Prey 14.11

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I continued my search for the pair, but my tentative explorations of the trails of extermination-mist made a sweeping search all but hopeless.

It felt like I was facing a series of decisions where every answer had some merit, but picking the wrong one would spell disaster.  I’d had to make the call between staying at the school in case Jack and Bonesaw were preparing a trap for Amy and Glory Girl, or leaving in case they’d made a run for it.  I’d left, and I’d been lucky enough to be right.

Except the Nine were now covering their tracks with a dozen decoys, mechanical spiders leaving trails of bug-killing smoke, leaving me to guess which direction they’d gone.

Two solid possibilities dwelled with me.

The first was that they’d headed back downtown to rendezvous with Siberian.  If I was drawing the right conclusions from what I’d overheard, Bonesaw had drawn together a cocoon for Siberian similar to the one that Amy had created for Glory Girl.  They could be recovering her real body, maybe doing something to recover Mannequin or Crawler.

It hadn’t even crossed my mind while I was under the miasma’s influence, but I also had to wonder whether Regent would have maintained his control over Shatterbird.

The second possibility was that they’d gone after Cherish.  My conversation with Coil had clued them in.

I checked my phone.  No service.

Damn the Director.  Damn her for making this so hard, and for complicating matters.  We’d been playing by Jack’s rules, more or less, and she’d given him an excuse to pull out all the stops.

He probably would have anyways, but she gave him an excuse.

If I headed away from the downtown area, toward the water, I could put myself in a position to track down Cherish, or to get to another point where the satellite phone would work and make a call to Coil.  If they were checking the harbor for Cherish, going by what she’d revealed on the phone, then I could get there first.  Lay a trap, or get in position to shoot them again.  I figured out how to remove the magazine from the gun and checked the number of rounds remaining.  Six.

The problem was that the whole reason I’d let Panacea keep using her power on me instead of giving chase to Jack was that I was supposed to cure the others.  I could kill and replace the parasites that were carrying the prions.  The sooner I did it, the less damage they’d do in the meantime.  Some of the damage would be permanent, and the potential victims included Brian and Lisa.

wanted to head back downtown, to help my teammates and friends, but I couldn’t shake the nagging doubt in the back of my mind.

The difference between Jack and Bonesaw going downtown and their going to the coastline was that the former was almost kind, taking care of a teammate.  The latter case allowed them to inflict some terrible torture on an ex-teammate of theirs.

It was the most inconvenient possibility, but my gut told me they’d go after Cherish.  If I had to put numbers on it, I’d have said there was a sixty percent chance they’d go that route, a thirty-five percent chance they’d headed downtown.  And there was always the possibility I was wrong, that they had something else in mind, so I was leaving room for that extra five percent.

But if I was wrong, if I went to the harbor to try to get ahead of them and Jack didn’t go that way, then my friends would suffer for it.  Brian had been through enough, and while Lisa had seemed to deal okay after she’d been scarred, I was willing to bet she valued her mind more than she valued her face.

I headed downtown.

No matter which way I chose to go, I’d have that awful feeling of regret in my chest.  I tried to quiet it by telling myself that with Tattletale and the others, I’d actually be able to do something against the Nine.  A gun and knife didn’t cut it, no matter how scattered or few in number they were.

I couldn’t quite manage to convince myself.

As it didn’t cost me anything significant in terms of forward momentum, I let Atlas carry me higher.  I was getting more comfortable flying him, and there was little difference in being a hundred and fifty feet above the ground and being five hundred stories up.  I wanted to assess the situation.  Was my dad one of the people who was depending on this cure?

The topography of the city had impacted where the miasma was spreading.  As far as I could tell, it wasn’t really advancing into the north end of the city.

Bakuda’s bombing campaign and the militarization of the ABB had predominantly focused on the Docks.  Leviathan had arrived in the Docks, and his destruction of the city’s water infrastructure and power had hit that part of the city hardest.  I wondered if this would be the first real instance where the Docks weren’t hit as hard by the ongoing series of disasters and attacks in Brockton Bay.

I descended back to a safer distance, where falling wouldn’t be terminal, and tried to plan.

Finding Tattletale was number one.  With her assistance, everything else would be easier.  As much as I wanted to make Grue my second priority, I knew that there were other things that took precedence.  Siberian was a big one.  Finding a way to distribute the cure was another.  Once I started, it would set up a chain reaction, but I had to decide how to start it off.

Tattletale first.  She could help me find Siberian and figure out how to distribute the antidote.

I tracked the trails of extermination smoke as I flew.  I was faster than they were, but they were elusive, staying out of sight and moving through awkward positions.  I spotted one mechanical spider moving through a trash-littered alleyway and changed my route to close in on another trail.

My second confirmation of a mechanical spider left me with the feeling that I’d made the wrong call.

But it was too late to turn back.  It would be faster to go help Tattletale and get her assistance than to turn around and fumble along on my own.

They were traveling on foot, I hoped, and they still had to find Cherish.  She was bound to be in a remote spot, and they didn’t have many clues to work with.  It would take time.

Things hadn’t exactly been quiet while I’d been gone.

“Calm down!  If we all just stop fighting, then this doesn’t end in tragedy.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“I’ll tell you as soon as I can think of a convincing reason!”

Tattletale was on the street, alone, facing down Bitch, two dogs and one wolf on full-tilt mutation-mode.  They advanced with measured steps, keeping close to their master.

I landed beside Tattletale, and the two of us made eye contact.


“A-Carnelian,” she answered.  “You understand if I don’t trust you implicitly, here?”

“I do.  Listen, I’ve got a cure-”

“Who the fuck are you!?”  Rachel shouted.

I shut my mouth and turned to face her.

I was secretly glad the dogs hadn’t turned on her, as that probably would have meant the death of a teammate, but I was getting a firsthand look at what our enemies had to deal with.  The dogs were big and vicious enough that if they attacked, there wasn’t a whole lot I could have done.  Heck, Tattletale and I together couldn’t have managed much of a defense against one of the creatures, let alone three.

“We’re teammates,” I told her.  “I was just fighting the Nine, I’ve got a cure for this thing.”

“Or you’re going to kill me the second I let my guard down.”

I’d been conned by the Nine.  Tricked into letting them get access to certain information.  Bitch wouldn’t have fallen for that, but that came with the caveat that she was that much harder for us to reassure.

“I can put my weapons away.  Or give them to you.”

“I’m not that stupid,” she growled the words.  “Don’t treat me like I’m retarded.  I’m not.  I know you have powers.”

“That wasn’t what I wanted to say,” I said.  I kept my voice low, my tone as calm as I could manage.  “I was just saying I’d disarm myself if it would reassure you.”

“The only thing that’s going to make me feel any better is getting the fuck away from here.  But she wouldn’t get out of my way.”

“If you leave,” Tattletale told her, “You’ll go straight to the Trainyard, to your other dogs, and you’ll get worse.  You’ll wind up isolated from the rest of us.  And I think the Nine want that.  They wanted people for their group, and doesn’t this set their candidates up for easy recruiting?  Separate them from their previous attachments, leave them vulnerable and lost, then give them the hard sell.”

“Not that you’re wrong,” I said, glancing at Tattletale while trying to keep the dogs in sight, “I saw Jack trying that with Panacea.  But Bitch tends to see it as slimy or conniving when someone talks a lot.”

“I see.  You want to try, then?”

Bentley growled.  It didn’t sound like a dog growl.  What worried me, though, was Bastard.  He was untrained enough that he wouldn’t necessarily listen to Bitch, and big enough to feel confident about attacking.

Not that I was positive she would stop him if he attacked.  As much as she felt like she’d feel more secure on her own, Bitch might well decide she could resolve this situation by killing anyone who threatened her.  It wasn’t that she was the murdering type, but she didn’t have the innate sympathy for her fellow humans.  She cared as little about murdering us as I might feel about killing two dogs if I felt like my life was on the line.

