Thicker than Water – 14.17

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It was, as battlefields went, a mire for the enemy.  An empty square without any buildings in it at the middle, four major roads leading off from it, one from each corner, with tall buildings all around.  The Academy was mobilizing from three separate directions; if the columns of soldiers were to meet in the middle, they would have formed a ‘y’, with a very narrow top two branches.

They didn’t meet in the middle, however.  The mob turned on them as they entered the square, and the mass of monsters and crude stitched formed a wall.  Countless novice experiments were gunned down as they closed the distance.  Soldiers in the front ranks backed away, leaving stitched to face the initial charge.

The giants at the head of the one group used their shields to bar the way, limiting the initial impact, but the humans in the midst of the experiments had countermeasures at hand.  They threw flammable liquids at the giants and the giants’ shields, and the ones that missed landed in the midst of the rank and file of the stitched in uniform.

The initial push was costly, but it did its work.  The stitched on the Crown side had rifles and uniforms, and they were of a reliable stature and quality.  But in the opening melee, the lesser experiments on the rebellion side had a slight advantage.  They didn’t have guns.  They had improvised weapons, sledgehammers, axes reserved for stitched labor, heavier than most ordinary people could heft, and they had picks and shovels.

It was a strange case, where the Crown stitched were meant to fight people as they kept the peace and went to war, and they were well equipped for the task, but those same guns and bayonets were bad against other stitched and experiments.  This particular subset of the rebellion stitched were inferior and equipped with the tools and weapons this rebellion could scrounge up, and in the doing, they were better matched against their enemy than the enemy was against them.

More accident than intent, I believed.

The giants, now burning with ever-growing patches of flame, began to push back, forcing the assembled mob back, and giving the Crown stitched and soldiers room to aim and fire their rifles.

I had a sense of the flow of the battle now.

I glanced back at Jamie, then signaled.

You.  Stay.

I.  Assist.  Back.

I hesitated, glancing at Shirley.

Jamie gestured, Watch woman.

Good enough.

I measured the movements of the various groups, spotted one group of stitched, all of the same make, in the same style of dress, and followed them.  Jamie followed several paces behind, Shirley keeping close to him.

One of the two giants, hit by what might have been one of Mauer’s noble-killing bullets, toppled.  As he did, his weight came down on top of a number of the breakable containers beneath the waterproof covering that draped him.  There was a pause before the smoke came rolling out as a thick wave.

As the smoke swept over a full half of the square, I watched to see who retreated, and who pushed forward.  I could see some of the crude experiments flinging themselves forward, modified hounds and vat-grown beasts.  None were large, many didn’t seem that much more effective for the alterations made to them, but they had been made aggressive and they were being pointed at the enemy.

They weren’t deterred by the smoke, and I had to lean on instinct to figure out how the lines were taking shape.

The billowing smoke obscured the still-standing giant, who held a great shield that was now almost entirely aflame.  He was clumsily working at swinging the shield in the general direction of the enemy rank and file while using one hand to try to quash the flame at one of his legs.  All he was doing was setting his sleeve on fire.  As the smoke grew thicker around him, only the orange flame remained visible, and even that was obscured into a murky glow.

Glancing back at Jamie, who I could still see fairly clearly, I saw him bending down to pick up a rifle with a bayonet, while he ushered Shirley into cover.

“I’ll be back,” I said.

He nodded as he partially disassembled the rifle he’d claimed.

Running past Gordon, I plunged into the smoke, toward the battle lines, careful to use the thicker parts of the rebel ranks as cover, careful to stay low to the ground, moving forward often with both feet and one hand on the ground.

Gordon had pointed out to me, once upon a time, that the battlefield wasn’t generally a place where rage or justice reigned.  No, it was a place of fear.  I’d mused before about how this made stitched such a powerful asset on the part of the Crown.

I could tune out what my eyes were seeing to favor my ears, much as I had when I’d been on the lookout for the Falconer’s raptor.  I could listen, use what little I’d retained in short term memory regarding the flow of the battlefield, and trust that some of those basic truisms held.

The smart enemies would retreat.  The stitched would hold firm.  The animals that could function without needing to see would attack.

Claws scratched against the road, moving fast, and I moved out of the way.  I bumped into someone, and I made a small snarling sound, moving forward quickly, to suggest I was rebellion-created, advancing toward the enemy, rather than a Crown-made threat.

The clawed thing joined the fight, and I could hear the grunts and the wordless shouts as the victim was attacked.

I could hear the shouts, the din of the battlefield, of bullets and calls to retreat and organize.

I drew near enough to the attacking warbeast that I could make out a general blur of its shape and motion.  I felt bits of something strike my face, and I identified them by smell more than by touch.  They smelled like preservatives and blood.  The finer spray of gore from the attack on the stitched.

I navigated around the stitched and the attacking beast, into enemy lines. Muzzle flashes told me where other stitched were standing and firing openly in the general direction of the enemy.  I stayed low, I used my ears, listened for the grunts, the heavy sound of boot on road, and weaved through their number, getting closer to the flailing giant.

The shouts, orders, and responses I heard were louder now.  I listened intently, moving this way and that to stay out of people’s way, safely ensconced in the thick waves of cloying smoke.

I could make out the orders that were aiming to keep morale up, and I could make out the orders that were simpler, firm, and far less emotional.  Not quite condescending, but speaking to lesser minds.

Only one of those six voices were regular generals, managing regular troops.  The others were looking after the stitched.

I was mentally modeling the battlefield, paying special mind to the way the larger groups were moving.  The enemy commanders were visualizing the battlefield as they had last seen it – a lot of dumb, brutish and crude enemies crashing against the front line.

They weren’t expecting an infiltrator in their ranks.

I moved around one cluster of soldiers who were huddled together, talking in tense tones, as much to remind each other where they were as it was to maintain sanity and share commentary on the goings-on.

