“You’re gone,” Brian growled to the empty room, seizing the mask in both hands and pulling it free of the stand.  “We won.  Shut up.”

Yes. Keep telling her that.

Her giggling was so vivid in his memory that it sounded like she was right next to him.

“No I’m not.”

He stared at the mask, glad it wasn’t the skull mask that Bonesaw had referenced.  Hard to explain why.

You really don’t need to explain why.

He was reaching to pull his mask on when he felt something brush against his bare arm.

Hm?

A moth?

Taylor, are you controlling this one?

Are you spying on Brian for Aisha?

Fun fact I just discovered while looking up which game it was I needed to tag in the previous post (Zork, though the term “grue” for a dark-dwellling monster originates from Dying Earth):

Brian gets a mention in the “In popular culture” section of Wikipedia’s page on grues.

(Naturally, I noped out the moment I saw the phrase “The webserial Worm features”, in case of spoilers, so I don’t know exactly what it says about him.)

He couldn’t even explain his own line of thinking to himself.  He didn’t always like her, but he was barely able to think straight when he thought about Aisha suffering anything close to what he’d been through.

That honestly makes a lot of sense to me.

I’m not sure he’d wish that on his worst enemies, let alone his closest family.

Aisha would be annoyed, even upset.  She was already feeling pressured, but he had his own pressures, his own concerns.  It would reach a critical point one way or the other, but for now he needed to check on her.

He does patronize her a bit, but it’s all well-intentioned.

He paused when he’d re-entered his own room and found himself facing his costume as it hung on the stand.  The eyes were surrounded by ridges of horns, the teeth curled and curved into one another.  A demon, a creature of nightmare.

Are you sure you wanted this change?

Although… maybe he wasn’t comfortable with the skull anymore after having had his actual skeleton exposed?

…I could give you a skull face like that helmet of yours, only real…

Oh. Yeah, that’s worse.

and crank your power up to the max, always on, give you some biological imperative to encourage cannibalism, see how long it takes for them to eliminate you if they can’t see or hear you…”

So she wanted to turn him into an actual grue.

Even the simplest things were screwed up, now.  Sleep in particular was hard to come by, and was riddled with terror dreams that left him more exhausted than when he’d put his head down to the pillow.

Unsurprisingly.

He clenched his fist, feeling the sting where his hand was still bleeding.

Okay, seriously, if it’s still bleeding at this point, you really should go and find a bandage for that.

He’d go after Aisha, lend some assistance, maybe, or make sure that everything was going okay.

Yeah, looks like we’re doing this.

There was no good narrative reason for the map to inform Brian of the next target otherwise. Some okay reasons, sure, but no good ones.

Of course, he couldn’t not deal with Coil.  Taylor wouldn’t stick around if they didn’t, for one thing, and he knew that the little girl deserved to be rescued.

She does, but let’s note that while he does think this, this makes it sound like he doesn’t care enough to remember her name.

I’m sure he does, it’s just something about the use of “the little girl” in place of it.

I spent three hours in that refrigerator.  Dinah’s spent nearly that many months with Coil.

Ohh. So that’s what brought about this change of heart, besides the reduction in how much he needs to depend on Coil: He can relate to Dinah now.

And though it was nebulous, he feared the future.  He’d spent so many years of his life so sure in what he was doing, how A led to B led to C, that he wasn’t sure what to do now that the possibilities were so open-ended.

Let’s add Dinah to the list of people Brian should talk to.

He shook his head, as if to shake off the thoughts that were plaguing him.

It had been four or five days since the Nine had left the city, and he’d been, what?  Spinning in place?  Sinking deeper and deeper into this well of negative emotion?

Finally, a solid timeframe. Thank you.

Hated this.  Hated that his body, which he’d always seen as something under his absolute control, a tool to be honed, was betraying him with this anxiety, panic and weakness.  His power, too, was a tool that now carried so many negative connotations.

Right. Though I think that last thing is something almost every cape who didn’t get their power from Cauldron has to deal with. You’ve got two triggers to think about, though, one of which literally had your body disassembled, so maybe you do have a bit of an upper hand in the misery olympics.