I’d been in a similar headspace, trying to figure out who was friendly and who wasn’t.  Jack had been more on the ball than I, and I’d fallen for his ploy.  I’d deal with the guilt over what that might mean at a later point.

“A little while ago, we spent some time in one of your shelters.  I’m guessing you don’t remember who, but you remember chilling out and eating Greek food with someone?”

“You could have found that out through someone else.”

“I know.  That’s not what I’m saying.  I’m just wanting you to think about that feeling.  I’d like to think we got along, as far as people like you and people like me can get along with others.”

“Doesn’t mean anything to me now.”

“Okay.”  I let my arms drop to my sides.

“That’s it?  That’s your argument?”

“I don’t really have much better.  I know that if I tried to convince you using logic and a well worded argument, you’d feel like I was being manipulative.  All I can say is that we had a good time then, we were friendly.  I know we parted ways some time after that, but I’d really like to get back to that point.  So I’m appealing to that emotional attachment, I guess.”

“You think I’m attached to you?”

This again.  This situation seemed to be highlighting the worst parts of people and twisting others.  Amy’s paranoia, Legend’s battle instincts, Bitch’s antisocial tendencies, and my… whatever it was, that led to me trusting Jack.

“Yeah.  I’m making that assumption,” I told her.

“Fuck you.”

She advanced, and I stayed put.  Sirius growled.

“I’m not your enemy,” I said.

“We’ll attack you.”

“If you do, maybe the cure will get transmitted to your dog, and then to you.”

“You’re not that stupid.”

I shook my head.  “Not really.  But I don’t think you’ll attack me, either.”

She advanced closer.  Sirius growled again, and she held one hand out to stop him.

So glad they still listen to her.  This would be a disaster if the dogs were on a rampage.  I supposed the miasma was slower to affect them, given their mass, or the vectors it affected weren’t present or as predominant in dogs.

She stepped close, until her nose was an inch from mine.  She stared unflinching into my eyes.  I met her gaze with that same unforgiving hardness.

“No way I could like someone like you.”  The words were like the twist of a knife.  Hostility and aggression combined with pure, petty malice.

“Just going by looks, when you can’t see half my face?” I asked.  Without breaking eye contact, I reached up and pulled down the lower half of my mask.  “You don’t recognize me?”

She didn’t glance away from my eyes.  “No.  Now move.  I will order them to attack.”

She would.  She could.

I leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on her lips.

Her punch knocked me off my feet and sent my glasses flying off my face to land in the water somewhere nearby.

“The fuck!?”  She shouted.  One of the dogs growled, deep, as if to complement her anger with a threat of his own.

“You’re cured,” I told her.  “That’s it, that’s all it takes.”

She stared down at me.

If this doesn’t work, she might kill me for real.

Tattletale helped me to my feet and handed me my glasses.  I got my mask in place around the lower half of my face and then gathered bugs over the mask and glasses to hide my features.

“How’s that work?”  Tattletale asked.

“The effects are being generated by a parasite.  Panacea changed the parasite to some kind of symbiotic species that overrides the effects of Bonesaw’s work and heals the effects on the brain.  My bodily fluids are carrying it.  That means that right now, the parasites in Bitch’s bodies should be dying or getting replaced or transformed or something.  I hope.”

I dusted myself off, wiped at my costume where I’d landed in the water, and made sure none of my belongings had dropped from their positions in my armor or my belt.

I didn’t hurry to meet Bitch’s eyes, because I knew that when I did, I’d have to maintain that gaze.  Only when I was done did I meet her eyes.

She took her time responding.  “I was going to have Bentley break you.”

It worked.

“Glad you didn’t.”


Why had I done it?  I’d tried to explain it to her so many times.  I couldn’t bring myself to do it again.

“Doesn’t matter.”

Tattletale pointed down at the water just behind me.  I turned around and looked.  Where I’d landed on my back, the water was changing from red to a relatively clear state.  ‘Relatively’ only because the water hadn’t been that clear to begin with.  “Guess it’s working.”

“Good,” I said.  The last swirls of red disappeared from around my feet, and the water around me began to change back to normal.  With increasing speed, the water around us began to transition back to normal at nearly the speed the effect had spread in the first place.  It extended out in every direction, promising to revert most or all of the affected bodies of water.

“You couldn’t have waited until after you’d cured me before you put the bugs on your face?”  Tattletale asked.  She was smiling as she asked it.  “Unless you want me to drink that water.”

“Sorry.  No, I’ll help you out.”

She gave me a stern look, pointed at me, and said, “No tongue.”

I rolled my eyes, scattered the bugs, pulled my mask down and leaned over to give her a quick peck on the lips.

“Now fill me in.  I’ll fill in the blanks as you explain, and hopefully it’ll work fast enough that I can catch up.”

“Jack and Bonesaw tricked me and Coil to figure out where both Cherish and Amy were.  I gave chase, and Jack left before he accomplished anything more than head games.”

“State she’s in, head games are pretty serious.”

“Maybe.  But at least she didn’t cave on his demands.”


“The bad thing is… Jack knows about Dinah’s prophecy.”

Tattletale looked as though I’d slapped her.  “Shit.”

“I mean, her numbers weren’t that good as far as our mortality rate going up against the Nine, so maybe she’s wrong about-”

I stopped as Tattletale shook her head.

“Depends how you interpret it,” she said. “The kid sounded pretty certain.  Anyways, keep going.”

“Siberian’s somewhere downtown, her real body in some kind of case, maybe.”

“I think we might have run into her,” Tattletale said.  “I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to details, mostly just trying to avoid trouble.  But I’m pretty sure she was hauling around something big.  Fuck, I think she might have had a friend.”

“A friend?”


I nodded slowly.  “Where was she headed?”


“Where did Coil stick Cherish?”

Tattletale made a face.  “North.”

If there had been a wall in reach, I would have punched it.  “Wonderful.”

“Explain?” Bitch asked.

“They’re heading over to Cherish’s location, I’m almost a hundred percent positive,” Tattletale explained.  “If Siberian’s heading there to rendezvous with them, then any further encounters with them are going to be ugly.  Doubly so if they have new blood on their team.”

“Hookwolf’s under the influence of Bonesaw’s miasma,” I added.  “Don’t know what his reasons were for staying here, but the miasma seems to have eliminated that.  He’s with the Nine.  Maybe permanently.  Bonesaw will keep it from killing him, I guess.”

“So they got their candidate?”

“And,” I addressed Bitch as I spoke, “They might be looking for more candidates to round out their group.  If they left Siberian behind to try to recruit Hookwolf, and they tried a pretty aggressive strategy against Panacea, then they might make another stab at recruiting you.  Or Regent.”

“Or Noelle,” Tattletale added.

Why did that give me such a bad feeling?

I sighed.  “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.  I think we should give chase.”

“Head to where Cherish is?”

I nodded.  “It hasn’t been too long, so they won’t have much time to prepare any counterattack.  It does still leave the problem of finding the others and curing them before something bad happens.”

“If the cure is contagious…  Bitch, you think you could work on finding and curing the others?”


I spoke up, “Cure your dogs.  Spit in their mouths, whatever.  Then see about tracking down the others, ambushing them, and having the dogs lick their faces?”

She scowled.  “I haven’t trained ’em to do that.”

“You’ve got ten minutes to teach them,” Tattletale grinned.


“You’ll see about curing the others?”

“Yeah.”  Bitch pointed, “But it won’t work with my dogs.  They kill any parasites while my power’s working.”

Right.  I could remember curing Sirius of heartworm.

I shrugged.  “Another way?  Maybe if you dose some fresh water with the new parasites, spit in it, then splash people?  People are going to start getting better fast, with the water changing, but let’s make sure our side is okay?”

Bitch nodded once, curt.

“And can you loan me Bentley?”  Tattletale asked.

“I’m starting to wonder why I’m on this team,” Bitch grumbled.

