Lips Sealed 3.9

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We weren’t going to get away this time.

She was taller, stronger, and as hurt as she was, she kept going without faltering.  Her face still had a gaping hole in the side of it where several bullets had hit, filled with what looked like a big blood clot, and she had other injuries she might have sustained doing battle with Gorger, but she wasn’t staggering anymore.

I’d expected that, even if we’d been seen, we could outrun her or match her pace.  She was healing, however, or she’d pulled herself together.  She was making good time.  Better than we were.

I was quick on my feet, and I had a good sense of where my body was and how to move.  Jamie and Helen weren’t runners.  Humans had evolved not to outrun prey, but to keep running.  Helen wasn’t human, and as fine a piece of craftsmanship as she was, there were tradeoffs when playing to different strengths.  Jamie just wasn’t quick or coordinated, he stumbled, I caught him, he faltered, and I pulled him onward.

She was going to catch us.  The next hallway was still a little ways up, the canisters of water vapor and plague more than a little ways up.  We wouldn’t reach it first.

Those people who had stared at us and warned us to run had doomed us.

I looked back, still running, and I saw Sub Rosa’s steady advance.  She kept one hand on the railing, hauled herself up with arm strength as well as strides.

I contemplated throwing myself toward her.  Ascending the stairs, there had to be a point where, with a push or a collision with a leaping eleven year old, that she’d tip over backward.

The fact that she was gripping the railing, hauling herself up, gripping it, hauling herself up, a steady pattern, it narrowed that window of opportunity.

What were the odds?  One in twenty?  One in fifty?

Wait for the right moment, pivot, leap.  It would barely inconvenience her, maybe break the glass cases attached to the body that she was using for the spike.  It would kill me, or she would kill me shortly after, yet the other two would have a chance at getting away.

An hour ago, I wouldn’t have waited to do it.  Jamie’s speech made me hesitate, want to be absolutely sure there was no other choice.  I glanced back, gauging distance, helped Jamie run, then checked again, to see how fast she was gaining on us.

In the spaces between where her lips were sealed together, the lips parted, sucking in and huffing out breath.  The fluid flew through the tubes that had been implanted in her.

I let go of Jamie’s hand.

Jamie seized my wrist a heartbeat later, and this time, he was the one that hauled me up and forward.  A second wind, or a surge of desperate strength.

I kept going, only because I didn’t want to slow him down by fighting him or lagging behind.  In my heart, I knew it wasn’t enough, but I couldn’t simply acknowledge the fact, accept it and carry on with the original plan when he was trying so damn hard.

Somewhere along the line, I failed to estimate things right.  I misjudged how much time had passed, or Sub Rosa had managed a second wind or burst of speed in the same way Jamie did.

Jamie startled, his uniform jacket pulled tight against his chest, and he let go of my wrist.

He looked at me, not Sub Rosa, in the moment before she swept him into the wall.  A swiping motion, right to left, but it had enough force to break him.  Two dozen individual parts of Jamie cracked and percussed against the wall all in one horrible sound, before his body slumped to the stairs at the base of the wall.  His book tumbled down the stairs, and it just kept going, end over end, opening, carrying down, then closing itself before sliding down another few steps.

I continued another few steps up on momentum alone, tripping and almost falling because I wasn’t looking where I was going, before reality caught up to me.  Sub Rosa had stopped, so I stopped and turned to confront her.

Jamie’s book came to rest, the hard cover bent.

Bugs swirled, the wall-crawlers continued their eerie movements along the surfaces around us, but we were still.  Sub Rosa was just a step away from being exactly in between me and Jamie.  Helen was further up the stairs, but only by a bit.

My blood pounded in my ears, my mind raced so much I wasn’t sure I trusted it, as I tried and failed to see a way forward, something that would help Jamie.

I couldn’t get by Sub Rosa, bait her downstairs, and keep her busy somehow while sending one of the doctors to help Jamie, assuming he was alive.  I wouldn’t make it.  I knew it.  I couldn’t outrun her, I didn’t have the tools, and the doctor wouldn’t risk Sub Rosa’s wrath by going.  She’d had them cowed, down there.  The dead bodies suggested how.

I couldn’t scream for them to come up and help him, again, because they wouldn’t go, because they wouldn’t hear.

I couldn’t go down and force one to come with me and help Jamie on pain of death, because that would mean Helen had to deal with Sub Rosa.

I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I couldn’t.  The thoughts dissolved into a haze of couldn’ts and the haze was an angry one, the pounding of blood in my ears and eyes intense enough that I could see my heart beating, my field of vision throbbing.

It was the polar opposite of what I’d experienced in my moment of near death. My thoughts then had gone quiet.  I’d been able to stop thinking.  Right now they were anything but quiet.

My thought was crystal clear, and it was well modulated, not a scream or an incoherent shout.

This is what it’s like to see red, was my thought.  Which was odd, because things seemed more blue-green, as if we were underwater.

I wished it was more productive.  That my surge of emotion and the clarity for my most destructive thoughts could provide a way to end her right this moment.

“Sy,” Helen said, behind me.  She sounded so normal.

“Yes?” I asked, my voice just as everyday as hers.

“There’s nothing you can do.”

Sub Rosa wasn’t holding onto the railing anymore.  If I could knock her down the stairs, so she might fall like Jamie’s book had… no.  It wouldn’t hurt her enough.

“Sylvester,” Helen said, with more emphasis.

I want to tear those staples out of her mouth so she can talk, then challenge her, call her out, break the arrogant, insane bitch.

“I know,” I admitted, aloud.  “But Ja-”

I stopped, cleared my throat so I could speak more clearly, found no word came out, and only managed something on a third try, changing the affect of the word, making it flat, whisper-quiet.  “Jamie.”

“You know he doesn’t want you to.”

Doesn’t, not wouldn’t.  I looked at the body, my eyes automatically moving away from the broken form, then made myself look again.  I blinked, and my eyes stung with the sweat mingled with the stuff I’d rubbed on my skin and in my hair to keep the bugs off and make the wall crawlers less inclined to hold on to me.

