Monarch 16.13: Checkmate

Source material: Worm, Monarch 16.13

Blogged: September 4-5, 2019


Let’s finally wrap up this Arc!

This could be a very, very important chapter in the story, in which Skitter and co. finally deal with Coil once and for all and save Dinah, but maybe that will still take another Arc to pull off. I think if we’re not saving Dinah here, Coil’s going to hang onto her until the bitter end.

Tattletale is at the most risk in this chapter, but Coil is certainly not going to be happy to have the remaining Undersiders interfering with whatever he has planned for her, and their getting back together with Skitter despite his efforts and then working actively against him might cause him to write them off as a lost cause and therefore valid targets.

If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll learn something more about Cauldron and Coil’s involvement with them here. At this point it seems about time for Taylor to start learning a little more about them beyond “they exist and sell powers”.

Not that I expect to start dealing with them immediately after Coil. First the Undersiders will need to face keeping things running without Coil on top, which might be difficult if they don’t somehow get access to his funds. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m curious to see whether the Travelers will be involved in this chapter, dashing Genesis’ hopes.

Let’s jump in!


Posted on 

Looks like I was wrong last time… right, it’s Tuesdays and Saturdays, isn’t it. That makes a whole lot more sense than Tuesdays and Thursdays.


With Grue’s help, I seated myself on the intact edge of the destroyed swarmbox, scattering my insects to the walls and ceiling of the room.  Grue paced a little, while I eyed Imp and Bitch.

…so, uh.

I pictured the swarmbox as way too small to sit on the edge of.

My female teammates didn’t look entirely convinced, and I couldn’t blame them.

Yeah, that’s fair.

They’d just seen someone who matched my description attacking them.  The nighttime darkness and the lack of city lights hadn’t helped, and the obscuring swarm of bugs had helped hide the details from the moment the impostor gave them reason to suspect her.

and she’d been seemingly using your power, with only Grue’s power able to “confirm” that it wasn’t you.

In quotes because even that could be fooled.

“What happened?” Grue asked me.

“We arrived at the place he was keeping Dinah, she grabbed my hand, we turned around, and the headlights flashed.  Then I was somewhere else.”

Quick recap time.

“He switched to his highbeams, momentarily.  Don’t know about the others, but my eyes had adjusted to the dark.  I couldn’t see anything, used my darkness to try to cover us in case he was pulling something, but nothing happened.

Clever, Coil.

Turned around and you were fine.”

“Except it wasn’t me.”

Grue nodded slowly.  “Looked like you, sounded like you.”

“I don’t know how.  Genesis?”

Damn, I liked that theory, but here it is as the first solid option she suggests. I doubt she’s right when it comes up like this.

“Didn’t strike me as much of an actor.”

“Then I don’t know,” I said, feeling lame.  I knew I didn’t sound convincing.

Same. The changeling remains a mystery.

“What happened?  Was he only trying to separate you from us?”

“I’m ninety-five percent sure he tried to kill me.”

Pfft. I realize it’s because of her suspicions that he might have gambled on her getting out, but it’s still kind of funny to see her giving it a solid 5% chance that teleporting her to a deathtrap, shooting her, locking her in a burning room, burning the rest of the building and attempting and somewhat succeeding at shooting her way more was not supposed to kill her.

“What’s the other five percent?”  Grue asked.

“I’m not a hundred percent sure of anything.  But he didn’t have a bomb waiting to go off when I arrived, so that leaves me with some doubt.  He did shoot me, and set the building on fire around me.  And he had soldiers waiting to gun me down if I stepped outside.”

A solid five percent.

The bomb is a fair point though.

“No,” I said, shaking my head.  “Doesn’t make sense.  Just as easy for ‘Skitter’ to disappear with Dinah, leaving you guys angry but still loyal.

Yeah, there was nothing about what happened last chapter that suggested real Skitter showing up was part of the plan.

I think the way he wanted it, I’d die of the gunshot or burn up in a housefire,

Or both. Don’t leave an identifiable body.

and he could use the lack of living reporters in Brockton Bay alongside some bribe money for the Travelers to ensure you guys didn’t know what he’d pulled.

Right, I suppose just about all of the reporters died or “died” at the election.

Maybe something comes out later about me betraying you, to put it in perspective and put any lingering doubts to rest.”

The longer you can keep your reunion from Coil, the better of a shot you have. How good are you at acting, Grue? Imp?

…Bitch?

