I’d nearly forgotten about Bitch’s henchpeople in the chaos of dealing with the Nine and all of the fallout that had ensued.  I realized I knew very little about them.

Well, time to find out!

To my surprise, it was Biter who did the talking.  He had a low voice, and his words were muddled by some combination of the mouthgear and the underbite.  “You get along.”

Are you sure he’s the oaf?

And yeah, it seems they do. Who’d have thought that your boss could get along with someone!

I folded my arms.

He spread his hands, “How?”

“How do Bitch and I get along?” I asked.

With difficulty.

He nodded.

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable talking behind her back.”

The girl with her arm in a sling spoke up, “She acts like she’s frustrated with us.  And I think we’re frustrated with her.”

I suppose to some extent she is frustrated. With herself and with Coil. With herself because she has trouble understanding you, and with Coil for forcing her to try.

“I don’t want to be rude, but that’s really her business with you.”  They’re her property, her territory.  If I screwed around with her minions or started something, it would effectively be stepping on her toes.

Yeeah, she would probably not like that very much.

“You can’t offer us any tips?” she asked.

She looked so hopeful.  Damn it.

Maybe just a tiny one?

“I can, but it’s going to sound pretty damn basic.  Be honest, be absolutely clear in what you’re saying.  Be obedient, but be assertive.  Don’t let her walk all over you or she will walk all over you.  At the same time, if you think there’s something worth arguing over, be prepared to fight tooth and nail for it, because you’ll be in a weaker position if you fight over it and lose.  Respect her space and her things, and remember that she’s your boss above all else.”

There are a lot of things that should cancel each other out here but don’t, and it’s no wonder she’s hard to deal with.

Also, I wonder if anyone’s going to recognize this as how you handle dogs. I mean, these people are experts in that, right?

“She doesn’t act like a boss,” Barker said, and he made it sound almost insulting.  Puffs of the dark smoke spilled from his mouth with each word, but they seemed to carry further than cigarette smoke would.

Careful, there might be liches around, feeding on your smoke.

It seemed to be tied to the stress or emphasis on the sounds that drove it forward.

Makes sense, what with the way you push those sounds out more.

“She does her own thing and she leaves us to clean up shit.”

I mean, that’s what some bosses do. Though you may have expected to be higher up in the hierarchy.

“Can you blame us?” Tattletale gave him a shrug.  “We were talking about how to kill you guys.”

“That’s a topic that heavily concerns us, don’t you think?”

I wasn’t the only member of our group to look at her in horror.

Ahaha! Did they think the Slaughterhouse members – or Jack, at least – weren’t aware of that?

Jack laughed.  A little too hard for whatever it was he’d found funny about her statement.  “Of course, I already knew you were plotting against us, and you knew I knew.”

Let’s not go down that particular verbal cliché any further. :p

But hey, I suppose they did just compare Jack’s whole team to a chess set last chapter. There’s no game more heavily connected to that trope.

“Sure.”

“Here is what you need to know, Regent, Bitch.  Each of the Nine’s members get to put our recruits up to a test.  Some of us always give the same test, time after time, no matter the candidate.  Mannequin always asks candidates to alter themselves in a way that costs them something.

*80’s game show music plays somewhere in the background*

Siberian waits until half the candidates have been discarded and then hunts the remainder.”

I suppose that’s efficient.

“I hope she doesn’t catch you,” Bonesaw sounded disturbingly earnest as she spoke, “There’s no meat left for me to work with after she’s done.”

Nom nom nom.

Each had made their picks:

The buried girl.  The arrogant geek.  The dog lover.  The daydreamer.  The warlord.  The scaredy cat.  The broken assassin.  The crusader.

The Twins, The Lover, The Protector, The Lonely Journal Keeper, The Peacemaker and the Wordless One.

Okay, so I guess they can’t go pick someone else if they picked from a list in advance. That’s fair.

