Chrysalis 20.2

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It couldn’t be easy.  No.  Everything was finally starting to settle down, and then this.  Inconvenient timing, inconvenient in every way.  It had to be at the high school, of all places.

Tattletale and Grue would be meeting with the Ambassadors soon.  That took them out of the running, as far as people I could call.  Forrest was just a little too old and a little too attention-grabbing to be seen lurking around the local high school.  Regent, Imp or Bitch?  I was trying to fix the situation, not make it worse.

I pressed Charlotte for more information:

RT:
You see him?

Charlotte:
no.  no bars here. had to leave to make call.

Right.  Arcadia was one of the schools that had a Faraday cage, if I was remembering right.  Something to stop kids from texting and making calls in class.

RT:
What was he doing?

Charlotte:
asking about u in hallways, checking with ppl to see if u were around.

Charlotte:
i approached him and asked how he knew u.  he said he didnt.  seemed too intense for that so i called u.

RT:
GJ.

All in all, almost exactly what I might have told her to do if I’d been in direct contact with her at the time.

RT:
This is Eric with blond hair?  Blue eyes?  Talks like he’s going to run out of breath and pass out?

Charlotte:
Yes.

My suspicions were confirmed.  Greg.

Charlotte:
is break btween class atm.  have 2 go soon.  what shld I do?

No time to think or plan.  It was annoying how these codes and protocols that Tattletale and I had come up with were costing us precious seconds.

RT:
Go back inside to see if there’s drama.  Tell him I’m not at school, if you can, but that I can meet him later.

Charlotte:
k

While I waited, I patted the mattress dry where the cleaner had soaked into it, then dragged it upstairs.  My phone buzzed before I’d dressed to take it out to the balcony.

Charlotte:
he gone.  class starting.  no drama I can see.

Damn.  Not as bad as it could be, but the situation wasn’t resolved.

RT:
What’s your next class?

Charlotte:
Eng.

RT:
Go.  I’ll see if I can track him down.  Will find you if I need you but don’t worry.  Good job.

I’d let her return to business as normal: I didn’t want her too caught up in this.

There was something to be said for having good help.  I felt more than a little guilty.  Much like Sierra had during the worst periods, Charlotte was picking up my slack.  In managing my territory while I was going home to sleep at my dad’s house, she was earning her wage twice over.  I would have increased her pay but she didn’t want me to, claiming it would arouse suspicion.

Maybe I could get Tattletale to arrange some kind of scholarship for her.  We had funds.  Tattletale had acquired everything Coil had owned, and it had been easy enough to assume his false identities and take over the dummy corporations.  Now that the city was starting to pick up and people were talking about the potential the portal in the downtown area had, the land was skyrocketing in value.

Not to mention that the Ambassadors had given us a healthy lump of cash when they’d arrived in Brockton Bay, and were paying rent in the thousands of dollars so we’d be copacetic with them just being around.

Apparently that was villain protocol, in a way, doing jobs or giving gifts when intruding on another’s territory.  I could see why: it let one ask for permission and show respect while still giving evidence to a measure of power.  If these guys were willing to hand over tens of thousands in the same way other people gave gift baskets, it showed they had that kind of money to spare, and they were confident.  The side benefit for us specifically was that it kept Tattletale from complaining too loudly.

With luck, there would be others like them.  Which wasn’t to say I trusted them.

I dressed, pulling on my running shoes, a tank top and the lightweight cargo pants I’d worn to run.  I left the grungier clothes laid out on the bed, and made doubly sure I had my cell phone, identification and my knife.  I doubted I could have it in plain sight, so I stuck it in my sock and pulled my pants leg down around it.

It was nine fifty in the morning, and I figured I had an hour and forty-five minutes before the second class of the day ended and the lunch hour began.

I had to find a way to drag Greg out of class and talk to him without alerting others.  That, or I’d have to wait until lunch started and postpone plans with my dad.  Inconvenient.

The bus was running on a reduced schedule.  There were fewer intact vehicles, fewer drivers in the area, and routes were longer with the detours that they had to take.  It wasn’t as bad as it might otherwise be: a twenty-minute wait.

I stewed in my own frustration.  There had been occasions in the past where I’d had to leave my territory to handle greater threats.  It irritated me more than it should have, to be forced to leave for this.  Such a minor thing, but prickly enough that it had the potential to become something major if ignored, and awkward overall to handle.  How did I even approach the conversation?

I’ve faced down a handful of the scariest sons of bitches in the world, I’ve been intentionally trapped in a burning house, blinded, had my back broken, I’ve been paralyzed and at the mercy of no less than two lunatic tinkers, and I’ve killed a man, I thought.  And going back to school stirs up old feelings of anxiety.

I could feel the building tension and a shift back to old ways of thinking, and the ridiculousness of it made me smile.  It was the middle of the morning, the bus was almost empty, and I stretched as though I were just waking up.  One or two people glanced my way, and I allowed myself to not give a fuck.

It helped, as though I were physically shrugging off the old burdens that were settling on me.

The wind from the open windows of the bus stirred my hair, and I exhaled slowly, turning my face into the sun, letting it warm me even as the breeze cooled me off.  I couldn’t do anything about the time it took to get there, so I might as well take the opportunity to get a breather.

Arcadia High.  I’d seen it in the midst of some of Brockton Bay’s worst days, but effort had been expended to fix it up and get everything sorted out.  New windows, that caught the light in a way that made them look almost like compound eyes.  Some kind of sub-layer or something worked into them that made for a number of quarter-sized hexagons.  The front gate had been rebuilt, cracks paved over, and vandalism cleaned up.  It was pristine, with panels of white tile and glass that almost glowed in the morning light.

The thing that caught me off guard was the people.  Classes had started, but there were forty or so students gathered around outside, sitting and talking, texting or simply enjoying the sun.  A half-dozen adults in outfits that were uncomfortably similar to the enforcers of the old Boardwalk were stationed at the gates and at points around the school grounds that let them keep an eye on things.  Security?  Volunteers?

That wasn’t the entirety of it.  The students fell into two groups.  One was very much what I might have expected, kids in new clothes or casual summer wear, smiling and talking.  Months ago, I might have felt like the smiles and periodic laughs were directed at me, and not in a flattering way.  I’d always rationally understood that they weren’t, but not to the point that I could convince myself.  Now I reveled in my anonymity.  I knew what it was to have every set of eyes on me, people covertly trying to gauge who I was and what I was doing every time I moved a finger.  This wasn’t it.

The other, larger group of students, adding up to maybe thirty-five of the forty kids present, was something else.  They were the Sierras, the Charlottes, the Ferns and the Forrests.  They were the Jessies and Bryces, the Taylor and Danny Heberts.  The people who had stayed.

I just had to look at them, and I knew it.  Some had dressed in new clothes, but others wore the clothes that had weathered the last few weeks and months, worn and frayed at the edges.  Physically, some were frayed.  They had lines in their face that spoke to weeks with a bare minimum of sleep, and both skin and hair bore the coloration that resulted from days spent outdoors.

One or two, I noted, carried weapons.  One had a knife displayed visibly at his hip.  A girl with a burly frame very similar to Rachel’s was sitting beneath a tree, eyes closed, her hands on a stick with an electrical tape grip.  There wasn’t anything definable, only little clues that added up, and a general atmosphere about them.

I didn’t miss the division between the two groups.  The five or so fresh-faced teenagers weren’t hanging out with the ones who had stayed.

“You just arriving?” one of the enforcers at the gate asked me.

“Yeah,” I said.

He studied me just long enough that I felt acutely aware of my bare shoulders and arms, and how my top clung to my stomach.  I glared at him, and he met my eyes with an ease that suggested he didn’t care I’d caught him looking.  Creepy.

“Got a weapon?”  he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Can’t keep it if you want to go inside.”

I was only keeping myself armed as a matter of practice, and I was aware I wasn’t alone on that front, or I wouldn’t be doing it so casually.  I reached into my sock and withdrew the sheathed knife.  It says something that we can even take this conversation in stride.

I handed it to him.  It wasn’t worth the time it would take to argue.  “What’s with these people outside, here?”

He shrugged.  “Easing into it.  We asked if we should round ‘em up and take them inside, but the principal said we should give them a few days to depressurize if they wanted it.”

“Depressurize,” I said.

He glanced at the knife, “All I know is we’re not enforcing a lot of rules yet.  Sometimes a few take a break and come outside, smoke, talk, get some fresh air and sun.  Those ones don’t tend to stay long.”

He was looking at one group by the front door, three of the ones who didn’t have that weary, worn, and wary sense about them.  The ones who’d no doubt fled the city when things turned ugly.

I’m not the only one who sees the distinction, I mused.

“I think they’re intimidated.  Or you and I see it as a nice sunny day and they see it as being outside in a shithole of a city.”  When I didn’t keep the conversation going, he shrugged, “If you’re going in, you’ll want to go to the office.  They’ll sort out where your classes are.”

“Okay,” I said.  There was no need to explain that I wasn’t here for classes.

By the time I’d reached the front door, a trio of teenagers younger than me had already approached the same guard.  It would be another litany of questions.

It did something to explain why the guards were there.  The two kids who hadn’t been willing to part with their weapons were no doubt another part of that.  The whole dynamic was skewed, now, and they were mediating the worst of it.

I’d been in Arcadia High once, and it had been more of a life or death situation, one where I had been able to tentatively use my bugs.  In this unfamiliar territory, with a thousand or more students throughout the building, I had to actively work to suppress the powers I’d been using on an almost automatic level.  I couldn’t be sure that a small cloud of flies would go unnoticed as they traced the contours of a hallway.

