Counting Sheep – 9.14

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The two of us moved across the house, making as little noise as possible while still striving to cover as much ground as possible.

The game with the twins was still underway.  Give and take.  Each trying to constrain the other side’s options.  Our options now were far more limited.

The younger siblings were killing machines.  Easier to predict, to bait into attacking or reacting.  The elder twins were more complex, more savvy.  They had demonstrated that much earlier.  I had no idea what to expect from them.  I knew they were strong, their bodies repurposed and at least somewhat similar to the younger twins.  I knew their senses were altered.  I didn’t know much else.

The house we’d broken into had a side door.  There was no convenient way to check if the coast was clear, and I wouldn’t trust any of those ways if they did exist.

All I could do was ease the door open slowly, ready to move a lot faster if I needed to stab at anyone on the other side.


Up until now, I had been able to maintain a general sense of where things were.  Now there were too many variables to control and there was too little in the way of indicators.  The explosions at the front line of the battle had stopped, but gunshots were incessant on both sides, the lines disorganized.  I couldn’t tell what might be the Twins’ soldiers shooting at the surviving members of our group from the rest of the noise.

A hand touched my shoulder.  Jamie pointed, gestured.

Indicating our path.  He had to have some idea as to why.  We were heading through side streets, but he might have glanced down another street while we’d been walking with our handpicked squadron and picked up a sense of how the area was laid out.

We ran for a couple of minutes, passing by a patch where the rocky ground was too uneven for any kind of building to be planted on it.

Behind the residential block, a few streets down, was a building, recessed into a nook in the patch of rockier terrain.   The building was surrounded by walls, in turn.  It wasn’t one of the sturdier constructions, standing half-again as tall as a typical one-story house did, as wide on any side as two houses, and on approach, I could smell traces of shit and blood.  There was a peculiar cast to the smell, suggesting it wasn’t fresh – just the opposite.  Weeks upon weeks of blood and shit piled onto one another, as if the rocky ground here had trapped the smell in.

A slaughterhouse, or it had been.  Not a huge one, probably only taking in six to twelve animals at a time, bringing them in along a road that branched in off the main street.  The lack of freshness to the smells made me think it hadn’t been used anytime in the last week or two.  Closed for the colder months, perhaps, or it worked on a schedule, as boats came in.

Weapon, Jamie signaled.

Did I want to pass up my spear of twin-bone for something from the slaughterhouse?  I could think of a dozen things I could do with the right tool and the right circumstance.  Meathooks, saws, chains, and sharp blades?  On any other day, it would have been perfect.

“No,” I said.  If we weren’t far enough away from the Twins to be able to speak without being overheard, then we were as good as dead as it was.  “But it’s a good thing to put between us and the twins.  Strong smell, to make us harder to sniff out, walls to block sounds.  Even if they’re strong, and even if they’re nimble, it doesn’t look like it’s easy to get onto the roof, and cutting across the property looks like it’s a pain.”

It was true.  Fences, corrals, barriers to keep thieves out, and doors, all bounding a building that looked dilapidated enough to discourage kicking one’s way through doors.  Part of the reason I didn’t want to put time into going into the building and getting my hands on things.

“Good,” Jamie said.

“How did you even see it?  Through an alley as we walked by?”

“If you stand near the harbor and look northeast, you could see it.  Looking the other way, the slope and intervening buildings hide it.”

“Maybe we could see it, but I definitely couldn’t tell what it was from that distance.”  Or remember where it was supposed to be.

“Neither could I.  I figured something like this, set a little bit away from the other buildings, a bit large-”

“Was set apart from other stuff for a reason.  Because it offended the senses.  Loud or smelly.”

“Which means tools.”

I nodded.  Which mean options.

Every interaction with this Jamie seemed to create more distance between me and the old Jamie.  As if it reminded me, again and again, over and over, that my best friend was gone and he was being left behind.

That this Jamie was proving himself and honing his abilities in a way very different from the Jamie I knew was a bittersweet thing.  Bitter because it only widened the gap, sweet, if it could be called that, because it helped keep us alive.

My finger touched the ring at my thumb.  The options afforded by the slaughterhouse weren’t worth the time it took to get in, or the risk of finding ourselves at odds with very angry twins in an environment filled with sharp things.

More likely they’d figured out where we were, and were moving in the same direction we were.  If our group had headed toward Mauer, then they had waltzed right into the soldiers.  Jamie and I had backtracked a little and were now heading to that same general perimeter.

My hope was that the soldiers had taken notice of the group of seven and were now moving from their position to collapse in on the group.  The line became a ‘u’, which became a circle, ever-closing on the seven.  If the soldiers thought we were part of that group, then there was a very real chance we could come in behind the soldiers as they closed the circle, approaching from the outside of that circle while the people that composed it were looking inward.

