Gut Feeling – 17.6

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“Alright,” I said.  “How about this?  Right hand, two-foot section of his stomach, skin, of course, and a section of his face and-or scalp.”

“Why are we back to the midsection?” Lillian asked.

“I like my face and-or scalp,” Ashton said.

“We’re back to the midsection because you’re vetoing the drus nodes.”

“The nodes are too blatant,” Duncan said, sounding very tired.

“I like my face and-or scalp,” Ashton said, with emphasis.

I leaned forward.  “I hear you, Ashton.”

“Good.  Because my creators worked very hard and I needed some extra luck to get a good face.  I like my hair too and I’m worried if you take any of my scalp then it will be like messing up my hair but for good.  I’m cute.”

“He is cute,” Helen said.

“Exactly,” Ashton said.  “Being cute means Helen and girls like Helen like to hug me, and hugs are warm, safe, and strategically important.  I don’t want to not be cute because you’re a bad person.”

Berger leaned back.  “Strategically important.”

“It means his spores are working,” Jessie said.

“That was less of a question,” Berger said, “And more of a realization, far too early in the morning, that I’m sitting where I’m sitting.”

“Where else would you be sitting?” Ashton asked.

“Hold on, we’re getting off track,” I said.  “How big of a danger is it really, that this hurts Ashton long-term?”

“Minimal to negligible,” Duncan said.  “He’s got good bones, so to speak.  There would be a recovery period, but after that he would be fine.”

“I would still like to veto,” Ashton said.  “Sylvester has been messing with my hair too much.  I’d like to nominate my heart for the cutting board, instead.”

“I’m fifty percent sure that would kill you, Ashton,” Lillian said.  She looked to Duncan, “You’re the Ashton expert.  The mucus membrane only had a point-eight translation rate, didn’t it?”

“Did,” Duncan said.  “It’s point-eight-two now, they substituted in the gland from one of the failed alternate projects because it had a higher rate.  Downside is Ashton complains about dry skin a lot more than he did.”

“They got around to that, then.  Point eight-two, three or more days of travel, would be… survivable but exceedingly uncomfortable for those three or more days.”

“He doesn’t particularly care,” Duncan said.

“I don’t particularly care,” Ashton echoed.  “I prefer this.  This is my suggestion.”

I spoke, “I suggested the face and scalp because it would be visible and hard to ignore.  Carving out the kid’s heart would do a good job, except it doesn’t really help with actually doing what I’m shooting for here.”

“I suggested it because I thought it would be nice and visible and Sylvester cares about the visible,” Ashton said.

“I would rather not,” Lillian said.  “Not the heart, not if something could go wrong while we’re traveling back home, delaying us.  There are too many things going on in this country and in this region.”

“You’re vetoing a perfectly good heart, Ashton’s not letting me have a bit of his face or scalp, you’re saying taking the drus nodes would be too obvious.  So we’re back to a limb or two-”

“One limb,” Lillian said.

“I’m getting one limb, and you’re wondering why I keep going back to a nice ten or so pounds of what Ashton’s got in his middle?”

“Hold on one second,” Lillian said.  “Ten pounds?”

“Work with me here,” I said.

“You’re wanting to butcher a Lamb like he’s sitting on the chopping block.  Some resistance is to be expected,” Lillian said.

“I’m just saying, I started off this argument very reasonably asking for a whole Ashton and a whole Mary.  You’re the ones that are raising the stakes here in a very weird and bizarre way.”

“Yes,” Mary said, dry, “We’re the ones being weird and bizarre.”

“You are!  I mean, it’s not often that I try to bargain with someone and they’re changing the terms in ever more disfavorable ways for themselves.”

“Disfavorable as a word hurts me,” Jessie said.

“It’s fine, I’m sure it’s a legitimate word,” I told her.

“You’re the one that started us on the topic of cutting Ashton up,” Lillian said.

“Yes, and I started off with a very reasonable suggestion of one whole limb, one partial limb, and forty percent of his skin.  We can leave his face alone.  I’m not an Academy-trained student or doctor or anything-”

“As evidenced by the fact that the Crown States aren’t a blighted crater,” Mary said.

“-As evidenced, yes, but even without training, I have a pretty good idea of how the jigsaw that is Ashton is put together.  Lobes and nodes and clusters and polyps.  He needs food, he’s got a good system there.  He needs water, he gets some through skin in moist climates, drinks the rest.  Needs carbon dioxide, well, that gets more complicated, but his heart does half the job, treating his entire body as a lung, and his skin sucks in the rest by way of mucus membrane.  Breaks it down and then just distributes it by osmosis.  Loads up his mucus with it and it gradually makes its way where it needs to be.  Yes?”

“Yes,” Duncan said.

“Cut out his heart, his skin can carry the worst of the burden, cut off his skin, and the heart will carry the remainder of the burden.”

“With difficulty,” Lillian stressed.

“Can we just accept the fact that this isn’t going to be easy peasy?” I asked.  “I’m asking for Helen, and I’m asking for a piece of Ashton.  Now you guys keep talking yourselves into giving me bigger and bigger pieces.  I think you’re being contrary.”

“Oh yes, we’re the contrary, problematic ones,” Lillian said.

“I feel the need to remark that you and Mary are sounding very alike these days,” I said.

