Monarch 16.1: Dragons Like Barbecues

Source material: Worm, Monarch 16.1

Blogged: March 23, 2019


Alright! Let’s see what’s up with our little monarch butterfly today!

I’m guessing there’ll be a bit of plotting in this chapter, discussing how to deal with the fact that Coil appears to know what’s up.

Maybe they’ll also find out some news about Parian at some point. Coil wasn’t thrilled to have her in on the deal, so he may have arranged for her to be… taken care of, successfully or otherwise. If something like that happens, now or in a later part of the Arc, that’ll give Flechette reason to stand against the Undertravelers on Assault’s side, and may be another droplet towards making the glass spill.

Anyway, first chapters are almost as hard to speculate on as Interludes, so how about we get going and see how things are? 🙂

Oh! One last thing: Skitter may be looking to draw back on the cruelty. That could be a thing to watch out for here and in future chapters.


Just because I was miserable wasn’t any reason I should inflict that on my followers.

True.

So which variety of miserable are you today, Taylor? Guiltstricken over Danny and Triumph and your epiphany that you’re seen as occasionally cruel?

A solid sixty or so people were gathered in a loose circle. The roads were impassable, so we’d set up in the middle of an intersection, piling concrete blocks onto one another with a metal rack at the midway point.

…alright, what are you building here?

A hole in the bottom let us feed the fire, and the pots we’d placed inside contained pork shoulders in baths of beer, carrots, onions and garlic cloves.

Ooh, a giant oven / roasting fire of sorts. Nice.

The smell had drawn people here from across my territory. The temptation offered by the block of beer, soda and candy that was wrapped in plastic and sitting on a nearby pallet didn’t hurt either.

A most alluring beacon. So are you gathering everyone for an announcement or something, or is this just to keep up morale?

Charlotte and the group of older kids I’d assigned to keep people from pestering her were handling the food. Sierra sat on top of the pallet of supplies, making sure that everyone got one beer at a maximum.

Right, we don’t want anyone trying to get more than their ration, like Sugita and co. Charlotte has had enough of that for a while.

I’m not sure how much good the kids would do on that front, but at least it’s some of the older ones.

I’d assigned two people to guard her, but it was almost unnecessary. Anyone here was either aware that I would stop them if they tried or they would have friends to warn them.

Hm, yeah, fair enough.

On another day, I might have made people get back to work. The pork shoulders would take four or five hours to cook, and I didn’t want to give up a whole day of good weather while people hung around, waiting for the moment things were served. I left them be.

This is nice.

For the people of the territory, anyway. Taylor’s miserable, after all.

Coil knew what we were up to, and he’d shut down Tattletale. Dinah felt out of reach, and my hopes of regaining some connection with my dad had ended less than perfectly. Not badly, but not as well as I’d hoped.

“Could’ve gone better” is a nice summary of nearly every encounter with Danny in the story so far.

Actually, might as well strike the Danny part. “Could’ve gone better” describes most scenes in the story so far.

Hope wasn’t lost on either count, but I felt pretty low.

So here’s the question: Is this Arc about her hopes being reinvigorated, or about them being crushed further?

I’m leaning towards the latter.

This, right here, was the one thing that I could feel good about. My people, my territory, doing something to rebuild. Maybe I could have cracked the whip, but I’d rather they were happy. It would do more in the long run, even if it meant less work got done.

One point towards this Arc focusing on Taylor as a monarch. Taylor here shows a decent understanding of how to be a good ruler.

They’d be dicking around waiting for the food to finish, and wouldn’t get anything done tonight, after I gave them less restricted access to the beer and wine I’d had Cranston deliver. Probably less in the morning, too, now that I thought about it.

Pfft, yeah.

Which was fine. Coil had ordered us to expand our territory and deal with threats. The people in my territory had cleared enough space for people to sleep, to store necessities and tools, enough that if twenty or thirty new people decided to work for me in the next twenty-four hours, I had space for them. Expanding my control beyond this point would be a staggered process with phases of clearing followed by phases of settling.

Excellent work!

There was no point to going the extra mile to clear more space if neither I nor my enemies would be occupying it before his deadline.

Hmm. Which is a marked change from Taylor’s attitude in Infestation, before she began to give up hope on freeing Dinah via her deal with Coil.

He’d specified three days. We’d taken one to deal with the Chosen, I’d used the next to talk things over with Parian and visit the mayor. We were officially done tonight or early tomorrow.

And then the other part of the Arc title comes into play, with the elections making Coil the monarch of Brockton Bay if things go his way.

Hm. I wonder if one of Coil’s two candidates is himself, like how Alexandria placed herself in a central position with her civilian identity. On one hand, it’d make more sense to hang out in the back – he’ll be more secure and have more time to deal with other matters if he’s not outright in the mayor’s role, and it’s more in line with his usual MO – but on another hand, he’s a proud man who would like to rule the city, perhaps more directly than just by telling the actual person in charge of the city what to do.

I’m inclined to think he does intend to hang out in the back like has been indicated so far, but it’s something to keep in mind. Especially in case Tattletale ends up figuring out who he is.

My swarm informed me of a visitor. I stepped away from the pallet that Sierra was sitting on.

Ooh, who is it? Is it Grue?