Much like I’d seen outside, there were a handful of students who hadn’t yet made their way to class, or had stepped out for a breather, congregating in pairs and trios, or standing alone.

I knew I could have asked them for directions, but I wasn’t keen on approaching people who were in the process of avoiding socializing.  The men and women in uniforms that were stationed at the intersections where the halls met?  More of a possibility, but there was no need.  Directions were posted on the wall.

I glanced at a note on the wall.  One sentence, with no punctuation, and a big black arrow pointing one way.

New sudents go to front office

If I’d had a little bit of hope that things were working out here, they faltered some when I saw the typo.

I noticed another set of papers that were arranged on the wall, not because of what it said or the title, but the cartoon etched on the wall in permanent marker.

The heading of each of the sheets read ‘Know where you are’.  The paper with the graffiti was Rachel’s; a crude drawing of a dog was violating one corner, which had been torn slightly to accommodate the dog.  A speech balloon over the smiling dog’s head read ‘you don’t know shit’.

Fitting, if it was one of Rachel’s followers.

I headed in the direction of the office, feeling strangely out of place.  This entire thing was surreal.  There were the hallways with gleaming floors smudged by the passage of hundreds of feet, the bright primary colors in trophy cabinets and on bulletin boards, all contrasted with the security guards that were set up and standing to attention as though they expected a fight to break out any moment, and the innumerable teenagers who were being allowed to roam the grounds, some hanging around with weapons at hand.

But more than anything else, it was the notion of where I fit in the grand scheme of things.  Growing up, attending school, there had always been this general sense of the local gangs and powers and their influence.  It was the little things.  The gang tags scrawled on walls, the posters informing Asian students of who they could contact if the ABB started pushing them to join or pay tribute.  There had always been the rougher kids who wore certain colors and symbols of their affiliation.  It had meant something when a teenager wore yellow, or when an adult had an eight-ball tattooed on them.

was aware that Arcadia High had been scrubbed clean, and that things wouldn’t become fully apparent until people had gotten more settled and more comfortable.  Even with that, though, it was unsettling to notice that for the first time since I was eleven, I couldn’t see anything relating to the hostile gangs in the area.

There were no real gangs except for ours.  Grue, Tattletale, Bitch, Regent, Imp, Parian and I were the vague, intimidating forces that people worried about crossing.  We weren’t as bad as some of the ones that had come before us, sure, but people still saw us as something to warn others about.

I’d seen all the people working for me, sensed them with my bugs.  I’d read about myself on Parahumans Online, and in news articles.  At the same time, high school was sometimes described as a microcosm of the world at large.  There was something else about being in the midst of a three-dimensional model of it all, seeing it have a concrete impact on a place that was more familiar.

Four teenagers were sitting along the side of the hallway as I walked by.  They stared at me as I passed.

I had to work to reassure myself that there was no connection between what I was thinking and the fact that they were looking at me.

It did remind me that the Wards were here, and whatever else had happened, they might have seen my face.  Not my face, but they could easily have seen a deformed evil clone of me.

There was that surreal sensation, again.  Was it weird that I felt most like Taylor at school?  That I was all the more cognizant of the weirdness of all the cape stuff?

They were still looking.  I gave one a curt nod, and she nodded back.

I quickened my pace as I headed to the office.  I wanted to be gone.

There were a lot of students in the office, and I was soon aware of why.  There were capes present.  Ones I only barely recognized.  Adamant and Sere.

“Listen!”  a woman behind the counter raised her voice to be heard over the general babble.  She had more authority than I might have expected of a secretary.  “Get in a line! If you’re here to look at the superheroes, you can do it later!  They’ll be here all week!”

Nobody listened, of course, and the secretaries weren’t really helping, taking requests and giving out information to whoever was closest to the front.  It only encouraged the press of bodies.

I headed to the other end of the room, hoping I’d be able to work my way around the end of the crowd.

I glanced at the clock.  Ten-forty.  I had maybe twenty minutes before my dad called me, and getting back in time would be difficult, even if I was lucky enough to have the bus show up at a convenient time.  I could postpone, plan a late lunch, but I really didn’t want to.

“Please,” Adamant spoke, and his voice was filled with confidence, “Do as Principal Howell is asking and form lines.”

That worked, but not all that well.  People elbowed and pushed against me as we arranged ourselves into loose columns.  I’d never liked the feeling of being in a press of bodies, and it made me think of other unpleasant situations: Bonesaw straddling me, being drawn into a massive, monstrous lump of flesh.  It made me exceedingly uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable made me instinctively reach for my bugs.

That was another reason to not be in classes.  How long would it be before my power did something while running on autopilot and drew attention?

I studied Adamant and Sere while I waited.  Adamant, naturally, wore a metallic costume, featuring metal bands and panels that were loosely linked together by chains, fit over a black bodysuit.  He’d been at the fight against Leviathan, if I remembered right.  He was a member of Legend’s team in New York.  Or he had been.  Legend was gone now.

Sere wore cloth, in contrast to Adamant.  He wore a kind of nomadic, desert-tribe style of robe, all in pristine white with a fine pattern embroidered onto it.  His mask was more stylistic than representing anything, a solid white plate with light blue lenses for the eyes and no opening for his nose or mouth.  What made him stand out was the moisture that flowed from the gaps in his handwraps and from around his mask.  It swirled around him like a breath outdoors in winter, pale.  Almost an inverse of Grue.

Powerwise, I knew Adamant was a bruiser, though I didn’t know the specifics.  Sere, I did know about, but only because I’d once come across a cell phone video of him brutally taking down a number of thugs, posted online somewhere, months ago.  Some capes shot fire from their hands.  Sere was the opposite – he could draw moisture to himself with surprising speed and violence.  It didn’t matter if a foe was armored or behind a forcefield, he could dehydrate them in a flash.  It was the kind of power that might have earned him a villain label if he hadn’t had all of the Protectorate’s PR at his back.

I idly wondered what had made the pair stick with their employer, in the wake of the recent events that had so many leaving the Protectorate with little to no explanation, Legend among them.

More than that, I was wondering how I’d fight them if it came down to it.  With the way the armor and chains of his costume were arranged, Adamant was just begging to be tied up. Sere would be trickier.

“You’re next, black curls,” the secretary closest to me spoke.

I focused my attention closest to her and approached the counter.

“What do you need?”

“I need to get in contact with someone.”

“We can’t give out personal information.”

“Not even if it’s an emergency?”

“If you need to inform a student of something critical, we can make an announcement.”

“No.  That’d be the opposite of what I need to do.”

“You could always look for them during the lunch break.”

I frowned.

“If there’s nothing else, there are others in line.”

“What’s the procedure for signing up for classes?”

“You tell us your old schedule.  We slot you in as well as we’re able.  Core classes are in classrooms.  We’ve adopted another system for non-core classes.”

“Non-core?”

“Anything besides maths, science, phys ed, and all those.  Non-core classes are held in the computer labs.  You’ll have a rushed curriculum, alternating reading assignments with quizzes and worksheets on the computers.  There are teachers at the front of the lab if you have any questions.”

“I don’t suppose you could tell me all the classes that are second period?”

She gave me a stern look.

I was feeling the pressure.  This maybe wasn’t the brightest move, but I wanted to find Greg, get this solved, then return to life as normal.  Lunch with my dad, in an ideal world.

What classes did Greg take?

I could remember him talking in Spanish.  God, it felt like years had passed, not months.

“World issues-”

“Grade?”

“Ten.  World Issues, Spanish…”

Not English.  Charlotte’s in that class and she probably would have slipped out to send me a text.

“…History and Music,” I finished, picking two more that weren’t likely to be on the computers.

“World issues is a non-core class.  That’ll be your fourth period.  You have History now.”

She struck a key and the sheet began printing.

“You don’t need my name or ID?”

“We have zero notice on who’s going to be here or not.  For now, everyone is to go to classes.  Do your best to catch up for the tests in one week, where we evaluate where everyone is.  We’re adding students to the system on a priority basis.”

I nodded.  Something of a relief, that this wasn’t set in stone.  She handed me the paper and I took it, turning on my heel to head out of the office.

Computer labs first, I thought.  I hated to do it, but I drew on my bugs to find the labs in question.  With my luck, Kid Win would have put something together something to track unusual bug movements, and I’d get found in a second.

The first lab was a bust.  Nobody got in my way or spoke up as I entered the room.  There was only an older teacher who pointed wordlessly at a space where computers were unattended.

I walked up between the rows and looked at the students.  No luck.  I left through the back door at the other end of the class.

Halfway through the second lab, I saw Emma, clustered with a group of others.  Her hair was dyed blond, done up in a french braid, and her clothes were brand new.  Their eyes were on a computer screen where they were watching a video on a streaming site.  I wasn’t surprised that she’d drawn people to her so quickly.  She had that magnetism to her.

She looked up and noticed me, no doubt expecting to see a teacher, and I could see her eyes widen a fraction in recognition.

But I was already walking, moving on with my search.  She wasn’t a priority.  I deposited a single fly in her bag so I could keep out of her way and headed out of the room.

Ten minutes passed as I moved from area to area.  I was aware of the moving timeline, and felt a knot of anxiety in my stomach that had nothing to do with school.

Fuck him.  Seriously.

By the time I found him in the smaller gymnasium, where long tables and computers had been arranged to form an impromptu computer lab, it was past eleven.  My dad would call any minute.

I walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder.

