Monarch 16.6

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“We should throw a party,” Imp said.  “Celebrate.  Rub it in a little.”

“Rub it in?” Grue asked.

“Yeah.  Party in the streets, maybe some fireworks.  Show the heroes that we know we won and we’re doing fine.”

There were a few chuckles from the others.  Regent and the Travelers, primarily.

“In what way is that even close to being a sensible idea?”  Grue asked.

“I didn’t say it was sensible.  But it’s fun, and that’s why we got into this, right?”

“No.  No it isn’t.  It was maybe a side-bonus when I joined the group, if anything, but things have changed since then.  I warned you this would be hard work, that it wouldn’t be fun and games.  And throwing a party to celebrate a win is a monumentally bad idea when we don’t even want the heroes to know we consider this victory anything out of the ordinary.”

“It is out of the ordinary.  We’re not giving anything away if we’re celebrating scaring off Dragon.”

“I kind of have to agree,” Regent chimed in.  Grue turned his way, and I could imagine the death glare that was behind his mask.  Probably scarier than the mask itself.

“Maybe you’re right,” Grue said, “Maybe, I won’t say you’re absolutely right there-”

“Of course not,” Imp said, sighing.

“-But we definitely don’t need to rub it in the heroes’ noses.  Not if it means they have both an excuse and motivation to try this again, sooner.”

“If you’re afraid of that, we’ll never be able to celebrate a win.”

“I’m okay with that,” Grue said.

“Do we get to chime in?” Trickster asked.  “Because I’m siding with the Imp, here.  Morale could become pretty important if we’re going to be building up individual gangs and collections of henchmen.”

Grue sighed.  “Feeling outnumbered here.  Skitter?”

“What?”  I blinked.  “Sorry, not keeping track of the conversation.”

“She’s out of it.  Tattletale broke Skitter when she said we won,” Regent said.

“I’m… I’m alright.  Lost in thought”

Grue settled a hand on my shoulder.  I couldn’t read his expression with his mask in the way.

I sighed and confessed, “I’m… I guess I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Isn’t that what happens?  The second things start to go right, the next disaster strikes?  Empire Eighty-Eight, Leviathan, The Nine, Dragon…”

“That’s a pretty defeatist way of thinking,” Trickster commented.  “Didn’t Tattletale basically say that there’s nobody left to cause us any problems?”

“There’s always something,” I said.  “I’d rather anticipate it and be ready.”

“Look at it this way,” Genesis spoke.  She was in a human-ish form, not unlike her real self, though she was wheelchair-free.  “If it’s more dangerous than Leviathan, the Nine or the Dragon suits, there’s no way we can make some plan to deal with them until they make the first move.  If they’re less dangerous, we can deal.  Relax.  We’re in good shape.”

I shrugged.

“Sooo,” Imp drew out the word, “Party?”

“No,” Grue and I spoke at the same time.  Imp groaned.

“Coil told us to check on our territories.  We should do that,” I said.  “Take your costumes off, take it easy.  I’m going to see if the food and drink I’d arranged to go to people in my territory is still okay, and make sure that they get fed and don’t have cause to lynch me.  Then I’m probably going to sleep for twelve straight hours.”

“Wait, didn’t you just say no party?” Imp asked.

“It’s not a party.  It’s something I was doing before the Dragon suits came.”

“Do the heroes know that?”

“Dragon could confirm it,” I said.  “She disrupted the preparations.”

“Dunno, that sounds pretty flimsy,” Imp said, sounding way too pleased with herself, “Maybe you better cancel, just to be safe.”

“Imp,” Grue growled the word.

Imp laughed, “I’ll go patrol our territory.  I’ll be using my power, so no worries about being seen in costume.”

“Coil said we shouldn’t go out in costume at all,” I said.  “I thought that part of the message was pretty clear.”

“Fine,” Imp said.  “Whatever.  If I’m not supposed to do anything, I’m going back to our place, gonna to kick back and catch up on some shitty reality shows.”

“No TV,” Grue said.

“Nuh uh.  No way.  If you two want to play hardass mom and dad and be controlling assholes, okay.  But you can’t tell me I can’t watch T.V.”

“I mean you won’t get any channels.  There’s no cable, no digital connection and no satellite.  Only static.”

Imp groaned, an agonized sound one might expect from someone who had just been speared through the gut.

What did it say about me that my metaphors were tending towards that kind of violent imagery?

“Why don’t you come by?” Regent asked her, “Play video games?  I’ve got shows on DVD.  No shitty reality shows, but stuff.”

I looked Grue’s way to gauge his reaction to Imp and Regent hanging out, only for our eyes to meet, so to speak.  We were thinking the same thing.

“I don’t think-” Grue started to speak.

Imp wheeled on him, jabbing a finger in his direction, “Enough!  You don’t dictate how I live my life!”

“No fighting, please,” Sundancer said, from the sidelines, “We’ve been through too much already.”

Grue stepped forward, raising one hand, but Imp didn’t give him a chance to touch her, backing away, swinging one hand through the air, as if to swat his hand away if he tried.  “You’ve said enough!  You don’t want me to celebrate my first legit win where I was actually fucking useful?  Fine!  Don’t want me to go on patrol?  Fine!  I’ll accept that shit because I’ll take orders from the guy who actually pays me.  But if you’re going to whine because I want to play video games with a teammate, I’m not going to stand here and listen to it!  Deal!”

“If you’d just-” Grue started.  He stopped and sighed.

“What?” I asked.

“I was going to say something,” he said, turning around.  “But I can’t remember what.”

We experienced a moment where the conversation died, where nobody was sure what to say next, and nobody was able to tie things back to the prior conversation to resume an earlier topic.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” Trickster said, finally.  “Good work.  Skitter’s right.  Let’s go retreat, tend to any wounds, and we’ll take a breather.”

There were nods and murmurs of assent from everyone present, myself included.

More to his team than the rest of us, Trickster said, “I’m located closest to Coil, so I’m stopping by, going to check on Noelle, see if Tattletale needs help setting our captive Director free, and then I’ll talk to Coil about his progress with our issues.”

“Don’t get on his case,” Genesis said.  “Whatever his plan is, he’s under a lot of pressure right now.  I’d rather wait another few days and then talk about it with him than push it now and risk upsetting him.”

“The difference between us,” Trickster said, terse, “is I’m not willing to wait.”

With that said, he tipped his hat at me and walked away.  He wasn’t three paces out the door before he found something to swap with, leaving a mailbox at the mall’s edge.  The rest of the Travelers began to file off.

“I’ll be off too,” Regent said.  He offered me a sloppy mock-salute, “Good work, chief.”

I winced at that.  I hadn’t wanted to raise the subject of me taking over as leader for the previous confrontation.  I glanced at Grue and found him looking at me.

“Can we talk?” he asked.  Thanks, Regent.

“Yeah,” I said.

“We did make plans.”

“You’re dating?”  Bitch asked.

“I didn’t say that,” Grue said.

“But you’re dating.”

“Yeah,” he admitted.  Bitch looked at me to double check and I nodded.

“Hm.”  She somehow conveyed smugness with the monosyllablic response.

“You want to come?” I asked her.  “Hang out?”


“You sure?” I asked.  “You’re welcome to spend some time with us, kick back, watch something, eat some good food?”

“Being around people’s too tiring.  Warm night like this, nice weather, figure I’ll go play with my dogs.  Make sure they aren’t too hurt, throw a few balls for ’em in the moonlight, eat when I want to eat, sleep when I feel like sleeping, not having to worry about getting in anyone’s way.”

“You wouldn’t be getting in the way,” I assured her.

“It’s all good.  I’m happiest doing this.”

“Well, stay in touch.  If you feel like some company, come by again?”

She shrugged and turned to leave, Bentley to her right and Bastard to her left.  With every step Bentley was taking, he was getting larger.  When she was nearly out of sight, Bentley was big enough for her to climb on top of.

Leaving Grue and me standing in the mall.

“I’d almost think you didn’t want to spend time alone with me,” he commented.

He was looking at me.  I felt scrutinized, like every movement and every part of me was suddenly under the spotlight, anything I did potentially being read as meaning something.

“No,” I said, very carefully.  Not exactly.  I just didn’t want to hurt him by taking away his role on the team, and I knew it would come up.  I tucked my hair behind the spot where the armor of my mask covered my ear.  “No.  Being alone together is good.”

“Your place?” he asked.


My people were active in my territory, but they were busier cleaning up the mess than they were actually getting stuff done.  It was irritating on a lot of levels.  We’d been accomplishing something, and Dragon had interrupted.  We’re in the world on the other side of the looking glass, I thought, where it’s the heroes who get in the way of progress and recovery.

I could understand why Dragon did it.  I wasn’t saying it was her fault, exactly.  Especially if it wasn’t actually her directing the suits.  But it was still irritating.

