Source material: Worm, Migration 17.3
Blogged: October 24-28, 2019
Howdy! It’s time for some more wisdom bird action!
From the end of 17.2:
Next up: The proto-Travelers are stuck between a howl and some armed pals, and Krouse’s stress levels are peaking. I think we’re in for a trigger event that allows him to swap the places of the proto-Travelers with the people on the other side of the fence, probably just in time for the howling thing to take the soldiers instead of the proto-Travelers before being (hopefully) stopped by the fence. That should be interesting to see Krouse’s and Marissa’s reactions to.
I… don’t remember why I specified Marissa. Might’ve been because she’s the one who’s least okay with collateral casualties.
I think this description comes as a little too certain. I’m by no means sure we’re doing the trigger events just yet. But if we’re not doing this now, they’re gonna have to think fast to get past the fence and away from the Smurf.
Further into the chapter, the Smurf might come after them specifically, perhaps start toying with them in a different way.
Let’s jump in and find out!
“Hey!” Krouse screamed at the soldiers. “We need medical attention!”
And they need you to stay contained. Can’t have everything…
There was no response.
“They can’t hear you,” Jess said. “They’re too far away.”
“Fuckers!” He shouted. Stepping forward, he roared, “Why!?”
This situation matches Trickster’s power perfectly. Feeling trapped/confined leading to a teleportation power, specialized through his anger at the soldiers becoming a desire for them to switch places with his group, for the soldiers to be the ones trapped in his place, chased by something dangerous.
(You could argue that Taylor could by similar logic have gotten a teleportation power, but I don’t think her triggering was exclusively based on her being trapped, but also on the loneliness of her overall situation. So she gets the power of never being alone in her own head ever again.)
The loudspeaker blared, “Step away from the fence!”
The man in charge must have given an order, because every gun present moved to point their way.
They seem pretty serious about this, yeah.
As one, Krouse and his friends backed a healthy distance away from the fence.
Survival instincts. Good.
“Bastards,” Krouse muttered.
There was a distant rumble. The Simurgh ascended from the skyline a mile away, a half-dozen uprooted buildings orbiting lazily around her.
I love the sense of ease from the Simurgh. Leviathan was a flurry of constant motion and energy, carrying a sense of… of a medieval ram barreling through a door. He has the same sense of unstoppability, but by speed and brute force, while the Simurgh takes her time and just isn’t fettered by the obstacles. She just takes her time to do whatever she wants to do with little to no issue, and the humans flitting around are nothing worth concerning herself about.
Yet at the same time, she’s also orchestrating grand things on a person by person level with subtle nudges, like sending the Travelers running, which ultimately leads them to Coil and everything that happens there. Not to mention whatever is happening with Noelle.
As chunks of concrete came free of the ruined ends of the structures, they too orbited her, a protective shield.
She does protect herself, but she makes it look like she barely cares to. Which is helped by the fact that she can actually get the most out of minimal effort by precise placements in the orbit.
Or a weapon. Each of her wings curled forward, and the smaller pieces orbiting her went flying ahead, simultaneously striking a hundred targets Krouse and his friends couldn’t see.
It can be two things.
Scion fired one beam, and she moved one of the apartment complexes she was lifting to put it between herself and Scion. The goal seemed to be less about blocking the attack and more about hiding herself from Scion’s sight so she could take evasive action.
Which is yet another thing her omniscience can help with, because she knows which tactics will work best.
“Cover!” Cody shouted.
The angle of the beam meant that they were in the path of the resulting devastation, the remaining chunks of the building sent flying in their general direction.
Shouting incoherently and screaming, they ran to take shelter around the corner of the nearest building.
Chunks of concrete, pavement and metal hit with enough force that they cracked brick and etched divots intp the snow-covered road.
Good job, Scion.
You made the roads take an MBTI test.
“Oh god,” Marissa said, sliding down to sit where the sidewalk met the base of the house, “Oh god.”
I wonder how Marissa’s power comes about. Maybe they end up freezing?
“How’s Noelle?” Krouse asked.
“Pale,” Jess answered. “You awake, No’?”
Honestly, though, I hope she does wake up now or soon. I kinda want to get to know her better.
There was no response.
“She’s still breathing?”
“Yeah,” Jess said, pulling off a glove and reaching over.
It’s kind of looking like she’s going to stay unconscious for a while. Possibly a side effect of the Simurgh doing something to her (via the song of insanity?).
Krouse closed his eyes. There was nothing they could do for Noelle just yet. He glanced at each of his friends, to gauge how they were handling things. They looked scared, Jess most of all. But she was the one with the biggest idea of what was going on.
Yeah, Jess seems to know even more reasons to be scared than have already become obvious.
She was the one who read the websites and magazines about capes, who had the best idea of how the Simurgh operated. Marissa looked lost in thought, no doubt grieving over the brutal death of her best friend. Luke’s face was drawn with tension, suggesting he was in more pain than he was letting on, and Cody looked angry.
I still think both Luke and Cody would fit what we’ve seen of Ballistic, but I’d prefer for him to be Cody.
Not that Cody was wrong to feel that way. The people who were supposed to be on their side were putting them in danger with attacks that sent chunks of concrete flying halfway across the city. Or, on a more mundane level, they were fencing them inside the city’s limits and threatening them with guns.
Scion is absolutely the kind of hero who cares fuck-all about collateral damage, despite also being a non-stop hero who helps with whatever disturbances he senses. He might be an anti-Simurgh, though, focusing on anything that can help against the big threats to the world even if it doesn’t look like it can to the people around them.
“Luke? Your leg?”
“Doesn’t hurt that much. I think it’s pretty shallow,” Luke said, bending down and touching his pants leg. It was red-brown of blood, and had frozen stiff enough that it was only about as flexible as cardboard.
Let’s hope it doesn’t get infected.
I do like Luke, regardless of whether he’s Ballistic or not.
“It doesn’t look shallow.”
“I’m more worried about Noelle,” Luke said. “We should get inside, try to get her warmer and see if there’s anything we can do for her. If we can find supplies to bandage my leg, that’s a bonus.”
Seems like a solid course of action.
“Let’s go, then. Is this place okay?” Krouse looked at the house they were huddled beside.
“It’s a little close to the guys with guns for my liking,” Luke said.
As long as you don’t try to get near/over the fence, they seem like they won’t bother you, but it’s entirely fair.
