Migration 17.4: That Time I Got Reincarnated as an Isekai Protagonist

Source material: Worm, Migration 17.4

Blogged: November 4-17, 2019


It’s a whole new wooorld!

It’s time to go out with Krouse and co. as they explore the Earth Bet version of their hometown, wherever it is (it does appear to be in the U.S., at least) in search of a doctor.

I think they’re likely to wind up fighting monsters with those weapons they picked out, but they won’t do much good if the Smurf herself comes after them for any reason.

As for finding a doctor… we know Noelle survives, for some value of that word, but running into a doctor specifically while trapped in an evacuated section of the town doesn’t sound likely. So maybe they manage to find a way past the fences?

Let’s jump in and find out. 🙂


They took a path that kept the fence to their right.  It meant they stayed on the fringe of the Simurgh’s power, the volume of the keening song as low as they could hope to keep it, and it meant there was one less cardinal direction that any creatures could approach them from.

Not bad thinking. It also makes it easy to find your way back afterwards.

There were soldiers stationed at the far end of any roads, a ways back from fences, but they weren’t taking shots at them.  If the soldiers happened to shout at them through a loudspeaker, he considered it a bonus, something to draw others closer.

Others like doctors?

He cursed the heavy clouds of fog and dust that were resulting from the ongoing fighting and the snow that had evaporated or scattered on a massive scale.

Snow has been the word of the day here. Just before Halloween, autumn suddenly gave way to winter. My dad’s been out shoveling five times today (and just as I typed that he suggested he should go out a sixth).

It wasn’t bad enough that there were monsters prowling around the city, but his key senses were being obscured.  He couldn’t see more than one or two hundred feet ahead of him, and the noise… there was no absolute quiet.

I wonder if the Song of Insanity would pierce Grue’s darkness. It largely depends on whether it’s fully psychic or not.

The screaming in their heads continued without end, low in volume and apparently low in effect, but there.  Always there.  Just as distracting and nerve-wracking were the rumbles and the sounds of gunfire, of distant explosions, of buildings collapsing, and of city streets being blasted to shreds.

The worst kind of music is music that I can barely hear. I’d rather listen to bad music at a normal volume than good music that I can’t quite make out.

Citywide destruction ASMR

It was during one of the quiet moments, one of the periodic breaks in the distant chaos where there was only the song in their heads, that they heard a shrill scream.

Oh fuck. Is the Simurgh pulling out one of her big stops again, or is this a human?

Both?

Krouse, Cody and Marissa stopped in their tracks.

“Was that in my head?” Krouse asked.

The fact you need to ask that is a bad sign.

“No.  Definitely a person.  Or people.  We should help them,” Marissa said.

Oh, okay, good.

Let’s just hope they’re human peoples and not siren-like monsters who scream to draw victims who want to help.

“We’d be putting ourselves in danger,” Cody replied.

“No,” Krouse said.  “We should go.”

If I’m onto something, Cody’s more right than he realizes.

“I feel like you contradict me to be irritating,” Cody growled.

In Cody’s defense here, Krouse could have given a better response there. He didn’t actually argue against Cody’s statement about the danger, he just said “no” to it.

“We should go because there’s barely anyone around,” Krouse said, “And we’ve got to find a doctor.  One person with the right skills in an area with very few people.”

Yeah, see, that’s better.

“And since someone’s screaming, we know there’s at least one person there.”

For a given value of person, at least.

Krouse nodded.  He didn’t wait for further argument from Cody, sprinting ahead instead.

His path took him to the foot of a set of tall buildings with stores on the lowest level.  He was somewhat relieved that most of the fast food chains seemed familiar.

Pfft. I’m reminded of people who go to foreign countries and seek out the nearest McDonald’s (ironically, I believe my first or at least second time at a McDonald’s was in Italy; there aren’t any McD’s as far north in Norway as I live). Except here it’s “oh good, they’ve got McD’s in this foreign world“.

Though I suppose Trickster’s main reason for thinking this is that he doesn’t want the others to suspect the dimensional shift just yet.

Somehow it implied that home wasn’t so far away.

That too.

Tables and benches were bolted into the ground in a broad patio or plaza between the buildings.  The fixtures that weren’t exposed to the winds and shockwaves that were rippling across the city in all the fighting were piled high with layers of snow and ice.

Update: My dad did go out for a sixth round of snow-shoveling, at half past ten in the evening, despite my mom’s arguments that he should relax for half a second.

Krouse could hear the crunch in the snow as Marissa and Cody caught up behind him.  He glanced back to verify it was really them, then gripped his spear tighter.

Always good to check that. With humanoid monsters around, some paranoia is healthy.

Screams, again.  To his left.

He hurried toward the sound.  He knew the singing in his head was making him more impulsive, rounding off the edges of his sense of caution and pushing him to act rather than plan.  It didn’t matter.  He had one goal in mind.

I think it’s about to very much matter and Cody’s going to be vindicated in a way he might not like to be.

Eight people were gathered in a burger joint with the lights off.

The lights are off. Red flag number two, after the screaming.

More daunting were the three monsters that were in the room.  One of the monsters was holding a ninth person off the ground.

Hm. Maybe they really are people, or maybe the monsters are better at staging than one might expect. This still strikes me as an anglerfish operation, with three apparent monsters being a little more than I expected but still few enough that an equipped “hero” can handle it, for the promise of saving 8-9 “people” who then turn out to be more monsters than the hero can handle (or just one big one).

The windows had been shattered and curls of snow flowed into the fast food place.

Krouse dropped low, crouching behind a snow-covered patio.  He gestured for Cody and Marissa to stop.

Don’t you just hate when you’re at a fast food place and all the snow comes in through the window and makes your food cold while you’re fighting off monsters?

(#relatable)

The monsters included a man with a neck three times the usual length and a gnarled hump on his back that was plated in armor.   His arms split in two at the elbow, with one set of hands and one set of limbs that ended in built-in scythes.

Oh, that’s a really cool design.

He was perched on a table, cackling.  His jacket was clearly borrowed, ill-fitting around his hump, and he kept having to push the sleeves up so they wouldn’t cover his hands or weapons.

There’s clearly a certain amount of intelligence to these things.

Were they ever actually human? Are they mutated humans from some world that went bad?

His partner held their victim, the ninth person in the room.  She was big, maybe seven feet tall, and heavy in a way that met some middle ground between being muscular and being fat.

At least she’s not pear-shaped. If these are Nilbog’s creations, you really don’t want the pear-shaped ones.

Big boned might have been the most apt way to describe her, in a literal sense.  Her skin was thick, her features blunt: she had a porcine nose and cauliflower ears, her fingers were stubby and her lips so fat that they curled away from her comparatively tiny teeth.

So she looks like kind of a mess, then.

She might have weighed four hundred pounds, and the way she was easily holding her victim in the air suggested she was strong enough to kill someone with one good punch.  She wore only a set of grays that looked like a prisoner uniform.  He could make out the first half of the word that was printed across her shoulders: GWER-.

Gwer? What?

At least one of them has been shown to speak English, so I suspect that’s not a word from a different language. And even if it is, the only thing that comes to mind is “gwerra”, and looking back, that’s not the right vowel for the word for “war” in Newter’s pidgin (it’s “gwarra”).

Could it be her name or something, from a world where names are different? Gwer…evere? Or the name of a literal prison?

Or maybe Krouse is reading it wrong and it’s actually GOVER(NMENT)?

…what if these people are from an alternate universe Birdcage?

Rounding out the group was a young woman.  Something was off about her, besides the obvious physical changes.  Thick black horizontal lines striped her body, crossing her eyes like a blindfold, extending from the corners of her mouth, lining her chin and tracing down her neck.

A seer? She also reminds me of Siberian, for obvious reasons.

By the time they reached her fingers, her skin was more black than white.  She wore the same prison grays, but had donned a jacket and boots.  Her blond hair was straight, her bangs cut severely across her forehead.

If these monster people come from an alternate Birdcage-like prison, that might be a part of why they’re so hostile, but something else has clearly happened to them as well. Very likely the Simurgh’s work in some way.

Or Nilbog might have expanded to a place with a prison.

Or they’re not literally prison clothes.

She was off because there was a rigidity to her.  She stood too straight, and every part of her except her clothing seemed to be drawn in horizontal and vertical lines.

