Colony 15.1: Barks and Bites

Source material: Worm, Colony 15.1

Originally blogged: October 2-5, 2018


[pre-intro]

So, who’s ready to colonize the next part of the story?

(#here we go with the muscle memory again
#it took me so many tries to write Arc 15 and 15.1p1)


Colony 15.1

It’s that time again – time to start a new Arc!

Due to this ask [here, search “book 2”] I now know that Prey is considered the end of book 2, which I means that we are not ending the book in Colony. That has implications: For one thing, this is very likely an Interlude Arc like Sentinel.

For another, we’re most likely not seeing an attack from the Simurgh yet unless this Arc follows characters from a different location dealing with that, which I find unlikely because unlike regular Interludes, judging by Sentinel, Interlude Arcs seem like they should be at the beginnings of the books and an Endbringer attack is very much something that belongs at the end of a book. Although with the scaling of the threats, maybe that won’t be the case for much longer. Also, this Endbringer attack would need to have some connection to the main plot – getting to see the attack just because it is happening would be weird, considering that at this point, they’re just a thing that happens in this world. Thirdly, we’d need to have reason to care about the characters involved, though I suspect Wildbow could pull that off.

So if this is an Interlude Arc and not an Endbringer Arc, what are we in for? Whose POV?

My first thought is the population of Taylor’s territory. But we’ve just had an Interlude from the POV of one of a total two or so non-Taylor residents we have reason to want an Interlude from the POV of.

Hmm. Colony, ant colony, ants, workers… Docks? Something to do with the rebuilding of the town? Or maybe the Guild, finally learning what their deal is beyond “Dragon is part of both the Protectorate and the Guild”?

I don’t know. Even with some of my options practically ruled out by the knowledge that this isn’t included in the Slaughterhouse Nine book, this Arc remains very hard to speculate on. Much like regular Interludes, actually.

I think it’s time that I just jump in and find out! And try not to get bitten by too many ants that are pissed at me for jumping into their Colony.


Posted on October 16, 2012… Today is October 2, 2018. I wonder which chapter I’m going to catch up to the release dates. Ignoring the year, I mean.


Bentley lunged in my direction, and I could feel my people backing away behind me.  I stood firm.

Woah.

So.

First of all: Taylor perspective, as far as I can tell. Normally this story doesn’t use first-person unless it’s her perspective. So not an Interlude Arc.

Second: Why does she appear to be up against Rachel? Rachel isn’t the sparring type. Is this Taylor attempting to rescue Dinah and ending up with Rachel against her, showing surprising loyalty to Coil?

Maybe this is a nightmare similar to the one she had in Infestation, where something’s gone wrong with the rescue plans? Perhaps all the Undertravelers are against her?

She does have her people, normally meaning Sierra, Charlotte and other subordinates from her territory. Is Rachel attacking Taylor’s territory for some reason?

Or maybe Bentley’s lunge has nothing to do with fighting. Maybe he’s just… arriving.

The mutant bulldog landed with both front paws first, the impact so heavy that spittle and moisture was flung from his massive body.

A low, guttural noise tore its way from Bentley’s throat as he surged forward again.  I could hear yelps and shouts of alarm from the crowd behind me.

I could imagine this being a show of sorts, but Rachel would probably not allow that.

Wood splintered, cracked, and finally gave way.  Behind Bentley, the husk of a fire-scorched building collapsed.  Chains that had been lashed to the building’s wooden supports trailed from the dog’s harness as he bounded toward Bitch.

He’s going toward Rachel now? Is Rachel next to Taylor, having just called for Bentley?

Of everyone present, only Bitch and I held our ground as the dog barreled into his master, practically bouncing with joy.

D’aww.


Bitch, for her part, wrapped her arms around his head as he lifted her off the ground.  “Good boy!”

He’s just a dog.  Beneath the three-thousand-ish pounds of muscle and the exterior of tangled muscle and bone, he was still a dopey dog who adored his master.  Bitch had given him what he’d been yearning for since he was abandoned or abused in his past life.

This is honestly what I love most about Rachel’s power. The dogs’ minds don’t change – they’re really big and scary, but they’re adorable doofs nonetheless. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed Interlude 4 so much. (RIP Brutus)

She’d offered him the affection and companionship he’d been wanting for years.

I could relate.  Not in terms of Bitch, specifically, but I could relate.

That’s exactly what the Undersiders as a whole did for Taylor.

“Get to work clearing that up!” I ordered.  My swarm augmented my voice to carry it across the crowd of my followers.  There were twenty-two adults and twenty kids.

Ohh. Demolition work, that’s what they’re doing. They just used Bentley to bring down that building on purpose.

With Coil’s assistance, I’d brought in work gloves and black hazmat suits, but most people were wearing only the lower body of the suits.  It was too warm for the full suits, and the masks were largely unnecessary.

We’re in the midst of summer by now, I suppose. How long has it been since Prey, which was around mid-late June?

Everyone was dripping from the rain, but nobody was really complaining.  I rather liked it; it was refreshing in the otherwise warm day.

Rain can be pretty nice sometimes. 🙂


A generator stirred to life a short distance down the street, and there was something of a rush as people hurried to get away from the intimidating presence of the big bad supervillains and their mutant animals.

That’s… fair, honestly.

That, and there was something of a fight to get the power tools.  There were only so many circular saws and chainsaws to go around, and anyone who didn’t have one was tasked with carrying the cut wood instead.

Honestly? I think I might pick the wood-carrying.

I created a barrier of bugs to stop one of the teenagers from reaching for a circular saw.

Enforcing an age limit? Fair enough, though I’m sure you wouldn’t hesitate much to use one yourself.

“If you’re under eighteen, you don’t get to use power tools,” I called out.  “Priority goes to the people who know how the tools are used.  Able bodied adults get second dibs.

Reasonable.

Listen carefully to the guys who know what they’re doing, and work somewhere dry if possible.

Dry?

We’ve had enough casualties, let’s not have anything stupid happening with someone slipping or losing their grip in the rain.  If someone’s being an idiot, tell Sierra, and she’ll inform me.”

Yeah, true, let’s not do the antagonists’ job for them and increase the body pile.


Sierra glanced at me and nodded.

I turned my attention to Bitch.

So how did you rope Rachel into this?

“You owe me,” she said.  The rain had plastered her short hair against her scalp.  Her gang of four people stood by with dogs on leashes: Barker, Biter, a college-aged kid with the scars of four parallel claw marks running across his face, and a girl with her arm in a sling.  They didn’t look scared, like my people had, but they still didn’t look fantastically thrilled to be in close vicinity to one of Bitch’s dogs on full throttle.

They’re more used to it, but working for Rachel sounds like a nervewracking experience anyway.

Nevermind that you were the one that came here early.  “Of course.

Wait, are you suggesting that Rachel hurried here when asked, eager to help even if she won’t admit it, says it doesn’t mean anything, it’s not like she likes you, b-baka?

We’ll get you and your people some lunch.”

She frowned.  “Lunch?”

Not hungry?

Yeah, I think maybe she thinks you owe her more than that.

There was a bit of a pause.  I waited patiently as she considered the idea.

“Fine,” she decided.

“But it’s strictly platonic! It’s not like it’s a date!! You hear that, baka?!”


“Come on,” I told her.  “We’ll go to my place while we wait for the others.”

While Bentley had been helping to tear down and dismantle the derelict building, I’d been contemplating how I’d leverage Bitch’s early arrival to mend fences and rebuild some trust.

