Migration 17.8: Hope and Order: Eldritch Victims Unit *dunn dunn*

Source material: Worm, Migration 17.8

Blogged: April 12-20, 2020


Rising up, back on the blog
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I’m back on my feet
Just a man and his will to liveblog

So many times, it happens too fast
You trade your passion for powers
Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of Aleph
You must fight just to keep them alive

It’s the
Eye of the thigh-ger

It’s the carbonation
Rising up to the challenge of the Simurgh
And the last known Division stalks her prey in the night
And she’s watching us all with the eeeeeye
of the thigh-ger!

There’s really not much more to say, is there? Other than what I said for the previous Migration 17.8, I suppose:

As I learned from Sharks last time, Arc 17 isn’t over yet, and it looks like this is not an Interlude either. Though to be fair, I suppose it’d be a little redundant for an Arc that already departs from the usual POV character to have an Interlude, defined by departing from the POV character.

So I guess this time we’re taking a closer look at that weird eye embedded in Noelle’s thigh, and how to deal with that? There might be some blame thrown at Krouse, beyond the accusatory stare from Noelle’s theye. Cody in particular is still a loaded gun and a loose end all in one, so maybe he sees this as the final straw?

Let’s go!


Pinkie traced her fingers up Twilight’s thigh, running them all along Twilight’s crotch until she reached her dick, then she ran her fingers along that. It was such a delicate motion, and it send shivers down Twilight’s spine.

Hm. An odd opening — oh, oh dear, wrong tab, hold on…


“He’ll be one minute,” the woman at the front desk spoke.

Who at what now?

It seems unlikely the Travelers brought Noelle to a hospital. Are we skipping ahead to later attempts to deal with Noelle’s situeyetion, maybe even to the point where Coil got involved?

Trickster nodded.

Skipped ahead enough that they’ve settled into their cape identities, got it.

“If you’d like to take a seat…”  The woman trailed off.

“I prefer to stand.”

Lends itself better to emergency swaps, I suppose.

“As you wish.”

“Can I smoke?”

“No.”

Good.

“If I open a window-”

The woman at the desk frowned.  “My employer is… particular.”

“I’ve heard.”

I’m not sure this secretary setup jives with this being getting Coil involved, especially given that we saw what was implied to be the Travelers’ first time meeting Coil face to face at the same time the Undersiders did. Maybe they’ve found a tinker they’re hoping will be able to send them home?

“If you leave the cigarette butts lying around, or if this room smells too strongly of smoke after you’ve left, he will be upset.”

“I understand.”

“It’s your funeral,” she said.

Possibly still a villainous one, though.

Trickster stepped over to the window, found the latch, and swung it open.  He rested his elbows on it and leaned out, drew a cigarette and lit it, being sure to hold it and exhale outside of the window.

The Boston skyline stretched out before him, with the ocean in the distance.

Bawston, eh? I don’t recall if we know anyone they might be looking for in Boston, but it seems they’re getting close to Brockton Bay.

Over the last year and three months, he’d picked up on how things were subtly different in this world.  It wasn’t explicit, wasn’t overt, but he couldn’t help but notice that all of the newer constructions were sturdier.

Huh. That makes a ton of sense for a world ravaged by Endbringers.

Buildings were more reinforced, just a little thicker where supports were required, as though disaster was always at the periphery of the designer’s attention.  At the same time, windows were often larger, and many apartments had floor-to-ceiling windows for a wider view of the world beyond.

I see they haven’t adapted to Shatterbird, however.

How had Jess put it?  This world was sublime.  A world that was awesome in the truer sense of the word, greater in so many respects.  In a metaphorical sense, the peaks were higher, the valleys lower, works of art more artful, extremes more… extreme.  It wasn’t a good thing.

It’s what happens when a world is created by an author. The average can be boring unless pitted up against the extreme, and so the world itself bears the marks.

But the corollary is that such features indicate the world is part of a story, and that may often mean it’s kinda fucked.

Make the mountains twice as tall and the chasms twice as deep, and things start crumbling.

The bigger the contrasts, the more room there is for the heights to fall.

Trickster never plays Minecraft with the Amplified worldtype.

He missed home, but every day, every week, home felt a little further away.

Some chasms are getting wider too.

“Accord will see you now, Trickster.”

Accord…

…ing to all known laws of aviation– *gets stung*

Okay, so aside from the power of flying with wings that are too small to support his body, what can we expect from Accord?

To accord means either to grant someone power/status/recognition or to be consistent with something. An accord is a form of agreement or contract. Perhaps we’re dealing with a tinker who is able to grant powers to some extent through their tech, and has a thing for contracts?

Trickster nodded, crushed his cigarette against the outside of the building, flicked it over the ledge, and then stepped away to close and latch the window before entering the office. He was sure to remove his hat.

Accord seems like a stickler for keeping things orderly and formal, too.

Supervillains were weird.  Every one of them had different rules, different aesthetics, different goals.  All of them, himself included, had their own issues.

I know right? It’s so fun.

Accord wasn’t the most influential figure in Boston.  That was why Trickster had approached him.  He didn’t even look like a supervillain.  He looked like a CEO.

He’s certainly been giving off that vibe before he even showed up.

Only an ornate mask with curling, overlapping bands of dark metal trimmed in silver marked him as anything more.  His hair was oiled and neatly parted, and his white suit had been brushed clean with immaculate care.  Trickster doubted there was even a fingerprint or a glimmer of tarnish on Accord’s silver tie pin.  For all his presence, Accord was barely over five feet in height.

I love this design.

For his part, Trickster had taken care to clean his own clothing and comb his own hair.  It was becoming a ritual, entering a new city.  One typically had to find the meeting place.  Virtually every city with ten or more supervillains had one, a neutral ground for the villains to meet.

This fits nicely with the fact that the Travelers were first introduced at Somer’s Rock.

He would then find the people in the know, pay some of the money he’d held on to from the last city to get the necessary information on who was who and how they operated, and move on from there.  He’d been briefed thoroughly on Accord.

I wonder if they knew about Coil coming into Brockton Bay. I think he implied at some point that he was responsible for the Travelers coming there in the first place, for the sake of meeting up in Arc 6? They might not have known it was Coil specifically, though, even if contact from him was what brought them there.

“Trickster, was it?”

“Yes,” Trickster stepped forward.  He offered his hand.

Accord shook it, his grip strong.

Trickster’s feet leave the floor as Accord cartoonishly shakes his whole body.

“What can I do for you?”

“I’m observing formalities.  My team, as you may know, tends to move from location to location, city to city.  It’s a bad idea to settle down for any length of time in an area owned by a local power, so I wanted to ask permission first.”

Ahh, yeah, that’s a good call. Is that all you’re here for?

“I see.”

“If you saw fit to grant that permission, I would then ask if you’d let us engage in some minor activity.  Robbing low-level stores, primarily.  Possibly a bank.  All in your area.”

Gotta save up that cash.

If I granted that permission, Trickster,” Accord raised a warning finger. “I would not be doing so for free.”

That seems fair enough. But with a name like Accord and the aesthetic he’s wearing, Trickster better watch the terms closely.

Trickster nodded.  “I understand, and I wouldn’t expect you to.  We’ve recently passed through Richmond, Paine, Baltimore and Philadelphia.  Each time, we paid a modest up front fee to anyone that hosted us in their territory.  We also offered up a twelve, thirteen, twelve and ten percent share, respectively, of our take.  For you, if you’ll allow me to make an opening offer, I’d suggest ten thousand dollars up front and a fourteen percent share of anything we gain.  We’ll be saying for ten days.”

Trickster’s getting used to this process, it seems.

“So you’ll give me fourteen percent when you offered less to others.  You think you’re flattering me.”

Accord sees right through such negotiation tactics, of course.

“Yes.  We’re staying a little bit longer here.  We looked into it, the heroes don’t have a strong presence here in your Charlestown territory.  We can get away with just a little bit more.”

“Don’t think I won’t look into the amounts you just gave me.”  Accord was using a stylized fountain pen to make a note on a pad of paper.  Trickster wasn’t entirely sure, but the paper didn’t seem to have lines, and Accord was still making them meticulous, with neat, tight, flowing script.

I bet this guy was a banker or something similar before he turned villainous. Probably a businessman of some variety.

“I wouldn’t lie,” Trickster said.  “That’s a good way to get killed, and I rather like being alive.”

Very true, and very reminiscent of another trickster I like.

“It has its moments,” Accord said.  He wiped the end of the fountain pen and snapped the lid into place.  The pen joined all the other objects on the desk, arranged with explicit care to even spacing and hard right angles.  It was almost artistic, the way things were arranged for both size and utility, and the uniform nature of the aesthetics, with the colors and materials seeming to flow from object to object.  Silver and wood in dark cherry.

Art more artful…

Accord looked down and corrected the position of the pen on his desk before turning back to Trickster.  “Fifteen thousand dollars, and fifteen percent of any take.  The heroes don’t have a strong presence here because they don’t need a strong presence here.  I maintain the peace.  It will cost me if I have people here, active and causing trouble.”

Hm. Reminds me of Taylor’s territory, except I’m sure this guy isn’t quite as benevolent.

A little steep.  “I’ll have to discuss that with my teammates.”