Hah, that’s pretty cool.

I hereby headcanon her as gay for no other reason than irony.

Scythe-arms finished laughing, took a second to compose himself, and then snarled with a viciousness that seemed to be in stark contrast to his previous humor,  “Ontige hie, Matryoshka.

Ooh, we seem to have a language other than English. Russian, by the looks of it. Let’s hope “Matryoshka” isn’t referring to any pear-shaped women here.

Google Translate does not recognize “ontige hie” as Russian.

*tries to replicate the phrase with Cyrillic letters and in a few other Slavic languages*

Well, “ontige” doesn’t appear to mean anything in most of these, but apparently “онтиге хеь” can mean “to ten horses” in Kazakh (a Turkic language but close enough).

I… kind of doubt that’s the meaning that’s relevant here, though.

Shame. If I could figure out which language this was, it might give me a lead on “GWER-” as well.

The massive woman turned to shove her captured victim towards the girl with the lines.  Krouse could make out the rest of the word.  Gwerrus.

Gwerrus…

Google Translate, got anything on that?

“reprehensible”. In Welsh. The word’s fitting, though I didn’t think of Welsh as a possibility here. Thinking back to what I know of Welsh, though, that’s definitely a Welsh-looking word in retrospect.

I could see “ontige” being one as well, and I think “hie” is one I’ve come across before… let’s try it. I’m suspecting it means “come here”.

…no. That doesn’t appear to be Welsh.

Her voice was deeper than any Krouse had ever heard. “Egesa riika se-ji.”

That looks decidedly not Welsh as well. Japanese, maybe?

No luck there, but it autodetects as Finnish… but translates that to the unhelpful phrase “faces of Riga”.

From Malay it translates to “the urge to unite”…

The line girl spoke in a thick accent.  “Speak the anglo?  This skin too far from myself for me to remember.”

Wait, what? Are these constructs controlled remotely, or does she mean she’s been bodysnatching, or… so many possibilities.

“speak the anglo” is the best way to ask if someone speaks English.

“Mirzuty,” the large woman swore.  “Egesa say you take her, Matryoshka.”

Egesa seems to be a name here, just like Matryoshka.

So is Matryoshka the line-girl, then?

“I can not.  Too far.  I will lose myself.  Begging you, Gwerrus.”

The gwerrus-labeled one goes by Gwerrus. Handy.

“lose myself”… too much strain on this body to continue controlling it?

Or maybe “taking her” involves taking over her body. I’m assuming “her” is the victim, by the way.

If I’m piecing things together right here, Gwerrus is acting as an interpreter between Egesa and Matryoshka.

Gwerrus slammed her hand down on the counter next to her, demolishing it.  The soft drink dispenser exploded in a spray of fizz and foam.

Mentos powers.

Gwerrus looked momentarily surprised, and the scythe-armed one started cackling.  Was that the Egesa that Gwerrus had mentioned?

It kind of seems like it. That or Egesa is their common superior.

Gwerrus growled, “There are guards, frail one.  Many.  There are fences and the… what you call them?  Transportation.”

Cars? Army vehicles?

“Trucks,” Matryoshka said.

“Trucks.  They hunt us.  They have craft.  Burn you by looking at you.  Fly,” Gwerrus’s deep voice took an almost reverent tone.

Interesting. They come from a world with less or different technological advancements. Probably related to why they’re *gestures wildly at their entire group*

“We must escape.  We use your craft to do it.  Fold us.  Fold them.”

Craft = powers. Got it.

Does Matryoshka’s power allow her to shrink things by “folding” them, thereby allowing her to stick them in pockets and the like?

…do all of them happen to have powers that could be described in terms of handicrafts? Origami for Matryoshka, for example?

It sounds like flight is not a common power in their world.

Matroyshka glanced at the crowd of people that were huddled by the front counter.  Her face was etched with anxiety.  A distant rumble shook the city, and her head snapped to one side in alarm.

So these “monsters” evidently are in a similar boat to the Travelers at the moment. They’re just people from another world, strangers in a world that fears and kills them.

Ofstede,” Egesa growled.

…that looks cognate with “av sted”, meaning something like “away” (literally “off location”) in Norwegian, so I hope this means something like “let’s get going”.

Hm. Maybe Egesa is speaking Dutch. “Ontige hie” apparently means “hey” in that, and “ofstede” means “homestead”. Maybe he means he’s homesick.

“Egesa says now,” Gwerrus translated.

Okay, yeah, “hey” also doesn’t exactly match the previous translation from Gwerrus.

I’m kind of wishing Google Translate had Faroese at the moment.

“I guess that already,” Matryoshka said.

“Clever, clever,” Gwerrus said, with a cruel note to her voice, “Should use that clever mind to think.  Longer we wait, longer we have to listen to this dwimor wail.  More time for men hunting us to find us.”

Yeah, about that. You kind of have some observers.

Also, I like Gwerrus’ swears. Merzuty, dwimor…

(Google’s autodetect thinks merzuty is Polish and dwimor is Welsh, but doesn’t attempt to translate either. I might be able to find the origin of these swears if I did a regular Google search, but where’s the fun in that? Plus, it’s much less spoiler-safe.)

Cody and Marissa crept closer until they were beside Krouse.  Krouse winced as their feet crunched in the snow, but the monstrous people didn’t seem to notice.

That’s probably a good thing. Sympathetic or not, they don’t seem like the kindest bunch.

Matryoshka reached out and bent down in the direction of the woman Gwerrus had thrown to the ground.  Krouse couldn’t quite make out the view, but saw a flurry of black and flesh tone ribbons.

Is this the folding?

When she stood, she had a different face, her hair was darker, and the lines on her face and hands were thinner.

Interesting. It does seem like a form of bodysnatching.

How does that mesh with the folding thing?

“How long?” Gwerrus asked.  “To… what is word?”

“Digest,” Matryoshka said.  Her accent wasn’t so thick as it had been.  “Hours?  Two or three.  Can’t really remember.”

Oh, so it’s not quick by any means.

“Fold into me next,” Gwerrus said.  “Then Egesa.  Then them.”

Oh, that’s how it ties in with her name. If I’m getting this right, she’s the smaller doll, but the one in control. So if she does this, she’ll be controlling a body consisting of all of them in one. And if she releases them before they’re “digested”, it won’t be permanent?

I wonder how much of the minds are retained. Is this Matryoshka’s personality a blend of everyone she’s ever digested? She does seem to have absorbed some of her latest victim’s language skills.

Both Matryoshka and Gwerrus looked at the huddled captives.

“But if I take more than two or three hours to escape, I’ll digest you.”

It sounds like I did get that right. Nice.

“I’m a soldier,” Gwerrus spoke.  “Tough.  Hard to eat?”

I’m not sure that’s how it works, Gwerrus.

“Digest,” Matryoshka said.  “I don’t know.  Not sure you can be tough against this.”

Efeste,” Egesa growled.

Google thinks that’s Romanian, but once again, doesn’t translate it.

“He says-”

“I get it.  Fine.  Kneel.  Easier if I don’t have to climb.”

…does she go in through their mouths or something

Krouse tightened his grip on the spear, waited until he saw the ribbons.

You might not want to attack just yet.

Then Krouse charged forward.  Couldn’t afford to wait until that Matryoshka woman ate someone with the know-how Noelle needed.

Damn it, Krouse.

The window of opportunity here was small, anyways.  Had to strike while two of the enemies were occupied.

I mean, fair enough, I suppose. Still.

His boots crunched over snow, and Egesa turned his way, raising one scythe before he even saw Krouse.

You could have waited until the third enemy had been absorbed.

Krouse drove the makeshift spear into Egesa’s side.  The shape of the head didn’t allow for much penetration, but it did bury itself in the monster’s stomach.

You also could’ve waited to see if you got any information on Egesa’s or Gwerrus’ powers, assuming they have them and the scythes don’t count as Egesa’s.

Krouse had never been in a fight.  He’d been punched, but he’d never hit back.

Well, this is a hell of a way to get started, huh?

Wasn’t in him, he’d thought.  How much of this was him, and how much was the song in his head?  Was the Simurgh’s song pushing him to violence where he might have tried to find another way in other circumstances?

In other circumstances, you could have tried, say, negotiation. That’d be kind of risky, but not as risky as this.

