Source material: Worm, Monarch 16.11
Blogged: August 15-20, 2019
When we left Taylor, she got murdered. Fun times.
So let’s find out how she survived getting murdered and how she’ll get out of this sticky situation!
My money is still on Coil underestimating the containment foam’s ability to stop bullets, but other options like him missing or faking to teach her a lesson are still on the table. Or perhaps Atlas was near enough that he could burst in on a subconscious command from Taylor and take the bullet? Which… would actually be fairly useless considering the number of armed people surrounding her, though it’d at least give Taylor a chance to sic him on Coil if he survived the shot.
As for getting out of it, at least there’s backup that might arrive if Coil hasn’t properly dealt with them in the process.
Honestly, I’m just interested to see how Wildbow wants to do this. Let’s go!
I’d sensed the movement of his finger a fraction of a second before the gun went off, and tried to lean out of the way. It didn’t help. Dodging bullets wasn’t a trick I had my repertoire.
Yeah, let’s leave the bullet-dodging to Cricket.
Judging by the way the gun followed me as I moved, Thomas Calvert either knew his way around guns or he was using his power to help ensure he hit his target. Or, more likely, it was both.
Can confirm, he does know his way around guns.
Presumably he had a timeline running where he followed in the other direction.
Getting hit, the smallest part of me could only think costume can’t stop a bullet after all.
Well, good to know for next time!
Except it wasn’t even a complete thought. Just a momentary disappointment as I felt the impact of the bullet passing through my chest to my back.
Well, he certainly didn’t miss.
But it seems it didn’t immediately kill her either, so he may have missed vital organs, at least.
Thing I forgot to consider: There could be something special about the gun/bullet, tinkertech style, that does something other than kill. But the bullet, assuming there actually is one, appears to have gone straight through. Also Coil kinda does need Taylor out of the way at this point.
I hit the ground, my mouth agape, and I couldn’t feel my heartbeat in the aftermath of the hit.
She’s still covered in foam, right?
It felt like a sledgehammer had hit me in the dead center of my torso. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t even think in a coherent fashion.
The narration doesn’t reflect that much, but that’s fair enough. If I were writing this, I might’ve made the narration here a mess to reflect her state of mind, but some authors prefer — and some scenes warrant — a greater separation between thoughts and narration than I tend towards when I write fiction.
Incoherent narration, after all, may be a bit too hard to convey some of the key stuff with. My approach would be good for conveying the state of mind, which is something I often like to focus on in my characters, but in this situation, conveying what exactly happens seems more important.
But the remainder of my bugs were already flowing out of my costume as I fell prone. Capsaicin bugs moved in the general direction of Thomas Calvert and his soldiers, pre-prepared cords of thread unspooled from beneath my costume, trailing behind flying insects.
DEFEND THE QUEEN
I couldn’t think straight enough to orchestrate a smart attack, to tell them to go for the weak points, but they advanced swiftly, biting exposed flesh and forming a barrier between me and my attackers.
How consciously did they get deployed in the first place?
Calvert backed away, his nose and mouth tucked into the crook of his elbow, eyes squinting shut.
He formally met Clockblocker as Thomas Calvert recently and came away from it with a whole new view of Skitter.
He emptied his clip in my general direction, but he didn’t have a bead on me. He couldn’t see, between the cloud of bugs between us and the bugs crawling on his face.
Or the, y’know, shut eyes.
Skitter couldn’t see that he was squinting. She already had bugs near his eyes.
I had flying insects catch the end of his gun with a cord and pull it off target further, and he backed up. I went a step further and wound threads around other guns, hoping to forestall the inevitable onslaught of bullets.
They shouldn’t have underestimated her.
If I could find leverage, someone or something that was moving, and pull them off-target before they shot me down-
Narration getting cut off while surrounded by people with guns is probably not a good sign.
When he spoke, his voice was raised to be heard despite the muffling effect, “Out of the room. Fill it with bullets… no. Scratch that.”
…hm? New plan?
Fire? That might be the most effective approach.
Also, does this room have windows? If Trickster was responsible for teleporting her, he needs line of sight.
He’s coming up with counter-counter-plans before I even have a strategy in mind.
A true chessmaster.
His power might be helping him with this, too.
“…Set her on fire. Her costume is bulletproof, and I want this done.
Fire really is a good approach here. It’s been a flaming thorn in her side this entire time, so it’s only reasonable that Coil would catch on and decide to catch her on. Uh, on fire, I mean.
I need to attend to other matters.”
Damn it, Coil, you were doing so well.
125. Should I actually decide to kill the hero in an elaborate escape-proof deathtrap room (water filling up, sand pouring down, walls converging, etc.) I will not leave him alone five-to-ten minutes prior to “imminent” death, but will instead (finding a vantage point or monitoring camera) stick around and enjoy watching my adversary’s demise.
I couldn’t breathe. I could exhale, was huffing small breaths of pain, but I felt like my chest had caved in. My pulse wasn’t pounding, my blood seemed to move too slowly through my veins, and I couldn’t inhale to inflate my crushed chest.
Amazing how much damage such a tiny projectile can do, isn’t it?
Through my bugs, I could sense the two men stepping forward. Each wore gas masks and each had a bottle in one hand. A pungent odor trailed behind them, overwhelming and oppressing my bugs’ senses of smell and taste.
Doing this by molotov? Fair enough.
I pressed one hand to my chest, as if I could gauge the damage done, and reflexively pulled it away as I touched something hot. A snarl of metal, embedded in the thickest portion of the armor I’d designed into the chest, and it was hot enough that it hurt to touch it. A bullet, I thought. I’d never considered that bullets would be hot.
Same here but it makes a ton of sense.
So the bullet didn’t go through, it was just the sensation of the impact that did, and Taylor concluded differently than Coil re: bulletproofness because when she couldn’t see that it hadn’t, it sure felt like it penetrated.
The realization coupled with the sting of the burn at the base of my palm helped to clarify my thoughts. The bullet hadn’t penetrated. I’d felt, what, the shockwave of the bullet hitting?
Yeah. They pack a punch, even if they don’t pierce.
Actually, especially if they don’t pierce, I would imagine. Because then all that kinetic energy is transferred to you, and much faster than if it pierced and got stuck inside your body.
Or I’d filled in the blanks wrong in the expectation of getting shot?
