This overlaps with Monster 5.4 and 5.5... and goes a bit beyond 5.5.
Chapter 15: Slaughter
"Okay onto the bike let's go!"
Thankfully, Taylor doesn't ask questions or stubbornly insist everything is fine or whatever.
... not so thankfully, it turns out there's not enough people with a clear view on this burning battleground for her to stay not-a-squid while riding behind me. And given what happened when she tried forcing herself into the truck's driver seat, there's no way trying to put her in front is going to end well. So...
"Shit. Okay, um, I guess you can follow behind for the moment."
Okay, need to find a spot to hide from Shatterbird and/or ambush her. With how people have been running all over the place in a panic I kind of have an idea of where we could go even though I've got like an hour maybe of 'mapping' for Chicago but it's really fuzzy and frankly I kinda suspect the Nine have experience with actual tracking and blah so just ducking into an unused warehouse is probably not great for hiding. Eeeerrrr oh wait fucking duh capes! Seek out capes! Ones who civilians are not terrified of so I know they're not a territorial villain who'll cut us as soon as look at us, so we've got more firepower!
Okay not far ahead I'm feeling some kinda safe-ish zone, thinking people are getting medical treatment maybe? Might just be a regular hospital but there's one person people are all paying attention to so hey maybe it's a regular hospital with a cape in it. Whatever, Taylor is following along as I take us to wherever this is. Aaaand then we burst open into crowds of people, swollen with numbers by trying to get away from Shatterbird and Mimi's fights, and so now Taylor is no longer a mincing blender -ha! Double-meaning, I didn't even intend that!- and I have to slow down though uh there's a car on its side too wonder how that happened anyway it's blocking the way so I need to slow down anyway to squeeze the motorcycle through and thankfully Shatterbird is still looping around the fight zone and... is she looking for Mimi? 'cause Mimi has stopped, I mean yeah she's not gone just yet but she's gotta be bleeding out right? Whatever, it's buying us time.
Taylor gets aboard, and I explain that, "Shatterbird killed Burnscar, not sure why that match went that way-" It was a teleporting fire controller against a girl who controls glass! Glass MELTS. Mimi should have owned her sorry ass! "-and now she's hunting for probably you and she is pissed. I thiiiink she might be considering a Scream, honestly, which I thought she could only do once-"
"She threatened me with more Screams if I didn't toe the line." I'm struck for a moment by the dissonance of Taylor sounding... well, she's all concerned, but she doesn't sound tired. She just had a big fight and nearly died and she's talking like this is a conversation over cereal after just waking up, just over a topic to be concerned about.
Aaaand then the words catch up to me. "-damn. Damn damn damn. Okay, we should get to cover." No wait, Taylor came back from being shot in the head. I'm the merely mortal waif. "I should get to cover, I guess." And then we finally get around that goddamn car and past the people trying to stream in or out with only the occasional glance toward either of us. Pretty sure they're looking at Taylor, seeing A Cape, and then seeing me with her and assuming I've gotta be a cape too, and they're wanting none of that shit. Which is convenient since it means I don't have to make them want none of that shit. We don't need interruptions, there's still Nine to kill. Somehow. Frankly I'd be okay with just bailing at this point, I can't detect Mannequin so I'd assume Taylor got to him, and while Mimi being dead isn't exactly what I wanted it's two Nine down. That's a fourth of them! We did good, plenty of people just die when they try to get some of the Nine. And- hey cool. "Oh nice Batmobile. But gold. I love it." Seriously, it's a golden Batmobile but like with... five-pointed stars instead of a bat theme.
And then after a second Taylor gets all upset? "We need to go, this is a hospital."
No shit! It's a hospital with a cape, which is more firepower, which- fuckit. Fine. Whatever. Pretty sure we can get to another cape before Shatterbird finds our trail. "Okay fine Boss."
And then there's -well, there's been this one signature I wasn't paying a lot of attention to, which would be like 75% in one spot and 25% in another only to swap the spots occasionally, and there's a split-second of them being 25% behind Taylor followed by them being 75% behind Taylor, and they're hostile. What the fuck, come on! I can't turn fast enough, wow that is a crappy mask oh wait shit don't let the cycle get off-balance or anything- "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you."