“Yeah, but if there’s trouble, maybe they’ll come help us,” Krouse pointed out.
“Doubt it,” Jess said.
He turned her way, but the way her lips were pursed suggested she wasn’t planning on elaborating.
They moved around the building until they found a door. Use of the doorbell and liberal knocking didn’t get a response from anybody inside.
“Don’t open, it’s probably just that flying, feathery Jehovah’s Witness Karen told me was going around here.”
After Jess was set down, Cody and Oliver took turns kicking at the door, to little effect. They quickly abandoned that idea. Not like it is in the movies.
It’s a little harder with doors that weren’t made to be kicked open, yeah.
They had to wait while Cody used a fencepost to shatter a basement window and climbed inside. It would be a minute or two before he reached the front door and unlocked it from the inside.
A lot can happen in two minutes. We’ve had entire chapters lasting for two minutes.
“Hope there’s nobody hiding in there,” Oliver muttered. Mewled might have been a better word.
Krouse didn’t generally dislike Oliver, but the guy was hard to like, too. He’d joined the group when they’d started their gaming club at school, had once been one of Noelle’s friends, back when they were in kindergarten or something. Now he was in a few of Krouse’s classes, but despite the associations, he remained a second string member of the group.
How much do these associations affect Oliver’s role on the team in the present?
Krouse was willing to admit to himself that Oliver was a second string friend, too. He was short, a little pudgy, with an unfortunate haircut and no real personality, rarely joining in of his own volition.
Jeez, Krouse, slow down! Look at Taylor, it took her months of being a villain before she murdered anyone.
Marissa had done everything her mother had asked of her, fought to be number one in ballet, number one in violin, number one in dance, in the pageant circuit, in grades and in countless other things.
Oh, are we going through the entire group?
That’s a lot of pressure. The megabitch needs to cool down a lot too.
In each case, Marissa had either broken down under the pressure or it had become clear that first place wasn’t in reach. Her mom would let up for a few weeks, and then push the next thing. It had only been at the start of eleventh grade that Marissa had finally put a stop to it and pursued something that her mom didn’t understand and couldn’t pressure her on.
That’s good for Marissa. You go, girl!
The gaming club. The drive to win had stuck with her, and she’d still remained Marissa at the end of it all.
So she’s still marked by the megabitch’s pressure for her to win, but now she’s applying it to something she wants to win at.
Oliver’s mom was a hardass in her own way, too, but he had buckled under that domineering pressure, breaking rather than thriving.
Ah, it was a point of comparison to get further into Oliver.
In contrast to Marissa, his identity had been ground away.
This makes them foils to some extent. I’d like to see more interaction between Marissa and Oliver.
“I’m scared,” Oliver said.
Grow up. “We’re all pretty fucking scared,” Krouse said.
Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t acknowledge it.
“Look at them,” Oliver was looking past the fence and across the park to where the soldiers were standing. “When Cody broke that window, they tensed, like they thought we were a danger to them.”
It makes sense, I suppose. Cody showed they were desperate enough to break laws, even if they weren’t yet breaking the fence.
Krouse glanced at Jess, saw her staring hard at the ground. “Maybe we are. Jess? You seem to have a better idea of what’s going on than any of us.”
I get that Jess wants to spare them the knowledge, but they probably need to know at this point.
“You never followed this stuff? You really don’t know?”
“What is she? What can she do? Why are we under quarantine and why did Grandiose’s team kill him?”
She averted her eyes. “Let’s wait until Cody’s with us, so I don’t have to explain twice.”
She’s stalling, but with a fair excuse.
“Fuck waiting for Cody,” Krouse said.
“Krouse!” Luke admonished him.
I’ve long wondered if the song of insanity amplifies aggression, even before we actually met the Simurgh, but this seems consistent with Krouse anyway, so it’s hard to tell if it’s doing that. Aside from Cody, the rest don’t seem particularly angry, though.
“This shit is important! She’s stalling because it’s bad, but we need to know if it’s that bad.”
“We’ll wait for Cody,” Marissa said. Luke nodded in agreement.
Looks like you’re outnumbered, Krouse.
I mean. Cody needs to know too.
It was another minute before they heard the clatter of the latch on the other side of the door being opened.
“Place is empty,” Cody said. “Basement was such a mess I had to wade through all the crap down there.”
Krouse was the first inside. It was someone’s house, but messy. Stacks of magazines covered every surface in the living room, there were plastic bags with the tops tied sitting underneath the hall table, and artwork that included paintings, clay figures, vases, and bird sculptures sat on every surface that wasn’t occupied.
So we’ve fused a random post-Leviathan Brockton Bay house with Link’s wet dream.
Does one of the bird sculptures sit on a pallid bust of Pallas just above the chamber door?
Where are they? He wondered. He’d assumed that anyone who hadn’t evacuated while he and his friends were getting free of the toppled apartment building was hiding out.
Had the residents here cleared out?
He found a couch and got into a sitting position, easing Noelle down. He rubbed his shoulders where the sleeves of her shirt had been pulling at him while Marissa and Oliver handled getting Noelle from a sitting to a prone position.
“On her side,” Marissa said. “There’s a lot of blood in her mouth, and we don’t want her choking.”
That would be bad, yeah.
Oliver nodded, and Krouse found space to get close and help them shift Noelle over. Once she was in position, he seated himself on the oak coffee table, elbows on his knees, facing her.
She was white to the point that she was pushing pushing past pink and moving into the bluer hues, and she had a purple-brown bruising around her eyes.
I don’t think being this pale is a good sign. You’d think she was hypothermic.
Maybe that means her blood’s not flowing right?
The blood around her nose and mouth was caked on thick. Some had gotten onto her coat and sweatshirt.
“She’s still breathing?” he asked.
A question better asked too often than not enough.
I’m still breathing, for the record.
“Yeah,” Marissa said. She touched Noelle’s throat, and Noelle shifted, pulling away. “Shhh. It’s okay. Just checking your pulse. It’s weak.”
She’s shifting. That’s the most independent movement we’ve seen from her since she fell unconscious. Might be a good sign of her waking up soon.
Can’t stand this. Seeing her like this, when I can’t help her. Krouse turned to look at Jess, where Cody was settling her into an armchair. “You were going to explain.”
Time for some exposition on the horrors of the Smurf! 😀
“I don’t know if I should.”
