End of Snare 13.3

This was really good.

Mannequin put in a very interesting new weapon for the Undersiders to work around, and watching Taylor figure out how to deal with that, and the teamwork between Taylor, Brian and Bastard as they blew Mannequin’s ass up a couple times, was quite satisfying.

I do feel like Mannequin could’ve made more use of some of his other abilities besides gas and gun, but to be fair, we’ve already had the first fight against him to highlight those and he did end up fighting with limited space on the sides (though exactly how limited is unclear). Also he may have been unable to protect his arms from Taylor’s spiders while extended.

And then there’s the twist at the end – Burnscar taking over Cherish’s turn in order to be allowed to fight the Undersiders right now. Welp. None of them are feeling particularly well after the Mannequin fight and now it’s right on to fighting Burnscar? And, as I mentioned in this chapter before it reminded me of Burnscar’s existence, Skitter’s costume is made of spider silk, which supposedly isn’t good against heat. Though it does seem to have survived the fire sweep Burnscar did near the end of this chapter, as well as the battles with Lung, so maybe I’m giving it too little credit.

Anyway, better hope Genesis can find the alley soon, because damn, the Undersiders need her help.

So yeah, next chapter:

It’s time to turn up the heat.

It might also involve barbasol, for reasons.

See you then!

She cracked her knuckles, and every flaming piece of debris on the street became a pillar of fire, stretching vertically for the sky.  The fire snaked over the surface of the water to cut off our avenues of retreat.

In retrospect, the focus on fire in the latter half of this Mannequin battle has made for a fantastic transition into Burnscar’s turn.

“My go.  I’m taking round two.”

Well, this is a thing now!

Burnscar gave Mannequin a hand in getting to his feet.  Cracks marred his lower body, and his left arm was a mess of cracked ceramic and pale gray organic pulp.  I heard her murmur something.

Maybe something about letting himself get beaten up again?

Burnscar’s a bit less open right now than the last time she had much relevance, but that’s to be expected. Last time she was visiting an old friend. This time she’s in front of enemies and a fellow member of the Nine.

Mannequin shook his head.  Burnscar said something else.

Ah, having a whole conversation.

Maybe she’s asking him to not let Jack know she helped.

He raised one hand, and Burnscar slapped it in a lazy high-five.

Heh.

She turned towards us.  “There.  He just tagged me in.  Forfeited his turn.”

Wait, what?

Well, then. I guess it’s her turn now, despite Jack’s wishes of Cherish going next.

Which means attacking the Undersiders is no longer assisting.

Fuck.

…yay they made it through the first round?

“You can’t assist him.  They’re your rules.”

Hm, let’s see how the rules put it…

4.  Each tester operates independently, with no hands-on assistance from other members of the Slaughterhouse Nine.  Assistance may be bought, bartered or otherwise rendered in a hands-off manner, possibly including medical assistance, information, provided equipment and suggestions.

Ah, yeah, I suppose that would cover non-testing confrontations too.

It’s also worth noting that against Burnscar, the Triumvirate could step in if they were here, since the rule that limits them only applies to confrontations with the active tester, i.e. Mannequin.

“Jack’s rules, not mine.  But fine,” Burnscar said.  Something about the tone in her voice: it sounded casual, but there was something in it that reminded me of Shadow Stalker and Sophia.

The casual disdain for the rules she has to follow, perhaps? The sense of “ugh, I wanted to be violent but okay”?

Also, I like how Taylor is separating Shadow Stalker and Sophia. It’s like she’s still not comfortable with thinking of that breach of the boundaries between her civilian and cape lives, the fact that they’re the same person.

Granted, I sometimes imply there’s a difference between Taylor and Skitter (it’s been getting less pronounced), but I don’t usually do it like this.

It wasn’t angry like Shadow Stalker was, but it had the same emptiness.  I just hadn’t really picked up on it in the past.

…emptiness.

Hm.

“No,” Grue said.  “You can’t interfere!”

Not with the testing, at least, but I’m not sure the rules said anything about this?

The Protectorate?

It would be disastrous if the Protectorate-

Nah, my money is still on Burnscar. The Protectorate doesn’t have anyone local that could… hm. The rules do specifically say the Triumvirate are in town and can’t interfere, and that includes Eidolon, who could absolutely have this sort of power today. But why would he interfere with Brian attempting to shut down Mannequin? To make sure they could arrest him?

But yeah, mix in Taylor getting cut off here and I’m fairly sure it’s Burnscar, not Eidolon.

No.  I fixed my eyes on the scene.  Much worse than the Protectorate.

Burnscar tapped her finger to one side of her nose.  “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

Bingo.

Also why wouldn’t they tell, if they survive to do so? Of course, that part might be easier said than done.

Grue limped around the scene until he stood over Mannequin’s body.

“Ignore the head,” I said, quiet.  “Nothing important in there.  I’m not joking.  It’s a decoy.  Get him in the chest.”

Right, not just hold him down, but hurt him. Got it.

Grue nodded and hefted the chunk of rubble until it was over his head, point facing forward.

s t r o n k

Would it puncture?  Hard to say.

Worth a try.

Yeah, let’s see how it goes and take it from there.

“Do it,” Bitch growled, beside me.  “Killed Lucy.”

“Bentley too, maybe,” I said, quiet.  “I’m sorry.  I don’t know if he made it.  There was no way to save him.”