“You have to ask?” Tattletale grinned as she approached Bentley.

“I know it’s just words,” I told Bitch, “But I’m glad you’re back.”

She stared at me like I was speaking Klingon.

“Let’s go,” Tattletale said, as she climbed onto Bentley.  He growled, but she didn’t seem to mind.  Maybe his bark was worse than his bite and she knew it?

Either way, I decided to trust her and took off.

I’d done my part, and I’d have to trust Bitch to complete the task.

I was making more forward progress than Tattletale, though I could feel Atlas fatiguing.  It wasn’t the same as the fatigue I experienced, but he was slowing down fractionally in his wingbeats per second.  It stood to reason.  He was big, and he hadn’t eaten since he was created.  That was compounded by the fact that he’d been going full-bore with minimal chance to rest.

Still, we had the advantage of being able to fly over obstacles, which was something I was gaining a greater appreciation of since I’d gotten the hang of flying him.

With Atlas being tired, not wanting to lose track of Tattletale, I kept our flight close to the ground.

“Where is she?” I called out, as I met her pace.

“Boat Graveyard.  Beached ship, she’s in the hold.”

“Coil told you this?”

“No, but he’ll forgive me for figuring it out, given circumstances.”

“If you’re sure.”

It wasn’t a short trip.  Our destination was north of the market, and the market was a distance from my house.  We were making our way from downtown to the Boat Graveyard.

When the local industry had collapsed, the Boat Graveyard had been something of a staging ground for the irate dock workers.  Shipping companies based in Brockton Bay saw the signs of what was coming and trapped other boats in the harbor as a form of protest, to ensure they weren’t walking away empty-handed.  Police had made arrests, but actually moving the ships out of the way required sailors, and the move had mobilized enough of them that clearing the upper areas of the docks of the ships became all but impossible.  Things capped off with fights, gunfire and a deliberate sinking of a container ship by one of the protesters.

Opinions varied on whether the incident had been a symptom or a cause of the collapse.  Either way, the result was the Boat Graveyard- an entire section of the coastline where boats had sat for so long that they’d rusted or taken on water.

We paused at the top of a hill overlooking the scene: forty or fifty derelict ships, some bigger in sheer mass than the skyscrapers downtown.  Leviathan’s waves had slammed them all into the coastline, smashing them against one another and turning more than a few into something unrecognizable.

Even with Tattletale’s hint, I wasn’t sure I could have found where Cherish was lurking.

“How do we find her before she finds us?” I asked.

“We don’t.  She knows where we are.”

I scanned the wreckage with my eyes.  Would Siberian pop out?  Hookwolf?

“They aren’t attacking.”

Tattletale shook her head, but she didn’t speak.

My bugs began searching for signs of life.

“You outrange her,” Tattletale spoke.  “You detect them, you attack before she can whammy us.”

“Yeah.”  Fat lot of good it’ll do with Siberian there.

I was getting a sense of why there wasn’t any foot traffic here.  Even on land, the force of Leviathan’s tidal wave had sent age-worn sheets of metal flying over the landscape.  Ragged edges of rusty sheet metal waited under every step I took, scraping and stabbing against the soles of my costumed feet.  Tattletale was relying on Bentley’s weight and durability to handle anything that waited underfoot.  He was still panting hard from the run.

My swarm sense alerted me to life in the hold of a ship.  The space was half-filled with sand, and water had leaked in through a hole in the side of the ship.  If supplies were delivered by way of remote control, that was a likely route.

Seven people.  Three male, four females, one of whom was young.  A child, long-haired.  That would be Bonesaw.

“There?”  I pointed at the location.  It was barely visible from where we stood; two ships had been slammed against one another, nose to nose, and they formed a precarious arch over the ship in question.


“I’ve found them, I think.  I think Siberian’s there.  There’s a lot of people, anyways.  Seven.”

“How much damage do you think you can do?”

“Not enough.”

We paused.

“Cherish should be alerting them,” Tattletale spoke.  “I’m surprised they aren’t mounting a counterattack.”

“Maybe they can’t?  If they split up, Siberian won’t be able to protect everyone,” I said.

“Well, getting closer is a pretty bad idea.”

“Do we have a choice?”

“We hang back, we follow them, we strike if we spot an opportunity.  Between Bentley and Atlas, we can keep at a distance.”

I shook my head.  “Bentley’s tired, and I don’t know how long Atlas is going to be able to keep flying.”

“They’ll manage.”

“You sure?”

“Pretty sure.”

Pretty sure.  So she wasn’t positive.

“There’s another possibility,” she ventured.

“Do tell.”

“Cherish might not be saying anything because she wants us to attack the others.”

“Or,” I pointed out, “The Nine are giving us that impression because they want us to think that so they can turn the tables.”

“That line of thinking leads to madness.”

“Call me crazy, but I’d rather not gamble.”

“So?  What’s the plan?”

“We wait?  At least a little while.”

“Sure.”  She gave the bulldog a pat on the head.  “Give Bentley a chance to rest.  You can feed Atlas.”

“Pretty narrow window of time,” I added.  “Bitch’s effects on the dogs don’t last that long.  Figure twenty minutes, and we took at least fifteen to get here…”

“But she gave them more juice than usual.  I’d say roughly ten minutes before he’s too small to carry me,” Tattletale said.

“Ten minutes.”

We settled into a position behind cover, and I began drawing bugs to me to feed Atlas.  I wasn’t positive about his diet, and Grue had said that he’d given Atlas a more human digestive system, which left me uncertain.  That said, Atlas was made of bugs, I figured he required the nutrients they provided on a sheer logical level, like how humans would generally get most of the nutrients they needed by eating other humans, if they had to.  That, and I’d pointed out to the rest of the group how bugs were something we could eat as humans, so his digestive tract could probably manage them.

It was also the easiest thing to provide.

“You have eyes on them?”

“Minimal.  My interpretation via the swarm’s eyes and ears is still garbage, as always.  And I didn’t want to have so many around them that they get suspicious.”

“Can’t make out what they’re saying?”

I shook my head.  Still, I could tell that they were talking.

Seven of them.  One of the men was garbed in smooth body armor that covered everything.  Mannequin.  There was another man who could have been Siberian’s real self or Hookwolf.  Long haired, shirtless.  My bugs traced the edges of knives at one man’s belt: He was the quietest, and was pacing without cease, sitting down, then pacing again.  Jack.

Three women, none of whom were Siberian if I accounted for the presence of clothing and the texture of their skin.  Rounding out the group was a little girl with long hair.  One of the women was doing most of the talking.  Would that be Shatterbird or Cherish?  Who was the third?  Had the Nine gotten their hands on Noelle?

It unsettled me that Jack wasn’t taking more of a lead in the conversation.  Maybe Cherish was just dishing out the dirt?

“The dynamic seems wrong,” I said.  “Something’s off.  Not sure if Siberian’s present or not, Bonesaw’s quiet and Jack is mute.”

“Maybe Cherish took control?” Tattletale ventured.

It was a scary thought.  The Nine were strong, and one of the only reasons they weren’t a bigger problem was that they were their own worst enemies.  Most of our victories to date had been because we exploited their character weaknesses.  Under a leader…

“No.  Bonesaw took measures.”

“Maybe Cherish found a way around it?”

I didn’t have a response for that.  Minutes passed, and the Nine lapsed into silence.  Some were resting.  Or pretending to rest.

“They’re napping or something,” I said.

“Could be baiting you.”

“That’s what I was thinking.”

“And Bentley’s getting too small to help me make an exit.”

“Atlas can manage with just me,” I told her.

“Going alone?  No.  Grue would kill me.  It’s senseless.  I can call Coil, so we can get a squad of soldiers in place to try and take someone out.  Or maybe we get the Director to bomb the area.”

“Because that’s worked so well this far.”

Tattletale smiled a little.  “What would you rather do?  Going in is suicide.  You’d be opening yourself up to Cherish’s power.”