“We have to know what’s going on, what to watch out for. This screaming in our heads-”
Is the one thing you can’t look out for.
“Don’t remind me,” Cody said. “Fuck me, I’m losing my mind.”
I know, right?
“That’s what I was going to ask,” Krouse said, staring at Jess. “Are we losing our minds?”
I briefly misread Jess as Jesus.
And yeah, Krouse has caught on to some of the potential implications of an Endbringer putting a chaotic tune in your head.
“Not… not permanently,” Jess said.
Huh. I wasn’t really expecting that, even with most of the Travelers not seeming like they’d gotten too damaged by it.
“Oh god,” Marissa said.
“It’s what happened in… what was that place called? Lausanne? Switzerland. She showed up, and nobody wanted to pick a fight with her, and they were curious, so they studied her, and tried to communicate with her. Tons of people gathered. Then she… sang? Screamed? Whatever this is. There was chaos, people didn’t know what was happening, so they weren’t able to evacuate that well. Roads clogged. And then they started flipping out. Emotions ramped up, inhibitions lowered, flashbacks to old traumas. And a lot of the emotion that got juiced up was fear. People can do pretty stupid, dangerous things when afraid.”
This sounds like about what I’ve been expecting for a long time.
Lausanne, huh. So she showed up in a mountainous country like I think I called at some point, but at one of its lowest points, by Lake Geneva, right by the border to France.
Oliver put his hands to his head, his fingers scrunching up his hair, his eyes wide. “She’s getting into our heads?”
That should probably have been obvious ever since you realized you couldn’t shut out the song.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself, only it’s taken literally, Krouse thought. Aloud, he asked, “It goes away?”
I suppose that is what this is, yeah.
It seems like Wildbow likes to write about the subject of fear. Between Lung and Bakuda, the Undersiders’ theming, different ways for the Undertravelers to rule their territories, Charlotte, the social structure of the Birdcage and this, fear in all its forms and uses keeps coming up.
“A temporary break in sanity can be pretty devastating,” Marissa said, her voice small.
Marissa has been stated to have killed without meaning to, which was already an interesting bit of information that contextualized her reluctance to do it on purpose.
But if she does it because of this? Hoo boy, no wonder she seems so concerned about being in control of what happens when she’s using her power.
…and what if she does it to a friend? We’ve still got one Traveler too many.
Oh my cod, the miasma would be even more of a nightmare for her if something like this happens here.
“Yeah,” Jess said. “But it’s still temporary.”
“So that’s why they’re scared? They think any guy with superpowers that loses his mind is too big a danger?
It’s not unjustified.
And the army guys are there in case we turn into a rabid, panicked mob?” Krouse asked.
“…Yeah,” Jess replied.
Though leaving them inside the effect isn’t necessarily the best way of handling that, it makes sense. Not much time to set up a better method when the Simurgh shows up.
Krouse hadn’t missed the delay before she’d spoken. It had only been a fraction of a second, but it had been there.
There’s more to it, huh?
“So we just need to minimize the damage we can do if worst comes to worst,” Luke said.
I’d say having trigger events and getting powers is kind of counterproductive to that idea.
He’d settled in the armchair beside Jess, and was rolling up the frozen leg of his jeans.
Krouse studied Jess, saw how she was looking hard at the ground. That pause: there was something she wasn’t saying. Was she lying about it being temporary?
I don’t get the sense that she’s lying about anything. She seems to prefer staying silent to outright lying. But there’s definitely more to this.
“I’m going to go see if I can scrounge up anything to take care of that leg,” Marissa said.
“Thanks,” Luke said.
“Oliver,” Krouse said. “Find blankets? Look for a linen cupboard. Something we can put around Noelle to warm her up. Maybe around Luke, too.”
“And me, if it’s no trouble,” Jess said. “The circulation in my legs isn’t so good, and the idea of what might happen if they get cold is pretty scary.”
Guys, the expression is “getting cold feet”, not “getting cold legs”…
“Okay,” Oliver said, hurrying to obey.
Jess added, “And what are you doing, Krouse?”
He probably wants to stay with Noelle, but Jess and Luke can do that, unless they suddenly need to flee.
“I’ll watch Noelle,” he said, his voice firm.
She frowned. “Can you get us some water? Or juice, maybe? Both Noelle and Luke have lost blood, they’ll need to avoid getting dehydrated.”
Good point. At least it’s not Leviathan who’s attacking, so the water pipes might still be working.
“I’ll watch Noelle in the meantime. I’m not good for much else right now. Don’t worry. You’ll be in earshot if there’s trouble.”
This went down about how I expected. Krouse wants to stay with Noelle, Jess doesn’t take Krouse’s shit.
“Right,” Krouse reluctantly agreed. He stood and went looking for the kitchen.
He found a carton of orange juice, a plastic container of cranberry, and glasses. He had to search for a pitcher to put water in, opening cupboards.
If nothing else works, you can grab a loose board of wood and pitch the water with your makeshift bat.
He stopped when he reached the far corner of the kitchen. There was a small banging noise, repetitive. Too small to be the house’s residents.
Well fuck. That’s probably not good. Is it one of the monsters the Smurf dropped on the world?
Also if the Simurgh wanted you dead, you would absolutely not be safe from everything loose in here. She could very well be making the banging noise to lure you somewhere, or something like that.
No. the back door of the house opened into an enclosed back patio with a dining room table and heavy green curtains blocking each of the windows. On top of the table was a cage with a small bird inside.
And so Noelle stole the bird, brought it home to nurse it back to health, only for nothing to work. The bird just loses more and more feathers. Marissa finds out and starts helping in the interest of getting the bird back to its owners before Noelle gets in trouble for stealing it. The bird escapes, taking Marissa and Noelle on a chase through the entire town, only for them to run into the owners right as the final feather falls out and the bird bursts into flame.
Early MLP episode plots aside, the bird is probably affected by the song of insanity and may be hostile if released.
A cockatoo or something.
No, it’s a phoenix. These people definitely had a pet phoenix.
The bird was standing on the floor of its home, slowly, steadily and monotonously banging its head against the raised metal lip of the cage. Blood and bloody bird footprints joined the bird shit that spattered the newspaper that lined the cage.
Poor thing clearly hears the song.
I would not recommend releasing it.