This wording makes Taylor sound kind of manipulative, though I don’t think she is being that. Just trying to work her way through social dynamics like everyone else, with someone who doesn’t really see the same playing board.

I’d decided on something simple, as that seemed to work best with Bitch.  I imagined that she hadn’t paid a lot of attention to stuff like food as she took hold of her territory.  Odds were good that she’d asked Coil for a lot of easy food she could stuff in her pockets and eat on the go.  She probably wouldn’t pay much attention to stuff like seasonings or variety in courses.

The fastest way into a bitch’s heart is through her stomach?

I’d recently spent some time looking back on our past interactions.  Her perspective toward me had zig-zagged between a kind of hesitant acceptance and hostility.  We’d met, she’d attacked me.  We’d gone to the bank robbery, and she’d been open and excited, only to do a one-eighty and start shouting at me after misinterpreting something I said.  Two steps forward, one step back.

That last sentence pretty much describes their whole relationship.

Until I’d left the group and then been outed as an undercover operative a short while later.  That had been a good solid one-hundred steps back.

Right. She really didn’t take that well.

Recovering from that breach of trust had proven far more difficult than anything that came before.  Not quite impossible, though; I’d apparently proved myself in the recent past, because Bitch was making an effort on her end.

That’s why I think this is salvageable now. That’s new.

She was here earlier than I’d asked, for one thing, and she hadn’t murdered me when I asked for a hand with some things I couldn’t handle with my own power.

Not murdering your friends is a good start.

(#I still start to write arc 14 tags and have to erase them to make way for arc 15)


She glanced back at her group and whistled once, making a ‘come hither’ gesture.  I couldn’t tell if she was signaling her dogs and expecting the people to follow or if she was treating her own people like she did her dogs.

That last thing sounds better for her people than Rachel not treating them like she does her dogs. She treats her dogs better than she does any human that we’ve seen her interact with.

She grabbed the chain at Bentley’s neck and used it to lead him.

Barker and Biter looked pretty unimpressed, either way.  Barker especially.

Not big on this treatment, huh? Are you going to cause trouble about it at some point, Barker?

We didn’t talk as we made our way to my headquarters, and I was okay with that.  Every exchange between us was one more chance for me to inadvertently offend her, and the silence gave me a bit more time to consider how to tackle all of this.  I was used to feeling like I had to approach every conversation with a strategy, planning out what I was going to say so I didn’t sound like an idiot.  That went double for Bitch, because a slip-up could set me back days or weeks in terms of our friendship.

Kind of ironic given Rachel’s repeatedly stated distaste for manipulators.


Should friendship even be my goal? Maybe I was better off just trying to be a teammate.

And of course she starts questioning this right when Rachel finally begins to show signs of returning the favor, putting in some effort.

If it was just for my sake, I could probably convince myself.  As it stood, though, I was thinking of Bitch.  I felt like I would be abandoning her to a pretty lonely existence if I didn’t at least try.

Ahh, yeah. That’s certainly something Taylor can relate to and doesn’t wish on anyone else.

Has that been her motivation all along? Because I think I would accept Taylor’s insistence on making Rachel her friend more easily if it had been made more explicit.

I let them into my lair, after sweeping the area with my bugs to check for any observers, unlocking and opening the shutter.  Charlotte had experienced a few sleepless nights since the scare three nights ago, so I’d given her permission to take it easy here, with the warning that I’d have guests and would want her assistance.

Aw, poor Charlotte. She got really freaked by Sugita and now the bad memories are haunting her… 😦

Also, timeframe. Not much time has passed, it seems.

I wonder if Taylor did deal with the Chosen the evening of Interlude 14.

She still looked a little wary as Bitch, Biter, and Barker entered.

Charlotte is on edge and Taylor brings these guests specifically. Ouch.


“Hamburgers?” I asked Bitch.  She nodded.  When I looked at her minions, they signaled agreement.  Good.  Easy and simple.

Hey, guess what I had for dinner today, just before sitting down to blog!

“Charlotte, would you mind?  Maybe fries, too, if you know how to make them on the stove?”

“I don’t, but there’s some in the freezer that I can do.  They aren’t bad,” she replied.

I didn’t have fries, though.

“Good.  When you have a second, some towels for the dogs, too.”

“Okay.”

I led the others into the sitting area on the ground floor.  With the shutter up, some dim light filtered through the rain-streaked windows.  Bitch was outside, tending to Bentley, who had yet to shrink to a more normal size.

Just remember not to take him inside before he can fit through the door.

Wait, dogs plural? So it’s not just Bentley who’s here, helping Rachel and Taylor. Are the others out of line of sight from where Rachel was, not being controlled by Undersiders?

Or maybe Rachel sent them down south to pick up the rest of the gang. Seems weird, though.

I stepped outside to give her directions to where she could stow Bentley until he’d returned to a more normal size, pointing the way to the beach.  She marched off with the one-ton monstrous dog, not offering a response.

One ton is about two thirds of the weight that was given earlier, so either Taylor is rounding down or she’s saying the weight again to indicate that he has shrunk somewhat.


Which left me to deal with her people in the meantime.

That doesn’t make it sound pleasant.

Barker and Biter gave me something of a George and Lennie vibe, with the smaller guy as the brains of the outfit, the larger one as the big oaf.

I can’t say I’m familiar with the specific reference, but it’s a common trope.

While I didn’t have any major clues to Barker’s powers, Biter was clearly a physical powerhouse.  He stood over six feet in height with a severe underbite exaggerated by a metal bear-trap style band of metal around his lower jaw.

Pretty fitting. So does he have any powers related to biting?

His teeth, I saw, were filed into points.  His costume featured spiked knuckle-dusters and a number of leather straps and belts over his clothes.  Each length of leather was studded with sharp spikes.

Are you sure the teeth are filed into points? Maybe that’s part of his power.

Barker was an inch or two shorter than me, his hair and beard cut short enough that there was more skin than hair showing.  His eyes seemed overly large for his face, with heavy lids and folds around them that made him look older than he probably was.

So I was going to suggest dog breeds for the two of them, but it seems like Biter’s characteristic underbite is most common in small dogs like bulldogs, and Barker’s folds seem reminiscent of some big dogs like mastiffs. Bulldogs actually combine the two, being wrinkled and underbitten.

His ‘costume’ consisted of a black sleeveless t-shirt, jeans and tattooing around his mouth.  I’d seen him in something more conventional when Coil had introduced him to us, but now the only sign of his parahuman nature was the faint smoke that curled out of his mouth.

That’s just because of the jalapeños he ate earlier today.

Just going by his lack of bulk and short stature, I thought I might be able to take him in a no-powers fist fight.

Let’s keep in mind that he works for Coil. It’s very possible he’s had training with the Coildiers. Though brute strength does matter in such fights.


I’d nearly forgotten about Bitch’s henchpeople in the chaos of dealing with the Nine and all of the fallout that had ensued.  I realized I knew very little about them.

Well, time to find out!

To my surprise, it was Biter who did the talking.  He had a low voice, and his words were muddled by some combination of the mouthgear and the underbite.  “You get along.”

Are you sure he’s the oaf?

And yeah, it seems they do. Who’d have thought that your boss could get along with someone!

I folded my arms.

He spread his hands, “How?”

“How do Bitch and I get along?” I asked.

With difficulty.

He nodded.

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable talking behind her back.”

The girl with her arm in a sling spoke up, “She acts like she’s frustrated with us.  And I think we’re frustrated with her.”