The change in his expression when he saw me, with the spreading smile of a child that had torn open the wrapping paper to find the very present they’d wanted… fuck me.  I could see where Charlotte had been concerned.  There was zero subtlety to him, and a bare minimum of restraint.  Or maybe it was the other way around.

He pointed at the door, and I nodded once by way of reply.  I headed in that direction without waiting for him.

At least he didn’t blurt out ‘Skitter!’ in front of everyone.

“I can’t believe you came, you-”

Seeing his awe, the unrestrained excitement, I decided on a strategy.

“Are you stalking me?” I asked, cutting him off.

I could see his expression change, shifting from enthusiasm to confusion.  He looked decidedly deranged for the split second he was midway.

“No,” he said.  “The reason-”

Can’t let him get going or it’s all over.  He’ll keep talking until he says something we’ll both regret.  “Then you have a grudge against me.  Some vendetta or something?”

“No!”

“Because you barely know me, and a friend said you were being seriously creepy with the way you were trying to get info on me.”

“I wasn’t!  I was trying to help!”

Help?

I fumbled for a question that wouldn’t give him an excuse to say anything vital aloud.  I felt like I was channeling Rachel as I spoke, “I don’t need your help.”

“I-”

“In fact,” I cut him off.  “I’m offended you would say it.”

I know!” he strained the words at me, two words said in a way that was too excited to be a successful whisper.  He wasn’t talking about me being offended.  He was talking about my secret identity.  Fuck me.

“Greg,” I said, reaching out to put the flat of one hand against his shoulder, as if pushing him away, “You don’t know anything about me.”

“We’re not that different,” he said.  He’d shifted gears to bewilderment.

“In what way are we the same?” I asked.  Safe question, unless his answer included a confession that he had powers.

“We’re… not social people.  We like reading,” the answers were weak, and from the look on his face, he knew it.  There was a benefit to him being this transparent, and I was counting my blessings that he wasn’t very good at articulating what he was thinking.  “We like computers.”

And, fuck me, I couldn’t help but admit that he was nice.  Part of the reason he was struggling to provide an answer was that he was couching his statements to avoid hurting my feelings.  The answer was short: we’d both been the losers, but he wouldn’t say it outright.

I let him flounder for a little bit longer.  I didn’t want to tear him down, but every second that his confidence wavered was an advantage to me.

“You don’t know anything about me,” I repeated myself for effect, then quickly added, “You kind of messed up my day doing this.”

With the reaction I got, someone might have thought I’d slapped him.

“I wanted to help,” he said.

“I was spooked,” I said, feeling like shit even as I continued to leverage his better qualities against him.  “All I got was a friend texting me to say someone’s looking for me like they have a vendetta.”

“That’s not it…” he said, trailing off, but his enthusiasm was crushed.  He was visibly sagging, as though someone had let the air out of him.

“And I found out it was you, and all I could think was that you were angry and you wanted to hurt me, or maybe you had some crazed infatuation with me and you were stalking me.”

I could see the look on his face.  Horror mixed with panic.

“Fuck, Greg-”

“No.  That’s not what it was-” he said, breathless.  His face betrayed the lie.  It was at least part of it.  “It wasn’t like I was crazy over you, it was a little thing, a while back.  That’s not-”

“I have a boyfriend,” I blurted out the words in my haste to cut him off again.

It was like kicking a dog.

He went silent, and I took the opportunity to get my mental footing and plan out what to say next.

A boy stopped in his tracks on his walk way down the hall.  A little shorter than me, red haired.  Apparently our atmosphere was screwed up enough that he’d noticed.  “Problem?”

“It’s okay,” I said.  “We’re in the middle of resolving it.  Personal stuff.”

“That’s-” Greg started, then he stopped, looking at the boy.  Even he wasn’t so clueless as to say something in front of a stranger.

The boy looked between us, and then gave me a curious look.  He was one of the ones who’d stayed, I could tell at a glance.  Unlike some, though, unlike me, he hadn’t gotten much sun.  Odd.  Maybe he’d holed up in a house or a shelter for the last few months.  Staying indoors would have been safest.

From the way he was looking at me, I wondered if he saw something like that.  Difference was, I had a secret to keep.

“Thank you, though,” I told him, before he could figure anything out.

He took it for what it was: me saying ‘go away’ in the politest way I could manage.  He left.

“Greg,” I said, “I don’t want to hurt you and I don’t want to be your enemy.  You have to understand, the last while has been scary.  I’m guessing you didn’t stay in town?”

“I did,” he said, then he stopped, breaking eye contact.  “I was on the outermost edge of the city.  Other side of Captain’s Hill.”

There’s a mountain on the far side of Captain’s Hill, I thought.  Which meant he wasn’t close enough to matter.  I would have hesitated to call that area a part of Brockton Bay, but I could see where maybe Greg had convinced himself it was close enough to count.

“You didn’t stay in town, then,” I said.  “That’s fine.  Smart.  But maybe you don’t get what it’s been like here.  All I want is peace and quiet.  I want to spend time with my dad, who I very nearly lost.  I don’t want trouble.  I don’t want complications.”

“I was trying to help!” he protested.

“Greg-”

He bowled over me this time, “But I was thinking, you know, if I could figure this out, others could too.”

I glanced over my shoulder to ensure there was nobody in earshot.  A few fruit flies ventured out of a locker and checked around the corners.

“Greg, what is it you think you know?”

You’re Skitter,” he whispered.

“No, Greg,” I said, calm, quiet.

“I was reading online, and it’s like, there were people wondering if you were an adult, and it got me thinking what Skitter must be like in real life, and then it clicked.”

That was just about the most horrifying thing he could have said, barring near-impossibilities like, ‘I got powers and I ate your hair to get pregnant with your child.’

“A feeling, Greg?”

“It’s more than that!  It all makes sense!”

“I was going to spend time with my dad,” I said.  “That was my whole goal for the day, it’s my only goal.  I just want to unwind and relax after weeks and months of living in this hellhole of a city.  And you pull me away from all that because of a hunch?”

“It makes sense.  Your age, your location, your attitude.  Even with the bullying, your trigger event-”

I cut him off, “Trigger event?”

“Yeah, you-”

“What’s that?” I asked.

He stopped, trying to think of a way to parse the answer, and I could even see a flicker of enthusiasm, as he imagined explaining the concept.

The enthusiasm drained from his face.

“You’re playing dumb,” he said, but the confidence had taken a hit.

“You know that capes hurt my dad?” I asked.  “Both times he got hospitalized.  Shatterbird the first time, the explosion at the town hall the second.   Superpowers are really the last thing I even want to think about.  We can talk, but I really don’t want to talk about the superhero stuff.”

Fuck me, I felt slimy, playing him like this, using my dad for leverage.

“I can’t talk about this without talking about capes.”

“About me being one of the villains?  Isn’t it kind of insulting?  No, Greg.  I’m sorry, but you’re wrong.”

“But the proportions, the appearance-”

“You’re wrong,” I repeated.  I was feeling enough sympathy for him at this point that it wasn’t hard to inject some into my voice.

“Everything fit,” he said, his voice small.

Fit, not fits.  He’d already come to the conclusion I’d wanted.  I kept my mouth shut.  I wanted nothing more than to be gone, to arrange things so I could meet up with my dad with a minimum of questions, but I stood there and waited for Greg’s response.

“I’m sorry,” he said, in the end.

“You’re not a bad guy, Greg,” I said.  “Sorry I’m not the person you wanted me to be.”

He nodded, mute.

“Take care of yourself.  Good luck with school.  Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“I hope your dad’s alright,” he said.

“Thanks,” I answered him.  Then I turned to leave.

God damned people.  I felt like crap, both for manipulating him and the way I’d manipulated him, but there’d been no other choice.  What the hell had he even expected?  That I’d admit it and be bursting with gratitude that he’d let me know I needed to take some extra measures with my secret identity?

Probably.

I headed for the front door of the school.  As crummy as I felt, I could relax a bit, now.  Crisis averted.  I’d send Charlotte a text, then see about meeting up with my dad.  I wanted to leave.  There was nothing for me here.  Only ugly feelings.

Except the difference from then and now was that I felt a hell of a lot more like an Emma than a Taylor.

Speak of the devil.  I could sense her by the front door, hanging out with a group of her new friends.  I changed routes and found a door in a stairwell, and stepped outside that way.

The problem was the gate.  A short wall surrounded the grounds, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to climb it, not with the attention it would attract.  Going through the exit at the parking lot would take me in the opposite direction I’d wanted to go, and I was in something of a rush.

And maybe a part of me didn’t want to run.  Avoiding her was one thing, but going five or ten minutes out of my way to circle a whole city block just to keep out of her way was something else.

I walked briskly for the gate.

She saw me, walked to intercept.  Fuck her.  Of course she’s starting something.  It can’t be easy.

She placed herself between me and the gate.  She was almost playful as she stepped right, then left to cut me off as I changed direction.  I was forced to stop.

A sly smile was plastered on her face.  I was aware of the others looking.  The people who were sitting outside, the guards… her friends were approaching to join her.

“Sneaky, sneaky,” she said.  She looked like she was having a ball.  “Trying to avoid me?”

I didn’t reply.  I was a little spooked at how quickly my bugs were responding to my irritation.  Half of my psyche was saying ‘fight’, the other half was saying ‘ignore her’, and the bugs were only listening to the first half.  The second half was needing a bit of a push on my end.

There were few people in this world that had truly earned my hate.  I’d put a bullet through the last one’s brain.