She affects animals too. Is this what’s in store for us? It was unnerving to watch, to imagine that it could easily be him doing the same thing, sometime in the near future. That steady, mindless kind of self harm. Suicide by compulsive repetition, beating his head to a pulp against the nearest solid surface… if he was lucky.
Marissa is right. Temporary loss of sanity can be devastating.
He was a human with opposable thumbs, and there were a hell of a lot of ugly things he could do to himself if that fucking bird woman decided to push him that far. Just as bad, there were ugly things that he could do to others.
It wouldn’t be the first time we heard of someone with song-based mind powers and a bird theme making someone fuck themselves over.
He looked away to find something that could serve as an improvised pitcher for the water, and his eyes caught on something.
He returned his eyes to the cage. He’d been scared, earlier, had felt genuine fear for Noelle’s well being, for his own. But this was something else entirely. What he was experiencing now wasn’t fear, but despair.
Starting to realize he’s in the cage, like the bird?
This is definitely sounding like the lead-up to his trigger event.
He backed away, thinking hard. Too many things weren’t making sense, but this threatened to bring everything into a kind of clarity he didn’t want.
…a Dandelion kind of clarity?
Or perhaps the “clarity” of insanity.
He found a knife, returned to the cage, and then grabbed the bird in one fist.
Welp. At least it’ll be putting the bird out of its misery? But don’t get any ideas of doing that to yourself or the others.
It didn’t struggle or resist as he held it down, severing its head with one clean stroke.
It’s just a dumb fucking bird, but it doesn’t deserve to suffer.
Maybe he could hope for the same.
Yeah, that’s a dangerous thought.
Can’t let anyone else see this and get freaked out. He disposed of the cage’s contents in the nearest wastebin. He found a combination sheath and knife sharpener in the kitchen drawer, tucked the knife away and stuck it in his back pocket, covered by his jacket.
The knife won’t do you much good against the Smurf, which means it’s more likely to come into play if you tried to treat yourself or your friends like you treated the bird.
Better to be armed if another monster shows.
…okay, yeah, that’s fair. They slipped my mind.
Before anyone could come looking for him, he grabbed a flower vase and started rinsing it out in the sink.
Ah yes, the water pitcher. Let’s just completely ignore that you just mercy killed someone’s bird. No one needs to know about that, and you certainly don’t need to do any introspection about whether you’d do that normally.
He tried not to think too much on the subject of what he’d seen, but was unable to break his train of thought any more than he could free himself of the steady, endless screaming in his head.
Don’t think about blue smurfs, Krouse.
There were enough notes to it now that it almost did sound like singing. Something a few notches above soprano in pitch, holding long notes that stretched on just enough for him to get used to them.
I suspect it’ll sound like a beautiful symphony if you go fully insane.
Then they changed, jarring his thoughts, never settling into a pattern. It was as if it were designed to rattle him.
Of course it is.
He finished filling the vase and, with a little more force than was necessary, he snatched a tray from between the microwave and the neighboring cabinet.
A little more force than is necessary can quickly turn into a lot more force than is necessary.
Dropping it onto the counter, almost relishing the clatter it made for the distraction from the screaming in his head, he collected all the glasses and drinks.
Up against Leviathan: Constantly running around and trying to find ways to help mitigate the damage.
Up against the Simurgh: Let’s take a break in someone’s house, get some drinks, kill a bird, have a good time.
Marissa had already returned to the living room by the time he brought the tray through, and was working with Cody to disinfect and clean Luke’s wound. Noelle wasn’t moving, and Oliver was still occupied elsewhere. That left Jess on her own, watching Noelle with an eye on what the others were doing.
Jess has her role on lockdown.
I’m about halfway through and getting sleepy (fairly early, which is a good thing; my sleep schedule has been horrendous lately), so I think I’m going to call it here for the night.
Right, now that a weekend of work is over, let’s get back to this!
Krouse put the drinks down at the end of the couch. “Jess? Water or juice?”
I suspect people are soon going to be really on-edge, maybe to the point where even a simple question like this could start shit. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, though.
He poured a cup and brought it to her. He didn’t let go as she took hold of it.
“Krouse?” Her brow furrowed.
He leaned close, kept his voice quiet, “Please tell me I’m losing my mind.”
Yeeah, you’re definitely showing symptoms.
“What do you mean?”
He hissed, “This thing with the Simurgh, the singing, it’s not even half the problem here, is it? We’re far more fucked than that.”
Well, there is the whole thing with the missing civilians, and the thing with the monsters, and the high likelihood that the Simurgh is setting you up for a life on the run…
He noticed the way she averted her eyes.
“You know, don’t you? You figured it out, too? The way you’ve been acting.”
I mean, we already made it explicit that the song amplifies aggression and the like, so which other effects on his mind are you talking about now? The… apathy, for lack of a better word, to doing brutal things like killing the bird?
“When did you find out?”
“When I was in the kitchen.”
[El Goonish Shive panel]
Sarah, thinking: Oh my god just tell me what you’re talking about
“It’s not a priority. We need to get help for those guys and-”
He gripped the glass harder, jerked it a little to make sure he had her attention. “No. Don’t dodge the question. You’re keeping way too fucking quiet on all of this shit. About this, about the singing in our heads, you’re hiding something else about the Simurgh.”
I understand the need to keep calm and the desire to not freak them all out, but at this point some of them may be more freaked out by what’s not being said.
“It wouldn’t help to tell,” Jess said. “They’d panic, and we need to focus on taking care of Noelle and Luke.”
“We damn well need to know what we’re up against,” he hissed, maybe a bit louder than before.
There’s also the fact that this is a conflict and the last thing you need when up against something that amplifies aggression is conflict. Resolving it as soon as possible would be good.
“Krouse?” Luke asked. “Jess, you okay?”
“We’re just talking,” Jess said, looking at Krouse.
He let go of the glass, letting her take it, and straightened.
Yeeeah, that tension is gonna come back to bite them almost as badly as whatever Simurgh effect Jess is hiding.
“If that Simurgh is going to play up our emotions, we need to stay on the level,” Luke said, eyeing them, “Keep calm, cooperate. No whispering, or you’ll make the rest of us paranoid.”
Luke has been so good for this whole situation. He really should be in charge.
“Right,” Jess said, looking at Krouse, “That makes sense. We should watch our words, in case we make others unnecessarily upset.”