“Let’s stay on track,” Jessie said, before anything could erupt.  But then, I’d suspected she would step in.

I spread my arms, I took a deep breath, and then lowered my arms.  Calling for a stop, an intermission, while letting people spend a moment gathering their thoughts.

I tried to assume a calm, collected demeanor.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t been calm before.  I had.  I’d even been enjoying myself.  But I had also been in he throes of trying to solve a problem, trying to divine the reality that saw Jessie and I and Lillian’s group all happy and healthy.

It was a balancing act, sending the Lambs back home, but there wasn’t another option, short of kidnapping Lillian.  Kidnapping Lillian when she was anxiously waiting to go home and check to see if she had earned her white coat would be an evil I could never dream of.

No, she still had ties to the Academy, she had dreams, and there was no way for her to walk my path.  Duncan was much the same.

“Remind me again why we can’t just take Ashton’s skin?” I asked.  “Non-face, non-scalp skin.”

“It’s too interlinked with the rest of him,” Duncan said.  “Which isn’t very interlinked on its own.  Carries hormones, blood, carbon dioxide.  The rest of the structures of his body, shelves of his brain, the individual organ clusters and the rest of him are dependent on a very narrow assortment of vehicles.  Skin is a good, healthy way for him to move things from one part of his body to another.”

“It’s fine,” Ashton said.  “I’m okay with it.  Skin and a hand.”

Lillian spoke, “Please don’t blindly agree with Sylvester or get caught up in his pace.”

“I’m not blind, and I’m not caught up.  I think if Sylvester is trading the professor to us he needs something in exchange and if that something is a piece of me then I’m happy to help.  If I could give more of me to not have to give up Helen then I would.”

“You’re a sweetheart,” Helen said.

Mary drummed her fingers on the table.

There was a faint murmur of conversation elsewhere in the room.  The kitchen staff were bringing food out, with some helpful students carting food back and forth.  Everyone was keeping one eye on our discussion, and all of the students present had the sense to either sit at the edges of the room or wait.  The tables surrounding ours were unoccupied.

“Do you want to go with Sy and Jessie, Helen?” Lillian asked.

“I think Ibbot would be very upset,” Helen said.

“That’s not a downside,” I said.

“Shh,” Lillian said.  “Don’t interfere.”

I sighed and sat back.

“I quite like being whole, and Professor Ibbot keeps me whole,” Helen said.  “He made me and I love him and I don’t like him very much.”

“I don’t want to be undiplomatic,” Duncan replied, “But I don’t think I’m treading new ground if I suggest that he’s a very hard man to like.”

Duncan was being so mindful of things with Professor Berger here.  Nevermind that Berger was already privy to damaging information.  Perhaps Duncan would be mindful of the sensitive and undiplomatic if the sky was falling.

“I like my professor less than anyone, I think,” Helen said.  “I’ve spent too many hours in his lab with him.  Smiling when told to smile.  Sometimes he works on other things, but sometimes he only works on me.”

“There’s only so much work that can be done,” Jessie said.

“Oh no,” Helen said.  “It’s really very endless, the work being done.  But he doesn’t see me as a person and he doesn’t let me tell him when he’s wrong, or say no, or let me insist that he shouldn’t tamper with parts of me.  Even when I’m with him, he’s alone for all intents and purposes.  A man who only has himself to answer to, only himself for company, with me as a prop on the side.  It makes for a skewed perspective.  I would like a vacation.  Even knowing the consequences.”

“Even knowing it might be a permanent vacation?” Mary asked.

“Even knowing,” Helen said.  “I expect I’ll be liberally bribed with sweets and goodness by Sylvester and Jessie.”

“Liberally,” I said.  “I think the kitchen is preparing something over there.”

Helen craned her head to see, investigating.

“So that’s that,” Lillian said.  “A Lamb and a pound of flesh.”

“You get the professor, and a good chance to stay in the good graces of the Academy,” I said.  “Graduate with your coat.  Look after Mary, Ashton, and the little Lambs.  Maybe even save the world from the Infante.”

“Don’t put it like that,” she said.  “As if we’re balancing the scales or a married couple breaking apart and deciding which assets go where.”

“I like how the chance to save the world is an asset,” I said.

“Don’t,” she said.  “Don’t joke.  Don’t-”

She stopped.

“You’re being very strict with me,” I pointed out.  “Don’t do this, be quiet, stop, no, please lords…”

“I did not say half of those things,” Lillian said.

“But you are being strict,” I pointed out.

“I’m not going to say I’m not,” Lillian said.  “And that makes me think… Duncan, would you like to handle the removal of the necessary pieces of Ashton?  I’d like to have a word with Sylvester.”

“We’re having a word with him now,” Duncan said.

“No, Duncan,” Ashton said.

“Personally,” Lillian said.  “Privately.”

“That might be a bad idea,” Duncan said.

“It’s fine,” Mary said.  “If Sylvester is willing?”

“Willing enough, I suppose.”

“Then I’ll guard you, Lillian,” Mary said.

We sat on makeshift chairs and sections of tree trunk that hadn’t yet been reduced into constituent elements, instead serving as makeshift stools.  All of the legs and sawed ends of tree trunk scraped against the floor as the Lambs found their way to their feet.

