Interlude 15d: Elephant in the Room

Source material: Worm, Interlude 15d

Blogged: March 19-21, 2019


Howdy, everyone! It’s time to read some more Worm and finally finish off Colony!

…and this time it’s just Interlude 15. No “(Donation Bonus #X)”. Makes sense.

Like I mentioned at the end of 15.10, I’ve suggested Traveler Interludes enough that I eventually went “[insert obligatory Traveler suggestion here]”, but I genuinely think there’s a good chance of a Trickster, Genesis or even Noelle Interlude here.

Another prime suspect is Eidolon, to finish our trek through the Triumvirate started by Interlude 14b and 15c, but I think we might wait a little bit longer for that. For all that it was four months ago for me, 15c was only three chapters ago, after all.

Who else…?

There’s Charlotte, Barker and Biter, I suppose, but I kinda doubt we’re getting any of their POVs this time. All of the Undersiders have had Interludes right now, so it’s none of them. Parian, perhaps?

I should probably just go on and see what’s up! Let’s read some Worm.


“Knock, knock.”

Who’s there?

…Are we dealing with someone who likes knock-knock jokes today?

Hmm.

Is this Trickster coming into Noelle’s cell?

Triumph turned around. “Sam.”

Oh! We’re getting to see how he’s recovering from what he experienced at Skitter’s… well, not hands, exactly…

I’m down for that.

But are we in Triumph’s perspective, or Prism’s? I hope the former.

She poked her head around the edge of the door, hand over her eyes. Beautiful.

His perspective. Excellent.

And it seems the whole “girlfriend” thing was probably genuine. Not that I was particularly doubting that, but with the way the police seemed to be expecting trouble, it was entirely possible that Prism had been placed there alongside Triumph just in case.

It’s also possible they’re still just friends and Skitter got a little ahead of herself.

A lot of things are possible, but the most likely story is that they’re a genuine couple.

She was blonde and wearing her skintight costume. She had the figure to pull it off where so few really did. The kind of body someone worked for. Her mask was off, tucked into her belt.

So far I’ve been assuming we’re at a hospital, by the way.

Though it seems Prism isn’t concerned with her identity here.

“You decent?” Prism asked, not moving her hand.

“Yeah.” He finished folding his hospital gown and draped it at the foot of the bed. Not perfect, but it was better than leaving a mess.

Alright, if they’re genuine, it seems it hasn’t proceeded to the stage where this isn’t an issue.

“You’re okay to be up and about?”

“Yeah,” he said. He didn’t want to reply with a single syllable again, so he turned to face her. He smiled a little. “I’m tough.”

I know the feeling re: avoiding repeated monosyllables.

“Don’t boast. I was with your family while we watched the paramedics cart you off.”

“I made it. I don’t heal that much faster than normal, but I do heal faster, I don’t scar, and I don’t tend to suffer long-term injuries.”

Nice, that’s good to know. Of course, Taylor probably doesn’t.

So how much time has passed?

“But you nearly died. Don’t forget.”

“I definitely won’t forget, believe me,” he said. He balled up his bathrobe and put it in the gym bag that already sat on the bed. “I’m surprised you came.”

Yeeeah, if I talked about Clocky never wanting to see a bug ever again, imagine how Triumph feels.

“We’re dating,” she said.

Alright, solid confirmation that it’s genuine. Good – I didn’t want to have to keep muddying every mention of them being together with endless questioning of that.

“Three dates, and we both agreed it wouldn’t be anything permanent.”

Because of the whole long-distance relationship issue, with Prism being part of Legend’s team and thus not based in Brockton Bay?

“You say that and then you invite me to meet your parents.”

Pfft.

“Because the food at home is better than the rations you’d get anywhere else in this city.” He raised an eyebrow, “But you’re the one checking on me this morning. Didn’t you have a flight?””

I like this back and forth of “hey, you’re the one acting like this means more”.

Missing a flight is fairly significant, although I suppose the PRT is paying for it.

“A flight’s easy enough to postpone when the Protectorate’s arranging it. I decided I needed to sleep in after being up all night getting x-rayed, Ursa said she was ok with it.”

Yeah, fair enough.

“I’m just saying, you didn’t have to stop by.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. I wanted to see how Cache was doing. It’s a walk down the hall to see you.”

Hehe.

These two have a fun dynamic so far.

“Ouch. Allies before guys?”

“There’s got to be a better way of saying that.”

Ahaha!

Uhh…

Teams before dreams?

“Probably. How’s he?”

“Burned badly, but he’s healing. We’ll see how bad the long-term damage is.”

*thinks, trying to remember how exactly Cache got hurt back in Prey*

He was up against Crawler, wasn’t he? He ended up taking himself out of the battlefield with his power, leaving Taylor to ponder whether or not he’d just locked himself out of the dimension. Good to know he hadn’t. 😛

“And how are you?”

“Bruised, bit of a limp. Pretty okay overall.”

“Good,” he smiled. “Want to go get some coffee? I’ve been running on so much caffeine lately that I think I’ll pass out if I don’t get my morning dose.

The diet of Triumph: Caffeine and stolen cabbages.

I’ll lend you my shoulder so you don’t have to put too much weight on that leg.”

“Coffee’s good. But are there any places that are open?”

I figured there was a hospital cafeteria, but if there is, I suppose the Nine left the hospital with more important things to fix up and run than that.

“There’s a place in the building.”

Prism made a face.

“Not institution coffee. An actual coffee bar as part of the cafeteria.” He slung his bag over one shoulder and offered her an arm.

…fair enough, Prism. Fair enough.

“Don’t you need a wheelchair? I thought it was hospital policy to wheel you to the door.”

Is that a real thing? I mean I’ve seen people get wheeled to the door in American media, but they always seemed to be the ones who needed a wheelchair to get there.

“It’s fine. Benefit of having a small hospital as part of the PRT building. Pretty common for us to go straight from here to our offices, and there were apparently issues with photographers taking pictures of heroes in wheelchairs as they left the hospital. Director Piggot arranged things this way for exactly this reason.”

Of course. Heroes in wheelchairs are bad for PR.

“Damn. Need to push for something like that in NYC. Our hospital’s off-site.” She put a hand on his shoulder and they began making their way down the hall.

Ursa Aurora turned the corner and spotted them.

Hiya!

Hmm. Powers and personalities. If I were to come up with personalities to go with the powers, I’d probably have Prism be a little bit scatterbrained and need to take moments to collect herself now and then, and base Ursa on the behavior of a polar bear.

Triumph could see the frown lines above the glossy black bear mask she wore, her obvious relief and the quickening of her pace on spotting him.

She names herself partially after the polar lights but her bear mask is of a black bear. Huh.

I suppose that’s fair enough. The northern lights do go far enough south to get into black bear territories. I just find polar bears more thematically appropriate.

His heart sank. Something’s happened. Or it’s happening.

Uh-oh.

If it were something to do with Cache, she’d probably focus on Prism. So what’s up?

