Cut to the Quick – 11.1

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“Look at the chair you’re sitting in right now,” I said.  “Now, this might sound silly, but I want you to imagine there are lines of strength running through it.  Close your eyes for me.  Visualize the chair.  Where is it strongest?  When someone sits in it, where are the stresses?  Where would you draw the lines, if you were just drawing the imaginary bones of the armchair?”

I watched as Shirley closed her eyes.  I could see how tense she was.  Her back didn’t even touch the chair back.

“Um,” she said.  She moved her hands, twisting around.  She indicated the chair back, the arms.  “I think here and here?  And the legs?  I don’t really get it.”

“No, you’re right,” I said.  “Where are the lines of strength in your body?  It’s cheating if we think of your skeleton, so I want you to imagine one line running from your right hand to your shoulder, curving down to extend to your left leg, and another from your left hand to your right leg.  Imagine it, as strongly as you can.”

“I’m imagining it,” Shirley said.

“Can I touch you, to guide you?” I asked.

“Most men don’t ask before touching me,” she said, opening her eyes.  “They pay after.”

“Eyes closed,” I said, chastizing her.  She obeyed.  “Imagine the lines.”


“What color are they?”

“Um.  Yellow?  Why?”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said.  Shirley was a pixie of a girl, barely nineteen, petite, with a smaller chest than most girls of her profession, and some amazing legs.  Her black hair was shorter than mine, but a headband gave her a feminine touch.  I liked her eyes most, though.  They were large and expressive.

Interesting that she thought of herself as yellow.  It didn’t mean anything, and it got her thinking about the lines again.  “I’ll ask again, since I didn’t get an answer.  May I touch you?”


“Okay,” I said.  I touched her shoulders firmly, and urged her to lean back.  “Relax, keep imagining the lines, and lean back, feel the chair back against the small of your back and your shoulderblades.  The lines of the chair and the lines of your upper body are more in alignment, aren’t they?  Almost like you can imagine them as two pieces of a whole?”


“And…” I said, putting two fingers on the back of one knee.  I felt her move it as I used the bare minimum of strength, until her thighs were crossed, one foot dangling, “For your lower body, I want you to figure out where your leg goes, so it’s in alignment with the chair’s arm and leg.  Keep those eyes closed.”

She moved her leg to the side, so the foot was at the base of the leg.  After a moment, she shifted position, so only her toes were on the floor, her heel resting against the leg.  It had the same effect as being in heels, elongating her already long legs.  It also had the effect of raising her knees, which was a tantalizing thing when she wore a short dress.

Movement off to one side caught my eye.  There were four young women, two young men and one Jamie gathered at the entrance of the room, watching.  A young woman standing in the doorway was changing her posture to better pose herself at the doorway.  Listening and learning.  We had an audience.

“Someone could paint a picture of you right now, Shirley,” one of the women at the door said.

Shirley’s eyes opened.

Before her focus was lost, I gave an instruction, “Relax your shoulders and let your arm down so-”

She dropped her arm, draping it along the chair’s.

“-Like that.  Perfect,” I said.

Shirley gave me a smile.  When I smiled back, she looked away, suddenly self-conscious.

“Why are you running away from me?” I asked.  “Eye contact.  When you’re working, If you’re here or you’re outside, you’re going to want to pick out customers, instead of having them pick you, right?”

She frowned a little.

“What?” I asked.

“It’s the job, isn’t it?” she asked.  “The customers choose.  Even here.”

I dropped down to sit on the coffee table, across from her.  “From here on out, you choose.  I know you had a bad run.  You got hurt, you want to keep doing this, but you’re still afraid.”

She broke eye contact again.

“Look me in the eye.  Don’t waver.  Good.  That’s better.  If you look afraid, the people who approach you are going to be the ones who want fear.  In this house, you’re pretty safe, but you still get some bad ones, I imagine.  If you’re clearly aware and comfortable with your surroundings…”

I gestured to indicate the length of her arm, the chair arm, and her legs.

“And if you’re confident in the eye contact you use, you can ignore the people you’re not interested in without looking like you’re shying away.  You’ll lock eye contact onto someone without actually staring at them.  I saw your expression just now.  I’ll clarify.  You can turn your head or change position to keep from being too still or too direct and intense.”

She did it, trying it.

“Just like that.  Now you’ll look a pretty picture as you fit into your surroundings, you make the eye contact with the people you choose, and then you hook them, line and sinker.  The ones you want, who look like they have money and like they might be fun, or safer.  You don’t need to shout louder than the other girls on the busier streets, your gaze, posture, and quiet confidence will be far louder than their brash offers.”

