Taking Root 1.1

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How does it go?  The first lesson, something even the uninitiated know.  For life to flourish on the most basic level, it requires four elements.  Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen.

We were doing fine on that count.  The air around us was stale, but it was still oxygen.  Water ran around and below us, flowing over our bare feet, redirected from gutters to the building’s inside.

What had once been a barn had been made into a warehouse, then abandoned partway through a third set of changes.  A floor of old wooden slats reached only halfway down the length of the old building, what had once been a hayloft.  If we stood on the edge, we could look down at the floor below to see uneven floorboards on top of compacted dirt.  The original barn’s door was still there, mounted on rollers.  I leaned over to get a better look.  I could see a table, some scattered papers, books, and a blackboard.  The only light was that which came in through windows.  A scattered set placed on the upper floor, and more well above head height on the lower one.

Aside from the four of us, one other thing occupied the hayloft.  It was hard to make out in the dim light that filtered in through the window, like an eel in dark water, and if it weren’t for the fact that we’d seen it approach, we might not have noticed it at all.  Sleek, four-legged, and tall enough I couldn’t have reached its shoulder if I stood on my toes, it was wound around the pillar as a snake might be.  Unlike a snake, though, it had four long limbs, each with four long digits, tipped with claws.  Head flowed into neck, which flowed into shoulder and body without a without prominent ridge, bump, bone or muscle to interrupt the sequence.

It uncoiled, setting a claw on the floor, and the old floorboards didn’t elicit an audible creak.  Large as it was, it managed to distribute weight too evenly, and used its tail to suspend some of its weight.

It didn’t walk, but slinked, each foot falling in front of the last as it passed within three feet of us.  Its wide mouth parted, showing just a hint of narrow white teeth.

There was no cover, nothing to hide us from it.

I saw its nostrils flare.  It opened its mouth to taste the air with a flick of a thin tongue.

The way things looked, we were very close to doing the opposite of ‘flourishing’.

It was hard to put into words, but my thoughts connected with that thought, and it was funny.

I grinned, and flakes of wax fell from my face at the movement.  I watched the thing continue onward, toward the back of the hayloft, head turning as it sniffed the surroundings.  It unwound its long tail from the wooden pillar that held up the one end of the overhanging hayloft, and it moved with a slow carefulness.

I stared at its eye, and saw how it didn’t move as the head swept from one side to the next, the slit of the iris barely changing in response as the faint light from the window swept over its head.

“It’s blind,” I whispered.

The movements of the creature came to a halt.  It froze, nostrils wide.

Gordon, just to my left, put out a hand, covering my mouth.  He was tense, lines on his neck standing out.  Trying to put on a brave face, as our leader.  Gordon, strong, handsome, likeable, talented.  A veneer covered his face, as it did all of us, almost clear, cracked and white at the corners of his lips where he’d changed his expression, coming away in flakes at his hairline, where his hair was covered by the same substance.

The creature turned, and as it did its tail moved around until it touched the outside edge of the makeshift gutter that we were all standing in, fine emerald scales rasping against wood.

When Gordon whispered his response, I could barely hear him utter, “It’s not deaf.”

I nodded, and he pulled his hand away.

I had a glimpse of the girls.  Helen and Lillian.  As different as night and day.  Lillian was bent over, hood up and over her head, hiding her face, hands clutching the straps of her bag, white knuckled.  Terrified, and rightly so.  The coating on her face was flaking badly.

In contrast, Helen’s face didn’t betray a flicker of emotion.  Her golden hair, normally well cared for, cultivated into tight rolls, was damp and falling out of place.  Water ran down her face, splashing in through the side of the window where the makeshift gutter came in, and the droplets didn’t provoke one flinch or batted eyelash.  She could have been a statue, and she’d kept her face still enough that the wax that covered it hadn’t broken, which only helped the effect.

Still and silent, we watched as the creature moved to the far corner of the hayloft.

It snapped, and the four curved fangs were the only ones that were any wider than a pencil, visible for only an instant before the head disappeared into detritus piled in the corner.  A furred form struggled before the creature could raise its head.  No swallowing, per se.  Gravity did the work, as teeth parted and the prey fell down its long throat.

A second bite let it collect another, small and young enough it couldn’t even struggle.  Tiny morsels.

“Kitties,” Lillian whispered, horror overtaking fear in her expression.

Mama kitty shouldn’t have had her babies in the same building as the monster, I thought.  Wallace’s law at work.

Gordon nudged me.  He pointed.

The window.

I nodded.

The makeshift gutter was little more than a trough, with little care given for the leaks here and there, and it fed into wooden barrels at the edge of the upper floor, with more channels and troughs leading into sub-chambers and tanks below.  It had been running long enough for debris and grime to accumulate, a combination of silt and scum collecting at the very bottom to make it treacherous.  Our progress was slow, and I had to remind myself that anything faster threatened to make noise, or risked a fall.

As if to follow the thought, Lillian’s foot skidded on the bottom of the trough, and she tipped forward, straight into Helen’s arms.  The creature stopped its slow consumption of the cat’s litter.

We were frozen, waiting, while the creature sniffed the air.

It returned to its meal.

We made our way out, everyone but me flipping up their hoods to ward off the rain.  I let the droplets fall where they would, on hair that refused to be bound down beneath a thick layer of waterproofing wax.

There was no ledge outside the window, only the real gutter.  Bigger and more solid, if still treacherous with seasons of accumulated grime.  The roof loomed above us, more up than over, as barn roofs were wont to be.  Red leaves collected here and there.

“I stay,” Helen murmured.

There was no questioning it, no argument.  We couldn’t afford to make the noise, and it made a degree of sense.

“I’ll go first,” I volunteered, craning my head a bit to see the way down.  Being the sort of building it was, the barn-turned-warehouse-turned-something-else was tall, with a long way to the bottom.  The gutter pointed groundward at the corner, fixed to the brick exterior at regular points by lengths of metal.  It worked as a ladder, but not one that was fun to use.  The ‘rungs’ were too far apart, too close to the wall.

Someone grabbed my arm.  I thought it would be Gordon or Helen, as they had the personalities to be arm-grabbers.  It wasn’t.

“You go second,” Lillian whispered to me.  “I know you well enough to know that If you go before me you’ll look up my skirt.”

“Me?” I tried to sound innocent.

Gordon jabbed me.  His expression was no-nonsense, his green eyes a steely grey beneath his hood, absorbing the colors of the clouds above.  His mouth was a grim line.

“Okay,” I conceded.

“I’ll take your bag,” Gordon whispered.  Again, there was no argument.  Lillian handed over the backpack, loaded down with tools and supplies.

She accepted Gordon’s support in getting down to the downspout, and began her slow descent.

I fidgeted.  My eye traveled over our surroundings, buildings scattered like they’d been blown around by strong winds and planted where they lay.  Older structures had a charm to them, simplicity and a character that came with age and gentle wear and tear.  The oldest and the newest buildings had been shored up by strategic plant growth, branches weaving into and through damaged sections, growing to complement masonry, around bricks and supports.  The very newest growths had a characteristic red tint to the leaves.  The rest were dead, left to petrify.

The Academy loomed above it all, those same elements taken to an extreme.  It had been an old collection of buildings once.  A rush to grow and meet surging demand had led to a lot of the same haphazard growth.

It all had an odor.  There were smells that became second nature, and there were smells that were ingrained in the psyche as bad smells.  Ones that spoke of death, of long sickness, and of violence.  Rendered fat, decay, and blood.  Each were heavy on the air.

Ironic, that things so overgrown and reeking of decay were the parts of the city charged with progress.

You’d think the rain would wash away the smell.

I checked.  Lillian had moved down one rung.  I shifted my weight from one foot to the next, annoyed.

She wasn’t one of us.  She was new.  Allowances had to be made.

It wasn’t the first time I had told myself any of those things.  I’d heard it from Gordon.  It didn’t make it any less annoying.

I bent down, peering over the edge of the gutter to the road below.  I could see the windows, the boxes further down.

“Sy,” Gordon hissed the words, “What are you doing?”

Gripping the ledge, I swung myself over.

I let go, and enjoyed both the moment of utter terror and Lillian’s gasp of horror, before my fingers caught hold of the window frame below.

My right foot slipped on the damp windowsill, scraping peeling paint off and away before I brought it back up to the sill.  Water and paint flakes sprayed below.

When I looked up, Gordon’s head was poking over the edge, looking down at me.

He moved his head, and I could hear him speak, very patiently, to Lillian, “Keep going.  Don’t mind him.”

Peering in the window, I could see the interior, the lower floor.  The desk, the notes on the experiment.  Another table was heavy with lines of bottles, vials, jugs, and yet more papers, scattered.  Rain poured down on me, tracing its way down the back of my neck, beneath my shirt.  The waxed and waterproof cowl and short cloak had kept my shirt dry, and I shivered at the sensation.

I tested the window, and was utterly surprised to find it latched.  I drew a key from my pocket, trying to fit it into the gap, hoping to lift the latch, but it proved too thick.

The key went back in place.  I removed my hands from the windowsill one at a time, to dry them in my armpits and then reposition my grip.

Gripping the windowsill, I strained my body, reaching down and to the right.  The doorframe that bounded the large sliding door was just out of reach…

Holding the windowsill with my left hand, reaching with my right leg, I touched the frame with my big toe.  I found a grip, and I used it to better position myself.  Fingers dug into the space between bricks, where water had worn away mortar, and I heaved myself over, using my toes and only my toes to perch on the top of the doorway.

Were it any other door, I wouldn’t have fussed, but I was still just high enough off the ground to have cause to worry.  This had been a barn, and this door was the type that let wagons or draft horses inside.

I paused on top of the door, cleaning my hands of wet and grit.

“Watching you do that is making me nervous,” Lillian said, looking down at me.  She’d progressed two more ‘rungs’.  She was the shortest of us, next to me, it didn’t make it easier for her.

I flashed her a grin, and more of the waterproofing wax that I’d caked onto my face cracked.

I worked my way down to a crouch, still on top of the door, then slid down, draping my front against the door itself.  I let myself drop the rest of the way, landing bare-footed in mud.

I couldn’t get the smile off my face as I passed beneath the drain pipe, making a point of looking up at Lillian, who was making a point of her own in turn, glaring down at me, very clearly annoyed.

“You had an audience,” a soft voice stated.

I turned.

Amid empty crates and a door that had been taken off its hinges, jumbled together as trash and detritus, I could make out the fifth member of our contingent.  Jamie had a book in his lap, our collected boots and shoes neatly organized around him, and he had company.  A black-skinned boy with a hood and cloak far too large for him, tattered enough that it had probably been a hand-me-down for the last person to own it.  His eyes were wide.

“I thought you were keeping lookout,” I said.

“I was.”

“The whole point of being lookout is that you tell us if there’s trouble.”

“Is he trouble?”  Jamie asked.

“I’m no trouble,” the boy’s words flowed right off the back of Jamie’s, without a heartbeat of hesitation.  “The trouble is inside.”

“The snake thing,” I said.

“You saw it?” he asked.  His eyes went wider.  “Then you should know if you’re going to steal something, you shouldn’t steal from there.”

“We’re not stealing,” I said.  “We’re just looking.”

The boy didn’t respond.  He watched Lillian’s glacially slow descent.

I met Jamie’s eyes.  If it weren’t for Helen, who was a special case, I might have called Jamie the quiet one.  He wore eyeglasses, though there were all sorts of ways to fix or replace bad eyes, and his hair was long beneath his hood.  Not out of any style or affectation.  He simply never liked how it looked when it was short.  His face was narrow, his eyes large as he shifted his gaze to look from me to Lillian.  His hands held firm to a book that sat across his knees.

“Helen?” he asked.

“Stayed upstairs.”

A nod.

I wanted him to figure out how to deal with our bystander, given how he’d failed to warn us about the boy in the first place, but Jamie was silent.

“What’s your name?” I asked.


“I know his,” I said, striving to not sound as annoyed at the question as I felt.  I pointed at Jamie to make myself as clear as possible.

“Thomas.  My friends call me Thom.”

“Did you hear about the crying man of Butcher’s Row?”

“Sly,” Jamie said, suddenly paying attention to the issue.  The name was a warning.

But Thom gave an answer, “That stitched that went crazy.  Remembered things.”

“That’s the one.  Do you remember Mother Hen?”

Thom nodded.  “That nurse who- the babies.”

He looked rather uneasy now.

“That’s right,” I said, doing my best to sound calm, reassuring.  “The nurse.  Yes.  Both got caught, right?  Everything got tied up neatly?”

“Yeah,” Thom said.  He couldn’t meet my eyes, so he focused on Lillian instead.  “The authorities from the Academy got them.”

“Exactly, Thom,” I said, “But who told the authorities?”

His eyes moved.  To me, then Jamie, to Lillian, and then the barn-turned-warehouse.

I was nodding before the word came out of his mouth.  “You.”

“You’re clever,” I praised him.


I made the universal gesture for money, rubbing thumb against two fingers.


I nodded.

The gears were shifting in his head.  Processing, calculating.

“I’ve heard things,” he said.

“I bet.”

“Useful things.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said.

“I can get money for it?  For telling people?”

“If you know who to tell, and how to sell it,” I said.

His expression changed, a frown.  Disappointment.

Tick, tick, turn turn.  The gears in his head were still moving.

He wasn’t dumb, even if he wasn’t much of an actor.  Then again, he was only ten or so.

I could guess what he was going to ask, and I knew I might lose him if I turned him down too many times.

My mind ticked over possibilities.  What I needed, what I had to do.

Before he could venture a question, I interrupted him.  “You want in?”

“In?” he asked.  Now he was wary.

I reached beneath my cloak, and I fished out a coinpurse.  Two fingers reached in, and came out fully extended, two dollars in coins pressed between the tips.

The wariness subsided.

