In Sheep’s Clothing – 10.18

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We reunited with Mary and Chance, and Lainie ran up to her cousin, throwing her arm around him.

“What happened?” Mary asked.

“Ran into trouble.  It doesn’t matter,” I said.  “He saw you?”

“I was quiet enough.  It’s like he has eyes in the back of his head.”

“But did he see you?”

“No,” Mary said.  “I ducked out of the way as his head turned.”

I nodded, trying not to let Mary know just how much my heart was pounding.

“He’s taunting us, telling us to get inside.  He has his wife hostage.”

“Candida.  Candy.  Or Emily, depending,” I said.  I couldn’t keep my hands still as I wrung clammy sweat off one hand with the other, then reversed the process, effectively getting myself nowhere.  I was very aware of how cold it was and yet not cold at all.  The terrified energy that brimmed inside of me was such that I could have stood wet and naked in a blizzard and the cold wouldn’t have been the first, second, or even the third thing to register.

Snow drifted down around us.  It was already getting dark.

“I think I can beat him,” Mary said.  “But not him and the soldiers together.”

“He won’t give you the chance, and I don’t want to belittle your abilities…” I said, trailing off as I gave Mary an up-down look.  She had a tear in her lip, and her best efforts to wipe her face clean hadn’t mended the messy red mark that ran down from one corner of her mouth to her chin.  Her nose had been smashed, and she still had dried blood edging her nostrils.  One of her eyes was bloodshot.  I could see from the way that she moved that she wasn’t nearly as graceful as she should be.  She had her arms folded and leaned against a wall, and I suspected part of her reasoning for taking that pose was that it hurt to move.  “…But you’re hurt.”

“Do you have a better plan?”

I glanced at the church, a block away.

“That’s not a yes,” she said.

“Yes,” I said.  It wasn’t wholly the truth.

She gave me a look.

I wasn’t sure if she was going to comment.  I didn’t wait for it.  I pulled away from Mary, taking a step toward the church and the Baron.

Mary grabbed my arm.  Quick.  “What are you doing?”

I turned around, walking backward, my eyes on Mary.  I could see Chance and Lainie just a short distance away, Chance still holding Lainie, who had her head buried against his shoulder.

“Wait.  Stay.  Don’t do anything, and whatever you do, don’t reveal yourself,” I said.  “I’m going to convince him I’m operating alone.”

“Sy,” Mary said.

Wait,” I said.  In the process, I let way too much of the emotion I was feeling affect my tone of voice.  My voice nearly cracked.  I took a short breath, then said, “Wait.  Or we both die, and the rest of the Lambs suffer as punishment.”

“I hear you, Sy.  But if you’re talking about me being unable to fight because I’m hurt… are you any better off?”

“I’m not that hurt.  Able bodied.”

“But your head… you’re not thinking clearly.  No, that’s not right.  You’re sharp, but you’re… detached, something’s off.  I’m not able to do what I do best, which is-”

“Making people bleed,” I said.  “I understand.  I’m not in good thinking shape, maybe.  But I’m not planning to think.

“You want to fight?”  She asked.  She saw the expression on my face change.  “Sy…”

“In the meantime,” I said.  “Don’t show yourself.  It’s all turned around.  I’m having to fight.  I need you to put the weapons aside and think.  Be sharp, be wary.  Keep an eye out for opportunity.  But whatever you do-”

“Don’t show myself.  Sy, I want to be a part of this,” she said.

“You are,” I said.  “You’re one of the most important parts of this, believe me.”

It was the truth, but not in the way she wanted.  She was one of the biggest considerations I had to keep in mind.  I couldn’t let this mission jeopardize Mary, Lillian, or any of the other Lambs.

I saw the look in her eyes, and I relented.  “Don’t worry.  I’m not expecting to win.  But I’ve got to convince him I’m operating alone.  We need him to let his guard down.  I can do that, but the instant he thinks there’s more than one Lamb-”

“Lambs!” the Baron cried out.  “Last chance!”

I tugged my arm free of Mary’s hand.  She was still taking in my words, processing the plan, such as it was.

“Do you have a knife?” she asked.

I raised a foot and touched my boot.  I’d left the knife behind after meeting the Infante.


“I thought it was missing.”  She pressed a knife into my hand.  “Anything else?”

“Everything else.  If you have anything from Simon’s lab-”

She quickly found and held out a syringe, packets of powder like the ones I’d collected, and one of the ribbons she’d pulled from her hair.

“Anticoagulant,” Mary said, about the syringe.  “It’s probably not strong enough to work on the Baron.  Or you.”

I kept one packet, took the syringe filled with clear liquid, and grabbed the ribbon.  My first thought on taking the ribbon was that it was a memento, not on how I could use it as a weapon.

The thought almost paralyzed me.  I made myself move, and I was hasty enough about it that I almost stumbled, my actions too forceful.

The world had been turned upside down.  The only way forward was one that wouldn’t let me lean on the Lambs.  I was having to fight.  Mary was having to hold back.  All of my usual social finesse was now clumsy and brutish.

I shucked off my coat as I approached the church, letting it fall.  Putting everything where it needed to be, knife in boot, powders between the belt-line of my pants and my hips, I freed myself to work with the syringe.  I squeezed out two thirds of the contents, then raised the needle to my face.  I hauled out the plunger, and with it, a share of the vitreous fluid from within my eyeball.

It was tricky work, when I was walking as fast as I was.  I tore off a corner of a packet and added the contents to the fluid.  I did the same for another packet, and then replaced the plunger.  I shook it, mixing it as well as I could, and then put the needle into my left eye.

My head pounded as I forced the contents into the orb of my eye.  Fluid bubbled out from the insertion point, and it burned as it touched my eyelid and cheek.  The same things that Simon had used to make his gas, though the combinations and quantities were wrong.  I tossed the emptied syringe aside and rubbed my cheek with the back of one hand.  I was careful to avoid the bloated, drug-treated eye itself, which I couldn’t even close my eyelid around.

I fished past the packets in one pocket until I found the eyepatch, and pulled it on.  I was just in time to round the corner and find myself near the front the church.  A dozen soldiers were gathered at the double doors.  More were gathered around the perimeter of the church, with several to each of the side entrances.

They watched me as I approached.  All men, older, some with scars and uniforms that had likely been updated or newly tailored for the engagement event.

Not a one of them moved a muscle as I approached, except to turn their heads, following my approach.  It was left to me to open the heavy church doors.  I had to press my full weight against one of the double doors to get it open.  I stepped into the church proper.

The Baron was there, sitting on the stage where the altar would have been, had he had an altar, one of his arms around Candida.  He smiled as I entered.

I took in the surroundings.  The windows on either side of the church were tall, but high up off the ground, hard to access without a ladder.  The little light that shone through was dulled by the dust that caked the window surfaces.  Candles throughout the church had been lit, many set haphazardly, and the wind that blew in from behind me made the little flames dance, filling the entire church with a wavering of light and darkness.

Two rows of ten pews, with a black carpet stabbing through the aisle, from door to stage.  Of the pews, roughly a third of them had occupants, as caked with dust as the windows were.  Some were skeletal, others effectively mummified.  I looked at them as I moved further from the door, and I could see the thick, old-fashioned nails that had been driven through the backs of their knees and into the wooden beams that I supposed were knelt on during prayer.  Similar nails attached elbows or forearms to the back of the pew in front of them.

A screaming, tortured death as they slowly bled out or died of exposure, I imagined.  Forever trapped in a position of prayer, kneeling with hands together.  Now that the Baron was atop the altarless stage, it almost looked as though they were praying to him.

Arrogance at its finest.

“The first ones came here to worship,” the Baron spoke.  “I insisted they stay.  The others came to reclaim their family members.”

I glanced at Candida.

Her eyes were still blind, staring at nothing in particular.  She clutched her hands together.

“Are the others lurking outside, Sylvester?” the Baron asked.  “Is this the point where you do what you do best, and bait me into a trap?  Talk my head in circles while your friends maneuver around me?”

I saw Candida’s lips move.  Sylvester.

I wasn’t sure what to read in her expression.  I’d made a promise to Lillian that I would help Candida.  Was it hope I saw, or despair?

“Or are you alone?” the Baron purred.

The word caught my attention.  My eye met his.