WE ARE HELPING
Actually, let's just say that. And shave off some of her suspicion as I say it. Jerk. "Hey come on, she's fighting the Nine."
"Sure looks like a fanboy." Okay like I get that I'm the one who actually has her chest pressed up against my back but even with her costume Taylor doesn't draw a particularly masculine figure. Too willowy. And, you know, the hair. Yes it's mostly kind of hidden under the bicycle helmet and all, but dudes that aren't part of the Vasil family tend to not go with the wild mane of hair you can see trying to push itself out from under the confines of a helmet. Though admittedly it's ALL FUCKING BLACK...
Now if only I knew whether Taylor's own outrage and irritation is over that detail too or if she's just laser-focused on The Mission and all. "I'm not here to join the Nine. I'm here to kill the Nine. Most of them, I mean." Awww. Laser-focused on the mission it is. No sense of femininity unless I force it onto her! Jeez.
Maybe the fanboy remark was kind of justified...
But time for solidarity! And continuing to edge off that suspicion. Jeez, this girl is almost as bad as Taylor. Why? "Boss totes means it, you know."
"Very convincing." Ah, sarcasm. The breakfast of champions. Or something. This is really annoying.
And now Taylor is just So Done With This Shit. So okay I'm not sure how we're going to spin the resulting body as self-defense or- "Look, if Ch- Pride wanted to, she could make you trust us and back off without you even realizing it. Can you just accept we're not the bad guys here?"
I do my best to avoid my grin turning rictus and wiggle a hand at the girl. Yeah. Like not only is that hypothetical not even slightly hypothetical hahaha oh god hopefully she doesn't notice, but wasn't Taylor all on my case before about civilian identities and capes and out of costume not being connected to in-costume and so on? Why is she just straight-up telling this girl that the plain-clothes girl in front of her is a parahuman! I mean I don't really care that much myself (And kinda already totally fucked that earlier with Mimi) but Taylor come on pick a stance and stick to it!
Fine, whatever. Not like I'm not used to double-standards anyway.
Fortunately, whoever this girl is she's way less massively paranoid than Taylor. The knife goes into a pocket, she says, "Good enough, I guess," and then she goes 75% elsewhere and then the 25% lingering behind pops off to another elsewhere, and now we're alone. You know, other than the makeshift hospital of screaming and crying and all the people staring at us -mostly Taylor, pretty sure- but close enough to alone.
"Any sign of the Siberian? She anywhere near us?" Oh goddammit Taylor do you have to do a breathy whisper in my ear while clearly feeling NOT ONE IOTA OF INTEREST.
HOW ARE YOU ABLE TO HANDLE CLOTHING YOURSELF AND OTHER BASIC ESSENTIALS YOU STUPID-
It's fine, it's fine, it's- wait. "Huh. I... haven't heard anything suggesting she's running around at all. At any point. Weird." Admittedly I'm not used to doing a psych profile on people I can't directly sense, but I just have difficulty imagining old Sibbie hanging back and not doing anything while her lovely murderfriends are up to their thing-
Fuck, we never tested lust. And I got false positives on guilt! Maybe I'm getting false negatives on lust! Maybe Taylor is totally into me, right now, because she's just recently killed someone and murder=intimacy, and my power is just lying to me!
"Shit." Shut up nameless civilian I'm having DEEP THOUGHTS HERE- "Everybody take cover!"
Aaaaaand now Taylor is throwing herself at me in the most literal way possible wait no Cherie get your mind out of the gutter for a second she's trying to meatshield for me that's- that's practical and intelligent and yet I still find it more sweet than anything else, it's not like she had to stop and think about it and hold up I should close my eyes so she can be the monster so it's even better protection and also so she doesn't have fucking shrapnel go through her skull and give me another heart attack.
And boom! Stuff explodes! Taylor feels all surprised and a little awed I've got no clue why! LET'S TEST OUT LATEST RELATIONSHIP THEORY!
"Amazing, huh?" I quip at her in my most saucy innuendo-laden tone. Which I'm good at. I've gotten autistic people to figure me out without having to do any manipulation. It was a neat challenge and then I got bored of it.