“Okay,” she said.

“I want you to lean over this table here.  Use your instincts.  The lines of your body and the lines of the table.  But keep in mind it doesn’t all have to be parallel, try right angles or curves.  Be playful, stay at ease.  It’s hard to do it wrong, but stay conscious of the table and yourself.  If you’re not sure how to do it, take your time while walking to the table.  But try it now, stand up.”

She did.  Her anxieties aside, she knew how to walk.  It was when she was sitting still or standing somewhere,left alone with her thoughts, that she’d end up looking so stricken and nervous.  Sauntering over to the table, she placed her right hand on the left side of the table, and her left hand on the other side, arms crossed, so they pushed her decolletage forward.  Her gaze remained locked to mine.

“Ah,” I said, huffing out a, “ha.  Perfect.”

“Sylvester,” Jamie remarked, his tone light in its mock sternness, “Are you done manipulating that poor woman into giving you a show?”

“It’s not-” Shirley and I spoke at the same time.  I stopped talking.  Belated, Shirley finished, “-not manipulation.  I like this.  It helps.”

“Thank you,” I said, turning my full focus to her, “I’m glad.  I think you instinctively knew some of this, you just needed reminders after you got shaken by bad experience.  You needed a framework to put it in.”

She nodded, with more emphasis than necessary.

“Final piece of the puzzle here,” I said.  “It feels good to get a reaction out of me, right?  You have the power, you did that perfectly, and in the doing, you got to be the second person in this house who’s ever rendered me at a loss for words.”

“Who was the-”

“Jamie,” I cut her off.  “Focus, and smile.  When you get that reaction, then you signal that you know, one hundred percent, that you just earned your small victory.  Because ninety-five times out of a hundred, the guys who like that smile are going to be the guys who are going to respect you and respect that confidence.”

“Ahem,” I heard the voice from the hallway.

“Whoops,” I said.  The Madam.

“What’s going on here?  Why is there a crowd in my foyer?  Jamie?”

The madam of the house made her way through the cluster of people at the other end of the room, my audience.  Marv wasn’t far behind.

“Sylvester,” she said, unimpressed. “And Shirley, it seems.”

“Sylvester,” Marv commented, smirking, “You sly rascal, I didn’t think you had it in you.”

One of the young men at the doorway protested, “Nothing was happening, Sylvester was-”

He fell silent as the Madam raised her hand.  She opened her mouth to say something, but hesitated as Shirley stood straight, walked to the armchair, and draped herself easily across it, her posture only slightly different from before.  Shirley’s eyes remained locked to the Madam’s throughout, and remained there as she crossed her legs, then folded her hands in her lap.

When the Madam’s eyebrows went up, Shirley allowed her a small, confident smile.

“Son of a gun, Shir,” one of the bystanders chimed in.

“Sylvester,” the Madam said, without taking her eyes off of the girl.  “What drug have you given to my Shirley?”

“Confidence,” I said.  “Just confidence.”

I didn’t get the impression she believed me.  Shirley, meanwhile, seemed to be very much enjoying feeling more at ease in her own skin, for what might have been the first time in months.  The little smile she wore for the Madam became a more mischievous one.

The Madam folded her arms and fixed Shirley with a pointed look.  “Shirley.  Lois has been complaining that you’re not keeping your half of the room tidy enough.  I won’t endure any more nagging from her because you’re a piglet.  I want you to clean up.”

Shirley blushed as she rose from her seat.  She started to head to the door, stopped, then reversed course to walk over to me.  She bent down and gave me an amazing hug before kissing me on the cheek.

“If only you were older,” she said.

“I’m older than I look,” I said, with a note of hope.

She rolled her eyes a little, then gave me two more quick kisses on the cheek before skipping off.  Half of the girls and boys who’d been our audience started to join her.  The other half dispersed on their own.

“Don’t go too far from the house!” the Madam raised her voice, “House meeting later!”

I heard distant moans and groans.

Marv and the Madam made their way into the room.  Jamie crossed the room to be at my side, taking a seat in the chair that Shirley had been in.

“I should have asked permission before meddling,” I said, to beat her to the punch.

“You should have,” the Madam said.  Then she looked over her shoulder, as if to make sure nobody was listening, and added, “But I’m going to give you the benefit of a doubt on this.  It was nice to see Shirley happy, even if it proves to be temporary.”

