Lamb to the Slaughter – 6.2

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“I want the youngest ones out,” Craig said.

There was resistance.  Daisy stiffened.

“If I haven’t had you in on previous leadership meetings, I don’t want you in on this one,” Craig said.  “Git!”

Daisy rose to her feet.  Two more kids joined her in heading for the stairs.

“If there’s any sign of any of you listening in, you bleed,” Craig warned.

An unsteady sort of leadership here.  One enforced with knocks on the head and crude threats.  But it was necessary.  Anything else wouldn’t work on kids like these, who didn’t know other sorts of authority, and the alternative was having no leadership at all.

Thom remained, as did the boy with the locks, who was sitting with Mary, and one other.

“We called them ghosts, at first.  We lost two of the youngest ones, one right after the other,” Craig explained.  “Sent Bertie home.  He’d been here too long, taking too much, not giving.  Figured his dad would give him a hard time and he could come back later.  But he wasn’t to stay here all the time.  He cried, but he went.”

“And he never made it?” Gordon asked.

Craig made a face.  Disgusted.  “I should’ve had him stay.  My gut told me it wasn’t right, sending him back, but I wasn’t thinking about it in terms of the bigger picture, y’know?  I thought it was about him and his dad and his dad roughed him up but he’d survive.  Weighed his survival against ours and what he was costing us by eating out of our cupboards.  Thinking too small, not considering everything else.  Stupid!”

“You know deep down inside that there was no predicting something like this.  You couldn’t have known.”

“I knew!  Not about the ghosts or foxes or Academy.  I knew he was little and he hadn’t got that thick skin we all get at some point.  He ducked his head and he cried and anyone who looked at him knew he was a victim.  Whoever took him knew he was a victim!  He was prey to the whole rest of the world and I knew it and I sent him out there alone!”

“Okay,” Gordon said.  “Then yeah.  It was your fault, at least a little.”

Craig shook his head, but it was in anger at himself.

“You were angry with him,” I said.  “You wanted to give him that thicker skin, you knew you couldn’t coddle him.”

“Doesn’t justify it,” Craig said.

“How far to his place?  Where does his dad live?”

“Four streets over.  Still in the shims.”

“That close?” Gordon asked, surprised.  “Five or ten minutes away?”

Craig nodded.

“You said there was another.”

“There’ve been six I know of,” Craig said.  “Two right from under my nose.  Bert was the first.  We went out looking for him.  I expected to find his body.  Nothing.  But while we were looking, we got a little too far apart from each other.  Len was helping out, never one to stay here overnight, had it pretty good, but he’d play cards with us, join in any games, participate if we were pulling something.”

“Sure,” Gordon said.

“Sharp enough a guy.  Whisked away, not five seconds after I last saw him.  No noise, no scuffle.”

“Len’s mom is torn up about it,” Thom said.

“And you?” Gordon asked Craig.

“Len could look after himself,” Craig said, but his expression betrayed some concern or doubt.  Self-blame, but it didn’t cut as deep as Bert did.  Craig cleared his throat.  “We switched it around, so we didn’t go anywhere except in groups.  When they were in the mood to play with cards or dice, I told them to do it from perches.  Watch over the streets while they played.  Keep an eye out for anything odd.”

“And?” Gordon asked.

“What we saw was people in Academy coats, using Academy carriages.  People with gray coats, loading an unconscious kid into the coach.  Since we started keeping an eye out, we’ve seen the carriages show up now and again.  Usually from a distance.  We try, we lay in wait, but they steer clear.  Can’t seem to pin them down.  But they’re still getting us.  That’s when we started to call them ghosts.”

“All boys?” Lillian asked.

“No.  Girls too,” Craig said.  “Tom and Sam were at one perch.  Got caught up in their game, not watching, Tom says.  Then hands seize him, they tip him off the edge of the roof.  Broken arm, broken leg, wrenched his arm so bad it tore out of the socket.  What are you supposed to do, knowing what we know, that it’s Academy people doing this, and Tom is that hurt?”

There was a waver of emotion in Craig’s voice.  He was younger than some of the leaders of the mice I’d seen.  Experienced, but young.  He didn’t have full control over his emotions, he wasn’t detached, and his skin was thinner than he’d like to pretend.  When he asked what he was supposed to do, the uncertainty was spilling out.  That uncertainty was laced with the raw fear of someone that was responsible for others and failing in their duties.

“What did you end up doing?” I asked.  “With Tom?”

“Sent him to the Hedge.  His mom says he’s there, he’s in repair.  He hasn’t disappeared.”

“I think that was the right thing to do,” Gordon said.

Craig shook his head a little.

“And… I forget the other one’s name?  Who was on the roof with him?” I asked.

“Sam.  She was next oldest, compared to me.  Tom didn’t even see them leave the building.  Whoever attacked him, they and Sam just…”

Craig spread his hands.

“Gone.  A ghost,” Gordon said.

“It was a lot easier when she was around,” Craig said.

“Yeah,” Gordon said.  “I think I remember her.  Scowler, wasn’t she?”

“Face like a dog with its muzzle smashed in,” Craig said.  He glanced at Lillian, “Don’t give me that look.”

“I wasn’t- okay, I was, but you can’t say that about a girl.

“She said worse about herself.  She knew where her strengths were, and none of the whole sitting proper, doing up her hair nice, wearing powder on her face and being sweet stuff was part of it.”

Lillian shifted uncomfortably.  Her hands had been folded in her lap, and she, very casually, shifted her posture, so they were gripping the bench on either side of her legs, instead.

“Feel like I have to ask, so I don’t step on toes,” Gordon said.  “You want help with this one?”

“I don’t think I have any other choice,” Craig said.

Gordon nodded.  He glanced at me, and I nodded confirmation.

“Do you have descriptions?” Jamie asked.

“Tom does, but he’s at the Hedge.  Daisy was one of the ones who kept a lookout.  She’s seen ’em from a distance.  You could ask her.”

Jamie nodded, rising from his seat, bringing notebook and pen with as he headed downstairs.

Gordon heaved out a sigh.  I didn’t miss the fact that one hand was clenched in a weird way.  Another attack, so soon?

Still, he spoke in a very careful, level voice.  “I know you know something about what we do.  That we do work for the Academy.  I know you know well enough not to ask.  Because we’re not telling you particulars.”

Craig nodded, jaw set in a firm line.

This had been a point of contention in the past.  The not-telling part.  In a world where the stars had aligned differently, the pair could have been the best of friends.  In this world, the secrecy had been a wedge.

“Knowing what I know about the Academy, I’ve got to say this, and I know the response you’re going to give, but I’ve got to say it.  I don’t know that there’s any guarantee the Academy did it.”

Craig’s posture shifted, forward-leaning, aggressive, “Academy-controlled town in wartime, Gordon?  Academy coats?  Academy transportation?”

“It’s likely,” Gordon said, “But it’s not a guarantee.”

