Tooth and Nail – 7.16

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It’s him.  Not him.

Worst timing possible.

Greet him with a smileFigure out what to say.

My expression remained blank, eyes turned up to the pair on the stairwell.  No words left my lips.

Something screamed atop the rooftops.  The gunfire was incessant.

He came down the stairs, with Ashton following just a step behind him.  He stopped at the base of the stairs, looking us over.

Hubris growled.  Gordon touched the dog’s head, and Hubris went quiet, though his posture was still aggressive.  He moved closer, until he was between Gordon and the pair, on guard.

He reached into a pocket, withdrawing a flat leather case, thinner than most wallets, and no longer than his hand was.  His fingers curled around the end as he held it up.

“I’m supposed to give you this,” he said.  “But seeing what we saw-”

“It’s complicated, Jamie,” Gordon said.

“I’m sure,” was the reply.

That’s not Jamie.

He took a moment, considering, feeling the weight of the little package, before tossing it ten feet over to Gordon.

Gordon unzipped it.  He handed out vials small enough that a finger couldn’t slide into them.  One to Mary, one to Lillian.

“Sy doesn’t need one,” the boy with Jamie’s face said.  “Helen either.  That’s three days of doses for the rest of you, Hubris included.”

Gordon nodded.  He removed the stopper from the vial and downed it.  He grimaced.  Lillian and Mary did much the same.

“I know,” the boy said.  “It’s just for a little while.”

His eye moved over to Percy’s body.

“What did you hear?”  Gordon asked.

“Why don’t you tell me what happened, first?” the boy asked, calm.  “I’ll see if it matches up to what we saw and heard.”

He was confident, wary.  Jamie had always hung in the background, quiet, nose in his books.  Jamie’s confidence was a different sort.

“Sy?” Gordon asked.  “Feel up to taking a stab at explaining?”

The words caught in my throat as I stared at the boy.

Anything else, I could have managed.  I could have found the words, braved my way through, been clever, whatever needed to happen.

But he was here, staring at me with Jamie’s eyes, no familiarity, loaded to bear with accusation.

That, I couldn’t deal with.  It penetrated every defense I had to hit me right where it hurt most.  A part of my mind and feelings I hadn’t figured out how to patch up the missing pieces, fix the pieces that weren’t working with, or even muster the feelings I needed to cope with it at all.

“Guess not,” Gordon said.  “Sorry.”

I shook my head a little.

“Might be for the best,” the boy said.  “I’ve been reading the books, trying to get caught up.  I’m not sure I’d believe what Sy said.”

“Not being sure about Sy?  Eighty percent of what you need to learn, when it comes to Sy,” Gordon said, a light smile on his face.  “Realizing you have to take that leap anyway?  That’s another ten percent.  The rest is crammed into the remaining ten percent.”

The boy smiled a little.  Too similar.  I looked away.

“Um,” Lillian said.  “Hi, Jamie.”


“I’ll try explaining?  Because I’m probably the worst liar here, I think?”

“That would be great.”

“It’s good,” Gordon said.

“A while back, Fray reached out to us, too, back-”

“Dame Cicely’s,” the boy said.  “It’s in the books.”

Lillian nodded.  She fidgeted nervously with the strap of her satchel.  “We didn’t take that offer.  But she reached out to Dog and Catcher and some others.  They switched sides.”

The boy’s eyes narrowed.  He looked up at the ceiling.  “Dog and Catcher told us to wait here for you.”

“Did they say anything else?” Gordon asked.

“Yes,” the boy said.  “They said, ‘it’s a shame we have to say goodbye so soon after saying hello for the first time’.”

“They’re leaving,” Mary said.  “We found them out, they can’t stay, so they’re going to do what they have to do and then disappear.”

“It makes sense,” the boy said.  “The tone, the wording.”

He said it like it was a prompt to keep going.

Lillian fidgeted more.  She glanced at me, then looked away, the eye contact equivalent of touching a hot pan handle.  “We realized we were in a bad situation, that what’s happening up there was about to happen.  No way to avoid it, unless we left the area and abandoned the mission.   We debated whether or not to take her offer to join, and we decided not to.  But the fact that she’d asked, it meant we could get close.”

The boy nodded.

Lillian continued, “Being there was better than being here, especially when we weren’t sure how she would get bullets to start flying and bombs exploding.  Being there in the other building meant we could talk.  Mary could talk to Percy, we could talk to Fray, try to guide things…”

“We got them to kill Percy, at Mary’s request, and we got information, coming from there to here with each side holding the other at gunpoint, in a manner of speaking.  We let them go because there was nothing we could do against their numbers and the kind of force they could bring to bear,” Gordon finished.  “They left us behind because Fray wants to keep an open dialogue.”

The boy looked between each of us, then looked back at Ashton.  Ashton was giving Hubris a a pat on the head.  He looked at his companion, and very softly said, “It makes sense?”

The boy in Jamie’s skin nodded in response.  He was agreeing, but still didn’t look sure.

“I know it looks bad,” Gordon said.  “But there weren’t any options that were great, once we realized what was happening.”

“I know,” the boy said.  “I believe her, and I know what you mean, about the options.  I’ve read the books.  The ones I had, that is.”

“Ah,” I said.

One syllable, that was better than nothing at all.

I took the backpack, and I held it out.

He crossed the distance, and he took the bag from me.  He checked the weight, then handed it back.