I nodded, somber.  Whether it was temporary or the foundation for better things was up to her and luck.  Her next few experiences would pave the road ahead.

“The house mother and I were talking,” Marv said, smiling at the Madam’s look of annoyance over the appellation, “Something came up, and I let her know first, so she could decide how to proceed.  When she consented, I reached out to you two to ask you to come by.  I’d say I’m sorry I was in the bath when you first showed up, but you seem to have kept yourself amused.”

He shot me a smirk, then quickly hid it as the Madam glanced at him.

He reached into a coat pocket and produced a folded paper.

I knew what it was before he’d even fully unfolded it.

“You’re wanted men,” he remarked, handing over the paper.

They used Jamie’s own illustrations from his books to press these posters, I thought.  A portrait Jamie had done of himself, and a portrait of me, scratched out in ink.  The pictures were relatively small.  Paragraphs of information and description followed.

“Traitors to the Crown, one Sylvester Lambsbridge to be delivered as corpse or secure prisoner to any Crown-owned office or jail, one Jamie Lambsbridge to be delivered alive as a secure prisoner to any Crown-owned office or jail,” I read it aloud.  “While possessed of no overly extraordinary physical talents or capabilities, these two adolescent males are experienced killers, talented improvisers, and remain devastatingly intelligent in individual, complimentary ways.  Devastatingly intelligent.  Devastatingly.”

This time it was Jamie’s turn to roll his eyes.  “Don’t look so proud of yourself.”

“But I’m devastatingly proud,” I said.

He aimed a kick in my direction, from where he sat in the chair.

“I visited Virgil’s Academy, and I saw this up in the main office, with a whole stack of them yet to be handed around and put up on the wall,” Marv said.  “From what I gather, they’re going to start appearing all over the place, in Crown post offices, police stations, at borders…”

“I’m not surprised,” I said.  “We expected this sooner or later.  We’ll be out of here before there’s any chance of this coming back on you.”

“Thank you,” the Madam said.  “I recall you saying you weren’t staying for very long, and that was… some time ago.  If your idea of being gone within a few days means staying for two months, I hope that your being gone before there’s trouble isn’t similarly extended.”

“Ah,” I said, a little abashed.

“I haven’t minded having you around,” she said, softening.  “But I do need to look after this house and the people in it.”

“I know,” I said.  “I understand.  Marv’s done patching me together, and I didn’t even plan to come back and hassle you any, except Marv reached out.”

“I owe you favors,” she said.  She paused, as if seeming to consider the idea.  “I’m not used to owing people favors.  But send me a letter, if you need anything.”

I nodded.

Then, in a manner that starkly contrasted her authoritarian streak, she reached over and messed up my hair.  “Be safe, Sylvester.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“And Jamie,” she said, reaching over toward Jamie’s head.  I saw him wince, preparing for his longer hair to get tousled, but the woman only ran her hand over the top of his head.  “Wayward Jamie.  I’ve had so many long conversations with my girls and boys, when it comes to you.”

“Ma’am,” Jamie said.

“Find your happiness,” she said.

“I’ll try, ma’am,” he said.

She touched his cheek, as gentle as I’d ever seen her, then retreated, returning to her former demeanor.

That was our cue to go.

“Thanks for the work, Marv,” I said, touching my eye and giving him a salute from there instead of my forehead.

“Thanks for the money, paying customer,” he said, but with a note of humor.

I had to jump a little to get my raincoat off the hook on the wall, and put it over one arm instead of pulling it on.  I stepped into my boots, strapped them at two separate places each, and then headed to the door, with Jamie right behind me.

It was raining, but only a droplet, here and there.  It made me nostalgic for home.  Tynewear was thawing for the imminent spring, and where it had once been softened by snow, it was now blurred around the edges with a light fog.  It was evening, and people were out in force, with quite a number heading home from work.  Even in one of the nicer of the poorer areas of Tynewear, where the managers of the boatyards and established employees had homes, the people still had nice clothes they could put on and wear as they walked into the heart of the city for dining or entertainment.  Jamie and I fit right in among them, wearing our own dark sweaters and raincoats with slacks and polished shoes and boots.

“Given the distance between Virgil’s Academy and Tynewear, and the speed we saw the posters for Fray and some others go up, I’d guess we have three or four days before people see, pass on word, and trouble comes looking for us,” Jamie said.

“Can we put off talking about that and discuss about how I got a ‘be careful’, like I’m some dingbat who is going to run headlong in front of the first knife, open flame, or speeding train I see, and you got a sweet ‘find your happiness’?”