“Sure, Gordon,” Craig said, in the most disagreeable way possible, without quite being sarcastic.  His hands clenched the fabric of his shorts at his knees.  “Decide what you want.  You have to do what you have to do.  But if anyone gets snatched up while you’re wasting time trying to prove the people you work for didn’t do it, you know I’m going to hold it against you, yeah?  If they’re dead or disappeared?  That’ll be on you.”

“I know,” Gordon said.  He suddenly looked very tired.

“What do you need?”

“Clothes,” I said.  “Clean-ish.  We’re wearing orphanage clothes.  We need orphan clothes, instead.  So we don’t stand out if we happen to be looking around.”

“We don’t have many girl clothes,” Craig said.  “Room under the stairs was where Sam changed when she came over.  Might have something.  Come on down, I’ll get some of my stuff so you can wear it.  Might smell a bit.”

“We’ll live,” Gordon said.

Jamie was in the kitchen with Daisy, grilling her while he sketched.  She wasn’t making him pay for the information, which was a little out of sync with the lessons I’d taught her.  I’d used her on a previous job, way back in the day, because she’d been small enough to go unnoticed.  She’d proven good at listening to the drone of gossip here and there, picking out the important details from the noise, and I’d had her hone those talents.  Whatever she wound up doing, and the shims weren’t a part of Radham that brimmed with opportunity, knowing what was going on and what information other people might be willing to pay for was a skill she could carry with her.

I’d worked with others that weren’t here now.  I’d worked with Thom, but not in a specific capacity.

“Under the stairs?” Lillian clarified.  The area in question was adjacent to the kitchen.

“Yeah.  That’s the girl’s room,” Craig said, waving his hand to indicate the general direction.

I glanced over, and noted that the ‘girl’s room’ wasn’t a room so much as a closet, and that might have been generous.  A pole had been nailed into the doorway to the space, and a curtain hung from it.  Lillian and Helen entered, while Mary joined me in watching Jamie’s sketching.

He was doing it in very loose, broad sketches.  General shape.  Man in a lab coat, drawn in about five loose sweeps of the pen, basic geometric shapes.  When Daisy said the man had been taller and narrower, the hair different, sweeping back, Jamie started anew, elsewhere on the page.  Once that was set, he moved on to details.

He still wasn’t an artist, but there was a process at work.  One that relied on his ability to recreate that which he’d done before, making steady adjustments.

“I only saw him from far away,” Daisy said.  “That’s more or less it?  My head plays tricks on me.  I imagine him as more devilish than I know he was.”

“Memory is a funny thing like that,” Jamie said.  “Tell me about the woman?”

“Women,” Daisy said.

“Women,” Jamie said.

I would have thought that women would get the attention of the other boys in the house, but they were clustered in the kitchen, talking nonchalantly.  It made me think that something was up.  I watched them, trying to figure out what they were doing, until Gordon interrupted, hucking balled-up clothes at me.  I took the first, heaviest ball right in the stomach, then caught the rest out of the air.

I took a step to the right, so some of the boys in the kitchen blocked Mary’s view of me, unclipped my suspenders, and switched shorts in roughly two seconds flat.  I pulled off my shirt, stepping back into view.

“I like how you stepped out of view of me, but you didn’t for Daisy,” Mary observed.  “I see how things are.”

“Do you?” I asked, smiling.

“What I see,” Gordon commented, “Is the skinniest little bastard.  Half of the people in this house don’t even eat regularly, and they’ve got more meat on their bones than you do, Sly.”

I offered him an obscene gesture, pulling on the dark gray sleeveless shirt.  In a proper outfit, it would have been an undershirt at best.  For the here and now, it worked for casual wear in the poorer end of town.  Shorts, shirt, no shoes.

“Jamie,” Gordon said.  But he threw -not tossed but threw– the clothes at me instead.  I caught them, took them over to Jamie, and draped them over his back, as he hunched over his book.

“I’ll change when the girls are through,” Jamie said.

“Shy?” Craig asked, tone just a little mean and mocking.

“Yeah,” Jamie said, softly.  “Shy.”

Gordon might’ve said or done something, because Craig replied, “Fair.”

Helen and Lillian emerged.  Both were wearing bag dresses.  Bottom of the barrel clothing, perhaps in even a literal sense.  When parents were counting every bit of money that came their way, some used the bags that oats or crops came in to put clothes together.  Some of the farmers had caught on, and had taken to printing the dresses in simple patterns.

Helen was, I suspected, going to stand out no matter what she did.  She wore a slightly washed-out dress in a purple floral pattern, and was licking her hands and fingers, running them through her hair.  Lillian’s dress was much the same, but checked in white and green, and considerably more washed out, and she wore her socks to the knee, while Helen’s feet were bare in her shoes.

“I’ll be right back,” Mary said.

“My bag?” Lillian was asking.

“Leave it,” Gordon said.

“But if I need the stuff-”

“A full bag is the sort of thing that people are going to want to take.  Leave it.  Take only the essentials,” Gordon instructed.

The boys in the kitchen were acting different again.  It dawned on me why.  They were very casually leaning over, looking-  I crossed the room, moving to their side, and saw that the curtain, due to the poorly-positioned and bent nails at one end of the rod, didn’t cover the entire gap.

I saw Mary in profile, undressing, felt a shock that was the opposite of unpleasant, momentarily paralyzing me.  A knife’s blade dangling at her bare shoulder glinted, breaking the spell.

I felt annoyance and anger at the boys.  Very casually, I crossed the room, leaned by the doorframe, and pulled the curtain shut.

Lillian was arguing about the bag with Gordon, and Helen was draped over the clothes that I’d draped over Jamie’s back, chin on his shoulders, watching him draw.

Sure that nobody would see and that heads wouldn’t roll, I met the eyes of the glaring boys and glared back, drawing my finger across my throat.

They found other places to be, scattering, some moving back upstairs.

“Thanks for closing the curtain,” Mary murmured, through the curtain, her mouth not far from my ear.

“You could’ve moved, or done it yourself.”

“Thanks anyway,” she said.  I could hear rustling.  “You looked.  I saw.”

“Uh huh.  Sorry.”

“Boys will be curious,” she said, voice light and casual.  “It’s nice to know I’m worth being curious about.”

“Ha ha,” I said.  “I was curious about the knives, that’s all.  You hide them so well.”

“That’s all?  Good.  Then come in, help me.”

“Uh,” I said.  My brain missed a stair, thudding heavily at the next one down.

“Uh,” she said, echoing me, mocking.

“Helen and Lillian usually help you with that,” I said.  “If you need help at all.”

She poked her head out to my right, holding the curtain tight, looked around the room.  “Helen and Lillian are busy.”

Her hand gripped my collar.  She hauled me into the little space, then hauled me a half-foot to one side, so my back was to the gap in the curtain.  “There.”

She was in her underclothes, a camisole and knickers.  She’d removed the ribbon from her hair, and it hung loose around her shoulders.  The space was small enough I didn’t know where to look.