My back ached as I stood.  Half of it was more bandage than skin.  I’d sat still for too long, gotten chilly and then warm again.

I looked at Jessie.  “Any objection?”

“To?”

“Me talking to Lillian.”

Jessie smiled.  “Go ahead.”

“You don’t mind?  We’re getting along, you and I.  That’s important to me.”

“Go,” she said.  “We all reconvene here.  If you’re going somewhere, tell me where you’re going.  If you’re looking for someone, come to me.  I don’t think the Lambs are going to get lost.”

With that, the group scattered.  Berger, much like I would’ve preferred to do, remained at the table.  His wounds clearly hurt, as mine did, and this was far too much activity for first thing in the morning.

My lieutenants were looking on.

On my way to the door, walking in the company of Mary and Lillian, I spoke to them, “Get everyone packed and ready.  By day’s end.  Anyone who straggles will have to catch up.  Big projects… leave them for now if we really can’t move them.”

There was so much to juggle.  Professors and interpersonal relationships and Lambs and Mabel and Jessie and Lillian and Mary and the plot to end the Crown and stop what the Infante was very possibly plotting.

We stepped outside, and I lit myself a cigarette, offering to Mary and Lillian.  Both refused.

Once we’d settled at a spot across the street, me leaning into a very old-fashioned lamppost, Mary broke away.

She kept an eye on things, but remained out of earshot.

“So what’s with that?” I asked.

“That?”

“The… possessiveness.”

“I don’t know,” Lillian said.  “Well, I do know, but I don’t know how to word it.”

“That doesn’t help me any,” I said.

“If you’d stuck around, you’d know more,” Lillian said.  “About Mary’s psychology, about how we’ve bonded and broken away and gotten frustrated with each other.  About a lot of things.  But you left.”

“Out of necessity.”

“You won’t come back.”

“Not without Jessie, and they’d dissect Jessie.  Not without me being stuck in a cell in the worst, deepest floors of the dungeon so I wouldn’t pose a threat to the Crown.”

Lillian nodded.

Nothing surprising in any of that.

“What’s your aim here?” Lillian asked me.

I raised my eyebrow.  “Here?  I’m not about to divulge greater plans, you know.  We’re nemeses.”

“Not that.  What’s your concern with the Lambs?  What are you driving for?  Why take two on?  It has to go deeper than what you’ve said.”

“Deeper,” I said, ruminating on that.  “I suppose.  It’s really not all that fancy an answer.”

“But it’s something you’ve spent the last hour and a bit working on.  Clearly putting brain power toward devising solutions.  Going the extra mile.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“It’s curious.”

“I’m a curious sort.”

Lillian folded her arms.  No nonsense, but not in the stern librarian way.

“I’ll tell you,” I said.  “But on one condition.”

“I’m not sure I’m in the mood for conditions, Sylvester.”

“When we part ways this time, let’s do it favorably.  I go do what I need to do.  You guys do what you need to do.  But I’ll wish you a sincere good luck, and you do the same for me.”

“What’s the catch?”

“No catch.  Only that I want to end this without tears.  The tears nearly destroyed me last time.  Let’s… yeah.  That’s my term.  If you agree to follow it, then I’ll tell you what I’m shooting for.”

“I find that deals with you are never wholly happy, Sylvester.”

“We once had a long-standing deal of the oldest sort, one that existed before any institution or tribe.  Boy and girl,” I said.  “I think you were happy for a stretch.”

“A frustrated sort of happy,” Lillian said.

“You liked being frustrated,” I pointed out.

Wrong thing to say.  The folded arms became more of a self-hug.  The conversation paused.

Why did this have to be so hard?

“I’ll take your deal, Sylvester.”

“Then I’ll give you your answer,” I said.  “Fray.”

“Fray?”

“She’s always there,” I said, lowering my voice.  “When the Lambs appear, she’s there, clutching at them.  She lurks close to them and brings out bad qualities.”

“Sy, is this the real Fray, or-”

“The one I can never directly look at, because she’s pieced together from fragments and I really don’t know her well, but she’s Fray.”

“Sy, no.  That’s not even funny to joke about.”

“It really isn’t,” I said.  “She’s ominous.  She threw me off to give you guys a shot at me, and now she’s up to something else.  There’s a level of intuition at play with all of this, and everything’s importance.  Every Lamb represents something.  Mauer and Fray represent things.  Mr. Bubbles represents something.  The trick is seeing the pattern, trusting the Lambs, and trusting the prey instinct.  If Fray is clutching at you in my head, I want to get you out of her reach in reality.”

“There’s a lot more to just about everything you said than that,” she said.  “You’re punching at shadows here.”

“Or,” I said, “my intuition is saying that this is worth paying attention to and being wary about.  Taking on Helen lets Jessie and I see what changes, lets us access some people, and gives us a bit of an edge we lacked in confrontations.”

“While depriving us of the same,” Lillian pointed out.

“Yeah,” I said.

“So that’s it, then?  Duncan is putting the scalpel to Ashton in some makeshift lab because you had a feeling about a hallucination you’re seeing?”

“It’s part of it,” I said.  “Or maybe it’s better to say that ‘it’ involves some longer-term thinking.  Because I don’t want to go out alone.  I want… I’ll see you before the year is up, wherever you end up.  I’ll bring Helen back.”

