Source material: Worm, Interlude 16 (Donation Bonus #3)
Blogged: July 28-30, 2019
Howdy, everyone! It’s time to move on to Glow-Worm, since I was informed that the “next chapter” button is actually a rickroll… But what the hell, I’m in the mood for some Astley, let’s click it anyway.
…wait, this isn’t YouTube…
Alright, looks like we’re doing an Interlude!
Let’s see, who’s relevant?
Travelers. Obviously. Especially Trickster if he was indeed involved in teleporting Skitter. Genesis’ cryptic remark last time also makes her a prime suspect if we’re going this direction. Noelle would also be interesting.
Coil has had an Interlude, but Skitter’s narration has shifted to mostly calling him Thomas Calvert, and we saw what happened with Defiant, so…?
Frenchy is probably not particularly relevant, but who knows. He could serve as a side perspective.
It’s also very possible that we’re about to go a bit further away from the situation at hand, like we did with Battery’s Interlude. That gives me little to work with, but whatever happens, Cauldron will likely be involved somehow. Just about every Interlude in the last few Arcs has had something to do with them, even if the Nilbogville Interlude’s connection to them is just that it may have prompted Coil to seek them out.
Maybe it’s the Number Man or… oooh, what if it’s Doormaker? Doormaker would parallel Skitter’s current state — blind (and deaf, in Door’s case) through conventional senses yet perceiving the world through their powers. He’d also give us an excellent perspective on the world as a whole despite being somewhat out of touch with his immediate reality. A Doormaker Interlude sounds like a very interesting opportunity right now.
…also it just occurred to me that Cauldron might be kinda fucked if Doormaker dies. Unless they’ve got a tinker capable of recreating his power, I suppose.
So yeah. Somewhat expected outcome: Traveler Interlude. Desired outcome: Doormaker Interlude.
Probable outcome: Wildbow plays me like a fiddle like usual.
“Holding court?” Cinderhands asked.
“Yes,” answered Princess Celestia.
Cinderhands is a name that screams “fire-based power”, so I’m actually more intrigued by the dialogue. What kind of context would prompt this question in the Wormverse?
“We’ve waited long enough,” Marquis answered. “Word’s out, demand’s high, and it’s hitting people harder because they’ve been thinking about it. The time is right, if you’re ready, Amelia?”
OH HELL FUCKING YES.
(And just after I made a joke about Amy in the between post, too…)
Amelia stared down at her hands. “I don’t want to.”
Does “holding court” involve Amy using her power somehow? Does she heal the prisoners in return for their support of Marquis?
“Life is full of things we don’t want to do. I won’t force you, but I think you and I would be very well served if you stepped up to the task.
You’ve got the chance to prove to me that you’re still a good dad in this Interlude, Marquis. Don’t blow it.
“I won’t force you” is a good start.
It will be harder to protect you if you don’t.”
If the task is what I think it is, this does make some sense. If word’s out about her power, people will want a piece of that whether Marquis sells it to them or not.
Granted, Amy isn’t defenseless in such a situation, but it’s better for her if it’s regulated.
Amelia frowned. “You mean you’d throw me to the wolves.”
Does Amy have reason to believe this beyond Marquis being a villain? I’m watching you, Big M.
I’m absolutely willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, given his previous appearances. I do think he genuinely loves Amy and may very well be a good influence for her. But this is Worm.
Also, he’s taking care of my favorite character, so my protectiveness flares up a little.
“No. No. If you truly decided that you couldn’t, if the situation forced an ultimatum, I would give up the power I have as the leader of Block W if I had to.”
I believe him.
“I can’t tell if you mean it.”
It must hurt to be distrusted by his daughter like this, but at the same time… who can blame her?
I suspect that’s what we’re getting into soon. We seem to be in Marquis’ POV, after all.
Marquis took his time rolling and lighting a cigarette, then kneeled before her. He spoke with it bobbing in his lips, “My girl. I’m not a good man. I have rules I follow, but that doesn’t make me good. At best, it’s one virtue among many I’ve failed to acquire. I’m rough around the edges, whatever I might play at, and that’s plain enough to see to anyone who pays attention.
I do like Marquis, and this speech reinforces that, even before I finish it. Self-awareness is a trait I like in characters.
I grew up in hard circumstances, and it’s taken me a long time to work past that and earn the respect I get. And I would give that up if you needed it.”
Are we getting this backstory today, or leaving it at that?
“You don’t know me.”
Weirdly, this sentence always carries connotations of being a title to me. It’s mainly because of a dark Miraculous Ladybug fic I’ve brought up on this blog before, but I reinforced that connotation by using it as a title of my own, back in February, for a chapter of my first MLP fic.
Granted, when I used it, it was in reference to a line of dialogue. Where the emphasis was on “don’t“.
Anyway, back on topic: It hasn’t been that long since Amy got here, so it’s very justified that she thinks this. Marquis has spent over a decade loving the idea of Amy, but he doesn’t actually know the girl she grew into very well. He loves the little Amelia that was taken away from him, and Amy is a bit weirded out by this man she never met acting like he’s known and loved her her whole life.
“You’re family, Amelia.” He stood, pulled the cigarette from between his lips and kissed her on the forehead.
She probably doesn’t appreciate you doing this just yet.
He didn’t miss how she pulled away in alarm and surprise. “Whatever else, that’s the most important thing in the end.”
And of course we’re immediately back to Amy’s themes of family, nature vs nurture, blood vs water.
He let the words sit with her, turning away. Lung stood by the door, arms folded, and Marquis smiled lightly at the man.
“Amelia, this is Lung. I believe you have met.”
“Oh yeah… I healed him that one time Armsmaster stopped him from pissing on the moon. After what Armsmaster did to him back then, it must have taken him a while before he could reliably piss on anything again, let alone the moon. Hey, Lung, what’s up?”
He’ll see this admission as weakness, but the right display of confidence will leave him wondering if it’s a lie, a ploy.
Marquis confirmed for Wheel of Time character.
Knowing what you’d give up for can be a kind of strength, but not the kind Lung values.
Lung, much like all of the other prisoners, was wearing the gray cotton clothing that was supplied regularly through the drops, alongside the other essentials.
Oh, so that’s how that kind of thing works.