I suppose to some extent she is frustrated. With herself and with Coil. With herself because she has trouble understanding you, and with Coil for forcing her to try.

“I don’t want to be rude, but that’s really her business with you.”  They’re her property, her territory.  If I screwed around with her minions or started something, it would effectively be stepping on her toes.

Yeeah, she would probably not like that very much.

“You can’t offer us any tips?” she asked.

She looked so hopeful.  Damn it.

Maybe just a tiny one?

“I can, but it’s going to sound pretty damn basic.  Be honest, be absolutely clear in what you’re saying.  Be obedient, but be assertive.  Don’t let her walk all over you or she will walk all over you.  At the same time, if you think there’s something worth arguing over, be prepared to fight tooth and nail for it, because you’ll be in a weaker position if you fight over it and lose.  Respect her space and her things, and remember that she’s your boss above all else.”

There are a lot of things that should cancel each other out here but don’t, and it’s no wonder she’s hard to deal with.

Also, I wonder if anyone’s going to recognize this as how you handle dogs. I mean, these people are experts in that, right?

“She doesn’t act like a boss,” Barker said, and he made it sound almost insulting.  Puffs of the dark smoke spilled from his mouth with each word, but they seemed to carry further than cigarette smoke would.

Careful, there might be liches around, feeding on your smoke.

It seemed to be tied to the stress or emphasis on the sounds that drove it forward.

Makes sense, what with the way you push those sounds out more.

“She does her own thing and she leaves us to clean up shit.”

I mean, that’s what some bosses do. Though you may have expected to be higher up in the hierarchy.


“Adapt,” I told him.  “That’s all I can say.  If you’ve proven yourself reliable, showed that you’re willing to clean up after the dogs and take care of them without complaining, she’ll test you in other ways.  That’ll be your chance to prove you’re useful.”

He sneered, looking at the girl and the boy with the scars on his face.  “She’s cutting them more slack than she’s cutting Biter and me.  We shouldn’t have to prove anything.”

Maybe that’s why. Maybe she feels threatened by the fact that you have powers?

“What do you do?  Your powers.”

He looked up at me.  “You want to see?”

Yes please.

Gas dogs? Nightmare miasma (the nightmares’ bark is worse than their bite, but they bark pretty damn hard)? Maybe he has to shout (”bark”) to get the full effect of the smoke out of his throat, whatever it may be.


I shrugged.

Whore.

Is his power essentially the D&D spell Vicious Mockery, as in insults that actually physically hurt?

Or maybe he’s conjuring a whore out of the gas?

The puff of smoke that accompanied the word detonated like a small thunder-clap, mere inches from my face.

Hah, it is! An explosive interpretation of that idea. It’s not a cutting remark or a biting insult, it explodes in your face.

I flinched, but it hadn’t been intended to harm.  Only to alarm.

Its bark was worse than its you get the idea.

I wonder if it has to do with the volume. Also, I wonder if the severity of the insult has to do with it.

I also wonder if he got this power from being viciously insulted by someone, or from being unable to physically defend himself and being given a power that could hurt with words only.

Does it have to be directed at someone, or could he help with the demolition by insulting some walls?

He sniggered.  I’d never met anyone who really sniggered before.

I could see how Coil thought Barker and Bitch would be a match.  I could alsosee where there would be some friction between the two.

Hehe.


I sighed a little, watching as Barker looked to the others, then over at Charlotte, as if they’d be joining him in his amusement.  None did.

“Oh come on, guys! That was funny!”

Biter earned a brownie point in my book by staying quiet and simply watching.

I caught my baton from behind my back and swung it underhand, still folded up, into Barker’s chin.

Taylor, please. You asked. He demonstrated. He even had the courtesy to ask if you wanted a demonstration first.

His teeth clacked shut with percussive force, and I stepped closer to push at his upper body while hooking at the chair leg with my foot to pull it in my direction.  He toppled backwards, his head hitting the wall behind him.

Taylor, you’re being a spoilsport.

I suppose it’s not unreasonable that this could be part of his power. Making people agitated at his taunts.

Kind of unfortunate when you’re not a Brute.

I didn’t have a full measure of his ability, but I did know his mouth was his weapon.  It made me look weaker, but I stepped back so his legs and the chair seat gave me cover in the event that he decided to attack me.

If he does, it’s your own damn fault, unless his power does mess with your head.


For extra measure, I drew the bugs out of my costume and sent them straight for his nose and mouth.

Here we go again.

He went bug-eyed as he sat up, coughing and sputtering in an attempt to clear the bugs from his airway.

At least he’s so far not literally bug-eyed like Clockblocker.

After one rolling cough, he created another detonation in and around his mouth, obliterating a majority of the bugs I’d tried to gag him with.

I glanced at Biter.  He was still seated.  Good.  I’d somehow thought that the guy would be stepping up to defend his partner, making this a two-versus-one fight.

Seems not. Biter seems to be staying neutral or even silently taking your side.

If Barker’s power does draw fire, Biter is probably well aware that it wears off soon enough.

Barker was climbing to his feet.  I saw him falter, then start coughing again, gagging.

The capsaicin had kicked in.

Taylor, this is very much overkill. Disproportionate retribution.

Also I was joking about the jalapeños!


“That’s the sort of thing you have to watch out for,” I told him, as he fell to the ground, writhing and coughing, tears welling in his eyes.  I kept my voice level.  “You’re in my house, my territory, and you fuck with me?  That’s the sort of thing that would get you in your boss’s bad books if you did it to her.”

Ahh. Setting an example. Fair enough.

“He has,” the boy with the scars on his face spoke.

Barker only gagged in response.

Yeeah, you screwed up by doing that to Rachel. No wonder she doesn’t cut you slack.

“Guess that’s why he deserves shit duty,” I commented.  I leaned against the wall, folding my arms, my telescoped baton still in one hand.

Bitch had chosen that moment to return.  She stared at the scene.

Oh, wonderful.

Hey, at least she didn’t arrive just a moment earlier, when Taylor was right in the middle of attacking one of her minions. Right now still looks bad, though.

Me standing idly by as Barker was curled up on the floor, wheezing and making pathetic noises, a few stray bugs crawling across his face.

She looked at me, glaring.

I don’t think you quite thought this one through, Taylor.

“He started it, I finished it,” I told her.

She looked at Biter, who shrugged and nodded agreement with my statement.  Bitch seemed to accept that as answer enough.  She picked up his chair, moved it a few feet so it wouldn’t be in Barker’s way as he kicked and spasmed, and sat down.

Fair enough.

Though I still say Taylor started it. What Barker did was a harmless prank and in return she went into full “eat bugs, asshole” mode.


“I’m surprised there’s no objections about me attacking your partner,”  I told Biter.

“Your house, your rules, you said.”

Yeah, no, Biter isn’t the oaf Taylor initially thought he might be. He actually seems like a very reasonable and level-headed man.

“What do you do?  No demonstrations, please.”

Heh. Playing it safe this time.

I would guess that Biter’s bite is worse than his bark.

“I make parts of myself bigger.”  He pointed to his mouth, then to the fist with the spike-studded knuckle-duster.

Ooh, that’s pretty cool.

(Yet Barker is the one with eyes that look big for his face.)

“Open wide, swing with bigger hands.”

Nothing that would have been that great against the Nine.  I couldn’t blame Bitch for leaving them behind.

I suppose that’s fair. Kind of depends on the maximum sizes, though.