It was a bit disconcerting to see how the crowd parted to give me a path. In my first night out in costume, I’d seen the ABB do it for Lung. How much of that was respect, and how much was fear?

Damn, that’s a good parallel, especially coming right after her epiphany in 15.10.

Maybe they weren’t so distinct when it came to supervillains.

Heh.

Maybe not.

We met in the middle of the street. Grue was wearing his new costume, complete with mask, and the semiliquid darkness rolled off him to spread out over the ground, hiding much of his body.

Called it!

It’s interesting how the second trigger event seems to have made the darkness more liquidy where it used to be more gaseous.

I folded my arms. Speaking quietly enough that the others wouldn’t hear me, I murmured, “Any problems?”

His voice was hollow with the effects of his power, “Just checking in. I expected a call after your job. I had to get the update on how you were doing from Tattletale.”

…whoops.

Yeah, Skitter kinda had to take a little time off after that.

“Sorry.”

“I also heard about what the boss was planning.”

“Going to give me a hard time for going?”

Nah, Tattle would’ve informed him about the way Coil pinned them. I don’t think he’d blame Taylor for choosing to play along.

“No. I don’t like it, but I understand you didn’t have a choice. Or you did have a choice, but you weren’t about to take option B.”

Exactly.

“Yeah. Which turned out to be the right choice. He was playing us, trying to send us a message without rocking the boat.”

I think he rocked the boat enough anyway, the way he did it.

Incidentally, this line reminded me that I forgot to put music on and determined what the first track I’d put on would be.

“You’ve got a lot of stake in this. You holding up?”

I should be asking if you’re holding up, I thought. “I’m dealing.”

Aw. Grue is right, but Taylor is still more concerned with him and his post-Snare state. It’s sweet.

“And dealing involves a barbecue?”

I glanced over my shoulder at the crowd that was watching us. “Building loyalty.”

Besides, dealing involving a barbecue sounds good to me. 😛

“You don’t think you’re going over the top? Being too nice?”

Skitter is a much better monarch than the type of duchess Coil wants her to be.

“They’re working hard.”

“That’s all?”

I almost shrugged, but decided to maintain my composure, look confident in front of my people. I needed a better term for referring to them. They were sort of employees, but that was vague.

Drones? 😉

Should I take the same approach Parian did, identify my territory somehow? The residents of Spiderville? The Bugwalk? The Hive?

Ahaha, nice.

The Hive would be good, but I’ve been referring specifically to Taylor’s personal base within the territory as the Hive for some time now, so that’d take a little mental rewiring to get used to.

I like the Bugwalk, from the perspective of a punster with a fondness for portmanteaus, but Skitter is neither a punster nor a portmanteur, so I doubt she’d stick with that.

Honestly, I doubt she’s one to stick with this approach in any case, so she may just continue calling it her territory.

“No, not all. I figured I’d go all out, as much for me as for them. This is the only thing that I’ve got going on that I can really feel good about right now.”

It’s something, at least.

Let’s watch out for Coil trying to rip it away from her.

“The only thing?”

I looked up at him. Oh.

Ouch. Oops.

“No, not the only thing, you’re right. Though I’m not sure exactly what we’re doing or what we are. Not like we’re in a position to go out to dinner and a movie.”

…why not?

I mean, besides Shatterbird and maybe Leviathan ruining the local cinemas.

I suppose it’s a matter of finding the time between all the cape duties, but still.

My heart was pounding so hard I worried he’d notice. This would be the moment he’d tell me he was having second thoughts, that it was a mistake, he’d been in a bad place. Or would he go one step further and accuse me of taking advantage of him, get angry?

Imp’s concerns about that last thing were fairly valid, but Interlude 15b for the most part relieved those concerns for me.

“I’ve wondered about that myself,” he said.

“It’s okay, though? Us?”

“Yeah. Definitely okay.”

^w^

What would my people think if they could overhear?

Yeah, what would they think if they realized Skitter was a human being with insecurities and concerns and relationships and other things going on than just being a scary yet oddly benevolent supervillain?

Maybe ask Sierra about that.

“I know we can’t exactly go out, but if you’re okay with it, you maybe want to come by tonight? We’ll let my people celebrate a week of hard work and head into my lair, eat, watch a movie on the couch?”

I’m down for that!

‘Course, something’s likely to get in their way.

“Okay. Not sure if I can get away before dark, if I’m doing a serious check of my territory. Imp’s doing more than her fair share.”

You’re Grue, you decide when it gets dark.

Well. At least you can make it dark earlier than it should be. Other way around might be a little harder. 😛

…Bonesaw would probably like the idea of merging Grue and Purity, if she couldn’t get her hands on Night instead.

“It’s fine. I- I’m not sure how to put it, so I’ll be upfront about this,” I told him. Which is easier said than done. It took me a second to organize my thoughts. “I don’t expect to be priority number one. We have a job here.

Hm, fair enough. That’s very much akin to how she seems to be treating Grue, too.

I’m not sure what the boss is planning, or if we’re still going to be doing this a few months from now, or even a week from now. But I totally get it if the territory comes first. Or if Imp comes first, or we have a job that interferes with our schedules. We fit each other into the breaks.”

At least with this out in the open, they’ll be prepared for that, and be less likely to get upset at each other for such problems.

See? Communication. Victor and Othala have the right idea.