Or was this what it felt like, doing what had to be done to help Noelle?

The Song may very well be giving you tunnel vision, convincing you that this is what has to be done to help her.

In other words, can’t it be motherfucking both things?

Egesa nearly fell from the table he was sitting on, managed to brace himself, and then swung one scythe-arm at Krouse.  Krouse threw himself backward, tugging on his curtain-rod spear.

For what it’s worth, a spear, however shitty, is not a bad choice of weapon against scythe-arms. It’s got reach.

It twisted as it came free, doing more damage on the way out than it had with the initial thrust.

Nice. Some spearheads are like that and that’s kind of brutal.

I suppose everything about melee weapons (that aren’t meant just for show) is kind of brutal though.

Egesa fell to the ground, landing with his knees, two scythes and one hand on the ground. His other hand pressed to the injury, where blood was spilling onto the ground.

Egesa did nothing wrong. That we saw.

Hell, they may have decided to fold in the other people to help them get out too, even if some of them might not have understood that (thus the screaming).

The hump of a hunchback protected the man’s head, as he crouched before Krouse.  Krouse looked at Egesa’s arched back, his legs and arms under him.  He could have gone for the stomach again, but there were no guarantees.  He jabbed for the armpit, instead.  Limit his range of attack.

I wonder if there’s anything fancy going on with the hunchback hump.

Also, another hypothesis for where these people came from: Maybe not all of Cauldron’s failed test subjects were returned to Earth-Bet? Maybe some of them were left in the world the base is in, or in another uninhabited world, to set up a primitive society of their own without clear memory of their original homeworld?

That would explain why they speak a variety of languages and all have physical mutations.

His body hummed with adrenaline, and he felt far, far too calm for what he was doing, as he thrust the heavy metal spear into the base of Egesa’s arm.  This time he twisted it on purpose before pulling it free.

It’s been a long, long time
Since I learned that skill
It’s been a long long time
Since my very first kill

There was more blood than he thought there’d be, with that one.  Egesa fell over, no longer able to prop himself up.

Are Matryoshka and Gwerrus even aware of what’s happening yet?

Changing his grip, Krouse brought the spear down like a bludgeon, cracking Egesa across the head.

For someone who’s never fought before, Krouse certainly did well here. Scarily well, perhaps, to Marissa and Cody.

When Egesa didn’t immediately slump over, Krouse hit him twice more.

Ende,” Egesa growled.

I still can’t figure out what language he’s speaking, but it really seems to be Indo-European or have loans from Indo-European languages that aren’t English.

Maybe it’s a similar deal to Newter’s pidgin?

Krouse swung to hit him one more time.  Egesa disappeared in a cloud of black smoke that quickly dissipated and the spear hit tile.

Interesting.

Krouse glanced around to see if Egesa had changed locations.  The scythe-armed freak wasn’t around.  He did see Cody and Marissa looking at him wide eyed.

Yeah, I was expecting that. Without consulting them, Krouse just attacked and, as far as they can tell, killed someone who had turned out to be an intelligent person and had barely even done anything, and landed himself potentially in trouble with Matryoshka.

(Though upon rereading the previous paragraph it does seem the cloud of black smoke might have been an escape tactic rather than an unusual reaction to dying.)

This next part wasn’t going to change that much.  “Run!” he shouted at the bystanders.

I think you might be fucking up their best shot at getting out of here, but sure.

They scrambled to their feet and ran for cover.

He advanced on Gwerrus and Matryoshka, saw how Gwerrus was entangled by Matryoshka, wearing the ribbons like a second skin.  Her left arm, completely encased, was compressed to only half the size, almost normal.

Squeeeeze.

Gwerrus looked too tough to hurt, but Matryoshka…  He slashed the end of his makeshift spear into her, and the ribbons of flesh cut and tore.  Matryoshka began to pull together, unwinding from Gwerrus, and he clubbed her over the head.

I was a little too quick to say she was the smaller doll just because of the “fold into” terminology, but it did help me figure out her power, so that wasn’t a problem.

But… Krouse. Come on, dude. You interrupting the process just means you’ll have to deal with both of them.

Gwerrus was a bigger problem.

See?

The way her skin seemed to be three times as thick as normal, at least, and her massive frame, he suspected he wouldn’t be able to hurt her with his weapon.  If he-

No, Krouse made himself stop, took an account of what he was doing.

But this is probably not a good time to come to your senses either.

He was getting carried away.  He turned to run.

At least that does help more than standing around thinking of the moral implications and getting clobbered.

A hand gripped the back of his coat, and a scythe blade extended around Krouse’s throat.

Oh, hi, there you are.

He felt another scythe tap against his spear, tapping again shortly after.  He let the spear clatter to the tiled floor.

Yeeeeeah.

Krouse, you, um, kind of fucked up here.

Matryoshka condensed the ribbons into onion-like layers. The cuts and tears he’d made weren’t continuous once she was put together.  Rather, it was divided into a series of short cuts placed around her face and hands, with more probably hidden beneath her clothes.

Huh. Neat.

“Brave,” Gwerrus growled.  “Stupid brave.”

I placed a bunch of my OCs into this template earlier today:

alignment sudoku

“Stupid brave” isn’t an option in it, but I’d be willing to put Trickster under “dumbass spicy” at the moment, and occasionally “asshole spicy”.

(The link above leads to a blank version if you’d like to use it yourself.)

“Sculan abretoan cnapa,” Egesa muttered, just beside Krouse’s ear.

And this, Google thinks is Cebuano. But only because abretoan means “secret” in it.

…apparently in Catalan, this phrase means “They are going to open their heads.”

Egesa means “exhausted” in Catalan. Fitting.

“Ofstede” and “ontige hie” do not appear to mean anything there, though.

Gwerrus shook her head.  “Na.  Wac thurfan cnapa with huntians ferranan, Matryoshka cunnan fealdan cnapa.”

Hang on. This is starting to look familiar.

Is this Old English??

I think it is. Unfortunately I can’t check with GTrans, but I’m fairly sure it is Old English.

That raises a lot of questions about Egesa’s origins. Did Old English survive much longer in his homeworld? Does Cauldron collect from multiple worlds or was I entirely off-base with that theory? Is Egesa very old?

Anyway, I think Gwerrus is suggesting that Matryoshka eat Krouse… possibly for the purpose of taking his place and blending in with the “hunters”?

Egesa shoved Krouse so that he stumbled forward, finding himself in the middle of the three.

Good job, Krouse.

“English?  Anglo?”  Matryoska asked.

“We need the boy,” Gwerrus said.  “You fold him.”

Yeah, that sounds like what I thought the Old English might mean.

“Uh huh,” Matryoshka said.  “We’ll need more.”

Why?

“We’ll find more.”

“Soon?  Women I just took will be all dissolved.”

Is there some sort of hunger at play? Or maybe it’s just that once the victim is digested, she returns to her base appearance.

“Soon,” Gwerrus said.

Krouse couldn’t help but notice how even her dialect had changed since she’d absorbed the woman into her.  “You don’t have to do this.”

Yeah, I think that’s a result of the woman’s linguistic habits fusing with Matryoshka’s.

Egesa kicked him from behind, and Krouse fell to his hands and knees.

“Don’t hurt him,” Matryoshka said.

I’m not sure Egesa’s going to like that after the fight he just had, but there might be some technicalities of her power at work that justify it. Like taking on his injuries if she absorbs him.

“They are enemies,” Gwerrus growled.  “They hunt us.”

“We’re not hunting you,” Krouse said.

Says the guy who just attacked them with a spear. I mean, I get that you had your reasons, Krouse, but think of how that looks to them.

Egesa kicked him again for his trouble, driving a heel into Krouse’s kidney.  Krouse grunted and writhed at the pain.  The screaming in his head was bad, now, almost drowning everything out.  It was almost affecting his vision.

Simurgh getting closer? Maybe this wasn’t among the things she needed to happen to the Travelers.

He couldn’t help but think about the pressure of being deep underwater, being so deep he was barely able to function, except this wasn’t imagined.  It was real, despite being all in his head.

Or maybe she’s amping up the power to disable his brain at a crucial moment.

That same pressure dimmed everything around the edges of his vision, made shadows darker and lights brighter.  When spots appeared in his vision, he could almost imagine they were images.