“Guys!”

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“There’s an issue. Division in the ranks. Looking ugly.”

What?

I mean I was expecting the Undersiders to maybe split in two in this Arc, but are you telling me the Protectorate did somehow?

…oh, fuck, is this about Flechette and Armsmaster?

“The enemy?”

She shook her head. “Our guys. And it’s about you.”

…weird. Is it directly about him, or about Skitter via him?

That caught him off guard. He shook his head a little; no time to get into the particulars. He’d deal with the situation himself. “Lead the way.”

Despite the apparent urgency of the situation, they couldn’t run. Prism was hurt and the elevator was the fastest way to their destination. Ursa went ahead to press the button while Triumph helped Prism limp her way there.

I like that Triumph seems to be rather loyal and chivalrous – he immediately deems the situation something he personally needs to go deal with as soon as he can, but doesn’t even seem to consider running off and not giving Prism his support the entire way, and I get the sense he wouldn’t consider that even if the elevator wasn’t there.

Gentler,” she hissed, after setting too much weight on her bad leg.

“Sorry.”

“I hate this, being injured,” Prism mumbled.

Somewhere in British Columbia, Amy sneezes.

“It’s not too serious?”

“No. Skitter tethered me to the roof so I dropped halfway, stopped, then cut the line so I’d drop the rest of the way. Landed on my side. But being hobbled like this, it brings back bad memories.”

Oh? Like, trigger event bad?

He turned to Ursa as they approached the elevators. “Press both buttons at the same time, three times in a row for the emergency use.”

You’d think that’d be a universal Protectorate building standard, so that non-local capes wouldn’t need to be told.

Ursa did as he’d suggested, and the button began alternately flashing yellow and red. The doors opened almost immediately afterward and they gathered inside. Ursa hit the button for the basement floor: the Wards’ headquarters.

The Wards, huh? Maybe I was onto something re: Flechette?

He glanced at her teammate. It struck him that it was inappropriate to ask, but it also felt like Prism was inviting the question. “Would it be bad form for me to ask? About the bad memories?”

Maybe she’s in that weird spot where you don’t want to talk about a thing but you also kinda do.

Prism shook her head. “Ursa knows, and I’ve been working on getting over it. I already mentioned my history in gymnastics. My dad’s a coach, had spent his entire life pushing me and my siblings to be on the Olympic level. I sometimes thought it was the only reason he had kids. I was pretty close to qualifying when I tore my ACL.”

*looks up the ACL*

A knee injury… Sounds incredibly inconvenient for Olympic gymnastics, yeah.

“Ouch. You didn’t re-injure it last night?”

She shook her head, “Hip, not knee. Looking back, I think I screwed up my knee back then because my dad had pushed me too hard and too fast.

Gotta say, this reminds me a lot of Brian’s dad.

But I blamed myself. I got depressed, stayed home instead of going to the gym. Once dad and the sibs realized I wasn’t going to come along anymore, I started to get left out of family events, left behind when they went out to eat after training.

Ouch.

It doesn’t sound like that huge a deal, but gymnastics had become a core part of my life, and it was gone. Everything fell apart.”

As everything does.

On a lighter note, I’m now picturing Prism competing in Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics, from Ranma ½. It’s worth noting that using her power is allowed in that – anything, and I do mean anything, goes as long as none of her copies attack without tools or fall out of the ring. Hell, she could easily use the consolidating to keep from losing, though Skitter might beat her.

“I’m sorry. I know better than to say that’s not significant. Believe me. I’ve been there.”

You have?

She shrugged. “I guess I became my own family. Found another pillar to build my life around. But even if I have a high pain tolerance, having an injury like this reminds me of those days.

Ahh, so that’s how this connects thematically to her power. She got cut off from her family, so she split into three and became her own.

Puts me in a bad mood for a while. So I’m sorry if I’m irritable.”

“I can deal.”

They’d gone out as friends, first, because they both had similar backgrounds, and segued into a casual relationship.

A good way to start something like that, I think.

They had both been athletes, once upon a time. She was an ex-gymnast, he had been a baseball player. She’d triggered because of the aftermath of a career-ending injury. He’d acquired his powers because he’d been perpetually second place, doomed to miss his chance, a mere hair from a career in the major league.

Hi there, Demandred.

Hmm. I suggested recently that his trigger event might involve feeling like he wasn’t being heard. This is kinda tangential to that idea but might fit in the moment.

He knew how devastating that stuff could be when you’d made the sacrifices, given up most of your adolescence to succeed at something, only to fall short.

Oof, yeah, that’d suck.

He’d turned to his dad for help, and his dad had delivered a small vial that was supposedly designed to force a state equivalent to a trigger event, without the necessary trauma.

Oh! Hello, Cauldron.

Fuck, I had a thought I didn’t mention again: On the surface, the baseball story in itself didn’t sound like a particularly strong trigger, so I considered briefly the idea of him being second-generation. Obviously that’s not the case given what we’ve seen of his parents, and we just came off Prism’s story, so I felt like that was probably just me underestimating how traumatic that could be in the long run.

I dismissed it, but I should’ve mentioned it anyway, not for the second-gen thing, but for the idea of the story being too weak for him to trigger naturally.

Anyway, this happens to slightly strengthen my weak and tongue-in-cheek Demandred comparison. For those unfamiliar with the Wheel of Time series, Demandred is one of the Forsaken, ancient magic users serving the Dark One. This one in particular turned to the Shadow because he was always playing second fiddle to the Dragon (the guy the main protagonist is the reincarnation of), always second best, always “almost” and “not quite”.

Triumph didn’t turn to the Shadow or otherwise evil for power, but he did turn to Cauldron (via his dad). Although I’ve established before that I see buying from Cauldron as closer to deals with the fey than with the devil.

…hang on.

Who was Triumph’s vial actually intended for? Normally Cauldron does physical tests, which would require Triumph himself meeting them even if his dad was the one paying. Did his dad pay the optional extra fee to skip that part, too, or is there something more to how he obtained the vial?

Maybe the mayor got it from the Dealer?

Irony had reared her ugly head when the major leagues had mandated MRI scans to check for powers and maintain the integrity of the game, mere months after he’d gained athletic ability that would let him compete.

RIP.

So that’s a question I’ve had since Gestation answered for baseball, I guess.

To be fair, he was basically on permasteroids for the explicit purpose of cheating at baseball.

In a way, he was glad. Not that he had been back then. He’d been spoiled, a brat, entitled. He was relieved he hadn’t continued down that road, that he’d found a career where he was on something of an even playing field with his peers.

That’s good. 🙂

Not that things were perfect.

He could hear the arguing the second the elevator doors parted.

Let’s see what’s going on here.

My guess is it has to do with Skitter and Flechette’s experience of her vs what she did to Triumph.

Miss Militia, Weld and Kid Win stood on one side of the room. Assault was on the other side, perched on the edge of the terminal, with Clockblocker, Chariot and Vista at his side.

