Enemy (Arc 1)

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Overshoot, Percy mused.  A species finds itself with no predators and an abundance of resources.  The species grows by leaps and bounds, oftentimes exponentially, and quickly reaches a point where it vastly exceeds the space and resources available.

Percy held his umbrella up at an angle, pointing it against the rain that was driving down, now.  His eye fell on the Academy.  This late in the evening, it was one of the only points of light in this dark little city, walled in, with enough lights around the Hedge that the front wall was illuminated.

He turned away, shifting his grip on his umbrella.  His free hand reached up to tenderly prod his own damaged face.  The moment he’d been hurt, he’d chosen to exaggerate the severity of it.  He’d trusted his Mary.

His walk was brisk.  Running was a giveaway, walking was too slow.  He compromised on both fronts.  Living here, one got used to the rain, walking on slick sidewalk and road.  The Academy had wanted rain, they had devised a method to get it, algae that were now part of the water system.  Buildings at the periphery of Radham spouted out fumes that would catalyze the bacteria.

When Overshoot occurred, the end result was often a devastating collapse of the system that had formed.  Populations often died en masse.

The wind nearly tore his umbrella from his hand.  He had to pause to fix the arm at one side, where it had inverted, turning one side of the umbrella into a cup rather than a shield.  While he did so, he took the opportunity to glance over his shoulder, double-checking.

He didn’t see anyone that shouldn’t be there.  He kept a particular eye out for children, and saw nothing.

He felt both relief and disappointment.  To see Mary there would have lifted his heart and it would have made him feel safer.  To see all of the boys with Mary would have left him ecstatic.  Given him hope.

Only rain and shadow in equal proportion.

Radham worked so hard to portray itself as something good and proper.  He’d known that much already, spending the better part of six years at Mothmont, but he’d never been one to wander the street in the worst weather.  He’d been aware of the existence of such stitched, but he’d never seen how many stitched were active late at night, collecting trash, bodies, or simply going about on predetermined errands, especially now that he was in the shadier part of Radham.

A stitched was picking through a can of trash that had been left outside of a business, moving as though drunk, too loose, prone to swaying.  When it found something, a broken clock, a child’s toy, a pair of scissors, it fumbled to fold back a waterproof cloth that had been draped over a crate, placed the item inside, and then replaced the cloth.

Percy wanted to help it.  To give it an hour of his time, or find its owner and tell them how to maintain it better.  Some individuals were prone to complaining about how their relatives, friends and neighbors were collected before they ever touched a coffin, or dug up at the first opportunity by grave robbers looking to make some coin by selling to would-be-students.  Oh, but if they knew that stitched were sometimes used like this, ordered to go through garbage for anything that might be of value, taking the materials to a location where the valuables could be sorted out and sold?

A stitched wasn’t easy to make, but the attempted and ultimately partial revival of the dead had been one of Wollstone’s first projects, and had consequently been one of the most detailed in Wollstone’s literature.  All one had to do was obtain the materials that the Academy controlled and follow the documentation to the letter.

The materials were inexpensive, the end product lasted years, longer if kept dry and maintained at the right temperature, which this poor thing wasn’t.

He appreciated few things more than good work.  A craftsman with care regarding their trade.  This wasn’t that kind of good work.

The creator no doubt had access to a great many bodies, and thought it easier to go to a third-rate Academy graduate and have another made, than to work to keep this one functioning.

Flesh was cheap.  Dead flesh cheaper.

The stitched turned its head, looking in Percy’s direction.  The eyes were nearly gone, the pupils and irises clouded with milky white.

It wasn’t, however, looking at Percy himself.

He followed the gaze of the stitched creature, and he saw two figures in the rain.

The first and most obvious was a monster.  Four-legged, It stood tall enough that if it walked against a building, its shoulder would brush the upper end of a doorframe, but it was narrow enough that it could fit through the doorway itself, if it ducked its head down.  It had parts of a human face, writ large, the features largely concealed by long black hair.  Here and there, where flesh wasn’t sufficient, large amounts of metal had been set in place, fixed to flesh and bone.  Light from a streetlamp reflected green in its eyes.

The other figure was a man, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a long jacket. The light from the streetlamp reflected green in his eyes as well.  He carried a stick with a collar fixed to one end, ready to snap shut once touched to the throat, a bear trap without the teeth.  Sometimes it had spikes, Percy knew, but no.

No, Dog and Catcher wanted him alive.  To question.  To take his work, repurpose it.  It was only a matter of time.  The only reason they hadn’t noticed him was that they were distracted by something else.  It seemed Catcher was saying something, though the collar of his jacket was high enough to hide his mouth.