“I’ll give you this on good faith.  Eight whole dollars if you follow through.  I need you to do something for me.”

He reached for and claimed the money without any hesitation.

“You said you had friends?” I asked.


“On top of the grocer’s place. Corner of Oxbow and Halls.  Wait there.  Take turns keeping an eye out.  You’re looking for a black coach, led by two stitched horses, heading toward the Academy.  You’ll know they’re stitched because they’re wearing raincoats.  Won’t be more than two hours’ wait.”

“Uh huh?”

“There’s a rain barrel up there.  They’re going to have to stop to wait for the way to clear before they can carry on their way.  What you’re going to do is tip over the barrel.  Send water off the edge of the roof, onto the horses if you can.  Might want to prop some things up around the barrel, to make sure it happens.”

He frowned a bit.

“Ten dollars, all in all, for you and your friends, for one afternoon’s work.  Pretty good deal.  Don’t think you can do it?”

“I can do it,” Thom said.

“You sure?” I asked.

“I can do it,” he said, voice firm.

I studied him, head to toe, taking it all in.

Reaching beneath my cloak, I collected a note from a pocket.  I pressed it into his hands.

He looked down at the money, stunned.

“If you don’t follow through, you won’t get a deal like this again,” I said.  “Think hard before you try cheating me.  A big part of what we do is find people.”

Mute, he nodded.

“Go,” I said.

He went, running, feet splashing in puddles of water.

Lillian was about halfway down.

“You lied to him,” Jamie said.

“Would you rather I told the truth?” I asked.

“If you’re going to get him involved.”

I shook my head.

“Which leads me to ask… what are you up to?” Jamie asked.  “You weren’t just getting rid of him or making trouble.”

“I’m going inside,” I said, starting for the door.  “Tell the others if they’re wondering.”

“That’s not what I’m asking,” Jamie said.

But he didn’t move from his spot, and I was already gone.

I passed under Lillian a second time, peeking up her skirt a second time, more to needle her than out of any lingering curiosity.  The big door was, as it turned out, locked, and I wasn’t able to bypass the big padlock any more than I could bypass the latch of the window above.  But the door rolled on wheels, and the wheels fit in ruts, a long, shallow channel.

I headed to the end of the door opposite the lock, and I pushed the full weight of my body against it.  The lock rattled, heavy.

I tried a bit more pressure, pushing, and the door tilted, the bottom corner closest to me rising out of the channel.  Gripping the door, I lifted it up and away, wood scraping concrete as I created a triangular gap.

I slipped inside, my eyes immediately going to the hayloft, the upper floor.

Helen was there, sitting with one foot propped up, both hands in her lap to keep her skirt pressed down.  Her face was still expressionless.  Half of her attention was on me.  Half was on the creature.  There was a rain barrel beside her, rigged so it hung over the edge of the hayloft, collecting the water that ran in through the makeshift gutter, feeding a steady stream down into containers below.  Runoff from those containers fed into the corner of the building.  A drain from when the building had been a warehouse, keeping the goods dry.

I studied the papers on the desk.  Water from one of the windows above spat down.  Barely large enough to qualify as drops, but they dotted one paper, making ink bleed.  Sketches of the beast.  Notations on structure and anatomy.

One of the texts on a table beside the desk was hand-made.  Pages had holes in them, and a cord was laced through, tying them to the heavy leather cover.  With care, I paged through the thing.

One being, knit together from several.  The better traits of each, all drawn together.  References to Wollstone’s texts, to the ratios of life, and to the volumes of genetic code for Felidae and Eunectes Murinus.

A whole chapter on digestive enzymes.  Diagrams of the thing’s fangs, which I had glimpsed as it devoured the mother cat, with labels for the reservoirs of venom that wasn’t true venom.  It was enzymes, much like the ones bugs used to dissolve their meals before supping them.  Notes suggested that the feature helped with the digestion of any and all food.

Little doubt of what this thing had been engineered for.

My finger traced the labels of glass containers, bottles and vials.  Blood, bile, cerebral fluid…

Venom.  I’d expected it to be green, but it was clear, in a glass container with a murky exterior, about as tall and wide as a wine bottle, though more cylindrical.

There was a noise at the door, and I took a long step to the side, toward the shadows beside one of the big wooden containers for water.

Only Lillian, followed by Gordon, passing through the gap.  Gordon was the largest of us, and it was a particularly tight fit for him.

I continued paging through the text.


My eye traveled down the list.  Meal times, meal sources, meal sizes.

Pig carcass.
Dog carcass.
Pig carcass.
Scavenged meal, unknown type.

Pig carcass.
Pig carcass.
Scavenged meal, dog.

It wasn’t fully grown, but it was close, and it grew fast.  Two meals a week.

I recalled that it had eaten the cat, and then looked back at the entries.

Forty pounds, sixty pounds, forty pounds, est. one hundred pounds…  I noted the numbers, and tried to find the pattern between those numbers and the meals.

I moved ahead a few pages until I reached the first partial page.  Room left for more entries.

Last meal, just over two days ago, goat carcass.  It was hungry already.  Quite possibly getting ready for one last growth spurt.  The more recent meals were larger.

Gordon was crouched, peering at labels on bottles.  He saw me looking, and tapped his nose, then pointed at the bottles

I nodded.

I tapped the book, getting his attention, and stepped away while he read the entries.

He didn’t have much of a chance to read.

There was a sound outside, violent, of things falling over.  Chaos.

I could picture Jamie’s hiding spot, the way the door had been propped up.  This was a warning.

Hide,” Gordon whispered.

You don’t have to tell me, I thought, but I held my tongue.

Very carefully, I closed the book.  I shifted the angle to return it to the position it had been in.  My eye swept over the room.

Water on the floor.  Did it matter?

No.  There was no time, besides.

I slipped into the shadowy crevice between the water tank and the wall.  Gordon and Lillian were already gone.  Helen, who had been above, watching everything, was now gone.  No doubt hiding behind the water barrel, a step away from where she had been.

Four seconds passed before I heard the lock rattle.

The door’s wheel slammed back down into the rut as it was pulled to one side, but there was no sign of concern or suspicion.

He closed the door behind him, and the sound of something being dragged joined the sound of hard shoe soles on the wooden floor, marking his progress across his makeshift laboratory.

“Damned beast,” he muttered.  “Where are you?”

He made seemingly deliberate noise as he cleared a table, then dropped his burden on top of it.

I heard a grunt, his, and the smell of blood filled the air.

The amount of light in the room shifted.  I judged it to be the beast’s bulk blocking the light from the windows above.

“There you are,” he said.

With swift strides, he crossed to the water tank I crouched beside.  He wasted no time in dipping his hands inside, splashing water as he swished his hands inside.  Some of the water that slopped around the top of the tank splashed down on top of me.

I was close enough to touch him.

There was a scuffle and a thud as the cat-snake creature touched ground, eager to get to its meal.  Its creator was already at the desk, picking select vials, dabbing a bit on his wrist, then rubbing his wrists together.

I thought of Gordon’s gesture.  Touching his nose.



It was how he controlled the beast he had made.

I could see him as he tidied papers, only periodically glancing over his shoulder.  He hummed.  But for some stubble on his chin, he looked like a gentleman, with a four-button vest under a butcher’s apron and an ankle-length raincoat.  His hair was sandy, parted to one side.

I could see the creature raise its head.  The meal was in its mouth, and it was angling its head to let it all slide down its gullet.

Its creator used a pair of tongs to collect a bloody sack.  I took it to be the sack the creature’s meal had been in.  Another pig, perhaps.

He disappeared from view.

A rustle.

Then the tongs clanged to the floor.  The beast changed the angle of its head.

“A child?” the man’s voice was touched with incredulity.

There was a commotion, a scrape of steel on concrete as a foot dragged on the tongs.

I remained where I was.

The struggle continued, intermittent, as he backed up, the desk of papers to one side, the table of bottles to the other.  He had a carving knife to Gordon’s throat.  Presumably the same one he’d used to cut open the creature’s meal and get its attention.

“Two of you.  Are there more?”

Gordon was silent.

“I’m asking you!” the man was angry, outraged.  “Are there more?  Girl!  How many?  Tell me or I cut him!”

“A few,” Lillian said.  “Four.”

“The noise outside.  That was one?”

“Five, if you count him,” she said, her voice small.

“Do not play games with me!” the man roared.  “Show yourselves!  Each of you!”

I exhaled slowly.

I stepped out of the gap by the water tank.

Helen was above, at the hayloft.  Standing by the edge.  Lillian was closer to the door.  She and Gordon had been hiding in or near a garbage bin.

The beast was relaxed, having just eaten its fill.

Children?” the man sounded incredulous.

He wasn’t wrong.  At thirteen, Lillian was the oldest of us.  Gordon was only twelve as of last month.

“Yeah,” Gordon said, his voice strained.  The man had his throat caught in the crook of one arm, exposing his lower throat.

“An infestation,” the man said.  “My experiment didn’t root you out?”

His eye traveled over each of us in turn.  I saw the faintest crease appear between his eyebrows.

He seemed to come to a realization.  “You’ve covered yourself in something.  So it can’t smell you.  This was premeditated.”

I met Lillian’s eyes.  I jerked my chin.  Pointed at her with my hand.

The easy, natural interactions and cooperation that followed from years of working together weren’t there with Lil.  She was new.  A recent addition to the group.

I almost thought she got the wrong idea, until she opened her mouth.

“Yes,” she said.  “We… heard about you.”

“Heard what?”

“That there was something loose in the slums.  It was eating pets.  It ate a man that was sleeping outside.”

“No,” the man said.

“Yes,” Lillian said.  “There are witnesses.”

“The witnesses are wrong,” the man said.

“You let it go out to find its own food,” Gordon said, his voice still strangled.  “You couldn’t afford to keep it fed as it grew this large.  You let it feed on strays.  Which it did.  Except one of those strays was human.  It’s in the book.  Meal, unknown type.”

I edged around behind the man.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.  I’ve studied its leavings,” the man said, ignoring the label.  “Nothing human.”

“Nothing conclusively human, you mean,” Gordon said.  “But you aren’t able to identify all of what it ate.”

“You!”  The man raised his voice.  He sounded more emotional than before.  “Up there!  Girl!  Stay put.”

Helen froze where she was.

“You’re a killer,” Gordon said, more insistent.  “We were calling you the snake charmer.”

I edged closer to the table.

I didn’t make a sound, but the snake charmer sensed trouble before it arrived.  He wheeled on me, the knife dangerously close to Gordon’s throat.

I lunged in the same movement, seizing the big bottle.  The venom.  I held it high.

“You don’t care what happens to him?” the snake charmer asked.

“I care,” I said.  “That’s why, if you cut him, and if it looks like he isn’t going to be okay, I’m going to throw this at the both of you.”

The snake charmer’s eyes darted around.  He couldn’t watch all of us at once.

“Move!” he said.  “Go around.  I want you as a group.”

I didn’t budge.


No,” I said.

“It’s over, snake charmer,” Gordon said.

“That is not my name!”

“It’s a name they’ll give you,” Gordon said.  “They’ll make you a monster.  It’s what the Academy does.  Dehumanizes the dangerous ones.  You can’t get all of us, not with the way things are, here.  Some are bound to escape.  They’ll tell people, and those people will find you.  You know the resources the Academy has.”

“No,” the snake charmer said.

“You don’t know?” Gordon asked.

“This is not my fault,” the snake charmer said.  “The Academy… this rests on their shoulders, not mine.  You can’t enroll without showing your skill, and you can’t show your skill without experimenting, but oh, no, they don’t allow that, do they?”

“There are ways,” Lillian said.

“No!” the man barked, “No!  Not nearly enough.  The world is changing, and they’re deciding the course.  They’re putting us in this situation, where risks have to be taken.  Gambles have to be made, or history will continue to be made, names attached to great discoveries, and the rest of us?  If we’re lucky, we get left by the wayside.  If we’re not, we’re just fuel for what they’re setting in motion.”

“I’m a student there,” Lillian said.  “I just started, but… I’m enrolled.  First year of study.  Not them.  Just me.”

I could see the man’s expression twist.  Incomprehension.  Comprehension, which was almost worse.  Hatred for a thirteen year old girl.

Then rage, not a clean, pure kind, but one that only drove him further into a corner.

His hand tightened on the grip of the knife.

I figured out the destination he was arriving at before he did.

I arrived at my own, and I mustered up some courage.

Very deliberately, I grunted, heaving the bottle of acid at the snake charmer.

He heard the grunt, but so did Gordon.  With the snake charmer’s attention caught between Lillian and me, Gordon found a chance to protect his throat, keeping the knife from cutting.

The bottle flew lazily through the air.  Gordon ducked, head down, and the snake charmer released him.

The man caught the bottle in a bear hug.

He stared down at the container.

All the same emotions he’d felt for Lillian, now aimed at me, progressing much faster this time.  Incomprehension, comprehension, hatred, rage.

Directed at me.

I backed away, stumbling, falling.  I covered my face as he swung, using the waterproof cloth to try and shield my body.

He didn’t throw at me, but at the floor.  The chance of me catching it was small, but by throwing it at the floor, he could guarantee that the bottle would shatter into a spray I couldn’t possibly shield all of myself from.

The pain was sharp, at first, droplets touching skin, immediately breaking it down.  Then it burned.

The horrible coldness was worse, because it suggested dying nerves.  All down my arms, and one side of my face.

I screamed.

The creature turned its head, but didn’t move.

The man turned, wheeling on the others.  Gordon was ready, already closing in, taking advantage of the short moment it took the snake charmer to adjust his grip on the knife, so soon after heaving the bottle.

A tackle, shoulder into the man’s gut, taking advantage of smaller size and a good physique.  Gordon drove the man back.

Gordon was the hero, golden haired, noble, likeable.  Talented.