“He teleported you into a burning house, shot you, surrounded you with soldiers.  And you escaped,” Imp said.

Yes and it was awesome.

“Barely.”  I touched the knot of metal where the bullet had settled in my armor.  “I guess it’s bulletproof after all.  I got away because of stuff he wasn’t aware of, mainly.  My costume, tactics I’ve been using in the field, the fact I had a gun.  Don’t know if Calvert knew about that.  Are you okay, Rachel?”

Cape names when in costume, Skitter.

I know it doesn’t matter too much right here and with Rachel McNoSecretIdentity over here, but if you get into the habit of calling one of them by civilian name in costume situations, it’ll be that much easier to slip with someone else.

And yes, Coil’s ignorance is your friend.

Rachel didn’t respond.  Her head was turned my way, and I could imagine her staring, trying to read me.  Her hand gripped the chain at Bastard’s neck.

Doesn’t quite know what to make of all these Words, maybe?

“It wasn’t me,” I told her.

“It wasn’t her,” Grue confirmed.  “I saw with her power.  That box was controlling the bugs.”

Thank you.

Bitch nodded slowly.  I couldn’t see her expression to know whether she was glaring at me or narrowing her eyes behind her mask.

Does that have to be an either/or?

“If you have any doubts,” I said, “You can stay in a position to attack me if something happens.  One whistle or one hand signal away from commanding Bastard or Bentley to tear me apart.  I hope you won’t leap to any conclusions, but-”

“Look, I get it, feel free to be wary.”

That’s a nice sentiment, I suppose?

“It’s fine.”

“Are you sure?  Because I don’t want there to be any hard feelings or… I don’t want there to be hard feelings.”  I’d almost said retaliation, but I’d decided I didn’t want to bring that up.

No hard feelings, or harder feelings.

“It’s fine,” she said, and there was a touch of anger to the words.  “This shadow and dagger shit pisses me off.”

Rachel would hate the entire country of Cairhien from the Wheel of Time. And the Aes Sedai. And a ton of other characters.

At least she’d definitely be a Wolfsister.

“Cloak and dagger,” Imp offered.

Close enough.

Bitch made a low, grunting noise in her throat that fell somewhere between a huff of anger, a belch and a grunt.

I’m trying to make that sound now and it’s weird.

“The way you acted before, the way that person acted when she shot me and the way you’re acting now, none of it makes sense, and maybe that’s ’cause I’m stupid.  But I’m going to handle this my way.  Next time someone shoots at me, I kill them.  Or I have Bastard eat their hands and feet.”

…you know what, fair enough.

Can’t imagine Grue approves, though.

“You shouldn’t maim people,” I said.

“Says the person who just emptied a gun clip at us,” Imp said.

Seems Imp still doesn’t believe.

Come on, Imp, if anyone here knows how perceptions can be manipulated and things aren’t always what they seem, it’s you.

When Grue and I turned her way, she raised her hands, “Kidding.  I’m just kidding.”

Oh. Good. 😛

…that is, if you were

“…Want me to kill them instead?”  Bitch asked.

Ahahaha

“No!  No.  Just… nevermind.  But hold back a bit for now.  And don’t call yourself stupid.  You think in a different way, that’s all.”

I just wanted to tell you
That the hardest thing I’ve faced
Wasn’t the teasing or the pain
It was
Convincing myself
I wasn’t stupid, strange or lame
And helping others do the same

She offered a noncommittal grunt in response.

“We should talk rescue plans,” I said.  “Calvert invited Tattletale to join him, probably so she wouldn’t tip us off about the body double.  That means she’s probably caught.  Regent too, since we sent him to look after her.  This is the kind of situation we were hoping to avoid by playing along with his grand plan.”

And the thing about Tattletale is he’ll want her permanently not tipping them off about the body double. Perhaps just keeping her away from the scene so she wouldn’t see it in person would accomplish that, but if I were Coil, I wouldn’t trust that, and Lisa has already failed a test of loyalty to him.

Maybe he’ll want her captive instead of, say, feeding her to Noelle. The tricky part would be explaining Tattletale’s absence to the Undersiders, but he’d figure something out.

“Having to tackle his full forces to save Tattletale, Regent and Dinah.”

Yeah, not exactly ideal but probably awesome.

“Right.  If we go charging into this, we or one of his hostages will get killed.”

“I could go in,” Imp said.  “Get them, walk them out.”

Good idea, but then there’s Imp’s perceived weakness to cameras, which would likely make Grue even less inclined to back this plan than he’d otherwise be.