Let’s see…

  • The buried girl would be Noelle, located underground over an extended period of time.
  • The arrogant geek is obviously Armmaster. I wonder what he’d think of being called a geek.
  • The dog lover is similarly obvious, being Bitch.
  • The daydreamer sounds like Labyrinth, but did Burnscar really pick her out from a list of the most fucked up people of Brockton Bay? That doesn’t sound right. Though I suppose Labyrinth does have some pretty strong emotional issues that Newbie might pick up on.
  • I don’t even need to say who the rainbow one is, do I.
  • The warlord would be Hookwolf.
  • Oni Lee sounds like the scaredy cat for a moment due to his tendency to flee from battle, but he fits much better as the broken assassin, especially after what we learned in Jack’s Interlude.

That leaves us with the scaredy cat and the crusader for the Newbie and Bonesaw.

The crusader strikes me as a red herring. We have a character named the Crusader, and that’s exactly why I think it’s not him. Who else has the propensity for going on violent rampages for a specific cause? Hookwolf is taken (I suppose he could be the crusader and someone else is the warlord, but after that spiel about wishing he was in the ancient Roman military or something like it?), Kaiser is dead, and if it’s Purity, Jack made a huge faux pas by plotting to kill one of the others’ nominee. And Panacea, whom I’ve been speculating to be Bonesaw’s pick, is more altruistic and duty-bound than crusadery about healing people.

The scaredy cat… sounds like an odd sort of person to attempt to recruit. I really have no clue who this could be. It’s not Alec or Panacea, neither of those are characterized by fear. Also I get the feeling that there’s some hinting about them actually being cat-like or otherwise having something to do with cats, here, but the only character we know with a feline association is Siberian, who is obviously off the table.

…hm, I do suppose Alec might be characterized as a scaredy cat for escaping Heartbreaker, but that seems like a stretch considering he doesn’t actually appear to be scared.

Anyway, this is a really neat little rundown of the nominees. It would’ve been fun having this to speculate on earlier, though I get that it’d be a little too clear and would spoil some of the twists in the other Interludes when examined properly.

I made my way inside, joining the rest of the crowd.  Cots filled the majority of the building’s interior, and both possessions and people made navigating between the beds difficult at best.  Signs were spread out over the walls, some professionally made, others written in plain print with permanent marker:

So are the other people at this shelter Tattletale’s employees?

‘Priority Order: Sick, injured, disabled, old, very young, families.’  In smaller print below was the message, ‘Please be courteous and give up your places to priority individuals.’

Hm, sounds fair.

‘No pets’ was written on a square of white cardboard in permanent marker and triple underlined.

No dogs on the moon.

And yeah, remember how much chaos people bringing their pets while evacuating to their Endbringer shelters caused in 8.1? I can’t imagine it’d be much less of an issue here.

‘Abuse or threats directed at staff or other residents will NOT be tolerated.’

Good.

But yeah, this looks genuine. Is Tattletale running it, though?

‘Belongings go under your cot.  Excess + mess may be removed from the area.’

Makes sense. Can’t have it too cluttered in a place like this. Any space that could be used for another cot should be used for that.

‘No smoking within 30 paces of facility‘ was printed on a professionally made sign, but the line that was scrawled beneath in permanent marker was not: ‘there are sick people here!’

Thank you. Fuck smoking.

So what does it say?

I found a big, burly guy that wore an orange vest and name tag and approached him.

Oh, I guess it just meant that “there are sick people here!” was not printed on a professionally made sign.

Anyway, hi there.

He was talking to someone else, so I waited.

When he turned to me, he frowned, “You wanting to stay here?”

Uh, not exactly.

“No, but-”

“Opened our doors yesterday, and we’re already nearly full.  Any more space is reserved for priority people.  If you want a place, you can try the other shelters down-”

Sure, makes sense, but she said no. Pay attention!

“No.  I have a place.  I’m just looking for Lisa.”

Let’s see if he knows who that is.

When in doubt, be vague.

“If you’re talking about Steven…”

Huh, I think that marks the first time I read the name “Steven” and thought of Steven the goldfish from The Adventure Zone before I thought of Steven Universe.

So who’s Steven? Is that her boyfriend?