Turns out he’s cosmically connected to two other main characters, and when he thinks about them he can see what they’re up to.

Oh wait, wrong story.

Egesa pressed the tip of one scythe to Krouse’s eyelid.  “Abysgian in eage?  Yeh?”

Having figured out (I think) which language this is doesn’t make it much easier to understand.

Krouse slipped, so to speak.  He hadn’t even realized he was resisting the song, but in the pain, in his momentary fear, he let himself listen, looked at the shapes that were filling the dark places he could see.

This sounds like a bad idea.

Am I giving up?  This easily?  The others need me.  The others…

At least he’s thinking about the others now and not just Noelle.

“Noelle,” he mumbled.

That said, this was an inevitable next line from there.

“Francis?”

He winced.  “Call me Krouse.  Everyone but my mom does.”

Flashback time!


But I think that makes this a good stopping point for the night. It’s past 2 AM anyway. Good night, people who won’t read this until after I’ve returned!

 


 

[Session 2]

Alright, I’ve left this hanging for too long already (on account of a variety of reasons I probably should have mentioned on Twitter, sorry about that). Let’s wrap this up!

When we last left off, Krouse was slipping into a flashback to what appears to be an early interaction between him and Noelle. I look forward to seeing more of how Noelle behaves when not knocked out by the Smurf or turning into some sort of monster.

“Krouse,” Noelle tried the word.  “Okay.  You want something?”

My first guess at the context here is they’re in class and Krouse was idly admiring Noelle (“Noelle,” he mumbled. might be in or out of the flashback, or both.) from afar and she heard him mumble to himself. That, or he’s actually approaching her and mumbled out of shyness.

“Just wanted to talk.  When we were marking each other’s papers in class, I got yours.

Oh, okay, so they’re not in class, but the main point of it being a school-related setting stands.

I just wanted to say I like the way you think.”

Aw, that’s a nice compliment.

He could see her expression change, as though the whole paradigm of the conversation had shifted.  What did I say?

Uh-oh. Maybe you’re not consciously trying to flirt, but she might have just interpreted it that way. And given the history that has been implied, she might not be too comfortable with that.

(A more positive reading would be that she lights up at the compliment, but that “What did I say?” really sounds like it’s not a good change.)

“Thanks,” she said.  Her eyes dropped to her lunch tray, and she speared a piece of lettuce on her fork.  She popped it into her mouth and chewed, slowly, methodically, then glanced up at Krouse.  The meaning was clear.

Ouch.

With body language alone, she was asking, why are you still here?

I don’t think she’s trying to be mean about it.

“Comparing the way you write an essay to how you’d design a game, plotting things both on a mechanical and general level.  It was interesting to read.

…is Wildbow getting meta here? He’s just proven he knows a thing or two about game design as well as writing, and he’s historically been good at this exact thing — plotting both mechanically and generally.

Nerdy in all the best ways.  That’s a compliment, in case you’re left wondering.”

Hehe.

“Alright.  Thanks.”

It’s not that Noelle doesn’t know how to handle this situation, I think. It’s been indicated that she’s been a popular target of affection.

But mix that with the implied sexual assault, and it’s exactly why I think she just wants it to be over as quickly as possible.

He was turning to leave when he saw Marissa Newland approach and sit down next to Noelle.  They weren’t people he’d expected to see together.  It wasn’t that Noelle was unattractive, only that Marissa was a swan, one of the better looking girls in the school, and Noelle was maybe best described as a sparrow.

This just in: Krouse is a birdfucker. And that’s why the Simurgh brought him to her world.

So Marissa was friends with Noelle before Krouse. Nice, I like that.

Small, nervous, plain.  He hadn’t imagined they had any shared interest, social circles or friends.

That’s fairly superficial, but given how schools seem to work in American fiction, I suppose it’s not completely unjustified.

Marissa moved a small plate with a square of pizza on it to Noelle’s tray, before looking up at Krouse.  “Krouse?  You need something?”

Does Marissa act protectively for Noelle, helping her not have to deal with this sort of thing as much?

“Nah, said what I wanted to say.”

“Don’t pester her, ‘kay?”

— gentlemanTrickster [GT] began pestering crystallineAngel [CA] at 11:11 —

“I”m not doing anything more annoying than distracting her from lunch, and I was already leaving.”

I think you’re doing more than you realize, but I can’t fault you for it.

“You two know each other?” Noelle asked.

Enough for Marissa to know to call him Krouse rather than Francis, but not enough for Krouse’s narration to not call Marissa by her full name. Though considering Mrs. Megabitch Newland, maybe that doesn’t mean anything.

Krouse answered before Marissa could.  “Our moms both do a lot of volunteer stuff for the school.  Bake sales and crap.

Ah, he knows her via Mrs. Newland. No wonder he used her surname, then.

Been a couple of times where we both got dragged in to help and wound up working together.”

At least Marissa seems like she’d be cool to work with.

I don’t say that lightly. I usually hated doing group projects in school, even with friends. I know this isn’t quite the same thing, but still.

“So I know exactly what to watch out for with you,” Marissa said.  “At any given point in time, you’re pulling some nefarious prank, you’re manipulating others to get what you want, you’re making someone else look bad-”

Damn, he had a reputation for manipulative behavior already?

Marissa seems to have chilled on that front since this, though, since Cody’s the one accusing Krouse of this in the futurer past.

“Stop.  All this praise is going to make me blush.”

snrk

“Sixth grade,” Marissa said, turning to Noelle, “He tells his teacher-”

I don’t think Krouse is making quite the impression on Noelle he wanted to.

“Aaand I’m out of here,” Krouse said, making sure to interrupt her, “I forgot Marissa knew about the more embarrassing stories.”

Ahaha

So is this going to stop Marissa from telling Noelle this story after he leaves? Hell no.

“Good riddance to you, then,” Marissa said, smiling lightly.

He wasn’t two steps away when he heard her saying, “The Ransack qualifiers-”

Oooh, looks like he knows what their common interest is now. Does he play himself, or will he get into it because he knows Noelle does?

He turned, interest piqued.

“What?” Marissa said.  “Do I need to get back to the story to scare you off?  Or are you going to make some crack about girls and video games?”

This reaction reads mostly like he’s already into it, so far.

“No, I’m not.  You said qualifiers?  As in competitive level?”

“Yeah.  We have a club we organized through the school, to manage it.  It was the only way I could get access to a computer without my mom looking over my shoulder.”

I believe it was established that part of why Mrs. Newland doesn’t mess with the gaming thing is because she doesn’t understand it, but I can absolutely imagine her standing behind Marissa and backseating the whole thing.

“No kidding.  That’s the same one Luke’s in?  You know Luke Brito?”

Brito. Interesting name. Is that “BREE-toh” or “BRIGHT-oh”?

At least it’s not B’rito.

“Yeah.  He’s in the group.”

“Ah,” he said.  He floundered.  “I’m sort of lost for words.  The bar for that sort of thing is higher than a lot of people think.  Even getting to the point where you’re in the qualifiers is pretty respectable.  Kudos.”

Yeah, that’s true. Good job, guys!

“Thanks,” Marissa said.

“I won’t subject you to my presence any longer.  Good luck tonight.  Really.”

He does know when it’s time to withdraw. That’s good.

“You play?” Noelle asked, the question abrupt.  She tore off a bit of pizza crust and popped it into her mouth.

There we go, though. He has his in.

It took Krouse a second to mentally shift gears.  “Some.  Casually.”

Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. Several characters have expressed concerns about Krouse being manipulative, and I don’t think I’ve made my position on that quite clear.

I think that while he might be prone to manipulative behavior from time to time, he’s not doing it on purpose.

You could argue that he just manipulated this whole situation by making a show of giving Noelle and Marissa their space, then once the Ransack thing was mentioned, taking that opportunity to get a few more words in and establish a common interest between him and Noelle, then prompting Noelle to make a quick decision about whether or not to let him stay.

But then come lines like this. It took Krouse a second to mentally shift gears. He wasn’t prepared for this. If he had planned all of this out, he would’ve expected it, been deliberately trying to make this happen.

That applies not only here but to several previous instances of Krouse being potentially manipulative. His actions can come across as manipulative, but we have the privilege of seeing his narration, seeing those thoughts that indicate he’s not deliberately manipulating the people around him any more than your average person would be in his situation.