“Keep it for now?” he asked.  When my expression was one of confusion, he said, “I’m tender.  Too many days in the chair.”

I nodded.  I took the bag, and slung it over my shoulders, stepping back.  Lillian touched my upper arm.

“Like I said, I read the books,” he said.  “I’ve got this mental picture of each of you, all from words on the page.  Months and years of writing and notes.  Mentally, I can sort it, the dates, I can pull all the details together into something that should be…”

He gestured, unable to find the word.

That was odd.

“Three-dimensional?” I asked.

He smiled, a soft, easy expression.  “Thank you.  I haven’t met any of you, and it feels flat in my head, even if I try to pull it all into a shape.  I know the particulars, how the Lambs operate, how each of you operate, the hand-signs, the details of past missions, but it’s all still images, broken up.  I know exactly what you mean, about the issues you run into during a mission, except in a very page-turning, pen-on-paper way.  I understand there aren’t many great options, sometimes.  That we scrape by when things get bad.”

“You’ll pick things up,” Gordon said.  “It’s good to have you both with us.”

Gordon extended a hand.  The boy shook it, then pulled Gordon into an awkward sort of half-hug.

Then he hugged Mary, Helen, and Lillian in that order.

I was the last one he approached.

In the background, Helen was greeting Ashton.  “It’s so sad!  They gave you red hair!”

“Helen!” Mary rebuked her, while keeping one eye on my imminent exchange with the new boy.

“Everyone says that a man can’t be truly handsome if he has red hair!  And freckles too!”

“You don’t say that to his face, Helen.”

Oblivious to the ongoing conversation behind him, he stood a short distance from me.

“Ashton doesn’t mind,” Helen said.

“I don’t mind,” Ashton said.

My view was partially blocked by the boy who stood in front of me, but I saw Helen throw her arms around Ashton, hugging him.  He stayed there, arms limp at his side, as she rocked him back and forth.  She said something I guessed to be ‘little brother’.

I returned my focus to the boy.  Everyone that wasn’t Helen or Ashton seemed to be watching us.  More pressure.

There were a hundred things that were going through my head, things I could say and every single one of them had bad implications.

Whatever.  I would try one.  Starting simple.

“Is there something I can call you?” I asked.

“Jamie,” he said.

I flinched.  My eyes found the ground and I couldn’t bring myself to look away from it.  Not even his feet.

“Oh,” he said, realizing.  “It’s the name they gave me.  I think they would be annoyed if I used a different one.  I’m sorry.”

I couldn’t respond to that.

He would have to be Jamie.  Just like there were other Sylvesters in the world.  A different person with the same name.  He just so happened to have the same face, voice, and expressions.

It was hard to breathe, like I somehow had the weight of ten bags of books pressing down on my chest.

“Did they keep, find, rebuild anything?” I managed.

“Not the things you’re asking about, Sy,” he said.  “They gave me lessons, while digging for the key things.  How to walk again, how to speak, how to read, how to get dressed.  When it got too hard, they focused the lessons on re-teaching it from scratch, hoping that I’d be able to dredge up those memories if I could meet them halfway.  Some I did, others I… learned how to do all over again.  There are gaps, simple things I’m still re-learning, but they thought I was ready enough.”

“That’s why they didn’t want you to see us?” Gordon asked.  “Because you might have met us halfway to rebuild memories?”

“They thought it would muddy the waters.”

I looked up, meeting Jamie’s eyes, “Then there’s a chance that, if you have an appointment after this, having met us again…”

I realized what I was saying.  That weight on my chest wasn’t going away.  I faltered, falling silent again.

“I think, if that chance existed, they wouldn’t have let me out to see you.  They’re more focused on other things.  Skills, background knowledge.  How efficiently knowledge can be pulled from the tanks when the slate is clean.”

I could still hear the muffled violence and noise outside, fire, destruction, screaming, unheard orders to do this or do that, all while men died.  It felt like  a pretty good match to what I was feeling inside of my chest.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

I nodded.

“You’ll have to tell me about him,” he said.  “Okay?  About the first Jamie?”

I exhaled, a long shuddering breath.


Somehow, the fact that he’d asked that question, it made this bearable.  Meeting halfway.

I extended a hand.  I felt Jamie’s hand in mine as he shook it.

That done, I stepped around him, putting him behind me.  I approached Ashton, who Helen was now hugging from behind.  The heel of one hand wiped tears out of one eye.  The heel of the other hand wiped at the other.

Ashton.  He stared at me with those amber-yellow eyes.

My voice didn’t come out at full strength or even half-strength as I spoke, “Hi Ashton.  I’ve been wanting to meet you for a really long time.”

“Hi… Sylvester?”

I nodded.

“You’re sad,” he said.

I felt like my voice would catch if I spoke out loud, so I just nodded.

“I can make you happy again.”

“No you can’t, dum-dum,” I said, my voice still faint and hoarse.  “I’m immune to you.”


“Me too,” Helen said, still hugging Ashton from behind, rocking him slightly from side to side.  “But that’s because I’m not human.”

I extended a hand.  Ashton took it.

“No,” I said.  “Like this.  Firmer.  Grip harder.  Keep your wrist straight, not floppy.”

It took three tries before it was right.  On that one firm shake, as was proper between men, I pulled him closer, into a one-armed hug, a little more graceful than Jamie’s had been with Gordon.  Helen let him go just in time.