I assume the other end of the Birdcage’s digestion tract has things falling into the mountain void. I suppose Dragon might have someone make bots that can distinguish between shit and trash and humans with flight or parachutes, so that the security system doesn’t have to constantly shoot at the droppings.
He’d torn off the sleeves of the shirt, showing off muscular arms that were emblazoned with tattoos down to the fingertips. The light brown of his eyes was surrounded by an expanse of bloodshot red instead of whites.
You okay, dude?
Other than his muscular physique, they were the only thing that set him apart from any ordinary man who one might see on the streets.
Ah, I guess that’s a side effect of his power.
Or of having to regenerate his eyes after Skitter pried them out, I suppose.
Lung was a killer, a wild animal who played at being a man. Marquis had picked up enough details to know Lung’s story. He’d broken the rules, broken the code, because he’d thought he had the power to get away with it. But it had been a power he couldn’t quantify, a blend of raw military strength, reputation and circumstantial power.
And when he tossed his reputation away by pulling that stunt, he didn’t have enough to fall back on?
Just as there were athletes who studied their sport, trained their technique and honed their bodies with specific goals in mind, there were others who drew from natural talent and instinct. Lung had built his gang by conquering others one by one, going by his gut to identify those who would stand in his way and then violently removing them from his path.
Makes sense. Marquis on the other hand is the more calculating type, so I suppose he removed his opponents with more finesse?
His instinct and a tenacious power gave him his success on the street level, where he seized control of the local drug trade, of soldiers, but they hadn’t fared so well in the scope of a greater war.
And so it was that Lung found himself here. Among the fallen, so to speak.
Something something fallen angels, except not exactly angels.
He turned his attention to Amelia. His daughter. She sat on the edge of the bed, slouching forward. Her clothes weren’t torn or modified, and her sweatshirt was a fraction too big for her – she was staying in his cell block, and the clothes were meant for men.
Don’t you have contacts on the other side who might be able to supply her with something more fitting? I’m sure Dragon would cooperate so they’d still have enough on that side.
I wonder if Amy still prefers “Amy” over “Amelia”, now that she’s embraced being Marquis’ daughter and deserving to go to the Birdcage.
For the time being, she was being left alone. He’d asked the men of his cell block to look after her, and because of this, she was afforded a certain respect. People got out of her way, not because they knew anything about her, but because they knew him.
Yeah, sounds about right.
It was precarious and unconventional. A girl in the men’s cell blocks. It wasn’t new, exactly, some had taken wives, had girlfriends or paid girls to serve them as prostitutes. But Amelia was someone with no confidence, no presence, giving every sign that she was a victim rather than a warrior.
A victim of herself.
How much does Marquis know about why she’s here?
This wouldn’t last. The men in the Birdcage were still men in the end, and they were men who’d found their way here because they had defied the system. Some, like Lung, had broken the unspoken codes, others had challenged authority and lost, while others still had simply broken the rules too many times.
And thus she needs protection.
While the society in the Birdcage is remarkably civil for what it is, it’s still a society of people who don’t do society very well.
It was a matter of time before they lost patience with Amelia after devoting so much time and effort to protecting someone who didn’t have anything to offer. Or they would challenge Marquis; any number of maneuvers ranging from overt mutiny to subtle sabotage.
Subtlety definitely isn’t Lung’s style.
“Are you holding court, then?” Cinderhands asked, once again. The man had a shock of red hair that was shaved on the sides, and holes in his nose and ears that pointed to old piercings, only some of which had been replaced by rings and bars hand-crafted from scraps of metal here in the ‘cage.
Not gonna lie, I assumed Cinderhands was a woman when I first saw the name and forgot to reevaluate that when it became clear that this was the men’s side of the Birdcage.
His hands and arms were a burned black up to the elbows, more like a used log gone cold in the fireplace than flesh.
That’s a neat aesthetic.
“I’ll hold court. Amelia can sit in.”
“You sure?” Cinderhands asked.
Cinderhands is close enough to a) be allowed to hear the conversation with Amelia without being given the treatment Lung got, and b) question Marquis’ decision.
Marquis turned to stare at the young man, drawing in a lungful of smoke from his cigarette, “You’ve never questioned my decisions before.”
But not close enough that that goes unremarked.
“Your decisions haven’t raised any questions before.”
“Watch yourself,” Marquis said.
Do tell why this one is questionable, though?
That’s the problem with never letting your subordinates question you. Sometimes they do actually have a point.
Cinderhands narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips, but he nodded slightly in acquiescence.
“Go pass on word, let the other block leaders know. I’ll hold audience for one hour, starting one hour after the next shipment arrives, ending at lights out. First come, first serve. They can come themselves or send a representative. We won’t challenge their passage, but no more than two from a block. Stay by the cell block gates and keep an eye out for trouble.”
If we get to see this, it’ll be a nice opportunity to get to know some of the cell block leaders and related Birdcage capes, who might come back later if we get more Birdcage content or the cage breaks like I’ve been suggesting since its introduction.
“I’ll need some guards if you want me to do anything about that trouble,” Cinderhands said.
Also it just occurred to me that Paige might show up.
“Then find them. Or tell me you can’t, and I’ll find someone else to handle the job,” Marquis let his annoyance seep into his voice.
Cinderhands stalked off.
How long before they confronted him? There was a difference between being someone strong enough to be left alone and being leader of a cell block.
Being leader means you’re actively taking charge and bossing them around, planting dislike unless you treat them like Skitter would. And if you do that you’ll appear weak and invite mutiny that way.
Lung was the former, he was the latter.
That said, his real worry was that they would attack him indirectly, standing by while Amelia was hurt, or failing to back him up at a crucial moment.
Like Bitch vs Skitter could’ve ended up for a while back there.
In fact, he was giving serious thought to the idea of provoking a mutiny among his people.
A controlled mutiny, to take you out of the position without appearing weak by giving it up? Although losing the position might make you look weaker.
A solid and undeniable victory would remind people of why he was leader of Cell Block W and help to root out any of the more conniving individuals who were plotting a more subtle form of attack.
Ah. A valid tactic.
That is, if they were impatient enough to capitalize on the ensuing chaos.
Actually being defeated, it wasn’t really a consideration. He’d only lost a fight on one occasion, and those had been extenuating circumstances.
…extenuating circumstances which just made their way here. Pride goeth before the fall, Marquis.
Is there going to be a mutiny before this chapter is over?