“Before you do, let me make you an alternate offer.  You do mercenary work?”

Hrm. Don’t trust that his mercenary work will be as clean as the rest of his aesthetic.

This might land them on top of lines they have avoided crossing in the past by sticking to bank robberies and the like.

“We do.”

“I’d like to hire you for a task.”

“What task?”

“I’d like certain items stolen from a rival.  I can describe them to you and show you photographs.  Do this for me, and we’ll waive the fee for entering my territory.  Also, I’ll concede to have my share cut down to a mere ten percent.”

Highly valuable items, clearly.

I wonder if they happen to be vials?

“Which rival?”

“Blasto.  A tinker.  Not quite the destructive personality his name implies.”

“He mostly just makes water cannons. I asked him about his name once and he said something about Japanese pocket monsters. I don’t get it, but that’s what he said.”

“I read up on him.  Blasto from the latin prefix, meaning bud, germination or seed.  Tinker botanist, grows walking, sentient plants in giant glass tubes.”

After a leak in Blasto’s labs, a whole society of humanoid watermelons has popped up on an island near Boston. The watermelons even have their own religion, and keep sacrificing each other to Leviathan.

Accord gave Trickster an approving nod.  “Yes.  Tinkers are… bothersome.  Tinkers who work wet are especially bothersome.  They build, they learn from past research and past projects, each thing is created more elegantly or faster with the tools they’ve designed and amassed over time.

Taylor: “Tell me about it, bro.”

A tinker designs a better welding torch, to use an analogy, and that allows him or her to build a better power drill.  And so the cycle continues.  Steal Blasto’s tools for my trophy case, it will set him back weeks or months.  I’ll give you a further bonus if you destroy any other projects of his, as well as any computers or blueprints.”

Stealing his tools. That’s honestly a rather clever approach.

“Dangerous, to attack a tinker in his lair.”

True. It’s that or a much steeper fee, though.

“Ah, you want more than just the waiving of your hospitality fee?”

Trickster was careful to be diplomatic.  “No offense intended.  If Blasto was that easy to handle, I’m sure you would have dealt with him already.”

To be fair, power ratings aren’t linear. We still don’t know what Accord’s power is; he might very well be at a type disadvantage.

Meanwhile the Travelers have Sundancer. She’s a rather strong weapon against sentient plants, so long as they don’t fall under her reluctance to kill.

“Agreed.  Hm.  As you surely already know, I am a craftsman.  Not a tinker, but I use my power to create quality goods.”

Interesting. Power infusion into objects?

If that’s the case, I’m glad I got to the point of actually revealing how my OC Minus’ power works before this. Not that I wasn’t expecting that something like his power minus the inversion gimmick could potentially show up in the story, but it feels better to have it revealed before learning about similar canon characters.

“I’m aware.”

“I will pay you a moderate sum, and I will also supply a set of costumes for your team.  Use your free time over the coming week to make notes on what you desire.  Newspaper clippings, printed images or links to online images each of you individually like.  They do not necessarily need to be of costumes or clothing.  I would meet each of your teammates to assess their preferences.  With that, I can guarantee you costumes that everyone in your group will like.”

Ooh, we got another tailor.

Really, there are a surprising number of similarities between this guy and Skitter, even though their aesthetics and goals and just about everything about their roles are vastly different.

And you bring the world a little more in order, Trickster thought.  Accord was a thinker, and the running theory on his power was that he got naturally smarter as the problems he was addressing got more complex.

Huh. Pair him up with Über. No, seriously, the two of them together would be fantastic. Throw Victor into the mix too for an incredible combo, especially if Victor can “steal” temporary skill boosts that lie on top of ordinary skill.

It gave him an intuitive understanding of groupthink, politics, and convoluted designs.  It also made him a local warlord capable of devastating counterattacks.  The power failed to grant him the same advantages in a one-on-one fight, and he wasn’t quite the same battlefield strategist when it came to direct assaults.

So basically he could come up with a plan and deliberately make it as ass-backwards as possible, and the more convoluted the plan gets, the more capable he’d be of pulling it off? I love it.

Which was, Trickster understood, why Accord wanted him and the other Travelers to handle the attack on their own.

This power sheds a new light on this exchange, too:

“If Blasto was that easy to handle, I’m sure you would have dealt with him already.”
“Agreed.”

Because it kind of seems like the issue might be he’s too easy for Accord to handle directly. Although that’s no reason to underestimate the guy.

“Only four of us need costumes,” Trickster said.  “The other can make her own.”

“Only four costumes?  When there are seven of you?”  Accord’s tone made it all too clear that he knew he was admitting knowledge he shouldn’t have.

Clearly Trickster is not the only one who’s been doing research.

He knows about Noelle.

“When there are seven of us, yes,” Trickster said, feigning a lack of concern.

The door banged open.  Trickster tensed, his power reaching, even before he saw the threat.

Um, hello. Something tells me the secretary did not allow this willingly.

I wonder, given that we’re so near Brockton Bay, maybe the Slaughterhouse Nine were in Boston before they came to BB? In which case those grand windows of this world might be a problem for Accord.

Although enough time passed between the Travelers arriving in Brockton Bay and the Nine arriving that it seems likely the Nine were a bit further away.

It was Sundancer, with the receptionist following quickly behind.

What? What are you doing, Marissa?

Idiot, Trickster thought.  I told you to stay back.

“Trickster,” she said.  Then she saw Accord.  “I’m sorry for interrupting.”

“The deal was for a one-on-one meeting,” Accord said.  His tone was strained, indignant.  Accord looked at his receptionist. “You didn’t warn her at the door?”

I kinda get the sense that the receptionist failed to stop her.

“I tried,” the receptionist said.  “She charged on through.”

“It’s an emergency,” Sundancer said.  “Trickster, we-”

“Shut up,” he said, and the tension in his voice coupled with Accord’s seemed to clue Sundancer into the gravity of the situation.

What kind of emergency? Is it a Noelle emergency?

It seems like Sundancer still has some of that spunk that seems to have died down a bit by the time they arrive in Brockton Bay.

She fell silent.  She’s smarter than this, which means the situation’s bad.  But I can’t do anything about it until I finish dealing with Accord.

At least he acknowledges this internally. Sundancer, of course, might have a different perspective.

His heart was pounding.  “Go wait outside, Sundancer.  I was in the middle of a meeting.  If Accord is willing, we’ll wrap up this business quickly, I’ll… offer him something by way of apology, and then I’ll come and talk to you about the issue.”

Making sure she knows she might have lost them something here.

Sundancer backed towards the door, turned and left.

“Very sorry, sir,” the receptionist murmured.  She closed the door.

Accord stepped over to the window behind his desk and stared outside.

And Sundancer just… quietly folds.

Trickster waited patiently as the man composed himself.  Long seconds passed, and Trickster couldn’t help but imagine the worst case scenarios that would have Sundancer forgetting common sense and crashing a private meeting between supervillains.

“We’re out of milk!”

Now that would piss Krouse right off, if the “emergency” turned out to be something relatively trivial. But like he said, Marissa is smarter than that.

“I am something of an oxymoron, Trickster,” Accord said, turning around.  He was measuring his words, stretching out the sentence, as though he were fully aware that Trickster was now in a hurry, and he wanted to apply pressure.

Blasto, through a plant-based megaphone: “More like a regular moron!”

“Is that so?”

“You see, I deal with complicated things,” Accord touched his mask, “And I excel at them, but deep down, I’m a very simple person.”

One who wants things to be orderly?

“I think we’re all very simple when you look past the surface,” Trickster said.

“Quite so.  I like order, Trickster.  Order means everything has its place,” Accord touched his desk, moved his chair a fraction of an inch so it was squarely in place.  “And everyone has their place.  Your subordinate’s place was not here.”

Yeeeah she fucked up and that reflects poorly on Trickster as a leader.

“I understand.  I’m willing to make amends.”

“Of course,” Accord said.  He looked up and met Trickster’s eyes.  “I will be rescinding my earlier generosity.  Fifteen thousand dollars will find a way into my hands within the next twenty-four hours.”

And that cost them.

“Agreed,” Trickster said.  There goes our pocket money.

“You’ll do my favor for me and expect no recompense.”

A lot.

“Okay.”

Accord paused, seemed to consider something.  “She’ll have to die, of course.”

Dude. Overreaction much?

I suppose this makes a twisted sort of sense, in Accord’s worldview. Sundancer causes disorder, so her place is nowhere.

Trickster tensed.  Really, really didn’t want to have to fight this guy.  “Let’s… not be so hasty.”

At least it doesn’t sound like Accord’s power is much of a help if Trickster has to fight him right here in this room.

“There are two kinds of people in this world, Trickster.  Some fit into the intricate machine that is society, and they serve as cogs, gears, levers and weights.  I think you’re like that.  I liked you right off.  Even your power… balance, isn’t it?  Move things from one place to the next, but things remain fundamentally equivalent.”

That much is true, but you seem to be missing the part where the Travelers literally don’t belong in this world.

“Well said,” Trickster replied.  His mind was racing.  How to convince the lunatic to leave Sundancer alone?  If he couldn’t, would it be better to fight and kill Accord now or wait until he could recruit the others?  Accord wouldn’t have invited him to a meeting if he didn’t have some kind of safeguards.  Traps?