I reached the first of the commanders, and found that he was atop a vehicle.  The wagon provided cover to the front and sides, while giving him a window to see out and shout out commands to the stitched.  From the smell of it, I knew it was occupied by several stitched guards.  Reinforcements or helpers.

“Hold firm!” the man called out, sounding like a schoolteacher instructing small children.  “Hold fast!  Stay forward!  Aim your rifles!  Fire!”

I saw the light of the individual rifles firing.

The wagon wasn’t moving – moving would have been silly, given the lack of visibility.  That meant I was free to climb the side of the wagon, very slowly and very carefully, so as not to scuffle or shake the thing.

High above, from a window overlooking this part of the battlefield, something fired down at the Crown forces.  Bigger than a gun, it didn’t fire a singular shot, but something scattered.  I could hear individual pellets or flechettes striking the side of the wagon, the road, and other things nearby.

I felt the sting as one caught me in the back of the head.  Another in the lower back, where it produced a feeling like a spring coming free of the mechanism, or a guitar string snapping.

Mid-climb, I tensed, freezing, holding back all cries of pain and surprise.

I reached up to the back of my head, only recently stitched up, and I felt the site of the wound.  As if I was popping a boil, I squeezed what might have been a small metal fragment free of my scalp.  It fell between my collar and my neck.

The pain belatedly followed the sting in my lower back, spreading explosively along that plane of muscle and tissue, echoing into the surrounding area.  I could compare it to being hit in the kidney;   Gordon had done that often enough in our early sparring sessions.  But where being punched in the kidney made it feel like I was venting my entire stomach’s contents out my ass in one brutal blast, except into my midsection instead, this was a simpler, more muscular kind of pain.

All around me and in the wagon I was climbing, others were cursing, swearing.  Stitched were reacting as they were supposed to react, turning to face the direction they’d been hit from.

“Hold!” the man in the wagon hollered.  “Prior facing!”

Trying to steer them back on course.  If they started turning around or reacting in the midst of this smoke, getting them all facing the right direction would be like herding cats.

The second of the cannons up in the building, aimed out of a window or up on a balcony, opened fire.  This one wasn’t aimed fully at us, but at the ranks behind.  We weren’t the focus of the blast, but we were at the stray edges of it.  I heard the sound of metal hitting the side of the wagon, wooden panels reinforced with metal strips.

“Watch for the next one.  Take aim,” the man in the wagon ordered, in that tone reserved for stitched.  “Sight them and open fire.”

“Sir,” I heard the voices reply.  The clumsy tongues of stitched soldiers.

I continued my climb, more slowly as I gripped the top edge of the wagon’s side.

The third grapeshot cannon fired down on the street, this one aimed even further back, with no chance of catching us in the midst of it.

“Sight and fire!” the man in the wagon called out.

The stitched aimed and fired up at the side of the building.  The rifles flashed with each shot, and in the gloom, it afforded me a glimpse of them and their faces.  I could see my target, within arm’s reach.

The man, middle-aged, with an impressive beard and mustache, turned away from the sound and flash of the rifles, one hand covering one ear.  In the doing, he fixed his eyes on me.  Peering through the smoke, he could no doubt see the rough appearance of an older boy’s face staring up at him.

Hooking one leg over the top of the wagon, I reached out with one hand to grab his collar, pulling him toward me while I thrust my knife out in his direction.

He wasn’t watching for an attack.  His hands went out in my direction, nothing more than a push.  My grip on his collar and the pull only helped keep me from being shoved down toward the ground.  My stab of the knife found its way to his throat.

I felt the strength go out of his arms, and I stabbed again, repeatedly, being careful not to stab my hand as I gripped his collar.

When he collapsed down onto the floor of the wagon, I landed on top of him.  I saw the shadows of a recess in the wagon, and I rolled off him and toward it, looking up at the stitched.

Their eyes were on their target as they systematically reloaded and fired in the general direction of the grapeshot cannons.

I quickly ran my hands over the man, found his pistol and slipped it into my belt, and then took to searching the wagon.

A loose crate of ammunition.

I picked it up, slipped behind the stitched who were lined up at one side of the wagon, and made my way toward the giant, who was still fighting, his shield held high as a barrier against the noble-killing bullets.

My back hurt where I’d been struck by the second pellet, and the pain was particularly pronounced as I hefted the crate.  It wasn’t large, small enough to be tucked under one arm by a larger man or stitched, but the contents were heavy and dense.

As the giant struggled, hefting its shield, Crown soldiers, wagons, and stitched had formed a line in front of it.  It was being made to stay still and given a wide berth while the smoke cleared up.  Wouldn’t do to have it trample friendlies.

Getting closer to it meant that I was more visible, the smoke around me tinted orange and red by the flames that lit up the still-burning shield, the burning fuel mingling with rainwater to dribble down and form burning puddles on the ground.  But eyes weren’t particularly on me.

I heaved the crate, letting go.  It hit the ground and slid along the road, skidding through oil-slick puddles, hopefully stopping somewhere beneath the giant’s flaming shield.  It made more noise than I’d anticipated: heads turned.  I was already moving away, running as quietly as I could toward the largest concentration of Crown forces.

There were shouts, questions, but in the din and the blind chaos, nobody singled me out.

I was halfway back to Jamie by the time the box of bullets caught fire.  The effect wasn’t pronounced – hardly a rollicking explosion, but when the fire dribbled down off of the shield and onto the box, the contents were partially gunpowder.  The bullets did ping this way and that, at a considerably lower velocity than they might have moved if they’d been pushed out the barrel of a rifle.

I’d hoped to get the giant’s handler, where possible, or disrupt the giant stitched in much the same way the scattershot had disturbed the lesser stitched.  Failing either, I’d hoped the crate of bullets would go up in flame and the resulting explosion, small or big, would draw attention.

I achieved my second goal, in spades.  The flying bullets must have struck home near the giant’s left foot, because it shifted its weight dramatically, stumbling, eliciting shouts and screams.  It brought its shield around as a kind of crutch, slamming it into the ground to the extent that I could feel it, twenty-five paces away.