He hated that everything seemed so ugly now.  The city was soiled, ruined, and festering.  His friends and family were tainted with negative associations.

Naturalist literature hit this city hard.

Seizing territory felt both hollow and it reminded him that this business with Coil might collapse soon, or the city would be condemned, and he would have nowhere to go and nothing to do after that.  Except dwell on memories he didn’t want to dwell on.

Yeeeeah, there’s a very tangible sense of futility here.

It was hard to convince himself to care, especially with the alleged end of the world.

Maybe you should talk to Alec about that.

He knew he should feel relieved.  Knew that he should appreciate that Aisha had tried to do something to help him even if she wasn’t the best at expressing concern or affection.

He only felt guilty.

Hey! That’s Taylor’s trademark emotion. Now she’s going to have to sue you.

He’d been wallowing, stumbling around their headquarters in a fugue, and Aisha had apparently been going all out, taking out their enemies and clearing their territory of threats.  It had been a big task for the two of them, and she was doing it on her own.

With some help from Alec, probably. I don’t believe her when she says it’s only been a couple of times, what with how intimately she knew how well she and Alec worked together.

Why am I here?  He wondered.  He wasn’t a leader anymore, he wasn’t doing his job with his territory, wasn’t protecting the people he was important to, wasn’t working towards anything…

And your original motivation for being a cape has been largely out the window for quite a few Arcs now. Though the core of “protect Aisha” has remained.

Don’t go suicidal on us, though.

Coil had provided the map, and Tattletale had provided the details.  Various symbols and gang symbols marked out spots where enemies were lurking.  Stars for the nobodies, the M with the two ‘dollar sign’ vertical lines struck through it for the stragglers from the defeated Merchants, and a wolf’s head for Fenrir’s Chosen.

Of course.

What about the Pure, what kind of symbol do you use for them? If not in this territory, then on the other maps?

His own were marked out in clear, blocky letters, noting priority, naming locations for what they were and briefly covering the nature of the operations these crooks and gangs were conducting in his territory.  Low level drug dealers and looters here, some Chosen dragging families from their home and selling them off as slave labor over there.

Eesh.

But the map had been altered.

Hm? What changed?

Red ‘x’ symbols crossed out a solid two-thirds of the symbols.  Barely-legible handwriting in the same red marker was squeezed into any space that wasn’t too dark to obscure it – filling the white border at the edge of the map.  ‘Gone’.  ‘Left city’.  ‘Hospitalized’.  There was a circle around one of the Merchants’ symbols at the school. The next target.

Looks like Aisha and Alec have been busy.

Lisa too, I suppose, but she doesn’t have immediate access to these maps most of the time, so she’d have to inform Aisha about her progress for Aisha to put it on the map.

So, what, are you going to sneak after them?

So many things were like that, now.  Bad with the good, or just plain bad.

Didn’t realize she’d been out with Regent.  Need to catch up on things.

Are we going to have Brian contacting others for updates, or are we leaving that stuff for off-screen / later?

He flexed his hands, feeling the pain where he’d damaged himself, and made his way into what he liked to call the war room.

Pfft, that sounds suitably nice and epic.

The war room sat opposite Aisha’s room, on the same floor as his.  It wasn’t large, but it didn’t really have to be.  Satellite images of various locations around the city had been printed out onto four-by-five foot sheets of laminated paper, rolls shelved on the wall with labels in marker.

So it’s exactly what the name suggests. A room where you plan your battle tactics around a map.

It genuinely is a war room, it’s just that the war is on a significantly smaller scale.

They varied in size, with some extending over the whole city, while others covered the various territories.

He picked the roll for his own territory and unfurled it.

Let’s take a look.

His territory was marked out in black marker.  Southwest end of the Docks.  Lots of residential areas, lots of schools, small businesses, restaurants.  Lots of hiding places for troublemakers.  People he was expected to deal with in short order.  More problematic, he was expected to keep anyone else from coming in and setting up shop.

Basically, you need to pull yourself together if you’re to keep the territory up.

And then when you go up against Coil, that might be jeopardized anyway.

Wasn’t right that Tattletale shouldered the full load, when she had her own territory to look after.

Her power isn’t even particularly good for doing this, either. At least she has Coildiers, though.