It didn’t matter, because one of Thomas Calvert’s soldiers had just flicked the switch on a lighter, and I realized the bottles they were holding had to be makeshift molotov cocktails.
There’s the not thinking clearly. It seemed fairly clear to me, but it took Taylor a moment to catch up.
Though my body was numb and my responses felt too sluggish, I reached behind my back. With some of the non-flying bugs still residing in my utility compartment, I found what I was looking for in a flash, drawing it from the slot I’d dedicated to it and getting it in position in my hand in an instant.
Hmm. The baton would be of questionable use, though it might work to deflect. I don’t think you can put out fires with an epipen. Bribing the molotov cocktails with spare change is a tactic I wouldn’t recommend, it didn’t work, trust me. What else does she have back there again? The knife…
I aimed the pepper spray at the lighter and fired.
Oooh, right, fight fire with fire, directing it back at the soldiers! This should work a bit better against them than it did against Lung.
It offered ten feet of range, and they were on the other side of the room, with a heaping mess of containment foam between us.
Not the best of circumstances.
The pepper spray ignited and set fire to his sleeve and the shirt around his upper body. The lighter dropped to the ground as he thrashed, trying to pull his shirt off despite the gloves and the gas mask he wore.
[Ryan Made Mistakes panel]
Ryan Estrada: Stop drop and roll!
It wasn’t the brightest move, trying to stop someone from lighting a fuse by setting them on fire, but I wasn’t in a position to be picky.
Beggars can’t be people who don’t set would-be arson-murderers on fire!
I tried to push myself to my feet, but my chest flared with pain and I collapsed, putting me in a position that was almost worse. The pain lanced throughout my ribcage, as if the structural integrity wasn’t there, and putting any strain on my torso threatened total collapse of everything that held it together.
Turns out the bullet is Manton-unlimited tinkertech. It doesn’t need to penetrate, it just needs to get close enough to teleport your ribs out of your body.
My bugs were already moving towards the other guy with the molotov. He’d hesitated at seeing his buddy go up in flames, and now cords of thread were winding around the neck of the bottle, the fingers that gripped it and his wrist, entwining them.
Excellent work, bugs!
“Irritating,” I was aware of Thomas Calvert’s voice in the next room. He’d retreated and shut the door behind him, but it burst open as the man with the molotov tied to his hand beat a retreat before it could be ignited by the still-thrashing man.
Oh, so he did take the time to watch?
Calvert added a snarled, “Damnation.”
Pff. That choice of swear is still kind of funny to me.
“If we use grenades-” one of the soldiers started.
Not a terrible idea, but she has a history of dealing with those.
“Do not use grenades. I assure you it does not work out the way you imagine it will. Give me that.”
I could sense Director Calvert tearing the bottle free of the man’s hand. I began arranging my bugs, creating a loose net with threads.
If you want something done right…
It wouldn’t stop the forward momentum, but I had some cord left. I began winding it around the light fixture on the ceiling.
Hanging a bottle of inferno from the ceiling. Nice. Very Damocles.
If I could catch the bottle-
Fuck, she’s getting cut off again.
He didn’t do as I’d expected, he didn’t light the rag, for one thing, and he didn’t toss the bottle at me.
Wait, what? Did he toss it at the incompetent subordinates?
Lobbing it underhanded, he tossed it at the floor just past the door. The bottle shattered and the contents, gasoline by the smell of it, spread across the other half of the room.
Ohh. Yeah, he knows how good she is at catching projectiles.
The burning soldier that was still in the room with me screamed, yelped out the word, “No!”
So much for avoiding unnecessary casualties.
He made a break for the door, and Calvert shot him. The bullet wasn’t enough to stop the soldier’s forward momentum, but one of the other soldiers kicked him hard in the stomach.
Looks like the other soldiers are fine with it. Interesting.
Coil knows what a soldier can decide to do in a pinch better than most, and now he’s here showing that he’ll gladly fuck over the soldiers if it lets him get rid of Taylor a little faster.
Calvert used his foot to push the door closed as the man fell onto his back, landing in the pool of gasoline and broken glass.
“It’s just you and me, now, dude. Two subordinates, shot and otherwise fucked over by Coil.”
Is the soldier anywhere near as alive as Skitter is? I mean, they were in casual clothes, weren’t they? So probably not wearing a bulletproof vest.
His still-burning clothing ignited the accelerant. In a heartbeat, the floor in front of the door was on fire, and the room was filled with the shrill screams of the thrashing, burning soldier.
Alright, shot didn’t kill him, but he’s not gonna last long.
Shame, he could’ve been turned to Skitter’s side if she played her cards right.
I experienced a moment of animal panic. The kind of mindless fear that was hardwired into our brains on a basic level, so that we, like a wolf, a deer or an ape would, knew that fire was bad. Smoke was bad. Fire was a thing to run from and I had nowhere to run.
Is she fully covered in foam or not? Because while the foam may not be bulletproof, it is definitely fireproof. But I suppose she might have just had some important parts of her body stuck in the foam, like her legs.
I shook my head. Had to think.
There was one exit to the room. To get to it, I’d have to leap over a heap of containment foam, which I wasn’t sure I could manage with the way my chest was hurting and with no real running start.
Ohh, I think I see. She was surrounded by foam, not covered in it. Fair enough.
Even if I passed the hurdle -and failure would mean I was stuck and trapped- I’d have to run through a pool of burning gasoline, avoid tripping on the flailing, burning man, get to the door and pull it open.
It’s a full obstacle course.
And Coil is smart enough that even if he did just leave, he’d probably leave a soldier or two outside the door.
Except Calvert was calmly, efficiently ordering his men to gather tables and chairs and stack them against the door, as if the fire in the next room wasn’t even a concern.
Ah, he’s on that too.
A chair was propped up so it was under the doorknob, a heavier dining room table blocked the door itself. Three soldiers worked together to move a tattered sofa, lifting the end to put it on the table.
Pivot! Pivot! PIVOT!
My bugs. I didn’t have enough here in the building, not enough to mount a serious attack on Calvert.
Attacking him is probably not the first priority anyway. Surviving the fire is.
Most of the ones I’d brought with me had burned up as the room caught fire. Some clung to Calvert and his men, but they were too few to do more than hurt and annoy. In my mindless fear, I’d called for my bugs to come to me. Or my passenger had, perhaps.