“No.  He knows us.  He’s anticipated something like this.  Probably has for the Travelers, too.  He’ll have planned around our powers, with counters in mind for each of us.

Yeah, true, provided he was unaffected by Imp’s power at the time, which he probably was.

Unaffected, that is.

That means video cameras to keep an eye out for you.”

Called it. I still don’t know if that’s an actual weakness of hers, but the Undersiders and Coil have every reason to believe it is.

“Pain in the ass.”

“Indirect attack?”  Grue suggested.

Personally, I think your best bet might be to walk in there and pretend you didn’t work out what happened with Skitter, provided you can get Bitch to act well enough for that.

That would leave Skitter outside, but she prefers to attack from a distance anyway.

“It won’t work if he’s holed up somewhere safe.  Not with the countermeasures he’ll have put in place.  If he’s in his underground base until this all blows over, then he’ll be impossible to access,” I said.  I had to stop to cough.

Hm. Fair point.

His countermeasures against Skitter might borrow a trick or two from Armsmaster and/or the Nine.

Nobody chimed in with an answer or idea while I recovered.

I went on.  “If he’s in the PRT offices, then we’ll probably have to get past the Travelers, his soldiers, his PRT officers, any countermeasures he’s put in place and any countermeasures the PRT put in place.

He’s certainly set up some excellent protection for himself.

It’d be a question of staggering out his various lines of defense so the more questionable ones are out of sight of the good guys.”

“And he still has his hostages,” Grue said.

This is looking almost like a whole Arc’s worth of obstacles.

Fuck it,” I groaned, then I coughed more.

“You need a hospital,” Grue told me.

Would probably be useful. Gotta take care of yourself too when on these missions to save others from their deaths. There’s an MLP episode about that, even.

I shook my head, then regretted it.  I felt dizzy.  Vaguely nauseous.  It was as though simply stopping and letting the adrenaline kick down a notch was letting symptoms emerge.

Seriously, Skittershy, you need a break before you start sneezing lightning and sprouting leaves.

“Can’t.  Not now.”

“You’re nearly dead on your feet.”

You should probably listen to Gruelight Sparkle.

“I’ll manage,” I said.  I turned my eyes to the place I’d been lying while Imp stood over me.  “What if I was dead?”

…oooh

Bring Skitter in, playing dead, and act like you killed her in retaliation (but couldn’t find Dinah)?

“Hm?”

“Calvert doesn’t have a way to know how this turned out.  Do you have phone service?”

Exactly!

Grue reached for his phone, but Imp had hers out first.  “Sure.”

“He cut my phone off.  I threw it away in case it could be used to track me, or in case it was how he was getting a hold on me with that teleportation device.  If he suspected you, wouldn’t he do the same, limit your options?”

…yes. Yes he would.

“So you think he thinks maybe something happened.  Or he’s waiting to see if we bought his ruse.”

“He knows I was in the area.  I attacked his men trying to save you guys.  He had gunmen and explosives teams ready to wipe you off the map if you caught on to what that impostor was doing.

Gunmen who didn’t actually attempt to fire, aside from at real Skitter.

So what happens if you call him and tell him you killed me?”

“He asks us to meet him at one of those secure locations you mentioned, and we can’t refuse without revealing that we know what he tried to pull.  And destroying that box might have clued him in anyways.”

Tell him you caught her destroying the box for some reason you couldn’t fathom.

“Fuck,” I muttered.

“When the other Skitter disappeared with the girl, how did she do it?  Exactly.”

Using the teleport-a-potty.

“Teleporting,” I said.  “Threw the first flashbang, teleported out, leaving rubble and another flashbang behind.”

“Mm,” he said, “Okay.”

“Why are you so curious about that?”

The more you know about that the better, if you’re trying to sell him on a story that the truth about the changeling’s escape might fuck up.

But yeah, is there something else you have in mind?

“Just thinking something through.  Give me a second to think.”  He pointed at me, “Make sure you’re taking deep breaths in the meantime.  Even if it hurts.”

He may not be a medical professional, but I suppose he does have some experience.

I nodded and did as he asked.  For a little while, I ignored my bugs and focused on tallying the damage I’d sustained.  My breath wheezed and rattled, my chest hurt every time it or something attached to it moved, and my eyes stung when I opened them.  Not that there was any point.

Yeah, not gonna lie, you’ll probably need a hospital visit after this. Try not to collapse at an inopportune time and sleep for three days.