…I say and then Flechette doesn’t even appear to be present.

“-vigilantism!” Miss Militia’s voice was tight with barely controlled anger.

The main character that comes to mind with this word is Shadow Stalker, but she’s not exactly around anymore and has nothing to do with Triumph that I know of.

“There has to be an authority for us to ignore for us be vigilantes,” Assault said. His voice was calmer, but his body language wasn’t.

Is he questioning Miss Militia’s right to lead the team?

Assault, Clockblocker, Vista and Chariot. An odd group. What did they do?

The thing that confuses me most here is how anything they might’ve done here ties back to Triumph.

Did they attack Skitter’s territory in retaliation or something? I feel like that’s something we’d have seen directly, though.

He was tense, the hand that wasn’t gripping the edge of the console was clenched into a fist. “There isn’t. Nobody’s stepping up to enforce anything.”

What about Piggot?

“The PRT stands. All of the watchdogs are in place,” Miss Militia spoke. “You go out and do something without an official a-ok and people are going to notice that we’re acting completely outside of the principles and rules the Protectorate stands for.”

“How?” Assault countered. “Media? In case you haven’t noticed, a full third of this city is still lacking power. The reporters that have stuck around this long are too tired and too low on resources to follow along.”

He has a point, but it’s the principle of the matter.

If nothing else, avoiding getting into bad habits.

“Cell cameras,” Miss Militia said. “People are watching and recording us every step of the way.”

screw up like never before

[El Goonish Shive panel]

Tedd: Humanity has not changed much, but with the power of technology…
Tedd: We can screw things up like never before!

A fair point. Though a lot of people lack functional cell phones too, now.

“We’ll be covert. I’m talking a fast, hard hitting strike. Attack is always preferable over defense.

Okay, so it’s not something they have done, it’s something they’re suggesting they do.

A counterattack on Skitter is back on the table.

“You’re talking revenge,” Triumph spoke. He let Ursa support Prism and stepped forward to join the ‘discussion’.

“Revenge, justice, it’s a pretty thin line. But sure. We can call it that,” Assault said, leaning back a little.

He’s always been one for this kind of thinking, hasn’t he.

I wonder if he knows Skitter was with the Nine when they killed Battery? It kinda sounded like Battery had been unaffected by the miasma, meaning she might’ve mentioned that afterwards.

He smiled a little at Miss Militia; there was now one more person on his side of the argument.

Well then. Triumph’s in.

Triumph glanced around the room. Flechette, Ursa and Prism weren’t taking a side.

Oh, she is there.

Yeah, I could see her being a bit conflicted about this right now.

They weren’t local, and the politics here would be intimidating.

Sure, that too.

Still, Triumph glanced at Flechette. She’s been around a few weeks. She should feel confident about voicing an opinion.

I have no doubt she would be if she could make up her mind about what her opinion actually is.

Was she being neutral, or was she undecided? Or was there another factor at play?

He felt so disconnected from the Wards, these days. He barely recognized his old team. Vista, Kid Win, Clockblocker… he’d been their captain, not so long ago.

Oh yeah, that’s right. He had just graduated when we first heard of him.

Miss Militia and Assault were looking at him, waiting for him to speak. From Assault’s confidence, there was no doubt he expected Triumph to take his side.

Oh. I guess the earlier bit was just Assault taking that for granted.

In which case I think Triumph’s going to Miss Militia’s side. That’s what I would’ve expected before the earlier bit, too.

Instead, he commented, “Just going by what I’ve heard, Assault’s arguing we should take the fight to the enemy? Without Piggot’s consent?”

“Piggot has told us to stand down,” Miss Militia spoke. “So we’d be going against her directive.”

So not just “let’s do it without asking”, just “fuck Piggot”.

“They attacked one of our own. Again,” Assault said. “And they broke a cardinal rule. They attacked family. You don’t unmask a cape, and if you happen to discover their secret identity, you don’t go after their family.”

…right, that’s…

Kind of backwards from what happened this time, but I’m not sure Triumph feels he can tell them that?

“The family’s testimony suggests that wasn’t deliberate. Skitter informed Trickster partway through,” Weld said.

Oh yeah, good point.

Clockblocker cut in, “But we can assume she found out beforehand. Unless you’re going to suggest she figured it out on her own?”

I mean…

She’s a smart cookie.

Also, hi, how do you feel about what exactly happened to Triumph?

“No,” Weld replied. “It makes sense. I suspect Tattletale could find out something like that. I’d even believe she’s found out all of our identities by now. But I’m saying Trickster wasn’t in the know, and he’s the person who made the conscious decision to attack Triumph’s sister.”

Good point.

“They’ve broken other unspoken rules,” Assault said, looking at Triumph and Miss Militia rather than the junior members. “Shatterbird? Are we really going to let that one slide?”

Would you rather she be free?

I mean, there’s a case to be made for putting her out of her misery, but still.

“Anything goes when fighting the Nine,” Miss Militia said.

“The Nine are gone. He’s still breaking the rules. He kidnapped and took control of Shadow Stalker. He’s affected civilians. Criminals, admittedly, but still civilians.”

Yeah, those gang leaders he captured…

Where does the line between “civilian” and “villain” go? Do they need to have powers?

“And the people in charge know that,” Miss Militia said. “If they decide that it’s crossing the line, we can act decisively.”

“People in suits,” Assault said. “They sit in offices with padded chairs, viewing everything through the filter of clinical, tidy paperwork. They don’t know what it is to be in the field, to face the risk of death or fates worse than death in the service of this city.”

I’m not surprised to see Assault in particular have issues with authority, but it’s worth noting he’s got a sentiment here that I think Taylor would agree with.

I wonder how much Battery’s death affected it.

If Miss Militia had been getting ready for a response, she hesitated when Assault said ‘fates worse than death’, his voice revealing a tremor of emotion.

…right. Battery was lucky Bonesaw didn’t have time to collect her.

Triumph could imagine the scene as he’d glimpsed it: Battery on her deathbed, wasting away from a poison designed to be cruel rather than efficient.

Oof, right, that’s how she did it. Bonesaw’s touch.

Y’know, for someone I’ve been known to argue isn’t actually malevolent, just devoid of the concept that what she’s doing is wrong, she does seem to like being cruel sometimes.

But as slow as it had worked, it had proved incurable.

Assault went on, and there was no hint of the earlier emotion in his voice. Rather, he sounded dangerously like a leader. “If we don’t act on this, if we don’t move on the Undersiders and the Travelers, then we’re saying that’s alright. We’re saying it’s okay to do those same things to us.”

“Sounded dangerously like a leader” is a good line, especially when coupled with him seemingly undermining Miss Militia’s authority earlier.

Watch out for your control of the team, Miss Militia.

“You’d be violating your probationary status on the team,” Miss Militia said, quiet. “Going against orders.”

He’s still on that? Welp, he might get in a lot of trouble if they go through with this.

“My joining the Protectorate was conditional on being on the same team as Battery,” Assault replied.