Damaged by fire, the shield cracked and creaked, threatening to fold in two.

It didn’t come to that.  Distant rifles fired, and the giant toppled violently, hands letting go of the shield as the giant crumpled to the ground.

Higher up the building, the grapeshot fired again.  I could hear the commotion as a soldiers made their way into the building proper.  Fighting their way up.

The smoke wasn’t getting much thicker as a result of the second giant falling.  It looked as if it had been the one to lob most of the containers up to this point, and thus it had less to break.

Diverting forces into the building, stopping, and losing the momentum of the giant had had an impact.  The stitched I moved past on my way back to Jamie were disoriented, without the leadership of the man who’d been in the wagon.  I had little doubt someone else would recognize the need and step up, once the smoke was gone.

For now, however, it posed another obstacle for me.  The rebel stitched and beasts were pressing forward, using the gap that had been made by disorientation.  It wasn’t a particular organized attack, not clever or refined or anything like that.  Dumb stitched and dumb beast hurled themselves forward, saw a weakness, and attacked, hacking, biting, and tearing past whatever was in their way.

In the thinner smoke, here, I could make them out, large muscular stitched fighting with thinner ones with crude weapons, or wrestling with dogs that had exoskeletons, and things that looked like a cougar had been starved for two weeks with the resulting mass stretched out to twice the height and length, a spindly, clawed, fanged thing, swiping at the stitched in its way, darting back, lunging in again to swipe again.

I was in their way, and I doubted either beast nor brute could discern me as a friend, in the midst of this.

I moved closer to the building, looking for any window I could enter, in hopes of finding a shortcut around to the back of the battle lines.

A rifle fired, and the dog with the exoskeleton fell.  It fired again, and the stitched the dog had been chewing on tumbled to the ground as well.

I ran through the gap.

“Thought that was you,” Jamie said.

I grinned, panting.

“Been busy?”

“Wanted to get more of the people guiding the stitched, but… no.  Too spread out, too time consuming, too dangerous, I’m hurt.”

“You’re speaking in short fragments.  How hurt?”

I turned, lifting up my shirt.

“I can barely see,” he said.

“Grapeshot pellet.  I don’t think it hit anything vital, but it doesn’t feel good.”

“Okay.  We’ll get that looked after, after.”

I nodded.  I looked at Shirley, who was huddled in an alcove.  “How are you finding your first battlefield?”

“Terrifying,” she said.

She reminded me of Lillian in that moment, and in the moment immediately following that thought, I badly wanted to hug her.

In the moment following that, I felt mingled loss at Lillian’s absence and frustration at the way things had gone.

“You’re more terrifying like this than you were standing on that rooftop, acting like you were out of your mind, Sylvester.  Because that, at least, it was something I could almost understand.  But you seem even further away when you’re in a place where people are dying left and right and you barely even flinch.”

“I’m flinching a bit,” I said.  “I got shot a little.  I’m afraid for your well being.  For Jamie’s.  I don’t know if that makes me easier to understand.”

She didn’t have an immediate answer for me.

“Part of the reason I came back.  I was worried,” I said.

“Thank you,” Jamie said.  “It’s frustrating, being stuck like this, waiting for you.  Can’t go far, can’t do much.  But I understand it’s… you.”

“It’s me,” I said.  “Sorry.”

The smoke was clearing now.  The sources of the smoke had dried up and been washed away, and while the second giant dying had made for a renewed source of the stuff, it was no longer enough to stall the enemy lines.

It was a weakness on the part of the Crown.  That they put forth these great creations, and failed to account for what happened when one died.

But as weaknesses went, it was a small one.  Stalled, key pieces knocked down, their front ranks thrown into disarray and mauled by the initial attack and the disorganization I’d helped promote, they were still a rank and file.  The smoke rolled past some of their rows and columns of men, but I could make out the general shape of them.  Two or three companies, extending down the street.  Three or four hundred men, women, and stitched.

That didn’t count the others, the ones who had entered buildings to clear them of rebels and secure the flanks.  It didn’t count the innumerable men that had been taken out of action in the rolling explosions and detonating ammunition carts, from my methane stitched.

“How many of them are there?” I asked.  “Three, four hundred, then another three or four-”

“Six hundred, coming from the other side,” Jamie said.  “Not counting the one or two regiments waiting out in the wings.  Depends if the Infante wanted to keep one closer to home in case this was all a ploy to distract, or if he really wanted to get Mauer.”

“How many in a regiment?”

“Close to a thousand, mixed number of soldier and stitched.”

I looked at the scene, and saw how the soldiers were gathering together.  Stitched pushed mobile forms of cover, covered wagons with raised walls provided shelter for the commanding officers.

It was as if no damage had been done, no losses sustained.  The army marched on, over the bodies, and into the square, diverting fifty or more people to break into each building the greater army moved past, troops sweeping through.

An allegory for the Crown, for the seeming immunity of it.  They could be made to bleed, but the consequences… so rarely felt.  Kill fifty or a hundred men, and another fifty or a hundred advanced to take their place.  Deal with one set of nobles, and the Crown sent a smattering of young nobles, the Infante, and the Infante’s favored two young nobles overseas to handle matters.

“Mauer lost,” I said.

“As grim as it might look in the here and now, Mauer does have others in other neighborhoods and blocks.  Flanking, attacking the Crown’s battalions in the rear.  They have weapons, and some will be chemical.  There are people in the buildings with cannons and grapeshot,” Jamie said.

I looked at it all.  There were a thousand experiments and rebels in the square.  Mauer was in the midst of it all, organizing them.  His soldiers and lieutenants were managing things in much the same way the stitched overseer had been commanding the stitched.  Keeping people pointed in the right direction.

“It’s not as one sided as you’re saying,” Jamie said.

“He lost,” I said, again, “Back when he faced down Augustus.  Augustus challenged him to a contest, and he failed to place the bullet.  Lieutenants saw that, and I think it might have affected Mauer too.”

Jamie and Shirley were quiet.