Grue was pacing, breathing hard, while Imp and Bitch stood by.  It was a bit of a reversal of the norm.  I could sense Bitch scratching around Bastard’s ears, her fingernails digging in deep to get past the areas with armor and bony spikes.  Imp was on the other side of the room, leaning against one of the wooden pillars and watching her brother.

“I’m calling him,” Grue announced, still panting a bit.  Before any of us could protest, he said, “Quiet.”

Alright, let’s do this thing.

I closed my mouth.

He put the phone on speaker.  I could hear it ring.

Try not to cough, Taylor.

Funny how something so mundane as the ring of a phone could sound so ominous and eerie, given the context of a situation.

At least Coil’s better at being ominous than the Storm King.

“Grue,” It was Calvert’s voice.  “What-”

“Hey, dude.”

When Grue spoke, his words were growls, barks.  “You better not have had anything to do with this, or I swear, this is over.  We’re done, gone.”

Getting right into the role. Nice.

I could virtually hear Calvert switching mental gears to try to adapt to this.  “Slow down and then explain.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Skitter attacked us and then she used your technology to leave the scene.

Ohh! That’s how it mattered!

I know you wanted to keep that girl, but going so far as to fucking turn on us-”

“Grue,” Calvert’s voice was hard, firm, “Slow down.  It doesn’t make sense that I’d arrange things that way.  Why go through the motions of giving my pet to Skitter, only to… you haven’t fully explained what happened.  You said she attacked you?  Are you sure?”

I’ll give it to Coil, he’s a good actor.

“Pretty fucking sure, Coil.  She shot Rachel and then turned on me.  Imp disarmed her.  Then she teleported away using the same device you described to us an hour ago.”

Oh, they had him describe the teleporter?

…why?

Ohhh, right, I suppose he’s talking about the initial confrontation, when he talked about getting teleported out in favor of his decoy.

“I… I see.  Is Rachel all right?  And who else was with you, my driver?  You’re all unharmed?”

There was a changeling with them, but let’s not talk about her.

Also, Dinah. Better mention her.

“Your driver went ahead.  No, we’re all fine, except for Skitter.”

“You said she teleported away.”

And then they found her! 😀

“She didn’t get more than two blocks away.  We chased her down and stopped her.”

My eyes widened a bit.  I could imagine Calvert’s next words before he spoke them, was already moving.

Gotta be a little surreal to listen to your boyfriend convincingly tell the tale of him and your other friends chasing you down and killing you.

That’s definitely someone’s kink.

“Show me.  Send a picture through the phone.”

…right. The tricky part. Let’s arrange a murder scene.

I shifted position so I lay in the depression that Bastard’s front paws had made in the swarm box.  It was a scene I had to stage in seconds, using dragonflies and wasps to carry hairs across my mask, moving my hand so my wrist bent at an awkward angle where the metal folded.

Taylor’s quick to react and arrange things accordingly.

The final touch was bringing all the bugs from around the swarm box to carpet me and the floor.

Interesting implication. Let’s hope Coil doesn’t know what happens to your bugs when you die.

Not a half second after I finished, I heard the digitized camera sound.

“I see.  That’s quite unfortunate.  Where’s Dinah?”

Ah yes. Where is Dinah indeed.

You know where Dinah is.

“I don’t know,” Grue said.  “I’m far more interested in hearing how Skitter managed to use your technology to do this.”

Incorporating that detail is such a good move. Way to get Coil’s plans to wobble ever so slightly.

“You’re sure?”

“I saw it with my own two eyes,” Grue said.  “She threw a flashbang, but light and darkness don’t affect me the way they do others.  You know that much.”

A believable fib, I like it.

Grue was lying, adding an element Calvert wasn’t aware of, to throw him off track.  Good.

“I didn’t, believe it or not,” Calvert said.  “And I don’t know how she would have gotten access to the controls.  One moment.  I’ll have to call you right back.”

Controls? Interesting. So this thing operates remotely from one device, then?

My swarm felt Grue stiffen.  He raised his voice, “Don’t hang up on me!”

He’s a good actor too, at least over the phone.

The speaker phone buzzed with the dial tone.

I suppose Coil is pretending to check on the controls to the teleporter.

And/or perhaps checking the “light doesn’t affect Grue” thing with Tattletale…

We stared at each other.  Or the others stared and I used my swarm sense to observe.  As a group, we were still and quiet for long seconds, the dial tone still blaring.

