End of Plague 12.6

That was an alright chapter. Not super exciting until Mannequin showed up, but sometimes we gotta take a moment to deal with this kind of thing. Taylor’s story isn’t all about the battles and deadly situations.

Skitter did really well dealing with the crowd in this chapter. While I did find myself with not too much to comment on at times, it was neat to see Skitter take charge so effectively, once she actually got people to listen to her.

I still really like Charlotte’s role in this chapter. The way she stepped forward to help Skitter get the crowd to join in on helping was a real power move, and shows a bit of character development as she stepped forward as an example against bystanderism, the exact thing Taylor chewed her out for after she stood up against bystanderism for Charlotte’s sake.

Mannequin showing up did help the chapter become more interesting at the end, though it was primarily setting up the next chapter.

So, next chapter, it’s bug girl versus bug-blocker. Well, that can only go well, right?

Okay, but seriously, it’s not like Taylor hasn’t been up against enemies who are mostly immune to her bugs before. She’ll probably think of something good to get around it! 🙂

See you then!

The only difference between then and now was that he was using his power to help and protect himself and himself only.

“Motherfucker.”  Even without intending to do it, I used my swarm to carry my voice.  His head craned around, as if to look at the swarming bugs who had just, for all intents and purposes, spoken.  Eventually his ‘face’ turned back to me.

Can I just say? I really like the swarm speech thing. It’s a super cool effect.

“I have no idea how the fuck I’m going to do it,” my voice was a low snarl, barely recognizable as my own beneath my anger and the noises of the swarm.  “But I’m going to make you regret that.”

Damn! Skitter’s fired up now!

image

So fired up that she comes across as badass even while admitting her weakness to the enemy and the crowd. Nice.

Not taking my eyes off him, I used my bugs and my peripheral vision to track the other people in the warehouse.  Too many were too hurt to move, and those who could move had backed into corners and to places where they had cover.

Well, at least some of them are a little safer. It’d be better if some of them had dared to help those who couldn’t move, though.

Still, this was his battlefield.  He had far too many hostages at his disposal.  He was faster than me, stronger, tougher.

And harder and better too.

I was pretty damn sure that his power was as complete a counter to mine as anyone could hope for.  Anyone who had paid attention to the news in the past five years knew who he was, what his story was.  Mannequin had once been a tinker who specialized in biospheres, terrariums and self-contained ecosystems.  A tinker who specialized in sustaining life, sheltering it from outside forces; forces that included water, weather, space… and bugs.

Ah, yes, that too on top of what I was talking about with impacts. This more so, even.

He didn’t need to avoid my swarm.  He was taunting me.

Ahhh, right.

Letting me know exactly how he had gotten so close without me realizing it.

Mannequin poses what I consider an interesting challenge to Wildbow as a writer because he can’t talk, meaning Wildbow has to find good ways to have Mannequin communicate through body language… with a body that is very different from a typical one.

I flicked out my baton to its full length.  He responded by doing the same with the telescoping blades that unfolded from his arms.  His weapons were longer, both sharp.

Mixed with the chain joints, Mannequin has a pretty clear reach advantage.

Overall, Taylor’s practically mundane in this fight, unless she finds a good way to use her swarm to enhance her senses like I described earlier.

Hm. Maybe the workaround for Mannequin dodging the bugs is not to make the swarm denser, but to allow visual input and have eyes all over the room?

It’s probably going to take a bit of a beating for Skitter to consider that, I think, but that might be the solution here.

Mannequin’s knife hand went limp, dangling at his side.  His other hand remained in position, finger wagging, as if admonishing me for what I had been doing.  Saving people from the Nine, tending to the hurt and scared.

Seems I was right the first time.

I should have anticipated this.

I stepped forward, almost without thinking about it, and he dropped his other hand while taking three long steps to back away from me. His movements were ungainly, as if he was about to collapse to the ground with each one.

Why is he backing off? Does he not know what Skitter’s deal is? I suppose it makes sense that he might not.

No sooner had I wondered why when I saw his feet.  His ‘toes’ pointed at the ground, and blades had sprouted from slots at the front of each foot.  He was perched precariously on the honed knife points, walking on the blades.

Are we sure Shatters is the bird of the team?

Reaching behind my back, I drew my baton and knife.  I tensed as he moved in reaction, closing half the distance between us, lurching three or four feet to the right, then back again.

I suspect the baton would be far more effective than the knife, but I don’t expect either to be super good. An important part of making biospheres is making sure they don’t crack open at the first impact, so I suspect that even if it’s ceramic, it’s probably fairly tough. Tinker ceramic or something.

Reaching behind my back, I drew my baton and knife.  I tensed as he moved in reaction, closing half the distance between us, lurching three or four feet to the right, then back again.

I caught on immediately.  He was evading the bugs that had been hovering in the air between us, the knife-stilts that extended from his feet delicately avoiding contact with the bugs that were on the ground.

I hope there’s fanart of Mannequin in a ballet dancer outfit.

Might be time to pull in the swarm and make it hard for him to dodge. Even if it’s not dark, fighting inside the swarm has its benefits for Taylor as long as the enemy can’t avoid the bugs, especially against a knight like Mannequin. He can attack from unexpected angles, and being surrounded by bugs can help Taylor sense incoming attacks from behind.

The contact he did make with the bugs was gentle, sliding against them like a brush of wind.  I only noticed because I was paying attention.

Hrm.

The other hand was folded back, a long telescoping blade extended from the base of Mannequin’s palm.  The blade was pressed to the neck of the gray-haired doctor, so she had to stand on her tiptoes, her head pressed back against his chest.

Ahh. “Now, now, Skitter, don’t do anything funny or the doctor gets it.”

I didn’t have a chance to move, to speak, or to use my power before he retracted the blade.  It slid across her throat, shearing through the skin, and arterial blood sprayed forth to cover some of the ground between us.

…I guess he didn’t care about using the doctor as a hostage after all.

I suppose it makes sense. There’s not much bugs can do against his casing, and he knows that.

She collapsed to the ground.

You will be forever fondly remembered by the members of your wrestling club.

This wound – there was no way he could have had it when he came into the ambulance.  It was fresh.  All three of the people here had been executed.  It had been done in cold blood, clean, and I hadn’t even noticed with my bugs on watch.

Hmm… Maybe Cricket would be able to dodge the bugs? Though I don’t recall her doing that in Buzz.

Fog would probably be able to get in easily, but he’d have to pull himself together in order to kill them in these particular ways, and that’s something Taylor would probably sense.

Which left me very concerned for the people I’d left in the warehouse.  I hopped down from the back of the ambulance, checked my surroundings, and then ran across the street.

Welp, yeeah, if whoever did this is no longer in the ambulance…

I was a single step inside the door when I saw him.  Tall, faceless, featureless, but for the chains and ball joints that connected his ceramic-encased limbs.

Oh, hi there, Mannequin! Have you seen any brutal murderers around here recently, by any chance?

One hand was raised, a single finger raised, ticking from side to side like a metronome.  Like an old-fashioned parent scolding an errant child.

Is he… scolding her for trying to help these people?