Emma?  I couldn’t care less about her.  That was what unsettled me.

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325 thoughts on “Chrysalis 20.2

  1. Fast typo check: “A half-dozen Adults in outfits that were uncomfortably similar to the enforcers of the Boardwalk” Adults is capitalized for some reason.

    • Welcome, welcome, Esran and all, to the greatest show you ever saw: The comments! Step right up and watch Taylor feel bad as she crushes Greg’s feelings, then gets a chance with the annoyingly smiley Emma. Afterward, join us down here to chat the night away with innuendo and typos.

      Next episode of Worm: Is Taylor gonna have to choke a bitch?

      • Choking is too extreme. She has to find the right balance of hurting her just enough to make her realize who she is messing with but not enough to cause a scene/bring attention to herself. I’m thinking sucker punch in stomach, and maybe break a finger. Emma has to realize that the bullying persisted and escalated because Taylor wouldn’t defend herself. She realized this from her interlude. So I’m guessing she is either desperate to reaffirm her place as above her for whatever reason her screwed up head created, or she wants to be friends again. Either one is fucked up and pathetic in quite a number of ways.

  2. So: red-haired kid, obviously stayed in the city, didn’t get much sun. Probably because Clockblocker’s costume covers his whole body.

    Good chapter. Looking forward to what happens next.

  3. Clockblocker. I was hoping they’d meet, although I was also hoping he’d call her out for being a double of a unmasked Skitter.

    The way she pushed away the old Taylor on the bus, though, I have to say it seems to me a lot like what Emma did. I’m glad she acknowledges it, though in a different circumstance, and will hopefully take steps from becoming another Emma. Even a truly evil villain would be preferable over Emma, because Emma’s just pathetic. At least Coil and the Slaughterhouse Nine commanded a certain amount of respect.

    • He couldn’t call her out with Greg there and he was being pretty clearly dismissed. It also would have given away his civilian identity, which would be a pretty bad idea when dealing with the Undersiders, even if you are getting along a bit better. No matter how well Taylor explains it away, she DID attack a cape family and allow the mind control of another cape. These are things that should be remembered, even if they are set aside.

        • If that was true then there might be more evidence for the theory that he had a trigger event and didn’t realize it. He seems so sure for such flimsy evidence.

      • Yeah, guess didn’t think of his identity. For some reason, I was half thinking of him as Weld, who has no real reason to hide for pretty obvious reasons.

      • On the other hand, if the undersiders wanted to find out secret identities, tattletale could just drop by school for a few days.

    • Well, I suppose there’s a parallel between the way Taylor pushed away old anxieties and the way Emma pushed away, yanno, basic human caring and compassion. Those were both things they considered to be weighing them down. But saying they’re “a lot” alike seems exaggerated. Maybe I’m just biased toward Taylor.

      • Guess I exaggerated. More, I meant it reminds me of Emma. She’s just probably on my mind because we had her story posted so recently.

    • Glass houses. When you have a secret identity yourself, you might not be too quick to start talking about who looks, sounds or smells like which cape.

  4. Worth staying up for, as usual!

    So, does Taylor social-fu Emma the way she did Greg? And can she do it in a way that doesn’t raise more suspicions than it quiets? There’s as much tension in those questions as there was in the question of “does she survive Echidna”, possibly more since the story can continue on from either failure or success on those counts.

    I’m beginning to think that deconstructing what makes Worm work would fill an excellent course in story telling.

    • Trying to think what Taylor’s best play would be, here. My first instinct was that she should take the direct route: “You spent the last two years making my life a living hell. Yeah, I’m avoiding you. Bye.” If Em doesn’t take the hint, turn to Mr. Enforcer and yell, “Hey, you still got my knife?”

      • Well I’m not sure whether or not Emma is trying to become “friends” or try to bully her like nothing has changed. A knife would escalate things and bring attention/heroes to the scene. I’m thinking a very hard punch to the stomach, and breaking a finger.

        • My most guess for most likely is that Emma is banking on making herself look better to her friends by bullying someone who has by now been conditioned to take the bullying. Since Taylor stayed and has a bit of an edge as far as being tougher, this will raise Emma’s social standing even more.

          The alternative is that she’d actually try to get Taylor in her clique. This is unlikely, and I do not want to see it happen.

          *pushes a kiddie pool full of KY jelly to the school* I’ll just leave this here in case any fights start nearby between girls.

          • I would like it either way. Humiliating her/putting her in her place is probably the most likely, but the clique thing could arguably do more damage to her if she pulled a Tattletale on her thought process to show how pathetic she is. But she has to give her lice, crabs, at the very least. For sheer terrifying revenge, give her the worst kind of tape worm that multiplies and escapes through all of her holes. Don’t look up any pictures of that type of infection if you want to keep you dinner down.

          • ah the awkward moment when random people sitting at the next table in the canteen ask you to change the direction of your conversation

        • Sorry, wasn’t thinking “draw the knife” — the guard wouldn’t be giving her the knife until she left anyway. I was thinking “establish that this is Not A Game by showing off that Taylor is prepared to deal with threats of deadly force”.

          In retrospect, not sure it would be effective.

      • Knowing Emma i somewhat doubt she ll try to apologize and even she can t be dumb enough to think Taylor would join her little group after their last meeting.
        Drawing a knife would escalate things sure but so would a fistfight or a broken finger mind you i d like to see it.
        So i wouldn t find it wrong for her to call out for the guard ask for the knife back and tell him to keep that hateful bitch away from her or she might feel like using it.
        Also i m all for revenge but karmic revenge not Taylors she has outgrown Emma and doesn t need to descend to that level again.

  5. Hey, first time posting! Been reading for a while now and this series has always been great. Anyways, what happened to the pieces of paper Dinah gave Taylor? Seemed like a pretty big cliffhanger from the previous arc.

    • Oh, thats one of the little things wildbow’s gonna tease us with for so long we eventually just give up and forget about them, then and only then will they become important, and likely save the universe or something.(but we still wont know what they say)

        • Why? It’s basically a given that’s going to happen. Just let it go until wildbow brings it up again, unless you want to drive yourself insane, like I’ve already somewhat done.

      • I kinda hope it won’t be something like. Seems too much like a Deus Ex Machina. Then again, the whole “where did Tattletale go during the bank robbery” from the beginning played out rather nicely.

    • It says “Don’t worry, Lisa is lying when she says she’s not in love with you. True love will survive. The two of you will find a way <3"

    • Ah, welcome, welcome! Glad to have another face around the comments section. Now, we’re going to need you measured up for a loincloth, get you some bells on your ankles, paint your face green and orange, and, of course, you’ll need a chicken for the sacrifice.

      I’ll start thinking up some sort of goofy ritual. In the meantime, you just stay dressed like that.

  6. Oh no the tags. Clockblocker’s the one who interfered with Greg!

    Taylor also continues to feel bad for not feeling bad

    • I think that’s one of her great strengths – she’s aware of herself enough that there’s some feedback, some internal pressure to push her away from falling down the slippery slopes she walks near.

      It’s not foolproof of course. People can be self-reflective and still wind up making horrible mistakes or becoming things they hate. It’s more of a positive modifier on your morality dice rolls, with the bonus of getting additional rolls to try to snap out of bad behaviors that you wind up developing to use a tabletop gaming analogy.

  7. Looks like Taylor has realized that her first instinct to trouble seems to be violence now. It’s a good sign that she is worried about that.

    Also, does anyone know if Taylor has previously used one-word sentences to describe situations, like when she though “Inconvenient.” in this chapter? Because I don’t remember her doing that before. But Coil did it all the time. I hope that’s not indicative of her becoming more like him.

    • But she is becoming more like other villains. She mentions she took Bakuda’s lesson on fear as a powerful tool when she went out of her way to psychologically torture the invading merchants so they would be too afraid of her to dare try it again. She follows Coil’s lessons on how to manage people. Being fair, paying well, and listening to thoughts/concerns. If she gets rids of Emma the same way she got rid of Greg, that she will be taking Tattletale/Jack’s lessons on psychological manipulation to heart. She does have a reputation now. Flechette, Clockblocker, and Dinah probably see her as this big figure than a person now.

      • I’d say she’s becoming more like the other heroes she didn’t like. Abiding by a code of rules that’s pretty far into ‘do right by others’, but using force casually (even if she agonizes about it in her own mind). Because her own awareness of what constitutes scary and ruthless has been altered, it’s harder to find the line.

        There’s no question she’s acting like a veteran of some flavor. She might need somebody to shoulder-check her and say, “Hey, these people don’t get it. Take it easy on them, you’re freaking the norms.”

      • I’m crossing my fingers hoping we get to see Taylor work her mojo on Emma the same way she did on those wannabe gangers last chapter. Fair warning, and proportionate to the threat Emma poses to the other ‘losers’ she’ll go after when Taylor’s no longer a viable target. She doesn’t have to care about Emma to care about the rest of the kids in school.. even if the ones from Winslow threw her under the bus hard. After all, there are kids from her territory going to school here.

  8. Oh man. One obstacle… overcome? Temporarily. One possible issue raised.

    Obstacle two: not just letting bugs deal with the nuisance blocking her path.

    I’m curious to see, with the last line, how much Taylor actually cares to deal with her. It’s obvious she’s not scared, doubt she even still hates her, with those last lines. It’s just another thing to do before she moves on.

    …and I’m on the edge of my seat until Tuesday. Cliffhangerrrr!

    • Don’t forget, Skitter’s actually pretty good in hand to hand fighting, so she still has the skills to hurt without her swarm if she really needs to.