“You are.  I can see it,” he said.  “That’s a look I’ve seen on many faces.”

I remained where I was, halfway down the aisle.  Behind me, the door slammed shut.

“When addressed by a noble, law dictates you must reply and reply with due respect, Sylvester,” the Baron said.

The nice thing about walking away from all of this is that I don’t have to pay attention to what the law dictates.

My teeth clenched.  I walked between the pews so I could keep walking while maintaining a moderate distance from the Baron.  I chose a direction that would keep my good eye pointed his way.

“Nothing to say, then.  Shall I put the lovely miss Candida Gage to the sword, then?”

He moved the arm that held her against his side, and gripped her head, moving it to expose her throat.  In one smooth motion, he drew his rapier, and moved it to her bare neck.

The barely-restrained emotion that had inured me against the cold made me somehow able to stand still as he drew the sword against the flesh of her neck.  A line of blood appeared, then widened.  Her hands went up, clutching at his wrist, and yet she was unable to stop him as he moved the sword back and forth, sawing faintly against the flesh of her throat as if he was playing a violin.

Her movements were wrong, not nearly as forceful as they should have been, given the situation.  The damage was superficial, the sword fine and of the highest quality, capable of cutting the skin and leaving what lay beneath intact.  Her fingernails dragged against the fabric of his jacket, and found no purchase where they should have.

Her eyes weren’t the only thing the man had hobbled.

I didn’t give him anything.  Not a flinch, a reaction, or an intake of breath.

He let Candida go, and she flopped to the stage, hands at her neck.  All she knew was pain, she felt the flow of blood.  She might well have thought she was dying, without knowing the major veins and arteries were all intact.

He hopped down from the stage.  I moved through the pews and then back, maintaining a distance, wary.

He had better doctors than either of the Twins, and it had taken more than one Lamb to take out any of the Twins.  I’d told Mary that I expected to lose and that it was part of the plan.  That wasn’t wholly true.  Leaning on Mary like that, relying on her, it was a point of failure for the greater plan.  Too much chance that she would be seen.

No, I was alone here.

Since a long, long time ago, not even that long after we had lost Evette and the first Ashton, I had known about the expiration dates.  I had known I would be alone in this.  That, one day, I would find myself faced with a mission I couldn’t say no to, faced with an enemy I couldn’t win against, without a single Lamb to stand by me.

I’d had bad dreams about it.  Some intense, others like bad memories, slipping away before I could remember particulars.  The stages differed, as did the enemies I faced, but the feeling was always the same.

It was a feeling that made it hard to breathe.

He felt the weight of his rapier in his hand, as if testing it.  Then he hurled it.

I didn’t move a muscle as the blade plunged into the pew nearest me, the end wobbling with the force of the impact.

“Take it,” the Baron said.

I glanced at the blade, but I didn’t move.

“Take the sword, Sylvester.  I’ll wait.”

I took a step forward, watching him, and reached up for the handle of the blade.  I tugged, and it didn’t come free.  I pulled again, and it moved down like a lever might, while the tip remained embedded.  A third tugged hauled it free.

His narrow, bright-green eyes mocked me.  He moved left, then right, fine clothes and too-fine hair moving like quicksilver around him.  Only his face seemed like it was in focus, steady amid hair and clothes that flowed almost like water might.  He moved forward, stepping up onto the seat of the pew.  He stepped onto the back of the next pew, then down onto the seat of it, cutting a direct path toward me.

He picked up speed as he closed the distance.  Both hands on the rapier’s handle, I moved to intercept, ducking low, aiming for the lower stomach and groin, stabbing.

He slapped the blade with the back of a hand, the slap carrying enough force that I felt it in my shoulder.  He closed the distance, stepping so close that the toes of his left shoe nearly touched the toes of my right one.

His right leg, however, came up.  His knee caught me in the chin.  My teeth were already clenched tight together, and I wasn’t sure if that helped or not.  Teeth might have broken if my mouth had been open and driven closed, but as it was, the impact shook my head and its contents.  I tumbled to the ground, the rapier falling from my hand, and was left sitting in the leftmost aisle, staring up at the man, while the various candles around the church seemed to brighten until they blinded me.

I made a promise to Lillian, I reminded myself.

He was waiting patiently, as I reached for and found the rapier.  I wavered a little as I got to my feet and straightened.  My eye wandered.  Candida was still sitting on the stage, now with a glove removed, folded up, and pressed to the bleeding wound at her throat.  Beside her was my imagined Lillian, ever silent.

The lights remained so bright I could barely see the Baron.  He walked toward me, confident.

“I was raised being taught that we all have a place in the world, Sylvester,” the Baron said.  “But I’ve come to think of that as complete and utter tripe.  The world isn’t that inflexible.  We break new ground on a daily basis.”

I made like I was going to retreat, then stepped in, swinging.  Again, he used his hand, striking at the flatter side of the blade, as if this was all proceeding in slow motion.  I was more prepared for it this time, and recovered enough to make a quick slash in the opposite direction.  This time, as his hand moved toward it, I turned the blade.

He, too, changed the position of his hand.  With the same ease he might toss his hair with a movement of his hand, he moved the blade up and away, the flat of the blade momentarily sliding past knuckles and the back of his hand.  It was so forceful I nearly lost my grip on the blade as it went from being pointed in his general direction to being pointed the complete other way.

Reaching down, he seized me by the collar.  With a heave, he lifted me and threw me into the pews, through one of the decrepit bodies that decorated it.  Dust and death filled my nostrils, while wood found its way into my solar plexus and the side of my neck, leaving me groaning and coughing.

“Advancement is possible.  So is falling,” he said.  “And both are very difficult, painful things.  Change always is.”

He found where the rapier had fallen, put his foot on it, and kicked it, sending it skidding across the floor to me.

“From the moment I was reborn as a proper noble, taken apart and put together as something greater, I grabbed hold of that idea.  The pain and difficulty that go hand in hand with change.  I was bitter, Sylvester.  I realized how this system really works and where I stood in the grand scheme of it all.  I saw the injustice of it, and it ate away at me.”

A Baron who would never really have true powerBarely above bastard nobles in status.  I had to pay attention to who my enemy was.

I pulled myself to my feet, pulling away a tattered bit of cloth that had transferred from the body to me before I reached down for the sword.  I coughed.

“And here I’d wondered if you’d taken something into your mouth, hoping to spit it at me at an opportune moment.  Not with that cough, though.  What was I saying?” he asked.  He was approaching along the pew.  He hooked one toe at the base of the skull of the body I’d just been tossed through, flicked it into the air, and caught it with one hand.  ”  They saw me as dangerous, so they hobbled me even further.  Put me here.”

He punctuated ‘here’ by throwing the skull, straight down to the ground.  It shattered.

As I retreated, trying to catch my breath, I moved past my imagining of Jamie.

“And here I’ve rotted.  Stagnated.  I’m a symbol, don’t you see?  I’m a noble, seemingly nothing more, nothing less.  I’m here because they needed a noble here.  I’m expendable.  It would drive anyone mad with boredom, left to write letters and beg for permission to go elsewhere or to visit another noble.  Just me…”

He moved quickly, three running steps without any warning he was doing it.  I only barely got the sword around in time to swing it in his direction, trying to ward him off.  He moved back just enough to let it move past him, then hooked one toe behind my ankle, toppling me to the tattered black carpet that ran through the middle of the church.  I wasn’t even fully settled there when he kicked me, sending me rolling.

Mere pain was an old companion of mine.  I could deal with that more than my skull being rattled or my breath stolen away.  I gripped the sword harder.

“Just me and the freedom to do with my little township what I wanted.  I latched on to that idea I’d been convinced of as I was reborn.  How closely linked pain and struggle are to greatness.”

I stood again, one hand at my chest where he’d kicked me, rapier again in hand.

“Told you not to fight him, Sy,” Gordon spoke, his voice soft but still carrying from where he sat by the destroyed body, behind the Baron.

“Don’t worry, Sylvester,” the Baron said.  “I’m not one of those fanatics who put far too much stock in Wallace’s Law or anything of the sort.  I’m not going to say that I’m creating better people by doing what I do to them.  I simply like to see people suffer, to see how it unfolds, what it reveals about them.  And I like to see what it lacks, compared to the suffering that goes hand in hand with greatness.  That is where I find you amusing, Sylvester.  You straddle that line.  So talented, yet so small.”