Ooh, we’re getting into passenger stuff here? Is that going to be the key to escaping?
Maybe it was the two of us, working together through my subconscious.
Either way, I had only a few usable bugs, a whole mess of useless ones like moths, houseflies, cockroaches and ants from the surrounding neighborhood, and Thomas Calvert,
For a moment there, I hadn’t scrolled down to see the last bit of the sentence so it looked a little like she was counting Thomas Calvert among her useless bugs.
Coil, was on his way out of the building.
About time she used the name Coil, finally acknowledging to herself that yes, this bastard is the same bastard.
Naming of characters and usage of titles in narration is a fun thing to play around with. For an example of my own creation, I recently wrote a chapter for one of my MLP fics where the POV character’s narration always referred to Princess Luna with that full title, only switching to just calling her Luna in the final paragraph as a subtle indication that she started seeing Luna as potentially a friend instead of only as a superior to be idolized.
I looked at the bigger scene. I was in one of the areas that had been abandoned when Leviathan attacked.
Sounds like she’s been teleported way too far for it to have been Trickster.
This house hadn’t been nice to begin with, and the flooding had made things worse. Calvert had prepped the area prior to teleporting me in. The house sat on the corner of the block, and the two neighboring houses had been bulldozed. There were no people in range that I could see.
No one to call for help.
The man’s thorough, I’ll give him that.
He would have cleared it out so there were no eyewitnesses. Portable chain link fences had been put up and bound together with loops of chain at the perimeter of the property. He was stepping through an opening now, and his men closed it behind him, threading chain through.
His only real failure here is leaving before he’s sure it’s over and done.
Going by the lock one soldier held in his hand, they clearly planned to lock it as they had the others.
Any plans of destroying the building while they’re at it?
Just past the perimeter of the fence, there were a dozen trucks and cars surrounding the building, each turned toward the property, their headlights on. Squads of soldiers stood beside and in front of the trucks, guns raised and ready.
Most had machine guns or handguns, bandoleers of grenades and all-concealing body armor. Three had containment foam dispensers.
Leaving the property would be impossible, which didn’t matter because I wasn’t capable of leaving the room. There were two windows, only one of which I could reach, and both were boarded up.
Definitely ruling out Trickster’s involvement.
I’m not harping on that as a matter of “how the hell did he get her there if not by Trickster”, because we already established he has teletech. It’s just a matter of “how much of a beating has Trickster brought down on himself if we ever see him again”.
Not even just boarded up against the window frame, but the planks of wood were long and fixed to the studs of the wall, too. I ran my hand over the end of one plank and felt the raised bumps of nails or screws. An ant climbed off my fingertip to move over the surface of one bump.
The room’s still on fire, yes? Not sensing a lot of urgency here.
Though maybe that’s because of the liveblog pace.
Screws. Screws with hexagonal slots. Because Calvert wasn’t willing to risk that I’d have a screwdriver on hand with a more typical head on it.
Like I said, he’s pretty damn thorough.
I laughed. It made my chest seize up in pain, it probably sounded a little crazed, but I laughed. It was too much.
Yeah, it really is, he’s pulled out all the stops here! :p
Characters breaking into crazed laughter in situations that really have no right to be funny to them is another thing I like.
This would be a perfect time for a second trigger event. Hadn’t Lisa said that my mind-power link was enhanced whenever I felt trapped?
That’s a good point. How’s your range feeling?
I doubted I’d ever feel more trapped than I did right this moment. I couldn’t see just how far the fire reached, because I was blind, and the heat of the fire was killing the bugs I needed for sensing my surroundings. I had only a minute or two before the room became an oven and killed off the rest, leaving me blind and roasting to death.
What a way to go.
I coughed as a wave of smoke hit me, and ducked my head low to keep breathing.
No, I probably wouldn’t burn to death. I’d suffocate as the flame ate up the oxygen, go out quietly before I started burning.
Hmm. How quickly does that happen, though?
Also, are we going for a big damn heroes bailout here, or is there some way out she hasn’t thought of trying yet?
I’d prefer the latter.
Maybe I’d trigger then, after things got that bad. It wouldn’t help, probably. I couldn’t think of a single permutation of my powers that would get me out of this mess.
I mean, you have very little evidence to go on to think that it’d have to be a permutation of your existing powers. You know your new power would probably intermingle with your existing one, like how Grue’s new power of power-borrowing ended up connecting to targets through the darkness from his old power, but the new power could be anything.
Not that it matters. The odds of Taylor second-triggering after bringing it up like this, especially less than halfway through the chapter, are infinitesimal.
I went on the attack, sending my bugs after Calvert and his people. Too many were useless, many weren’t even capable of biting.
My other, more recent MLP fic involves OC changelings as major characters, meaning I’ve had to look up insect anatomy terms to name them. The main ones are all named after facial features, but I’m going to need a bunch of other names later (I have a few planned, but I’ll probably need to name more minor changelings when the main characters get to the hive), so I’ll be delving back into the insect anatomy soon.
This line about biting made me think about that because the first one I introduced is named Mandible.
Still, I found three black widows in the immediate area. After a moment’s consideration, I delivered them straight to Calvert. They found flesh at his neck and bit.
I remember Taylor had trouble deciding whether to do this to the Nine, which is saying something.
Also, even without Tattletale, it’d be kind of tricky for Coil to hide that he fucked with Taylor from the Undersiders. I mean, now that his face is in public play, he can’t keep all the stings and such hidden.
He swatted at them, pinched one between his fingers, and raised it in front of his face. Then he said something I didn’t catch.
There was no hurry in his movements as he flicked the dead spider to the ground and called out an order to his men.
The order, I feared, I actually heard and understood. It helped that I had enough context to guess what the words were and fill in the blanks.
Nice. So is it about wiping out Taylor faster, or about getting him an epipen?
It seems to me that Coil would come prepared for this.
Burn it to the ground.
Yeah, it’s the former. He’s kinda peeved now.
“Fuck you,” I whispered, pressing my hands to the wooden planks. I coughed as I inhaled another waft of smoke, then coughed harder as the combination of the pain in my chest and the smoke I was inhaling in my attemtps to catch my breath made for a self-perpetuating cycle.
Sometimes it’s not about being heard. Sometimes you just need to say the words.
