Tooth and Nail – 7.1

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I stirred in response to a knock on my door.

“Nn,” I managed.

I heard the door open, and pulled the covers down from over my head.

“Sylvester,” Mrs. Earles said, “Breakfast.  Lillian’s here, too, so don’t think you can skip eating this morning.”

“Mm,” I said.  “Isn’t she up and at ’em early in the day.  Obligations?

“I think so, yes.”

I sat up, rubbing at my eyes, then ran my fingers through my hair.  It was long, it was shaggy, and I had the worst bed-hair of anyone I knew.  I had no illusions about my ability to keep the hair tamed.

Mrs. Earles cleared her throat.

I looked up, looked at her, and saw her pointed look, just behind me.

I twisted around, and saw Mary lying there, head on a second pillow.

“Oh,” I said.  “Yeah.”

“Hi, Mrs. Earles,” Mary said.

Behind her, some of the other children had already woken up.  I saw Rick step into view, glance at the scene, and smirk.  Mrs. Earles saw and shooed him off.

I reached under Mary’s pillow, she smacked my arm, and I withdrew it.

Fine, I thought.  But that’s going to be a thing.

Mrs. Earles positioned herself so that she filled the space between the door and the frame, with little chance of someone peeking or seeing past.  “It’s my habit to avoid asking questions,” she said.  “That said, given the situation, given that Sy is twelve at most, and you’re thirteen-”

“I think of myself as a small fourteen,” I said.

Mrs. Earles gave me a withering look.

“You don’t have to ask,” Mary said.  “Really.”

Mrs. Earles took that in, then nodded.  “I won’t, then.  I was looking for you, Mary, I was worried you’d gone out earlier than usual to practice your throwing.  It’s good that you’re here if Lillian needs you.  Don’t take too long getting ready.”

“Okay,” Mary said.  I nodded.

The door shut, the latch clicking.

“I like how she takes you at your word,” I said.  “But when I say something, oh, no.  I could tell her the sky is blue and she’d double-check.”

“The sky isn’t usually blue in Radham.  It’s gray at best.”

“You know what I mean.”

Mary swung her feet out from under the covers, standing up from bed, stretching.  I hurried to pat down the covers so there were no gaps for the cool air to leak through.

I looked past her to Jamie’s bed.  A large notebook sat on the bed, the weight of it messing up what had been a perfectly made, entirely neat bed.

“I missed my morning exercises,” Mary said.  “I’m so used to the way the sun comes into my room in the morning.  Moment it slips over the top of the window and hits my eyes, I’m out of bed.”

“That sounds like the worst thing ever,” I said.  “Why would you wake up early on purpose?”

“I like it.  It’s a good start to the day, keeps me sharp.”

“You’re sharp enough,” I said, reaching under her pillow for the knife she kept there, holding it up for demonstration.

Mary smiled.  She reached over, touching my chin to turn my head away.  I could still sort of see her in my peripheral vision.

“Lillian does it too.  The lunatic,” I said.  “If it wasn’t for Helen, I’d think all girls were screwed up somehow.  She appreciates a good night’s sleep.”

Mary was pulling off her night clothes.  I fixed my eyes on the ceiling.

“She sleeps with her eyes open sometimes, you know?” Mary said.

“I know.  I’ve done stakeouts with her.”

“It’s not the only weird sleep thing.  The first night I slept here, she climbed into bed with me.  Curled up beside me like a cat, no covers, no pillow, fell straight asleep.  One-time thing.  I don’t know if it’s about affection, or about dominance, or-”

“Insecurity,” I said.


“Insecurity.  More rational than emotional.  ‘Keep your enemies closer’ is a very good tactic when you’re a Helen.”

“Ha,” Mary said.

“I’m not joking.”

“No, I know you’re not joking, but that’s clever.”

“Someone should probably mention it to Ibott, but then he’d want to keep Helen over in his labs so he can observe and train her sleep and blah to that.”

“Blah,” Mary agreed.  She stepped closer to the bed, dressed enough to be decent.  I reluctantly sat up, taking a second to rearrange the covers before I took the offered wires and knives.  I set to arranging them, with only minimal help from her, while she brushed her hair.

A minute passed like that as I set everything up.  Mary made only small readjustments.

“Gotta ask, Sy,” Mary said, as I wrapped up.  She walked over to the rest of her clothes, folded neatly on Jamie’s chair, pulling on a skirt over her hose-covered legs, “Why is this now?

“Mmf,” I said, letting myself topple over, head hitting pillow.

“It’s been nine months.”

“I know.”

“Why the change?  Why now?”

“That’s a topic best saved for a group discussion,” I said, looking over at Jamie’s bed.

“I can recall at least three times where you’ve said something like that, and then you didn’t bring it up again.”

“Can you?  My memory isn’t that good.”

She gave me a look, finishing buttoning a blouse over her camisole.

“Okay,” she said, pulling on a sweater.  She bounced on the spot, making skirt and hair move and sweater settle into place, then turned to me, “You don’t have a mirror, so I have to ask you for the verdict.”

“Very pretty,” I said.

“Good answer,” she said, seeming satisfied.  She smoothed out a wrinkle.  “I should go wake up Helen.”


“Here, you’ll need this,” she said, tossing the brush at me.  I let it fall against the covers.  “If you’re not out of bed by the time I come back down the hall with her, I’m going to have her wake you up.”

I groaned.

“I could give her suggestions on what to do to you,” she said, as she opened the door, peeking out.  “What’s the most humiliating hold?”

“I’ll be out of bed, don’t worry.”

“Or maybe I’ll get her to chew on you?”