Small.  I did feel small.  The hits I’d taken to my stomach and chest were making it hard to breathe, and that paralleled the crushing loneliness I’d been feeling for a while now, compounding it, as if I could no longer shake it or turn my mind from it.

I had to find a way to hurt him, to cut him down, as impossible as it seemed.  Had to, for Mary’s sake.

I saw Mary at the window, and for a moment, I thought it was really her, not an imagining.

I knew what I was doing, and why.  My brain was reflexively reaching out for pillars of strength to draw on, where they felt so absent.  It wasn’t so different from me seeking the easy familiarity of Jamie, after we’d lost him.  Just like Jamie, the effect of this reflex wasn’t anything close to being reassuring or encouraging.  The candles remained too bright, but the darkness seemed to get darker, and with each apparition that appeared to watch me fail, the loneliness became crushing.

Was this what the Twin had experienced in her last moments?

He stepped close.  I moved the sword, then abandoned it, ducking in closer, too low to be in his reach, as I freed the knife from my boot.  I turned, looking to hamstring, cut the Achilles tendon, for any vulnerable area-

His hand caught mine, effectively trapping my hand as it gripped the knife handle.

He squeezed, and I felt the strain in the small bones of my hands, fingers threatening to break and dislocate as he ground them against the knife handle.

My free hand went back, seizing the gun I’d put behind my belt.  I brought it around as fast as I could, and he struck it with his hand.

Fragments of the gun scattered the pews and grounds of the church, struck so hard the chamber, barrel, and handle had broken free of one another.

He backhanded me across the face, very casually, then slapped me.

Before I could even see straight again, he backhanded me again.  I moved my head, trying to put myself out of his reach, and was struck across the head.  The jewelry on his fingers had cut me in a dozen places.  I had blood running through my hair and down my face.

I saw a glimpse of Ashton, his hair red in a much different way, expression blank, no advice to be offered.

The Baron let go of my crushed hand, and I felt my numb fingers losing their grip on the knife.  I caught it with my other hand just before it fell to the ground, and we were so close together that I knew he hadn’t seen.

“Baron,” I spoke, and my voice was ragged.

“He talks after all,” the Baron said.

“I killed your last sister,” I said.

There was nothing.  No momentary surprise, no turn of his head to look at me better, no emotion.

I stabbed, and his forearm caught mine, deflecting the blow.  The hand at the end of that forearm caught me by the side of my head.

Again, he threw me bodily into the pews, but this time, the throw coincided with pain that swallowed up all vision in my good eye, filling it with darkness and stars.  I felt blood flowing.

I blinked, struggling to make out the situation and surroundings.

I could see him dusting himself off with one hand, the other hand held at a distance.  He let the ragged bit of tissue fall to the floor and then crushed it beneath his heel.  My ear, torn from my head.

“What did you expect, Sylvester?  That you would taunt me with the death of my last sister, and I would bare my neck, show you a moment of weakness?  I know where I stand in the grand scheme of things, I know where I come from and where I’m slated to go.  Where I was slated to go, that is, before you and Mauer handed me the key to a greater future.  My sisters… are not so important.  I have no attachment to them.”

Again, he made his approach.

He wanted to break me.  He sought to keep on giving me chances and taking pieces of me, until I finally gave up.  Why?  To see some glimmer of what lay within me?  For amusement?  Because I was the closest thing he had to a peer?

Whatever his reasons, he was succeeding.  I could look to the phantoms of the Lambs around me, and I could remind myself of the reasons, but I couldn’t see a way forward, not on a lot of levels.

I stared at the Baron, and I stoked the fires of hatred, knife still clutched in my hand.  A weapon incapable of doing the kind of damage I needed to do to the man.

“I’ll wrap this up, change clothes, and go to greet the nobles.  If you’re the only troublemaker to show, I’ll find that disappointing, but I’ll find other ways to amuse myself, knowing that the bastards who’ve been lording their power over me will soon get theirs.”

“I know,” I said.  I backed away as he approached, and my injured face managed a smile.  “I talked to the Infante before I came here.  He arrived early, and I told him what you were doing.”

I got to watch as his expression transformed.  The amusement dripped away.

“I see.  I suppose I should deal with you now and handle that.”

There were no more games, and there was no more intent to break.  He stalked toward me, a gleam of murder in his eyes, and I didn’t have the tools to stop him.

He grabbed me by the throat, lifting me off the ground.

Then, with a remarkable sort of ease, the heel of his hand pressed in and something gave, taking away my ability to breathe.

There were no final words from him.  No mockery, no comments.  His green eyes stared into mine.  I tried to breathe and to cough, and only produced the wheezing crackle of air pushing hopelessly against cartilage.  I could breathe, but only a whisper’s worth, not enough to survive.

The darkness was getting darker still, creeping in around the edges.

Helen.  She was the last of the real Lambs to appear, perched on a pew like a cat might be.  I saw her smile as I strained to breathe.  A gentle, warm smile that didn’t fit the situation.  Very her.

My hand reached up, and I grabbed the patch, pulling it down.  The fluid that had collected where the bottom of the patch pressed into the skin now leaked.  A crimson, poisoned tear.  There was no comment from the Baron on the state of my eye.  All the same, really, I couldn’t have quipped a response back either.

Summoning all of the strength I had left, I brought my fingers up into the orb, hard, compressing it.  Fluid that had been filling it to bursting jetted out through the holes the syringe had made.  A movement of my head directed the thin, twin streams into the Baron’s own eyes.  The eye, still not fully connected to my head, still held the vast majority of the poison I’d injected into it.

I’d had other plans for the eye, should the situation had differed.  A talk over dinner hadn’t been impossible, nor a situation where he’d had me pinned, his face inches from mine.  But this… this had been the most likely scenario.  They always liked to pick me up, my legs dangling, and lord their power over me.

You want to know what lies beneath this Lamb, Baron, after you dig deep enough?

He twisted his head away, letting me drop without letting me go.

My fingers reached up, past the somewhat deflated eye, hooking in behind to grab the stem that anchored it.  Not fully attached, it wasn’t as hard as it might be to haul it free.

In the moment it looked like he might recover, I squeezed the orb. driving out the last remaining juice in a substantial gush, aimed for his face.

I’m a monster.

He dropped me, and I fell to the ground.  Choking, no air to be had, darkness creeping in, I drew out the packets, tearing them.  I cast the poisonous and noxious powders at him, striving to overwhelm, to give him no more of a chance to breathe than I had.

I staggered forward, and the blinded noble crawled away from me, hand moving this way and that, as if anticipating that I would draw in close.

I reached into a pocket for another packet, and there was only one thing remaining.

Syringe filled with the Wyvern formula in hand, I approached the Baron.  Before I could get there, arms embraced me.


She’d been rendered so weak that I, injured and nearly suffocated, could easily pull out of her grasp.  I didn’t.  I felt her arms and the warmth of her body, and I stared at the Baron, who was getting further away.

I felt a knife touch my throat, and I tried my best to freeze.  Instead, my head lolled forward.

I’d put off sleeping so much over the years, and now it felt like it was catching up with me.  Except this was a much deeper slumber.

“Let me help you,” she said. “If this doesn’t work, I’m going to need that syringe.”

Possessively, I held on to the syringe.  I didn’t want to let it go.  Not even if I died.

The blade penetrated my throat.  A moment later, Candida’s finger penetrated the wound.  I felt stabbing pains as it moved up, where the throat was blocked.

The pain as she shifted the damaged portion was as bad as anything yet.  I coughed, and wind whistled freely past her fingers.

Her finger came free, and her arms let me go.

Again, the candles seemed so bright.  My awareness of the world was detached, filled with phantoms, to the point that reality was hard to distinguish.  It took me a moment to realize I was staring at the Baron, who was in the midst of recovering.

“Clever boy,” he said, voice clearly affected by with the gas he’d inhaled.  “Clever boy.”

I heard the scrape of metal on stone.

“That sword won’t do you any good, Candida,” the Baron said.  “My organs are protected.  My throat can’t be cut, and you’ve given me immortality, you stupid girl.  You’ll have to whittle at me for an hour, and neither of you have the strength to do that.  If either of you move one step closer, I’ll call my guards.”