Calvert’s men were lighting more molotovs, tossing them over the fence they’d erected. One hit the side of the building. Another hit the front porch. Three or four more hit the lawn and surrounding property.
This fits right into the excuse he made about arson in the territories.
Calvert glanced over his shoulder, then confidently strode over to a car and took a seat in the back. He didn’t have the driver take him away. No, he’d be more interested in watching, in verifying that things went according to plan.
Alright, he’s back on Evil Overlord List point #125’s good side.
Putting himself in the car meant only that he was out of the reach of my bugs.
Not that he’d seemed concerned about the black widow bites.
Yeah, like I said, probably prepared for that.
Chances were good he’d already taken the necessary antivenins. Damn it, and the antivenin that worked on black widow spiders also worked on any number of other spiders. He’d probably suffer side effects, but that wouldn’t be immediate.
I had to refocus. The one in immediate peril here was me.
Yeah, might want to address that little issue.
I considered waiting for the fire to weaken the floorboards before leaping over the foam and plunging down to the lower level, then dismissed that idea. I wouldn’t last that long, for one thing, and there was too much chance of me being injured.
Imagine if she’d overestimated how much the floorboards had been weakened and only succeeded in landing ass first in the fire.
There was only one real way out of the room, and that was the window. I’d have to ignore the men stationed outside for now.
Good chance Coil has some of them specifically watching the window.
Which floor are you on?
I considered using my knife to try to pry the board free of the wall and the frame. I doubted I had the strength, with my chest hurting like it was, and I doubted I could pry enough boards free in time.
Yeeah, especially with the thorough screw job.
He’d put three screws in at each point of contact. Hell, I had suspicions that Calvert had considered the knife when he’d ordered that the windows be boarded up.
Nothing if not thorough.
I drew my gun. I wasn’t sure how much information Calvert had, but he hadn’t seemed to care about the possibility of me opening fire on him while he’d been here.
I forgot she had that.
And yeah, that does seem like a thing he might not have accounted for.
That, or he figured his power would give him an out if he happened to get shot in one reality.
It would, provided he didn’t get shot in both or only had one reality active at the wrong moment.
It was hard, not just moving and aiming the gun while I was coughing and still reeling from the hit to my chest, but aiming at the targets I needed.
So that would be the ends of the planks? Except I’m not sure that would work.
I had only so many bullets, and there were too many planks to use several bullets to remove each one. No, it was better to angle the shot so I was hitting more than one plank at once, both the ones that had been nailed up on the outside of the building and the planks inside the room.
Hm, fair enough.
The recoil of the shot was so fierce that it made the pain in my chest flare up. I dropped the weapon, suppressing coughs.
Taylor’s just getting herself tossed around in every direction today.
Even behind the lenses of my mask, my eyes were starting to tear up. Not that it particularly mattered, given how I couldn’t see, but it was one more distraction. Bending over redoubled the pain and brought me to the point where I nearly collapsed, coughing to the point that I was seeing spots.
Hey, spots! That’s something! Right?
Oh yeah, I suppose you can’t sense silver linings with your bugs.
Especially when they’re not actually silver linings.
The floor was warm enough that more sensitive bugs were dying as they touched it. Finding where I’d dropped the gun was a combination of guesswork, fumbling with my hand and using more durable bugs to feel it out.
I picked it up and shot twice more.
Fighting the pain in my chest, I reached up and pulled down on a board. It was splintered in three by the gunfire, two on the left and one on the right, and I managed to use my body weight to get the necessary force to tear it free.
Hell yes, that’s progress!
Maybe you could use one of the pieces as a torch and set fire to the rest of the wooden boards? Although then you risk that fire not consuming the boards fast enough.
Three more bullets and I was able to remove one more from the inside. I used the removed board and wedged it into the crack between the two boards on the far side, leveraging one free.
Yeah, that’s a far smarter way of using it.
The gunfire had attracted attention. Someone called out an order, and a dozen machine guns pointed to the window. I went low, hiding not at the base of the window, but near the corner of the room, lying with my feet pointing towards them, my hands over my head, all too aware of the flames on the wall, within arm’s reach.
Good thinking. Make yourself as small a target as possible, in an unexpected position.
Bullets punched through the exterior walls and interior walls both. One clipped through the floor to hit the armor at my back.
Damn noclip bugs.
The impact prompted another coughing fit, worse than any of the ones before.
I needed to get out, and soon.
They knew I needed to get out, and they weren’t giving me the opportunity. There was a momentary pause as the soldiers ejected magazines. Or clips. Whatever I was supposed to call them. Guns weren’t my thing.
Yeah, I don’t know either. All I know is this weapon:
is magazine-fed, not clip-fed, and that the character doesn’t give a shit.
They replaced the clips and opened fire with another barrage.
If I were to guess based on the above knowledge, though, I’d go with “magazines”.
I couldn’t lie there, waiting for one to get lucky and hit me, for the smoke to get to me, or for any of the other possible fates I faced.
I think this instinct is part of why she’s not second-triggering. She’s not hopeless enough, she hasn’t given into her fear.
My bugs had gathered around the exterior of the building, called to me by my power, clinging to the roof and outside walls near the room. I took note of the cockroaches, then directed them to the trucks that had the building surrounded.
Go cock ’em up, roaches.
Cockroaches retained the ability to eat virtually anything. I could have used more, but I’d have to make do. They began eating through wiring.
Wouldn’t it have been better for you to let them leave if they thought you sufficiently dead, though? Except Coil might insist on seeing the corpse, so perhaps it doesn’t matter.
If you could find bits that if eaten might prompt and explosion, though, that might be effective.
My own situation was getting bad, now. The floor was quickly going from warm to hot. The containment foam was stopping the spread of the fire across the floor, but it wasn’t stopping the progression of the flames beneath the floorboards.
It’s something. Good to see that the foam’s fire resistance does come into play here somehow.
If the floor caved in beneath me, I’d be as dead as anything.
Commands went out, and the soldiers switched to firing at me in shifts, only a few firing at a given time while the others stood at the ready.
Oh great, constant fire.
It made for a relentless, unending barrage. The second shift was just starting up when the first of the headlights went out. The cockroaches had found the right wires.
She’s been going for specific wires, that’s promising.
As the truck headlights started flickering out, I commanded my bugs to gather at the base of the window. No less than five bullets tore through the mass as the bugs collected.
The soldiers had only the light of the fires to go by, now, and they’d spotted the anomaly at the window.