When he broke away, letting the snake charmer stumble back two steps, recovering balance, Gordon had the knife in hand.

The beast rose to its feet.  Sniffing.

I managed to stop screaming, going as still as possible.

It still edged closer to me.  Interested.

Still hungry,  I noted.

Helen acted.  Tipping over the barrel.

Drenching the snake charmer, washing away his charm, the pheromones.

“Brats!” the snake charmer spat the word.  “You little shits!  You think you have control of this situation?”

“Your experiment is trying to decide between you and Sylvester over there,” Gordon said.  “You smell, he’s bleeding.  Both are tempting.”

The snake charmer made an incoherent noise.

“Thing is, if you start bleeding…” Gordon said, trailing off.  “You’ll suddenly be a lot more tempting.”

“Try it,” the snake charmer said.

Gordon did.  He approached, and the snake charmer tried to grab him.

The man’s hands only grabbed clothes.  A hood and cloak meant to keep the rain off.  Gordon let him, and ducked low, the clothing bunching up around his neck and upper chest.

Gordon sliced the snake charmer’s stomach.  A shallow cut.

Another grab, wrestling Gordon, trying to overpower with strength, seizing one arm.

Gordon let the knife drop out of one hand, falling into the palm of another.

He cut the back of the man’s left knee.  When the man fell, screaming, Gordon cut the other knee.  He skipped back as the snake charmer fell.

The snake stirred, its attention no longer predominantly on me.

I could see the snake charmer realizing the same thing I had minutes ago.  He knew his experiment.  He knew how it hunted.  It scavenged, sniffing out prey.  Blind, it reacted to noise and smell.  Minimizing the noise one made was vital.

Given the situation, however, staying silent spelled the man’s doom.  Already, his creation was sniffing him out.  He smelled of blood.

“Pheromones,” he said, knowing how dangerous it was to speak, that every sound helped him lose the tug of war that let the creature decide between devouring him and devouring me.  “Let me- I’ll come with you.  You can take me in.  You win.”

Nobody moved or responded.

He used his arms to pull himself forward, progressing toward the table.  Each motion drew more attention from his beast.

Foot by foot, he closed on the table, and each sound was akin to a fisherman’s line, reeling in the beast.

He reached the table, struggling, and he raised himself up, using one hand to drag a leg forward, propping it under him.  Reaching across the table-

Gordon kicked the leg of the table, hard.  The table shifted a foot, and the snake charmer collapsed.

“No.  Please.”

The snake charmer looked at us.  At Gordon, then Helen, who loomed above, perched on the hayloft.  At me, as I glared at him, my face burned.  At Lillian, who was sitting in the corner, hands over her head.

Who was not one of us.

“Please,” he said.  “Not like this.”

Helen’s expression didn’t change.  Gordon shifted his position, placing himself between the snake charmer and the table, arms folded.  I remained where I was, limp and breathing hard.

I could see it dawn on the man.  Comprehension settling in as he realized what he was dealing with.

The snake seized the man’s feet, and began the very slow process of swallowing him.

The snake charmer’s screams became frantic.

“Lillian,” Gordon said, raising his voice to be heard over the screams.

“I don’t want to see.”

“Then shield your eyes.  But your job is to keep us in one piece.  Sly is hurt.  Focus, and make sure he doesn’t die.”

I felt the burning stop as Lillian tended to me.  By the time she was done, the screams had stopped.  The powder that dusted me made it hard to see, but that was fine.  I was lifted to my feet.

“I have to say, I’m very interested in what the fuck you were doing, faking that fall, setting yourself up to get hurt just now,” Gordon said.  “You’ll have to tell me later, when you can talk again.”

I managed a nod.

“Off we go,” he said.

I could hear the door open.

Helen spoke for the first time in a while.  Her voice was cute.  “The Academy sends its regards, Mr. Snake Charmer.”

.                                                                                                                                                      Next

344 thoughts on “Taking Root 1.1

      • WAG-time – the updated title images will correspond with the theme of growth moving from taking root all the way through to full growth and blooming (for good or for ill).

        Strange fruit comes to mind with the current image. Also – the dangers of tasting the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Unravelling the secrets of life seem like the forbidden fruit has already been eaten and the garden is contaminated.

        Open question – will the growth theme include the inevitable decay and destruction of all life? Will it follow through to rebirth?

    • So now that I’ve read it, thoughts-

      I’m getting the feeling that Wildbow is already working to fix some of the larger complaints many people, myself included, had about Pact. Namely, we have strong protagonistic secondary characters right off the bat instead of halfway through the serial which is good, and we have a character who is familiar with the world around him and how it functions, instead of the readers having to watch a steep learning curve that never really stops. These are huge points to Twig in my book already.

      Other thoughts- The remarkably young age of this group is making me a little apprehensive, I’m definitely one who leans toward older characters. It may be challenging to write about characters so young, especially in what appears to be a very dark setting, and make the audience relate to them well. That being said, I have a huge amount of confidence in Wildbow. If anyone can pull this off, he can!

      Also, biopunk, boil, blah blah blah

  1. Well then. A return to the biopunk setting. It feels a lot more fleshed (pun) out this time.

    Not sure I buy that Sly is ten or eleven though.

    Reaction: Cautious optimism.

      • “Biopunk” isn’t really a thing. It’s like Cyberpunk in the same way that Steampunk is like Cyberpunk which is to say not very much alike. More of a blood and guts style with body horror setting than anything else.

        If I’m guessing correct that is. Wildbow did mention that he didn’t want people making genre classification too closely or quickly and that it was best to come into the story with an open mind.

        I was mostly referring how it was a return to the setting of Boil which was one of the potential stories that would have followed Worm instead of Pact.

        Which makes me happy. Maybe we’ll one day see a return to the story with the animal masks.

      • From just looking at the tv tropes page, Biopunk just seems to be a label slapped on a motley of different types of stories cos why not instead of actually being a distinct genre.

        What does the Bas-Lag Cycle, Scanners, X-Men and Jurassic Park have in common? Biopunk apparently. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        • I can describe what cyberpunk and steampunk are: essentially they are worlds predicated on their technology but deal with the people within the system who are either on the outside looking in or less commonly on the inside looking out.

    • I’m pretty sure Sly isn’t 10 or 11. What’s the point of biopunk physics if you can’t reverse your biological age (or at least slow down the aging process)?
      Especially if the academy is accepting people of the snake charmer’s age

      Also re: ‘what is biopunk’ – any sci-fi setting that functions off of alchemy-like or genetic engineering (or some sort of virus or evolution…)-based advances, rather than mechanical advances.
      For example, instead of cars we got recombinant horses that eat coal and breathe fire
      *can also have mechanical advances if their primary use is changing the function of a biological creature i.e. now you have a steam-powered horse

      Very happy btw, liked Boil very much (except for the story line that was being set up)

      • Oh, that’s interesting. It would say a lot about Sly if he kept himself at age 10 or 11, too. Like, there are a lot of disadvantages to being that age. The big advantage that I can think of is throwing an enemy off balance (who expects a kid to have the mind and heart of an older, more dangerous person?).

        • But, I’d think the size issue would get annoying. Sure, it’s easy to focus on weight and size in fights… But, when most tools, furniture, room design and containers are not designed with you in mind? It gets annoying and dangerous in a lot of surprising ways.😛

          • Even then the advantages in a less-structured society could be great. No one expects a kid to be a murderer. Yeah, some stuff like drinking, driving, being respected, etc. is lost, however to an assassin it’s probably a fair trade.

      • I like the speculation that the kids are older than their bodies show. Reminds me of Ben Rosenbaum’s short story “Start the Clock.” Yglorba’s idea below that most of them are constructs would explain their maturity, too–I’m trying to reason out whether either of those theories is compatible with the background on the About page.

        • It’s definitely a possibility, but living through hardship can cause kids to grow up very fast. You’d be surprised at how kids will assert their agency in order to survive.

    • My reading: Of the ‘kids’, only Lillian is a normal person. The others are constructs, like the monster (only obviously much more capable of passing.) Hence why Lillian was there — she’s a student, and her job is to oversee the constructs the Academy uses to hunt down rogues, repair them if they get damaged while working, and so on. That’s why he emphasizes that Lillian wasn’t “one of them.”

      • Quote: “She wasn’t one of us. She was new. Allowances had to be made.”
        “She was new.” doesn’t seem work with your assumption.

        • The two sentences could refer to different things: She’s not a construct like them, and she’s new to the task of overseeing this sort of operation (presumably unlike whoever they worked with before.)

        • A lieutenant can be both new and not one of the enlisted corp at the same time. If that’s the role the academy puts some of its students in as a watch over the potentially dangerous constructs, it’d fit.

      • Any reason for that? I remember some people (myself included) had somewhat strong reactions to the idea of a biopunk story when you were floating story ideas post Worm.

        • Labels can be dangerous. They can cause you to make assumptions which lead to unexpected surprises. It’s better to simply observe, take notes, figure out what you’re dealing with, and try not to get disemboweled.

          • Labels can also help you build a fan base, attract people looking for something specific (search engines?), which I know I do a lot. “Dark Superhero web serial” said my search, and Google replied with a booming voice “WORM!” Case in point. Don’t get cocky, labels promote success! Go Labalers! ($14.99 on Amazon😀 )

      • Boil felt at least near-future. Twig so far feels medieval. I’m kind of thinking the “stitched” creatures referenced are Frankenstein-ish zombies.

        • How is it medieval? Characters have an understanding of chemestry (late 18th century), medecin from at least 19th century, and genetics (19th century at least for inheritance laws, but probably 20th because splicing genes).
          Now on the other hand they’re using horses as opposed to fossile fuel engines, but that was also the case in Boil. It’s just a universe that is fundamentally different from ours, unlike Pact and Worm.

        • The stitched-corpse thing didn’t come into Frankenstein until the movies.
          Interesting note: TV Tropes claims the story is set in 1921, and that a great mind “unravelled the underpinnings of life itself” a bit over a century ago, which would fit perfectly with when Frankenstein was published and okay with when it was set.

          • Going back through this the use of dollars as the term for the currency almost certainly indicates US or Canada (Canadian Dollar was introduced in 1858).

      • But not much in the ways of morals…Ng yrnfg,abg orsber Pbagrffn

        I’d frankly be more afraid of a competent immoral scientist (worse,one who makes you suffer on purpose)than even an incompetent unrestrained amoral (as in,who does not care about morality,so he does not cause deliberate suffering but may as a sideffect)one.

        • Even at her worst, Bonesaw never wanted to wipe out the human race, or even create particularly efficient plagues. Mostly, she made neat cyborgs and hybrids.
          If she didn’t know what she was doing…well, imagine most cheesy science fiction movies set in the near future. At once.

          • Yeah,but being an experiment for her “art”is kinda worse than having humanity dissapear,at least for you personally.

          • Arguably, but if you’re saying a world of Bonesaws would be worse because it might be worse for you…that’s awfully selfish.

  2. A very intriguing beginning. I’m especially interested in that fact that we start off getting introduced to a group and their dynamics. A more party focused protagonist? Or a red herring?

  3. Well hello, Boil-verse. Didn’t think we’d see you again so soon. And you’ve got on a different outfit, I like it.

  4. I admit, the in media res beginning threw me off for a bit, but I’m liking what I see so far.

    Others have already commented on the superficial similarities to Boil, so I’ll skip that.

    I’m interested in the fact that this group’s general age is a sharp difference from Worm’s or Pact’s. They act like they are a bit older than 10 – 13 but then again, this world seems to be remarkably darker.

    Also, that Banner Image scared the crap outta me. Just finished Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 and shadowy children was an unwelcome surprise.

  5. First time commenting, been reading since the beginning of Pact.

    Honestly, I don’t have much to say. It’s a strong opening and the return of a concept I really enjoyed. Looking forward to more.

  6. I like it.

    The first half of the chapter was a bit confusing because of being thrown into the action with no context. The second half was reassuring, though and closed the chapter nicely.

    Looking forward to The Legend of S(l)y!

  7. Oh, biopunk, that’s cool. Same setting as Boil. I’m excited, this feels like it’s going to be really good.

    My guess is these kids are part of a revolution, cloned super soldiers, and they pretend to be working for the Academy as a form of protection.

  8. My first impression is that (Wildbowverse spoilers) Gur Eng Cnpx fbzrubj raqrq hc va gur Obvy havirefr. I look forward to seeing this grow and finding out what the actual story is.

  9. In the spirit of being helpful, I noticed that the date for this piece in WordPress is listed as December 24th 2014. I’ve not yet read the chapter (can’t wait!) but I thought it might be helpful to point out. That boring “typo thread” esque comment aside, I can’t wait to dive in!

  10. I think I already love this. The genre labels are springing to mind and making my brain do little squeals of joy, but I’ll refrain from discussing them yet.

  11. Interesting stuff. Didn’t realize it was in the same world as the Boil sample until about halfway down. I’ve got a couple random thoughts:

    – Anyone find the combo of a vest and butcher’s apron kind of funny? Made the whole thing seem a lil darker, since you’ve got this foppish man wearing a butcher’s apron — the apron being something that’s more associated with the working class, which contrasts with the upper-class vest. And of course, the upper class basically ‘butchering’ the lower class is a common idea in a lot of British Lit.

    – Which brings me to my next point: I know Wildbow is Canadian, but for some reason this post felt British to me. Maybe it’s just where my head is at, but the combination of wild-but-precocious schoolchildren, class issues (I might be making that angle up, but it just feels like there’s something there), and the gentleman-butcher felt British.

    – It’s way to soon to be talking like this but oh what the hell: Sylvester is already my favorite Wildbow protagonist. I liked Blake and Taylor, but Sylvester’s a little s*** and I can relate to that.

    – Each of Wildbow’s serials have started with an italicized thought. This one strikes me as pretty killer. Especially after Pact’s “Damn me, damn them, damn it all,” which left me cold. But this one? Academic and just a lil unsettling.

