of the Stick comic snippet]

Haley: A con man doesn’t choose to play the shell game with you if there is any possibility of him actually losing.
Haley: The con isn’t in getting you to pick the wrong shell. The con is in getting you to accept that the basic premise of the game is still being followed.
Haley: The con is in getting you to pick a shell at all.

So if Taylor can’t catch the Nine… what’s next? Seeking out the rest of the Undertravelers to cure them of the miasma by sweating at them? Maybe asking Amy again whether she’d like to join the Undersiders? Whatever the case, I think we’re actually going into the dénouement this time.

I do wonder if Jack will bother with attempting to save Cherish before he heads for city limits. She’s certainly a useful tool for Coil and the Undertravelers to keep around if they can, so it might serve a story purpose for her to get busted out. I’m just not sure Jack wants to.

There’s also Siberian, who is apparently in a similar cocoon-like setup as Victoria. Will they fetch him before leaving? And then there’s Shatterbird, who could break free of Alec’s control at some point. The core of the Nine may be leaving, but we’re not quite done with the team’s members yet.

So yeah. This was a good chapter. See you next time!

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One thought on “Prey 14.10: Of Honor and Freedom

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