      • It’s not hurting Emma that’s an issue. I mean, bad, but she can control her body much better than her swarm. Not letting it hurt Emma or out her as Skitter while dealing with her will be the issue, I think.

  9. Feels like a shorter chapter in terms of things happening. That’s a good thing at this point in time. One chapter for Greg, and the next will probably be for Emma.

    I’ve got to say, I have mixed feelings about Greg. He’s so enthusiastic and naive, and that is both endearing and grating. But he really takes to the “from a certain point of view” philosophy to much. He claims to have been in the city, but only technically. He says he and Taylor should stick together, but didn’t when it would have mattered. Yet, it seems like he just doesn’t understand the consequences. Maybe if he actually stayed, he would. I guess this is why Taylor both still hates what Greg did and hates herself for having to blow him off like that.

    Emma, though, what is she doing? If she is going back to her Alpha Bitch ways over Taylor, that would completely go against her revelations in her interlude. If she is trying to endear herself, she’s dumber than she’s been portrayed. Neither scenario seems to fit. I really don’t know how this will end, especially with the guards right in sight. Is there something I’m missing? I’m sure Wildbow won’t let us down, though.

    That small pass-by with Clockblocker was a nice touch. Especially since no one seems to really know about everything in that scene. Maybe that prediction of high school sitcom antics will come true?! …nah.

    The way the school is handling things seems both realistic and fantastical. It’s realistic in that they couldn’t expect every student to come in immediately without baggage, and didn’t. It’s realistic that they didn’t have time to give everyone a set schedule. It’s fantastical in that bureaucrats could actually agree to do this in such a short time.

    • On the fantastical bureaucrat part, I think it is quite possible that they have done this before. This isn’t the first American city that got ripped up by the Endbringers, and I bet that getting schooling figured out in that city took quite a bit more time.

    • I’m surprised that they used so much glass, with Shatterbird still effectively at large- though the description made me think it might be some fancy plastic film instead.

      • I think the compound eye/hexagon thing is a hint its some kind of safety glass or something.

        Probably tinker-made.
        It is after all the known “dayjob” for the wards.

      • You’ll crash your Jamaican bobsled?
        You’ll get drawn into a bloody quagmire?
        Your rocket will crash into the ocean without reaching Japan?
        You’ll create the movie called Wanted?

      • Going above and beyond in a crisis is a thing that builds a reputation of trust and responsibility. During the Tylenol murders in chicago, the makers of Tylenol created new plastic wraps, and used airport xray machines to check for tampering. Tylenol became even more trusted after that crisis because they went to such lengths. The city/school board probably want to do whatever they can to build up a reputation of trust/high standards. After all, they stand to gain alot if the city becomes rich and successful due to the portals.

    • Actually, with her Interlude revelations, I could see her coming at Taylor with something to prove. She knows she’s not top dog between the two of them, but wants to be, so she’s falling into the old pattern hoping to quiet her doubts about her own survivor-dom, I’d say.

      • I guess that sounds like her. I just thought she was smarter than that. But reading things again, Emma seems to be the type that, no matter how much she is seen as the top dog, is just a follower in the end. Just look at how easily she fell in line with Sophia’s stronger personality.

        Any bets on if and who she ends up kissing up to by the end of the arc?

  10. It’s cool how easily Taylor got Greg off her back. I always thought his thought process was sort of flimsy, no hard evidence.

    But it looks like we’re getting that Taylor/Emma confrontation a lot of people wanted. I’m getting a whole lot of nostalgia from reading this chapter. The pace reminded me a lot of the earlier chapter which was nice.

    I’m completely ready for Taylor to own Emma. Karma’s a bitch and this is a long time coming.

    • I’m with you in rooting for some pure pwnage. Seriously, I want Taylor to own Emma like Kane owned Vader, like Lance Armstrong owned drug tests, like the English owned the French at Agincourt.

          • One of Kane’s first matches involved him taking on Vader, with Vader providing a heavy dose of selling and jobbing because they were giving Kane a big push. Unfortunately, it was so much that the match is credited as hurting his career prospects in the U.S.

            Every pro wrestler is a product, of sorts. The gimmick or persona is their particular branding and marketing. Certain decisions or actions can harm that branding and make it more difficult for them to make a living at that.

            When you’re a monster heel who doesn’t sell and has a stiff enough working style that your powerbomb legitimately caused loss of feeling in limbs from those who took it, it looks bad to be utterly dominated by some new guy whose last major gimmicks were Isaac Yankem the wrestling dentist and the Christmas Creature. Turning Vader into more of an Uber or Leet character, if you will. Powerful, but less of a threat.

          • You geek on wrestling the way I geek on superhero movies. I’m actually interested enough to look up those matches, now. ….Except, two tests coming up next week I’m half-prepared for. But after, hopefully.

          • I wouldn’t recommend that match. Vader versus Kane is a curbstomp, and a boring one. Kane’s offense still needed polish, Vader didn’t sell very convincingly, and it was all too drawn out.

            That whole “98% of something is crap” rule is certainly in effect with wrestling too.

            Now, if you want to see a better version of a curbstomp, one where both guys come out looking even better, I’d recommend the infamous King of the Ring 1998 Hell in a Cell Match (but let’s not post any links. WWE can be litigous at times.)

            Not exactly high flying (conventionally anyway), but more of the hardcore variety. I’ve come to prefer faster paced, more agile stuff like (they put this out for free): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XesuznnHaA

            If it helps, think of it as a live action fight sequence shot in real time.

    • Taylor dealing with Greg hinged on one of my favourite weasel moves (or least favourite, depending on which way you look at it, and which end of the stick you’re holding): plausible deniability.

      Greg, you’re such a sucker. Wait until you discover you fooled yourself into thinking you were wrong.

      Hg

  11. “Emma? I couldn’t care less about her.”

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that. Looks like this is going in the direction of moving past Emma instead of getting revenge. I hope when Danny rings Taylor she’ll just take the call and completely ignore Emma.

    Funny how Clockblocker just “happened” to pass by just when Taylor was “happening” to talk down Greg about her secret identity. I bet the Wards/PRT had Skitter pegged the moment she walked through the doors. Now we just need to find out whether they’re gearing up to fuck her over, or Dennis is just keeping an eye on his new “friend”.

    Also, even if she doesn’t go back to school, Taylor should really, really contemplate learning a Spanish or another widely spoken language if she’s going to start playing in the bigger supervillain pond.

      • I doubt the heroes will start something without a reason. She did save the heroes/clockie in particular, and Tattle can easily reveal the truth about Cauldron if they try something sneaky.

        • Also, going after somebody in their civilian identity without it being commonly known that “Person A is Villain X” is probably verboten, because it makes it far more likely that villains will do the same thing.

        • They might not try anything sneaky, but there’s nothing stopping Dennis from sitting down next to Greg at lunchtime and saying, “What was that all about?” And, judging by Greg’s catastrophic lack of subtlety, I bet he’d find out pretty much everything – Taylor’s full name, Taylor’s prior history with Sophia, and Taylor’s trigger event.

          Assuming, of course, that Charlotte didn’t notice and try to interrupt. In which case I have absolutely no idea what would happen.

  12. It was creepy, the way she felt at school. Poor girl.

    I’m surprised that she didn’t recognize Clockblocker’s voice, since she’d been blind while having a significant conversation with him. Definitely not surprised that he recognized her, though, since he was obviously checking her out in the PRT van when he commented on her height.
    A shame that he knows Skitter has a boyfriend now- I bet he is furiously struggling to decide whether it is Regent or Grue.

    Greg is trouble… And Emma is busily painting a bulls-eye on her face.

    “second. Superpowers” Extra space.

    • I dont see think either greg or clockie think either grue or regent are taylor’s boyfriends, because clockie left before the conversation even started, and greg’s theory of taylor being skitter was shot down, admittedly he wasn’t wrong, but he no longer believes that.

      • ‘Boyfriend’ was the last thing Taylor said before Clockblocker broke in… And I think Clockblocker has a pretty good idea of what Skitter looks and sounds like- the hair, the height, the voice.

        Even if Greg never shows up again, he’s done the damage. But that doesn’t mean the wards will leave him alone if they connect him to Skitter.

        • ““I have a boyfriend,” I blurted out the words in my haste to cut him off again.
          It was like kicking a dog.
          He went silent, and I took the opportunity to get my mental footing and plan out what to say next.
          A boy stopped in his tracks in his walk way down the hall. ”

          THe ‘he went silent’, and ‘in his walk down the hall’ parts imply clockie was out of hearing range when she said it. I imagined it more as him walking in during a lul in the conversation.

          Also, I think that last sentence should be “A boy stopped in his tracks on his walk down the hall”.

  13. Stupid Emma. Poor moron. Well, let’s go get the eulogy written. Need to find some words that rhyme with some key phrases that are necessary to include. Bunt, hunt, punt. Really, I hope she tries something just so Taylor can fuck her up. Itch, hitch, lich. And I think these days there’s not too much going to be done to Taylor, especially with Emma as one of the ones who moved away. Crass kicker, fast bicker, mass flicker.

  14. You know, the way the narration works, we really don’t get a lot of information about Taylor’s mannerisms unless she puts conscious thought into them. It’s like, she’s shutting Greg down, channeling Rachel, and I put a frown on her face. She says “I was spooked” and I make her shake her head, kinda disappointed-like. She’s all “really? a hunch?” and I give her a pained, disbelieving expression. But really, the one time we actually know for sure how she’s acting is when she thinks about the fact she’s talking sympathetically. It makes it a bit lopsided, how she observes all the ways other are reacting without thinking about herself much.