The Academy forces I’d been interfering with were starting to move again.  We double checked we had sufficient cover along the sides of the street, and ducked away, leading Shirley away and around a corner.

“Maybe,” Jamie said.  A single word, as the result of a solid minute of consideration about what I’d said.

“He’ll fight, but he fights because he has no other choice.  This doesn’t end well, Jamie.”

“There’s other cards to play,” Jamie said.

But his hand moved in a gesture, negating part of what he said.

Brave words for Shirley, but he was uncertain, his feelings echoed my own.

At the far end of the square, the column was advancing, shooting and fighting their way in.

The regiment was supported by three giant stitched, much like the one I had felled.  Each carried a shield, only these shields were less wood, more metal.  Never intended to be disguised as part of a wagon.

They hurled objects, and those objects exploded on impact, in the midst of the throng -and there was no better word than throng for Mauer’s assembled army-, sending bodies of human, stitched, and beast flying from the epicenter of each blast.

Three more.

More than just Augustus’ pets, then.  Or less than.  They weren’t a rare thing, here.

One of the three stumbled, knees buckling, before it fell, dropping dead where it stood.

The explosives it carried didn’t go off like the smoke had for the other giants, sadly.

The other two raised their shields, protecting themselves while they stampeded into Mauer’s lines, scattering people and making room for the Crown to advance unimpeded.

Jamie’s head turned, and he pulled Shirley and I deeper into cover.

Leaping down from a higher vantage point, the Falconer had made her appearance.

She had a hood up, protecting her hair from the rain, wore a jacket, skirt, and high boots, and even without her raptor’s company, she wore the falconer’s glove on one hand, carried the saber in the other.

People at the fringes saw her, and people fired.

Each bullet that struck home made her move, by the sheer weight of impact, but it didn’t stop her.  She crossed the short distance to the edge of the enemy group, and then she began cutting the rebel forces down.

Bullets didn’t stop her.  At best, they carved away half of a handful of flesh.

She didn’t have as much flesh to spare as Augustus or the Infante might, but she didn’t need it.  Once she was in the midst of the rebel forces, she was shot far less.  They needed to use knives, axes, shovels, and bayonets instead, and in every case, they failed.

Every swing in her direction was deftly evaded, frequently punished by death.

She had no less than twenty fresh corpses behind her before nerve started breaking.  People saw her coming, backed away and backed into others, and they aimed and shot.  They didn’t care anymore that there were people on the far side.  That every miss was liable to kill one of their own.

They cared that a number of others before them had tried to match the young woman in melee and failed.  She was a reaper, death imminent, and they were using the most lethal means they had at their disposal to try to postpone or gamble against that death.

She was cutting a swathe through the crowd, heading for Mauer and the rest of the rebel leadership.

As heavier munitions were turned her way, she ducked low, hiding among the people she was killing.  Smoke billowed in her wake as she used canisters of gas or something like the stitched giants had been deploying.

She was getting harder and harder to track as she built up steam.

I saw, through the crowd, at a distance, only a glimpse of her face.  Through the rain and residual smoke, there was only a general sense of her expression.  Serious, grim, determined.

“Sy,” Jamie said.

I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.

“I can see why you said you were captivated by her,” he said.

I nodded, trying to process.

I could see the Lambs in the crowd.  As if they were waiting for us to join them.

We had to follow, had to stop her.  Mauer had lost, in my estimation, yet there was a chance, and if this wasn’t to be a complete rout, a loss that would be another mark in the nobles’ favor, another reason for people to never ever strike out against the Crown, we had to stop this.  Scare her off, if nothing else.

Everything about the scenario demanded we move forward, yet Jamie and I remained rooted to the spot.

“Jamie,” I said.  “She-”

“You saw it too?” he asked.  His hands clutched the rifle he held in much the same way that Jamie the first used to clutch his journals to his chest.  Insecurity.  Regression of a sort.

“I think,” I said.  letting out another one of those heavy exhalations.  It was as if I’d forgotten how to breathe automatically.

“It’s my first good look at her,” Jamie said.  “Sy, if this is what-”

Shirley interrupted, breaking the spell.  “She’s going to kill Mauer!”

A belated realization.  She didn’t have the sense of the battlefield, where the key players were.  To her, this was only madness and violence.

But she’d realized, and in speaking it aloud, she gave us a push.

We ran, my hand reaching out for and pulling at Shirley’s.  We ducked low as we crossed open space to reach the fringes of the group, and we reached the trail of bodies she had left behind her.

With Shirley in tow, it was slower to weave through the crowd, chasing.  The Falconer wasn’t slow, either.  She was graceful as she killed, her economy of actions efficient.

If she killed or even hurt Mauer, then it would be a devastating blow to everyone present.  They would know that even the greatest of them, in the midst of an army, would be vulnerable.  That the enemy was that dangerous, that relentless and hard to stop.

I let go of Shirley’s hand, leaving her to Jamie as I ran ahead, accelerating my pace, dodging past people and experiments to close the distance, striving to catch up.

More bodies.  And people were retreating from her and from Mauer, to better save their own skin, which meant there were areas I was free to run forward without having to pause, without having to duck left or right or keep my head down to keep from braining myself on the butt end of a rifle someone was holding.

The increments were small, but I was gaining ground on her.

I saw snippets of her through the crowd, moving in the midst of rain and mob and sprays of blood.  Her wounds were superficial, her eyes wide, entirely the eyes of a predator and killer.  She didn’t look directly at those she killed, but, airborne in a leap, saber held high, she spared a moment’s glance at me, meeting my eyes.

As if to let me know that she had seen me.  She had seen my efforts, and the actions that followed would prove them vain.

Mauer led his army, and was yet unaware of what was tearing his way.

The moment ended.  The Falconer swooped down.  Three people died in that swing of a saber, by my estimation.

Mauer was perhaps fifty paces ahead of me.  Thirty paces ahead of her.

Black smoke billowed here and there.  The same stuff the giants had used.  I could tell by the size of the clouds how fresh they were.