He was breathing.

The relief was so profound I found myself grabbing the railing to steady myself.

Anger was replaced with fear.

Sub Rosa still had the spike extending from her left hand.  She was closer to Jamie.

“I’d like to talk,” I said.

She shook her head slowly.

“Sylvester,” Helen said.  “Jamie doesn’t want you to take the risk.  Let’s go.”

Jamie doesn’t want to die.  If we leave him with her, he’ll die.  If we leave him without getting him help, he’ll die.  We’re all supposed to live, aren’t we?

I couldn’t voice the words.  I needed to open a dialogue with Sub Rosa, find a chink in the armor, a weak point, or something.

Her attention moved to Jamie.  Helen’s fault.

“Supervisor,” I said, my voice firm, authoritative.  A desperate stab at evoking something from the days when she’d had a different sort of power.

It worked.  Her head turned a degree.

“Earlier, not long after we crossed paths, you stroked my hair.  The others, the people who remember, they’ve painted you as a monster, the person you once were and who you are now.  They laid the blame at your feet, saying you’re why the Academy is so strict and results-focused.”

I could see the tension in her face building with each statement I made.

“But a real monster doesn’t have that gentleness to them,” I told her.

My eyes strained to find a sign that I was getting through to her.  If there were any changes, I couldn’t be sure if I was really seeing them or if I wanted to.

I was usually so good about these things.

Just as I’d done against Mauer, I fell back on fundamentals.  ‘Us versus them’ was an approach that almost always worked, framing an enemy, making myself and the others out to be part of ‘us’.  But we’d betrayed that expectation when Gordon had shot her.

Something else, then.

Establishing a rapport, humanizing.  A good technique for a hostage to use against a hostage taker, it could mean a turnaround in a situation, being released, or it could buy a moment of hesitation.

In this case, the humanizing was anything but, because I had to talk about monstrous things.

“I know what the Academy does,” I said.  “I’m not like other children.  Neither is she, and neither is he, that much should be obvious.  Believe me when I say that we know the sort of pain you’ve experienced.”

Her hand went up, and it touched the wounded eye and side of her head, where the blood had congealed to a jellylike consistency, the overall structure of her face devastated and mostly caved in.

“I’m talking about the other kind of pain.  Being slowly and surely twisted for the agenda of others.”

Her body language was all the reply I needed.  Her hand was slow to drop away from the hole in her face, as if to say, but this isn’t forgotten, or you deceived me once.

She turned back to Jamie, and I felt a yawning hollowness inside at the realization that I probably couldn’t stop her, whatever happened next.

“You-” Jamie croaked the word.

Sub Rosa moved the point of the spike toward him.  I hated to think what convulsing might do when so many of his bones were probably broken.

“You have… a nephew,” he said.  Each word or pair of words was labored, forced.

She didn’t stab him or touch him with the spike.

“His name… Edward.  Year older… than me.”

There was no reaction on Sub Rosa’s part.  Her expression was already warped by the staples and the portion of the cocoon that was draped over and around her head.  A bug-eyed stare.

Behind us, one of the wall crawlers got a little close.  Helen hissed at it, scaring it off.

Sub Rosa didn’t need to hiss.  She was big and scary enough that she apparently didn’t look like prey to the wall crawlers.

“He… not…  Academy.  Works…”

Each word seemed more painful to get out.  He wasn’t twitching a muscle as he talked.

“Runs errands… passes on messages… for factory owner.  His uncle, named Baxter.”

The pieces fell into place with that.

Baxter was a known name.  The family was wealthy, well liked.  The job of assisting a factory owner was believable, but paralleled Sub Rosa’s own experience to a slight degree.  She was the supervisor, and it was obviously a core part of her identity.

Everything Jamie was doing was calculated using known variables.  Probably some I hadn’t considered or ones I wasn’t aware of, drawn from Jamie’s recollection, and some informed by my desperate stab at gaining sympathy or connecting to her better side.

I felt Helen touch my shoulder.  She’d drawn closer.

Everything he’s doing, including the plodding, speed of his every utterance.

Buying time.

There was no saying how long we had.  I feared it might be no time at all, that Sub Rosa’s anger might outweigh her attachment to family.  That, as Helen and I made a run for it, leaving Sub Rosa and Jamie behind, she might give chase, and that one of us might get caught and utterly destroyed in the same way Jamie had.

My hand found Helen’s.  As she stumbled, fatigue catching up with her, I caught her with my shoulder in her armpit, bracing her with my entire body, scraping a shin against a stair while the both of us recovered.

“Brave boy,” she said.  She wasn’t talking about me.

How long before Jamie ran out of things to say, or worse, said the wrong thing, and tipped Sub Rosa off to the fact that he was lying through his teeth?

Or even worse still, how long before he succumbed to his injuries?

We had some time, be it a minute or five, but I didn’t like trusting luck.  It was a fickle mistress, whatever that meant.

“What do we need?” Helen asked.

“Shipman,” I said.  “One or two adults from the next room, to carry her.  The glass cases.  I need to get back to the others.”

“I’ll get the adults and Shipman, you do that thing,” Helen said.  “What are we doing?”

“Fishing,” I said.

“I’ve never gone fishing,” she said.  She was breathing hard, but she wasn’t panting, either.  Different means of breathing.  “Harpoon?”

“Hook,” I said, meeting her eyes.

“How fun!” she said.

Something to bring up later, if I could figure out how to word it.  Yes, this was probably fun for her, and yes, I suspected she was worried for Jamie in her own peculiar way, but the nature and tone of the statement were at odds with the fact that we were in as bad a situation as we’d ever been.

Up the stairs, to where the others are.

My legs felt like lead.  I doubted I had another run in me.

This would have to be the final confrontation.  All or nothing.  If we screwed up on any level or if something went too wrong, there would be no more tools left to play.