I caught a glimpse of his arms through the darkness as he folded them. “You can say that, but I’m not sure it’ll be true when it happens for the third time, or the tenth.”

He has a point.

“It’s not set in stone. If it doesn’t work, we talk about it. Maybe it’s best we say whatever’s on our minds, given who we are. We’re not the best at the social thing, you know?”

Hehe, yeah.

I do wonder if Skitter’s drawing some inspiration from her experiences with Victor and Othala here.

“I know.” He paused, glancing away. “In the spirit of saying what’s on my mind, I’m kind of wondering how your people would react if I kissed you right now.”

Ahaha!

I say give it a whirl! In the interests of science, of course…

So glad I have the mask. I felt my face heat up in what would have been an embarrassing flush if anyone could see it.

D’aw.

I swallowed. “No. Don’t. It’s not that I don’t want you to, but it would mess up their image of me.”

😦

“I know. That’s the only reason I didn’t do it. That, and the masks would be hard to manage. Can’t really be spontaneous when fumbling to find a way to lift the mask up. And the stuff on this mask kind of makes it hard to lift it up.”

Pfft. Yeah, that’d be a bit of an issue.

He tapped one finger on the criss-crossing fangs I’d designed into the face of his mask. It would make it rigid, hard to remove without taking the entire thing off.

“Something to fix for a future version. You want to grab something for lunch?”

I like the implication of “we’ll have to make your mask better for spontaneous kissing”.

“I should be getting back. There’s some stragglers to deal with, and Imp’s been going full-tilt long enough I think I should relieve her.”

It seems like there was a lot of activity in Grue and Imp’s territory. Maybe that’s part of why Coil assigned the two-person group to that area.

“She’s taking this seriously, huh?”

“Yeah. I’d be happy about it if it wasn’t so dangerous.”

There’s a certain irony to Imp’s power making her hard to keep track of when one of the reasons she’s on the team is for Grue to keep track of her.

“With luck, the danger will pass soon.”

“Yeah. See you later?”

Way to tempt fate, Skitter.

I opened my mouth to respond, then stopped as I felt a tremor. “You feel that?” I asked.

Uh-oh, that doesn’t sound good.

I don’t really expect an Endbringer attack in the middle of this dealing-with-Coil plotline, but I swear, if Skitter just tempted fate so hard that Behemoth comes popping out of her barbecue setup just to prove her wrong…

What else could cause this tremor? One of Dragon’s mechs?

It’s probably not just a random earthquake. Brockton Bay isn’t exactly in a hotspot for that kind of thing.

“No.”

Could Taylor be sensing it specifically through her power?

Maybe she’s especially sensitive to such with her own body, too, as a side effect.

No, I hadn’t felt it with my own body. My swarm had sensed it. A vibration through the area.

Which would suggest something flying. Mechs are more likely with that in mind. The Simurgh is on the table, but she’s unlikely for the same reason Behemoth is.

My bugs could scent exhaust. The acrid taste of ozone, for the lack of a better explanation.

Yeah. Skitter, I think Dragon wants to talk to you.

Took her long enough.

I honed in on it, and realized that one of the buildings near the edge of my range had a new addition on the roof. It was big, like two eighteen wheelers parked side-by-side, with two more stacked on top, but all one piece.

Damn. How did she not notice that coming into her territory?

“Shit,” I said, as the general shape took form in my mind. I wheeled around to look in the direction it had settled. “Trouble.”

Darkness billowed out around Grue, making him look larger.

Like certain animals puffing up their fur or feathers.

My first thought was Squealer, but she was supposedly dead. The other alternative… Shit.

Now, now, Shit is probably not any better off. With a name like that, they’d almost certainly be a Merchant…

“Listen up!” I called out, augmenting my voice with my swarm. Most of the crowd was already paying some attention to me, but my shout got everyone else to turn my way. “Threat incoming. Stop what you’re doing and clear out of here, that way!” I pointed.

Some people started hesitantly heading the way I’d indicated.

“Now!” I shouted. The crowd began to move. Sierra and Charlotte were among them, abandoning the food and the makeshift oven. Sierra looked my way for confirmation and I gave her a tight nod.

Yes, good, get out of the way. As far as Skitter knows, this could turn into a cape fight, and it’s best not to be in the middle of one of those if you can avoid it.

I doubted that my people were in any danger like they’d faced with Mannequin or Burnscar, but I wasn’t taking chances.

Sounds like Taylor may have realized that Dragon might be here to talk.

At the very least, she realizes Dragon isn’t one to kill bystanders.

“Who?” Grue asked.

“Pretty sure it’s Dragon.”

She wasn’t moving. She’d settled on the tallest building in the area, not too far from where I’d started my costumed career, fought Lung and met the others.

I can’t help but picture a dragon settled on a mountaintop, and I think that’s exactly what Wildbow was going for here.

I also like how the other dragon is brought up here.

She was large enough that her mechanical forelimbs could grip two corners of the building. She lay there like a resting jungle cat or sphinx, head raised, slowly rotating to take in her surroundings.

Awesome.

“The timing couldn’t be worse for this,” he said. He settled one hand on my shoulder and pulled me in the direction my people were running. “Coil wanted us to be done today. Now the heroes are making a move?”

