Esprit de Corpse – 5.14

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Our fires raged at one end of Westmore.  A full quarter of the city aflame.  Though the wood used to grow portions of buildings and plant matter grown to seal the gaps between stones had been treated to make it less combustible, it was still wood.

Stitched, buildings, chemicals, it took so little for the Academy’s work to go up in flames.

The smoke billowed, but the walls meant it didn’t have many places to go.  We were boxed in with mountains, cliffs, and walls, and that concentrated the smoke that hung lower to the ground.  The rain pounded down on the burning buildings, creating a dull roar.

It was attention-grabbing.  Enough to concern the forces at the battlefront.

We couldn’t see, but with the smoke, our enemy couldn’t see either.

We found the best hiding place we were able, listening as best as we could for the tramp of boots, then moved as soon as we heard the noise receding.

I wanted to communicate, reach out to the others and make sure we were on the same page, when it came to strategy and more.  I hadn’t counted on being struck dumb.  I’d wanted to make sure that I was the one who was stuck in the bed, while Gordon and Mary were free to act.  Being injured wasn’t necessary, but I’d needed to sell it, and that meant blood and making my performance as real as possible.  Opening an old injury was better than making another.

If I’d known I would have lost the ability to communicate, I would have gone another route.

I was scared in a way I usually wasn’t.  I wasn’t able to use my senses to their fullest.  With my eyes as screwed up as they were, and the chaos of noise in the background, the only things I could be sure about were things within thirty feet of me.  The smoke hampered our enemy, but that didn’t do much good if we took the wrong turn or path between buildings and ended up face to face with a plague man and his exorcist.

It didn’t help that I wasn’t sure how the other Lambs were doing.  Had I been able to take in more of the situation, I might have been able to reassure myself that the enemy lines hadn’t advanced far enough, or that there were avenues for them to escape.  As it was, we scurried here and there, keeping our heads down, straining every sense, hoping that the combined senses of the three of us were enough to alert us to possible danger.

We stopped for breath, and to get our bearings.  Gordon was doing the listening for trouble.  I stayed beside him, while Mary stood a short distance away.

She knocked on the wall once.  Not entirely necessary, given the broken window, but I imagined she was looking for her own unique sorts of reassurance.

Gordon and I listened, hard.  There were no footsteps, no boots.  Nothing close enough to be differentiated from the roar of background noise, of guns firing and rain pouring down on a spreading sea of fire that was stubbornly refusing to go out.

He knocked.

Mary’s foot splashed in a puddle as she rejoined us.  Her hand fumbled for and touched my shoulder.  I squeezed Gordon’s upper arm.

We bolted.  There was a soft ‘woof’ sound as the incendiary weapon went off.

A shout, directly ahead.  Footsteps.

Gordon didn’t slow.  I knew he had to have heard.

We made it another ten feet before he jerked us in one direction.  We ducked in behind a solid metal object.  I kept my head down, shoulders hunched, providing as small of a profile as was possible.

The men who ran past us weren’t plague men, but they wore the darker colors of rebellion members.  They made their way into the opaque wall of rain and smoke, feet splashing.

We remained still until we couldn’t hear them.  Mary coughed lightly.

The smoke was catching up to us.  Soon it would drown us out.  My world shrank from thirty feet to twenty, or perhaps fifteen.  Anything beyond was indecipherable.

I wanted to tell them we needed to move faster.  We had to get to a point that we could observe the situation, so we could find and reunite with the others, or get a grasp of any obstacles in our way.  If we took too long and the city was drowned in smoke and fire, we might have to chance running across a warzone and risk taking a bullet, to get to the lodge where the others were.

At least the distraction was diverting enemy forces.  The sound of gunfire had abated.  They would have probably planned to get further into Westmore before their advance slowed and stopped.  They didn’t have a place to retreat to, and they no longer had any certainty that they would have shelter if this dragged out.  The tent with the doctor and the stitched had no doubt been intended to be such a waypoint.

No place for the wounded to go, no place to sleep, to eat, nowhere to retreat.

They weren’t fearless.  Humans had basic needs, and the plague men were human.  In attacking their assuredness that they would be able to sustain those needs, we knocked the legs out from under them.  Uncertainty, doubt, morale, all would turn to our advantage.

I just wished mine wasn’t suffering so much.

We stopped.  The gunfire was closer, now.  Running blind for a minute or less might see us running straight into harm’s way, now.  Out of the alleyway and into the street.

“I’m out,” Mary said, under her breath.

I was already out.  I hadn’t grabbed many, and in my hurry to make sure my hands were free if I needed them, I’d used them quickly.

“I have two.  Want to hold on to one, just in case,” Gordon said.  “I’ll go.”

He headed to the nearest window we could make out.  Mary and I moved a little further down.

I could hear him open the window.  Mary and I listened.

It was harder, with the fighting being so close.  There were people tramping this way and that in between nearby buildings.  Plague men looking for vantage points.

We were in serious danger of being caught.  I could only hope that we could pretend to be scared children.

Harder with Gordon than with any of us.  He already looked like someone in his early-teens.  He’d grown early and fast.  Almost to the point where someone might have thought he should be in uniform with a gun in his hands.

Gordon knocked.

We carried on listening.  I was pretty sure we were thinking along the same lines.  That, being as close to the fighting as we were, we wanted to be extra careful.

She had hold of my hand, and was squeezing it, hard.

Mary prided herself so much on perfectionism.  To be hampered, damaged, a sense failing her, unable to be her best, it probably knocked her legs out from her, like the fire had been intended to do for the enemy forces.

No sound.

We knocked.

A third knock sounded, just a short distance away.  Not Gordon.  The sound had an effect on me, as if all the cold outside of me was suddenly sucked into my bones, making everything come to a standstill.  The fear that made a rabbit stand stock still as a fox came into sight.

I let go of Mary’s hand and drew my gun.

“Cynthia’s gas, is it?” Melancholy asked.

Gordon’s pistol fired.  Mine was a second late, slowed by my concern that we’d draw attention.

“Blind?” Melancholy crooned, not seeming to care.

I was in the midst of reloading, but Gordon had already reloaded, and fired again.

I held my fire.  She wouldn’t have been taunting us like this if we had a chance of hitting her.  I kept my gun in both hands, holding it firmly, so it couldn’t be taken away, and waited for an opportunity.

Mary was right beside me.  Mud sucked at her boot as she shifted her stance.

“I’ll-” Melancholy started.  Gordon fired again.

He made a grunting sound, and I heard a wet slap as he landed full-on in the mud.

He didn’t make another sound.  Mary did, beside me, but it was shock, a muted gasp.

The bone-deep chill I felt was a different sort from fear, this time.  There was a very good chance this was a moment that would be engraved into my memory for the rest of my life.

It didn’t break my focus.  I stared into a morass of smoke and rain, and saw absolutely nothing I could use.  There were only the smudged shapes of buildings, a hundred shifting blurs of light and dark that could have been Melancholy and could have been nothing at all.

I heard a mechanical click.  I aimed, but I didn’t fire.  I heard the sound of boots on mud, quick.

Like Choleric had been, she had good reflexes.  She was agile.

She could see us, while we couldn’t see her, and she had Gordon’s gun.

“Let’s try this again, minus interruptions,” she said.  She was around the corner, if I was gauging right, “I’ll make you a deal.”

I couldn’t respond.  Well, I might have been able to, but it would have been a mouse’s strangled squeak.  Drowned out by the noise around us.

I reached out with a foot and kicked Mary’s ankle lightly, once.

“We’re listening,” Mary said.

“I want to know where Phlegmatic and Choleric are.”

“That’s doable,” Mary said.

“I’m not done.  I’m taking one of you hostage.  The little one, messy black hair.”


“Yes.  Him.”

I offered another kick.

“He says yes.”

“Why doesn’t he speak for himself?”

“He can’t.”

“Okay.  Sylvester.  Throw out the gun, straight in front of you.”

She was around the corner and to my left.  She wanted to see the gun fall.

I tossed it out for her.

“Girl.  You too.”

Mary hesitated a little bit longer before doing the same.

“Now, be good,” Melancholy said.

I reached out and kicked Mary’s ankle again.

She kicked me back, hard.

Then she did it again.

