Quietly, I set the serving tray down on one of the luggage trunks at one corner of the room, collected my own tea and went upstairs to the second floor.

And we’ve come full circle.

Aaand it’s time to deal with the second group, isn’t it?

Obediently, she went to do just that.

I put the kettle on, then got the sugar.  What did I have that would go well with tea?

Fried beetle?

I got out a box of graham cookies with chocolate on one side.  I poured out the tea into mugs and put a teabag in each.  I poured milk into a small measuring cup so Sierra could have milk with her tea if she wanted, and similarly doled out sugar into a small bowl and placed a spoon inside it.  Then I tore open the box of cookies and sorted them onto a plate.

Domestic, hospitable Skitter is pretty neat.

I put everything onto a tray and went to find the room where Sierra would be seated.

She was lying on the bunk bed, already fast asleep.

Aww. 🙂

It wouldn’t surprise me if she hasn’t had a good sleep over the last two days. Now she’s in a decent bed in the nice – if not fully-furnished – hive of someone who claims to want to protect her and seems genuine about it. I think Skitter’s reply to her comment about domesticity really did help her feel more comfortable about all of this.

Sleep well, Sierra.

“This is strangely domestic for a villain.”  I turned to look at her and she hurried to add, “I mean-”

And there it is. The V word.

(No, not vagina. Why would you think I meant vagina.)

Maybe that’ll help it sink in for Taylor why Sierra has been reacting the way she has.

Also, hey, villains gotta live somewhere too!

“It’s fine.  I’m not offended, I am a villain.  But I’m also a person under this mask.  Someone who prefers tea to coffee, who enjoys reading, who…”  I floundered.  “…likes sweet and savory foods but dislikes anything spicy or sour.  Point being, I’m someone who wants to make sure you get taken care of.  Especially if you’re among the people I’m protecting in the territory I’m claiming.  Go.  Find a bed.”

…I really like this reply.

Not gonna lie, I hope Sierra sticks around here after this Arc. I like her dynamic with Skitter.

“I’m making tea,” I spoke, as I came down the stairs.  “You want some?  Are you hungry?”

I really don’t think Sierra was expecting Skitter to be so hospitable.

“I’m not a tea drinker, and I haven’t had it in years, but that suddenly sounds like the best thing in the world.”

Hehe.

I suppose this tea ties back to the beginning again. I wonder if Skitter’s going to be like “Oh, I can sense some Merchants entering my territory. I’m gonna go sit upstairs and deal with it. Don’t come up, I wanna take my mask off so I can drink the tea.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have a kitchen table or chairs or even a living room for us to have the tea.  There’re beds in the other room, if you want something to sit on, and you can make yourself comfortable there.”

Better than nothing, I suppose.

For her part, she didn’t argue.

We made our way to the beach, and after I’d checked both ways, I led her into the storm drain.  It took some urging to get her to enter the darkness, and I had to grip her hand to lead her into the oppressive black.

This is where children go to get killed by villains and/or clowns.

I unlocked the barred door that led into the cellar and locked it behind us.

When I flipped the switches to light up the ground floor, her eyes went wide.  “You have power.  Erm, electricity.”

Hehe, yeah, in this world I suppose that needs to be clarified sometimes.

But yes. Skitter has both.

“And running water.  Stay here a moment.”  I took the stairs two at a time to get to the second floor.  Nothing too sensitive there, but I did walk up to the stairs leading to the third floor and slid a panel across the stairwell.  With my keys, I locked it in place.  I didn’t feel it was that obvious to anyone glancing around the room.

Hm, alright. I guess this might be why she was on the second floor at the beginning of the chapter.

Or will be, I guess.

It looked like a section of wall until you saw the keyhole.  I verified the bugs were all locked up tight in their individual compartments in the lids of each terrarium, then headed back to Sierra.

Neat.

You know what would be cool? A Skitter lock. A door that is locked or unlocked by manipulating bugs. I can think of ways to make something like that, though I suppose certain other powers might be able to cheese it.

“I can’t think of anything major right this second.”

“Okay.”  I thought.  But she might come up with something more?  “Where are you staying?”

She hesitated to answer, but she finally relented and admitted, “Nowhere.  I was out all last night, looking.  I was going to go back to the place we’d stayed at first, our family friend, but…”

Welp.