Possibly. I’m still thinking she’s working alone here – the move the heroes were discussing was supposed to be a surprise attack. They’d avoid Skitter noticing Dragon too early, and probably make sure teammates like Grue weren’t here with her.

“Retaliation for the mayor,” I said. “We pushed things, now they’re bringing in the big guns. Maybe literally.”

“Plan?”

Grue asks Skitter for a plan. That really helps towards cementing the whole leadership change, even if there are other reasons he’d have for deferring to her in this situation (such as this being her home turf).

“No clue.” I got my phone out and dialed Tattletale. She picked up on the first ring, as I was clicking through the menu to put it on speaker phone.

Sure, let’s get her perspective on this, good idea.

“Dragon’s here-” she started. There was a flare of static, not unlike the noise from an out-of-tune radio station, “-don’t fight.”

Sounds like Dragon’s jamming communications. And yeah, I’m with Tattle, don’t fight.

“Why?” I asked, but the static flared up again as I spoke, and I couldn’t be sure Tattletale heard me. “She’s here. How is she there?”

I thought a bit about that too.

One interpretation is that Tattle meant Dragon was in town, but if it’s that Dragon came to Tattle as well, then it does seem her restrictions on using multiple agent systems at once have indeed been lifted or modified.

Or maybe she’s just positioned each agent, ready to use once she’s done with one of them.

“Hitting multiple territories at once-” Whatever she said next was obscured. It was getting worse, fast. “-fight and heroes come to back her up. Run, hide. Meet-”

I suppose that’s fair. Maybe it’d be better to talk, but it seems this is a planned effort from the whole of the Protectorate/Wards, which limits that aspect of things.

Then she was gone, lost in the sea of static. I waited for several tense seconds, hoping she would come back on the line.

“Skitter.” It was Dragon who spoke over the phone. “I’m cutting off communications.

Oh, hi there.

I look forward to talking to you once you’ve been brought into custody.”

Okay, she does want to talk to Skitter, but prioritizes bringing her in. Fair enough.

The phone died. There wasn’t even a dial tone.

“Oh hell,” Grue said.

Oh hell indeed.

“Let’s go.”

We’d been retreating, but we broke out into a full-on run as the phone cut out.

Dragon, for her part, made a move. Metal objects the size of a beachball were filing out of the sides of her suit.

Hmm. Drones in the non-insectoid sense?

They floated in the air, spreading out in formations. Dozens of them.

“She’s trying to beat me at my own game,” I said, panting, “Minions. Hate tinkers. Hate tinkers so fucking much.”

Ahahaha!

A collection of my bugs died all at once, the sphere dropping to the pavement below with a thud that the bugs could feel.

Is she doing something similar with the drones to what Armsmaster did in Tangle?

He did help develop this, after all.

I’d encountered this before. Armsmaster’s electric pulse, the one he’d used with his halberd.

Booyeah.

“And I really hate tinkers who share their work.

Pfffft!

As I glanced over my shoulder, I could see the drones flowing into the sky in waves. I ordered Atlas back to my lair to keep him safe.

He’s too valuable to place a bet on “the electric pulse isn’t strong enough to kill him”.

I didn’t want to risk him, didn’t want to get shot out of the air while flying and I wasn’t able to bring Grue along, wasn’t willing to leave him behind.

Fair.

Was this what my enemies experienced? A vague feeling of dread as an unreachable opponent massed her forces? I couldn’t necessarily fight back against them and even taking down one drone was useless. Five or ten more would be ready to take its place.

That… sounds about right, yes.

But at least Dragon’s drones are too big to fit under the eyelids or inside your urinary tract.

Which sounds like material for the weirdest yo momma joke ever.

They were overtaking us. Any time I gathered more than a handful of bugs together, a drone would obliterate them with a point-blank electrical charge. That was the only thing slowing them down; they would spend their charge, fall to the ground and then rise again a few seconds later as they rebooted.

Hm. The dropping is an interesting behavior. Might be indicative of other weaknesses somehow.

I got a better look at the drones as they approached. Each was an identical black sphere with two wings like the blades of a battleaxe, the tips of one blade connecting with the other. A camera with a red lens was mounted on a plate that roved across the sphere’s outer surface, while another plate glowed in the same way Kid Win’s antigravity skateboard had, always pointing toward the ground.

Tinkers sharing their work.

I wonder if Kid knows and is proud of some of his own work (probably) being involved in a piece of Dragon tech.

The key to taking out a drone might be to get it spinning, get the plate to not point towards the ground, but that’s easier said than done, and taking out individual drones may be fruitless.

One passed over my head, then stopped, hovering in place a few feet above me as I ran. I turned on my heel and shifted left, and it followed me unerringly. I zig-zagged and failed to shake it.

And through the cameras and trackers on the drones, as long as you can’t shake it, Dragon will know where you are.

Akin to Taylor’s awareness of where her enemies are through her swarm.

Attention citizen,” it blared, in the same voice that I’d heard from the armbands during the Endbringer fight, “For your own safety, drop to the ground and place your hands on your head. You have ten seconds to comply.”

Pffft. “Attention citizen” is oddly funny in this context.

Interestingly, this means that the voice from the armbands and the drones is not the same voice Dragon uses when talking from the main mechs or over the phone. I suppose that makes sense – if the armbands were too close to her usual voice, people might question their ability to synthesize the cape names in such a way that they sound exactly the way Dragon would say them, in her voice.