He received it with the same enthusiasm and effectiveness as a wet rope.

I released him, backing away and stepping to the side, turning around to look at the Lambs as a whole.  Helen reached out to pat down Ashton’s hair where it was sticking up, post-hug.  Then she wrapped her arms around him, one cheek pressed against the side of his head.

“He’s so new,” Helen said.  “Like a newborn calf who’s learning to stand, or a chick fresh out of the egg.”

“He’s doing a lot of the learning-from-scratch I’m doing,” Jamie said.  “We had some of the same lessons.  They sent him with me because they thought he’d learn better in the field than in a sterile room.”

“We’ll make do,” Gordon said.  “Speaking of…”

“What’s next?” Mary asked, more to finish Gordon’s question than to ask it.

“We could hunker down, keep our heads down, and wait this out,” Gordon said.

Please no.  Not with Jamie here.  Too difficult.

“Or we could go after Fray,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.  “That.  Great.  Let’s do that.  She said the North road.  I don’t know where that is, but we can figure it out.”

“I do,” Jamie said.  “The road, I’ve seen the city’s map, I know the layout.”

I felt a momentary dissonance.  How could I forget we had that resource, when I’d been having trouble remembering we didn’t when he wasn’t here?

“Okay, alright, that’s great, of course,” I said.  Speaking too quickly.  Calm down.  “We’ll have to catch up to her, anticipating her route, we still have to figure out a way to deal with the small army that is keeping her company, and we need to get away alive afterward.  But that’s not too hard.  The Lambs have done worse.”

Not easy,” Gordon said.  “We’re in a warzone.  The rooftops aren’t free to roam on.  We’d have to take the streets.  Keeping in mind she made a few shortcuts with those bombs.”

“Where?” Jamie asked.

“I couldn’t tell you,” Gordon said.  “Not off the top of my head.  General direction, maybe.”

“Then it doesn’t work,” Jamie said.  “If she’s more familiar with the shortcuts than we are, then we’re not going to catch up.”

“We can,” I said.  “We can figure it out on the way.”

“No,” Gordon said.  “My heart doesn’t feel great, Hubris was nudging my hand earlier.  If we were sure, I’d go for it, push just a little while longer, but we aren’t sure.”

Damn it, no.  I don’t want to stay cooped up here, feeling like I’ve got a weight on my chest and someone’s hand around my throat, pushing the knot at the front of my throat in.

“It’s more problematic than that,” I said.  “The other experiments turned coat, they’re leaving.  In the wake of all of this, we’re going to come under scrutiny.  If we don’t have actual results, something a little bit better than Percy’s corpse, then that’s going to hurt us.”

“That bird has flown the coop,” Mary said.  “We’ll manage.”

“No,” I said, my voice firm now.  “No.  Not like that, not like this.  We’re not giving up like that.”

“You think we can catch Fray?” Gordon asked.

“No,” I said.  Then I thought again.  “Yes.  It depends.”


“Everything that’s going on up there,” I said.  “We should split up.  Two groups.”

Mary spoke, “Sy, I understand if you need space, but-”

Listen,” I said.  I’d been too forceful, in saying it, like I was telling her to shut up.  I was letting emotion seep into my words, fighting too hard to avoid being sad, speechless, useless.  I wanted to do something.  “Listen to me, treat this as part of the mission, then decide if I’m doing it for ulterior reasons.”

“Okay, Sy,” Mary said.

“Two groups.  We need to balance the groups.  Group one, Ashton, Gordon, Helen.”

“You sure?” Gordon asked.  The quickest on the draw, at least while Mary was still slightly preoccupied with Percy’s death.  “You-”

He saw me start to react.

“Listening,” he said.

“My group, Mary, Jamie, Lillian.  You’re up to climbing?”

There were nods.

“I’m not athletic, but I’ve been exercising, trying to keep the scars flexible, so the sessions in the chair are easier,” Jamie said.  “I’m pretty sure I can climb.”

It was another person in Jamie’s body.  I couldn’t remember Jamie ever putting in extra effort to exercise, nor did he like talking about the scars.

Had he, I reminded myself.  Past tense.

The books on my back felt like a dead weight, devoid of personality, or even familiarity.  There was no association anymore.  The thirteen year old boy that stood a few feet away was a constant reminder and yet the furthest thing from a comforting presence.

“Sy?” Gordon asked.

I’d been staring off into space, thinking too hard.

“We’re listening,” Mary said.

“Gordon, you and Helen are babysitting Ashton.  Get him to the allied command.  He’s going to stretch his legs, practice in the field for the first time.  Let’s see how good of a manipulator he is.  We’re ending this conflict.”

“Easier said than done,” Gordon said.  “Bullets are flying, we don’t know what the battlefield up there is like.”

“You can get across fairly easily,” Jamie said.  “We got up and made it this far, but there’s a hole in the roof up there, and we needed the help of Dog and Catcher to get from the roof to the safer part of the top floor.”

“Show us.”

Just like that, we were making our way upstairs.  The Lambs, greater in number to what had been originally intended.  Minus one Evette, plus one Sylvester and a Mary.

And a dog.

The second floor was empty.  A living room, a kitchen, filled with dust and black smoke, to the point that our footfalls were swiping away stretches of soot and powder.