Dog nodded, and the sound he made in reply was deep and loud enough to be almost audible.  Speaking was impossible for the thing, given the mangled metal wreck that was his lower jaw.

How could Percy even describe the feeling that came over him, then?  The dread, the misery.  He imagined the feeling being very much like what he might experience if confronted by the family of the children he had replaced with his own.  If he had been cut down mid-stride, before accomplishing his goals.

As if a weight had been dropped on him from high above, smashing all he was to pieces, while leaving his body intact.

But dread didn’t help him.  He circled the garbage-scrounger and used the creature’s bulk and smell to hide him from sight and nose.

With a note of regret, he folded up his umbrella, subjecting himself to the rain.  Bone handle, properly waterproof.  Too large to go in the crate, too obvious a thing to be carrying.

“I hope your master rewards you by tending to you,” Percy murmured.  “So please forgive me for this.”

He pulled the waterproof cloth away from the top of the crate, where it protected the contents, threw it over his head and shoulders, then hefted the crate.  He contemplated kicking off his boots, but decided against it.

Visually, it would mask him from their view.  But their eyes were the least of his problems.

They could see better than him, they could track scents as well as any bloodhound, they could hear, as rumor went, a leaf settling on the ground, and they had the wits to use that information.

If they were this close, they had his scent, and if they had his scent, that mancatcher was as good as around his neck.

A sound behind him almost made him startle, but jumping or jerking could well be a giveaway.

Dog disappeared into an alley, traveling parallel to him.

Percy stumbled forward, box in hand, his thoughts a dull roar.  There were no good options.  Even if Mary or Clyde were here, the best they could hope to accomplish would be buying time.  If the stars aligned right, perhaps they could put down Catcher.

But victory wouldn’t happen.  Escape was out of the question.

Dog revealed himself by making a clatter, three floors above the ground, walking on a nearby rooftop.  With each step, shingles broke free and skidded down the roof to sail toward the ground below.

There were only three building lots between Percy and the war machine.  It had stopped at the end of one rooftop, and now strained, head raised, broad, bat-like nostrils flaring.

Dog almost casually leaped from rooftop to road.  Metal braces in and around the legs locked, sprung, and slammed into new configurations, absorbing some of the impact.  Muscle and mass handled the remainder.

Now that Dog was closer, Percy could see how tubes ran up and around the legs, disappearing into metal-framed slits in the side.  Two tubes carried blood, while the third carried what might have been water.

Dog was an ugly piece of work, which was odd, considering that Dog was one of the best known of the Academy’s ‘secret’ projects.  There were experiments that were done with care, thought through from the beginning.  This was not that.  It was a project that had been started, one largely doomed to failure.  When structural integrity had failed, crude metal engineering had been set in place.  When circulation was poor, things were rerouted, tubes set in place to serve where veins and arteries couldn’t, sometimes outside the body.

Little doubt there were other problems.  The Academy was probably happy that was the case.  A Dog couldn’t run if it needed regular drainage or a specialized diet.

The Academy had overshot.  In this case it had made effective use of that fact.

Dog turned his head, staring at Percy with those eyes that caught the light, the eyelids moved, providing a smile the mouth couldn’t.

It was fruitless to resist, or even try to run, but it galled Percy to know that it would be this that ended him.  He turned and prepared to go, when he saw Catcher drawing near.

The man toyed with the mancatcher, the collar on a stick.  The collar section of the tool spun, whirling so fast it was a blur in the gloom, sending off a spray of water droplets.

Catcher’s voice was rough-edged, a man who had smoked or was speaking through a bad cold.  “You changed coaches twice, walked through deep puddles.  Even wore a maggot-ridden blanket.”


Percy pulled at the piece of cloth he’d put over his head, but it still took a second for his eyes to adjust.  He saw the maggots wriggling, and flinched, casting the cloth away.

His scalp crawled, now, his neck and face.  Once he felt it, every drop of rain he couldn’t verify with his eyes was potentially a maggot, vermin, filth.

Catcher shifted his grip on the mancatcher, and Percy stumbled back, only to find that Dog was behind him, mouth open, teeth ready to bite.

But he still held the crate.  Using it for Dog would be useless, but-

Catcher thrusted, aiming for Percy’s throat, and Percy raised the box, the opening facing the weapon.

The crate was torn from his hands, thrown a distance away by a violent swing of the pole.

