Snare 13.8

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“I was a lot more comfortable with the risky plan when it was something I thought of,” I said.

“You said calculated recklessness, right?”  Trickster asked.

“Part of that ‘calculated’ bit is control.  Keeping the chaos to a minimum, so we can anticipate and plan.”

Trickster leaned against the door of the vehicle.  “That may be a bit of a problem.”

“You think?”

The truck passed over a pothole.  Our teams were out in force, our members divided across three trucks.  I rode with Trickster, Sundancer and Tattletale.  Regent and Ballistic were in the second vehicle.  Bitch and her dogs rode in the third.

This was Tattletale’s first time venturing out of Coil’s base in a little while.  Her power was limited when she could only get information by what we communicated to her, and this was the kind of situation where we needed her at full strength.  If nothing else, it felt better to have another teammate on the field with us, with Grue’s absence.

“Sorry,” I said, “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.  I know Grue isn’t your teammate.  You didn’t have to come to help.”

“We’re all in this together, right?” Trickster said.  “You mind if I smoke?”

I shrugged and Tattletale shook her head.  He rolled down the window and lit a cigarette, placing it through the mouth-hole of his hard mask.

That would be his way of dealing with stress.  We were all tense, and we all had our ways of coping.  Trickster smoked and stared off into the distance.  Sundancer fidgeted.  She frequently realized what she was doing and forced herself to stop, only to pick up something else.  Her leg would bounce in place, then she would stop doing that and start drumming her fingers on her kneepad in some complicated pattern.  It made me think of a pianist or a guitarist fingering the strings.  Tattletale watched people, her eyes roving over the rest of us.  Her cheek bulged slightly where she touched the tip of her tongue against the backside of the wound Jack had left her.

And me?  I retreated into my headspace, I supposed.  I was maybe similar to Tattletale in that I took note of each of the others, but my thoughts were less about simply observing than about cataloguing and mentally preparing.  What options did we have?  What tools, weapons and techniques did we have at our disposal?  Who was going to be backing me up during this operation, and how reliable were those people?

It was constructive, maybe, but exhausting.  There were so many angles to consider, and the stakes were high.  Brian’s life, Brian’s quality of life.  The rest of us weren’t in the Nine’s clutches, but it would take only one mistake before any one of us could be in the same boat, wondering just how horrible things were going to get for us.

Maybe fatigue factored in, but the more I thought on our allies, the less secure I felt.

The information Cherish had volunteered about Coil, true or not, had left me with lingering doubts.  I was also acutely aware of the distinct lack of chemistry and camaraderie among the Travelers.  They were keeping secrets, with no promises of divulging the information in question.

The last time we’d all been in a car with Trickster, he’d noted that there were two major problems that Coil was helping them with.  Noelle was obviously one.  A part of me could buy that there was something serious going on with her, something that necessitated the help of someone like Coil.  Another nagging part of me was thinking that there were still too many unanswered questions.  What was holding them together as a group?  How fragile was that tie?

Was this really what I needed to be dwelling on?

I thought over my arsenal and the options I had with my power.  I’d developed enough techniques that I was starting to have trouble keeping track of them all.  Should I name them?  It seemed like something out of a kid’s show, shouting out the names of the abilities as I used them.  ‘Firebug attack, go!’  ‘Silkwrap Strike!’

I shook my head a little.  I was tired.  My mind was wandering.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had more than five hours of sleep, and I’d barely slept at all last night.  Fear and adrenaline usually clarified things, so it probably said something that I was feeling a little dazed despite what we were going into.  Some of that was the constant aggression.  Since the Nine had made their presence known, I’d barely been able to relax and let my guard down.  After Mannequin had started killing people in my territory, taking even a moment to myself made me feel like I was insulting their memories, that I was failing the next batch of people who would become victims of my enemies.

“We should stop here,” Tattletale said.

That was apparently order enough, because the driver pulled over.  The long seconds of stillness after the truck had stopped said volumes.  We didn’t want to get out of the car, we didn’t want to face the Nine, deal with their traps as we tried to catch them in our own.  Two or three seconds passed with tension thrumming in the air, every one of our nerves on edge, ready to act, react, even now.

The sound of a slamming door from one of the other trucks was the little push we needed to move.  We climbed out of the truck and joined the others.  Bitch had been the first one out.  She had Sirius, Bastard and Bentley with her.  We ventured over to a fallen section of wall, peering over it to get a better glimpse of what would be the battlefield.

The final two members of our group arrived a moment later.  Shatterbird landed, stumbling, and Genesis began to materialize in a massive form.

We were close to the site of our last fight.  The Nine had been on their way to Dolltown, and we’d ambushed them, divided them, and then provoked them into extending out of position.  Having done that, we’d kidnapped Shatterbird as she lagged behind and then looped around to capture the wounded Cherish.

Now the Nine were inside Dolltown.  I could only hope the noise and fighting of our last encounter would have given most of the residents the time and the motivation to run.

“How’s she handling?” Tattletale asked Regent.

“Not the easiest power to use,” he muttered.  “It’s not a physical power, so I’m learning to use it from scratch.  Doesn’t help that she’s really, really, really pissed off.  I think she’s a serious control freak.  My control’s slipping a bit.”

“How much is it slipping?” I asked.  “Is there a chance you’ll lose control of her?”

“Always a chance.  But I think I’m okay, so long as she and I remain pretty close to each other.”

“Tattletale, Where are they?” I asked.

Tattletale pointed at a squat building a few blocks away.  It had the look of a small library, maybe, or a hardware store.  A place meant to accommodate a lot of people for one job. “Somewhere in there.”

“Then we wait,” Trickster said.  “And we cross our fingers.”

Waiting.  The last thing I wanted to do.

Using my bugs, I tried to scope out the area.  Please don’t let there be people here.

There were.  I had to be subtle, not giving the Nine any reason to suspect I was around, but even if I counted only the people who had bugs on them already, there were far too many people in and around Dolltown.

“Regent, can you stop Shatterbird from listening in?”  I asked.

“Sure,” he said.  Shatterbird shut her eyes and covered her ears with her hands.

I asked, “Tattletale, do you know where the Nine are, specifically?”

She shook her head.

“There’re people here.  I’m counting thirty or so, but there could be twice that many.  I haven’t even taken a serious look at the building the Nine are in, because I don’t want to alert them.”

“Ignore them,” Trickster said.  “This is risky enough without splitting our focus.”

“If I know where the Nine are, I can tell these people where to run, give them a chance.”

“It’s not worth the risk,” Trickster stressed.  He glanced at his teammates, “There’s still five or six of the enemy in the area.  If they see what you’re up to and get any advance warning we’re here, this all goes balls-up, and we suffer for it.  Grue dies for it.”

Regent nodded in agreement.

I looked at the others for help.  Tattletale remained quiet, and Sundancer, the one other person I’d hoped would be sympathetic, looked away.

“Those are people,” I said.  “Real people.”

“So’s Grue, and so are we.  We look out for ourselves first.  If we can take out members of the Nine, we’ll save more people in the long run.”

“The ends justify the means?  You realize that when this all goes down, they’re going to die?  Almost guaranteed?”  I’d directed Sundancer to attack a group of people who included bystanders, but they’d been goners already, dead for all intents and purposes.  This was something else.

“Thirty people for the sake of hundreds.  It balances out,” Trickster said.  “If we stick to the plan and if we’re successful.”

“I can’t agree with that.”

“Then make your call.  If you’re absolutely certain you’re not going to fuck us over and give away the plan, if you’re positive that the lives you might save are worth risking our lives and Grue’s, you can go ahead.  You don’t have anyone’s support here, and it’s all on you if you fail.”

Tattletale spoke, “If you’re going to do something, you better do it fast.”

She pointed, and every pair of eyes in our group turned to look.

Purity streaked across the sky, followed by Crusader and a floating rock carrying a whole contingent of their group.  The rest would be moving along the ground.

“Shatterbird, Genesis, go!”

Shatterbird took flight, calling up a storm of glass shards to accompany her.  She flew low to the ground, relying on the surrounding buildings and ruins to keep out of sight.

Genesis had finished pulling herself together.  Her form resembled Crawler, but with some additions.  Growths on her back resembled Bonesaw and Jack.  She tested her limbs, then looked at us.  At me?  I couldn’t tell.  She had too many eyes to tell.

Then she ran, stampeding off.  Not quite as graceful as the real Crawler, but that was one more area where we just had to cross our fingers and hope she could sell the ruse.

There was the dull rumble of a distant impact as Purity opened fire on Genesis.  Genesis dodged into a nearby alleyway, leading Purity and the rest of her group off to one side.  Shatterbird fired on Purity and her allies, guiding a torrent of glass shards toward the incoming enemies.  Not enough to kill, or even to maim.  It was enough to hurt and to piss them off.

Coil had informed Hookwolf’s contingent about the general location of the Nine.  Sure enough, they’d gathered, girded themselves for battle and marched on, hoping to overwhelm through sheer firepower and force of numbers.  Odds were good that it wouldn’t work.  It hadn’t in the past.

But, we were hoping, it would put the Nine in a position where they had to decide whether to hold their position or respond to the immediate proximity of this many enemies.

Shatterbird and Genesis were tasked with distracting Hookwolf’s forces and preventing them from mounting a direct attack on the Nine’s real position.  We couldn’t save Grue if Purity leveled the building.

So much hinged on how the next few moments played out.

“The Nine are distracted.  I’m going to help the people run.”

The lack of response was as damning as anything they could have said.

I waited until Purity fired again, then used the rumble as an excuse to stir various bugs into action.  I did a body count, placing bugs on people’s right feet, trying to calculate how many there were and how they were distributed.

There was a crowd inside the building with the Nine.  People huddled in a room with Crawler, who lay on the ground with his chin resting on his forelimbs, facing them.

I couldn’t find Grue.  Was he in that group?  No.

On the other side of the building, four people were gathered at one window.  A grown man, two grown women, one of whom was nude, and a child.  A man clad in hard armor crouched in one corner, working with tools.  There were enough cool bodies around them that I would’ve known who they were even if the body types hadn’t fit.

“Found them,” I said, pointing, “They’re watching.”

“They’re not stepping outside?”  Trickster asked.

I shook my head.


I could see Menja leap from Rune’s floating rock and grow as she fell.  She was nearly thirty feet tall when she landed, the road cracking under her weight.  Rune leaped off the rock and landed on the husk of a building that hadn’t survived Leviathan’s attack.  A few seconds later, a large section broke off and lifted into the air.  She didn’t stay on top of it for long, choosing instead to gather more ammunition, moving on to other ruined walls and sections of building.

This would be a balancing act.  Unless the Nine didn’t plan on defending themselves or running, there would be something of a sweet spot.  A point where the enemy forces got close enough that the Nine were forced to act, yet not so close that anyone else was endangered.

Now that I knew where the Nine were, I could focus on the civilians.  I drew out messages for everyone who was hiding in their homes, along with arrows pointing them away from the Nine and Hookwolf’s army.  If someone decided they didn’t want to move, I nipped them with a biting insect or two to prod them.

Dozens of people made their way to safety, following my instructions and running for their lives as they headed out back doors or out of windows to avoid being seen.