We reached the others.  I pulled ahead of Helen, pounding on the door that hid the adults as I passed it.  I tried to give it a cadence that would sound less like the knock of an immortal abomination of nature and more like something people could open a door for, but I rushed it a bit in the process.

I let myself into the room where Lillian, Gordon, Mary and Gladys Shipman were.  Quickly, I stopped by each, checking that they were still warm and breathing.

Mary was the last.  I helped myself to knives, because knives were useful, and then I reached up her skirt and pulled the loop of wire free.

The fishing line.

I could hear Helen outside, talking to the people in the other room.  Two words.  “Please help.”

My attention fell on Gladys.

The bait.

I bent down and began winding wire around her ankles.

Gordon’s hand moved.  He barely had his eyes open, but he touched my elbow.

I kept winding.

His touch became a firm grip, hard.

“Jamie’s dying,” I said, very quiet, my voice as firm as his grip.

The hand fell away.  His eyes were closed, but there was an expression of deep concern on his face.

I was still working on the tie of thin wire when Helen came into the room with three of the male scientists.  Gladys’ partner, the older woman, was at the tail end of the group.

She saw what I was doing and pushed past the others.  I pushed back, hard.

“No,” she said.  “No! Whatever you’re doing-”

“I’m stopping that monster and getting every single one of us out of here alive,” I said.

I’m going to try, I revised my statement in my head.

“We are,” Helen said, in a very particular voice that was probably modulated and calculated to win the adults over.  Confident without being threatening.  “Please trust us.  Do as we say, and we should all get out of here alive.”

I almost believed her, before I remembered that she was basing that statement on her belief in me, and I knew I didn’t have that much trust in me or my own plan.

Helen knelt by me, then leaned close, “If you do it like that, the wire’s going to pull taut and cut her to the bone.  She’ll lose her feet.”

Maybe the blood will help, I thought.

“They can give her new feet later.  There’s no time,” I said.  Jamie was down there, doing everything he could.  He was probably dying, he could die if his concentration or consciousness faltered for a moment and he said the wrong thing, or if Sub Rosa figured out he was lying or tired of him.

“Here,” Helen said.  She took the wire from my hands.  “Ibbot hired a trainer to teach me to tie people up properly.”

“Why would tying people up be useful?” I asked.  “You tie people up with… you.”

She smiled.  “I know.  I do.  It’s for the end goal.  The me I’m supposed to end up as, a nice skill to have available.”

I thought about it.  Helen as the dangerous dame, using her attractiveness and appeal as a weapon to get close.  I blinked a few times.

“Now I’m even less sure why you’d need to tie someone up,” I said.

She didn’t answer, as she tugged at the wire, but she leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek, which only confused me more.

She slipped few metal tools into the gap between wire and leg so the sharp edge of the wire would press them against Shipman’s legs rather than cut into flesh.

She did the remainder of the tying up and knotting, probably faster in the end than I’d have been on my own, and the knot looked strong, the extra ropes hooked into, under and around Shipman’s shoulders and clothing.

I gauged the remaining length of the wire.  About twenty feet?

It would have to do.

“Carry her,” I said, to the adults.

One balked.  “How old are you?”

“I’m eleven,” I said.  “Almost twelve.  And we’ve killed more monsters than you’re even aware existedCarry her.”

I was anxious for Jamie, and my anxiety was transforming into a crazed anger and impatience.  If I had to let Gladys Shipman lose her feet or murder one of these idiots as an example to make this work, then I’d damn well do it.

“Please,” Helen offered, as an addition to my order.

They picked up Shipman.

“Gloves?” I asked, looking around  “Thick ones… they’ll need something.

I didn’t see anything.  Fuck it.

We walked as a group, me in the lead, Helen a little behind me.

“I’m going ahead,” I said.  “You set up at the fourth floor.  Use your lab coats or something to protect your hands.  Tie the other end to the rail.  Lower her down.”

What?” one of the men asked.  He was older.  “What are you talking about?”

“Sub Rosa only wants a few things.  That girl is one of them.  Sub Rosa spent a long time tearing down doors and making her way through the Bowels to reach her,” I said.  “We’re going to give her what she wants.”

“Like hell you will,” the woman said.  Gladys Shipman’s partner.

“Not in reality,” I said.  “But we need to position her right, to set the hook.”

I looked at Helen.

“She’s stronger than me,” Helen said.  “I don’t think I can hold her.”

“You don’t need to hold her for too long,” I said.

“Oh,” Helen said.  “Okay then.”

She took me at my word so easily.  Helen wasn’t, as far as I was aware, possessed of the capacity for frustration or exploration.  She had something she was good at, she knew her niche, and she was profoundly comfortable within that niche.  Ibbot had done some things right.

In the briefest possible terms, she trusted herself, and she trusted me.

I trusted her instincts.  There were a few ways this could go, which would require far much explanation to cover in detail without confusing matters, and that same explanation would probably upset the natives.

We reached the spiral stairs.  I grabbed the railing, holding on, and slipped under, leaning over as far as I was able to look down the circular shaft.  Gorger was a pale speck down at the bottom, and Sub Rosa was far from a speck, a considerable distance closer.

She’d left Jamie behind, and she was coming up.

I felt a sickness roiling in my stomach, a feeling that refused to clarify itself.

“Get in position,” I said, as I moved to do the same.  “Lower her when I whistle.”

I hurried, though my legs were too tired to properly run.

Here we were.  It was hard to know what to do, if Sub Rosa was even hostile, but the consequences for assuming she wasn’t hostile and then being wrong… I wasn’t willing to deal with them.

One way or another, this was the final confrontation.

Thanks for buying us time, Jamie, I thought.

I picked up the canister of plague with ginger care.  I felt a thrill of power, simply from holding it.

In a confidence game, one of the first things to do was to create a sense of urgency.  The second thing to do was to put the other party off balance.  Clever men who made their illicit living manipulating others didn’t tend to do it while keeping their targets clear headed and focused.