“You’ll come back?  To say goodbye?”

“Because I’ll be watching all of you.  I’ll be keeping an ear out, and I’ll be thinking about everything that needs thinking about.  Just like I did this time, I’ll have information and answers when we cross paths.  And I’m really hopeful that when we get that far, we can join forces.”

“It’s so sad,” Lillian said.  “This.  Mary.  Helen.  Even poor Ashton in there.”

“Duncan,” I said.

“Duncan too.”

I puffed on my cigarette.  Snow collected on and around us.

Mary, off to one side, was throwing knives at trees while keeping an eye on us.  The implication was that she could hit me with a knife if I did anything she didn’t approve of.

It was hard to figure out what to say, when my thoughts were very much elsewhere.

“I’m glad we ran into each other, even in this circumstance,” I said.  “Even with recent differences.”

“Yeah,” Lillian said.  “But maybe next time we run into each other, it would be nice if I didn’t come in from the cold and the dark and nearly six months of only having Mary and my books for company and find you nicely snuggled in between Jessie and some girl.”

“Ah, yeah,” I said.

“Not that I have any claim or anything on you or what you do-”

“No, no.  I get it.”

“But the shock and surprise… I was unkind to Jessie, I was so caught off guard.”

“I get it,” I said.  I drew in a deep breath.  “Next time, I will strive to be in the midst of something even more shocking and disarming when you burst into the room to surprise me.  Something even, I dare say, disturbing.  What would you say to activities involving a funnel and large spiders?”

Lillian punched my arm, and in that moment, the world was a little bit more right than it had been a minute ago.

Helen held Ashton’s arms while Duncan cut.  She talked into his ear.

Duncan  made a fresh incision, and Ashton screamed, blood-curdling, scaring the daylights out of poor Duncan.

“I think I just had a heart attack,” Duncan said.

“Helen told me to do that.”

“You’re not helping, Helen,” Duncan said.

“Sorry,” Helen said.

He cut again.  Ashton screamed, blood-curdling, once more.

“Ha ha,” Duncan said.

“She told me to do that too.”

All around us, the students were getting packed up.  The kitchen supplies were being hauled to a wagon and cart, the students’ belongings were being moved down, and everything was being sorted out to maximize space.  Jessie was overseeing a fair bit of it.

At Duncan’s insistence, Helen gave up on holding Ashton and backed off.  Lillian took over.

I was still smoking, now on my second cigarette.  I stayed away from the murder scene in progress, and I kept an eye out for Lieutenants.

“Gordon Two,” I said.

“Gordon what?” Lillian asked from the other end of the room.

“Nobody’s trying to gather my or Jessie’s stuff?”

“Your rooms are untouched,” Gordon Two said.

“Where are Pierre and Shirley?”

“Overseeing the carriages.  It’s going to be tricky, getting everyone in.  I think two-thirds of us are walking.”

I wasn’t surprised.  We’d been under-stocked even before wagons had gotten damaged in the evening of conflict.

I kept my mouth shut, and I watched, giving occasional pointers as Duncan carved at Ashton.  He had a good sense of what he was doing, but I’d spent more time than most with the red plague.  My tips and suggestions for Duncan were of an aesthetic sort, to better make it look like the plague had done the damage to Ashton.

Seeing a cross section of Ashton proved distracting for innumerable students who were passing into and through the dining hall.

“We’ll need more wagons,” I said, absently.

Ashton was no longer screaming, but he seemed uncomfortable.  It was only natural.  He was losing a hand.  After this, he would be partially flayed.  He was a stoic little fellow.  Particular, but stoic.

When the arm came off, severed at the elbow, Helen was quick to latch onto it, the most reluctant to hand it back.  Mabel had a container waiting, and the arm went straight into safety.

“Painful,” Mabel said.  She looked at me.  “Why?”

“The thing about the Lambs is that they’re top quality work,” I said.  “One of the better projects from one of the better Academies in the Crown States.”

“And you want to replicate it?”

“No,” I said.  “No, I want to learn from it.  Jessie knows the key ratios, don’t you Jessie?”

“Absolutely,” Jessie said.

“Memorized the tables, charts, formulas?”

“Yes.”

“And we now have one piece of a pheromone-driven experiment for reference, while we’re in the midst of preparing our own such experiment.  That speeds us up?”

“Considerably,” Jessie said.

I spread my hands for Mabel.

She nodded.  I watched her watch the Lambs, and I wondered what was going through her head.

Was she, in her own perception, intruder or intruded-on?  Bystander, outsider, or someone at home?  I didn’t have enough experience with her to say one way or another.

Heads turned away as Ashton was cut into.

Ashton’s eyes settled on mine.

“You’re aware I could make this entire building implode on you?”

“Yeah, Ashton.  I’m aware.”

“Good,” he said.

Which was all.  The little man was changing.  He’d set his sights on something, said something about drives and goals, and he’d said other things I would have to ask Jessie for in order to get reminders, but he was changing, and that was a very good, positive thing.

Lillian and Jessie hugged.  Then Jessie and Mary hugged while I faced Lillian down.