There were still way too many people in the room with Crawler.  And I still had no idea where Grue was.  Slowly and carefully, I navigated my bugs through the rooms of the building the Nine had occupied: A makeshift dining hall with a kitchen, a room solely for storing garbage, then a small open shower with three stalls.  It had been some sort of office building with no computers, desks or cubicles.

Something big, firm and formed of cloth… one of Parian’s stuffed animals?  It lay prone on the ground, on the other end of the building from where the Nine were poised, so large and fat that it wouldn’t be able to fit through any of the doors.

I found another cluster of people on the top floor.  Three adult women and two children that ranged from toddler age to five feet or so of height.  Damn it, why did there always have to be kids?

“I can’t find Grue.”

“He’s in there,” Tattletale said.

“How sure are you?”

“Pretty darn sure.”

“Then how long before we can move on to the next phase?” I asked.  “I found some people, which solves one problem.”

“As soon as the Nine act,” Trickster said.  “Tattletale?”

“They’re not wanting to move.  Something about the hostages.”

“Hookwolf doesn’t care about hostages,” I told her.

“I know!  But the Nine are still holding back.”

“Regent-” I started.

“Don’t distract me,” he said, rushing through the words, “I can barely dodge all this shit they’re throwing at me.”

I followed his line of sight to Shatterbird.  Purity opened fire, and Shatterbird used a cone of glass to block the worst of the kinetic energy and refract the light.  Or something.  It didn’t work that well.  Shatterbird was knocked to the ground.  She managed to take flight just in time to avoid Newter, trapped the boy in a cage of glass shards, and then flung a barrage of tiny glass shards at Purity and her group.  I could see the glints of the shards catching the light as it flew through the air.

“Draw some fire towards the Nine’s location, if you can,” I said.

“I said don’t distract me!”

But he listened.  Shatterbird interposed herself between Hookwolf’s advancing group and the building holding the Nine and their hostages.  Purity fired, and again, Shatterbird’s glass couldn’t absorb the full brunt of the hit.  She was hammered down into the ground again, and what didn’t hit her struck the building, not far from where the Nine were peering through the window.

“Come on, come on,” I whispered.

The Nine reacted.  It just wasn’t what we’d hoped for.

Crawler stood and rumbled some words my bugs couldn’t make out, and the hostages fled.  The Nine made no move to try to stop them.  Just the opposite.  They revealed why they’d kept them on hand.

The hostages made their way out the doors and into the streets surrounding the building.  Purity was so distracted by Genesis and Shatterbird that she didn’t seem to notice what was happening at first.

Tattletale watched with her binoculars.  “Oh no.”

“Oh no?”  Trickster asked.

Tattletale looked at me, “Track their movements.  The Nine!  Don’t lose sight of the Nine!”

The hostages scattered in every direction, and some invariably headed towards us.  I saw what had concerned Tattletale.  Even though I knew where the Nine were, I was still caught off guard.

Bonesaw’s talents apparently included crude plastic surgery.  If ‘crude’ was even the right word.  Every hostage wore the appearance of one of the Nine.  The group that headed towards us had three Jacks, a Siberian and a Bonesaw.  Their expressions were frozen, their eyes wide with terror.  None of them were perfect, one was too heavy in physique to be Jack, and the Bonesaw had apparently been a short-statured woman who’d had her shins and forearms sawed to a shorter length and reattached.  The resemblance was close enough that someone could mistake them for the wrong person at a glance, and that was all the Nine needed.

“Decoys,” the word was hollow as it left my lips.

“And the Nine are moving out,” Tattletale reported.  “Leaving the front of the building.  Get ready!”

I used my bugs to draw a message for the people still hiding in another part of the building.

Crawler was the first to leave the building, charging out the front door, plowing through one or two of the Nine, and barreling towards Hookwolf’s army.

The other members of the Nine headed out.  A real Burnscar, Jack, Siberian and Mannequin at the tail end of their mass of fleeing decoys.

“Bonesaw’s not leaving,” I said.

“Doesn’t matter!  Now!”  Tattletale shouted.

Trickster hurried to my side, binoculars in hand.  I pointed, and I could feel a pressure building around me.  It was slower than his other teleports, more jarring.  It didn’t matter.  Our group was soon indoors.  Me, Tattletale, Trickster, Sundancer and Ballistic.

The interior was rank.  They were smells I’d gotten to know since Leviathan’s attack.  Blood, death, and the dank smell of sweat.

Trickster had replaced all of the kids and the three adults that had been accompanying them.  He hadn’t brought Regent, because Regent was focused on Shatterbird.  That was part of the plan.  Leaving Bitch behind wasn’t.  I could understand it if it was because of a lack of mass to swap with, but my doubts about the Travelers and about Trickster specifically led me to ask, “You figure Bitch will cover our retreat?”

“And if one of the Nine is here,” Trickster said, his voice low, “We don’t need her dogs making noise.”

“Right.”  Okay.  Made sense.

I led the way, as I had the best sense of the layout.  Bonesaw was excitedly pacing back and forth.  The rest of the place was quiet.  “There’s only a few places Grue could be.  Confined spaces my bugs couldn’t get to.”

“Makes sense that they’d improvise a cell to contain him,” Tattletale said.

I nodded, swallowing.

Worn and damaged posters and fliers referred to yoga and pilates classes.  Makeshift signs and notices had been raised since this building had been used for the rich-person exercise classes.  These were more pragmatic, detailing chore schedules, contact information and watch rotations.

These people had been getting by, maybe in the same way I’d been trying to get my own people organized.  I felt a growing outrage at what had happened here, what had happened to my people.

Why?  What purpose did this chaos serve?

We checked a small sauna.  No luck.  No less than three storage rooms, sealed tight to keep vermin out, turned up empty.

The place I’d mentally labeled the dining hall turned out to be something of a restaurant.  More notices about food rationing covered menus and signs advertising healthy eating.

I headed around the long counter and into the kitchen.  Crates of supplies had been opened, the contents sorted into piles.  There were also other supplies that didn’t look regulation.  Several 5-gallon jugs of water that were designed to fit into water coolers were stacked in one corner, and neither I nor my bugs had seen any water coolers in here.

I stopped outside the walk-in freezer and stared at the handle.

“Skitter?”  Tattletale asked.

“There’s only three places left where Grue could be.  The other two places are the regular fridge over there and a closet in the basement that I think is too small to hold him and still let him breathe.”

“So if he’s not in here…”

“Right,” I said.  “Trap free?”

“As far as I can tell,” she replied.  “No, if they were going to trap it, they’d lock it first, chain it shut.”

Swallowing, I gripped the handle and hauled the door open.  It took me a second to process what I was seeing.

Brian was in there.  And he was alive.

I couldn’t have been unhappier at that realization.

There was no power to the walk-in-freezer, so it was warm.  The interior was maybe ten by twelve feet across, the walls were metal, with racks on either side.  Brian was hanging by the wall at the far end, propped up enough that his shoulders were pressing against the corner bordering the wall and the ceiling, his arms outstretched to either side like a bird hung up for display, his head hanging forward.

It was some sort of collaboration between Bonesaw and Mannequin.  He’d been partially flayed, the skin stripped from his arms and legs and stretched over the walls around him.  His ribcage had been opened, splayed apart.  An improvised metal frame held each of his internal organs in place, some several feet from their intended position, as if they were held out for display, others placed on the shelves of the freezer.  Cases covered in a ceramic shell seemed to be pumping him full of water, nutrients and other fluids that must have been helping keep him alive.

His head was untouched.  He looked up at us, and he looked harrowed.  The look in his eyes was more animal than person, his pupils mere pinpoints in his brown eyes.  Tiny beads of sweat dotted the skin of his face, no doubt due to the warmth of the room, but he was shivering.

“Oh.”  My voice was a croak.  “Brian.”

I took a step forward, and he seized up, his entire body twisting, his hands clenching, eyes wrenching shut.

“Get back!” Tattletale gripped me by the shoulder and forced me out of the freezer.

“I- what?”  I was having trouble processing.  “Trap?”

Tattletale had a dark look in her eyes.  “No.  Look closer at the walls and floor.”

Numbly, I did as she’d asked.  They looked like hairline cracks, spiderwebbing across everything from the walls to the shelving and even the ceramic cases that Mannequin had set up.  Except they were raised, over the surfaces.  “Veins?”

“Exposed nerves.  Artificially grown, connecting from him to the rest of the room.”

I stared up at Brian, and he stared back at me.

There was no way to help him.  I couldn’t even get inside the room to try to comfort him in the smallest ways, not without causing him unbearable pain in the process.

Brian moved his lips, but no sound came out.  He tried to raise his head, as much as the ceiling allowed, his eyes raised towards the sky.  There was a cauterised scar just above his collarbone.

“I could make it quick,” Ballistic said.

“No,” I told him.

“It’d be a mercy.”

“No,” I shook my head.  “No.  We have options.  Panacea-”

“Is nowhere to be found,” Tattletale told me, “And given what happened with Mannequin, she’s going to be as far as she can get from downtown.”

“Then Bonesaw,” I said, clenching my fists.  “Bonesaw can fix him.”

“She’s not going to fix him.  I doubt she’d do it on pain of death,” Tattletale told me.  “Skitter-”

“We’ll try,” I told her.  “At least try.”

I looked at the others.  Sundancer was on the other side of the kitchen, hands on the edge of the sink.  Ballistic had his arms folded.  Trickster leaned against one counter, silent, not looking at the scene.

“Every second you make him go on like this is cruel,” she said, her voice hard.

“So is every second you spend arguing with me.  I’m not negotiating, here.  I’m willing for him to suffer if it means there’s a chance we can help him.”

She met my eyes, looking like she wanted to slap me, yell at me, or both.  “Fine.  Then let’s hurry.”

I gave Brian one last look over my shoulder before I hurried off, leaving him behind.  The others followed.

I was using my bugs to track the positions of the Nine, where Siberian and Crawler were in the thick of the enemy.  Mannequin apparently wasn’t aware of my presence, so I had my first real opportunity of tracking his movements as he scaled walls and disappeared into manholes to emerge half a street away.  Burnscar used her fire to bombard the enemy and divide them.

Jack was more pragmatic, striking from hiding, threatening his decoys to get them to run out of cover and draw enemy fire, and using every hiding space that was available.  He was quick, smart, and devastating in how he operated.  No movement was wasted, and every time he emerged from cover and swiped his knife, someone suffered for it.  As far as I could tell, he was evading Night and Fog.  My bugs could detect some noise from him that I was parsing as a mocking laughter.  Maybe my imagination.  Probably my imagination.

I was getting a sense of what Brian had described, once upon a time; that anger and outrage that didn’t even come close to connecting with a fire inside, with burning rage or anything like that.  It was cold, dark, and numb.

We found her in one of the exercise rooms.  Yoga mats had been stacked together to serve as mattresses, forming a kind of sleeping area.  Most of the Dolltown residents who had been living in this facility were dead now, their cold bodies lying in pools of blood.  One of the culprits was at the window, clutching the frame.  Bonesaw.

I gathered my bugs, directing them her way.

“Wait!”  Tattletale cried out.