“Fuck!”

Don’t swear at me, citizen!

“Here!” Grue called out. He was turned toward me, bent to one knee, his fingers interlaced, nearly touching the ground.

…what are you trying to do? Launch Taylor up to the drone?

“Five seconds.”

I ran towards him, setting my feet in the cup of his hands, while drawing my knife. He straightened, heaving me up. My timing was off, and I didn’t manage to jump in time with the push, but I did manage to stay balanced. As he lifted me, I raised one foot and placed it on his shoulder, using it as a foothold to lunge for the drone. I stabbed my knife at the antigravity panel.

Niice.

It raised higher into the air. I missed by a hair.

Well. Nice try anyway.

Failure to comply.”

I felt the hairs all over my body stand to attention a second before it hit us.

Electric pulse?

It felt more like getting a truck dropped on me than I would have expected an electrical charge to feel like, but I could feel the not-unfamiliar sensation of snakes writhing across my body.

Oww.

It had knocked the wind out of me, leaving me lying flat on top of Grue. The weight of the drone had followed soon after, no less than a hundred pounds landing on top of the two of us.

Right, the dropping. Maybe if you recover quickly enough, you can take out the antigrav panel while it’s down?

Grue made a guttural sound.

“On your feet,” I gasped the words as I tried to haul air back into my lungs. “Hurry.”

“We’re not unconscious?” He gave me a hand as we climbed to our feet.

You can probably take one or two more pulses like that, I think.

“Spider silk’s partially insulated against el-” I stopped to cough. “Electrical charges.”

Oh yeah, good point.

Which means Grue would probably be out now if he hadn’t been wearing the new costume.

Attention Citizen. For your own safety, drop to the ground and place your hands on your head. You have ten seconds to comply.” The broadcasts overlapped, two voices a half-step apart in timing.

Ahaha.

I looked up. Sure enough, there were another two drones in place over me and Grue.

Grue drenched us in darkness, seizing my wrist and hauling me away with enough force that I could barely keep my feet under me.

Let’s see what the drones do if they can’t tell whether or not you’re complying.

Or perhaps they’ll consider this failure to comply.

“Won’t work,” I gasped out the words, “She’s not reliant on conventional senses. Saw Imp.”

Hmm.

I mean, that’s because her mind isn’t biological. But who knows whether or not the drones have additional sensors installed.

I couldn’t hear a response, of course. I focused my attention on the drones, getting bugs onto them to track their movements, and getting some onto Dragon to see what she was doing.

Getting bugs onto them… except they periodically kill the bugs you set on them…

The drones were falling. Grue’s darkness spread throughout the area, and drones were descending slowly from the air to touch ground. They weren’t discharging their electrical loads either.

Hmm. Weird.

Maybe they’re trying to detect vibrations in the ground from the Undersiders’ movements?

Whatever signal Dragon was using to command them, Grue’s darkness was cutting it off.

Oooh, that’s useful.

He banished the darkness in a small clearing around us, “The drones are down. We could double back, hit her main body.”

Except that’s exactly what Tattle told you not to do, because then she’d get backup.

I turned my attention to Dragon. She was rising, planting her claws at the roof’s edge, and turning her head to face us. Her mouth opened.

Fire breath? Or perhaps a windy roar to blow away the darkness?

“Incoming!” I shouted. This time it was my turn to grab Grue and pull him away. We headed for the side of a series of stone stairs. Crouching so our heads weren’t sticking out, we pressed our backs against the side of the stairwell that was closest to Dragon.

Or perhaps she spits containment foam?

The attack was silent, but that was par for the course when Grue’s darkness was involved. It speared down the length of the street like a tightly focused gust of wind. It scattered Grue’s darkness and made the drones skid hundreds of feet along the road’s surface. My hair whipped across the face of my mask in the wake of the attack.

Alright, looks like my second suggestion was on point. Except Taylor says it’s like a tightly focused gust of wind. In what way was it not a tightly focused gust of wind, then? Was there a projectile?

We moved in sync, rushing out of the doorway and rounding the first corner to our right.

With the darkness cleared, the drones were rising again.

Uh… more darkness?

“She’s prepared for me,” Grue said.

Which means she’s probably prepared for all of the Undersiders.

“Maybe planned to come after you when she was done here,” I said. I glanced nervously at the drones that were turning their red eyes to every surface and object, searching for ‘citizens’ to detain. “Or it’s part of a more complicated setup. This way. There’s a path through the building and out the other side.”

The drones are reminding me of the ones from the beginning of Steven Universe season 5, except the “attention citizen” thing makes them sound a lot goofier.

Off_Colors_185.png

We were halfway through when a trio of drones moved to cut us off, another drone moving to block our retreat. It was a precise enough maneuver that I knew Dragon had to have some kind of thermal vision at play, or another means of tracking us.

Thermal vision would make sense, yeah, when the darkness is down.

Grue hit the drones with his darkness, shutting off the connection to Dragon. We pushed our way past as they settled to the ground. Dragon was orienting herself for another shot. We had cover, but she had to know that.

Hmm. Might mean she intends to chase you out of that cover and then immediately strike.