…true.

He met Miss Militia’s eyes with a level stare, as if challenging her to press the issue.

There was no doubt what was at the root of Assault’s anger. Miss Militia, by contrast, was the leader of the Protectorate because of her unwavering loyalty and willingness to not only abide by the rules but to fight for them. Triumph could understand why they’d taken the positions they had.

Yeeah, we’ve got a good old Chaotic Neutral vs Lawful Good here.

He glanced at the others. Weld was a company man, so to speak, and the PRT was his family, after a fashion. It made sense that he’d stand by the rules imposed by the PRT, the Protectorate and the Wards. Clockblocker had always chafed under the yoke of the institution, and Chariot could easily be the same. Most Wards went through a phase like that, feeling the pressures, the strict rules, realizing that the Wards existed in part to keep them out of the worst of things, while aching to go out and be a hero.

That does make a lot of sense.

Chariot’s a special case, but maybe not any more of one than Battery was.

Clockblocker had never entirely grown out of it.

Perhaps you could say he was…

stuck in time

8)

(boooooo)

It could be that Chariot’s stance here was what Coil wanted. Triumph couldn’t forget that Chariot was an undercover operative, planted by the supervillain to gather information.

Supposedly. I still think he’s here for the same reason Battery was. The fact that he’s siding with Assault on this is further evidence – even if Coil did want Skitter dead, they’re talking about going on the offensive against all of the Undertravelers.

There’s also the issue of Coil communicating his will to Chariot during this obviously spontaneous situation.

No, none of those calls surprised him. The outliers, the ones that caught him off guard…

“Vista, I didn’t think you’d be wanting to break the rules like this,” he commented. Before she could reply, he said, “And Kid Win. I took you for more of a rebel.”

Hmm.

Kid Win might just not want to go up against the group that did so much to take down the coddamn Slaughterhouse Nine? But that doesn’t sound quite right…

“I’m tired of losing people,” Vista said. “We lost Gallant. Aegis too, and Velocity, Dauntless, Battery…”

Hey, Wildbow, I found another place you might want to edit Browbeat into, unless you think this is better because Vista didn’t care as much about him.

“Yeah. And Shadow Stalker,” Triumph offered.

Now that’s something for Assault to latch onto. There’s no way they don’t know that was the Undersiders’ doing.

“She left,” Clockblocker said.

“I’d still consider her a casualty,” Triumph said. “We might not have liked her, but she was one of us, and the enemy basically took her from us.”

“I don’t want to forget Glory Girl and Panacea,” Clockblocker said.

Neither do I, Clocky. Neither do I.

Also they’re elaborating quite a bit on this. All the more reason to add Browbeat, if they’re making a point of mentioning everyone.

“She and her sister did me a life-changing favor. We don’t know the whole story there, but the Undersiders or the Nine had to have played a part in how that unfolded.

A life-changing favor, you say? So she did get time to heal your dad? Good to hear.

But that’s one hell of a list of names. There’s less of us than there are them, and we’re losing. Not just fights, but we’re losing this war. Don’t you see that?”

Clocky’s downcast again. At least he doesn’t seem angry in quite the same way as in Sentinel. Thanks for that, Vista.

“I see it,” Miss Militia said, her voice particularly quiet compared to her raised volume earlier. “But that’s exactly why I’m telling you not to do this. The second we make this into an actual war, we change it from a losing fight to an outright defeat.

…I guess? You’re saying they shouldn’t do it because you don’t think they’d succeed?

At best everyone involved would lose out, our enemies included. I don’t want that.”

“You’re making it sound more complicated than it is,” Assault said. “I’m talking a quick, hard hitting strike against one of their territories. One of the master-classifications would be a good bet. I’d suggest Regent, but Shatterbird is too big a complication.

Yeah, Shatters is a huge complication. If you knock out Regent, there’s a pretty good chance she’ll be loose.

Better to take out Hellhound or Skitter. Doing either would cut their tactical options down by a third, and it could gain us a hostage to leverage against the others.”

Hmm.

Skitter seems like the more obvious choice just because most of the story is from her POV, and Bitch has been captured before (Shell). We’ve had recent developments in Bitch and Skitter’s relationship, though… actually, I kinda think those lend themselves to Skitter being captured (if it goes that far) too. We might see Bitch be into a rescue mission.

In terms of resources, I think taking out Bitch is the better option – her hellhounds are one of the Undersiders’ main modes of transportation and fearsome foes – but Skitter is the de facto leader (which the heroes might not realize yet), so taking her out would force the Undersiders to rely on Grue and/or Trickster.

Speaking of Brian, I don’t think the heroes know anything about his new power yet, but also not about his PTSD either.

“Not Tattletale?” Clockblocker asked.

Assault shook his head. “She’d know we were coming. It’s in Armsmaster’s notes from his first meeting with Skitter. It’s why they’re so elusive as a group, and that’s why it’s so crucial we strike first, while they’re still split up in individual territories.

Fair point.

Grue, Trickster, Genesis or Imp would escape too readily, and confronting Ballistic or Sundancer would place our side at too much risk.”

I’m not sure Grue would escape as readily as you think, in his current state, but given his powers and track record, yeaah.

Hell, with his new power, the more powers you wield against him, the more options he has too.

“They’d retaliate,” Miss Militia said, “And we’d almost certainly lose. We’re roughly matched in numbers, we’re outmatched in raw firepower and they have the edge on us in terms of tactical knowledge.”

Really? I mean the first two things make sense, but the tactical thing… They’re good at it, but they don’t have the sort of formal training you guys have…

“So we’re supposed to sit here and take it?” Clockblocker asked. “If my family gets attacked next time, I don’t think my dad’s about to haul out a shotgun to defend himself.”

Didn’t exactly work out for the mayor, either.

“That’s not exactly how it played out,” Triumph said. “But no. I don’t think we should take it, and I don’t think we should attack. Miss Militia’s right.”

Don’t think you should take it, but don’t think you should attack – so what, play it defensively?

Assault’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

“Thank you,” Miss Militia said. “I understand that some of you are upset. We’re all upset. We’re all concerned about our loved ones, about the current state of things in the city and about possibly being captured and controlled by Regent. But we’re only going to succeed with the support of the Protectorate as a whole, and we’ll only have that if we stick to the rules.”

That sounds dangerously like “let’s get reinforcements in on this”.

“Well said,” Director Piggot spoke.

Hello, Piggy. Nice entrance.

Is she behind Triumph?

All heads turned. Director Piggot stood in the doorway that led to the stairwell.

“Director,” Assault said. He didn’t look fazed by the woman’s appearance.

“I hope you’ll hear me out before committing to a plan of action?”

Time for her two cents?

Maybe she’s changed her mind and does want to go on the offensive? The order Miss Militia mentioned kinda sounded like an old one.

“Of course.” Assault leaned back, folding his arms.

“Then let me introduce our visitors.” Piggot stepped to one side, shifting her prodigious weight out of the way of the door.