Can you stare with a sense that is omnidirectional? I feel like a big part of staring is the idea of the sense being consistently directed one way, at the target of the stare.

Hell, how can Taylor even tell the others are staring without putting bugs on their eyes? I mean, heads turned consistently one way is one thing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean someone’s staring.

Grue hit the button.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Being aggressive, keeping him on his heels.  If he’s constantly defending himself, he won’t be able to turn things back on us.”

It…

It worked against the Nine.

“Except he hung up.  He’s going to think through his options and give you an excuse when he’s ready.”

Which is why you call him back up?

“I didn’t think he’d hang up.”

I frowned.  I was thinking back to the meeting I’d had with the school, when my dad had been with me and we’d accused the trio of bullying.  Both Emma’s dad and the school had played their little power games.

I wonder if thinking about that day helps to keep up the range boost.

“It’s a tactic,” I said.  “He regains control of the situation by being the one who can call back, and it helps establish the idea of him being an authority figure.”

Yeah, well played.

“Damn,” he said.  “Sorry.  It made sense in my head, but I didn’t think it through, I’m tired.  Didn’t sleep last night.  I figured it was better to call sooner than later.”

Oh yeah, that’s right, even after sexytimes, he didn’t get much sleep.

“It’s okay.  Maybe call him back?”

He didn’t get a chance.  The phone rang.

Damn. Good timing, Coil.

“This wasn’t the kind of response I wanted, Coil,” Grue growled into the phone, the second he’d answered.

‘Course, Coil’s been acting nothing but reasonable in his fake response to the accusations, but you can’t just let up on him when the goal is to keep him on his back foot.

I heard the beep as he switched it to speaker phone.  Calvert was already talking.  “- have sequestered Regent in my custody, out of concern that he controlled Victor to have the young man hack into my systems.”

…damn, nicely played, Coil. You found a way to turn this into justification for keeping Regent and probably Taylor’s bestie in custody.

“You and I both know that Victor didn’t have that kind of access, and we didn’t know about your teleportation technology until an hour ago.”

Unfortunately, that might just strengthen his justification for keeping Tattletale too. Because who else would know about and tell Taylor about the teletech?

“I fear Skitter may have known, and I’m simply covering my bases.  Once we’ve verified what happened and that Regent wasn’t complicit, I’ll release him.

And what about Tattletale?

You can understand where I’m wanting to be careful, given this turn of events.”

“I don’t understand anything, Coil,” I heard a tremor of emotion in Grue’s voice.  “I liked Skitter, and she’s dead.  The use of the teleporter says you’re complicit.  I want to look you in the eye and believe you weren’t a part of this.”

Hey, Grue, have you ever considered becoming a professional voice actor?

“We’ll sort this matter out.  If you’ll come to my headquarters, we can discuss this.”

And there’s that invite Taylor pointed out earlier.

“No.  Not your headquarters.  Not with the possibility you pulled this shit on us.  We’ll meet somewhere else.  Somewhere open.”

And that’s the use of this approach! It gets around the “and we can’t refuse without revealing that we know what he tried to pull.”

There was a pause.  “As you wish.  Name a location.”

Grue, this time, was the one caught off guard.  Calvert’s response was fast, and Grue clearly didn’t have an area in mind.

Whoops.

A place where we’d be able to set up faster than Calvert, ideally open, not riddled with attack routes and vantage points for his soldiers

Taylor’s mind is racing but she can’t actually say anything if she comes up with something. Maybe spell it out with bugs, if it’s light enough in here?

I thought of a spot, and the air caught in my throat as I suppressed a small noise.  I almost coughed.  I drew the word in the air with my bugs.

Bingo.

“The market, north end,” Grue said, reading it.  “You know it?”

Ooh, ooh! I wanna see what the Market is like post-Leviathan!

I need to know what happened to Fugly Bob’s!

“I do.  It’s shut down at present.”

“Right.  You come with only one small squad of soldiers, bring Tattletale and Regent.”

Right, how’s he going to react to them bringing up Tattletale? What’s his excuse there?

“If-”  Calvert started.

Grue hung up on him.  He looked at me, “Authority, right?”

HAH.

In your face, Coil.

“Right,” I said.  But all I could hear was the emotion in his voice when he’d been talking about the idea that I’d been dead.  Pretending.  Grue wasn’t a guy who showed his emotions, he didn’t strike me as an actor.

But he’s been doing a really good job of it.

It seems to me that sometimes, those who do not wish to show their real emotions naturally become practiced at showing false ones.