The twins, if they were following us, would have found themselves cut off by terrain and by the setup of the fences and walls of the little slaughterhouse.  They would turn, moving in parallel to us as we headed toward the soldiers who were attacking or surrounding the seven.

Jamie’s little tidbit of knowledge had bought us distance.

There were two possibilities, now.  The first was that the seven were dead, and the twins would find their soldiers and give the order to chase us.  That would be bad, and it would be a test of whether grown men or two boys who had been running all night were quicker on their feet.

The second option was that the seven were alive.  The twins would reach their soldiers, give the order, and make those soldiers attack.  Whatever was holding them back, whatever had happened that let the seven live, the twins would force a resolution, even if it meant making their soldiers mount a suicidal attack on the seven.  That done, they could attack Mauer’s back line or chase us.

Both options were different brands of bad.

Mauer was only a five minute run away, going by the fires and the glow of the countless people who held torches.  The Crown- I had no way of telling.  Too many people were shooting in too many places.

I watched the buildings, looking, my eye focusing on the darkness, to see if I could see shadow moving against shadow, as the Crown’s soldiers moved closer to the seven.

Where had they set up, and where were they going?  Given a choice, where would a talented soldier set up?

A sharp whistle made Jamie and I turn our heads simultaneously.

A moment later, a gunshot.  It was answered by three more.  The first gunshot and the answering gunfire had very different sounds, the latter muffled, not nearly as crisp.

The twins had found the soldiers.  The first gunshot we’d heard had to be one of their soldiers, if not one shot fired by a member of a pair or trio.  A response to the whistle that summoned them, I imagined.  ‘We can’t come because we’re the only thing between the enemy and Mauer’, it was saying.

The answering gunfire would have been the response of the seven.  Or however many were left, now.  Not a response I would have recommended.  They had just told everyone where they were.

I gestured.  Jamie nodded.

We moved in the direction of our allies, keeping closer to the shadows.

Pinned down, surrounded, injured, and unaware that the twins were about to catch up with them.

We reached an intersection.  I could look down the length of this particular street and see the back lines of Mauer’s force.  So close, yet those forces were preoccupied.

It was salvation.  I could have abandoned my hand-picked group and gone to Mauer.  I was carrying a trophy that would likely buy some mercy from the man.  It could even buy us soldiers, a force of men that could strike at a smaller squad of the twins’ men and the twins themselves.

It would be so easy to be the utter bastard, to just dispose of those lives.  The risk, the reward, the likelihood it saw us living versus the nobles dying.

I wondered if Mauer would have decided to return to the main force.  I felt like he might, if it was civilians and not his trained soldiers.  For his men to be loyal, he had to justify that loyalty.  To do otherwise would have required constant manipulation.  He was good at leading and directing people, shepherding his flock, but he seemed far too pragmatic a man to adopt lies and manipulations that would tie his hands just a little in every interaction over just about every single day.

I couldn’t do it.

We glanced around, checking every avenue, then, at a signal from me, we crossed the street at a run.

We were three-quarters of the way across when I saw movement in the corner of my eye.

One soldier.

I gestured, and Jamie and I began to follow the man, as he wound his way through alleys, heading in the direction of the whistle.

He moved at a brisk walk.  Jamie and I moved at a jog.  It would have been a run, but we both took caution to move silently.  The heat in the air from the bodies and the fires of Mauer’s forces was plunging skyward alongside plumes of smoke, and the difference in cold air and hot air was stirring the wind, drawing in cold air from the harbor and up the sloping city.  It was windy, and the wind stirred up snow, it blew in the ear and it caught sounds, carrying them away.  Moving while upwind of the man would help, if only a little.

You.  Right.  Me.  Left.  I gestured.

Jamie and I parted as we approached the soldier from behind.  Sure enough, he was focused on the direction of the seven and on getting to the Richmond Twins quickly enough to avoid their ire.

Jamie glanced at me.

You.  High.  Me.  Low.

He nodded.

The man was a few paces away, but he was walking away from us.  Moving closer meant having to be quieter, which generally necessitated moving slower.  It was a paradox, one that made the approach an exercise in agony.  The strain of smoothly rolling my weight forward with more careful motions of my legs and feet was making the cut in my calf hurt.  Courtesy of the younger twins.

I saw Jamie’s head turn, and then reluctantly drew back, dropping lower to the ground and closer to the edge of the nearest building, where I could be out of sight.

Another soldier, approaching from a different position, converging on the same point as our quarry.

There would be no careful execution of that pair.  Especially with the risk that another soldier might approach and spot us as soon as we stepped out of cover and attacked.

Jamie had stopped as well.  He watched from the other end of the street, through precipitation-beaded glasses, his hood up, a rifle in his hands.

I gestured at Jamie.  Enemy.  Count.  Question.

One-five, the response came.

Fifteen.  Fifteen soldiers to worry about.  Fifteen, and the two we’d just seen had approached from points that seemed set fairly far from one another.  Assuming they had started traveling when they heard the whistle…

Back, I gestured.  Fast.