She turned her back to me, hands over her nearly-bare shoulders.  “Here.  Hold it.”

She held out wire.  There were twists of metal at the ends.  I took the wire from her, which was hard, given how fine it was.

“Up,” she said, holding the dress up in front of her.  “Down a little.”

I adjusted as she required.  It was a necklace, of sorts, the pendant a throwing knife, pointing straight down toward her belly button.

“Can you connect the wires without moving it up or down?” she asked.

I did.

“You’re better than Helen, and she’s done this a dozen times,” Mary said.

I was silent, watching as she pulled out more.  There were ribbons and wires, straps and belts.  I realized the band of her knickers was solid, more a belt than anything.  I held her dress against her body as she judged the best possible length for the wires that connected to the belt.

“If it had been just Helen in here, I don’t think you would’ve looked,” Mary said.  “You have that mortal fear of her.”

“Healthy fear,” I said.

“He finally talks!” she said.  Mary sounded merry.  She was damn well enjoying herself, putting me in this situation.

“And if it was just Lillian, you would’ve teased her.  Said something or done something, to get a rise out of her.  Then you would’ve protected her, holding the curtain closed like you did for me.”

“She’s fun to tease.”

“She likes being teased,” Mary said.  She turned around, stepping closer, “Look over my shoulder.  I want the ribbon to run along the same line the collar does.”

I did.  She had the ribbon held out, and I saw what she meant.  A series of blades hung between her shoulderblades.  I adjusted the slack.  She held out another pair of ribbons, to draw out an ‘x’, pinning the blades in place.

“Lil likes being teased?”

“And you tease her,” Mary said.  Her breath was hot against my shoulder.  “But me?  You don’t dread me.  You don’t tease me.”

“You fall somewhere in the middle?” I said, making it a question.

She made a sound I couldn’t figure out.  Something of a ‘phooey’ and a raspberry mixed together.  She turned her back, picking through the knives and ribbons.

“If I had to put it into words, I respect you,” I said.  “There isn’t another one of the Lambs I’d rather avoid going up against, one-on-one.”

She was silent.  Then she slipped a ribbon through the armhole of the camisole, holding it diagonally against her back.  She paused, and I took her signal to mean I should reach out and hold it in place.  She turned her head, and I saw that she was smiling, eyes downcast.

She worked on tying the ribbon, then did another diagonally, the other way, with my help.  She set the knives in place, then looped threads around the blades to keep them at the right angle.

Not a single sheath.  Only blades, twenty-two by my count, close to skin.

She bent down, moving easily despite the close proximity to razor edges, skin brushing against the blades.  She picked up one of Sam’s dresses.  A washed out red, and pulled it on.  I helped tug it into place, so the cheap fabric wouldn’t drag against any knifepoints.  Without being asked, I did up the buttons at the back.  Mary took the time to do up her hair in a loose, wild ponytail, wavy brown hair lasso’ed with a strip of lace torn from a dress that was already going to rags.

“Did it bother you?  The knives, the blades against skin?  Back when you started, I mean.  Was it something you had to get used to?” I asked.  Mostly to fill the quiet.

“I always liked it,” Mary said.

She had a knife in her hand, and she hadn’t had one a second ago.  She reached out, and I didn’t flinch, as she ran it down the inside of my right arm.

“Sy,” she said, voice very quiet, eyes on the blade, as she moved it ever slower.


“What’s going on with Gordon?”

“Don’t know if it’s my place to say.”

She adjusted the position of the knife, pricked me, made me jump.

When I met her eyes, they were very close.  Her face was an inch from mine.  She was taller than me.  Her breath touched the bridge of my nose and eyelashes.  She was angry, annoyed.

“He’s going to pieces,” she said, without a trace of that anger in her voice.

“Yeah,” I said.

“How long?” she asked.

How long?

“It can vary.  He might get lucky, they might figure something out-”

“Weeks?  Months?  Years?”  She moved the knife away.  She raised it to the ponytail at the back, working with two ‘s’ shaped bits of wire.

“Not years,” I said.

She nodded, lowering her hands, the knife left where she’d placed it, hidden in her ribbon-tamed mane of hair.

“If you’re looking for the courage to say something to him,” I said.  “Or if you’re wondering what kind of window of opportunity you have, I can’t say for sure, but sooner is better.”

She put her hands on my shoulders, pushing me away.  The space was confined enough that my head hit one of the stairs that slashed up through one upper corner of the little box of a room.  “What?”

“If you want to say you like him.”

“And you were mocking Gordon for being a doof,” she said.

It was my turn to ask, “What?”


“I know you like him.  He’s handsome, he’s fantastic, you go together like peas in a pod.”

“I’m not saying you’re wrong,” she said.  “I’m saying that at this particular moment in time, Sy?  You’re a bigger doof than Gordon.”

“That is a baldfaced lie.  I’m never a bigger doof than Gordon.”

“What do you think this was, here, Sy?” she said.  “Seriously.  I’m trying to figure out what’s going through your head.”

My voice was soft.  I had a hard time meeting her eyes.  I swallowed hard.  “I think it was you inviting me in, lowering your defenses, and being beautiful and girly in a way that was very ‘Mary’.  It’s- I don’t want to be weird, but every time I see a pretty girl, or have a nice moment with a girl, I’ll compare it to this.  And a lot of the time, I’ll be comparing those things to this and they’ll be worse off for it.”

She started to speak, then stopped.  She frowned at me.

“There’s a lot to be said for you being you, and getting to see a side of you nobody else has.  Mary’s pretty neat, you know,” I said.

She sighed.  “See?  That wasn’t a doof answer.  I was prepared to yell at you, and now I’m not sure what to say.”

“Well, you can start by not saying doof anymore.  It’s annoying.  You doof.”

She poked me.

“You didn’t answer the question,” she said.

“Did too.”

She pricked me again, just the tip of a knife, making me jump and bang my head on the stair a second time.

“Ow,” I said.  “Someone’s going to hear that and wonder.”

“Answer the question.  Why did I bring you in here?” she grilled me, still holding the knife.

“Because you think you like me,” I said.

She moved the knife to my throat, threatening.  “I like you, Sy.”

Only Mary would say as much with a knife to someone’s throat.

“You do.  Some.  And,” I said, “When we’re in danger, Gordon’s the one you turn to.  Gordon’s the one you ask about, the one you leap to the defense of.  He’s your first pick when we’re pairing off.  He’s the one you show interest in.  When Shipman was there, you stepped into the background more.  When she left the picture, earlier today, well, you started wanting to show off to boys.  Even if it meant giving some strange boys a thrill by allowing them a peek, knowing you probably wouldn’t see them again.  Letting Sy in as you’re getting dressed, telling yourself you have confidence and that you’re pretty, which you are.  I don’t think you’re aware, but Gordon’s more important to you than I am.”

“No,” she said.

“Yes,” I said, intense, then again, less intense, “Yes.”

