Re: 2012164, it’s worth noting that even if it’s a mistake on Wildbow’s part, caused by writing the chapter in 2012 rather than 2011, the only parsing that works when treating the 2011/2012 part as the year gives a date that I’m pretty sure is much closer to Gestation than to Snare.

A minute passed as we pulled ourselves together, checking our injuries.

Would’ve been nice if Panacea hadn’t run off, huh.

“He left me alive,” I said, as the realization dawned on me.  “He didn’t kill any of us, but he had an excuse and the ability to kill me.  Why didn’t he?”

Hmm… maybe he’s got a more brutal, perhaps personalized, revenge in mind?

“The world revolves around you, doesn’t it?”  Bitch snapped.

You’re one to talk.

I was trying to think of how to reply to that when the thought struck me.  The world, my world.  My people.  

Yeah, that’s something that came to mind re: personalized revenge, too. I should’ve mentioned it, and probably would make a followup post on it after this one if it hadn’t come up.

Killing the people of Skitter’s territory while she’s off to other places would be the most Mannequin-esque thing to do to get back at someone who helped them survive and clearly cared a lot about keeping them alive.

Mannequin had been nearby when I was in my territory.

Waiting for Taylor to leave, perhaps?

“He’s going to hurt me by going after my gang.”

I was thinking less specifically than that, but it’s the same idea.

This neatly ties things together, too, giving further Arc relevance to the look we got at Skitter’s expansion last chapter. Chekhov is pleased. 🙂

“I’m sorry,” I replied.  “We’ll get them, okay?  We’ll fuck them up.”

She looked at me, and the anger and hatred that had colored her expression before was gone.  She looked forlorn.

😦

Sad doggo.

Grue handed me one of the knives, then handed one to Bitch.

It was short, only four and a half inches long, and there was a word inscribed on the steel with a smoky texture, so the six large capital letters and the row of smaller characters were pale against the gleaming, bloodied steel.

Ohh. Messages in knife form.

I guess they’re what you call sharp words.

CHANGE.
2200/2012164

I guess this is his way of telling Amy and Bitch what his trial is? “CHANGE” seems straightforward enough, but what’s with the numbers? I could see it as a time and date – 22:00 on the 16th of April, 2012 – but that time is almost a year in the future, so it’s surely not the deadline for his trial.

“Bitch has her deadline for her test, and Amy does too.  Ten in the evening, and I think it’s for tomorrow.  Jack said his test always involved someone changing themselves in a way that costs them something.”

Alright, so I guess I was sort of onto something with my reading of 2200, but what’s the rest?

“I’m going to kill him,” Bitch growled.  “Fucking tests.  Killing Lucy, stabbing Bentley.”

Sounds like she’s not so interested in seeing what it’s all about anymore.

“I can’t!  I’m immune to my own power.”

“Calm down,” he said.  “Panic won’t get us anywhere.”

That’s true. Honestly, it seems to me that panic would – in addition to its mental effects – worsen whatever bleeding there may be.

“Fuck you!  Fuck you all!” Amy said.  Then she ran.  I didn’t have the air in my lungs or the heart to chase her, and both Grue and Bitch were too hurt to give chase.  I could run and catch up, sure, but what would I accomplish?

We were so close.

Hm. I guess maybe Mannequin stepped in because Taylor was trying to help Amy? If disrupting that and admonishing Taylor for trying was his goal, I suppose he succeeded.

For now, it was better to be here, with my teammates, and make sure they were okay.

“She’s dead,” Bitch said, quiet.

Lucy, or Amy?

A low growl tore free from Bitch’s throat.  But I knew before I looked that Lucy hadn’t made it.  Two shotgun blasts directly to the chest cavity.

You’ve done it now, Mannequin. When Bitch is through with you you’ll be down a lot more than just a hand and a head.

I didn’t know what to say.

“You led him right to me!”  Amy accused us, sounding more than slightly hysterical.

Pretty sure he could find you easily anyway, thanks to Cherish, but it’s a fair enough reaction.

“I… he slipped past the silk tripwires I put around the area.  And they can find you,” I said, the words clumsy, made worse by my sense of disorientation over the surprise attack and the distraction of the pain in my neck.  “Anyways.  They can find you anyways, with Cherish.”

Yeah, that’s what I said.

“My hand.  Hurts,” Amy said, ignoring my fractured explanation.

Real shame she can’t heal herself in this situation.

“Heal yourself,” Grue said.  He wasn’t looking at her.  His attention was on the knife he’d pulled from her hand.

Did you even hear what I just said, Grue?

…wait.

My hands were tired from riding the dog, and while my gloves afforded me some traction on the metal loop, the fabric seemed to slide under my sweating fingers.  I tried to haul myself up enough to get one leg over the edge of the roof, and nearly lost my grip.