    – Sylvester’s hair refuses to be tamed by wax, while Jamie’s is just long. I’m curious to unravel the paradox of these wild, feral-seeming children somehow having a connection to The Academy.

    – This isn’t really much of a thought, but damn I love that Sylvester’s name is shortened to “Sly.” Just… damn.

    – I’m glad we’re starting with an ensemble. Wildbow’s been pretty good at writing those since Worm, and his dialogue has improved so drastically (I’d argue it’s where he’s shown the most growth).

    – “The gears were shifting in his head.” That line really says a lot about Sylvester’s industrialized way of thinking. Can’t wait to see more of this world.

    • Sylvester is already my favorite Wildbow protagonist

      Wow! That’s quite the (logically premature imo) statement!

      I will say that I like the Fact that S(l)y is already established at the start of the story as having skills and doing awesome things. It’ll make it easier for me to believe later when he does even more awesome things.

      I like S(l)y. . . I give him 3 days in universe before he experiences some major body modification/horror.

    • > but for some reason this post felt British to me
      Same for me. Biopunk + orphans with dirty work -> Victorian England. Well… Victorian North America?
      And what for me, I like this “not one of us” thing.
      PS: Oh, I again want to read WoD: Innocents.

    • I feel like Bonesaw would approve of the apron/vest combo.

      I’m ditto on the British thing.

      And about S(l)y, again, Bonesaw would approve. Though I agree with Sir Fuente (and you!) that that assessment is probably premature. Little shit he may be, but until we have material to work with for “Taylor could kick his ass” arguments, I’ll reserve judgement. Though I will say he gained a few “little shit” points in my book simply because of the implication of Lil, the vehemently-stressed New Girl, already knowing about his perverted tendencies.

      I…I didn’t notice the italicized thought thing. Wow, haha. It played more of a part in Pact, where he kept repeating it at spine-tingling moments. Can’t imagine that happening with Twig’s, but damn if it isn’t good exposition.

      Yesss, I love this group already. And we already know Wildbow’s not going to leave them as their tropes for long.

      On Sylvester’s thought process: I wonder about his constant reiteration of Lilian’s new-girl status. Specifically how he separates “her” and “us.” There’s also the whole thing everyone’s going to be saying (and already is!), that damn, these 12yos don’t act or sound 12.

      Huh. Guess this is my comment for the chapter.

      • I mentioned this above, but my theory on the “her” vs “us” thing is that Lillian is a ‘natural’ human and they’re constructs. That would explain why Sly was so willing to get injured (because he knew that Lillian could just put him back together.)

        • Hmm, “The gears were shifting in his head,” kids that don’t really sound like kids, kids that can be put back together. I feel like we’re onto something here. Clockwork kids?

      • Sy also repeats and fixates on a lot of issues/topics (e.g. Gordon being great, Lillian being new). Combine that also with the fact that as a narrator he is somewhat untrustworthy (his narration actively omits certain things and hides his own intention). Makes for interesting speculation about what his motivations and goals are.

  12. Very exciting!!! Loving the (presumed) return to Boilverse. Also, the ensemble cast is a marked change from Pact, and wholly welcome (not saying that Pact was bad — It was great! — but am going to love seeing more inter-character interaction).

    Can’t wait to see what happens!

  13. A setting where it is constantly raining and exceptionally grim? Nice to see you switching continents and going across the pond wildbow.

  14. Possible Typos:

    I let the droplets where they would
    I let the droplets fall where they would

    It was twice the size of a large horse, it had crawled up from the space below to the overhanging floor, winding its way up the pillar as a snake might.
    more normal to separate the first clause and the rest with a semicolon (or period):
    It was twice the size of a large horse; it had crawled up from the space below to the overhanging floor, winding its way up the pillar as a snake might.

    I said “But who told
    two spaces after ‘said’ – either should be one or a period


    So we are back to what I thought of as the Frankenstein world Boil, where people can put together mad abominations of flesh. That wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t my last choice either.

    It is really hardcore to have four children stand around while a man gets eaten by a cat-snake, even if it did eat a person. These kids are seriously screwed up in the head for them to do this.

  15. Didn’t see the typo thread, but what I found:
    “one a flinch”
    also, the sentence: “White teeth were briefly visible, four curved fangs the only ones that were any wider than a pencil.” seemed a little akwardly written, but that is my take.
    The section where it talks about the warehouse-turned-etc . . . has the word turned in the next section which also looks a little off.
    Otherwise, excellent chapter.

  16. At one point Sylvester is called Sy and later he’s called Sly. Is that intentional and simply characters calling him by different nicknames or a typo?

  17. *kids living on their own. Check.
    *Crazy Mutant animals. Check.
    *Mayor Adult ass kicking. Check.
    * A poked… i mean a cute little girl that doesn’t talk much. Check
    Is as if Pokemon and well, pact and worm, had a child. I am loving it.

    I am intrigued tough, almost every character seems way to much competent and knowledgeable than this apparent post-apocalyptic scenario would realistically allow. Could it be that in this twisted world knowledge has become so cheap, that basic commodities are what you truly need to aspire to amass?
    And what is the academy really? what connection does Helen has to it? is she a living cellphone?

    I guess we will find out later, onward adventure !

    • Depending on how closely related to Boil this is, young people being highly competent isn’t out of setting. The protagonist in boil mentioned students using academy drugs to enhance their learning and I’m pretty sure she mentioned child students as well.

  18. Wow, a very intriguing start. I am quite curious to see where this ends up, and I am definitely getting a sort of Victorian or Enlightenment vibe from the whole thing. While I agree with some of my peers, in that the young age does make me a bit apprehensive, I think I will enjoy this a lot. Probably not as much as Worm, which I am currently reading through (go Chevalier!), but considering my love of supers, it would be a pretty difficult thing to match. Also, this is the first time I’ve commented on a Wildbow story. Never could quite focus enough to catch up to any of them…until now.

    Helen, who is specifically called out as unusually calm and as a “special case” is some sort of modified person. A creation or someone who has benefited from the weird, weird stuff that seems to be going on.

    Lillian is a prodigy or something, because 13 is a really young age to be accepted into an Academy which is apparently very hard to get in to.

    I will comment “man, this Dickens novel went dark fast” at some point in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

    • Hmm. Lilian is definitely seeming like a prodigy. Is that why Sly seems to resent her…ish? Maybe? Too early to make that call, but he definitely goes out of his way to stress her difference, and it doesn’t just seem to be because she’s new.

    • RE: Theory 2

      I got the impression that at least Sly and Helen (and possibly Gordon and Jamie) are “stitched”. It would explain the significance of dumping the barrel of water on the stitched horses, and the repeated references to the wax being waterproof, if Stitched react badly to water somehow. It would also mean that Lillian (“Not one of us” and Academy girl) wasn’t *healing* Sly at the end there, she was *fixing* him.

      • I was under the impression that the wax was used to help conceal their smell. But that’s an interesting thoughtline to follow… May also explain why the academy is using children.

          • But they also have very extensive waterproof coats and cowls and things. I think the water aspect and the connection to stitches (my plural for stitched because stitchedS is too awkward) will be very meaningful.

      • This sounds right – one of those ideas that wasn’t obvious to me up front, but once you said it, several clues pointed in that direction. Good catch.

    • I think kids just join the Academy pretty young. I mean, I can’t remember Boil all that well, and it might not even be canon anymore, but I seem to recall something about a lot of privileged rich kids having an advantage since they’re starting their studies earlier.

  19. And so it begins..

    Very early days, but so far so good. I like Sy from what I’ve seen, very fun, and he seems competent at the outset. Plus the group-thing seems cool. I’m curious as to how it goes with the main characters being so young. Before their ages were mentioned I was guessing more in the range of 14-15, so 10-13 isn’t too far off. If I can throw some baseless speculation out there then I’m suspecting that this story fills a larger timeline than previous ones, with a bunch of more frequent, smaller time-gaps. Anyway, looking forward to more.

    But really, do we need to kick it off with chemical burns? Poor kid didn’t make it past the first chapter without horrific injury, how the hell is he going to manage a full-story?

    • I am pretty sure there is some plot-device in this universe that can heal these kinds of injury. I’m suspect that by Saturday, Sy will already be fine again.

  20. If this IS the same world as Boil, the facelift has definitely done it a world of good.

    I like the idea of starting out in a group, and dealing with that. Cautiously interested so far.

  21. I’m hoping for some Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew style detective stuff. That seems to be part of the setting and it’s cool like that.

  22. Damnit, I arrived late. Probably gonna be doing that a lot. Ah well, time for some MOSTLY BASELESS THEORIES!

    Theory 1: Lilian is Gordon’s sister. Just that scene where he glares at Sly after the skirt thing. Could be a whole other thing, like Gordon just not liking little shits. Also, I feel the need to point out that I’ve already almost written “Grue” twice, and I’m imagining him as such, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
    Theory 2: Helen is full up with some of that Academy whizshit, and is as such an insanely powerful biobot. Though I sincerely hope that if this is the case, she won’t be stereotypical about it. But Wildbow doesn’t let us down, so there’s thar to look forward to.
    Really, there’s lots to look forward to, especially if my Theory 3—There Will Be Gambit Pileups—ends up being true. With more defined rules than Pact and gooefully fewer gamebreakers than Worm (not that those weren’t great, just not feeling a Ziz attack on the Academy, you know?), and the fact that Wildbow is excellent at the whole creativity thing, well…it practically begs to happen. Multiple times. Wildbow pls.

    Oh, and if there’s no Riley reference, I will cry. But we know there will be references, and I’m just anticipating the comment/Reddit post where somebody realizes that some Worm/Pact quote was referencing Twig.

    Okay, I need to sleep. Awesome first chapter, Wildbow. Saturday can’t come soon enough. Thank you, and have a good night.

    • The non-Lilian kids might be stitched, but I’m guessing they aren’t combat stitched, or at least not very good ones. The Snake Charmer did not exactly strike me as hyper-competent, but even all of them together apparently had no chance of fighting his pet.

    • I thought the same thing about Gordon and Grue.

      Were there any Worm references in Pact? I don’t recall any but I love me some references!

  23. Hooooooooooooooly shit this started dark. It caught me by surprise. I was not once bothered by the darkness of Pact as many others were, and I even found some of the chapters of Worm darker due to bullying. But Twig started dark right of the bat. Little concerned things will get worse too quickly, but it’s the first chapter, so I’ll reserve my judgments for later. Same thing with the protagonist; snarky “little shits” don’t sit well with me, but I’m sure that as he develops I’ll like him more. Love the banner art, by the way. It’s quite nightmarish, terrifying and overall amazing.

    Aside from the shock, I found the first half a bit hard to read. I didn’t feel as though I were trying to figure out a mystery as with the start of Pact, but more as though I was dredging through tiresome words for the smallest piece of context. Once context arrived, though, everything was fine and dandy!

    The story really has me horrified, in a good way. If that was your goal, congratulations. I am bloody terrified of what will come next. Can’t wait for the next update!

    • Forgot to comment xP

      Not the kitties :< Kitties are too cute. For some reason it's worse to hear the kitties got swallowed up than a person.

      Also, girls. I like skirts, they are super comfortable and fun to wear, but it's probably not the greatest idea to wear them when you know you will get wet and cold, and will have to move around a lot.

      • The kitties made me sad. Wildbow starts his stories killing kittens! What the fuck.

        And yeah, the skirt thing got me thinking that too. Why was Lillian so worried that Sly would get a look up her skirt? I assumed she was wearing tights or something underneath. Are they temperature-resistant? I think the girls wearing skirts instead of pants refers to the time period (it wasn’t socially acceptable for girls to wear pants) and culture, generally, rather than a preference (as you said, it doesn’t make sense).

        As for the protagonist, I can’t say I’m surprised… was already expecting someone who makes me groan internally more often than not (such as was the case with Blake and me. Rereading Worm, Taylor’s narration was like a breath of fresh air), but it’s clear to me that Sylvester isn’t Blake 2.0 (or Taylor 2.0, for that matter). That already makes him very interesting (duh!!).

        Yay (not in a label-y way) biopunk!

  24. Looks neat, young character threw me for a sec, really regret not reading Boil now based on what people are saying. Swore I would read them eventually but only got round Peer.

  25. A wildbow character has my name. I don’t know how to feel about this.

    Wait, I DO know how to feel about this. It’s dread. I feel a sympathetic dread.

    I would hope that nothing bad happens to said character, but they’ll probably be experiencing inconceivable pain in an eternal time loop by arc 2.

  26. AhhhhhHH! I’m so excited to read this one. Strong start for sure. Love love love. Huge fan of the art.

    Am I the only one who saw the creature as being kinda Toothless-like? I mean, dragony-cat… bit less cute. Interested in what direction this’ll go in! Urchins as protagonists are great. So we’ve got golden boy Gordon, bookish Jamie, genius healer Lillian, mysteriously quiet Helen, and roguish Sylvester.

  27. Wallace’s law and Wollstone(craft)… we’re back in that wonderful world. I also finally got the verb-side of Twig.

    The bottle of venom suddenly turns into acid… Acidic venom ? Not that it matters much, but the sudden description shift threw me off a bit.

    How long do you plan Twig to be, wildbow ?

    • I think the bottle of venom was specified to not exactly be venom, but modified digestive juices, spider-style.

      Also, what a way to kick off a story! Looking forward to reading Twig.

      • Pact-sized it is then. Gotta show some appreciation for authors who openly dissolve kitten litters in a story’s first chapter, know what I mean ?

        Or any chapter, really. Not nearly enough kitten sludge out there.

        • Actually I found the kittens being eaten pretty disturbing… Probably has to do with how an Possum ate the barn cats kittens last year.