Too strong.  Catcher alone would have been enough, but there were two of them.

Wollstone’s work had caught hold of him from an early age.  It had defined his life.  Now it would, in a roundabout way, end it.

He thought of his creations.  Of Clyde, and of Mary.

In the same moment he realized his own mortality, he knew his legacy was gone.

He felt a flare of anger.

Percy nurtured the feeling, used it to find courage, and reached into his jacket for his pistol.

Catcher seized his wrist, then stopped, glancing down.

“That was…” Catcher asked, trailing off.  His head turned.

Dog growled, then darted off in the same direction.

A fog was rising around them.

No, it was a gas.  Pea-soup thick, the cloud rose steadily despite the downpour.

Catcher started using his grip on Percy’s wrist to pull, tugging him away from the swelling cloud.  Percy used his other hand to reach across his front for the gun, only to have Catcher move the mancatcher to prod his arm.

The collar, slightly too wide around for Percy’s upper arm, slammed shut.  The hole was large enough that he could have pulled his arm free if he’d been given the chance, but he wasn’t.  The weapon rotated, the edges digging into his arm, and the implicit promise was that trying to pull free despite the pressure might see skin scraped away by the weapon’s edges.

Out of the same flame of anger that had driven him to reach for the gun, Percy found himself fighting Catcher.  His opponent was strong enough to lift him, but Percy hauled himself downward, made every step a difficult one with one of his feet braced against Catcher’s thigh.  He strained to move toward the gas that had alarmed these two abominations so very much.

It was stupid, reckless, and it was ugly, everything Percy had worked against.  Every step of the way, he’d fought against the current, and every step of the way, he’d done things with care.  Not all of it was things he could be proud of, but he’d weighed his options, and had never done a thing he felt he could later regret, in the grand scheme of it all.

Even his dealings with the children.

This, he instinctively felt, was something he might very well regret more than anything else, even if it only left him minutes or seconds more of life.

In the end, he succeeded.  His head moved too far back, and the gas washed over his face.

In an instant, he was blind, seeing through a veil.  Foul, acrid tastes and smells flooded his nose and mouth.

His struggles with Catcher continued, less effective now that he was blinded.

When he was dropped, he kicked and flailed into the blurry darkness.

When a hand pressed around his mouth, he struck out, hit flesh.  He struck again, and felt long hair.

His hand moved more gently through the hair, with a degree of caution this time, with care.


He opened his mouth to ask, but whatever it was that had filled it with foul taste, it was like a thick flour, caking his tongue and inner cheeks, making them stick to his teeth.  His lips bound together, cracking and bleeding as he pulled them apart.

The hand over his mouth moved, until only one finger pressed against his lips.

The fingers seized his bleeding lower lip and tugged.  Leading him like a mutt on a leash, and he knew it wasn’t his Mary.

He obeyed all the same.

A few staggering footsteps, not knowing where he was going.  A ruckus occurred behind them.

The hand took his wrist, instead, and he followed, for what seemed like an interminably long time, but was likely only a handful of minutes.

The hand freed his wrist.

Another minute passed.  He started to feel his heartbeat pick up.  Fear, humiliation, worry.  He was dirty, covered in maggots, bloody, and except for his silent companion, he was alone.

He heard a woman’s sigh, not one of exasperation, but relief.

“It’s water,” she said, and her voice was muffled.  “Right in front of you.  Rinse your face, try to get your nose and ears as well, or you won’t see or hear very well for a long time.”

He obeyed, fumbling until he found the rain barrel.  He made use of the water, rubbing at his eyes, only to pull away long strings of goop.  It snapped before he could get much of it.  He pulled away as much as he could, checked his vision, and still found it blurry.  His second attempt suggested that absolutely none of it had dissipated.

“It uses the mucus membranes,” she explained.  “Binds to to the mucus itself.  You’re going to be congested, and you’ll be pulling gobbets of the stuff from your nose and mouth for a long time.  Give it an hour or two and it’ll be more solid.  The rinse is meant to clear things up.”

“How long?” he managed.  He still felt as though his tongue was coated in wax.  He blinked and made out a raven-haired beauty in a close-fitting jacket.

“Long enough you might worry I lied to you and that permanent damage was done.  Wash with regularity, it will get better.”

He looked back over his shoulder.

“They’re gone,” she reassured him.  “It affected them worse than it affected you.  They still put up a fight, which I didn’t expect.  I had three stitched with me, and Catcher took them to pieces.  The Academy will diagnose the problem and mend those two within a day, and then they’ll devise a means to prevent it, but…”

“But you saved me?” Percy asked.