“She’s resting.”

“You think.”

“Not sure which person she is, but her breathing is really regular, has been for a while.”

“And she could be faking it, a hundred percent aware that you’re thinking what you’re thinking.”

“Yeah,” I admitted.

“Why are you so fixated on this?  On going in?”

“I want to end this.”

“That’s not your real reason.”

“And I feel like something’s wrong.  The details don’t jibe.”

“That’s a less than stellar reason to put yourself at that kind of risk.”

“There’s a chance Siberian isn’t here, or isn’t in a state to defend her allies.  But… I can’t bring myself to attack.”

“This is a shitty time to have an attack of conscience.”

“You sound like Jack.  He tried to push me to kill while I thought he was Grue.”

“You’ll have to explain how all that happened at a later date.  Jack’s good at fucking with people’s heads.  It could still be a trap.”

“It could.”


“I’ve got this feeling in my gut, like I had when I was around Jack and Bonesaw, and I wish I’d trusted it then.  I don’t want to doubt it now.”

“A gut feeling?”

I nodded, once.

She sighed.  “What can I do?”

“Get out of here.  I don’t want to hurt you if I fall under Cherish’s control, which is supposed to be pretty short-lived.  In case she plans to make it more long-term, maybe call the PRT director and arrange a firebomb if I don’t report back?”

Tattletale made a face.  “This is dumb.”

“I’ve done dumb things.  I somehow don’t feel like this is one of them.”

“Go, then.  Call me as soon as it’s safe.”

I nodded.

She headed out of the graveyard with Bentley.  I waited a few minutes, until she was out of my power’s range.

Atlas and I crossed the gap to the ship.  I waited for the hit of Cherish’s power, but it didn’t come.

My bugs sensed more of Bonesaw’s traps – areas heavy with fog, or where vials had been thrown, placed or dropped.  I was glad there wasn’t any of the extermination smoke.  I set foot on the tilted deck and began slowly making my way into the ship.  My soft soled costumed feet were quiet, barely audible to myself.

I drew my gun, readying myself to fire the second I was in range.  If Cherish was setting up the Nine for me, I was pretty sure I could hit one and get away before trouble arose.  It was a feeble thought – even Jack, one of their most vulnerable members, hadn’t fallen to gunfire.  Still, it was reassuring.

More traps forced me to make slower progress through the labyrinthine ship’s interior.  It was a while before I could stop at the outside of the door at the lowest point of the ship.

I heard sobbing.

I stepped through the doorway and took in the room’s interior.

The floor sloped one way.  Half of the room was metal flooring covered in sand, the lowest half was submerged.

Three men, three women and a girl.  The man with knives in his belt stood, then began the ritual pacing once again.  His feet were raw where the rusted metal deck had cut at them.  The others sat and stood in various points around the hull.

I withdrew my phone and called Tattletale.

“That was fast.”

“It’s not the Nine.  Decoys.”

I stared at them.  The disguises had been rushed but thorough.  Jack and Bonesaw had clearly changed clothes with the people in question, and Bonesaw had whipped up something approximating Mannequin’s armor for one of the men.

“Call Coil, get medics here.  It’s Bonesaw’s work, so he might need to call on some expert surgeons to undo whatever she did.  I’ll use my bugs to mark out the traps that Bonesaw set up inside.”

“On it.”  She hung up.

Paralysis, compulsive movements.  Puppets.  Decoys.  Had this been Jack’s attempt to make me betray my morals?  Setting up decoys with the idea that I’d attack first and check later?  If I’d gone with my first impulse and tried to kill them, I’d have seven civilian deaths on my hands.

“Help is on the way, guys.  I’m sorry about this.”

“Thank you,” the twenty-something woman I’d guessed to be Cherish spoke.  The others were mute.

I saw drag marks in the sand, leading to the water.  Who had that been?

The knife was the last thing I spotted.  It had been slammed into the metal hull of the boat.  I stepped over the chain and collar that had probably been attached to Cherish.  I pulled the knife free of the wall and used my bugs to catch the note before it fluttered to the floor.

We concede our loss to you, Brockton Bay.  As per my agreement with Miss Amelia, we’ll be leaving your fascinating city.  It was fun.

Don’t worry about Cherish.  She’s sleeping somewhere at the bottom of the bay.  Bonesaw was kind enough to crank up her receptive range toward negative emotions and remove her filters.  The girl will personally experience every awful feeling Brockton Bay’s inhabitants do- and with the benefit of Alan’s tech, she’ll get to do it for a very, very, very long time.  

A departure marked not with a bang, but a whimper.  I’m sure you understand.

Yours truly,


Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

149 thoughts on “Prey 14.11

  1. Is it wrong that I was really hoping Taylor would kill SOMEONE in this arc? I know she has left people to die, but it would have been very interesting to see how she mentally dealt with having killed someone herself.

    • I agree with you there, I was seriously expecting her to have offed at least one of the nine by the time they left/died.

      In any case the nine are still mostly finished now. Siberian will be killed next time they make an appearance, Jack is now public enemy number zero and the rest of their membership is unlikely to balance that out.

      Meanwhile the loss of Hookwolf, possibly purity or a hero…maybe Battery, leaves Coil and co in a very nice final position.

      • Why does everyone assume Siberian will be easy to deal with just because her weakness was revealed?Sure,(s)he is now killable,but she fought the strongest superhero that is not one of the big 5,the man who probably had the most experience in the world,after said superhero got knowlege of that,and won…Siberian seems like a pretty damn god ighter,and with Bonesaw itt won’t be possible to take out her creator in one hit,anyway (perhaps you can ohko him with some superpowers,but it is still not gonnabe a cakewalk).

        As for Jack,there was a man in WW2 ,I think,that freed a whole village alone,another who raked up more than 500 kills….ability comes a long way to make you survive and win unplausible circumstances,and Jack has it….and ,again,Bonesaw modifications.

  2. In the back of my mind I was hoping Jack would get his, but a little voice in my head said Wildbow is gonna toss a twist and turn in there for a surprise ending 🙂

  3. Fantastic. I will need to reread a bit, there are a few things niggling at me. I love how it turned out. And really, an overly dramatic final confrontation would have either killed off the doom of humanity or given the Nine the sort of exit they like… Maybe both.
    “Don’t worry about Cherish.” Such a great line. Since it is pretty much guaranteed to make people worry quite a bit.

    “while I”d been” Quotation mark instead of an apostrophe.
    “Jack had been more on the ball than I, I’d fall for it.” Not quite sure exactly how best to parse this.
    “pretty aggressive strategy against Bonesaw” Against Panacea?
    “was north of the” North should be capitalized. Boat Graveyard might be, too, since it’s used as a proper noun.
    “turning more than a few into .” Missing word. Jetsam?
    “inhabitants do, and” maybe a dash instead of a comma?
    Mc2 beat me to the last one=P

  4. As far as I could tell, it wasn’t really advancing into the borth end of the city.

    Will add more as I run into em.

    (On a side note I archive binged the whole story and I have to say I really liked it thank you.)

    • Thank you for reading. Always nice to see when people like it enough to binge it.

      If you’re enjoying, a vote on topwebfiction or a review on WFG is a great way to spread the word. Mentioning it to friends & on sites you frequent is also fantastic.

      Sorry for taking the excuse to plug the story. Fix made.

  5. I guess the Jack/Theo fight is still in the cards; I didn’t think much of the promise at the time since Kaiser kicked it long before whatever plan he referred to in Purity’s interlude came to fruition. Fantastic arc and I look forward to whatever comes next!

  6. Question, guys – I’m thinking of squeezing another short arc into the agenda before I get to the bonus week (I really didn’t expect to hit the deadline so soon, or for this arc to run as long as it did). By which I mean I’d intended to have one more arc, then the bonus week and now it’d be two arcs, one of which would be short, followed by the bonus week. It’d mean delaying said event for three weeks to a month, but I think it makes for a better story flow. And there’s the bonus of having more Worm. A little more wind-down time, if you will, and a chance to fit in events and stuff that I’d originally plotted for this arc that just didn’t wind up happening.