She shifted her grip on the knife, frowning.  I saw her move a little in frustration, not sure where to go or what to do.  I thought she’d storm out.

Instead, she held the knife to my throat again.  “This is supposed to be one of those times where you lie.  You bend the rules and you play unfair and you keep your stupid mouth shut, and you and I fumble our way along and there’s more like more of this and it’s good.”

“If I could’ve, I would,” I told her.  “Really.”

“You should’ve,” she said.

“But we don’t have the luxury of time.  The Lambs won’t be around forever, and within a couple of years, maybe a couple of months, or weeks, or days, or hours, there’ll be one less Lamb.  Then one less, then one less,” I said.  I paused.  I didn’t like saying the words.  “Like I said… the sooner the better.”

Her expression shifted.  Just a bit.  A little bit of fragility.

I wondered, for a moment, if the expiry dates had ever really sunk home for her.

“Sorry,” I whispered.

Her head bowed, her forehead coming to rest against mine.

“Sorry,” I whispered, gain.  I reached out to rub her upper arms, felt knives under fabric, and shifted to her shoulders instead.

She nodded, the movement of her head making mine move in turn.

She stayed like that for several more seconds, then straightened, stepping away, head turning as she rubbed at the corner of one eye.  I watched as her expression changed.  Neutral, safe.  A poker face as good as any I’d seen on her.

“If you’ll excuse me,” she said.

“You’re excused,” I said, smiling a bit.

“We need to catch these ‘ghosts’,” she said.  “Because I damn well want to stab something right now.”

Then she swept the curtain aside and stepped out into the kitchen.

There was jeering.  I heard the ‘thock’ of a knife striking a surface, and most of the jeering stopped.

I drew in a deep breath, then stepped out of the little room.

More jeering.  I didn’t have a knife to fling at them.

Jamie approached, bundle of clothes in his arms.  He paused to lean close as he reached me, to say, “You’re blushing.”

“Am not,” I said.

He stepped inside.  I held the curtain closed as I had with Mary.

“Yeah,” he said.  “You’re not.  I wanted to get a dig in.”

“Too frigging bad,” I told him.

“You okay?” he asked.

I cocked my head to one side.  I mulled over the question for a bit.

“Not sure,” I said.

“We’ll distract you with a good mystery,’ Jamie said.  “How’s that?  Foxhunt.”

I smiled.

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131 thoughts on “Lamb to the Slaughter – 6.2

  1. Sy and Mary having a genuine talk about expectations and what they wanted was surprisingly sweet. I have to say, though, I didn’t see Mary/Gordon coming-I’d have gone for Mary/Jamie, for how she shows a lot of affection towards his and Lillian’s consciences.

    • Jamie’s a eunuch. Jamie/anybody’s not going to happen. Somebody male/Jamie is physically possible, but seems dubious given that he’s probably not going to develop a sex drive, having been castrated prior to puberty.

      • Um. There are ways and ways. Any disability can be addressed in the bedroom in ways to suit any combination of gender and orientation with just a little imagination. Props optional; usually not even essential. 🙂

      • Uh, romantic pairings do not stop and end at sex. There are such things as asexual people, and many of them have a romantic life. I’ve got an asexual friend who is married.

        • Well I did think of something. Due to the nature of the Catapiller Project Jamie could end up with his mind stuck in the Brain Bank. But if that can be transferred in, it can be transferred out, into a new, fully functional body.

          Yeah, I’m being wishful.

        • Who said anything about sex? He’s never even going to hit puberty so the changes that make your brain capable of romantic love won’t happen either.

          • He might get lucky and hit fourteen. We don’t know what the age of consent actually is in this particular place in this setting is. And, those were often quite low, historically, even in ours. *shrugs*

            Don’t judge their culture by our standards; we don’t have meat trees or stitched, either. 😉

          • I’m not sure about that. I think we have some historical examples of castratos who at least claimed to experience romantic love.

  2. First time being awake late enough to read these as they come out (5am here).

    Loved this chapter, enjoyed reading a frank discussion of relationships within the group without it feeling forced, which is maybe ironic seeing as how Mary ‘forced’ the topic, but that was in-character.

    keep up the good work 🙂

  3. Ok, so, that’s mary cleared in story reasons to be able to die a horrible death.

    I hope more character’s plot armor get stripped away 😀

      • Maybe a feint, unless Percy, who has some history in kidnapping children, is involved. If Percy come into the picture all bets are off.

        Plus where did he send those original kids anyway? Could that be where these orphans are ending up? Do we get to meet Alternate Mary to make things awkward?

          • Yes, but LambMary is what we are familiar with, and I just wanted to think of them as AM/PM… Authentic Mary and Percy Mary or something… OM and LM just doesn’t have the same ring : P

            Although it probably doesn’t matter as she was likely stripped for parts a long time ago.

  4. Sy has just creeped back into pole position as favourite character with this chapter. Wish I could keep it as real as him.

    Now I have a reason to rail for Gordon’s survival.

  5. “We’ll live,” Gordon said.
    Ha-ha, no you won’t. Oops.

    Typo thread ?

    there’s more like more of this

    “Sorry,” I whispered, gain.

  6. We get some sad insight into how Sy sees relationships and how Mary adapts to them.

    In short: Not well.

    Lilian liking being teased is a strange revelation but eh, I guess it’s plausible. Helen terrifying Sy is obvious.

    I still think Jaimie likes Lilian (he’s often the one to defend her) but that should take a backseat to the fact that there are men and women out there violently kidnapping orphans/street rats in broad daylight.

    Things aren’t looking too good.

  7. omigod. Sy. Sy.

    You are the most adorable.

    Just… everything about this chapter plucked at my heartstrings. The way Sy just drops all pretense is so incredibly sweet.

  8. Eesh, Craig. No, it’s not on Gordon’s head if a child disappears. He’s helping you out, you doof.

    I think I’ve heard the thing about farmers printing patterns on bags before! I don’t know if it was within Twig, or if it is a real story, but it’s pretty neat and sweet. Talking about sweet, Sy and Mary’s interaction was incredibly sweet and interesting, but, I’m not sure I agree with Sy. Even if his read is right, and it might well just be him defending himself because he’s scared of starting a relationship, it’s good for the lambs to experiment. I get his point and he’s trying to do what he thinks is best, but… Also, Jamie ❤

    I wonder if Mary has any scars from those blades. And does anyone know how she can unhook them at a moment's notice?

    I think it's time I come out clean and say it. I… I'm not really a fox. I'm a snake. Ssss. Please don't hunt me down, my species, erm, foxes have had a long history of being hunted :<

    • The printing on flour bags happened in our world. I’m a bit surprised that in the Twigverse it wasn’t used for a sinister scheme (we know of).

      Yeah, the interaction was pretty interesting. At first I just thought Sy was oblivious, that it got almost cringeworthy, but Sy got more depth than I expected.