I twisted, reaching out, trying to stop her, but I felt her arm move.

She was fighting back.

Stupid, aggressive, single-minded Mary, no!  There was nothing I could do to stop her that wouldn’t potentially get us both killed.  I pulled my arms away, backing up so I was flat against the wall.

Mary grunted, moving, hurling knives.  Weapons that were utterly silent in use.

Melancholy was the one to make a small sound this time.  A grunt of pain, a grunt of frustration?

Mary moved forward, following up the throws with an attack, slashing, feet slapping mud.

Then there was silence.

Mary remained in place shuffled, turning left, then right.  Searching.  I could make out her outstretched arms, the weapons held within.

Not throwing knives, but knives meant for close-quarters fighting.

She’d lost Melancholy.

There was a splash further down the alleyway.

Running, back toward the fires?  I strained my senses.

Then a larger splash.  At the corner of the buildings, between where Mary and I stood.

Enough of an impact that I knew it was Melancholy.

She’d gone up.  Onto the roof.  Hanging on, or standing on it.  She’d thrown something to distract, and now she was between us.

The fight between the two was brief, impossible for me to follow.  I could have fumbled in the mud for my gun, could have thrown myself into the fray in the hopes of grabbing Melancholy and hampering her enough for Mary to get a good hit in.

I remained where I was, against the wall, eyes closed, to better hear what was happening.

I heard a yelp, and the noises of fighting and feet skidding in mud stopped.  My nose and mouth were choked with the smoke from the fires, not that I could smell anything with the acrid gas lingering in my nostrils, and my eyes were useless for making out anything that wasn’t in arm’s reach.

“And then there was one,” Melancholy said, her voice soft.

Again, that chill.


“Do you need help?” a man asked, behind me.

“You three get back to the stablehouse at the corner.  We’ve diverted too many people to combat the fires, we need to make sure we don’t lose ground,” Melancholy said.  “I’ve got this well in hand.”

Plague men.

I hadn’t even heard them.  Well, I heard them leave, now.

“I’d say it felt unfair,” Melancholy said, “But you already killed one of my partners, and I have to guess about the fate of the other.  If your girl there had been five years older and capable of seeing, it might have been a fair fight.  Little bitch still caught me once.”

I didn’t offer her any tells, beyond my attempt to swallow that was a little more forceful than I’d expected.

A hand seized my throat.  She hauled me up, choking me further, and held me up with my legs dangling, through a combination of strength and the force with which she pinned me to the wall.

“Do you know what their real plan was for us?” she asked.

She paused, as if she expected an answer.  Had I not screamed myself mute, I still wouldn’t have been able to say anything, with the grip she had on my throat.

I grabbed her arm for support, as if I could alleviate the pressure.

“Four of us.  Bastards kept giving us missions.  Even when one of us weren’t in full working order, or when we were feeling the hurt from recent surgeries.  Do this, find this person, kill them.  Bring us the body.  Again and again.”

I sputtered out a breath, but it was a breath out, not in.

“They told us if we failed too many times, or if we got recalcitrant, then they would move on to phase two.  Take us, butcher us, and keep the best pieces of each.  My nose, Phlegm’s ears, Cholera’s body, ‘Guin’s eyes.  As for brain, well, that’s how they tried to set us against each other.  Telling us that the most obedient, the one most willing to turn on the others-”

I made a high, strangled sound, trying to breathe.  I kicked in her general direction, but her other hand swatted my foot aside, and held it at an awkward angle, so my lower body twisted to the left, my left leg blocked by the firmly held right.

“You get the picture,” she said.  “Did they do the same with you?”

I could have, should have said yes.  Built a rapport.

I shook my head, as much as I was able.  My neck muscles were as tight as bands of steel.

“Ah well,” she said.

I opened my mouth, as if I were speaking.

She let go of my leg and gripped the front of my raincoat and shirt.  She shifted her grip from my throat, allowing me to suck in smoke-filled air, and held my by the collar instead.

I tried to form words, pushing them out, but they came across as squeaks.  The gunfighting had died down for now, it seemed, and even with less noise coming from that, I was barely audible.

She drew her ear closer, until it almost touched my mouth.

I could have bitten it.  Seized a vulnerable piece of her in my teeth and held on as if it was all that mattered.

But what came after that?  It would have been a waste.  A final, bitter gesture before she killed me.

Not that she planned to keep me alive.

I spoke, and it was as if I were putting in all the effort of screaming at the top of my lungs and getting only raw pain in my throat and barely formed sounds.

“They pick one,” I managed.  I coughed.  The smoke was getting to me.  “One of us.”

Only one of us, in the end.  Possibly after another generation, though that’s looking less likely, the way things are going.

I coughed some more.

She stared at me.  Even with her face just a short distance away, hair draped over much of it, an oddly shaped nose and wide, razor-toothed mouth in the part I could see, I couldn’t see her all that well.

Had she killed Gordon and Mary?

If she had, we were too far from help to revive them.

“There’s something wrong with you,” she told me, her voice low, breath hot on my face.  “That you’d stay loyal.”

I shook my head, opened my mouth.

She dropped me before I could respond, seizing me by the throat again the moment my feet hit ground.  She struck one of the hands that reached for her wrist.

“I know what you’d say if you had the chance,” she told me.  “You’re loyal to your friends, not to the Academy?”

I stopped fighting, pausing.

“I was the same,” she told me.

In our first meeting, she’d rebuked us for trying to draw parallels.

“If you’re really loyal, show it by cooperating,” she told me.  “You’re going to be a hostage.  Maybe if this goes smoothly, someone can get those two some help.”

So vague I could have spit.  What had happened?

“Maybe,” she said, in a different tone, as an afterthought.  Emphasizing that it was only a possibility.

I bowed my head.  I nodded.

I felt a knife touch my throat, and I wondered if it was Mary’s.  She had me hold out my hands while she bound them.  She held the knife to my groin while using one hand to loosely tie my ankles.  Keeping me from running or kicking.

We walked, leaving Gordon and Mary behind.  Into oblivion and smoke.  Past figures I couldn’t make out, shadowy and nebulous.  Souls in the limbo between life and death.  Some living but scarred and left largely dead inside.  Some dead, but with lightning crackling beneath their skin.

“I have the firebombs your friend was holding on to,” she told me.  “If you or someone else try something clever, I burn the building with the Brigadier inside.  Fuck orders.  Your remaining friends can burn with him.  It’s a bad way to go.  One I reserve for people who’ve wronged me, understand?”

I nodded.

We passed through a cluster of people.

She stopped, and her wrist dug into my throat as I jerked to a stop, the blade tight against the side of my neck.  I felt the sting of a shallow cut.

“Paper,” she said.

The man in front of her reached into a pocket and produced a pad.

“Pen.  And hold onto that pad,” she said.

I heard the scratches of pen on paper.

“Have a stitched carry this to the Brigadier as a messenger.  Have them count the people inside.”

“Ma’am,” the plague man said.

The Academy forces were an army of monsters and dead men, commanded by people.

It was starting to feel like the rebellion was an army of men, commanded by monsters.

Of course, I had no idea who or what Cynthia was.  Perhaps it was an unfair assertion.

We waited in the rain, Melancholy with rain streaming down over wet hair, while I had my raincoat on.  I was the one shivering, while her hand remained steady.

“He said he’s open to discussion,” someone in the crowd said.

“Which stitched’dja send?” Melancholy asked.

“That one.”

“Will he answer my questions about their numbers?”

“He should.  His handler told him to stand down.  But stitched are stitched, you know?”

“I know,” Melancholy said.

She poked me in the back, bidding me to move.  We walked together, her knife to my throat.

I could tell from the way she moved against my back that she was favoring a leg.

Good girl, Mary, I thought.

Well, redact that.  The attack had been reckless.  I could understand the reasoning behind it, that Melancholy had only needed one hostage, she wouldn’t simply let the rest of us go, but it had been reckless.

But Mary had got our assassin once, at least.

“You.  Were there people inside?”

It was a stitched’s voice.  “Yes.”

“How many adults?”




“Think.  Children.  This age, give or take.”

“Three.  Four.  Three?”


“One… between.  Older.  Girl.”

“Describe her.”