He could make out enough of her face to see a smile.

“You saved me, and you sacrificed three stitched and a trump card to do it.  You’re with them.”


For the first time since the anonymous note had informed him the Academy was coming for him, he felt himself relax a touch.

He dunked his face again, then shook it violently in the water, side to side, splashing, trying to free up any of the substance that might be clinging.

When he stood straight, he put his hands to his hair and then combed it with his fingers.

His vision was still only half of what it had been.

“Come,” she said, smiling.

The destination, as it turned out, was a nondescript store with an old cowboy’s hat over the door.

“Ever been to a place like this?” his companion asked, ascending the stairs ahead of him.   She shot him a light smile over one shoulder.

“I, ah, never have, believe it or not.”

“I believe you,” she said.  “You’re more the type to find someone of that calling and invite her to your place.”

She knew him that well?

“During daytime, no less,” she said.

Ah.  “You’ve been watching me that well, then.”

“The man that walks around your home outside of the school hours, pulling the cart?  Ours.”

“I see.”

They’d reached the top of the stairs, two floors up, and reached a door with another cowboy’s hat above it.  Rather than open it, his companion turned around, then wiped at his face, touching his hair.

His blood still pumping and face already hot from the humiliation of his futile struggle against Catcher, just after hearing intimate topics raised so readily, he felt more than a little flustered.

From the smile on her face, she seemed to know it.  Perhaps she had been watching him even more carefully than he’d known.  Enough to know he liked to be in control, to steer things, and she was denying him that chance.

Before he could ask a question, she opened the door.

The walls were draped with red velvet or silk or something very close to it, traced with gold.  The pillars had branches reaching up and around them, and one branch had a small bird on it.  The light was electrical, cast through red glass.

Scattered around the room, in a very haphazard fashion, there were eight or nine people in chairs, on couches, or standing.

“Cynthia,” an old man greeted her.  “And Mr. Percy.”

“Catcher and Dog were there.  I used my blinding powder, they’ll know what it is for next time.  Louis is going to tell you I didn’t let him set the Academy’s Dog on fire, but it seemed too risky.  Every time we made a sound, Catcher would charge at us.  I let the stitched make all the sounds they wanted, and we left.  It was the best option, Catcher wasn’t slowing down.”

“He doesn’t, that is his design,” the old man said.  Percy blinked to try and get a better view.  Changing his tone, the old man spoke again, “You did well.”

Talking to me.

“I failed.  My creations are dead.”

“Mmm, I’m afraid so,” the old man said.  “We confirmed for ourselves.  Three boys and a girl, killed by the Academy’s set.”

Percy felt a wrench in his chest.  He managed to keep his expression calm.

It was good.  The deliberate act of control helped to center him.  He felt more like himself.

“What were you doing?” a woman asked.  She was surrounded by cages.  The shapes within suggested birds.

Percy opened his mouth to answer, then shut it.

“You won’t say?” Cynthia asked, and her tone was teasing.

“You brought me here for a reason.”

“We did,” the old man said.

Percy chose his words carefully.  “I feel as though I’m being judged.”

“We all are, always,” the woman with the birds said.  “Are you weak, strong, useful, a fitting romantic partner, a friend, an enemy?”

“I’ll reword.  I’m on trial.”

“No,” the old man said.  “Wrong word, that.”

“It matters, what I say, how I say it.  And don’t say it always matters.  You know what I mean.”

“Yes,” the old man said.  “I know.  Tell us, what were you doing?”

Percy remained silent, considering.

When Cynthia spoke, her voice was soft, but it wasn’t uncertain in the least.  “There is nothing you can say that is worse than saying nothing at all.”

Percy didn’t speak right away, but he did make the decision to speak.  “I’m not proud.  I started out wanting to prove myself to them.  I had an idea, I wanted to see it through, and show them that they were wrong to refuse it.”

“Your clones.”

“Yes,” Percy said.

“Your work seemed impeccable, considering your limited access to Academy resources.  They protect their texts and charts with a dangerous passion.  It’s half of what Dog and Catcher do, rounding up those who have or copy the books.  Every academy has projects that do, dressing them up as patriots and protectors of the Crown.”

“There were teachers who brought sections of the texts to the school.  I caught glimpses, and I held phrases and numbers in my head until I could write them down, sometimes hours later.”

“Impressive,” a man in the corner said.  “Why?  You started out wanting to prove yourself to the Academy, then you started killings.  To hurt Mothmont, and to hurt the Academy too?”