(He does manipulate the others a little in hopes of keeping them from finding out about the whole isekai element of their situation, but that’s a little different from the manipulation he’s usually being accused of. That’s him trying to keep everyone from panicking, just like Jess is.)

Marissa looked at Noelle to double check, then gestured towards the empty seat across from them.

Krouse sat, winced as a plastic tray clattered to the ground.

…someone reacting to him sitting there? Cody?

Marissa screamed, the sound abruptly cutting off as she was tossed from the counter where the plastic trays were stacked to the ruined counter where the soft drink dispensers had been.

…what?

Are we out of the flashback? I think we’re out of the flashback.

She gasped for breath, struggled to climb to her feet and fell.  She was too dazed, and the ruined counter didn’t offer much in the way of solid traction.  Gwerrus advanced on her.

Yep. That’s a fun transition.

Krouse forced himself back to reality, hurried to climb to his feet, only to feel the scythe’s blade press hard to his neck, only his scarf keeping it from severing flesh.

Oops. Still at Egesa’s mercy, it seems.

The screaming in his head was back, worse than ever.  After the peace of the memory, the tranquility of being free of the screaming, still experiencing the warm buzz that surged through him, this wasn’t where he wanted to be.

Don’t get lost in the past. That’s one way for the Smurf to win.

Though I’m not sure she actually wants that.

“Began’na weorc,” Egesa hissed in his ear.

Start walking?

“Don’t understand a fucking thing you’re saying,” Krouse responded.  In a strange way, he was pissed.  Pissed in the way he might be if he’d been woken abruptly from a good dream.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

He knew it wasn’t rational, knew it wasn’t even healthy to think that way when the Simurgh was this dangerous, this insidious, but he was still upset.

That’s the problem with things that mess with your head. Even if you know they’re messing with your head, they’re still messing with your head.

On a related note, I have no intention of ever trying alcohol.

So maybe, in the smallest way, it gave him the push he needed to reach beneath his coat, to where he’d stashed the sheathed kitchen knife.

Welp.

With his other hand, he found and dug his gloved fingers into the wound the spear had made, simultaneously twisting, putting his less vulnerable shoulder in the way of Egesa’s scythe-hand.

Using a wound as a handhold for another attack? Ouch.

It didn’t matter.  Egesa’s knees folded as Krouse twisted his fingers in the wound, dug deep.  The knife’s sheath clattered to the ground, and Krouse dragged the blade across Egesa’s long neck.

Aaand there goes Egesa.

Egesa pushed him away, blood fountaining down the front of his body.

Oh, apparently not quite. Tanky, this one.

Krouse’s fingers were plucked free of the wet, sucking wound as the freak backed away.  Egesa disappeared into wisps of dark smoke.

There he goes again. Poof.

“Stupid brave boy,” Gwerrus said.

That sounds like Krouse, yes.

Krouse glanced around the room as the massive bear of a woman turned to face him.  Marissa was only just managing to stand, while Cody had backed up to the opposite end of the room, crowbar in hand.  Matryoshka was on her hands and knees, not far from Cody.

Not bad, guys.

“Run!” he shouted.  “Scatter!”

He was only turning to run away from the brutish Gwerrus when he realized the others might not be in a state to run.

That wouldn’t work out well, would it.

Marissa had been thrown hard, and he wasn’t sure what kind of condition Cody was in.

Not that it mattered.  Gwerrus picked Krouse for her target.

She wasn’t fast.  There was some small blessing in that.  But he quickly realized that she was keeping up with him, and she didn’t have half the trouble he did in wading through the deeper patches of snow.

Hm. Maybe that’s not just because of her shape? Maybe she’s from a place in her world that has a lot of snow.

Slipping on ice, too, didn’t prove to be a problem for her when she weighed enough that the ice shattered with each footfall.

I want to see Gwerrus ice-skating.

She caught up to him before he was clear of the plaza, grabbed him by the seat of his pants and the back of his coat.

I briefly misread “plaza” as “pizza”.

He stabbed at her hand with the knife, and felt a fierce agony tear through his own hand.

Hm. Tough enough skin that the knife didn’t penetrate, or power that inflicts any harm done to her on her enemy?

Blood welled out from his palm, warm as it ran down his arm to his elbow.  Krouse screamed.

“No,” Gwerrus growled in her deep voice.  “Stupid boy.”

Sounds like the latter.

“Begone,” a man intoned.

Huh? Fuck, do we have a newcomer in the battle, stepping out of the audience, or did Matryoshka eat Cody? Both could be rather bad.

Krouse felt himself slip from her grasp.  He dropped to the ground.

“Do it quickly,” another man said.

…okay, what’s going on? Were some of the people in the crowd actually monster hunters or something?

Krouse turned to look, but he saw everything through a monochrome haze.  His own hand seemed smoky, faint.

I’m a ghost?

Whaaa

I’m reminded of one of the not-entirely-serious OCs I came up with, siblings who had powers based on Minecraft gamemodes. Specifically, I’m thinking of Spectre, who can take on an ethereal form.

In my notes, his “civilian life” field just has the sentence “Watches entirely too much Danny Phantom.”

Anyway, there’s definitely something weird going on here and it’s probably the work of the newcomers. Heroes?

“Any insights, Myrddin?” a man in armor spoke.

Ohhh. It’s just fog.

The man in armor… Colin?

Gwerrus backed away as he advanced.  A giantess and a man in a suit of gleaming armor.  The man twirled a halberd in one hand.

Yup.

“A protective power.  I just got a glimpse of the idea behind it.  Retribution,” the first man said.  He was behind the man in armor, wearing a robe.  “Her power’s based around retribution for damage done.”

Yeah, I thought so.

Since I already brought up Minecraft, my mind quickly went to the Thorns enchantment for armor there, though that’s a tad less equal and specific, having a chance to deal 1-4 damage back to whoever hurt you, regardless of the incoming damage.

(It doesn’t work like literally thorny armor. It’s magic, which allows it to kick in even when the incoming attack is ranged.)

“Damage reflection?” the man in armor asked.  “Or does she get more durable as you attack her?”

Anything like that would make her tough to take out on your own.

“More likely to be the former than the latter.”

Well, how damaged does her hand look?

Krouse stood as the man in armor walked up to him.  Walked past him as though he weren’t even there.

Hm. Maybe Myrddin did do something fancy with his fog. Or maybe Armsmaster’s just being super focused on his task.

“I am stronger than you,” Gwerrus snarled.

Perhaps, but Colin’s better equipped.

The armored man didn’t reply.

“Why do this?  Why hunt us?”  Gwerrus asked, backing away.

Does Colin have an answer for that? I think this would cause Legend to stop in his tracks for a moment, but Colin at this point in his timeline might be less concerned.

The armored man slammed his halberd down against the ground, and smoke billowed around him.  A moment later, there was a sound like a gunshot.  Gwerrus dropped to one knee, one meaty hand pressed to her chest.

Hmmm.

Armsmaster’s not immune to gunshots, especially assuming it bypasses his armor. So does the smoke protect him somehow?

I wonder what Armsmaster would think if he knew Krouse had no idea who he was.

There was a tink and she was set on fire, head to toe.

Maybe it’s the indirectness that protects him? The power can tell the knife is driven by Krouse, but not that the bullet is shot by and the fire is caused by Armsmaster?

The flames were hot enough and close enough to Krouse that they could have burned him, should have burned him.  But he barely felt the warmth of them.  Barely felt anything.

Okay, yeah, I think either the smoke or Myrddin’s fog is protecting them both.

The Simurgh’s scream had faded, and his own wounded hand was little more than a dull throb.

“Hey,” Krouse said, turning to the man in armor.  There was no response.  “Hey, my friend needs-”

I’m not sure if you’re actually physical enough to be heard at the moment.

“That was reckless,” Myrddin said, speaking over Krouse.  “Attacking when we didn’t know the particulars of her power.”

Another thing of note: Where are Matryoshka and Egesa? Egesa might not have made it far after the teleport/wispification, but Matryoshka at least should be an ongoing threat. Did Myrddin put her in timeout like he might have Krouse?

I assume, if that is what’s going on with Krouse, that Myrddin can’t keep people suspended from physicality indefinitely.