“You are a dingbat who is going to run headlong into the first dangerous situation you see,” Jamie said.

“Ha ha,” I said.  “No, seriously.”

“She meets rogues and bastards every single day.  She’s used to your sort.  But I’m… closer to the likes of Shirley.  The sort of person she feels like she can nurture, I suppose?”

“Like Shirley, no, no, I get it,” I said.  I turned around so I was walking backward and facing Jamie, swaggering a little, “Are you saying you’re a romantic, Jamie?  Shall we get you some revealing clothes like the young men in the Madam’s employ wear?  Are you a winsome tart?”

Jamie smiled.

“What?” I asked.  “Are you really, now?”

“No, I’m not.  And the smile wasn’t supposed to mean anything,” he said.

“Liar!” I declared.  I grabbed him by the front of his raincoat, still walking backward, my steps in time with his.  He put a hand out and steered me to keep me from walking into a lamp post.  “Tell me of the smile, young sir!”

“You seem more at ease than I can remember ever seeing you,” he said.  “Not that I have many years of memories.”

I let go of his raincoat.  I took a few steps back, intentionally clumsy and heavy, then spun, falling back into step at his side.

“I’ve seen glimpses of it, but it was fleeting.  You sleeping, curled up with Lillian when we were in Lugh, actually relaxed.  Moments you let your guard down, mid-conversation with the others, before you looked in my direction and a kind of shadow fell over your expression.  A weight on your shoulders.  Even when you tried to hide it.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Yeah.  Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said.  “But it’s nice that we’re getting past that?  Are we getting past that?”

“We’re getting past that,” I said.  “Or- hm.”

“Hm,” he echoed me.  Not even making it a question or an effort to pry or to push.

“Just thinking.  I don’t want to sound like a dick-”

“Hard to imagine that.”

“-But I don’t know if that shadow will ever entirely go away?  I don’t want to leave you hopeful and then hurt, but-

“But but but,” Jamie said.

I raised an eyebrow.

“The old Jamie was your best friend,” he said.  “You would be dishonoring him if you didn’t mourn him, if you didn’t remember him?”

I nodded.  “Yeah, I guess that sums it up.  Strides forward, but I don’t want to promise future strides?  And I feel like a monumental dick for saying it, especially when you’ve given everything up to be here and you endure my company every dang day.”

“First of all,” Jamie started.

You are a monumental dick,” I joined my voice to his, as he said it, even going so far as to match his cadence, then added, “You’re getting so predictable.  Can’t pass up an opportunity.”

“And second of all, I came here for me as much as I did it for you,” Jamie said, ignoring me.  “They were going to elevate my project.  They still want to, looking at those posters.  They very definitely want me alive.  I don’t know for sure what that would have meant, but in all of the discussions I overheard and everything that came up regarding my project, they never seemed to manage to bring up the idea of my welfare.  Nothing about what I wanted, preserving what I felt like I needed to keep.  I think about the others, and I don’t know if their situations were any different, but… I talked to Helen.  I floated ideas with Lillian and Ashton, testing the waters.  I needed to go.  They needed to stay.”

I felt a deep pang of loneliness at the thought of the other Lambs.

“Okay,” I said.  “And now you’re here, and I’m glad to have you here, thank you, sir-”

“You’re very welcome.”

“-and it looks like we’re moving on.”

“Looks like.  As I was saying, three or four days, going by what we’ve seen before.  Assuming we even want to leave.  I expect the posters will be everywhere.”

“Probably,” I said.

“Are we anticipating the Lambs?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “No, that’s only my gut feeling, but that’s not my instinct.  Which is a good thing, because I’m still trying to figure out how to wrap my head around that problem.”

“We’ll manage.”

“Are you kidding?” I asked him, incredulous.

I’d caught him off guard.  “What?  You don’t think we’ll manage?”

“Geez, Jamie,” I said.  I shook my head.  “We’ll manage.  We have to.  The fact of the matter is that I can’t go back.  I don’t know about you, but I’ll wither and die if I find myself back under the Academy’s thumb.  I’m here and I’m free.  I don’t go ten straight minutes without missing them so badly it hurts, but… but yeah.”

I trailed off.

But I can breathe, I thought.

Jamie nodded, as if he’d read my mind.

“On the flip side of the coin,” I said.  “I don’t think they want to bring us in.  The Academy is going to hold a gun to their heads and figure out a way to make them, probably, but deep down?  The parts of them that love us, just like we have parts of us that love them?  They don’t want to.  I’ve probably told you garbage like this before, about survival, wanting to survive versus truly desiring to kill.”