“Fair enough.”  I addressed the two unpowered individuals from Bitch’s group.  “And you two?  Why were you picked for her team?”

“I was just starting my first year as a vet before everything went to hell,” the girl said.  “Needed money to pay my boyfriend’s hospital bill, was offered more than enough.

“Woah, I didn’t ask for your whole backstory.”

He got better a week ago, then broke up with me.  Not even a thank you.

What a dick.

Guess I’m still here because I don’t have anywhere else to go, and I like taking care of the dogs.”

That is a very valid reason.


I saw an opportunity.  “Did you have a dog growing up?”

Huh? What’s the opportunity that lies down that road?

“Greyhounds.  Eclaire and Blitzen.”

French baked goods and German lightning. No theme naming allowed in this household, unless the theme is “different languages”.

“Blitzen?  Like the reindeer?”

“No.  Like German for lightning.  And Eclaire is French.”

I won’t deny that I too thought of the reindeer before the lightning it’s named after.

I could see Bitch was tense.  Something about this line of conversation?

You might be dragging up memories of her trigger event.

I guessed what it might be and continued the questioning.  “Why greyhounds?  Don’t they need a lot of exercise?”

I guess I’m wrong. Because if Taylor was wrong here, we’d most likely hear about what her guess was, and if we’re both right, continuing the questioning might be a bad idea.

She shook her head.  “No.  They’re running dogs, but they only need about a half-hour of walking a day.  They work really well living in an apartment, which we were.”

“They howl,” Bitch said.

Oh… yeah, that might not be ideal for an apartment building.

If the henchlady goes on to explain that they did something to prevent the dogs from howling, I don’t think Rachel will take kindly to that.


“Only if they’re unhappy,” the girl protested.  She glanced down as Barker thumped on the ground with one fist, then looked up at Bitch and smiled a little, “And ours were happy.”

Ahh. That’s fair, if she’s right.

Bitch seemed to accept that.

“Do you have a dog now?” I asked.

She shook her head.  “I don’t have the money.  Or I didn’t have money, before Leviathan came.  Student loans and living expenses kind of ate up whatever I made.  I’m hoping to save up enough with the work I’m doing now.”

Well, at least Coil seems to pay well. And Rachel might appreciate the notion that the money earned from taking care of her dogs goes to taking care of another dog.

Assuming it’s about taking care of the dog rather than buying one. I don’t think Rachel appreciates people buying dogs when there are so many people giving puppies away and shelters housing dogs just waiting for adoption.

“You buying the dog?” Bitch asked.  She seemed interested, now, but there was still a tension, as if she was waiting for the other shoe to drop.  One wrong answer, and this could turn ugly.

Yeah, that did get her attention.

I could only hope the girl had the right answers.

“I kind of want another greyhound, because it’s what I grew up with… and you’ll get greyhounds from an animal rescue ninety percent of the time.  There’s one I’m pretty fond of that’s in one of your shelters, but he’s yours, of course.”

Bonding opportunity!

She’d taken my advice about respecting Bitch’s ownership.  Good.

Nice.


“Greyhound?  Chase or Ink?”  Bitch asked.

Now we’re getting into terms I don’t know. Sub-breeds, I assume.

“Ink.”

Bitch frowned.  I tensed, ready to jump in and distract with some mention of food.

Oh wait, she was asking which of the greyhounds she has that this girl is fond of.

Is Rachel contemplating a good, selfless deed here?

Grudgingly, Bitch said, “Rather they have a proper home than stay with me.”

She was!

I could see the girl’s eyes widen in surprise.  “I didn’t- um.  Thank you.”

“If I see him in some cage in a shelter after you’ve taken him home, I’m going to track you down and dismember you,” Bitch growled.

“Baka.”

Seriously, though, it says a lot that this girl (it’d be nice to have a name for her) has actually convinced Rachel that she’ll take care of the dog properly. I don’t think we’ve seen Rachel trust other people’s skill in taking care of dogs before. Though to be fair, Rachel has had the chance to observe this girl taking care of her dogs for some time now.

I could see from the expression on the girl’s face that she believed Bitch.  Still, I saw her steel herself as she replied, “If I fuck up, I deserve it.”

She really does seem to have taken everything Taylor told them to heart.

Obedient but assertive. Backing off but not showing her fear.

There wasn’t much more I could do to help that conversation.  I had hope that this would set Bitch’s underlings in the right direction.

It seems to have worked with this one, at least.


While they continued talking, I stepped away to check on the hamburgers that Charlotte was cooking on the stove.

“Is he going to be okay?” she asked me.

Oh, Barker? Might have a sore throat for a while.

It took me a second to realize who she meant.  I looked back at Barker.  “Yeah.”

“I mean, is he going to attack us?”

…oh.

She doesn’t want a repeat.

“I dosed him with pepper spray, basically, as well as a few stings and bites to add to the hurt.  That’ll generally put someone down for half an hour, so I don’t think he’s a threat.  I don’t think he’s stupid enough to attack with Bitch and I here.”

She nodded, but she didn’t look relieved.  I would have asked what was up, tried to pry for more clarification on just why she hadn’t slept well, or why she was so easily spooked, but I was interrupted by the vibration of my phone.

As much as I had trouble with the relevant scene in Interlude 14, I’m pleased with the fact that this chapter suggests we’ll be following up on Charlotte’s mental state going forward.

So what does Lisa have to say today? Trouble on their way here?

(#it could be brian but at this point i think it’s fair to assume that if someone’s calling taylor it’s probably lisa)


I stepped up into my lair to take the call.

“We’re a few minutes away,” Lisa told me, the second I picked up.

Hello to you too. 🙂

“Bitch is here already,” I answered.  “Come in the front door when you get here.”

Are they just officially using that now, with the secret being compromised already in Interlude 14?

“Righty-o.  Ta ta.”

She hung up.

Al…righty then. What was the narrative reason for the inclusion of that phone call when we already knew they were coming?

Are they not going to arrive in a few minutes, eventually causing Taylor to worry? Is the fact that they’ve been asked to come in the front door somehow relevant?

I took a second to compose myself, alone in the second floor of my lair.  Dealing with people, the sensitive management of Bitch and her underlings, pretending confidence where I didn’t necessarily have it, and thinking of all the little details that would help me convey the image of someone confident and powerful… it was draining.

I guess the narrative reason was just to get Taylor away from people so she could have some introspection time.

And introversion time, given what she’s saying here.

It meant standing straighter, having the answers, thinking two steps ahead and using intimidation and fear to prevent any argument or insubordination like Barker’s little stunt.  It meant retaliating in excess to any slight or disrespect.

…I think you’re putting too much pressure on yourself again. You’re making yourself act like a mixture of Coil and Rachel.

Or maybe like Bakuda.


Barker had pushed me, I’d left him mewling like a baby.

At the same time, I faced a dilemma on the opposite end of things.  I wanted to help people, and I wanted to build friendships with the others.  With the way Bitch sort of mandated that I go the extra mile, it was hard to be nice to her without seeming weak to others.

And seeming weak to her isn’t good either, even when trying to be nice.

Well, what they didn’t see didn’t hurt them.

So basically you’re going to be nice to her in secret?

First tsundere Rachel and now secret meetings where their true feelings can shine? You’re spoiling the Taylor/Rachel shippers this chapter.

I stepped downstairs.

“Bitch?” I asked.  “A word?”

She frowned, glancing at the food.

Take it with you.

“We’ll be done before the food is,” I promised.

Oh, right, it’s not done yet.

She followed me up the stairs.