The silence between us was a tense one.  I wished Bitch had decided to come along.  Not because it would have generated conversation, but because it would have put off the subject of discussing team leadership, and the third wheel would have made for a reason for the quiet.  Was it bad of me to think about using her like that?  Or was it just accepting that she made an uncomfortable silence comfortable by her very nature?

I used my power to scout for any groups of people as we made our way to the beach.  We weren’t supposed to be out in costume, but we didn’t have any great options at this point.  I figured Coil would forgive us this much.  We entered the storm drain and made our way up to my lair.

Charlotte and Sierra looked surprised to see us as I opened the door.  Charlotte had three kids sitting on the couch with her, while Sierra reclined.  She rose to a sitting position.

“What happened?” Sierra asked.  She glanced nervously at Grue.

I saw Charlotte and the kids had plates on their laps.  The pork we’d been cooking earlier in the day.  I headed for the fridge and found a hunk of it wrapped in cling film.  “The PRT didn’t like the fact that we’d claimed control over Brockton Bay, so they sent in seven Dragon suits to root us out.”

“What do you want us to do?” She asked.

“Nothing.  It’s fine.  Stick to business as usual.  I’m glad you managed to get back to the food in time to make sure it finished cooking alright.  Any other problems?”

“We didn’t get a lot of work done,” Charlotte said.

“We weren’t going to anyways,” I said, “That’s fine.  I’m going to grab some food.  Grue, you want any?”

“Yeah.  Please.”

“Seven Dragon suits?” Sierra said.  “If they come back-“

“They’re dealt with,” Grue said.  Was the surprise on Sierra and Charlotte’s faces because of what Grue had said, or was it the way he’d said it with such confidence in his strange, echoey voice?

I set two servings worth of the pork onto one plate and put it in the microwave.  “They may come back, but that’ll be a little while coming.  What I’m worried about is my territory.  Were people upset?”

“Yeah,” Sierra said.  “A few people got shocked by those floating flying saucer things.”

“The drones,” I said.  My heart sank a little.  My promise to protect my people had been broken yet again.

“Yeah.  Drones.  People were pissed.  They were trying to get the drones, catch them in trash cans, but the wings got in the way, so they started using tarps.  They even got hold of a few before the drones started fighting back.”

Grue gave me a look that I couldn’t read.  Stupid masks.

“Anyone seriously hurt?”

Sierra shook her head.

“Ok, good.  Listen, I’m going to be working from the background these next few days.  I won’t be appearing anywhere in costume or overtly using my powers.  Are you okay with keeping things running smoothly?  I’ll be available by phone if you run into any problems.”

“I, um, I don’t know.”

I opened the microwave and withdrew the plate of smoking, herb-rubbed pork.  “What’s the problem?”

“I’m worried people are going to recognize me, and it’ll get around to the people I know.”

“I’m not asking you to do anything criminal.  I’m just looking for someone I can trust enough to put in a management role.  Make sure things are cleaned up and that nobody’s slacking off.  It’s nothing you wouldn’t be doing working for a cleanup crew somewhere else in the city.”

“Except I’m doing it for you.  I’m working for a criminal.  Even doing what I’m doing right now, it doesn’t sit right.  No offense.”

“Okay,” I said, pausing.  I was apparently taking too long to prepare the food, because Grue was edging in to take over the preparation, cutting the meat into two portions and arranging the plates.  How was I supposed to manage this?  “Listen, I’ll take five thousand dollars out of the safe upstairs, sometime late tonight or early tomorrow.”

“It’s not about the money, or the lack of money, or any of that-” she protested.

“I know.  I’m not trying to bribe you.  Not exactly.  I guess, um…” I trailed off.  I was tired, thinking at high intensity for too much of the day.  “Um, I’m trying to say I trust you, and I value the work you put in.  So take that money, then if you know of someone who could do what I’m asking, someone like Charlotte or someone else you think we could trust, give them as much as you think is appropriate.  If there’s any left over, maybe you and Charlotte split it.  Or split an amount between the people who fought the drones, and be sure to tell them that as much as I appreciate them standing up to Dragon, I don’t want them to do anything like that again.”

“You don’t?”

“The last thing I want is people who live in my territory to get hurt for my sake.  And I don’t want you to be inconvenienced either.  Think about what you’ll do with the money tonight.  But don’t overthink it.  It’s a gift, a thank you.”

“I can’t take your money,” Sierra said.

“Then don’t,” I told her, trying to look like I was more focused on the food than anything else.  It wouldn’t do for her to see how much this was gutting me, and I didn’t want her to get guilted into anything.  I grabbed a coke from the fridge.  I gestured with it to Grue, and he nodded.  I grabbed another for him.  I had to swallow and clear my throat before I said, “I hope you’ll stay.  I really do.  But if you’re not comfortable doing what you’re doing, that’s okay too.  You can take a secondary role, or you can leave.  I’ll be disappointed, but I won’t be angry.”


I looked at Charlotte and the kids, the steaming plate in my hand, a coke in the other, my right foot resting on the bottom stair of the staircase.  I asked Charlotte, “Are you okay with the status quo?”

“Yeah.  But I’m just looking after the little ones, and making sure people get fed.  I’m out of sight, I don’t come off like a second in command or anything.  I- Sierra and I have talked about this, before, her being uncomfortable.  I’m okay because this works for right now, but I understand what she’s saying?”  Her voice quirked with uncertainty as she finished speaking, as if she were asking a question, or asking permission to have that opinion.

“I understand too,” I said, sighing.  “I’m sorry I haven’t been around enough for you to talk to me about this, Sierra.”

“You’ve had bigger things to worry about.”

“And I shouldn’t have forgotten about this stuff while I was doing it.  I’m sorry.  You do what you need to do, decide if there’s any compromises or options you want to ask for.  I think I’ll understand, whatever you do.”

She nodded.

Grue had walked ahead of me and stopped halfway up the stairs.  I followed him, leaving my nanny-cook and reluctant lieutenant behind.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“You going to work that out?” Grue asked.  He paused on the second floor.  After a moment’s thought, I tilted my head up toward the next set of stairs.

“Don’t know.  Hope I can keep her.  Wouldn’t have made it this far without her to hold things together when I was away.  If there was something I could do for her, maybe I would.  I dunno.”

We stepped into my bedroom.  I was glad I’d left it more or less tidy, but I had to take a second to hastily make my bed and throw some stray clothes in the hamper.  I moved some folded clothes from a wooden chair and let Grue take the seat.  I grabbed a remote and turned on the TV, only to remember that there wouldn’t be anything to watch.  I left it on the display screen for the DVD player.

Edgy with nervous energy, I took a moment to remove my mask and find a pair of glasses from the bedside table before seating myself on the edge of my mattress, my soda at my feet.

Grue had pulled off his helmet in the meantime to start eating, and I saw his face for the first time since we’d left his apartment for Coil’s.  I could see the dark circles under his eyes, which suggested he probably hadn’t slept well last night.  He wasn’t better, but it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect him to be.

Brian swallowed, “I wish I could offer you advice, but Imp and I are at a point where it’d be nice if we had to worry about retaining… what did you call them, way back when?”


“Right.  If we had to worry about keeping our employees, it’d be good, because it’d mean we actually had some.  I’m not sure how to get underway on that front.  We’re intimidating.”

“I’m intimidating,” I said, admittedly defensive.

“You are.  But I’d say you’re more intimidating as an idea than you are in person.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“No.  That’s not bad.  You’re more intimidating overall than I am, and yet you’re more approachable than I am.  I’m tall, I’ve got broad shoulders, I’ve got the mask, I’ve got the mass of darkness rolling off me.  People run when they see me coming for them.”

“My costume isn’t exactly lovey-dovey, either.  I’ve got the bugs crawling on me.  Sure, I’m smaller, narrower, but-“

“The idea of being attacked by you might be spooky, but even if you can hold your own most of the time, people don’t imagine getting in a hand to hand fight with you and feel scared.  It’s your power that’s scary.  Me?  I think people look at me and they can imagine me pounding them into a bloody pulp, or worse.  My power’s inconvenient, it’s spooky, but it’s not the scary thing.”

“You can’t really see your darkness, though.”

He shook his head, “I know where it is, but I don’t really see it.”

“I think you underestimate what it’s like.”

“Maybe.  But my point is that people are more likely to run than stick around and talk when I’m approaching.  You can take your bugs off the table, make it clear they aren’t a threat, and people feel less threatened, they’re willing to hear you out.”

“Maybe.  But if that’s the case, don’t give them a chance to run.”

“What?  Pop out from around a corner, scare the living daylights out of them, then offer them a job?”

“Sure.  Why the hell not?  Or have Imp break into apartments and leave a card.”

“I don’t think that would send the right message.  It’s vaguely threatening.”

You’re vaguely threatening.  If your prospective hires can’t deal with that much, then they probably won’t handle the job all that well, either.  If you can’t find anyone, then maybe I send some of my people your way to help get you started, or you could shell out for some decent mercenaries.”


“There’s options.  Don’t stress about it.  Whatever else happens, we have a few days before we decide on the next leg of our plan.  Let’s relax.  Movie?”