Trickster shows no hesitation in considering killing at this point.

Accord’s power, his knack for complexity, would make it trivial to weave such things into the architecture of his home and office.  If he knew, he could use his power, time it to put Accord in the way of his own trap… but it could be something else entirely.

Of course, there’s danger in assuming complexity where there is none too, but it’s certainly worth considering with a power like this in play.

Accord was still talking.  “Others aren’t so accommodating.  They are freefalling, careening elements, bouncing off any and every surface, damaging everything they touch.  Pyrokinetics so often fall into this category, I’ve found.  Rest assured, it’s better to eliminate this disordered element before it does too much damage.”

Such is the flavor of fire, yeah.

Trickster couldn’t find the words to reply.  Think, Krouse, think!

“What a shame, such a young girl,” Accord sounded genuinely upset.

“What if…” Trickster started, his mind racing.

“Yes?”

“What if all the rain in a rainstorm gathered together and fell as one enormous droplet?”

“What if I told you she was an agent of order in the universe?  That this situation, it’s not her that’s causing the discord?  Like us, she’s just reacting to another force?”

The Simurgh. Surely Accord has no liking for the Endbringers.

But the problem is, people affected by the Simurgh are seen as walking time bombs of chaos, so I’m not sure that information would convince Accord any of them are agents of order.

“You don’t know the details any more than I do.”

“True.  But I know her.”

“You’re biased by virtue of being her teammate.  I see no other way than to act decisively.  Would you like to do the honors, or should I?”

The sociopathy in that question is so interesting. I really like this character.

“I’ll show you what I mean.  She’ll show you.”

“Oh?”

Oh?

“Just give me a second to go get her.  Maybe a bit of time to prepare-”

“Ten minutes, Trickster, and only because I like you.”

What do you have planned, Trickster? Is this genuinely meant to show Accord that Sunny can be a force for order, or is it a plot to put the heat on him?

“Ten minutes,” Trickster answered him.

“And she comes alone.  If she’s truly an ordered individual, she’ll show me for herself.”

That could be an issue.

Trickster nodded, turned and walked calmly out of the office, counting in his head.

The second the door was closed, he bolted, checking the time on his cell phone.  That’ll be ten minutes exactly.  He set a timer, subtracting the time it had taken him to leave the office.

Precision is key to order, I suppose.

The entrance that led to Accord’s personal office was set in an alley, out of sight of the streets.  Trickster found Sundancer waiting.

“Trickster, it’s-”

Whatever your plan is, Trickster, for the love of cod let her tell you what the emergency is.

“Stop,” he said, checking the phone.  Seven minutes left.  “Where’s your phone?”

She pulled it from her belt, “We-”

He used his power to swap her cell phone for his.  “No, listen carefully.  You just threw a neurotic, perfectionist supervillain’s world into disarray by intruding on our meeting like that.  He’s now rather intent on executing you for it.”

It took him three minutes to get here?

And what does he need her phone for?

“What?”

“And he’s a little guy with some big muscle at his beck and call.  We could maybe deal with them in a pinch, but it wouldn’t be pretty.  So I’m going to use your phone, call another member of our team to get filled in the emergency.  You’re going to fix your mistake, and you’ll do it in… six minutes and twenty-three seconds.  Look at the screen of my phone.  That’s your deadline.

Okay, I guess that makes sense. Does he… not actually have a plan for how to do it? Is he leaving that part up to Sunny?

Go, stop by a bathroom, tidy your hair, get it wet and comb it if you have to, but look proper.  Better to look neat than to look pretty, understand?  When the timer hits zero, you’ll walk into his office, then you’ll perform a ballet routine.”

You know what, I’ve heard worse plans.

“Ballet?  Krouse, I haven’t done it seriously in two years.”

“Pick a routine you can do perfectly over one that’s fancier or whatever.  Do it, apologize profusely for the intrusion, then bow out and leave.  If he gives any sign he’s not satisfied, or the second you fuck up, set the place on fire and scram.”

I love how all of this situation would sound out of context.


It’s very late and I’m getting distracted, so I think I’ll cut the session there.

[End of session]


But in the meantime, here’s what I just got distracted by… Most of you hopefully saw in the between post that I made this piece of pixel fanart of Taylor and Skitter:

Sprite-0001 Skitter

But the thing is, the more I looked at it, the more that gaze into each others lenses — intended as a reflection thing, as seen through other parts of the image being mirrored — started to look… romantic. The fireflies certainly didn’t help.

So eventually I took a few minutes to make the edit we deserved but absolutely did not need.

Sprite-0002 Skittaylor

But hey, why let a good kiss go to waste on a crack selfcest ship I don’t care about? So I did this too:

Sprite-0003 Skittletale

Now we’re talkin’.


Happy Homestuck Day! I’m celebrating by listening to hours upon hours of official and unofficial Homestuck music on LumiRadio, and by making a little more pixel art before starting tonight’s Worm session:

Sprite-0005 John Egbert blinking  Sprite-0006 John Egbert waggle


[Session 2]

But enough pixel art for now. Let’s return to the art of ballet!

“Krouse-”

“Call me Trickster when I’m in costume,” he corrected, his voice hard.  “Don’t worry about burning him alive.  He’ll have escape routes.

He’ll be sitting in a minecart which, at the first sign of trouble, falls through the floor and shoots off to another building while monsters pop out to dispatch the intruder.

(Yes, it’s gotten to the point where my rampant references extend to antics on the Hermitcraft YouTuber-exclusive Minecraft server by a Hermit I don’t actually watch directly.)

You have five minutes and forty seconds, now.  It took me three to get from his office to here.  Go.”

Sundancer rushed to get inside.

Good luck.

Trickster called Oliver.

Oh yeah, the emergency, that’s a thing too. Let’s hear it.

“Marissa?” Oliver asked.

“It’s Trickster,” he replied.  Need to talk about being more secure with our names.  “What’s going on?

To be fair, the people this world might believe exist with your full civilian names aren’t you. Why do you need to be secure with your names? Unless you’ve settled down each place more than I ever got the impression of, you functionally don’t have civilian identities here.

“It’s Cody.  He touched Noelle.”

Oh fuck is there a contagious element to it? Is that why her skin fizzled, as though the power was reaching out to find someone to hop to?

Trickster froze.  “How bad is it?”

Three times, Krouse.”

They obviously knew this was a bad thing to do already so I guess Cody’s being an idiot again.

Once could have been accidental.

“Three,” Trickster said.  “Fuck me.  I’m on my way.”

So I guess this is how we tie up this loose end? By making Cody our example for why Noelle being on the loose is a problem?

There’s no way Cody’s stupid enough to make contact with Noelle.

There are different kinds of stupidity. Cody’s worst stupidity tends to come out when in conflict with Krouse. Maybe Noelle defended Krouse’s actions or something?

There’s no way anyone would do it three times.  How?

Throwing caution to the wind, Trickster moved through the crowd of people by swapping with them, zig-zagging from one side of the street to the other, scanning the crowd.  People ran to get away from him as he appeared, but he didn’t care.  Just needed to minimize the damage.

I love how confusing this must be for the crowd.

Minimize the damage.  It’s becoming a running theme.

That’s really the best you can do with the Simurgh.

He found his target not by spotting him, but by seeing the reaction from the crowd.  People were hurrying to get out of his way, running away.

Does direct contact with Noelle cause others to turn monstrous? Is Cody on a rampage?

Although people are running from Trickster too, so costumes may play into it too.

The guy was naked, covered in gnarly, tumorous growths, and was moving at a limping run, attacking anyone he could get his hands on.

Yep. Monstrous rampage. Don’t touch Noelle, got it.

I wonder if this somehow feeds back to Noelle, given her hunger.

One of his arms was larger than the other, and a fluid-filled blister covered his entire stomach, sloshing with the contents.  His jaw didn’t fit right, and had dislocated on one side, giving him a lopsided yawn.

This is very reminiscent of the “monsters” the Simurgh rained down on Madison. Were they test subjects exposed to a power like Noelle’s? Except they also had powers of their own, so maybe it’s more that they were Deviants whose monstrosity affected them in much the same way Noelle’s power affects others?

Which is really a backwards way of saying that maybe Noelle’s power is to some extent to cause Deviation-like mutations in others, passively. That’d be an interesting way of tying her power directly into how it went wrong.

A man shoved him and ran, sweeping his two children up in his arms as he fled.

Three seconds later, the man snapped back into the same position, in front of the creature.  Perdition… Cody.  Except not quite.  The man carried through the shoving motion, but Perdition wasn’t there any more.

Perdition, noun. a state of final spiritual ruin; loss of the soul; damnation. the future state of the wicked. hell. utter destruction or ruin.

Jeez, Cody, way to pick a grim name.

Shoving empty space, the man stumbled and was clubbed over the neck and shoulders with a massive, misshapen fist.  He hit the ground with enough force that Trickster doubted he’d rise again.

This rampage isn’t gonna be easy to stop. Cody’s power is so good…

The two children had fallen to the sidewalk when the man disappeared.  Perdition advanced on them.

Cody might be an aggressive idiot, but this isn’t something I think he’d do while in his right mind. And somehow I question the possibility of bringing him back to it.

There’s still clearly an intelligence there, though, in the use of his power to make the man stumble. In that regard, he reminds me of Leviathan. Hmm.