I sat down, then lay back, and flipped over until I was on my belly, before creeping forward, looking through the supports for the railing and down.

When Sub Rosa was directly beneath me, I threw the canister down at an angle, so it would hit the wall just above her.

It didn’t break on the initial contact, but it hit the stairs and cracked.

The pressurized contents exploded into a cloud far, far larger than I’d expected.  I scrambled to get up and back.

I had to hope it wouldn’t reach Jamie, who was a few floors down.  There were the people on the ground floor too, but Jamie.

I really hoped none of the wall crawlers appeared.  I was vulnerable like this.  They couldn’t kill me, but they could distract at a critical moment.

The cloud stopped billowing out.  With all her injuries, Sub Rosa probably wouldn’t like it, though it might not take effect immediately.

That’s for hurting him, I thought.

I headed further up the stairs.  I grabbed the thing with water inside, then advanced back down a little, watching and waiting.  Better to have another canister behind me if I needed to make a run for it.

If she went down, I could hopefully disturb her with this.  She didn’t know it was harmless, for one thing, and she didn’t know I only had the three.

With luck, I could convince her that the only way to deal with the problem was to come  up.

She didn’t go down.  She emerged from one end of the red-brown cloud, rubbing at her eye, snorting to breathe through her nose.

She managed to clear her vision enough to make me out, a full floor above her, and picked up her pace.

If she came up, angry and ready to kill, I had an option for that as well.

I threw the canister with the compressed water vapor inside, aiming for it to land between us, closer to me than to her.

Like the last, it cracked and released its contents, with glass flying everywhere, before a thick mist enveloped that part of the stairwell.

I saw Sub Rosa back out of the lower end of the cloud.

Can’t charge ahead recklessly, can’t ignore me.  Do what you’re so good at doing.  The steady and implacable advance.

I turned and  retreated further, to the entrance to the fifth floor hallway, where the last vial was.

This was more defensive than offensive.

I had to wait for the mist to clear.  My heart was beating so hard in my chest I thought I might throw up because of it.

Come on.  Come on.

It took time for the mist to clear.  I fidgeted, waiting.

When it had mostly cleared, Sub Rosa forged ahead, wiping again at her eyes and nose.  The edges looked red and inflamed.

I whistled, still considering everything I needed to do.  If Sub Rosa came for me…

I picked up the last glass container.  My just-in-case measure.

Dangling from her ankles, Shipman was lowered into view.  I saw Sub Rosa crane her neck to look up and see.  I noticed how she picked up the pace.

Sub Rosa came up, Shipman was lowered down, and I waited, tense.

“Let’s deal,” I told her.  “We want to live, you want revenge.  You don’t need to be able to talk to make this deal.  It’s as simple as these things get.”

“Revenge?” I heard one of the adults above asking.  They’d heard.

Sub Rosa continued her advance, not stopping.  I tightened my grip on the glass canister and backed up a step.

“If you come after me,” I said, “You don’t get her.  They’ll drop her.  She dies, never the wiser.  Hardly a revenge against anyone who did this to you.”

She slowed a touch.

“She knew,” I lied.  “She was there.  She knew what you were.  You saw the recognition in her eyes when you saw her on the sixth floor.  It would be ridiculous to think she wouldn’t know, with her uncle working down here.”

Sub Rosa looked at Shipman, who wasn’t being lowered anymore.

Were the adults too busy fighting and arguing?

We’d told them all they had to do was follow orders.

“She told me those things about you.  She was one of many who’ve taken your legacy and twisted it into something ugly.  Lies, and untruths.”

But Shipman was several feet out of reach, dangling, skirt closer to her ribcage than her knees, and I, unfortunately, was closer.

Sub Rosa drew nearer.

Damn it. 

I raised the glass canister over my head.

Sub Rosa lunged forward, fast and hard enough that she couldn’t aim, and tapped me in the ribs with the spike.

My knees went out from under me as the shock rippled through me.  The glass canister slipped from my grip a moment too late, falling in the wrong direction, hitting the stairs above me.



I’d hoped to use the cloud of mist to beat a retreat, either into the hallway or up the stairs.  Let Sub Rosa have only Shipman in reach when the mist cleared.

But now I was at her mercy.

My breath caught as I tried to bring it into my lungs.  When I finally found air, I screamed, “Lower her!”

“Barely any wire left!” I heard back.

Sub Rosa stared down at me, her one visible eye clear.  A thick rash had already spread over her exposed skin.

The look in her eyes was a sad one, which caught me off guard.

On the other hand, her fist was clenched, her hand shaking.

Not enough mercy in her to spare me, not enough anger in her for her to go straight after Shipman.

I stood to be a casualty of the middle ground.

Shipman suddenly dropped another three feet.  The movement caught Sub Rosa’s eye.

The woman looked away from me, the spike pointed in my general direction.

She walked over to the railing, leaning forward and reaching up and out to seize Shipman by the collar.  She tugged, hard, and Shipman came free entirely, the wire from the grip or tie or whatever they’d done up above.

Hopefully Helen wasn’t too busy lowering Shipman to-

No.  Helen wasn’t too busy.  She appeared, hair and skirt fluttering as she dropped from the stairwell above, seizing Sub Rosa’s reaching arm and Shipman both.

My heart leaped.  This hadn’t quite been the plan.

Sub Rosa was strong, but leverage was leverage.  Helen had to weigh about seven stone.  Gladys maybe eight.  Both weights tugged down on Sub Rosa’s arm as she was reaching over the rail.

The top end of her went down, the other end went up and over the railing.

I found my faculties, and half-crawled, half-walked over to the ledge, praying that I wasn’t going to find out that I’d lost Jamie and Helen in the same day.

Staring down, I saw Helen another floor down.

If I or another human being had reached out and grabbed the railing after falling nearly thirty feet, I might have lost my fingers or my arm.  But Helen was built differently.  She hung there, her arm a few feet longer than it should’ve been, a limp Gladys Shipman dangling from her other hand.