The roof had been blasted open.  The attic-level floor was just as dirty, with floorboards scorched black, blackened lumber still smouldering, lying scattered here and there.

“That side is harder to climb.  My group will take it.  You guys, go the opposite way.  Keep going until you find someone in charge, at least two people at the highest points up the ladder who’re directing the armies are in Fray’s pocket, perpetuating this stupid civil war.  Get control over that situation.  It shouldn’t be hard, once you find them – I doubt they want their own people getting shot any more than is necessary.  Fray’s superweapon moles are going to be running by now, there shouldn’t be too much interference.”

“And then?”

“Once that’s settled, catch up with us,” I said.  “We’ll see how well this works.”


“Good luck.”

Gordon gave me a mock salute.  Helen, meanwhile, had Ashton climb on her back, arms around her neck, while she prepared to climb.

When I turned to look at the slope of wreckage my team had to scale to get to the rooftop proper, I realized Jamie was staring at me.

Focus on the mission.

If I focus hard enough to block everything out, and my effectiveness is going to skyrocket.

“You’re sure it’s safe?” I asked.

“Not sure, but we weren’t getting shot at.  The focus seems to be along different flanks.  Two pairs of major groups limited in movement by the destroyed rooftops, focusing on each other,” Jamie said.

I nodded, turning to stare out at what mostly amounted to a ring, loosely circling Fray’s building.  I could see smoke here and there, and damage elsewhere.  Muzzles flashed and fires periodically sprung up.

“Let’s go.”

It wasn’t fast going, but I was fixated on the task.  I checked every handhold and foothold as I scaled the blackened rubble.  Some was still hot or warm to the touch.  Other parts of it were slick with a mingling of damp and the film on the burned wood.

Once I was firmly on the rooftop, I stood straight, surveying the battlefield and the city beyond, squinting to try and make out what I could of the city at large.  Rain streamed down through my hair and down my face.  Refreshing and cold.  Very, very cold.

The Brechwell Beast was close.

The others finished climbing up.  Mary and I both gave Lillian a hand.  Mary helped Jamie.

We ran as well as we were able, heads down, making sure to keep our balance where we could, skirting around a hole in the roof.

The nearest group of soldiers were aiming guns at us by the time I was able to see them.

Badge in hand, I held up my hands, slowing to a walk.

I could see the confusion on some of the soldier’s faces.  I could see bodies strewn on the rooftop behind them, the furthest point from their front line.  This was only the rear guard.

“Take me to your commander,” I said.

“Who the hell are you?”

I wasn’t in the mood for this.  I extended the badge in their direction.  “I’m the only person here who knows exactly what’s going on.”

He took the badge, squinting at it.

“While you’ve been shooting, the people you were supposed to be watching for got away.  That building down there is empty now.  Partially your fault, partially ours, but I want to remedy that.  Take us to the person in charge.”

“Stay put,” he said, before turning to the other men.  “Watch them.”

He took my badge away with him.

I didn’t like that.

I didn’t like standing still.  I was very aware of the people behind me.

“Lillian,” I said. “Can you help the wounded?”

“I can,” she said.

“You stay put,” one of the soldiers said.  “And stay quiet.”

I closed my eyes.

That last part.  The ‘stay quiet’.  I appreciated that.

It meant I didn’t have to talk.  Didn’t have to explain.

Mary and Lillian were huddled together, both wearing raincoats.  They were talking.  Saying a lot that I wasn’t privy to.

I doubted they had ever been closer.  Mary doing what she’d done, for Lillian…

Even the fact that Mary had put her head on Gordon’s shoulder, that was something.  She’d been gravitating towards him, a stiff arm’s-length relationship, she hadn’t let herself get close.

And then, all of a sudden, with Percy gone, she’d let down that guard.

She’d decided.  Closure, something that had been agonizing her put to rest.

I looked at Jamie, who was staring off in the direction the others had gone, standing straight, hands in his pockets.  Water had beaded his spectacles to the point I doubted he could see through them, but they were the reading type, easy enough to look over, with a change in the angle of his head.  His hood was up, but his hair was still getting damp at the very ends of the very front.

Minutes passed.  I was glad for the quiet.  I was disappointed to see the soldier that had ordered us to stay quiet stepping away.

Well, perhaps not the worst thing.

“Which way to the North Road?” I asked, breaking the silence.

There were no barked orders or threats.  The other men were too cold, stressed, and scared to be bothered, it seemed.

Jamie glanced at me.  Then he turned, taking in the city, and pointed.  His finger traced a line, and I matched that line to the curve of one street.  Now that I looked, it was twice as wide as the others.

“Sy, are you sure she went that way?” Mary asked.  “Fray could have deceived us, said one thing, while planning another.”

“When under that much stress?  No.  At most, she’s expecting us to expect that.”

Mary nodded.

“It’s gone quiet,” Jamie said.

I looked at him.

“The gunfire from that end.  It’s faltering.”

I nodded.

“Already?” Mary asked.

“It’s Ashton’s specialty,” I said.

“Does that mean you’re going to adjust how you operate again?” Mary asked.

“No,” I said, with a heavy heart.  “No need, not yet.”

“You,” a soldier spoke behind me.

Mary and Lillian stood.  Jamie and I turned.

It was the officer we’d spoken to earlier.  He was with another man, blond, young, and wearing a very ornate outfit with less decoration on the breast.  Less medals, less accomplishments.

The most hated man in Brechwell?