We reversed course.

I could imagine Gordon explaining it: it didn’t make sense that the soldiers would position themselves that that far apart, with so much of an area to watch.  Drawing a mental circle around the handpicked group of seven, extrapolating from what we had seen, there would be seven or eight different positions where soldiers had taken up watch.  Those positions left wide, wide gaps between them.

The only plausible explanation was that there was more than one soldier at each post.  The whistle code had called for only one to arrive and report in.  Others were still at their posts.

Knowing the direction they would be looking and the direction the two soldiers we’d seen had been traveling, I could start looking for the vantage points they might have taken up.

Have to be fast.  The twins are closing in.

There.  Built adjunct to one building was a rigging of planks and pieces of wood, some of the lengths of wood still had bark on them.  A ladder led up to the top of what looked to be a water reservoir tower.  Set up to catch the rain like a water barrel, with a hose drooping down for showers or some industrial work.

A perfect vantage point.  It offered a good view of surrounding streets.

I gestured for Jamie to wait.  He nodded, and retreated a bit, to where he could point the gun up and in the general direction of the tower.

The construction gave me cause for concern.  It wasn’t shoddy, and it didn’t look wobbly – it wouldn’t have held any proper amount of water if it was either.  But it wasn’t so solid that I could be sure that any movement wouldn’t vibrate through the entire construction, alerting the guy or guys on the top that someone was approaching.

I moved with care, my calf aching as I adjusted my weight upward, rather than climbing or hauling myself up.  Holding the spear of carbon-strong bone, I had to be extra careful not to knock it against anything.

I knew the angle the man or men on top might be looking, if they were watching out for their buddy and for the group of seven.  They would be especially alert, because their buddy was gone, and there was a lot of ground to watch, more with fewer sets of eyes.

I had to approach from one side.  I tucked the spike of bone through the back of my shirt and down the back of my pants.  Once I was sure it wouldn’t fall free, I moved from one side of the ladder and climbed around the platform, gripping the ledge with my fingers, my legs dangling over the sloped roof below.  The spots in my arm where the younger twin’s fingers had dug into flesh throbbed with pain, and my right hand was noticeably weaker than my left, as a consequence of the damage.

Not a terminal fall, but falling would be terminal.  I would make noise, and if I was right and if someone had set up position here, then I would be gunned down before I finished rolling off the roof and landing on the street below.

Wood creaked under my hands.  I froze, trying not to move.

I heard a murmur.

The mental image of the scene above me clarified.  I knew which way he was looking, and now I had a general sense of where at least one of the people were.

Moving a hand up, I gripped the rail above me, splinters digging into my palms.  Legs still dangling, I hauled myself up until I could see everything on the platform.

Platform, circular, with the barrel situated on top.  The platform with its rail at the boundary would let the owner fix the water barrel if it started leaking, after weather or the weight of water warped it too much.

One man sat with his back to the barrel, watching in the direction I’d guessed.

I hauled myself up further, brought one leg over, and then brought the other up.  Once I was secure, with four points of contact with solid terrain, I reached back, and slid the spike of bone onto the platform beside me.  Flexible enough to move, now, I walked myself forward, still maintaining a death grip on the railing, until I was lying down on my back, my arms over my head, holding the railing.

I relaxed, flipping over and taking hold of the spike, and crawled around the circumference of the oversize water barrel.

I attacked from around the corner.  One blow.  Ambush, I could do, calculating my move in my own time, no rush and no fuss.  Fighting was something else, leaving me one step behind.

All of my weight behind the blow, I drove the spike of bone into the front of the man’s throat.  He fell over, eyes going wide, and I planted my feet, thrusting the spike in deeper, so there was more bone in his throat, blocking and tearing through windpipe and arteries.

He reached for his gun, a final, suicidal attack.  I put my foot out, blocking the gun from coming around to point at me.

The fight went out of him quick, but he was slow to die.  He struggled for what seemed like a minute.  He’d stopped trying to use the gun, and his hands weakly grasped at the bone that extended in one side of his neck and out the other.  He was showing no sign of stopping, grunting and gasping, making thick choking sounds.

Then, as I pulled the spike free, he seemed to go out like a snuffed candle.  As he went limp, he made a singular, low, gurgling groan that seemed like the accumulation of all the sounds he’d been unable to make during that one minute of struggle.

My finger touched the ring at my thumb.

A man with a family.  A man who had shit and laughed and cried, countless times over the course of his life.  On a level, he might have had no choice but to follow the nobles.  He wasn’t any more or less guilty than the citizens of Lugh I’d hand-picked.  On another level, he was participating in a city-wide extermination, trying to kill children and relative innocents who had only picked up this fight to defend themselves.