In any event, instigating a mutiny would only serve as a stopgap measure. This was a problem he needed to address at the root. Amelia.
So what are you going to do? Try to toughen her up? I’m not sure that’d go over well.
He glanced her way. She hadn’t moved, and she was still staring at her hands.
She has Regrets™.
She wasn’t the first of her kind that he’d seen. A hollow shell. Tabula rasa. A blank slate. She wasn’t sleeping at night, not easily, and she had frequent nightmares.
Oni Lee could probably tell you a thing or two about tabula rasa.
He’d seen others, had had two appear in his cell block, delivered by their tinker overseer. Except he wasn’t a nurturer. He had no experience on that front. He’d done what he could to see if he could wake them up from the neuroses that gripped them, and then he’d bartered them away to other cell blocks when he hadn’t seen improvement over one or two weeks.
Hey, at least you tried! That counts for a lot.
People who were damaged on this fundamental level tended to go one of four ways. They recovered, which was rare; someone filled the empty vessel with an ideology; they were used as a resource, cared for so their talents could be exploited; or they were spent, burned up of whatever they had to offer, be it making things or violence.
Wait, what’s the difference between the last two? Is it that the last one doesn’t make them a renewable resource?
He wished he’d tried his hand at fixing the two who Dragon had delivered to his block.
But… didn’t you just say you did?
Maybe he means that he didn’t try for long enough.
Maybe he’d have a better idea of how to deal with Amelia if he had.
“We have twenty minutes until they start arriving. Go shower, Amelia. Make sure your hair is dry when you return, and don’t wear a sweatshirt. They envelop you, make you look like you’re hiding. A short-sleeved shirt will do.”
She’d probably prefer to be hiding.
She stood and headed out the door, her slippered feet slapping as she walked.
He could have escorted her, but he didn’t. It would be better in the short-term, but more damaging to their image in the end. Instead, he ventured out of his daughter’s cell, standing at the head of the railing for the raised area that overlooked his cell block.
How big is a cell block, anyway?
There were thirty people in Block W, including himself and Amelia. Those thirty people shared five televisions with no remotes, two weight benches, one open area for general exercise and sports, and a seating area with tables and benches. The cells themselves were arranged in a horseshoe shape, encompassing the area, with two gently sloping ramps meeting at the furthest cell, his own.
That seems like a relatively reasonable size.
Beneath his cell was a corridor that led to the supply delivery area and the showers.
Tidy in appearance to the point of caricature, Spruce stood guard by the televisions, helping ensure that Block W remained the only block with a full set of working sets.
Spruce is a mathematician and carpenter with a fondness for set theory.
He would ensure everyone had a turn to choose the channel. Whimper was overseeing the auction. Everyone had already received their share of the cigarettes, which served as currency for bidding over the more in demand items of the supply drop.
The cigarettes function as money… that we’ve been seeing Marquis literally burning.
There were less new blankets than there were people in the block, for example, and each drop only included maybe three or four books; always one classic and two from the recent bestseller’s lists.
Ooh, that’s nice of Dragon.
Good reads and books with raunchy scenes could be resold to other prisoners for a decent amount, and they would exchange hands until they were too worn to keep.
I really like the Birdcage as a little microcosm of society, with its own hierarchies and economy and everything.
From his vantage point at the railing, Marquis could see most of the way into virtually every cell in the block. Only the cells at the very end were at the wrong angle, and he’d stationed his lieutenants there. His lieutenants and Lung.
Nice view from there.
Not every block worked the same way, though the layout and the scheduled drops were the same for each. The advantage of Marquis’ arrangement was that it kept his people relatively happy and it kept them in their place.
Each block is like a little country in the greater world of the Birdcage, with its own laws and customs and international relations.
The lieutenants and Marquis himself got first pick of any of the items from the supplies, but nobody truly went wanting, so they generally agreed with minimal complaint.
Marquis seems like relatively benevolent monarch, overall. Just hard enough to maintain control for now.
He watched Amelia make her way to the point on the ramp where the railing terminated, step down to the corridor below that led to the showers . He could see the glances that were directed her way, some almost animal, hungry.
Others, almost more alarming to that part of himself that he associated with fatherhood, were cold, measured and calculating. More than a few sets of eyes belatedly turned his way after looking at his daughter, as if gauging whether he was noticing that they’d noticed.
And yes. Yes he has.
By way of response, he called on his power, generating twin spikes of bone that crossed the end of the corridor in an ‘x’. Amelia passed through the gap, crouching slightly, and he filled the remainder of the space with branching lengths of bone.
She go. No follow.
Even the littlest things were a hassle, now.
He snapped the bone, keeping his expression blank in the face of the mind-shattering pain that resulted.
Oh, so his power doesn’t actually protect him from the pain? Damn. That’s a good poker face.
It faded quickly, and he let the remainder of the bone fall to the floor, joining countless other shards and fragments around the mouth of his cell. It invoked a mental picture of a lion’s den.
A good aesthetic when you want people to be somewhat unnerved by you.
This was a gamble. Amelia could be the excuse his enemies or more ambitious underlings needed to mount an attack. At worst, he’d die and she would… well, she’d be a resource that was burned up, exhausted of anything and everything she had to offer. If he was able to buy enough time, verify that she was beyond saving, then he could return her to the women’s cell blocks, cut his losses and take the resulting hit to his reputation as the only real cost of trying.
He didn’t want to take either of those options. He had so few memories with her, from when she’d been a toddler, but they’d stayed with him. He remembered the sparkle in her eye as she saw the princess costume he’d had tailor-made for her.
Oh no, Wildbow is coming after my heart!
He recalled the look of consternation on her face as she’d sat at his dining room table while she practiced writing her letters. That frustration had become awe as he’d showed her what she could accomplish once she mastered the art, penning out florid letters in cursive with a fountain pen.
More than once, as he prepared tea to share with Lung during one of their long discussions, he’d thought of the mock tea party he’d had with his daughter.
Okay now I can’t help but imagine toddler Amy and Marquis having a mock tea party but talking about the kinds of things Lung and Marquis would talk about.
Those moments seemed farther away now than they had in the days before he’d been reunited with her. He would never recapture them, he knew, but maybe he could find other, new memories to share with her.
That’s a good attitude.
A deep conversation, a father’s pride at her accomplishments.