“I’ll be out of bed!”

“And dressed.”

“And dressed!  Go away!”

Mary smiled and closed the door behind her.

I climbed out of bed, stretching.  I shivered a little at the cold, then pulled some clothes out of my dresser.  Some shirts were Jamie’s.  I hadn’t grown nearly as much as I’d have liked over nine months, but it was enough to need a different set of clothes, and Jamie had been a bit taller than I was.

Button-up shirt, pants, suspenders, jacket.  I used Mary’s brush to try and fix my hair, gave up, and pulled a boy’s cap over it.  I emerged just in time to run into Mary and a dressed-and-combed Helen.  Helen had her head on Mary’s shoulder.  As she saw me, Mary gave Helen a light push.  Helen staggered my way like a bad stitched.

“Ahh,” I said, monotone, a mock cry as Helen draped herself over my back, arms over my shoulders.  She swiped my cap off the top fo my head, then lightly bit my scalp.

“Arr,” she said.

“You overheard.”

“I told her,” Mary said.

“Mmf, arr,” Helen said.  She adjusted position, mock-biting the top of my head a few more times.

“Don’t bite too deep.  Sy-meat is poisonous.”

“That’s totally not true,” Mary said.

“We don’t know it’s not true,” I said.  “I know my blood is poisonous, chemicals floating in it.  Stands to reason the rest of me is a little poisonous.”

Helen stopped biting me, resting her chin on top of my head instead.  “You smell like Mary.”


“Probably, but could you not mention that in front of others?” Mary asked.

“M’kay,” Helen said.  Then she made a snoring sound.

More than half-asleep.

We made our way down the stairs.  Helen synchronized her steps with mine, so she wouldn’t come down a step a half-second after I did and end up driving the hard point of her chin into my skull.

As we rounded the corner, making our way down the last leg of the stairs, she pulled away, straightening.  She transferred the hat back from her head to mine.

“Good morning, Helen!” Eliza, Fran and Iris called out in sync.

“Good morning!” Helen said, bright, cheery, without a hint of sleepiness.

I rolled my eyes.  I rounded the dining table to collect my plate of breakfast, putting a hand on Lillian’s head to rock it left and right until she knocked my hand away in annoyance.

“Sy,” Gordon said, looking up from his plate.  “Sit here.”

I gave him a suspicious look, then gave a more suspicious look to the rugrat sitting beside him.  Albert.  “Why?”

“Because Al here keeps feeding Hubris.”

I bent down to peek under the table, at the mutt, then stepped over the bench, interjecting myself between the kid and the beast.

Mary and Helen found their seats as well.  With Lillian present for this morning’s breakfast, we naturally filled the empty spot on the bench.

Just let this meal go by without incident, I thought, staring down at the plate, methodically shoveling food into my mouth.  Sausage & mashed potato with onion and boiled vegetables of some sort I’d never seen before.  Don’t let this be a bad day.

With last of us served, Mrs. Earles headed off to start getting the little ones ready.  I saw her leave, and I saw Rick watch her leave.

I sighed a little.

“So, Sy,” Rick said.

Smug bastard.  Smug, round face, smug hair, smug fat ass.

“Rick, no,” Gordon said. “Whatever it is, no.”

“You’ve been on my case for the last year, practically,” Rick said.

“Nine months,” I said.

“Sy, don’t respond.  Rick, shut the hell up, or I will beat you,” Gordon said.

“Jamie’s in the hospital, fine, but you keep making me out to be the bad guy, and I’ve done and said nothing wrong.”

“Even if we agree that’s the case-”

“It is, unless you can tell me what I’ve said that’s so awfully bad,” Rick said.

Even if we agree that’s the case,” Gordon said, “You and Sy don’t get along.  Sy’s missing his best friend-”

I clutched my utensils tighter.

“-and the very best thing you can do is to ignore him.”

“I don’t think it’s fair that-”

Ignore him,” Gordon said.

The little kids who hadn’t finished eating were staring, silent.

Talking very slowly, as if he was spelling things out to a small child, Rick said, “I don’t think it’s fair that I live in this house and there are people who also live here who I’m forbidden to talk to or talk about, through no fault of mine.  I feel like I and others are kept in the dark sometimes.”

“Life isn’t fair,” I said.  There were a hundred different things I wanted to tack on to the end of that sentence.  There were statements about why Rick hadn’t been adopted yet that might have made the smaller children cry, and mentions of Jamie that might have made the smaller children cry.  I figured it was better to leave things unsaid than to make Mrs. Earles mad at me.

“That’s well and good, but I want to know what the rules of the house are-”

Gordon rose from his seat.  He stood there, hands on the table, staring Rick down.

Anyone else might have backed down, but Rick only smiled, playing at blithe ignorance.

“If you need to question the rules of the house, ask Mrs. Earles,” Gordon said.

“Okay,” Rick said.  “Alright.”

“I don’t know what bug crawled up your rear end to make you this strange this morning-” Gordon said.

“Ew,” Frances said.

“-But nothing’s changed.  Leave Sy alone.  Leave the subject of Jamie alone.”

“Okay, alright,” Rick said, throwing his hands up in surrender.

The meal continued.  I was making more progress than usual, just focusing on eating, eyes on the food.

“Are we traveling?” Mary asked, conversationally.

“Looks like,” Lillian said.  “School project.  We’re going to be gone for at least a week.”

“Which train?” Helen asked.

“It’s the train with the tea cart you like,” Lillian assured Helen.

Helen smiled.

“Been a while since we traveled,” Mary said.

“We’ve been busy enough,” Gordon said, as he settled back into his seat.