Yes. Gonna make the decoy fall over?
The lump of bugs dropped to the ground, and more bullets penetrated the heap that landed at the base of the building. When the bugs rose, they rose in the general shape of a person, of me.
Playing the “hey, actually, I’m immortal” card doesn’t seem like a good idea here.
I desperately wanted to be out of the room. I was coughing more than I was breathing, and I worried that the next serious coughing fit would see me blacking out before I sucked in enough oxygen.
Fuck, it’s getting pretty close. So what are we spending the other half of the chapter on? Going after Coil?
But I had to wait. I gathered more swarms and dropped them from the edge of the window. Every bug in a three block radius contributed to forming decoys.
The problem is, Coil knows about this tactic. You might confuse the soldiers, maybe even intimidate them, but he’s there to say “look, this is a thing she does”.
Each decoy, in turn, had to act like it was sustaining gunfire. They moved slowly, stopping when the bullets hit, some flattening out to mimic falling to the ground. It made for slow progress as they advanced to the fence.
Though perhaps she can intimidate them for just long enough to mess them up before Coil gets a word in.
I couldn’t stand to wait any longer. I knew I should make one or two more decoys before going ahead, but the conditions of the room were going from unbearable and dangerous to critical. I approached the windowsill as the next mass of bugs gathered, submerging myself in the midst of them, my hands on the window frame.
Ohhh, right. I briefly forgot you could actually put the ball under the shell.
And now the soldiers are spreading out their fire between the decoys, so she won’t have to endure as much.
I tried peeking through, but my hazy, ruined eyesight only offered me a glimpse of one blot where a single truck far to my left had a working headlight. I faced a small army; I was about to drop two stories to what had once been someone’s garden, now a muddy mess of dirt and detritus, and-
One bullet hit me in the forearm, not too far from where Brutus had bitten me, months ago.
Rest in peace, Brutus. You were a good dog.
I slumped onto the windowsill, cradling my arm. More out of desperation than anything redeemable, I forced myself forward between the broken planks and let myself drop to the ground below.
Eyyy, she’s out!
The landing wasn’t as hard as it could have been, but it wasn’t gentle either. I was left writhing, dry heaving, much of my attention on keeping from screaming in pain and keeping the bugs all around me.
Gotta keep them from identifying you as the real one.
I used all the residual willpower I could manage to turn over, putting my back with the armor of my utility compartment and the added fabric of my cape towards the ongoing gunfire from Calvert’s personal army.
Nice. That’s already tanked one bullet for you.
I covered the back of my head with my hands and fought the urge to cough. I doubted anyone would hear if I did, with the constant gunfire and the sound of something collapsing inside, but I couldn’t risk a coughing fit that left me blind to my surroundings or passing out.
Well, you kind of already are blind to your surroundings, technically, but yeah, that’s fair.
Now I was left with the task of passing through the perimeter. One of my swarm-decoys had reached the fence, and was apparently doing a good enough job of selling the possibility that it was me that they felt compelled to double-check with the occasional burst of machine gun fire. I commanded it to start climbing.
I had six decoys now, with another in progress at the window. I’d planned to crawl, to get to the fence and find my way through, but with my wrist like it was…
Climbing is not an option.
One of Calvert’s men lit another molotov and tossed it at the base of the fence where the decoy was climbing.
It was obliterated in an instant, and Calvert’s men were forced to back away from the resulting bonfire.
OH GOD HOW CAN INSECT DECOYS BE SO FLAMMABLE
(…that’s a reference, not an actual question. It makes total sense that an insect decoy would be flammable as hell.)
If Thomas Calvert was using his power to guide his men, to give them an advantage and give them directions that would help narrow down the decoys, then I’d inevitably face the same fate as the decoy had after I got to the fence.
All the more reason not to go climbing.
But he wasn’t giving directions. He was in the truck, watching. No radios were sounding with instructions, not yet.
Dropping the ball a bit there, Coil.
He had to protect his perimeter, keep me from getting to freedom… but he was in a reactive position, not an offensive one where he could command an attack and then make it so it never happened if the attack went awry. No, I’d weathered that initial attack.
And quite well, I must say.
Alright, it’s midnight, I’m yawning, I can feel my commentary getting less interesting, and I’m about halfway through. Let’s call it a night.
[End of session]
Before I go to bed, a note on Face:
After posting the Between post, the K6BD patron messaged me to say he would be willing to pay for me to blog the two chapters that exist of Face if/when I catch up on K6BD. He had apparently been planning to suggest it later, but it came up now. If I do it that way, treating it as a Patreon bonus, I would be doing a full liveblog instead of the looser format I’d probably go for if I were to check it out as a side thing for the Worm blogging.
Does that seem like a good plan to you guys?
Let’s skitter on out of this deathtrap!
I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d weathered it, but I had.
Hehe, yeah, well done.
I crawled with three limbs, while my decoy formed a standing figure above and around me, then I joined the other decoys that were advancing on the fence.
She was a bit on the fence about Coil before, but now he’s forced her off it, away from him. And by doing so, he’s fucked up. She’s gonna come right back over that fence to take him down to the best of her not-to-be-underestimated ability.
Another molotov sailed over the fence to strike the lawn on the other side, incinerating one decoy that had ventured too close.
Say it with me: You can’t keep down the queen of worms.
Again, I noted, the soldiers backed off.
Interesting. Are they afraid of being caught in a whirlwind of flaming bugs?
That wasn’t entirely a bad thing. The more they backed up, the thinner the defensive lines were.
But I still needed to get to the fence and get over it without getting shot or set on fire.
I suppose digging under it wouldn’t be an option, and going through it seems restricted to the decoys…
I still had more bugs arriving from the extent of my range. Being trapped like I had hadn’t given me a second trigger event. I wasn’t so lucky. But it had extended my range.
I tallied the resources I had at my disposal, considered how many more decoys I could create…
THE BUG ARMY
Then I reconsidered. No, I needed a distraction, and these slow-moving decoys weren’t that.
Maybe you could form one outside the fence, to hopefully give them the impression that you already managed to distract them using the fence decoys and found another way out, then use that as a distraction to get over the fence?
I suppose it’d be a long shot.
The bugs I still had in reserve swept into the ranks of the soldiers, and I went flat for my own safety, covering my head.