Huhh? Who have we here?

Also, “prodigious weight” is a fun phrase.

There were two of them, each covered head to toe in power armor that was similar in theme, if not in design.

Hm. Twin heroes?

It’d be strange for them to be Dragonslayers.

It was heavy duty stuff, and even without tinker abilities, Triumph could admire it as something exceptionally well made.

They were the same height, a man and a woman. The man held a spear that was no less than fifteen feet long, with a two-pronged tip on the end. The woman wore something that looked to be a modified jetpack, divided into two pieces that each had to weigh as much as she did.

Hmmm. Angel and demon theme?

The exhaust jets fanned out to either side of her, like the feathers of a bird’s outstretched wings.

The woman removed her helmet, then shook her head so her dark hair could fall around the armor around her shoulders and neck. She wasn’t beautiful, but she wasn’t ugly either. Even ‘plain’ wasn’t the right label. She was exceptionally average in appearance, to the point that it was borderline eerie.

Oy. Imp’s already staken claim to being the Gray Man of the story.

He couldn’t pin down as belonging to any particular ethnicity, nor could he eliminate her from one.

Is this vague averageness a side effect of a power?

Yet she’s strangely familiar, Triumph observed.

Hm.

It’s not Dragon, having made herself a body, is it?

If she’s Dragon, the man might be Armsmaster in new garb.

Triumph looked at the man, waiting for him to remove his helmet, but he didn’t. The man folded his arms instead, still holding on to the spear with one hand.

That body language. Triumph’s eyes widened behind his visor. No. No way. No way he’d come back here.

Fuck yes!

The funny thing is, I forgot to put a thought I had about Dragon and Armsmaster in the last between post. Nothing important, exactly, just a hypothetical scenario that I found myself thinking about:

What if Armsmaster had been injured further by the Nine, and Dragon had taken him away to further make him a cyborg with herself installed? Essentially fusing the two of them, making them share a body?

(It was partially inspired by this song I’ve been listening to a lot recently.)

But yeah, I never expected that to actually be what had happened, and I’m very much down with this instead.

Oh fuck, if he’s got a demon theme now (less likely with the realization that the woman’s wings may be more dragony than angely), that makes him a fallen angel. Very fitting.

But if he was here, then the woman would be-

“Dragon,” Miss Militia said. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

In the “flesh”.

Dragon extended a hand, and Miss Militia shook it. “Likewise. Let me introduce Defiant.”

New name, too? I like it.

Triumph glanced around at the others. Nobody here was so stupid as to miss what was going on. Even the capes that weren’t native to Brockton Bay would figure this out in a heartbeat.

Hehe, I appreciate that.

*makes mental note to finish watching A Series of Unfortunate Events sometime soon*

“Dragon and Defiant have stopped by to pick up resources and gather information before taking on a long-term mission,” the Director explained. “Would you like to explain?”

“The Nine,” Dragon explained. “We know their general behavior. After a spree like the one they had here in Brockton Bay, they’re going to retreat.

You intend to chase them down and finish them off before they can refill their ranks?

Though I feel like being down five or six members at once might change things up a little.

They’ll stick to back roads and isolated small towns, use time and distance to let the heat dissipate. Jack may keep his people engaged with games like what he tried to set up here. Scaling up slowly in a remote area, seeing how badly they can terrify the local populace, ending with a grand climax before moving on.

Sounds like him, yes.

They’ll also be looking to recruit and replace missing members, and I expect they’ll go easier on testing the recruits until they’ve replenished their numbers.”

Considering how low they are, that would make sense.

“What are you doing, then?” Assault asked.

“We’re going after them,” Defiant spoke. His voice was partially altered by his helmet, but it was still identifiable.

Are you even trying, dude? Surely you can make a solid voice altering device. And Dragon certainly can.

Why is everyone pretending they don’t know that’s Armsmaster?

For those who didn’t get it yet.

I don’t know, why aren’t you speaking up? Maybe they’re not speaking up for the same reasons.

Defiant continued, “And we’re not going to stop. Pursuit will continue twenty-four seven, year-round. We keep them running until they get tired and hungry enough that they make a mistake, and we capitalize on that.”

Hmm.

Did Dragon make it so you don’t have to eat and such?

Maybe that song I linked to is more appropriate than I thought.

“We’ve tried this before,” Miss Militia responded. “I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the idea, but Assault was just arguing that it’s easier to attack than to defend, and I agree. You won’t be able to prevent every casualty.”

Uhh.

I don’t think either of them said anything about preventing casualties.

“The primary issue before,” Dragon replied, “Is that the previous efforts were squads, sleeping in shifts, always moving. Invariably, the Nine would catch on to what was happening, they’d take out the squad on duty and then they would disappear before the others could mobilize to stop them. Or the Nine would circle around and kill the off-duty squad members. We don’t have that problem.”

Right, definitely seems like she’s eliminated at least some of Armfiant’s biological limitations.

“I don’t follow,” Assault said.

“Dragon mentioned to me once that she doesn’t need to sleep. A side effect of her powers,” Miss Militia said.

Dragon dipped her head in a nod. “I tried going after the Slaughterhouse Nine before, but Shatterbird’s powers proved too difficult to work around, and I was only one person. Now I have a partner.”

Considering Shatterbird could just immediately destroy the agent systems piloting the mechs, that makes sense. Good thing she’s not involved with the Nine anymore.

So, Piggot, you know who Defiant is too, right?

“Defiant?” Miss Militia asked.

Defiant tapped his chest. “With Dragon’s help, I’ve replaced my internal organs and parts of my brain with artificial equivalents.

Coddamn, it really was on point.

Here, it deserves a full embed.

These simple parts of mine are interchangeable
Unlimited connections when you’re digital
Becoming one with wires is sensational
Go out with the old and in with the new

My hunger for perfection is insatiable
A prototype that’s fully operational
This armored alloy shell is unbreakable
My existence is irreplaceable

…by the way, it was the “armored alloy shell” part that got me thinking about this song and Worm together. I originally thought of it as a fusion of Mannequin and Dragon, which very recently evolved into applying that idea to Armsmaster.

It’s not lost on me that Mannequin is the closest Worm had to a cyborg before he set Armsmaster on the path to become one. It’s a path very reminiscent of Amy and Bonesaw.

My current downtime is a rough fifteen minutes a day. That includes waste, sleep and eating. In the next two weeks, I intend to reduce it to a mere twelve minutes.”

Reaching for perfection.

Vista’s hands went to her mouth in shock.

She can’t hide that she knows anymore.

He’s made himself into a monster. And Dragon doesn’t even flinch as he announces it. Triumph’s own eyes were wide.

That’s a little harsh.

Miss Militia seemed to recover faster than anyone else. “That’s not the only issue the squads faced. There’s the psychological strain.

No more emotions, such a novelty?

Hunting a prey for days, weeks, months at a time? Especially targets that will commit atrocities if you let your guard down for a second? It gets to you.”