I took my badge back.

“Does this man serve under anyone but you?” I asked.

The blond man raised his eyebrows.

“No,” he said.  “Why?”

“Then he helped instigate this infighting,” I said.

I saw the man’s expression change, and in that flicker of surprise, I knew I was right.

“He what?” the Headmaster General asked me.

“My colleagues are already rounding up one or two of the others.  We’re about to find out half of the superweapons are gone, if not more,” I said.  “Working with the enemy.  I’ll explain in time.  For now, I would recommend arresting him.”

The Headmaster General looked at the man, who was turning red, visible even in the rain and the gloom.

“Lies,” he said.

I didn’t flinch, only waited.

Everyone wanted something, everyone had a weakness.  I’d identified Brechwell’s weakness fairly soon after visiting.  Which reminded me…

“He helped goad the friendly fire, he helped enemy forces slip through and operate unnoticed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he helped let the people through when the Academy was set on fire, or changed what was stored where, to help the flames spread,” I said.

“The fighting has stopped,” Jamie said, just behind me.  “You can hear there aren’t as many bullets being fired, and the explosions are slowing down.”

“You lose nothing by arresting him now,” I said.  “Question him later, after facts have come to light.  You’ll find he’s trying to make you look bad.  You can blame us if we’re wrong, and take the credit if we’re right.”

The man’s face was getting redder still.  For all that people seemed to hate him, the Headmaster General seemed to be holding his composure.

“Arrest him,” he ordered the men.

There wasn’t a fight.  Face red, glaring, the man was quickly seized by four lesser officers.

“I hope you’re right,” the Headmaster General said.

“There’s another part to this.  The allied forces and reinforcements are coming from the southwest, primarily?”


“The enemy is gone, they’re making a run for it.  Let’s make life harder for them, or see if we can’t reveal some more of your traitors.”


“Have the men in the towers direct the Brechwell Beast along the North Road.”

He stared at me, analyzing.

“If people in the towers shoot to change or confuse its course, then you know they’re on her side.  You can’t have people like that at your Academy while you rebuild,” I said.

The Headmaster General nodded.  He leaned close to one of the remaining officers, whispering orders, and then sent the man scampering off.

“I’m staying with you, until this is all resolved,” he said.

“It’s as resolved as it will get,” I said.  “We pick up the pieces, now, and pay mind to the aftermath.”

It wasn’t fast, the transmission of orders, or the initial movement of the Beast.  Despite his promise to stay with us, the General stepped away to coordinate the passing on of messages.

Jamie pointed the way, figuring out the routes Fray might have taken, the places she could be, assuming she was making a beeline for freedom.

“This won’t stop her,” Mary said.  “A surprise attack by the Brechwell Beast?  It won’t remove her from the picture, she’s too canny.”

“Her?  No.  But she has a small army with her.  Can all of them get to cover?  There’s got to be an inverse to the cats and cockroaches principle.”

“We don’t have one,” Lillian said.

“You need one,” I said.  “Always count on some degree of incompetence, in a sufficiently large group.”

The Brechwell Beast was moving.  Picking up speed.

“It’s on the North Road,” Jamie said.

It had been quiet too long, my focus elsewhere.  The sound of his voice made my heart leap, then fall three times as far as it had risen.

I had never missed my best friend more.

“Lowering its head,” the General said.  “It spotted something.”

It took three seconds.  One attack.

Then the Beast continued on its way.

“We’re done,” I said.  “Nothing more we can accomplish here.  Let’s go find the others.  You can break the news to them, Jamie.”

“The news?” he asked, eyebrows raised.

My heart was heavy.  “I know.  I’ve figured it out, why they would go for Ashton and not Evette.”

“Ah, yes.”

“What?” Mary asked.

“Redundancy,” I said.  “Two social manipulators, two people who can fight.  Why?  Think about it.”

“I’m thinking about it, but, they don’t expect any of us to die?  Or are they- they’re not canceling a project?”

I could hear the alarm in her voice.  I could see the relief as I shook my head.

A few ‘pops’ of gunfire suggested that things hadn’t entirely settled down in Brechwell.

“They’re going to split up the Lambs.  Or at least prepare for it to happen soon,” I said.

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77 thoughts on “Tooth and Nail – 7.16

  1. The Lambs, greater in number to what had been originally intended. Minus one Evette, plus one Sylvester.

    – Should include plus Mary as well, I think.

  2. Oof.

    So partway through this arc I was distracted by some real-life stuff, and an event I’d planned to end one chapter with was put off until the next chapter, so I could end at a reasonable time. That threw off my entire sense of what moments & things I wanted to start & close chapters with, and the arc got a little long as a sort of side-consequence of that.

    Then two three-chapter weeks in a row, and some insomnia as bad as I’ve had it (and I’ve had insomnia to varying degrees since I was 7, rarely going a week without three or four frustrating nights), and let’s just say I’m glad I’ve reached the end. Hoping this arc came out well enough.

    Am working on the editing of Worm, hoping to get something concrete done by end of year or by early spring, but it’s tough going and fitting it in between everything else I have to do to subsist and the writing of Twig is hard. I’m thinking I may hire an editor for some help in figuring my way out past some snarls, where I’ve read and reread and revised things to the point I’ve lost all objectivity.