“But it’s been very low-key,” Mary observed.  “If they’re sending you out to get us, that means early train…”


“Which means we’re rushing, but not so much we’re having to skip breakfast.”


“And we’re probably meeting someone?”

“Let’s hope,” Lillian said.

“Uh huh,” Rick said.  I gripped my utensils tighter again.  I could sense Gordon tensing beside me.  Hubris, under the table, was reacting to Gordon’s body language.  “It’s kind of rude to talk in code, with everyone else at the table.”

“Code?” Frances asked.

“There’s no code,” Gordon said.  “Why don’t you mind your own business?”

“Why don’t you try carrying on a conversation that includes everyone else at the table?” Rick asked.  I had the impression he was actually irritated enough to show it, for once.  “Like, say, Mary, why weren’t you in your own bed last night?  Do you have anything to tell us?”

I sighed.  I could see the look of confusion on Lillian’s face.  Mary was shaking her head.  She signaled something at Gordon I didn’t catch.  Unbeknownst to Rick, Gordon shifted position in his seat.

“Are you and Sy a thing now?”

The bench, complete with me and the other three people on it, scooted backward, as Gordon pushed it back from the table.  I reached for and grabbed my bowl, holding it back out of the way as Gordon traveled around the length of the table to a wide-eyed Rick.

Rick was only half out of his seat when Gordon hauled him up and over, throwing him down against the ground.  He let Rick get halfway to his feet, then threw the boy into the wall.

“Mrs. Earles!” Eliza screamed, shrill.

Rick was bigger, Gordon was stronger.  Every time it looked like Rick was going to get his bearings, Gordon shoved him, or drove him back into the ground with the sole of one foot.

“If you do that again, I’m going to hit you back!” Rick called out.

“Step outside,” Gordon said.

“I’m not-”

Gordon shoved Rick again.  Rick’s head cracked against the wall.  I saw some of the girls wince.  Helen was among them, but I knew it was for show.

Rick raised his hand, starting to throw a punch, and Hubris closed the distance, biting his sleeve, stopping him short.  Gordon punched Rick in the collarbone, driving him down to the ground, then grabbed him, sliding him out and through the back door.

There were three stone stairs Rick had to roll down to reach the backyard, I knew, though I didn’t have an angle to see it happen.


I continued eating, polishing off my breakfast.  Mrs. Earles came down the stairs, took in the situation, and then stepped outside.

I met Lillian’s eyes, measuring the confusion and the hurt, and shook my head.

She gestured under the guise of fixing her hair, lie?

I nodded a little.

I could see her relax a little at that.  She had the best vantage point to see the fight, from the end of the other bench.

“I guess I need my luggage?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Lillian said.

“Be right back,” I said.

I took my dishes to the sink, rinsed them, and put them on the drying rack.  I glanced at the trio of Mrs. Earles, Gordon, and a very sorry looking Rick before taking the stairs two at a time to go upstairs.

A set of luggage was always packed, ready to go at a moment’s notice.  Still, I undid the clasps and opened it up, revealing a collection of clothes weighed down by two notebooks.  If someone unpacked the clothes, they’d find the pistol and ammunition, vials of poison, and various small supplies and tools.

I walked over to Jamie’s bed, picked up the notebook there, and put it inside the luggage case, before closing it up again.

Heavy, but I didn’t mind.

“Next best thing to having you along with, huh?” I asked the empty side of the room.

I ran my hands down Jamie’s shirt, making sure I hadn’t been splashed with anything when Gordon pushed away from the table, or that little Albert hadn’t dripped on me.  I ran my hands through my hair once more, found a tangle, and pulled through it.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Next best is pretty fricking lousy.”

I closed the door behind me.

The train car rolled back into motion.  People were mostly heading into the city, and those leaving were mostly made up of soldiers and stitched.  Seven of the eight train cars were occupied with military forces, the eighth was made up of people.

We’d been placed in a military car, but even then, we’d kept conversation to milder things.

When the single squad of soldiers entered and found places to sit on the other end of the car, I said, “I think we’re good to have a proper discussion.”

“The Duke told Hayle the specifics of this job, and Hayle told me to tell you,” Lillian explained.

“Look who’s moving up in the world, lil’ miss Lillian, doing the briefing.”

Lillian kicked at me.

“What are we after?” Gordon asked.

“What we know is that some major players have disappeared from cities where they had bases of operations.  Leadership for the firebrands and the spears, doctors working for either side, some experiments and projects they were keeping an eye on, most picked up and moved.  Something about the timing of it, it raised eyebrows?”

From the way she phrased that last statement, I figured she wasn’t sure about her recall.

“You’re doing fine,” Mary said.  “It makes sense.”

Lillian returned the praise with a smile that had little confidence.  Or was it because it was Mary?

“Both groups up and leaving at the same time.  They’re communicating,” I said.

“They are,” Lillian said.  “Which is strange because the ideologies have been diverging.  There’s even been skirmishes between the two groups, right?”

“Right,” Gordon said.  He had a minor scuff mark on his nose, but it was his only wound from what had been a pretty thorough thrashing of Rick.  I suspected it was from an unexpected swing of the arm as Rick flailed around, rather than anything intentional on Rick’s part.

Hubris was in the train car with us, draped over the seat next to Gordon, head in Gordon’s lap.  The animal was a fighting breed, square-headed, eyes obscured by bushy brows.  Even with the coarse, rust-colored fur that covered him, Hubris’ raw strength was apparent at a glance.