“Thin.  Girl.  White hair.  Or blonde hair.  Glasses.”


“Alright.  Good man,” Melancholy told the stitched.  “Don’t know who that one is, but I don’t care about them.”

We walked up stairs.  I recognized them as the stairs to the Brigadier’s Lodge.  I saw people on either side, using the building for cover, and took them to be the Academy’s.  Westmore forces, with their brighter jackets.

There’d been a bit of a stalemate.  The Academy forces had regrouped.  They’d decided this was as good a defensive position as any to draw the line and decide they had to stop retreating.

But for the situation to be as it stood… something had happened.  Perhaps this had been too hard a position to attack.  They couldn’t move on without resolving it, couldn’t attack it without undue losses.

Complicated by… what had she said?  Orders.  Killing the Brigadier had been off-limits.

Melancholy kicked the door three times.  It was ajar.  “Coming in!”

She strode into the room, me in front of her.  I wasn’t that effective a shield, but it hardly mattered.  She had security of another sort.


“Sy,” I heard a voice.  Lillian’s, perhaps.

“You’d be one of the assassins,” the Brigadier said.

“I would.”

“Tea?” the Brigadier asked.

“I’m not that stupid.”

She wasn’t budging from the doorway.  We were standing in the coat room.  The part of the lodge past the midway point was raised a bit, and the other Lambs, Shipman, and the Brigadier’s people were gathered on that part, watching.

“You want to discuss options?” the Brigadier asked.

“You’ve lost,” Melancholy said.

“I noticed the fires.  Didn’t seem like the wisest thing to do,” the Brigadier said.  “My young colleagues here think it wasn’t wanted, on your part.  You want to secure this building because it should be far enough from the fire.  A defensive position you can fall back to.  You’ve been put in an awkward position.”

“Not my concern,” Melancholy said.  “I only have the ability to give orders so I can secure you and your top officers.  The army is someone else’s to lead, and the state of Westmore is that someone else’s concern.”

“Cynthia, her name was?” the Brigadier asked.

Melancholy nodded the affirmative.  “If you surrender and order your men here to put up no fight, you’ll all be given safe passage.  You’ll be treated as prisoners of war and afforded every respect.”

“I see.  I-”

“Before you accept.  There’s another term.  You give over the children to me.  They die.  Payment for me losing mine.”

Her grip on my throat tightened, the blade stinging my throat.  It was less painful, which was a bad sign.  Less painful meant a deeper cut.  The pain came later than it did with a shallow one.

“Ah,” the Brigadier said.  “There were two with him.”

“Crippled, bleeding, left to burn.”

I could see the shadow of the man’s head moving.

“Seize the children,” the Brigadier said.

My head bowed.  There were shouts of protest, but Gordon and Mary were the fighters, and they weren’t .  They were dealing with military men of some experience.

“I gave you your chance,” the Brigadier said.   “I hope you understand.”

I leaned forward, not caring about the knife, I screwed up my face, and I spit.

“I have to do what makes the most sense,” the Brigadier said.

“Hmf,” Melancholy made a sound.  “Thank you for being cooperative.”

“Sy!” Jamie called out.  “You-”

He stopped as Melancholy shoved me.  I sprawled, landing on the floor.  The Lambs were in front of me.

I flipped over, because I didn’t want to see them as Melancholy killed me.

She stood there, arms stretched out to either side.

I blinked.

I blinked again, trying to clear my vision.

Melancholy had a passenger.  Clinging to her back, was a blonde girl.  Helen.

I turned, looking at the crowd of people.

Sure enough, there were three figures who were the right size to be Lambs, and there was one who was definitely Shipman, all with soldiers behind them.

But… yes.  One was the Brigadier’s stitched servant.  The firetender.

They’d noticed the stitched doing a headcount.

The perils of an expendable soldier.

Melancholy stood as if crucified, or as a bird in flight might appear, her arms gripped, twisted, and pulled back.  Helen perched on her, feet finding purchase in the small of the assassin’s back.

The assassin shifted her footing.  Slowly, but with surety, she contorted, body twisting, head turning as well, to a greater extent.  She drew her mouth open, and even my ruined eyes could see the whites of her teeth.  Opening wide, as she drew ever nearer to Helen’s face, a bear trap ready to take the front of Helen’s head off.  Helen pulled away, contorting in her own fashion, but she couldn’t do more without releasing the assassin.

The others couldn’t shoot without the risk that a bullet might pass through Melancholy and catch Helen.

I stood.  Going by memory more than sight, the mental image I’d cobbled together as Melancholy and I walked, I went for the woman’s left leg.

Mary’s wound.  I found it.

I dug the fingers of both hands into the gap, then wrenched it open.

Melancholy snarled.

Arms still outstretched, she bent forward, snapping for me.  A viper’s movement, compared to the glacially slow contortion as she’d gone for Helen.

Helen moved, shifting grip, adjusting her own weight, throwing herself to one side.

I heard the snap, the pop, the cartilage and bone grinding.

Melancholy’s face, blurred, stretched into something hideous in the moment before she crashed to the ground.  She writhed for a moment, solely with her upper body, before she gave up the last gasp.

Vertebrae separated, if I had to guess.

Helen remained there, holding Melancholy’s arms.

“Hello, Sy!” she said, brightly.

I opened my mouth to respond, then closed it.

There was a commotion as the others came.  Lillian was quick to hurry to my side.

Everyone, be they the Brigadier or my fellow Lambs, was quick to throw a dozen questions each at me.

I touched my throat, looking at who I hoped was Lillian.

“On it,” she said.  “Need my bag.”

Too much to communicate, too little time.

Gordon and Mary hurt and bleeding out, with enemy forces between us and them.  The location surrounded, the city overtaken by armies and fire, and Melancholy’s orders had been the only thing keeping the enemy from assaulting the Lodge.  Now she was dead.

The moment they realized that, we were done for.

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106 thoughts on “Esprit de Corpse – 5.14

  1. Loving this more and more. I know, as people keep pointing out, that the academy is evil, but I don’t really care. The Lambs have clever plots, and it’s fun to see them succeed. Just once in my life I want to see an action movie where things work out and everyone gets murdered after all. This’ll do until then.

  2. That marks the ninth chapter in three weeks. Had my mom’s birthday, appointments, and a bit of travel complicating things. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty tired and just a smidge burned out. Am looking forward to having only two chapters next week, and am glad to have finally gotten that extra chapter out of the way – the one chapter that scheduling conflicts and outside forces kept me from releasing in June and then again in July.

    Intended to end this arc about 3 chapters sooner. But I think when I’m tired, I misjudge how long X is going to take (I somehow thought that this chapter and the last one would occur in 4000 words or so), and I tend to fall back on established patterns. I did the latter a lot with Pact, and it’s why sections dragged on. Ditto for some stretches of Worm. Were I editing Twig seriously for publication (which isn’t off the table for the future), I’d cut out the section with the dissection of the two assassins, as it doesn’t contribute enough, for example, but it felt like a safe direction to take at the time. The alternative to returning to pattern tends to be jumping into another storyline or change of direction when I don’t have my feet under me, and that’s the sort of thing that gets us arcs 10 or 25-26 of Worm. Story arcs that people aren’t so happy with.

    Feedback for this section seems good, at least, and numbers got a bit of a bump, both in stats and finances. I’m immensely grateful for that. I owe some special thinks for some generous Patreon subscriptions, and aim to get back to that at the start of next month.

    Intending to resolve the arc next chapter. Next month looks to be quieter, with only a bit of travel toward the middle and end, but less in the sense of looming obligations and more in the sense of being around people I like and who I can trust to play ball with my schedule. I anticipate it’ll be a better month for writing.

    • As always, your work is highly appreciated.

      I’ve seen your Patreon numbers climb a bit. Consider raising your donation targets for bonus chapters slightly – IIRC you were always aiming for an average of 2 chapters per month, and this target seems to have been somewhat exceeded for a while.

      Also, will you ever consider writing more interlude chapters / chapters from other perspectives again? I appreciated that in Worm, and would have loved to see more in Pact and (what we’ve seen so far of) Twig. For instance, this particular chapter could probably have been written from Melancholy’s POV, as well.