I turned to see her stagger.  I whipped around to see Bonesaw.  She was whirling around in response to Tattletale’s shout, her eyes wide.  There was a chain stretching from her wrist to the base of the window.

Not Bonesaw.  Decoy.

Tattletale crashed to the ground, followed soon after by Trickster.  Sundancer and Ballistic crashed to the ground a second later.

“Why won’t you go down!?”  The voice was petulant.

I followed the voice and saw one of the corpses move, rising to its feet.  Bonesaw unzipped the covering of dead flesh she’d covered herself in and shucked it off.  She was wearing a yellow sundress and yellow rubber boots with a short blue jacket, but her hair and each article of her clothing were stained dark brown with the blood that had been on the corpse.  A small tube was in one of her hands, “I shot you with three darts!  It’s rude!”

I glanced down.  Three pea-sized darts with flesh-toned feathering were stuck in the fabric of my costume.  One in my dress, one in a panel of armor on my chest, and another in the side of my stomach.

“Bonesaw,” I growled.

“Skitter, was it?  Bug girl!  I really want to find out how your power works!  I’ll take your brain apart and find the mechanism so I can copy it!  Is your costume spider silk?  That’s awesome!  You know the right materials to work with!  No wonder my darts didn’t work!”

“What did you do to them?”

“Paralyzed them, obviously.  Living flesh is so much easier to work with.”

Paralyzed.  I glanced at my teammates.  Why couldn’t I have finished their costumes?  Stupid.  I’d spread myself too thin.  I should have finished one costume, then moved on to the next.  Maybe then I would have saved someone.

“Oh, and I dosed them with a little something extra.  Because Jack said there’s no point in doing anything halfway.”  She gave me a sage nod, as if sharing some universal truism.

“You’re going to give them an antidote to whatever you injected into them, then you’re going to go to Brian and you’re going to fix him.”

“Brian?  Oh!  You mean the boy we put in the freezer!  I’m still trying to figure out where his power comes from.  The darkness comes from inside him, but what’s the source?  Besides the usual, I mean.  So I took everything apart to see, but he wasn’t cooperating.  I told him I’d make the pain stop forever if he would just show me, but he was so stubborn!”  She stamped one foot.

I’d let Brian’s name slip.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  I wasn’t thinking straight.

“But no, I’m not going to do that,” she said.  “I don’t censor my art because it offends people.”

“I could convince you,” I told her.  My swarm flowed forward, and she backed away.  Her eyes, one green and one blue, flashed as she took in the breadth of the swarm, the composition of it.  She was probably already brainstorming some solution.

I wasn’t going to give her a chance.  I drew my weapons, one in each hand, and charged through the swarm, straight for her.

My bugs served to give me a half-second of early warning as they felt her jam one hand into the side-pocket of her dress.  I turned on my heel, the burn on my leg screaming in pain as I did it, and threw myself to the right as she brought one hand to her mouth and blew a billowing cloud of powder into the space I’d been occupying.

I got my feet under me and lunged forward again.  I didn’t get two steps before I was tackled to the ground.

It was a mechanical spider the size of a large dog.  It had been folded up inside one of the bodies.  Its legs latched around me.  There wasn’t much strength in them, and even with my less than fantastic upper body strength, I managed to pry the first two legs apart.

I had almost got the spider off me when another caught me from behind.  A third and fourth caught me an instant later, seizing my head and shoulders and my legs, respectively.

Bonesaw exhaled a second cloud of dust into my face.

I held my breath for as long as I could, but there was a limit.  When I did breathe, my chest seized up, and my ears immediately started ringing violently, a headache settling into place.  The muscles in my arms and legs locked up.

She sprayed an aerosol around herself, killing my bugs.  Not that it mattered.  My facility with my power was getting clumsier and clumsier as the headache increased in intensity.

No, no, no, no, no, no.

“Bring them,” she said.  The mechanical spiders leapt to obey.  Within moments, me, Tattletale, Trickster, Sundancer and Ballistic were being dragged inch by inch towards the dining hall.  Towards Grue.

No, no, no.

It took long minutes for us to get there.  I could hear faint rumbles of the ongoing battle and Bonesaw’s humming.  It was all I could do to keep breathing.  It was like my body had forgotten how, and it demanded my constant attention to maintain that simple rhythm.

With the aid of her spiders, she stacked us like logs.  Ballistic and Trickster went on the bottom.

I couldn’t even grunt as the spiders leveraged me onto the pile alongside Tattletale.  I stared down at the mask of the third person below us.

Imp.  She’d got Imp.

Bonesaw crouched so her face was level with mine.  “This is going to be fun.”

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

123 thoughts on “Snare 13.8

  1. What happened to Brian is possibly the most disgusting thing you could have written. I am horrified and no longer hold any hope for our protagonist. I can’t imagine any thing worse happening and I’m not sure I can read on if it does get worse. Especially because of Brian. Poor, poor Brian😦 You can’t possibly understand how upset I am at what happened to him. It’s like if it happened to my boyfriend. I don’t know if I would have been able to let him live if I saw him like that. Seriously, this is like the most terrifying, disgusting, hopeless nightmare I could possibly imagine. Holy cow, how could you possibly have come up with something like this? I love Worm, but My God!

  2. So… Is this the worst position our protagonist has been left in at the end of a chapter? I think it is. That’s saying something, considering everything else that has happened. Something scary.

    Well, anyway, I’ve finished this, so I’m going to sleep. Happy dreams for myself. Yup. Just a bundle of zenitude and serenity here. In no way do I regret not waiting for bright and sunny morning before reading this.

    • No, I’m pretty sure everything with Leviathan was an epic level worse than this. But this? This is operating without safety nets, and with people we care about.

      • Well, I don’t know. When Skitter was in Leviathan’s vicinity, the worse that could happen was that she’d die. But now she’s right next to Bonesaw.

        • Drowning while heavily injured, in agony and knowing that she had just burned pretty much the last of her bridges. Seems pretty nasty to me.

          If we’re looking for a reason this is worse then I’d have to say the fact that she just kind of fucked up and that a lot of her friends are facing the same horrors would be it. No matter how this goes, Taylor is going to be spending whatever time she has left/the next few years hating herself for everything that happened here.

  3. Wow. That’s…

    I am numb (and a little sickened to my stomach). I fervently hope this does not end with all our protagonists’ (if the others besides Taylor can be called so) organs splayed over the room like Brian. The only upside is Bitch wasn’t caught, unless I missed that. I can’t really see how the heck she could possibly rescue them, though.

    Now might be a perfect time for Taylor to, uh, do something. Anything. Maybe freak out and have a power increase. Although, that probably wouldn’t help, they’d just kill her bugs.

    I have no idea how you’re getting them out of this one. A very evil cliffhanger, I have to say.

  4. “None of them were perfect, one was too heavy in physique to be Jack, and the Bonesaw had apparently been a short-statured woman who’d had her shins and forearms sawed to a shorter length and reattached.”

    Is that any way to treat a war veteran? Don’t you know she killed fitty men back when she was fighting Japan in WW2?

    Also, kinda sucks for Skitter to be on the wrong side of a spider this time. The sequence with the powder did remind me of a short-lived show called The Cape, though. A former cop who was framed and learned hypnotism, fighting, some acrobatics, and some illusionism from a carnival of crime, he used a special magician’s cape that was good at wrapping around things and stretching to fight crime. In one episode, he faces “The Lich” who has his minions kidnap people using zombie powder. Obviously this isn’t the same, as that involves a mixture that’ll keep people out for days at a time. That would be quite bad in this case, and any potential rescuers could easily mistake them for dead. Still, pretty neat when one minion goes to blow the zombie powder into his face and the Cape pulls off a smokey-looking disappearance at that instant.

    Oh why, Cape, whyyyyy?! You deserved better than to not even have your final episode shown on TV by those bastards at the network!!! Added points, the trailer claims the cape is made of spider silk.

    Now, tranquing someone actually works a bit differently than that. After all, it’s not like your anesthesiologist is just a random person off the street. If it’s too little, it’s not going to put you down. If it’s enough to put you down instantly like that, you might be about to die from it.

    Now then, hopefully I shouldn’t be worried here. After all, we just took the girl who gained her powers when she was trapped in a dark, confined, disgusting space by someone she hated with a vengeance, and who gains increases to her powers in similar situations, and she’s now been stuck in the same room as Grue who has been flayed and vivisected and otherwise Gray’s anatomied, trapped in her own body, angry and scared at the person who did that to her and Grue, stuck in a cramped, dark space with nerve endings running over the walls and a flayed person hanging up.

    Also, this is why art education went down the drain. Too much focus on dada and the abstract art. Bonesaw could have been painting ponies or sunflowers or mad artists who chopped off their own ears. Instead, of still life, she’s working on a squirming life.

    I would also like to add that now would be a good time for me to argue in favor of life imprisonment as a worse punishment than the death sentence.

    And, finally, for those taking this update badly, I have a couple of clips to lighten the mood. *takes his hand off and tosses it into a fire, then shows off his perfectly fine hand* The first one is for the music lovers out there, and those who are fans of certain cult 80s movies:

    And the second is CHIKARA’s The Colony again, and a nice little light spot that is good for making people laugh:

  5. I didn’t have high hopes for Brian making it out of this chapter alive or reasonably intact. Now I am just hoping that Taylor and Lisa manage to escape. Any more than that seems hopeless. I hope someone comes along and puts down Brian soon. There is no bouncing back from what happened to that guy.

  6. I am shocked that they fell for Bonesaw’s trap, of all things. I was surprised that she even bothered to stay behind instead of filling the room with gas or something, honestly- since for all she knew they’d have sent Sundancer’s star in first… Or Genesis.

    Still, nothing the protagonists did here matches their foolishness at the Wards headquarters, and I can’t blame them for being entirely preoccupied at the time. It took me a while after I finished reading to come back and write this reply.

    Grue’s fate reminds me, once again, of Creatures of Light and Darkness by Roger Zelazny. In a good and creepy way.

      • I think he is wrong about them being Villain Sues (having looked it up on TV tropes to be sure.) He is accusing them of being overpowered and always winning, which just isn’t true.

        The fight before this one the heroes (or villains, you know what I mean) won, hands down.

        On the other hand, I don’t get how the Nine are doing so well. I mean, why aren’t the Triad swooping in with every superhero in the northern hemisphere, ala the end of the first book. Events where MOST OF HUMAN LIFE will end will occur if Jack leaves the city alive. I understand why they might not be so trusting of the prediction, and I do greatly trust you as an author–you have earned it–so I’m not even close to even getting close to bailing, but I really do wonder where the Heroes are in all of this. People like Miss Militia and Legend, even if they can’t really beat things like crawlers, have stood up against Titans.

        Really, even if it leads to possible death, NOTHING matters more than killing Jack, from an objective perspective. Skitter living, Grue’s fate (though we as an audience are as personally invested in both as the theoretical end of the world) are drops in the bucket against the threat.

        So, while I think I understand why they are not attacking, the (non-supervillain) Heroes, I could understand the perspective of a reader, reading the exact same thing and saying ‘He’s making them not interfere so that the Nine can kick ass against overwhelming odds and force Skitter to, ahem, skitter about trying to fight them.’

