Oh yeah, before I finish up, I had a work thought yesterday that I forgot to post about:

What’s going to happen to Battery if Cauldron determines that being controlled by Regent while the rest of the Nine leave means Shatterbird hasn’t escaped the city like Cauldron asked. Maybe they don’t count that as a failure until Shatterbird’s actually dead, though, expecting Battery to make an effort to free Shatterbird from Regent?

If she fails in Cauldron’s eyes, does she get another task, another chance to pay up her debt? Or do they send out agents immediately to get rid of the debtor? They do seem relatively agreeable, if amoral, so I feel like they might give her a chance, at least.

End of Interlude 14

This chapter was a mixed bag. It started out with some nice thoughts about the corpses and dealing with them, as well as setting up some Chekhov’s gunmen (though the one using the literal gun ended up being the woman), but then it proceeded to talk about soup for a while (admittedly we got a nice contrasting of Sierra and Charlotte, helping to expand on Sierra’s character, when they discussed caring for the children vs putting them to work), with a “Bryce is a little shit” intermission. It wasn’t bad, but it felt dull by comparison when coming down from the excitement of the miasma.

Then the ABB members in the crew threw away the hope of redemption, which I wasn’t thrilled about. I know this isn’t a story where redemption is easy, but I still kinda wish this had happened with some other people. Some jerks that weren’t introduced a couple Arcs ago as former antagonist mooks. Sure, it makes sense that it’d be them, and it helped make them a credible threat, but I had better hopes for them.

Sugita’s treatment of Charlotte and the way she reacted immediately made me very uncomfortable. I only tagged the initial bit of this with the rape and abuse TWs once I got to the later part where that was made a little more explicit by Sierra speculating on Charlotte’s behavior (the other post with those tags), because that’s when I realized I should probably go back and add those, but the warning bells for those things were definitely going off in my head when I first blogged that part too. I think this might be a part of why I had some trouble getting back to the chapter, mixed with the other criticisms I’ve mentioned so far.

I am interested in hearing Charlotte’s story later, though.

Things rapidly got better the moment Taylor showed up, though! We got treated to some fantastic character writing here as she displayed her theatrical and intimidating side while also being very transparently exhausted as fuck. I could almost hear the exhaustion in her voice, the matter-of-factness of everything, things said by someone who just doesn’t have the mental energy to feel the emotions right now. The casualness of her cruel punishments, even if some of that was for show. And then the way she briefly broke down afterwards, showing her human side to Sierra more than ever, before opening up about her plans. So much good character stuff in the latter part of the chapter.

This is exactly the kind of role I was hoping Sierra could play for Taylor, isn’t it?

So – there’s one more Interlude before we reach the end of Arc 14. I don’t know if I dare to hope that it’ll be Charlotte’s POV, though that’d be neat. She’s my favorite of the drones (Sierra didn’t manage to take over that spot in this Interlude), and there’s clearly a story to be told regarding her reaction to Sugita. And I’d like to hear how she perceives Skitter too.

But if it’s not her… maybe someone in the Chosen (Cricket in particular comes to mind) learning about Hookwolf having gone?

Or maybe someone who was deeply affected by the miasma, perhaps finding out the member of the Nine they killed in self defense was actually a family member or something? Except the Interludes usually have an impact on the main story somehow. Maybe they’d trigger in response to the realization, or something like that. But now I’m less speculating and more making up a fanfic premise (that has probably been done at least five times). What kind of power would that lead to… Maybe the power to know who anyone you see is?

Hmmm. Well, I’ll have to find out next time. See you then! 🙂

There was a pause.  Sierra thought of how she would excuse herself, go tend to the soup and check on Charlotte, but Skitter spoke first. “But no.  Not an ally.  At least half of them might get involved, and that could get pretty ugly, fast, but I’m thinking the biggest issue right now is the man at the top.”

She continues to open up. This is stuff it took Taylor a while to come clean about to some of her Undersider friends, and she hasn’t done that to all of them.

Hell, I’m not sure she’s even told Sierra there was a man at the top before, for that matter.

So is that where we’re going next? Dealing with Coil?

…end of chapter. Well, that sounds very close to a confirmation to me.