It didn’t break down to right or wrong.  It was too complicated, and that complication was matched with the simple reality that he’d had to die, because he might have shot us if he was given the chance.

With all of my strength, I hauled him back up to a sitting position.  It took some doing.  With care, I buttoned up his shirt and raised his collar before buttoning that too, to cover the wound.  I positioned his head so he sat in nearly the exact same posture he’d sat when I found him.  The stiff collar helped to keep his head up, but I suspected it would give way with a few more minutes of his heavy chin pressing down on it.

It only took thirty seconds to prop him back up like that, and if someone came to find him in the meantime, the confusion and alarm might help us.

Collecting his gun, I headed back down the ladder, climbing down with two feet and one hand, as fast as I was able.  Jamie met me at the bottom, waiting patiently while I slid the bone spike back into my shirt, the fat end in my back pocket.

I pointed.  Jamie nodded.

Circling around to the south of the group of seven, we headed in the general direction the other soldier had come from.

He found us before we found him.  A gunshot rang out, closer and clearer than the cacophony from Mauer’s camp.

You.  Right.  I gestured.

But Jamie was heading right before I even started indicating it.

Another gunshot.  Unaware, the group of seven fired back in our general direction.  They thought the gunshots were meant for them.

It would be so very fitting if I died after getting shot by a friendly bullet.

The twins would be coming, probably at a brisk run.

No time.  Jamie continued moving to the shooter’s right, I moved to the shooter’s left.  I could tell where the shooter was firing from, now.  He’d chosen a point lower to the ground, a store front with a great glass window that had broken earlier in the night.

The muzzle flashed.  I could see the oblong nature of the flash, and knew the man was firing at Jamie, not me.   One shot.  Then another.  Jamie was stuck, and I couldn’t approach without it being a very direct, obvious approach.

I reached down to my pocket.  I retrieved the whistle I’d taken from the soldier who handled the stitched.

Ducking behind a trough of water, I blew, hard.

I was telling the twins where I was, I knew.  But we didn’t have a lot of options.  Not moving would just leave us stuck in place.

Another gunshot.  I heard the bullet sink into a bit of wood to my right.

I blew.

Another shot.  This one hit the trough.

Another shot.


I stood straight, hurdling over the trough, stumbling a bit on the landing – moving around with a straight, inflexible rod at my back wasn’t helping, and the rifle I held was meant for someone two and a half times my height – it was unwieldy.

Jamie had approached while the shooter was focusing on me, and managed a clean shot.With my own rifle, which matched what the man held, I aimed, and I fired again, off to one side.Let the enemy think we were still embroiled in the fight.  If the Twins had hearing as keen as we suspected, maybe they could hear the difference in the direction of the shots, the distant ‘pok’ of impact.  Would they extrapolate, and think the shooter was aiming at someone further away?

I paused, and fired again, looking at Jamie.

No need for gestures.  He got what I meant.

I ran, as fast as my tired legs would allow.

If we were going to make this work, we needed to be fast.  The twins were approaching, and we had opened up roughly a third of the circle that had been drawn around the seven.  By moving out through that opening and toward Mauer, we stood a small chance of coming out of this with our hides intact.

Jamie remained behind, periodically firing.  He was painting a picture through sound, much like the one I’d been observing since I’d had my dose of wyvern.  Hopefully it was one that misled, that made the twins make certain movements.

I kept to paths and roads that wouldn’t expose me to fire from anyone with a vantage point and eyes on the building.  When it came to the building, I exposed myself to gunfire from friendly forces and approached directly, heading straight for the nearest window, praying they wouldn’t take me for one of the younger twins.

There were safer ways to approach, ways that involved coming in at an angle, knocking, and negotiating.

Instead, I turned my rifle around and smashed the glass with the butt-end.  I could see the people on the other side backing away.

“Move!  Out!  Now!” I called through the break in the glass.  “Only chance!”

The seven -now the five– opened a door.  Bat-nose, with her grave shoulder wound, was no longer with them.  Tattoo Belly was absent as well.  Adam, surprisingly, had bandaged the wound at his stomach, and was still mobile.  I’d taken him for disemboweled.

“Go,” I said.  “Move!”

They asked questions, some about the spike at my back, but my mind was racing, my focus wholly on the environment.  Possible avenues of approach or attack by enemies.

It crossed my mind that I hadn’t heard Jamie shoot recently.I could only hope he’d escaped.

Toward the perimeter, then through.  To Mauer, then we could turn his forces back on the twins.  It wasn’t perfect, there were countless problems at play, but in terms of immediate survival, it was the only way we might live through this.

I was cutting corners, now.  Moving fast and taking risks to move even faster, in hopes of staying ahead of them  I was praying that with their sisters absent and their structural integrity suffering just a bit for the lack of their other halves, that the elder sisters might be a little slower.  That they would lag behind and rely more on their soldiers.  The proceedings thus far didn’t contradict that fact.