        I’m not sure, I could definately see the case for all the Heroes being made to hold the Idiot Ball so that the Villains (who are, compared to the Nine, all saints) have to deal with the problem themselves.

        But Villain Sues? I’m not seeing it.

        • The thing I realized last chapter as a conscious idea was that the Protectorate and the Wards ARE NOT SUPERHEROES. They’re government agents and cops — they have their hands tied by bureaucracy, public relations, political correctness and insurance liability. They only go into action when it’s deemed worth the risk instead of risk adverse.

          So, before an Endbringer shows up, capes are fighting a destructive force to prevent an economy from falling down, keeping its citizens alive and productive. Once there’s a disaster, it’s a martial law situation where you no longer have citizens, just survivors doing whatever they can to survive. And you don’t have a productive economy, you have a liability. Why spend resources on a lost cause? Because of moral ideals? That’s not in the budget.

          Now, vigilante heroes unattached to the government, they have time for ideals because they don’t have budgetary concerns. And they’re not tied up with red tape. The Protectorate and the Wards are the feds — they’re all about red tape.

          • I get what you are saying, and that makes sense in a way, but to a certain point, this is also about the world. In the sense that, there are things in that world that aren’t in this. Superpowers, for one. By that I mean Dinah’s power. It is absolute, verifiable, and as far as we know exact, and doesn’t go wrong. I would think that the wiping out of most of the world’s taxpayers, and population, and politicians, and everyone would qualify as anyone’s definition of martial law.

            I mean, stopping the Nine isn’t about ideals. It’s about pragmatism. Not even the Nine, just Jack. If every single person in the entire city died horribly, and all of the Nine got away except Jack, then from an Amoral, Governmental ((or a rather cruel Moral Pragmatic and reluctant)) perpsective, that is a win. If the government was acting according to its self-interest, it would urge the heroes on to do anything, as long as Jack dies.

            In the real world, we can’t know things so certainly. But in this world, we KNOW that more than half of the world WILL die if Jack leaves this city alive. And I don’t think the Protectorate is keeping this under their hats. I don’t think they have a hat big enough for that. I’m sure–off-screen–that the president or head of the CIA has been privately briefed about te potential destruction of all of humanity, a destruction that will be sure (well, most of humanity) if Jack leaves Brockton Bay.

            I’m half surprised they (the Protectorate) haven’t been told to kill Jack or die trying.

          • Right, but keep in mind that they don’t necessarily believe Coil and their knowledge of Dinah is limited to the fact that she’s a kid who might have the ability to see the future. They don’t know the ins and outs, how she has to tell the truth or get discombobulated, or just how accurate she is.

            I might focus the next interlude on the PHQ and the teams there to give an indication of their thought processes/perspective. Hm.

        • Well– as a reader of Skitter’s story, her death is not usefully distinguishable from the end of the world. Either would mean the story’s over.

      • I wasn’t surprised, mainly because Bonesaw’s power and mentality have been freaking me out since she showed up and I have a fairly high tolerance for psychotic villains, having grown up reading comic books and watching horror movies and reading Silence of the Lambs younger than I should have…

        But I can see why some people would be surprised how descriptive and creepy it was, because the line between “potential for creepy evil” and “display of creepy evil” isn’t always apparent. There was always the possibility of Bonesaw’s power being totally disgusting, after all she grafted two people together — but that’s something people have “sort of” seen, in conjoined twins. It’s shocking but you adjust.

        Seeing someone’s actual organs on the outside of their body and they’re still alive, that’s extreme and not something you come across outside of an anatomy textbook. I’ve studied those, but not everyone has.

        And then compare it to some of the worst acts of villainy in comics: Joker is known for beating Jason Todd to a pulp. shooting Batgirl through the spine and making her dad look at pictures of her bleeding, broken, naked body. But as readers, you don’t see the details, just hints. Green Lantern’s girlfriend got shoved in the fridge, but again you don’t see graphic details.

        Alan Moore likes literature for “scary” better than movies because you’re at a remove, a step back, in that it’s just words on a page and you can time your reaction and response, you can imaginatively process exactly how much you can handle. A movie shoves violence right into your eyes, which Moore believes can be traumatic. So it says something for your narrative skills that people imagine what you’re writing and it’s traumatic. That’s effective.

        But for some it’s scary — I’ve been expecting something this bad since Bonesaw showed up, but again, that was my grasp of her potential, and maybe not everyone saw that coming. I had time to prepare, for some it was probably a shock. Some authors use a cautionary message at the start of books or grotesque chapters to warn readers — personally, I think there was more than enough indication that the Nine aren’t nice that this chapter didn’t need it, but mileage varies. It’s not like this was the Care Bears and suddenly Jason Voorhees gouged out someone’s eyes.

        But Brian matters to the audience because he matters to Taylor.

          • Eww, don’t remind me. Finding out that there’s a whole sub-genre for people who get off on dismemberments that would make this chapter feel right as home was one of the low points of my life.

          • Yep, yep. I remember being on a modem back in the era when you couldn’t pick up the phone without dropping your connection and getting your ear molested by the worst noise ever, looking at concept art for some anime or another and stumbling onto a page with guro. (Guro = gore + ero, as in erotic). I must have been in grade school, then.

            Woke me up to the fact that there are places on the internet that you do not want to venture.

      • Thanks for chiming in, Jessie, Gavin.

        In truth, when I was writing, I sort of paused and thought, “Is this over the top?” and even asked an online buddy (who gave his verdict as the chapter went up, saying he didn’t think it was). But I ultimately sided on going with the description in the chapter rather than leaving it to the reader’s imaginations because just saying, “It was bad. Really bad.” or some equivalent would leave some readers thinking ‘Oh, well, Brian’s going to get free & save people, obviously.’

        And also perhaps because, as I say in the about section, Worm is an experiment – I am still getting a feel for what will provoke what reactions, the limits & interests of my audience as a whole, my ability to write X, Y or Z, etc. Then I take whatever I’ve learned and file it away for the future (because I’m sort of hoping to be writing 10, 20 or 40 years from now).

        But here I took one step closer to the line to gauge reactions and make what I hope is a compelling scene, and I got not only a ‘I may stop reading’ remark, but the villain sue remark as well. ‘Mary Sue’ and its variants get thrown about a little too casually (assuming you’re going with the strict interpretations) these days, kind of like the word hipster can be applied to anyone under 30 who wears clothes. Even so, with that in mind, I can’t think of anything else that would be the same sort of verbal slap in the face to a writer. Ergo, my surprise.

        • To be fair, it was a really compelling scene, if horrific, and I myself disagree with the Sue remark. Any doubts I might have are more ‘how the heck did we get here’ in nature, rather than the nature of the ‘here.’

          Though, while we are talking tropes and all, I’m starting to see this last chapter or two as a Curb Stomp Cushion

          Skitter manages to run off Mannequin, they barely manage to win against Mannequin again, and dozens and dozens die.

          Skitter taps into her strategic reserves of cleverness and comes up with a whole new approach…which manages to throw the Nine…for one battle. So they have two captives of the Nine, one of which is rather useless, in the sense that she’s slated to die by Jack anyways–one might ask how Imp got caught. (Did Cherish turn her in for Brownie points, not realizing a madman like Jack would just smile and still cut your throat.)

          Then they fight another battle, and this time the Nine seem to rather brutally counter the tactics, Brian is as far from okay as it is humanly possible to be, and several of the main protagonists are captured. (I genuinely don’t see how they will get out of this alive, which makes it a good cliffhanger (you seem to be having more of those lately, I think. But maybe I’m forgetting the early chapters.)

          The entire nine IS Crawler. As in, the main characters seem to try their best, think up some clever new attacks and plans. And it works, once. And then the Nine are immune again, and the ‘good guys’ get their asses handed to them.

          Now, not to sound too critical, I am also going to point out that this actually works as an overall plot structure, if that’s what it is. If you’ve ever read Codex Alera, that’s how every battle but the last was. Humans try new trick, deal a decent blow, and then the Vord reveal a dozen new tricks, and the humans lose and retreat, managing to survive and be driven back. It made for thrilling reading, and in many ways, it was interesting to have a villain/enemy that was, if anything, smarter than all but the main protagonst, and capable of cunning, good playing, and decent reactions.

          All the way up until the moment before the war is won, it looks not only possible, but likely that all of the heroes efforts might come that one step short.

          Now, having ranted about villaisn I do like, I’ll have to say despite my quibbles, I like the Nine, because they seem canny and horrible, and I think, having described the Curb Stomp Cushion I’m seeing, that they can’t posibly be Villain Sues. Villain sues never lose, these are just intelligent, well-written enemies that can lose, but are never long knocked off their feet. And an enemy that can survive the first blow and keep on fighting (and winning) is not always easy to make (many books I’ve seen make the villain unbeatable and invincible…until they make one mistake, and then they have no ability to correct)

          So, I guess, to end it, Kudos for good villains that I despise with every fiber of my being.

          • You’re counting Imp out? because of a mask?
            the only way she got taken out is if Bonesaw caught her with some of the dust…

            … and the only way THAT happens is if she tries to hurt bonesaw.

            Imp’s trying to Send Skitter a Message. I think skitter got the Wrong Message.

          • I agree that they are excellent villains, honestly the only area where Villain Sue came close to being justified to me is Siberian, just for having a power which seems a bit too unstoppable. However even that (and seriously, Siberian’s ability remind me of nothing more then that kid who claims his giant robot is immune to whatever yours has) manages to work despite everything that would seem to make that impossible.

            I don’t like the nine, but Villain Sues they aren’t. Villains out of the Villains-that-we-like’s league perhaps, but nothing really places them as unstoppable other then maybe Siberian, and even she comes across as dumb as rocks to me, not to mention too reliant on her power. Which balances it all quite well.

        • I think (maybe) the Villain Sue comment came from the angle that right now things seem hopeless and the Nine seem to cover all angles: distance attacks (Shatterbird and Jack), hulk juggernauts (Siberian and Crawler) firepower (Burnscar) empathic control and tracking (Cherish) science and armour (Mannequin) and medical torture horror (Bonesaw).

          They look unstoppable and people need hope. Taylor’s bugs, Grue’s shadows, Regent’s muscle control, they aren’t that threatening by comparison. Bitch’s dogs can’t beat Crawler, Tattletale isn’t an offensive weapon, she’s mental when she’s a weapon at all.

          Now I think you plan as a writer so there’s something up your sleeve better than Deus ex Machina, perhaps Trickster’s plan, and he is a teleporter… But I can see where some readers might think it looks hopeless.

        • I think you should take it as a compliment. The fact that you are getting such emotional responses is good. Your readers care what happens to these characters. I don’t think they really meant they would stop reading, commentors please correct me if I am wrong. I think they were speaking metaphorically that emotionally they “were done”, and couldn’t take much more. This is good stuff, It was tough to read, because it was tough for Taylor to experience.

        • Belated reply, but: If there’s one sentence that defines Worm to date, it’s “things get worse”. The story is constantly going into darker and darker territory.

          The story is not without its hopeful and positive moments, but victories have always been hard won in the Wormverse.