“Things are going to get better now?” she asked.  “You’re not worried about the Chosen?”

Don’t jinx us, Sierra.

That’s like… something you’d say two seconds before the Endbringer alarm goes off again.

“No.  I think their leader is gone, and after facing down the Nine, somehow I’m not worried about dealing with them.”

That’s fair. And yeah, the point about Hookwolf didn’t occur to me.

So then what is next?

Facing down the Nine.  Sierra shivered a bit.

I wonder what her reaction would be if it had been Legend who said it.

“No,” Skitter thought aloud.  “I think the biggest challenge I face comes from within our organization.”

People like Yan? Or are you looking the other way along the ladder, up at Coil?

That gave Sierra pause.  Had Skitter intended to include her with that ‘our’, or was it just vaguely phrased?

I think she might mean “our” as in the Undertravelers, but you’re absolutely a part of their organization, so you could be included, “our” being in the sense of “the organization we are part of”.

“An ally?  One of the other people with their own territories?”

“I shouldn’t have said that,” Skitter said.

Now Sierra knows how to get past Fluffy! And that Legend is Nicholas Flamel!

Sierra hesitated.  What was she supposed to do here?

She ventured forward and reached out to put a hand on the girl’s shoulder.

Yes, good. Be the one who treats Skitter as a human when Skitter herself won’t.

She stopped when she saw the carpet of ants, cockroaches and wasps.

Oh. Right. Might be a bit prickly.

“I’m okay,” Skitter said, without looking up.  She removed her hands from her face and leaned back.  There was no sign of tears – her eyes were dry.  Just tired.

No, she might not be crying, but this isn’t just regular tiredness.

“Could I bother you to make me a cup of tea?  Milk, drop of honey.”

I don’t even drink tea (I’m not one for warm drinks), but this still sounds nice.

Sierra nodded, “I remember.”

Silence reigned as she filled the kettle and set it down on the stove.  Still have to deliver the soup.  Sierra tried to surreptitiously examine Skitter.

Ah, yes, the soup. That somewhat uninteresting subplot is still a thing. Maybe it can get tied into the rest in a metaphorical sense by the end of the chapter?

The girl was removing all of the bugs from the surface of her costume and the gaps in the armor.  The swarm flowed up the stairs as a single mass.

The gaps in the armor are definitely relevant in a metaphorical sense, though, intended or otherwise. Skitter is rapidly losing the armor, the costume, showing the human underneath.

Skitter let herself drop into a chair.  “Anything serious?  Ongoing attacks?”

“Just occupying the territory, I think.  Maybe making trouble for minorities nearby, but nothing so serious that I’ve hard about it.”

(I assume that’s supposed to be “heard”. Maybe Sierra developed an interesting accent just for that one word…)

“Then I’ll deal with them after an afternoon’s rest.  Maybe open a discussion before I try anything more serious.”

So that’s two things she intends to “deal with” tonight.

Jeez, she needs and deserves at least a couple days of rest.

Skitter’s voice buzzed as she spoke.  She pulled off the mask that covered the lower half of her face.

“Your voice.  You’re still doing the thing where your bugs talk with you.”

Oh yeah, I suppose she forgot to stop.

“Sorry,” Skitter said, the swarm suddenly quiet.  “I don’t even think about it anymore.”

Taylor automates bug maneuvers like this remarkably quickly.

“Your gang’s a lot smaller.  A lot of people died.”

These are things Taylor probably doesn’t need to hear about right now, maybe.

Skitter put her elbows on her knees, removed her glasses and buried her face in her hands.

Crying?

There’s been this ongoing progression with Skitter, the drones and showing her humanity, and I love it. For all her badassery just now, this is one of the most vulnerable states Sierra has seen Taylor in, and Taylor is letting it show, even if she isn’t actively reaching out to Sierra for comfort. They’re not quite there yet.

She hurried to obey, stepping into the open doorframe and reaching up to bring it down to the ground.  It latched at the door’s base.  She shut the door after it.  “There’re kids still on an errand, I think.”

After that display, Sierra doesn’t want to waste a moment in doing what Skitter wants.

“I’ll let you know when to open the shutter again.”

“Okay.”

Right, she’ll sense the kids.