I could tell, as I came across the latest, that it was only two or three seconds old.

She should have been further ahead of me.

She’d stopped.

I turned around, looking, my first thought being that she’d seen me, she’d ducked through the crowd to circle around, and she would be coming at me now, from an unexpected angle.

An unexpected angle, yes.

I looked past the people who were scattering.  I saw Jamie and Shirley, running toward me.  Confusion on Jamie’s face as he saw that I’d stopped.

The Falconer practically materialized behind them.  Stepping out of the crowd, silently killing two people as she did it.

Black haired, black garbed, with eyes like a hawk, spelling only cold death, she loomed behind them.  I saw Jamie’s expression change, as he registered my expression.

Jamie couldn’t react in time.  Let alone me.

With all of the Lambs but one standing in the crowd, watching, I cried out.

“Mary Cobourn!”

The Falconer heard me, and she hesitated.

Jamie turned, swinging his rifle, and slashed the blade of the bayonet across the Falconer’s eyes, blinding her.

She swung her saber, blind, and he held up his rifle.  Metal cut into metal, almost but not quite severing the rifle in half.

Jamie and Shirley backed away from the blinded noble, to my side.

And then, by unspoken agreement, we fled the battlefield.

This battle could be won, now, and this battle could be lost.

But what we’d just seen and given evidence to… we couldn’t die and take it to our graves.

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82 thoughts on “Thicker than Water – 14.17

    • What does that mean for inheritance through? The Prince doesn’t have natural children and instead chooses a six year old to be the new Duke of Marlborough but this time with acid breath?

      • The Falconer is Mary Coburn the original. That’s the reason Sy was captivated by her; Jamie figured it out way faster due to his perfect memory: her body language and mannerisms are similar to Lamb!Mary’s; that theory was further reinforced by the Falconer’s reaction to Mary’s name.
        The Falconer was made from a mortal, the nobles keep stealing children, the nobles want to keep the truth about the Block from the public, therefore…

      • Mary Coburn is a bunch of different clones, one of those is a Lamb and another is the Falconer. Sy & Jamie figured it out by watching her movement patterns; note how much WB described them as “efficient” or somesuch.

    • Yes, thats just wow. Wow.
      So I missed with my theory. Really though that Crown is a pawn of real-Earth future multiverse conglamerate that created Matrix-like dimension based on Victorian horror stories to produce artificial souls of sinners which could be used as currency at trade with demons/outsiders/aliens. And Crown is a leash to make all simulated souls to live in a dark world where human sins would flourish sufficiently.
      It’s nice that I’m wrong.

      • after rereading I fount that post of mine looks too serious. so I leave here a tip that it’s a joke. it’s more a weird humor of mine more that anything else.

        because Twig with all his themes is f*king realistic. if you reduce it to a virtual reality scenario is the same as closing your eyes and trying to sing a happy song to yourself to hide in illusion of “that story is fairy tale… it’s unreal… it can’t happen in real world, real world is a more civilized and shiny place, it doesn’t work that way. there are no nobles and Academies and stitched and wars here”.

    • Wait, but then what was with the scandal over the two sets of twins? If the kids are adopted than how did the Baron have bastard sisters?

    • Lamb Mary is gong to want to try her strength against the Falconer. Almost unfair that a clone made for killing is not as dangerous as her normal body turned noble.

  1. Well done to whoever guessed it last week! The question is, is this the Mary that Percy replaced with the Mary we know? Bizarre shit, but it could be the leverage they need…

    • So what’s their next move? She was one of the higher ranking people’s daughter’s right? I think it’s time to get this intel to Fray personally, but Sy and Jamie can probably figure out an epic plan as well..

  2. To continue the trend, holy crap.

    This is why you have to kill everyone involved. Read the Duke’s interlude again, but this time, keep in mind what you just learned here.

    “Ab,” Pybpxoybpxre phg zr bss. “Jr ybfg. Abg guvf svtug. Znlor jr pna fgvyy jva vg, jba’g qral vg’f cbffvoyr, jvgu Fpvba znlor fubjvat hc. Ohg gur ovt cvpgher? Gurer’f ab pbzvat onpx sebz guvf. Jvgubhg gur Cebgrpgbengr, jvgubhg nyy gur jbex gung vg qbrf gb betnavmr urebrf nebhaq gur jbeyq, gurer’f ab trggvat rirelbar jbexvat gbtrgure. Gur nzbhag bs natre? Gur fhfcvpvba, jbaqrevat vs n grnzzngr gbbx gur sbezhyn be abg? Ubj pna jr tb hc ntnvafg gur arkg Raqoevatre gung fubjf hc?” —Fpbhetr 19.6

    How many nobles have gone about their lives thinking they were…. do they even think about these things? Where did— hold on a minute. Are you telling me nobles have never asked where babies come from?

    I don’t know why they did this. Maybe they can’t reproduce, so they make others into their own image, Bloodborne-style. Maybe they did it for kicks. Whatever the reason, how many nobles were once ordinary, if exceptional in the way that the strong looking slaves get bought first, kids abducted off the street?

    Granted, some of them won’t care. The Duke and the Baron knew, they didn’t care. They likely accepted it.

    Sylvester had a wonderful moment when he realized Fray’s chemical neutering of an entire region was only one part of a plan. Do you think Fray’ll have a similar moment when she hears about this?

    • The big bombshell here is that Nobles are nothing special. Nothing more than an experiment/stitched, just a modification from a normal human. Maybe the next move is to find out the steps required to make a noble and modify the primordial plague to make it spread Nobility across the land? That could go very poorly too. My weekend just started and I want Tuesday already!

      • I’d say a bigger bombshell here, since we know Percy had to at least know about her disappearance if not participated in it… is that Percy was working for the Crown. He was the one they had covering up the disappearance by making a clone who would kill themselves and their family, therefore providing an obvious excuse for why somebody stopped existing so people wouldn’t look too closely. Does Hayle know this, with him being the one who sent the Lambs after him? Or was it a mere coincidence that explains why the Lambs project had such an issue with funding?