    • I’m conflicted about Twig. It’s certainly more mature than Worm and Pact in certain ways; you can feel that there’s more of an overall plan for how it’s going to get where it’s going, not just a start point and and end point and a lot of crazy improvisation. And I really respect the fact that Sy is the main character; somebody with hardly any superhuman physical powers. That implies a lot of discipline in terms of writing actual characters, not relying on “special effects” to stand in for story. This is really, really well done, and definitely represents a step up from Worm and Pact, which were already well above average in this regard.


      It’s one thing to have a “grey and gray” world. That’s actually fun in its own masochistic way. But Twig has not done a very good job of defining its stakes. It seems to me that no matter who wins, this world is doomed to be a nightmare for almost everyone, but that it will survive. Worm obviously had stakes from the beginning, starting with the school and Brockton Bay and moving dizzyingly up from there; similarly with Pact. In this world, I just don’t see why I should want the protagonists to win, aside from liking them personally (insofar as “like” is the right word).

      And also, the more-controlled plotting has a downside. Desperate improvisation has its own energy. When you know where you’re going more, you lose some of that energy. That’s a tradeoff that should be worth it; but for me, it compounds the effect of the uncertain stakes.

      So overall: I continue to be impressed — no, awed — with how you are pushing yourself as a writer, and how you have continued to grow. But as much as I’d like to, I can’t really say that Twig is my favorite of the three.

    • Regardless of how you feel about this arc, congratulations for pulling off 3 extra chapters this month.

      Since you mention stuff that you thing can be edited out, I would suggest the part where Sly is considering commiting treason could be removed. That point appearantly didn’t go anywhere (unless you are intending to make it pay off later in the story).

    • Hey wildbow. some feedback:
      -I love reading you talk about plot points, arcs, and other specific parts of the story (like in this comment). Much more interesting than reading about chapter schedules or vague feedback you receive. Sorry.
      -This chapter was awesome and intense, and the entire arc was pretty rad. It’s fun to have Sy constantly switching sub-groups when dealing with stuff.
      -The characters in Twig really feel genuine and fleshed out (no pun intended). However, I do feel that there aren’t enough interactions between non-Sy characters – mostly, between the other Lambs. How does Helen feel about Jaime’s fate? What does Lillian think of Shipman? etc.

  3. Man oh man, you have been on a roll, even with your burn out. This is an epic penultimate chapter to the arc, I felt as though all was lost for a moment there! (I wouldn’t put it past you.)

    Gordon is probably OK, not so sure about Mary. Damn this shit is intense! Thanks for the great work as always Wildbow, I don’t know how you churn these out so quickly. I must assume you are doing this full time now.

    • It is a full time job. I tend to do 12-14 hour stints two or three times a week, depending on if there’s a bonus chapter, with more emphasis on writing in the later hours than the earlier ones (earlier ones are blocking out what I’m writing and rereading a lot of older content to refresh myself and fact check). Adds up to about 30-40 hours a week of time writing/rereading at the keyboard, and an indeterminate amount of other site stuff, which I handle in days I’m not writing. I’ve been slacking on that (as evidenced by the late arrival of previous/next chapter links), with other obligations cutting into my time. That happens a lot, and has a bigger impact than you’d expect. It makes it hard to say how many hours a week really go into it.

      On those days I don’t write, I’ll usually make notes, muse on what comes next in the story, look after some technical stuff (I get a lot of emails, there’s a small amount of accounting), try to unwind, and clean up after myself – I tend to accumulate a bit of mess on days I write.

      When I do have a three chapter week, I fall a bit behind. When I have multiple three-chapter weeks in a row, I fall more than a bit behind in the day to day. My fridge is mostly empty, I have 3+ loads of laundry to do, and I haven’t unpacked or even touched my luggage from when I traveled at the start of the month.

      That disorganization can take over, and factors into that feeling when I’m at the keyboard and just have to -make- myself write. Which is a rarer thing, with me.

      • Well, I can’t speak for everyone but as far as I’m concerned, you’ve earned yourself a vacation.

        Seriously, I can’t remember you ever missing a Tuesday or Saturday chapter, and maybe once or twice moving a Thursday one. As much as I F5 your page when an update is coming (I actually do this), taking time off is a good thing sometimes. Just something to think about. Or maybe it’s time to increase the incentive amounts again.

        Either way, thanks for writing such amazing work. I look forward to the day i can brag to my friends about knowing you before you were cool.

        • I won’t do it to screw you guys out of a chapter, but if I get to the point of falling behind, I may adjust the numbers to stay sane.

          As it stands, though, I don’t believe someone can be an online content creator and take vacations. If you do webcomics, youtube videos, stream, or write a web serial, you’re committing to putting the content out there. I’m fortunate that I love what I do and I don’t feel like I need true vacations away from the ‘work’ for that reason. It’s just that I don’t love doing what I do on top of having real life in the way. Family drama, travel, obligations, appointments, they make everything a chore, and there’s few things sadder than having something you love become that chore, even if it’s only because of outside factors.

          • The appointments are real? That explains so much. Does Canada’s healthcare system cover your wyrven treatments? Or is that OOP

            I’m pretty sure desoxyn is the closest thing to wyrven that’s legally available in the US. You Canadiens have it good up there it seems.

          • >As it stands, though, I don’t believe someone can be an online content creator and take vacations. If you do webcomics, youtube videos, stream, or write a web serial, you’re committing to putting the content out there.

            wildbow, i think we all can appreciate how your readers benefit from your work ethic, but this sounds insane and unsustainable. taking an (announced) vacation would not cast doubt on your commitment as a regularly-updating content creator.

            i feel bad for saying this, but consider the precedent you are setting. there are many writers who follow in your footsteps. do you really think that online content creators, in general, should not allow themselves vacations?

            pretty much every profession is allocated (sometimes *forced*, often paid) vacation time, right? why do you think you and other online creators should be exempt from this?

            you may be an exception, able to keep churning out great work without giving yourself time to recoup. but it is unreasonable to think that every content creator is capable of the same mass of work, and that they are somehow lacking in commitment if they take a break. also, a vacation might very well help someone’s writing! in this case, taking a break would actually be evidence of that author’s commitment to maintaining good material, rather than abandoning readers in some way.

            i’m not sure how patreon works at all, if you can set goals for people to donate for, but i think you might find support for a fund to force wildbow to take a vacation.

          • I am not sure you remember, but a few months ago you described to me in details why you cannot take time off. In short, you don’t take vacations because doing so would result in an imediate impact on your readership and donations. While I did (and still do) understand your position,

            Having said that, I also strongly believe pizzahedron has a point: not only you need and deserve time off, you are also setting a standard that not many people can measure up to. We know you live off of donations, but you gotta find a way to take a break from writting, just in case you ever feel like you are burning out.

          • The issue, though, is what happens when one takes a vacation. Right? So I put out 2.5 chapters a week, generally speaking. My numbers are (very) slowly but steadily rising over time. Funding is rising over time.

            Let’s say I plan a vacation. Going by Euodiachloris’ suggestion, let’s make it four weeks.

            I now have two options. Branching path here.

            Option one is that I just let things languish. No updates for a month. I lose readers. People fall out of the habit of visiting the sites and checking for updates. Some people who missed the announcement (and some will, even if I turn the site neon green and put it everywhere in bold letters) will assume that I’ve abandoned my story. I return to realize that my readership has dropped by 25%, Patreon subscription amounts and Paypol income has dropped by 15% and continues to drop just a bit over the next few months until stabilizing at -25%, and I’m now facing minor financial hassles and concerns about where things stand. I know this can and would happen (even if I’m ballparking the numbers) because I’ve seen the trends in income and stats when I have months with very few bonus chapters. I then have that discouragement on top of having to find my stride again. Writing quality may or may not suffer a bit until I do, with a corresponding loss in audience.

            Option two is that I get work done in advance. Four weeks of chapters is ten chapters. That’s about 150 hours of work I’d be striving to work into a schedule in the months leading up to the break. That’s, say, 20 extra hours a week for two months leading up to the break. Writing quality drops, I’m overloaded and stressed, I finally get my vacation and all I can do is fret about whether there’s another technical issue like chapters refusing to go up at the scheduled time or loading with no paragraph breaks. I finish my vacation and have to spend a while catching up on comments, approving commenters, managing site particulars, reading email and more. I top that general issue with having to focus on finding my stride again. Writing quality may or may not suffer a bit until I do.