Between that and the previous implication that there might be a connection between Noelle and Leviathan attacking Brockton Bay, it might be time to speculate on whether the Endbringers might be Cauldron’s work and related to this sort of Deviation.

The biggest spoke in that theory is of course the confirmation that Leviathan was never human. Could he have been an animal, though? They’re all vaguely humanoid, but that’s the least of the things a transformation like that could have changed.

If I’m onto something here, perhaps Bitch speculating on superpowered dogs shortly before Leviathan showed up was foreshadowing. Not that I think he was a dog, specifically.

Trickster crossed the street, swapping himself for one of the people who was fleeing the scene.  The children were running, but Perdition wasn’t one to let his targets slip out of his grasp.  The six year old didn’t get more than three steps before getting reset to his original position.

From their perspective it’d appear like Perdition teleported closer to them, right? While all the people around also shift positions, of course.

“Hey!”  Trickster called out.  “I’m the one you want!”

Perdition spun around, and Trickster was already swapping himself for someone else, not allowing his opponent more than a glance.

Way to paint a target on that one person and throw them into the crossfire, even if Cody does have the wit to look for Krouse after killing the person the latter swapped with.

Hide in the crowd.  Can’t allow him a chance to get me.

“Kroushe!”  Perdition screamed.

Oh, nice, there’s enough of Cody in there to actually recognize him.

He couldn’t completely close his mouth, and slurred the words.

Inconvenient.

Yeah, sheesh, does nobody on the team have a sense of secrecy?

“Keell you!  Mehk it shlow, mehk you beg an’ crah and sheht yershelf lekk a baby!”

Pfft. There’s something inherently funny about phonetically spelled slurring in English literature.

The little kid was getting away.  Trickster allowed himself a sigh of relief.

“Shheh wush mine!  An’ you ruinn herr!”  Perdition screamed at a volume that distorted his voice even further, left it ragged.

…so.

Did Cody make this transformation happen on purpose, in order to “strengthen” himself for the confrontation with Krouse?

Trickster winced.

“Muh cahreer, muh frenndsh, my guhll!  You ‘ook hem!  Yer a ‘hief!

I guess the big question is why now. Like, it’s been over a year. What prompted the breakdown to happen now rather than earlier?

I also wonder how much the loss of Cody informs Sundancer’s later meekness. It seems like this is happening shortly before the Travelers arrived in Brockton Bay (between them being in the same state and the month being March or April), so the loss would be fresh on everyone’s mind.

Some of the time, the powers would be different.  Most of the time, going by precedent, they were stronger.  Trickster was left to wonder how Perdition’s powers had changed.  Duration?  Range?  The amount of time reversed?

Oh, that’s interesting. Another reason why Cody might have done this on purpose, too.

I wonder who this first happened to.

Then his surroundings flickered, half the crowd disappearing.

Uh oh. That sounds like a significant amount of time.

Trickster didn’t waste a second in swapping himself elsewhere, moving across the street.

When fighting Krouse, it’s in Cody’s interest to thin out the crowd, but it’s not enough to kill them. Trickster’s power works on corpses. In other words, Cody is better off letting the crowd run than killing them.

Which makes it all the more interesting that he’s been going on a killing spree. Maybe it was specifically to get the rest of the crowd to run? Definitely getting the sense that this state heightens his anger and lowers his morals, though.

Perdition was only just turning in the direction of where Trickster had been.

He doesn’t need to see me now?

Well fuck, that’s a pretty powerful upgrade, especially when you’re limited by line of sight.

Trickster saw everything shift again.

He’s got a lock on me.  Not as strong when he does it this way, but he can track me, force little jumps backward.

Escape isn’t much of an option like this.

Where’s the rest of the team? Aside from Sundancer, of course.

Perdition charged, and the crowd scattered.

He reached for his belt, saw another shift, and Perdition was suddenly twenty feet closer, a few steps away.  With no time to follow through, Trickster swapped himself out of the way.

At least Trickster has the advantage that his swaps are near-instant compared to running, but if Cody doesn’t need line of sight to undo them, that’s not as helpful as it could have been.


I just learned that my early morning tomorrow will be even earlier, so I guess this is where I’ll have to end the session. Would be nice to get a decent amount of sleep before nine hours of work, and my vampiric schedule is working against me on that front.

(As though on cue, the music stream stopped for maintenance, too.)

[End of session]


I’ve made more pixel art between sessions. None of it is Worm-related, but I might as well share it here anyway!

Sprite-0008 How Birds Work big

This is how birds work, I’m certain.

Sprite-0009 Krixwell Jace shaven

A portrait of yours truly! Kinda wish I had a shirt like that one in real life, actually; I like the design I came up with for it.

Sprite-0010 Heart Mimic

And, hot off the presses, a cutesy video game health pickup that might not be quite what it seems. “Waahh!”


[Session 3]

Let’s do this thing!

I feel rather distractable at the moment and it’s taken a lot longer to actually get started on this session than it really should, but let’s see what we can do. Tomorrow’s free too, so it’s not a huge deal if I have to do a session 4.

-And only belatedly recalled that he was putting another person in Perdition’s path.  Perdition knocked a young woman to the ground, grabbed her, and then slammed her into a wall.

Ooof, yeah, Trickster’s power has kind of a brutal drawback on this front.

Imagine how much easier this would be if he had Taylor’s help, forming places for him to swap to without putting anyone in harm’s way…

In fact, without the upgrade that lets Perdition bypass line of sight, Skitter would’ve been a good counter for him in the first place. She fights remotely when she can (helping her stay out of sight), can cover herself in bugs to be hidden, senses things with the swarm so being out of sight doesn’t keep her from sensing Perdition, and sends hundreds or thousands of attackers at once that Perdition can presumably only rewind one at a time. Prior to touching Noelle, Perdition would easily be overwhelmed in a 1v1 against Skitter. Likely afterwards too, but I need more info on the physical effects to be sure of how the bugs would interact with him, and the line of sight thing would be a massive boon for him against an enemy whose main advantage is hiding and fighting remotely.

Even if Perdition kept rewinding her, though, Skitter would have the advantage that any attack she started before getting rewinded would persist. Her memory of giving the orders and the specific details wouldn’t, but she’d probably be able to figure out what was going on fairly quickly based on how her bugs were behaving.

She wouldn’t have survived the impact.

“Kroushe!” Perdition roared.

Why yes, you did kroushe that woman.

Another shift hit.  They’re about ten seconds apart, and he’s hitting me for anywhere from one to five seconds each time.

Starting to figure out the details… time for a plan to get things done in the spare moments?

Perdition was halfway across the street.  With the way the crowd was scattering and the number of available people to swap with was dwindling, he was running out of options.  He could run or he could stay and fight, virtually powerless.

Notably, running means putting more people in harm’s way.

But this is Trickster, not Skitter. The issue might not be as clear cut for him as it would be for her.

He stayed, reached to his side, and unbuckled the largest pouch on his belt.

Excuse me, what’s this?

Perdition was getting closer.  He seemed to have only a general sense of where Trickster was, wide, mad, bulging eyes roving over the crowd.

That’s interesting considering the way he’s not needing line of sight. Does he reach out to where he thinks Trickster is?

Another thing that’s occurred to me: The other way we’ve had established that causes powers to change in ways similar to this is a second trigger event. What if this particular brand of Deviation, if that’s what it is, were previously caused by testing Cauldron’s potions on people who already have powers (whether they’re from potions or trigger events)? There’d be a certain poetry in that, in the person with a half dose causing effects similar to a double dose for others.

And if that’s the case, what happens if she touches someone who doesn’t have powers? Trickster kind of made it sound like their previous experiences with this have been primarily with people who already had them.

Trickster swapped himself for someone else, waited until Perdition started to turn, then did another swap.

Perdition paced from one side of the street to the sidewalk, between the last two of Trickster’s chosen destinations.

And if this whole thing is tied to second triggers and double doses, can it result in additional powers, or is it just the change? Cody touched Noelle three times, which seems to have been worse than some of their previous encounters with this stuff, so it’s possible he’d have more of the effects.

I know that doesn’t look related to the quote, but it spun out of the honestly rather silly notion that Cody gained a vague Krouse-tracking power. Or perhaps a power detecting and vaguely locating use of other powers, judging by the fact that Trickster seems to be able to trick him by doing multiple swaps.

Only one or two seconds were left before the next automatic time skip.

Trickster swapped himself for the body of the girl who Perdition had thrown into the wall, drew his gun and fired it, all in one smooth motion.  Screams of alarm erupted in the wake of the gunshot.

You’d really think people would be screaming enough at the rampaging monster, moreso than at someone trying to shoot it.

But fair enough.

He stepped closer, then emptied the remainder of the clip into Perdition’s head and chest.

He swapped himself for someone in the lingering crowd, grabbed the closest person.  “I hope you own a car.  Because you’re going to lend it to me.  Fast.”

There’s something to be said for intimidation here. ‘Cause like… that person was probably hoping to use the car themself, to get away.

Krouse pulled the car into the driveway.  Oliver was outside, and hurried to Krouse’s side.

So… did the bullets take Perdition down, or… or what?