Before that was possible, he had to resolve this situation. Fixing her was too lofty a goal. Cementing his own power base would do as a short-term goal. He would need to show his people and the other cell blocks that there was a reason why he’d invested this much attention and effort into his daughter. To do that, he would have to decipher the puzzle of her psyche, figure out a way to coax her into demonstrating her power.
…I see. Yeah, this all seems fair enough.
But again, what did Amy actually tell you about how she ended up here?
He was running out of time, judging by how his followers were acting.
“You will be disappointed if you expect my help, Marquis,” Lung’s low, heavily accented voice came from behind him.
With fixing Amy, or do you just mean with the whole cementing of his powerbase at this court session?
“I know. You’re your own man.”
“I had more respect for you before this.”
Lung has the kind of relationship to Marquis that Cinderhands doesn’t. He can openly criticize the man to his face without fear.
Before my daughter.
“You and everyone else here. It’s a shame. I’d hoped I’d amassed enough credit that you and the rest of them could trust me to see this through to a successful conclusion.”
Meanwhile Marquis can be open about this in return.
It’s a beautiful little… friendship of sorts.
“Mmm,” Lung rumbled. “Do you trust that you’ll see this through to a successful end?”
Marquis didn’t trust himself to lie convincingly, so he only smiled.
“You do have a plan?” Lung asked.
He seems to have a short-term idea or two, at least.
“You’ll see,” Marquis replied. “Will you be attending the meeting?”
“I am not one of your lieutenants.”
“But you’ve earned yourself a reputation in a short span of time. That’s commendable.”
Lung doesn’t seem to want to actually be subordinate to Marquis, and Marquis respects that and invites him to the meeting as an ally instead.
“No flattery. Get to the point.”
“It helps us both if you’re there.”
“You look more powerful if you have the mad dog on a leash,” Lung growled.
Of course this immediately reminds me of Rachel. How could it not, even without the dog metaphor?
“Some may see it that way. I won’t deny it. But in my perspective, you’re dangerous, and people will notice if I’m unconcerned about having you loose in my block.”
“You’re insulting me. Saying you look down on me.”
Dangerous can mean you’re powerful.
“No. I’m stating the facts. Yes, in a straight fight, maybe you could give me a run for my money. Maybe not. But I have my underlings, and that leaves me fully confident I’d win.”
Hm. Lung vs Marquis…
Marquis has a lot more tricks up his sleeve than Lung, who doesn’t have any sleeves, but he needs to win quickly, because the scales would make it hard to do real damage with the bones. But damage isn’t the only thing the bones can do, so even if they break on impact with the scales, Marquis can grapple Lung with the splinters. Marquis’ weakness is that he’s not fire resistant, but his bones don’t burn as easily as Skitter’s bugs and can be used to shield him from the fire at the cost of visibility. But he does need line of sight to affect the bones when they’re not in his body, so visibility is something he needs.
All in all I’d bet on Marquis, but Lung might, like he said, give him a run for his money.
“You might not have those underlings for much longer if this continues.”
“I notice you’re not disagreeing.”
Does Lung seek to take the power?
Lung offered a noncommittal grunt in response.
“If you stay,” Marquis said, resting his elbows on the railing, “You can meet the other cell block leaders, get a head start on figuring them out for when you’ve murdered me and taken over W Block.”
I really do love these two’s relationship.
“You don’t sound concerned.”
“Someone’s going to try, Lung. Someone’s going to succeed. Might be in two years, might be in five years, or ten-”
Or a few seconds…
“Or today,” Lung cut in.
Marquis waved him off. “Not today. But it’s a fact that it’ll happen someday. I’d rather it was you, when that day comes.”
Don’t be so sure it won’t be today.
Let’s remove the last good thing from Amy’s life.
Lung’s eyebrows rose in a rare expression of surprise. “Why?”
Marquis stood, stretching, and tossed his stub of a cigarette to the corridor below.
I think it comes down to respect.
And a side of kismesissitude.
“You can’t imagine I’d be a kind or generous leader.”
Marquis laughed. “No. But wouldn’t you rather be murdered by a rabid wild beast who happens to share your living space, than to have a onetime ally stab you in the back?”
Respect for the openness of their rivalry.
“It doesn’t matter,” Lung replied. “You’ll be dead either way.”
Marquis gave the man a slap on the shoulder. Lung tensed, more because of surprise at the abrupt, familiar gesture than anything else. Marquis sighed. “There are times I envy you.”
For the simple worldview?
He turned to head down the ramp, descending into the crowded area where supplies were being sorted.
Whimper showed him the books.
Ooh, what are the bestsellers of June(?) 2011 in a world of superheroes?
Do you have Water for Elephants and The Help?
…ooh, Water for Elephants was written for NaNoWriMo. I’ve been doing Camp NaNoWriMo, the July version of the event, this month.
A murder investigation novel, a young adult story featuring some romance with a ghost, a book with a bird mask on the cover and a Dickens novel. Marquis selected the last.
Neither of the middle two ring a bell for me. I don’t know if they’re real and I’m just not aware of them, or if Wildbow made them up.
I’m intrigued by the ghost romance.
Also if Paige doesn’t show up in this chapter, I might just count the bird mask as an appearance on the principle that she should.
He seated himself on a bench where he had a view of both the corridor and the cell block entrance. While others cleared out of the area, Marquis glanced up at Lung, who still watched from the railing above.
Having a view of the corridor means he can skewer anyone who tried to get past his bone blockage.
But if a mutiny happens right now, that’s gonna be a hell of a thing for Amy to come back from her shower to.
He turned his attention to the book, pretending to read while thinking over the situation.
I can’t help but picture him subconsciously reading something from the book and getting it mixed up in his train of thought.
“If Lung goes against me, I may have to employ the Ghost of Christmas Past to take him back to his childhood while I get away– wait, what?”
He glanced toward the door of bones in time to see the shadow of Amelia’s approach.
Shower status: over.
(Man, I’ve had to shower a lot these last few days. Damn heatwave.)
Controlling his own ‘dead’ bones was harder, but he’d been standing at the ready to demolish the barrier, and pulled it down before she got there.
I wonder if she’s more comforted or unnerved by his efforts.
“You took some time,” he said.
Amelia hugged her arms to her body. “I sat down to think and lost track of time.”
“We’re worriers, my girl. It’s an asset when applied in the right amount. Is your hair dry?”