            I know what option two is like because I saw the fallout of it before/during/after my brother’s wedding. In the year prior I tried to take a break, writing in advance before 12 days up at the cabin with family, and I wound up with the Scarab arc, which I get grief about every day.

            Fact of the matter is that taking a vacation generates more stress than it resolves. I know who I am, I know how I function as a person, and I’m a happier, healthier, less stressed individual if I just stick to what I’m doing. I enjoy writing, I get days off in between writing stints (albeit with stuff to do), and life is pretty damn good.

            I can’t speak for other authors, who may find similarities or differences in their own experience, but I’ve heard other content creators express similar sentiments (‘online content creators don’t get vacations’). My expectation is that someone who’s doing this seriously, as a job or as a career, is going to find that trying to work in vacations and breaks is too costly. It’s just a fact of the job.

          • ^Lets get creative then: how about taking time off *between* serials instead? Sure, your income would still go down, but nobody would get blue balls due to a lack of update and think you were slacking off.

            Moreover, you might still get some money off of patreon and compensate with a part-time job somewhere (since the intention would be to avoid burning out). During this period, you could even dedicate more focus on editing your 3 serials into a format that could be published as a series of books (Twig in particular would be the easiest to adapt).

          • Wildbow you have an amazing work ethic but you’re wrong. Doing something you love doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to a break. You can take a week off and all of us will survive.

            I do appreciate that you’re so considerate of your readers, but I cannot think of a single other web media I’ve followed that never had a break. Webcomics do guest weeks. Or take off.

            You’re amazing. I love your writing. Please please please give yourself a breather occasionally

            I am serious I will donate monsey towards not having chapters one week.

          • I’m not trying to say you should take a vacation because you know you better, and you’ve explained the many problems that go with it, but here’s an idea I’d like to share:

            What if you try to build a buffer as follows? On a given Thursday when you don’t plan to publish a bonus chapter you write a chapter. You publish this on Saturday. Next, the chapter you would have written for Saturday you publish on Tuesday. The chapter you would have published on Tuesday leave for Saturday and you write a second buffer chapter between Tuesday and Thursday.

            Now you have two chapters made before-hand. You publish one on Saturday, but you write another one between Thursday and Saturday, remaining at two buffer chapters. Realistically, getting a buffer chapter could take a few months because it’d require you to push yourself to write more than average (or alternatively, publish one less bonus chapter in the month). Building a buffer allows you to take a vacation at some point nearing the end of the serial (or at least, have less work to do) or can save you stress if many issues pop up at once. Really, you are just exchanging variable future stress for a controlled amount of present stress.

            I get that this has many issues, among them is that you wouldn’t be able to take the comments into account when writing a chapter, but maybe you find the idea useful?

          • Hey man, long time lurker here. I know you must get a lot of ideas like this from readers, but have you tried queuing up small omake-style chapter for the weeks you take off? I for one would love to read short explorations of minor characters (Ibott in particular), experiments, twig-science, etc.

            Could these be less work to write? One of my favourite podcasts releases 5 minute “quickies” made from extra research material or sound bites that didn’t make the cut to keep the content flowing during their vacation.

          • i would like to follow up with a brief quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

            Article 24.

            Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

          • Well, as a reader i’d prefer to be screwed out of a chapter than have a burnt out and unenthusiastic author. It’s a good story and your work ethic and ability to keep the pace going are annoyingly commendable as it makes me jealous. As a reader i’m all for a vacation if you need to take one, but i understand the underlying financial disincentives are a major issue. The best way to take a vacation then would be to have content to fill in the space which either means preparing a bunch yourself (which would kinda be subverting the purpose of non-burntout-edness) or giving up some control of your creation and go for guest strips, either canonical or non-canonical. I also reckon that guest strips have a different purpose in that it cross pollinates different fanbases which could expand readership, so you could gain roughly as much readers as would be discouraged. Actually, what i’m really doing right now is imagining an arc that you write and then get someone to draw in webcomic form while you are away and am totally geeking out on trying to imagine the ensuing visuals.

            But anyway, what it really comes down to is that i’m in this for the long haul and really like your work and don’t want you to pull out hair which you then decide use to make two wonderful doilies for some mugs beside your computer. Two doilies bad, 4 week vacations better.

            On an entirely differant note, long vacations are scientifically proven to not be as good as multiple smaller vacations so four weeks might be a bit long.

            … I’m trying to think of any other random input i can toss out there like cookies at mardi gras…. but i got nothing but just saying, Yay Wildbow, you are the awesomest awesome of awesomedom

          • I second the patreon fund. I mean, if we, seperately, fund an entire vacation trip (two week holiday somewhere?) for you, food and home, then when you get home, and we’ve kept putting a bit more in the fund to tide you over while you rebuild your viewership, you’ll still have been getting donations that you don’t need to spend right away. I mean, how much do you need for a good holiday? 1500?

      • Consider setting a Patreon goal at a higher number – say, an extra $1000 a month, when support is at that level, you plan to hire someone to take care of the web administrative side and do a bit of marketing too. say like, 15-20 hours a month on retainer. This might bring in more readers and donations, but it would ease a bit of your time expense on the administrative side.

        A great similar example would be Octopus Pie, which set (and achieved) a Patreon donation level at which the writer/artist was able to hire a colorist.

        There is only so much one person can do in our given set of hours, and if the support reaches a feasible point, please do consider recruiting someone to join the effort. 🙂

  4. The dissection was my second fav part of this ark. Lillian channeling
    sly and provoking the docter was great. first was sly and Lillian kiss’ so adorable!

    • More typos:

      – “listening as best as we could” -> “as best we could” or “as well as we could”

      – “If I’d known I would have lost the ability to communicate” -> “I would lose” (wrong tense)

      – “She was around the corner, if I was gauging right, “I’ll make you a deal.”” -> “if I was gauging right.”

      – “Even when one of us weren’t in full working order” -> “wasn’t”

      – “There were shouts of protest, but Gordon and Mary were the fighters, and they weren’t .” -> “and the others weren’t.”

      – “Mary’s wound.” -> (that’s a weird way of referring to a wound caused by her)

      – “Melancholy’s face, blurred” -> “face blurred”

      Other stuff:

      – “He knocked.” -> Mary had already knocked; why did Gordon need to do the same?

      – “I just wished mine wasn’t suffering so much.” -> ?? (I have no idea what the “mine” refers to here – Sy’s side? Sy’s assuredness? Something else?)

      – “They’d noticed the stitched doing a headcount.” -> (Unsure about this – again, who are “They”?)

      – “The others couldn’t shoot without the risk that a bullet might pass through Melancholy and catch Helen.” -> (So is it clear that the Brigadier’s offer to Melancholy was in bad faith? ’cause if not, you’d expect them to worry about accidentally shooting Melancholy while aiming for Helen instead.)

      • Mary had knocked to let Gordon and Sy know it was her. Gordon knocked in turn to let her know that it was them behind the wall and it was safe to go in.

        “I just wished mine wasn’t suffering so much”: I assume this refers to his assuredness. It’s the only thing I can come up that makes sense.

        “They” are the people in the cabin. The Brigadier, the Lambs and whoever else. They noticed the stitched who had come with a note was doing a headcount so they arranged things as to hide Helen. And yeah, I assume the Brigadier’s offer was a bluff. The Brigadier wouldn’t have let Helen do an ambush otherwise.

    • “I’m out” was jarring. Out of what? Eventually it became clear that it was firebombs, but that could certainly have been done more smoothly.

  5. You def could drop the dissection if you want to cut content, although I liked it.

    I was a little confused about the lambs location. I didn’t realize they were setting fire to Westmore at first. Although if other people realized it chalk it up to poor reading. 🙂

  6. The Lambs never hesitate to kill their enemies. Why do their enemies always leave them alive?Melancholy has lost two of her team to them already! She was planning on killing them all along! If Melancholy indeed just crippled them and didn’t kill at least one I’m declaring this a Pixar movie. The enemies always leave you to slowly bleed out and potentially get saved even as they know the minute you get a chance you’ll slit their throats. She had them incapacitated and thought, “Eh, I’ll leave them here to burn and/or be rescued later.”?