    That said, if anyone (particularly those who were kind enough to donate) really wants to see it, and if you feel bothered at the notion of the delay, please do say so, and I’ll stick with the original plan.

    At the end of the day, I just want my readers to be happy, and I wouldn’t be thinking along these lines if I didn’t. Conversely, I don’t want to come across as unreliable.

  7. So I wonder whether the Undersiders, so soon after their attack on the Wards HQ, will be so quick to trust that none of the decoys aren’t actually members of the Nine remade to look like someone who looks like a member of the Nine.

    I really want to know where Battery ended up.

  8. A thank you goes out to Travis and Nick for their donations.

    As it stands, to clarify:
    One bonus chapter coming up in two days.
    Another bonus chapter in 9 days.
    And a bonus week coming up at the conclusion of the next leg of the story, which is either going to be one or two arcs (tending towards the latter going by feedback thus far).

    Thanks guys. Do say the word if you have a perspective you want to see (keeping in mind I try not to repeat anyone)

    • We still have not had all the Undersiders – some Grue and Regent would be good. Especially the latter, so we could finally get a real idea about what is going on inside Alec’s head.
      Otherwise, Legend or someone else from the side of the angels – I am sure I am not the only one who wants to know how they deal with the aftermath.

          • also, a question: just how freaking fast can bonesaw and mannequin work?! specifically, how did mannequin manage to make up a capsule/whatever else for Cherish in a shipyard within minutes and how did bonesaw do the surgical stuff and the work on Cherish in the same time?

            • I have wondered this. Where do these tinkers store their tools?! Especially Mannequin – shaping ceramic needs both time and equipment! Plus raw materials, if it’s sizeable enough to encase a person the size of Cherish…

              I tend to read “tinker” as “wizard who can conjure their specialist kind of technology from thin air” these days. And curiously, given how much of a stickler I usually am for consistency and such, I don’t really mind.

            • For this case, Bonesaw and Mannequin have been working on this project since Cherish’s scheme was revealed, possibly since she started the scheme (see Jack’s interlude).

        • Taylor is putting forward her plan to hook up with the entire Undersider team. Drawing them all in slowly over time. The only real problem she is going to have is bringing Aisha into the orgy once she already has Grue.

        • No you are not the only one. Tattletale just had to go and ruin it by saying “no-tongue.” Though I take this to be said with a half grin and actually secretly wanting it. Kissing bitch was utterly hilarious though. Poor Taylor never got to find Brian to “cure” him as well though. Too bad for her, better for the shippers. Wildbow you were too cruel. A quick peck on the lips is not nearly enough to sate us.

        • There is definitely not enough kissing between Tattletale and Skitter. Even fanfic authors are letting the side down.

      • Tis the curse of comedy! My joke about Skitter kissing Bitch was more accurate than my science!


        Still, at least Cherish will get to cherish the feelings she helped cause.

      • We actually had a big piece from Regent’s perspective — the chapter about him controlling Shadow Stalker.

        Also, regarding the speed of Bonesaw and Mannequin’s work, one can only assume Jack had Cherish’s fate planned for a while now, and probably had Bonesaw have something on standby for such a need as this as well. And she has already had plenty of experience making these kinds of body mods — the Nine’s forms are probably pre-programmed into her spiders. She just gives the command.

        sudo spdrcmd fetch 7
        sudo spdrcmd dummies –all –no-crawler


        • Might as well share: Siberian’s real body was being kept in a specialized case created by Bonesaw with some Mannequin components. Left in there for an hour to regenerate/weather the venoms. Relatively easy process to get him out, put Cherish in, do the surgery on her corona aurora, change some settings and seal her inside.

          • Oooooooooooooooh, who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Cherish, Cherish!

            Unda da sea! Unda da sea! Baby it’s betta, down where it’s wetta, take it from meeeeee!

            Can kind of see her becoming the Siren of Brockton Bay. Any who dare dive near a certain point are drawn towards her, to their doom, in an obsession to locate a relic of the Nine’s visit.

          • That’s not nearly as horrible as I thought’d be, but only for about a percent or two.

            The way I figured it, Bonesaw stripped all the flesh off Cherish and stuffed the pile of organs and misery into a mannequin-brand ™ beach ball before chucking it and a weight into the ocean.

          • That would almost be better, wouldn’t it? Not from an objective perspective (‘ew, organs in a ball’), but from Cherish’s (essentially the same thing, but still unable to move or break free, unable to die).

            • I didn’t particularly like Cherish but…that seems unnecessarily cruel to her. While she was ruthless and definitely bad she didn’t strike me as being at anywhere near the level of say Mannequin, Bonesaw or Jack. She was a screwed up kid who got into a bad situation and had burned too many bridges to figure a way out. She’s almost as much a victim of circumstance and upbringing as Bitch. I just feel bad for her. I doubt she could be fixed or that anyone would be willing to do it or even that I want her fixed but…a quick death? Or at least a death in the near future would be good. What they did to her? Bonesaw deserves something like that. Cherish really didn’t from what we were shown. I hope someone searches for that pod and puts the poor girl out of her misery. Suffering like that for decades is simply too cruel.

  9. Really awesome. I like how Jack alludes to the world ending using the “hollow men” reference. Very nice.

  10. I love how much worse the nine are than the normal bad guys and not just little like the joker in
    In the batman comics.
    but so obvious meaner,curler, and more cunning.
    if you had write the joker character for batman I would read the comics on that fact alone.

    oh P.S.

    found these and thought of bonesaw and would like your a pinyon.

  11. Damn, they got away. Headcount!

    Shatterbird’s either dead or captured. Since the Nine would have an idea what Regent can do, they’d likely kill her. Aside from that, she might be brought in by the PRT. Unlike Cherish, she won’t be sleeping with the fishes.

    Cherish got turned into a genie in a bottle who gets to feel every bad thing around. For a mercy kill, Skitter can always send over some lobsters to nibble at her. Not that it’ll do any good.

    Burnscar: This is your head on Grue. *puts on a long wig that covers his entire body, pulls out a club, and smashes a skull to pieces* Any questions?

    The only advantage Crawler never evolved was a brain capable of intelligent thought. What the heroes never learned is that his secret weakness was a wedgie. This is what happens when no one around uses grappling hooks.

    Hatchet Face isn’t coming back for a sequel this time now that he and Oni Lee died in their arms tonight. It must have been something Sundancer said.

    Jack Slash lives to be a psychopath another day. I hope everyone realizes this puts an even darker spin on the story. I hope the old people got some sex in, because it looks like any kids around aren’t going to enjoy it when the world ends in a few years. Hope you didn’t have any plans after college, Skitter.

    Siberian seems to still be with them, unfortunately. Oh goody, the indestructible killing machine is still around. Maybe the next villain of the story can be Genoscythe the Eye Raper.

    I’m holding out for the possibility that Mannequin’s guts are currently showing off the new fall line. He’s a slippery little fashion test dummy, but if he’s dead then his chest makes a perfect home for Cherish.

    Hookwolf might just be the new member of the group. Don’t know if he’d be pissed or pissing his pants, but I don’t like his odds of survival. He’s been impressed so hard, the war of 1812 is about to start. Just a little history joke. Watson, get in here, I’m dying on stage!

    Bonesaw survives as well. I guess ending the world is better than what she was doing before Jack found her, when she got really crazy with the plastic surgery.