    It’s not really as noticeable, say, during her conversation with Clockblocker, because then she was “calmly stating her point” pretty much all the time, but in a conversation like this where I expect her to be emoting more I find myself stopping once in a while, thinking about the proper tone or expression to give her in my mind’s eye, and wondering if it’s the way the author intends it.

    And, you know, like I said it’s part of the narrative style, and it kinda fits with Taylor’s personality, and… I’m not really sure where I was going with this. Anyway, just my thoughts.

    • True, but on the realism hand, how often do you conciously think about the expression on your face, like thinking, “That guy said something really profound. Quick, let’s look contemplative!”

        • Word. Sometimes you just like to talk about the story and some aspect of it. Too bad I hadn’t noticed that line when I read your comment over the first time.

          *To himself* Quick, look sympathetic.
          *Tilts his head to the left, stretches his mouth to the right, sticks his tongue out, and stares at you with wide open eyes*

          Ah! Face malfunction, abort abort!

        • Nah. As a kid, I used to practise facial expressions in the mirror. Partially because I thought some just looked cool (raised eyebrows), partially because people tell me I always look totally emotionless. Which I am, to a point.

      • Considering that Taylor needs to lie convincingly, she would really need to think about her face and body language. Hell, she’s smart enough; she could try to create two different personas with two different body languages, like Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent vs Superman. So direct, descriptive thoughts about her own body language would not be out of place, and maybe even more necessary.

    • I kinda figured it was intended to convey an emptiness and hardness of expression. When other character see/describe Taylor she’s shown to have a very quiet, focused, and ruthless air about her, with a marked lack of emoting. Which tracks with how Taylor’s strategy for almost two years was to avoid reacting at all costs.

    • I always kinda assumed it was so that the reader could mentally fill in those bits themselves. As in, we all follow the same conversation/scene/whatever, but each of us projects our own reactions onto her. It would allow for a broader sympathetic range, if only somewhat.

        • I agree.

          One of the big things I took away from my Applied Language classes in university was that writing (and more generally, art) is a dialogue, not a monologue. My job as an author isn’t to just dump words on a page and tell a story, but to open an exchange. I pose story elements and gauge the (potential) audience’s reactions or responses, and I shape my own follow-up in reaction to that. I leave things open to interpretation and generate suspense by trying to create scenarios where the reader is left to wonder/consider/imagine what the possible outcomes are. There’s a crapton of interplay.

          The descriptions though? That’s just a mistake. Nothing intentional there.

  15. Long time reader first time commenting, anyone think one of the heroes might come to help Taylor out here if things get bad, might make sense if Clockblocker thought she might be Skitter and decided to follow her.

  16. Was I the only one who noticed the Grue tag and reread it twice?
    I couldn’t see any Brian-esque characters described. Mistake or am I going senile?
    Also this line
    “There were few people in this world that had truly earned my hate. I’d put a bullet through the last one’s brain.”
    One of those lines that makes you just /feel/. Loved it.

  17. Everyone seems to assume that Emma wants to start trouble, maybe she just wants to make up or more likely act like the bullying never happened or wasn’t a big deal.

    I hope that Denis can keep a level head in all this. The last thing his side needs is for him to play the hero and ‘rescue’ Emma from Skitter. That would cement how useless heroes are in her mind again because of the contrast to nobody doing anything when she got bullied.

    Of course the worst thing Denis could do is to run to the two capes stationed at the school and sent them after Skitter…

    Hopefully he is smart enough to take a wait and see approach, maybe gather some intelligence and don’t do anything stupid.

    One thing that made me wonder is the presence of the Grue tag when he did not actually appear in the story. Does being mentioned count? Or perhaps he has copied his sisters powers and is secretly stalking his girlfriend due to unresolved mental issues. You never know.

    • I happen to like Clockie, so I’m going to assume he tries to defend Taylor and then leaving Emma to her fate when he sees she can take care of himself if he is around. Asking her to be friends seems a little far fetched from how she treated Sophia in the baby bird cage, but it could happen. As for Grue, he pretty much disappeared during their bank heist with a darkness so thin he looked like a living shadow. I could buy him following Taylor around because he is so paranoid about keeping her safe. I could buy him creating a diversion to get the heroes attention so she can give Emma her undivided attention.

  18. “I couldn’t do anything about the time it took to get here”
    To get there?

    “One was very much what I might have expected, kids in new clothes or casual summer wear, smiling and talking.
    Months ago, I might have felt like the smiles and periodic laughs were directed at me, and not in a flattering way.”
    There’s a space too much before the ‘Months’.

    “I’d always rationally understood that they weren’t, but feeling that on the spot, that noticeable.”
    What is ‘that noticeable’ supposed to mean?

    • There’s still an ‘Arcadia high’ after
      “Months ago, I might have felt like the smiles and periodic laughs were directed at me, and not in a flattering way”

      And more spaces before the lines:
      “That I was all the more cognizant of the weirdness of all the cape stuff?”
      “If you’re here to look at the superheroes, you can do it later! They’ll be here all week!””
      “”Problem?””
      “Staying indoors would have been safest.”
      “Crisis averted.”

      I think it’s interesting that she curses so much. I don’t think she did that in the beginning. One more sign of her becoming more violent.

  19. I think I get now what Sophia Hess meant.

    The school is divided into ‘’Leavers’’ and ‘’Survivors’’. It’s easy to identify which is which and there is a tension between them. I’d say it makes sense that Emma already got a bunch of followers – with the atmosphere in the school, people would band behind those exhibiting confidence, simply for herd’s feeling of security to balance feeling of tension.

    Now let’s say Emma starts bullying Skitter (and I assume Skitter focuses on keeping her bugs from eating her up and just getting out of there without conflict, so she lets the abuse slide). How would it look to others around her? Not as before – a popular girl picking on unpopular one. No, this time it’s ‘’Leaver’’ picking on ‘’Survivor’’. Suddenly the ingrained tribal instincts modern men fully retain kick in and it’s about one of ‘’them’’ attacking one of ‘’us’’. And you remember which group carries weapons.

    • Ooh, good point. I hadn’t thought of that. Taylor’s ideal response, both tactically and psychologically is to publicly blow Emma off as an irrelevant minor irritant. Possibly even laugh in her face. Like shooing away a fly (which I imagine people in Brockton Bay are less casual about than they used to be).

      • Well, right now she is thinking ”I’m being like Emma” so I expect she’ll go an extra mile not to act like her. And since she doesn’t feel anything towards her, it would be easier to keep her cool. Though maybe Emma can still push those buttons – especially if she starts insulting other people.

        If things happen like this, it may put her into the spotlight in the school. Heh, it would be interesting if Denis comes to her defense.

        I do wonder, if Emma indeed intends confrontation, though with her messed up mind, she may pick a fight just to get Tyler to fight back so they would be ”on the same level”, both predators, so she could resmue their ”friendship”. Or maybe that would be too twisted a thought process.

        • Emma will most likely use the most potent psychological attack she has against Taylor, everything Taylor ever told Emma about missing her mom back when they were friends in order to break her again.

          • I noticed that a lot of people were debating the revenge vs character development argument, but violence against Emma (sans revenge) would actually be in character for Taylor at this point. If you’ve noticed, she’s become a lot more lax in her approach to the world (freely swearing, tactically assessing threats, casual violence with or without threats). So in a moment of “get the hell out of my way, Emma”, Taylor is a lot more likely to knock her on her ass and go on her merry way than she would’ve before. Not quite revenge (which really would’ve been a step backward for her), but a few justified blows might be forthcoming.

          • I hadn’t thought of it that way Ivy, but you raise a very good point. I wouldn’t have a problem with Taylor hurting Emma to get her out of the way or drive her off, my main problem was the idea of Taylor deliberately going for Emma based off her past actions. If she backhanded her across the face right about now as she walked past I don’t think it would be a step back in her character development so much as a way to demonstrate that Taylor doesn’t see violence the same way as she used to.

      • “You little high school social scene gold digger. While you ran and hid, I stayed. I had to deal with glassplosions. I was there when the mayoral debate got blown to hell. I was around when Echidna chewed up the Triumvirate. Grow up and fuck off with your broken nail, tampon-in-a-wad bullshit.”

  20. Speaking as a redhead-ish, I get annoyed when people assume I haven’t been out in the sun because I’m pale as a ghost. I don’t tan. I can spend all day every day outside, and the most I’ll get is a few more freckles and skin cancer. Also, sunburn. Horrible, horrible sunburn.

    Other than that, great chapter as always.

  21. Skitter: What are you watching? Is that the Arcadia High surveillance video?

    Regent: Just watching your meeting with Greg, check it; if you pause it right, you can actually see the exact moment where his heart breaks in two… aaaaand there.

  22. She doesn’t need her bugs. With the current school environment she could kick Emma’s smarmy ass & blame it on post traumatic stress.

      • Unless Emma physically attacks her it wouldn’t be self defense, and that just isn’t how Emma seems to roll most of the time. You can’t beat the shit out of someone and claim you were defending your self esteem.

        • if someone is not letting you pass / contains you in a given area, that can be considered an attack / thread.
          to be physical threatened is enough to justify selfdefense

          • If Taylor beat up Emma over what has happened so far it would not be self defense. They are in an open area and Emma has moved to put herself in front of Taylor, no court would construe that as an attack.