Faster.  To the perimeter, to Jamie.

A horse that had been ridden like I’d been running would collapse and a merciful owner would put it down.  Small mercies, that humans had evolved as long-distance runners.  Sweat and precipitation clung to my face and ran through my hair.  My ears were freezing.

Ahead of me, one of the Richmond Twins stepped out of the shadows, putting herself directly in our path.  Her eyes were wide, and they were wild.

Without wasting a moment, I raised my rifle, aiming and firing. Gordon might have approved the minimal hesitation in the action.  Mary would have shaken her head at the miserable aim.  What would have been a glancing blow became a miss as the woman took one step to the side, a slower, lazier version of what her smaller counterpart had done, swaying out of the way of my rifle’s point.

In the next moment, I pivoted on my toes and ran for cover.  The others had skipped the shooting part and gone right for the cover, and some of those people, wounded, were slower than I was in getting there.

The Twin held a rifle in one hand.  She raised it, aimed, and fired at the mass of our group.  Salt, the boy with sailor’s clothes, toppled, shrieking in a high voice, reminiscent of a woman’s.

“You killed my sister.  Two of them,” she said, her voice higher than it had been before, imperious, and dangerously unsteady.  She was reloading her weapon, walking toward us at a lazy pace.

This was one Twin.  The other-I turned on the spot, looking behind the group.  I turned again, looking to the side of the street for alleys, then the other side.

“She’s not here, Lamb,” she said.  Her voice still had that note to it, like the quaver of someone who was on the verge of tears, but very dangerous.

The glassblower looked over cover, aimed, and fired.  Hit home.

Yet the Twin didn’t seem to care.  Blood welled out of the wound.  She’d finished reloading, aimed, and fired.

The cover the glassblower was behind wasn’t quite good enough.  The woman shrieked, splinters and a bullet catching her upper arm.

The Twin raised her fingers to her mouth.  She whistled, tremolo, like a bird’s song.

The whistle reminded me of the noise the younger twins had made.  A twin language, shared among the four.

I heard the answer, distant.  A different sort of song.

“She found your friend.  He’s secured,” the twin said.

No.  I well and truly believed her.

“Now I’m going to break you.  I want you to be aware as I take your fellow Lamb to pieces, the Duke’s orders be damned.  He played a part in this, and nobody that hurts a proper noble can be suffered to live,” she told me.  Her voice was getting unsteadier by the moment, as if the breaking point would be within the next few words, only it didn’t break.  She sounded positively unhinged, now.

I seriously contemplated raising the question of whether she was a proper noble.  If I called her a bastard now, what would she do?  Would she break?

If she would, I didn’t want to see it.

“…Then I’m going to take your remaining eye, and I’m going to send you to the Richmond home.  Every moment of pain and heartbreak we feel for our little sisters will be returned to you tenfold.”

I closed my eyes.

There were slim few ways out of this, and all the ones that sprung to mind involved sacrificial pawns.  Sacrificing one of the surviving five members of our group of ten.

“One of them is alive,” I said.  “We left her back there, dying.”

“Cry wolf one more time, Lamb, try it.”

I hadn’t expected that would work.  It was hard to steer someone like her off course, when all she wanted was revenge.

She was drawing closer.  I would have to run for it, and I doubted I would get away.

“If the rest of you would like a life in prison instead of a lifetime of being experimented on in the Academies, then grab that boy.”

My eye widened.  “Wait-”

Hands grabbed me.  Glasses and the Lookout.

I struggled, but it was futile to begin with, and even if I’d been able to break free, I would have been slower than she was.  Casually, the Twin reached past Glasses and the Lookout to seize me.

She didn’t lift me up into the air.  Her hand gripped me, fingers digging in deep, and with one hand, she held me with her arm extended down at her side, my head at her mid-thigh, my body slightly bent forward.

She dropped her rifle.  One hand seized my arm.  She gripped it, and she pulled it back behind my back.

With virtually no effort at all, she lifted it back and up beyond its tolerance.  I felt a flare of pain, blinding agony, and felt bone grind against bone, muscle wrenching with a weird springing sensation, too hot, then too cold.

When she let go of my arm, it dangled, shoulder disconnected from everything else.  Attached by some yet-untorn muscle, some connective tissue, and by skin.

I found it in me not to scream, somehow.  My breath being caught in my throat played a part in it.

“This is kindness compared to what we’re going to do to you once you’re back at the House of Richmond,” she said.
“Thank you for your kindness, milady,” I managed, and my voice was somehow as raw as if I’d been howling at the top of my lungs for a long time.  I might have sounded sarcastic.

All around us, the others were watching, defeated, not even willing to put up a fight.

“Hm.  I don’t suppose you need that mouth for anything,” she said, reaching up to my face.  She touched my cheek, and looked down to meet my eye with her own eyes.