“It’s not complete,” I admitted, walking over to where I had fabric draped over a workbench.

Ooh, costume show-off time!

Fashion montage! Fashion montage! Fashion montage!

Except… wasn’t Taylor not supposed to make one for Rachel?

I picked up one piece and flicked it out.  “I just figured you’d want to see it and voice any complaints before the others got here, so your voice doesn’t get drowned out.”

That really is a good thing to do. The others are quite a bit more talkative than Rachel, so she can have trouble getting her points across.

She took it from my hands.  It was a jacket, not dissimilar to the one she’d lent me once upon a time, but it was naturally lighter.  There was a hood with a fluffy fur border at the edges, extending around in front of her shoulders.  Besides the zippers and buttons, the fur was the only thing I hadn’t made myself.

Ooooh. Taylor made a costume but made sure it was in Rachel’s style.

So does that mean this jacket is made of spider silk?

“I dyed it dark gray.  I figured if you wanted it any color, you’d want it something dark, so I can tint it dark red, dark blue, dark green, or whatever you want.”

Rachel: “I’m colorblind.”

She stared at it, her forehead creased.

“It’s spider silk.  Tensile strength like steel, but flexible enough to resist wear and tear that steel wire would experience.  And it’s lighter than the steel would be.  Knives won’t cut it.  I figured you’d want a heavier feel, judging by the jacket you lent me before, so I put rectangular panels of armor in between the inner and outer layer to give it more substance.

Awesome.

I originally meant for there to be an undershirt or something you can wear to protect your upper body for when you don’t have it zipped up, but I kind of cannibalized it for my own costume, after I burned my legs.  I’ll have the shirt ready for you in a week or two.  Here, there’s leggings, too.  They survived.”

I picked up the leggings.  Unlike the jacket, they were skin-tight.

I don’t know how Rachel’s going to feel about that.


“I don’t wear tights,” she said.

“I thought you could wear them under your pants if you were expecting a serious fight.  I gave you an inner layer with a really fine weave for the inner thighs, for when you’re riding, so there’s less chafing.”

Taylor Mode (Edna Hebert?) over here has clearly put a lot of thought into this.

“Uh huh.”

“I went out of my way to give you lots of pockets like you had in the other jacket.  I don’t think it’ll be too hot.  There’s zippers in the armpits so you can ventilate some cool air inside, and you can detach the hood if you want, but I liked how it looked with the fur.  I’m planning an inside liner for when it’s-”

Is Rachel about to call Taylor out on the fact that she didn’t ask for any of this?

“It’s fine,” she interrupted me.  “Stop talking.  It’s good.”

😀

I think that’s the closest we’ve ever gotten to a compliment from Rachel.


“Yeah?  I didn’t get a chance to get your measurements, so I went by memory, based on the jacket you lent me.”

That was, what, two months ago? How good is your memory for such things?

She pulled it on and adjusted the front.  “Fits fine.”

“Here,” I said.  I turned around and grabbed the next piece.  I handed it to her.

She turned it around in her hands.  I’d cheated and formed the base sculpt out of chicken wire, covering the remainder with layers of dragline silk and painting the end result.  It was, as close as I’d been able to manage, a recreation of what her power did to her dogs in the form of a mask.

Oh man, that’s awesome.

Except I’d made it half human and half dog.

THAT’S EVEN BETTER


“Looks like Brutus,” she said.

😦

I didn’t see it, but I didn’t see fit to correct her either.

She pulled it on.

“It’s just a little bit flexible, if you want to bend any bits that are rubbing in the wrong place, or shape it to fit your face better.”

“It’s fine,” she said.  She adjusted her jacket again.

She’s gonna look so cool with that mask on.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone else’s costumes. I’m guessing we’ll be seeing those too in this chapter, when the others arrive. There’s plenty of scrollbar left.

“If you want me to change anything-”

“No.”

Her refusal was so curt it gave me pause.  I couldn’t tell if she was upset or happy.

If anything she might be upset that there’s nothing to be upset about.

I forced myself to keep my mouth shut.  I’d give her a few seconds to let me know either way.  If she didn’t, I was ready to escape by pointing out that lunch would be waiting for us.

“You made stuff for the others?”

Maybe we’re about to see the other costumes before the others arrive. Though I’m not sure I want to. I’d like to see their reactions too.

“Yeah.”

“But I didn’t ask for it.  I told you to fuck off when you asked me for my measurements, remember?”

Ah, here we are, though it’s more civil than I was expecting at first.


“I made it anyways.”

She adjusted her mask, turning it so it hung off one side of her head.  She was glowering at me.  “Why didn’t you listen when I told you to fuck off?”

“Because I’m your friend.”?

Two ways I could interpret that question.  “Don’t worry about it.  Look, the hamburgers will be ready soon…” I trailed off.

I suppose it could be read as going all the way back to Insinuation, and various “fuck off”s from there on.

I like how we’re treated to Taylor actually attempting to employ the tactic she just mentioned a couple paragraphs back, in order to illustrate Taylor feeling the need to escape the dual question without actually saying it. Chekhov’s social escape tactic.

An awkward silence reigned.  I turned to head downstairs.

“What do you want for this?”

Friendship?

It took us a while to get here, but I think I can finally accept this relationship as a shaky friendship rather than hostility and denial.


I looked over my shoulder.  “What?  Nothing.”

“You’re trying to get some favor from me.”

She already got one of those today…

“No, I’m really not.  It might feel like it, with the timing and what we’re going to talk about with Lisa and the others, but it’s really not.

Hm? So this upcoming meeting is not about their costumes.

Is it about going up against Coil?

You’re free to argue and disagree with me or the rest of us, just like usual.  The costume’s a gift.”

“I don’t get many gifts.”

Well, then this can be considered a first step towards fixing that. 🙂

I shrugged.  What was I supposed to say to that?  I couldn’t help but feel that if I were a little more socially adroit, I’d have had a snappy answer.

She kept talking.  “All of the stuff I’ve gotten, it’s been with strings attached.  Used to get gifts from one of my foster dads,” she paused.  “And I get the money from Coil.”

Money from Coil may seem like a gift but I really don’t think it is.

“Those aren’t really presents.  They’re more like bribes or enticements.  Really truly, this is no strings attached.  You can act like you normally would, I won’t expect any different.”

Again, that glower.

Maybe the glower is just Rachel’s way of saying “thank you”.

I swallowed.  “Wear it or don’t wear it.  It’s okay either way.  It’s not a big deal.”

“I’ll wear it,” she said.

Excellent 🙂


When I turned to head downstairs, she followed.

I guess that means ‘thank you’.

Best you’re gonna get for now, yeah.

We were greeted by the others in the kitchen.  There was just enough time to grab and prepare our burgers before the others arrived.  Grue, Tattletale, Imp, Regent and Shatterbird.

One of these is not like the others.

They turned down the offer of food, and together, we ventured back upstairs.

There’s a lot of up and down those stairs today, huh.

Watch out for the stairs.

With everyone gathered in my headquarters, I handed out the costumes.  Like Bitch’s, the other costumes were in various stages of completion, primarily with minor details missing or askew.  I ate while the others tried it all on.

Aw, we’re not getting extended first reactions for them?

It’d take a while, maybe, but it’d be fun.

Lisa’s costume was virtually the same.  The complicated aspect had been maintaining the crisp differences in color without any bleeding of black into lavender or vice versa.  There’d also been the issue of getting the mask to fit her face well.  I’d accomplished the former by making the black and lavender pieces separately and attaching them to a gossamer-thin sub-layer when I was done.