Steven.  Regent could feel a reaction from Shadow Stalker at the name.  “I’m not talking about Steven.”  He put some inflection in the name.  He dropped the crossbow to one side, stepped away and stretched.  The mother didn’t budge from where she was pressed up against the wall.  “I’m going to my room.  Don’t disturb me.”

I wonder what sort of chaos he can stir from there.

He bent down and grabbed the mask, but he didn’t put it back on.  He stepped out into the hallway, and saw a vacuum cleaner parked in the corner.  An extension cord trailed from it to a neighboring room.  An office?  He unplugged the cord from the wall and the vacuum, and then headed upstairs, winding the cord into a simple coil.

Electricity would disrupt your control, right? Or was that too a lie?

Either way, not gonna be pleasant for Sophia if Regent decides to have her phase through that.

Or maybe he intends to trap her there for a while? Tie herself up like the Undersiders did with her before the mission, which means Sophia will have to call for help (if he makes that possible for her) if she wants to be let out?

Shadow Stalker’s body was a cocktail of emotion.  Fear, anger, anxiety, worry, panic and sheer fury.  Regent staved off the worst of the physical reactions, the trembling and the heavy breathing, and managed to make Shadow Stalker seem calm as she reached the top of the stairs.

Impressive.

Terry was up there in the hallway, staring, uncomprehending.

Oh boy, gonna say anything to him?

“Mannequin.”  Another long-distance shot.  The figure was standing by Bonesaw in the photograph, with other hulking figures within the shadows of the background.

If this were any other team I’d suggest they had control of mannequins much like Parian with stuffed animals, but with them being in the Slaughterhouse, I’m more inclined to say they like to make mannequins out of corpses.

He stood almost twice her height, and he looked artificial.  His body was in pieces, each section wrapped in a hard shell of ceramic or plastic or white-painted metal – I couldn’t be sure.

Huh. Or he might be a mannequin himself. Case 53?

Also, I’m getting heavy Adventure Zone vibes.

His joints were a mix of loose chains and ball joints.

Ahhh, guess Bonesaw wasn’t behind the chain corpse after all.

A Tinker with a body-modification fetish.  I couldn’t say how much of the transformation was his own power and how much was Bonesaw’s work.

…or maybe it’s a bit of both?

Bitch slipped past the pair of them, reaching the front door.  I could hear her whistle at a volume that I doubted I could scream.

Oh wow. Guess we can cross off that “no dogs on the moon” disadvantage.

Grue and Regent were already free of their cuffs, the three PRT uniforms closest to them lying down on the ground.

And the “Undersiders are restrained” disadvantage seems to be getting dealt with, too.

Tattletale was grinning at the four wards at the end of the hall closest to the elevator – Kid Win, Clockblocker, Flechette and Vista.  The laughter didn’t belong to Tattletale, however.  It was cackling, sounding like someone having way too much fun.

Regent? I’m guessing it’s been a while since he properly used this aspect of his power.

Flechette shouted, “They’ve got someone with the Stranger classification!”

Ahh, it’s Imp.

Time to learn what she can do, I think!

(Though to be fair I’ve been saying that for a couple chapters now.)

Flechette spoke, “You’re a hard person to fin-”

Oh hey, it’s needle gal! Are you our POV character this chapter? Wildbow has generally been good about mentioning the POV character first – or at least quickly – in the Interludes (with some reasonable exceptions), which is a good guideline to follow in order to not confuse the reader. That said, it’s entirely possible that we’ve skipped ahead to Flechette’s arrival in Brockton Bay and she’s talking to Weld.

Shadow Stalker, transparent and wispy, whirled on the spot, not even pausing as she fired her crossbows.  The first bolt went wide.

Woah, there, little miss hair trigger.

Alright, I guess Flechette’s our POV character, then!

Flechette caught the second out of the air, staggered back a step as she was caught off balance.  Her right foot skidded to the edge of the rooftop.

This reminded me of The Adventure Zone, more specifically of the magic item called the Fletcher’s Mitt, which allows the wearer to catch projectiles.