Passive-aggressiveness is also not helping, Jess.
Krouse gave her a long look. “Fine.”
“What’s going on?” Luke asked. “You two are acting funny.”
“It’s nothing,” Jess said. “Not important right now. How’s your leg, Luke?”
I’m sure you’ll find out eventually, Luke.
“Deeper than we thought,” Marissa said. “We-”
The crack of gunfire interrupted her explanation. The initial burst was followed by a longer, steadier stream of shots.
Woah, fuck. Who’s getting shot? Did someone else approach the fence, or did the soldiers decide to attack their building?
Something broke just outside, and everyone in the house that was able threw themselves to the ground for cover.
That sounds like someone wasn’t able. Jess, I suppose, but also possibly Luke, what with his leg.
“They’re shooting at us!” Oliver shouted from the stairwell.
“Get down!” one of the girls urged him.
Oliver hurried down the stairs and then lay down in the front hallway of the house, hands on his head.
So what prompted this? Are the soldiers affected by the song as well, having set up base a little too close? I mean, the Travelers can still hear the song, so why not them?
The gunfire stopped.
“What in the blue fuck?” Luke asked. He was still in the chair, hadn’t moved. “Why the hell did they do that?”
“What in the blue fuck” is good, I’m keeping that.
“Not us,” Marissa said, as she gingerly rose from her crouch to stare out the window of the living room. “Trouble.”
Did the Smurf get closer? Or perhaps they’re shooting at the howling thing.
Krouse climbed to his feet. A sheer, translucent curtain showed a figure by the fence. The sheer curtains masked the details, but Krouse could make out a pair of short horns on the thing’s forehead, marking it as one of the monsters.
I recently wrote a dream sequence for one of my MLP fics that ends with a character growing horns. Does that count as a horny dream?
“We’re not safe here,” Luke said.
I doubt there are a lot of places in this city where you’re legitimately safe right now.
“We’re not safe anywhere,” Marissa said.
Krouse hurried across the room to check on Noelle. She’d been periodically rousing to mutter something before drifting back to unconsciousness, but the fact that she hadn’t moved in response to the gunfire was alarming.
There’s definitely more to her unconsciousness than simply a hit to the head.
“Hey, Noelle,” he said. He brushed her hair away from her face. She was paler than before, and the bruising around her eyes was worse. Even in the past few minutes, she’d gotten worse, not better. “Give me a response? Anything?”
It’s really not looking good.
There was nothing. I wish I knew something about first aid. Something that could help.
In Krouse’s defense, he hasn’t had months of prep time knowing he’d be going into a parahuman situation like Taylor had.
Two gunshots echoed in the distance. A low, faint rumble marked a series of attacks from Scion or the Simurgh. Buildings falling.
Fantastic, they’re getting closer too.
Without looking away, he said, “Marissa.”
“I need you to give Noelle a thorough check-up. I… I don’t think she’d want me to do it, or see. She was always sensitive about that stuff.”
That’s fair. I appreciate that he respects her boundaries.
Even hugs, even kissing, or holding hands, they were things that she’d parceled out with reluctance.
H-handholding?? Wow, you guys are so much lewder than I thought!
She wouldn’t want him manhandling her, checking for injuries.
He stood up to make room for Marissa to get close, stepped back. Marissa began undoing Noelle’s jacket.
I guess that’s your cue to leave the room, since you say she wouldn’t want you to see.
“Do you want me to move Jess closer, so she can help?” He asked.
“No,” Marissa said. “I can handle this, I think. What am I looking for?”
It’s almost sad to see Marissa so confident, because I know that after all that happens in this Arc, and the years after, she’s going to be so much meeker. This is going to break her like her mother never could.
“She shouldn’t be this pale, but there’s not a lot of blood, except around her nose and mouth. Check for injuries? I’m worried she’s bleeding into her boot or her jacket or something. I don’t know.”
Oliver had headed back upstairs and was making his way down with an armful of sheets. Krouse grabbed one and threw it at Luke, “Cover your head.”
Pfft. That’s one way of doing it. Better than getting him out of the room, at least.
“You’re being a little extreme,” Luke said.
Eh. I think this is entirely fair. No reason not to respect her wishes unless it puts them in further danger.
“I’m not saying I won’t. I’m just saying you’re being a little intense about it.”
“intense” is Trickster in a nutshell, after this. Whether he’s being intensely aggressive or intensely eccentric.
(For what it’s worth, I’m certain the latter is mostly an act.)
Krouse spread his hands. “I don’t know how to help her. I- all I know is that she cares about that stuff. If nothing else, I want to respect that.”
“She’s modest,” Oliver suggested.
Krouse twitched with irritation. He wanted to stab his finger in Oliver’s face, growl, you don’t know her.
Chill, he’s just suggesting a word for what you’re saying.
He bit his tongue and kept from reacting, reminded himself that he was under the influence of that incessant screaming in his head, a constant pressure on his psyche.
Self-awareness is good!
If he let himself slip, he knew how easily he could transition into tearing into Oliver, expressing all the frustration he had over how passive and submissive and fucking whiny he was. The guy wouldn’t even fight back.
So I’ve been comparing Trickster to Karkat, but this particular attitude reminds me of a different Homestuck character.
And suddenly we have a third damn Vriska.
(Which makes Oliver Tavros.)
Noelle’s not modest. She’s damaged, Krouse thought. He glanced at Marissa, and he didn’t say anything.
…implications. That word choice recontextualizes the whole scene and a lot of Noelle’s characterization.
Noelle has been through some nasty shit already. Fuck whoever did it to her.
“Are the rest of you guys going to move to another room, then?” Marissa asked.
Probably should, yeah.
“Yeah,” Krouse said.
He, Cody and Oliver retreated to the kitchen, while Luke reclined in the armchair with his leg propped up and a folded sheet over his face.
I like how calm Luke seems in this vaguely ridiculous-looking situation.
“She could die,” Cody said, once they’d reached the kitchen.
I’d be careful about saying that around a parainhumanly aggressive Krouse, but someone needed to.
“Just saying. It was bad when we were getting out of the apartment, and it’s getting worse.”
“We’ll help her.”
Optimism and hope are good, for keeping it together while the outcome is uncertain. But a dose of realism is healthy too, to be better prepared if it goes badly.
A minute passed, and Oliver turned his attention to searching the cupboards for food. He found a fruity cereal and poured some out into his hand. Krouse took some for himself, chewing on it.