        • Nah, Percy only sold the kidnapped Mary to some flesh trader. Didn’t care about where she would end as long as she’d disappear.
          His clones were made to kill their families then themselves, to punish the Academy for not caring about his overshoot theory.

          • And it shows how really there isn’t that much difference between the rebellion and the Crown. Percy was aligned with the rebels, but his heinous acts also fed the crown. Both actually suck for most people.

      • Nah, it’s my impression that every noble is custom-modified based on the skill of the parents’ doctors and the ideas of those parents, and then later on the young nobles’ own discretion and needs with only some modifications being standard due to sheer utility, such as beauty and strength and sub-dermal protection.

        Every patient requires careful planning and upkeep by top-of-the-line doctors. If Frey had the resources to make something like that widespread, the Crown as is wouldn’t have stood a chance against her. I think everybody knew that nobles were in fact human before their operations, it’s the fact that they’re commoners, and stolen as children at that, that will make an impact.

  3. Hmm, they are an inverse of fairies. Interesting.
    I mean, uh, holy hell.

    I argued against this theory; well, it seems I stand corrected.
    There’s still several problems with that:
    1. Why the auction of all things, in Gomorrah of all places? Why not have nobles’ private brilliant doctors examine the children personally, in a hidden fortress?
    2. Are nobles not made from infants or at least toddlers? The Duke, who knew about the whole process, certainly seemed to think so.
    3. If leveraged the right way, will it be able to deal enough damage to the Crown?

    Assuming that all/most nobles are made from abducted children…
    Hypothesis 1 (60% confidence): there’s several raw material supply lines, which supply differently raw material: the Block is one, it supplies people of different ages; Warrick was another, it supplied infants.
    Conditional on H1 being correct,
    Guess 1 (70% confidence): the Baron Richmond and his Twins being ‘the bastards’ comes from them being made from ‘low-quality’ supply line.
    Guess 2 (25% confidence): the Baron’s supply line, Warrick, is an ‘experimental’ one, or otherwise unusual.
    Hypothesis 2 (15% confidence): the nobles, or most of them, are made from clones of people, not from people themselves. It would allow all nobles to undergo the full set of augmentations (starting from age 3).
    In this case, the Baron and the Twins could have been made from not-clones (80%), and the Falconer is technically a bastard (70%).

      • I got the impression that the Gomorrah auction was the noble candidates that were rejected. Then again, Percy’s connection is clearly that he SUPPLIED candidates, same with the baron. So I could be wrong.

    • Duke’s interlude indicates that he was altered at age 3, but nothing says they all get altered at that age. It may be a philosophical divide, with some nobles wanting to start early so they can adapt to the upgrades more readily and others wanting to pick kids who have had time to develop.

      I’m also wondering if the twins maybe are natural births. It could be the sterility only applies with two nobles or only to women. Or hell, maybe they aren’t sterile at all, they just prefer picking the cream of the crop to playing genetic roulette.

  4. Somehow learning they were normal children taken and twisted only makes the sadism and cruelety of the nobles more horrifying. Bravo Wildbow.

    Cast down the Crown, and the Doctors who let it be what it is. Let them burn in the worst of hells… Wait the worst of hells is for traitors and ice, never mind.

  5. So, what’s the point of the Aristocracy? There’s no such thing as a Noble Bloodline since all that leads to is generations and generations of inbred streaks of piss? All the crops of “Nobles” are simply Brainwashed PR Meat-puppets?

    • The real question now is who’s behind it all. You don’t have programmed puppet leaders by themselves, someone had to write the program and direct the PR to some end goal. Someone, or something, is trying to use an entire collection of nations for some purpose or another.

      I think that might be a bit beyond Sy’s power level. Or, it’s a more advanced form of Sy…

      • Or all the alterations on nobles just makes them infertile. They are probably not “puppets”. They are still important authorities. Their positions just aren’t hereditary. Would genes even matter if they get altered as much as nobles do? Probably not.

  6. Holy shit Mary 😦 wildbow, you’re destroying me. Had a delayed sense of horrible realization when sy and jamie froze up, but oh my god poor maryyyyy I was still half shipping sy/mary

  7. It’s chapters like this that remind me why I love Wildbow’s work. That revelation made my mouth drop open. That happened at least three times in Worm and once, I think, in Pact. I can’t wait to see where things go.

    • To explain a little more…

      * The Duke specifically wanted Jamie, a while back. The reason for the crown’s interest was never quite clear (why Jamie over Sy?). We could easily have guessed that they wanted every noble to have Jamie’s abilities, but if that were the case it would not be necessary to recapture him.
      * The Duke had the idea of making some Lambs from nobles. This implies he might have already been mentally associating the two, if Jamie was intended to become a noble.
      * Caterpillars are supposed to become beautiful butterflies. Well… I mean, nobles are beautiful.

      I dunno, I’m like… 60% on this one.

      • I assumed they wanted Jamie because their immortality treatments were causing people to go completely demented after a few decades and the caterpillar project was a possible workaround.

  8. This does answer the question of how nobles are so insanely powerful. The general public would only consider having a modification done if it’s safe. Which limits them to stuff that’s been tried and tested endlessly, common and boring. Nobles do not need safe modifications for their kids. They just put a hundred strangers through incredibly dangerous experiments. The one who survives gets adopted and introduced to the world as your kid.

    • Caterpillar allows memories – and even a complete identity! – to be downloaded from external storage.

      A more complete version of Caterpillar would thus allow mind backup. This would allow nobles to swap bodies in order to upgrade to new tech, as well as be completely safe from anything as long as their backup survives.

  9. Still not entirely 100% on the theory that this is Original!Mary, but it would make a lot of sense. Also we did see at the beginning of this arc, one of the Nobles tried to make that woman off the street into a Noble. So clearly it can be done even to older people. Perhaps that is what made the Baron a Bastard? And the Twins were all of his many sisters who he begged be saved as well, but the Noble who grabbed him off the street made them into the paired horror shows that they were out of pure sadism.