“To become Headmaster.  Once I could dictate policy, I planned to mass produce.”

“Mass produce clones?”

Percy managed a smile with his cracked, gummed-up lips.  “Imagine, please, a new method of warfare.  One where a single man or clone can infiltrate, they can target children, replace them, the clones would educate their new peers in how to act like children, and slowly but silently capture an entire generation.  One command or order, all in one night, and an entire city would be brought to its knees.”

“I do like this sort of imagining,” the old man said.  “The Academy likes its weapons, as you saw with it’s pet Dog.”

“The Academy didn’t like my weapon.  Not because of what it was, but because they had a vision in mind, a group of children working together.  My idea was too slow for Hayle.”

“You wanted to make it work.  The lives of children meant nothing to you, you sold them without a care as to what we were using them for?”

Is it a trial after all?

“The lives of my children mean something to me.”

“Do you want revenge for them, Percy?”


“Then you’ll have it.  You’ll carry out your plan.”

“They know how I operate.  They’ll be checking, to be safe.”

“Let them waste their time, then.  There are other routes.”

Percy narrowed his eyes, felt the film in them, and rubbed at one with the knuckle of his thumb.  “Other routes?”

In answer, Cynthia reached up and tapped one of the red lights.

Percy nodded in realization.

“We’ll be working together,” she said.  “To create beautiful pieces of work.”

“And you’ll be doing it with more resources,” the bird woman said.

“While staying well out of sight,” the old man said, with a little more emphasis.  “I’m sure you understand.”

Percy nodded slowly, taking it all in.  He allowed himself a smile.

“I’m sure it won’t take much convincing to have you act against the Academy?” the old man asked.

Percy mused for a moment.  “Whenever I think of the Academy, I think of the concept of the OvershootYou’re familiar with it, I presume?

“I was a professor,” the old man said, “you can trust I am.”

Percy smiled a little.  “They’re treading dangerous ground.  Verging on collapse.  Hayle sees it too, but he thinks he can make minds brilliant enough to solve the problem.  I think he’s only going to wind up contributing to it.  No, I most definitely don’t have a problem acting against them.”

The demeanor of the others in the room told him he’d passed his trial.

“Can I wash my face?” he asked, as others settled in, and the din of conversatino rose.  “Again?”

“This way,” Cynthia said.  “You have a room.”

She led him to his quarters.  His eyes went as wide as the blinding film let them.

A complete set of Academy texts.  Large vats, sufficient to house a person.

“The basin is this way,” Cynthia said.  “You have an bathroom adjunct.”

He almost didn’t hear her.  His finger traced the closest vat.

He would create life, play the littlest of gods.

Clones, he thought.  From Ancient Greek Klon-.  Meaning Twig.

He smiled at the thought, before going to wash his face.

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89 thoughts on “Enemy (Arc 1)

  1. Oh boy.

    Dog and Catcher seem utterly terrifying.

    Interesting, that we keep hearing of these great war machines, viral plagues, battleship sinkers, and new tyoes of warfare….

    Yet we have to hear of an enemy? Suspicious.

    • We do know, from the globe a couple chapters ago, that there is an empire spanning half the planet. I am assuming that it is gearing up to conquer the other half.

      • I’m pretty sure that was supposed to be the british empire, which was that large about that time. As for getting geared up for a war of conquest, we all remember the world was. What is to say this world won’t have one as well?

    • Dog isn’t terrifying, just cut/contaminate his tubes. As for Catcher, (E)-2-butene-1-thiol, 3-methyl-1-butanethiol, and 2-quinolinemethanethiol, as well as acetate thioesters of these continuously pumped by something adhered to his face.

      • I’d imagine Dog has sufficient redundancy to make that less of an issue. If anything, some of the exposed tubes could very well double as a distraction.

        Catcher, you’d have to actually stick whatever it is to his face in the first place, and he seems like the type to resist and keep resisting. And there’s no guarantee that any kind of sedatives would work on him, or poison, or anything. Some people are born with genes that make them highly resistant to sedatives, people can build up immunities to certain poisons, etc., so it’s possible he could be made the same way. Considering he and Dog are made to hunt down people who dabble in super biological science like most people dabble in cooking, I’d think giving them a defense against chemical agents would be the first priority.

      • Or a few drops of thioacetone, anywhere near him.

        Well, assuming that people haven’t been using them as chemical weapons, and he wasn’t given immunity to it somehow.