😦

I was expecting Taylor to fill in with her own reasons, but this is sadder.

“Do it,” she repeated herself.

Grue didn’t get a chance.

Fuck.

I mean, I did expect him to survive, but this is ominous.

An eruption of fire tore through our surroundings.  Not an explosion.  There was no shockwave, and barely any noise.  It was more like a push, intensely hot and brief.

…Burnscar to the rescue?

We were knocked sprawling, dog and human alike.  The agony in my ribs hit me worse than ever as I was knocked flat onto my back in the water and a huff of air was struck from my lungs.

Taylor’s torso is not having a good week.

Sirius was hauling himself out of the rubble, with Bitch in the arch that formed with his front legs, chest, and the ground.  She stood, shaky, still breathing funny, making rhythmic facial motions like she was swallowing convulsively or gagging.

It might not be deadly unless she spends more time in it, but the aftereffects of being in a gas that knocks you out that quickly probably ain’t pleasant.

Grue limped over to Bitch’s side.  She couldn’t stand without Sirius’s support, but Sirius was shoring up the rubble with his body.  Grue gave her the support she needed and the pair of them made their way towards us.  Sirius stepped away from the wall and the rubble he’d been holding up tumbled to the ground, and he returned to his master’s side.

Good doggo.

“Bastard,” Grue said.  “Monster.  Freak.”

Uh, careful, don’t want Bitch to think you’re talking about her puppy.

Grue took Bitch’s hand and placed it on my shoulder.  She didn’t pull away.  Once he was sure we were both standing, he stepped away.

I think everyone’s too woozy to be worrying about how well they get along right now.

Bending down with an excruciating slowness, Grue picked up a piece of rubble that had to have weighed fifty or sixty pounds, roughly cone-shaped.

Gonna use that to keep Mannequin down?

Bitch seemed to follow his line of thinking.  “Sirius, hold!”

The dog lurched forward and placed both front paws on Mannequin’s body, pinning his arm and chest.

Nice. He’s still something of a threat, thanks to his extendable limbs, but he seems to be down for the count for now.

Bastard growled at the one who was intruding on his quarry, and Sirius growled back.

You’re a good doggo too, Bastard.

Bastard quieted.  It seemed he didn’t fully realize that he was bigger, more dangerous and less injured.  He was too used to being the puppy, with Sirius as the full-grown one.

Makes sense. Dog/wolf instincts probably aren’t meant to accomodate these drastic size changes.

A whistle from Bitch’s direction and a signal that was too brief for me to catch sent Bastard forward.

Oh hey, sounds like someone’s awake!

With Bitch’s condition, I couldn’t imagine how she handled it, but she managed to pump Bastard up.  He grew to half-again the size he’d been, roughly as large as a small car, and when he bit down on Mannequin’s arm this time, he broke the material.

Nice.

If that’s not a milestone against this guy, I don’t know what is.

He adjusted his grip until he had Mannequin’s lower body and legs in a hold, but the material there proved sturdier.

I guess it would have to be, carrying his body most of the time.

Two arms in two fights, I thought, with a grim satisfaction.  The flames at our back were getting a touch too close for comfort, so I stepped forward, supporting Grue.

Maybe someday you’ll get one of his legs, too!

His arm around my shoulder, we approached as close as we dared to Bastard’s mayhem.

I think this is a victory at this point. Which means Mannequin, assuming he gets out of this alive, just lost another day. Which I suppose in turn means the time limit for his test is now outside his alloted turn.

Cherish is up next, and she’s going for a deal. I think the next few days are going to be interesting.

Mannequin shut his mouth, stepping back.  Half of the tissues went out or were dropped by the burned dragonflies before they got close enough.  Which meant that the other half made it.

Well, I guess it won’t result in an in-mouth explosion, but it should still be pretty near him.

The gas ignited for a second time, but I didn’t get to see it.  Grue shielded us with his darkness once more.  Whether it was to dampen the shockwave or keep us from being blinded by the light or something else, I didn’t know.

Possibly both.

I could only trust that it worked.  The darkness dissipated, we were standing, Mannequin wasn’t.

Good job, both of you. 😀

Whatever.  I reached behind my back and retrieved two items.  The change purse was the first.  I popped it open.  A variety of quarters, dimes and nickels, all kept in place with wadded tissue, and a few small paper packets of smelling salts.

…alright. So are the smelling salts the important part here?

It was stupid to be carrying change around, really, but I’d wanted to have some on hand since it had crossed my mind during my first night out in costume.

You never know when you’ll have to change out of costume in a public bathroom with a coin deposit slot.

I grabbed a tissue and tore it, once, then twice, until I had a series of strips.  Then I ignited them with the lighter, the item I’d grabbed with my other hand.

Ah! She doesn’t have the matches anymore, but she can’t throw the lighter and expect it to stay lit, so she’s using the paper strips as “matches” for the bugs to carry.

Dragonflies gripped the burning tissues in the instant I let them fall from my fingers.

Dragonflies have got to be the most appropriate bug she could possibly use for a fire-based move, just for their name.

In English, anyway. In Norwegian they’re more appropriate for the kind of thing she did to Lung and Clockblocker, being called eye-stingers.

I know they don’t actually sting, let alone sting eyes, but hey. As far as I know they don’t exactly breathe fire either.