“I think,” Defiant paused, as if he had to pick the right words, “My single-mindedness will be an asset on that front.”

Pfft. Single-mindedness is an interesting word to use here.

Is he self-owning here, or did they actually modify that?

“It’s worth a try,” Dragon said. “Between us, Defiant and I can customize our equipment and approach to effectively counter the Nine’s powers. Once we have a lead, we’ll maintain constant pressure for as long as necessary. Even if we can’t save everyone, even if we can’t stop them outright with Siberian rendering others invincible, I think we can keep them from setting up another major event like they tried here in Brockton Bay, and we can hopefully keep them from recruiting.”

Sure. Worth a shot.

“The PRT is hopeful,” the Director said, “They gave their consent. But you’ll have to explain how this is relevant to the current situation.”

“Of course. If everyone would turn their attention to the monitors?”

Right, how do you connect this to what’s going on in Brockton Bay now?

Does Defiant want any revenge on Skitter?

Assault had to hop down from where he was sitting on the edge of the long desk to see. Everyone else turned as the images appeared across the screen. One armored suit after another.

Ooh, gearing the locals up with these new suits?

“The Cawthorne mark three.”

Oh, wait, these might be a bit bigger. The one Dragon used in Parasite was a Cawthorne, right?

A sleek model resembling a cross between a dragon and a fighter jet, mounted with four engines around the ‘shoulders’.

“The Astaroth-Nidhug hybrid, making use of the Nidhug design that was partially damaged in prior confrontations.”

Strange and interesting name.

It didn’t look like a mesh. It looked like a cohesive design, a massive gun barrel with teeth at the end, outfitted not with a handle, but three afterburners at the rear and three at the midsection. The landing gear looked spindly. It was also, Triumph realized, quite large. No smaller than a commercial aircraft, if the machinery beneath it was supposed to be a forklift.

Damn.


Okay, I’d love to continue the product showcase, but I really gotta go get ready to sleep. Good night!

[End of session]


What’s up, my sexual glip glops?! Assault let’s talk about… awareness.


…seriously. I just had to forget to add my thoughts about Prototype VIP to the between post before this chapter, and then immediately this?

*gestures incoherently towards Defiant*

Aaargh, it would have been the absolute best timing I could possibly have to bring that up! Even better than bringing up River Run Red in early Prey!

And now it’s just going to look like I’m making the whole thing up to make myself look smart for a change, isn’t it. I wouldn’t do that – if I wanted to be dishonest like that there would be much better ways – but it’s still going to look like that. Like, “oh yeah, guys, I totally called Dragon turning Army further into a cyborg and them working together to give her a body as well (in a sense). I just, uh, forgot to mention it, that’s the ticket.”

This is why it frustrates me so much whenever a thought I forgot to mention turns out to be relevant. I strive to keep this blog as honest as possible, and I really dislike appearing to be dishonest while doing so, even knowing that I’m not.

(It happened earlier in the chapter too, with Triumph’s trigger, though it was a much more minor thing, so not quite as bad.)

Anyway, it’s not like “Armsmaster becomes a cyborg” is a huge leap. If anything, I should’ve thought of that sooner. I’ve certainly had time.

Like I mentioned, his path mirrors Amy’s, after Mannequin already got him started on it in Arc 11. It makes narrative sense and character sense for him to work with Dragon to finish the job, becoming more like Mannequin just like Amy’s path led her to become more like Bonesaw.

I think I may have been more surprised that he showed himself to the PRT and Protectorate than about that, really.


Hmm.

Interlude 12½ established that Cauldron normally asks a single “favor” of each customer. One relatively simple thing for each one to do. Battery had three because of a deal she made to get a discount.

So why, then, does Coil seem to owe them a full week of services? Did he make an even bigger deal than Battery did, or does that whole week count as his one favor?

Also worth noting: That one week could present an opportunity to the Undersiders.


[Session 2]

Let’s check out some more cool mechs! And perhaps find out how this is going to create trouble in the next Arc…


“The Ladon-Two.”

It didn’t look as sleek or combat-ready as the others, smaller, almost spherical in the body.

I’m suddenly reminded of Genesis for some reason.

“That’s a utility design,” Chariot said. “What’s the concept?”

Of course the fellow mecha tinker can tell. 🙂

“A forcefield generator,” Dragon replied. “Dual offensive and defensive use. I also have the Glaurung Zero-Model, the Pythios-Two, the Melusine-Six and the Azazel ready for field use.”

Ahh, that sounds useful.

Also, I haven’t really commented on them because they don’t really mean anything obvious to me (that is, I’m guessing they mean something, but I can’t tell what), but I like the names of these models. They’re cool names.

The camera panned out to show a sheared-off mountaintop with the seven armored suits and a hangar or factory.

Is this where she has people build her designs?

“It is thanks to Defiant’s assistance that I can now do this.”

Ohh! She wasn’t able to mass produce things before because she couldn’t make production lines, but with Defiant on board, she can circumvent that rule.

Simultaneously, each armored suit flared to life and took off, disappearing from the camera’s field of view. The cloud of dust and snow that spread out from the takeoff point obscured the camera’s view. The image went black.

Oh… oh fuck, she’s had him remove the rule that she can only have one agent system active at a time. Probably other rules too.

This could backfire, but it’s also cool.

“I have nine models in total that I can keep active simultaneously. More are in development. It’s inefficient and expensive to keep all of them active when we do not yet have a bead on the Slaughterhouse Nine. With the Director’s consent, we’ll be stationing the seven suits we’re not personally using in Brockton Bay.

Ahh.

Which means she’ll very much be around even though she’s running off to chase the Nine.

Useful, if she still intends to contact Skitter.

The PRT will remain in contact with me so I can remotely deploy them. That is, those not already in use against the Slaughterhouse Nine or an Endbringer.”

Makes sense.

So the Protectorate basically just got a bunch of backup in the form of seven Dragons.

Not just one, but seven suits crafted by the best tinker in the world.

Also, given that they’re supposed to be suits, they may be built in such a way that they appear usable by the locals.

Triumph glanced at Chariot. The boy seemed pensive, but that could have been one tinker admiring the work of another.

Perhaps.

If he is not-so-secretly villainous, there could be considerations of theft in the picture, but I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Hard to believe you need Defiant riding along when you have that kind of raw firepower,” Assault commented.

“Two sets of eyes are better than one, and we can keep each other sane. Defiant will pilot the Uther when he isn’t on the ground.”

Hmm.

Did he eliminate her restriction against simultaneous use, or did they just install a remotely activatable autopilot on the new suits?

“Well, Defiant, your hard work is appreciated. I wish you the best of luck. You too, Dragon,” Miss Militia said.

They can’t possibly be buying this.

If Triumph is right about everyone knowing Defiant’s former self, there’s a sort of suspension of disbelief going on here. But why? Do they just not want to face the drama? Except most of them don’t know about the drama.

“Nobody’s going to say it?” Triumph asked, before he could censor himself.