      Yeah, you’re a talking fourlegged furred canine Zimsnake. A very rare species, so rare that there is only specimen known to mankind. Mmmmh, so rare that it might be an artificial species…maybe created by a rogue scientist.
      Better send the lambs to investigate after their current assignment.

      Just asking myself if in the Twigverse they can bring extinct species back to life. And if that would be cool or terrifying (or both).

      • “I’m a bit surprised that in the Twigverse it wasn’t used for a sinister scheme (we know of).”

        Eh, I’d be willing to bet that most academies would consider it irrelevant. There are easier (if less subtle) ways of defining people’s sources of food and such.

        • They’re probably using clothing like that as a way to identify who’s safe to take. After all, you wouldn’t want to snatch the child of somebody important. That would be an awkward discussion and/or manhunt depending on who’s taking them.

      • No, they bring extinct species back to life, take notes, and kill them for the material. Engineered animals are so much more efficient than real ones, extinct or no.

  9. Sy and Mary’s interaction was pretty interesting. It seems Sy has more depth than I expected from him.
    I can’t decide if he just wants Mary (and Gordon) to be happy, and use the remaining time they have to the fullest (which also could help Gordon over the break-up), or if he is just self-conscious about himself, that a relationship with him wouldn’t work.

    Also, Mary always liked the feeling of knives against her skin? Sy, Helen isn’t the only girl you should be afraid of.

    • Well, Sy’s tragic flaw seems to be that he understands everyone else but doesn’t understand himself. So he can tease out Mary’s complicated feelings, but he can’t define what he wants in relation to them. Which is a problem for him acting on it.

      That’s why when Jamie asks if he’s okay, he cocks his head and thinks about it, and comes up with “I don’t know”. He really doesn’t.

      If I were him I would narrate my actions out to myself as if some third person were doing then… I bet if he looked at his behaviors from the outside he’d be aghast at all the behavioral tells that leak out of him.

    • He’s self conscious about himself alright, but not just on about relationship with mary level, but a whole lot more, i think. All these arcs have been quite consistent on driving home a point about sy being unable to cope with himself and his self-worth, despite him being the goddamn biopunk mentalist. Because his now many times over established bad experiences with personal interactions have left himself dreading to be an object of anything personal exept for the lambs’ skinship(as made clear in the last arch) he is unable to fathom anyone having such feelings for him genuinely, like “it must be a mistake on their part” way. His feelings of inferiority and envy of others(especially our little action hero) don’t help either.

  10. Wilbow, now that I have reached the end, I have a message too you: your works are on the top 5 stories I have eaten, and I have eaten MANY. I put all your stories together on the top spot, as I do with every other author that reaches it, to avod more space from being taken. Your writing is superb

    That said, I still think Worm was your best work. Truth is, Twig’s writing is much better… so I wondered why that is. I thought about it a lot ” why do I like Worm more, even though Twig is that good and Wilbow has become a better author?” with Pact, I could rationalise it as “second album syndrome”, as it was good, but somewhat rough (though it was still 5000% better than the average commercial book, Wilbow, you are the awesome). So I tried to think about it, and I think I figured out what gave Worm an edge.Though thats just my opinion and, regardless of it, you should of course write what you like otherwise it’ll be worse due to you disliking writing it, and anything you writes will be a masterpiece anyway.Other readers are, of course, free to disagree. I just want to input my thoughts

    I think that one of your biggest talents is “perspective writing” , that is, writing a character from his perspective and making us understand exactly how he feels. That, I think, is what made Worm so good, ultilizing your greatest of your great talents to the max. By contrast, Pact’s histories are impersonal,, and the only persons we had an interlude from in Twig that meaningfully appeared later were Fray’s helper (whose interlude made a terrible difference in most lines about him) and Cynthia (who we’d barely seen both before , during, and after the interlude). By contrast, in Worm, we understood how every character thought and acted even if it was not in his interlude because an interlude of yours helped us understand him more than 10 arcs of the main character interacting with him. What made it so good, in my opinion, which others might disagree with, was its high number of interludes that ensured we knew how almost everyone thought (except a few people that appeared towards the end) and thus read them even from an outside perspective.

    Anyway, keep up the awesome work, you are an inspiration to humanity.

  11. Well I was right, after last chapter’s Sy/Lillian teasing, this chapter had some serious Sy/Mary tease. And then it being sunk!? NOOOOO! Then again Sy is clearly interested in Mary, despite everything he said, and he really didn’t deny it. I wonder just how true his claims she likes Gordon more are. Granted if Sy can be attracted to both Lily and Mary, Mary can have feelings for both Sy and Gordon. Wildbow’s tween romance drama continues.

    Oh and some stuff about missing kids, probably ending in an uspeakable abomination of science.

  12. At first i was Omg Sy you dense little child. But then i was like, Huh thats kinda deep and well though out… and sad, realy depressing, and sad and sweet, but sad too. Did i mention sad?

    So i dont normaly ship, dont like the idea of a “one true pairing” but when i do ship,
    Its always Helen and cake

      • I don’t think she is asexual, she is different. I don’t know if she understands relationships in a human way. I wonder if she is capable of a one on one romantic relationship or if its more a case of (when she is older) seduce, enjoy, murder. Possibly more mantis than human in that regard

        • It’ll probably be something horrifying, like she goes into heat, then eats her mate when she’s done, and goes off to find a suitable host to lay the eggs in.

          Or she just craves cake more than usual.

        • I was joking; memes from the asexual community feature cake predominantly since we prefer it to sex. For example, there’s one that says “I’d Rather Be Eating Cake” with a picture of a cake with the asexual colors.

          • For the record, black is for asexuality. Grey is for grey asexuality and demisexuality. White is for non-asexual partners and allies. Purple is for community. Grey asexuality is when a person very rarely experiences sexual attraction to a person. Demisexuality is when a person only feels sexual attraction to someone after making a romantic bond. The more you know.

          • I can’t help but wonder why the exact labels are necessary. Why not just ‘asexual’, and include your black and gray and white under that umbrella? I feel like labels and the expectations and preconceived notions we attach to them are the problem. Isn’t it better to just accept everyone, avoid segregating within communities, and we just take people at face value when they say ‘I don’t like sex’ or ‘I like men’ or ‘I like women’ or ‘I don’t really see myself as male or female, those ideas aren’t really important to who I am?’

          • Generally speaking we do, but the terms do exist and people will identify how they want. For a lot of people knowing that the precise way they feel is something that others feel enough that it has a name is comforting.

          • To add to Glassware’s very accurate answer, labels actually make life easier, just as they make it harder. No need to say “I’m attracted to anyone but only after I’ve developed a strong emotional connection to then” when you can just say I’m demisexual, for example. Labels should be taken as a general guideline, though, in my opinion. When one looks into the details of sexuality, lines often start to blur.

          • Except 99% of the time, outside of specific communities, people are just going to scratch their head at ‘Demisexual’, and need an explanation anyway.