          IMO, the amount of horror that’s appropriate comes down to personal taste. I can certainly understand this being past some people’s thresholds. I also see it as being appropriate given what’s come before.

          Your story will never please everyone. You’ve been true to it and you’ve built up enough goodwill that I’m certainly going to keep reading.

          Poor Grue.😦

  7. Well, on the one hand the Leviathan stuff was functionally worse. More death, more ruin, Taylor was (at the lowest point) completely without reasonable hope. Whereas here she still has several possibilities even without going into stuff like one of them triggering again.

    That said the overall tone of this chapter was outright Cerberusian, I mean these last few arcs have been dark but this is just…woah. Talk about sudden introduction of anyone can die. Which is good because despite still having a number of ways this could turn better it has plenty of tension, excellent stuff.

    That said I’m a little confused at how Imp was caught, maybe it’s just her mask. I’m also very curious as to whether Parian survived, not to mention what happened to her promised support from the Wards. Which brings me to the biggest wtf of these events.

    What the fuck are the heroes even doing! They are literally standing around while the nine slaughter people…because it’s too dangerous? I had assumed after last chapter that the nine were somewhere isolated but they have explicitly attacked Dolltown, if the villains make it out of this then they are going to have so much good PR. The Travellers and Undersiders are literally the only group that has done anything remotely like fighting the nine and saving people from them. The ABB stuff was one thing but the heroes just don’t seem to be doing anything at this point. Especially with New Wave’s complete flops of late.

    All of which makes me wonder if the eventual plan is for Skitter to lose it completely and go outright villainous. Certainly this would make for one last mighty failure of the heroes by which her views of them could degrade completely, while losing people could easily drive her to semi-psychotic insanity. If so this would be a truly horrendous origin story for a Villain potentially on a level with the other ‘monsters’ of this setting.

    Which kind of sucks since I liked the society disliking but overall optimistic tone better, then again the Dolltown attack gives me the perfect split off point for my own headfanon which results in a few more powers all round and the nine dying horribly. And the heroes not being such monumental dicks. I mean how on earth can Legend justify this one? Let alone Miss ‘soldier before superhero’ Militia.

    Anyway, the good ship head fanon has fled, now to watch the wreckage from safety.

    • Bah, Berserk. Reading that brilliance numbed me to this stuff.

      I mean other series have been objectively nastier to their characters, Shingeki no Kyoujin, Gantz, most Stephen King books, even Joss Whedon at least gets close to it. But for balls out horrible things happening to people you genuinely like, nothing beats reading Berserk in a week and reading the first three volumes after the Golden Age Arc. Oh damn was that worse than…well anything really.

      • On the subject of anime, I’m a fan of shows that take a common setup/genre and then play around with them.

        Magical Girl (Same genre as Sailor moon) – Puella Magi Madoka Magica (3)
        Giant Mech vs. Titanic Aliens (Like Power Rangers) – Bokurano (2)
        Kid with Pet (In the vibe of Pokemon/Digimon) – Shadow Star / Narutaru (3)

        All are worth a watch in their own right, but I ordered them loosely in terms of my favorite to least favorite. Madoka gets bonus points for having a soundtrack by my favorite composer. Highly recommend avoiding spoilers for the series in question and focusing on the journey rather than the ending (I think only one of those three has a genuinely good ending – I won’t say which). The number I listed in brackets is the number of episodes you’d need to watch before giving it a fair verdict.

        If anyone does check out one of the shows in question, let me know what you think.

        • If you like those ideas, you might want to check out Sailor Nothing. It’s free online last I checked, and worth a read. Definitely takes the Genre and plays with it.

        • Lots of folks forget how subversive to the genre Neon Genesis Evangelion was when it first appeared.
          For playing with the magical girl tropes, I really like My Hime and Elfen Lied.

          • I’ll know how subversive Eva was supposed to be when Anno gets done remaking it.
            Feel like it’s unfair to conflate his clinical depression with “genre breaking.”

        • Gurren Lagann is also a really good one.

          Eureka 7 is pretty good too. It could probably be renamed to The Power of Love The Series though without too much difficulty.

      • The anime. *spoiler tags*

        specifically mercilessly ripping arms and legs off a 4 year old, who continues to fight back. And that’s done by the nominal hero of the tale. (okay, so you later learn that the kid’s not actually 4…)


  8. I want to apologize for my reaction. It was uncalled for. Especially after the Heroes DID win last time. But, this chapter, honestly it made me feel sick.

    Now I know I’m gonna have to wait till Saturday to find out what happens, and honestly I’m gonna feel worried sick about our heroes (Or Villains) till then.

    It’s a testament to your writing abilities that I’m this attached to your characters.

    And I do think there was sufficient warning that the Nine are Not Nice. So I shouldn’t have been too surprised, but I really am worried about what will happen to your characters.

    In sum, I’m sorry. What I said was uncalled for. If there’s a way to take the comment down I will, if you want.

    • Don’t worry about it. Your reaction was genuine, and you shouldn’t apologize for it, nor should you take it down or retract it.

      If anything, I should apologize for underestimating the level of disgust and revulsion people would experience (there was a very similar scene in the interlude with Imp, witih no reaction) and the lack of warning. I’d insert something at the top of the post, but I’m concerned about spoiling things for people at the same time. If people have strong opinions that I should do it, I’ll go ahead and put something up.

      • I don’t think it’s necessary but I also think it doesn’t have that much to do with the gruesome scene. Maybe it’s just me but I’m not really bothered by this kind of thing so much as I am bothered because Taylor is bothered.

        If you described the same thing with a random person I know that I’d have hardly blinked and I think that these kinds of reactions would have been much more low key. We reacted because a complex character who we liked, and who the protagonist outright loves, has been put in a Very Bad Situation. As such I for one see no use in a warning, the worst part is that it’s happening to Grue and at that point you’d be spoiling the biggest kick of this chapter.

    • Bad news. I was looking at the table of contents and if he’s keepin consistant with the length of posts he makes his arc, then he is done with this one. Which means interlude time, while we all try to speculate on what horrible things might/will be done to Skitter and Co.

      He mentioned checking into the Protectorate, which I think would be a very interesting Interlude indeed. Though at such a tense moment, I’d trade the ability to read any interludes for knowing what happens next come saturday.

      It’s true.*
      *Slightly obscure reference. Slightly.

  9. Well, this was pretty bad. Unless Trickster’s unspoken plan involved a step where they would pretend to be captured, I think it is save to say the plan failed.

    While Grue’s fate is no doubt horrific, I think it might not be as bad as everyone thinks. There are ways to rebuild him Panacea, Bonesaw etc. so his fate is probably reversible. If he had been fine that would probably have meant that he had been suborned at some level, but the way he is now there is a genuine chance he might be put back together and be fine afterwards. Then again he might not.😦

    Cliffhangerwise I think the cavalry will soon come to out heroes rescue. The heroes know that Skitter and her friends got Shatterbird and Battery at least has an interest in keeping her alive. If she brings a few friends along that might really help.

    Maybe Bitch could ride to the rescue?

    There is also Parian, whose corpse we haven’t seen yet and who if alive might have a beef with the nine. Of course she might also be in the same pile as Skitter.

    No matter who I think our protagonist definitely earned the right to be rescued for once.

  10. Brian was in there. And he was alive.

    I couldn’t have been unhappier at that realization.

    There was no power to the walk-in-freezer, so it was warm. The interior was maybe ten by twelve feet across, the walls were metal, with racks on either side. Brian was hanging by the wall at the far end, propped up enough that his shoulders were pressing against the corner bordering the wall and the ceiling, his arms outstretched to either side like a bird hung up for display, his head hanging forward.

    It was some sort of collaboration between Bonesaw and Mannequin. He hung there, dressed in a Japanese schoolgirl “sailor” outfit, his panties showing from under the short skirt. His hair had been dyed and extended until it ran through two pieces to form what looked like a pair of meatballs on his head before the blonde hair ran down. I could see he wasn’t even touching the ground, the red, heeled boots his feet were squeezed into hanging a foot off the floor.

    He looked up at us, and he looked harrowed. The look in his eyes was more animal than person, his pupils mere pinpoints in his brown eyes. Tiny beads of sweat dotted the skin of his face, no doubt due to the warmth of the room, but he was shivering. A tiara sat on his head, completing his look.

    “Oh.” My voice was a croak. ”Brian.”

    I took a step forward, and he seized up, his entire body twisting, his hands clenching, eyes wrenching shut.

    “Get back!” Tattletale gripped me by the shoulder and forced me out of the freezer.

    “I- what?” I was having trouble processing. ”Trap?”

    Tattletale had a dark look in her eyes. ”No. Look closer at the walls and floor.”

    Numbly, I did as she’d asked. They looked like hairline cracks, spiderwebbing across everything from the walls to the shelving. Except they were raised, over the surfaces, and ran into from a pair of earbuds to miniature screens and mp3 players hanging around the room.

    I could barely make it out, but my stepping into the room had activated Rick Astley’s performance right in Brian’s ears. I looked around. One of the screens merely said “Uwe Boll’s Greatest Hits.”

    I stared up at Brian, and he stared back at me.

    There was no way to help him. I couldn’t even get inside the room to try to comfort him in the smallest ways, not without causing him unbearable pain in the process.

    Brian moved his lips, but no sound came out. He tried to raise his head, as much as the ceiling allowed, his eyes raised towards the sky. A pair of breasts filled out the top of his Sailor senshi costume.

    “I could make it quick,” Ballistic said.

    “No,” I told him.

    “It’d be a mercy.”

    • See? It can always be worse.

      I know someone who was Uwe Boll’s assistant for a stretch. This individual is currently working at Pixar, if memory serves right.

      For those not in the know, Uwe Boll is pretty legendary for making bad movies. Not even ‘so bad they’re good’, but just plain bad. As I understand it, he found a loophole in German tax law where he’d actually make more money if his movies flopped. He earned extra hate from video gamers for ruining the movie conversions for successful (or successful-ish) franchises.

  11. Whoa, Brian’s fate is disgusting. And I’ve actually read the Narutaru MANGA (which is even more extreme than the excellent anime adaptation), so I know disgusting.

    Love Madoka as well.

    But I do have two gripes with this chapter:

    1. why is tattletale there? did she not say explicitelly that she wanted to stay back and give remote support? this is exactly the kind of mission where she is a liability if present in person!
    so unless tricksters plan turns out to be more elaborate than “make hookwolf & co attack s9”, here presence is rather stupid.

    2. related to the above: unless trickster’s plan turns out to be more elaborate and require them to be captured, I have to say, they are idiots. I mean, they proceeded with barely any caution, despite knowing that the s9 were using doubles, into a room against a tinker with really mad biochemical skills (btw. what rating does Bonesaw have?) and generally acted like amateurs! did they just pick up the idiot ball?!

    btw. have you read whateley academy? if so, would you say that Bonesaw is comparable to Jobe in terms of skill? or is he better than her?

    finally, I do hope that Parian has not been killed/maimed/experimented on. I like the character and I’d like to see more of her (like riding to the rescue for our apparently mentally challenged protagonists…).



    • Tattletale is present because they wanted her abilities at full strength rather than her abilities as filtered through a phone/video/camera. I’ll add something to that extent.