There was a wildness in her eyes that belied the seeming calm with which she moved.  The pupil vibrated with fractional activity, darting back from detail to detail, and her fingers trembled with emotion as she touched my cheek.  I wasn’t sure any of the other bystanders would have noticed, removed by a few feet.

Her fingers went to my mouth, half of the fingers composed of black bone, the other half of white flesh.  Before they could be in far enough to get a proper grip on my jaw, I bit, hard.  Nothing to lose, at this point.

“Foolish,” she said.

Something metal clinked.  Unable to move my head, I rolled my eye to see.

Before I could see the source of the clink, I saw the a white mist unfold from what must have been a metal canister or glass jar.  The twin, seeing it, lifted me bodily, nearly breaking my neck as she swung out, using my body as a kind of fan to push the smoke away, backing away in the same movement.

She released me with a snap motion that suggested she’d been trying to break my jaw or neck in the course that she tossed me aside.

Both of her hands went to her face.  A trickle of blood flowed out of her nose.

All of the emotion she’d been barely repressing gave way.  She howled, ragged and mad, glaring at me in abject hatred.  Glaring past me, to Jamie, and at Lillian, who was walking with Jamie’s support.  There were soldiers behind them.  Lillian’s escort.

Then she fled, one hand still to her face.  She ran with power, not the sheer speed of her younger sisters.  Bounding movements, each one powerful enough to carry her twice as far as an ordinary human stride might.

The Lillian I looked at was fully the Lillian I had seen at the Fishmonger’s.  A Lillian who could use wyvern to push away pain.  To have worked this fast ad recruit that kind of help while receiving medical assistance, she would have had to forego anesthetic, to work tirelessly from the moment she was conscious.

Trust the other Lambs, I thought.

“Mauer needs help,” she said.

I barked out a laugh, then winced.

“So do you,” she said.  She seemed fully disconnected from the Lillian I had known.  Focused on the job.  “So do these people.”

Was she gone?

She bent down over me, touching my shoulder.

“Damn it,” she said, under her breath.  And in those words, I heard a glimmer of the real Lillian.  I reached up with my good hand to touch the side of her face, and I saw a smile, and I knew that the real Lillian was there.

“How bad?” I asked.

“You or-”

“Mauer.  The situation.  Is Mauer winning, or is the Crown?  Because both could-”

“Both,” Lillian said.  “Both are winning, in a way that puts everything in the worst possible position.  Mauer’s only winning because of the primordials, and the Duke isn’t backing down enough to let Mauer’s forces recover and let Mauer to solve his own problem.  A game of chicken, with everyone in Lugh set to lose.”

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65 thoughts on “Counting Sheep – 9.14

  1. I was hoping for some more rage-filled vengeance-seeking Sy mocking the Twin rather than a thank you. I thoroughly enjoyed the lese majeste last chapter. But a fey!Lillian will do just as well.

  2. And now I’m just waiting four the fourth twin to shoot someone from off screen.

    But hey! I never expected Adam to live! Huzzah for small mercies.

  3. Comments are moderated by default, right? Because this doesn’t need to be posted publicly.

    This here is the super obvious result of five minutes of google searching but

    I figure you’ve tried updating your functions.php file with

    remove_filter( ‘the_content’, ‘wpautop’ );
    remove_filter( ‘the_excerpt’, ‘wpautop’ );


  4. So far, the Older Twins don’t seem nearly as threatening or frightening as their younger counterparts.

    But man, her just dislocating his shoulder in a second was absolutely brutal. Thankfully, he didn’t lose his last eye… for now I hope.

  5. I’m curious as to what’s going to happen to Glasses and Lookout, if anything. More important things are going on, but I wonder if they’ll be punished somehow. Doesn’t seem like Sy’s the sort to do it nowadays, since he seems to have found a moral compass somewhere in the last 6 arcs, but maybe.

    • I am pretty sure Sy always had a moral compass, some of his decisions even early on back me up.He was just a self-preservist and a well intentioned extremist before that. (also, a pathological liar, but that seems like a character flaw going into full disability territory thanks to Wyvern, rather than lack of morality)

      Come to think of it, now that we know more about how Wyvern works, thanks to Lilian, I think that he may be compertalising his moral compass (or he may have been, for a time) the way he and Lilian compertalise pain.Huh. That makes a very big amount of sense, the more I think about it.

  6. Isn’t that lovely? The nobles can bleed. They should track her and hunt her down.

    Now, some people might think it’s a bit lame to have the cavalry arrive, but in the case of the lambs? It’s a matter of -when- will the cavalry arrive, not of -if- they will arrive.

    Sylvester seems to sometimes let this slip his mind. They are willing to sacrifice as much as he is for the others.

    It seems that in the end, Jamie was indeed the one the Duke wanted. Hm, I remain unconvinced.

    • Indeed. Being rescued by Lilian here serves as character growth for Sylvester, and isn’t deus ex machina or anything like it.