Oliver was taller than him, now.  The baby fat was gone, and he was fit.  Krouse had wondered at times why Chris had been so attractive to the ladies.  He didn’t wonder with Oliver.  Oliver was attractive in a way that meant he could model, he was naturally athletic, he was even smart.  It was scary how fast he was picking up new skills.

Interesting.

Somehow, prior to this Arc, I got an impression of Oliver closer to how he started out than to this.

I know people can grow a lot in a year, but I don’t trust that a lot of this isn’t because of his half of the dose. Man, Noelle really got the shit end of the stick, huh.

But he was still Oliver.  Whatever gradual transition his power was offering, it hadn’t changed the person at the core of it; an insecure, socially stunted teenage boy.  In a way, it had made it worse.  Oliver’s face and body changed according to his basic perception of attractiveness, and that changed a little every time he saw a new face.  In little ways, his face changed day by day, to the point that it wasn’t always easy to recognize him.

Okay yeah that’s definitely a power.

According to his basic perception of attractiveness, huh? Make sure he doesn’t watch Totally Spies.

Fuck you, Simurgh, Krouse thought.  They’d all been forced to deal with their individual tragedies.  Noelle’s went without saying.  Jess hadn’t gotten to walk, Luke hadn’t gotten to fly,

Luke not getting to fly being framed as his tragedy, even though it appears far more superficial than the others here, is very reminiscent of one of my main MLP OCs.

Enterprise’s whole deal is that she’s a unicorn born and raised in a city meant for pegasi, to pegasus parents in pegasus society. Consequently she has very deep-seated issues related to her childhood inability to fly by her own power, even after gaining the rare ability to hover through magic (thanks to a cutie mark in flight that earned her the placeholder name Cruel Irony at first), becoming an engineer and “making her own way to fly” by building flying machines like ornithopters and helicopters.

Oliver got a physical and mental overhaul without any fixes for the real problems, and Marissa had been thrust into the situation she’d fought so hard to escape, where she was forced to pursue a life she didn’t want.

How to write a Wildbow character arc 101.

Krouse’s tragedy was waiting for him inside.

Noelle.

As for Cody’s…

It’s that he could never let go of his anger.

Oliver helped Krouse move the body out of the passenger seat.

So… Krouse was forced to shoot him in this case, but does this kind of… infection cool off eventually? One touch made Krouse react almost like Cody had touched a hot stove. Three times is “fuck fuck fuck fuck” mode, but Krouse didn’t seem to assume Cody couldn’t be brought back from that.

They grunted as they carried it through the front door.  Krouse double checked nobody was observing.  He’d parked briefly to remove his costume, then swapped himself and the body for people in another car before continuing en route to their current hideout.  It was the middle of the day, and virtually everyone in this neighborhood would be at work or at school, but he feared some college student or elderly person would just happen to be outdoors or walking a dog.  It would make things complicated.

“Oh, our friend here just… got a little burnt, is all. He’ll be fine. (psst oliver have you seen a movie called weekend at bernie’s)”

Accord wasn’t so wrong on that subject.  Things were better when they were simple.

Yeah, I highly doubt he’d call anything about this situation orderly, no matter how good of a ballet he gets treated to.

Krouse and Oliver dragged the body to the middle of the living room.  It joined two others.  Each was different in the mutations, in the distortions and impurities.  Each of the three bodies was Perdition. Was Cody.

Noelle is the fucking Dewitchery Diamond.

I guess the original Cody is still alive, then, but in a heap of trouble with the team for creating three murderous mutated clones of himself, three Divisions, by touching Noelle three times? That would certainly explain why Krouse showed so little emotion in shooting the Perdition he just faced down.

Does this process also tear the power from the wielder? Evidently not quickly enough to prevent the creation of multiple copies, if so.

Either way this is more than enough grounds to kick him off the team, promise to stick together be damned.

He looked at Ballistic, Jess and Oliver.  “Three?  You’re sure?”

“Sure enough,” Ballistic said.

“How’s she?”

“Upset.  You’re going to have to talk to her, calm her down.”

Yeeah, I can’t imagine this was any fun for her, regardless of what actually happened to Cody Prime.

Krouse winced, nodded.

They all stared at the bodies.  This would be the third incident.  Or incidents three through five, if he wanted to count it that way.

Who were the first two? Now that the nature of it as more of a copying thing than a mutating thing has been made clearer, that could be someone on their team, and likely was… was Krouse the first? Jess?

“How much damage done?” Krouse asked.  “Anyone hurt?”

“A bunch hurt but nobody got killed by the one I went after,” Jess said.

“Yeah, a few hurt,” Ballistic said.  He paused.  “One dead.”

Interesting that Jess is Jess and Oliver is Oliver, but Luke is Ballistic. It reminds me of Taylor’s insistence on calling Rachel Bitch in the early Arcs.

“Fuck,” Krouse said.  “At least two dead at the hands of the one I stopped.  Not as bad as last fall.”

Ballistic shook his head.

No, seriously, who?

Marissa? A rogue Marissa clone causing havoc would certainly be very deadly and very traumatic for Marissa Prime.

“We… we can’t let this happen again,” Jess said.

“That’s what we said last time,” Krouse noted.

And so arrangements were made to put Noelle in social isolation. (#topical)

“We’ll fix her,” Krouse said, his voice a touch hollow.  “We’ll fix her, and we’ll get home.”

I wish you the best of luck. You have a long story ahead of you.

Just words.  How can they believe me when I don’t even buy it?

They want to. They want to believe you, because anything else means giving up hope.

“Where is he?” he asked, breaking the lingering silence.

Ballistic pointed in the direction of one of the ground floor bedrooms.

Time for a reckoning.

“What happened?” Krouse asked.

“We don’t know.  Neither Cody or Noelle are saying.”

I have a few scenarios in mind for how Cody could end up touching her three times, accidentally or on purpose, and none of them are good.

“Shheh wush mine!  An’ you ruinn herr!”

Fuck.  Okay.  I need a smoke, then we’ll resolve this.”

“Krouse-” Luke said.  But Krouse was already out of the living room, pushing his way through the front door.

At least he’s taking time to cool down (hopefully) instead of charging in there like a mad bull. Y’know, like Cody might do.

Oh, and in this moment, Ballistic is suddenly Luke again.

He stepped outside, sat on the front steps, took his time in getting his cigarette and lighting it.  He finished the first, started on the second, and gave serious consideration to having a third after that.

Just stick the whole damn pack in your mouth and light them all at once. Y’know, get it over with.

He shut his eyes.  Just need a moment of calm, a few minutes to organize my thoughts.

“Krouse.”

Luke?

He resisted the urge to sigh.  Marissa was there, coming down the path from the driveway.

Ah, hi. How’d your ballet go?

“Mars.  Glad you did okay with Accord.  Sorry to leave you like that.”

“It’s okay.  It was better that you went to deal with the situation.  I couldn’t have.  I don’t have it in me, even knowing they aren’t real.”

Don’t let Ellen Dunkel hear you say that. (Or my half-OC Party Popper. Why do my MLP characters keep coming up this session?)

Krouse nodded, closed his eyes.

“He said I wasn’t perfect.”

Uh oh.

He doesn’t seem the type to give “points for effort”.

Krouse froze, turned to see her leaning against the railing just beside him.  She’d changed into civilian clothes.  “You burned his place down, then?”

“No,” she said.  “He said I wasn’t perfect, but that he saw what you meant.  He said I was trying, despite myself.  I… I don’t know if that was a compliment or not.”

Okay, good. Phew.

“Ah.”

“Um.  He wants you to see him tonight.  Nine sharp.  And, um.  He said that if I’m not the problem, he fully expects you to bring the real culprit.  Did he mean Noelle?”

Yikes.

…now I’m imagining a bunch of little white-clad businessmen with oddly symmetrical mutations running around trying to set everything around them in order.

“Cody,” Krouse said.  “Shit.  Not the way I wanted this to go.”

This is an interesting little exchange, because Trickster doesn’t hesitate one moment to lay all the blame on Cody and picking him over Noelle as the one to bring to Accord, even though he clearly doesn’t want that either.

Granted, with the history of this group I’m also very much inclined to assume Cody is to blame here until otherwise admitted. Even if Noelle one-two-uppercutted the divisions out of him or something.

“What!?  Krouse, he’s going to kill him.”

“Probably.”

Can Krouse even bring himself to care at this point?

“We can’t!”

“We may have to.  If we don’t give him a scapegoat, he’ll send assassins and homicidal underlings after us.  We need someone to blame, not just for intruding on the meeting, but for the three very violent scenes that erupted in his territory earlier today.  Not to mention that we can’t afford to pack up shop and move right now, not while Noelle’s as upset as she is.  Between the two of us, I think we’ve charmed Accord enough that I’d bet we can get away with giving him Cody and paying him a fair sum.  We do that, we can stay for ten days.  We’ll gather some funds and give Noelle time to quiet down.”

And outwardly, Trickster is coming across as cold and manipulative again, when in truth, he’s… really tired. Of all of this.

“You’re talking about killing a teammate.”

“He was never a teammate.  He was one of us, yes, but he never cooperated, never worked with the rest of us.”

And that’s a damn shame. His power would have such good synergy with Trickster’s, but instead Cody focused on how it was a good counter to Trickster’s.