      • I just had an idea: I just reread Interlude 10.5. Dragon said at the end that she set up tracking programms so as to be able to act the moment Skitter resurfaced. might Dragon be the one to come in to save the heroes?! I’d love that because Dragon is by far my favourite character here (I love Gadgeteer Geniuses and AI’s – Dragon is both!)
        By the way, is it just me or does Dragon seem extraordinarily interested in Skitter? what could be the reason for that?

        • And another thing, unrelated to this chapter: is there a definition of the ‘Trump’ classification out there? Because it is the only one that has not been defined or assigned to a parahuman yet. And I am really interested in a classification whose name implies that it is something special even among other supernatural power-types

          • The Trump classification’s powers are nothing like their name, as the classification’s naming rights were bought by an egotistical attention whore millionaire with fake hair, fake tan, and a fake success record.

            Also, it could potentially get worse if Dragon shows up as she’s a non-native super to the city. If Burnscar appears and she and Dragon get into a fight, then it will be in violation of the rules.

            Dragon has good reason to be interested in Skitter. Skitter’s managed to defeat opponents who should be out of her league by conventional thinking and had a direct hand in Armsmaster’s fall from grace. She’s gone from nobody to nightmare in a relatively short time period and was working as a double agent who could have given them the scoop on who was taking over the city but she decided not to due to her own values and presumably because the heroes were bigger dicks than the villains were.

            Plus, Dragon has discovered enough details to uncover who Skitter is and potentially catch her. Dragon only needs to be interested in a supervillain for a little while, remember? No one flies the Bircage.

            As for Jobe….*rasafrasamumblegrumble* Remind me to hunt down Carmilla some day. I have a little technological surprise waiting for any Lovecraftian mumbo and/or jumbo that dares to step in the way of my vengeance towards her in Jobe’s place. Note to self: accelerate work on the Tabasco grenade.

  12. Hm.

    Ok, I can see a few possibilitys here. But, the main one is that Skitter will have to accept that Grue is unsaveable, and that she has to kill. Not injure, not capture, not hurt or scare, just outright kill.

    After all, her power does not require anything but will. And that, she’s got.

  13. Well, this has been quite a journey. It started downright domestic, with school bullying and a mildly dysfunctional single-parent household, then had Bakuda, who, while being the first one (that I remember) to kill someone on-screen, was not a villain that Comics Code Authority would object to, then Coil moved on Kaiser, and Purity started tearing down buildings full of people, then Endbringer happened. And then, It Got Worse, at least from our biased point of view, with The Nine, culminating in Brian’s little operation.

    Part of me wants to say “I didn’t sign up for this when I started reading”, and I think that some of the other commenters are getting at a similar sense. Now, I am going to continue reading, and I am still enjoying the story, and yet, if I were to write a review of this story before the beginning of this arc, I would write a rather different one than if I were to write one now. (The overall rating would probably not change, but the aspects of the story the review would emphasize would be quite different.) Take that as you will.

    On a speculative note for how Skitter might get out of this — though a rescue from the outside would not be implausible — I keep wondering how Bonesaw operates those robotic spidery assistants, since cybernetics and AI are not in her domain. This suggests that their control mechanisms are biological, and if they have spider-like brains, Skitter might be able to suborn them. On the other hand, she hasn’t reported sensing them as “entities that I could control”, so that probably wouldn’t work, unless they require her to be extra-desperate.

  14. Actually, Bonesaw’s treatment is far from the worst I’ve read in a fantasy story and very far from the worst I’ve imagined. Let’s take Robert Jordan and his Wheel of Time for example; the Forsaken Semirhage, an expert healer and torturer, used the One Power to stimulate the pain receptors in the brain to the point that her victims suffered through worse pain than was physically possible for them to experience through any physical torture – and she used her knowledge of healing to keep them alive and aware far beyond the point the pain would normally kill them or make them pass out. And some of her victims were tortured for every waking moment for years, literally. Not to mention she did that to entire cities – hundreds of thousands of victims – during the War of the Power, torturing her victims enough that they chose to help her torture and break their parents, children and other loved ones rather than face torture themselves.
    Let’s take Michael Moorcock and his Lords of Order and Chaos. Prince Gaynor the Damned betrayed the Lords of Order and they cast him to Chaos, his body and soul continually devoured by maggots. They also made him indestructible and immortal like Siberian so that he could not escape his punishment by sleep, death, passing out and the like and they bound him to the Multiverse so that even if he were defeated he would always reappear in another reality so his punishment would continue for all eternity.
    And let’s consider what a spiritual being like a fallen angel could do, with literally being older than the universe and having knowledge beyond mortal comprehension. Fancy being forced to experience the suffering of an entire planet, with your perception of time drawn out so that every second is a million years?

    Bonesaw may be scary in a viscerally physical way but far, far from the truly scary possibilities out there.

    • Yawn. Truth always be stranger than fiction.
      Truth often scarier than fiction too.

      “of terrors there are many, but none so awesome as man”

      • I’m reminded of a filk song by Tom Smith called ‘Hellraiser’…

        “…Some are helpers, some are healers… some have made an artform of the vivisection of their fellow man… You’ll marvel at their scrupulous attention to detail… Creativeness and exquisite technique… And when they’ve had you for a while… You’ll say ‘I love you’ every time you shriek.”

        The scarier thought should be that this is a ‘child’ with this ability. If she ‘grows up’…

    • I disagree, it’s scary because we can actually relate to it.

      Whereas everything you said is completely fantastical, it’s not a torture that we can really have any grounding in right down to the most basic levels. Indeed any eternal or seriously lengthy torture fits that mold since by definition it either has to become ineffective sooner or later, or it’s already involving base level manipulation of your nature and the very act of torture has become unimaginative and pointless. The there’s stuff like knowledge beyond comprehension and older than the universe, which while theretically interesting (certainly anyone with an interest in the singularity must acknowledge the former) are functionally meaningless. I know things you can never know is a statement entirely without weight, you cannot experience tortures outside your own comprehension without logic going out to lunch.

      That is to say, what is done to Brian here is scarily close to plausible. We can imagine it.
      Whereas continuous pain forever is just words, there’s no real grounding for that kind of thing in our psyche. Objectively worse but viscerally not.

      Also I must object on grounds that maggots only eat dead flesh, having them in you is thus quite helpful since that means they are helping deal with disinfecting and cleaning a wound. It’s a valid treatment that is still used today.

      • I agree on it being pain we can relate to. Someone could inflict all kinds of horrible wounds on another person or enemy soldiers in some sort of story or movie, but the thing that’ll get a reaction out of every guy reading or in the theater is if one of them is kicked in the balls.

        • Yup. It’s only because it happened to Brian that I feel traumatized. Despite everything, I had high hopes for Taylor and Brian.

    • Just pain and body horror is far from the worst that can be done.
      What’s hinted at in Time Braid is way worse than anything here or in the mentioned books (it’s my current 10 on my scale of tortures).

    • Imp would not need to play possum as long as her power is working. And she can’t play possum towards someone who can make her power stop working. They got her, for real.

  15. It’s over.

    In several ways…

    They had the warning from Dinah in the first place. They decided to try to twist it a bit. that worked only halfway. Then when regent was working on Shatterbird there was no way to not realize that the 9 would their equivalent of that to Grue. And Bonesaw had no reason to hold back, she was free to do whatever she felt like – the 9 did not even need Grue to be alive. Also, there was the risk that the 9 somehow made use of Grue’s power. Why did the Undersiders not realize that? Stupid. At that point it was clear that, even when there was a way to free Grue, there was no way anybody could ever trust him anymore – he cold have been set up with a bio-bomb or an infestation or whatever device Bonesaw could put into a body, so Coil had to kill him anyway ASAP – from a safe distance even.
    Then the trial to free him. No real plan, and fully knowing that the 9 had years of experience. At that point, the best option they had would have been to lead the Chosen to the 9’s hideout and let them have it all. Even after leading some people out of the building it would have been a good idea to let Purity level the building. That would at least had rendered the 9 to be somewhat busy to keep their non-invincible members alive. Distracting the Chosen from the 9, in course of that weakening themselves because Shatterbird and Genesis got occupied was a very bad move.
    And by the time they found Grue it became clear that it was already too late to flee.
    And by the time Skitter discovered that the 9 had Imp, too, it was 100% over.

    I fought the urge to stop reading one time and I was glad I did, for most of the time. But now? I cannot imagine any theoretical possibility to save the day, short of a time rewind up to the point before 9 arrive in Brockton Bay and I don’t want to read about something like that. Given what is known to this point about him, not even Scion could undo the damage the 9 had done to Grue or will have been done to rest of the Undersiders within the next hours to minutes. I doubt that Panacea could, because she could not (or refused to) heal Skitter’s nerve damages in the hospital. In the state of mind she is now, I doubt she could do anything without (maybe involuntarily) adding a twist or even making it worse. But without the protection from Coil’s crews she would not have a chance against the 9. The opportunity is gone now. (Poor Amy. She’s doomed and bound for the bird cage anyway – HER best option to stay out of it for the longest time possible might really be to join the 9. But I know that’s quite the opposite of what she wants. But countdown of the rest of her life made a huge jump forward anyway.)

    Tl,dr: I cannot imagine any possibility way to save the day short of a HUGE f’ing wonder – way bigger than anything that happened up to now, and I don’t want to read something like that.

    The end of this chapter crossed the the limit of what I’m willing to take. I loved this at the beginning. But no more. I tried a quick glance over the next chapter and realized that reading it is no fun anymore.

    So I’m out now.

    • By complete chance, I stumbled across this comment relatively soon after its posting. It resonates with me because this is a spot where I nearly stopped, myself, and was beginning to hate our author a little bit. But (trying to be vague) I’m glad I pressed forward through this and one more bit a little later on that was past my comfort limits. I won’t say that there isn’t more darkness ahead, but… well, it’s always darkest before the dawn, as the saying goes. Worm has more awesome to deliver, and it does it in ways that I think make sense within its own defined world.

      I’m still a bit late, here, and I don’t know if you’ll ever come back to see if you had a reply, but… I just want to say that I quite understand the headspace you’re in right now, I was near there myself. But I think that if you can bring yourself to try going a little further, sometime, Worm still has more rewarding reading to offer. If not… perfectly understandable, I was there. But if it’s worth anything, I feel that it gets better.

  16. D:

    They can fix him, right? Right?

    To be honest I think the hardest part as far as ‘fixing him’ goes might be the trauma. Is there anybody whose power is to make people forget stuff?

    I can see Taylor’s point – with someone like Amy/Panacea in the world, there is always hope you can fix someone, even in the absolute worst circumstance. You could write whole stories about people trying to get hold of Panacea for their loved ones.

    • It was implied in the interlude that Imp might be able to make people forget things other than just her presence once she gets the hang of her power…

  17. so, im doing my second read through of the story with coment dives this time.

    i will say, that this is probably the most fucked up chapter in the entirirt of the story. that being said, its great.

    up to this point, we have been operating under the assumption that there are certain rules and regulations regarding cape interaction, and due to just being terribly people, we are TOLD that they are worse, but how much really?