I stood from my bed and began going through the box of DVDs that Coil had supplied with the TV.  Most were still in the tight plastic wrap that they’d been bought in.  I looked through, then handed some to Brian before turning back to the bag to keep browsing.

What the hell were we supposed to watch?  I didn’t want anything that would ruin Brian’s mood or remind him what had happened, so horror was probably out, I was sick of the high intensity stuff, but I couldn’t stand romance or bad comedies.

“Going back to the earlier topic,” Brian said, “The subject of leadership, being in charge…”

I winced.

“You took over today.  Are you wanting that to be a permanent thing?”

I turned around.  “No.  Not permanent.  Just until-” I stopped short.  How to put it?


“When I was getting really obsessive about what I was doing, when I was losing sleep and making mistakes, I deferred control.”

“To Trickster,” Brian said.  I could see a shadow pass over his expression.

“Yeah.  And that’s a bad example because it didn’t work.  It’s just that we both know you’re not getting enough rest.  So maybe I can pick up the slack in the meantime.”

Brian sighed.  He didn’t look any happier.

“I don’t want to make you unhappy,” I said.  “I’m not wanting to oust you, or co-opt your role permanently or completely.  You were the leader, even if we didn’t really establish an official title over it.  But we can divide the duties for the time being.  Tattletale handles the information angle of things, I maybe keep Bitch reined in and handle the spur of the moment calls, while you handle Regent and Imp and all the rest.”

“Which is less than it sounds like, especially when you and Tattletale contribute on ‘the rest’ in little ways.”

“No-” I started, then I sighed.  “Maybe, yeah.  I don’t want to come off as manipulative or anything.  Like I said, I don’t want you to be unhappy, but at the same time I do want the whole team to get by in the meantime.”

“You don’t sound manipulative,” he said.  His fork hit the plate with a clatter.  “Jesus, this sucks.  I know you’re right.  I know this is for the good of the team, and if I could just get over this shit-“

“It’s not that easy.  Don’t do yourself a disservice and expect too much.”

“My whole life, I’ve been bigger than my peers, I’ve been stronger than most.  Spent my time around pretty powerful guys.  Boxers, martial artists, other criminals.  I didn’t have many friends, but they were the people who were around me, you know?  And they were the types to go after you if you show any weakness.”

“You get shot, nobody’s going to call you a wimp.  I don’t see why it’s different if the damage is mental or emotional instead of physical.”

“I know, but you’re not getting it.  I was the type to go after someone if they showed a vulnerability.  Wasn’t until I’d had my powers about a year, Aisha tells me I was being an asshole, just like one of her stepdads used to be.  So I tried to be better, but I always wanted to protect her, always wanted to help others.  Teach you and Alec to fight, step up and take charge when a situation demanded it.  Sometimes when a situation didn’t.”


“So it isn’t just about me trying to adjust.  Christ, it’s me having my world turned upside down.  It’s others protecting me, others helping me, others covering me in a fight, others taking charge.  Aisha’s the one fixing things for me.  And you-“


“This thing with Coil.  Don’t think I’m so obsessed with what’s going on with me that I don’t see it.  It’s like a burden’s fallen from your shoulders.  You’ve got concerns, but you’re more relaxed.  You’ve got hope that you didn’t have twelve hours ago, and it’s dramatic enough that your posture’s changing.  Even since we left the mall, it’s like you’re slowly convincing yourself that this is over, Coil’s going to follow through, we’ll move on to taking care of our territories and everything works out in the end.”

I folded my arms.  “I don’t think that.  Like I said, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“You say that, you tell yourself that, but I don’t know that you’re feeling it.  I’m worried you’re setting yourself up for a massive disappointment, and that you’ll be affected enough that you won’t be able to deal when it happens.  But I’m mostly worried that all that will happen and I won’t be in a position to help because I’m distracted by my own shit.”

“You don’t have to take up all the slack.  We have other teammates.”

“Lisa isn’t exactly a heavy hitter, and let’s not fool ourselves into believing that Alec, Rachel or Aisha are going to offer any meaningful emotional support.”

“We’ll manage,” I said.  “We’ve managed this far.”

“More or less.  Problem is, ‘managing’ is fine, up until we don’t manage, if that makes any sense.  Then it’s over.”

I sighed.  “How did Genesis put it?  There’s no use in getting worked up over it if we can’t plan around it or do anything to change it.  So we’ll each do our own imperfect jobs of taking care of each other and taking care of ourselves, and be as ready as we can for whatever comes up.”

He sighed.

“We’re not perfect.  We’re flawed people, and as much as I want to help you in every way I can, I know I can’t.  I don’t- I’m not good at this.  I don’t know how to act, or what to say.  But I like you.  I care about you.  I’m going to do my best, even if I know it’s not good enough.  And I won’t expect any more of you.”

He nodded, but he looked glum.

“No hard feelings?”

He shook his head.  He didn’t look happy.

“I won’t be leader forever.”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “Might be better that you keep the job, even if I do bounce back eventually.”

“Except I don’t want the job.”

“That might be why you should take it.  I don’t know.  Can we drop the subject?”


“It’s okay.  Just… heavy topics, with lots of ramifications.  And it’s hard to shake the negative thoughts.  I’d rather talk along the lines of what you said before, about taking care of each other.”

“And taking care of ourselves,” I said.  “Getting enough sleep, eating right.”

“Okay,” he said.  There was a pause.  “I slept well the other night.”

“Then stay over.  There’s nothing pressing coming up, so we’ll watch movies until we fall asleep.”

He smiled a little, and for the first time in a long time there was a glimmer of that expression that had gotten my attention in the first place.

I put three DVDs into the drive so I could use the remote to play the next movie without having to get up, then pulled off the armor panels of my costume before settling into bed.  My back pressed against his chest, and I could feel his breath against my hair.

I felt so self conscious that I could barely keep track of what was going on.  I was thinking every unromantic thought there was: worrying if I had body odor from being in costume and running all day, wondering if I should get up to go to the bathroom now so I wouldn’t have to go as desperately as I had the other morning.

I felt his hand on the zipper at the back of my costume, lowering it an inch, then stopping.  A fingertip traced from the ‘v’ where the top of my costume parted, all the way up to the the nape of my neck, then back down.  I could feel his fingers on the zipper, felt every tiny hair on my body standing on end.

A million thoughts raced through my head at once.  All put together, they amounted to a mumbled, “Um.”

There was no response from behind me.  I could hear him breathing, I could feel the warmth of his breath, the slow rise and fall of his chest against my back.  He was waiting for me to make my decision, and the thing that loomed largest in my mind was the sensation of his fingers on the tiny tag of the zipper, strong, insistent, there.

Any confidence I’d picked up in the past weeks or months fled.  I felt as vulnerable as I had in early April, brought to tears in front of my worst enemies.  Except this… wasn’t wholly negative.  Not entirely: I still felt acutely aware of every vulnerability, I thought of every part of myself that I tried to ignore when I looked in the mirror in the same way I might see my life flash before my eyes before I died.

Again, thinking that way.  Why couldn’t I think in a more romantic way at a moment like this?  Was I broken in my own way?

“Let me get up and turn off the lights?” I asked.

His power blanketed the room.  I could feel the phantom touches of it on against the thin fabric of my costume and my bare face, leaving me blind and deaf as we were plunged into darkness.

As was plunged into darkness; he could see just as well.  This totally wasn’t what I’d wanted.

“That’s not fair,” I murmured.

He placed one hand on the side of my head to get me to turn his way, then pressed his lips against mine.

I didn’t protest any further.

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174 thoughts on “Monarch 16.6

  1. Ahhhhh, young super villain love. I love the chapters where it is just the undersiders shooting the breeze and being well, people. But yeah, wildbow has made me as paranoid as Taylor. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. But so sad, we might lose sierra and her nanny-cook.

    • Oh gosh. The next shoe has to be Niborg, or whatever his name is. I’m scared ####less for Skitter.

      Remove this post if it spoils anything.

      • Ah, Niborg. A villain named after an AD&D monster whose name is just “Grobin” spelled backwards. “You push me down, so I can lie in valleys…”

        Maybe it’s not fair to assume Nilbog’s name would be memorable to anyone who didn’t recognize it, but it was fun to briefly riff on.

  2. Was I broken in my own way? I

    “Let me get up and turn off the lights?” I asked

    She just has an extra I there.

    Ahem…. a wemawa a wemawa a wemawa a wemawa, in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the Skitter sleeps tonight…

    Ok, so maybe I’m jumping the gun on just what, if anything, “I didn’t get a chance to protest further.” means. Could mean Armsmaster blew open the wall. Could mean Grue just suffered premature ejaculation. Could mean all kinds of things. But dammit, I’ve had these fireworks all rigged up to announce Skitter’s deflowering to the world and I’m damn well going to embarrass the hell out of her in front of every single person in the city and people who watch news about the city. I won’t rest until people in Bangladesh know Skitter got some victory sex after Dragon.