Om nom nom
Cody’s eyes narrowed as he glanced away. “I don’t like you, Krouse.”
Ooh, heartfelt conversation, respectful openness about why they don’t get along? Sign me up.
Of course, we do have a thing around that’s likely to amp things up past the “respectful openness” I’m envisioning.
“This isn’t exactly the time to hold onto old grudges.”
“I know. I know that. I’m just saying, I think you’re an asshole.
There’s a lot of “just saying” right now.
I think you’ll fuck the rest of us over if it means serving your own ends or helping Noelle.
Serving himself, I don’t know. Helping Noelle? Probably.
(I’m very superficially reminded of one of my own characters: Gena, a changeling who is remarkably upfront about the fact that if given the chance, she’d betray her squad in a heartbeat to save her own chitin. She’s kind of a bitch, but at the core, she’s a romantic and much more loyal than she makes herself out to be. She could easily have betrayed her squad years ago and gone off to live the life she’s been fantasizing about.)
But we can’t afford to fight between us. Whatever I think of you, we can’t afford to be enemies.”
He’s right about that much.
“That was never a concern,” Krouse shrugged. He heard Marissa, Jess, and Luke exchanging words in low voices.
No, it most definitely was.
He stepped closer to the door to listen in, keeping his eyes averted. He couldn’t make out the words. He wasn’t really hearing the screaming in his head, but it was almost drowning out the faint, muffled words.
This is likely to make Krouse more paranoid and worried about Noelle.
Cody muttered something under his breath. “Why do you do that?”
What, attempt to eavesdrop?
“Put me down, act like I’m not worth your attention.”
Oh. Ohh. Is that what it’s really about?
How deep does Cody’s interest in Krouse’s attention actually go?
“I wasn’t. I was saying I wasn’t stressed about us being enemies.”
I can easily see it coming across as brushing Cody’s concerns aside.
“You phrased it like you wouldn’t care even if I was your enemy.”
You are, and I don’t, really.
Be glad Cody isn’t a mind-reader right now.
Almost as bad.
“You have no problems benefiting off my hard work, but you look down on me, you talk down to me. I’m inconsequential to you.”
I don’t know if I really think Cody secretly likes Krouse in spite of all this, and in spite of what he says, but even so, this treatment hurts him. He’d rather be hated than seen as inconsequential.
…and if that characterization grows deep enough we’ll end up with a fourth Vriska. It’s Vriskas all over the board.
(Defiant still holds the title of Vriska Prime.)
“I thought we weren’t enemies,” Krouse said, turning.
“We aren’t. I’m just saying you’re making it really hard to be allies.”
Krouse shook his head. “Okay. Whatever. Change of topic: what kind of stuff was in the basement?”
Aaand that’s not helping. You’re brushing him off again.
“Anything and everything.”
“Literally. It’s a Room of Requirement down there.”
“I’m going to go look, while we wait for Jess and Marissa to finish.”
“I’ll come with. We shouldn’t go anywhere alone,” Cody said.
Seems reasonable, but maybe that means you should bring Oliver too so he’s not alone either.
They headed downstairs, and Oliver followed.
Piles of magazines, piles of tupperware, pieces of wood lashed together, bags of old clothes… Anything and everything.
Except useful things, perhaps. Maybe it’s a Room of Nonrequirement. Gives you everything you don’t need, ever.
Krouse began digging through the stuff. He tossed all the bags of clothes into one corner to forge a path.
“I asked her out first,” Cody said.
I think he’s deliberately trying to rile Krouse up just to make Krouse feel anything about him.
“But when she said she wasn’t interested, I accepted that. I walked away. Stayed her friend. You didn’t. You slithered your way in, pressured her.”
How much do you know about what actually happened between them?
There may be some truth to this, but if so, I don’t think it was something Krouse did consciously.
“I just let her know I was still interested, while respecting the boundaries she set. If you don’t believe me, ask her.”
“I might not get the chance, if she doesn’t get better.”
That’s not Krouse’s fault, but you’re just saying it to rile him up anyway, aren’t you?
Krouse flinched. “Let’s drop this topic of conversation.”
I don’t know that he’s going to let you.
“Why? You keep doing that, trying not to talk about stuff. Is it because you know I’m right?”
“It’s because we know that whatever happens, this screaming in our head is going to push us to the edge. Any argument could turn ugly if we aren’t careful, and I’m not forgetting that you wanted to hit me before.
Krouse is absolutely right here.
What’s to say you won’t try again, with a weapon in your hand?”
“Fuck you. I have self control.”
“If self control was all it took, I don’t think the Simurgh would have Jess as scared as she is, and I don’t think they’d be blowing up the superheroes who spend too long listening to this never-ending motherfucking scream in their heads. We should stick to talking about this shit, the danger we’re in right here, right now.”
“Mm,” Cody grunted. “What are we looking for?”
Yeah, let’s stay on task.
Hm. Are you sure you want to be armed while the Smurf fucks with your heads?
But I suppose you do need some way to fight back against monsters if you’re going to try leaving the building.
And possibly soldiers.
Krouse stepped over a few garbage bags. He found a tool bench, and grabbed a short hatchet from where it hung on the wall. Holding it by the head, he extended the handle towards Cody.
Hatchets and axes are cool weapons.
Interesting that Krouse chooses to hand it to Cody. It’s a show of trust, after just having accused Cody of potentially using a weapon on him.
“Are you insane?” Cody didn’t touch it.
“If we run into another monster, we’ll need to defend ourselves.”
“Didn’t you just finish saying we’re in a dangerous mental state? We’re more dangerous to each other than the monsters are. And you want to walk around with weapons, so we can kill each other if someone snaps?”
It’s a delicate balance.
“I want to walk around with weapons so we’re safe. If you’re not going to take this, then Oliver…” He extended the handle to Oliver.
…you think Oliver’s going to take it?
He paused. “Oliver?”
Oliver looked haunted, his eyes wide, staring at the wall. Krouse had to double check that there was nothing there. “Oliver!”
That’s weird. Like, I didn’t expect him to leap at the hatchet handle, but he’s clearly not quite here right now.
Oliver jumped. When he looked at Krouse, his eyes were shiny with tears.
“You okay?” Cody asked.
“I’m… no,” Oliver said. He didn’t expand on the thought.