          • Well, perhaps, but I’d assume that the vocabulary becomes more common over time and spreads outside of its niche (as just happened right here). Now everyone reading this (me included) knows what asexual colours are, and we are vectors for spreading this idea. I agree gender and sexuality labels are kind of a hassle, and at some point I start not to get it, but personally it’s not enough of a deal not to try to please people. But never mind that, I think Glassware makes a much better argument, I just wanted to add to it. Labels facilitate discrimination (or perhaps are a often a consequence of it? Or both?) but they don’t really lead to it, in my opinion, and many people are comfortable them.

            Also, and I’m just thinking out loud here rather than trying to form a proper argument, isn’t an explanation of what I’m attracted to a label of more than one word? I mean, the set of lesbians is the set of people who identify as women and are attracted exclusively to women. Saying I am a lesbian or saying I (am a woman who) likes women is equivalent (by definition), at least, when thinking just about logical abstractions. If you want to avoid labels, you (maybe?) have to avoid describing things altogether. I guess there is some psychological effect about giving a thing it’s own name, which is why Glassware says it makes people comfortable and you say it might lead to segregation.

            By the by, I don’t mean to misunderstand anything anyone has said 😀 Zim is pretty exhausted so Zim apologises if he got something wrong. Zim is also picking up the habit of speaking in third person.

          • Also, to add to the label conversation, ‘asexual’ and all its flavours has to be one of the least polarising labels I’ve ever heard of. How could anyone hate? I stand to be corrected, I demise
            As an aside, after learning about the ‘demisexual’ I remembered a friend who described her attractions to me once, and this clicked. So I texted her and asked, “Are you demisexual?”
            Based on the excitedness of her response it seems she doesn’t much mind the label and now I feel like a goddamn genius B[

          • Now, this is a really interesting conversation. Now to add my two cents, for better or worse.

            Labels are useful in that they aid people in finding people of similar mind and help make that subset more powerful cause it binds them together. This can make that group more powerful and able to fight people and policies against that set of people be it purposeful or just neglecting their needs.

            Meanwhile all discrimination needs is the right mindset and the ability to label someone as “not like me”. This can be anything from political opinion, color of skin, the way someone dresses, or even the fact that they enjoy fruitcake. Labels make it easier to discriminate, but it is likely better for the other group to be able to rally around a name and a sense of identity then to be neglected with few people able to understand where they are coming from.

            The biggest problem is the Judean People’s Front problem when you get animosity under an umbrella with more intense and ferocious infighting then you have against problems that affect the group as a whole. Labels are an outright problem then.

            Other then the Judean People’s Front problem, I don’t have a problem with people trying to figure out how they identify themselves and processing who they are by trying things on and seeing what fits and what doesn’t. It is easier to try on hats then to fashion your own.

            So, um… yeah… end pontification and begin regret for having posted this and the picking apart of where i’m wrong : P

          • The problem is, people love labels. They want that everything fits in a predetermined scheme. Because, let’s be honest, the world and it’s inhabitants are too complex that we truly can appreciate every individual facet of every person we met. It’s simply a way to communicate more efficient. Maybe the specific label doesn’t fit a person 100%, but if there are differences we learn them soon if we get to know that person.
            Also it helps to build a community if you have a name. That’s why so many Fan Communities have a Nickname. That builds comradery that we share an unique label. Or it’s an easy way to show that you have something in common. “Hey, you have Anatidaephobia? Me too! Let’s be buddies (and watch our backs, there might be ducks out there!” (A bit exaggerated, but the concept is clear. And for those who don’t know, Anatidaephobia is the fear that a duck is watching you)
            The problem with labels doesn’t come from the labels, it comes if we attach negative stereotypes to that label. For example, how the internet hates furries, because…well, just because. Suddenly the label harms the people it describes, maybe even driving them off.
            The only way to counteract this, is to know that the Labels don’t make the person. The person makes the person. He can be asexual, gay, lesbian, furry, christian, atheist, anatidaephobic, friendly, smart, helpful and each has no connection to each other. That we never judge based on the labels, knowing that each just describes a facet of that person, and nothing more.

            Sorry, I rambled a bit. It got lengthier than I expected.

          • See, part of the reason I ask is that I remember being in my 20s, aimless, directionless, struggling in various ways, and I can remember trying to find an explanation for why I was in that state. I wondered if I had an illness or if it was social anxiety or if I had Aspergers, and after objective research I confirmed no, yes, no, and found the real answer, which was that my hearing loss was worse than anyone had initially thought, and I was testing well on the word/sentence tests that gauged my hearing because of how well I’d learned to use my brain to tease out answers or figure out what people were saying. I got a cochlear implant and life got a lot easier. Figuring out how to get over anxiety that very nearly had me unwilling to go outside has been a slower road, but I’ve found comfort and peace in my own skin. But for my dog, with walks giving me a reason to step outside on the regular, for odd jobs, and for visiting with family, I don’t know if I would’ve made it.

            I know what it is to be stuck, frustrated, or lost, looking for something to latch on to, and I think a lot of people do this by labeling themselves with a variety of labels, and sometimes those are sub-sexualities and non-neurotpyical labels. Others do it in terms of how they approach society by latching on to causes and ideologies, religion and activism and whatever else. I can’t help but wonder if it’s unhealthy for people to latch onto something so niche that it becomes its own in-group. A sub-community or division within a division within a division of society. Tumblr can be really bad for this, because it’s so easy for a tumblr community to just become an echo chamber, and I do see a lot of this echo-chamber thinking sorta going hand in hand with these GBLTAQwhatever sub-sub-labels and more obscure, out-there identities.

            If you slap yourself with a label that nobody else understands (beyond people that reinforce or exaggerate that label), or if you skip actually figuring yourself out (as I came to do with anxiety and my hearing loss) in favor of embracing a label, isn’t that also a very negative thing?

          • I know how social problems feel, I’m myself pretty shy and withdrawn when interacting with people outside of my (small) circle of friends. They even compared me to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Even commenting here first cost me quite some effort.

            And also I think I’m not the best person to talk about that themes, I only have superficial knowledge about all that subsexualities.
            Like I said before, people like labels. Maybe that’s why people still have religions. Also here I’m maybe not the best person to talk about that. It took me several years to figure out that there are people who still truly believe in religion, and that despite my religious parents. So, you can see my words as an outside perspective on all that, and I hope I offend nobody with my words.

            Maybe some people still need those labels, be they religion, ideologies or whatever. They need the feeling to belong to a group bigger than themself. Something they can talk about, something they can fight for, something they stand for. It’s easier than to admit that you are alone out there.
            For the obscure labels that create an echo chamber. Maybe that’s what the person want. There are people who want to be special or unique, and maybe they even create their own subgroups to make sure that they are still unique.
            Or maybe they look for affection and acceptance, where in an echo chamber of likeminded people they won’t be ostracized and instead are surrounded by people that support them and don’t challenge their views.
            Imagine a teenager, confused about the world and his place in it, that’s looking for his place in the world. He will latch onto anything that gives him the feeling that he found his place, and probably stay there because of his newfound friends, because he now truly believes, or maybe just afraid to start the search again.