    Granted, as far as most people know she only has a couple of girl minions at her place, so this will only reinforce the lesbian supervillain rumors I myself helped start, but this is important for my ability to live vicariously! Why that applies to a girl having sex with a black guy, I don’t know, but that’s for the psychiatrists to get headaches over.

    • Well, Mr. Gecko, we now know that you’re a white guy. Very interesting that you needed to differentiate the male’s racial characteristics, but not the female’s. In fact, I’d guess you probably grew up in a pretty whitebread county.

      No problem with that, though. Just interesting how your unconscious background racism came out.


      (To be clear, that doesn’t mean I think you’re racist AT ALL. Just that your environment growing up had latent, possibly quite unintentional, racist undertones.)

      • True. I grew up in a very white place. Very white, very conservative, very religious. I am now a liberal atheist who believes in equal rights for all people. Glad you acknowledge it’s more of a subconcious thing than something I actively mean. Not the first time I’ve run into something like that that I realized a little after I needed to have realized it.

        That’s part of the reason I’m so big on the whole “think for yourself” thing. I’m not very individual if I’m only thinking ideas put into my head by family or raising. I don’t need a great grandpa’s thoughts guiding me during my life just because I was related to him.

      • Somewhat amusingly, you’re assumption the PG is white merely because he identified one party’s race but not anothers is at least as racist as anything he said.

        • Well, no, I’d disagree. My observation was deliberate and analytical, and addressed only PG’s use of language as it likely related to upbringing. My leading statement was, I freely admit, somewhat inflamatory in my choice of tone. But that’s mostly because it’s Psycho Gecko, and it’s hard to get that entity’s attention without the verbal equivalent of a flamethrower.


          • While I didn’t care for the inflammatory wording, I recognized that it wasn’t a matter of calling me a racist. There really wasn’t a big point to it other than saying I didn’t feel the need to use a racial qualifier for little miss lily white. And there probably wasn’t anything hostile meant by singling me in particular out now. I don’t know how it is supposed to be difficult to get my attention. I certainly have no trouble with it.

            Further, any notes here on my upbringing, demographics, and pets should be construed solely as relating to the OOC Psycho Gecko, the man behind the man who could be said to exist in your world. For the In Character Psycho Gecko of the stories, you’d darn well know when that background info gets released. Working on that right now but it’s going to take awhile. They blur a bit, you may have noticed.

            I meant to handle it gracefully and not do something like “Well you’re racist too” or something like that because he had a point. A really minor point, but a point that I’ve acknowledged. Considering my family, I’d say it’s pretty good if the only racist actions I’m accused of is that.

            Of course, I failed on the graceful part and instead wound up with a miniature religious flamewar.

            Lastly, to the young men who murdered the man dressed as Santa Claus in Tajikistan: He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good.

            Santa Claus is going to go to town on you.

            • For what it’s worth, I picture Skitter as an Indian girl. 😀

              Other Asian types would mean she and her father might have gotten picked up by the ABB. Latina and she wouldn’t have made certain remarks about racism concerning Grue.

              • I had to go back a bit, but Taylor’s race is never explicitly mentioned, right? Honestly, I had mentally pictured her as blonde and kind of like Spider Gwen but I see now that was off-target as she actually has black hair.

          • You assumed (correctly, but that’s irrelevant) someone’s race based on certain behaviours that you said are indicators. That’s as racist as me going “All black people are thieves.” The assumptions just weren’t as impolite.

            PG; it’s not meant as a defencse on your behalf, just an observation I found amusing.

            • Necro: That’s not even remotely equivalent. If you want an equivalent, try replacing PG’s racial qualifier on Grue with a racial qualifier on Skitter.

              Society has very different conditioning for people depending on their ethnicity. So yes, your ethnicity has a profound effect on your use of language, and drawing conclusions from it is not only reasonable, but something we do unconsciously all the time.

        • Except it’s not really a fight? It’s more that two people are discussing it civilly and respectfully, while others are just skimming parts and misinterpreting it as a fight?

    • I’m really not seeing this one as them having sex, I mean that would be kind of…absurdly abrupt? Heck, Imp would almost have a point on the whole taking advantage of the traumatised guy thing.

      Also, I cannot wait for our heroine to introduce boyfriend to father.

      Villainous Activities Unknown: What a nice young man, you two get along so well. So responsible.

      Villainous Activities Known: … I have no ideas, Gecko? Wanna jump on this?

      I note that the line seems to have changed since you commented so we do at least know that Assault hasn’t just kicked through the wall shouting “Yeah!” and holding a jug of something red and non-copyright…ed.

      • They’re hormone addled teenagers coming off an adrenaline high from winning several unwinnable battles in row and alone in a dark room cuddled up. They are totally having sex offscreen. I would almost agree with the taking advantage but Brian made the first move here so that goes away and she seems to be one of the only things to calm him down so sex might actually help.

        Oh god I hope Assault did that at some point in the past. Imagine the look he would’ve gotten from Battery or the merchandizing he could’ve gotten from the copyright!

    • “White girl having sex with a black guy,” you mean. Otherwise it implies that you naturally think of girls as white unless otherwise stated, which is problematic, in my opinion

        • As science shows us, skin color doesn’t really mean anything as far as physical or mental abilities. All skin color realistically tells us about someone is their skin color. Scientists have noted it is as arbitrary as dividing people up based on whether they are lactose intolerant or tolerante since it merely speaks to a single adaptation that factors into our survival less in mordern times due to our current level of civilization.

          For other cases where something like this has popped up, you should read all those idiots who read the Hunger Games and then were amazed when the girl they claimed was cute and innocent in the book was…dun dun DUN!!! a different skin color than they thought they were despite the movie matching the book’s descriptions (while also implying she was no longer cute or innocent).

      • It’s problematic being brought up around racists. Mormons on one side of the family, other family members who’ve espoused bringing back slavery elsewhere. Goddamn white devil honky crackers!

        I mean, look at white people. Nazi German. The Crusades. Stalin. The extermination of the Native Americans. The Manhattan Project. The Tuskegee Experiments. The Brady Bunch.

        I wouldn’t feel bad if people of other skin tones wanted to be armed, in case we tried something.

        • PS. Mormonism teaches that evil people have darker skin color and for a long time didn’t let black people fully join the church. They’ve eased up or quieted down on that some in recent years, when they’ve had a chance at prominent positions in the government they fled from or shot at for so many years because they’d rather keep their polygamy than be U.S. citizens.

          Like that presidential candidate recently whose dad was born in a Mexican Mormon Colony because his family fled the U.S. at one point to keep from adhering to U.S. marriage law.

          • Excuse me? PG, I think that you’re sharing things that have little basis in reality here. The 1838 Mormon War ( was partly started because the Mormons of the time were too liberal. They were willing to talk with the natives (they proselytized the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes, who lived near Nauvoo, Illinois) and they were against the practice of slavery (which was a controversial issue in the area at the time).

            When they emigrated to the Utah territories, they weren’t trying to leave behind their American citizenship. In fact, they applied for statehood two years after settling the Salt Lake Valley in 1849. Do keep in mind that polygamy wasn’t illegal at the time. I don’t think that it was particularly looked down on either, though I’m not as sure about that. Polygamy became a hot button issue because the Democrats (the conservative party of the South, not the modern Democrats) needed a way to divide the North and Utah.

            In the Utah War (, the government never gave an ultimatum between Polygamy or citizenship; they simply treated the area as under insurrection.

            On the question of whether they treat blacks as evil (I assume that you meant people of African descent rather than anybody of darker skin), the evidence is mixed. On the one hand, they certainly did keep people of African descent from receiving the priesthood. However, there are a couple of facts that are wrong in your assumption: Mormons are big believers in genealogy and would use that as the basis for their prejudice. In other words, even if you were white but had African ancestry, you were ineligible. Contrariwise, if you had dark skin but nobody could show evidence that your ancestors were African, you could receive the priesthood. Bigotry, certainly, but not one based on the color of one’s skin. Secondly, women still aren’t allowed to hold the priesthood but are still held in high esteem. They formed the largest women’s organization of the time. Lastly, they still recognize Israelis as the Promised People. They also include the Native Americans (and, by extension, Hispanics) as Jewish (long story). Lastly, there are more non-American Mormons than American Mormons. Ancestry means a lot to them, partly because they believe that one chooses one’s ancestors before this earthly life. I’m not saying I agree with their stance, that’s just what they believe.

            TL; DR version: Mormons didn’t choose to secede and while they are segregagists, they don’t necessarily consider one category more evil than another.

            P.S. I grew up in a non-white Mormon household. I still consider the church to be admirable, although I don’t agree with all of their doctrines.