Someone tell Taylor that!
Amelia touched her hair but didn’t venture a reply. He reached out to touch her hair, and again, he saw her flinch. “Good enough. Have a seat. The latest, what was it, a novel from this ‘Fade’ series? It was there for auction. I could send someone to track it down if you’re interested.”
If this “Fade series” is based on the 1988 novel Fade, that’s really fitting.
I mean, look at this plot synopsis:
In the summer of 1938, the young Paul Moreaux, who lives in a town outside of Boston called Monument, discovers he can “fade,” become invisible. His family has had this ability generation after generation; it is somehow passed down from uncle to nephew.
Bewildered and then thrilled with the possibilities of invisibility, Paul experiments with his “gift.” He sees things that he should not witness. His power soon overloads him, shows him shocking secrets, pushes him over the edge, and drives him toward some chilling and horrible acts for which there is no forgiveness, no forgetting, and no turning back. Paul discovers how cruel, evil, and disgusting the world can be, and how the ability to fade becomes a nightmare.
Oh, and there’s incest, too, apparently.
She shook her head.
“Not interested in reading, or not interested in reading that?”
Probably the former, but if I’m right about the origin of the title, she probably wouldn’t like reading that specifically right now anyway.
“Both. Mostly the second part.”
“At least you have taste.
Well, the meeting begins in one or two minutes. I would like you to attend, of course. Best if you don’t speak unless directly asked a question, and say less rather than more. It’s a tactic I employ myself, leaves you less room to say the wrong thing.”
It’s a solid tactic, yeah.
“They’re going to ask me to use my power. I can’t.”
“I understand. Yes, they probably will want a demonstration. I only know what Lung’s told me, which isn’t much, and what you’ve said, which is even less.
Yeeah, I kinda expected that Amy wouldn’t want to talk about it.
That in mind, I still think that a demonstration would do a great dealto secure our position.”
I’m not sure Amy cares about your position.
She doesn’t necessarily internalize that you’re using it to protect her, even though you’re telling her that.
“I can’t,” her voice was small.
Then we may well die, my daughter.
…which he doesn’t say out loud because he doesn’t want to press her too much. 🙂
“We’ll cope some other way, then,” he said. “In the meantime, to convey the right image, it’s best if you make eye contact and speak clearly. Sit.”
He stood, then seated himself on the table, his feet on the bench beside Amelia.
Not the most dignified of thrones, but not the least dignified either.
He gave the signal to Spruce and Whimper, and they stepped away from the entrance to Cell Block W.
All in all, there were twelve cell blocks with leaders. That meant that there were eleven leaders with eleven lieutenants arriving.
That’s quite a lot of people.
Acidbath, Galvanate, Teacher, Lab Rat and Gavel were leaders of the cell blocks on the men’s side of the prison.
I have a feeling Teacher likes to teach people a lesson.
Gavel may have been a judge at some point, or taken it upon himself to judge others.
Lustrum, Black Kaze, Glaistig Uaine, String Theory, Crane and Ingenue were the female leaders. There were other cell blocks, but twelve was generally agreed on as a good number.
Yes, twelve is a good number!
Lustrum is the leader of Cell Block E, where Paige is. Is she the one she brought along as a lieutenant, or are we not getting Paige today?
(Looking back, Lustrum is also described as an extreme misandrist. Who is now visiting one of the men’s cell blocks. She might be trouble here.)
I wonder if Glaistig Uaine’s lieutenant is alive. Truly alive, I mean. Otherwise, bonus points if it’s Bakuda.
String Theory is probably a tinker.
It left room for discussion without too much chaos, and it left enough cell blocks leaderless that they had elbow room to do business elsewhere.
Reasonable. So what do you do if someone tries to take control of one of the leaderless blocks?
“This is the healer?” Gavel asked.
“On what grounds?”
“Uhh… Nothing. I just always got the urge to do that whenever you spoke.”
“My people say you’re taunting them, Marquis, having this girl staying in the men’s wing without a lover.”
“Not my intention, I assure you. I would guess some people are only looking for something to complain about.” Marquis looked pointedly at Gavel as he replied.
“Don’t waste my time with this male posturing,” Lustrum cut in.
Well, she lives up to her reputation with her first line.
“I have women to look after. I delivered your daughter to you because you promised repayment and because she asked. I wouldn’t mind seeing that payment.”
I wouldn’t take half as much issue with describing what just happened as “male posturing” if I didn’t think you’d be willing to do some posturing yourself.
Also looks like Amy was originally placed in Block E. That makes sense — much the same logic that led to Dragon placing Paige there would also apply to Amy.
Which means that if Marquis were to end up giving her back, she might at least have Paige to hang out with.
“It was implied that I would pay you back in coming weeks or months, not in a week.”
Thanks for the timeframe.
“And if I ask a month or two from now, will you postpone the payment yet again?”
“I don’t expect I will, but maybe you could clarify the payment you’re looking for?”
You didn’t establish that when you first made the deal? Rookie mistake, Marquis.
“She’s a healer. Some healing would serve.”
Reasonable, though Amy might not agree.
Damn, Marquis thought. She had to ask.
“Amelia isn’t healing anyone right now,” Marquis said.
Ooh, good on Marquis for respecting Amy’s wish to not use her power even if he doesn’t understand why.
“Ambiguous,” Crane’s voice was sonorous, smooth, “Is that because she can’t or because you’re ransoming her ability?”
I like that that first bit of the quote feels like it’s just missing an “Objection,”.
Marquis only smiled.
“You explicitly let us know you were open for a meeting,” Teacher said. He didn’t look like a cape in the least. He was fat, for one thing, and he was ugly, with a red face and balding pate. “Don’t be coy.”
Have you met the man?
Not sure I like the connection of obesity to not looking like a cape, but I get it. Not everyone can be Chubster.
“Coy? No, let’s say we’re simply weighing our options and getting a lay of the land. Healing’s rare. More than one person picked up on the fact that her codename meant ‘universal cure’.”
Oh yeah, I suppose Dragon did announce her codename.
Teacher smiled, smug.
Of course Teacher has the vocabulary knowledge.
“But there’s a great deal of demand, and you’ll have to forgive me for being a doting father, but I won’t exhaust my daughter’s mental or physical resources to parcel out her healing. We’ll hear terms, we’ll discuss the offers and counteroffers over the next several days or weeks, and then we’ll let you know our decision.”