      • A simple 1,2,3-trinitroxypropane weapon would probably be your best bet. I recommend a waterproof container, and electrical wire and a good power source as the container. Mix the explosive with some ground up wood, possible waste from a sawmill. Throw in some metal scraps.

        For delivery you could use simple gunpowder thrust and a impact sensitive switch to turn on the electric current.

      • You’re all going too complicated, all anyone ever needs is a big enough rock and the ability to move it. Just make sure it hits them, or your name is wile e coyote.
        If it doesn’t smoosh them, you need a bigger one.
        Rock always beats laser, or in this case biological experiments.

  2. I loved the Frankenstein reference. Very interesting, too, that Hayle and Percy seem to be foils for one another. Like with Worm and Pact, there are other games going on that the protagonists aren’t privy to — always a strong point with your work, Wildbow.

    • I also wondered about that, but it doesn’t feel as though she would cooperate willingly with their methods. Possible lies and unknown fate of the original children aside, /after/ the original children had been replaced I don’t think she would have stood by and let Percy wipe out three families without stepping in or otherwise trying to do something (remembering her strong stance on endangering others’ lives).

      • Just the general ruthlesness, the creepy eugenism and the propensity of making the world a sadder, twistier place, not the actual ideology, mind you.

        • The depicted crafts do not rely on any kind of “superior strand” at all. There is no careful selection of trait and culling of the weak.
          Orphans turned hyperspecialised geniuses through applied science, chimeras born out of various existing species, clones of normal children trained into elite soldiers, dying or dead bodies reanimated into slave labour…

          This is quite far from our world’s definition of eugenics.
          The creepiness is there all right, but for a different reason.

  3. Aaaand, title drop. I feel bad for Percy, Mary and little brother… I mean, Percy is a terrible person and his creations are also a bit wrong, being made to kill and all, but it’s still kind of sad to see how they are separated. First thing this new villainous group does is lie to Percy about his children.

    “With each step, shingles broke free and skidded down the roof to sail toward the ground below.” I can just imagine how terrifying it must be to live in Radham or other cities with academies. “Mummy, what was that noise?” “Oh, don’t worry child. It’s probably just a giant monster looking for its prey”.

    Wonder if Dog was built by Ibott? Dog still seems rather small, but it is unrefined (a mark of Ibott’s work) and was described as a war machine by Percy.

    Fucking loved the part about the maggots x3 This is one of my favourite chapters so far. I love the different narrative voice, which fits Percy really well. I also love catcher; his weapon is so so soooo cool.

      • nah, Worm’s title got self-explanatory in the first chapter.
        Pact took a little more time, but omnipresent deal-making also made the title justified.

        • I don’t think Worm’s title was really self-explanatory. Skitter works mostly with bugs, not worms (can she even control those? I can’t remember, I know she can affect crustaceans though so it’s not only insects and arachnids). Actually, I think Worm’s title was really terrible, only being explained so late in the story and being close (but not a match) to a more “obvious” title like “Bug”.
          I can’t remember a title drop in Pact, but as soon as you say “demonology” (which happened in something like chapter 5 or 6, IIRC), the connection to the title is obvious enough that it does not need to be explained.

          I like Twig as a title. You can sort of see a connection immediately, and with the title drop here you get the “ah, I get it… clever” moment. You can also explain it to someone without revealing spoilers.

          • She can control worms. I believe it was only mentioned once or twice, when literally everything else she could control was killed or made useless (Burnscar attack? Can’t remember particulars)
            I think it was also mentioned at the same time as the crabs (‘I used to think it was only invertebrates, but I can control worms too’)

          • Anyway, I liked Worm a lot as a title, partially because she didn’t use them often – leaves more room for meaning than a pure utility name

            I believe the title drop (point at which it was mentioned in the text with meaningful context) was during the s9 arc, being given to Taylor by Cherish

          • When cherish was giving names to the main eight players of the nine’s little recruitment game, she gave names to a few of the runner-ups that didn’t quite make the cut, but were worthy of note. Skitter’s was “the worm”, because she would always crawl below everyone, leeching on those around her, being all around pathetic and hated, and things like that. Slow, hated, always around, lurking in the shadows, etc. That was the title-drop.

            And yes, she can control worms as well.

          • Oooh yes, Taylor can control worms. Remember what she did to Valefor? He didn’t play ball, she puts maggots in his eyes. If that’s not a confirmation I don’t know what is.

          • Maggots aren’t worms; they’re baby flies.

            But, yeah, Skitter’s power worked on worms, though I don’t recall her ever actually doing anything useful with them.