  10. I always felt bad for original Mary, being quietly disposed of and replaced by a clone. Now that I know she’s alive, but altered in body and (probably) mind… I’m not sure if feel better or worse about it.

    She sure got shafted in life, it seems. Which I guess means she’s still a proper Lamb!

    • Dood, she was ennobled. She got more than 99% of people in Twig. Had she not met Sy, this may have been counted as extraordinarily good luck by many.

      • I imagine a reason why the nobles burned all evidence of their slave trade was because the knowledge that they’re modifying children into them is the kind of thing that makes the whole country revolt.

        Sure, some people might jump at the chance to be ennobled, but I’d think that vast majority would be horrified.

        • I think its more like “hey, they have no real difference from us, all mods they have, we could get, they have no claim to act so superior”.

          I’d imagine few wouldn’t at the very least, be willing to sacrifice their body for a Noble’s authority, let alone the fact most mods are purely beneficial . There are tons of transhumanists’s who’d think that modding themselves like that would be the path of the future, if it becomes available.

          Now, brain mods would have objectors, but not because of suffering. Rather, because of possible personality death. Which doesn’t seem to concern people of Twigverse that much.

          So yeah, I’d doubt they revolt because itsnot horrific suffering, plus they know what is done to children (and adults) like Sy, so if they do not revoltto Syferring (except people who are already revolting), why revolt to ennoblement which, even if you prove is bad, is still ten times better than Syferring?

    • Imagine what she thinks of Lamb!Mary. The golden girl, the perfect killer, the changeling who stole her life. Who has friends and is loved.

      …Better hope she doesn’t rise to the top or Lillian is in a whole lot of trouble.

  11. Goddamn, the moment Falconer appeared behind Jamie and Shirley almost caused my heart to stop. Completely had me fooled.

    I’m guessing an interlude chapter following this?

  12. Hey Wildbow,
    Say, i don’t think i’ve read anything about a publication/rewrite/editing/kickstarter of Worm in about a year and a half. Care to say if there are any plans? You should consider posting something on your blog, it hasn’t seen any love since Pact ended.

  13. Someone pick the phone, cuz I CALLED IT…

    probably… you can never truly trust Wilbow, this may be an ingenious feint. Either way…

    Strange coincidence that Wilbow made the revelation so soon after people started figuring it out (I remember being the first to mention it in this comment section, but others mention “having the same thought), so I think that, whether it was to misdirect us or to confirm our guess because hiding it no longer made sense as people figured it out, having that scene was reactionary to our comments. Or he may have just planted the clues real well and expected people tofigure it out at around that time.

    Either way, Wilbow is a genius.

  14. On another note, the solution to destroy the Crown could be to make it bleed a whole lot instead of wracking your brains to think about how to deliver a very strong hit. After all, just because it hides the damage, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there-it’ll eventually be made apparent.

    Or, in other words, I think a machine gun would be more efficient at killing someone like Augustus than a Bazooka. When your oppoment has reduntant organs, you go for quantity, not quality, because no matter how well you serve a hit, the oppoment will survive, while many hits face no such handicap.

    • The problem with a machinegun is that the hits are too weak to do any damage. So you’re back to step 0 (Nobles are invincible). The technology just isn’t there yet.
      I’m not sure what path will be taken, honestly. We’re used to think with ballistics and guns, but a twigverse machinist might prefer something more organic to work with.

      • Weak? You think of movie machine guns. Machine guns are extremely lethal in real life.

        Also, as long as everything does the same damage, death by a thousand papercuts is the way to go. Basic rpg logic, attacking thrice for 6 damage each is better than attacking once for 12 damage. Heck, it tends to be more strategically sound than attacking once for 20 damage for other reasons- such as missing- but thats another story.

        And this is a question of hitting once for 1 damage vs hitting 33 times for 1 damage per hit, considering noble defense. A machine gun will obliterate em by sheer quantity.

        There is a reason they keep their blood- they till need it, otherwise, they could remove all of it or replace it with a colourful liquid that gives their skin a nice pigment. There can be an argument for “skin for style”, but not blood. So they can bleed to death. Reduntant or/and well protected organs will save them from a shotgun, maybe even a Bazooka, but a machine gun? no, at least not until Noble v3 comes out , made specifically to counter machine guns.

        They like to show that the Crown can bleed but never take any real damage? Bleeding is damage, insignificant in small doses, but significcant as it accumulates. So let them bleed to death while still standing.

  15. So if most of the population has been chemically castrated, then possibly there cannot really be any noble children for the next generation?