Hearing that had affected me more than I thought it would.  I didn’t want to ask if it was because he really cared or if it was because he’d tapped into something else, some vulnerability that his recent trauma had left open to him.

Both. I’m gonna say both.

I coughed lightly.  “The market’s a good spot.  His people were at the south end of town.  It’ll take him a bit to get there, so he won’t be able to stage any kind of ambush.”

Makes sense.

“It works.  But if we’re meeting him, what are you doing?”

“Staying nearby,” I said.  “I’ll wait in the wings.  In the meantime, we should see if we can get our hands on something that we could have Bastard maul to the point that it looks like my mutilated remains.”

…you sure? That seems like an easier bluff to call than the Undersiders leaving her somewhere instead of carrying a corpse halfway across town.

“There a butcher still in service anywhere?” Grue asked.

You’d better pig your words carefully. Which animal carcass would you compare Skitter to?

“We’ll figure something out,” I replied.

Section blocks are useful for that.


That was perfectly timed, since I was looking for a good spot to stop for the night. 🙂

[End of session]


FUCK

So here’s the deal.

It turns out that splitscreen and the help tool in the WordPress editor don’t get along. I clicked it by accident and it whited out the entire page, even removing all the content from the tag that should contain everything I’d written for this chapter in the page’s code.

And like a chump, I hadn’t been saving regularly, and autosave has been busted for a while.

AND IT HAD TO BE THIS FUCKING SESSION

It seems to me that everything I’ve written over the past, what, six hours? has been irretrievably lost. So I guess I’ll just have to do a rough recap of my reactions to the confrontation with Coil.

I am very sorry about this.


  • The Market being basically just an empty parking lot made a lot of sense.
  • I questioned why Skitter wasn’t wearing the lower half of the new costume with the upper half of the old one, if the raccoon double was only wearing the upper half of the new one.

We soaked the body, the wig in particular, with the blood of the dead raccoon.

  • “Alright, who’s on pentagram-drawing duty? I’ll get the candles.”
  • When Skitter said Coil only brought four soldiers, I pointed out that it was only four soldiers that she could sense. I turned out very right about that.
  • I liked Coil having figured out that it was a ruse, and questioned whether his “other resources” had anything to do with the changeling.
  • I was interested to find that apparently cameras are a weakness for Imp’s power.
  • The long negotiation for the dead man’s switch was a lot of back and forth, but I enjoyed it.
  • A little before Taylor said what she was going to say to Lisa and what Lisa would reply, I pointed out that Coil knows their code (fucking gangrene) and would be able to tell a changeling how it worked.
  • I was never under the impression that Taylor was actually giving up on her own and the other Undersiders’ survival during the negotiations.
  • There’s something beautiful about Coil casually admitting to torturing one of his subordinates in another world while attempting to shift the blame to the Undersiders.
  • The limitations of Leet’s power are interesting. It seems that because he has made bombs before, in Shell, any bomb coming near his other tech will foul it up.
  • Bitch saying her piece about Coil’s word is beautiful.

“I’ll have your dogs shot if you say another word,” Calvert said.

  • This particular line would not only potentially get a similar response from Skitter as when he threatened Bitch directly, but it also goes directly against one of his previous promises.

I heard a wave crash against the shore, not far away.  Long seconds passed.

  • “Not right now, Leviathan, we’ll call you back later.”
  • “Stringbean” got me googling to see if those were green or yellow, but without the space in “string bean” I mostly just got black and white images of some old-timey banjoist.
  • Tattletale’s plot, getting the soldiers on her side, was absolutely beautiful.
  • I liked the mention of going into the CEO’s office back in Agitation, because that was odd enough back then that it had to be very early set-up for this.
  • Welcome to the Undersiders, Ballistic. Wasn’t expecting you, but glad to have you.
  • “Someone’s got to stay and be a real leader to this team.” Genesis you can’t just go around murdering your teammate like that

“Everything you have is mine already,” Tattletale cut in.  “You’ve been dethroned, C-man.

  • TT: Let’s not discount the rad service of the Cman, ok?
  • Coil starts grasping at all the straws towards the end. Even Cauldron, suggesting with certainty that the Doctor could cure Noelle. Interesting.
  • By the time he promises a million to anyone who shoots an Undersider it’s kind of hilarious.

I took a step forward, then made myself take another.