“I remember the conversation.  Two, as a matter of fact, and a third where you were saying it to reassure Lillian.”

“Exactly,” I said, nodding sagely.  I could just let the past conversations finish off my thought and not worry about concluding it, except to add, “Same idea.”

“And why am I kidding?” Jamie asked me.

“What?  Huh?”

“You asked me ‘are you kidding?'”

“Oh, yeah.  Yeah.  Got off track.  No, the Lambs are coming after us, and it’s going to be intense.  It’s going to be bittersweet.  Mary’s going to be spitting mad and on her A-game, Lillian’s probably going to cry.  Helen is nightmare material now that she’s on the other side, and I’m not entirely sure she’s going to hold back at all.  Ashton’s… Ashton is going to be interesting.  But I’m looking forward to it.”

Jamie shot me a look.  Very ‘are you crazy?’

“I’m looking forward to seeing them,” I said, wistful.  “Even if it’s them on the other side of a battlefield.”

“You’re a bizarre creature, Sy.”

I perked up, “That reminds me, did you notice?  Did you see, on the poster?”

“I remember the poster verbatim,” he said, sounding very tired.

“Sylvester Lambsbridge.  They named me after the orphanage.  I have a last name.”

Jamie made a so-so gesture.  “It’s not a very good last name, and we’re sharing it.”

“But it’s a name, and it almost sounds dignified, taken in isolation.  And we probably share it with the others, except Mary, I guess.  I never knew I wanted one, but they must have felt it looked like they were giving incomplete information if they left us without last names, so-”

“I get it, Sy.”

“I have a last name,” I said.

“You are in a good mood.  Does that mood have anything to do with a leggy, dark-haired young lady who gave you several kisses on the cheek, back there?”

“Ha,” I said.  “Only because it felt like a good deed.  She said she’s too old for me.  Girls my age are intimidated and have trouble keeping up.  Older girls can keep up with my… dangit, what was the word?”

“Devastating,” Jamie said, sounding even more tired.

“Devastating intellect,” I said, grinning.  “And they have the sense to be intrigued-”

“The sense to be intrigued.  What a way of putting it.”

“Stop interrupting me, you dingbat!  But they deem themselves too old for me.  I’m stuck in a middle ground.”

“I suspect we’re doomed to tragic love lives, Sy,” Jamie said.  “You, me, and the other master and miss Lambsbridges.”

“Agreed,” I said, smiling at the last part of what he said.

We reached the end of the sidewalk, and paused as we approached a procession on the road.

Soldiers, men and the occasional woman in uniform, carriages, and wagons with supplies consisting largely of lengths of wood.

My first thought was to wonder if somehow they had decided to mobilize the army to hunt down me and Jamie, which would have been an incredible puzzle to work our way through, but the focus was elsewhere.  They were moving out of the city.

I craned my head, looking around.

How curious.

“What’s going on?” Jamie asked a bystander.

The bystander, a man with a thin-trimmed mustache and a fine black raincoat, intoned the word.  “Quarantine.”

“Quarantine,” I said, taking it in.  “Oh… Oh wow.  Dang.”

“Dang indeed,” the man said, with a trace of irony.  “Food prices are going to skyrocket, and things are going to become massively inconvenient for the next couple of weeks, until they’re sure they have a handle on this.”

So much for making a tidy exit from Tynewear.

“What are they trying to get a handle on?” Jamie asked.

“The stupidest little thing,” the man said.  “Some of the waterborne warbeasts they sent out to feed came back home with a skin problem.  It proved contagious, handlers got it, it spread from there before they locked down.  A few more people around the city are confined to their homes, because of it.  All for a prickly red rash.”

“Huh,” I said.

Something told me the wanted posters would be circulated through the city before the quarantine was lifted.

Academy city, too.  Their quarantines were going to be top-notch, now that I thought about it.

I looked at Jamie, before repeating myself, “Huh.”

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109 thoughts on “Cut to the Quick – 11.1

  1. Aw, Sy’s just so happy to have a last name and be free. I sort of figured he’d take to it if he had a chance, and had someone to keep him from exploding. And he’s doing random acts of kindness.

    Two months…well, that suggests they’re at least a little ways towards finding a solution for Jamie’s problem. I mean, he’s not a broken down wreck at the moment, which is good. Apparently he’s…also been chatting up the boys and girls at the brothel? Huh.