“Skirmishes between two groups, now sudden cooperation.  The higher ups are pretty sure that someone’s stepping in.  There’s some speculation that Cynthia is healed and ready to coordinate,” Lillian said, “But, well…”

“We know she’s been active on and off,” I said.  “Working for the spears, focused on the Crown.”

“Could be a deception,” Gordon said.

“Could,” I admitted.

“Most of the people who’ve been paying attention agree it’s Fray,” Lillian said.  “We have spies paying attention to the trains and roads, and we’re pretty clear about the city they’ve gone to, but we don’t know where.”

“A diplomatic meeting,” Mary said.  “All of our enemies in one place?”

“That’s the expectation,” Lillian said.  “If the Academy brings too much force to bear in advance, we might scare them off.  If they move blind, they risk missing the window of opportunity when they can’t find the targets.  We’re part of a limited scouting force, working with a few others.  Dog and Catcher will be there, but it’ll mostly be groups from other Academies.”

“They spent the initial momentum,” Gordon said.  “They needed victories to carry that momentum forward, and they didn’t have enough of those.  Losing Cynthia for as long as they did, they took the only option they had, splitting up, narrowing focus, trying to reinvent themselves based on area and personalities, in order to revive things some.”

“Focus on anti-Crown sentiment in anti-Crown areas, anti-Academy sentiment in areas where people chafe most with the Academies,” Mary said.

“But that’s a hard fire to keep stoked without fresh fuel.  It’s been a couple of months and people are tired of fighting,” Gordon said.  “The anger is there, but it’s not fresh, hot anger.”

“War peters out, things mostly settle until the next big excuse, the next war, the next revolution, whatever,” I said.  “Both sides know it, banding together is the only way to stay strong enough to stay in the fight, but ideologies have diverged too much, they’ve been competing with one another, they need someone very strong or very clever to unite the groups.”

“The person who started the war in the first place,” Lillian said.  “Not that they know that.”

Mary leaned forward.  “They’re not stupid.  They’re going to be covering their asses seven ways from Sunday.  Bodyguards, protection, counter-assassins…”

I nodded.  “I guess they’ve decided we’re ready.  No more soft-lobs to the Lambs.  We tackle this one man down.”

“About that,” Lillian said.

“Ah,” I said.  I brought my head back until it rested against the window.  “I jinxed it.”

“Sorry, Sy,” Lillian said.

“Ashton?”  I left the other half of the question unasked.

“I don’t know,” she said.  There was a long, painful pause, then she said.  “He’s been in classes with-”

“Okay,” I said, cutting her off.

Silence lingered among the Lambs.

“Okay,” I said, a little more brightly.

“You knew, didn’t you?” Mary asked.  “This morning, when we were talking, you said there was something to discuss later.”

I spread my arms.  “I’ve been peeking at files now and again.  Keeping tabs.  It doesn’t matter.  I knew it was coming.  They’re buffering our numbers.”

And I’m having trouble dealing, in little ways, while that weighs on me.

“How long until he shows?”  I asked.

“If not tomorrow, then the day after,” Lillian said.

“We finish before then,” I said.  “If he shows, he shows.  But we’ll have this wrapped up.”

“Sy,” Gordon said.

“It’s going to be disruptive, okay?” I said.  “Newbie joining the group?  Because he will be new.  There’s adjustment, any time we add someone.  There’s emotional stuff to deal with, I admit it, I’m going to have to get a handle on it, and I’m probably going to suck at it.  I know the rest of you will too, to varying degrees.”

I looked between each of the Lambs in turn.

“I’ve been upfront about how I’m doing and how I’m coping, so you aren’t surprised.  What I’m saying there, it’s part of it.  You know I’m right.  Given what we’re up against, I don’t want any wrenches in the works to make it even harder, for you guys, for me, for our plans, for coordination.  We do this clean, we do it in top form, and we do it fast.  If he shows, he finds the job done.”

“You know you can’t run away from this forever,” Gordon said.  “If we succeed, we might scatter them to the wind, and we’re going to get a half-dozen missions one after the other, chasing after the most dangerous and cunning of the survivors, cleaning up.  If we fail and Fray comes out ahead, then we’re going to be asked to deal with whatever messes she concocts.  There won’t be downtime like we’ve had.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“Likely one or the other, Sy.  If they think we’re ready to get back into the game, we’re going to have to be ready.  You’re going to have to deal with the adjustments without breaking stride.”

He wasn’t talking about Ashton.

“Probably,” I said.

“Just making sure you know.”

“I know,” I said.

He reached over to give me a pat on the shoulder.

The train slowed.  My eyebrows went up, and I twisted around a hundred and eighty degrees to look out the window.

I turned, asking Jamie, “Does the map-”

I finished turning, pausing as I looked at the pale white curtain beside the window, opposite me.  It had looked different out of the corner of my eye.


“We’re there already?” I asked, barely missing a beat.

Nobody commented, except for Gordon to say, “We were on the outskirts of town.  We’re heading into the city proper.”

“Alright,” I said.  I managed a smile.  “Good debrief, Lil.”

“Thank you,” she said.  Then she kicked me, hard.  “But don’t call me Lil.”

I smirked.

The train slowed to a halt.  The soldiers in the car with us waited patiently as we collected our luggage.

We made our way out onto the platform, doing what we could to work through the crowd.  It didn’t even need to be said, but if we could keep an eye on the train stations, they could as well.

Our quiet, careful movements were interrupted as we collectively came to a halt.  The soldiers in front of us had, too, so it wasn’t too damning.

Heads craned, and we stared.

The city sprawled, a proper city, with several skyscrapers, trees growing freely, and other design touches.  One building looked like half of it had been peeled away to reveal a great stone giant, flensed of flesh but not muscle or organ.  An anatomical figure crossed with architecture.