    Up to this point, they really dont seem any worse than bakuda or lung, and both of them where still captured instead of killed.

    Then we get to this chapter, and we truly are made to experience what the 9 do.

    its fucked up, but adds a great deal of depth to the story.

  18. I can’t believe some of you guys actually freaked out over what happened to Brian. I can’t see how you have such strong reactions to someone getting mangled, fictional at that.

  19. I hope this isn’t the direction the rest of this story will take. After all, you do actually want ppl to donate to you, and to read your future novels?
    Not gonna happen if they’re angry towards you.

    • This is about as bad as it gets in terms of sheer visceral do-not-want, really. Though it’s understandable that readers would stop here. I do urge that anyone that reads this far and is thinking of quitting not do so.

  20. Adding my 2c, I didn’t quite have the reactions some people above have had. Sure, what happened to Brian was bad but it is most certainly not going to stop me from reading the 2nd half of this story. Perhaps its because I’m inured by the acts of other fictional monsters I’ve read or because I wasn’t as invested in Brian as a character. Gotta keep the tension in the story and given the opponents I’m not surprised this happened.

  21. I don’t know whether this has been pointed out and explained, but the mention of Night and Fog kind of threw me off.

    I was quite positive that poor Night perished during the fight with the Endbringer. I remember seeing her on the list of the deceased, thinking how horrible it is to split up the wonderfully horrifying duo that was Night and Fog-man.

    Am I mistaken, or is it some sort of typo by the author? Only the author knows, and for all I know, he can easily leave me wondering.


    • My apologies. After further investigation, I found that Night was mentioned during the same announcement as Tattletale and Ballistic, yet both of them seem quite lively.

      As there was no mention of whether the list of capes were deceased or simply down, even Tyler was in the dark. So, yeah, seems like I’ve made a mistake.

      Still, a jolly good show, mah man.


  22. This chapter infuriated me.
    Why the fuck don’t our villains have some body armour?! Coil has some for every soldier and should have provided it (or they should have asked) ages ago!
    I had been reading under the assumption they had.
    This just smacks of Diabolus Ex Machina, perhaps it could be rewritten so that gas was used rather than darts? (also, a gas could reasonably act in the mentioned timeframe while the darts would give at least a few seconds before they are completely disabled)

    Seeing things like this is like seeing a shadow going the wrong way in the painting of a Renaissance master.

    I also don’t get why Scitter politely talked to Bonesaw instead of immediately attacking with her bugs but that’s a minor quibble.

    • Bugs are not going to work on Bonesaw’s reinforced…everything. Also, Taylor is hoping that if she plays nice, she might be able to get Bonesaw to save Brian. It’s an irrational hope, but Taylor’s working in a state of desperation here, so it makes sense that she’d try to negotiate first.
      Body armor, on the other hand, would be a very good idea for anyone who could get it. If nothing else, they should ask Coil for it after this incident.

  23. First-time reader/caller here. I would refrain from commenting until I’ve read the whole thing, but I need to vent.

    I would like to begin by mirroring the sentiments of some other commenters: this is a turning point. It is sheer, undistilled curiosity that is keeping my attention, because under any other circumstance I would have dropped the story right here, right now. The introduction of the individuals composing the Nine had me doubting from the start, and it’s been going downhill. Not through quality or structure (you’re a pretty superb writer), but purely because of the characters.

    Bit of context: the first time I felt like things had taken a nosedive was with Leviathan. My reasoning there was completely different: I saw the appeal in having what is effectively a force of nature rivaling Lavos, to speak in 16-bit terms, but I also saw a sort of excitement bordering on glee in the author completely tearing apart the setting that had been built up since day one. It was a moment defining the entirety of the story, and in retrospect things worked out very well, but nonetheless I found it difficult to deal with at the time.

    However, and I say this with sincerity: the Slaughterhouse Nine feel on par, if not worse, than the attack of an Endbringer. And not in a good, “man is the true monster”-introspective way. It’s the fact that they probably couldn’t literally wipe Newfoundland off the map that puts them below the real world-enders.

    I don’t mean to be all negative. Shatterbird’s cool, I like Burnscar, I really like Mannequin. There are really amazing elements at work here. But it’s the people like Crawler or the Siberian that consistently put me at odds with cape fiction in general. Slap my thigh and call me silly, but I could never, ever have any kind of respect (in the abstract sense that someone created them) for the unstoppable forces or immovable objects. Like I said, Leviathan felt like that, but Leviathan also felt like a god squashing ants. The entire setup was different, and it worked. It’s when it’s, for lack of a better word, “just people” that it starts to grate.

    And then there’s Bonesaw.

    Let me get one thing straight: I have a high tolerance for body horror. It affects me on the existential level, but I have no physical revulsion for it, and I can understand what it contributes. There’s not much squicky stuff I’ve subjected myself to beyond, say, Battle Royale, because I cannot and will not ever put myself through self-serving gorn to the likes of I Have No Mouth, And So On. And to be fair? This is getting close. I’m not referring to Brian here. Given the introduction of Hack Job and… I forget the name, but whatever she did to Mouse Protector, there was no guessing involved as to the extent of her powers and what it meant for those she did it to. My main problem here is how unstoppable she makes the Nine, and vice versa. As if to drive it home, a direct assault which would have killed anyone without invulnerability or regeneration did not even meaningfully affect her. She’s practically been confimed as being unstoppable. Yet this was not enough. Somehow it was deemed necessary to have her single-handedly put down every single person in Skitter’s team, including her, and leave them at her mercy, because there is no dark like real grimdark.

    It’s not that I have no hope. I know how long the story is, I’m confident the story’s not literally going down the drain. But to be fair? It doesn’t feel good anymore. Plotwise, I have faith, but when it comes to the author? Too much cheap shit in too little time. Too much Endbringer that shouldn’t fit in human-sized packages. This is all very rambling, I know, but I needed it off my chest. Thank you for listening.

    • First: Mouse Protector+Ravager=Murder Rat.

      Second: As it turns out, the Slaughterhouse 9 as a whole are classed as threats on the same level as the Endbringers. So you were right there.

      Going further: Bonesaw is a Tinker. Being able to make anything, given the time, inclination, and materials, is a schtick of pretty much every tinker. It’s just that Bonesaw has had a lot of time, experience, and a specialty which makes her extremely good. She does everything from “minor” cyborging to make one invulnerable to most wounds, to assorted types of neurotoxin. If the Undersiders had a tinker, the story would be much different. (Also, she probably had the help of Mannequin for a lot of it.)
      And yes, Bonesaw is powerful. That is why she was chosen for the Nine. There is a selection bias, here. Crawler and Siberian are unstoppable–that’s why they were chosen. Bonesaw screws with the rules of the game–that’s why she was chosen. Hatchet Face (rest in pieces), Mannequin, Burnscar, Shatterbird, members past and present not yet named…most chosen, at least in part, because they were dangerous.

      And if you don’t like underdogs defeating powerful foes, get out now. Lung, then Leviathan, then the Nine…there is a certain pattern of increasing enemy deadliness that isn’t reversing any time soon.

  24. Now that the story’s reaching an end, I’m doing a haphazard reread, moving more or less through the story but jumping between arcs a bit. Reading this chapter again, I wanted to leave my thoughts (since this has been one of the most polarizing parts of the story for readers).
    First of all, I should admit that I liked this chapter the first time around – I have a (slightly twisted) taste for seeing what happens when characters are pushed to their breaking points. Clearly not everyone agrees with me, as the comments above show, and many readers question whether the gore and despair here is necessary.
    Knowing where things go from here, though, I think you made the right choice to go into the level of detail you did about Brian’s state. Without spoiling anything, the hopelessness of this chapter ending makes everything that happens next all the more spectacular and surprising. When this is published and no readers have to wait days to find out what happens next, I think this chapter will hit the right notes in setting up the rest of this arc. I’m sure the whole story will be revised before a final version is published, but I hope that the mixed reactions to this chapter don’t tempt you to get rid of the intensity that makes it and the one that follows so effective.
    In other words, well done.
    Please delete this if you think it gives away too much for new readers – I tried to keep things vague, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

  25. The sudden personality changes in skitter are starting to become really annoying. Last chapter she was all for sacrificing a few civilians to win the battle, but in this chapter she has completely changed her mind and is back to wanting to save everyone again.

    In your future stories, please choose a personality and stick with it (or at least give a reason for abrupt changes).

    • In what universe is a person’s personal thoughts and actions so extreme, so fixed and unchangeable that it must either be ‘always sacrifice’ or ‘always save all’?

      Using the more realistic standard of always maximizing the personal utility of your actions, Taylor’s differing actions are perfectly understandable in light of the respective circumstances.

      This is a dissenting opinion opposing the above comment. Taylor’s personality has a lot of problems, but lack of verisimilitude is not one of them.

    • Note,last chapter she sacrificed a few civilians that had to endure a fate worse than death,at worst,or that were already dead,at best

      This chapter she tries to save people there is still hope for.

  26. Edit recommended. In this sentence:
    I was getting a sense of what Brian had described, once upon a time; that anger and outrage that didn’t even come close to connecting with a fire inside, with burning rage or anything like that. It was cold, dark, and numb.
    I read this multiple times without understanding. Recommend changing like this:
    I was getting a sense of the level of anger Brian had once described: anger that was not burning rage, that didn’t even come close to connecting with a fire inside, but instead felt cold, dark, and numb.