Well, her costume was pretty neat to begin with, so I can’t complain.

We had the boys and Shatterbird turn away while Lisa and Aisha changed at one end of the room.  The mask was a failure, it didn’t sit right around the eyes, but I was left with an idea of what to do.

You could, of course, have sent them back down the stairs, or even up the stairs, but I suppose this works, and raises fewer questions from Rachel’s minions.


Grue’s costume was not unlike his motorcycle leathers in terms of thickness and design, making him one of the most heavily armored of our groups in terms of the amount of material he was wearing.  His headwear was the part I’d changed the most: I’d modeled the face-plate after a figurine he’d bought at the market.

Oooh.

It was a step away from the visor he’d worn up to now, more demonic than skeletal.

Sibling themes!

I think I like him being the grim reaper better than him being a demon, but it’s still pretty neat.

The only real trick there had been making it non-porous enough that his darkness wouldn’t bleed through.  A quick experiment proved that my efforts had turned out alright.  In costume, the face-mask down, the darkness framed his mask but didn’t cover it unless Grue forced it to.  A demon’s face in dark gray in a vaguely human-shaped twist of darkness.

The way his costume makes use of his power has always been really cool. As long as that’s included I’m not terribly disappointed.


For Regent and Imp, I’d settled on bodysuits and masks.  Regent would wear his beneath his costume and Imp would wear hers as a simple black bodysuit, complete with a scarf and the horned mask Coil had provided.

So basically, not much has changed for them either besides the materials involved, and Aisha turning into a ninja.

There was more to do: belts, Imp’s scarf, Tattletale’s mask and Bitch’s shirt, not to mention finishing my new mask, and my plans for different masks for our various minions.

This is a pretty solid proof of concept, though. I suspect they’ll need to but these costumes to use before Taylor finishes tailoring these extra bits.

When we’d been fighting the Slaughterhouse Nine, I’d lamented the fact that I hadn’t better outfitted the team, and people had been hurt where the costumes would have otherwise protected them.  In the days I’d had to wind down, focusing on getting people organized and working on cleaning up the area, I’d been in range to get a serious effort going on the costumes.

Ahh, so that’s why right now is when this is happening. Makes sense.

I was satisfied with this.

You should be! You did really good work here.

Man, how long has it been since Taylor was last satisfied with something she accomplished?


By all appearances, they were too.

“Safe to turn around,” Tattletale told the boys.

They did.  I gestured, and people found seats in the various chairs.

“Feels like we’re different people than we were an hour ago,” Imp said, looking around.

I had a haircut today, but I suppose that’s not quite the same as a complete costume overhaul.

I considered her words.  “I appreciate the sentiment, but I think it’s more accurate to say we’re different people than we were a week ago.”

Fair enough, but veering off topic, if you mean what I think you mean.

There were some nods.  I glanced at the scar on Tattletale’s cheek, at Shatterbird, who stood obediently behind Regent, and at Grue, who had transformed more than any of us.

…okay, fair. Fair. It’s on topic.

And I couldn’t forget the change I’d undergone, even if I didn’t have the objectivity to nail down exactly what about me was different from a week ago.  Sure, my costume was different, and I had the three hundred pound beetle that was resting on the roof.

You seem to have gotten harder. More willing to lash out and deliver disproportionate retribution.

Or proportionate retribution, in the case of the Nine themselves.


“You wanted to touch base?” Brian asked, after he’d pulled off his mask.

I swear, “touch base” is by far one of the most euphemism-sounding terms for meeting up and chatting.

“I had some words with Skitter,” Lisa answered.  “I think it’s about time we all got on the same page.”

Coil. It looks like we’re going down that route this Arc.

“In terms of tactics?”

Lisa shrugged, “There’s that.  I think working independently is kind of throwing us off, and it leaves us weak against any coordinated attacks from the Chosen.  We work best when we complement one another.”

It’s more fun from a reader’s perspective too.

Alec shrugged.  “Okay.  That’s easy enough to arrange.  Not really a reason to throw a major group meeting.”

On point Alec is back.

“There’s something else,” I said.  I swallowed, looking at Regent, Imp and Bitch.  “I’ve already talked about this at length with Lisa, and I’ve discussed it some with Brian.  This isn’t an easy topic to broach, because it sort of fucks with the team’s status quo.”

Yep. Coil it is.


I think I’ll leave this discussion for the next session. See you Thursday!

[End of session]


Last night, I bought and installed Worms: WMD, but didn’t have time to play it. I did, however, have time to start making some teams.

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Yes, the Undersiders sound like English policemen. None of the other voices fit, I didn’t want to go for the generic ones, and with this being the team I’ll most likely be playing the most, I decided to go for the funniest one. And hey, ironic contrast!

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The Arctic Explorer actually voice fits the Nine more than you’d think. Better than Artist, even – you’d think that one would fit them from the name, but it’s, well, based on Bob Ross.

(Homestuck spoilers in the one below)

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Shame there weren’t any bed-like gravestones.

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The names are from Round Trip’s MLP in a Nutshell series. I blame the fact that “Twilight Sparkle” wouldn’t fit the character limit.

(I ended up using Big Mac for the eighth slot instead of a character whose inclusion would make sense because that character’s involvement would be a spoiler for someone I might end up playing this team against. Also because I love Big Mac’s name in MLPiaN.)


[Session 2]

Well, we’ve dawdled long enough. Let’s see what Alec and Rachel think of going against Coil!

I suspect Rachel isn’t going to like it. While there have been other reasons for her to feel the way she did about things, she’s always been against the major changes to the status quo, and with her and Taylor finally making headway, the time seems right for Rachel to wind up a temporary antagonist.

A couple things that also seem to point to this: One, the beginning of this chapter was a fakeout of Taylor vs Rachel, which I do not think was unintentional. Then Rachel brought up Coil as one of the people giving her “gifts”, which despite what Taylor said about them not really being gifts might be one of the reasons why she’d side with Coil.

Alec… will probably have some good points (on-point Alec is best Alec) but I don’t know if he’ll particularly care for or against. If there’s a schism, though, he’ll probably stay with Taylor’s group… although… I suppose if he goes with Rachel and Coil, that group gets to have Shatterbird, increasing the difficulty of this mission sharply.

Not that it’s not already pretty difficult, given Coil’s resources, powers and employees, including the Travelers. They’d be formidable foes if they took Coil’s side.

(#no pun intended
#but one pun adopted wholeheartedly after i realized i’d made it)


…I forgot Aisha.


That had their attention.

“I guess the question is, how keen are you guys on continuing to work for Coil?”

Straight to the point.

“Are we talking quitting in the short-term or what?”

“I don’t know exactly what we’re talking about, because so much depends on how you guys respond and how things unfold in the next while,” I said.  “But this thing with Dinah, I’m not happy with it.  I know Lisa and Brian have their issues with that, even if they don’t share my perspective in how culpable we all are in that.”

“That again?”

“I’m not responsible at all,” Aisha pointed out.

True.

“Aisha,” Brian’s tone was a warning.

“Just saying.”

Hehe. I appreciate it, at least.

And hey, if there’s anyone here who should have a free pass to remind others about themself, it’s Aisha.


“You aren’t responsible, I know,” I told her.  “I get the impression you’d side with Brian, Lisa and me if it came down to it.  The people I’m really directing this question at are Alec and Rachel.