I was rescued by Helen, who threw her arms around my shoulders and Lillian’s, hugging us both, while advertently putting us in closer proximity to one another.  My forehead knocked lightly against Lillian’s, and then came to rest against it.

“No spider funnel, please.  I don’t need to see that,” Lillian said.

“Noted.  Centipedes and a good stuffing stick.”

“Better.”

I had to pinch Helen to make her let go of us, which was a bit of a shame.  When I raised my head, forehead no longer pressing against Lillian’s with the strength of Helen’s grip, I let my lips graze Lillian’s forehead.

Mary hugged me, which was weird.  I didn’t take any of her weapons and she didn’t hold anything sharp or pointy to my throat.

Ashton settled for a backwards handshake, using his non-dominant hand.  Duncan took an ordinary, almost-adult handshake instead.

“Don’t die, don’t let Fray make decisions for you.”

“Yeah,” I said.

Jessie spoke, “Take care of that professor.  He was hard to retrieve.  We all suffered for it.  Sy more than most.”

I thought of the torture, of the bug latched onto my back.  The day felt a little less bright than it had.

“We’ll see him out safely,” Mary said.  “You’ll look after our Helen?”

‘Our’ Helen.

“Absolutely,” I said.  I looked at Helen.  “Yes?”

“I’ll be fine,” Helen said.

“Perfect,” Mary said.

There was an antsy caravan behind us, ex-students looking to get moving on what was liable to be a full day of travel.  They had little stake in what happened here.  The Lambs wanted to go for much the same reason.  The overall anxiety was compounded by the presence of the ‘enemy’, so to speak.

We had every reason to go, to get moving.

I looked at these Lambs, at a damaged Ashton and a stern Mary, at Lillian who I would have dearly loved to sit by a campfire with, and at Duncan, who… wasn’t disappointing me anymore, and who was impressing me now and then.

Unless that was a trick of memory.

Every reason to go… and without coming up with an excuse or voicing it, both sides were reluctant to be the first to turn away and put distance between us.

One way or another, if only half of the Lambs make it, we reunite.  We band together.  We find a way through, I thought.  We don’t end this separated.

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55 thoughts on “Gut Feeling – 17.6

  1. Big chunk of text with no line breaks, starting at “There was a faint murmur of conversation elsewhere in the room.”

    ‘“So much pain to him for give that up,” Mabel said.’ – Should be ‘Pain for him to give’ I think.

  2. They’re all growing up; and it’s tragic that it means growing closer to death.

    If Sy has a say in how Helen is programmed, will he become less afraid of her and more attracted to her?

  3. The Lambs are at their best, most interesting, and most happy when they are together. All together. This especially includes Sy. Jamie may have been his best friend, Mary, Lillian and Jessie may all be his romantic prospects, but he’s only really happy when he’s with as many of the lambs as possible.

    And it’s nice to see how important he still feels Lillian’s career is.

    • From the previous chapter I was guessing a baby Ashton, but this chapter seems to indicate that Ashton was donating his partial corpse to Science.This makes sense, since it’s much easier to use the Ashton starter-kit as research for your own pheromone project than to try to replicate the work of an entire committee of top Blackcoats.

      We don’t want Ashton’s cute successor to end up with teeth like Evette, after all.

  4. I think I need to take a hiatus from twig. I don’t know why it’s affecting me so much but the world hurting Sy constantly is putting me in terrible moods for the day. I now hate Mary and Lillian when I used to enjoy them. I kind of just want twig to end now. It’s still my favorite wildbow work but only so much terrible stuff should happen to someone, fictional characters included

      • A difficult question being that I’m not sure how to completely explain why but I’ll give it my best shot. It has a lot to do with Sy being my favorite character and how selfless he is. Yes I said selfless please stay with me. When Sylvester made the decision to defect I was hoping he’d try to take the lambs with him. He didn’t because that wasn’t what was best for them.

        Helen would need expert care that he couldn’t provide. Jaime was new and his hurt after losing the old Jaime would hamper their relationship. Lillian would have to give up her friends, family, and dreams to come with Sy. Mary would lose the independence that Sy had been trying to foster in her if he convinced her to join him. Keep in mind that Sy is one of the five best manipulators in the entire series if not the strongest. He could’ve probably convinced most of them to join him on sheer personality alone. He doesn’t. So how does this inspire my dislike of Lillian and Mary. They can’t get past themselves to look at the one person who’s always been trying to take care of them.

        I think that’s the crux of it. I see them both as ungrateful brats at this point. Sylvester has tried to help them grow into the best versions of themselves that they wanted to be. For Lillian that was giving her confidence and resolution to go after her goals. For Mary that was teaching her to not need a human crutch to rely on (he might’ve failed since she’s now clinging to Lillian). Even when he becomes their enemy he is constantly trying to help them. If he had wanted to wipe out the lambs it would’ve been easy to get the devil to do it or even bomb the train station himself. He kept helping the lambs even when it was not in his best interest to do so.

        Then the final break scene with Lillian happened. That was probably where the line was drawn from like to dislike. After all is said and done Sy is so emotionally wrecked that he retreats and hands the reigns of his consciousness over.