  • This is a really good line. The first step is easy. The second step is hard.
  • During the buildup to Taylor killing Coil, going through the various people whose lives Taylor has put at risk or contributed to the ends of, I did a whole thing extending the thing about the steps being hard into a metaphor about the stairway down to the edge of a cliff. I can’t do it justice in this recap and it’s my biggest loss here.

“You’re not a killer,” Calvert said.

“No…” I replied.  I couldn’t see, so I screwed my eyes closed, felt the moisture of tears threatening to spill forth.  I took in a deep breath.

“…But I suppose, in a roundabout way, you made me into one,” I finished.  I aimed the gun and fired.

  • This is such a good moment. A fantastic culmination of all those steps.

I felt Tattletale’s arm settle around my shoulders.  “We’re done.  This is over.”

  • It’s over. Checkmate.

It wasn’t Tattletale or Grue that sat down beside me, but Rachel.  She took my hand in hers, held it fiercely.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I simply accepted it.

This particular bit, aside from making me go “Aww, she’s being supportive in her own way!”, reminded me a little of the way I ended the latest chapter of my MLP fic Reflections in Black and Pink:

[Reflections]

Clypeus walked up to her. He stopped himself from asking, again, if she was alright – he could plainly see that she wasn’t. Tears were pooling in her eyes. What did ponies do in situations like this? What could he do? He kept quiet and did the only thing he could think of.

He couldn’t understand, but he could give. So he sat down next to her and gave her his company as she began to sob.


It was shortly after the section block that I lost my progress, so let’s take it from there.

We stopped at Coil’s underground base.  Tattletale’s underground base.  It was a relief to escape the silence of the van, surreal to be in the dim noise of downtown again.  Much of the area still lacked power, but there were the noises of the occasional car, of people clamoring on the bottom floor of an apartment building.  City noises.

This was what I read.

I suppose it really is Tattletale’s underground base now.

“You okay?” Grue asked.

She seems to be somewhat in shock at what she just did.

“More bothered by the fact that I’m not bothered,” I said.  I knew how little sense I was making, but I didn’t feel like elaborating.

No, I get that. That’s a relatable feeling, to be honest.

“But you’re okay?”

I nodded, coughed fiercely for a few seconds.

Well. Mentally okay. Should probably still go to the hospital.

“Our next stop after this is the hospital.”

Good.

“Okay,” I agreed.

As it had been at sunset, the base was empty.  The metal walkway sang with my footsteps as I walked to the far end of the complex.  I stopped at a door without a handle.

It opens by telekinesis.

“Here,” Tattletale said.  She held Calvert’s cell phone.  Held it up and pressed a sequence of buttons.

So.

Is this where Dinah is? Are they about to save her for real now?

The door clicked open.  I forced my fingers into the gap and hauled it open.  Heavy and metal.

There was one more door, one with a key lock.  Tattletale stepped over to the desk and got the key, opened it.

Helpful to have a power that makes it easy to find the key, eh?

Dinah was inside with an unassuming man in a turtleneck sweater and corduroy pants.

I’ve never heard a description that could more obviously be Dr. Pitter.

“Go,” Tattletale told the man.  “Your boss is dead.  Just go.”

Bye bye.

He fled.

“I’m going to get Regent,” she said.  “Think we’ll leave Shatterbird in her soundproof cage for now, just to be safe.”

Seems reasonable.

I nodded absently.  I was holding on to Grue for support, watched as Dinah stood from the bed and slowly approached.

Hug?

I doubt Dinah realizes how much Skitter has worked to free her, though.

Her voice was barely above a whisper as she stared down at the ground between us, “I’ve been waiting for this for so very long.”

But she does seem to realize this means she’s free.

It didn’t sound like an accusation.  More the words of someone who had been forced to watch the clock for days, weeks, months.  Anticipating a possible moment that might never come.

Yeah, I don’t think she’s the type to be rescued like this and go “sheesh, why didn’t you come sooner”.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I’m sorry it took so long.”

She shook her head, “I’m the one who’s sorry, you were trying hard and I set you up, so you’d go the way where your friends tried to kill you.  I shouldn’t have-“

Why did you go along with that? I assume you were forced to?

“Hey, it’s okay.  It offered us the best chances in the end, right?”

She bobbed her head in a nod.

Ahh. She saw better odds in the longer run.

A second later, she was running to me, wrapping her arms around my midsection.

😀

I winced in pain as her forehead banged against my chest.

Of course there has to be some pain in the sweetness somehow. Even this.

“Medical care,” Grue said.

“For both of us,” I replied.  “Dinah and me.”