    • The fake Mannequin, among other things implies that he lived through the bombing. I had previously thought that he was one of the weaker members of the Nine since Skitter fended him off solo, his main armament was knives, and two normal strength humans compromised his head by hitting it- still pretty tough but a bit low compared to Crawler and Bonesaw’s enhancement. So how the hell did he live through the bombing? Did Clockblocker’s trap run out, did Mannequin disassemble himself and slip out? Or is he that badass? And who is the 7th person they left a decoy for? Jack, Bonesaw, Hookwolf, Siberian and Mannequin appear to be the current lineup, with Cherish dead, leaving one person. It COULD be Shatterbird but I doubt Regent would let go of her even if he couldn’t remember who she was, just on principle, and Battery was incapacitated so she couldn’t have interfered. So who is the 7th member? Did they go and grab Panacea? Jack said he would leave if she would indulge herself, which I guess curing the plague COULD count as but she seemed pretty vulnerable; did they pick her up before leaving town? Who else has been pressed into service? This is really going to bug me. You are great at creating Wildbow- that still stands even if I’m miscounting or something to make the 7-people thing seem a bigger deal than it is.

      • I’m thinking the way Mannequin survived is he had crawler bury his brain case. Then he fired off some sort of signal and Bonesaw’s spiders dug him out.

      • If the number means anything, I’d say it was supposed to be Jack, Bonesaw, Hookwolf, Siberian, Mannequin, Siberian’s maker (they know about him now), and Cherish (expecting them to go to her is the only reason someone would have found them there that quickly).

        However, I don’t like Wildbow chuckling.

        And Mannequin isn’t as tough directly as Siberian or Crawler, but he’s very agile and isn’t that bad at avoiding the blow or taking it well enough to reduce the damage it does. That whole “willow” analogy that’s used for that part is pretty good, but I thought of it like a football player or a drunk driver. If you tense up before a collision, you’re going to get hurt. It’s the people who roll with it either due to preparedness or drunkenness that make it through ok.

        Seemed like they lost track of Mannequin fairly soon as they concentrated on Crawler. He might have time to either get out of range or fit himself into a spot with a LOT of cover between him and the blast.

  12. You know, thinking about it, Skitter dipping her bugs in cured water (just legs or something) and landing them on people would be so much more effective than Bitch and her dogs (who are going to scare the crap out of people).

  13. 1. Bonesaw likes Panacea and wants her on the team.

    2. Bonesaw knows Jack’s plan is to make Panacea break her brain rule.

    3. Bonesaw designs a bioweapon that affects the brain. If anyone wants to heal it, they have to be able and willing to mess with brains.

    • Thanks for sharing, angry-looking cigar-smoking rabbit man.

      I read up on some similar stuff before going ahead and creating Atlas, though I hadn’t seen that video in particular.

  14. Did you mean to italicize the entire line “one of the creatures”, because it just reads really weird to me. I almost never see entire phrases italicized, it is usually just one word for emphasis.

  15. Hmm. Is this arc over then? It didn’t end the way I thought it would, that’s for sure. But so far the story hasn’t done anything I thought it would. So what happens now? The world is gonna end?

    That’s what kinda bothers me. The timing on this. I don’t know if I read it wrong or what.

    Skitter flies for a few minutes (I believe) and finds Tattletale/Bitch. Maybe 5 minutes later if that she and Tattletale are headed for Cherish.

    The Nine aren’t supposed to be far ahead of them, but somehow capture 7 people, change not only their body, but make them walk/move/whatever? And have time to do brain surgery on Cherish, and lock her in a Mannequin suit.

    Well…. Where did they get the Mannequin suit? And how on earth did they get all that done in that short of time? Skitter mentioned they barely had a lead at all. Bonesaw and Jack were on foot, Skitter flew, and Tattletale rode a dog.

    So, I just don’t understand. How could they have done all that and escaped the city in just a few minutes?

    IDK. I’m a little upset, because it feels like the Nine just magically got away. With all they did they might be a few minutes ahead, but in the city they’d have to be on foot right? So they didn’t get out yet?

    Anyways, enough complaining. I liked the Team Interaction thing again. I’m glad everything is starting to work out. Also, my bet on the mysterious last person in the 9 is Imp, just because. I’m all for a cooldown chapter/arc, and personally, I’m still voting for either a Taylor’s Dad interlude or a Grue interlude. Otherwise one of the Travellers. Genesis might be interesting.

    I guess I should point out that my favorite interludes give perspectives of our heroes from an outside point of view. It’s always fun to see what someone else thinks about them.

    Anyways, I hope Skitter gets everyone cured. Also, I laughed at the Tattletale thing – No Tongue! Oh, I know Skitter cares about Bitch and all, but with the way everyone is talking about Panacea being a pain, Bitch needs to stop being her namesake. Skitter has saved her life how many times now? Suck it up and be nice Rachel. Jesus, what’s it gonna take, if saving your life isn’t enough?

    Oh, lastly, what is the “bonus” week gonna be about? A miniature story of some sort? Is it a surprise?

    Anyways, I still really like this story! Keep up the good work! 🙂

    • Perhaps a failure on my part to make it clear, but Taylor’s detour to downtown carried her directly away from the Nine. More than a few minutes out of her way, then she had to turn around and head to the northernmost end of Brockton Bay. Not a quick trip either way.

      The bonus week is something I’m keeping a secret. Sorry. 🙂

      • Sorry to say this, but I think they were still able to travel far faster than they should. A disaster area takes a lot longer to travel through than you might think. I think I heard even 10 miles per day on foot is pushing it.

        Count on at least an hour for surgery (I know, this isn’t a typical surgery, because Bonesaw doesn’t have to be super precise, but she’s also dealing with more parts of the body than is typical and she still has to exert some caution so she doesn’t rupture the organs).

        You also have to wonder about equipment. No electricity and her minions are elsewhere. Presumably, Jack handles the nursing stations and maybe the cuts (can he make a hunting knife behave like a scalpel?). Oh well, all fiction has to have some limits to realism.

        • Fair enough. I admit I was wondering if it was pushing it, myself.

          I’m not going to rewrite it anytime soon, but it’s something to tackle when I get around to a large scale rewrite. Wish I hadn’t been so rushed, so I could have addressed my doubts on the subject before it went live.

    • I was thinking the same thing with the timeline. The only way I can see it working is if Siberian was waiting right outside the school and she transported them, …and Hookwolf and the seven victims as well?? Could she do all that? But another thing…how did they even find Cherish so fast, without the benefit of Tattletale’s precognition or Skitter’s bugs? This needs some explanation, so I look forward to more details coming out in later chapters. Note: scroll up in the comments and you’ll see Wildbow has already explained where Cherish’s sarcophagus came from.

      • The answer as to how they found Cherish is deceptively simple. They just needed to find the right general area, and finding that wasn’t terribly difficult once they had the details she provided on the phone.

        • “You’re hot and you’re cold, you’re yes and you’re no” … hey, Cherish had this musical theme going on in her interlude, and I’m guessing that’s what she did! She probably regrets it now, though. And she’ll be regretting it for a long, long time.

      • Well, she had already made a bunch of body doubles, maybe she had extras, or a few stashed away somewhere or grabbed them on the run…..
        I didn’t get the feeling that they really looked like them at all, except vaguely and from a distance. Remember that they learned that Skitter can’t see/hear through her bugs when they befriended her.

  16. Now *that*, ladies and gentlemen, is a villain. Jack just lost in a way that accomplished nearly all of his goals, ended better than he could have expected (with the imminent apocalypse and all), and left the conquering heroes weeping for months at a minimum.

    On the other hand, the Chosen are leaderless, the Merchants are gone, and the Undersiders have built up significant goodwill. So the city’s kinda fucked but Coil is doing great!

  17. So the cure for the miasma was an a parasite in Skitter’s blood, and small enough to reach through filters. So why didn’t she cut her palm with her combat knife, and spread the cure with the mosquitos that are no doubt all over a flooded city? In terms of a cure epidemic, I think malaria spreads a lot faster than rabies. I think that’s the first genuinely stupid thing Taylor has done so far. Or did I miss something?

    • You are making some assumptions, including two major ones. First and foremost, the assumption that the parasite would survive in a mosquito’s stomach; second, that the mosquitoes would transmit them fast enough to be worth doing.