One of my hands pressed to my throat, where the slit marked it, and the other held the fat Wyvern syringe, still in its leather case.  I stared at the Baron, trying to figure out the next move.

He could barely see us as we stood there, blinking as if his eyelids had weights attached to them.

It was Candida who did it.  Driven by rage, by fury, or something else, I couldn’t say.  But she saw a moment where he didn’t seem to be seeing very clearly and she ran.  The Baron tried to raise his voice, only to find it strangled by the poison he’d inhaled.  Candida carried the thin, lightweight rapier as if it was as heavy as a greatsword, but she managed to raise it for a thrust for his chest.   He moved his hand, smacking it aside.

I chose that same moment to stab the leather case for his heart.  He caught my wrist.

My other hand, holding the syringe, plunged the syringe into his bleary eye.  Both of his hands seized me, fighting me, up until Candida managed a second thrust, piercing his lower chest.  I managed to sink it in as deep as it would go.  I’d managed the right angle.  Past the bone inside the eye socket, and into the cavity where the brain was.

He froze.  The rapier blade kept one of his arms from moving to intercept me.  The other groped me, searching for a hold.

“Tell me,” I said, my voice a whistle, blood bubbling at the cut, “Tell me what happens to the children you take from Warrick.  You pretend they’re turned into Firstborn, but they serve some other use.  What?”

His eye locked onto mine.

He smiled, and then he laughed, a choking sound.

I would get no answers here.  I wasted no time in depressing the syringe.  The resistance I felt told me I was pumping it into the meat of the brain.

The Baron would be mildly resistant to most poisons, but I’d overwhelmed him.  Now I gave him a dose of Wyvern that would have left me in bad shape.  Twice what I might have been able to tolerate, possibly three times what he could.  And as with any drug, it had adverse effects in too high a dose.  For Wyvern, it would strip away his wits and sanity.  He would lose everything and gain nothing.

I saw as his head leaned back.  His mouth yawned open, his entire body twitching.

Ironic, that all he’d needed to do to win was to keep toying with me and taunting me, gradually breaking me down.  But the moment he’d sought to crush the life out of me, he’d become vulnerable.

It was done.

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132 thoughts on “In Sheep’s Clothing – 10.18

  1. That beautiful moment when you have been refreshing the page with your morning coffee in hand for a minute or so and the update is finally here. 🙂

  2. You know, it’s moments like this that remind me that Sy is a vicious little monster. I mean yeah, the Baron was vicious and cruel, but Sylvester fights mean and dirty.

    Prolly why we adore him so.

  3. “The blade penetrated my throat. A moment later, Candida’s finger penetrated the wound. I felt stabbing pains as it moved up, where the throat was blocked.”

    Do I just fail at reading comprehension or do anyone else not get what this sentence means?

    What happened there?

          • Except Sy really shouldn’t be able to talk after that was done. Breathe, yes; that’s the whole point. But talking requires forcing air up over the vocal cords (you can’t talk while inhaling, either, only exhaling) and it would escape through this new opening instead. The way around it, of course, is to inhale through the trach and then block the trach itself somehow (a finger over it can work) to exhale through the upper airway and so speak that way. However, if Sy’s upper airway is still obstructed, that doesn’t work either. If Candy removed the obstruction (the description is unclear on this) it would possible, but there’s still the hole in his trachea.

            Incidentally, this is how a passy-muir valve works. Placed over an implanted trach (a tube inserted into an opening such as the one Candy cut), it’s simply a one-way valve that allows air to enter the trach, but blocks it from exiting and so forces it up through the upper airway instead.

    • The reason that he can talk is for the same reason that he’s been seeing all the Lambs. It’s all in his head.

  4. “Her nose had been smashed, and she had dried blood in her nose.” <– One of the "nose" there is probably a typo. 🙂

  5. I’ve never been so relieved to hear someone describe them self as a monster. Halfway through this chapter I managed to convince myself that Sy was about to die and the POV would switch. Man, this was intense.

    Reading is kind of a masochistic experience, isn’t it?

    • Exactly what I thought as well. Seemed like he was giving up all hope and I was convinced that Wildbow would do what he might have done to Taylor – cause a POV switch mid-story.

      • I think he’s referring to the [spoiler] in Worm.

        (Don’t want to spoiler things/outcomes so the rest of the explanation is rot13’ed for your inconveinience. ^^)

        Ng bar cbvag Jvyqobj rkcynvarq gung ur qrpvqrq gur sngrf bs NYY cnegvpvcngvat punenpgref ol ebyyvat qvpr. Ng yrnfg va bar bs gubfr svtugf, qhaab vs vg’f Gehr sbe NYY rapbhagref. Vs Gnlybe tbg n onq ebyy, Jvyqobj jbhyqa’g yrg gung or gur raq bs Jbez, ur whfg jbhyq unir fjvgpurq gur CBI gb n arj znva punenpgre.

        • Wait what??? When did he ever say that? Are you absolutely certain you’re not confusing real life with:

          Gur fprar vzzrqvngryl cerprrqvat gur Arj Qruyv Orurzbgu svtug, jurer Gnlybe rapbhentrf fpubbyxvqf gb gel qehtf, naq ebhaqf hc gur ybaref gb “fvzhyngr” pncr yvsr cbfg gevttre rirag hfvat ebyyf bs gur qvpr, jurgure gurl pubfr gb or urebrf be ivyyvnaf?

          V nz svaqvat vg uneq gb oryvrir gung fhpu n znfgrecvrpr pbhyq or fb ynetryl qrgrezvarq ol ebyyf bs qvpr… no, don’t fuck around with something this serious. My head would explode and you don’t get to do that (not without being responsible for the cleanup!), Wildbow himself can explode brains and maybe DD Webb, Drew Hays, or Brandon Sanderson, but the latter three probably wouldn’t. I don’t care how awesome your comments are. Besides:

          Ubj gur uryy pbhyq Jbez cbffvoyl unir raqrq jvgubhg Gnlybe znxvat gung bar ynfg nznmvat greevoyr qrpvfvba gb SBEPR rirelbar gb pbbeqvangr? ZNLOR Gnggyrgnyr pbhyq unir chyyrq bss FBZR bs jung Xurcev qvq, ohg V nz fxrcgvpny gung JO unq GJB vaperqvoyr raqvatf gung jrer nccebcevngryl rcvp nf jryy nf fngvfslvat.

          Deciding fates by rolling dice? What an incredibly anti-Einsteinien thing to do…

          • Ur jnf ersrerapvat bar cnegvphyne vafgnapr bs JbT jurer jvyqobj fnvq gung ur qrgrezvarq jub qvrq va gur Yrivnguna svtug ol ebyyvat qvpr. Vs Gnlybe unqa’g orra bar bar bs gur crbcyr gb yvir, gurer jbhyq unir orra n CbI fjvgpu gb Nrtvf (V guvax). Gurer jnf arire nalguvat fnvq nobhg guvf nccebnpu orvat gnxra sbe nal bgure pbasyvpg, znwbe be bgurejvfr.
            Nf sbe gur raqvat, JO unf fnvq znal gvzrf gung ur qbrfa’g cyna nurnq jura jevgvat, cersreevat gb chg uvzfrys va pbearef naq gura jevgr uvf jnl bhg bs gurz. Ur jbhyq unir sbhaq n jnl gb znxr gur raqvat jbex.

          • Ab , ur fnlf gung ur qbrfa’g cyna nurnq jura jevgvat ONGGYRF. Lbhe cbvag fgvyy fgnaqf, ohg abg cynaavat gur fgbel nurnq naq abg cynaavat bayl bar ryrzrag bs gur fgbel nurnq vf urnira naq rnegu.

        • No, seriously, Wildbow doesn’t plan ahead much. Golden Morning was planned in advance, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the resolution was determined at some point after he began writing it.

          With that said, he’s never mentioned using dice for anything other than that one fight.

          He could, though. Wouldn’t shock me if he rolled for Noble interactions here, or every Demon interaction in Pact.

      • The entire Yuuzhan Vong series (of what, 19 books?) was such a stupid idea for a Star Wars plotline, I thought, but it was saved by a half dozen great authors somehow all telling one coherent story.