  4. I wonder about the rain–why does the Academy want so much rain, given how much trouble it causes for people with voitaic animals or servants? What advantage do they gain from it that balances the financial cost to them and the rest of the city? (The financial cost to the rest of the city doesn’t directly affect them, but there’s presumably some compelling reason for them to actively do something that worsens so many people’s lives so much, or at the very least I’d imagine people would be asking them to stop… what, I wonder?)

    • They do the rain because the Academy has the resources to repair stitched and build new ones. It’s like a software company designing a piece of software with known defects so they can sell the upgrade… The stitched won’t last long in the rain and the people who use them that aren’t the academy will have to pay to keep their own going.

    • Maybe a lot of rain allows to mitigate the local effects of chemical pollution from the Academy? I think the planned obsolescence theory posted above is better though.

    • All so, to generate thunderstorms necessary for first year students to go, “It’s Alive! ALIVE!!Muahaha… Muahahahaha… MUAHAHAHAHA!!!!” of course.

    • I’m guessing it also prevents people from attacking the Academy with an army of stitches. Constant rain would decimate the effort before they get even close to any critical building, and weaken the stragglers enough so noone ever tries an open revolt.

      Which forces the Enemy into a more subtle approach…

    • Perhaps the algae planted by the Academy and watered by the rain and is a Chekov’s gun for some sort of (Obarfnj rfdhr zvnfzn) plague that can be unleashed at a certain point or as a form of Mutually Assured Destruction or the like. I also think of it as the Academy as organism reaching out and infecting everything parasitically spreading via rain and algae…

      • Hmm. I thought the rain might be created to feed the plants that appear to act as structural support for many of the buildings in the town and in the academy.

    • Given that the root of this science is Wollstone’s experiements, it seems likely to me that the rain is more of a side-effect of what they really want: lightning. The Frankenstein trope always involves huge amounts of energy, and generating constant lightning storms would be useful for a place like the Academy that needs power pretty much constantly.

  5. The plot, it thickens…

    I can’t help but notice that this is not an interlude. Maybe we’re going to be spending more time in Percy’s head? Going back and forth between him and the Lambsbridge group, Wildbow making us like both and hope both succed even though they’re locked in deadly battle? That would just be cruel, which is why I think it’s exactly what’s going to happen.

    Also, Percy was probably not thinking on his feet because he did not ask why they didn’t bring him on board before. Presumably he would have appreciated working with access to scientific literature and better equipment, even when his clones were around. And it’s not like the Academy is going to stop looking for him after Dog & Catcher report… So I’m guessing that there is something in the project that he will not like at all, but when he finds out he won’t be able to do anything about it, being alone (i.e. without Mary or the boys) and hunted.
    The other possibility is that they wanted Mary to join the Lambsbridge group for some reason I can’t think of. But planning for that event seems like an incredibly long shot, even if they have details on Sy that we’re not sure they have.

    • “Enemy” doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the theme of growth, though, judging from the title of the work (“Twig”) and the first arc (“Taking Root”)

    • It is labeled 1.x in the table of contents, which suggests it isn’t the start of a new arc / is some form of interlude.

    • I don’t think they are up to anything particularly despicable. I do think they’re keeping Percy on a leash, though. Not many threats that are better than the Academy’s, which just became theirs as well.
      I’m being on them letting him set up, start producing work for them, and then throwing him to the wolves as soon as he’s no longer useful

  6. I like the title drop earlier in the story. Pact was self evident enough that I didn’t honestly think about it, whereas Worm was far more complex and spoiler-y. I’m surprised though, I thought that Dog was going to be more chimera than Frankenstein’s monster-esque. I’m also surprised we haven’t seen any chimeric creations at all yet (at least, that we know of).

  7. Grey and Grey! Grey and Grey! Well I’m sure we’ll at least get some pure evil at some point, but this moment, it looks like both sides may have some good intentions, but some bad means, and some cruel traits.

    • Also, both are, to greater or lesser extent, Houses of Cards and Cardsharps. :/ The layers of lies and deceit covering rickety superstructures are stupendous.

      Yummy. *rubs hands*

  8. Don’t forget that Pact ditched calling them Interludes in favor of the more descriptive Histories(for character backstories) and Gathered Pages(for bits of lore from in-universe texts). My guess is that Enemy will be the collective name for Twig interludes told from the perspective of the Academy’s opposition. That said, the more I hear about the Academy hoarding knowledge(One of the gravest sins in my opinion), the more I hope we get something similar to Pact’s Gathered Pages.