“Two most likely vectors for it,” the armored man said, talking as though he couldn’t hear Krouse.  He raised his voice a little to be heard over Gwerrus’ screams.  “Either she needed to see me, or there needed to be some correlation between me and the damage done.  Smoke plus a nonlethal bullet works as a test for the first case.

That does seem reasonable, I suppose.

Besides, priority one is minimizing interactions, right?”

“Yes.  But it was still reckless.”

Considering why Krouse is in this situation, it’s rather fitting that this argument is happening.

Krouse turned to Myrddin.  “My friend’s dying.  Can you help her?”

Myrddin walked ahead, dismissing the smoke with a wave of the craggy wooden stick he carried.

Close enough to fog and such for it to work with his power.

“Dragon?” the armored man said.

I’m here,” the woman’s voice came from the armbands that they’d fixed around their wrists.

Dragon seems to be taking a more active role in communications this time, but maybe that’s just because we’re seeing more of the big boy capes using the armbands up close this time around.

“Myrddin just shunted some kid out to minimize contact.  I saw some blood.

Alright, that would be Krouse… but… what about Marissa and Cody? Did they successfully run away? Or at least Marissa?

If I mark the location, can we get emergency services here for when he pops back in?”

Ah, seems like a Clockblocker-esque thing, where he can’t dismiss the power’s effect at will.

We’re overloaded.  Was it a severe injury?”

“Bad, but not severe.”

Damn. They’re going to refuse and Krouse can’t tell them he has friends who need it more than he does until he pops in.

I wonder what the limitations on this power are. Would he be able to use it on an Endbringer to force a timeout like Clockblocker with Leviathan? Though the Endbringer would be able to move around on the ethereal plane and pop in somewhere inconvenient. Especially the Simurgh, who would know where she should pop in and how much time she had to get there.

We don’t have the vehicles or personnel to spare, and quarantine will still be in effect.

“Right.  Where did our target land?”

Do you mean the Simurgh or were you assigned to go after a specific monster?

Two hundred feet away, down your four o’clock, Armsmaster.

Good, you got his name in, now Krouse doesn’t have to keep calling him the scentless armored man.

It’s not always easy to get names established (for all my whining about how long it took in both Worm and Kill Six Billion Demons — I’m a hypocrite, I know). I recently wrote a scene for one of my MLP fics that featured one of the main characters’ parents for the first time (aside from the mother being mentioned before), but the scene was exclusively the three of them, with Moon Dream insisting on narrating her parents as “her mother” and “her father”, and the conversation was focused on Moon Dream herself so the parents had little reason to address each other by name. At least I finally managed to get their names in towards the end, and not too unnaturally.

“How are we for exposure?”

Pay your superheroes and commissioned workers, people.

You two are good for another seventeen minutes at the exposure you’re facing.  Twenty if we push it.  I can have a flight unit to you shortly.

Alright, that does say something about how long that dude from a few chapters ago had been in there. And more importantly, how much time the Travelers have.

Krouse hurried to follow them as they changed direction and began briskly walking toward the end of the street..

Krouse doesn’t seem to have questioned Marissa, Cody and Matryoshka’s whereabouts yet, but he’s got more pressing concerns, like being around the capes when he pops in.

That might be difficult if they leave by flight.

Oh my cod I’m picturing him hanging onto them and popping back into physicality in mid-air.

Myrddin spoke up, “How’s the fight going?”

It goes well.  But we can’t let our guards down.

You think it’s going well. In reality, the Simurgh is probably accomplishing most of what she came for.

“No,” Myrddin agreed.  “This is a bad one.  Too many possible avenues to cover, too much exposure time across the board.”

I still want a name for this city. Not necessarily to match it up with any real location (I think Wildbow would prefer not to use a real city for this anyway, though he did establish that the layout is different between Earth-Aleph and Earth-Bet so it’s definitely still an option), but just having something to call it would be nice. If we go much longer without that I might have to make a placeholder name, and you guys know how bad those can get. Remember the freaking Mozart Gang?

We’re doubling down quarantine, and we’ll have a processing center in place shortly.  The President is pushing the D.D.I.D measure.

I don’t know what that is but it doesn’t sound good.

“It’s going to backfire,” Myrddin said.  “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it now, and I’ll remind you all I said it with every chance I get, from now until the day I die.  It’s going to backfire.”

Well, fuck. You don’t get a line like this unless you’re a) right, and b) going to be ignored.

I don’t disagree,” Dragon said.

“But you’re helping to enforce it.”

She doesn’t have a choice.

I’m liking Myrddin so far.

I’m following orders.”

“No offense, I like you, Dragon, but that’s the oldest excuse in the book.”

I also kind of like this conflict. Because Myrddin is right but also he’s judging her for something he doesn’t know she physically cannot go against.

I’m merely picking my battles.

That’d be fair enough — to some extent — even if there wasn’t more to it, though.

“If you’re not going to fight thisbattle, then what will push you to make a stand?”

Actually being able to.

“Myrddin,” Armsmaster cut in, “Ease up.  And pay attention.  This is it.”

Krouse stared.  It was a section of building.  White tile and white walls, a desk, and a metal cabinet with a shattered glass pane.

I thought for a second we were accidentally bringing Krouse to Cauldron, but then I remembered we’re with Armsmaster, not Legend. Armsmaster almost certainly doesn’t know anything about Cauldron at this point, apart from Case 53 being a thing.

Though Dragon does know about them, so maybe Doormaker could be involved without people learning anything more about Cauldron.

File folders were strewn over the floor and desk.  In the midst of it all was a man in a white lab coat.  His body had been shattered by the impact.

This guy had a bad day at work.

“Damnation.  If we could only look into this…” Armsmaster said.

“Priority one.  Minimize exposure.”

Right, no time.

“I know.  But this stands to answer a great many questions.  If we can find where she opened that portal to-”

Yes, I would like that very much.

“If she’s answering questions for us, we don’t want to know,” Myrddin said.

…there’s probably some truth to that.

Armsmaster sighed.  “I know.  Can you shift this into one of your pocket dimensions?”

To keep it around for later study? Nice. But is Armsmaster understanding Myrddin’s power correctly? What’s going on with Krouse doesn’t quite fit with what I think of when I read “pocket dimensions”. It’s possible Myrddin would only be able to shift this into the same position on an/the ethereal plane (the distinction between “an” and “the” determining whether or not Krouse could interact with it), meaning they’d have to come back here to study it after the Simurgh was gone.

Of course, it’s also possible Myrddin does have pocket dimensions too, but why would he not use that to bring Krouse to medical help? Is there no air in his pocket dimensions?

“I get bad interactions if I transition something in of one of my dimensions and back, or if I take things out of one dimension and put them into another.

…what?

What’s the point of pocket dimensions if you can’t put stuff in them?

It doesn’t compartmentalize into the dimension properly if it’s been elsewhere too recently.

Ohh, I see. He can stick things in the pocket dimensions, but this room recently came from the monster dimension (or another dimension like Krouse & co.) and that causes some weird vibes that don’t mesh well with his power.

Whether these people and objects came from somewhere halfway across the globe or some pocket dimension, I don’t think we want to test our luck and risk something disastrous.”

Krouse startled at that.  Is that what happened to me?  Some bad interaction of interdimensional crap?

…fuck, that would apply, wouldn’t it. He came from another dimension, Myrddin didn’t know that and tried to stick Krouse in his pocket dimension, and the power did things by halves and made him ethereal instead?

“I’m thinking white phosphor?”  Armsmaster suggested.  Myrddin nodded.

Dragon chimed in, her voice sounding from the armbands on their wrists, “Can’t call in a strike until fifteen minutes after the Simurgh is gone.  Mark the area.

Hm. Is that to protect the strike pilots, or because people compromised by the Simurgh might call in unnecessary strikes?

I’ve got another danger site a quarter-mile to your six o’clock.  Then we’re getting you clear.

“Got it,” Armsmaster said.

Armsmaster tossed a small canister into the middle of the section of laboratory, they cordoned off the area with red tape, and then they left.

I’m guessing the canister is a TPS (tinkertech positioning system) marker.

Armsmaster used a grappling hook to fly to a nearby rooftop while Myrddin took to the air.

Ah, yes, this is the part that makes it more difficult for Krouse to keep up.