    But, all minor difficulties aside, there are upsides. Life in general is pretty good, reading reviews on WFG and Goodreads always makes my day, and without being crass, donations are a great punch-in-a-good-way to the feel-good part of the heart. That in mind, I’d like to extend special thank-yous to Danielmnicolas and BakerJake for their reviews of Twig (and for the reviews of other works, including Drusa’s review of Worm), and to recent donators: Walter (a regular donator!), Kyle, James G, Carl, James H, Michael G, Matt T, William, John, Dennis, Jacob H, Daniel N, Brian M, Daniel T, Brian U, Roman, Sean, Maxwell, Daniel S, David P, Wendy and Sam.

    Extra special thanks to Dustin G, Air, Timothy, Aidan, Alastair, Sean, and Robert H.

    I also remain grateful to my Patreon followers, with special mention to Ryan, Alexander, Zach, Simon, Ralph, Matt, G, Steven, Lance, Philippe, David, Robert, James, Shara, Josh, Aaron K, James, Aaron S, Beau, Miro, Misha, Tony, Tom, Dave, Peter, and LRS. There are many more besides, but typing them out would take forever and a day. I’m grateful to know you guys have my back.

    • Don’t worry. This arc has been excellent, and quite gripping. Any jumps in pacing fit the hectic followed by waiting nature of warfare.

    • Insomnia? My condolences. I know how that particular weight goes.

      This has been a good arc. I have a feeling the time will come when the Lambs realize they should have taken Fray’s offer…

    • Have you ever tried sleeping with a cold pack on a pillow? I had really bad insomnia for years and the most effective remedy I’ve found is sleeping with the cold pack.

      Personally recommend Polar Tech Ice Brix 10″ by 6″ from Amazon if you’ve never tried that and want to give it a shot.

      Looking forward to the release of Worm and been really enjoying Twig!

    • Hey Wildbow – just wanted to let you know I’m pretty good at english, and if you want an additional editor who will work for free, I’m your man. Send me your email. I love your writing enough to do this for you 🙂

  3. Goddamn this arc has been fantastic. Ashton is definitely Helens little brother, they both got that inhuman quality going for them, Ashtons is just way more prominent. New Jamie acknowledges Old Jamie, which helps Sy deal with it. Also, how dare you split the Lambs! They are my precious babu’s and Sy needs all the help he can get from Lillian and Mary

    Finally, Wildbow, this arc has been probably the high point of Twig so far and you shouldn’t feel anxious about it at all. That said, get an editor to help you work through Worm, because that thing is a Behemoth.

  4. Wildbow, you big butt ;~; That meeting with Jamie made me cry. I couldn’t possibly handle a reunion like that. I was thinking, if someone important to me lost all their memories, would I be able to handle it?, how is it any different? But that person wouldn’t have been killed by the Academy and intentionally replaced. Iunno. It’s horrible. This new Jamie is so similar to the old one, too…

    “About the first Jamie?” That’s… a horrible way to put it
    Eesh. Wording. That’s a horrible way to put it… It kind of follows that there will be more Jamies…

    Ashton’s power is terrifying, jeez! Though I don’t quite trust it. You can make yourself immune to chemicals (and he is limited to what he can produce), but you can’t always be certain someone isn’t misleading you or has you outsmarted. He’s pretty new, though, so maybe he’ll develop new tricks.

    I wonder if Jamie kept any personal notes on his notebooks about Sy (and the rest).

    Splitting the Lambs? D: D: D: Noooooooooo no no :<

    • Oops. I made a typo. “That’s a horrible way to put it” isn’t part of the story xP

      Also possible typo:
      I couldn’t remember Jamie ever putting in extra effort to exercise, nor did he like talking about the scars.

      Had he, I reminded myself. Past tense.

      I don’t know where “had he” would fit. “Did he” also works, no?

    • In real life, a person who has amnesia still feels like he existed in the past but just can’t remember what happened. So he has a reason to identify with his past. But it seems they allowed new Jamie to feel like a new person, so he doesn’t identify with the old Jamie. So that’s a bit different.

      • However, I think that barrier took a large hit when he saw Sy’s rather obvious grief for Jamie-who-was. 🙂

        It’s hard to feel indifferent about somebody who could make Sy react like that. Betcha the books he hasn’t read will get devoured post-haste, rather than being the backburner project he’d originally decided they’d be. 😀

      • In real life, people don’t get amnesia by getting their memories sucked out into giant brains floating in jars of chemical solution before having them imprecisely implanted again

  5. Hey Wildbow-
    Kudos, as always. My son and I both do editting work. Would you like me to have him contact you? He is the one who got me interested in Worm. Thanks as always; We all love your stories.

  6. Sorry to hear about your insomnia. However, your concerns about this arc are unnecessary – it was great.

    Seeing Sy deal with the lack of Jamie has been wonderful, and Fray attacking the loyalties of the other superweapons makes sense now that the Academy’s leash has been weakened – it’s always seemed like the Academy has had pretty low amounts of direct control over experiments that they generally don’t treat very well, though Sy’s somewhat irrational loyalty suggests that they have more control than we know about.

    Glad to hear that the editing of Worm is working well, and I suspect that hiring an editor would be a good idea. There’s only so much that you can do yourself, even with comments from the readers helping you out (or not helping, comments are like that).

  7. I like neo-Jamie more than I thought I would. Vulnerable, but wanting to help, knowing he has big shoes to fill, knowing the pain that his presence causes. I was expecting someone colder, someone less compassionate, totally by-the-books (pun intended). I think this is going to go way better than I feared.