At the bottom of the shaft was a dark blot that marked where Sub Rosa had hit ground.  The pale blob that was Gorger inched forward, until it reached her, and then consumed its meal.

Helen had made it.  Shipman too, maybe.  Sub Rosa was gone.

I wasted no time in heading to Jamie’s side.

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94 thoughts on “Lips Sealed 3.9

  1. Sorry that it’s a teeny bit late. Ran into issues with italics (couldn’t remove, wasn’t consistent in what I’d done and what appeared in preview, whole paragraphs italicized) – I’m not that italics-crazy. With it being 40 minutes late, I considered rescheduling so this would show up on Saturday and that I’d do a Thursday chapter another week instead, but hopefully this is alright.

    I really enjoy writing this story. Readership seems to be down overall from Worm/Pact (a casualty of being a harder genre to define, I think), but funding is up and the support I do get has been fantastic. Thanks for reading, guys.

    • I really enjoy reading this story🙂.

      Readership seems to be down overall from Worm/Pact (a casualty of being a harder genre to define, I think), but funding is up

      That… seems weird. Do you have any idea how funding can be up while readership is down?
      (Also, did you ever share your readership numbers from Pact?)

      • Wildbow functions more like a romance author, or a poorly trained spec fic author, take your pick. So the stories are all basically the same, in fact kinda reminds me of David Eddings. Readership is down but money is up because certain audiences, like romance ones, will gladly read the same story over and over with different dressing. Some romance authors have published 70+ books with nearly identical plot and story elements and raked in the cash. Wildbow is a writer with quite a defined story type. Crazy weird world, not magic exactly but close enough, ensemble cast with generally similar personalities in all stories, tons of dues ex machina, very little break between each escalation of action, said escalation proceeding at levels that the writers for DragonBallZ would envy.

        The prose itself isn’t particularly good, there is a lot of excess verbiage, little too much exposition. Its pretty much the setting and the Eddings style main group dynamics that carry the stories. This easily explains the trend of slowly less readers but rising revenue.

        • To offer a counterpoint, I disagree strongly with pretty much everything written above. The stories “are all basically the same”? What the hell? Tons of “dues ex machina”? Um, how about no? And so on.

          • Well, I would hardly expect readers that followed Wildbow all the way to this point to agree with me, especially ones who post and respond to comments. Do you agree that what I wrote is true of Eddings? Assuming you’ve read his work.

            I didn’t follow Pact as much, timing and genre reasons, but the set up for this and Worm are pretty much identical. The manipulator character is the point of view, a group of teenagers as the main characters which pattern match pretty well to the Undersiders character archetypes. The mysterious in charge guy who has a lot of power but is not the standard wizard mentor character. The Academy is basically the Protectorate, the different branches in different cities, the badass adult characters for support, etc. The way the young characters interact. And again, that’s on top of the plot progression.

            And sure you could try and pick this stuff apart based on minor differences, but that’s an arguments are soldiers strategy, though granted your response and gopher’s are indicative of a person that follows that mode of thought.

            Seriously, your opinion on Edding’s would be immensely illuminating.

          • I’m afraid I haven’t read anything by David Eddings, so I can’t make this specific comparison. In general, while I do keep a lookout on future works by authors I liked, I’m not blindly loyal – if a story, manga, fan fiction etc. doesn’t hook me from the start, I just stop reading it.

            For instance, I loved Brandon Sanderson’s standalone fantasy book Elantris, but after disliking Mistborn book 1 and one or two novellas of his, I’m no longer excited for his future works.

            Here’s my problem with your criticism of Wildbow’s works as samey: it sounds too similar to the notion that “there are only X plots in all of literature”, e.g. that all romance stories are the same.

            I don’t deny that Wildbow has a signature style that’s recognizable in his works, but that’s not enough to make his stories samey, just as romance stories have certain common elements while still offering plenty of variety, and just as film directors can be recognizable while still creating original stories.

            Wildbow writes in the young adult genre. Who did you expect as the protagonist? An elderly woman? He writes ongoing web serials which, just like episodic TV, benefit from certain features, like regular updates, cliffhangers, and seasons (or story arcs). And so on.

            By focusing on simiIarities in Wildbow’s works such as these, I fear you’re overlooking the enormous differences. Worm, Pact and Twig differ in genre (superheroes, urban fantasy & horror, biopunk), time period (AU present, present, AU early 1900s), main characters (the utilitarian and analytical Taylor, instinctive and reckless Blake, and manipulative Sy), morality (grey in grey; black and white; ?), scale, and so on and so forth.

            Also, you haven’t read (much of) Pact, but that wasn’t particularly like Worm. Until at least arc 9, it was chock-full of clever foreshadowing, with every word appearing meaningful. Blake did not have his own Undersiders or Lambs. (IMO the story suffered for it, since this allowed for less playful banter amid all the tension.) As mentioned above, Worm was grey in grey morality, but Pact was black and white, surprisingly, given the premise.

            I could go on, but I suppose if this doesn’t convince you, I have to ask you instead: Imagine Wildbow’s fiction is not samey. How would the world look? What could convince you that you live in that world?

            PS: If you want a serious discussion, I advice against language like “though granted your response and gopher’s are indicative of a person that follows that mode of thought”. That just invites flamewars.

            PPS: Please put obvious spoilers for Worm in

          • You can claim pretty much anything is exactly the same as anything if you use the broadest archetypes possible.

            For example, the Academy is the same as the Protectorate because they both have different branches in different cities? Yeah, no shit. That’s how large scale organizations work. By this logic the burger joint from Clerks 2 is the same because that’s a franchise too.

            Like, if you want to play the condescending detached critic game, find a better body of evidence than things being vaguely similar to other things.

          • Witness: While I’m a fan of both Worm and Twig, I don’t think you’re entirely wrong. Both series are similar in that the protagonists are a close-knit group of questionably-moral young people who are mostly only loyal to each other, in a dystopian world with quasi-supernatural powers that end up doing more harm than good. I just don’t think there’s anything really wrong with that; plenty of interesting stories can and have been told on this sort of model.