      • But it’d surely be faster than having the dogs do it. And yeah, she’d be taking a gamble on whether the virus could survive the mosquitoes, but she isn’t exactly gambling with a resource she is going to run out of, and betting on Bonesaw having constructed a decidedly hard-to-kill virus is pretty safe, I suspect.
        It’s worth the experiment, surely. She wouldn’t even have to leave the dog’s back to do it, nor would she have to make out with Rachel.

        • The dogs can run around, lick as many people as they want after finding them. Mosquitoes fly slowly, only bite a fairly small number of people, and tend to get swatted for their trouble.

          Oh, and it was only a quick kiss, and it wouldn’t be worth the time spent with Rachel holding back a few feral-acting monster dogs while she waited for the mosquitoes to bite her and Rachel to transfer enough of the parasites. After all, not that many are transmitted per bite–there’s no promise that any will be. Malaria works because it is “designed” to be transmitted that way, and because a lot more than one mosquito biting one host spreads it.

          • In addition, there’s no guarantee the mosquitoes wouldn’t spread some extra goodies along with the cure, like said malaria.

          • I feel a bit silly commenting this three years later, but…

            I think the assumptions that it can be spread by mosquitos are quite fair. There are few reasons to believe that the parasite wouldn’t survive a few minutes in a mosquito when it can survive in the saliva and water as well as be transmitted through air. The mosquito won’t digest all of the blood for some hours. Something that affects the brain heals instantly when getting it orally, how fast would it be if injected directly into the blood?

            Also, mosquitos would be much more effective than the dogs. Sure they might be slower, but they can travel in straight lines and would work in parallel, targeting many subjects at once. And once there are newer cure sources, adjacent mosquitos can suck from that person and expand from there. The affected area would grow exponentially, compared to a dogs linear search. And also, since no one knows there is a bug controller and they are pumped with adrenalin and wouldn’t notice one or two bugs, people wouldn’t be hard to deal with and save, instead of being terrified that a monster was charging straight at them.

            Lastly, I there is little reason to expect a malaria outbreak in the US, and personally I would gladly spread malaria, where symptoms would occur after a week, to all citizens if that meant increasing the chance of defeating the Nine, who could kill (or do something worse) the whole city that very day.

  18. “’Or Noelle,’ Tattletale added.
    Why did that give me such a bad feeling?”
    I see the agnosia is still clearing up.

    And here we have good and bad. Good: The Nine are gone. Bad: The world is going to end in a couple years.

  19. Usually your writing has pretty good consistency, but 14.10-14.11 chapters left me incredulous about too many things. Jack has no reasons (you did not show these reasons :)) to stop his attempts to kill Skitter when she ran to Amy. Timing thing was already mentioned above, it feels like a whole chapter in between is missing. Getting Hookwolf feels very unprepared in the plot. He was nowhere around, and suddenly they got him without Cherish to track. And Tattletale’s power do need hints, and I don’t see what hints she got, that allowed her to say about Hookwolf capture. Instant cure for the Bitch is too much fairytale-like. Skitter’s glasses survived multiple face/ears cuts – wtf?

    otherwise, thanks for the great work 🙂

  20. I really loved this series up until this point. This was a very unsatisfying ending. After everything Taylor and the city went through, it was just not enough payoff. Siberian, Jack, Bonesaw – at least one of them needed to die, preferrably all.

    One of the problems I had with Walking Dead graphic novel was the unrelenting, utter hopelessness of it. One step forward, two steps back, always. It made me disengage. This is flirting with that.

  21. I half-agree with Taylor on one point here; the director screwed the pooch epically. Going on the offensive may have been smart, and pulling out all the stops might have been smart, but I think her plan was pretty weak. She didn’t focus enough on taking out the three S9 members that matter the most: Jack Slash, the Siberian, and Bonesaw. Jack probably would have gone all-out if the S9 was losing even if no one broke his rules, but doing so pushed him to that point faster. Failure to coordinate effectively with the villains against the S9 is also pretty crappy.

    I don’t blame her for not knowing the truth about the Siberian until the last second (especially since it seems like no one else has figured it out for years). Siberian has done a good job covering her tracks in that regard, and it may only have been revealed because of the combination of the Undersiders’ resourcefulness/unique information gathering abilities and Cherish’s particular powers/traitorousness. That’s a heck of a lucky break, in the long-term.

    On the timing question, I agree that the S9 do seem to move a bit fast here, in a physical sense. Granted, they employ some misdirection (it’s very ironic to see Taylor on the receiving end of numerous decoys for a change) and our protagonist gets sidetracked with saving the city from what they’ve already done. My problem isn’t so much with the small amount of time it takes the S9 to regroup and depart as it is with the fact that they manage to meet up in the same place despite having been separated. I guess they might have some way of keeping in touch across a distance, but I’m not clear on how Jack and Bonesaw drew the others to the Boat Graveyard.

    The only other thing I wonder about is how quickly Siberian managed to talk Hookwolf into following her. He doesn’t seem like the world’s best listener, exactly. With all that said, I can certainly believe that the S9 might escape in the wake of the miasma catastrophe, in a general sense. But they can only cover ground so fast, and this does seem to push it. Still like the rest of the chapter, though.

    Despite my normal stance that no one deserves a fate worse than death, I’m tempted to change my mind in Cherish’s case. She basically tried to sell out the world to save her own ass, when she should have known full well that the best she could hope for was to be shot in the face before Jack and Bonesaw found her again.

    One other thing: I’m not sure if this is ever addressed, but IIRC Panacea lost a few fingers (or joints of fingers?) when being chased by Bonesaw, and has said explicitly that she cannot use her power on herself. Is she just making do without them, or what? I suppose it’s not terribly crucial to the story either way (and it’s not like you described her juggling or something that requires all her fingers) but does that ever get fixed, or does she just live with it?


  22. Love the Hollowed Men reference at the end – very fitting if you know the full poem: This is the way the world ends; this is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends; Not with a bang, but a whimper.

  23. Typo: “the parasites in Bitch’s bodies”, as far as I know she only has one. (There aren’t many stories in which that would only be true of *some* of the characters…)

    • Welp,in homestuck almost everyone has at least 2 bodies,though they aren’t aware of it from the beggining and they cannot control both at the same time

  24. Amazing. I was just considering posting a smart-aleck comment that one of Skitter’s priorities would soon have to be figuring out how to refuel poor, hard-working, devoted Atlas, and look what you wrote!
    Re: the Boat Graveyard:
    ” … and the move had mobilized enough of them …” I think IMmobolized enough of them would be clearer.
    So I was thinking as I read, “The 9 are on the ship, why isn’t Bonesaw using her anti-bug smoke? Seems like a plot hole.” And the amazing Wildbow was actually using it, without exposing it, as part of the niggling “gut feeling” that drives Skitter’s choice to barge in WITHOUT guns blazing!
    (gets Reader into Skitter’s headspace like butter!)
    One confusion on Jack’s note — his agreement with Miss Amelia (his nickname for Amy/Panacea)? I thought the original “game” agreement was sort of with Tattletale (and the Undersiders/Travelers)? Now I gotta go back and check …

  25. >She cared as little about murdering us as I might feel about killing two dogs if I felt like my life was on the line.

    This is a bit ironic, considering she took a shotgun blast for Bastard an arc back.

    Well, that was a ridiculously disappointing arc. Probably the first one I flat-out did not like, although the last one bordered on it. Too many idiot balls being thrown about wildly. Too few people getting, you know, actually wounded (unnamed characters or ones with little to no characterisation e.g. Burnscar don’t count) in the whole S9 affair. Still disappointed Brian is alive and well. The S9 had so much potential, but it was ruined by plot armour, and that ended up killing any suspense in both arcs. They both had their high points (Bonesaw’s artwork in the last arc, up until it was undone by a deus ex machina; Atlas in this one), but it was mostly a slog.