  7. I was fully expecting Sy to lose his jaw as well, have himself get new metal parts for his face. He could be a… Syborg!… I’m so sorry.

    The elder twins can take bullets and have 2/5ths of their bodies carved out to accommodate other creatures, and still sprint away without any noticeable strain. The Duke survived in pieces on an operating table for who knows how long while he was undergoing his pain stress testing, and during his fight with Avis took multiple stab wounds and lost chunks of his face, if I recall correctly, without visibly slowing down in the least.

    Yet, the younger twins were both killed pretty easily, despite being nobles. Candida’s (Emily’s?) treatment was suggested to be the first real foray into immortality, so it seems the nobles don’t have that particular advantage. I’m trying to wrap my head around the possibility of anything killing the Duke. He may not be immortal, but he might be invincible. So is he able to be killed, then? Can you drown or suffocate him? Do the elder twins have the same advantages, being the greater parts of the Twin package, or is that invincibility something only the Duke and up can afford?

    • I’m reasonably confident that although it might be fairly difficult, it’s still possible to kill the Duke. He’s the best the Academies can do, but limited by the available materials.

      You could probably suffocate him eventually, but it would take a while, and he’d fight back the whole time. Bullets would work better. He’s armored, and has enough redundancy in his body to soak a lot of damage, but eventually he’d break down. If he was alone, Mauer could just throw troops at him until he was overwhelmed. He can’t dodge all the bullets.

      The real problem is that he’s not alone. He isn’t going to get himself in a situation where a lot of people can fire on him simultaneously, if he can avoid it. If it starts looking like he might die, he can fall to his support team to be patched up, and use his army for cover. If it starts looking like he might lose the battle, he can let the rest of the Crown know about the situation, and ask for more troops. He can even order a full-scale retreat, although that would mean leaving several Primordials alive.

      It’s like fighting a Terminator that, instead of following you to the steel mill after being injured, orders an artillery barrage.

  8. Oof… I wasn’t sure this wasn’t the end for Sy. At least, for a while. Maybe he’d get rescued later under the Baron’s supervision, or escape after years at house Richmond.

    For a moment, too, I thought that the other sister wasn’t there because she was updating the Baron on the events. Now… Either the Twin lied when she said that her sister had found Jamie, and Sy fell for it (unlikely) or the Twin did find Jamie, which means he got saved by Lillian. This means that the second Twin is injured or dead.

    Thanks for the cha- *she passes out from exhaustion*

    • Also, after this, I propose the lambs get promoted to Primordial level threats. Sure, they can’t wipe out an army, but they can kill the nobles. Two of them at least.

      • No one who is someone believed Twins to be nobles anyway. And now when they’ve been defeated by a handful of baselines and a less-than-half-functioning superweapon from a low-prestige department of a provincial Academy…

        • Agreed; the Twins as a whole are in a very desperate situation. Noble enough to get called “milady” each; bastard experiment enough to never fully count when it comes to the vast majority of Court, whatever they might hope. :/

    • “For a moment, too, I thought that the other sister wasn’t there because she was updating the Baron on the events. Now… Either the Twin lied when she said that her sister had found Jamie, and Sy fell for it (unlikely) or the Twin did find Jamie, which means he got saved by Lillian. This means that the second Twin is injured or dead.”

      Left alive, the final Twin would instantly yell a message to her sister that shit hit the fan.
      I understood that Lillian & Mauer dealt with the former stealthily, and Jamie was good enough to mimic their language by ear.
      He’s always been a fast learner.

      • To be honest, the way Mauer has been characterized, I highly doubt he could have been fully swayed to move against the twins. From my understanding, Sy is close enough to Mauer’s troops that Lillian was able to pull some to rescue him. I don’t think she had enough information to move against the Twins, and the only reason she was able to find Sy was because Jamie guided her.

        I think it’s much more plausible that the Elder Twin bluffed Sy. Despite being enemies, Sy immediately takes her at face value, something I bet she anticipated. She probably just didn’t anticipate her bluff being called so soon.

  9. “To have worked this fast ad recruit that kind of help while receiving medical assistance,” seems to want an ‘and’ instead.

    • rockier terrain. The
      -Triple space

      oversize water barrel.
      -oversized water barrel.

      not me. One
      -Triple space

      ahead of them I
      -ahead of them. I

      she said.
      “Thank you for your
      -Missing a paragraph break

    • “Moving while upwind of the man would help,”

      Now would it… you want to keep your target upwind of you, you downwind of it.

    • Missing spaces after the period:
      and managed a clean shot.With my own rifle
      >and managed a clean shot. With my own rifle

      and I fired again, off to one side.Let the enemy think
      >and I fired again, off to one side. Let the enemy think

    • “It crossed my mind that I hadn’t heard Jamie shoot recently.I could only hope he’d escaped.”