Ah, there we go.

Elephant time.

Every set of eyes turned to him. He could only go forward.

“You… don’t really believe this? This Defiant thing? He’s not even trying to hide it.”

The tension in the room was so thick he could have choked on it.

Yeeah.

“If you have a valid concern about Defiant,” Director Piggot spoke, “I think it would benefit us all to hear it.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but she’d already raised her hand to stop him. “Rest assured, Triumph, if you were to allege criminal activity, we would arrest and detain him until a case could be made. We’d pull him off this wholly voluntary task and if your charges were serious enough, send him to the Birdcage.

Right. Like you didn’t the first time.

I suppose we’d have to adjust Dragon’s battle plan against the Nine, she would likely be forced to rethink her idea of having the suits stationed in Brockton Bay, so she was better able to defend herself.”

Yeah, this is a huge guilt trip and everyone knows it.

“I get what you’re saying.”

“I’m not saying anything, Triumph, only that you’re entirely free to speak.”

Suuure.

He glanced around the room at the others. Clockblocker looked at the monitors, Assault was adjusting his glove, Vista staring hard at the ground. Nobody met his eyes.

Except Director Piggot. It would have been easier to stare down a Bengal tiger than to meet her steel-gray eyes.

What about a Siberian one?

There’s a difference between serving the system and enabling it.

I wonder what Assault thinks of that statement.

“Just wanted to say that the guy’s got cojones,” Triumph said, with no emotion or inflection. “Taking on the Slaughterhouse Nine like that, being this new to the game.”

I was going to say he might’ve decided to cut off his cojones in the process of becoming Defiant, but he accused Mannequin of doing that in a sick burn. I don’t think even he could handle the irony and hypocrisy of doing that himself.

“Quite so,” the Director replied. “You’ll be on double patrols until the elections are over, but you’ll have the suits arriving within a minute of any confrontations. The schedule’s already in the system.

Sweet.

The Undersiders don’t want to confront the Protectorate for the time being, I think (they didn’t make a truce with the Protectorate as of Interlude 15a, but the ideas behind the truce with New Wave apply here too), but that doesn’t mean they won’t have to.

I and my direct subordinates will be available twenty-four-seven to those manning the console. We’ll then be able to verbally sign-off on the deployment of any of the dragon models.”

Excellent.

He couldn’t bring himself to speak up and say it. That Armsmaster was here, posing as a new hero. Triumph knew he was enabling the system, he was allowing something wrong to happen here, but stopping the Nine was more important. Having the suits to turn the table on the villains taking over the city? Too much hung in the balance.

Yeeah, I’m with Triumph on this. Armsmaster should’ve gone to the Birdcage seven Arcs ago, but at least this way he’ll be trying to make a positive contribution.

“Hey,” Prism murmured in his ear. She’d created a duplicate rather than hobble over to him. “You okay?”

I like utility uses of powers. Not as much as mischievious uses, but you just know I’d be using Prism’s power for this kind of thing more than for actual battle.

He shook his head.

“Still want to get that coffee?”

“No. No thanks.” He had trouble looking at her. She hadn’t said anything, hadn’t tried to say anything.

Aw.

Yes, it was the better choice in the long run, putting Armsmaster to work against the Nine. That didn’t mean it wasn’t wrong.

How much does Prism actually know about Armsmaster’s exploits?

I mean, she probably knew the guy, given her position in Legend’s team and Armsmaster’s former position as one of the top local Protectorate leaders, but how much has she been told about what he did in Extermination?

He was still relatively new to this. Three years of duty, most of which had been spent among the Wards. Was he the only one who was just old enough to speak out, not yet so old and jaded that he acceded to authority over anything else?

Hmm. Maybe? Assault might also be willing to speak up, but he might not see anything wrong here. He’s a former villain who avoided punishment by letting his talents be put to use for good, after all; he might see himself in Defiant.

Or was it the opposite? Was he of the age where he had the ignorance of youth coupled with the arrogance of adulthood?

Can’t it be both things?

These statements seem like two sides of a coin to me.

As much as he’d thought she was the ideal girl before, as much as he’d shared her background with a failed sports career of his own, he could barely recognize her.

Ouch.

“I gotta go. Need to take a walk.”

“My flight is-”

“Right. Of course. Have a nice flight. Maybe I’ll see you at a future date?”

Is it just me or did the room just get a bit colder?

Disappointment crossed her face. “Maybe.”

He stepped into the elevator and pressed the button. The doors whisked shut.

😦

His mind was a dull buzz as he walked. He’d looked up to Armsmaster, once. He’d understood the man. His own experiences of being second best in baseball ran parallel to the feelings Armsmaster had hinted at but never outright stated; the Protectorate captain had been resentful of Dauntless’ meteoric rise, the inevitable moment that Dauntless would effortlessly supplant him as leader of the team.

Oh, yeah, that was a thing!

At least Dauntless wasn’t one of the casualties Armsmaster set up to get at Leviathan.

By the way, the name Defiant has lowkey been reminding me of the name Dauntless for some time now.

As much as he hated to admit it, Triumph could understand where Armsmaster was coming from. He could imagine the selfish joy the man must have experienced when Dauntless fell.

Oof, yeah.

It would have been horrifying, too, no doubt, but that horror would be tempered by pragmatism. Death was a natural consequence of an Endbringer attack. It was reality. So maybe Armsmaster had told himself it was okay to feel relieved that a rival had fallen.

He might be a little conflicted about it, but I don’t think he’d be the type to dwell on that for long.

He could see why Armsmaster had taken the route he had in the actual battle. Taking on Leviathan one-on-one had been the only way the combat prediction program would work, and he’d had an effective weapon. If villains happened to die in the process, well, he only had to call on that pragmatism again. Triumph didn’t agree with the line of thinking, but he could see how it had happened.

Wildbow’s biggest strength as a writer is making horrible people understandable and human. Almost no one is evil for the sake of evil, and if they seem to be, it’s generally just because we don’t know them well enough yet. You can easily understand how most of Wildbow’s characters could turn out the way they did, even when it’s not fully shown, yet they are clearly bad people in spite of that.

(I think I have a good grasp on Bonesaw, and argue that she’s not particularly malevolent, but I don’t argue that she’s not a horrible person.)

Anyway, my point is, “didn’t agree with the line of thinking, but he could see how it had happened” is basically how I think Wildbow wants us to feel about a lot of his characters (both protagonists and antagonists, Skitter and Regent being some notable protag examples), and he’s very good at pulling that off.

Armsmaster had been injured by Leviathan and Mannequin, and replaced parts of himself with mechanical equivalents. He’d realized the benefits, worked with Dragon to step them up further.

There are things I forget to say, sometimes, to my endless frustration, but honestly, that I got this was one thing I just felt went without saying.

Though I did mention it indirectly between sessions. This is part of what I meant when I said it made sense from a character perspective.