“We made a pact, a promise.  To stick together, no matter what.  To do what it took to fix Noelle and get home.”

Krouse shut his eyes.  “I know.  Not an hour goes by that I don’t think about it.”

“You’re breaking that promise if you give Cody up.”

Did Cody participate in the promise?

Of course I don’t think giving Cody to Accord is the right thing to do, but my sympathy for him has been running more and more dry throughout this Arc.

Krouse sighed, took a drag of his cigarette and blew smoke out through his nostrils.

“Krouse-“

“Mars.  There’s no reason he’d enter her room and intentionally touch her three times.  You know that, I know that.”

Except if he actually wanted to send the divisions after Krouse, though really he shouldn’t have expected to be able to direct them in any way.

He turned around to glance at her, saw her frowning.

“What do you mean, Krouse?”

“I mean he waited until the rest of us were busy, then he entered her room and he enraged her.  Because for there to be three points of contact, three uses of her power, she’d have to be the one making the contact.  She’d be using her power on purpose, and she wouldn’t do that if she wasn’t berserk.  I’m guessing he was badly hurt?”

I suppose that makes sense, yeah. Depends a bit on the delay between contact and division, and how the divisions appear.

“Broken arm, broken leg.”

Krouse nodded.  He took another drag of his cigarette.

“Why?  How?”

“He had a goal in mind, only he didn’t anticipate how fast she moves, how strong she is.  He was trying to do one of two things.  Either he did something general, said something, with the aim of making her go berserk… or he tried to kill her.  One way or another, Cody wanted to end this.  End our mission.  Free himself.

The exact extent to which it reflects Cody Prime’s mindset is unclear, but “Shheh wush mine!  An’ you ruinn herr!” is a really damning line as far as Cody’s view of Noelle goes. If Cody Prime actually does think that way, he sees her as “ruined”. Unfixable, and beyond that, not worth what she once was. Which in turn has really nasty implications for what he once saw in her.

He doesn’t give a fuck about the promise, so I don’t see why the promise should protect him.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much what I thought too.

“I don’t- I can’t believe that.”

“You can’t believe that Cody is that self-centered?  Did you just come from an alternate universe with a different Cody?”

Oof, shots fired.

“No.  I… I can almost believe it.  But you’re talking about killing.  Or giving him to someone else so they’ll kill him.”

Krouse finished the cigarette and tossed it to the base of the steps, crushed it under his toe.

At this point, Cody is the cigarette.

“Tell you what,” he said.  “Let me talk to the others.  Maybe Cody too, just to confirm suspicions.  We’ll see if the others come to the same conclusion.”

You should definitely talk to Cody before doing this. Not to mention Noelle.

“Krouse, you’re talking about sentencing Cody to death.”

“He knew what he was getting into.  And whatever else happened, three innocent people are dead because he fucked up.  So we’ll talk to the others.  We’ll come to a consensus.”

“This is ugly.  God, Krouse, it’s still Cody.”

Of course it’s ugly. Everything about your situation is ugly.

I wonder how Krouse would take it if Noelle claimed responsibility here.

“Yeah.  It’s not pretty.  So why don’t you take a break, clear your mind?  Maybe go do a food run for Noelle.”

Marissa frowned.  “Hate these runs.”

The girl ḧ̷̤̖͇͖͔̩͈͍̺̰͎͙́̉̔̋̃́͘͜͠ͅ ̸̢̺̘̘̺̻̣̘͕͈̫̻͚̞̥̊͂̋͐͗̿̀̏́͗̅͘ư̸͍͑̑̾̈͝ ̶̧̢͖̟͕͓͓̳̯͖̖͓̗̬̀̂̋̅̊̕ñ̵̬̭̦͕͓̖̀͜ ̵̗͚̃̄́̑g̸͖͎̹̹̼̠̠͖̿̈́̓̅̈̚͝ͅ ̸̛̫̯̩͙̻̱̲͔͌͛̀̀̾̈͌̏͊̚͝͠e̶̡̤̭̙͍̗̥̖̭̙͎͉͉̙̊̽̊̽͘ͅ ̸̨̠͈̪̠̼̭̥̽̃̽͑ͅṙ̶̳̹̜̥̟̫̌̄́̓͐̐̈́̒ ̷̛̞̘͐̓͛̊̈́͌͒̿ͅs̴͔͊͠.

“We have to, and your turn’s up.”

“I know, I know.  But people look at me funny when I bring a cart of meat and only meat.”

What do you even call someone who eats only meat? Carnitarian?

Noelle: “Do you even know how much abuse plants go through in farms? I can’t bear the thought of contributing to the inhumane cabbage plantations.”

“Tell them you’re buying for a restaurant and the wholesaler dropped the ball today.”

“It still looks weird.”

It’s okay, I won’t judge.

“Maybe find a butcher?  We’ve got a backyard here, if you want to get maybe two whole pigs, you can tell him you’re throwing a party.”

“Fuck it,” she muttered.  “Keys?”

So… how often do these runs happen? Because the idea of Noelle alone eating two whole pigs a day is kind of hilarious.

Krouse fished the keys and the carton of cigarettes from his pocket.  He tossed her the keys and tapped another cigarette out of the box.

Really burning through those today, huh.

“And stop smoking.  You’re killing yourself, Krouse.”

“I know,” he said.

I’m with Marissa.

I wonder, before this Arc, do we see Trickster smoke more in scenes that would have him more stressed out?

She was all the way at the car when she turned around and hurried back to the front steps.

Hm?

“What?”  Krouse asked.

“I almost forgot.  Accord.  He wanted me to pass this on.”

This probably isn’t anything good.

She handed him a piece of paper.  There was a number printed on it.  Different area code.

Hm. “Get out.”? Or is this where they have to go to find Blastoise the Venusaur?

“What is it?”

“He said someone was trying to get in contact with you.”

Ohh, not just the area code, the entire number.

So this is how they get in touch with Coil, then.

“Who?”

Marissa shrugged.

“For the record, Marissa, with guys like Accord, you can’t almost forget to pass on messages, and you don’t waltz in on a business meeting.  Things could have turned out a lot different today.  They still might.”

Things are clearly still on-edge with him.

So… does Marissa later blame herself for what happened with Cody, since she’s the one who set Accord off first? Even if the three violent events in his territory would still have happened?

“I… I don’t want to interact with guys like him.”

“We have to.  Only way to go about it.”

“I know.  I just… next time we run into someone like that, I’ll stay hands off.  Keep my distance.”

Coil… Jeez, she was really not cut out for the whole territory part of that deal.

“Alright.  Go, shop.  Take your time.  Give yourself a break, buy an ice cream or something.  You have my permission and my orders to go distract yourself.”

tumblr_inline_oj826kCuh31u5yydk_500

Marissa retreated to the car.

Krouse puffed for a minute on his second cigarette, pulled out his phone, and dialed the number.

Hello?

I assume Coil didn’t reveal his cape name at first, like with the Undersiders.

“Accord gave me this number.”

Then this would be Trickster, I presume.

“Yeah.”

I have a business proposition for the Travelers.

I wonder what Coil and Accord’s relationship was like.

“Well, things have gone a little south with Accord, here, so I’m not quite sure where we stand, but I need to do this job for him before I take on anything else.”

This is more of a long-term job.

“We don’t really do long-term.  We don’t stay in one place for long.”

Unless of course someone claims to have people who can help fix a certain problem…

I’m well aware of your circumstances.

Trickster took a long haul on his cigarette.  “That so?”

I know Accord through a mutual acquaintance.  Through this acquaintance and my own resources, I’ve gathered a fairly robust set of data on you Travelers.

Hmmm.

Accord does seem like the type who’d buy his power from Cauldron… If that’s the mutual acquaintance, it would imply Cauldron has a good idea about what the Travelers’ circumstances are and haven’t dispatched people to take them out.

“That sounds vaguely threatening.”

I suppose it might, to individuals trying to avoid scrutiny.  Rest assured, it is just the opposite.  I know what issues you face, Trickster, and I am offering you a solution.

“A solution?”

I’m offering three things, to be precise.  Work for me.  Help me achieve my goals and I will allow you to achieve yours.”

I like how open this conversation is. Like, “yeah things are kinda going to shit with your buddy”, “that sounds vaguely threatening”, etc.

Krouse leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees.  he held the cigarette in one hand and the phone in the other.  “What do you know of our issues?”

I know what the PRT knows.  I know you appeared out of nowhere, that a Luke Casseus and a Noelle Meinhardt were admitted for care to St. Mary’s hospital, yet there are no such students on any high school rosters.

Are those their real surnames, or are there doubles out there with different names?

Meinhardt is a really cool name.

“We’re not from there,” Krouse said.

“Sort of.”

Then why did Luke Casseus put down Madison, Wisconsin as a place of residence?

Krouse suppressed a groan.

Good jorb, Luke.

Rest assured, Trickster, there is no need for any alarm.  The fact that I know these things is an asset to you.  A contact of mine in the PRT has taken over your case file and requisitioned all details on your encounter with Myrddin.  That case will not be pursued further.

And re: the openness, Coil is being very upfront about his PRT infiltration.

“And why are you doing this for us?”