    Famous last words…

    • I agree, he seems like a good fit for the Lambs. Let’s hope that Sy can come to appreciate him without that painful feeling in the back of his head all the time.

      On a related note, Sy’s name is Sylvester, yet everyone (apart from Hayle) calls him Sy. Why can’t they nickname the new guy as James? It’s close, but not quite Jamie (just like the person).

    • I’m not so sure about the “not less compassionate” part. For example, old Jamie might have at least offered a nickname if not directly requesting a formal name change upon witnessing the group’s and especially Sy’s discomfort and hearing his request. This Jamie simply brushed the question aside as an inconvenience. Also, the Jury’s out on his helpfulness, how genuine it is – he might be serving a secondary purpose as a mole for the Academy now, ensuring that there are no secrets kept hidden. The Lambs did cause some friction and the leadership might have desired a measure of additional control.

      • Initially, yes. However, he started readjusting, I think. Somewhere along the line, Jamie the Second picked up anti-Sy vibes. I’m guessing this wasn’t an accident, nor a simple case of “I read you were a scamp”… (I wonder what the Duke primed the staff to do — either explicitly or implicitly). 😐

  8. I’m guessing the medicine that Jamie handed out is a countermeasure to Ashton’s abilities, since he excluded Sy and Helen who are immune.

    Speaking of which, I’m liking Sy being immune to Ashton and trying to reach out to him. His little brother. It’s cute.

  9. Nice, Ashton actually is a sentient drug fountain. I can finally check “Determined a wildbow character’s main MO at a glance” off my bucket list.

    Helen is totally all over/around him because he smells like cake.

    • That’s actually something I’ve been expecting since we read about Sy sneaking off to see Ashton’s tree-like… er, “womb?” Weird. He’s some mix of flora/fauna, so I’m guessing his manipulation is tied to a mixture of pheromones and academy created spores.

  10. So, to speculate wildly on the make up of the new teams..

    – Gordon can’t go with Mary
    – Sy can’t go with Ashton
    – I can see Sy being split from Gordon, as they’re the most experienced two. (Although you could argue that their history is a reason to keep them together).
    – On the opposite end of that argument, Ashton and Jaime should be separated. (plus coming at it from a Doylist angle, Jaime and Sy would probably be great together)
    – I’m assuming Helen would then go with Gordon, to keep the number of experiments in each team equal. (Although I feel like there’s a strong argument to be made for keeping the two non-humans separate.)
    – On the other hand, putting the two nonhumans together makes it easier to argue for putting Lil in with Mary: a team of all humans probably makes her job easier.

    So that makes Gordon+Ashton+Helen and Mary+Sy+Jaime+Lillian. Boy I‘ve really gone down the rabbit hole here.

  11. You know Sy was taking the position of Manipulator all this time and now theres Ashton.

    But there is something that just hit me… for almost the entire time he has been taking up the position of a Strategist. And now with Ashton there that is really the only position he can take up, putting his full focus onto that job.

    • Except he said he’s not changing the way he operates, so he’ll still do both. Plus if they split up the lambs, they’d need a manipulator on each team and someone to lead on both teams. Ashton and Gordon for team one respectively, and Sylvester and Sylvester for team two respectively.

  12. Damn, just when the heroes were going to make their daring escape, the villains launched an attack that may well have wiped out the new allies.

    I joke. At this point I consider both sides in the conflict equally bad, and want them both to loose.

    • Hmm… I admit my enthusiasm for Frey has cooled somewhat, after discovering the next step of her plan, or how she willingly associated with Percy (and condoned his actions?) Fray was a lot more ruthless this time around, although she was under a lot more pressure too.

      STILL, despite all that, Fray might have more steps to her plan she is not telling, and leaving the Academy to its own devices might be worse in the long run. Uncontrolled growth can be dangerous, and Fray might be the poison that keeps the growth in check, so to speak.

      I have to admit, there is another reason I like her. Her grand goal and plan is the main connective tissue keeping this story together. The Lambs are great characters, but they never really have a goal that extends from one arc to the next (except “surviving” and “keeping together”, which are needs, rather than concrete goals). The story doesn’t have a very strong running theme either, so I am glad for Frey’s presence, at least story-wise. Twig is as much hers as the Lambs’ story.

      • Well which to you prefer. Being dead or a survivor of a apocalyptic bio war, or being a slave of a world conquiring totalitarian regime that’s going to phase you out in favor of something more loyal? Death or Slavery?

        • From a cold point of view, Frey’s plan is better.

          In the Academy’s world everyone is a slave to royalty, which includes about 0,01% of the population at best. Moreover, everyone who will even be born will be a slave of the Crown too. If technology progresses too far, they’d be invinsible. And lets add to that the variouds fate worse than death they can mete.

          In Frey’s world we have , at worst, 5% survivors (and the 90-95% of deaths is not a number confirmed by Frey) who have a chance to be free. The kind of existence under the Academy is an existence many people would (and have, under similar regimes) choose death over. Moreover, their descentants will likely be free. Death and regression of technology> the human face under a boot, forever (yaay, 1984 reference)

          • As a counterpoint, unless the Crown imposes its own obscurantism / witch hunt far worse than anything going on right now / replace all of humanity for mindless servants (I doubt that, no matter how terrible the Crown is, most would agree to this), I think it’s likely society will just, well, get better over time.