Seems fair enough, don’t you think?
“You are holding her power for ransom,” Lustrum spoke.
Yep. To some extent.
A power she isn’t willing to use, one that I don’t know the particulars of. Worse, it’s tied to a deeper trauma that somehow involves the loss of a sister, and that’s not something that can be addressed in a matter of weeks.
So she did mention Victoria, superficially.
“I suppose I am,” he replied.
Glaistig Uaine shifted position, and Marquis wasn’t the only one to give her his full attention. What he could see of her beneath the blackened tatters of her prison-sweats-turned-shroud suggested she was barely a teenager, but that was more due to her power than anything.
If her power restores a semblance of life to corpses, I suppose it makes sense that it could make her look young too.
She’d been one of the first prisoners of the Birdcage, and he suspected she would be one well after he’d died. Not that her megalomanical delusion was true. Rather, it was the fact that nobody dared to pick a fight with her.
Does she believe herself to be an immortal goddess?
When Glaistig Uaine spoke, her voice was eerie, a broken ensemble of a dozen people speaking in sync. “Beware, Marquis. You will pay a thousandfold times for your arrogance when the armies of the faerie rouse and gather for the last war.“
Oh right, the whole faerie thing. I guess she believes herself to be one of them.
Hey, miss Uaine, will your armies of the faerie help us against the final threat?
“Rest assured, Glaistig Uaine, you’re scary enough on your own,” Marquis replied, smiling, “I don’t need a whole army of your kind chasing me down.”
“There will be no chasing, for they are already in position to strike you down the moment they wake, three hundred years hence. You’re nothing more than the dream of the faerie. I can see it, so vivacious, so creative in its movements, even in slumber. I think it might have been an artist. I want it for my collection.“
I love her.
…I think she just called Marquis a work of art?
He was glad Amelia didn’t challenge the ‘three hundred years’ thing and the notion that they would still be alive then. The ‘faerie’ didn’t react kindly to such.
If Glaistig gets her Uai, you might very well be. Though not quite “alive”, exactly.
“You’ve said as much before, noble Faerie,” he said, “Rest assured, you can have me when I’m dead. In the meantime, I will keep your warning well in mind.”
Marquis just plays along and basically tells her she can reanimate him if she wants. He’s such a fun character.
“Your daughter, too. Your faerie is kin to the one that sleeps inside the girl. I have no doubt this Amelia is a healer, but that’s only a facet of her true strength. I have decided I will not bargain with you, Marquis.“
So Glaistig is under the impression that a) she is a faerie, and b) there is a faerie in everyone, collectively dreaming up this world and its inhabitants, and c) she can collect the faerie. Does she see her reanimated corpses as a physical manifestation of the faerie that were in them?
Marquis used his hands to prop himself up as he leaned back. “A shame, but understandable. You don’t need healing, and your people are a secondary concern.”
How does Glaistig Uaine’s lieutenant react to this?
“I will collect them as they fall. But you are mistaken, Marquis. I am not expressing disinterest in her talents. I am saying that I will only deal with her as an equal.“
Oh, I see. She wants direct dealing with Amy. Fair enough, though she doesn’t know how to handle Uaine like Marquis does.
In years of using his power, of breaking his own bones and feeling the pain each time, Marquis had made himself a master at hiding his emotions beneath a mask. Even so, he only barely managed to contain his surprise.
Notably, his daughter has no poker face at all.
“Very well,” he said. He reached into his pocket and deftly retrieved a cigarette. He took his time lighting it. “We’ll be in touch, then.”
“Agreed.” Glaistig Uaine replied. She extended a hand to Amelia, and Marquis tensed.
Yeah, I wouldn’t want her touching my daughter either.
Especially while making any sort of deal. Striking deals with the faerie, are you nuts?
Do I stop her?
Every rational part of his psyche told him that the leader of cell block C had no quarrel with his daughter, that she was in no danger. Every other part of him was telling him to stop her.
Cell Block Corpse.
That paternal instinct kicking in ❤
Amelia took Glaistig Uaine’s hand in her own, then hesitated. After a moment, she curtseyed.
Huh. Not something I’d expect out of Amy.
I taught her to do that more than a decade ago.
Glaistig Uaine returned the curtsey, then turned to leave.
The gathered cell block leaders watched as the self-professed faerie left.
Byyye! You were a delight!
There were capes who were deluded enough to think that their powers were actually magic. There were capes who were neurotic in a way that didn’t shut them down or leave them unable to function.
Yeah, but here’s the thing.
How are powers not magic?
The difference is not in whether they are magic or not, but in whether they think the powers slot into a previously defined magic system, or belief in a source of the magic. Glaistig Uaine believes her powers come from the faerie. That doesn’t change what the powers are when it comes down to it.
Glaistig Uaine was one who fit both categories, and she was powerful enough to make people listen to her. He’d never thought he could benefit from it.
You think what just happened was beneficial?
Her lunacy actually plays out in my favor, Marquis thought to himself, even as his heart pounded in his chest. He’d planned to let the tension ratchet up until Amelia was forced to use her power to rescue him.
…imagine if that had resulted in a second trigger event and she still refused to use her primary power.
Applying pressure, after a fashion, without being the one to force it. He didn’t like it, but he needed her to break out of this state she was in, she needed to break out of it for her own sake, and he was willing to risk everything to see it happen.
“It seems that cell block C will be cooperating with us,” Marquis said. Then he smiled.
And since C is powerful, that means he has powerful allies who might object if the rest of them don’t cooperate?
“Glaistig Uaine might see things, but she isn’t usually wrong,” Galvanate said. “She says the kid has power? Fine. Our issues are the usual. The dentist in cell block T charges a small fortune, and we’ve got some toothaches. Can you heal that?”
Agreeing might put W in conflict with the dentist by breaking the latter’s monopoly, but the dentist might not have enough power to fight back.
Amelia was still staring off towards the entrance to Marquis’ cell block.
“Amelia,” Marquis prodded her.
“What?” She stirred.
“Could you heal a toothache?”
I wonder what she felt, biologyways, when she shook Uaine’s hand.
“Theoretically,” she said.
Good, Marquis thought. Vague, but true.
“You’re cutting into my lieutenant’s business,” Teacher said. “I won’t take that well.”
Cell Block Teacher.