With no way to follow, Krouse was left standing there.  He prodded at a piece of rubble, but his hand passed through.

Hopefully the “pops back in” part still applies. Try not to have your hand through anything when that happens.

Yet he was able to walk on the hard ground?  He couldn’t process it.

Try kicking something? Though you started out lying down, suggesting the ground is solid to your hands too…

“I don’t understand,” he muttered to himself.

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

Flashback time again?


I still have a fair bit left of the chapter, but I was thinking of stopping here anyway. It’s getting rather late and I’m getting a headache.


[Session 3]

Alright, let’s finally finish up this chapter! We seem to be heading into another flashback, which judging by the first lines is about to deal with Krouse and Noelle having trouble in paradise because of Noelle’s background, but staying together in spite of that.

Question is, is “It’s not you, it’s me” about Noelle trying to break up, or not wanting to take it, y’know, further? Or maybe we haven’t gotten to that point yet at all and this is when the idea of them being together in the romantic sense first came up.

He folded his arms.  That’s not something I ever expected to hear.  “You can’t blame me at least a little?”

…interesting. Does he want to be at fault, because then it’s something about himself that he can work to fix?

“No,” Noelle said, shaking her head.  She looked miserable, and he felt a knot forming in the pit of his stomach as he saw just how unhappy she was.  It wasn’t something he was familiar with, on a lot of levels.

Aw…

She doesn’t really want to do this, I think, but she doesn’t feel like she has another choice.

Quiet, she said, “You’ve been great.”

He spread his arms, “I don’t get it.  I thought we were doing fine.”

It does sound like this is a breakup (attempt), yeah.

“We aren’t!  This is… it’s not working.”

😦

It’s important to recognize if true, but still sad.

Maybe they can make it work, though. We know they’re still together later, of course, so somehow they either get back together or they manage to talk this out.

“I’m okay with it.  I enjoy spending time with you, and I didn’t get any impression you were having that bad of a time, either.”

Define “working” and “doing fine”, both of you. What do you want out of this relationship?

…look at me trying to act as relationship counsel. I’m a virgin who’s only ever been in one long-distance relationship (which fizzled) and before that couldn’t for the life of me get the important words out of my mouth when it came to my in-person crush.

So yeeah, no, like with a lot of emotional and social stuff, any qualification I have to talk about this is strictly through observations of others’ relationships in reality and especially fiction.

But eh, what the hell, I’m sure you guys are used to me talking out of my ass by now. 😛

“But we don’t- we aren’t-”  She stared down at her feet.  “We’re stalled.  It isn’t fair to you.”

“Both things” was also a valid option.

It seems like Noelle thinks it’s not working because she can’t bring herself to go on to physical relations, and is breaking up with Krouse because she thinks that’s not fair on him.

I have good hopes for how Krouse will handle this.

That’s what you’re worried about?”

…start by elaborating on this question quickly, because damn this line can come across the wrong way if you’re not careful.

“Don’t dismiss my concerns,” she said, managing to sound a little angry.

Yeah, this is exactly what I was talking about. Krouse’s line can come across as dismissive rather than surprised, and be hurtful that way.

That’s a habit of Krouse’s that rubs Cody the wrong way, too. He doesn’t mean to be hurtful, but he does tend to be a little dismissive of matters that don’t concern him.

“No’, it’s fine.  It’s cool.  I get that there’s stuff you’ve got going on that you don’t want to tell me about.  I can be a bit of a jerk sometimes, but I’m not an idiot.  And I’m not going to twist your arm to get you to share, either.  That’s your stuff, and I figure you’ll tell me in time.  Or you won’t.”

He might want to dial down the passive-aggressive tone just a little, but the actual contents of what he’s saying here are good.

“It’s not fair to you,” she repeated.

See, the problem with that logic is that it implies he somehow has a right to go further with you. He doesn’t, unless you both want it and are comfortable with it.

“I’m not saying things have to be equitable or balanced or fair or any of that.  So who cares if things aren’t fair?”

Ehhhhh?

Krouse is so good as a relatable teen character because his heart is in the right place, but his mouth isn’t always cooperative.

“Don’t do that!”

He spread his arms for the second time in a minute, helpless.  Don’t do what?  Don’t make sense?

He has this bad rap for being a manipulative asshole, but ultimately he’s just a dumb kid who’s trying his best.

Long seconds passed.  He studied her, saw how dejected she was.  Only minutes ago they’d been having a good time talking.  Then things had fallen apart without warning, and it sounded like she wanted to break up.

Oof. I guess maybe the topic strayed a little too close to home? Or maybe she’d been thinking about this for a while and she didn’t find a good opportunity to bring it up?

It’s like karma for all the times I’ve pulled shit on others.  Only I did it in fun, and this isn’t fun in the slightest.

With Krouse’s track record, I could see him doing things that to him seem like pranks, but which come across the wrong way and reinforce his reputation as a jerk.

“Someone said, a little while ago,” Noelle spoke without looking at Krouse, “That I can’t really forge a good relationship with others until I have a good relationship with myself.

One can be a good start for the other, I think, but I’m not sure they have to be in that order. Just be careful to avoid founding your relationship with yourself on your relationship with someone else.

(Then again, the OCs of mine that come to mind when I say that are… well, one of them is kind of a disaster sometimes. Besides, their relationship hasn’t turned mutually romantic yet.)

“You don’t?”

Noelle didn’t say anything.

So, uh, how long have you actually been together?

I think you’re fantastic, if that counts for anything.”

well i think you're pretty great.gif

“You don’t know me.”

This is the title of one of the chapters in which the disaster OC I just mentioned is a disaster.

“I’ve been getting to know you some.  And I have yet to see anything that’s going to scare me away.”

Another thing I’m vaguely reminded of is the Steven Universe episode We Need to Talk, in which Greg Universe tells the story of when he confronted Rose Quartz about her treating him like a playmate or toy. It’s one of the earliest flashbacks to how Rose actually acted, and it has this fantastic exchange:

Greg: Rose, please! Can you just–
Rose: *continues laughing*
Greg: –talk to me for one second, like a real person?!
Rose: *stops laughing, shocked*
Rose: …I’m… not… a real person…

I… don’t really know exactly how it applies here, but I felt the need to share this thought. I blame Steven Universe being amazing at this kind of scene.

I think my point might be that there’s still time to figure things out and get to know each other, and in spite of backstories and traumas and differences like being a human and a thousands-years-old alien, you can still make it work if you talk.

She stared down at her feet.  “…I don’t think we should date.”

“Okay.  If you think that’s for the best.  But I just need you to do one thing.  Look me in the eye as you tell me that.”

Number of specific Steven Universe episodes this sequence has reminded me of so far: 3

She glanced up at him, then looked down.  She didn’t say a word.

“Because,” he went on, “I think you’ve seemed happier than I’ve ever seen you since we started going out.  Marissa said so, too.”

She’s seemed happier, yeah. Regardless of how accurate that is, I think it’s good that he recognizes that level of abstraction.

Noelle glanced at him.

He continued, “If you really feel like us dating is making things worse in the long run, then I’m perfectly okay with breaking it off.  I can leave the club if that makes things easier on your end.

Filing under “reasons to like Krouse”.

It was your thing before it was mine, and you’ve got enough on your plate with being team captain.”

Like, of course it would be unfortunate for him to have to leave the club, but that’s exactly why I appreciate the fact that he’s offering. He wants her to be as comfortable as possible, even if that means he misses out personally.

“I don’t want you to leave the club.”

“Okay,” he said.  He waited for her to speak, but she didn’t.  “Listen, I get the feeling today is a bad day.  Don’t know why it is, but it is.  And that happens.  Fine.  But I’m not willing to end this if it’s because the stars aligned wrong.

Sometimes Krouse’s mouth starts cooperating briefly, and when it does, he can say some pretty good things.

So I’m asking you to tell me that you’re worse off because we’re together.  Not asking for an explanation, just-”

Hrm. I’m not sure how to feel about this bit, though. Like, I get where he’s coming from and I agree that they should maybe give it a day or two of thought, but he’s leaning a little into asking for justification or he doesn’t accept it? But then again, it’s fair to want to know why, and he’s being really good about it overall.

“Never mind,” she said.

“Never mind?”

:/

The cynical option: She still feels like they should break up but can’t get help but remember how this went.