A proper Academy city, as Radham was.

Except for the fact that the largest set of structures sitting atop the highest hill in the city were on fire.  I was guessing from the look of it that it would be a lack of fuel rather than anything else that saw it go out.  It looked pretty damn thorough.

“Don’t suppose that’s our rendezvous point?” I asked.

“It is,” Lillian said.

“Huh,” I said, brightly.  “That’s inconvenient.”

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115 thoughts on “Tooth and Nail – 7.1

  1. Goddamn it Rick. You’re going to be the continuation of Caterpillar aren’t you? I hope not. Unless his brain chemistry or whatever is the only match, Hayle must know that Rick’s awful. They’d investigate that stuff.

    I hope Jamie is still kicking around in a vat somewhere for Sy to talk to again.

    • Jamie is the continuation of Caterpillar— The Duke erased his memories, maybe even changed his personality. That’s why its so hard for Sy to accept him (re)joining the team.

      • My money’s on Jamie’s brain being added to the other brains in Caterpillar, with this new brain just in Jamie’s body. Given that it’s new, it’s getting classes with Ashton, and I fully expect it to have a scar where Sy tried to stab it because it wasn’t really Jamie anymore. I’m waiting to see whether or not it’ll mimic Jamie’s behavior to fill in better….which would backfire and create dissonance, given new!Jamie is kind of like a Replacement Goldfish to the team.

  2. Anybody remember what Jamie’s and Sy’s promise was exactly? The one when they basically first met? Was it that Jamie was afraid he wouldn’t wake up after having an appointment?

    • The actual promise was never revealed, far as I recall. More spoke around and hinted at. It seemed to have something to do with being there to make sure he woke up, but, due to Sy’s reaction last time, I’m betting there was an extenuating clause in case ‘Jamie’ didn’t wake up.

      • Back in 5.15, in the flashback, Jaime said he was scared of sleeping because sometimes he was is moved into the chair and Sy responded with “Whatever happens, as long as I can help it, and I can help a lot of things, I will not let them do that again. At the very least, I’ll wake you up before they take you.” and then a little later “And that’s a promise that applies to every nap, every time you sleep.”

    • Only solution is an OT3. Well I really like Sy/Mary. But at the same time I also like Sy/Lillian. And Lillian and Mary seem to be pretty close…

      Serously though the OTP is LambsXLambs.

  3. – I am surprised Helen sometimes *doesn’t* sleep with her eyes open.
    – Sy wearing Jaime’s clothes is sad and feels foreshadowy.
    – Gordon is alive.
    – Hubris! His pet is named Hubris! That’s an awesome name. Fits a snake, or a duck. What we know is that it fits under a table and can bite. It’s got fur and it’s a “fighting breed” and it can drape over a chair. So far, all hints point towards a huge, brown, furry snake.
    – “Jaime is in the hospital”. ;_;
    – Lillian using the sign language is neat.
    – Samie is going to join….damn.
    – “I turned, asking Jamie, “Does the map-””.
    – I loved this paragraph: The city sprawled, a proper city, with several skyscrapers, trees growing freely, and other design touches. One building looked like half of it had been peeled away to reveal a great stone giant, flensed of flesh but not muscle or organ. An anatomical figure crossed with architecture.

    Overall, looks like the events that happened 9 months ago aren’t going to be explained more. At least not as a chapter that takes place in that time.

    • Sy isn’t just wearing Jamie’s clothes, he’s also got long hair and is carrying around his journal. Hubris is probably a reminder to Sy about what cost Jamie his identity.

      Also, does anyone else get the feeling that Wildbow not QUITE saying that it was Jamie in the hospital means that there’s some other swerve coming? Like, maybe they moved on to the next Project Caterpillar? After all, the deal was that when Jamie got taken offline, he’d have his memories taken, and be made an organic computer. Well, he lost his memories, so…

      Also, wasn’t Ashton the original social manipulator? Sy’s gonna be out of a job.

      • There’s no guarantee that Jamie’s actually at a hospital. More than likely, the hospital story is just the cover-up story that the Lambs are giving to the orphanage kids.

        • The other canceled Lamb was going to be the strategist, IIRC, and long-term planning is Frey’s speciality – maybe Sy will try for something along those lines. Even given that he’s made for the role, though, it’ll take Ashton awhile to become as good a manipulator as Sy is, I expect.

    • Sy refers to Hubris as a “mutt”, which usually means dog. Now, it’s an Academy dog, which means it is more than just a dog, but … dog.

  4. So is there any chance of Fray not winning this? I mean, Gordan still needs to turn traitor if he hasn’t already. Someone nursed Birdlady back to health and has room to sabotage this likely. It occurs to me Lillian is probably had the skills to do so, probably was involved in Avis’s care and knew what to do (fix the joints etc.) making her really suspicious. Sy appears to be handling this really not well and probably is really worried about losing someone else. Especially if Fray can point out that the Academy is probably too paranoid to let experiments see the Academy Secrets.

    • Knowing Fray, she’s probably not even not playing the same game – so she could win her game, and lose the Lambs’ game at the same time. Though, i’m not even sure she would be personally present – she could be using Avis instead as the figurehead to bridge the sides. After all, i’m pretty sure she went to such lengths to retrieve Avis with a purpose in mind for her acquisition.

      The Lambs seem to not be thinking along this line. Were they informed that Avis escaped? Or do they consider Fray’s group to only be capable of acting as a whole?