Because I have goals of my own, and I believe one can’t be too careful.  When hiring expert help, I prefer that help to be loyal.  I will get that loyalty by giving you what you desire.  Everyone has their price, and my research into you Travelers has been done with the goal of discovering what that price is.

Everyone has their price. A side of Coil’s philosophy that first came up in the same chapter we learned Trickster was named Krouse.

“Yeah?  Let’s hear it.  What’s our price?”

All the money you require, for one.  So long as you’re in my employment, I will pay for whatever you require.  Even if it is nearly one thousand, five hundred dollars in groceries per week.

“Seriously, you guys should probably cut down on the meat. That can’t be good for you.”

“How generous.”

Number two?  I will send you home.

Krouse stopped, the cigarette dangling from his lips.

Hm. I wonder if, assuming he was ever planning on fulfilling this part of the deal, he was thinking he’d pull some strings with Cauldron and get them to help out using Doormaker.

A man in power like myself has contacts.  Through one of these contacts, I have access to a man who can create doorways between worlds.  The caveat is that I won’t have the power, funds or leverage to request assistance from this individual until my own goals are met.

Yep, checks out.

I’m not sure whether he would have succeeded in getting Cauldron to help, but that does seem to have been his plan.

Maybe Coil’s relationship with Cauldron was tighter than I thought, though. He owed a week of services, but he seems to consider them a contact he can go to. Perhaps they were?

Something about Cauldron’s plans was hinging on Coil succeeding without knowing his importance to them. If he had actually figured some of that out, perhaps that’s part of the “leverage” he refers to?

“So we have to help you for you to help us.”

Exactly, Trickster.  As for your other problem, well, that is a more daunting task.

Noelle.

“You said you could help.”

He said a lot of things. Maybe he even believed them, at the time.

I can’t guarantee anything.  I can offer all of my resources, which are considerable, and all of the resources I will have, which are even more so.

Coil sounds so much like Doc Scratch sometimes. I love it.

“Never mind, I figured it out instantly because of my unfathomable intellect, limitless knowledge, and mind boggling charisma. Granted, my charisma had less to do with it than the other qualities. But it didn’t hurt, did it?”

“Sounds pretty wishy-washy.”

Perhaps.  But when making an argument or making a sale, I find it’s best to lead with the second best offer, move on to the weaker ones, and then close with the best.  I am offering you one more thing.

Hm. Interesting tactic.

“What?”

The man on the phone told him.

Oh, you’re pulling one of these on me, are you. Fiiine, be that way.

Something Coil believes he could provide that’s an even better offer than a return home and a possible cure for Noelle…

…a free life? That kinda comes with the return home.

It was another minute before Krouse hung up.

Krouse spent fifteen more minutes sitting on the front steps of the house.  It was the first time in a year that he’d had a moment to stop and think and he didn’t reach for his  cigarettes.

(got a double space before “cigarettes” if you wanna fix that, Wildbow)

For once, there’s hope. He can stop and think and for once that’s not filled with stress and gloom.

When he stood, he was in something of a daze.

He stepped back inside.

“Krouse,” Luke said, “We need to talk about what we’re doing with Cody.”

Right, back to that. Krouse might have bigger things he wants to talk about right now, but Cody does need addressing.

“Later,” Krouse said.

“What’s going on?”

“Going to go talk to Noelle.”

Seems reasonable. Did the final offer have to do with her specifically?

“She’s pissed, Krouse.  She’ll flip out on you, and I’m not doing this again.  I won’t fucking hunt down deranged mutant clones.  Especially not yours.”

Heh, I can imagine Krouse clones are a really confusing business.

“Not an issue.  She’ll like what I have to say.”

“Krouse-“

After, Luke,” Krouse said.  He spun around, faced his friend. “I think we’ve got what we’re looking for.”

Unfortunately for you, Coil is a manipulative bastard and then some bug girl fucks him up, so uh… yeah, sorry about that.

Krouse keeps dismissing Luke in this chapter.

“What?”

“A way home.  Maybe even a fix for Noelle.”

“How?  Who?”

“Some supervillain in Brockton Bay.  Wants us to work for him for a little while.  There’s more, but…”

Of course, no mention of his name.

“But?”

Trickster met Luke’s eyes, “I want to tell her first.  Everything that’s happened, I have to.”

Okay, fair enough, I can respect that he wants to tell Noelle before even the audience.

“We deserve to know too, Krouse.  We’ve been working at this as long as you have.  We’ve had our hopes up and had them dashed too.  Too many times.”

“I know.  I know.  Just… I’ll tell you after I’ve told her.  I think this is it.”

Narrator: This was not, in fact, it.

He caught a glimpse of Luke’s expression as he turned away.  A look of deep sadness.  Krouse hesitated.

What was he supposed to say?

Hrm. Luke, any news about why Noelle is pissed?

“Just a few minutes,” Krouse said, “I’ll be back, then I’ll explain.”

He made his way to Noelle’s room, knocked.

This is gonna be interesting, I think.

Go away.”

“It’s Krouse.”

There was a long delay.

“What do you want?”

There’s this interesting dynamic where Noelle seems to to some extent blame Krouse for what’s happening, but at the same time he’s still the one who gets to enter her personal bubble. Or reinforced cell, as the case may be later on.

Trickster kind of has to play a significant part in dealing with the rampaging Noelle in the future, I think. Their stories are too intertwined for anything else.

“I want to come in,” he said.

“No you don’t.”

“I do.  Please.”

There was a long delay.  He took that for assent.

Noelle didn’t meet his eyes as he entered.

Poor Noelle.

He noted the mangled bedframe, the splintered wood from the boxspring, and the mattress torn in two.  An oak cabinet had been demolished, and both bedside tables were in ruins.  There wasn’t a single intact piece of furniture left.

So… when she’s in berserk mode, does that come with a transformation or did she do this with her bare hands/feet/teeth?

He turned towards her.  “I-“

“Don’t look at me,” she said.

Actual image of Noelle:

400px-Purpleenderman

He stopped, then he seated himself on the floor with his back to the remains of the cabinet, his back to her.

I like this. He’s respecting her boundaries.

“Come to talk?” she asked.  “Keep me company?”

“I was planning on doing it a little later. Things are kind of a mess out there, you know.  The Cody situation.”

I give it a sixty forty shot Noelle is going to claim responsibility.

“Nobody keeps me company any more.  Only you.”

Ouch. And that’s before they put her in a cell.

“Yeah.  But that’s not why I’m here.”

“You want to know what happened with Cody.”

“I know what happened with Cody.  He tried to kill you.”

You have a strong suspicion what happened with Cody.

There was a long silence.

“I can’t die, Krouse.  I’ve tried.  Tried to end it.  Spare you guys from looking after me.  I can’t.  Nothing works.”

Oww.

“Yeah.”

“I’m one of them.  Or I’m becoming that way.”

Oh damn, they were already thinking along these lines before Coil’s observation about Leviathan going after Noelle?

I wonder how much truth there is to it, and what that means for Leviathan.

“Maybe.”

“An Endbringer.”

He felt a chill, and it wasn’t the early spring temperature.

I always loved how thoroughly Agitation made it clear in a few simple exchanges that the Endbringers were a really big deal even when it would take another four Arcs before we got any inkling of what they actually were.

To the extent we have an inkling of that now.

“Maybe.  Or maybe you’re more like those monsters that were dumped on the street.”

I do find it extremely interesting how similar the divisions her power creates are to those monsters. It seems kind of like they were the results of tests done with a similar power?

They could die.  You told me that you killed one of them.”

“Probably.  But I saw another one die, you’re right.”

“And my power, if I get stronger, if I get more out of control-“

…and then, perhaps, are let loose on an unsuspecting city…

“I’ll be just as bad as the Simurgh.  In a different way.  I touch someone, and then I spit out copies.  Uglier, stronger… meaner.  I can’t control them.  If I got my hands on one of the major heroes?  Someone like that Myrddin guy?”

Fire, water, air… earth? I’ve kind of figured earth would be the element of the final threat (which I currently envision as a humongous worm with crazy powers, though this might be way off base), but I suppose there’s something to be said for the element of earth and growing copies of things…

“You won’t.  Listen to me, Noelle.  I was just talking to someone.  We may have an answer.”

He heard her shift position, flinched despite himself.

“You’ve said that before,” she said.

…oh yeah, there was a thing about Coil making sure Noelle heard what happened at the parking lot, wasn’t there. A final act of spite that told Noelle the last hope she had clung to was lost…

“This sounds like it.  He’s not saying he might be able to make something that can get us home.  He’s saying he already knows someone who has a way.  Someone who goes back and forth.  And he knows people.  Scholars, scientists, this one girl with powers he didn’t explain, who knows stuff.  Like Accord does.”

That’s pretty much what her power does, yes.

“The guy you saw today?”

“Yeah, the one I told you about,” Krouse was getting excited, despite himself.  “The way this guy described it, there’s a solution out there, and he can get it.”

“Krouse, it’s- it’s not that easy.”

Not when he gets thwarted by some upstart with a gun and too many insects.

“I know.  I know it’s not easy, but there was a third offer on the table.  A third thing he was giving us.  He said we should consider it a bonus.”

Please, enlighten us.

“What?”

Hope, Noelle.”

…right.

Not sure I would’ve put that as the best part of the offer, but it’s something they do desperately need.

“I don’t understand.”