          • If I may quote your article on the supposed liberalism of the Mormons leading tot he Utah War… “In addition to popular election, many early Mormon Church leaders received quasi-political administrative appointments at both the territorial and federal level, that coincided with their ecclesiastical roles; in particular were the powerful probate judges. As the U.S. Constitution outlines, these executive and judicial appointments were confirmed by the Territorial Legislature, which largely consisted of popularly elected Latter-day Saints. Additionally, Mormon Church leaders counseled Latter-day Saints to use ecclesiastical arbitration to resolve disputes amongst church members before resorting to the more explicit legal system. Both Pres. Buchanan and the U.S. Congress saw these acts as obstructing, if not subverting, the operation of legitimate institutions of the United States.”

            So…having church leaders also be leaders in public office and settle disputes according to church doctrine.

            And perhaps I was confused on that war considering the Mountain Meadows Massacre where they murdered a group of settlers passing through. Just a bunch of people in U.S. territory, starting up a theocracy and killing innocent people who were just passing through. My bad for misinterpreting that as wrong in some way.

            As for what I meant about fleeing due to polygamy…

            And the part of Mormonism that I mentioned was racist is probably this bit right here from 2 Nephi 5: 21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

            22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

            23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

            24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.

            So, dark skin is a curse from god that makes someone loathsome to people, and you shouldn’t mix with them, and these dark skinned people are mischevious and lazy. And they couldn’t be full members until 1978.

            But if you’d like a more dramatized reading, there’s this

          • I remember hearing a black minister/professor speak when I was in graduate school. He had been teaching a class (which included a Mormon student) when the student apparently volunteered the opinion that all people would be white in Heaven.

            The prof volunteered that he would rather go to Hell.

            I’m not suggesting that student’s comment is official LDS opinion, but I’ve always been amused by the story.

    • Regardless of the revealing-racist-bringup bit, that was brilliant, PG. I always have a good time with your comments.

      I’m also thankful to Hg for pointing the bit out, hadn’t noticed it myself (am also very white with mostly white friends). Funny how our subconscious can be fucked up.

  3. “Tattletale broke Skitter when she said we won” Heehee.

    Bitch waxing poetic was interesting. She dropping chunks of armor like a giant enemy crab who was just hit in its weak spot.

    This chapter is absolutely terrifying, like being on top of a cliff with no safety rail. But like that, the view is amazing.

  4. Despite the cooldown feeling of the chapter, I still agree with Skitter, waiting for the other shoe to drop. That may well be something happening to Sierra or Charlotte, now.

    On a completely unrelated note, GRUE! Your ability DULLS the senses. That’s not how you treat a girl in your situation!

    • But now she will have no choice but to focus on his manly chest musculature. Also he can still watch the movie but I guess he’ll probably ignore/switch it off…though he does seem to enjoy messing with Taylor…

    • Well he could be thinking to keep it on for the first part but really with all the acrobatics and beatings this group has gone through I’m guessing none of the girls really have to worry about that being an issue.

  5. Early April? Are you seriously telling me that everything she has gone through, everyone she has fought, and all the city has endured, has taken place in only a few months? No wonder she’s paranoid.

      • Fie on ambiguity. This is a good ending… only thing that would make it better is a “God I needed that” spoken from Skitter to Grue next chapter.

        Though now I’m curious what the original was.

        • The original was something like:

          “That’s not fair,” I murmured.
          I didn’t get to argue after that.

          Or something along that line anyways, it was 12:30 when I read it after all, don’t remember it too well.

  6. What grue really needs it someone to be his “face”, if he is too intimidating. Someone more approachable that speaks for him, while he directs things in the shadows. Someone who simultaneous is professional while giving off a vibe of someone not to be underestimated. Keyser Soze had his lawyer Kobayashi. This way he can get things done while also keeping his image of not to be f$#ked with.

      • He already has his liaison to Coil. He can ask him to hire/find someone to be his front man and/or woman. Probably not a woman, Taylor still comes off as a little insecure about her relationship. I am kind of interested in how he tries to form a bunch of employees with his power. Taylor’s ability is tailor made for that type of situation.

  7. So… is this when Grue finds out that Skitter was impaled by Fletchette and had some near-battlefield surgery recently? ‘Cause knowing him, that might be a topic he feels the need to address.

    • Yeah, I was kind of asking myself about Skitters injury during this chapter, especially when she was in the kitchen I kept expecting her to flinch or at least a mention of her not using her, Left? Arm.

    • Now we get to wait for PG to reply to this with something about Skitter being impaled by Grue as well. I can’t wait.

    • She is still wearing a sling, she just seems to barely notice it since her power takes her out of herself so much. Though regardless of how detached from her body she is, I agree it seems a bit odd that there’s absolutely no mention of it.

      • Well her secondary powers include immunity to disease/bug venoms, an increased pain tolerance, and good multitasking skills. Maybe she does have a healing factor, its just very slow?

          • Part of the reason swearing helps us in pain is that we deal better with pain if we have something to take our minds off it. Taylor has a large area’s worth of bugs to think through and take her mind off things. She also had the Dragon attacks to deal with and think through, with an adrenaline cocktail on the side. That stuff is great. As someone who has collided with people with a lot of force before, I can tell you that stuff makes it where you feel perfectly fine up until it wears off.

            There are also those situations where people can lift cars off other people, but that’s not completely applicable in this case.

  8. Very mellow chapter, I dig the whole cooldown feel of it, even if that shoe still hasn’t dropped. Also, there’s a “Get some!” in here somewhere, but I’m not sure if it’s wholly appropriate.

    • Interesting!!! There has been widespread destruction, murder, torture,maiming, kidnapping, and a litany of other very outrageous acts. Many of it performed by teenagers who have no parental supervision and buck authority and laws set down by the established governing body of the land.
      Yet in face of all this the idea of two kids scoring & for all we know it could be 2nd base only action might not be wholly appropriate to the storyline!!!
      Interesting indeed.

  9. I still maintain my right to ship Taylor/Lisa. I don’t care if there hasn’t been a single whiff of romance between the two of them. If I want it hard enough, it’ll have to come true.

      • not yet, though I’m working on something (I’ll write it in the comments when I post it on my blog).

        and yes, I ship Taylor/Lisa as well. First time in my life I ship a pairing that is against canon (and against the characters obvious sexuality). this story has corrupted me (or at least Psycho Gecko has)

          • I can already see the shippers.

            “She doesn’t really love Grue!”

            “She asked Rachel to come with them!”

            “Obviously it’s Rachel she loves!”

            And to be clear, I am just as bad in certain fandoms, no offence is intended to anyone who has actually reached this level of rabid shipping for Worm.

            It probably does say a lot that Taylor considers Bitch to make silences comfortable though.

          • You have it all wrong Anzer. Taylor does love Grue. She just also loves Bitch and Lisa. She is doing her best to set up a nice little villanous polyamorous group. You can’t just rush into these things, there is alot of groundwork to set up. On the plus side Lisa probably figured out the plan by now and her lack of opposition says to me she wants to see where things go.

            • Bluh. Almost certainly in the minority here, but do not want (and not just because I’m shipping Taylor with Rachel and/or Lisa; I came to terms with her heterosexuality long ago).

              They met a couple months ago? Acknowledged there might be a chance for romance like, yesterday? They’re both exhausted, both varying degrees of traumatized, and more than anything else need stability. The whole madcap passionate romance thing is almost never healthy, but especially not here. Being there for each other, being affectionate and supportive, that’s all great and helpful and would probably grow into something wonderful. Suddenly deciding to fuck is just stupid.

              Especially since I’m pretty sure neither of them were carrying protection, and pregnancy is something a teenage supervillain should *not* be risking.

              • Lol, now I’m trying to think of who could still function as a cape while pregnant. Shadow Stalker maybe? I suppose a lot of flying bricks could too. Glory Girl (pre flesh-monster days) with her forcefield would be fine if she didn’t go up against Crawler again. On that note, Amy could function as she normally does too (could she affect her child while pregnant? Or only after it was born?). And Skitter could still do things, just not necessarily in person.

                Still, probably better to use protection.

                Totally agree with your other point though, too. If they are having sex without really thinking about it beforehand… is probably not the best idea for the wellbeing of their relationship. “Madcap passionate romance” and all that.

              • Genesis would probably be fine, if the trance didn’t cause problems, no-one would even be able to tell.

            • You have a beautiful mind. Here I was thinking of just expanding my Taylor/Lisa/Char/Sierra harem into including Brian but a polyamory one almost works better! Still though I just get an evil little cackle thinking of Skitter sitting on her throne smiling at her harem clustered around her. I see it as a “yes I am badass enough to have a harem all to myself. What have you done as a supervillain today?”

          • mc2rpg, you have a beautiful mind (not as big and beautiful as taylor’s, but still)

            also, I can’t believe I’m taking part in a shipping discussion. What has this story done to me?!

          • *gives tieshaunn a piece of the apple* Didn’t think that one through, actually. But if you’d like to go watch The Joker Blogs, I recommend it. Good job, expands on the Joker from Dark Knight. He’s just send to Arkham after the events of the movie where his psychiatrist, Harleen Quinzel, is hoping to cure him. First episode he’s a bit tentative in the role, but second episode on is good stuff. Personally, I’m a big fan of Episode 4 and the bear hunting story.