Kind of a shame he’s not in S, for School.
“Competition is the best thing in the long run,” Marquis replied. “But maybe we can extend you a discount for your troubles?”
“Um,” Amelia spoke up. All eyes turned her way. “A silly question, but if my dad says it’s okay, maybe we can offer a deal, in exchange for an answer?”
Does that involve Teacher’s power?
Marquis suppressed the urge to frown. “I think we could.”
“I know the answer’s no, but nobody really talks about it outside, so I’m not sure why… but with everyone we’ve got in here, why can’t we break out?”
Oh hell yes. Amy, Amy of all people, the girl who banished herself to the Birdcage because she felt she deserved to be there, being the one to raise the idea of a mass breakout? I love.
Marquis sighed. It was a newbie mistake, to dwell on the idea of escaping, but he hadn’t had the opportunity to counsel her. It was good that she was more animated, expressing interest in something other than regret, but this wasn’t helping their image and it wasn’t good to let people know her full capabilities just yet.
Except the key thing in what she said is working together. Plenty of people have presumably tried to escape, but everyone together? Cooperation and power mixing, that’s how you get around all those security measures that’ll stop any single cape.
Besides getting busted out by an Endbringer or the final threat, of course.
“It’s a hollowed out mountain,” Lab Rat said. “Vacuum, containment foam-“
“No,” Teacher cut him off. “You want the real answer, healer? It’ll cost.”
Hm. Are you suggesting there’s something else to it? Is the whole hollowed mountain thing all a lie?
Ooh, what if it involves a tinker recreation of Doormaker’s power — Dragon knows about Cauldron — and the Birdcage is in an alternate dimension?
Amelia nodded. Marquis suppressed yet another urge to cringe.
“Measuring devices are scarce down here, so we don’t have the full picture, but there’s a solid running theory on why we can’t just teleport out or fly through the vacuum and punch our way through the side of the mountain.”
Was I onto something?
“Do tell,” Marquis said. It doesn’t matter in the end, but this is the first I’ve heard of it.
“Size warping technology. The device might be no bigger than a football, and that’s hidden somewhere in the middle of the rocky mountains.
Hmm. Might the Birdcage literally be the size of a birdcage?
The warping apparatus would be bigger, but there’s nothing saying it’s anywhere close to the actual prison. Reason we can’t break out is because we’re in a prison no bigger than your fist. And if all of this is only this small,” Teacher held up a fist, then tapped it against the nearest table, “How far are you going to have to dig or teleport to get through a surface this thick? Or through something as thick as that wall over there? Or a hundred feet of lead with gallons of containment foam on the outside?”
Damn, it’s a good concept.
“Okay,” Amelia said. “I understand. Thank you.”
That could have gone worse, Marquis thought. It’s depressing, but it could be worse.
Of course, the weakness of such a security measure would be Fenja and Menja.
Teacher shrugged. “Thank me with healing for my cell block.”
“A discount,” Marquis said.
Teacher nodded. “A discount is possible. What are you wanting?”
With that, the discussion was underway once more, and Marquis set about subtly setting the other cell block leaders against one another, controlling the conversation while making no promises.
This, he could handle. He felt a quiet relief replace his fear.
I’ll have to wrap up the last fifth or so of this Interlude tomorrow. For now, I need to go sleep so I’m rested for tomorrow’s long driving lesson. Good night!
For some value of “tomorrow”. Still an improvement over some recent “tomorrow”s.
Let’s get back to it and finish this up! I don’t know if there’s enough left of the chapter that I can expect a mutiny during it, but I suspect Lung will be relevant even if not that way.
“Faeries,” Amelia muttered. They were venturing toward the communal dining area.
Please give us some insight into Glaistig Uaine’s biology if there’s anything interesting about it.
“Not real,” Marquis answered her. “She sees things we can’t, the auroras that surround those with powers. She’s named them as something else.”
It reminds me of Dust from His Dark Materials, and the way it clusters around self-aware beings.
“No,” Amelia replied. “I saw her physiology when I touched her. I couldn’t see what she sees, but I see how she’s carrying them inside her, drawing an energy from them. And there were three more, just beside her, and she was using that energy to feed them… but they weren’t active?”
So… does her power have to do with passengers?
“She collects souls of dead and dying parahumans,” Marquis replied. “Or the souls of any living soul that gets on her bad side. But they’re not souls, really. Teacher says they’re psychic images, photocopies of a single individual’s personality, memories and powers. She can have a handful active and doing what she wants walking around at any given time.”
Can she put them back into bodies, and that’s how she does that supposed pseudo-revival of hers?
“They’re not faeries. Or souls, or psychic images. Our powers aren’t part of our bodies, exactly. I would be able to alter them or take them away if they were. What I saw when I touched glass-“
Actually, that’s a very interesting statement, because I’m pretty sure I’ve suggested Amy affecting the Corona Pollentia at some point. And Bonesaw, whose power is specifically in biological tinkering, can do things like those.
But the thing is, if the Corona does mean a part of the power is in someone’s body, it’s in the one part of the body Amy refused to affect. She’s only done it a few times, and probably limited how much thought she gave to how it worked for fear of doing it by accident.
The passenger, of course, is a whole other issue. That comes across as more of a symbiotic relationship than part of the brain like the Corona.
Honestly, though, my biggest question about the Corona is whether or not it exists before someone is triggered or potioned. That’d be physical evidence towards the “potential” actually being a thing.
“Her. I feel like I just got clued into a missing piece of the puzzle. They’re sentient. Maybe they’re sleeping, like she said. But they’re not dumb, and I think I’m getting an idea of what happens when they wake up.”
…oh. Oh damn, that’s pretty big. If the passengers can wake in some capacity, it could have huge consequences later on. Especially if I’m right that humanity is being given powers to help them fight off the final threat.
Whether those consequences factor in what’s best for the human hosts remains to be seen.
“Is it something we can use?”
“Not here. Not in the Birdcage.”
Hrm. But it could be useful against a big threat?
“What a shame.”
“God,” Amelia muttered. “Why did I ask to come here? If I’d realized sooner-“
Did Marquis actually know she asked for this?
“Why did you ask to come here?”
The words hit her like a physical blow. She hugged her arms close to her body, and her hair fell down around her face. “My sister. I used my power on her. Unmade her.”