“He just got someone working for him, and this person can see the future.  And she says there is a way to help you.  Definitely.  Chances are low, but he says he’s confident he can maximize them.”

Ohh.

That’s very interesting. I wonder if that path is still open?

“He could be lying.”

“No, listen.  The Simurgh?  This guy said she has a weakness.  Two ways where she can’t see the future.  Two ways to break free of her cause and effect.”

“One of them is to be neighbors with a sweaty horse guy for some reason. Doesn’t matter which sweaty horse guy, but it has to be a sweaty horse guy.”

Noelle didn’t say anything.

“The first way, you’ve got to be basically immune to powers.  Scion is.  He’s immune to precognition, throws everything out the window when he shows up.

Huh. That… makes an odd amount of sense.

I wonder if Hatchet Face would have to get up close and personal with the Simurgh to mess with things or if anything that happened within his range would be voided. I suppose it’d be the former, since powers that outranged his still worked on him.

I saw it when he fought the Simurgh.  She couldn’t automatically dodge his stuff, because she either couldn’t read his mind or she couldn’t see the attacks before they happened.  So he hit her, a bunch of times.  I saw it.”

It’s almost like he’s perfectly designed to deal with the Endbringers. And it still fits with his established theme of settling disturbances and being untouched by the world.

There still wasn’t a response.

Krouse was getting more excited, had to press his hand flat against the floor to stop it from shaking.  “And the other way?  There’s thinker powers that mess with her ability to influence events. If another precog gets a hand in events, the Simurgh automatically shuts them down and vice-versa.

Sooo this basically comes down to the Simurgh versus Dinah, then?

Maybe Leviathan wasn’t after Noelle after all. Maybe he was after Dinah.

The way this guy said it, the precogs get overloaded with the second-guessing the other precog, on top of having to figure out all the quantum possibilities and split paths.  And this guy?  He has a power that messes with precogs some, and the precog working for him has a power that will help circumvent the Simurgh’s power.  Get it?

I know you know I know you know and now neither of us has any fucking clue.

So long as we work for him, we’re free of it.  No more cause and effect.  No more feeling like we’re doomed no matter what choice we make.  We go from that kind of safety to home.  To our world.

Okay yeah I’m starting to see how this would be the top argument.

Jess in particular might appreciate this.

Krouse turned around, and despite himself, he was smiling.  He had to blink rapidly to clear the tears that were collecting in his eyes, threatening to run down his face.

“DON’T LOOK AT ME!”

Noelle was perched on the ruined bed.  Her fingers were clutching a sweatshirt, with no shirt beneath.  Still the Noelle he’d always known.

From the waist up.

…the Undersiders, when they saw her on the video feed… that was just the waist up, wasn’t it.

So is the rest like… an Ursula situation, or…?

Around where her pelvis should have been, she’d changed.  The mass of tissue left her tall enough that she had to hunch over to avoid hitting her head on the ceiling, and she was lying down.  Half of it was angry, red, wrinkled or blistered.  The other half was smooth tissue, dark greens, dark brown and pale grays.  The head of an animal, half-bovine and half-canine, extended from the front, large as a horse from the back of its skull to the tip of its flaring nostrils.  Another head was in progress, emerging just to the left.  Two forelegs extended to either side of the heads, rippling with powerful muscle, ending in something that fell between claw and hoof, massive and easily capable of tearing through steel.

Hooo boy this is quite the description. Do you ever get that feeling where you just can’t look away from something horrible while reading?

Yeah, uh, I can see why Noelle thinks she’s becoming an Endbringer.

There were the fingers and thumb of a hand, extending from her right hindquarters, each digit thicker around than Krouse was, with another, smaller limb extending from the palm.  Her rear left hindquarters featured only a mess of tentacles, some bearing partial exoskeleton, some long enough that they had to encircle the massive head and numerous limbs, or wind in a wreath around her as she lay down, lest their coiled mass fill the master bedroom of the house and leave Krouse nowhere to sit.  Despite the apparent lack of bones, the tentacles were capable of supporting her weight.

IT GOES ON HOLY SHIT

She didn’t expel waste.  She only grew, or she reinforced what had already grown.

And with how she hungers, she’s certainly adding to the mass rapidly…

She’d tried to starve herself, to die of thirst.  It had turned out badly.  She’d gone berserk and killed forty people in one autumn night.

Yikes. That would be a tad worse than the three today, yes.

Their tissues had played a large part in building the massive fingers and thumb that extended behind her.

The others didn’t know quite how bad things had gone, then.  He’d managed to shield them from the news reports, the total body count, had kept them moving from city to city until the story died away.  They knew people had died, they didn’t know it was forty.

you are not immune to krousepaganda

It was bad.  A bad situation overall, one that had Krouse retreating from the house in the dead of night, just to find the most remote location he could reach, to weep, to scream his frustration, rage, shame and guilt and not worry about the others hearing it.

And that’s the kind of behavior that can make him appear cold and calculating to the others. He has these strong emotions, very understandably so, but he hides them away, hides away the fact that there even is something to be so strongly emotional about… and the worst part is he’s arguably right to do so, even if it’s not healthy, because he’s in charge of a team of emotionally vulnerable teens who all have their tragedies and anxieties to bear in an unfamiliar world they might never escape from. The last thing they need is more to worry about, so he bears this on his own shoulders quietly.

But with all of that, with her sheer intimidating presence, he was nonetheless able to look up and meet Noelle’s eyes.  Hers were welling with tears, too.

Happy tears?

“I believed what he was saying,” Krouse said.  “I think this might be it.  Our best chance.”

“You think so?  We can hope?”

“We can hope,” he repeated, whispering the words, as much to himself as to her.

We can hope.

That’s lovely.

A wave crashed against the beach.

Have we made it to Brockton Bay now?

He hurt all over.  His body wasn’t listening as he told it to move.  His hand slipped on the pavement as he tried to push himself up off the ground.  There was sand filling the cracks in the pavement, denying him traction.

Maybe we’re even a little later in the timeline? Arc 8?

He flipped himself over onto his back, instead, then sat up.  He wobbled as he stood.

The first thing he saw was Jess.  Jess in her wheelchair, at the edge of the grass, where it dropped down to the beach.  She was staring at the ocean.

Okay, no, too peaceful for Arc 8.

“J-” he started to shout, had to force more air into his lungs before he could.

“Jess!” he hollered.

I’m getting dream vibes from this scene, for some reason.

She didn’t move.

Sundancer was lying beside him.  He raised her mask and checked that she was breathing.  She was just unconscious.

His eyes roved over the empty lot.  No people.  No soldiers.  No other parahumans.

Empty lot…? Soldiers? Are we all the way back to Arc 16? I forget how the non-Ballistic Travelers ended that chapter.

His eyes settled on a dense cluster of seagulls.

Krouse nearly fell as he made his way towards them.  He didn’t miss the tracks Jess’s wheelchair had made.  She’d been here.  She’d seen.

The seagulls scattered as he approached.  He saw a white feather that had been left behind, ground it under his toe as he might one of his cigarettes.

Rude.

The birds had been gathering around a mark.  A stain.  There wasn’t a better word to sum it up.

Skidmark, flocked by seagulls. Probably irrelevant here, but I wanted you to imagine that.

It was blood.  Enough blood that whoever it had belonged to wasn’t alive anymore.  Drag marks extended off towards one side of the lot.  The soldiers had taken the body, and the seagulls had taken much of the remaining gore.  All that was left were bits of skull, and little fatty blobs that might have been brain.  The bullet would have passed through and shattered the cranium, by the looks of it.

Yeah, uh. So much for hope.

He had no doubt as to who had died here.  Could remember the scene as it had been just before he’d been knocked unconscious, could remember where people had been standing.

Another wave crashed against the beach.  He heard the seagulls cawing angrily, wanting the morsels that littered the ground in front of him.

Krouse spent a very long time staring at the stain.

Good job, Skitter, you really blew it this time.

Coil’s brain, I mean.


End of Migration 17.8

That was fantastic.

I really enjoyed Accord, we got our final showdown between Krouse and Cody even if it wasn’t the original Cody, we finally know what Noelle’s power does and it’s very very interesting, and Wildbow brought his full eldritch monstrosity description game on for Noelle’s lower body (she said she “spits out” the divisions… presumably she does so in the lower end). I also really love the juxtaposition of the joy of hope with the somberly peaceful scene of waking up to find their hopes smeared on the ground. This was a masterful chapter.

Surely there’s no 17.9 after this, unless we’re melding the backstory and the dealing with Noelle into one Arc, so next up I assume is either an Interlude or Arc Thoughts. I’ll have to ask Sharks.

If it’s an Interlude, maybe it could be from Ballistic’s perspective? He’s kind of in a gray area between Travelers and Undersiders now, and if he’s going to stay an Undersider, he needs a little further fleshing out than this Arc actually gave him. An Interlude from his perspective would be a great way to do that while also playing with the purpose of something actually labeled an Interlude in what is almost certainly an Interlude Arc.

Otherwise, it’s presumably back to Taylor as we prepare to take on an otherworldly horror who can pit our heroes up against stronger evil versions of themselves. Yikes, I wonder if that would work on Scion or if his general immunity to powers would stop it.

Should be a fun time. See you soon!

 

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