          • oh sorry am already at the next scene (where taylor is trying to walk away in any direction and they wont let her, surround her, like in the beginning of worm, kind of let my immagination go wild^^)

  23. a severe mix of uncertainty in the end, mixed with the knowledge that i may not have internet starting this tuesday….

    FFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUU

  24. So Greg is out for the count, if for a little while. Clockblocker might befriend him and that could cause even more problems. I’m glad Taylor didn’t hurt the poor kid, he wouldn’t have deserved it.

    Now Emma? My, my where to begin. I see Taylor pulling a Jack on her. Something like:
    “You think you intimidate ME? Emma, I survived the ABB, Leviathan, The Slaughterhouse 9 and the S-class. I’ve KILLED people in self-defense, brutally hurt those who threatened me. You think just because I was afraid of you once means I’ll break down and cry the moment you talk about my mother? Well instead of me let’s talk about you….”
    I took a breath and began to list off reasons, I felt like Jack, using psychology to break a person.
    “You bullied me for reasons unknown, betrayed me for some psycho-bitch. YOU PUSHED ME INTO A LOCKER FULL OF ROTTEN TAMPONS AND MY OWN PUKE. And for what? To be impressive to people? To show you were a powerful person? You’re neither of those. You’re just some girl with issues about herself, trying to make yourself feel better by preying on the weak.
    I can guess you were attacked, at some point, maybe threatened with death or disfigurement, probably the latter knowing how protective you are of your looks. You were traumatized, maybe suicidal. Then came Sophie, maybe using her own little twisted ideals you turned from my best friend into the person here before me. So let me give you abit of advice, Emma. Don’t underestimate me. ”
    With that I walked out the gate, a stunned Emma just staring at me. I took my knife back from the guard. I didn’t even look back to see how people were reacting to my little rant. Had she told them she had done terrible things to me? Yup. Told them she could break me again? Probably. Did I just screw up her social standing? I hope so, let her see what it was like to be on the bottom rung.

    Probably a terrible attempt at writing Taylor but I had to get that out of my system. I expect many complaints and laughter.

    Great job as always Wildbow. Can’t wait for Tuesday! Oh what is the interlude schedule now, or are there anymore planned for recent dates. (You really need a schedule posted somewhere, if you’re not too busy that is.)

    • I agree. It was a terrible attempt at writing Taylor. :)
      I’m pretty sure Taylor doesn’t do rants. She does have signifigant inner monologues, but from the outside her conversations are usually rather terse.

      I predict Emma will say a bunch of words while Taylor calculates the exact amout of violence that will be required to resolve this situation. Taylor will then execute said violence. Then something she isn’t expecting will happen. My guess is that someone will step in to protect Emma from the ‘bully’.

      • I knew it would be terrible. Oh the heartache of being a sucky writer. It’s killing me. xD I hate it whenever I have an idea, a terrible one at that, like that but it would’ve turned into a horrible fanfiction at some point.

        I like your idea more. It’s much better than mine. *dies in a hole*

        • Don’t feel too bad. It would be pretty awesome if Taylor could destroy Emma’s sociopathic bully nature, if only because it might mean that Emma actually deals with her trauma.

        • S’ok, we all have different strengths, even amongst people who write things. I do comedy, often of the sociopathic variety, in which things like torture can be made humorous. As bad as that sounds, Wildbow’s writings devour the souls of kittens and tadpoles and baby penguins at times. Jim has a fun “Wake up, go to school, fight crime” story with a lot less drama and a better focus on the team, legacy hero, and geek perspective. Marie Erving focuses on fantasy literature and her experiences doing real life science grad student shizzle fo rizzle. Tieshaunn does wonderful incest, I think, just going by the setup I’ve read so far…

          We all have our niche.

          I just think you weren’t harsh enough up there. Seriously. I’ve been angry for very good reasons, and this asshole I’ve brought it up angrily around just laughed and laughed and acted like they were no big deal.

          Sometimes, violence is the answer. Except when Tieshaunn doesn’t want me endorsing him anymore (for some strange reason).

      • “Emma. You weren’t worth my time then. You aren’t worth it now. The only difference between then and now is that I’ve realized it.”

        Alternatively, though more unlikely:

        “Emma.”
        *Taylor puts a hand on Emma’s shoulder.*
        “Thank you.”
        *Taylor removes her hand and walks away.*

        Whether Taylor also put a bullet ant on Emma’s shoulder is your call. :)

        • Or just put her hand on Emma’s shoulder and walk away without saying anything. Something really, really dismissive like that.

          At this point, I’d think that the surest way to get under Emma’s skin is condescension.

    • Interludes are loosely scheduled under the ‘Donation’ subheading at the top of the page. I think I’m taking one week off and then one. We’re back on a normal schedule now. I’m hoping to get maybe two bonus chapters done every three weeks at this point.

      • Oh, okay. Great! :D Can’t wait to see them! I’ve been wondering……Will Dragon ever confront Taylor? She knows who Skitter is, and she’s busy with the Nine, no doubt.

  25. Thanks to Axel for the donation.

    Scheduling another bonus chapter for later weeks.

    Thinking more and more of another spree-week. Eight updates over eight days, five bonus chapters in there. Knock ‘em off the list without distracting from the core story as much.

    • This may sound odd, but what are the chances that we could get a separate donation track setup for the development of some merchandise? I know things like logos and character designs can take time and money, especially if you’re not an artist on the side as well, so how about letting us help out with getting some good Worm loot made up?

      I’d love to have something like a “Save the Brockton Bay Ferry” coffee mug or an “Arcadia High” t-shirt. Alternatively shirts with character pics and some choice quotes from them would be pretty neat to have too.

      Note: I’m suggesting a true *donation* track. The donate button that’s up there now is less a donation button and more a “buy a piece of an additional story” button. This would be money given with just for setting up the designs, actually buying the shirts, mugs, etc would be separate.

      • That’d be pretty cool. Let’s open up the floor for discussion (ie. which of you would buy this stuff, who would donate along these lines, suggesting items for sale, etc.) and I’ll ask around to see what routes one might take on that front.

        Working with (other?) artists, I’ve found, is tough. They’re simultaneously very expensive and very flaky. Just putting together the teeny tiny banner that I was doing for Topwebfiction was getting me quotes in the neighborhood of $75-150 (and I was willing to pay that, I do want to support artists) but many of the people I contacted flaked out before we got to the preliminary part of it. I wound up throwing something together on my own (though I wish I could touch it up, maybe draw a proper face, fix the little things & add details). Hard to work in dimensions that small, though.

          • One word: Kickstarter. And another word: Polls.
            Set up an actual poll on the top of the page to see what kind of merch people would want to buy, and then set up a kickstarter based on quotes you get from various artists to see if there is enough interest.
            Set up stretch goals for more merch if people really like the idea, and have tiers rewarding funders with items they contributed towards.

            I know that I for one would buy the F*** out of a kindle version of this, or a shirt with designs of the endbringers. Hell, I really liked the Top Web Fiction banner for skitter, for that matter.

          • I’d recommend against Kickstarter for this.

            The successful Kickstarters that I’ve backed tend to produce a LOT of additional work for the person who put them up.

            Also, they tend to need “reward tiers” to help get people to donate. So $10 for bene #1, $20 gets you bene #1 and bene #2, $25 gets you bene #3 and for $5 more you can add on either bene #1 or #2.

            That’s great for some projects but it also amounts to basically pre-selling the items, which would be tougher in this case since you can’t show what the items will be (as the whole point is to raise the funds to pay for the creative work in the first place).

            Also, Kickstarters have a limited time frame (usually a month). Personally I’d be fine with this taking longer than that and being out the donation money from Day 1. The benefit here being twofold, not only would there be some cool stuff for me to buy, but it would also setup a secondary revenue stream for Wildbow since, in theory, if the designs are good, then for every dollar donated to create them he’d be able to make more >$1 in sales.

            In practice, who knows, but with us funding it the risk wouldn’t be all on him at least.

          • Bitchified dog plushies!

            Siberian plushy!

            Atlas plushy!

            A T-shirt with a clock on it that has “Clockblocked!” under the clock.

            Another t-shirt that says, “I got abducted by Cauldon and all I got was lousy superpowers.” with Case 53 on the opposite side. Maybe have Case 53 on the front, the sentence on the back.

            Mini poster versions of the “Know Where You Are” sheets.

            A Slaughterhouse Nine calender where each month has a different member, including Damsel of Distress and Hookwolf! If you have another one that works, can include them for the last month, otherwise maybe Christmas can be a chibified Christmas setting *Imagines Bonesaw having tied ribbons around Siberian like she was a present (Not That Way), Burnscar staring mesmerized at a Menorah, Jack Slash holding a carving knife and grinning evilly at a cooked turkey (or a live one maybe?).*

          • I’m a Graphic Design Student at San Jose State, if you can give me an idea and maybe some rough drawings, I can make some stuff you may be able to use. I’m very good with Illustrator and Vector based stuff, but there aren’t any classes that really teach how to Photoshop paint over here (lord knows why). Hit me up on the offer if you want, this week is spring break, and once it’s done I get busy again.

          • I, for one, would love a plain black T-shirt with the Case 53 tattoo/brand in white in some inobvious place, like on the back on the top-left shoulder blade. And nothing else.

            (Okay, for obvious reasons, you should probably have parahumans.wordpress.com on it somewhere too, maybe on the right cuff, or just above the bottom hem on the right side.)

            Also, I really like the idea of “Save the Brockton Bay Ferry” T-shirts.