And on the rooftop stands Lung.

My hands wouldn’t give me enough of a hold, and I didn’t trust my knife to bite deep enough into the concrete to serve any better.  I let it fall and raised my other hand to the metal to get a better grip. 

Again, I tried to swing one leg up.  This time I got it over the roof’s edge.

You can do it!

I ran pell-mell for the door that led into the crowded building below me, using bugs to get the general shape of the hallways and find my way.  Some people shrieked as I ran into and through the crowd, out the front doors and back to the alley.

Heh. “Just passin’ through, don’t mind me, just a supervillain in motion, y’know. See ya!”

Grue was standing, pulling the knife free from Amy’s hand so she could slump to the ground.  Bitch knelt on the ground beside Lucy, while Bentley lay on the ground, the knife still embedded in his skull, and both Sirius and Bastard hung back, limping as they moved, blood leaking from a dozen dime-sized wounds in their flesh.

This… could’ve gone better.

I’m not sure how convincing this is going to be on the “we can protect you” front.

Me?  He wanted something from me?

No, he turned away, striding past Amy, who was still impaled to the wall by her hand, and stopped when he stood over Bitch.

Maybe the point meant the exact opposite of what I suggested. “Staaay. Good worm.”

Drawing another knife from a point I couldn’t see on his body, he stabbed Bentley in between the eyes.

Welp.

Hang on, weren’t Bentley and Bitch covered in Grue’s darkness? Can he sense through it? Is he stabbing the right head?

He turned to look at me one last time, and then he was gone.

Well, then. That happened.

I’m really not sure what he was trying to accomplish here. Just prove that he could beat Skitter and co.?

Either way, I doubt Bitch is going to be pleased.

Below me, Lucy and Mannequin fought, the smaller Bastard dancing around the edges, trying to find an avenue for attack, or hampering Mannequin’s movements.  Lucy managed to get on top of him.

The doggos have by far the best chances out of anyone here to actually deal damage to Mannequin.

A third gunshot sounded.  There was a long pause, where nothing and nobody moved, and then a fourth gunshot.  Lucy slumped over, crashing on top of Bastard. 

Shit.

Is she dead or just incapacitated? They’re only somewhat bulletproof, after all. Or, not exactly proof, per se, more… spongy?

Mannequin stood, taking a moment to use a knife to cut at the threads that wound around his arms and legs.  When he was done, he disconnected the chain that ran to the hand that held me aloft.  I was left hanging from the metal ring.

Well. It’s pretty clear who’s winning so far. How do you turn this around, Taylor?

I suppose the first step would be making your way to a less precarious position.

He watched me for several long seconds, his head raised.  He abandoned his grip on the back of my neck, and his arm dropped into his waiting hand.

“I’m not letting you keep another one.”

The chain fed through the metal loop, running over my fingertips, before it was gone.

A few seconds passed, and I realized he was still staring up at me, one finger pointing at me.

“You. Come down here already. Splat into the ground for me.”

Or just about anything else. That point could mean a lot of things.

My swarm-sense gave me a picture of what happened next.  Grue dodged to one side, and Mannequin followed him, his arm unerringly moving to follow his target.  My bugs were then blown out of the air as another shot was fired at Grue and Sirius.  I could feel it spread out, hitting multiple points on the pair of them.

Ouch.

A shotgun?

Lucy pounced from where she’d been moving in Sirius’ wake, and she landed half-on top of the chain that held me.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing?

I surged another three or four feet up, and the hand caught where it fixed on a loop of metal that had been sunken into the corrugated metal of the roof.  This was where the chain was threaded.

Ah, I guess he placed that there in advance himself.

I hacked at the hand again, while gripping the metal loop.

Oh, nice, she’s got a way to avoid immediately dropping if Mannequin lets her go.

The knife caught inside a joint, and I worked at it, trying to bend it or pry the joint apart.  I couldn’t really see what I was doing, and the bugs I had on the surface of the hand weren’t as useful as I’d hoped.

Mannequin, spelling with Scrabble pieces: “STOP BRKING MY HANDS”

Skitter, spelling with bugs: “nah”

Bitch ordered Bentley to pounce, Mannequin raised his arm, and the deafening boom of a gun firing filled the alley.

Shit. Don’t shoot the doggo!

The shot was powerful enough that Bentley was knocked off course.  Mannequin simultaneously leaped and retracted the chain that still stretched to the rooftop, swinging across the alley and escaping collision by mere fractions of an inch.

At least these doggos are a bit more bulletproof than most.

Bentley and Bitch sprawled on the ground.

I hacked at the hand that held me again while Grue threw darkness over the pair of them.

Well, this is going just peachy.