    • Honestly? There is still a lot of friction between her and Grue, even in the context of this scene. I’m not sure if there’s even chemistry, so much as it’s just convenient. So YMMV about if the main ship is all the steady.

  10. I’m disappointed that none of you have thought of this yet.

    Prepare yourself.


    Fifty Shades of Grue.

    On a more productive note, I know that Wildbow has said he’s not good at romance in the past, but I feel this was realistically and tastefully done. Nobody got swept off their feet and nothing super romantic happened. It was just two teenagers with all of the awkwardness that brings.

    • I am left with one question that I feel somewhat impertinent for asking, but will anyway.

      When quoting Wildbow, what grounds are there for stating that “He’s” not good at something? (Other than an assumption that a “She” naturally would be on this occasion)? I can find no bio of Wildbow, and very little self references within the comments I have read over all the arcs (having read the entire story, and most of the more recent comments).

      To put it another way: Wildbow – maybe one of your bonus features could be a non-fiction one: some background on the Author!

      • I have noticed that the majority of posters who use a gender pronoun for Wildbow use “he”, but not all of them. I have my own suspicions, but Alexandra Erin taught me to keep those to myself until there is absolute proof.

        It’s interesting, really. Some pseudonyms tend to foster more ambiguity than others. I’ve had both gender pronouns used for me before, too. It always makes me chuckle. (And feel a bit flattered.)

        And on the subject of commenters’ knowledge about Wildbow, well, the author has posted details like that in the comments sections of past chapters. Go back and read them all, if you have any doubts. Heck, if you really want all that info compiled in one place, do it yourself and put it in the Wiki.

        Here, I’ll even throw you a freebie: Wildbow’s a Canuck.


        • I mention bits about myself in various places – you could probably track down a fair bit with rather easy research (starting with the links on the sidebar of the site’s front page; webfictionguide, the wiki, etc).

          But as much as it might be to my advantage to build a ‘brand’ around myself as an author, it’s not something I’m hugely comfortable doing. I think our generation’s sort of moving away from the notion of privacy, with facebook, twitter, texting and everything just unloading our thoughts & ourselves out for the world to see, and I sort of grew up just before that trend really took hold (or you could say I grew up while it was taking hold, but I wasn’t really caught up in it at the time). So I sort of prefer telling people what I want them to know about myself and leaving the rest be. If they’re really interested in who I am, they could dig up info elsewhere, but I don’t know that I’d want to post up a biography or anything anywhere nearby.

          In a way, I also sort of want to see what conclusions readers come to from the writing alone. Yes, there’s a lot of myself in the story (parts of myself in many of the main characters), some events are drawn from my real life (more than some family/friends who read the story suspect, I think) and that does color the writing, but I’ve had people I know IRL who read my story make assumptions about what I’m drawing from. ‘You’re writing this character badly because of your gender’ or ‘You wrote this because of that experience you had way back then’ or even ‘you based this character off of that person’. On the flip side, it’s kind of amusing to see people saying something’s unrealistic when it’s something that really truly did happen to me or someone I know.

          By the same token, I like seeing whether people assume I’m male or female by how I write a female protagonist or the fact that I’m writing a story in a genre that’s predominantly read by guys. Ditto for my nationality or anything else that’s shaping the narrative.

          So… yeah. I won’t hide anything, but at the same time I don’t think I’ll dish all the dirt on the person behind the wild boar piglet avatar. Sorry.

          • For your research/potential amusement, then, I had assumed you were female until I saw the comments saying “he,” figuring they knew something I didn’t. 😀

          • I know John Scalzi won several awards for his YA, girl protagonist novel “Zoe’s Tale”, so its not like good fiction is gender restricted.

          • I’ve always thought you were female. Can’t really pin it down, but something about “Worm” just tells me that you’re female. Not that I’m an expert at this kind of thing.
            As for nationality/age/everything else: I’d say you’re in your early to mid-twenties – here speaks my intuition, again and your comment about growing up as the trend was taking hold fortifies this feeling. no clue about your nationality, other than I somehow don’t think that you’re asian (and if you are, than a completely Americanized one). equal points both for white and black, so no conclusion there.

            hmm, what else? damn, I should have taken that course on forensic text analysis last semester…

            I’d say that you’re from a middle- to upper-class background, plus at least college level education: your writing is polished enough that it is more probable that you have an above-average education (and your overall skill, both in style and substance speaks heavily for either a university background – probably currently studying, possibly something related to writing)
            as for the background, you had the leisure to write two chapters a week even before donations picked up (and even now, they would not be enough to support you alone), so either money from family or a paying but not to straining job.

            other than that, I don’t know. I could be completely wrong with this, because, again, I did not take forensic text analysis. it was either that or vampire literature from anne rice to terry pratchett, and the alure of Pratchett won out.

          • Who can resist Terry Pratchett?

            Tell me and we can send something after them. Like Mrs. Cake, or a golem, or a troll, or something from the Dungeon Dimensions, or hire one of those fellows from the Assassin’s Guild. If they break the law, then you send Vimes after them. Personally, I’d rather hang out at the Gambler’s Guild by the Alchemists’ Guild, perhaps buy something off a guy who’s cutting his own throat at that price.

          • You are definitely not black, in fact,I don’t think you are a person of color because if you were, your experiences of that nature would undoubtedly be reflected in your writing. Also, the fact that most of the characters, including your protagonist are white, as far as I can tell (everyone in the undersiders except grue and imp, everyone in the travelers, the heros are mostly white). The fact that race is pretty much not mentioned at all (unless to describe appearance) in your story points to the fact that you are afraid to touch upon it or just don’t directly think much about it which I believe is true of many middle to upper class, highly educated whites

      • I don’t remember which chapter it was from, but Wildbow stated that he does not think he’s good at writing romance.

        As for calling Wildbow “him”, I guess it’s a bit of involuntary sexism on my part? Since I’m a male, the default for me is to assume that the author is a male.

        You could argue that since Wildbow is writing with a female main character, that might make Wildbow more likely to be female. But I would reply with my observation that Wildbow seems to be the kind of author to challenge him/herself, and might do so by writing a story from a different gender viewpoint.

        See how awkward that paragraph was with no specific gender pronouns?

        How about this. If we ever get a forum for Worm, we can have a whole sticky topic to debate Wildbow’s gender. Until then, I say we just pick a pronoun and run with it.

        • “I don’t remember which chapter it was from, but Wildbow stated that he does not think he’s good at writing romance.”

          Yes, I would respectfully suggest that this means one of the following things.

          a)-Wildbow is totally unaware of his/her own abilities.

          b)-Wildbow is waaaay too modest.

          c)-Wildbow is a liar. At trouser inferno levels.

          Given that we’ve also seen plenty of similar statements I’m voting for a) and b) together.

      • I can’t remember, does Grue’s new darkness prevent Skitter from being able to feel her bugs? If so, that’s a downright inconsiderate form of foreplay, sir. If not, well, she’d be in far less danger that he would, if Grue got too pushy.

  11. Let’s see, I missed reporting a typo from last chapter: “cause ot”. This chapter has “my my mask”.

    I enjoyed Rachel’s reaction. We get to see her pulling out of her shell and it turns out that she has a playful side. I suspect that it’s related to her competitiveness, which is kind of awesome, too.

  12. I know it’s largely due to the way the serial is written (no time for a lot of drafts), but I often feel like conversations in Worm go on for too long. Characters end up repeating things back and forth to each other, or spending sentences clarifying minor points of information. I was really feeling it in the conversation between Taylor and Sierra. (And also in some of the other conversations.)

    The thing is, that’s probably closer to how people speak in real life. It’s just that how people speak in real life is frustrating to read, which is why conversations in fiction are often shorter and snappier than they would otherwise be, with characters grasping each other’s points without a lot of repetition or irrelevant information.

        • Necro-reply because it matters:

          Don’t worry too much about it. Characters exist as ideas, and part of that idea is How it memetically interacts with the world around it, either in story or in the reader’s imagination.

          You’ve got a lot of good story, and a solid base of good readers. Some of them interact in different ways with the characters–just like some of them interact in different ways to speakers IRL. You WANT some people to be annoyed at Taylor’s mannerisms, just like you want some people to empathize with Piggot and some to feel like Grue doesn’t find himself as out of place as a black guy in a white story might be expected to.

          A big part of the reason I tell people to check this story out is because the characters feel real, for the most part. Some I hate, others I like or admire, and still others make me pause and think “Damn, that’s hardcore.” If you ever lose that as a writer, you would lose a large part of why I’m a reader.

          And yes, humans are weird and awkward and self-referential and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince themselves of their own ideas. Never forget that like standards of beauty or wealth, Hollywood also breeds fake dialogue.

    • I’m of the opposite opinion.

      The dialogue feels real, reading it makes the characters feel much more alive since they talk and react understandably. I never like that kind of instant dialogue, stumbling around on words feels much more like a person.