            Hg

          • Seconding the Case 53 and ferry shirts. I was thinking a “Brockton Bay Dockworkers Association” shirt would be nice as well.

            Also, seconding the warning about Kickstarter. I’ve heard at least one horror story about a Kickstarter for a product which had not been created yet going completely under – it’s a great platform if you want to do preordering once you already have basic designs you find satisfactory, though. And it lets you choose based on response what kind of print process you want to do – silk screen is awesome, but only feasible on large print runs, for example.

        • This gave me a thought of one of those awful “I stayed in Brockton Bay and all I got was a tan and this stupid shirt” things. Definitely a good idea.
          -A shirt with a swarm circling it
          -One covered in swirling shadows
          -A hoodie with a hood that mimics Bitch’s mask, mayhaps
          Maybe you can work together with Trusting (who made the chibis) and see about having Wormverse stickers? (Not sure how that’d work, but it’s an idea)

        • logo. definitely needs a logo

          either a ‘generic’ one for the worm: letterform or pictoform, or at least one for skitter for this specific story (i’m thinking pictoform like something she could put on her costume), but a ‘wormverse’ logo could be reused if you ever expand out into other character’s stories

          • Before Skitter took over being leader of the Undersiders I imagined the logo to be A pit-pull skull wearing a crown with an eye of Horus for one eye and a bug eye for the other. With Skitter as leader it’s harder to imagine…… :\

        • Artists are really flakey and the ones that take comissions usually base it on a theoretical hourly rate or have a very long waiting list (often both ) and no one works for a song on the hope of gaining more exposure. ( most artists liken pitches of working for free so they gain practice and exposure as similair to african princes offering vast riches via email ) and even when you end up with fan artists that love your series they often want to do their own thing and aren’t looking to take direction ….and of course they are flakey .

          • All that being said you are welcome to use anything i’ve drawn worm related in any way free of charge( you don’t even have to ask) , though im not sure chibis and monsters best represent your stories .

          • I’ll try to point Drunkfu this way , he’s been doing alot of shirt designs for welovefine lately and might have some thoughts , input,intrest (plus he’s an actual art type person instead of a hobbyist like me )

        • insect (the creepy ones not butterflies) based coffee mugs or glasses pls
          (not just a singel spider or so but crawling with them all over or even compleatly made out of insects)
          i would buy some of those

        • I wouldn’t buy merchandise myself, or donate to help create it. I’d rather have the money go to getting your book published.

    • Another ‘Wards’ arc would be an amazing way to examine what sort of changes the Undersiders (and others) have wrought on their town and fellow capes.

      • And I still so wanna see a PRT threat assessment of the Undersiders, or even just Skitter! Especially the part where Tattletale gets a hold of it!

      • A Wards arc sounds great. How many of them are there, now? Clockblocker, Vista, Kid Win…I think that’s it. Just a big old characterization fest with a side of “what do the Wards and Protectorate heroes think of the Undersiders.”

    • If you’re considering doing that, I trust it’s partly because this is a good point in the story to do such a thing? If you feel like this is a good time to do it, and feel up to it, by all means go for it. The last week-long update frenzy was really fun and turned out great.

      I will forever cherish Wormmass. If you do the update a day for eight days thing, I’ll have to come up with another holiday name for it.

  26. “It didn’t matter if a foe was armored or behind a forcefield, he could dehydrate them in a flash.”

    Wouldn’t that violate the manton effect? Just dehydrating your environment doesn’t seem that dangerous, at least in the short run.

  27. Anyone notice the PRT brought in someone able to deal with Skitter’s bugs? Sere could dehydrate a large swarm quickly. Regarding Clockwork: I’d expect him to know better than to connect secret identities.

  28. Taylor can’t use violence on Emma in front of the guards, but she can call the guards.
    One of them should be paying attention by now.

  29. Just checking: has anyone made a “Worm-hole” joke about the portal to another world yet? I feel like that is a thing that someone should have done.

      • Or anyone with a sufficiently ranged weapon, or a remote detonated bomb, or a surprise attack, or something with enough ‘mass’ attacking (I.E. Skitter’s Swarm from all sides) that he can’t get all of it.

        • Then it’s time to coat him in something that explodes when it comes into contact with water. He draws enough from nearby sources and boom!

          Or is there a way to overfeed him? He might be immune to it, but humans can die of having ingested too much water. I used to better know why. Something about the salinity of the body needing to stay within a certain range to help conduct electrical impulses along nerves or something perhaps?

          May not be work since he is letting off some water there.

          • Anything that’s really deadly enough for getting into contact with water would react with the meager amount of water in the atmosphere. The alkali metals above sodium are powerful enough to kill someone if it explodes in close proximity (Heck, sodium is as well) but they react with water -very- easily, and the reactions happen just from the water in the air.

            Maybe a powder form of a contact poison that seeps into the pores once it has dissolved? Oooo… Powdered hydrofluoric acid…

          • If the concentration of dissolved components inside you isn’t within a certain range, your cells will start to either shrivel up or burst. I saw some plant cells that were subjected to those fates under the microscope, once. Didn’t look very comfortable.

          • at my old school (about 10 years befor i went there) some people had a bet about who could drink the most distilled whater
            Osmose,diffusion
            the whater flowes so that the concentration of are in balance
            enought cells burst that it ended be deadly

          • Chem labs have all kinds of amusing ways to poison yourself. At my old school, they once had someone decide to take some RAW CAFEINE. Cause that’s just like drinking coffee, right?

            Nope. Heart attack, rushed to the hospital.

          • I think dropping a bag of calcium hydroxide on him would be at least little irritating until it he flushed it all away. Also, three ideas to combine here: corn starch, non-newtonian fluids, big freaking speaker playing dubstep.

            Hg

  30. So, I may have just missed something obvious, or read carelessly, but I don’t know what the RT designation/abbreviation means in the text messages. Can somebody clarify?

    • It’s possible. I think it might be a good thing if there’s elements/areas of the story that aren’t explicitly defined. Grey Boy is more likely to make an appearance than the Sleeper, for obvious reasons.

        • I’m thinking we /don’t/ see the Sleeper yet…we wait until Wildbow comes back around for the sequel! Yes, plothooks galore!

  31. Hey Wildbow, I know you tend to shy away from potential spoilers, so pardon the question in advance, but did anyone ever escape from the city Nilbog set up in? I mean, before he transformed everyone into pet monstrosities and the PRT got invovled.

      • Oh darn, that’s even worse than I thought. Another question if you dont mind? Have you fully thought out all of the many character’s powers and how they work, even if they dont get covered in any depth?

        • Fully? No. But generally speaking, I try to stay one step ahead. If I decide to describe or unveil more of a character (be it their powers or their background), I try to give it some extra thought beforehand and think things through enough that there’s other traits or qualities that aren’t explicitly outlined (but perhaps implicitly).

          The benefit of this is that, generally speaking, I’m not coming up with ideas at the moment I’m putting words to the page, and I’ve let thoughts & possibilities stew in my head for some time before it happens (One example: Bonesaw’s prehensile spine & the other accouterments she has set up in the event of major limb damage – I had it in mind well before Blasto’s interlude, but it never came up during the Nine’s stay in Brockton Bay).

  32. for anybody who still checks the comments even after the initial flood of posts:
    http://www.fanfiction.net/s/9131565/1/Looking-Glass-A-Parahumans-Fanfic

    ta~da~

    i might have mentioned before, i’ve had a character idea kicking around my head since i was in highschool and worm was the first setting i could think of where i could make use of it. it ended up a bit darker than i might have planned, but i blame that on worm itself. nobody gets to catch a break :<

    lemme know what you think!

  33. I shouldn’t have read through the earlier entries so fast, now I’m stuck waiting anxiously for the next update.

    Very enjoyable read, keep up the good work.

    • Thanks for saying so Eddie. Glad to have you with us here in the comments section.

      Just don’t pay any attention to crazy komodo, or whatever his name is.

      • Warriors! Come out! To! Plaaaaaay, ahahahahahahahahaha!

        Nothing to say, wildbow? Then I will be your voice! Aaaaaaaah!
        Ready to kill again, Virtue of Benevolence?

        Now that that”s out of the way, Eddie my love, you have to ask yourself, whatever happened to Saturday night, when you left your job and you felt alright? It’s not been the same since cosmic light, came into my life, I thought I was diviine.

        And then you finished reading and the antici………pation killed you like a transvestite Tim Curry.

        Welcome to the comments. We’ll keep you entertained.

  34. The bus was running on a reduced schedule. There were less intact vehicles, less drivers in the area, and routes were longer with the detours that they had to take. It wasn’t as bad as it might otherwise be: a twenty-minute wait.
    —-
    less -> fewer for vehicles and drivers, I think.

  35. Apropos of nothing: one of my RL friends, introduced to Worm around the same time, is named Greg. And he has a brother named Eric. He found the coincidence highly amusing.

  36. Hm. Taylor’s comment about her becoming more like Emma…gets me thinking. Taylor has been resorting to intimidation more and more…I’d say she has begun a solid descent into becoming like the teenaged monsters who created her.

    This makes me feel better about a debate I had in a much later chapter.

  37. “That was just about the most horrifying thing he could have said, barring near-impossibilities like, ‘I got powers and I ate your hair to get pregnant with your child.’”
    Wildbow, has Psycho Gecko been affecting your writing lately?

  38. I just noticed that clockblocker is in the tags.

    he didn’t show up in this chapter, did he?

    not in costume atleast.

    hmm, is it Mr helpful? and did he recognize her?

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