The blast of hot wind ripped past us. The building obstructed the worst of it, but it was less focused than the former. Again, it stripped away much of Grue’s darkness. He covered them in a fresh layer and we continued running.

Or maybe it was just an attempt to free the drones?

Dragon didn’t give chase.

Hmmmm.

It’s almost like she’s playing with them.

Or chasing them into a trap, with other heroes laying in wait where they’re likely to run to.

This is reminding me of Shell.

Huh??

Are we skipping ahead to an exhausted Grue and Skitter?

We arrived at Coil’s base and I knew from a single glance at Regent’s posture that we hadn’t all made it.

Hoo boy. Who did they catch? Tattletale? Bitch?

It was as though we were afraid enough of the answer that we weren’t willing to ask; Nobody spoke as Regent and Shatterbird led the way into the underground base.

Imp was just past the last door. Grue hugged her, and for once she didn’t fight or complain.

Imp’s safe, at least.

Coil’s soldiers were armed and at the ready, guns resting on knees or from the straps at their shoulders, each man and woman with their specialized body armor strapped on. Thirty or forty sets of eyes watching us, each of them utterly still. Coil stood on the walkway opposite us, Trickster to his left, Sundancer and Oliver to his right.

Did they get Ballistic too?

Maybe Tattletale is off somewhere else, thinking her message to meet up in some other location went through, while Bitch has been captured?

“You made it,” Tattletale called out. I’d nearly missed spotting her in the midst of the soldiers.

Oh, there she is.

She was in the company of Fish and Minor, two of the squad captains.

“Who are we missing?” Grue called out.

Bitch and Ballistic, it seems so far, and maybe Genesis.

“Ballistic, Genesis and Bitch.”

Damn. I didn’t particularly like or dislike Genesis, but I didn’t want her to suffer. Ballistic… I couldn’t bring myself to care that much.

Pfft.

Yeah, he didn’t exactly make a great impression on Skitter last Arc.

Bitch, though? That was bad.

Fuck yes it is.

Especially considering her relationship with secrets and loyalty.

We waited while Coil and the Travelers traveled across the walkway and Tattletale crossed the bottom floor to the staircase.

“This is not ideal,” Coil spoke.

“No,” Grue responded.

might be bad

“Seven of those things,” Tattletale said. “They hit Sundancer, Genesis, Ballistic, me, Bitch and Skitter. Tried to hit Trickster, but he was recuperating here.

So the one territory they didn’t try to go after was Grue and Imp.

My gut says Dragon’s controlling these things with an A.I.. Smart A.I., but they didn’t seem quite as sharp as she was in our last run-in with her. Or her attention’s divided too many ways. Can’t say.

You’re so close to figuring out what Dragon herself is.

Her objective seems to be disrupting our control over the city rather than stopping us outright.”

“I think the pair of us only slipped away because she wasn’t expecting me to be there,” Grue said. “Did she use the drone-deployer against you guys?”

If she tried to beat the others at their own game like she did with Skitter, there might be some other fun shenanigans for each of them.

“No,” Tattletale replied. “She was piloting an updated version on the thing she used against Leviathan. Spewed containment foam everywhere.

Ahh, was that what the Cawthorne was, rather than the one she used in Parasite?

Except I think the updated Cawthorne was more similar to the one from Parasite, so I guess it’s possible that two of them are updated versions.

My guys hammered it with rocket launchers and bought me time to run. Maybe lost half my squad, depending on how things went. Only Minor and Brooks have returned so far.”

Ouch.

At least they’re probably trained well in keeping quiet.

“Came after me with a bloated floating ship, kept drawing forcefields around me,” Sundancer said. She was hugging her arms to her body.

Ahh. Yeah, if she’d consciously been trying to match the powers of her targets, I’d expect that one to go after Genesis.

Though honestly it’s mostly the shape that makes me think that.

“My power couldn’t even knock them down. I burned myself an escape route through the ground. Nearly got trapped in the molten sludge. It was stupid, I could have died.”

…clever, but perhaps a bit rushed.

Oliver put a hand on her shoulder.

“Seven different ships,” Grue said.

Speaking of ships, I may or may not suddenly be shipping Oliver and Sundancer.

“This is well-timed enough that I’d suspect a traitor in our midst,” Coil spoke, pausing for a moment while his head turned fractionally to take us all in, “But I haven’t spoken of my overall plans to anyone, and there is nobody capable of reading minds to figure out my overall strategy, much less in Brockton Bay.”

Turns out Dragon managed to hire the Simurgh.

So does Coil actually think this or is he sowing distrust between his subordinates as a play against the Undersider plots?

“Just bad luck and good planning,” Tattletale said. “Communications are down, no camera feeds, no radio. Phones too. No cell or satellite signals are making it out there.”

Right, that’s troublesome.

“So we’re going to have to stick together instead of coordinating attacks,” Grue responded.

“Trouble is,” Tattletale said, “They’ve already laid out their game plan, and it’s a toughie. Seven suits babysitting our territories and keeping us from settling back in.

With the sole exception of Grue’s territory unless the suits move around.

If we pick a fight like Ballistic did, then they deploy the Protectorate, the Wards and probably any unoccupied suits as reinforcements.”

And it’s not like distracting the unoccupied suits to get back into the territories is going to help much.