Good call. Though, uh, it’s worth noting that Dinah is a known victim of Coil’s kidnapping, so it might be risky as far as secret identities go.

“Yeah.”

As a trio, we stepped out onto the walkway, where Tattletale and Regent should have been waiting.

Um?

But I could see Regent at the end of the walkway, and Tattletale wasn’t with him.  She was hurrying down the spiral stairs just to Regent’s left.

What’s up?

Or, uh, down I suppose.

What’s going down?

I leaned over the walkway, as much as I was able with the pain in my chest and Dinah clinging to my midsection.  My eyes went wide.  A moment later, I was hurrying after Tattletale, holding Dinah’s hand in one of my own and Grue’s elbow in the other.

Is it Noelle?

We stopped when we reached Tattletale.  She stood facing the vault door.  The one that was used to seal Noelle within.

Is it… still attached?

There were two vault doors, one set behind the other, and both were ruined, the one closest to us nearly folded in half, hanging by one hinge.

Well then. Did she leave with the Travelers or is she on the loose and a threat to deal with in Arc 17?

“A final act of spite,” Tattletale said.  She looked at the phone in her hand.  “He made sure she heard our conversation.”

Oh. Well played, Coil.

“You didn’t notice?”

“He was using his ability to create alternate worlds to throw my power for a bit of a loop.  I was more focused on the possibility that he had a loyal soldier in the ranks or a sniper waiting in the distance, ready to take a shot at one of us.”

That’s fair. There was a lot to keep track of.

The odor that wafted from the open vault was like sweat and rotten meat.  It was dark.  Nothing about it gave the sense of a teenage girl’s living space.

“On a scale of one to ten,” I asked, “Just how bad is this?”

“Measured in chapters it will take to deal with, of course.”

“Let me answer your question with another question,” Tattletale said.  “You think we could convince the PRT to turn on the air raid sirens?”

Well damn.

You know.

Those sirens that are only used for Endbringers.

I’m hyped for Arc 17 already.


End of Monarch 16.13

It just had to happen with that chapter section. *sighs*

This was a really good one, and as expected, a really important one. The final showdown against Coil involved surprisingly little fighting, but that’s never been a requirement for a satisfying ending for me.

Yes, I know, I complained about that in Arc 7, but that one had a lot of build-up for very little payoff even in terms of the talking, whereas here the talking was excellent payoff paired with a couple very big moments for Taylor. She has finally killed someone on purpose, she’s beaten Coil, she’s freed Dinah. And Tattletale was great too.

I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of role Ballistic will have going forward, especially since the next big thing to deal with appears to be Noelle. Which also has me hyped, not just for the whole dealing with her but for finally finding out more about what the hell is going on with her.

Next up, we have Arc Thoughts and a K6BD blog, but after that it’s on to 17.1 (no Interlude here, apparently), which I think will pick up shortly after this. Damn, is Taylor even going to have time to get any medical treatment? Probably not.

“an intense few days, an intense few weeks,” indeed.

See you soon for the Arc Thoughts!


[Discord]

Eldritch Raccoon Entity:
JOxSEho
[among other memes]

Bun-Ra:
That Raccoon Navy post was written by a raccoon, no one can convince me otherwise

Eldritch Raccoon Entity:
You can’t prove that :eyes:

Bun-Ra:

We should also give them swords.

I cite this as my evidence

Krixwell llǝwxiɿꓘ:

They need swords to take revenge on the main protagonists of Worm, who have killed at least three raccoons by the point I’m at in the story.

Eldritch Raccoon Entity:
:GASP:
[horrified custom emote]

Bun-Ra:
Worm sounds like bad content, killing raccoons is :no_good:

Eldritch Raccoon Entity:
Never kill raccoons.
Always love them.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them the latest raccoon’s death was in vain.

One thought on “Monarch 16.13: Checkmate

  1. OUCH. >_< Of all the scenes for bad luck to wipe out… this is why I use Typio Form Recovery.

    Still, this is a hell of a chapter. More than 570,000 words after Taylor realized what Coil had used her for in Buzz 7.11 — more than a third of the whole gigantic story — she's finally accomplished the Herculean task that's been driving her ever since, with foreshadowing for the resolution going back to Tattletale disappearing to the office during the bank robbery. Taylor takes her first life, and Dinah is free at last. Possibly the most exhilarating climax yet.

    And then. Well. Air raid siren time.

    With Taylor still a wreck — the bullets, the fall, the smoke. And oh yeah, she's still blind.

    Like

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