            I agree that figuring yourself out is important, I myself often think about and trace back where my different traits come from, and I’ve gone so far back that I hit the limits of my memory. I rarely use labels to describe myself and if I do, it’s often just the short answer to a long question. But there I also learned that figuring yourself out is very hard.
            It takes a lot of effort to reflect on yourself. And you will face many hard or awful truths about yourself. Even I don’t know how to deal with some of my inner demons. Maybe not every person has the willpower for that, and even when they have it, it’s a long journey. And then you aren’t set in stone, you grow and evolve as a person. It’s a continous process.

            Maybe labels are like everything else in the world, it can be good, it can be bad. It entirely depends on how you use it.

          • Sometimes, though, that search can be ended with a label. I’m not entirely thrilled with them, I’ll admit, but they can help. In most of high school, I felt weird and uncomfortable when we talked about sex because I didn’t have sexual fantasies the way other girls talked about. When I heard the term asexual, it clicked. I felt relieved there was an explanation and that I wasn’t alone. My friend who is demisexual also finds comfort in her label. Of course, it isn’t perfect. One of my friends, for example, is gender-fluid who is romantically attracted to women but sexually attracted to males. Labels can provide answers, even if they aren’t perfect.

          • Humans: the curse of self-awareness.
            It all started with the guy (or likely girl) who looked into a pool and thought, “What am I?”
            That would have been fine, but then we just had to turn to our neighbours and wonder, “… and them? Who are they?”
            And oooh boy, when we found out we are not exactly the same; “Wait, does that make me better or worse than them?”
            It makes you different.

            To add to your comment wildbow: I wear glasses nowadays, but it took forever before my parents figured out that my eyesight was bad. Much like you learned to ‘fill in the gaps’ when it came to speech, I had to learn to recognize people at a distance based on their stance, their ‘walking style’, and the sort of colours they liked to wear, that sort of thing. I almost feel like this inference from context thing was a superpower I gained, now.
            You likely became a great listener, as a result of your hearing problems. Huzzah to adapting to weaknesses and turning them into strengths.
            I wonder (like I wonder about all tidbits you give us about yourself) how it affects your writing.

          • @Wildbow, I have thought often in the same terms as you explained, especially about a certain subculture which is therians. I wonder to myself, is it really healthy to associate with that? Therians are people who, as far as I understand, think they truly are something other than human, be it a mythological creature, animal (furries aren’t therians, nor the other way around, but of course there is an intersection), or some made up species, humanoid or otherwise. I wonder, “these things don’t exist. Is it really healthy to let people want to be these, if they’ll never be them? Should psychology steer them away from these thoughts, or promote them?” I think the consensus in psychology is to let people believe whatever they want as long as it isn’t harmful?

            I’d like to add to the discussion per se that figuring yourself out and putting on a label on yourself are not really mutually exclusive options. I am neither knowledgeable enough (or do I have the time.. Zim just started uni and is already dead tired) to go into the specifics of what might be positive and what negative, but labels, even obscure ones, might be the end-result of figuring yourself out. They are positive if used properly, I guess, as with pretty much everything (that’s kinda a tautology) :3

            I also want to drop in a bit of personal experience. Practically all of my journey into my sexuality and gender identity has been thanks to the furry fandom. I went from being a young kid who thought of himself as straight despite not really having much of an interest in women to a fabulously gay crossdressing man who likes being referenced with female pronouns, considers himself a leeeettle gender-fluid among a buncha other things that no one cares to hear about. And there’s many reasons behind that, but importantly among them is finding people (or art), which often goes under a label, and feeling associated with it, or wanting to explore it more. It hasn’t been a negative experience for me, because I don’t try to explain away any of my problems under these labels. If anything, I’ve developed a healthy, moderate “fuck the world, I’m not letting people’s opinions stopping me from having fun” attitude.

          • It occurs to me that people are literally born with a label, their personal name, as well as a surname, the label of our families. It also occurs to me that sexuality is particularly weird in it’s mix of taboo and personalness and nature and nurture and interpersonalness that it’s really easy to be confused without some guideposts to see where you are and to help you shuffle to where you feel comfortable. Labels can be like large pillars on a plane attracting us to a section and finding lower sections until we can finally abandon are able to abandon labels as we can understand ourselves better then labels could describe us. Except somethings are much more complicated than 2 dimensions and are perhaps 3 or more making things much more difficult.

            As for a personal name, the basest of labels, would i be able to be found? would i really matter to anyone if i didn’t have one? I’d just be known as that human (even though human is a label itself… hmmm… being is also… I guess it’s something that can’t be escaped without destroying your existence ever happened.) I don’t know… I think labels comes with being an intelligent creature and having to define anything from “food” to “not food” to “threat” and the need to communicate that to others. Maybe people take to it with a bit too much zeal but I think that is part of how humans were designed as we tend to get a weird thrill about naming things from dogs to cats to dinosaurs to asteroids to weather. Maybe it gives us a sense of control over the thing; a sense of ownership. This might be why people want to label things like their sexuality even if it’s a small group, they feel they can own it and understand it and can express it.

            Damn… that is another two cents i added… I’m two cents in the hole now.

          • “and we just take people at face value when they say ‘I don’t like sex’ or ‘I like men’ or ‘I like women’ or ‘I don’t really see myself as male or female, those ideas aren’t really important to who I am?’”

            Dat foreshadowing.

  13. This is by far one of my favorite Twig chapters so far. You are fantastic at writing dialog and creating character interations – which is something that I’ve been missing in Twig. Granted, we do get to spend a lot of time in Sly’s head and witnessing his manipulations, but it is not the same as having an extended two-way dialog like in this chapter.

  14. Even relationship-wise, Wildbow still manages to pull off a plot twist which spurs me to re-read Twig again! The romance part doesn’t feel played up; it’s still written at the same level of greatness as the rest of the story.

  15. One of my two favorites. You’re still quite amazing at vivid fight scenes — huh. Maybe four favorites? One of my top five, anyway. Probably the first among my top five?

    See, it shouldn’t be this difficult to decide, so you must be a good writer, Wildbow.

    I seriously read Worm in just over a week — you’d have “can’t put it down” status if you hadn’t written SO MUCH WORDAGE that sleep had to intervene on a regular basis. Keep it up!

    • Okay, I seriously don’t get how people read Worm so quickly! I spent maybe four to six hours a day reading Worm (maybe less because there were days I didn’t) and it took me like two months!

    • Worm is 1.68 million words long. Let’s say you’re reading it as if it’s a full-time job, plus a bunch of overtime. So maybe “a little over a week” works out to 80 hours of reading. That’s an average of 350 words per minute, or almost 6 words EVERY SECOND. So tell us, which entity gave you the amazing ability of parahuman reading comprehension?