      Missing a space after the period. “…recently. I could…”

    • Right now for me it seems like yes. Lily already had a theory how to make concortion which would make Twins eject blood from all their connection ports and by result of the smoke – that somehow fits – blood from the nose – and only Twin was affected – no mentioned sideeffects for Sy or ony of five of his men.

      In her theory, Lillian needed a lab – so it seems she was permitted to use one? It feel heroic, really – to survive an operation at abodment area (or was it chest?) and right after that – go and do an intellectual work in a field of chemistry. Not for a faint of heart ^_^

      • It’s also possible she explained the basics of her idea to any of Mauer’s scientists who then worked on it while she was being treated.

  10. Ever since they plucked off Sy’s eye I was holding myself not to scream: ‘Crown, don’t let him get any spear! Don’t let him get any spear!’

    Now I want to cry: ‘Crown, don’t let him get an eight-legged horse! Don’t let him get an eight-legged horse!’

      • The Lambs all hang together, else they shall be hanged separately. There’s been plenty of dangling this chapter, who knows what will happen when they get to a place with trees…

        As long as he doesn’t cross one leg behind the other while dangling…

    • Maybe one of the primordials looks like Sleipnir by now? 😀 Just imagine the beauty of that scene, Sy riding on a primordial while driving the ‘twin-spike’ into Baron Richmond’s heart. And eye. And abdomen. And…

      • Indeed, that is quite a scene. One-eyed Sy, flanked by Jaime and Lilian, all atop eight-legged flying primordials, converging onto high command with canisters of noble-killing goo while the Baron and the Duke go “Oh shit”.
        And while “Ride of the Valkyries” plays. Obviously

  11. Okay, that’s up there with Riding Rainbow Dash into battle wielding a double-barrel shotgun and riding a black unicorn down the side of an erupting volcano on my list of the most badass mental images involving equines.

    Also, couldn’t Ashton be the tree, given how he was grown? Not that I know enough about Norse Mythology to get even half of the above references.

    • It’s in reference to Odin, who gouged out his own eye to drink from the Well of Knowledge to gain great wisdom and clairvoyance, and hanged himself from Yggdrasil for the ability to use magic. Odin’s spear was Gungnir, a weapon with perfect throwing accuracy and guaranteed fatality, and his horse Slepnir had eight legs and was, like, supernaturally fast. He also had two ravens who would fly around the world listening for secrets, and every night they’d return and tell him of them, and two wolves who were always by his side and to whom he fed all the meat he got (Odin himself subsisted purely on alcohol).

      You know, the more I think about it the more sense it makes. Sylvester is in with Dr. Hayde’s (sp?) work because he hopes it’ll eventually lead to the perfect brain, which he hopes will fix everything wrong with the world. Odin gave his eye for functional omniscience, and once he got it he devoted the rest of his life to stalling out the inevitable apocalypse for as long as possible. I’m betting you Sy will get that perfect brain, only to realize he’ll need to use it to stop something super bad and utterly unstoppable from wrecking the world quite as much as it would normally. Which would be… actually, that’s probably exactly what will happen. It’ll be fun to see how, though.

    • I’m kind of missing ruthless!Sy. Not because I have an issue with him having a conscience, it’s just that every time he makes a decision based on morality instead of pragmatism I’m convinced it’s going to kill him and it’s terrifying.

    • I miss all of the Lambs. Helen and Mary have been away for the last two arcs, and I’m not sure when or how the story might be bringing them back. Jamie 1.0 is gone. Gordon is gone. Even Hubris is gone. Lillian is hopped up on mind-altering drugs, and while I can’t really complain about her turning into a noble-killing badass, it still leaves an empty space where the scared little girl who got tossed in over her head with a pack of monsters used to be. And Sy is not really the same without the others to flow around.

      I’m not counting Ashton. I don’t see him as one of the Lambs, even if Sy does. And I’m thinking that when he reappears, it’s probably going to be as an enemy.

      I like Wendy, but I actually prefer her to not be around. As long as she’s offscreen, I can imagine that she’s off somewhere safe happily protecting Warren and not dropping the tea tray. When she reappears, you know that means that someone (probably Sy) is going to be doing something awful to her that she doesn’t have the mental flexibility to deal with, and she doesn’t deserve that.

  12. Well…. I knew it when I started. I was hooked on an unsustainable resource. (I.e. Wildbow’s stories) I started with Worm and binge-read through all his material to this point. It took me a month, but I wish it had taken longer. I’m addicted to this author and now I have to wait for the latest shipment of supply. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to succumb to withdrawal symptoms now.

      • Well, reading 20 chapters a day (101k words), will get you to the end of worm in about half a month Pact is roughly two thirds that by word length, which leaves 138 chapters (147 at time of this writing) to be read in about 6 days

      • It’s taken me about 2 months to get this far, and that’s including about two weeks of spotty internet access. It wouldn’t take too much to read it faster

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