      • Arranging matters so that the game doesn’t even contain a losing condition for her sounds like Fray’s style. She’s an “I did it thirty five minutes ago” sort of villain.

        • It’s the David Xanatos types I fear most. The guys who somehow find a way to come out ahead more often than not even if their plans failed. And who know better than to go for revenge.

  5. Typo thread (omg my first time writing that):

    Debriefing should be briefing, I think; debriefing is for after a mission, briefing is beforehand.

    • She swiped my cap off the top fo my head, then lightly bit my scalp.

      Urk. I dislike how normal they feel, without Jamie.

      Hm, Guess Sy is still bothered then,

      …Is Sy two-timing? And lying to Lil about it?

      Leadership for the firebrands and the spears,
      -Firebrands and the Spears?

      • Sy is doing what he always does— what he thinks is best for the group. For some reason he feels that letting himself be with Mary is good for the group (it keeps Mary feeling connected), but he has to keep it from Lillian (cuz it’d cause infighting).

        • Or maybe he’s preparing himself for the inevitable awkwardness of seeing noJamie by self-asserting ‘no homo’ in a very material way.

          • Or, and this might be crazy, he is incredibly distraught emotionally and really just needs someone to be physically near him at night. We know that he and Jamie used to share a room, chances are that not having another person there is upsetting to him.

            Keeping Mary feeling connected is a solid bonus, but it does not necessarily imply a romantic relationship

          • Well Jamie was Sy’s confidant. The Watson to his Holmes, the Wilson to his House. Mary may be trying to fill that void. Perhaps all they did in bed was talk.

    • More typos:

      – “Next best thing to having you along with” -> “to having you along”

      – “Leadership for the firebrands and the spears” -> “Firebrands and the Spears”

      – “Working for the spears” -> “Spears”

      Other stuff:

      – “Seven of the eight train cars were occupied with military forces” -> (should maybe be “occupied by”; “occupied with” sounds like military forces were on the train cars’ minds)

      – “the eighth was made up of people” -> (This sounds like a train car consisting of people stitched together)

      – “She transferred the hat back from her head to mine.” – (As far as I can tell, the text only says that Helen takes Sy’s hat, but not that she then wears it.)

      • “If they move blind, they risk missing the window of opportunity when they can’t find the targets. ” – should probably be “AND they can’t”, unless I’m wildly misinterpreting that.

  6. I swear the first thing I thought about Sy and Mary at the beginning was: ABOUT TIME!

    Still, it’s pretty nice (and sad) Sy really took Jamie’s loss the hardest. Looks like he’s going through the five stages of griefs right now.

  7. Eesh, not a good at all day for me to think about Jamie and see Sy’s feelings. I can currently empathise to some degree. Appreciate the distraction, though.

    So did Sy really sleep with Mary? And he lied to Lillian about it? Eesh. That’s a trainwreck in the happening. Good job on the whole being honest about things (though I’m very glad he is trying). I also find it weird that, assuming Sy did sleep with Mary, he looked away as she got dressed. Is that a thing people do?

    Damn it, WB. Stop making Helen adorable. She is a monster, no one even questions that, but you make her so cute and likable and easy to forget.

    I loved the line about feeding Hubris. Ha. And that Rick… Arse or not, I’m pretty certain he didn’t deserve the beating. I’m glad it got Sy’s mood up, though. Gordon remains pretty capable.

    I don’t think I’ve seen this posted before. I realised that the Duke did what he did probably mainly because groups often come closer after the loss of somebody. Sure, that’s not always the case, but…

    About Helen being sleepy. I thought she was always either fully awake or asleep? Or did I get that wrong?

    • I’m assuming she can control her sleep state, so she can be alert whenever its necessary. But if its just eating breakfast she could do it on half sleep mode.

    • Maybe they just cuddled, in which case it would make sense.
      Rick is an ass. Asking questions repeatedly about a topic you know to be sensitive earns you that title. Also, I’m pretty sure if and when Gordon is out of the picture, you’ll get to see the real Rick.

      • Oh i’m pretty sure they weren’t just cuddling. Mary was actively trying to seduce Sy in the previous arc’s opening, and the dialogue pretty transparently referred to this being a delayed continuation of that.

        • If so, then as Zim said, is that a thing that happens? Do sexual partners change whilc protecting their modesty? Maybe they cuddled. Maybe Sy just needed companionship. When you’re 12 (and 13), cuddling alone can be pretty intimate.

          • Yeah, I’m with the “they just cuddled” team. First, Mary said “You don’t have to ask” which implies that there is nothing for Mrs Earles to worry about. Him averting his eyes while she dresses is another clue that things have not gotten that intimate yet.

            Finally, there is Sy’s personality in general. He’s shown very little romantic interest in anyone so far, even as he KNOWS Mary and Lil have a thing for him and he could totally win them over if he wanted to. Yet, he goes to pains to keep every girl happy, but does not approach them that way.

            I know a lot of people mention that he is still in pigtail-pulling mode, but I have a theory that Wyvern slows down maturity somehow. Sy is the shortest of the Lambs, and the most kid-like. He’s also the only one without a crush (still the case, as far as we know) and very oblivious to sex in general. If the Wyvern formula keeps the brain plastic and moldable, like a child’s brain, and if it is administered to a growing child, could slow down or stop them from experiencing the natural brain changes that come with puberty? It’s a possibility.

          • I mean. I’ve seen it in the movies. People have sex, and then they act all shy afterwards. Also, this is 1921(22? 23?). I don’t know much about that time, but it fits with the prude image I have of it. Being naked is something for sex alone, and women have to protect their dignity and whatnot. It fits with my perception of the era.