        But then my pick for the one best Star Wars novel out of the hundreds that have been printed is Matthew Stover’s novelization of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, a plot we all know to be stupid. But Stover went all Hemingway on that shit and turned out a masterpiece.

  6. This chapter felt somewhat reminiscent of Pact to me. A weakened protagonist under the thumb of a much more powerful force. One that is content to grind them away to nothing little by little while phantoms of friends are seen, but remain unable to help. Yes, the hopelessness of Pact is definitely present in this church. It made the victory a little jarring. Still, a very fitting end.

    • In a way it feels right, almost.
      Blake very rarely, if ever, “won”. At most he survived.
      Sy won, but by all rights he should have died this time, even with his plan.

      • I found Sy being able to accurately insert and depress the syringe a touch unlikely. But hey, sometimes you roll a 20, and it’s not like the rest of the encounter was going exactly in his favor. “Won”, is a great way to describe Blake’s battles. Almost every fight he was in was pyrrhic, and any new power he gained came with a greater loss.

  7. Man, you really get an impression of how alien Sy’s mindset is when he goes and mutilates his eye like that, when normal humans instinctively try to protect theirs. I mean, my eyes were watering just reading it.

    Still, it seems fitting that the Baron dies by an injection of the poison that gives Sy his ultimate weapon: his mind.

    • “alien” ? “desperate” seems more like it. “experienced enough to know when he needs to sacrifice what regardless of squick” would also work… a veteran coould make a life or limb decision in such a case, especially if he had panned it.

  8. Two men walk into a room, one walks out. That is, now Sy gets to walk out of the church all bruised and cut up, and tell the soldiers outside that he’s their new boss?

    Killing the Baron minutes after stating that intention to the Infante has got to raise some respect for Radham brain faculty’s work in the old Crown territories.

    • Unfortunately, even though the nobles hate the Baron, they wouldn’t just let go Sy for killing a noble. So either way, Sy is still fucked, and the Wyvern team at Radham is also fucked for making a noble-killing machine.

      • Nobles might not, but soldiers might. My bet though is on Mary doing the “thinking” and somehow solving the soldier problem.

        • Watch Huey defect to the rebellion.

          But knowing the Crown, anyone who has ever contributed to Project Wyvern is in trouble.

          • Or maybe hired as the personal doctor for a noble who wants the same edge Sy has. I mean, if Wyvern lets a scrawny teenager fight and kill a fully tricked-out noble in a one-on-one fight, imagine what it’d do for someone who’s already augmented up to noble level.

  9. First: Woah. Sy, you are NASTY.

    More importantly: Am I the only one who got a “Binding of Isaac” vibe out of this? Bloodshot eye, poisonous and crimson coloured tears as a weapon, the mockery of any semblance of religion… I think this chapter might be a tribute. 😀 In which case I’d say: Kudos for the reference! ^^

    • I don’t remember exactly where, but Wildbow has confirmed that he does play it, and talked about Husk’s boss fight in detail.

    • Well, its the antagonist that is anti-religion in this case, unlike BoI (where the whole game is). Sy is more agnostic, and he even prayed once before. The mockery of semblance of religion is not played here to be ultra controversial (as in BoI) but to show how horrific the villain is, to the point this whole thing almost seem pro religion.

      • I would never have described (and still wouldn’t describe) this as pro-religion. It’s areligious if anything. It doesn’t run away from any particular viewpoint, nor does it promote any. Religion is just there, in the background, as different styles of architecture are.

        • Meh, Wilbow never truly put religion as an antagonist. rira gung bar natry jnf xvaq bs abg gur abez sbe natryf, abg rknpgyl ivyynvabhf (whfg nPnhyqeba yriryf bs sbbyvfu) naq abg ernyyl gvrq jvgu gur Puevfgvna Tbq. Urpx, rira Qvbavfhf vf abg cerfragrq va n artngvir yvtug. It seems that, unlike most other dark authors, Wilbow is not anti-religion, but more like either religious or agnostic.

          Its true that he doesn’t really portray religion in a positive light either, which is why I lean to agnostic, and perhaps the way one writes a story cannot judge that, as I am Christian myself, but if a story were to be better if God was … well, not what I believe Him to be, I do not believe it’d be a sin to make art… either way…

          What is true , regardless of Wilbo’s religious beliefs which are personal for him and not for me to discuss anyway , is that the portrayal of religion is very much NOT the insultfest of BoI, and may even border on its opposite.

  10. I hate to be the voice of dissent, but this chapter doesn’t do it for me.

    Sy, however immune to pain he is, is not invulnerable. He’s been slashed by the Twin, poisoned by himself, he’s run rather long distances, almost knocked unconscious once due to lack of oxygen thanks to Infante’s son, stabbed himself on the leg, almost passed out due to blood loss, made his wound worse by running, poisoned himself a second time in the eye (though that’s fine, since it is isolated from his body), picked up and thrown multiple times, been thrown twice at wooden pews and bodies, lost a FUCKING EAR, had his throat crushed in, almost passed out a second time due to lack of air, ripped his eye out, and, last but not least, he had a tracheotomy. All in the course of an hour, at most.

    Despite all this, he was able not only move, but dodge, fight and even pull off some rather smart fighting moves. He may not care about pain, but he can still experience muscle damage, brain damage, bleed out (how did he NOT bleed out?), have his bones broken and such.

    We also had barely-seeing, barely-standing Emily be able to see well enough to notice the Baron’s moment of weakness, run over to Sy, assist him with her rather new fingernails, give him a tracheotomy without cutting any vital blood vessels, once more be able to see well enough to notice the Baron didn’t have a good look of her and Sy, capitalize on the moment and stab at him not once but twice.

    Then, beaten-down Sy was able to dash to the Baron and inject a syringe right into his eye and somehow stay on him long enough to press down on the plunger. Now, I want you to consider how tiny Sy is, and how big the Baron must be, and how small eyes are, and realise this is a very unlikely feat that doesn’t really follow the flow of battle. Say, had the Baron been crouching, Sy wouldn’t have been able to stab at his heart with the syringe’s leather jacket.

    Finally, all of this relies on the Baron allowing Sy to reach to his eye. The Baron had, right until now, countered every one of Sy’s moves, yet he allowed this.

    Sure, I’d suspend my disbelief for any of these things individually. I can explain away the Baron’s idiocy as the Baron misunderstanding Sy’s gesture. Or I can say that Emily was saving her strength, and Sy’s read on her sight was wrong. But altogether they are too much to sweep aside.

    Also, Mary really did just let Sy walk into his death. Both Mary and Sy should have known that Sy was in no way prepared enough for this battle, and they didn’t need to fight this battle right then, or at all.

    The drama was on point, it had me on the edge of my seat every second I read, but… otherwise, I found this chapter to be very weak. Blake won many impossible fights, but he had magic on his side. Sy doesn’t.

    • All the protagonists so far were enormously damage-resistant, indefatigable. The others had some explanation, of course.

      The first protagonist had an unique thing, one of three really scary ones found in the setting to really scare the gods – and that thing, when given free reign, overtly considered the body as just a vessel of spirit.

      The second protagonist had his audacity integrated directly into the metaphysics on which the world ran.

      What does Sylvester have to rival that? Merely his pain-resistant nerves, his drug-resistant veins, and his superplastic brain riddled with voluntary hallucinations? That’s madness.

      I mean, that’s exactly right: he’s a mad pathological liar. An unreliable narrator if you ever know one.

      • What was the unique thing for Taylor? I either forgot or missed it entirely. Could you rot13 it for me please?

        • Onxhqn’f cnva obzo qrfgeblrq n ybg bs ure cnva frafvgvivgl, nf jryy nf zhygvcyr hagerngrq pbaphffvbaf qbvat fbzr fbeg bs oenva qnzntr. Ba gbc bs gung, gur nqzva funeq riraghnyyl whfg pbafvqrerq ure znva obql nf nabgure obql chccrg, V oryvrir.

      • I definitely agree with what Anarchid is saying but I’ll take it a step further. Yes, he is an unreliable narrator but he has acknowledged how much he lies in the story. No one is above him being lied to, even himself. His hallucinations that he knows are fakes could be considered his subconscious lying to him. This whole serial’s main theme is the truth and more importantly lies. Did we really think, as the audience safe behind a fourth wall, we would be not be lied to? Why would we take anything he says or thinks at face value?