  2. Red rash…
    Red Rash!
    RED RASH!!!

    Yep, that went form “peaceful and adorable” to “I fear for humanity’s survival” pretty quickly.

  3. Prickly red rash, huh? Lookin’ like we’re going to start witnessesing the consequences of the events that took place in Lugh.

  4. A prickly red rash, huh?

    I remember something about red. Red like Mauer’s hair, as he murdered a very different kind of warbeast.

  5. Sy seemed pretty happy there.

    …This isn’t going to last, is it.

    What with the plague finally coming into play and all…

  6. Typo

    Sauntering over to the table, she placed her right hand on the left side of the table, and her right hand on the other side…

    Unless she has two right hands, it should be her left hand on the other side.

    • “I’ll ask again, since I didn’t get an answer.  May I touch you?” Sy may be a bastard but even he knows how to get proper consent.

      • Jamie and me (or me and Jamie? Dunno what’s the rule in English for that. In Spanish we say that the ass goes first (and you don’t want to be the ass))

        You would say “they hunted him” and you would say “they hunted me”.

        • In this case, “Jaime and me” is correct. Other people come first, then the version of the pronoun you’d normally use if you weren’t including other people. 🙂 So… “don’t forget me” >> “don’t forget Peter and me” or “I went shopping” >> “Peter and I went shopping”.

          • Okay, I’m coming back after 12 hours and you’re absolutely right. I can’t believe I made this mistake – I work as a copy editor. Was I just sleepy, or did I get Engineered?

          • …That’s not how narcissism works. That’s how early years grammar correction (or lack thereof) works. Some might go “me and others” partly because that’s how they actually rate things… But, not everybody who does that is antisocial or narcissistic by nature. It’s often a case of refusing to talk posh because a mess of reasons. 😛 Simple output + complex processing = errors and bias in interpretation. :/

  7. I’m glad to see Marv again, even if it might be for the last time. I was surprised to see Sy and Jamie get that much downtime — thought the bounties would go out quicker.

    • Putting Sy and Jamie’s faces out there is a last resort if they ever want to use them for field work again. Plus, it’s admitting a loss of control, and the Academy hates that. They probably tried other methods first, but couldn’t find Sy and Jamie because they’re sneaky and clever.

      • The academy can give them new faces. They probably won’t be used for field work, but being recognized would only be an excuse, if it is even a consideration at all.

          • I think it’s a fairly difficult procedure and Marv won’t be able to do it well enough to hide the fact that it’s been done, which is the sort of thing that makes people start scouring wanted posters to see which wanted criminals are decently physically similar.

          • I’m actually surprised there’s been no mention of doing that, or even just small things like getting Jamie’s eyes fixed. It’s not like Sy seems particularly averse to body alterations…maybe it’s too obvious or difficult for just an Academy student.

          • @Glassware
            I believe it was the previous Jamie that said he didn’t want his eyes fixed. Dunno anything about the current Jamie, but it is reasonable to think he doesn’t want that either. He could have asked the Academy docs anytime if he wanted.

          • Marv already stated he did that girl’s face a couple chapters ago. He took her fro gorgeous to girl-next-door cute, so we know for a fact he can manage the procedure. While he’s at it, I bet he could then put Sy amd Jamie’s old faces on a couple of kids caught betraying a cell of mice or something. It would take the heat off for however long it takes for the Academy to confirm they’d been had.

  8. Whelp.

    The end of the world is at hand.

    Also, I am extremely proud:

    I also notice two things about this chapter: It is labelled Enemy, and Jamie2.0 does not have a perspective in it. Those can both be taken multiple ways.

    Alternately we aren’t seeing his perspective because this is an Enemy chapter and he isn’t one. Find out next chapter, I guess.

    I caught the foreshadowing!

  9. Er, this is the latest page. I am referring to Enemy (Arc 7) Boys, when Jamie conspicuously did not get a viewpoint.

  10. Lots of dingbats and piglets but no dinglet? :<

    So… I'm utterly surprised by the red rash thing. I could have sworn it would have been left as a loose tie to never show up in the story, staying at the back of readers' heads horrifying them. I'm… not /glad/, because that would imply this is a good thing, but I'm excited to see how this will play. I'm very sad though. Very very sad. I don't want anyone to get hurt :<

    Also, Sy and Jamie seem just… so happy ❤

    • It seemed to have a narrow enough time horizon it would need to show up during the story; I sort of figured it’d be a background thing of relayed rumors from the front for an arc or two before spreading into contact with the Lambs.