            In addition, I think some of the things you say are wrong or irrelevant. Taylor isn’t a manipulator; Tattletale is a much closer analogue to Sy. While some Lambs match to some Undersiders (Sy-Tattletale as previously mentioned, Gordon-Grue, Helen-Regent sort of), the others don’t really. Hayle is many things but he’s certainly not “mysterious”; he’s actually been very upfront with the Lambs about himself and his goals. The Academy is much different from the Protectorate, aside from them both being large organizations with a lot of power; at the least, the latter is not trying to take over the world. I grant that character interactions are sort of similar (a combination of witty banter and emotional support), but I mean…that’s how friends always tend to act, at least in my experience. I would like to see the Lambs just hanging out and engaging in mutual hobbies more, though.

            As for plot progression: Wildbow does have an issue with there not being enough downtime, a byproduct of the serial format I think, but he’s getting better–this “Lips Sealed” arc, for instance, had a good balance of upturns and downturns in tension IMO. And yeah, the action keeps getting escalated, but I mean, that’s a good thing. The classic structure is “rising action–climax–falling action,” and the climax isn’t going to be for a while yet.

            Might one reason the readership is down from Pact be just that the story is still in its beginning stages? While I have little evidence for this, I would guess these things tend to pick up readers as they go along.

        • This is hilarious. Wrong… but hilarious. I do agree for the pacing (definitely not with the claim about the language or too much exposition) but in general… I am interested with what and whom the comparison is being made and with this… incredible air of pretentiousness. You are using troll tactic 101, putting yourself in a position of an “expert” and giving definition and labels without much context or support for having the knowledge or tools to be able or qualified to make those.

          Interesting thing is… yes, there are similarities… but that could be said for every story which is written in a genre, for every author who has more than one story. Is this affecting the stories? Is this making them worse? Is this making them less original or affecting the quality of the overall concept? Is this making them predictable? It is unclear what you are trying to say, outside of claiming you have read a lot and know a lot about writing.🙂 Also… Eddings… far cry in almost ever aspect. I confess, the analogy with romance novels is what made me see the first comment less as someone sharing an opinion and more as some trying to look smart on the Internet.🙂

        • I’ve read Eddings. You’re absolutely right in your assessment of him. He likes to write the same series with different paint. Can’t say I agree with your assessment of Wildbow. No offense, but the similarities you’re drawing seem pretty… surface-level. Or just inaccurate, in a couple cases, but I think the surface-level thing is the deeper problem.

          • So what??? I don’t care if wildbow writes similiar storys. You know why? Because they’re interesting.

            Why do you think tvtropes exists? There is only a finite number of thimgs you can write about. And with time, every possibility will be used. Is that bad? Hell no!

            As long as the writer is able to capture his/her audience, pull them into his/her world, make ME care aboit the characters, then I’ll always say: Good Job! Keep going!

            Wildbow, good job!! Keep going!

    • I like the arc format, having come to Worm and Pact after they where done it was hard to take a break as there was always something else happening. But having these natural breaks are good places to pause and reflect.

    • Thursdays are bonuses, right? I don’t think an extra update can be late.

      Dunno why readership is down from Pact, as I’m liking how the story is turning out so far.

      • I’d guess because of the first chapter. It was both kind of awkward for the first half, and gave the distinct impression that the Lambs were villain protagonists, which we only really learn isn’t the case during Arc 2, when Hoyle threatens to kill Sy if he doesn’t shut up.

    • I can’t speak for all the readers but there are several people in my circles( read 15-20) myself included that loved Worm but have been slow to start following you again because of Pact.

      Kind of wishing I had found this one sooner though.

    • I’m just a broke university student, but I’ve had stern words with my brother and you sir shall be receiving something over and above the patreon for this chapter. Sir.

    • I’m really enjoying reading this story, so that’s great to hear! This story feels like a refreshing direction for you to take — not too far out of your comfort zone, but a new enough dynamic that it’s a breath of fresh air.

      I’m liking this one much better than Pact so far, and my first thoughts are that you’ve figured out several areas where you needed improvement, and have improved on them. Great stuff.

  2. Typo thread:

    I felt a sick roiling in my stomach, a feeling that refused to clarify itself.
    -Possibly a missing word after sick? Not completely sure.

    • While Jamie is stalling Sub Rosa, there is nothing stating that Helen and Sy are still moving forward, They are talking to each other about Sub Rosa, wondering how long Jamie can hold out, but there is no text saying, for instance, ‘We kept moving, while Jamie distracted her.’

      She smiled. “I know. I do. It’s for the end goal. The me I’m supposed to end up as, a nice skill to have available.”
      -“For the me I’m supposed to end up as, it will be a nice skill to have available.”

    • slipped few metal tools
      -slipped a few metal tools

      was to come up.
      Double space

      and retreated further,
      Double space

      Also, the “previous” and “next” links are missing.

    • Ibbot hired a trainer –> Ibott? I saw it twice, so I’m not roo sure. Never could remember the name.

      She slipped few metal tools into the gap –> a few metal tools

    • “far more explanation” (or perhaps “far too much explanation”?) instead of “far much explanation:”
      There were a few ways this could go, which would require far much explanation to cover in detail without confusing matters

  3. Looks like no interlude from Sub Rosa’s perspective, at least not one occurring after after this arc. Perhaps there’s some other force behind this we can hear from? Or Twig might have a second kind of interlude. Either way, still pulling for Helen/Sy.

  4. For the record, I think that most people would agree that getting a chapter 40 minutes late is preferable to getting it two days later. That said, I will gladly accept whatever you decide, in terms of your own work.

    I really hope Jamie doesn’t die. It doesn’t seem likely that he will, what with all the doctors there and with some plot armor, but we all know Wildblow’s worlds are places where anyone can die.