    Oh, well. Hopefully, Coil will stop being uncharacteristically dumb.

    …Hopefully, everyone will stop being uncharacteristically dumb.

  26. LOVED these two arcs!!! Can’t wait to see what Jack does to end the world and to see what happens with Theo and Jack’s fight in two years. Feel kinda bad for Cherish, even considering how evil she is. It should be very interesting to see how Coil’s plan unfolds now, a lot of the competition is hurt or gone. Best two arcs of Worm so far I think! LOVE the S9 as villains as they are ridiculously smart and resourceful, hope to see more of them. I don’t think it can get any better! I find myself saying that after every arc though, and keep getting proven wrong, each arc just keeps getting better and better.

  27. ‘I descended back to a safer distance, where falling wouldn’t be terminal’

    I think it makes more sense to say “safer height”, right? Sure technically that’s your distance from the ground but I dont think anyone would normally phrase it this way.

    A minor thing, but Taylor used the phrase “give chase” twice in a way that felt a little awkward to me, maybe it’s just an expression that I personally don’t hear too much but it felt a little off.

    On the subject of expression usage, Tattletale saying “You’ll have to explain how all that happened at a later date” sounded a little weird and formal. I think Taylor also used the phrase “at a later date” talking to Panacea back when she first healed Glory Girl. This could again be more about the language patterns *I’m* used to, but it doesn’t seem like what you say in these contexts, in lieu of “explain that later”

  28. So this horrifying arc is finally over. Jack has made it out of the city, worst case scenario has just happened. I’d be screaming if I were in Taylor’a shoes right now. I love the Worm universe, the slaughterhouse nine and end ringers would make me terrified to live in it, but I still love it anyway!

  29. This arc was incredible. I simply could not stop reading it. I generally try to at least do some work in between reading chapters, but each time I finished one, I had to start the next one immediately. I think that’s pretty much the definition of riveting, no?

    I didn’t fully understand the “miasma” stuff. From the description of the escape to the rooftops, I was picturing it as an impenetrably dark, red fog, that should have blinded everybody. If the red mist was going that high up, shouldn’t it have been covering everything and everybody? But no one seemed to actually be blinded by it. I didn’t really get it. I agreed with a few of the comments above, too, about the Nine managing their escape so quickly, somehow getting their hooks into Hookwolf, and Jack running away from Skitter and Amy instead of just killing them.

    But in the grand scheme of this amazing work, pretty minor stuff. You’re a fantastic writer and I’m so glad I started reading this!

  30. FINALLY. It’s too bad Jack got away, but I’m thankful the Undersiders came away from this with all 6 of their members alive, if not intact.

    Every single Taylor/Rachel and Taylor/Lisa shipper must have died a little this chapter. 😀

  31. I’m really enjoying the story, but I have to say, I’m also really disappointed by the anticlimactic ending here. When Jack said “A departure marked not with a bang, but a whimper,” he could have been referring to the end of the Slaughterhouse Nine story arc.

  32. After reading this arc, I imagined Skitter as a part of Nine in this horrifying arc. Skitter as a batshit insane member who’s fed up with human society. And I think the test she gave to the candidates would be … planting a bug inside the candidate body and force the candidate to try getting the bug outside their body. A little like Jason torture to Kaneki in Tokyo Ghoul manga. But Skitter made the bug mess with the candidate body, made the candidates awares of every movement of the bugs. Felt them crawling inside your own body.

    This was so horrifying that I felt nauseous and immediately try to cure myself by reading a romance vanilla manga and a lot of puff romance before moving to the next arc.

    • Yeah, Skitter is scary enough as a well intentioned kinda villain. Skitter as a balls-to-the-wall-cacklingly-evil villain is a downright horrifying mental image.

  33. tbh mannequin is one of my favorite antagonists in a massive cast of them. on my 3rd read while waitin for more twig, and im always disappointed by all that untapped potential. ah well, ahaha.

    • Can you explain your reasoning? She is clearly flawed, and she clearly fails.

      Doing extraordinary things and/or things no one/few have accomplished before is within the purview of any “protagonist”. We do not tell a story about the guy who slayed the dragon. A Mary Sue is not even someone absurdly overpowered, it is someone who a)has no flaws (thus Saitama is not a Mary Sue, let alone Taylor) and/or b) warps the story rules, not for a gag or as a power, but to make herself more sympathetic or dominant or to make us cry for her (so, again, not Saitama, let alone Taylor)

      That does not mean that Taylor is “perfect” or “realistic” , but Mary Sue is still too heavy a term. Besides, even if you find her achievements too great, remember we live in a universe where one of the musicians we consider the best of all time was deaf. Inspirational stories are rare and unlikely in rl, but far from nonexistent, and they are the ones most likely to be told because they are extraordinary.

      So, once more, why is she a Mary Sue?

  34. I truly do feel bad for Cherish. No matter what she did, even potentially selling out the world I would not find to be deserving of such a punishment. Damn thats one of the most horrifyingly cruel things I think I have ever read and I’ve read some messed up shit. One can only hope someday somehow someone will come and be able to either free her and fix her, though she would be son insane by then it probably wouldnt matter, or to be merciful and kill her.

  35. I’ll be really angry unless a rescue operation for Cherish is initiated. Going with how much vengeance and cruel punishments have been tolerated/glorified by the “good guys” previously in the story, it seems all too plausible for no one to mount a rescue operation.

    (By “rescue”, I mean mercy-killing her. But since the good guys don’t like that, then some way to contain her seems best.)

  36. «get to another point where the satellite phone would work» satellite phone — not cell phone — works anywhere outdoors. What could possibly accoint for spotty coverage within a short distance? Also, where was she carrying this — they are much larger than cell phones.

  37. «there was little difference in being a hundred and fifty feet above the ground and being five hundred stories up» comparing feet and the unusual unit *stories* can be easily misread. Someone might see it as 500 *feet*. One has to mentally convert and estimate to figure out the comparison, so this is awkward. Say perhaps “150 feet or a mile”? Much easier to grasp.

  38. «sent my glasses flying off my face» I’m confused. When did she put on glasses, or even *get* the new glasses she ordered from Coil? She wears contact lenses under her mask now. She mentioned that (only) half her face is covered… I don’t recall that happening.

  39. «the water around us began to transition back to normal » no, *transition* is the noun form. Try “began *the* transition back” or “began *transforming* back”.

    • -What’s wrong with impacted?
      -Taylor ordered new glasses from Coil and was given them in a previous chapter.
      -Transition is a verb too, dingus

  40. Wheeew. What a relief to finally see these nutjobs leaving. It’s been a bit too much for me in the body horror department. Too bad the protagonists had only one confirmed kill 😦

  41. People upset about the ending being a “letdown” – this is the objectively worst possible outcome. If Jack escapes the city, the world will end.

    I actually like how the arc ended. It was believable in this situation that the rest of the Nine would simply up and leave. There were casualties on both sides but the core characters are still alive, and it didn’t require giving them obvious plot armor or the author pulling something out of his ass. AND it still ups the stakes dramatically.

  42. Augh, this has me so paranoid now that Panacea is gonna be the one to kick off the armageddon since her agreement is directly tied to Jack’s leaving of the city; he could be the catalyst for her downward slide into darkness…

    also whoaaaa 6 years late to the party lolol

  43. ““You couldn’t have waited until after you’d cured me before you put the bugs on your face?””
    When did she draw bugs together?

  44. I think Skitter should have been spitting into the water as she flew to the Ship Graveyard as that would have been spreading the cure faster as it would be spreading out from more locations.

  45. That, and I’d pointed out to the rest of the group how bugs were something we could eat as humans, so his digestive tract could probably manage them.
    Oh, that’s why Taylor responded to “How do you know bugs are made out of proteins and lipids and stuff?” with “I was researching food bugs” and not “Um, all organisms are made out of the same types of macromolecules.”

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