            But at the same time, did people really act that way in the past or is it just my misinformation? Do people act that way now?

    • Of course Rick deserved his beating! He’s lived alongside the lambs for probably the majority of his life, yet he still hasn’t accepted the idea that they are going to talk about things he isn’t privy to? He’s not exactly wyvern test subject material…

      • I’m kinda inclined there was some suicide watch or making sure Sy doesn’t do anything stupid in there too.

        He is clearly NOT over and moving on here, and I don’t think he’s going to. Sy could live to be a hundred, and he’ll still be turning to ask Jamie questions.

      • So he gets his skull cracked? I mean, I am sure Rick is a pain in the arse and I am sure I’d want to beat his face in if I met him. Just as I am sure that Sy is a pain in the arse and the Lambs as a whole are a complete and utter pain to everyone around them, even if individual lambs aren’t. Maybe Rick is a bully, but it’s not as though the Lambs aren’t themselves.

        • No, not really? They are “proffesionals” not “bullies”. As long as you get on their way, or it is their mission to, they use all means necessary to get rid of that obstacle. Thats not bullying- they never attacked someone weaker than themselves to feel powerful, the few times they have, it was because of neccesity, not want.Yes, they area pain, if you are their target or if they (read:Sy) do not like you, but that is not bullying.

          And what Rick does…. does not exactly fel like bullying either. Denseness?Challeging someone stronger than you? mental problems? I dunno what he does, but I wouldn’t call it bullying.

    • For what it’s worth, I’ve nothing against Sy sleeping with Mary, other than I hope it isn’t because he’s coping and it might end with Mary feeling used. It doesn’t seem like it, though. It’s just unclear whether it happened, though it very well might have, considering WB’s subtle approach to sex.

  8. I really liked this chapter…mostly. Without Jamie, there’s just a void in the story (but I think that’s intentional). And I somehow doubted there really was a timeskip. Nine months is a lot of time, and I was afraid we would be short of two Lambs after such a long time.

    Hubris, what a brilliant name for a dog. But I expected a cat, after Gordon said he always hated them. What have Cats done in this world to deserve all of the hatred?

    • > Hubris, what a brilliant name for a dog. But I expected a cat, after Gordon said he always hated them. What have Cats done in this world to deserve all of the hatred?

      You mean apart from being sociopathic serial killers? You can’t really do anything with them other than petting.

        • No, not really. “Various shades of grey well intentioned extremists who want to make the world better even at the cost of hurting innocents and/or people fighting for their own survival, again, even at the cost of hurting innocents” describes most of the cast, actualy. There are some not sufficiently characterized characters (Hayle, Ibbot, Briggs) you can make a case about, the alien Helen about which… I just dunno, and the scary Duke who… despite his insanity STILL thinks he is a well intentioned extremist, who doo not exactly fit these criteria, but everyone else we know is various shades of this.

      • The idea that cats are sociopathic serial killers is as ridiculous as the idea that cats are all loving and adorable fuzzballs with nothing but love in their hearts. They are cats, animals, nothing more, nothing less.

        Yes, they don’t get attached much, to animals or to each other, they’re solitary hunters, not pack animals. They still can show affection to those in their “family”, in their own ways.

        Yes, some of them hunt even when they’re not hungry. Dogs do the same. A lot of animals do the same. It’s hunting instinct, and animals tend to act on instinct.

        It’s fine if you don’t like cats. It’s ok, really. You don’t have to rationalize your dislike by calling them sociopathic killing machines or anything. If we classified animals the same ways we do humans half of the animal kingdom would be made of psychopaths, sociopaths and the occasional cannibal. It’s just silly.

      • Maybe you’ve never actually seen a cat, and are basing your opinion on tv sitcoms (that you only heard about secondhand)? I’ve seen some pretty ignorant opinions about cats before, but this, wow.

        1) Sociopathic behavior is defined as being motivated by violation of social norms, so obviously that is not the correct word to describe cats. Furthermore, 2) you’re applying human standards of morality and decency to an animal that IS NOT HUMAN! Does it make any kind of sense to you to do that?

        By repeating the same old incorrect, disproven, and frankly absurd arguments, you’re giving them a(n unwarrented) measure of credibility. So thank you for trying to make everybody here a little stupider!

  9. If the Duke took Jamie’s memories – is that speculation? – I would think Sy would be joining Gordon in the mutiny. There would be anger. Sy has emotions, obviously. And we havent seen anger yet, so I’m wondering if the Duke actually did it, or where the anger is. I’m also wondering why we just skipped over Sy + Marie. The whole “You actually like Gordon better, go talk to him before he dies” thing seemed like a pretty big obstacle, one that isnt really natural to just warp over unless we are going to get a flashback interlude that covers it.

  10. Long time reader and first time poster here! (I think I started reading when Worm was a few arcs from completion)

    I just wanted to say that your work is amazing. I’m enjoying Twig to the same degree that I enjoyed some of my favorite arcs of Worm. Good luck in the future and I’ll be sure to comment regularly!

    • It was probably a lot of heavy petting too:

      “Don’t bite too deep. Sy-meat is poisonous.”

      “That’s totally not true,” Mary said.

  11. Also, pretty sure Sy and Marie just cuddled. Otherwise, the “what is inside me is poisonous” thing should have produced some sort of reaction from Mary 🙂

    • Yeah, I’m also with the #teamcuddle. Also, if they had had sex, which would be Sy’s (and maybe Mary’s?) first time, then Sy’s internal narration would probably be pretty different.