  16. Okay, guys. I think I might be on to something here. Fair warning: Potential bullshit and wall of text incoming.
    So, we confirmed (more or less) that nobles are basically normal, ordinary humans put through surgery and enhancements. (A few chapters ago, a random noble picked a random woman from the crowd to “enhance” her, it’s pretty clear at this point that anybody COULD become a part of nobility, given the… well… “chance”.)
    We also confirmed (with the “Mary Cobourn” bit and the things Emmet told Sy) that at least some noble candidates and some candidates for super weapon experiments (e.g. the Lambs) pass through the flesh market of Gomorrha on their journey to become “bio-hazards”.
    We also already suspected that at least some of the Lambs are basically “beta-tests” for future noble-gimmicks. Especially Jamie’s caterpillar, with the whole “store and download back-up personalities into spare bodies” thingy, which would lead to immortality of the mind.
    Here’s my spin on the matter: What if the Lambs where, from the start, not meant to become “noble-spare-parts” but ONE NOBLE? And not only one, but the prototype for a new generation of totally differently built nobles?
    First, the Lambs got introduced to us as a “gestalt” – individual, independent parts of a greater whole. But the focus of the project has always been the group. How they work together, how they FIT together. There is precedent for such group experiments on a lower level, as we’ve seen with the four humors from Arc 5. In 5.14, Melancholy tells Sy about their group:
    ““Do you know what their real plan was for us?” she asked. […] “They told us if we failed too many times, or if we got recalcitrant, then they would move on to phase two. Take us, butcher us, and keep the best pieces of each. My nose, Phlegm’s ears, Cholera’s body, ‘Guin’s eyes. As for brain, well, that’s how they tried to set us against each other. Telling us that the most obedient, the one most willing to turn on the others-” […] “You get the picture,” she said. “Did they do the same with you?”” (Especially the last question would be EPIC foreshadowing by Wildbow if my theory happened to be somewhat correct. xD)
    Now imagine a Noble with Sy’s cunning, substance resistance and mental malleability, Jamie’s perfect memory, Helen’s looks and modifications and Gordon’s body. And, possibly, Mary’s efficiency and killer instinct.
    (Mary was a later addition, though, so I don’t know if she fits into the theory. But the fact that we’re presented with a noble who has the features of a Lamb was what put me on that line of thought in the first place. And sure, why not have later additions? Strictly speaking, Sylvester was one of those as well.)
    Onto my next point. Gordon’s body. It’s mashed together from different humans and each part is top notch. The difficulty was to make it all work together. But if this works, this would be definitely a mile stone for a group of people like the nobles. Remember, we got a glimpse of the process in the Interlude of the eighth arc (Bleeding Edge), where the Duke got enhanced as a kid. The Noble in charge told the doctors “Look after the boy. He’s in pieces on four separate tables. I would like to see him put back together before the night is over.”. One person, four tables. Put back together. So the doctors need to work with whatever nature provides. If you’re ennobling somebody, you have to buy the whole package, no cherry picking. That might be frustrating, when you get a person with PERFECT features on one end who lacks in other departments. Gordon would enable them to engineer nobles on a whole different level. AND it would be the foundation to put together all the other Lambs. AND it would make the whole Gomorrha-Business that much smoother and more profitable, since they could offer their clients actual parts without faulty “additions”. Resulting in more nobles and better ones at that.

    This might even explain why the Lamb-Project got such difficulties in funding: Why would the current nobility fund their superior successors? On the other hand, there COULD be people who want to see it through nonetheless, since they are interested in certain aspects for themselves. The Duke, for example, seemed quite captivated with Helen. When Jamie went rogue, he was the one who should be captured alive.
    It’s quite likely that there are heinous flaws with my theory. Please point them out, so that I can refine it. 😀

    tl;dr: I suspect the Lambs were meant to be mashed together into the prototype for “nobility 2.0”.

    • The biggest thing I think you are off about is that Sy wasn’t part of the original plan. He was a different project they threw in to patch the hole left by Ashton and Evette not being viable. And I can see where Ashton would be very appealing in a next Gen Noble.

      Also I don’t think the Nobles would be upset about their potentially better replacements. They seem to love the cutting edge, and of course they bring in new nobles all the time anyways.

      Other than those… It’s actually a very sound hypothosis, and I think you are on to something.

  17. Two main thoughts from this chapter:
    The nobels have always reminded me if the fair folk in Pact, with their arrogence and pretension and sadism. But remember when pact hinted that Gurl jrer ernyyl cenpgvbaref jub tbg pneevrq njnl jvgu tynzbhe naq zbqvsvpngvba? Naq Oynxr ernyvfrq orfg jnl gb qrny jvgu gurz jnf pnyy ohyyfuvg? Thats all the nobels are. Bullshiters.

    Also, you know that lovely wild bow signature move where the protagonist is mentaly and physically mutilated ad they level up? And we all thought that was what was happening with Evette? NobelSy. All I’m saying. NobleSy

  18. I think the biggest threat this knowledge poses to Nobles is actually amongst each other. It didn’t seem like many of them knew about their origins. Strip away the veneer of bloodline legitimacy and how soon would the nobles start turning on each other in a mad dash for power?

    Previous chapters have established how much the nobles dislike one another, it just seems like a common knowledge problem kept them from each other’s throats. They rightly thought that the first noble to attack would be destroyed by the others, but if everyone knows royalty is hogwash… well, they already subscribe to the Hobbesian might makes right/ Nietzschean will to power ideology.

    But here’s the twist, what if this is all the Lord Infante’s plan? He’s established as having crazy enough memory to remember an aristocratic woman from a brief meeting of her as a baby. Why would he not notice that he is deploying Mary Cobourn in front of Sylvester? He knows the Gommorrah dealings that bring children like her in and he knows the lambs. I think, he is positioning himself for a shiny new crown. He is the noble with in depth knowledge of these new guns, but is he sharing it with others? Where he stands right now, if he beat Mauer, he’s got these fancy guns and has put down the unrest that was making nobles nervous. Wait some time and he can take his rivals out. If the rebels win and figure out the whole Gommorrah thing, well he’s still in a good position to take out the weakened rebels as well as his rivals.

  19. Wildbow you are a master of prestidigitation! You somehow direct our thought process in the direction you want it to go. Lead us to reaching the conclusions that you want us to reach. Without us even realizing we’re being led!

    I was just thinking how similar the Falconer was to Mary, you never said “she was a lot like Mary” a lesser author might have, you didn’t need to.

    Somehow you make these amazing reveals that seem impossible to predict and yet completely inexorable (is that the right word?) like there was no other possible explanation that could have fit any better. It’s less a plot twist and more a revelation (in the old sense)

  20. This will cripple the Crown if it gets out. I guess the Lambsbridges have found their weak point.

    Orphan children to be chosen into nobility, presumably because Academy science can’t deal with the fact that all the incest with the previous system destroys their genetic code too much. Caterpillar to insure that nobles remain immortal forevermore, that the risk of the current system can be removed and the truth buried forever.

    In the end, the control may be assisted by academy science, but it’s held up by the system of aristocracy that should have been ended by the industrial revolution. Remove this weakness, let that knowledge be known and the entire system crumbles.

    Oh on another note. Gordon has a dog and Mary had a falcon. Fancy that.

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