        • Anything that employs dialogue uses a stylized perspective. Even if verbal filler (um, ah, well, er, “yeah no,” like) is employed, it’s done strategically to “say something,” so to speak, about the character. This is why newspapers never give exact quotes: writing down every stutter could make anyone look foolish, no matter the content of their utterance.

          TL;DR: These scenes tend to needlessly circle around “meat/point” of the scene–what the characters are actually getting at. A weakness of this serial is that it often switches between dialogue and action, without using action to replace dialogue as an emotion-shower in “talk scenes.” This post is itself a meta-example. I circled around what I was trying to say before realizing that I could summarize my point in a paragraph. I’ve left the post below anyway, since it proves my point about real-life vs. fictional dialogue.

          I agree with Damali. These dialogue-heavy scenes tend to move slowly. Whenever I take the time to break down a book I’m reading, it’s always interesting to note that not much is given in the way of “said-bookisms,” but instead a general picture is painted through accumulating “layers” of dialogue/action combos.

          If I may be so bold, let’s take a more general example. Taylor prefaces a lot of her dialogue with “Listen, ______.” She’s used to not being listened to, and is insecure in a lot of ways, so this makes sense.

          But we already know this, because we’ve spent time in Taylor’s head. What’s the first line of this story? “The bell rang, and all I could think was ‘an hour is too long for lunch’.”

          Not exactly something a confident social butterfly would say. The verbal tics aren’t necessary, because (ideally) we should see how these characters are through their actions. Regent and Imp’s interactions in the chapter where the Undersiders take out the Chosen are a good example of this.

          Another example, Grue and Taylor’s conversation re: intimidation could be cut down a lot. How is up to you, but the debate over intimidation isn’t super-necessary. If you want to emphasize that Taylor doesn’t think she’s intimidating:

          *Grue makes his point*
          *Taylor rebuts*
          *Grue makes a final point*

          Now it’s a bunch of points and mini-rebuttals. There’s also filler even when Grue talks, i.e. “Me? _____” We know he’s talking about himself. I don’t even know why people do this in real life. *Do* people do this in real life?

          Reading the chapter again, plus some other Taylor dialogue scenes. The biggest problem with them is that every line is bookended with *a lot* of thinking. She doesn’t need to explain to us why she’s staring at our food–we’ve all been there.

          “‘I don’t want you to feel guilted into anything,’ I said. I kept my eyes on my food, away from Sierra” probably would have sufficed (then again, I’m no writer). Instead, we get:

          “Then don’t,” I told her, trying to look like I was more focused on the food than anything else. It wouldn’t do for her to see how much this was gutting me, and I didn’t want her to get guilted into anything. I grabbed a coke from the fridge. I gestured with it to Grue, and he nodded. I grabbed another for him. I had to swallow and clear my throat

          Interestingly, I automatically paraphrased into what Taylor was actually trying to say. This is exactly what I’m talking about. Obviously, you can fine-tune things–does she turn away from Sierra when getting the Coke, et cetera. But the endless circling around the point is something that (in my mind) should only happen in real life–*unless* that circling serves a highly specific purpose, as it might with Taylor and Brian’s romance.

          • I’m sorry if this came off as condescending, by the way. That wasn’t my intention, and I’m certainly no master wordsmith looking to school a neophyte. If anything, it’s the other way around.

          • I’m not sure I understand why realistic dialogue is a bad thing?

            There’s no imposed word count nor are any of us in that much of a hurry. I think one of the best things the internet did for writing was make it easier to write more.

          • Personally, I feel the dialogue is far more realistic than many other things I’ve read. Too often, every character ends up sounding far too sophisticated or educated for their level. Furthermore, I see that “circling around”/too many thoughts thing very in character for Skitter. She’s way to analytical, and seems to think about every single action to the last detail. We’ve even speculated that its a side effect of her power, like a hive queen. So I would argue that specific writing style works, when it is from her point of view. It is when the POV shifts during interludes that the author may need to consider changing things

          • Hmm. I’ll have to go on record as disagreeing. In fact, a recurring annoyance for me when reading is the feeling that the scene was “rushed” and didn’t really spend enough time on something. Even with an undeniably good author who happens to have a dynamic and fast-paced writing style, I’ll find myself thinking back on the scene and wishing a bit more had been done.

            • Necro-commenting because this is important long-term, potentially impacting Worm edits and future Wildbow projects. I like the dialogue in Worm, complete with its occasional miscommunications or clarifications. Taylor sometimes seems like she’s struggling to talk the way she wants, and that fits the character to me; streamlining could jeopardize that. It might be less appropriate with a different narrator, however. Hope that helps.


              • I’m going to necro-agree. I very much like the dialogue style, and I think we’d lose something if it was condensed to “standard”.

              • I’d like to agree, as well. I love how “real” the dialogue in this series feels – perhaps more than the vast majority of the fiction I’ve read. The quality of the dialogue, in fact, has been one of the things that has stood out the most to me in this series. I think it’s fantastic, real, vulnerable, very natural. It feels like a real conversation, not fictional character interacting on paper.

    • I agree.

      I doubt anyone suspects Regent of being any worse than a mischievous influence for Aisha. However I doubt anything will happen quite yet, Alec is rather too aware that Grue would respond by breaking his foot off in Alec’s ass.

      • I think the main problem with the relationship would be Aisha doesn’t seem to realize just how nasty Alec is capable of being. Sooner or later I can easily see things going in a much darker direction than Aisha is cool with. When Brian is trying to stop those two from getting together Aisha just doesn’t seem to get why he is doing it.

        • Sure he’s dark but what evidence is there for him doing anything so horrible to her?

          I’d think the main problem would be that both of them are very fucked up and as such need help and support. While it’s possible for them to act as mutual support and get through their issues together…it’s more likely for them to just meet a lot of problems and decide against a relationship.

          Honestly It seems more likely that Grue and Taylor are projecting and neither Alec nor Aisha is planning on getting together. I find it hard to see either of them even wanting a romance. Both have had pretty horrible experiences of it, both seem to want to just have fun and avoid thinking too hard about it and while both of them are actually much deeper, wiser and less jovial I doubt they’re eager for more pain.

          And again, Alec knows Grue will hurt him regardless of Aisha’s feelings on the matter. Aisha herself is hardly to be worried about given that her power makes it impossible for Alec to do anything unless he really, really sets things up…and I’m just not seeing it. That would be a very abrupt change on his part.

          • If you think about it though, they are actually are a very good couple in some ways. Or, perhaps more accurate to say, they mesh in a way that limits how bad each of them can be in a relationship. That’s kinda important, since if you follow the theory that their future relationships will be influenced by how they grew up thinking of relationships, well….each of them is used to abusive relationships.
            Let me explain myself so it doesn’t just look like I’m talking out of my rear. Alec grew up with most of the women in his household as slaves, and perhaps a few of the men too. He likely never had someone who cared about him who wasn’t being coerced in some way, let alone a lover. He may have never seen a properly loving relationship in his life, and the BEST case scenario for him is that he developed an understanding of romantic relationships through watching television. Which is a bit sad if you think on it. Imp is a good counter for this problem of his. She’s been a doormat before, and now that she’s got the ability to fight back, she doesn’t tolerate it. The exact line on what behaviour she’ll tolerate from Regent is unclear, but potentially they could be a good match. More importantly, her ability is a very strong long-term counter to his. He could control her once, but the moment she got a chance to use her powers, she’d find a way to slip free of him for good. I don’t think he neccessarily would, but the point is the psychological effect: He has no choice but to view her as an equal. He can’t go around thinking ‘well, if worst comes to worst, there’s my power’ even subconsciously. Which means he’ll have to start thinking about her as a person if he wants to be in a relationship with her.

            Imp’s problem is a bit different. She’s been in unpleasant relationships before, and the fact that her power is what it is says a lot. She will not tolerate an abusive relationship, but ironically, due to her upbringing, she’s likely to have a skewed view of what ‘abusive’ is, and how much is too much. How these facts work out is up in the air, but potentially it could mean that she’d be the best person to ‘train’ him out of bad habits, whilst at the same time being unusually tolerant of his…quirks. The fact that they’re close right now suggests this is a possibility. Moreover, Regent’s power is exactly the kind of thing to train someone into constantly thinking about a specific person, regardless of what distracting circumstances there might be.
            Now, let’s be clear, I do not think these two would be the best couple ever. There would be some aspects of this relationship that would be potentially unhealthy, but at the same time, those are inevitable effects of who these two are, and this coupling gives each of them a chance to figure themselves out and how to have a romantic relationship that is at least slightly healthy.

            Also, this discussion has made me suspect that the next plot twist will be Regent’s dad showing up.

          • An additional point: if she’s controlled by Regent and he ever uses her power, he then loses control of her due to how her power works.

        • “darker than aisha is cool with??”
          that girl is violent. people look down on her and assign personality traits to her (gentleness, naivety, etc) just because of her age. she is inexperienced, but she is far from innocent.