    That said, I would hate it if you killed off either of them. I am too attached to Mary coz I’m one of those people who fights back even if it’s the stupid thing to do. I’m not very big and I was bullied a bit growing up, so I like and relate to fighters.

    Also don’t kill Gordon. I cannot defend this statement.

    • This is a world where people are literally, in one fashion or another, brought back from the dead. Who’s down? Gordon, the chimera, built from 26 people — who’d notice if a few more people were tossed in to keep him going? Mary, the clone — I’m sure she’s been eagerly studied by the scientists. Given quick access to good care, I think they’ll pull through just for

    • I don’t think Gordon’s gonna die, if only because that’d probably drop the entire Fray storyline. I guess Sy et al could take it as a wakeup call to leave the dangerous Academy, but I’m sure they would remain in just as much danger around Fray.

      Either way, yeah. I can only imagine the assassin felt a smidge of compassion, and I’d be terribly sad if either Mary or Gordon die.

      • Melancholy was using them as bargaining chips as well a a psychological battle tactic. :/ And, she’d made sure to have them damaged enough to make her point: any hope that had been placed in these weapons? Abandon it now; make accommodation. :/

        • Iunno. She could very well lie about it. Leaving the kids alive does her no favours: her bargain was to let the Westmore soldiers alive in exchange of the children. Were the Brigadier to accept, it’d only be easier for him if two were already dead.

          If the idea was to set up an ambush for the rescue team, again, they don’t need the children alive. If the idea was to give people hopes, it wouldn’t have mattered whether she had lied or not. I doubt Melancholy and the Brigadier would meet up a second time; one of them would have been killed or captured by then.

          Oh, by the way. Why are characters always so cocky/dim as to handle situations on their own? Had Melancholy had anyone else with her, even a stitched, things would have gone a very different way.

          • First rule of selling something: use visual aids to get your point across. You can say anything, but it helps to have something to use to back the telling up. Monkey brains tend weight the evidence sight brings them more heavily than that from the other senses. 😐

            Waving the very obviously beaten, bloody and “deactivated” kids they were relying on combines to make a great statement if you’re trying to get people to give up. Too dead-looking, though, and you can push the instinctive revenge buttons of nearby Mama Bears and Papa Wolves. Not smart. 😛

            She seems to have wanted to neutralise command as quickly as possible. What she tried to do was a viable (if risky) way. Probably less risky to other instructions than waiting to collect enough men to try going in all guns blazing. *shrugs*

          • That’s a good point, but, she didn’t have either Gordon or Mary with her, nor did she bring any evidence of them being alive.

            I don’t think Gordon or Mary work as bargaining chips. If the Brigadier accepts her offer, they die anyway. I don’t think they would serve as bargaining chips a second time, because I very much doubt there would be a second meeting to discuss a surrender; the battle is going to sway decisively one way or the other pretty soon. Gordon and Mary being alive won’t sway the Lambs to give up either because that just means they will all die.

            The only two scenarios I can come up with in which it’d be useful to leave Gordon and Mary alive is post-battle. If the Crown wins the rebellion can give up the kids in exchange for being left alive, probably going against orders to kill them. Alternatively, if the rebellion wins, they can use Gary to lure the Lambs in, but they don’t really need to keep Gordon and Mary alive to achieve this. The Lambs would go in one way or another.

    • I agree with that potential criticism. (Though up to now, we only have Melancholy’s word concerning what happened to Gordon and Mary.)

      Also, the story *must* address the war crime committed by the Lambs last chapter, and punishing them for it is one good way to do that.

      • Before you go declaring this fridge logic, consider that it may still turn out to be fridge brilliance. I made this mistake more than a couple times reading Worm, even in my third read-through.

        For example, when gur Fvzhetu vagreehcgf Qentba’f qngn genafsre, naq rirelbar (vapy. zr) tbg ba nobhg zbqrea reebe pbeerpgvba, sbetrggvat gung guvf vf na N.V. naq gung guvatf yvxr vagrteny oyvaq fcbgf ner pbaprcghnyyl cbffvoyr, and saying that’s what the Simurgh did all along is not just an acceptable explanation, but a badass one!

        Looking back, I appreciate more and more the mysteries left totally unexplained in the text, like jung rknpgyl znqr Qvanu’f ahzoref whzc 30% jura Fnvag qvfnoyrq Qentba.

        I’m enjoying reading Twig as it’s released more than I enjoyed reading Worm at first. Worm gets better and better over multiple re-reads. I wonder if I’d like Pact better on the second try?

        • V unq sbetbggra nobhg gur ynetr punatr va Qvanu’f ahzoref. Ybbxvat onpx ba vg abj, V guvax vg jnf cebonoyl whfg gung Qentba jnf irel yvxryl gb xrrc Wnpx Fynfu nyvir naq fraq uvz gb gur oveqpntr. Ur betnavmrf rirelbar gurer, oernxf gurz bhg, naq trgf gb vagrenpg jvgu Fpvba jura ur fgbcf gurz. Qentba jnf whfg bar bs gur znva jnlf Fpvba jrag onq.

      • Just to throw out another point of view – I’m really not too bothered by the ‘war crime’ last chapter. All things considered it was the only smart play, in terms of them surviving.

        They started out varying degrees of crippled, on a battlefield with an encroaching enemy force (made up of soldiers who were mentally affected in an unknown way and had orders to kill them). They didn’t really have much option beyond playing the “defenceless children” card or dying (or at least attempting to run through a combat zone while crippled, and most likely drawing intentional fire).

        Then they were in a tent behind enemy lines, with a doctor about to see through their ruse and an armed soldier whose mental health is in question. When the doctor realised that Sy was already injured, and had been treated before the wound was intentionally opened, then their cover was born. Cynthia’s been telling people about the lambs – her guards were told not to believe anything said by little children and the plague men apparently had orders to kill them.

        Should they have tried to manipulate their way out? Sy was mute, Mary’s not cut out for that, at all, and Gordon’s okay, but I really don’t like his chances when the enemy is specifically aware of them (and the plague man’s mind wasn’t going to respond as normal). Should they have incapacitated them? Sy’s tied down, Mary’s hands are tied, and she’s mostly blind. Gordon is tied to a chair, also can’t see too great and has no weapons. Maybe they wait for a better opportunity? Because once they’re identified as a dangerous enemy, they’re going to be given a better chance to escape. I guess they could hold the moral high ground and be summarily executed by the soldier, or brought to Cynthia who will then either kill them immediately, or use them to draw out the rest of their friends so they can all die together.

        It was a shitty thing to do, absolutely, but they really only had terrible choices, and that’s not their fault. They’ve been thrown onto the battlefield as weapons by the Academy, and they’ll be treated as such. (Plus if they don’t succeed then the academy will stop expending resources on keeping them alive).

        Personally I kind of like it that all options are on the table. They’re in a tough situation, and that make everything they achieve feel that much more impressive. The only way to get ahead in this game is to be the most clever, most underhanded person out there. Everyone’s focused on being as effective as possible in their plotting and counter-plotting, because no-one can afford to limit their options, and for me that’s really fun to watch.

        Plus, for me, the Lambs totally win back their sympathy point with all the intergroup stuff. I’d be heartbroken if one of them died here.

      • You mean they’d receive a congratulary note for mimicking the Crown, world champion of war crimes? Heck, war crimes weren’t even a thing in our world at that time, the Crown would laugh at the mere notion of their existence.

        • What are you saying? That what the Lambs did is acceptable because of cultural relativism, or something? If so, I emphatically disagree. Both in fiction and in reality, we judge people by our moral standards, not by theirs. How could we do anything else?

          • So you want them punished by Karma, not authorities? well, do not worry, they are Wilbow protagonists, there are depictions of hell that give the victim less suffering.

          • Damn, why was that posted? sorry, part 2

            But if you want them to suffer as direct consequence, sorry, Wilbow is way too realistic, in his world there is nothing that would punish them for that action. In fact, they were rewarded by their survival.

          • > in his world there is nothing that would punish them for that action

            There’s no need for the equivalent of a god in Twigverse; it’s enough that there are characters whose values differ from the Lambs. If you violate social norms (like: do not kill civilians during wartime), society is what’s supposed to punish you.