  28. This may be just me, but that knife switching hands thing during a fight thing seems a lot like a homage to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

    • Pretty sure that that’s actually a legitimate knife-fighting technique. I recall seeing a post about it somewhere.

  29. There was a brief point in history, sometime victorian iirc, when “scientists” were trying to reanimate dead bodies with varying degrees of “success”. The most notable (and dubious) such case I know of was two dogs that were supposedly reanimated, although other dogs were seriously freaked out by them and wouldn’t go anywhere near them. They apparently perished after two weeks or so. At around the same time, other weird things were being done like someone grafting a dog’s head onto another dog to create a two-headed dog. It didn’t last long, either. I think at least one of those happened in Germany, but I can’t for the life of me recall any important names involved.

    Of course, if those crazy experiments had been successful instead of failures (or banned on account of holy what, as the case may be), to call the results revolutionary would be an extreme understatement. At the very least, it’d obviate the entire prosthetics branch of medical practice and half the necessary developments for surgical practice besides. Lost your arm in a farming accident? Just graft a new arm on. Near-sighted? Shell out some cash for normal-sighted eyes. Longer legs for the aspiring runner. The extremely crazy or aspiring crazy might even consider adding more brains to their brains. And then there’s the fully customized make-your-own-monsters potential, or very specialized work beasts that could theoretically outperform industrial machines. It would be an interesting angle to write a story from, I imagine.

    At least, that’s the first thing that went through my mind when reading the opening chapter of Twig. The second thing was “we already have a number of characters with pre-established relationships to explore alongside the world and story itself unfolding” and the third thing was “whoops, those kids just murdered someone by proxy by letting a giant cat-snake swallow him alive. First chapter and they already have a body count.”

    Wildbow, please forgive me if I pegged this all wrong. It’s awfully early in the morning here.

  30. I was bored until they managed to break into the snake-charmer’s residence. There needs to be a little something that is a little more interesting in the first half that introduces us to something compelling about the characters. Overall, 6/10. I didn’t like it as much as the first chapter of Worm or Pact.

  31. Liking it so far. The setting, and characters are good. Not sure about the age of the characters, but that is personal bias. I look forward to seeing this world you created.

  32. I’m intrigued, like most people here I don’t really know what’s going on… but my hype for the story has already built up to intolerable levels in just one chapter, and I already like the main character a lot, love those jealous little psycho brats.

  33. In media res starts are generally hard to read, but I’m excited to see a story that isn’t from the POV of a novice.

    Also, them being children is interesting, we haven’t seen tons of children this young from wildbow (there’s Vista, Bonesaw doesn’t count, and unless I’m mistaken Roxanne was the only character in this age time with significant time spent on her in Pact). Very excited to see how a cast that includes a lot of children affects the dynamic of the story. At the very least, it looks like shipping is out the window.

  34. Oooh, Twig seems actually similar to the biopunk snippet you posted before. I didn’t expect that. I thought you’d decided that would require too much research? Or was it enough to switch the POV character away from one of the scientists?

    In any case, I like what I’ve read so far. I’m looking forward to how the story develops.

  35. Wow! Great start. Initially I thought it would be something in line with Pact with the monster setting, what changed with the description of the growth and feeding process.

    The artwork is a bit terrifying. Really fits the setting of the story.

  36. Something tells me these children, besides Lillian, aren’t actually children and, rather, constructs. They mention having worked together for years, and Gordon, the oldest (again, not counting Lillian) is only 12.

    This does not add up with the idea of these kids simply being kids. There’s more to them.

  37. As someone who read (and loved) the shit out of Worm and who got around to make reading Pact an integral part of his tuesdays and saturdays (once I caught up around the middle of the Toronto Arc), let me start by expressing my sincere gratitude for your AWESOME stories!
    As for Twig: I really like the start. Except for the snake eating kittens. x) btw, since it’s a cat-snake-hybrid, does this qualify as semi-cannibalism? xD Cannot say an awful lot about the characters yet, but I’m looking forward to how this will unfold.
    As for the setting, I haven’t read Boil (perhaps I should) but I was reminded of an darker Fullmetal Alchemist setting. Chimeras? Check. Desperate scientist, who commits awful crimes because of heavy pressure from ‘above’ early in the story with said Chimeras? Check. Child prodigy? Check. Potential alchemy (eternal life, resurrecting the dead and such)? Check.
    If I am not too far off, we’re in for one hell of a ride. =) Oh, who am I kidding, we’re in for that anyways. ^^ Thanks again Wildbow. Stay awesome like that!

  38. YESSSS!

    Really happy to see the world of Boil again for Twig. I wondered at the start, then wondered if it was a post-apocalyptic story instead, then wondered some more… very happy.

    I also liked the age-bracket reveal.

    Let’s see, notes/suggestions:

    Sulfur aside, pretty sure we can’t have life as we know it without phosphorus (ATP as energy currency, and the phosphate-(deoxy)ribose backbone in DNA/RNA). Granted, if the protagonist/viewpoint is intended to be imitating scientific knowledge without knowing much of it then leaving out two of the six elements. Then again, it’s referred to as ‘the first lesson’ (as though an official piece of knowledge filtered down to others), so odd for it be missing a third.

    Similarly, the application of that first lesson to the situation at hand seemed wonky, though that makes more sense given the protagonist’s/viewpoint’s perspective. Even if carbon is implied by the solid objects, and hydrogen is implied by the water, ‘The air around us was stale, but it was still oxygen’ (rather than ‘still contained oxygen’) ignores its nitrogen content and implies a deep misunderstanding of air’s composition on the part of the protagonist/viewpoint.

    Wallace’s law that ‘every species into comes into existence with a closely related (‘allied’) species–not clear how that’s related to the cat and its litter, though this makes sense if it’s an unrelated Wallace. (If so, my prompted curiosity wants to find out what Wallace’s law is in this context, and/or find and reread Boil to check for other hints.)

    In conclusion, thank you very much! Very happy. Hoping for lots of interestingness… *smiles*

    • The four elements thing nettled me as well. I could see if he’s just talking about those needed to grow, though, rather than come into being – while we do need phosphorus, we don’t actually recycle it too often – phosphorus can be used again and again. The emphasis on nitrogen makes me think he’s talking plants or bacteria too, which would make sense in the context of the air/oxygen thing since most plants harvest nitrogen from the soil, not the air.

      My guess is Wallace’s law is for natural selection (no Darwin here?)

      • biopunkish stuff can be almost alchemy sometimes, so the 4 elements thing might just be trying to skin that sort of aesthetic onto modern elements

        poor irl wallice, darwin only rushed to publish cause wallice chose the wrong guy to send his draft to and now nobody rembers the guy😛

        • Hm… in that case, ‘Carbon’ could be ‘Earth’, ‘Oxygen’ could be ‘Fire’, ‘Nitrogen’ could be ‘Air’ and ‘Hydrogen’ could be ‘Water’, depending on whether or not there’s a direct correspondence… then phosphorus would be ‘light’, though not sure what would fit with sulfur… hmm.

    • Sulfur is essential as well – you try making ribosomes work without the initiation codon, and S-S links clearly influence protein folding.

      CHONPS forever.

  39. So far as I can tell our protagonists are a bunch of charming street urchins who help out a governing body in bringing dangerous criminals to justice.

    Or more accuratly they seem to be a bunch of assholes who work for establishment assholes, to take down inconvienent mad scientist serial killer assholes.

    Oh and totally Boil’s setting or one very like it.

  40. How do I vote for Twig or see it’s page on TVTropes? It’s not even on twf. It’s important that the link to voting will link to the voting booth and the link for tvtropes will lead to Twig’s page.
    It is outrageous that Twig isn’t #1 on twf!
    Sorry for typos and bad grammar I’m on the iphone. It’s a great chapter and looks like an awsome story and I’m looking forward to reading more.

  41. Definitely more more promising than Pact, so far.

    The reason why I supported Boil during the test runs, was that it was a lot more Worm-like in that it had a determined, younger protagonist making her own choice to carve out a plot, while Face, Peer, and Pact all had detached twenty-something dudes getting pushed into dangerous situations against their will.

    The age and the the gender, were also important factors (there is a reason why people liked Evan, Maggie, and Green Eyes even over Blake. Feminity and/or youth has an appeal that “some dude” doesn’t), but the active participation is the element that is truly necessary for a protagonist.

    So far, it looks like Twig mercifully inherited that aspect of Boil. We don’t know much about the protagonists, but they are not just victims reacting, they do their own thing. As creepy as the story might get, it hopefully won’t be just a horror, in the sense of being about constantly running away from monsters.

  42. Will you please Welcome the Children of the New Stitched Age!

    I’m liking this so far, let me add to the sentiment of Sly being a bit more of a troll being a good thing. Variety is nice.

    It may not at all be the direction that the story heads in, but I’m hoping for some bombastic speeches from people that have almost fanatical faith in the progress of the new science. I’ll be interested to see if they are just living in the shadows or if they are leading a double life under the Academy’s direction.

    Homunculi here we come. I hope you get super inventive with some of the creations Wildbow. Though I myself would not be able to resist having winged monkeys appear at some point. That would potentially be a bit too amusing in spite of the fact that such a thing in real life would be pretty terrifying.

  43. Hm!

    A bunch of kids solving mysteries… Wonder if they’ll get an uplifted dog at some point, and drive around in a green-painted wagon?

    I kid, I kid. You have my attention, sir! Looking forward to seeing where this band of child agents goes next.

  44. I liked more the simpler, slow-burning starts of Worm and Pact. I also didn’t think this first chapter gives out much about Sly personality like in Worm and Pact. On the other hand, I got the impression that this universe is already pretty well fleshed out in your mind. By some comments, you are actually returning to a setting you had already created.

  45. All sorts of people have pointed out that, between the biotech and the Academy, this is either the same universe as Boil or derived from the same set of drafts.

    I’m curious, how much is this inspired by Frankenstein? The timing fits, and the creation is somewhat reminiscent of the monster in the book (with the stitched horses obviously resembling most cinematic depictions of said monster).

    I’m interested to see where the story goes.

  46. Unlike that of the Snake Eater, my body is ready. Love everything so far, especially Sly. I am very excited to see this group suffer horribly, as is inevitable.

  47. I like it so far! I think I like the urchins as protagonists more than the one from Boil, too (but we’ll see how it goes). Looking forward to this one a lot.

  48. When I think “biopunk,” I think “Clade.” Which this isn’t.
    The vibe I get from this is more Geneforge/Frankenstein. I can’t wait to see what you do with it!

    • Yeah. Just couldn’t submit it to WFG/TWF until the site was live, and it takes the guy running the sites (Chris, who is awesome) some time to get through the backlog. It may take a few weeks.

  49. I’m really digging the Frankensteinian vibes I’m getting from this, not to mention the psuedo-gothic atmosphere. The behavior of the children speaks volumes about the world they live in.

    “The Academy sends its regards, Mr. Snake Charmer.”

    *shivers* Nothing worse than a Bond one-liner coming from the mouth of a child.

  50. Note the graphic’s connection to trees etc. Also, note that the things hanging look kind of like they are melting in the rain. Notice the vines integrated into the stone wall.

    Also note that of the five children shown in the image, only one is under an umbrella. My read is that Jamie is on left (wearing a hood), then one of the two girls (Lillian because she is hanging back as newcomer?), then Sy, then Gordon (the biggest), then the other of the two girls (Helen – protected because she is more of a stitched?).

  51. Another thing not mentioned so far is the use of the term “uninitiated” in the italicized text. This has echoes of practitioner or cape. Obgu bs Jvyqobj’f fgbevrf unir unq fbzrguvat yvxr na ryvgr pynff (r.t. pncrf be cenpgvgvbaref) jvgu gura n ynlre bs gehgu be frpergf haqrecvaavat gung ryvgr. I suspect the same holds true with the “initiated” e.g. likely members of the Academy. It also has a tone of indicating that even if the kids are not all initiated, they are at least wise to the situation in a deeper way. They might be in that middle ground of “witch hunters” or “PRT” members rather than just being muggles, even if all of the kids are not Initiated/Capes/Practitioners.

  52. The “about” description also mentions a “great mind” not a “great person” or “great man/woman” (The year is 1921, and a little over a century has passed since a great mind unraveled the underpinnings of life itself). This distinction smells important – the identity and nature of the original great mind will likely be a key plot point – how has this mind itself evolved? From reading HPMOR and Eliezer’s work, the use of the term “mind” brings up thoughts of AI – friendly or otherwise. Bio-modifications make it seem likely the Mind has been able to self-improve – the supposed “FOOM” scenario.

    Also – unraveled again feels important. It has that tone of of component pieces coming apart. Similar to how the text starts with the required components of life. It feels a bit like a tinker combining normal elements into something amazing. With the red imagery of the graphic, I can’t help but think about Obarfnj’f erq zvnfzn qvffbyivat rirelguvat arne gur raq bs gur Fynhtugreubhfr Avar nep va Jbez.

    Right now – my head canon says that this is Havirefr Mnlva be fbzr bgure sne syhat Jbez havirefr naq guvf vf nyy gur znq perngvba bs n Obarfnj be Avyobt funeq whzcrq vagb guvf jbeyq fbzr fvtavsvpnag gvzr rneyvre naq npgvat nf gur bayl funeq nyvir va gur fcnpr.

      • This comment could gesture towards part of why Wildbow doesn’t want to classify the genre. If there are biological computers in place that would bend genres a bit. Also, I note that there is no active mention of lighting or electricity. All of the lighting comes through the window. Perhaps the creation of stitches has avoided the traditional industrial revolution?

    • Side note: 1921 is a little over a century after the original publication of Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. In our world, that is.

      Mary probably had… different hobbies in Twigverse.