“Buzz off, soldiers.”
“Behind you,” one collection of bugs whispered to a soldier, my swarm-speak forming the necessary words.
Oh hell yes! Get them spooked, shooting at ghosts!
He whipped around to see nothing there.
“I’m going to eat you alive,” another swarm spoke, somewhere nearby.
She is the swarm and you’ve pissed her off.
“Crawl inside your body and lay eggs.”
…didn’t take her for a kinky roleplayer but to each their own.
Calvert’s voice sounded over a dozen radios in the area, “She’s playing mind tricks. She’s still near the house, and she’s never killed or tortured before.
Oh, now you chime in.
Maintain the perimeter and do not use grenades.”
Again, with the refusal on the subject of grenades. A reminder, even, this time.
Was this a point where he’d split the timelines, bombarded the house with grenades in one reality and stuck to the guns in another?
That would imply that bombarding the house with grenades went or is going awry.
Or had he already verified that I had a counterattack in mind for the grenades? He could have employed them in an earlier scenario and had things go catastrophically wrong on his end. There had to be a reason he wasn’t using them instead of molotovs. Grenades would have been faster, given more immediate, definite results.
Maybe he got them dropped back on his head.
Then there was the possibility that this tied into his alibi, that he didn’t want the Undersiders or even the Travelers to know he’d gone after one of them, and the use of several grenades would be too easily traced back to ‘Coil’.
I mean I see the logic, but I also think he has no chance of keeping this from Tattletale.
He would stick to an over the top arson, maybe hide the police reports and suppress the media. If I was in a territory owned by the Travelers, maybe they’d accept a price for keeping this quiet from the Undersiders.
And Coil would be wasting his money.
Or any combination of those things.
True. Let’s not forget that it can be motherfucking both things.
Then I remembered how I’d escaped from the hospital bed after the Endbringer attack.
Damn, I forget how she did that.
Cockroaches, I think? Picking the lock or something?
I could go back and look, but I have a feeling she’s about to remind me anyway, either by narration or by action.
The bugs continued whispering as they went on the attack, but their attack wasn’t a headlong rush with stingers and pincers. As I lay flat on the ground, arms shielding my head, I took a different tack. I raided.
As in, sending them in in waves? Or perhaps as in stealing things?
Untie their shoelaces, that’ll show ’em.
Bugs swept into pockets and pouches, searching the contents. First aid supplies, no. Gun magazines, almost too heavy.
Not much use for those without guns, but better that you have them than they.
I noticed the bandoleers of the grenades that Calvert had alluded to.
The what now?
[The Free Dictionary]ban·do·leer or ban·do·lier (băn′də-lîr′)n. A belt fitted with small pockets or loops for carrying cartridges and worn across the chest by soldiers.
Time to go check out if the grenades are special in any way?
The decoys had forced the enemy to spread out gunfire. The soldiers were further diverted as my bugs tried to divest them of possessions, pushing at the gun magazines and attempting to slowly nudge them free of pouches.
Not the subtlest of pickpockets, I would imagine.
Spiders wove silk cords, and I chose my target, a soldier by the fence, between me and Coil.
My first thought was to gag him with the silk, but… why?
Perhaps blindfolding would be better if she were to do something like that.
Long seconds passed as bullets hit the earth only a short distance from me. I waited, prayed that the next thrown molotov wouldn’t land near me.
I’m fairly sure it was made explicit a while back that Taylor is not particularly religious, which I think makes the use of the word “prayed” even more effective at conveying how desperately she’s hoping here. She’s not necessarily literally praying to some deity, but the point stands that praying is something it takes a bit for someone who isn’t religious to do.
At my instruction, flying bugs carried a cord out, connecting a grenade on his bandoleer to the fence.
Coil seems to be falling for a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts here — he used grenades in an alternate timeline, ran into this issue, scrapped the timeline, and then inadvertently inspired her to do this in the ongoing timeline.
Another connected the same grenade’s pin to the soldier next to him.
Absolutely fucking beautiful.
“Lose the grenades,” my swarm buzzed, right next to him. “I’m pulling a pin.”
Alright, so the plan wasn’t to do this to everyone with grenades so they’d be stuck in one spot for fear of kaboom, but rather to pull the pin and blow up the fence.
And of course, she still doesn’t want to kill anyone, so she gives a heads up.
The man next to him heard, stepped away, and the cord went taut. The pin slid free.
All according to keikaku.
He had the grenade free in a second, but he simply held the bar at the side of the grenade down.
Ah, fuck, is there a cancel mechanism?
“Think fast. Pulling two more,” my swarm spoke. A benefit of speaking through the swarm was that it was hard to hear a lie in the tone.
“I don’t know, that tone of buzzing sounds kind of dishonest to me, y’know? Besides, it’s all just a bunch of buzzwords.”
He realized that he had only the two hands to hold down the bars for three grenades,
Only two hands? Weak.
and tossed the one in his hands towards the house.
Not bad thinking if you think she might still be there.
But now she’s gotten him going against Coil’s orders.
The cord connecting it to the fence halted the grenade’s trajectory and it swung straight down into the waterlogged lawn on the far side of the fence.
Boom, no more fence?
When it detonated, it ripped through a section of fence and sent soldiers scattering for cover.
Excellent. No more climbing necessary, except out of the hole it may have made in the lawn.
Be patient, I thought. I could have made a run for it then, but there was no use.
That’s probably what they’d expect you to do, too.
“She’s pulling the pins!” the soldier who’d been near my target shouted.
Fantastic. Now you’re getting them to believe it.
They began retreating, and the defensive line thinned out further. Some soldiers were standing on the far side of the neighboring property, now.
Twenty soldiers in an apartment and their neighbor the crazy insect lady, a new sitcom on BBTN.
“Need a visual!” someone shouted.
Here, have some visuals:
A flare sailed through the air to land on the lawn, fifty feet to my right. The light it provided would let them see through my decoys.
Damn. I suppose they’re not as dense as they have been in the past.
If they put one too close to me, they’d see my silhouette.
More sailed my way, and I set to moving them before any landed too close to me.
Careful. If you’re too obvious about it, that’ll be its own tell.
I maintained the pressure, an indiscriminate attack that Calvert couldn’t necessarily counter. I repeated the process, roughly, that I’d used to get the one soldier to throw a grenade, aiming to knock down the fence on the opposite side of the property.