    I like how confused Sy is at Helen’s knowledge of how to tie people up. Also, I was right about her being a future honeypot!

    It’s also fitting that Sub Rosa’s actual death is the same cause as her original one. Can’t wait to see how this ends. Also, the enemy didn’t survive, so I’m going to assume that the Enemy arc will be the ones who decided to have her down there.

      • Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why tSub Rosa had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the bowls than we do now.

        • Oh man, great book quotes in these comments. I wish I knew of an appropriate one to add in from another literary giant… Errr….

          Bring out yer dead!😛

          Oh well, I appreciate your appropriate contributions to the comment section at least, even if I ain’t helping.😀

  5. I kind of hope Sy remains completely oblivious to the idea of sex in anything but the loosest of terms for a while. Jaime remembers things. Lillian works with biology. Gordon’s the kind to get experience as soon as he’s old enough. Helen’s being tutored as a femme fatale. Mary’s… Mary is a lot like Sy, really. More direct in methods, but a lot like Sy.

  6. This is an odd paragraph:

    “I caught up to Helen quickly enough. My hand found hers. As she stumbled, I caught her with my shoulder in her armpit, bracing her with my entire body, scraping a shin against a stair while the both of us recovered.”

    Last we heard Helen was touching his shoulder. Turning around should be enough to “catch up”.

    Secondly, I thought Helen was incapable of stumbling, which is why she was supposed to handle the fragile toxin canisters.

  7. Hmm, I wonder if Sy was correct at all in the Sub-Rosa/Shipman hate?

    When Sub-Rosa first met Gladys, he noted that it wasn’t hate that she showed, but an emotion of similar extreme. Coupled with Shipman’s horrified reaction to Sub-Rosa’s fate…

    Don’t know actually. Feels like we know too little about Sub-Rosa, her love for the experiments, and her reaction to Shipman.

    • Hmmm… an extreme emotion similar to hate? Maybe it’s love, because love and hate are the most extreme of the emotions we have. Well if that’s the case, the Lambs misunderstood Sub Rosa’s intention. Maybe she didn’t want to kill Shipman.

    • I’m willing to bet that the closing chapter (guessing it can’t be enemy, but I suppose a kind of flashback chapter is possible?) will shed a lot of light.

  8. Maybe it’s because it’s late and I missed it, but didn’t Jamie leave his book when they took the canisters? How did he then drop it when Sub Rosa hit him? It stuck out as strange to me that he’d just leave it, but I don’t remember when he would’ve gotten it again.

  9. So… I wasn’t expecting a chapter today. I was quite gladly surprised when I got one :3 Then I read it.

    Oh god, Wildbow. Don’t take Jamie away. Not yet…

    It was an awesome chapter. I love how Sy’s and Helen’s relationship is based on instinct and trust. The fight was amazing. I am left a bit numb and flabbergasted, however, from what happened to Jamie.

    • On another note, if Gorger was countered by the criminals, and Sub Rosa how now merged with the criminals, and Sub Rosa isn’t dead… couldn’t she fight her way out of Gorger? It’s very unlikely, but I don’t like how that possibility is left dangling.

  10. Hmm, I feel like the whole “flesh-eating virus” thing should be a bit more concerning. I guess we don’t know a whole lot about it, but it seems like it can infect on skin contact (or maybe inhalation?). Unless it dies extremely quickly in air, that part of the Bowels will remain very dangerous for quite a long time, and Sy is about to run right through it. Plus it probably would have gone down. Given the scientist’s general desire for excellence, I’d expect the virus to last a long time and to be able to infect with only a small amount of exposure, and to work very quickly.

    I suppose the simplest explanation is that the reason it was still in a lab and not being actively deployed was a very short lifespan outside of its tube or people, and Jamie knew that when he pointed them to it.

    • I agree with your concerns, but given that Sub Rosa wasn’t consumed into a puddle of goop, I guess the virus isn’t too strong. And it already has had enough time to disperse, so it probably would only cause mild damage (to the skin, nose, eyes, lungs…) that the Academy might be able to fix. And maybe the virus can’t reproduce, meaning that they don’t have to worry about being consumed and turned into goop *later*, and a thorough cleaning will make the area safe.

      • Technically, if it can’t self-reproduce it’s not a virus.
        And a virus that stops reproducing ‘after a while’ doesn’t feel very threatening on its own. Maybe alongside an external activator ?

  11. Wildbow, your ability to continually outmatch yourself as a writer never ceases to amaze me. You’ve always shown that you have talent and a tremendous work ethic. But things you did well before, like psychological nuances, characters manipulating each other, team dynamics, humour, horror, suspense, tension and surprises, well, they’ve reached a whole new level in Twig that surpasses the signs of their potential in Worm and Pact.

    You were already the best out there, and you surpassed yourself.

  12. So, I’m confused… Why was Sub Rosa not immediately next to Jamie when Sy unleashed the flesh-eating virus?

    Also, I agree with the other commenters. Sy is taking a lot of risks going in there.

  13. Sub rosa is the first monster i have felt compassion for, her actions towards the lambs made me doubt the scientist version of her past.
    That said, she did kill a lot of people.

  14. “Two dozen individual parts of Jamie cracked and percussed against the wall all in one horrible sound, before his body slumped to the stairs at the base of the wall.”

    That made me think for a second that Jamie had literally flown apart from the force of the hit, and all I could think was “No! Not a major character death near the beginning of the story! Everyone else’s life expectancy just plummeted!”

    Seriously though, great chapter. I used to ship Sy/Mary, but my loyalties have shifted in a predictable direction.

    • I love the parallel between what happened to Jamie and what Professor Briggs told the Lambs after arc 2: Namely, that his philosophy is testing people until they break.

    • I used to ship Sy/Mary, but my loyalties have shifted in a predictable direction.