    • I think this plot has been done with a Frankenstein takeoff, but the way I imagine it is: if cobbling together biological beings is so easy, sooner or later someone will cobble together a superior brain. That brain, realizing that knowledge of this sort of thing is absolutely critical to its day-to-day existence, will study the biological sciences intensely. And it might do what just about every other group has done after they have come to power using a new option: close the door after itself, i.e. ban creations similar to itself. And since you can’t do that by yourself, you have to organize. This would end up with institutions run by highly intelligent abominations who wanted to learn about the biological sciences but at the same time put hard limits and controls on those who use them. Sound familiar?

      • Agreed. Biological improvement by necessity may almost have to deal with recursive self-improvement via superior brain modification, and the resulting disparity vis a vis lesser intelligences. I don’t dare try to predict Wildbow, as he always manages to confound expectations, but it seems like there are a lot of interesting narrative reference posts already being laid. What excites me most is how well Wildbow was able to deconstruct and then rebuild and evaluate something as played over as the superhero genre. In a world that seems even MORE free form and potentially modifiable such as this one, the scope for changes and deconstruction is very exciting.

  53. As mentioned, water plays a huge role throughout – I missed this on the first read, but I just saw that the water from the gutters is redirected into the building:

    “Water ran around and below us, flowing over our bare feet, redirected from gutters to the building’s inside.”

    Also – there is a description of the “trough” saying “with little care given for the leaks here and there,” – again conservation and use of water is quite important.

    Also – the wax is described as both smell and water proofing. Note that Sy does not cover his waxed hair (risk taking? Not as fully modified as the others?) “everyone but me flipping up their hoods to ward off the rain. I let the droplets fall where they would, on hair that refused to be bound down beneath a thick layer of waterproofing wax”

    If Helen is the one on the far right in the photo (covered by an umbrella) that matches with her decision to stay in the barn and avoid the rain, which “made a degree of sense”?

    [“I stay,” Helen murmured. There was no questioning it, no argument. We couldn’t afford to make the noise, and it made a degree of sense.]

    One thing we really know about Wildbow is that he plots out a lot of very minor details that are all quite relevant in retrospect.

    Another component is that the “first lesson” covers life “flourishing.” Again, another quite important word.

    When writing about the kittens being eaten, Sy references Wallace’s law – possibly referring to this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Russel_Wallace

    That reinforces at least some British connections plus the rough time frame.

    The reference in description of buildings to being planted is interesting: “buildings scattered like they’d been blown around by strong winds and planted where they lay”

    Also – “You’d think the rain would wash away the smell” in reference to the smell on the Academy and the buildings again reinforces water as cleaning and purifying but the current situation being too much even for that much rain.

    Sy being barefoot is also noteworthy – they are clearly well prepared (backpack full of tools) but Sy didn’t wear shoes out in the rain while climbing and seeking out monsters?

    • Also there is a call back to “flourishing” emphasizing the importance of that word specifically:

      “The way things looked, we were very close to doing the opposite of ‘flourishing’.
      It was hard to put into words, but my thoughts connected with that thought, and it was funny.”

    • I think the trough is for the snake in the attic. Regardless, it is interesting how many rain barrels are around – lack of indoor plumbing? Makes sense for a slum

      • Water seems bad for Stitches. I was noting more that there is so much care about directing water but then the trough is almost careless. Seems noteworthy. Think also about the connection between water and blood – letting blood flow haphazardly seems important.

    • I think you’re on to something with Sy’s attitude toward water, but I don’t think he is the only one running around without shoes: “Water ran around and below us, flowing over OUR bare feet”

      • COMPLETELY right. They all took their shoes and boots off:

        “Jamie had a book in his lap, our collected boots and shoes neatly organized around him, and he had company.”

        • Shit man, I completely overlooked the potential importance of those sentences. That’s some subtle foreshadowing/worldbuilding right there.

  54. Your use of italics irritates me. It’s too much, and it seems like it’s used to signal different things – like in “I willed him to figure out” versus “I know his,”.

  55. I’m almost certain this isn’t what Wildbow did, but I can’t stop imagining his train of thought as being:
    “Damn it! This story is meant to be dark, but my previous stories were dark too. How can I put across just how nasty the setting is to my readers? I mean, in Worm one of the protagonists was turned into a living full-room mural. In Pact, every second antagonist offered a fate worse than death. How can I get darker than that?”

  56. The various “stitcheds” (new word for the plural: “stitches”) have names when they become infamous:

    “Did you hear about the crying man of Butcher’s Row?”
    “Sly,” Jamie said, suddenly paying attention to the issue. The name was a warning.
    But Thom gave an answer, “That stitched that went crazy. Remembered things.”
    “That’s the one. Do you remember Mother Hen?”
    Thom nodded. “That nurse who- the babies.”
    He looked rather uneasy now.
    “That’s right,” I said, doing my best to sound calm, reassuring. “The nurse. Yes. Both got caught, right? Everything got tied up neatly?”
    “Yeah,” Thom said. He couldn’t meet my eyes, so he focused on Lillian instead. “The authorities from the Academy got them.”

    Also, at least some of the stitches seem to be made of previous individuals with memories.

    If the authorities need help catching and finding rogue stitches, then things are very much out of hand. That’s clear from the snake charmer being caught by the children. Another interesting fact is that the kids have the autonomy to decide the Academy won’t care if this guy gets eaten. That also implies the academy might want the snake thing alive (creator probably could better help eliminate snake thing and then be brought in?).

    In Wildbowverses, it seems the “powers that be” are often seemingly not fully in control of the situation, and have situations like “needing kids to do intel and deal with monsters” for them, when in actuality, that underlying situation is actually an intentional test/experiment/plan. Gura gur gehr cbjref gung or guvax gurl ner ernyyl chyyvat fgevatf ohg gurl nera’g npghnyyl va pbageby naq fghss fcvenyf jvyqyl vagb punbf. Guvax Pnhyqeba be gur zrgn yriry tnzr cynlvat bs Tenaqzn Ebfr naq gur Ynjlref. Gur Npnqrzl frrzf gb cbgragvnyyl or pbzcnenoyr gb gur Gevhzivengr, jvgu znlor gur ‘frperg beqre’ ehaavat gur Npnqrzl yvxr n Pnhyqeba.

    My current bet is that the evolution of the “mind” which unravelled the secrets of life is actually behind the first layer of stuff going on and then there is something bigger behind it.

    • For the source of Stitches, it seems like the Snake Charmer agrees about people becoming inputs to the Stitched creations: “If we’re not, we’re just fuel for what they’re setting in motion.”

  57. Also, this setting seems like it could very well exist in Worm’s multiverse. This could be an earth where the point of divergence was the appearance of the “great mind” mentioned in Twig’s synopsis. Moreover, this great mind could even be a by-product of the Spoilers from Worm. More precisely, some kind of special tinker whose knowledge was somehow possible to be reproduced by other people.

        • I think best practice for Wildbow comments is to avoid too strongly spoiling his other stories. Easiest way to do this is using Rot13 (http://www.rot13.com/) to discuss items from other stories. For example, the discussion of Gur zhygvirefr va Jbez, gur pbebanf, gur cnffratref, gur qrsvavgvba bs jung gvaxref ner, gur pbafhzcgvba bs bgure jbeyqf, rgp. frrz yvxr ernyyl ovt fcbvyref sbe Jbez. Gung fnvq, V’z tynq lbh funerq gur nccerpvngvba sbe gur grez Zvaq naq gur pbaarpgvba gb fbzrguvat Gvaxre yvxr.

          I wont directly @ Wildbow for input, but it might be good for us to collectively agree to “community guidelines” on things like spoiler policy. Certainly no one has bad intents in this, and I think it’s near 100% certain that people commenting on the FIRST day of the new serial have all read the previous stories. Just a thought to help keep things unspoilt for those who haven’t enjoyed the other serials yet.

  58. The setting feels great, and sly is awesome. It doesn’t feel like we know anything substantial about him (beside his general tricksterness), but he is intesesting.
    Also – the amount of teasing in this chapter…AHHHH! not knowing what’s sly name is, not knowing what the fuck they are doing in the warehouse with the snakeabomination, not knowing they are all children… it’s so very wildbow, and I’ve missed it in pact ^_^
    Keep going!

  59. Gordon seems to fight a lot like Pbagrffn naq Ahzore Zna – just a bit too good to be true and natural.

    “Gordon did. He approached, and the snake charmer tried to grab him.
    The man’s hands only grabbed clothes. A hood and cloak meant to keep the rain off.
    Gordon sliced his stomach. A shallow cut.
    Another grab, wrestling Gordon, trying to overpower with strength, seizing one arm.
    Gordon let the knife drop out of one hand, falling into the palm of another.”

  60. Interesting that Lillian “Who was not one of us” has the specific job of keeping the rest of the team in one piece. She seems to be almost to be playing the Panacea/Healer role.

    The lack of empathy on the team’s part also seems to signal something to the snake charmer: “I could see it dawn on the man. The comprehension. Just what he was dealing with.”

    Maybe there are “initiated and uninitiated”, academy members, stitches, experimenters, and then some middle ground patchwork category that the children are part of.

    Injury on Sy’s part seems to indicate that he can get repairs or upgrades – it’s sufficient enough for Gordon to call it out:

    “I’m very interested in what the fuck you were doing, faking that fall, setting yourself up to get hurt,” Gordon said. “You’ll have to tell me later, when you can talk again.”

    Sy’s disregard for water also seems to play into this. He has a hint of an addict – a risk taker intentionally trying to get “more of the good stuff.”

    It’s also worth noting that Sy as the narrator is actively concealing stuff from us. Faking the fall is not implied very clearly in the narrated thoughts. Similarly the waterproofing wax starts out as just being described as a substance.

    • This seems to be the “fake fall”: which the narrator doesn’t address as being fake/intentional:

      [My right foot slipped on the damp windowsill, scraping peeling paint off and away before I brought it back up to the sill. Water and paint flakes sprayed below. When I looked up, Gordon’s head was poking over the edge, looking down at me. He moved his head, and I could hear him speak, very patiently, to Lillian, “Keep going. Don’t mind him.”]

      • Probably this instead, I think:

        He stared down at the container.

        All the same emotions, much faster this time. Incomprehension, comprehension, hatred, rage.

        Directed at me.

        I backed away, stumbling, falling. I covered my face as he swung, using the waterproof cloth to try and shield my body.

        He set himself up to be hurt, said Gordon. This passage fits that.

        • Fair point. I think the wording strongly indicates that it’s the one you’re pointing out. And even so, as Sy is clearly quite nimble, it makes a fall appear doubly noteworthy. Assuming it’s the one you point out, it sort of further emphasizes Sy wanting some form of healing/fixing/upgrades.

          I’m probably reading too much into a lot of this, but I noticed that both Helen and Gordon are described as golden haired. Any other golden tinged Wildbow characters of note we might recall? Curious to have two already described in the same group – think if BOTH Bitch and Brian had had a huge affection for dogs or something. Particularly interesting too when the use of color is so muted and drab – calling out golden for both characters feels notable.

          There’s also a degree of self-loathing embedded in Sy calling out Gordon as “golden haired” and the “hero” and “talented” in the midst of the violent struggle going on. Sy has just been covered in enzymes and had his face melt, and he’s thinking to himself “look how great Gordon is.”

          Looking at the references to golden haired, it’s also interesting that Helen doesn’t react to the water running down her face at all. If you take the water as very important in story, than a prominent “LACK OF REACTION” to it seems notable. I’m kind of hinging on “conservation of narrative detail” here but all it seems too important to ignore.

          • It’s noted that she’s the only one who remained expressionless enough to avoid cracking the wax. Either she was unconcerned because she’s still watertight, or she’s just generally stoic and would be equally deadpan if the house were on fire.

  61. And speaking of bigger things, the size of the monsters poses an interesting question for the Godzilla threshold in Twig. The first monster is already twice the size of a large horse (which is quite big – http://i222.photobucket.com/albums/dd199/kamaloo/diggerthehorse_01.jpg). This thing is a mix of green anaconda and something from the cat family – presumably a large python.

    Other comments: genetics are real or at least a discipline in-universe and latin names corresponding to “our world” are utilized. Open questions of where you get the materials to make these experiments. I’d wager the Academy is covertly supplying people in order to drive testing and experimentation. Not clear why they want to pay to shut it down. Vg unf rpubrf gb Rqra naq Mvba ehaavat grfgf ba uhznavgl guebhtu pbasyvpg.

    The kids have also been working together for years (that seems to imply 3-4) so potentially they banded together at 7/8/9 years old and have survived and thrived this long.

  62. Also Sy is WAY too strong/nimble to not be modified in some way – kids are not typically monkey like gymnasts climbing with just their fingers and toes in between bricks:

    “Holding the windowsill with my left hand, reaching with my right leg, I touched the frame with my big toe. I found a grip, and I used it to better position myself. Fingers dug into the space between bricks, where water had worn away mortar, and I heaved myself over, using my toes and only my toes to perch on the top of the doorway.”

  63. Note also that cars and mechanization don’t seem to have been adopted in this world. By 1930, half of American households had a car (http://amhistory.si.edu/onthemove/exhibition/exhibition_8_1.html), but the coach going to the Academy (likely high end) is pulled by stitched horses.

    Note also that there are obvious secrets at play (Jamie asking Sy why he didn’t tell Thom the truth if he was getting him ::involved::) but that Jamie doesn’t know fully what Sy was up to.

  64. A thought about Lillian – “she was new” could mean that they have all been made and are not just natural children. That is at odds with the natural counting of age by Sy but it would help explain why they are specifically orphans – maybe they have been vat grown somehow:

    “The easy, natural interactions and cooperation that followed from years of working together weren’t there with Lil. She was new. A recent addition to the group.”

    Note the the children are described as “strange youths” on the about page and the about page also takes pain to distinguish between youth and children.

  65. The about page shows “mutterings of work taken by ‘stitched’ men of patchwork flesh that do not need to sleep” which has parallels to fears of automation and factories happening at this time. It indicates mechanization and industrialization is performed by the stitched creations.