Ooh, opening a second hole so they’ll have two bottlenecks to watch.
I made the cord tying it to the fence too thin, however, and the grenade landed closer to the base of the house.
The fence remained standing, but the soldiers backed away in the face of the dust, smoke, and hot air that billowed out from within the building.
They back away so far they fall ass-backwards onto the fence on the other side.
“I’m pulling your pins next.”
I like how she manages to make the heads ups sound like threats.
“Crawl up your asshole and leave you some tapeworms.“
…while also putting actual threats in there.
And I love how she words those threats as though she is the swarm.
“I’m behind you.”
And hey, if she is the swarm, then this isn’t even a lie.
“I can have centipedes crawl beneath your eyelids.
“Just ask Clockblocker.”
Chew your eyes out at the root.”
“I can also do that with a knife if necessary.”
“Ever wonder if a mosquito could pass on the H.I.V. virus?”
Kinda gotta have it first, but I don’t know if it works that way. Although… aren’t HIV positive people not allowed to donate blood?
The psychological pressure was important, too.
She has learned a lot in her time with Tattletale and Grue.
“Do not throw the grenades,” Calvert’s voice sounded over the radios.
I wonder if he realizes that that’s Taylor’s doing.
The drawback of the psychological pressure was that many soldiers were now shooting indiscriminately at the property, and I didn’t have anything even remotely resembling cover.
Might want to work on that one.
I began belly-crawling across the grass, using my one good arm and my knees.
Oh fuck, that’s right, I completely forgot she was doing all this with an arm out of commission in addition to the blindness!
I felt an impact across my face. The briefest shriek escaped my lips before I remembered to clam up, managed to convince myself that it was only a clod of grass and dirt that a stray bullet had kicked up.
That brief shriek might be bad enough. And that’s even if it was just a clod of grass and dirt.
Someone had heard. A female soldier, she was on the other side of the fence, not five feet in front of me, and her head had snapped in my direction as I’d let the sound escape.
I barely had any of the pre-prepared silk cord left.
Time for a gag? I’d suggest binding her to prevent her from pointing, but that’d take a bunch more silk.
I split the swarm around me into two, and sent one to my left. The soldier held her machine gun in one hand and fired at the running swarm, drawing a flare with the other hand.
In the meantime, I was getting my feet under me, lunging.
Dragonflies carried the silk cord between the wires of the fence. I didn’t go for the grenades on her bandoleer, but the can at her waist.
They circled the pull-tab, and I held the other end of the cord, pulling.
My first guess was that it was a flashbang, in which case it could leave my bugs stunned and me exposed.
That would probably not be great.
My second guess was that it was incendiary, in which case I’d be murdering someone.
Any third guesses?
It’s telling that she’s now willing to do this even with this being an option.
When it went off, I felt only relief. Smoke billowed around her as she called out to others, telling them I was near.
Oh, good, a smoke bomb.
Who needs Grue when the enemies carry those?
I sensed her backing away, getting the canister free of her belt and tossing it aside, and had my bugs collect it and cart it her way. I crawled in the direction she wasn’t walking, using my power to identify where the soldiers were moving and using the smoke for cover.
What were they even hoping to accomplish, bringing smoke bombs against someone who is used to fighting in Grue’s darkness? They don’t even make things harder for her to see, because she can’t see anything in the first place (though Coil didn’t know that when he planned this and possibly still doesn’t know it).
Scavenging used silk from previous attacks, my bugs arranged to pull more pins for smoke canisters.
Yeah, the smoke canisters are entirely to Taylor’s advantage here.
The end result was chaos. It was the best result I could hope for. With the smoke at the open area of the fence and the possibility that I had climbed over where the smoke masked things, they couldn’t be sure of my location, and they couldn’t shoot into the midst of their allies, so they were forced to retreat further.
I sensed Calvert’s truck pulling away.
Oh no you fucking don’t.
(I don’t think she’ll take him out right now — I know this Arc goes at least to 16.13 because rot13 does nothing to numbers, and it’s too late in the chapter for a final confrontation against Coil himself.)
Calvert could use his power to prune away possibilities that didn’t work for him, but only if he was aware of me, aware of my movements and how I was mounting my attack.
I don’t know if Taylor realizes that the branches depend entirely on Coil’s own actions.
The biggest problem, though, is perhaps his inter-timeline hivemind — the fact that he can use information from the other timeline even while it is ongoing. He can suddenly be aware of something Taylor doesn’t recall making him aware of.
His retreat left me wondering if he’d deemed this situation unsalvageable.
Not fucking Taylor up here would mess with his plans a lot, so that’d be a disconcerting realization for him to have.
Had he deemed this a loss?
Was there another maneuver he had in mind? A bomb, a parahuman underling that he could sic on me?
Does he even have any parahuman underlings left who’d be useful here?
I suppose he’s got Circus and co…
Or would he seek leverage elsewhere?
…Dinah? But any threat of killing her would probably be empty since he already refused to give her up to the point of trying this stunt, so it’d be threats of hurting her.
I do think some of that “honor” of his is real, but he’s already been putting that whole facade to the side when it comes to dealing with Taylor.
My dad. The others.
Fuck. Those too.
We specifically had a bit several Arcs back that established that Coil knows who Danny is, which makes him the primary target here.
I suddenly felt the urge to get away, and get away quickly.
My bugs hefted the items they’d successfully scavenged from pockets and pouches, carrying them to me. As the soldiers moved to cover the weak points in the perimeter, I struggled to my feet and walked through the smoke to the point where two of the temporary fences joined together.
So she made two holes for the soldiers to watch, and then isn’t using either one. Shell game.
I used the keys my bugs had found and tried them, attempting to find the right key for the lock that linked the chain.
Was that what the reference back to Extermination was about?
There were only so many possible keys, especially when I narrowed down the options to the three from soldiers nearest this lock. It popped open on the second try, I removed the chain as quietly as I could, and then I bit my lip to keep from crying out as I shifted the two sections of fence far enough apart that I could slide through.
Well played, Skitter.
My bugs carried the fuming smoke canister a short distance ahead of me, giving me some added cover to slip through the point where the enemy lines were thinnest.
I’m vaguely reminded of the Nine’s escape from Arcadia High.