        The fact that Lillian and Mary, the two of the three people he was closest to, never really bothered to try and help Sy upsets me. To them Sy was a force of manipulative nature, never questioning who he was or understand the obviously broken boy underneath. Even now as he talks about his hallucinations and how he’s losing his mind they don’t seem to care much if at all. To me those two are callous which I could accept in Mary but not Lillian. It makes me think if Lillian is truly the ultimate good the Crown States can offer then I wouldn’t be heartbroken if the Infante burned it all to ash.

        • Okay, key bits I picked up from this post about Sy, Lillian, and Mary (the latter abbreviated to L&M here on out):
          * You dislike L&M’s actions because you like Sy (red flag).
          * You see Sy as acting in the best interests of the Lambs, including L&M. (Sy certainly does.)
          * You see that L&M are angry at Sy for acting “in their best interests,” making them seem ungrateful and short-sighted.
          * You see that L&M’s behavior has a serious negative effect on Sy, and that they “never really bothered to try and help Sy”.
          (I left out a lot of details in the summary, but rest assured, I still read them.)

          First off, some suggested reading:
          http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SympatheticPOV
          http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ProtagonistCenteredMorality
          http://gotgifsandmusings.tumblr.com/post/117645193922/got-meta-depiction-vs-endorsement-and-sexism (ctl-f for “Book!Tyrion” and read the next couple of paragraphs, and maybe beyond for a specific example)
          Sy, by nature of being the eyes we see the story through, gets an unusually positive light shone on him. We see his motivations for his actions, but the motivations of others are often concealed. This is worse because, like Tyrion, he is very good at justifying his actions to himself, though he uses vastly different tactics. (That said, how much of that “everyone assumes I’m up to something” spiel is just a justification for dismissing others’ distrust?) With this in mind, let’s look at Sy’s actions through the eyes of someone who hasn’t had an honest conversation with him in months.

          First, Sy arranges a secret illicit mission, just him and Mary. This isn’t too suspicious, until he shoots Mary and runs off. Jamie runs off with him, and then they cause trouble for the Lambs, up to and including ambushes, sabotage, and kidnapping. (And generally antagonizing them, especially Duncan. I mean, that’s how Sy acted when he was working with them, but still.) All the while, he tries to convince them that everything he does is for their own benefit, and for the benefit of the world. Even shooting Mary. Even kidnapping Lillian. Even disrupting the peace everywhere he goes, kicking every hornet’s nest and toppling every half-unstable leader.
          Which brings me to another recommended-reading trope page…
          http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/UtopiaJustifiesTheMeans
          (Notice how this is described as a villainous motivation? The ultimate ends aren’t everything.)
          If this had been Lillian’s story, or Mary’s, or Duncan’s, or Hayle’s, or anyone else not immersed in Sy’s point of view, we would see L&M’s distrust as more than reasonable, their and the Lambs’ actions as entirely justified.

          You’re suggesting that Lillian is a horrible person for not immediately trusting an old friend who she knows is a manipulator, when the fate of her friends, herself, and possibly the Crown States lies in the balance…because the manipulator promises he isn’t manipulating them now?
          From Sy’s view, his actions are justified and the Lambs are crazy for not trusting him. From L&M’s view, their actions are justified and Sy’s crazy for expecting them to trust him.

          Who’s right? Maybe nobody. But given how even those who have been working with Sy for the past few months are questioning his every move, and given how even Jessie is as skeptical as the royalist Lambs about Sy’s current course of action, maybe we should examine those moves more…

          As for the emotional impact…really? Sy leaving and dragging Jamie with had an enormous emotional impact on the other Lambs, too. Which brings me to my next point. Sy thinks that what he’s doing is good for the Lambs (or at least that’s what he tells them; I don’t remember his internal justifications addressing the subject), but it might not be. For all his Wyvern-addled aided brilliance, he’s not perfect. We only see glimpses of the Lambs’ home life, but it’s not going well, and that all started around the time that Sy’s actions lead to the Lambs being isolated and distrusted. Even if Sy’s trying to do what’s best for the Lambs, it doesn’t seem like he’s succeeding.
          There’s an argument that he’s always made concessions for the Lambs, but it’s always been his Plan first and concessions only as he can work them into the plan. He does work hard to give them those concessions, but they aren’t a central part of his planning.

          There’s a more subtle but even more critical point in his interactions with the Lambs. No matter what, he makes sure that he is in charge during his post-split discussions with the Lambs (and everyone else he can, but it’s most notable with them). He sets up an elaborate orphanage-in-construction carefully setup to keep him safe as he monologues at them, directs them to meet in his camp full of followers, and kidnaps Lillian. (I’m going to keep bringing this up, because it’s important to why L&M act the way they do towards Sy. As is shooting Mary, but that’s harder to work into the conversation.)
          More subtly, he only seriously considers the plans and compromises he proposes. You might say that that’s because the Lambs’ ideas don’t fit his plans, but that’s the point; his plans are what matters. He doesn’t ask the Lambs for their input, despite his stated interest in doing what’s best for them. He just does what he knows is right.

          TL;DR: Sy thinks he’s doing the right thing. That doesn’t mean he is, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean we should expect everyone to see it that way.

          Aside: There are some deeply concerning implications in what you said there. “Sure, he’s a bit of a dick, but he really does care about her. Why doesn’t she accept that? Does that not matter enough? What a bitch.” Maybe it’s the context of that Tyrion parallel, or maybe it’s how often Sy’s been compared to an abusive husband, but…eurgh.