When I realized I forgot Aisha, I decided not to expound on her reaction the way I had just done for Alec and Rachel because a) the post would be funnier without that and b) there really wasn’t much to say at all. I’m with Taylor here – I don’t think Aisha has a strong opinion on this beyond sticking with Brian whether she wants to or not.

I’m under the impression they’re the least invested in helping Dinah out, and they’re most interested in what Coil has to offer.”

Oh look, another reason why this might lead to a schism.

“Doesn’t Brian have a stake in this?” Alec asked.

Not nearly as much as when this plotline started, since Aisha’s on the team now and their mother is no longer an obstacle thanks to Aisha’s power. Earning money to convince the social services and to take care of Aisha the mostly legal way isn’t quite as big a deal anymore.

Brian shrugged.  “Coil approached me a few days ago about increasing my pay.  I think he knows I’m not that reliant on him anymore.  I got into this because I wanted to get Aisha away from my mom.  With the way things in the city have been turned upside-down, I know and Coil knows that I don’t need help.

Pretty much. Brian’s goal was to give Aisha a way out, but then Leviathan went and did it for him.

Well, probably. We still don’t know for sure that Leviathan was responsible for Aisha’s trigger, though it makes a ton of sense both with regards to her power and to the timeline.

The fact that I can say I’ve got money saved up, I can arrange to get a place and Aisha’s safe and sound with me?  That’s almost enough to decide the court case as is.”

Oh, he’s still going through the legal stuff?

I suppose Aisha’s power doesn’t always stop her mom from knowing about her daughter. Whenever she turns it off to talk to her teammates, her mom probably remembers again.


“And mommy’s on a bender,” Aisha said.  “Don’t think it’ll end anytime soon.”

It was odd, but Brian looked more upset at hearing that than Aisha was about saying it aloud.  Hadn’t he grown up with his dad?

I think he’s more upset about the fact that Aisha’s been living a life that led to her seriously saying this kind of thing casually. Like, it’s something she’s used to, a fact of life, and Brian hates that.

Of course, it may also be that he has sentiment for his mom too in spite of how much of an obstacle she has been. Growing up mainly with his dad doesn’t preclude that.

“So it’s really down to you two,” I addressed Alec and Rachel.

“If I were to say I wanted to stick around?  That I like the status quo?” Alec asked.

That’s not entirely hypothetical, is it?

“That’s fine,” Lisa said.  “You’d be an asshole and a prick, but we’d work around you.”

Pfft.

But yeah, besides the joke (I choose to interpret that as a tongue-in-cheek joke rather than manipulation), what Lisa is saying here is actually not a good thing, at least not to the team as a whole. “Working around someone” is exactly what would lead to a schism.


“That’s vague,” Alec commented.

“We can’t exactly share our game plan with you if we’re going to wind up on opposite sides,” I pointed out.

…fair point.

“It’s a hassle.  Why make things complicated for all of us, because one member of our group has a moral quibble?”

Also a fair point from the perspective of someone who doesn’t really care about Dinah. It’s a very believable stance for Alec to take here. He doesn’t want to deal with this shit.

“A preadolescent girl was kidnapped, with our help, and she’s spent the last few months in a dungeon, drugged out of her mind, all so Coil can use her power,” I said.  “That’s not a quibble.”

Alec sighed dramatically.  “I’m just pulling your legs.  World’s going to end in a couple of years.  Won’t kill me to help you make peace with yourself before it does.”

…well, okay then! Glad we got that sorted.

So Alec’s on a nihilistic streak, apparently, though thankfully it’s the “why not” variety, not the “why bother”.


And so it’s Rachel’s turn, unless we’ve got a couple more paragraphs of Alec.

There was a long pause where nobody spoke.

Nice, Alec.” Brian said.

Pffft. :p

Alec chuckled.  “What?  It’s true.  That Dinah kid said it was.  Don’t pretend it’s not going to happen.  Might as well live it up before everything goes to hell in a handbasket.”

You know, I’m seriously very glad it’s this brand of nihilism. It’s far less insufferable than the “why bother” variety, and actually kind of lines up with my own philosophies, except mine have a somewhat more optimistic bent.

“There’s a chance it won’t,” I replied, my voice quiet.  “And with the sheer variety of powers out there, there’s got to be an answer.”

You know the situation is globally fucked when Taylor is speaking up as the optimist in the conversation.

“That optimism’s bound to be wearing thin by now,” Alec commented.

“Enough,” Brian said.

I mean, to be fair, it’s not the first time she’s done it, but still. If Taylor’s the one holding onto hope you’re probably in a very bad situation.

“Why are you guys freaking out?  Because I’m calling you out on your willful blindness?  The world’s gonna end, and I’m okay with that.  Therefore I’m saying I’ll go along with your plan, whatever it is.  Why argue with me?”

There’s a distinct argument about resignation in the face of prophecy here too.

I’m already reexperiencing the Wheel of Time on the side. That story’s main theme is “it’s not that great to be bound by prophecy” and it has enough on this subject to talk about it for an Age. So, uh…

Crossover potential?

During an exhausting mission in the countryside near Brockton Bay, the Undersiders and Charlotte take a rest by a stone covered with strange markings. When they wake up, they find themselves far from anywhere they’ve ever seen before, unfamiliar mountains visible in the distance. As they explore their new surroundings, they discover a world in turmoil as the Dragon Reborn, savior and destroyer in one, breaks all bonds of culture and inspires wars, scheming and more and creatures of the Shadow advance on the world. And it all only gets worse when the residents of this odd new world begin to have trigger events…

Anyway, Taylor’s not going to stand by idly and watch the world end, whether she can help it or not. She’s proven that kind of determination already.

(#charlotte is in this blurb because i wanted a mundane from the wormverse to be able to channel the one power
#subconsciously at first
#especially since that’s needed to activate the portal stone)


I suppose I didn’t actually talk about my own stance on prophecy, acceptance and that whole deal.

The thing about that is that as far as we know, Alec is right. This kind of thing depends a whole lot on how time works in the setting, and while Worm’s time mechanics are normally ideal for getting around prophecy (this being why precogs are considered unreliable), Dinah’s specific brand of precognition counteracts that, and this particular prophecy was given with 100% certainty. Meaning she saw this happening in every possible outcome. Unless time in Worm has more to it or Dinah’s power is somewhat less reliable than we thought, there’s literally no way to avoid this, no matter how hard Taylor tries. Any timeline Taylor makes by trying is already factored into the prophecy, unless it involves something like time travel to create a timeline outside Dinah’s scope.

That doesn’t mean I can blame her for wanting to try. It’s admirable, and Taylor has less real reason to believe that Dinah’s power is reliable than we the readers have.

Meanwhile the Triumvirate and Cauldron have been trying to figure out not how to prevent the event, but how to run damage control and reduce the casualties. That’s also a very legitimate take on this, maybe moreso than Taylor’s, though the Triumvirate have even less reason to believe that this is objective cold hard fact.


Brian sighed.

“Bitch?” I asked.  “I know Coil’s set up your dogs in those shelters, and we’d be asking you to potentially lose that, depending on how this plays out, but…”

“I’ve managed without money before,” Bitch said.  “Smarmy bastard conned me.  Promised me I’d be left alone if I joined the group.  That hasn’t happened.

Huh. That’s actually a good point.

So far it’s actually looking like Rachel is 100% on board here.

Everything’s backwards. I theorize on Rachel being against changing status quo and somewhat on board with Coil at this point, but Alec’s the one who brings up status quo, and Rachel doesn’t even seem to hesitate to go along here.