Well, that happened. Hallucinations?
Krouse extended the hatchet’s handle towards his friend, “If I give you this so you can protect yourself, you’re not going to hurt yourself, are you?”
More likely to hurt someone else under the impression that he’s protecting himself from whatever he just thought he saw.
Oliver reacted as though he’d been slapped. “No!”
“Then take it.”
Oliver did, weighing the weapon in one hand.
This is probably not a good idea.
Krouse found a battery operated nailgun, fiddled with it to find the clip and check the number of nails inside.
Including a nailgun. Creative.
He pulled the safety at the nozzle back and fired an experimental shot into a black plastic bag.
“This is a mistake,” Cody said. “A ranged weapon? We walk upstairs with this stuff, and in half an hour we’ll have killed and butchered each other.”
Yeah, Cody, this is why you probably don’t actually want Krouse to be mad at you right now.
“If we’re going to go crazy enough to kill each other,” Krouse said, “We’ll find ways to hurt each other anyways. I’m more concerned about us living through the next half hour. With Noelle living through the next half hour.”
Fair enough. Anything can be used as a weapon.
“Anyways, the nail gun’s useless. It’s not going to do any real damage to anything like those monsters we ran into,” Krouse said. He put it back on the workbench, grabbed a crowbar with a pickaxe head.
Why does the crowbar have a pickaxe head? Is that an actual thing with some crowbars?
And doesn’t that just make it a pickaxe, if one with a handle that doubles as a crowbar?
“Give me that one,” Cody said.
Oh, now you want a weapon?
Realistic axes and pickaxes have the same basic limitation compared to swords, in that you have to hit much more precisely because the damage-dealing part is smaller. With a pickaxe, the angle also matters more, since you’re piercing (and bludgeoning, to some extent) rather than slashing.
“Just remember what you said. We’re not enemies. If you have to, tell yourself it’s more satisfying to beat my face in with your fists.”
Heh, seems like a good idea.
“We’re not enemies,” Cody said. “And I have enough self control. I’m more worried about what you’re going to pull.”
Yeah, see, that paranoia is going to become a problem.
Krouse touched the small chainsaw that hung on the wall, saw Cody and Oliver stiffening in alarm, and decided against it.
Earlier today, one of the Discord servers I’m in actually had a conversation about whether chainsaws are actually dangerous as weapons.
They might not realistically be that great as weapons, but I’m of the Homestuck school of chainsaw deadliness, so I’m willing to disregard that.
Also, the same thing prompted me to make this edit:
(Credit to Scotty on the El Goonish Shive Discord server for the idea.)
Instead, he walked over to the corner, where duct piping and curtain rods were stacked against the wall.
You going to use a pipe?
He pulled one curtain rod free. It had fleur-de-lis caps on the ends, and was apparently made out of cast iron.
…that works too, I guess. A curtain rod inherently doesn’t sound that sturdy to me, but if it’s cast iron, it might be stronger than I’ve been conditioned to think.
Or stainless steel fashioned to look like cast iron. It was thin enough that it might bend after one good hit, but it would serve as a functional spear.
Seizing a hammer in his other hand, Krouse said, “Let’s go see how they’re doing.”
…so let’s bend that curtain rod into a sickle and pull a Homestuck and a communism parallel at the same time.
Or give Krouse the hatchet and a Perrin Aybara cosplay. Though Luke’s a better fit for that, I think. Yeah, do that, give the hammer and the hatchet to Luke.
Cody looked at the crowbar and frowned, but he followed without protest.
“It’s bad,” Jess said, as Krouse knocked and approached the living room.
“Might eventually turn into a monster and go on a rampage in Brockton Bay” bad.
Marissa had removed Noelle’s jacket, and she hiked up Noelle’s shirt and sweater to show her stomach. It was bruised to the point of being purple-black, and the right side was swelling in an ugly way, nearly twice as thick as the other side of her abdomen.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. But it’s stiff, hard. She might be bleeding inside. Or a hernia? Something could have torn loose and shifted places, inside.”
Krouse nodded. He felt his blood run cold, but he wasn’t surprised. This was just a confirmation of what he’d already suspected.
That she was far more hurt than she looked?
“What are we going to do?”
“I’ll look for a doctor,” Krouse said.
“What?” Cody asked, “Are you insane?”
“I know it’s risky-”
“No shit,” Cody said.
“But I’m willing to put my life at risk if it means we have a chance at helping Noelle.”
And that’s what he’s been doing ever since.
“If you’re playing the gallant boyfriend because of what I said in the kitchen-”
Letting the girls know stuff was said between them in the kitchen…
He wanted to slap sense into Cody. He settled for raising his voice, “Fucking stop!”
Cody shut his mouth.
“We don’t have a lot of time. Noelle doesn’t, I mean. So I’m going. I knew I’d probably have to, even when I asked Marissa to check Noelle over. It’s why I grabbed this,” he lifted the spear. “I’ve got a little something to defend myself with if it comes to that. I’ll go, see if I can track down any groups of people, find a doctor.”
Hey, Cody, remember the thing you said about not going anywhere alone?
“Alone?” Jess asked.
“I’ll take any help we can get. But I’ll go alone if I have to.”
“I’ll come,” Cody said.
He does, good.
Krouse suppressed a wince. He almost didn’t want Cody to come, knew that his company would offer as many problems as help, but next to Luke, Cody was the strongest one present.
One of the two is Ballistic, and I’m torn on which one I want it to be. Cody has all sorts of fascinating baggage with Krouse, recontextualizing Ballistic’s relationship with Trickster, but Luke is a really competent guy I’d like to have working with the Undersiders.
Ultimately, I think Cody’s the more likely choice, on account of his personality matching what we’ve seen of Ballistic’s better.
“Oliver?” he asked.
Oliver shook his head.
Damn you, you little coward. “Okay. Just Cody and I, then.”
It’s an adventure for two!
“I’ll come too,” Marissa said.
I really like the grouping here.
Krouse nodded. “You’ll need a weapon. Take Oliver’s.”
Is he going to let go of it?
Krouse nodded. “You’ll need a weapon. Take Oliver’s.”
No problem there, apparently.
Krouse glanced at the others, gave Noelle one long look. Maybe the last glimpse he’d get of her alive.