  27. To any reader who is losing heart or interest in the story, who happens to see this, I’ll just say that I recommend you trust the author. If you’ve found this story rewarding this far, then I don’t think you should let this chapter convince you to stop reading. Bad things can happen in good stories, and even in great stories. Heck, The Odyssey is regarded as one of the most important stories in Western History, and it’s basically ten years of crappy things happening to a guy and his family. When we read a story, we’re making a silent contract with the creator. We choose to invest ourselves, our time and emotions and thoughts, in their imaginings, and they promise to do their best to make it worth our while. I’ve finished Worm, and while there were a couple parts of the story that evoked mixed feelings from me, I am glad I finished. I liked it enough to read it a second time and post this comment.
    About the S9:
    I don’t think the S9 cross over into being Villain Sues, but I’m not shocked to see the idea occur to people. They’ve done a lot of damage and seemed to be suffering few setbacks, at first; now, the first clear victory against them has been tainted by their capture of Grue and his subsequent fate. That said, I think that the nature of this arc – the S9’s recruiting – should help to offset the notion, particularly in light of the fact that Cherish is a new member (who seems unlikely to remain one for too long) and Hatcher Face is an old member (resurrected in zombie servant mode). When you get right down to it, no one of the S9 is all that bad: Mannequin can be outwitted and isn’t excessively durable, despite his speed and flexibility (as evidenced by his changing equipment twice in a short period of time), Cherish seems to overestimate her powers and not think enough, and could likely be killed easily on her own (though Trickster’s method is especially impressive, despite its failure), and Shatterbird and Burnscar are both similarly squishy, in terms of their ability to absorb damage. They may be hard to hit, but they can be put down once you corner them. Crawler is the opposite, of course: brute force is his game, and he’s one of the best at it, but he’s not much of a thinker, so there are possibilities.
    Then we have the core of the S9: Jack, who keeps the group moving, leads it, and manages the personnel, keeping their issues contained or directing their outbursts at enemies. Bonesaw, who can fix up any of them, makes them all more durable, and serves as some sort of check on Siberian. Finally, Siberian herself; she may not be the core of the S9, but she’s the reason the group still exists, arguably. We’ve seen it once ourselves, now; her power seems to make her invincible, and she can protect her teammates (most importantly Jack and Bonesaw) with it. These three are what bind the S9 together and make it a force to be reckoned with. The Siberian’s raw power is such that no strategy or tactic has yet been devised which can defeat her. Eventually, Jack or Bonesaw will probably die, statistically speaking, if only because Siberian happens to wander away from them when someone nukes their location, or something. But in the meantime, she’s the one that ensures the group’s continued existence despite the best efforts of the heroes. She’s the keystone of the group, and neutralizing her would change things completely; wiping out the S9 would become a viable option with a significant chance to succeed. She provides a level of raw force that renders normal tactical planning ineffective.
    Now, about the chapter…well, I’ve imagined some horrible things, but I think what happens to Grue is going in my personal nightmare gallery. It won’t stop me from reading at all, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for not being able to take it. This is the other thing that makes Bonesaw such a valuable member of the S9, really: Fear. Just seeing Hack Job would be enough to make even some of the bravest heroes reluctant to fight her. It’s not easy to risk death to defend common civilians you don’t know, especially not for years, but Bonesaw raises the stakes all over again. To go into battle against the S9 as long as she’s a member would be chilling. If I were going, I’d probably wire a bomb to my brain first, to ensure that if I lost there wouldn’t be any “me” left to experience whatever she dreamed up. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. For my own soul’s sake, if nothing else.
    For those who think little of the heroes…well, I don’t blame you. There’s an extent to which Skitter is right and Legend is wrong; he’s not bringing a new approach to the table, and there are no tried and true methods here, just tried and failed. At the same time, Skitter does a fine job understanding his problem. Her irritation makes sense, in context, but if Legend didn’t try to understand her better when she is the one asking for their help, he’d be negligent in his duties. For that matter, Battery had a point way back when Skitter first claimed her territory; Skitter’s agenda may be beneficial to Brockton Bay and its people (or at least intended that way), but she does have one. It’s just that it’s not selfish. The heroes should have taken Skitter up on her offer to hand over Cherish (if only to see if she was telling the truth), I think, but we don’t know what things look like to them, so I’m reluctant to criticize too much.
    As far as the writing, I’ll just say that it takes good writing to evoke strong emotions, and I think this fits the bill. Those emotions will vary somewhat, because people vary, but that’s inevitable. The S9 are the creation of an imaginative mind. Sometimes the imagination goes to dark places, but there’s nothing wrong with that unless it stays there all the time, in my opinion. Worm has many terrors, and the S9 are the worst yet in a sense – the Endbringers might kill more, but their inhumanity and the scale of their rampages can decrease the impact, to an extent. The S9 are evil shoved into your face. They engage the other characters as people, and they are all the more horrifying because we can see personalities inside them, and that is a difficult thing to confront. It’s a more intimate form of evil, whereas the Endbringers are forces of nature that we can only hope to survive. They remind me of ancient mythology, if anything; the idea that the seasons change at the whims of gods, or the day turns to night when the sun is carried across the sky, for example. The S9 are not so removed from our imaginings and experience, and so their terror strikes deeper.
    This is all the more true because of the way it happens; Taylor accidentally hurting Brian, the slip-up with his name, and her unwillingness to give up on helping him all twisted the metaphorical knife in my guts as I read this chapter.
    Oh, and in answer to Wildbow’s recommendations: checked out Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and found it well worth my time. I may look at the others now, too. Thanks.

  28. Yuck. I’ve been enjoying the story until this point, although the parts with Bitch really piss me off because I honestly don’t give a shit and wish somebody would just shoot her. But this was… revolting and cheap. I feel it completely abandoned the quality of writing I’ve been enjoying until now and went purely for shock. Also, I’m finding all the continually repeated setbacks annoying, as characters fail to learn from their previous fights (really? no armor again?) yet always manage to take out all the really strong foes. I’m going to stop reading now, as much because I’m disgusted as because I’ve just lost faith in the author. I knew the warning said this would be black, and I’ve been fine with everything until now, but at this point it feels more like a fetish, and I’ve got better things I can do with my life, and not look back. So thanks for the ride.

  29. Well. This one made my toes curl. I have to admit, Brian’s fate was quite… Grue-some, if you will.

    But I must applaud you, Sir Wildbow, for your continued excellent storytelling, gore aside. I don’t mind a few blood-splatters here and there, but… poor Brian😦

    As much as I like him, it would be better for them to just kill him, Sundancer was right and Skitter’s just clinging to impossible hopes at this point. They’re pretty much screwed, but I have faith in you, O Mighty Author.

  30. This is my second readthrough of the story. I didn’t read the comments my first time because attempting to do so in early chapters earned me some spoilers without warning, from commenting re-readers.

    It’s been great looking back through and actually reading below the fold for the most part, but this chapter’s comments…

    To put it very mildly, I sincerely hope that the absurdly negative, overemotional responses of some above commenters did not have any influence whatsoever on the author and the direction and tone of his work, at any point in the story hereafter.

    I don’t feel like they did, but the idea that they could have sickens me.

    • I also hope they did not influence the author, but I think it’s very harsh to say that people’s reactions were “absurdly negative and overemotional”. People have different levels of sensitivity to squick and that’s not something they consciously choose.

      If anything, it’s testament to the author’s skill that he’s made readers care this much about the fate of his(?) characters.

  31. I guess bonesaw would get along splendidly with the Haemonculi of the Dark Eldar. I was reminded of a scene from the book Nightbringer, where a Haemonculi removed a mans skelleton and had every muscle and organ hanging from barbed hooks, with the victim still alive and lucid.

    Anyway, if this doesn’t make the entire team willing to murder the 9 without reservations than they arent human. Theres only so far you can push a person psychologically before they abandon whatever reservations they have about killing. Survival instinct alone would see to that.

  32. Well this was a…um, powerful chapter. Poor, poor Brian. I really think they should’ve just killed him. Even if they manage to fix him there is no way he walks away without massive mental trauma. And Bonesaw does this sort of thing routinely? Seriously how in the name of everything that is holy has she been allowed to live this long? You walk through one city like this and you make say conservatively 200 mortal enemies who desire nothing more than your head on a plate. Say 5 percent of those trigger and have powers strong enough to be a threat. Than we can add on another 5 to 10 already powered people who also have decided your head on a plate is the best possible birthday gift. So from just one city you have at least a dozen or so powerful people who make it their mission in life to kill maim and destroy you and you go through what ten cities in two years? So if anyone is half as determined as Battery was to stop a single villain who simply liked to bust people out of transports how the hell is this literal hell child still alive? I know it’s been mentioned that the Nine loss people almost every time they attack a city and that Siberian seems to like Bonesaw while Jack definitely has her primed as top priority but still, any number of vendattas should have caught up to her by now.

    I am starting to agree with a few others though that the Nine are almost falling into Villain Sue territory. Their powersets are believable and they have specifically recruited super powerful people who are nigh unstoppable but there’s no fun to the story if our protagonists don’t really seem to have much of a chance and even with the win prior, the odds don’t seem to have picked up much.

    • I personally think there’s no fun to the story if the good guys win every damn time. This chapter was fantastic for that reason. The protagonist FINALLY had to concede defeat of a really high magnitude.

      They could have won. But they made a stupid mistake. People tend to do that. Again, something the Undersiders haven’t done enough, but that was believable due to Coil and Tattletale working together to prevent it. Guess the odds were too bad in this case for Coil to even help.

  33. Don’t see why everyone freaked out over Brian. I mean, c’mon. Someone in their team was bound to die soon. Did people really think he would just be tied to a chair when he is perfectly healthy material for experimentation?

  34. >There were also other supplies that didn’t look regulation.

    What? I’m not a native speaker, but I’m pretty damn fluent; yet I can’t understand what this is supposed to mean. Didn’t look LIKE regulation?

    >where Siberian and Crawler were in the thick of the enemy.

    This flows really awkwardly.

    >Within moments, me, Tattletale, Trickster, Sundancer and Ballistic were being dragged inch by inch towards the dining hall.

    This essentially parses as “Me was being dragged.” Try “Tattletale, Trickster, Sundancer, Ballistic and I.”

    I love Bonesaw so, so much. Seriously, she is fantastic. My bloodthirst, caused by how nobody important ever gets hurt in Worm, is completely sated by what happened to Brian courtesy of Bonesaw. I can’t contain all this glee. Great chapter.

    • Nobody important gets hurt in Worm? Dude you can barely throw a rock without hitting an important dead or badly injured guy. Lots of the main viewpoint characters have made it out mostly due to luck, quick thinking or being so damn overpowered as to shrug off the first few hits until they can run. Even the Undersiders get hit bad quite repeatedly. Hell we lost two or three Wards to Leviathan not counting the multiple villains and Protectorate members lost there or the others that have been slaughtered like lambs by the Nine. This story doesn’t come across as dark and melancholic since most of the mains are surprisingly upbeat for the hell that they live through on a weekly if not daily basis.

      And a quick sidenote, the regulation sentence works. It’s a bit awkward and an English teacher would probably get annoyed but speaking as a native English speaker there’s no real issues with it. It’s just shorthand and I actually have said stuff like that multiple times in the past.

  35. Oh jesus.

    I was bracing myself for at least one main character to die in these next few chapters, but like this?

    By the way: “Imp. She’d got Imp.” That should be “she’d gotten Imp”, I believe.

  36. Guys. I’m not going to argue that Brian’s situation isn’t horrifying, because it is, but- you have superpowers.
    Step 1: Locate where the artificial nerves join to the natural ones, without entering the room. Tattletale could probably do this in a second or two; anyone else with good eyes (maybe binoculars) would take longer, but it’s still not terribly complicated. Look at where Brian’s vital bits are and spread out from there until everything he actually needs is inside the circle, then note the points where the nerves cross the circle.
    Step 2: Cut off those connections without entering the room. Taylor could do this by pairing some strong flying bugs with some strong biting bugs- flying the biting ones to the noted connections, where they can chop them off. Genesis could get more creative with it- make a stretchy form equipped with scissors, claws, or even fire projection. Ballistic could do it with good aim and small projectiles. In any case- probably hurts for a minute, but that’s it. (Admittedly, there could be lots of connections that need cutting…)
    You can now enter the room and proceed with an actual rescue. … You may still need a surgeon of your own for that part. xP

  37. Well, now I know what to say when someone asks me what’s worse than death.
    I’m a first time reader, so i’m don’t know how it will turn out, but while i think the description of what happened to Brian is powerful and can lead to good storytelling in the long run, I can’t help but find Bonesaw and the tinkers in general a little too close to magic while most power have very defined limits and restriction to help with the suspension of desbilief.

  38. “But no, I’m not going to do that,” she said. “I don’t censor my art because it offends people.”

    I fucking love Bonesaw. Can you imagine what she’ll accomplish when she grows up? You’d better not kill of Panacea before they get together.

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