Okay, this is the point where Taylor slaps the taste out of my mouth and rages at me and-
I mean, she doesn't engage me on it, but she also doesn't have that instant white-hot burning rage of 'how dare you hit on me Cherie even though I'm sending signals suggesting interest!'
Okay, fuckit, let's just test ramping up her lust. Slowly, carefully, not so fast she notices-
"Cherie, point me to Shatterbird."
"What?" Did she just- wait focus on the conversation! "No! You are not a good match for her, boss! Not with her taking hosta-" Oh wow. She just abandoned her hostages, got huffy and frustrated at how long it's taking to chase us I guess, or... maybe she forgot since she got into the fight with Burnscar? So- "You know what? Never mind, she's an idiot, let's go." Naturally, when I turn about to take us in Shatterbird's current direction, Taylor distracts me from my HORRIFYING REVELATIONS by getting all doubt-y and shit and I have to point out the obvious that she moved. God.
The route to Shatterbird is long enough for me to have thinky thoughts about this new information. Jam Taylor with rising Lust, and she reconsiders her escape and evade plan for a 'kill Shatterbird' plan. Murder as intimacy. No blushing or other physical signs she's getting worked up when I was hitting her with lust. Mixed signals, oblivious to the fact she's sending mixed signals, often seems to not notice innuendo that's kind of obvious...
... conclusion: her wires are crossed, way worse than I'd have ever guessed.
I think a lesser girl would be despairing at how any possibility of a non-professional relationship is doomed, but I'm Cherie Fucking Vasil. And also I've cheated and I know that Taylor has occasionally enjoyed my presence and shit, so the social part is still an option, just... trickier than I'd realized. But mostly I'm Cherie Fucking Vasil and I rise to these kinds of challenges!
Oh right here we are Shatterbird is over there. Come on come on madder don't think just follow you're super-pissed yes, madder, madder, almost, yes.
For extra effect I flip off Shatterbird, and pre-emptively shut down Taylor's sure-to-be-coming concerns. "Come on Boss, trust me here!"
And she does, hahahaha holy shit.
Okay, come on, get to the ambush site, juggle getting all these idiots panicking so they flee from my oncoming mad motorcycle skillz (And also a member of the Nine, whatever), it's really nice getting to put all that motorcycle practice to good use honestly, and keep pumping up Shatterbird's anger so she doesn't stop and think, and there it is, the spot that used to be full of people until Jack and Bonesaw passed through while I was approaching Taylor, the spot where people were flailing in a blind panic and bouncing off walls and so on and yes there it is it's... a very poorly-lit art gallery, apparently? Okay, stop inside (Oops, it's not poorly-lit, people were just that freaked by Jack and Bonesaw coming after them), get to cover, tell Taylor, "You do your thing while I do mine!"
The door slams shut behind me and I bounce around inside a tiny space for a few moments until I realize I'm in some kind of closet.
... heh, irony.
Fortunately, my gut feeling was right: Shatterbird's glass helmet means when she shows up Taylor stays the deadliest squid this side of the Mariana Trench, and since I'm on the case she's shortly too pissed to remember to back off and find better ground. Or, you know, disassemble her helmet. Ha!
... why is she not already dead? What, is she made of glass or something?
Good god, woman, just die already!
She doesn't seem to be distracted by pain, either. Seriously, is she secretly a Case 53 who's more convincingly normal than most? Maybe she didn't fail to disassemble her helmet due to stupidity, maybe her glass eyes just don't count. We already know security cameras and shit don't revert Taylor, even if someone is right on the other side looking through-
I burst out of the closet and flip off Shatterbird's mauled, strangely metallic corpse, and if this were a story I was writing that would totally be a metaphor! A really transparent one. Transparent as glass, you might say! Dohohoho okay enough of that.
"You made her too mad to think, right?" Got it in one, Boss! "Good plan. I... I fucked that up, and you salvaged it. Good job, Cherie."
So okay, under murder-as-intimacy theory, which base is this equivalent to? Wait never mind Taylor is reacting badly to something time for a distraction! "So Jack next, right? We're not far away, and he finally separated from Bonesaw like fifteen minutes ago."