“Let’s go,” he said, swallowing around the lump in his throat. He walked to the closet and found a heavy wool coat that hung down to his knees, a replacement for the meager fall jacket he’d been wearing. “Sooner the better.”
Time is of the essence.
Cody and Marissa followed him as he ventured outside. He glanced at the creature that had been gunned down by the fence. A man, fat, with rows of horns on its head and shoulders. He glanced at the soldiers, saw the guns that were pointed his way. They weren’t firing, but they wouldn’t show him any more mercy than they’d showed the monster.
The horns, aside from what I already described with that dream sequence I wrote, kind of remind me of Behemoth. A little.
He didn’t know what was up with that. That was one detail Jess hadn’t shared. The soldiers didn’t fit with the scenario she’d described.
They make it look like it’s… contagious. They can’t let anyone affected too badly by the song out not just because they may be unpredictable, but because they might spread their condition?
Though we’ve seen no noticeable effect of staying around the Travelers for extended periods in the present day.
Maybe the people who’d failed to evacuate would go crazy, become dangerous. But even a good fence would serve to stop that. There could be other measures, like tear gas or tasers. But guns? Or blowing up a superhero?
Bit extreme, yeah…
No. There was more to that story.
“Where is everyone?” Marissa asked. “We’ve barely seen anyone on the streets.”
Both the story and the asks have invited me to speculate on this multiple times now, but I simply have no coherent idea short of it possibly being the Simurgh’s work somehow, sparing the Travelers because they’re useful. I’m sorry.
“They know better,” Cody said.
“They evacuated,” Krouse corrected. “It’s why the heroes were okay with knocking down buildings like they were. Everyone was already cleared out.”
That was the first explanation I came up with. Did the Simurgh manipulate the winds to make it so the Travelers in particular didn’t hear anything?
“So quickly? Why didn’t we evacuate too?”
“Took us too long to get out of the apartment,” Krouse said, the lie smooth.
Is the thing he’s figured out the idea that the Simurgh wants them alive?
Marissa shook her head, but she didn’t argue any further.
With Jess staying behind, at least, he didn’t need to worry so much about Luke, Oliver or Noelle asking similar questions and coming to the same conclusions he and Jess had.
Well, not asking you.
Or, just as bad, would be if they got the bright idea of going to look for their families. Jess would dissuade and distract the others, just like he would with Marissa and Cody.
…you’re not looking for a doctor at all, are you.
He wished he was going crazy, that this was paranoia. But he felt an ugly feeling in the pit of his stomach, along with a hard certainty. The pieces fit too well together.
The reason people had evacuated so quickly was because the fighting had been going on for some time. Jess had said the Simurgh wasn’t a tinker. She was probably right. The Simurgh had merely copied an existing design, copied a device that had already been used once.
I mean, that might be the case. Either way, she probably knew of it via omniscience.
So do you know of a place with similar monsters pouring out of a portal? An ask implied that I should too, but I don’t remember anything like that.
Making the massive halo-portal was just a question of copying the layout, remembering how the pieces had been put together, and being very, very smart.
Very, very smart is right, I think.
And entities who are very, very smart often have long-term agendas.
Jess would have figured it out, once she saw enough of the capes, or when Luke had gotten lost in his neighborhood. Even when they’d just climbed out of the apartment, she had asked why the Simurgh was here.
She’s here because of you.
He thought back to the bird in the cage, and the bloody newspaper that it had been standing on. He’d only been able to read part of the headline. President Gillen orders…
Gillen? Interesting name.
Until further notice, they’re a fish person.
Orders an evacuation of the city? Has the area been evacuated for days?
It isn’t that Alexandria, Scion, the Simurgh and the other heroes somehow came here. We’ve been taken there.
Are you saying the entire building was moved to a completely different city while they were preparing to play? That would explain why Luke wasn’t familiar with the roads.
The Simurgh had brought them to Earth Bet. Earth B.
Oh my fucking cod they’re from Earth-Aleph. Our world, ish.
They questioned what the Simurgh was doing there because it’s not the right world for her to be in. Though Jess talked as though she’d appeared in their Switzerland.
It was the Earth they’d heard so much about on the internet and the news, stuff Jess had followed with such curiosity that they’d jokingly called her a cape geek. An Earth where Japan was in shambles, a different president led the United States of America,
…thus why the newspaper tipped him off…
there were a thousand times the number of parahumans,
Oh, so there are some on Earth Aleph too? Are they local triggerers, or parahumans from Earth Bet who went through Haywire’s portal?
and Endbringers threatened to crush humanity in a merciless, unending battle of attrition.
They’re a pretty huge difference, yeah.
Would the Endbringers even fit through Haywire’s portal? I don’t know how big the hole is.
They were a long, long way away from their families.
Well. No wonder they stick together and travel around as nomads.
They don’t exactly have a home here.
End of Migration 17.3
Well, that’s a twist! Apparently the Simurgh felt like isekaiing some not-so-random teens from another world, presumably as a tiny but essential factor in her greater plans for humanity.
I guess that means the relevance of the halo-portal was that it’s the same technology as Haywire’s hole? Which I suppose makes the question of whether the Endbringers can fit into his hole… ahem… whether the Endbringers might be too large to pass through his portal, kind of moot. If they don’t fit, the Simurgh can build them a larger one, if they should ever feel like moving on to the next world over after ravaging Earth-Bet.
All the other stuff in this chapter was great too. We’ve got a fascinating relationship between Krouse and Cody, hints at a dark past for Noelle and Krouse knowing about it, tensions rising in general… I’m very much enjoying this Arc so far.
I think I’ll probably reread this chapter on my own time before moving on to the next, because Krouse figured out the truth halfway through the chapter and didn’t let us in on it until the end. It recontextualizes some of his lines and actions, giving the chapter some reread bonus.
Fanfic concept: We know counterparts are to some extent a thing because there’s an Earth Bet Justin Bieber and much of history is the same, so it’s entirely possible for the Travelers to run into their counterparts. (Unless they got swapped out into Earth Aleph for weird metaphysical reasons?)
I suppose a long-term goal for the Travelers, after hopefully solving the Noelle problem (I don’t have great hopes for the success of that), might be getting to Haywire’s portal.
Next up: Krouse, Marissa and Cody head out ostensibly to find a doctor for Noelle, something that may be easier said than done. Watch out for the Simurgh, guys.
Should be fun, with intriguing monster designs. See you then!