By the way: I’ve kind of wanted to avoid comparing the Merchants to juggalos, since juggalos have an undeservedly bad rep already (it’s a music fandom, FBI, not a damn gang), but… I can’t. The whole arrangement reminds me of a perverted version of a juggalo gathering (not that I’ve actually seen one of those, so I might be writing out of my ass), and Skidmark’s dialogue reads a lot like Gamzee Makara, a juggalo-based Homestuck character, to me.

End of Infestation 11.5

This was a bit of a mixed bag for me.

There’s nothing really wrong with the chapter, but I personally didn’t really enjoy the in-depth exhibits of how awful the Merchants are all that much. It feels like… we get it. They’re awful people, horribly unsympathetic, rife with debauchery in every way. That had been fairly thoroughly established already. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be exhibits like this to be seen in this particular place, but

by the end of the second session, it ended up being grating. It felt like it was a bit much.

(I knew we were heading into this sort of territory, to some extent, ever since the idea of going to a Merchant arrangement first came up, but I thought Lisa would counterbalance it more than she has so far.)

But my third session with this chapter, this one, really salvaged it. There were three main scenes in that: talking to the rescued girl, talking to Bryce, and the beginning of the main event. All three were excellent: I loved Taylor’s outburst at the girl’s careless words and the juxtaposition of the girl’s bystanderism during Taylor’s trigger event with Taylor very pointedly overriding her group’s bystanderism to save the girl. I loved the twist that Bryce is a little, privileged shit who joined the Merchants without telling his sister. And I loved the way Upsilon and the Dealer are being brought into this by way of Skidmark having somehow gotten hold of super juice.

Huh, I suppose that’s why we established last chapter that Lisa knows about case 53.

So yeah: Bit of a mixed bag, markedly stronger in the latter half. My issues with the first half are highly subjective, though, so your mileage may vary.

Next chapter… I guess it’s in the Undersiders’ interests to get those vials before the brawl ends and the Merchants who win can drink them. Otherwise the Merchants, the Undersiders’ greatest enemy at the moment, become significantly stronger – plus five capes is nothing to scoff at.

It might be time for this to stop being a recon mission.

Wild idea: The escorts join the brawl (judging by how Skidmark’s power seems to work, it should be possible to enter willingly, though it might throw you into the air in the process) and fight for the price.

I don’t think that’s actually going to happen – a stealth mission to steal the prizes is probably better. Worth noting that they’ll presumably be guarded by the existing Merchant capes, though. Hmm, maybe a swarm of bugs could lift the vials or the cans?

However they choose to go about it, getting those vials away from the Merchants does seem like it should be top priority, at least. There’s also the matter of getting the rescued girl and maybe Bryce safely out of the building, though, which the two Undersiders might decide to do first.

See you next time!

He withdrew a stoppered glass vial from the canister and gripped it in his right hand.

Don’t tell me that’s the stuff the Dealer was selling? The stuff Upsilon uses and presumably produces? Powers in a vial?

With his other hand, he held the stainless steel canister.  He thrust both hands over his head, each object clenched tight.

“Superpowers in a can!”

It is!

Now that’s a game changer. How did they even get ahold of this stuff? Did they steal it from Faultline’s Crew, after they found out more about the Dealer, or something?

I don’t think the Merchants were the ones who attacked the Dealer in the first place. That happened too long ago to make any sense with the way Skidmark is talking about this.

Anyway… offering them up as a prize and incentive for winning a brawl is actually pretty genius. It weeds out both those who don’t have the motivation and those who don’t have the skills to fight with the powers for the Merchants. He’ll find the most useful members to give the powers to this way, with the one flaw that it doesn’t account for loyalty once the powers are gained.

“Our contestants don’t seem to be too excited!” Skidmark shouted.  “Need an incentive?  Let me tell you cockgarglers what you stand to win!”

Hm. Well, at least it can’t be a fakeout prize if he’s being upfront about what it is before they fight and using it as an incentive like that. I still think it might be something horrible, like a sex slave or something.

He snapped his fingers, and one of his powered subordinates, a woman with long hair covering her face, hurried forward.  She held a metal box.

Alright… I doubt she’s got a sex slave in the box, but who knows. The woman’s power could be making containers have hammerspace.

Besides, the thing in the box could easily be symbolic, like a key or something.

Skidmark placed the case on the railing and popped it open.  He placed what looked like a metal canister on the railing, then withdrew the next.  By the time he was done, five metal cylinders were spaced out in front of him.

Oh right, five winners.

He picked up the center canister and began unscrewing it.  “Before, we gave our winners the pick of the pick, the best stuff our boys and girls have been able to grab from the rich assholes with their fancy-as-fuck houses and jobs!”

But now?

Every eye in the place was on him.

“But tonight is fucking special, because we won the lottery when we found this shit!”

Oh boy.

People howled, hooted and jeered, but I could see some of the faces of the people trapped in the ‘ring’.  Most of them weren’t cheering.

Sure, sucks for them. But most of them chose this life, did they not? When you willingly join a group like the Merchants without being just… dumb like Bryce, I honestly don’t care about your woes.

If there’s anyone in the ring who didn’t join willingly to partake in the debauchery, that’s a whole other matter, but as far as I’m concerned? Most of these people deserve a good beating.

“Fuck me,” Lisa whispered, “He’s trying to get people to have trigger events.  That’s how he’s recruiting parahumans.”

Oh cod dammit.

The noise the crowd made reached a peak it hadn’t even approached before.

How is this the thing that makes me go “I’m glad I’m not there”?

“Last five standing in the ring get a prize!” a mean smile spread across his face.

I misread that as pizza.

I don’t have a good feeling about that prize, though.

Even from where I stood on the other side of the mall, I could see how bad his teeth were.  “No rules!  I don’t give a shitstained fuck if you jump in at the last second or if you use a weapon!  Anything goes!”

Including murder?

But yeah, anything goes can make for some interesting fights, if not exactly fair ones.

It also makes me think of a boy who turns into a girl when doused with cold water and back when doused with hot water, but that’s a whole other matter.

Skidmark repeated the process to draw what I realized was a crude square in the middle of the mall, the ‘blue’ sides facing inward.

Guess he needed to round ‘em up. Why, though?

As he layered his power over the same area, the colors of the effect became darker, the ground below less visible and the effects on the people were all the more violent.

Oh boy, it stacks.

The blue sides had become dark blue, and instead of simply pushing against those who touched them, they threw people back towards the center of the ring.

The Merchants are gonna be even more eager to throw their comrades into the wall of “wind”, aren’t they.

“You piss-licking losers know what the red armband means!” Skidmark crowed, “Bloodshed!  Violence!  We’ve got ourselves a free for all brawl!”


…ahaha… nice.

Honestly? That’s a relatively good outcome. Provided it’s all Merchants in there, anyway, and provided it’s not just the warm-up.