Skitter scattered the bugs around her face and ran her gloved fingers through her hair to straighten it.  “I’m sorry.”

“That was a touch dramatic.”

But which thing is she apologizing for here? Not coming back sooner? Letting Sierra see her go a bit heavy on the intimidation there?

Moments like this are part of why Skitter would fit into the Nine.

“It’s okay,” Sierra replied, not quite sure what the apology was for.

You and me both, Sierra.

“Couldn’t focus on this place and the Nine at the same time, and I thought this place was a lost cause.”

Ah. The former, then.

That stung, but Sierra didn’t voice the thought.  “Might be.  We’ve got bodies to get rid of-”

Yeah, I can see why she would be a little bit hurt by Skitter admitting to have pretty much given up on them.

I think Skitter is a little too exhausted to worry about the bodies right at the moment.

“I’ll handle that tonight.”

What time even is it right now?

“The Chosen have been moving into the edges of your area, here and elsewhere, according to Tattletale’s soldier.”

I guess they might be our next antagonists? Maybe? Seems like a step down from the Nine, but most local antagonists do right now and I doubt we’ll be seeing Nilbog right after the Nine left. So what else might be next? The Simurgh?

“So you’re condemning us to die?”  Any bravado Yan might have had before had been excised and replaced by wide-eyed fear.

“No.  Leave the city as fast as you can, and you can get help somewhere else.

“This way, if you die from this, it’ll be on you for not getting out of my way quickly enough.”

I don’t really care, so long as you’re out of my city.  You’ll have some ugly scars if you don’t hurry.”

My city. Not even our city.

Though it could be in the sense of “my home city”, I kinda doubt that’s the full extent of it.

Skitter gestured to the door, and the three were quick to leave.  “Sierra, the shutter.”

Bye bye!

Sugita was too busy reeling from the knee to the gut to respond or react.

“Attacking my people?  That was dumb.  Attacking a little kid?  Dumber.  Consider my territory to be a very bad place to be from now on.

She’s making it incredibly clear how unwanted they are here now.

I mean, if the spider bites weren’t enough of an indication.

My bugs can see you, they can hear you, and I’ll know if you slow down even a little as you leave, give you a few more bites.”

RUN.

The beetle climbed off Yan, using its forelimbs to pick up the gun by driving the points through the trigger-guard.  It moved to Skitter’s side.

Y’know, I never thought I’d be reading about a beetle with a gun, but now that I am, it does not disappoint.

Yan, Sugita and Jay all took that as their leave to climb to their feet and head toward the door.  None of them even looked at Skitter, but they stopped when she pushed the door closed.

Not go-time yet?

Oh! Is she gonna use the gun as a starting signal for them to race out the door?

“There’s no safe haven for you in Brockton Bay.  My allies have control of every district, every territory.  No shelter will host you, and our individual forces will be searching every other place you might want to sleep.  Before you get far enough to find a doctor and get those bites treated, my contacts will have spread the word. 

“Get the fuck out of our city.”

The doctors may have to treat you, but we can have our people sitting in the waiting rooms, or working as assistants to the doctors.  If you show your face, you’ll get attacked.  Maybe it’ll be a direct attack, maybe it won’t.  Trust me when I say you won’t be in any shape to defend yourselves.”

Damn.

She seems to be exaggerating slightly, but Coil could genuinely have his Coildiers in such roles, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility for her. Just outside of the amount of effort she’d want to go to to deal with just these three thugs.

The suggestion is enough. The fear it’ll put in them.

The paranoia that anyone around them might be out to get them. That sounds familiar for some reason.

“And Mr. Accent.  Hand or knee?”

Sugita glanced around, then lunged for Sierra.  Going for the knife on the counter yet again.  She blocked him for the second time, he tried to shove her aside, and she used the distraction to drive her knee into his stomach.  He grunted and folded over.

“What’s that you said? Was it

image

by any chance? Because I’m pretty sure I heard you say

image

and I just wanted to confirm if

image

was what you just said to me.”

She blocked him for the second time, he tried to shove her aside, and she used the distraction to drive her knee into his stomach.  He grunted and folded over.

“Both, then,” Skitter said.

Both is good.