He’d failed to defeat Leviathan, had been too hurt to fight the Nine directly. So he augmented himself further, eradicated his need for sleep, for time spent eating and shitting.

…pfft. That last word being used outright in the narration rather than one of its cleaner synonyms and euphemisms is funnier than it has any right to be.

Armsmaster, Defiant, would achieve that respect he hungered for by stopping the Nine. Or he would join Dragon in stopping an Endbringer.

Of course it all comes back to that. Though I think Dragon herself acts as a secondary motivation.

It spooked Triumph because he could imagine it all too easily, where his teammates seemed dumbfounded. It all made sense, to the point that he could imagine himself doing something similar if he found himself in Armsmaster’s shoes.

Again! Triumph is pretty much describing the really interesting thing about all of Worm here!

He wouldn’t ever do something like that; that was how he’d reassured himself. He was no longer that selfish teenager who’d received superpowers from his father like his peers got cars on their sixteenth birthday.

Alright, how many Arcs until Triumph does something like that? Two? Three?

He’d hoped for an undetectable, undeniable advantage over his peers and been enraged when it had been denied him. He’d changed, forced himself to change; he would be a good student, he’d help his fellow citizens, do the right thing.

On another hand, Triumph’s role might be that of a light mirror to Armsmaster, someone who shows the good that Colin failed to be.

Except he hadn’t. He’d kept his mouth shut. Armsmaster would get away scott free with what he had done. He might even succeed in stopping the Nine, in seeing them killed or put in the Birdcage. The world would be better for it, and a warped man who’d mechanized his humanity for one more edge would be regaled as a hero.

Now, now, it’s Jack Slash whose whole thing is to have more edge

I mean… I see the metaphor, but honestly I don’t think the cyborgification is necessarily a bad thing. But maybe that’s because I’ve been listening so much to Prototype VIP recently. 😛

And he couldn’t help but feel that he’d taken one small step forward on the very same road that Armsmaster had traveled before him.

This is a thing Wildbow does, too. See Interludes 11d and 11h, where Mannequin and Bonesaw each made Armsmaster and Panacea take that one first step towards becoming like them.

Triumph’s walk brought him to the scar. Just as Leviathan had turned a section of Downtown into a sinkhole, the Director had dropped countless tinker-made bombs on central downtown.

Ooh! Ooh! What does the chaos zone look like now that things have hopefully died down a bit?

I like the term “the scar” for it. Fitting.

There was radioactive fallout, but the reported levels weren’t dangerously high. Fire still burned in one area days after the fact, and he had to skirt around a cloud of dangerous-looking white vapor to reach his destination.

Yeah, this sounds about right. Any glaciers and other landmark fixtures?

Seating himself on a safe-looking piece of rubble, Triumph rested his elbows on his knee and stared at the figures. Crawler and Mannequin, turned to silicon by the detonation of one of Bakuda’s bombs.

Ooh, nice. I didn’t really expect us to find out exactly what had finally done them in, but this is a neat one.

Crawler looked almost joyous, limbs spread and flexed, mouth open in a roar. Mannequin was caught mid-dash, low to the ground.

Two shining statues.

I like this a lot.

He stared at them, as if he could burn them into his memory. He couldn’t say why he was here, exactly, but he’d felt compelled to see the real monsters for himself, outside of the heat of battle and the frantic and desperate scramble for survival.

Maybe to help convince yourself that you’re not like them?

(By the way, it’s good to have proper confirmation that Mannequin did in fact get caught like Legend said. The end of Prey was kind of weird about that.)

Maybe it was to find some clue, some sign he could watch out for, that would let him identify the monsters from the men.

In that case these two might be some of the worst subjects, considering they’ve both rejected their humanity (hmm… I suppose the metaphor with Defiant might fit in better than I thought) and don’t exactly look the part anymore.

He’d stay for five minutes at most, he told himself. Whatever the records said, it was better to be safe than sorry when radiation was involved. Five minutes, and if he couldn’t see anything by then, there wasn’t much use in staying longer.

Yeah, that’s fair.

He’s gonna stay longer, isn’t he?

He stayed for fifteen.

Yep.


End of Interlude 15d

In which Armsmaster returns as an elephant.

This was lowkey compared to recent Interludes, but good. A little slice of life with some setup and a new old friend is nice every once in a while.

This isn’t how I’d expect Armsmaster’s return to go down, but in retrospect it makes a ton of sense. So much so that I almost called it right before the chapter as a “what if”… argh

A lot of the mecha stuff was obviously meant to set up future situations. I’m looking forward to seeing how they come into play, and whether it’ll be the Undertravelers who have to deal with it.

(Maximum irony: The Undertravelers cleverly disable the mechs, and then an Endbringer attacks. Whoops…)

Anyway, I like Triumph’s reaction to the whole debacle. He’s not one to make a huge fuss, it seems, especially when he can recognize that more good will likely come out of letting it be, but it still clearly got to him. The scene at the end where he seeks out the real monsters to compare and contrast is very somber and I love it.

I hope Triumph can come to forgive Prism for not speaking up… but what am I saying? This is Worm, can’t have that sort of happy ending just yet.

So yeah. This was an interesting chapter to end Colony with. See you soon for asks, Arc Thoughts and Arc 16!

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One thought on “Interlude 15d: Elephant in the Room

  1. I do not see how this interlude could be more terrifying!!!

    I won’t comment on what ends up happening at the end of the story, but on my first read, Theo’s subquest always sounded like a red herring. Sure, Kaizer’s son (and Allfather’s grandson) would be bound to grow into a powerfull parahuman; probably Triumvirate level, if you like. Considering all the stuff going on at Earth Bet, throwing another Eidolon into the mix would not change the course of events that much, in the grand scheme of things.

    So. Let me share the conclusion I came up some 6 years ago when I first read interlude 15d. Let’s consider the prophecy itself. The world is ending, Jack has to be put down, so the most powerful Tinker in the world (who is secretly not even human) teams up with the most amoral Tinker in the world in order to hunt him and his Nine down. Armsy has apparently already broken the rules that prevent Dragon from reproducing (the mechas here are either concurrent Dragon copies, or more likely children AIs sired by Dragon), and he’s got another two years of tinkering before the profecy comes true. Just imagine how much will he be able to affect Dragon for either good or ill.

    Two years later, the confrontation between Jack and Hero!Theo comes true, Defiant likely knows or believes that Jack killing Theo is what triggers the end of the world, so he steps forward to save him and somehow gets himself killed by Jack. With the last of his strengths he activates the switch that finally unleashed Dragon, whom he loved despite her being a computer program.

    An now, Dragon is able to see the world “with her own eyes” for the first time… and the first thing she sees is his beloved, partner and confident bleeding out on the floor. She runs to his side but is not able to save him, just like he just saved her from her prison. And the first thought that happens to be hers will be: “Oh, Collin, it was not worth it”.

    And now the Wormverse has to contend with a deranged, grieving Singularity who happens to be in command of an army of parahumanly-enhanced-murder-robots….

    Like

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