      At 350 wpm you’re really only skimming anything. And that’s without budgeting any time for thinking, reflection, questioning, appreciating, or any of the other hallmarks of understanding. So no, I’m sorry, but if that’s truly possible, it’s not really “reading” in any normal sense.

      • Last I checked, I read about 600 to 800 wpm, depending on what I read, but then I’m a pretty fast reader. I type 100 wpm, but that’s not enough to keep up with most speakers, since a slow speaker talks at least 150 wpm or so. Looking at everyone else, a quick speaker talks at 200 to 300 words and I don’t think it’s that strange for people to be able to read faster than a quick speaker talks.

        I don’t have any problem reading and vocalizing as fast as the Micro Machine guy talks, and I can read faster than I can talk if I don’t bother vocalizing.

      • Tell you what, we can set up a time, I’ll start a Hangout on Air that others can get into, you can pick something online, I’ll pull it up on my computer, you can listen to me read it quickly to you, then we can see how good my comprehension and retention are. I’ll need a couple dollars on PayPal though, to pay for the data I’ll be using on my phone plan. The text has to be roughly normal, nothing like a treatise on Welsh towns with a ton of long names that I’m trying to sound out; roughly on the same reading level as Worm would be appropriate.

  16. Haha, this was chapter was pretty brilliant. I liked the dynamic between Mary and Sy.

    Though I’m so suspicious of Sy at this point that I suspect more manipulation by him, namely, that she *does* like him, and he’s trying to convince her otherwise. 🙂

    One point worth discussing: how does Sy’s pessimistic attitude towards the expiry dates here fit with him turning down Ms. Fray’s offer to help them? Back then, he seemed *insanely* optimistic, essentially saying that scientific progress by the Academy would fix them.

  17. Well, I’m usually not much of a shipper, but for once I really want Sy and Mary to be a thing. Helen x Cake only gets you so far in a story, and I’d be lying if I named anyone bit these two the most relatable characters in Twig.
    That aside, this chapter was flat out amazing. As others have said before, I’m also suspecting these ghosts working for things that’ll end up benefiting the Lambs, but I’ve come to expect the unexpected, even if it’s what everyone expected but dismissed as ‘too predictable’ but with a twist. Love you Wildbow (and I seriously hope this unworthy me can meet you in person one day).

  18. Oh, so they’re with the mice. I was thinking they were hanging with the foxes. (Wasn’t there a fox carved on the door?). This makes much more sense. Although to be fair I could also see the Lambs hanging out with foxes.

    So much relationship stuff in this chapter. I love any exploration of group members/dynamics. Fits in nicely with all the horrible monsters, somehow. I wasn’t expecting Mary/Gordon at all, but I’m not surprised by it in any way. And then there’s more evidence (fuel) for Sy/Lil. I find it a little bit interesting that Sy apparently hadn’t picked up on Lil’s enjoyment of teasing, especially after his all his insights into Mary. Honestly at least a small part of the reason I’m wildly anticipating Evette is to see where she fits into the shipping (if we’re laying bets I’m saying with Jaime).

    I’m really hoping that Lil gets to be a member of the ‘squad’ this arc. She’s the only Lamb that hasn’t had a turn, and I feel like she’s the one we know least about (or Helen, sort of, but that’s a different). I don’t think we’ve even been given a physical description beyond shortest of the girls, and still a bit award. Plus I’m a big fan of Lillian.

    It seems like Sy’s being way more “open” than he has been. I guess that talk at the end of the last arc had an impact on him/the group. I wonder if they’ve changed who he’s going to be partnered with, in any way. And is he still wearing that ring?

    • Oooh, I completely forgot he stole one of Melancholy’s rings off her corpse. I hope that comes up in the context of “Sy, why are you robbing the dead?”

      • I really want to hear the reason. I feel like we know in the broadest sense what the ring symbolizes – it seems to me that it’s tied to his conscious somehow – but I want to know the specifics. I wonder if Sy himself knows exactly why he picked up the ring. He’s not the most self-aware character of all time.

  19. One thing I’ve always wondered about was why Mary didn’t shoot Sy in the beginning. I’m talking about when the others showed up to save him and she went to shoot, but then deliberately aimed away at the last moment. That was pretty much the turning point in Mary’s character. I thought at the time that maybe it was because she wasn’t really a killer and was too thin-skinned for it. But we’ve seen since then that she has no qualms about killing. I keep expecting Sy to ask her about it at some point and then we’d finally get an answer from Mary, but it still hasn’t happened. This chapter would have been a good time as any, but no go, so I’m starting to feel it’s not going to happen at this point.

    Maybe I should go back and reread it. Maybe there was something obvious there that I missed.

  20. I’ve been thinking a little more about the “only one of us will be chosen” thing. I think what Sy’s saying is that they aren’t going to make a Lamb chimera, they’re going to outright pick only one project to focus on and cancel the others. It would fit in with Hayle’s weird darwinian bullshit and how he’s running a superweapon project as six separate projects. He picks the most successful and pours all his funding into that project.

    Which is a hilarious waste of resources, but it makes some sense if you think of the last decade or so as the first stage of an exploratory session to determine the best path forward. It would also explain how careless the Academy is with the Lamb’s lives and their unwillingness to prolong their expiration dates too much.

    • It also seems ineffecient. A single Lamb isn’t nearly as effective as the group, with the ability to play off each other’s skills. And many of those skills have to be learned. Oh sure you can make a better body with a Gordon, or a fem fatale with a Helen, but they won’t be as effective until they learn to fight and to act. Better to overlap the new batch with the old, get the skills passed on. But heck the Academy reminds me times you hear about the proffesors of the softer sciences like sociology and psychology getting no respect from the hard sciences like mathmatics and chemistry.

    • I suspect Hayle is more ambitious then we give him credit for. He has identified many ways where the academy is improving itself, better monsters, better techniques but they aren’t improving themselves and making better scientists. Perhaps the lambs are a test run for improving humanity itself and empowering the academy all the more. Which would make the best managers of the academy, the cut up improved living human? the monster with the mask of humanity? An empowered and changed brain? (I’m excluding Jamie cause i’m not quite sure what his end stage after he is completely uploaded is.)

      This also could be why Sy sticks with the academy, he has his eyes on the brass ring.

      (note: this is all speculation. I’m not gonna guess how accurate this actually is)

    • That is adorable… But concidering the first arc had a snake-cat maybe being a snake isn’t the best approach.

      I especially like the rattle

    • That’s really cool.
      That may be wildbow’s secret. He sacrifices selected readers to his creations to appease them. And then they mature and grow strong and draw more readers, thus further increasing the number of potential victims.

      You have been selected, it’s the greatest honor you could achieve. Don’t be afraid, it will all be over soon…

  21. Only Mary would say as much with a knife to someone’s throat.
    To be fair, she was pointing a gun at your head the first time the two of you talked.

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