If he thinks I’ll forget that because of what he’s given me, I’d like to see the look on his face when he finds out how wrong he is.”

Hell yes.

“Thank you,” I said.

I mean, it’d still be kinda cool to have the other Undersiders up against Rachel at some point, but sure, this works very well for me too. The back and forth of Rachel and Taylor’s relationship has honestly had enough major bumps right as they start to connect by now.

“So we’re all in?” I asked.

“It was fun,” Alec shrugged, “That’s why we got into this, wasn’t it?  Easy money, fun, get to do what we wanted.  No pressure, no responsibilities.  It’s become something else.  So maybe we end that.”

…it was, wasn’t it. Fun and friends and easy money.

Let’s go back to the roots.

Taylor’s territory. What are Sierra and Charlotte and all the other people living there going to do if they lose Coil’s support? Sierra knows Skitter is considering going up against her boss, so it might not be too surprising to her, but it might still be bad. Would Taylor still work to run the territory, her Colony?


“I don’t necessarily want to end it,” I said.  “I’m not talking about taking Coil head on, and I do want to preserve my territory, if I can help it.  It’s helping people.”

Oh hey, I sure asked that question just in time.

So basically you want to be sneaky about getting Dinah out?

If it’s a stealth mission, don’t do it at night. Coil has two worlds going all night, so if you do this at night, things will go his way where they can. He’ll likely be present at the base himself.

If it’s manipulation… how?

“So what do you want?” he challenged me.

“For right now?  I mainly wanted to know you’re on my side.  I really appreciate that you are,” I said.  I looked at Bitch and repeated myself, “Really.”

It is good to know, yeah.

Still, though. You didn’t really answer the intended question.

“And for the future?”

“We’ve got an awfully small window,” Lisa said.  “One and a half weeks, roughly, before Dinah’s power is back online.  Once that happens, Coil becomes a thousand times harder to take on.

Oh yeah, good point! Her power being on the fritz does help a lot.

There’s the mayoral elections, the question of whether the city gets condemned-”

…oh hey, did you forget to tell the others about that particular tidbit?

Also, can I just say? With the state of Brockton Bay right now, I’m not sure how much of a difference condemnation makes.

(#yes i can say
#because this is my blog and i say what i want)


“What?” I cut in.

“It’s arguably more expensive to fix the problems here than it is to abandon the city entirely.  Depends on what the consensus is from the President and all the other folks in charge.”

“If that happens, what will Coil do?” Brian asked.

Probably not rule the city, huh.

“Leave.  Start over somewhere else, transporting any resources he can, leaving behind all liabilities.  He might bring some of you with him, offering some hefty bribes.  Somehow I don’t think he’ll bring Skitter.  Even my own currency is running pretty thin,” Lisa shrugged.

Alec in particular might be very, very useful to Coil.

Not sure why Lisa wouldn’t be, though. Even with Dinah and various other information sources, what she can do should be a huge boon.

“He can’t afford to lose you,” Brian said.  “You’re too dangerous as an enemy.”

Oh yeah, that too. Especially since he can’t control what she knows about him very well.

“Oh, I think he’s studied me enough to feel pretty confident he can off me if he wants to,” Lisa said. “Trick is making it a sure enough kill that there’s no chance of it backfiring on him.”

What? I don’t think it’s about ability to off you.

I suppose there is the risk of you setting up something to spread his information if he kills you.


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

“He knows your weak points.  The gaps in your power, your dad, your identity, your morals.  You already know that.”

Right. That might be an issue.

I did, but hearing it said so clearly, it was one of those cases where having the details laid out in front of me didn’t make me feel more confident.

“So this is going to be a different kind of fight,” Brian mused.  “It’s about control and subterfuge.  If he figures out what we’re doing, if we clue him in, he’s probably better equipped than any of our past opponents when it comes to knowing how to deal with us.  If the city gets condemned, we’re boned.  And if Dinah gets her powers back, he’ll be impossible to beat.”

Dinah and Coil’s powers complement each other really damn well. She can tell him where his choices lead before he, uh, starts his free timeline demos.

Control and subterfuge. It’s a chess game against a chessmaster, and the key is to not let him realize he’s playing.

Which ties very well into his power’s weakness, which is surprise attacks that don’t give him time to split the timeline soon enough for one of his copies to succeed/survive. Don’t let him know he’s playing until it’s too late for him to win.

“That’s the gist of it.  Even I don’t know what he has planned for his endgame, here.  It’s looking pretty ugly, to be honest.”  Lisa counted off the points on her fingers.  “The Chosen will be gunning for us, Coil’s got a small army of pretty excellent, well-equipped soldiers at his disposal, he’s got some pretty fucking heavy hitters with the Travelers, the heroes are going to be going into overdrive to establish some sort of control and last but not least, he’s Coil.”

Things are gonna get wild.


“Well,” Alec said, chuckling a little, “At least we’ll have something to help pass the time while we wait for the world to end.”

Here he goes again. I’m not sure he’s being entirely honest about how he feels about the world ending anymore. He’s starting to sound like he’s repeating it to convince himself.

…oh, end of chapter. Sure, this works as an ending line too. Seems a little bit forced, maybe, but it works.


Huh. The scrollbar is really high up despite spoiler protection being on. I guess this chapter got a lot of early comments for some reason.


End of Colony 15.1

The Undersiders stick together! I honestly wasn’t entirely expecting that.

This was pretty good for a strategy meeting chapter. I very much appreciate that we’re finally making headway with Taylor and Rachel, and I quite enjoyed seeing Rachel’s reaction to Taylor making her a costume in spite of being told to fuck off. While I’m a little bit miffed we didn’t get to see the others’ immediate reactions, this was the one reaction that actually mattered and I’m glad we were allowed to witness it.

Those stairs are gonna be so worn out if they continue like this, though.

As for the actual strategy meeting part, that went quite smoothly. Alec decided to mess with everyone a bit – though he’s possibly more affected by the whole end of the world thing than he’d like to let on – but we got to a unanimous decision of “fuck Coil” fairly easily.

From there on out we got some strategy talk. It’s still not clear what exactly they’re planning, which is a good thing for their odds early on, but we’re playing secret chess and I’m very much here for it.

The ending line is a little bit iffy. It seemed to come almost out of nowhere, like Wildbow wasn’t entirely sure how to lead the dialogue into the line he had planned to end the chapter with, or wasn’t sure how to end the chapter, period. At least it’s a fairly good line.

Next chapter, we’re presumably beginning to put some of these plans into motion. We may also get more adventures in Taylor’s territory – I’m still fairly sure the chapter title is related to the territory in some way. Maybe Taylor will have to make the choice between her territory and Dinah by the end of the Arc, with her non-subterfuge activities in the Arc helping to build up how much Taylor cares about the territory a bit more?

Whatever the case may be, I’m sure it’ll be good. See you next time!


[postscript]

Wait a minute.

I included Charlotte in the Wheel of Time crossover thing [above] because I wanted someone from Worm to be able to channel the One Power subconsciously and only learn about it after ending up in Randland (this would be how they activated the portal stone), but didn’t want to give any of the Undersiders additional powers. In retrospect, though… I totally should’ve given it to Skitter.

I mean, who better to use a magic system themed after weaving than the spidery tailor?

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2 thoughts on “Colony 15.1: Barks and Bites

  1. Rand: I’m able to weave dozens of flows of the one power simultaneously.
    Skitter: Oh really? I usually cap out at a few thousand myself.

    Like

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