Make her, you’ll unmake her, but you’d
Rather be unmade
“I’m sorry. A result of sibling rivalry? A fight?”
The answer might surprise you, Marquis.
“Love,” Amelia’s voice was small. Her shoulders hunched forward. He took her by the hand and led her to an alcove, where far fewer people would be able to see her if she cried.
“Alas, love. The cruelest emotion of them all. I’m sorry.”
Marquis considered hugging her, but he didn’t. Part of it was the way she’d shied at his touch before. He would let her approach him in her own way.
Good. You’re making progress, let her do it at her own pace.
Another part of it, a small part of it, was the notion that Glaistig Uaine seemed to consider the girl to be at her level.
Her power levels are– *gets shot*
It was a long time before she spoke. “You said, before, that family was the most important thing.”
“Something like that.”
“I… would you understand if I said I didn’t consider you family? I- I’m glad you’re here, I’m glad to talk to you, but Victoria was my family.”
The real family is the one you choose, and that’s a big theme for Amy.
“I understand, yes.” Expertise let him mask the pain her words caused him. I abandoned you to them because I was too proud to stop being the Marquis of Brockton Bay. I should understand that you grew more attached to them than to me, yet I can’t.
I like the implication that there was a time before being caught when Marquis considered giving up his entire criminal career to keep Amy safe, but didn’t.
And then that’s juxtaposed with his claim earlier in this chapter that he’d give up his power in the Birdcage for her if he had to, which may very well be the result of a decade of regret over that previous decision.
“I feel like I have to do something. This feels important. If I could explain, tell someone who understands…”
Ooh, Tattletale. Tattletale definitely.
“There’s no escape, I’m afraid.”
“And,” Amelia blinked tears out of her eyes, “Already, I feel like I’m betraying Victoria, that I’m already forgetting her. For just a few minutes, thinking about what I just found out from that girl, I stopped thinking about Victoria.
That implies that every moment other than those minutes she’s been forcing herself to think about Victoria and what she did to her oh noo
It’s my fault she isn’t there anymore, that there’s only that thing I created. If I stop thinking about her, if I stop hurting, then I feel like I’m wronging her.”
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. This is straight up mental self-harm.
Is it weird that it gets me thinking about My Little Pony?
“I suspect the pain won’t stop or heal as quickly as you’re thinking it will. It hasn’t been that long, after all.”
“Except… if it stops at all? If I ever forget, then I’ve subtracted something from the big picture. It’s not that she was perfect, but…”
Acknowledging that lack of perfection is a step forward.
“But you need to maintain the memory. Come.”
Set up a memorial of some kind in the Birdcage?
He gripped her hand and pulled her behind him. She was too busy wiping tears from her eyes and snot from her upper lip to protest.
Still, he was glad that her face was mostly clear by the time they reached their destination. A tinker sat at the corner of the dining area with tools strewn around him. Makeshift devices crafted from the raw materials of their surroundings.
Hell yes, tinker-made memorial?
What’s this guy’s specialty?
“How much for a tattoo?” Marquis asked, “For her?”
A Victoria memorial tattoo! A memory permanently branded into her body, what a fantastic and thematically appropriate way to go about this!
Amelia stared at him.
“Five books and five fags,” the tinker replied.
I hope that’s in reference to the cigarettes.
“Old books or new?”
Marquis turned to his daughter. “If you decide to get it, I would advise a symbol rather than a face. He won’t get the description exactly right, and the image will distort your mental picture.”
Maybe get an angel?
“I couldn’t remember her face as it was when it counted, anyways,” Amelia said, a dark look crossing her face.
“You’ll have the memory of your sister in physical form, so you can never forget as long as you live. And when you’re done, we’ll take you back to your cell. You can talk to the empty room, say what you need to say, and Dragon’s surveillance will catch it.”
And then Dragon can — and I trust she will, unless she has special reason not to — send it where it needs to go.
“It’s like praying,” Amelia said.
“Except there’s a chance someone will listen and act on it,” Marquis replied.
PRAY TO THY LADY AND SAVIOR DRAGON
Amelia nodded and sat down on the bench, then she began explaining what she wanted to the tattoo artist.
The house program that monitored the Birdcage followed the girl as she parted from her father and entered her cell in Cell Block W.
Are we in the POV of the house program now?? Or is it Dragon’s?
When she spoke, she addressed Dragon. The program began transcribing the message as it did every word said within the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center.
Are we going to hear it?
Tracking programs then began reviewing the message. Flags were raised as key words came up with some frequency, descriptions were run against a corpus of records in parahuman studies and more flags were tripped.
Excellent, Dragon’s going to take notice.
Sixty-two miles above the surface of the Earth, the Simurgh changed the course of her flight.
Following protocol for when Dragon was deployed on a mission, the system routed the message to one of Dragon’s satellite systems. The resulting message was scrambled by the dense signature of the Endbringer en route to Dragon.
Damn it, Simurgh.
Receiving the garbled transmission from the satellite, a subsystem of the Dragon A.I. proceeded to sort it. A scan of the message by a further subroutine saw it classified as non-pertinent, and a snarl in the code from Defiant’s improvised adjustments to her programming saw the message skip past several additional safeties and subroutines. The message was compartmentalized alongside other notes and data that included flares of atmospheric radiation and stray signals from the planet below; background noise at best.
And the Simurgh did that on purpose, I’m sure.
Even if she’s not actually attacking yet, the Birdcage or elsewhere, she’s still fucking things up with little nudges like this.
Considering its job done, the house program archived the transcription among fifteen years of conversation and notes from the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center.
The Simurgh flew on.
Well played, Simurgh.
Well fucking played.
End of Interlude 16c
This was a blast. We got to see Marquis being a good dad to a broken but surviving and slowly recovering Amy, trying to help her in his own way. We got more of the intriguing microsociety of the Birdcage, and excellent Marquis/Lung exchanges. We got to properly meet some characters we’ve heard about for a while, most notably Glaistig Uaine. We got Marquis getting Amy a fantastic way to remember Victoria, and we got the freaking Simurgh nudging events in favor of the destruction of humanity just when we almost had an information breakthrough.
So much better than a Doormaker Interlude, though I do still find that idea hypothetically intriguing.
Next time, we’re presumably back to Taylor’s dispute with her employer. For predictions on that front, you should probably just look back at the end of 16.10, because this Interlude changed nothing about those predictions.
See you soon!