    • Dinglet is sometimes used to refer to a piece of poop stuck to your butt, so I imagine it’d be a little different calling a friend that.

  11. It occurs to me that the Academy apparently intends to enforce the quarantine with soldiers presently stationed inside the city by having them form an external perimeter. That strikes me as pretty sloppy; it could lead to trouble if some of the soldiers on the perimeter are already infected and spread it outside or throughout the guard force. Ideally they should have sent in trainloads of soldiers in their biowarfare suits from elsewhere.

    It’s possible that they’re doing this as a temporary measure while the reinforcements get loaded up, but more likely under the pressure of the war they’ve made a grevious error and decided this isn’t serious enough to divert troops from elsewhere.

    Not that it matters. The Red Plague has contaminated the ocean and the quarantine is doomed.

  12. Oh I’ve been waiting for this. The full ramifications of the Primordial POV chapter finally coming home to roost.
    Can’t wait to see Sy’s reaction.

  13. Huh.
    …Huh. Not much to say… The people of Tynewear are going to die, aren’t they? Like… All of them. I hope, Emily and Drake are gone by now.

    I’m curious, though. Is Sy… sorry, is Sir Lambsbridge poisonous enough to fight off a primordial plague?

  14. I’m honestly not surprised how well Sy fits in with the girls of a brothel. He’s just the sort of knave with a heart of gold to work perfectly there.

    Anyways I’m sure this red rash is nothing too horrible. Probably just needs some calamine lotion.

  15. For some reason I’d like to see Sy and the Primordial work together. I’m sure they can come to an understanding. Also imagining a primordial taught by Sy would be… scary.

  16. The fact that the Lambs all share the same last name is adorable. Jamie seems to be longing for a session with his chair, what with the tiredness and all. And Sy is very happy, and I’m glad his relationship with Jamie is finally improving. I admit, I got the Symie feels something fierce when I read this chapter. Also, I think Sy may be underestimating Lillian here, I think she’ll be in vicious Wyvern!mode next time he sees her.

    • Oh good it’s not just me with the Symie feels.

      I’m happy that Jamie seems to be exploring non-Sy options too, though. Getting hung up on a guy, especially one who might not ever like you back that way, is no way to live. I hope he finds his happiness like the Madam said.

  17. Sy and Jamie would be eventually caught. But now the world may be ending. The most important question remains: is wyvern enough to keep someone from catching the plage?

  18. For a while there, having Sy being so…. flirtatious after his rather devastating forced break-up from Lilian was a huge whip-lash. Mostly because the previous arc centered a lot on how she was still affecting him, even as a mental ghost. So it immediately starting out as that threw me for a loop and bugged me…

    Up until the Rash was mentioned and then I realized there were bigger things to worry about for now.

  19. Here’s a scary thought: What if the rash isn’t lethal?

    What if the endgame for the infected is to become a drone in a primordial hive mind and each infected lifeform’s genetic information along with body structure, neural network and biochemistry are assimilated and used to accelerate the evolution of the next generation of spores. By the time the city falls, you could have primordial super spores that each contain the full biological information of every man, woman, child, animal, plant, fungus, and war beast that failed to escape before it was too late and capable of drawing on that database to adapt.

    And it’s an Academy city, so it could assimilate a few dozen to several hundred of the brightest human minds even if Sy and jamie escape. And if it got hold of information that allows it to not only grow a human-like brain but a gland that produces Wyvern internally…

    I think we are baring witness to the genesis of a race with the potential to reach Worm Entity or Pact Demon levels of Cosmic horror.

    • The viewpoint indicated that the compression to minimal size disabled the primordialness in some fashion, though it could be that’s just loss of the central control system and it’ll re-primordialize from scratch. But given how the primordials changed like smoke but this seems consistent so far, I think it’s just a really nasty plague that’s cross-species and has already contaminated the ocean, so it’ll wash up on beaches outside the quarantine zone, spread to non-Crown lands, and is effectively impossible to eradicate entirely short of complete destruction of the biosphere.

      • Yeah, the POV chapter made it fairly clear that the primordial in Lugh hadn’t learned to do what the primordial in the Duke’s chapter had, even though it made every effort to survive. It eventually accepted that its death was inevitable.

        Mauer should be proud. He taught an inhuman intelligence to feel spite.