    • I suppose you may need to order a refill for your willing suspension of disbelief to keep enjoying reading, then, friend. 🙂

      • All of Wildbow’s stories have been very, very believable and required very little suspension of disbelief as long as you accepted the axioms of the world.Sure, the ramp-up can be insane, but it’s believable as you follow it. It’s one thing if my criticism is wrong, as a commenter below does a good job of arguing. But, let’s assume my criticism is on point, then that marks a rather big departure, I feel, from Wildbow’s style.

        • To be honest, even though I like Twig, it actually strains my suspension of disbelief far more then any other of his works. The lambs often survived situations by unlikely saves or events that felt a bit arbitrary.

          While this chapter isn’t the best in this case, I find it far less straining then things that already happened before.

          • Yes, this^

            I felt the Lugh battles vs. the Twins were portrayed as too hopeless, and thus unbelievable when the underdogs (underLambs?) eventually won. All you need to believe in their victory here is that Simon & co made some badass poisons, and perhaps Sy didn’t get beat up quite as bad as you’re imagining. Maybe Sy is channeling Lainie’s wussiness?

        • There have been a number of assertions supporting this, though. It’s not without foreshadowing or justification. The whole thing with Lillian, for example, was exposition over how Wyvern allows you to compartmentalize your pain response.

          Pain is the only thing that stops humans from operating when damaged; there are plenty of case studies on people who have lost pain or touch sensations who have to pay special care to things that most people take for granted, because their bodies WON’T retreat from things that cause damage.

          Sy is basically in limiters-off mode here — not only does he have Wyvern compartmentalizing his pain response, he’s also totally flooded with adrenalin and epinephrine because this is a life-or-death situation (the same phenomenon that lets mothers lift cars to save their children). He’s continued pushing his body past the point where most people would be unconscious. He’s damaging his own body by continuing to act, but there’s no feedback to stop him. He’s going to be in serious need of medical attention after this.

          I think Wildbow’s writing in this chapter is quite accurate as to what someone would actually be able to accomplish in this state, especially in taking detached notice of the fact that you’re about to die because you can’t breathe but you’re too hyped up on steroids to stop going.

          • There must be also “I am going to be dead before I hit 20 due to an expiration date anyway, so why worry” thing, which could stop most other people due to concerns about long-term damage.

    • One of Wyvern’s benefits is the ability to ignore and compartmentalize pain in situations like this. And the Baron wasn’t able to prevent Sy from reaching his eye because he was already weakened thanks to the poison Sy had in his own eye.

    • its wildbow, at this point i accepted damage doesnt compoud realistically in his settings and that no matter how damaged they are they aways find that last renmant of energy when needed.
      im sattisfied with the eye trick, it was a slick and elegant trick that we saw prepared beforehand and that is all i want from him at this point

    • As much as I hate to say it, I have to agree with you there. I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and blame the fatigue that Wildbow talked about in the previous chapter’s comments, but I think this arc has gone on too long and given Sy too many injuries to make the fight with the Baron seem realistic. I could buy it if either Sy was given a few days to rest and recover from his fight with the Twin or if the Baron fight had been only a matter of wits, Sy should have been crushed like a bug if he tried to go physically toe to toe against a healthy Noble, regardless of the condition he was in. One of the best parts of Twig has been seeing the characters work together to overcome more powerful foes, and this chapter did away with that.

      The fights with in this chapter seem to almost cheapen how tough the Nobles are. Last arc it took a squad armed with guns, an entire city’s worth of territory, a couple of chapters and two Lambs to take down the three of the Twins, and that made them seem utterly terrifying. Then it took Maurer months of scheming, an entire army and a new type of weapon to take down the Duke. That was also a jaw-dropping moment, because before then the Duke was a force of nature – remember how powerless we felt watching him clash with Avis?

      Compare that to this arc. I could sort of write the Twin confrontation off because she was still not whole either physically or mentally, and I love how sympathetic she was written and how we got to see some minor characters’ development. But she still fell inside of a chapter, and what one chapter ago was a final boss was made into a mini boss. And the Baron was at probably the most powerful we’ve ever seen him this chapter – he has complete control of the battlefield and timing of the fight, he’s fresh from a treatment that spiked his power level, he’s riding high on his big day and his displays of power. This is an S-class threat we’re talking about. And yet he’s taken out by a half-dead Sy, whose defining characteristic is that he’s useless in a physical confrontation, and a crippled Candy. It’s like if a beaten-up Tattletale and a weaponless Armsmaster took out Echinda.

      If Twig one day gets the Worm treatment of a comprehensive overhaul and a book deal, my suggestion would be to split this arc into two. Give more gravity to the fight with the Twin, let Sy and Co recover for a few days and let the reader breathe. Then figure out a way to beat the Baron in a way that doesn’t cheapen his physical prowess over the other characters. The way it’s written now feels like a rush to wrap up an arc that’s sprawled a bit too much, and I know Wildbow’s capable of better.

      • > Sy should have been crushed like a bug if he tried to go physically toe to toe against a healthy Noble

        Keep in mind that Sy acknowledges he *should* have been, except for the Baron turning the whole thing into a drama-filled event and demonstrating his superiority over Sy. If the Baron had just walked up and sliced Sy’s head off, that’s it, game over, but he didn’t, because he’s the Baron.

        The theme of combat in Twig is that hubris kills.

        • No, Hubris died. Overwhelming pride which leads to a person’s downfall is what kills. I think there’s a word for that… 😉

      • I think it’s pretty clear the Baron was just toying with him up until Sy spewed the poison into his eyes. Now, you could argue that the Baron should have had more resistance to something like that, but he wasn’t a very high-ranking noble.

        It’s possible the Baron was even toying with Sy after that point, since he clearly expected his immortality to protect him and didn’t realize Sy could destroy his mind by making him OD on Wyvern.

      • Isn’t it almost the same situation as in Worm, when Tailor qrsrngrq (sbe gur frpbaq gvzr) n tvnag nezberq sveroernguvat birecbjrerq Yhat jvgu n Arjgre-ynprq oht?

        If your opponent is strong and tough, work around his strengths.
        Even after Baron was blinded by the eye trick, he was still complacently taunting Sy and his bride about having to stab and cut him for hours instead of being an S-class. So that became his downfall, and all is good 🙂

        • Twig is Wilbow’s lowest powered universe, and its a plot point most of the nobles powers is smokes and mirrors.

          Even relatively low powered things , such as a band of goblins or a lowish level superhero could beat the Duke, never mind the Baron. They have, what, better intelligence (really advantageous when facing an oppoment with a biological weakness, not so when facing something genuinely stronger) and better redundancy than normal people? (heck, a starter superhero in Worm had better organ redundacy as a supperpower than all nobles we have seen). No , they are not even close to being that strong.

          What makes them terrifying is not the physical power that they wield, but the political power. The Duke, the Twins, the Baron… they all paid leaving their political power behind, for they invested so much on their lie of invisibility they thought it true.

    • I’m not trying to be overly critical. It could very well be my interpretation of the events is just wrong. Maybe I’m overestimating when I say Sy put up a fight with the Baron, and I am overestimating his wounds. Maybe the Baron is just as tall as any other man, and hey, if he didn’t make a mistake at some point, Sy would never ever have won which would be a bad thing. And maybe I have no reason to believe Emily’s eyesight is as bad as I seem to think it is. And who am I to judge Mary for letting Sy in the battle? But that’s a lot of things to accept to make this chapter work for me..

      I still love your work very much, Bow ❤ I know you are busy busy and I'm not trying to be mean!

      • Could be adjusted with an Enemy chapter that showcases things Sy was too unhealthy to really notice.

        While the Baron was blinded, Mary knived him. Candida might have more going for her than the rapier. Those poisons could have interacted together in unexpected ways to further damage the Baron. The Baron could in fact care about his sisters enough to impede his performance, for all that he claims not to. Infante might have interfered for his amusement, subtly and without our knowledge. The Baron, like so many nobles, might be enamored into playing with death.

        Even if there is no Enemy chapter to adjust our expectations, we know that the Baron is characterized as comically arrogant. If Sy’s pain tolerance was built, narratively and within the worldbuilding, as through the roof, then the Baron’s arrogance gets the same treatment.