            Which includes members of your own group! You’d expect e.g. Lillian to react poorly to this, given that she’s essentially also a medic…

    • They are definitely working on technology to fuse a gestalt of several into one.

      Gordon’s superior physical prowess, Helen’s booby-trapped body, Jamie’s neural rework allowing him to store extra information, Sylvester’s cerebral fluidity, crammed into one hell of a chimeric humanoid. Some sort of dream team Übermensch.
      Still wondering about Ashton and Evette’s specialties.

      • One of them (Ashton?) was supposed to be the social manipulator. Sy wasn’t originally intended to be part of the team, but was pulled in to fill for one of the two who didn’t make it.

        I’m not sure if they really intended to fuse all of them together, seeing as Helen’s and Gordon’s physiologies are probably completely incompatible. Unless they just wanted to keep Gordon’s ability to learn and not his physical capabilities.

      • Didn’t Sy say that they weren’t being fused? Or at least, not in the same way that Melancholy was describing.

        I was assuming that when they “pick one”, it’s more choosing the most successful model out of the bunch to use for further advancement. I’m sure they’d be using the knowledge gained from other projects in some way, but I don’t think it’d be as simple as just throwing all the technologies into one body, and I’d assume that the focus would be on advancing the ‘successful’ technology than creating one super-fusion project..

  7. “Hello, Sy!” she said, brightly.
    Helen you are wonderful and terrifying. Wonderfully terrifying. “OH, HI, Sy! How have you been? What’s up? Oh, you thought you were going to be killed by this assassin, whose face I’m gleefully ripping off, snapping her head off her body? Jolly good thing that I showed up! I’m doing lovely myself. Killing is fun! La dee la dee da.”

    I’m guessing this had been planned, and the Brigadier wasn’t going to turn them in? That guy’s got balls. I like him, he’s a great person. I’m also very glad Sy is around. The Brigadier needs his advice and his new intel badly.

    As for the dissection in the past chapter, I didn’t mind it. I’m not 100% sure it’d fit the Lillian we’ve seen, but either way, I think it was a very, very nice bit of character development. I think it also was a nice reprieve from the action. I don’t mind at all if it’s edited out, though.

    • There have been flashes of both her anxiety and her impatience when being undervalued by those placed over her before, even though she tends to hold her tongue. She certainly doesn’t melt down quite like Mary manages to, but she might well be slowly picking sarcasm and verbal trolling up from a source quite nearby to try using as a new coping strategy. 😛

      • There’s a sense to it that Lillian was holding a lot back in the beginning of the story when they were around the Radham academy and all her teachers/peers/competitors therein. She would understandably be very conscious of how everyone around her is perceiving her.

        Now she’s had a chance to get away from that stifling (to her) environment, she’s coming out of her shell more. My only question is, when the heck does she have time to go to class? Even if she spent all of every timeskip studying, she’d have to be falling behind the rest of her classmates! Would she even be willing to leave the lambs for the majority of every day at this point? No, I’m guessing she’s not even in the main curriculum anymore, focusing solely on being the best possible field medic for the lambs specifically. When she masters that role to academy standards, she could be a power multiplier for the whole team!

        That would be a really interesting way to get the team over the hump in whatever endgame Wildbow has planned.

        • I think the thing with Lillian is that she’s a bit of a “child prodigy”. A girl her age would not be at the Academy, but rather at that school where Mary came from whose name I forget. But she’s probably as good as any second or third year student in the Academy. So, well, she gets a lot of slack cut to her and she has a lot of time to learn things outside of the classroom before she is the average Academy student age.

    • Yet another proof that Helen is best girl. That’s definitely worth a box of cookies. Or two.

      As I already mentioned back then, I loved Lillian’s quips during the autopsy – cutting those out would waste that added insight into her character.

    • Brigadier Tylor has been pretty great. Hopefully this play gives Sy enough respect for him to override his hatred of Tylor’s compassion.

  8. In light of last chapter’s outcome, some of Sy’s thoughts here had weird undertones:

    > No place for the wounded to go, no place to sleep, to eat, nowhere to retreat.
    > They weren’t fearless. Humans had basic needs, and the plague men were human.

    “… whereas us Lambs are not.”

    > We were in serious danger of being caught. I could only hope that we could pretend to be scared children.

    “… and commit another war crime.”

    > The Academy forces were an army of monsters and dead men, commanded by people.
    > It was starting to feel like the rebellion was an army of men, commanded by monsters.

    “… monsters and dead men, like us.”

    > “You’ll be treated as prisoners of war and afforded every respect.”

    “… No comment.”

    By the way, now that their mini arc seems to draw to a close, I must say I really liked the dynamics between the Lambs and the Humors – in particular the new notion that they are, in some respects, essentially two similar groups on opposing sides of the war:

    > You give over the children to me. They die. Payment for me losing mine.

    I loved that line. We’ve seen how protective Sy is of his fellow Lambs, and to which lengths he’ll go to protect them. Similar sentiments made Melancholy a formidable opponent.

    Also, I just realized that that line is doubly ironic considering her name is Melancholy…

    • I don’t think Sanguine will take the news nicely. Lost Phlegm, turned him into a pale shadow of himself for tactical purposes. Lost Choler, after his failed trojan infiltration. Lost Melancholy during the following all-out attack.

      If he’s anything like his name would indicate, no more sniping for him. It’s personal now.

      • Led by monsters? Sy I think that’s the pot calling the kettle black. Being human, does not mean one can’t be a monster. Indeed they are some of the worst monsters.

  9. Is it just me, or are there actually undertones of Melancholy NOT really wanting the children to die? There are several clues that gave me that impression:

    She said “…You give over the children to me. They die. Payment for me losing mine.” That did not imply that she was going to kill them right there in the Brigadier’s house, she could be using that as an excuse to remove the Lambs from the Academy’s grip.

    Before that, there was his comment of hers, “There’s something wrong with you… That you’d stay loyal… I know what you’d say if you had the chance…You’re loyal to your friends, not to the Academy?” I stopped fighting, pausing. “I was the same,” she told me.

    This makes me think that the Lambs would not be loyal to the Academy if there had a choice, friends or not, and that its only a mental block put in place by the Academy that make them unable to rebel. The four humors are Academy-made, and were previously loyal, but something changed. Perhaps the rebels captured them on a job and removed the mental block that made them loyal to the Academy? And she was trying to do the same for the Lambs under the pretext of taking them away to be killed? Just wondering out loud here.

    • If so, then great resolution of the situation, Lambs! *slow clap*
      With any luck the final chapter will have Sanguine offer them his surrender and his home, after which he will be crucified and dragged facedown through Westmoor by a stitched-powered wagon.

    • Sylvester definitely has a mental block, but I don’t think it’s brainwashing so much as having spent years growing up under Hayle’s influence to the point where his worldview and priorities are utterly skewed in favor of Hayle’s views. That said, it’s totally possible that Melancholy had that and was projecting onto Sy.

  10. So damn. Is Wildbow going for a total party kill? Cause he could do it right now. No clue what shape Gordon and Mary are in, though they might be tougher than Meloncholy realizes, and may be able to move. Course the hostile army is still in the way. Oh and a pissed off sniper.

    Once again we see how people are set against each other. The Crown sets the academies against one another. The Academies set their departments and students against each other. And they try to set their experiments against each other. They did it with the humors, and they do it with the Lambs. A group whose efficency depends on how well they work together. I am going to face palm now. Compitition may bring you to new heights but cooperation is key for any groups true success and survival.

    • If Wildbow decides that the Lambs have no way out of this situation and need to die, I would be both surprised and pleased. Even though I read Twig and like Wildbow’s stories, I feel absolutely no sympathy for these characters and wouldn’t mind a change of POV for the rest of the story.

      • My brother, another ardent reader, agrees. He thinks the Lambs are, in his opinion, “dicks”. He is no longer invested in their stories and considers them bullies, apparently has from the time they kidnapped Wendy.
        He accuses them of practising “group sociopathy” and stresses that there’s a difference between being a tight-knit group and being passé about the emotions and lives of others to the exclusion of all else. “A story from the point of view of the bullies”, he concludes.
        Me? I’m just surprised he had such a long reply.