Nobody had a response to that. Dealing with just the one Dragon had been hard enough. Dealing with Dragon plus a contingent of heroes would be next to impossible.

“Can Grue borrow her power?” Trickster asked.

A good idea in theory, but not going to work.

Grue shook his head, and the darkness around him seemed to expand a fraction. “No. Don’t get much from tinkers.”

Also fair enough. A lot of their ability probably sits in the passenger.

“Then there’s Regent,” Trickster said. “Or, more specifically, Shatterbird.”

“Sure,” Regent said.

Shatterbird is very much the strongest thing the Undersiders have against Dragon, yeah, what with her ability to fry circuit board and such.

“She might have a countermeasure in mind,” I said. “She knows Shatterbird’s here. It could be as simple as the long ranged wind cannon thing she used to clear away Grue’s darkness. She could shoot Shatterbird out of the air the second she shows herself. Or any number of things.”

So what if she doesn’t show herself? Does she need line of sight when not using her city-wide shattering attack?

“Try a larger scale detonation?” Trickster asked. “See if you can’t wipe out a couple of suits at once, without revealing yourself?”

“No,” Regent said. “Don’t know if I can control the area of it if I push out too hard. It’s slippery… I’m not good at explaining this stuff. I can turn the dial to anywhere from one to ten, but for each number you go up, it goes maybe twice as far, maybe five times as far. The effect… I dunno.”

Ahh, makes sense.

“It gets exponentially more powerful, as you put more effort in,” I suggested.

“Sure. Don’t know what that means, but sure.”

Pfft.

That’s not quite what I thought he was saying, but yeah, that sounds about right too.

Coil cleared his throat, “I’ve invested a great deal of time and money into establishing your two groups here in Brockton Bay, and I did it for precisely this sort of scenario. Again, the timing is unfortunate, but I still expect you to address this situation.

Yeah, this is absolutely an issue for them to take on.

You’ll want to verify whether Bitch, Ballistic and Genesis are captured or simply pinned down somewhere, rescue them if need be and dispatch Dragon.”

Sounds like a good series of objectives.

There go my plans with Brian.

Heh. Yeeah, that’ll have to wait.

Called it.

“This may be just a smidge above and beyond the call of duty, bossman,” Regent said.

…li’l bit, maybe.

Also, “bossman” is a fun word. I associate it a bit with Loreweaver – it used to be his admin role on his Discord server (nowadays it’s “frogfather”), with the mods being “bossminions” and “emergency rations” (now “frog patrol” and “tadpole patrol”).

“You’ll have access to all of my resources,” Coil responded. “But the previous orders about clearing out and establishing your territories by noon tomorrow stand.”

Really, dude?

I mean, I get that it’s kinda necessary to your plan to get that done ASAP, but this is clearly a special scenario. Some slack should probably be given here.

“Or?”

Every set of eyes moved to Imp.

She asked the unspoken question! 😮

Burn the witch!

“Beg pardon?” Coil asked.

“Hey, I’m in this for fun, for fame and money. Getting beat down and arrested isn’t any of those things.”

True.

It’s like the Undersiders discussed last Arc, they’ve sort of lost sight of what they got into all of this for. Imp, being the relative newcomer, has a bit of a different perspective on that.

“I see. I thought you would be more professional.”

“Me?” Imp shrugged, “Hell no.”

Ahaha! At least she owns it!

Grue might not be too happy with Imp giving Coil reason to reconsider her involvement in his plans, though.

I could feel the tension in the air. There were fifty trained soldiers here. Men and women who could shoot and hit their target. If Coil gave the order, I wasn’t sure we’d walk away in one piece. Intentionally or not, Imp was pulling the chair out from under Coil at a time when he was already vulnerable and unsteady on his feet.

…and Skitter can relate to doing terrifying things to appear strong and steady.

Good.

Yeah, fair enough. Little bit of undermining like this can help.

It’s worth noting Coil probably has a second timeline going, where things presumably went worse for him than in this one.

“Do the rest of you feel this way?”

“The Travelers aren’t in a position to walk away. You know that,” Trickster said, “And we have to rescue Genesis and Ballistic if they need it. So no. We’re definitely in.”

Yeah, no walking away for them.

And the Undersiders, similarly, have Bitch, and things have developed enough that I don’t think Skitter will have to think twice about saving her.

Tattletale, Grue and I exchanged glances. Tattletale’s eyes lingered on me for a long second. Was it up to me?

You’re the leader.

“Honestly?” I said. “I don’t know what call I’d make. This is pretty dangerous, as stuff goes, and we didn’t exactly sign up for this. I’d go in just to make sure Bitch comes out of it okay, but doing that and cleaning up this mess in the kind of timeframe you’re talking about? That’s asking a lot.”

It is, yeah.

“You’ll be adequately compensated for the risk you face,” Coil said.

How exactly do you intend to do that? Taylor doesn’t care about money except insofar as it helps her fix up her territory.

You know exactly what she does want, though. What would really motivate her to do this.

“I figured as much. But I don’t want money.”

“Ah. What do you want, Skitter?”

“You know what I want.”

“You know that already.”

Drat, so close to getting it word-by-word.

And the thing is, Coil’s options are limited here. More than ever, he actually does need the Undersiders on his side here, and he doesn’t have much time to hesitate.