Their radios crackled with instructions from their captains, and the soldiers started tossing their canisters of smoke towards the house before they could be used against them. It didn’t matter. I’d already slipped past the worst of them.
v i c t o r y
i s h
I approached one of the trucks that was furthest from the conflict. My bugs were on the soldier’s helmets, and I knew which direction they were facing, allowing me to stay behind them, using the soft soles of my costume to move in near silence.
“Behind you,” my bugs whispered. The soldier ignored them as he’d ignored the taunts and threats that were echoing through the neighborhood, without cease.
Stoic fellow, eh?
I slipped behind him and pulled his helmet off. He drew in a breath to cry out an alarm and only choked on the flood of flying insects that flowed into his nostrils and mouth.
Oh, was she counting on him actively ignoring the taunt in order to make sure he didn’t happen to look that way? Nice.
I was already dropping the helmet, switching my baton from my injured left arm to my right hand and striking the handgun out of his hand. I had to strike him in the head five times before he collapsed, blind, gagging and choking on the bugs.
Not having a great day, is he.
Maybe he was faking, maybe he was unconscious. It didn’t matter. My bugs swept over him and checked every pouch and pocket. I found his keys, then hurried over to the nearest truck.
Five hits to the head with a baton is kind of a lot, I think.
I found the right key and started up the truck.
Can you drive at all?
I’d turned sixteen without realizing it, not long ago. It was fitting that I’d be teaching myself how to drive right about now.
My own delayed adventures in learning to drive are slowly drawing to a close these days.
Driving slowly so I wouldn’t call too much attention to the fact that I barely knew what I was doing, I pulled away from the scene.
Everything is kinda tricky when you start out.
I pulled over, pulled the emergency brake because I wasn’t sure how to park, then checked my satellite phone. No service. It made sense Coil would cut my lines of communication.
I tossed it out the window. No use giving him a way to track me.
We’d moved towards the beach from Coil’s place. It made sense the other Undersiders would be heading north, to their individual lairs.
I say seek out Lisa first.
I was struck by an ugly connection between two thoughts. Calvert had mentioned he had other matters to attend to, and if Chariot’s teleportation device mimicked Trickster’s power, they’d had to swap something or somebody in.
If he’d replaced me with a body double, he would want to stay in contact with her and help ensure things went her way with the other Undersiders.
A body double… pretending to be Skitter? To Grue and (later) Tattletale?
Well, I do have a soft spot for changelings these days.
On the other hand, if Calvert was looking for a way to get leverage over me, my dad was one very vulnerable target that he was aware of.
I was left to decide if I would go check on my dad or tackle the bigger, cape-related issues. It was a decision I’d had to make too many times in recent weeks.
At this point, checking on your dad is a cape-related issue.
It would have to be the Undersiders and Dinah. I hated to admit it, but if my dad was attacked and I had the Undersiders there by my side, they could only help.
Besides, Coil would want to keep Danny alive until she arrived, for leverage.
If the opposite were true, my dad would hamper me.
I disengaged the emergency brake and eased the truck into motion, fighting the urge to cough, knowing it would lead to wracking fits that forced me to stop in the middle of the street.
Status: Blind, one-armed, coughing up a storm, filled with determination.
I’d seen how involved Calvert’s maneuver had been at the debate. He had a grand plan, and it wasn’t necessarily the one he’d shared with us earlier. I was now a glitch in his system, threatening to unravel everything he’d put together.
And that’s why you need Trainwreck’s help so you can participate in a race and become a playable character. Shame what happened to him, though. Now you’ll never defeat Coil and restore your truthful role as princess.
References aside, isn’t it fitting that the bug girl is also a glitch girl?
He had no reason to hold back, and he knew more about me than anyone I’d fought yet.
Knowledge is power.
He’d tried to strike at me directly, and I’d only barely escaped. I had little doubt he had other plans in mind, failsafes, traps and safeguards, and I had little choice but to run headlong into the thick of them.
Yeah, that sounds like Coil.
End of Monarch 16.11
Well that was a literal hot mess in the best ways.
There’s not that much new to say about this one other than that it was an excellent gauntlet of Skitter badassery. Coil stuck her in an extremely thorough deathtrap and she still managed to keep her cool (while ironically hoping for something that would only come if she didn’t keep her cool) and make lots of clever plays to get out. It felt like a puzzle, and one Taylor solved not with ease, but with skill.
I think one of the most notable moments here is this:
Dragonflies carried the silk cord between the wires of the fence. I didn’t go for the grenades on her bandoleer, but the can at her waist. They circled the pull-tab, and I held the other end of the cord, pulling.
My first guess was that it was a flashbang, in which case it could leave my bugs stunned and me exposed. My second guess was that it was incendiary, in which case I’d be murdering someone.
Taylor is now at a stage where she actually did this while believing there was a high chance she’d be killing an enemy mook. In fact, out of the two options she presents, that’s the one she’s going for. This while she could’ve gone for the grenades.
Previously, she has only been okay with this kind of thing when the death would be her fault only by way of her making the call to not help (Merchant Thomas), when it would be the Slaughterhouse Nine (whom she doesn’t fully consider to be people) she killed, or when someone else would be the one to do it and it was in order to take out the Nine (lying to Sundancer about the lack of civilians while they were hunting Siberian).
It all speaks to the desperation and stakes, as well as how far she’s fallen. A big part of Taylor’s inner conflict is trying not to lose herself and her morals in her guilt and villainy. This is another step away from where she started.
Did I ever actually state that I’m pretty sure she’ll have to actually kill someone sooner or later? It’s a natural obstacle for a character with such compunctions, and we’re getting closer to it. It would have happened here had Taylor not been lucky with the smoke canisters.
(In terms of the Wheel of Time protagonist comparisons I kept making in the last Patreon bonus blog, Taylor is definitely a Rand. Thrust into a less than glorious role, villainous if you ask some, trying to hold on to identity and morals in the face of What Must Be Done, barely holding on under a mountain of duty and guilt…)
Anyway, great chapter.
Next time, it’s time to find and fill the Undersiders in on what’s going on, hopefully. A body double won’t last long against Lisa, but the sooner the better. Especially since Coil might go after Lisa as well — she’s a huge risk to his plans if left unchecked, especially when she learns about Taylor. All the more reason to go find her first if possible, I think.
At least Taylor has a truck and a truck buddy now, so she doesn’t have to run everywhere like when the Shattering hit.
See you soon!