      Come on, wildbow, the slash ship isn’t supposed to be three times as popular as the canon ship! Not that I’m complaining.😀

      • Honestly SyXJamie feels like incest to me. They may well have the closest relationship in the story, but I think it would hurt the relationship if it were romantic. Do they love each other? Yes. But I don’t think it is or should be romantic love. And sometimes thats the most interesting love.

  15. Her arm was a few feet longer than normal? Her arm basically doubled in length apparently. It’s kinda ridiculous that she can do that.

    I like that Helen had to learn how to tie people up for seduction purposes, and Sy not getting it.

    • It’s not so much that she has some freaky ability to make her arm longer. In truth, her wrist, elbow, and shoulder all dislocated, and her arm is mostly holding together by skin, tendon, and muscle (which can’t do much without working joints to pull on), and she simply has the ability to ignore the pain that this causes her.

      • Actually, I’m starting to get the impression that Helen is just made up of muscle. Or mostly muscle. This would explain why she can hecka grip things. It would also explain why she can’t throw a strong punch or move very fast but can latch on to things. She wouldn’t have the leverage to do so.

      • I’m pretty sure she does have some freaky ability to make her arm longer. She might have some dislocations, yes, but a normal human wouldn’t be able to maintain a grip if their arm were that long. We’re constantly told that Helen is built differently, including her skeletal structure. I figure this isn’t the kind of thing she can do at will, but her arms are built for extreme grip, and have emergency stretch points for absorbing force.

  16. So, if Helen has elastic joints, does that mean she can pull off a Zoom Punch?

    Basically, dislocating the joints of the arm in order to throw a punch with an unexpectedly long reach.

    • I don’t think Helen has joints to dislocate, or human bones to begin with.

      I picture some sort of tightly-wound flexible cartilage-like tissue, woven into spring shapes and compacted onto themselves by surrounding muscles to get enough rigidity to support a standing posture.

      Then she can unwind those, coil around prey, or worm her way through narrow openings.
      Not much strength to it, but a massive surprise factor (and she can stab you in places you didn’t even think you had).

      • I was thinking along the same lines, but you thought it ought way better. From the descriptions we’ve been getting her bones can’t work the same way ours do.

  17. Still curious why jamie didn’t make the connection as to who sub rosa was, nor why she had a sad look in her eyes. Something more to this plot than the lambs think?

    Hahaha, Ibbot hired a pro person-tier for his soon-to-be fem fatal? I can’t tell if that’s a sign of a terrible parent, or a great one….

  18. I am relieved. I wanted to make a bondage joke but I wasn’t sure if I was… projecting😛 Glad I’m not crazy.

    That said, Sy, leaving that aside, I’m sure there are cases you want to tie people down without revealing you are a monster. Say, interrogation. Or, you don’t want someone to leave a place while you are away.

  19. Hello, everyone. I’ve been reading through all of Twig for the past few days and just caught up. While I finished Worm as it came out, I stopped reading Pact after a few arcs. Don’t feel this is the place to get into a long discussion for why, but basically it was the lack of real, present friends and allies for Blake (gubhtu V’z tvira gb haqrefgnaq guvf riraghnyyl punatrf). This isn’t a problem in Twig, obviously, Though I have a few quibbles here and there, overall I’m quite enjoying this serial and am excited to read each next chapter.

    My favorite character is probably Lillian. I was kind of sad that she didn’t get to play a role in this arc’s climax I’ll admit, given I felt you had kind of built it up with the “worst day of her life” stuff. However, I think Sy may be the most interesting character thus far, more interesting than many readers give him credit for I think. Lots of people call him “amoral,” but really, I don’t think he is. He certainly wants to believe he is–every time he does something altruistic (such as saving the convicts in this chapter) he justifies it by saying how it’s really in his own self-interest after all, which is interesting in itself–but there are several signs that this is just yet another lie, albeit one he’s telling mostly to himself. My speculation is that he uses his supposed amorality and “villainness” as a sort of shield, to stop himself from having to feel guilty about the terrible things his job forces him to do.

    If this is right, then in a way he’s sort of the opposite of Taylor. Taylor constantly justifies the things she does as for the “greater good.” (Guvf graqrapl, bs pbhefr, vf bar bs gur znwbe ernfbaf fur raqrq hc orpbzvat Xurcev [major Worm spoilers].) Sy constantly justifies the things he does as being good for him and the Lambs, and who would expect an amoral manipulator like him to care about anything else? If I’m right, then if Sy is ever going to develop into a full human he’ll need to come to terms with his empathy and guilt. In any event though, I’m certainly looking forward to how he changes in the chapters to come–along with everyone else, of course.

  20. I’ll admit, the resolution to this felt somewhat anticlimactic, compared to the previous arcs. Assuming, of course, that it’s actually finished. I’m still quite happy with this chapter overall, but the final blow felt… I dunno, too easy, too sudden? Maybe even too accidental? Something like that.

    Anyway, loving Twig as a whole. It’s great to see actual group dynamics taking center-stage again.

  21. ‘Sy rushed downstairs towards Jamie, “please be alright”, he says to himself. Through the mist he sees Jamie standing on wobbly feet, smiling.
    “You’ve done it S…”, was everything that he managed to get out before Sylvester threw himself at him amd squeezed everybit of air out of his lungs.
    “I swear, if you died down here I would never be able to love again!”, Sy said smiling, with an extra punch following.
    Jamie’s look darkened, “it’s not over Sy”. “What do you mean?”, Sy asked puzzled.

    “Call Kondraki, we still have to contain 682…”

    I need a SCP/Twig collaboration. A What if? story, an alternate universe, i don’t care!
    Gimme, gimme, gimme!

  22. The way this chapter ended, it makes me feel like there is still at least one more chapter in this arc before the interlude. I think wrapping up the chapter now would feel a little abrupt, and I think we gotta see a little bit of the aftermath, specially the eminent interaction between Sy and the wounded Jamie.

  23. That was great. I didn’t have time during the week to come here to the website, and it wasn’t until I read the beginning of Saturday’s that I realized that the email hasn’t had everything in it. Good story.🙂

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