“I’ve already told you I’ll consider your request.”

“I want a promise.”

You think his word is any better if he sticks an “I promise” in there?

He’s a proud man, and he’s usually not one to outright lie to people, but I’m not so sure about that.

He didn’t reply. Instead, he stared at me, his mask opaque, no holes for the eyes, nose or mouth. I had to read the little details, the movements in the raised portion of his brow, the set of his chin, the movements and tension of his fingers where he had his hands clasped in front of him. If I had to venture a guess, I’d think he was offended.

That Skitter doesn’t trust him completely? Because if that’s it, that’s richer than he is. 😛

“Then you have it, Skitter. Provided you deal with this situation in the next twenty-one hours and your team has reclaimed their territory, I will consider your end of the bargain filled. I’m hoping I have the rest of the Undersiders as well?”

He’ll consider her end of the bargain filled.

But does that mean he’ll fulfill his end?

In any case, this ought to put a fire under Skitter’s feet, getting her motivated to do this as efficiently as possible. Twenty-one hours is not a lot of time, but I think with a motivator like that, she’ll find a way.

“I’m not promising anything until I get something too,” Imp said.

Heh, fair enough.

“What would you require?”

“My own territory.”

Oh damn, Grue’s not going to like that.

“That can be arranged. Given how critical this situation is, are you content to discuss the matter after the situation is resolved?”

“Come again?”

Seems fair to me.

Like, discussing where the territory will be, etc.

“He wants to know if you’re okay with deciding what territory you get after the job is done,” Grue said.

“Yeah.”

“Grue, Tattletale, Regent?”

“I’m with her,” Tattletale jerked a thumb my way. Grue nodded, glancing at Imp.

Grue is taking this better than I expected, at least outwardly.

So this leaves Regent. Does he have conditions, or does he consider this a part of the helping Taylor make peace with herself before the world goes to shit that he said “wouldn’t kill him” last Arc?

“I’m not about to be left out,” Regent said. “But maybe you could pony up a nice cash bonus?”

Hehe. Yeah, that’s reasonable enough.

I could hear the slightest of sighs from Coil. “That can be arranged.”

He’s not pleased with having to negotiate like this.

“Cool.”

“Then that’s settled. I’ve been made aware that Dragon is also making a bid to claim, seize and lock out digital goods within the city. Victor has agreed to work with my teams and do what he can to minimize the damage. If there’s nothing else-“

Digital goods… like the phones? And any working computers Coil and co. have?

Good to hear Victor’s pulling his weight, at least.

“There is something,” Tattletale said.

“Do tell.”

“That data we grabbed from the PRT offices. You crack it yet?”

Why, did you realize something about it? Or do you just hope its data on Dragon could help here?

“Some. It’s badly degraded.”

“I need it. As much as you can give.”

“Done,” Coil said. “I can show you the way.”

What little there is can still set Tattle’s power running, after all.

“One other thing. You said we had access to all of your resources?”

Aaaaaaaall of them?

“Yes.”

“Just how much money are you able to spare?”

“We can discuss that on our way to the room where the databases are stored,” he said, firm. “Undersiders, Travelers, I wish you luck.”

What sort of shenanigans are Tattle up to, I wonder? Mail-order mecha?

Heh, imagine if she hired the Dragonslayers to come to Brockton Bay. Though Dragon’s jamming kinda fucks with that.

Hmm. In a similar vein, though, hiring Faultline’s Crew to help could be fun.

He strode off with Tattletale following.

Too easy, I thought. He made that promise too easily.

Yeah, even with the way you put him on the spot at a critical moment.

I have little to no faith that he intends to honor that promise.

Even if he can be taken on his word, maybe he now actually wants to eliminate you, just to avoid being challenged on the promise by the Undersiders.

But it was something.

“Let’s go,” I said.

Well, at least it can act as a good motivation as long as you continue deluding yourself about it.


End of Monarch 16.1

So far, I think I was on the mark about the meaning of the Arc title.

This was a rather action-packed first chapter, which was fun. We got right into the meat of the Dragon/Protectorate/Wards plotting against the Undertravelers, and damn, Dragon’s mechs make a hell of a difference.

So now they have seven mechs hogging their territories, the Protectorate and Wards ready as backup, and three missing team members to deal with over the course of 21 hours. This is gonna be a lot of fun, I think.

The way the Undersiders – particularly Imp and Skitter – put Coil on the spot in this chapter was beautiful. Especially with Imp being the one who started it. Exasperated Coil is best Coil.

Tattletale also seems to be plotting something, and I’m looking forward to seeing what it is.

Next chapter, I suppose Skitter, Grue, Regent and Imp will be heading towards Bitch’s territory to see if they can find her or if she’s been captured, while the Travelers do the same for their missing members. If any of the three missing teammates have been captured, this all becomes a lot harder, as a custody break could potentially warrant an Arc in itself and they have a lot more things to do here.

At some point Skitter may want to reclaim Atlas. Getting shot out of the sky by one of Dragon’s mechs is a potential issue, but if she can fly around the city, that might save her some time if she has to split from the other Undersiders for some task.

So yeah, this is shaping up to be an exciting Arc. See you next time!

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3 thoughts on “Monarch 16.1: Dragons Like Barbecues

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