        Aesthetically, his defeat was satisfying in its irony. Brought low by his belief in his invincibility, in his belief that Candida was under his control, his mind addled by poison and by worrying about Infante, despite his lack of value as a noble. Poetic justice of a sort, or narrative coup de grace of a sort.

        I do agree that the logistics of it are a bit messy, but not so messy as to be unbelievable. There were, after all, many hints pointing to this conclusion as being one of several possible conclusions.

        And really, Sy needed to focus on only two things that entire battle, and he knew he had to focus on just those two things: he needed enough energy for a final dash and injection, and he needed to squeeze his eye if he got pinned or held up.

        The latter he managed, but the former would have failed if not for Candida.

        So it wasn’t like he had it easy.

        Also, Baron “right after treatment” may not be Baron at the peak of his strength. Candida is tenacious and ambitious in her own right, maybe the treatment wasn’t perfect, or has some side effects?

    • I thought it felt a bit cheap. Even all that eye mutilation couldn’t distract from the fact that Sylvester, who is considerably worse at fighting than a baseline human, just defeated a noble in close quarters.

      • Wyvern lets you compartmentalize, reorganize your brain. Sy gave himself the ability to mentally “become” another Lamb. Sy is still bad at fighting, but Helen isn’t.

    • I think the fight was very much in line with the setting of Twig’s world. The entire universe has a sort of “wet” feeling to its fights, and wounds in general. To me this means infected wounds, stabbings, bodily fluids, poison and such. Compare to Worm, where the style is more “dry”. Broken bones, gunshots and bruises. Maybe it’s something that I’m picking up unconsciously, but this doesn’t seem much worse than Taylor’s broken ribs, blindness and smoke inhalation, but with a decidedly more biological style.

      • And Pact where the wounds are more “metaphysical” . Memory, soul, future, capabilities, magical weaknesses are targets there.

        • I had an idea once for an urban fantasy setting where in order to use magic the first thing you’d have to do is sacrifice some part of yourself. The catch is you can’t pick what it is. It could range from body parts, like teeth or an eye. Some people never even get to use magic because they loose something they need to live. Others loose something less physical like their emotions, or the ability to make new friends. The MC would have lost their color, and every part of them would have been monochromatic white.

          • Sounds interesting, though I have the vague feeling of having heard something similar before.

  11. Amazing chapter! I now want for Sy to go on the run with Emily and Laine. Also, new mission, find out where the Baron has been spiriting away the first borns of Warrick?

    • Actually, he probably HAS been. But he’s not Sy. Sy’s been taking Wyvern in doses that would kill a full-grown man outright, and this was a dose that would have overwhelmed even HIM — the world-champion of Wyvern tolerance.

  12. I have to agree with Zim on this one. The chapter just felt a bit off somehow. I think that Sy’s ability to ignore pain is actually part of the problem. He was beat to hell and back and should by all accounts be on his last legs (and even then its a miracle he isn’t just dead). But the whole time he is narrating it comes off as almost clinical. We hear that he gets his ass kicked, he mentions that there is pain but is ignoring it, and then more things happen.

    Compare that to Pact when Blake is getting slapped around by literally anything he went up against. The damage that he takes there is much more believable because we hear exactly how much it sucks. We also get to read Blake’s inner monologue that talks about how awful he feels and how hard it is to finish whatever it is he is doing. Sy is so focused on his goal that the difficulty of completing his task is kind of lost. Again, it reads more like a clinical play-by-play then an actual life or death struggle.

    All that said, I did still enjoy the chapter for what it was. Things involving eyes are my big pet peeve, so this chapter really screwed with me on that level. From the second Sy mixed up the poisons and injected them in his eye I had a kind of horrified idea of where he was going with that plan. Reading the payoff was every bit as disgustingly satisfying as I expected it to be.

    I will also say that the final moments of the Baron’s fight made sense to me (ignoring stuff like Sy being able to move and Candida being able to see). Candy stabs at the Baron and he blocks it, then Sy feints with the case and the Baron’s other hand blocks that. With both hands out of position Sy is able to get the syringe jammed in the Baron’s eye, which Candy get off a second stab that actually connects, which is distraction enough for Sy to hit the plunger. Sy asking about the children before taking the plunge (heh) seems like an awful idea, but otherwise that part flowed fine for me.

    I do think that the downside to his plan is going to be apparent very quickly though. The massive Wyvern dose he gave the Baron won’t immediately kill him. Instead it will drive him crazy with pain,and possibly just crazy. In a regular human you could expect that to be debilitating but with a noble there is every chance that he will have strength enough to start lashing out. I’m thinking it will look like the pain-guns they used on the warbeasts, where he goes on a mindless rampage and ends up attacking anything he can get his hands on.

    • The clinical play by play makes sense to me. It was established that the Wyvern formula allows you to compartmentalize your emotions and pain, and also that Sy goes through incredible amounts of pain each time he has an appointment. In fact, I’d say Sy would be able to handle more pain than any other Lamb because of this. It’d also make sense that his narration would become detached, as he’s shunting the emotion and pain so he can think clearly.

      • I do actually agree with this. From what we know about Sy, he is good enough at dealing with pain that his being able to set it aside and function does make sense. We even have examples of him doing similar things in other story arcs, even if this feels a bit more extreme.

        My point was that that narration style acted to downplay the heaps of physical abuse his body was going through during the fight. Its a problem of degrees. When he is tired and sore and a little roughed up in other arcs but still manages to power through things, it makes sense and shows off his determination. But in this chapter it feels like things are bad enough to get past it.

        This arc has the same kind of detached narration as previous ones, but it feels like Sy gets significantly more damaged. Stabbed, choked, choked again, beat up by the last Twin, emergency tracheotomy, multiple blows to the head, ear ripped off, thrown into and through wooden pews.

        The original comment was that this chapter felt just a bit off, and I am suggesting that it is because we get the same detached, clinical description even though the damage suffered is much worse than it has been before.

  13. I don’t think the Baron is dead based on how Sy interpreted at least. I think he just destroyed the Baron’s brain functions with the overdose, making him into a unthinking puppet. Which honestly might be better for Candy and Sy. For Sy if he properly covered his tracks it will reduce the people coming after him, and for Candy it will allow her to be able to remain in her position as his wife without having to worry about his brutality. On the other hand if he does somehow recover, it means we got a super crazy Baron out for revenge.

    • So he just became like the Duke, but not a vegetable but even worse a barely sentient and sane fleshpuppet? that’s how I interpret that too. What a horrible fat befitting a person like the Baron.

      • The description suggests that he WOULDN’T be sentient — more like a feral beast, higher mental functions stripped down to little more than instinct.

  14. Yeah, Sy ignoring the damage to his body isn’t quite the same as being resistant to damage. I mean, the human body is a lot more sturdy than most people give it credit for, and Sy had been taking mostly superficial damage by that point, nothing that would significantly impact his ability to move and act (an ear? an eye? some scrapes and possibly bruised fingers?), certainly nothing like a concussion, torn muscle, severed tendons, or outright broken bones. The worst injury he’d gotten was the cut windpipe, which was shortly moved from the “life threatening” stage to the “you might want to wipe that off” stage. The Baron had been only playing with him up to that point with no intent to kill, after all.

    As for the blood loss, I’m not so sure Sy had really lost a whole lot. There’s enough blood in your body to absolutely cover yourself in and still have enough to live, so saying he was “covered in blood” wouldn’t quite be the same as saying “the floor is covered with blood”, which would be the point where you’re probably looking at a dead guy.

    Sy’s clinical detatchment to everything actually looks like a very natural case of shock. Once stress goes over a certain threshold, your brain starts shutting down parts of itself to minimize the negative impact of whatever the stressor is. Mostly, the parts being turned off are the ones that process stress/other emotions and things like the ability to recognize and feel pain. The result is often what you see here. This is actually something that’s so common but misunderstood that it even affects court cases: a jury will look at someone who had just gone through a thoroughly traumatic incident (such as rape, or losing a limb) and see someone who doesn’t seem terribly perturbed by it, and thereby assume that they must be lying or exaggerating in an attempt to get more out of the court. Even though such detachment is a strong indicator that the event was so distressing the person’s brain had to turn off important sections of itself in order to continue functioning at all, other people are thinking to themselves “if they’re telling the truth, they’d be showing more emotion”. It’s so bad, lawyers will often coach their clients and teach them to convincingly fake the emotion people are expecting to see, even though they were telling the truth the whole time.