          • For starters I have read most of the suggested reading minus the GoT (I’m not sure how well the sexism applies unless you’re implying because Sy is the nice guy in my POV that he deserves the girls being loyal to him WHICH I AM NOT SAYING AT ALL. I understand from L&M PoV Sy is acting like a dick but it doesn’t mean I have to like their characters even if it is justified reactions to Sy’s actions). I realize that everything is in Sy’s point of view and is going to have a bias to favor his ideas. That said there is a reason why Sy was chosen as the protagonist and I’m pretty sure it’s because his is the most compelling story. Every first person protagonist needs to be taken with a little bit of skepticism but let’s assume that the majority of what Sy says is mostly true for my interpretations of this book. If Sy was just lying about everything there would be no point in reading because essentially WB could do asspulls out of nowhere just because he wanted to and Sy’s perspective would allow it because he would like a positive slant.

            Anyone can edit a trope on TV tropes. I could literally change it to reflect any thought I have currently about what that trope means. What I think the writer meant by Utopia Justifies and what is true in most stories is the villain is the one out to change the world or has changed the world while the hero normally fights to return to the status quo or depose the villain. Wildbow protagonists all share the same trait of shaking up the world that theyre in. There has always been grey against grey morality in WB works but I’d say his protagonist exemplify this best as while they have good intentions, they commit villainous acts. Nobody is perfect but holding these characters that suffer trauma conga lines to the same standard as you or me in terms of morality might be unreasonable.

            I think there was a miscommunication on the main reason why I dislike Mary and Lillian now. You’re saying that I’m mad because they didn’t trust Sy once he defected and is showing signs of insanity. The funny part to me is that he finally is selfish for himself in regards to the lambs by asking them to leave the academy to follow him into the unknown and you talk about how that had a giant emotional impact on the lambs, implying that it hurt them more than Sy. Let me shut that down right now.
            One Jaime is on borrowed time and wants to live his life to the fullest until he gets another factory reset so him joining up is excusable. Two Mary said in her interlude a while back that while she trusted Sy she never fully trusted him, always expecting the betrayal. Well that happened and it is even shown she was ready for it with how she threw the knife at him when he shot her. She was expecting the betrayal and while it did hurt her I’d assume it was the same kind of hurt as when he cut her marionette strings and tried to make her more independent. (Funny that you mention the abusive husband idea because Sy actively tries to avoid it. It would’ve been as natural as breathing to him to manipulate Mary and if he had been a bigger bastard that’s how the relationship would’ve went. Sy’s compared to an abusive husband because if he had chosen that route it would be easy to see how far he could’ve taken it.) Three Lillian pretty much knew Sy was going to leave after he breaks up with her. Why did he break up with her? He knew how much her dream of a black coat meant to her and had hope for the future through her. He communicates this clearly and she accepts it. Four/Five/Six Ashton, Helen, and Duncan might’ve been hurt but not anywhere near as deeply as the previous three so I’m discounting them.

            I’m pretty sure you never addressed my main issue. Other than Jamie nobody gave a shit that Sy was losing it. That’s my main problems. On his mission with Mary there are moments that show Sy is losing it. The whole scene of Sy breaking up with Lillian is Sy losing it. Him admitting about the hallucinations is Sy losing it. Him not being able to differentiate between the real and fake lambs is Sy losing it. A giant fucking problem is there were four characters that were supposed to care past Sy’s superficial charm and wit. Gordon is dead. Jaime joined him. Mary and Lillian just seem ignorant or indifferent. Is it so damn hard to give the boy a hug and tell him you’ll be there for him (but with Sy’s past any act of kindness will be seen as bad courtesy of his fucked up doctors).

            You have a very good point though on looking at Sy’s actions without the inside knowledge.
            Why are Sy’s plans so important. Sy’s plans are his character put simply. It’s a pretty well known manipulation tactic. People who state the options can choose the ones they want while omitting others. You make someone else play by your rules. Most times people won’t think outside the box and will play your game. Something that you didn’t mention though is that the lambs functioned on Sy’s plans. He has kind of always been the shot caller. It’s just now they are not on the same side even if Sy considers himself an ally to the lambs. Are Sy’s actions excusable? That would depend on the reader. Does he have a legitimate reason for almost everything he does? Usually. Sy has never done any malevolent act for the lulz.

          • The article as a whole isn’t relevant, but those two paragraphs I mentioned aren’t about sexism; they’re about Tyrion as a character (which you would have known if you had read it). As mentioned, his internal narration has some relevant parallels with Sy’s.
            Just because Sy has the most interesting story doesn’t put him in the right. I have no clue how that point was supposed to be relevant to our current discussion.
            Considering that my argument was in large part based around pointing out that Sy might not be the most accurate narrator, I’m not impressed by an argument which opens with “Let’s say that Sy is right about the situation.” You don’t get to just say “I want to ignore one of the principles your argument was built on because I don’t like it.”
            I wasn’t referencing TV Tropes as a factual source, I was referencing it as a conceptual source. So what if anyone can edit it? (Which isn’t nearly as bad as most people think, assuming a decently-moderated wiki.) The concepts which are there are still there. For instance, the concept I was showing with Utopia Justifies the Means was that just because Sy has justifiable motivations does not mean he has justifiable actions.