        • I wouldn’t call the Lambs bullies, but they definitely care only about themselves. Even though I can understand why they are the way they are, that by itself is not enough for me to root for them. I would call Twig a story told from the point of view of the lackeys.

          • Well, my thoughts now, not my brother’s:
            First, these are agents, not troops. They are given an objective, and the blame lies with them should they choose the most ‘dick-like’ way of executing it.
            Second, Sy is literally a Strategy Machine. A walking What-If. All I ask, really, is that he sometimes conceives one that does not screw over people who help or pity or spare them.
            By this point I’m hoping it’s Academy drugs, coz if it’s a response to their conditioning, well, even bullies are conditioned.

    • I’m not sure it’s such a problem. Academy experiments aren’t meant to last. They are meant to be constantly replaced by a superior version. Though at some point you need to settle for a version 1.0 and that version must be able to cooperate if it is meant to be part of a group…

      That said, Percy did an amazing job. And the Lambs know how to cooperate, their fate notwithstanding. So I guess the academy isn’t doomed?

      • I’m speculating that they will survive, but this is the second arc with them being treasonous or being offered to leave the academy, complete with lampshading of the question of why they are loyal. I would be surprised if they are with the academy much longer and fully expect them to be forcefully (though not unkindly) introduced to a wider view then just their own survival and challenges (which is why Sy stays, he likes the challenge and the edge that it brings him while still having a safety net and his friends/family)

  11. Ok , i’m a bit lost, can someone explain to me what happened?

    How did Sy get from behind enemy lines, burning the rebel city to the Brigadier?

    • The rebels advanced by quite a lot inside Westmore thanks to their superior plague men+exorcist combo. The city is mostly theirs, however Sylvester/Gordon/Mary’s sapping work hampered their rear line. They got a fair bit back into the city proper from the outer walls, setting empty houses on fire as they went.

      Melancholy backtracked when the fires got noticed and found them. She dealt with Gordon and Mary, then took a “cooperating” Sylvester as hostage to negotiate the Academy forces’ surrender. She led Sylvester all the way to the Brigadier’s lodge, with rebel soldiers everywhere on the way, and the Crown forces tight around said lodge.

      Now Melancholy’s dead, 2 lambs are dying halfway across the city surrounded by blazing buildings, the streets are still teeming with rebel forces who just lost the only reason preventing them from razing the city to the ground.

      Still lost ?

      • To add one more thing to that, Sy et al got behind enemy lines thanks to the soldier that picked them up when Sy put the black crystals in him. The soldier took them behind the front lines so a doctor would check on them.

        • Well, they were quite close to begin with, since they were atop the city walls to see how the siege would go. When the doors got forced open and the gas released, they dropped back only one city block, hiding behind sandbags and keeping the gates in sight.
          When they realised the Academy forces were losing ground, locking them between the gas-immune advancing plague soldiers, and their own firing forces.
          Unexpected tactical failure, really.

          The soldier didn’t have to bring them very far back to the wall-side emergency tent.

  12. I wonder if I’m part of the minority that is rather attached to the lambs (except maybe Gordon). For all his faults, I still find myself rooting for Sy, whether he is on the academy’s side or eventually going to be on the rebellion’s side.

    Although I wouldn’t be surprised or particularly upset if Gordon and Mary did die, because it seems strange that Melancholy would let them live.

    • I think most of us are still in favor of the Lambs. I myself have never really felt the need to attach moral judgement to how much I enjoy them, and have in the past referred to Sylvester as my “precious evil baby.”

    • I think of Sy as child Loki, sure he can be a right bastard if you get on his wrong side but he is mischevious trickster with a penchant for psychological games. Here is to hoping he doesn’t do something bad enough to end up chained to a rock with poison dripping upon him until the end of time.

  13. Wow.

    This has to be a never-seen-before trend. Readers asking the author to stop writing for a bit. *gasp.

    Well, I’ll be devil’s advocate for a bit. I see where you’re coming from, wildbow. People really will fall out of the habit of checking the serial if it goes dark for a while. That’s just how the Internet works.

    Also, this is not like video streams, you can’t just hire a ‘guest writer’ and hope people can tell it’s not you (like they can in videos). Plus the quality of their work is likely to disappoint some, at least. All this assuming you would even think giving the reins to another.

    However, the idea of short, exposé style chapters appeals, and could give you a break, as well as flesh out the story for us, and have you examine the characters in the exposé anew in your own mind while monitoring our reactions to them. Not exactly being idle, I know, but something. And omake-style chapters could eventually be part of your signature when you feel you need to slow down. We’d all understand (because it’s a great idea), and still have something to discuss.

    Another extremely agreeable idea is that of hiring an editor. A patreon goal to hire a good one would kill two birds with one stone: it would clear some of the patreon backlog without ‘screwing us out of a chapter, as well as allow you some time to yourself, for whatever purposes. At least consider these.

    • Brainstorming? I love brainstorming!!!

      Fan art week!
      Wildbow Blog- a day in the life of the world’s greatest (you don’t have to put that) author
      Random Writing Tips!
      Book swap meet! Instead of a normal post, have the forumites recommend some of their favorite books!
      Cooking with Wildbow!
      Mystery Science Theater 9,000, narrated by Jack Slash!
      Cooking with Sy!
      A compilation of Wildbow’s mysterious Reddit posts, encoded and set for a week of mysteeeerious updates
      Cooking with Helen!
      Wildbow Crosswords!
      Wildbow Sudoku!
      Wildbow Chess!
      Wildbow Calvinball!

      That’s all I’ve got for now- but breaks are important (recharge the delicious mental juices as it were) and you totally deserve yours!!!

  14. @Wildbo: I’m sure you understand your ideal workflow better than anyone, which I can totally respect, especially when you consistently produce superb work at a super human pace(and even at your worse, I’d say your work is still at least on par if not above most traditionally published authors).

    I totally disagree with the whole “can’t take vacations if you produce web content” stance however. In my experience, the vast majority of web content producers don’t even try to maintain anything resembling a schedule, the vast majority that attempt a schedule fail to release on time as often as they succeed, and of the maybe 1% of web content producers who consistently release on schedule, most are either corporate backed with teammates that can pick-up the slack for a team member who’s overworked or are releasing smaller, less frequent installments of whatever they’re producing.

    If I had to guess, I’d estimate your average chapter length, frequency of releases, long-term consistency with scheduling, and doing it all as a one-person operation puts you at least at the one-in-a-million level among content producers whether they are web published or traditionally published.

    Out of curiosity, I tried to find career word counts for some famous authors for comparison’s sake(surprisingly difficult it turns out, even for authors with dozens of published novels), though I did find a figure that puts Worm at more than twice the word count of Shakespeare’s combined works.

    As for comments on the story itself, I kinda like that our protagonist ensemble has moments that are hard to call anything other than villainous. Not like there isn’t a mountain of other things I could read if I want to read a protagonist with a boy scout mentality.

    Also, I’m getting really tired of rot13(its hard to copy and paste non-editable text when you can’t use a mouse). Anyone know of a Firefox extention that will add cipher options to the right-click menu for translating the paragraph under the cursor or something similar?

  15. I’m sure this has been asked and answered in one of your many stories, but has anyone ever tried to retell Wildbow stories as comics. None of them would work as television because of the internal thinking that’s so integral to the story, but a comic can still do that and get some good visuals as well.

  16. Personally, I think the large number of internal monologues could work well as narration in a television series, and if I could still see, I would absolutely love to see Worm animated in the style of the DCAU.

    That said, the adaptations I would really want to see is either an unabridged audio book or a fully casted audio drama version. As much as my screen reader was indispensible in allowing me to enjoy Worm and Pact and continues to be indispensible in my enjoyment of Twig, a synthesized computer voice just can’t give the lines the same emotion that a human reader can.

  17. Am I missing something or is there a continuity error in this chapter?

    Unless I’m mistaken, Sy, Gordon, and Mary all discarded their guns in the last chapter before they pulled the whole ‘scared children’ thing. There was no mention of them taking any weapons from the doctor or plague man, nor was there any mention of guns with the incendiary grenades they found. So why do they have guns when Melancholy finds them?

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