            That’s a biiig assumption, but it compensates by not killing a sizeable part of humanity.

    • It’s being implied that Sy’s expiration date is way, way past that of the others (directly stated outright in one of the first chapters IIRC– something along the lines of “and I will outlive them all!”– and it continues to be implied every time it’s mentioned that Sy doesn’t appear to be aging, or is at least doing so at a much reduced rate than all of his peers)

    • Sylvester has his expiration date around his early twenties, while Gordon’s is the first to go in less than a year. Jamie hit his very early, but will be a vegetable at the very end of his project’s life cycle in about ten years, Helen has about three to five years left, and we just found out Mary won’t make it to adulthood.

      So if that does happen, the lambs as we know it would be long dead anyways.
      Sylvester has his expiration date last and should outlive this team and the next if they keep the same life cycles. Which is why he’s more than willing to die for them, because if he doesn’t he’ll outlive them all

  13. I cannot wait to see Ashton in action on screen! I think I like Jamie the second, even if that was heart rending. I did notice that thing about the Lambs having two manipulators and two combatants! Oh god, I don’t think I could handle losing half of the cast, I hope they figure something out. How I think they’ll be split up: team 1: Gordon, Hubris, Ashton, and Helen. Team 2: Sy, Jamie, Lillian, and Mary. Which is sad for Gordon and Mary! Although considering how poor Gordon’s health is Helen and Lillian might be switched. Jamie covers up Sy’s weaknesses very well. I REALLY want Ashton to stay in the limelight with Sy at least long enough to get to know him better.

    • Fray? She didn’t actually have an interlude. Though maybe Wildbow wants to keep her until endgame.
      Dog or Catcher? It would make sense.
      Petey, Ma- Engineer or Wry Man?
      That guy with catlike warbeast? We don’t know a thing about him, but he was mentioned a few times, so, by the Law of Conservation of Detail…
      Or birthing saw guy, by the same reasoning?
      Brechwell Beast? What, we did get a dog interlude during Worm, and the beast isn’t really friendly to anything.
      Ah, I know! Radham Monster! Which is now controlled by Briggs, whom Fray rescued and turned to her side. For some reason it will go to Brechwell, and will have an epic fight with Brechwell Beast (thus continuing the pattern “PoV of one of the Lambs’ enemy, in which said enemy confronts one of the Academy’s creations”).

  14. Think of it this way, Sy. The Lambs are successful enough to warrant having more of them. In fact with the others leaving they’ll have to start producing even more, faster. I daresay they’ll need to use pre-existing brains to meet demand.

    Orphan children won’t be missed, right?

  15. Here’s my wildly irresponsible name-etymology guess:

    I live in Wisconsin, and we play a card game called “Sheepshead.” In the context of that game, there’s a slang verb “to mauer.” A mauerer is someone who has a very strong hand, but doesn’t expose themselves to the high-risk, high-reward situation of being the “picker.” More information here:

    It’s probably a red herring–Sheepshead is not a well-known game outside of Wisconsin–but I can’t get it out of my head whenever I see that character’s name…

  16. Seriously, I think this might’ve been the best arc yet. Or at least the one I enjoyed most. We had lots of action, lots of interaction on very different levels and Sy got licked by Helen. And Hubris. So, I don’t think there’s much reason to be anxious about real life issues diminishing the quality of your writing, this arc came out DAMN fine.^^ Also, I’m glad to hear that you’re still working on Worm. 🙂 Definitely gonna get a copy of it when it’s finished. ^^ I’d offer my help with editing, too, but my experience with that kind of stuff is limited to german specialist literature. ^^’ Better leave Worm to the real pros.
    Sucks about your insomnia, though. :/ I can see where this is frustrating and exhausting… I hope you’ll get better soon!

  17. I am intrigued. Lillian drank from the vials New Jamie brought… I dont remember she being on the chemical leash along with the experiments… did I miss anything?

    • Yes, you did.

      Helen and Sy didn’t drink it, although they were on the chemical leash.

      What are Helen and Sy immune to that others aren’t?



      thought yet?


      here’s the answer

      The thing they are immune while others aren’t is….


  18. Wildbow-

    Have you put much thought into how to choose editor(s) for Worm? Undoubtedly there will be a dozen strong candidates among your readers, and considering the scale of the project, I imagine finding a qualified editor who’s already familiar with the story is all but mandatory–someone who has read through the story from beginning to end a minimum of three times.

    I would do something like pick a section that you’ve edited yourself, and ask candidates to edit it also, so you can compare what they come up with to the style and tone you know you want, as well as seeing if they come up with any improvements you hadn’t thought of yourself.

    I would also be wary about choosing someone who would work for free. If things get tough, I would want something tangible guaranteeing they will stick with it.

    That said, I would be happy to throw my name in the hat. I’m only a so-so writer, but I’m a very good editor!

  19. I can’t recall. In what chapter were evette and Ashton’s abilities explained? I feel like I’m missing some context.

    • Evette’s abilities have never been explained in detail, although we might have gotten some of it in one of the early arcs. Ashton’s abilities have not been explained explicitly yet, but it’s clear that it is some sort of chemical control. (Hence why Sy and Helen, the poison-proof one and the nonhuman, don’t need the vials.) Hope this helps!

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