            I’m not sure what your point about Jamie’s mind being on borrowed time is supposed to mean. “Jamie likes spending time with Sy, so we can ignore the negative effects his leaving had on the others and himself?”
            Mary expected Sy to betray her. That doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. In fact, she clearly is hurt by the sudden but allegedly-inevitable betrayal. Same with Lillian.
            You can’t just assert that the suffering of Helen, Ashton, and Duncan don’t matter. Especially since they suffered a lot from indirect effects of Sy leaving, such as being isolated from the other Lambs.

            I don’t remember any mention of no one caring that Sy’s losing it, but I can address it now. Why does no one care? Because they’ve barely seen Sy. And, to be blunt, most of the signs of Sy going crazy aren’t ones I can expect the Lambs to pick up on so quickly. It’s obvious to someone who’s spent the past several months with him, or even weeks, as Jamie, Sy’s minions, and the reader have. But it’s not obvious to people who have barely spent a couple of hours around him. The only clear sign they have that Sy isn’t just being Sy is that he’s talking about Fray, and I don’t see that alone as cause for concern. It’s certainly not cause to discount everything else about the situation.

          • Most people could do with therapy. It’s rare for a person to be so completely in balance and in tune with all their wants, needs, and desires that they’re able to be completely honest with themselves. It’s easy to focus on the motes of dust stuck in other people’s eyes and miss the beam stuck in our own eyes.

        • I feel like you’re underestimating how toxic Sy is to be around on a regular basis.

          He may have good intentions (mostly), but I can’t blame Lil and Mary for feeling like he’s paving their road through Hell. Mary became a Lamb because Sy promised her a home and family, but then cripples and abandons her. As for Lillian, he bullied her from the start, then makes her fall in love with him, leaves her, then WON’T LET HER GET OVER HIM!

          That kidnapping scene was devastating in the worst sense for ALL parties involved. Sy lost his mind, but he actually deserved it. He consciously manipulated Lillian into doing things against her better judgment and her sense of self-preservation. How long was it before she could feel any respect for herself after that?

      • I’m not sure about that. I think Wildbow underestimated himself a bit when he said Twig would be roughly as long as Pact. He loves to have giant multi arc finales to tie everything up going by Worm and Pact. That means bare minimum we have three arcs left, I’d guess more but with the duke coming back into play the endgame is approaching

      • Ohg Rqra naq Fpvba ner nyernql qrnq. Jung’f gur jbefg gung pbhyq unccra?

        Nfvqr sebz gur ragver erfg bs gurve enpr jub zvtug abg or pbairavragyl pbzngbfr be fhvpvqnyyl qrcerffrq, V zrna.

      • You’re being facetious when you say Twig is 90% through, right? Because the Clone Army has ben saying that since Arc 10, and until Wildbow says it, you’re only going to make a fool of yourself (if serious)(and I realize that eventually someone will say that and be right. That is not redeeming, because at this point it’s down to luck and nothing more)

    • Huh? This is the most positive chapter in a few Arcs I would say in terms of how much “hurt” is being inflicted on Sy. Wierd timing to say this chapter puts you in a terrible mood when it is so relatively positive.

      • Fair Point. My question to that is how long does Wildbow ever allow a protagonist to stay happy after having a light chapter?

          • Yeah, Twig has a lot of scenes that are downright hilarious! Sy has WAY too much fun while causing mayhem. He could be a purely tragic, angry character, but he’s extremely playful as a person. (Actually, I think that all the characters would be very grateful if he was less playful…

            Worm was awesome, but I don’t recall any scenes that were pure FUN for Taylor.

  5. Once again Twig leaves me feeling butterflies and rainbows despite the blood-curdling screams in the background. Ashton is darn cute. Sy and Lillian reconnecting was touching. Everything just touching on everything and it’s all so good.

      • D&D — a mix of rainbows, tenterhooks, real tenderness, torture, growth, frustration, gore, complete sense, an occasionally total numpty, sheer brilliance, bonkers and awesome. One of my favourite couples, ever. 🙂

  6. Out of all the chapters to finally catch up with Wildbow’s works and it ends on a happy note. What are the odds of that?

    • I don’t know, got to have a few – if he never gave us any happy moments, there would be nothing to take away from us later.

  7. Loved this chapter, especially in light of the previous few chapters.

    One of the things I’ve always really enjoyed about Wildbow’s protagonists is their ability to get put into a situation that seems like a total loss and then believably wiggle their way out of it despite being, on the face of things, totally overpowered and outmatched.

    In a lot of ways, Sy is the highest expression of this since that’s literally all he does (no physical powers of any kind).

    This chapter feels really good, and part of that is because the stuff before hand was so hopeless looking. It’s neat to see Wildbow pull off his signature writing trick with the emotional arc instead of the action sequence.

  8. I’m so happy Helen is rescued! Even if its dangerous, she is so much better off with Sy. Hopefully no more random small labotomies.
    I do wonder exactly what Ibbot was trying to do though.

  9. Interesting that Mary and Lillian would be so, um, close. It makes sense. Lillian is the only original lamb that is 100% trustworthy from her point of view now.

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