  13. Soooo… no one else gonna start speculating what DVDs they put in and promptly ignored? I’d say… Big Lebowski, Kung Fu Hustle, and Trailer Park Boys: The Movie
    Trailer Park Boys: The Movie.

    Also, better steer clear of Tattletale for a while, she’ll never let you hear the end of it.

  14. *Aaaaaaaaaaaaah*


  15. This would be a nice, calm way to finish an arc.

    So of course something is going to screw everything up right after the donation interlude. Taylor can’t ever catch a break. It’s the First Law of Taylordynamics: “Taylor is incapable of catching a break.” The Second Law calculates how much worse this is within an hour of noon.

  16. I love chapters like this, with the Undersiders getting to just talk with each other, with all the interpersonal problems that can bring.
    The shipping discussion amuses me. I like Taylor as an anchor for Brian and Brian as someone who could potentially help Taylor get a bit more self esteem… although I do also like the idea of Taylor/Lisa and Lisa would probably be very good at helping Taylor with that too, even as friends come to think of it.
    A couple of proofreading notes:
    Lost in thought” – needs a period
    “No TV,” Grue said. […] But you can’t tell me I can’t watch T.V.” – inconsistent punctuation of TV
    gonna to kick back – surplus “to”

  17. “… don’t need to rub it in the heroes’ noses.” Uh, backwards. (rub their noses in IT.) And given that the aphorism comes from a method for supposedly house -training dogs, EWWW! and would Brian use such a line in front of Rachel so thoughtlessly!?!
    “I’m… I’m alright. Lost in thought” missing full stop.
    Some scene discontinuities:
    When Brian and Taylor take their food and go to her bedroom, they remove their masks, she gives him a wooden chair, they eat and talk, she fiddles with DVDs (first they are in a box, then a bag — oops). Bit of a runon ‘thought’ sentence about movie genres. A period after ‘out’ instead of a comma would clear it up.

    They keep talking, then she loads the DVDs, removes some armor, and … settles back into his chest on the bed. The step of him getting out of the chair and moving to the bed is just a small detail, but it’s a jarring gap, somehow; needs a tad more exposition of what he is doing while she is setting up DVDs. Is his armor all still on?
    OK — so — these two have cuddled and snoozed together on a sofa, exchanged hugs at various times, maybe a peck on the cheek, but have they ever actually had a full-on romantic kiss? But him ‘blindfolding her’ and unzipping her costume is the next move? Uh … if I was an inexperienced teen girl, even one with powers and being with someone I consider a friend, I still would NOT be feeling relaxed about this. I want their romantic relationship to proceed, even accelerate, but they need more equal footing, somehow.

  18. Stories have really given us, as conscious creatures, a very warped sense of reality. We expect our lives to follow NARRATIVE logic, where things can’t just be good, where we have to struggle to earn every fleeting moment of happiness that is inevitably just going to be a breather episode before the next disaster. between that, and our belief in our power of pattern recognition that tells us if three or four bad things happen then more bad things must happen, we really do tend to set ourselves up to fail, just so we can say “I knew this would happen”.

    Here’s hoping Taylor lives long enough to stop being scared of being wrong.

  19. i feel that the sudden sex scene was kinda rapey, with brian pushing for something she’s not 100% certain of (though he did give her the time and opportunity to refuse).

    thing is less about rape than it is about power disparity. they’re doing it because he wanted to, under conditions that she didn’t approve of that put him in a position of power over her.

    it makes me uncomfortable, but it’s not enough to be immoral – only enough to be imperfect and unromantic. she had the freedom to refuse so it’s not rape, but that was not a 100% enthusiastic affirmation either so that puts it somewhere below an ideal consent. a far more realistic portrayal than average, as per your usual.

    i love that power disparity play you have with taylor – this was not the first time it comes into play, she assumes the underdog role in most her relationships as seen most evidently with bitch. always so ready to sacrifice, even hugely important parts of herself – she was ready to go through unknown permanent changes to her power against siberian when it was not completely necessary, jumping off the escape dog for ballistic and then being saved by sheer luck, and so on. it’s a downright theme. i wonder how that outlook would affect her future relationships when she’ll find her self-worth and acknowledges that she’s badass, would she be able to adapt and assume a more assertive role, would she find a way to stay submissive while being badass or would the two traits clash making relationships difficult- perhaps she would be unattracted to weaker boys.

  20. This chapter was awesome. I love the more low key interactions between the characters from Alec’s hilarious comments to Bitch’s complete deadpan ‘I told you so’ moments.

    Imp is never going to get the respect she wants if she keeps cutting off arguments before she wins them…while that is a hilarious way to end the conversation she really needs to grow up a bit. I like her but she’s kind of annoying.

    I still like to ship Taylor/Lisa but that was so cute with her and Brian that he can join my imagined harem she has going. Also I didn’t find this scene rapey vibed or unrealistic at all. It was a lot like how some teenage first times go so it works great!

    • Kinky is true. Hopefully he didn’t leave it on for too long though since dulled senses kinda takes a lot of the fun out of it!

  21. >“I’m… I’m alright. Lost in thought”

    Missing full stop, as pointed out.

    Aw, goddamn. Why did it have to come to this?

  22. I’m really disappointed there was no genuine consent in that scene. It’s tiring to see the same old trope over and over again of one partner (usually a guy) initiating sex or intimacy without really asking. And she said herself that she wasn’t entirely comfortable with it / didn’t know how to feel about it. For goodness sake, he effectively blinded and deafened her while leaving himself entirely unaffected, and THEN kissed her.

    • These two seem to be way way better at open communication than most stupid YA couples, so I was hoping that Grue wouldn’t be a lowkey manipulative little shit when it came to this.

    • That’s silly, unfair, and kind of concerning that you would take this stance. She was at ease. Grue was/is the one who needed support, comfort, reassurance, and a sense of being in power due to recent trauma; it’s best compared to pulling the blanket over both of their heads.

      I find it exceedingly offensive when people (usually women) are generalized into this gross, helpless hypoagency state where they’re utterly helpless and need to get asked every step of the way, and others (usually men) are given hyperagency where the responsibility for everything falls on their shoulders.

      Real humans do not act the way you’re expecting them to act. Real humans in relationships who know, trust, respect, and care for each other, who have bared and shared their weaknesses, can infer consent. Demanding or denying the ability to decide consent (ie. to speak up and express discomfort) would and will generally be wrong, and would be the case here if Taylor could not speak in the darkness – but she could. She could communicate with him throughout, and he turned out the lights in a sense because he was self conscious about his scars and he needed to feel in control, and he felt no need to communicate with anything but touch.

      Sometimes this means a person will kiss another person by surprise in the dark, only to get a shock and a “No, I don’t want to” from the other party (see Taylor kissing Brian earlier in the story). An occasional moment of awkwardness that stands as a small, negligible price to pay in exchange for the joys of spontaneity, true intimacy, and actual agency between all participants.

      • I had the same argument with a friend after posting this, and I’ve decided since that I was overreacting for just that reason. Sorry for being scathing, it’s a sore topic.

      • I think the end of this chapter would feel significantly more comfortable in this regard if the last line included something like “I decided I was okay with it”, either in addition to or replacing “I didn’t protest any further”.

        You’re right that Taylor not giving consent out loud doesn’t mean she’s not consenting, especially since our knowledge of the scene just stops at a certain point- she can implicitly consent with her actions, and I have no trouble believing that she did, and that Brian received that message.

        But the audience is used to knowing more about her decisions than just how she acts. We generally have narration telling us about her thought processes- things like whether she agrees with a decision or simply doesn’t feel comfortable challenging it, whether she pursues something as an end in itself or as a means to a greater goal. Indeed, the question of whether her motivations matter when judging her actions is a major theme of the story, and a topic of perennial discussion among the readers. So when there’s only a change in what she’s doing, with no reference to why (or even whether) she changed her mind, that action feels more ambiguous when we read it in the story than it would if we heard about it in real life. Mostly that ambiguity is deliberate and fits into the feel of the scene, or gets resolved later in the text- but in this case there is no more text to resolve it, and it’s a very poor fit with the intended direction of the ending as a whole (or it fits in well, but shapes the overall impression into something that doesn’t match your intent). I think you can understand how, in this particular context, that inflated and unresolved ambiguity leads to concerns about consent.

  23. “Tattletale broke Skitter when she said we won” is hilarious. The statement is true, and that’s sad, but hearing it said so nonchalantly after being a constant undercurrent for fifteen and a half arcs? I could have done a spit take.

  24. Finally! We get to have nice things for one whole chapter! This is as good as it gets, people. I’m afraid the rest of the story could just be shock and horror after this.

    I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

  25. Teenagers banging…. Oh that brings back memories! Wildbow you are the best paranormal author I’ve read and I’ve read a crap load!

  26. When I considered grue using his darkness during, what i assume to be, sex I always figured it would make the act sort of one-sided since it deafens and blinds taylor. Might even numb sense of touch. Let her hear your sounds man

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