…guest bed on the ground floor of the Hive?

“The mold problem, and you said it was crowded.  That won’t do.  You’ll come with me.”

I love how Taylor doesn’t even seem to think twice about it, at least not before saying it.

So does that mean she was downstairs while the scene I read last time played out? Better make sure she doesn’t come upstairs while Taylor’s mask is off.

Although Sierra knowing Taylor’s face could make for an interesting subplot.

Concern flickered across her face.  “I don’t know-”

“It’s better if you’re close, so you can answer any questions I have and so I can keep you informed.”

That seems reasonable.

She frowned, and I could practically see her working to think of a way to get out of my offer without offending.  I knew if she didn’t come with me, she’d probably wind up searching for a mediocre to unsatisfactory place.

Her hesitation is very understandable. Sure, Skitter is being very open to helping her with her brother, and claims to have good intentions for the neighborhood in general, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she can trust the villain enough to go live with her.

“This isn’t really negotiable,” I told her, just to forestall any excuses.

Heh. “I’m not going to let you weasel your way out of me helping you.”

Because I do think helping Sierra with her living conditions for the time being is Taylor’s main motivation here. The thing about staying close seems to be as much an excuse to do that as whatever Sierra was going to come up with for not letting Skitter do that.

“I don’t think anything major.  Um, most of the guys were shirtless, and the ones who were wearing clothes were wearing t-shirts, some with no sleeves or with the sleeves torn off.  Oh.  And a lot of them had these bands around their wrists.  Plastic, colored, sometimes one or two, but the black guy had a lot.

Hm. Some sort of ranking system?

Hang on, “tall black guy with a scar on his lips”, lots of bands suggesting high ranking… Sounds like we’re dealing with Skidmark himself here.

I remember seeing the ones on the black guy’s wrist, and thinking it didn’t seem like something he would wear on his own.”

Yeah, that just makes it even more likely it’s a rank thing. Maybe he wasn’t the one to come up with the idea, for that matter.

“Ok, that last bit is especially good.”  Were they a way of marking status?  More bands for higher status, with different colors meaning different things?  “Anything else?”

I suppose the colors could have meaning too. Especially if the group is subdivided.

“Did you get a look at the people who took him?”

“Some.  The one nearest me, he was fat, white, and he had one of those bushy wild man beards.  You know the kind I mean?  It sticks out everywhere, no grooming-”

Yeah, I think I know what you mean.

“I know what you mean.”

“And his hair was really long and greasy, so it stuck to his scalp.”

Spoiler: Snape fused with Dumbledore and Victor Dursley.

“Okay.”

“Then there was one woman.  Maybe middle-aged, bleached blond hair.  Trailer trash.  And she was with this tall black guy with a scar on his lips.

On one hand, it’d be quite the twist if it turned out that these church attackers weren’t Merchants after all, but rather the Slaughterhouse Nine (with a new member), but the methodology, the fact that nobody died, and the themes of this Arc so far suggest otherwise.

He was the one who was grabbing Bryce.  He had a bottle in one hand he was drinking from and a length of pipe in the other, so I think he was the one who used the bottle on Derrick…”

Yeah, probably.

“Bryce?” I asked her.

She nodded.  “Bryce Kiley.”

Nice. I don’t think I’ve heard that surname before – Wildbow seems to have a preference for using some of the less common ones. Hebert, Hess, Laborn, Wilbourn, Vasil, Lindt, Piggot, etcetera.

“Is there any chance he escaped?”

“No.  I’ve checked all the usual places.  His friends, our old house, what’s left of it.  I stopped by the hospital where Mom and Dad are, and the nurses say they haven’t seen him.”

Worth asking, at least.

“How long ago did he disappear?”

“Two days ago.”

Ah, more recent than I had expected. Fair enough, I suppose otherwise she’d have gotten in touch with the Protectorate by now.

I nodded.  I vaguely recalled that the forty-eight hour mark was when police considered a missing person as good as gone.

Ahh, right. I guess maybe she went there first, and it’s gotten to that point, so she’s now looking for other sources of help, like the Protectorate or Skitter.

That didn’t mean I wouldn’t try.  It also meant I could feel less guilty about handling things here, with my territory, before starting my search.

I’m not sure I follow that logic, but I think we all know Taylor doesn’t need any more guilt on her mind right now.