I give Taylor a rundown on what's what as we close in on Jack (I gloss over a brief interaction he has with the 75%/25% girl; not important. Though the 25% sticks around...), and when I get to the part about him hiding from capes, she says-
"Huh. Gives me some idea of how so pathetic a man has lasted so long all these years. You'd basically need a fairly impressive sensory power to chase him down as easily as we are."
Interesting that she thinks of the undisputed leader of the Nine as pathetic. More focused on powers than skills- oh. No wonder trying to impress her is so difficult! She's too distracted by my massive, insert-obvious-innuendo-here powers that my accomplishments as a person don't rate!
Wow, Taylor, way to objectify with the best of them.
I leave my own response at, "Like me," in part hoping Taylor will maybe remember to be a bit more awed and appreciative if I remind her how awesome my powers are.
She doesn't say anything, but I think it kinda worked!
Possibly in part having to do with how I'm bustling off to clear dozens of people from the upcoming bloodbath, what with that being an immediately helpful trick of multitasking and all.
Anyway, blah blah blah, evacuating a bunch of people, keeping an ear on all the Nine I know the positions of, also watching out for probable and certain capes -there's a whole kerfuffle around Crawler involving at least a dozen of them- 'cause they might attack Taylor on sight who knows, and listening in on Taylor's interaction with Jack.
She failed to sneak up on him, sounds like. Odd thing is I have the impression he was waiting for her for several seconds before she noticed anything wrong. Feels like I'm missing something important. Jack's faking confidence, he's not precisely panicked but he's taking this way more seriously than anything else I've caught throughout him being in my radius. Taylor is... is she talking to him? That's not the Taylor I know! Hmm, though maybe it's a distraction? He does seem to have noticed her coming somehow. Okay, Jack is... huh. I'm not sure how to read what he just did. It pissed Taylor off something fierce. Come to think, 25% girl is still there, why aren't either of them reacting to her? Hmm. Should I try to do anything to her? Still not sure what Jack is doing, there's not a lot of emotion attached to it. Some amusement, some... caution or something? He's not afraid, but he's not confident. This is like a shaky Plan A for him and he's expecting to have to fall back on a Plan B he likes even less. Oh! I think he's stalling for time! That's part of why I'm having a hard time reading him, every second that passes is a good thing from his perspective but it's not a winning thing, it's just a staving off losing thing!
... wow, he thinks he can't win against Taylor? Am I really reading that right, that the head of the Nine is treating interacting with Taylor as a no-win situation?
... I feel a sudden and profound sympathy for the man.
Oh well, sucks to be him!
Okay then Taylor loses her patience, Jack jumps up way higher than he really ought to be able to given any idiot can tell you his only power is making things cut at a distance, I honestly don't quite follow the action of the next couple of seconds and... hm. Jack's pinned, I think. Taylor's calm, methodical, unworried. Jack isn't worried either, but he's pretty clearly unhappy. Odd. Is he... does he have some tinkertech escape hatch, maybe?
Aaaand Taylor starts tearing into him. No, he's not got an escape. Still weirdly calm. Unhappy, but calm. Why? I start making my way over, closing my eyes once I'm about to turn the corner to them, trying to puzzle this out and -oh! He just stopped doing the constantly-fighting-through-the-pain thing! Oh, duh, Bonesaw. That's what was up with Shatterbird! She must've been modified by Bonesaw, turned off her pain receptors or never had them up in the first place. So... if Jack has been modified by Bonesaw and is weirdly calm about having his vital organs torn apart -those are some ew noises- then...
"Dude's turned off his pain receptors, I think. He's weirdly calm about this, so he can still come back from what you've done, I'm guessing. Probably Bonesaw can fix him."
... and Jack's emotions twinge in a way that tells me he heard that and wishes a thousand sufferings on me. But is still trying to not give away the game. Then I start hearing the squeal of tortured steel. Jeez, what did Bonesaw do with Jack? Is he really filled with steel? Really? And jeez, he's still not panicking. Mad, pretty sure at me, yeah, but not panicking. How thorough is this shit?
"Now he's panicking proper. He still thinks he can be rescued, I suspect, but he's no longer thinking you're failing to actually kill him."
It takes ANOTHER FIVE FUCKING MINUTES for him to actually die!