      • If this happened in real life, I would assume they had sex. But since it isn’t explicit in the story, my prior that Wildbow wouldn’t write a thing like that about children dominates, so I don’t think they did. I also personally agree with the implied Wildbow policy; I would be quite displeased to find out that they did have sex.

        • We are talking about murderous child soldiers, or assassins, rather. A literal monster, a social manipulator, a girl obsessed with cutting. They have all fought many other monsters and have been in the middle of a battlefield. This kind of shit forces a child to grow up (even if not quite properly). The Lambs aren’t adults, but they certainly aren’t children. Furthermore, the Lambs were made to not think like children.

          Exploring sex is a part of life, as a child or otherwise. I don’t think it’s in bad taste to imply it.

  12. I turned, asking Jamie, “Does the map-”

    “He’s been in classes with-”
    “Okay,” I said, cutting her off.

    So sad about Jamie I’m not even gonna go crazy over Sy/Mary this chapter

  13. Not gonna lie, I do not expect the Lambs to work miracles against Fray. I am, however, really looking forward to seeing them try, Sy especially.

    • I’m more interested in what kind of miracles she’ll pull against them.

      Anything, as long as Wendy doesn’t get hurt in the cross-miracle-fire.

    • Well I find it odd that so many of the rebellion leaders from both factions are meeting with Frey in an academy town. Something smells like a trap to me.

  14. One of Sy’s big improvements is brain plasticity. He would have to spend a lot of time each day mooning over Jamie in order to even remember him significantly nine months later.

      • I like this theory. Sy is *so* interpersonal that he mimics anyone he’s around long enough. Even without Fray as evidence, it makes sense that he’d develop emotional attachments. It also helps expand on why he’s so defensively cruel to anyone nice to him. He’s staving off betrayal. His exception is the Lambs, and their loyalty to each other is the most important thing to him of *all*.

  15. I’m not even on #teamcuddles side here, I think there was a purely practical reason for them to ‘spend the night together’ (at least I hope so, although Sy lying to Lil about it is pretty telling). The whole ‘nine months, sudden change’ thing probably implies something completely different, knowing Wildbow. It probably won’t stop bothering me for a while, nonetheless.
    On another note, I’m getting more and more curious about our little treeboy. He (?) seems like a very intriguing character to write, and I’m curious as to what kind of person he’ll be. Also Albert’s been mentioned again, though that might be just a red herring. And indeed, Hubris is a perfect name for Gordon’s ‘dog’.
    Question to Wildbow: I recently started reading Girl Genius, and so far it reads a bit like Work’s Tinkers and Twig’s Mad Science had a kid, raised it on sugarsticks, innuendos and dead kittens, and sent it out in the world to make a name for itself – only it started around the beginning of the millennium. Did it inspire your work in a way, or is it entirely coincidental?

    • What practical reason? (I feel super dense for not spotting what you’re getting at here.)

      Also, I explained Twig to someone like this: “You read Girl Genius, right? Well, imagine if all sparks were bio-sparks, so there are no rayguns and mechs and zeppelins, just warbeasts, plagues, and super-enhanced humans. Now, replace the slapstick humour with more subtle chuckles, and turn the grimdark knob up several notches. No, one or two notches higher than that.”

      • To be fair, Girl Genius is pretty much dark enough to be a Wilbow story, the humour just makes you forget it. Heck, a spark is a somewhat mind-altered human, like all of Wilbow protagonists.

  16. Was Sy planning on using a knife, perhaps on Rick? Right after Rick smirks, Sy reaches under Mary’s pillow, which we later find out has a knife under it.

    Also interesting: after Mary smacks his hand away, he thinks “Fine. But that’s going to be a thing.” Was he predicting that Rick was going to cause trouble? Did he want to threaten him with a knife to stop said trouble? It doesn’t seem like that would’ve worked at all, what with Mrs. Earles and all of the children there. So unless Sy completely lost it or had some clever plan to get the others to not react to him threatening Rick with a knife… (how?) I figure some conclusion I’m making is wrong. Any guesses about what was going on there?

    • I took it to mean he thinks the other kids crowding behind the matron to peek in on Sy and Mary will become a thing, and that he jokingly went for the knife to intimidate them, expecting Mary to smack his hand away. I’m not confident in this interpretation, though, so maybe this section needs a rewrite.

  17. I love Sy’s reaction to seeing their meeting place on fire. I loved the begining and the end of this chapter for different reasons.

  18. It’s interesting that Sy is still clearly mourning Jamie and feeling his absence so keenly. To the point of still imagining him being right there, just not speaking up. I wonder how much of that is grief and how much is him using the Wyvern formula to keep Jamie on his mind? If he’s constantly thinking of living Jamie he could have some interesting effects-reminds me of Arc 1 where he was running mental models of the others in his head.

  19. “If it wasn’t for Helen, I’d think all girls were screwed up somehow.”
    The best thing about Helen is how very normal she is. Sy is lucky to have such a pillar or normalcy in his life.

  20. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty damn sure Mary and Sylvester didn’t do anything sexual at all.
    He’s clearly still thinking about Jamie and missing him and doesn’t want anything to do with presumably the shell that is Jamie’s body. He wears his clothes and checks to make sure they are still in good condition, better care than he takes of anything of his. He brings his book with him and keeps thinking he sees him out the corner of his eye.

    Personal relationship stuff and whatnot is what created the rift between them in the first place and why their last conversation being their LAST is so sad, so I’m not seeing how he would do the sex in the bed next to Jamie’s when he’s still this hurt over the loss, especially since it would create more awkwardness between him and Lilian like it did with Jamie, and potentially with Gordon if he likes Mary as well.

    I’m not buying it

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