    Also – Wildbow pretty actively stays away from sexual topics, again as indicated by the about page. The repeated reference to looking up skirts might have some reference to how they are all stitched together or are not completely natural – e.g. it might not be at all sexual (particularly given age of the children). Furthermore, it’s a bit weird that both of the girls are wearing skirts, when they are out climbing around and fighting a monster. I understand gender norms were stronger back then, but for a group of swashbuckling orphans to enforce them is a little strange.

  66. The connection of Sy to Twig is embodied in the name Sylvester: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Sylvester

    masc. proper name, from Latin silvestris, literally “of a wood, of a forest, woody, rural, pastoral,” from silva “wood, forest” (see sylvan). St. Sylvester’s Day is Dec. 31.

    This would seem to indicate more strongly that Sy is part “twig” or part of some broader creation.

    The water is often referenced as being kept in wooden containers. Water is also described as wearing away the mortar. If Sylvester is of wood, then perhaps he contains water inside himself. Something inside Sylvester could be the secret to destroying or controlling the stitched creations. Water is part of helping life flourish. Maybe Sy’s essence is needed for life across the planet to flourish again. Life is currently shown to be dead. The plants are all red. That’s a pretty big signal that life is sick. Interestingly, Sy thinks the venom should be green. It’s making it sound like normal life and green is bad.

    Note also Sy’s reaction to the water running down his back – it doesn’t destroy him but it is called out: “Rain poured down on me, tracing its way down the back of my neck, beneath my shirt. The waxed and waterproof cowl and short cloak had kept my shirt dry, and I shivered at the sensation.” Water proves to be part of the solution here – washing the pheromones off the snake charmer and being implied about how to deal with the stitched horses.

    Another thing is that trees usually imply elevation. The about page says “for those on the ground.” That means on the forest floor. Or not up in the ivory tower of the academy.

  67. Wildbow, the background art is still not perfect, now on the top and the bottom center you can still see a sharp looping line. You could blur it the same way as you fixed the vertical looping.

  68. I’m so glad you’re doing the biopunk setting like in Biol. That was always my favorite snippet. Speaking of which, will the protagonist from Boil make an appearance in this story? By the way the way I can’t find that story (or Peer and Face) on your website, did you take it down?

    First impressions time. A group of people as protagonists right off the bat, and young children at that too! Plus you ditched the slow build up in favor of in medias res. This is certainly different from your previous stories.

    This story reminds me of Fullmetal Alchemist. The snake monster chimera, free range children, immortality and resurrection, science medaling with the human body and set in an alternate version of the early 20th century. All you need now is an ancient conspiracy and some homunculi.

  69. In retrospect with regard to Pact, gur ortvaavat vgnyvpvmrq grkg frrzf gb or dhvgr ncg. Hygvzngryl, qnza zr, qnza gurz, qnza vg nyy jnf xvaq bs jung unccrarq guebhtubhg gur grkg. Va Jbez, gur vgnyvpvmrq grkg ng gur ortvaavat jnf n gevttre jneavat. Just another thought about the importance of the italicized text here.

  70. I looked it up, and Alfred Russell Wallace was a naturalist from Darwin’s time. He discovered his namesake effect, the way natural selection separates different species (as far as I understand). I didn’t find anything about him relevant to the story.

  71. Ok thoughts:
    I’m betting the “children” are all academy students. They *might* have started out as kids, or they may not have. Important thing is they look like kids right now. I’m personally more betting on something to slow aging than something to change apparent age.
    -fairly consistent, casual references to the books around, and ability to read suggest education i.e. not urchins
    -Sly was lying to that other kid, has no intention of letting him join their gang, likely lying about the nature of their gang
    -“the academy sends their regards”
    -if they were actually intending to report this guy they wouldn’t have killed him

    Stitches – more likely to be modified slaves with broken brains than super-people, ending up in this state as a payment for debts or punishment for crime
    -apparently they can “start remembering stuff”, suggesting they do not typically have memories
    *stitched horses: actually horses? or people modded to be horse-like?

    The academy is intentionally spreading the idea that you need to experiment to get in, harvesting the results and killing the creators. Admission criteria is actually based on something else.
    -I don’t actually have support for this, but the fact that they didn’t kill the snake by the end of the chapter could suggest as much. I’d expect they’d be more interested in the books though.
    -Though, it could explain why a bunch of students are out scientist-hunting – good way to get ahead of your peers (stealing work instead of working yourself)

    *loving the structural vines, indication of more sophisticated gen-mod than stitching stuff together. The snake seemed pretty smooth, too.

    • Your comment and the about section makes me think that someone (The Academies?) have successfully started affecting large portions of the population in this generation of kids. See this sentence: “It is only this generation, they say, that the youth and children are able to take the mad changes in stride, accepting it all as a part of day to day life.”

      Also, it’s pretty clear that the kids are either unconcerned about the authorities knowing that they let someone be killed or probably more likely that the Academy or someone wants experimenters dead. What’s interesting is that the kids seem to have more blessing from the Academy while the Snake Charmer thought that experimenting would help him get in their good graces. It feels a bit like a clean up crew – the kids have specifically ID’d problematic Stitches to help shut them down. The snake monster eating a person might threaten the seemingly benevolent front of the academy so they have to eliminate people without control like the Snake Charmer.

      Also interesting to note that the Snake Charmer is nicknamed similar to the Butcher and Mother Hen. I was thinking those other two were stitches, but the nickname creates an association.

      More broadly the only apparent authority/governing structure at work seems to be the Academy and its resources. No one mentions the law or government or whatever.

      Another reading is that the kids are actively working to undermine the academy and it’s a HUGE coup that Lillian is associated with them. Helping to kill agents of the Academy (such as the snake charmer, butcher, and mother hen) would match with them being an underground rebellious group. That would also explain Jamie’s statement that Sy didn’t tell Thom the truth despite getting him involved. The mission Sy created for Thom seems obviously designed to harm/inconvenience an agent or contact of the Academy.

    • On the kids being academy students, assuming the italicized text is from the same narrator (Sy) as the rest of the chapter, it doesn’t seem like he has an active working knowledge of the teachings. He does seem to be associated with the initiated and distancing himself from the uninitiated. Lillian’s age and entrance to the academy is a surprise to the snake charmer, so maybe the other kids are prospective candidates at some point in the future. My money is on them being stitched in some way (possibly natural births of stitching in a new generation?) that are actively conscious from the get go unlike other stitches that only occasionally regain their memory?

  72. More on the subject of Wildbow EATING KITTENS:
    We don’t actually know that they are kittens. They are referred to as kitties; not an unheard of word for cats, but unusual, and given the setting it might signify that they aren’t actual cats but are instead some kind of fabricated abomination. Thus, it might not be quite so horrible as I thought.
    However, the reaction of Lillian to the sight signifies that these things are at least viewed approximately the same as kittens in-universe.

    • Wait! I suddenly realised! Lillian appears to be horrified by the snake-thing eating the kitties because it’s just that awful, but perhaps she’s horrified by the kitties themselves, by the fact that they are nearby, by the fact that such horrifying beasts were allowed to get near an Academy where children live!
      So yeah. I am totally calling the kitties eating the snake-thing from the inside out.

    • Later there is discussion of the snake monster eating the remainder of the litter and the mother cat too:

      Mama kitty shouldn’t have had her babies in the same building as the monster, I thought. Wallace’s law at work.


      Diagrams of the thing’s fangs, which I had glimpsed as it devoured the mother cat,

  73. The font size on the Twig site is 14px, and it is 16px on Pact site.
    It’s slightly less comfortable to read smaller text, but it might be only me.

  74. Won’t be productive on work in the transition. Thus!

    Strong opening ¶; good flow, good sense (I think! Hard to tell if it sets up expectations well without seeing what follows, but there’s a nice headfake at the classical four elements with ‘uninitiated’ before committing to CHON, and that sets up a magi-science vibe.)

    3rd ¶ is very clipped. Not sure what the aim is with that, but it recurs throughout the chapter. Repeated short declarative sentences. Style? Something about the POV? Can’t tell yet.

    Wallace’s Law – not Darwin, not in this world.

    Geography’s a bit odd: implication is that the group came in and then went the hayloft route, leaving their shoes with Jamie until their return. Why? What did they gain, beyond laying eyes on a large venomous serpent? And if so, why did they want to do that?

    Sy/Sly variations intended? Sy to Gordon, Sly to Jamie? Or Sy as friend, Sly when he’s pulling a trick they’d rather he not?

    Not representing the academy, or not as an independent contractor for money… and running a game of some kind, unknown to his teammates.

    Stitched need protection from rain, apparently… why? Water’s a fantastic solvent, but unless biology has gotten a lot weirder, the stitched are still mostly water internally. Everyone wearing waterproof wax… but Sylvester not protecting his head.

    Stitched = chimeras, apparently.

    Hiding while close good way to build tension.

    Italics use is interesting. Some for thoughts or whispers, or reading, others at emphases that are odd. Not bad, not wrong… odd. Frequent. E.g. deliberate, or his, hero, or floor. Effect is of someone else highlighting unexpected parts of the picture.

    Use for emphases in speech shows vocal rhythms: effective; no criticism there beyond the stock issue of ‘does the dialogue sound aloud as intended’?

    Lillian as a student of the Academy… the others as products of it? Or Lillian as both?

    Very deliberate, cruel execution. Why? No one to see. Didn’t dispose of the ‘snake.’ Didn’t take his research, either… left it there. What set of motives require them to remove the man, but leave his research and experiments? It’s not about the child eaten by the snake, or they wouldn’t have left the snake alive.

    Will an official investigation find that the man died in a tragic lab accident, as so many non-Academics do, and then officially remove the ‘snake’ and the research materials?
    Because otherwise, this is just… odd.

    Flavor is interesting.

  75. Wildbow: I want to bring up a serious concern that I felt also with Pact, but much less with Worm (which I loved). Namely, you have a tendency of sometimes producing very wordy verbal descriptions of physical settings that are not very easy to read, and really distract from the telling of the story. Here is an example right at the beginning of Twig:

    “What had once been a barn had been made into a warehouse, then abandoned partway through a third set of changes. A floor of old wooden slats reached only halfway down the length of the old building, what had once been a hayloft. If we stood on the edge, we could look down at the floor below to see uneven floorboards on top of compacted dirt. The original barn’s door was still there, mounted on rollers. I leaned over to get a better look. I could see a table, some scattered papers, books, and a blackboard. The only light was that which came in through windows. A scattered set placed on the upper floor, and more well above head height on the lower one.”

    Convoluted wording, hard to picture precisely. Very much an element of the writing in Pact that I had serious trouble with. And– I would suggest– absolutely not the sort of thing you want in one of the first paragraphs of a new story, where you are looking to ensnare readers without long descriptions of setting (unless such descriptions were really compelling, which this is not).

    Perhaps the hardest thing for me as a reader when I come across these descriptions is why you considered those particular physical details so important as to put on paper. I would like for physical descriptions to be much more natural and organic, and flow seamlessly with the story itself.

    Anyway, that’s my honest feedback as a longtime reader.

    Wishing you all the best with your new venture, and I will continue to read what you write and support your efforts as long as possible.

  76. Had to sit down and force myself to wait all day just like Pact. Damn exams. Liking the small taste we’ve been allowed to have so far!

  77. While I am about it, let me mention a few more (hopefully constructive) criticisms:

    1) Use of italics: This seems rather forced, and not something that I like stylistically except in very exceptional circumstances. Both in Pact and in the first chapter of Twig, italics have been used a bit too much. They confer too much emphasis on things that are after all not that important.

    2) More on why the wordy descriptions bother me: They confer an omniscience on the narrator that sits uncomfortably with me. Why should the narrator know all those physical details, such as about the history of a place? One could argue that some of these things are deducible, but many of the descriptions sound a bit too specific or definitive.

    Hope that helps.

    • Fixed some italics, went over things and rewrote to shift emphasis instead of relying on italics for it. #2 is fine as it is in my book, though I tweaked some of the snake’s description, as people were saying it was clunky.

  78. It already feels like there is a whole complex world out there.
    Love the feel of the setting and the group so far.
    A more scientific approach to this worlds otherness is also an intriguing variety that I am looking forward to getting explored.

    Baseless WMG: The snake-cat didn´t actually kill anyone (besides its creator).

  79. Excellent catch from GreatWyrmGold mentioned on the Reddit: An academy is referenced in Wildbow’s WOG comments in a Worm chapter: Sovrano Academy: Regent. Very different person, same power as demonstrated in the Parasite arc, not the general use ‘I make them twitch/convulse’ power. Attending a cutthroat school for villains with Bonesaw as a classmate.

    It’ll be very interesting if this one of the random “crossover” elements Wildbow often puts into his works.


    • No relation between this Academy and Sovrano Academy. Sovrano was my attempt at writing a ‘superheroes in high school’ thing with an emphasis on students in training to become supervillains.

  80. From the updated post on Worm’s site, there is confirmation that this is an update of the Boil setting:


    I’ve now moved on to the writing of Twig, with the first chapter released just fourteen hours ago. Those who read the sample story Boil between the writing of Worm and Pact may see familiar elements – critiques of Boil often said they liked the world but weren’t grabbed by the character, who was perhaps a little similar to Taylor. In Twig, I’ve aimed to keep what worked and rework what didn’t, and early reception seems positive.

  81. Oh my goodness, this is already shaping out to be an amazing story whose each update I will eagerly await with bated breath, just like Pact, and just like Worm (although, honestly, I didn’t find Worm until it was about 3/4 over).

    By the way, anyone know how to remove the whitespace between comments, for me personally, on my end? On this (rather short) widescreen laptop, it means a lot of scrolling. Maybe there’s some setting that lets them space out as wide as my screen is?