    All in all, Sy’s ability to act in the face of all that damage and the events of the day aren’t terribly unrealistic for someone who’s so used to disassociating that he doesn’t even notice when it happens anymore. What makes it look so much worse is Wildbow’s own writing: Sy’s preternatural ability to understand the intent behind the Baron’s display lets him narrate the full physical+mental/emotional impact of it even though the actual physical impact is intentionally non-fatal and Sy’s mental/emotional state is too far gone to fully process the mental/emotional impact.

  15. Now that I think about it, did we ever confirm that Candy was blinded? I’m wondering if she wasn’t playing up something of her own, pretending she’s visually impaired until an opportunity like this one presented itself.

    The part with the eye makes me wonder how tall the Baron actually is. I was given the impression that all nobles were pretty damn tall, but now you have to wonder if some of that was a bias on Sy’s part, and they’re not nearly as tall as he thinks.

    I can totally believe Sy managed to take all that damage and still fight, though. Kids are bouncy. He’s not that old yet, the worst is him being thrown into a few pews. He does realize the Baron was playing with him until he mentioned the Infante, so I suspect he deliberately went for throwing him around like a ragdoll more than actually damaging him, even minimizing it when possible. Harder to play with broken toys.

    And Wildbow, sorry to hear about the tax issues. Good luck.

  16. Nobody noticed the irony on the fact that Sy used the eye removed by the Baron to turn the tables on him?

    • If I understand the term “irony” correctly – irony must be amusing?

      Is there something amusing about destroying your enemy with a part your body that that enemy destroyed? It might be person dependent, but for me it rings like blood and hard work, not amusement.

      Seeing Sy prevail in such a complex way feels… respectful? But I’m not sure about this event being ironic.

      What I find ironic for a whole lot of different set of reasons – is the way Mauer called Sy once – “manipulative snake”. I find it amusing that we have one-eyed child-soldier that is just a small gear in a world sick with new dehumanizing technology, and that this poor snake must clash with insane human-monsters that has complex twisted emotional problems. That feel like a beautifully poisoned irony.

        • I traced though a number of dictionaries today. You learn something new every day… ^ ^ Yes, it seems t I was wrong. Irony is defined as a union of modular sets packed with different payloads of meaning. Resulting meaning of ‘irony’ in modern English is surprisingly wide. It seems that as of yet I was exposed only to humorous variations, but in reality, meaning of irony feels quite neutral and.. bleak? Hmm.

    • Irony in that world, personalities and events of Twig feel much more interesting than world, personalities and events from a certain other story 😛

  17. Well the Baron is… Brain Dead I guess. So technically Sy didn’t kill a noble. Probably won’t count that way to Infante though. Now Sy has to do the rest of his plan. The part he kept thinking Mary wouldn’t like.

    Honestly I expected Sy to refer to himself as poison, not monster. Well both are accurate.

    And should they be reunited Lillian is going to have some work to do to get Sy fixed up.

    Now I’m also wondering if Maur or someone is going to crash the party as was hinted before.

  18. @Warycassowary: I’m pretty sure Sy was being held at the Baron’s shoulder height when he sprayed poison in the Baron’s face. Then again, even if Sy was on the ground and the Baron standing at full height, even a simple spray bottle can get some decent height and distance with relatively little force(and the pressure Sy applies to the outside of the eyeball gets concentrated as the liquid sprays from the needle holes.

    Honestly, the only part of the battle with the Baron that seems a bit off in my mind is how vulnerable the baron’s eyes seem to be when everything else about the Baron is reinforced almost to the point of invulnerable to conventional weaponry even if given a free shot.

    That said, I totally expect Emily’s stab to be only a flesh wound and the Wyvern overdose to at best turn the Baron into a mad dog to the point that his madness to date will look sane by comparison.

  19. The moment Sy injected the drug in his eye I knew that vg jbhyq raq yvxr gur pbasebagngvba jvgu Yhat naq gur Arjgreoybbq-ynprq oht.

    But the thing that I found the most interesting here is actually that the Baron reminds me of someone. He reminds me of Sy himself. Does the line of making people suffer just to reveal what lies underneath not sound similiar to Sy’s shaking the box-tactic? To grind down your opponent to watch what makes them tick, but then (try to) crush them the moment it has no longer use without a spark of sympathy?

    Like a dark distorted mirror (even darker then Sy was before), it made for an interesting confrontation between these two.

  20. I enjoyed the chapter quite a bit, regardless of the unbelievable (or believable, as your interpretation may be) of Sy’s durability.

    I just want to say that the church setting, with the bodies nailed to the pews, the scene painted as perverse worship of the Baron? That image looks positively amazing in my mind. Good job!

  21. I really liked the line showing Sy had a whole host of vague plans around the eye that he could adapt based on the exact circumstances. There was never going to be a perfectly winnable fight, or any guaranteed chance to overpower the Baron or catch him by surprise. But Sy was definitely going to be able to psychologically move the Baron around to get them face-to-face, and big enough quantities of the right drug through the eyeball was a really cool way to evade the Barons defenses.

    I also liked the reversal of the more normal gambit, where the villain loses because he was toying with the hero; Sy’s opening was when the Baron stopped playing games and actually tried to finish him off. I spent a bunch of this arc wondering how Sy thought he could manipulate the Baron into a fight that Sy could win, but it turns out all he was really going for was to manipulate the Baron into trying to kill him directly by his own hands.

    Also the whole setting and emotion of him losing the lambs one by one and the lights going dark was really well written.

  22. Silly Baron. You don’t beat Sy by kicking him around a bit and taunting him till he gives up from sheer despair. You call in a warbeast and have it stomp Sy to a fine paste while you watch from a safe distance.

    … then again, that might backfire. The warbeast comes trundling toward the Baron with Sy on its back, whispering in its ear.

    Yeah, no, the moment the Baron underestimated Sy, he was toast.

  23. I think one of my favourite aspects of Sy, and this world in general, is that he uses his body freely as a weapon. He’s like Helen, but better, because while Helen has the natural ability of having a reshapeable body, she doesn’t push it in ways that weren’t meant to work, like our dear Sy here.

    • The amount of witnesses is quickly dwindling back to acceptable levels. Chance, Elaine & the Mcormick family.
      The latter has little to gain in talking about her. Chance and Elaine were uncomfortably close to the murder of a noble and his lone sister to speak about their murderers and get away with it.

      Also, our dear Lord Infante has a say in sweet Elaine’s fate. This may also impact Chance, depending his reaction.

        • You will. Consider, Sy knows a lot about what goes on behind the scenes that Infante didn’t know. Also, Sy has killed multiple nobles. 10 to 1 Infante requisitons Sy in some way.

          • There’s one slight problem with that. Infante now knows that Sy can kill nobles with enough prep-time (and given that the “prep-time” involved for this assassination was less than an hour (that Infante knew of), “enough prep-time” starts to sound like “any prep-time.”) Infante, as low on the totem pole as he is, is still a noble of the Crown States. Sy could and probably has tipped from “useful” to “threatening.”

          • Agreed. Plus he’s much too interesting to be a one-off character. I’d like to see him becoming the patron of the newly independent Sy.

          • Infante, LOW on the crown totem pole? Are we talking about the same person? He was the fat man who’s IIRC so close to the throne you could count his proximity on one hand (provided it’s an Academy hand with at least 6 fingers)

  24. Wait what? The Baron took out an eye and Sy couldn’t fix it (because of the Baron). I thought he was booby trapping the *remaining* eye. But then when he “uses” it… isn’t he now entirely without sight? That’s gonna make the rest of the fight, especially that event where he precisely stabs the Baron, really difficult.

  25. Awe I caught up. I accidentally read the beginning chapter of this arc first, where he’s talking to the imaginary lambs in the train. It took me to that cuz it was the current one when I went to Twig. Made me think all the lambs were gonna die until I got to it 😦

  26. Eurgh, the eye…
    Wildbow, you’re really good at playing with elements that disturb people on a fundamental level while making it seem natural rather than gratuitous. Good job. I hope you took a break from that for at least the next couple of chapters, though… the eye

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