    • Lrnu, gur erq cynthr fgnegf erpbeqvat rirel nqncgngvba rire znqr ol rirel yvivat guvat, naq gura svtherf bhg ubj gb npprff Rneguf ba cnenyyry qvzrafvbaf naq fgnegf fcernqvat gurer, hagvy gur erq cynthr vf sbeprq gb rkcybqr gur cynarg va beqre trg zber vasbezngvba…. GJVT VF GUR BEVTVA FGBEL BS JBEZ!!!!

      • I see I’m not the only one thinking along those lines.

        V qba’g guvax gurfr Cevzbeqvnyf ner gur qvfgnag naprfgbef bs Mvba&pb, ohg orvatf yvxr gurz zvtug jryy unir orra.

        Note to self: ROT13 on mobile devices is a pain.

        • Whfg qb yvxr V qvq — yrnea gb ernq naq jevgr EBG13 qverpgyl.

          V fgvyy unir n jnlf gb tb sbe syhrapl, ohg vg’f zhpu yrff naablvat guna phg-naq-cnfgr!

      • Vs gur cevzbeqvny unq orra gur naprfgbe, gurl pbhyq unir nqncgrq zber. Ohg gurl jrer vapncnoyr bs nqncgvat yvxr gur cevzbeqvny pbhyq, nf V erzrzore vg.

  20. Damn wtf was the point to the Lanie and Chance characters. I’m in a state of confused anger. Flustered that’s the word. Why were they introduced and built up as characters if we weren’t going to see more of them. Why did Sy let chance go? What was it that he communicated with Mary about Chance? What answer did Chance give Sy? It didn’t seem like Chance would be a good person to Sy. Even more confusing is what happened with Lainie. Why did Sy let her go after posing the challenge of a test of character? Why did she not have to answer that test of character? Why was she developed and hinted at as a possible group member just to be written out of the next section? But what I really want to know is why parallels were shown between Sy’s and Lanie’s situation just for her to disappear? I refuse to believe those two characters have served their purpose and won’t appear again in the story.

    • Plot arc’s seemingly over for them; they’ve been forced out of their old lives and aren’t really good enough at this to stick around but not such bad people Sy wants them dead, so he’s sent them off to vanish among the local population. They’re probably still in the city and will die screaming at some point in the near future.

  21. Nice chapter. Not sure where this arc is going or what that ominous arc name means but I’m looking forward to it.

    Also, for the first part I kept misreading Marv as Mary. Reminds me of that bit in Pact when Rin pnyyf Oynxr Oybbql Znei orpnhfr fur guvaxf ur’f n znyr oybbql znel.

  22. Immediately thought of the Masque of the Red Death. If people start sweating blood and the brothel sets up seven rooms, start worrying.

  23. Well, I was enjoying the banter, Sy being Sy again in the mischievous, well intended little bastard again. The biggest selling point for me of this story really are the character interactions–each of the Lambs is extremely distinct, you could theoretically put them in any situation and their dialogue/thinking process would be the most engaging part of the arc. Kind of like Arc 3, how each of them played off and into each other’s skills to stay alive. And then the foreshadowing kicked in; things are going to go south astonishingly fast.

    I wonder how long will it be until Sy or Jamie realize that it’s a primordial plague… and how they are going to respond. Would this be something terrifying enough to warrant risking Academy connections, or are they going to try and flee? At least they don’t have to worry about the other Lambs getting involved yet, they’d still be under security detail…

  24. Ah, it’s been so long since I last read playful banter between the Lambs. It made me miss the old chapters were all they have to worry about were the escaped experiments.

  25. So I meant to say this a while ago but I’ve been wanting to start a youtube channel for a while and I figured it’d be cool to do a radio-show style youtube series of Wildbow’s stories. I’m not really sure yet, though. What do you think, Wildbow?

  26. Should have known that if the main characters are happy, the next wave of suffering is just around the corner.

    But it has been two months, or was at least implied? Curious on how they deal with Jamie’s situation.

  27. If the Academy finds the rash as quarantine-worthy, shouldn’t the populance get more anxious? or is the Academy too quarantine happy for it to really bother the populance?

  28. Good lord i’m a bleeding heart. I HONESTLY feel awful for Sy. You can tell sy really loved Lillian. I could forgive the Baron for torturing people, f@$*ing with his citizens lives, even stabbing Sy in the eye and threatening him so he couldn’t get a new one. But coming between Sy and Lillian….. that F@$*er didn’t suffer enough if you asked me…. heck, the legacy plague is even to merciful for him, and i’m posting this after reading some of what it can do… Nobody messes with my SyLlian. >:-(

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