  82. Think I am going to wait a few weeks and then read the first several chapters in one setting. That way I can get more context about what this story actually is (there are some kids, and apparent bioengineering, and there is an Academy that controls that kind of thing, not really sure where we are going with this). This chapter felt lacking a bit in that regard, which is fine in a book because you can keep reading… but in a serial you are stuck waiting for the next update.

  83. I really liked this first chapter. It feels much more like this world is already esrltablished and the readers are jumping into it, rather than it being constricted as the story is written. Was anyone else struck by the importance of water? I expect that it reacts badly with “stitched” things and that’s why the kids covered themselves in wax. Snake charmer just didn’t know they were fake kids so he thought it was to hide the smell. There is a lot of attention put on the rain, rain barrels, and gutters. There was also that line about dumping water on stitched horses to cause problems. Why would horses need raincoats unless water is an issue?

  84. I actually just finished my second reading of Worm(including all the comments!) a couple of days ago when I went back to Pact, which I intended to try to catch up so I could read the end with the other commenters, only to see, to my dismay, that Epilogue had already been posted! I’m still going to read Pact, of course, but at the same time as Twig.

    Worm, by the way, was amazing and consumed half my life reading through it. Not much else to say that hasn’t been said in far better ways by others, but I’ll definitely be looking forward to the ebook/dead tree versions! And the sequel. And the inevitable next rereading… (not necessarily in that order)

    I’m incredibly excited about reading Twig right from the beginning, along with the rest of the you in the comments! I bet it’s going to be an awesome ride. Thoughts:
    – The beginning is significantly different from Worm and Pact, in that the protagonist starts off with a well-established team, instead of being more or less alone. Really interested in seeing how this changes things… Also, I think I prefer this opening over Pact’s, maybe because it was more engaging. Also, I can tell there’s going to be lots of worldbuilding, which was one of my favourite parts of Worm
    – I agree that Helen, at least, is/was stitched (avoidance of water, “special case”)
    – What exactly does the Academy do, and what’s its relation to this group? Maybe they created Helen, considering her last lines about the Academy sending its regards. Or maybe the Academy created/had a hand in the creation of all of the main 5(I think the Academy is paying them, at the very least). Which leads me to…
    -Lilian – she’s constantly referred to as new, and not one of them, whose job is to keep them in one piece…. maybe she’s the only one that wasn’t stitched? She’s the only one that’s bothered about Snake Charmer’s death, while she was fixing up Sy(who is most likely at least partly stitched, he wasn’t bothered about the venom like normal people would), and, maybe a little meta, but there are only 5 figures in the top banner, so it makes me wonder what’s going to happen to her, or someone else…
    -Character death in the first chapter! Yay!
    -Rereading it, water definitely seems like it plays an important role, but what’s up with the new growths that are red, and everything else is dead or something? Perhaps contamination/pollution, from the factory?
    -The art is looking really cool! Looking forward to the banner on TWB and voting for Twig there(Wildbow’s most likely going to dominate the top 10 within a decade or so).

    I’d really love to donate, but don’t have the funds to at the moment, so I’ll help out in other ways for now, such as typoing!
    – “without a without prominent ridge” Extra ‘without’ there.

    Just wondering, is there a difference between the Worm and Pact spoilers in the cipher? I don’t want to get spoiled for Pact, but I’ve read Worm, so I was wondering what/if there’s a difference.
    So excited for Saturday!
    Wildbow is awesome, you magnificent bastard. That is all.

    • Worm, by the way, was amazing and consumed half my life reading through it.

      . . . so young

      Just wondering, is there a difference between the Worm and Pact spoilers in the cipher?

      There’s really no difference currently. It’s probably a good idea to start tagging spoilers since Wildbow now has a couple stories that are out. Perhaps [W] for Worm [P] for Pact and [M] for the Multiverse spoilers?

  85. Holy shit I’m at the beginning of a Wildbow serial. This is pretty awesome.

    So… child soldiers? I’m not sure if this is Snake Charmer’s death, seeing as he has a character tag all to his own.
    “Stitched” is an ethnic group/faction/whatever. Maybe the wax has something to do with that.

    I have to wonder whether or not there’s actually magic in here. The snake charmer dude wasn’t doing anything explicitly paranormal, as far as I can see, but the crying man “remembering things” sounds like some kind of psychometry/precognition power.

    well that’s about all of my thoughts. Worm was pretty baller, by the way, so nice job with that.

  86. I’m having trouble signing up to the RSS feed. I have RSS apps on pc and phone but when I click subscribe to RSS feed I just get an XML file…anyone have any ideas?

  87. I like the story and the setting.
    The very beginning seems off just a little. The thoughts that Sylvester begins with seem odd when you consider the nature of the situation he is in: “How does it go? The first lesson, something even the uninitiated know. For life to flourish on the most basic level, it requires four elements. Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen. We were doing fine on that count. The air around us was stale, but it was still oxygen. Water ran around and below us, flowing over our bare feet, redirected from gutters to the building’s inside.”

    My first thought was that Sylvester and his group were colonists on a new planet. But that didn’t quite jive with the thoughts he was having about the barn and the creature in it. Then, they almost seemed like people who had just been awakened, with knowledge of certain things, but being uncertain of other things. It wasn’t until they started going down the side of the building and then met Jamie and Thomas that it became clear that they were on a mission.

    I’m not entirely sure how much of that was intentional, or just me being obtuse. It didn’t make me not like the story, but it did confuse me for a little bit.

  88. Jesus dude, you get better with every chapter you write. Man, this (and Worm 2) are the things I’m most looking forward to for the next few years.

  89. I’m a bit surprised about the protagonists. At first, I didn’t expect a group of them in the first chapter. Also, they are far younger and especially not as heroic or friendly as I expected from a wildbow protagonist.

    And while I disliked the Boil snippets, the world of Twig seems more complete and more interesting. I can’t wait to see what’s horribly wrong with this world.

    • they are far younger and especially not as heroic or friendly as I expected from a wildbow protagonist.

      Did you really expect a Wildbow Protagonist to be Heroic or Friendly?

    • > I can’t wait to see what’s horribly wrong with this world.<

      Wildbow has us desensitized to the point that children setting someone up to be devoured by a monster is no longer considered proof that something is "wrong" with the world.

      Also, I agree with you. Can´t wait to find out what even worse things are hiding (and hunting) out there.

    • From the Charmer’s rant here, it sounds rather close to its first incarnation in Boil. Which means no, not monster killing – quite the opposite actually.

  90. Okay, interesting, getting a bit of a gritty reboot Oliver Twist vibe here. Looking forward to more biopunk weirdness.

  91. New story, and a promising one, too.

    From what I can see here, I already like the protagonist better then I liked Worm’s or Pact’s. Don’t get me wrong, Taylor and Blake were each compelling in their own way, but I’m something of a sucker for trickery and plots, and that’s not really an element that either of them could bring to the table. Taylor is intelligent, and a master of leveraging force against her foes, but she was rather lacking in the “methods of success besides force” department. Blake and Rose were both a bit better with that, but the situation they were in was set up so that they were so busy with other people’s plans that they could never really make their own. From what I can see here, Sy is very much a trickster, and I like that.

    Water is clearly bad for stitched, and there’s some evidence here that the children (besides Lilian) are, themselves, stitched. From Sy’s behavior, he seems determined to ignore the danger. I see three possible reasons for this (note that these are not mutually exclusive):
    1) aversion to water is psychological, and Sy is working to over come it
    2) A tolerance of sorts to water’s detrimental effects if one is dedicated enough to suffer from it in the mean time (This also begs the question of why water is damaging. My best guess is that a catalyst for chemical reactions like water is not something you want near delicate artifical biochemistry)
    3) Sy is dangerously reckless of his own health and well being

    I’m guessing that stitched is a term for someone who’s been Bonesaw’d in one sense or another. Given the comment about the “stitched who regained his memories” the process apparently causes amnesia, which is probably going to be pretty relevant.

    The repeated comments about how Gordon was “the hero” the talented one, suggests bitterness, irony (Gordon and/or Sy are not what they seem, even by stitched standards) or both.

    Golden gets used as an adjetive an awful lot. An element of the setting, perhaps?

  92. This line “One being, knit together from several. The better traits of each, all drawn together. References to Wollstone’s texts, to the ratios of life, and to the volumes of genetic code for Felidae and Eunectes Murinus.” does that mean the creature was literally stitched together or perhaps he just means it metaphorically?

  93. Great start. The overall impression of the chapter itself is solid. There’s all the elements needed here for a gripping start and more than enough action and interaction for me to want to come back. I’m definitely liking it more than your other serials, but then again, this is only the first chapter. Is that a good thing?

    Twig itself… I don’t know. There’s definitely mad science in the background. And the foreground. A feeling of old and new melding together to form a present that maybe shouldn’t be. I personally like the science being showcased, so that’s another point in my book. The kids are so very intelligent, yet they act like kids at times. But only at times. Sly is like his name, Gordon gives out a solid impression, Lillian comes out as scared and cute, Jamie(es?)’s the sensible/quiet one and Helen the creepy, always there for you teammate. I do wonder if Thomas will reappear. It’s obvious the central cast ARE the Academy’s people, so will this kid make more contact with them? Become an informant, something closer? On the whole, this read somewhat like CSI or a “get the culprit” story. Politics of some sort are quite clearly visible in the future. And, at the expense of dragging the past into this, it’s soooooo nice to be on the side of the Law this time. I hope.

    The main mystery (for me) is what are they? Not biologically or anything, I’d like to think they’re “regular” humans for a change, but what kind of people are all these “scientists”, these alchemists and builders and probable madmen and women? There is the Academy. How does that work too?

    … and I should maybe start reading the next chapter instead of blindly speculating.

    Also. What will become of the hybrid now that its creator is dead?

  94. …but Deedee blows his experiments, to smithereens! There is doom and gloom while things go boom!….in Dexter’s Lab!

    Welcome to Twig. For those playing along at home, this is when you load up Geneforge.

    Nice to know I didn’t miss anything by showing up late. Looks like the story was already in media res.

    So this is Twig, apparently, where we join a pack of sociopathic prepubescents wandering around playing doctor with each other while trying to avoid becoming a victim of an older man’s pet snake. He’d have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids and their insatiable love of Barbie cosplay. At least we know for a fact that somebody waxed those asses. Wax on, wax off. Except for when the older guy grabbed for Gordon, in which case it was jacket on, jacket off. Not that our POV character could tell us that much about it after the older man splashed fluids all over the kid. Then, of course, one of the girls washed him off in the shower.

    And for those looking for an indication of the tone of the story: yes, that’s a monster eating kittens right from the very beginning.

    Now, let’s go see how these kids like getting to that special time in their bodies’ development when they learn to release their own personal krakens.

      • I showed up for awhile, but it felt like I was straining. That’s usually not good for comedy or sphincters. I’m not really here for Twig, either. I think I pretty much have to show up for Worm 2 whenever that starts, though.

  95. Just started reading this, so maybe there’s a in-story justification later, but it should be “Eunectes murinus” rather than “Eunectes Murinus”. The species name should always be lowercase (and the whole thing should be italicised as you’ve done correctly).

  96. Figured I’d leave this comment because I finally managed to convince myself to finish the last two chapters of Pact. It’s kind of hard to find this new serial. If I hadn’t of known about twig through earlier comments I would have probably missed out. Maybe you might add a link in the epilogue? Or give twig it’s own post in the pig’s pen? Great story so far by the way, and thanks for the ride.

  97. Finally got around to start this. I like that you just jump right into the world instead of bogging down the reader with some info-dumping on a world that is obviously very well thought out. Looking forward to learning about this world. The surprise that the main characters were just kids (11-13 years old) was well-done.

  98. I Finally start the last of Wilbow’s mea…err,stories.I kinda do not want to catch up,means I’d have to wait.That said,it seems curious,up till now,

    Wilbow’s series seem inversely interesting, relative to his other stories at least, to how much I like the setting.I love magic,dislike superheroes and biopunk,yet ttill now,I liked Pact less….though I think it has the most interesting setting,so I hope very much Wilbow revisits it when he is more mature as a writer.That said “liked it less”is like saying “Saturn is smaller than Jupiter”,it by no means mean it was in any way bad.

    Biology,huh….I kinda dislike theme that are realistic but in the future,I prefer heroes to have either potentially unlimited power to gain,or absolute superpowers with strange effects …That said,I have learned never to judge by gendre and also,to always trust Wilbow….he can make a food you are allergic too and you won’t be able to stop eating….crap,again I slipped a food analogy there.

    Sylvester is the MC huh…I hope he gets to fight a bioeingeenered yellow bird,perhaps one with compartments to pull out weapons like hammers,or better yet an augumented canary….and upon beating it,eating it.

  99. No-one making the connection between twigs and grafting, or is it just too obvious? Well, anyway. I finally finished Pact, read every comment here (took me hours) and I’m off. G’night, gonna read on tomorrow. Epic start, but everything worth mentioning has already been said a dozen times so I’m just gonna shut up.

  100. I tried several times, but I can’t for the life of me parse this sentence: “It snapped, and the four curved fangs were the only ones that were any wider than a pencil, visible for only an instant before the head disappeared into detritus piled in the corner.”

  101. I can’t red this, it’s not the story or anything like that. It’s because of the background makes it way to hard to read the words without getting about 5 cm away from the screen.

  102. Well this is interesting. I guess injuries don’t mean as much anymore in a world where the knowledge on how to create life has already been achieved and is seemingly public knowledge. I’m guessing most of this group has been created in a lab and designed to fill specific roles. Gordon as the ‘hero’, Jamie as a quiet sentry, and Helen as the muscle maybe? I’m guessing that Sy is basically the black ops guy of the group, the one capable of getting things done fast but his methods are sorta fucked. Already Sy seems like a different character than Taylor but still unique and interesting. Can’t wait to read the rest!

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