    • Hoarding Knowledge may or may not be a bad thing to do, but is making the knowledge of how to create zombies, clones or warbeasts open to the public really a better idea?

  9. Percy lost my sympathy. I expected him to be someone who knows how terrible the Academy is, and wants to bring it down with any means necessary, and not someone who’s angry that they declined his idea and is now after revenge.

    And Dog is sentient? So was he once human or did the Academy create a intelligent warbeast?

    And hereby I propose the term “bonesaw’d” for people, animals or things that are augmented in this setting, in homage to Worm’s literal/living nightmare factory.

    • I think there’s a very important difference in tone, here. Bonesaw was a Tinker, creating things that defied physics in favour of awesome and horrific. This is more utilitarian, where the horror is a byproduct of function and often more subtle, and things don’t work the way they should, rather than working in exactly the way they shouldn’t.

      • I’m aware that the augmentation is not the same like tinkering in Worm, but it’s similiar enough to compare it and I think it’s nice to have a nod to Worm.

    • He sees a problem with the structure of the academy and wants revenge, he has two reasons for working against it instead of just one.

      • For me it appeared that revenge was his true reason for fighting against the Academy, and everything else seemed more like to justify his deeds.

    • Personally, I’m pretty pleased with the fact that Percy is primarily motivated by revenge in addition to being aware that the Academy is a system of perverse incentives that is heading for an inevitable collapse. “Person motivated by getting ahead of the collapse of a failing system to do awful things with dubious value in the name of saving the world” was a major thing in the previous two works, and it’s refreshing that Percy is less smug about it.

  10. Wait. Four boys [i]and a girl[/i] killed by the Academy’s set? Someone’s lying, and it may or may not be Percy’s mysterious new benefactor.

    • Potential interpretations that came to me:
      1) Lying intentionally for some strategic goal to manipulate Percy
      2) Actually some deep cover agent of the Academy and lying to somehow control/manipulate him
      3) Not lying and have received bad intelligence via intentional disinformation from The Academy. I could see this being Sly’s doing – actively getting inside Percy’s head as a form of psychological warfare.

  11. There’s an element of the kid’s being the protagonist and these guys being the antagonist but the academy itself actually being the big bad organization despite the kids working for it. It feels like a telling of Pact from gur crefcrpgvir bs fbzrbar jbexvat sbe gur Qrzba’f ynj svez nf na nffbpvngr… As in we have this group we associate with and like even if we my ultimately really not like their sponsoring organization.

  12. I think part of what makes Twig so satisfying is that there is a return to a rather fixed-rule/concrete universe.

    Pact felt tricky for me because the environment was so fluid it was harder to get lost in speculating about what might come up because so much could potentially come up. I really like the system and its framework in retrospect, but I struggled a bit at the time getting lost in the wonder of it.

    I was going to say that this feels like a return to a world Wildbow has DEEPLY thought about (e.g. Worm), but I don’t actually agree with that vis a vis Pact – he clearly put A LOT of effort into that world. It’s more that the adherence to some form of rules feels like it allows more imagination and engagement within a serial format.

    I’m curious whether the Pact fluidity would work better in a traditional novel where cliffhanger structure is less important and you can keep diving deeply into it. Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy may be a bit like this (Note: sebz zl erpbyyrpgvba/rkcrevrapr, gur jbeyq vf fhcre evtvq va ergebfcrpg ohg vg srryf zhpu zber ovmneer naq syhvq ng svefg).

    Pact was a bit intense and I don’t yet have the drive to go back and re-read (I will at some point), but I am very curious to see how it stands up in a straight read through. For reference sake, I ::DID:: read Worm very late in the game – from the Eliezer recommendation and only caught up with live posting right at the end and into the epilogue, so my experience of that was not actually in serial format, which may have shaped my experience.

    As a PS, I’m also not sure what exactly about Worm gave it that characteristic that basically made me re-read it barely a month later.

  13. Curiouser and curiouser. Was that deliberate manipulation saying mary is dead or a genuine error? They could be simply assuming that she was killed not expecting Sly to recruit her.

    This world is starting to remind a bit of the Leviathan series by westerfield, at least the bio parts of the series anyway. It’s also giving off a bit of vibe similar to that of sh*t-narnia from the final part of John Dies at the End.

  14. Nice chapter, as always 🙂
    partly due to the title drop, i went on and googled for the various definintions of “twig”, and couldn’t help but notice it’s also a verb meaning roughly “observe / understand / find out”, kinda reminds me of Sy…

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