“I’m- just never mind.  Can we forget this conversation happened?”

Considering we’re seeing it as a memory… nah.

I’m more interested in whether you can forget it, though.

“Sure,” he said.  He saw how dejected she looked.  “Want me to walk you home?”

She nodded.

It was odd.  He’d been punched before, had failed a grade, he’d lost his uncle, and yet it was here, beside his girlfriend, that he was unhappier than he’d ever been.

Yeeah, this would be a bit of a downer.

It’s good that they were able to have the conversation, though. No relationship is purely happy moments; you need to be able to deal with the roughs too.

He was helpless, confused, frustrated.  All he wanted to do was to help her, but he wasn’t sure how.

Oh my cod that’s a mood.

I’ve dabbled in poetry a couple times, and I actually have one about (platonic) relationships where all I could do to help someone was act as someone to vent to:

[poetry]

Vent on the Wall

You don’t like to open the windows too much
For fear that the neighbors complain
But your air needs refreshing and I hope to help
As much as I can as your vent on the wall

When your air grows heavy and headaches ensue
I open myself up to let the air through
I do what I must do, to help you breathe
As much as I can as your vent on the wall

I let the air leave through my wall-mounted body
And invite the fresh to come in
It might not be much but I’m doing my best
As much as I can as your vent on the wall

Of course I can feel it, heavy air flowing through
But through me it goes and then out
I really don’t mind it, I just want to do
As much as I can as your vent on the wall

It’s not quite applicable to the specific situation here considering Noelle isn’t venting to Krouse yet, but it’s inspired by a similar feeling.

He fought the urge to sigh, and drew in a deep breath instead.  The air in his nostrils was so cold he choked on it.  All of his senses were plunged into high gear; a keening song so high pitched it made his ears hurt,

Looks like we’re returning to reality. Possibly in more senses than one — this time there was less of a clear reason for the dive into a flashback, so it might’ve been because he was getting returned to the physical plane.

cold throughout his body, the smell and taste of dust thick in the air, and pain lancing through his right hand.

Coughing, bewildered, he stared at the pile of rubble and the laboratory.

Does it look less foggy?

Whatever effect had encompassed him, it was gone.

Noelle.

Right, let’s get back to trying to get medical help.

He scrambled up the pile of rubble.  He remembered how they’d said they wouldn’t bomb this site until after the Endbringer was gone, so he still had some time.

The DDOI thing, I assume?

He needed a first aid kit.  He went through the cabinets and a set of drawers.  Nothing.

Oh yeah, I suppose a laboratory might have that. Just watch out for freaky extradimensional stuff.

Empty test tubes, glass vials without any contents, canisters without contents, and paperwork.  Lots of paperwork.

What if this laboratory was stolen from Cauldron’s world and the paperwork lets the Travelers know about them? My “on the run from Cauldron” theory is not quite dead yet.

His eyes settled on a metal briefcase beneath the desk, within a few feet of the dead man’s hand.

Probably not first aid, but very likely important.

Notably, the vials the Merchants stole came in a metal briefcase, if I’m not mistaken.

His fingers crossed for a portable case of medical supplies, he set it down on the desk and popped it open.  Disappointment overwhelmed him.

Five or so vials of mystery liquid, surely not useful as first aid (except it actually would heal them too)?

Hm. Noelle’s problem in the future doesn’t seem consistent with Case 53s, but it might still be a side effect of some variation. Also, a more consistent Deviation might be the reason Luke or Cody isn’t on the team in the future, if it’s not just that there weren’t enough vials (which is probably why Oliver doesn’t appear to have a power).

Six metal canisters recessed in black foam with slots cut out to hold them, paperwork was set in a flap in the lid.

Right, canisters around the vials, I forgot about those.

By this point most readers who remember Infestation have probably realized what’s happened here, but I’m guessing the final few lines are going to have a more explicit confirmation.

He swore.

Hmm. Maybe the Simurgh’s song of insanity plus unconsciousness plus the new power supposedly searching the recipient’s mind for something to latch onto all blends together to fuck things up for Noelle?

…newly purchased superpowers…

And his interest has been grabbed.

He winced.  He’d turned his head too fast, and the movement had almost made the song in his head worse, like the pain prompted by moving a broken limb.

Ow.

As had been the case with the birdcage and the newspaper, Krouse’s eye had caught on something.  He’d always been a fast reader, was used to skimming through books, picking up the necessary words.

A useful skill, but annoying when you’re trying to actually read and keep skimming without really thinking about what you’re reading. That’s part of why I liveblog.

As his glance had passed over the case, he’d read something in the text without even registering that he’d done it.

He reread the first line, underneath the header.

I wonder if the paperwork also mentions the healing effect of the potion, or if it’s just the usefulness of superpowers to get them out of this situation that’ll get them to use them.

Also, let’s take a moment to think of logistics: There are six canisters and seven Travelers (Krouse, Luke, Cody, Noelle, Marissa, Jess, Oliver). Oliver doesn’t seem to get one, which means Luke and Cody both do.

There are a few different reasons for why one of them isn’t around in the future, and some of them allow for whichever one it is to come back as a character with history with the Travelers. If Ballistic sticks around as an Undersider, or even better if the Travelers as a whole stick around for a while, that could cause some excellent drama. Especially if it’s Cody.

Congratulations on your newly purchased superpowers.

His eyes moved down to the vials.

He slammed the case shut and turned to leave.  There was nothing here he could use for first aid, and certainly no doctors.

Ahahaha

Nice try, Krouse. Destiny’s come a-knocking.

(Or, well, the Simurgh has. Same difference.)

And this involves more Doctors than you realize.

He could only hope that Cody or Marissa had caught up with some of the people who they’d rescued from the three monsters.  If there was any justice in the world, there would have been a doctor among them, and Cody or Marissa would have brought them to the house.

“If there was any justice in the world,”

Sorry. You’re in the Wormverse.

He ran.  He had to get back, rendezvous with the others, and get to someone who knew him.

Did he just leave behind the suitcase?

I feel like that might invite someone to give him a little nudge back towards it.

If he didn’t hurry, he was worried he would slip into another memory and fail to find his way out again.

Memories can be a surprisingly insidious threat.

The cold air burned in his lungs as he ran, the metal case swinging from his good hand, banging irregularly against his leg.

Ah, good. Everything is going according to plan.

I think we all know whose.


End of Migration 17.4

This chapter felt long, which is probably mostly because it took me so long to get through it for out-of-liveblog reasons, but it was certainly jam-packed with enough stuff to justify it feeling that way anyway.

From the “monsters” turning out to be a lot more sapient than previously thought (although one was clearly malicious before and Gwerrus is apparently “reprehensible”), to the fascinating implications of their variation in languages and dialogue surrounding that, to Krouse being an absolute badass in his first battle to the flashbacks to Krouse and Noelle’s history, to a closer look at Myrddin’s powers and personality, to Armsmaster’s behavior when up against Endbringers before Leviathan, to confirmation of the Travelers powers coming from Cauldron in a way that is likely to get Cauldron on their tails if it finds out

This chapter had so much stuff and it was very, very good.

…what if the only reason the Simurgh isekai’d the “monsters” at all was to ensure that Krouse would find the laboratory?

Next up: Krouse brings the briefcase back to the other Travelers and they have to decide what to do. Perhaps they’ll realize it has healing properties, either thanks to the paperwork or because of Krouse and/or Luke’s wounds healing? In the former case, they might even only give it to Noelle at first, saving their own for later (a questionable but plausible decision), making her the only one who was affected by the song of insanity while she took the potion.

The main problem with that idea is I have a hard time seeing some of the others waiting to use theirs if it works for Noelle… actually, maybe the song of insanity is exactly why. They didn’t want to equip themselves with too dangerous weapons in case they turned against each other, so they might not want to equip themselves with powers.

There are no doctors among the people they rescued from Matryoshka and co.

Whatever happens, it should be interesting. See you soon!

One thought on “Migration 17.4: That Time I Got Reincarnated as an Isekai Protagonist

  1. So, Imagine you are a divine baby whale from outer space, and you run into this anorexic girl (it is never confirmed in the story, but here and now it is more or less blatantly hinted in the first flashback) that needs to recover from heavy blood loss and organ/tissue damage.

    What power, or powerset, have you heard about that may help her?

    Like

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