... huh. I wonder if this has anything to do with Mimi's signal still going. She's not moved, she's just shades of mad, surprisingly nuanced and varied for just 'angry', so maybe Bonesaw did shit to her and she's not actually going to die unless more serious stuff is done to her? That feels a little too optimistic for me, but hey, it's a possibility.
Meanwhile, back in the world where I'm talking to Taylor- "Aaaand there he goes." -I make sure she knows what's what.
Taylor gets all weirdly navel-gazing contemplative, and I roll my eyes under my eyelids. Dude's dead, awesome! We'll throw a party, I throw the best parties aside that little detail Taylor would probably go apocalyptic if she saw the kinda parties I throw, point is she should be celebrating!... wait, my current psychological theory for her suggests this makes perfect sense. I think normal people would be grossed out by my theory, but I've seen worse.
Anyway, Taylor and I start getting to talki-
"Ya know, Tidal is probably a better choice for containing a plague, or-" 25% girl is suddenly 75% girl talking with no warning!
"How do you keep doing that and why?!" I hate her power so much! I'd actually almost forgotten her, 25% version of her is so minor I have to fight to not interpret it as a fucking rat. And she's enjoying it! Oh, she's not letting Taylor see it, she's got a nice mask, but she loved hearing me freak out and was disappointed when Taylor took it in stride. She's not fucking oblivious like Taylor is, this is the highlight of her day.
Taylor and GODDAMMIT girl have a conversation I basically ignore because seriously if my hate was a laser the girl would be dead. Dead! Never have I wanted someone more dead -except Daddy, but he barely counts- than I have in this moment!
BECAUSE SHE'S ALSO FUCKING IMMUNE TO ME BEAMING EMOTIONS AT HER, WHY.
So no training her into stopping this shit on us, no wrapping her around my finger ever, got a goddamn teleporting asshole who shrugs off my powers and the swap happens so subtly that even though I can detect both versions of her she still is able to catch me off guard!
Eventually the asshole vanishes on us -not before giving me a scare one last time for its own sake, the bitch- and it's just me and Taylor and 25% of a girl who is apparently invisible but still watching us. She's reacting to what we say and do, she's still here, how the fuck do I let on to Taylor that we're not really fully alone? Aaaah and Taylor is asking questions and I have to answer them and, uh, hey, the Nine are... coming to this mall, looks like. That would be alarming, but since Taylor promptly decides she wants to fight these people anyway it's actually convenient!
"So hey I already let Black Bishop know. You can thank me later."
And my fucking punch misses her because she does the swap. And she's smugging at me since my fist went right through her and did not a goddamn thing.
So. Much. Hate.
I'm seriously trying to plot out how to throttle her, when Taylor says the dumbest dumb that ever dumbed. "Cherie, you don't have to stay if you don't want to. It's entirely possible the Siber-"
"Fuck no Boss I'm staying here with you." Not putting up with- wait. She just felt a warm fuzzy!
SHE FELT MORE WARM FUZZIES.
Since we're waiting anyway, I draw Taylor into some conversation. She's reluctant, but she eventually caves, from which I learn that ULTRABITCH is actually named 'Haunt'. And learn a bunch of irrelevant trivia she apparently already told me, like that Chicago 'led the charge on gender equality in gangs'. Uuuuuh, go Chicago?
Then I get bored, Jack Slash's corpse catches my eye, a thought crosses my mind, and with an impish grin I ask... "So I don't suppose Haunt can get us a working camera so we can get sweet pictures of us posing in front of Jack's corpse? Man, first time I've wished I was male." Hah! Haunt actually likes the sound of that!... though I'm pretty sure she's not moving to do anything with the thought. Jerk.
Taylor is blue-screening at me. "What?"
Okay, whatever, it sets up for a punchline. "So I could piss on his corpse while we took the photo." That's me, Tasteful Cherie Vasil. I say and do things with class. Sometimes. When I feel like it.
Taylor is, of course, disgusted. "Then I'm glad you're not male."
Opportunity strikes! Saucy Grin, go! "Ooooh are you now?"
... Taylor doesn't get it. Do I really need to spell things out vis-a-vis your preferences girl?... oh right, current psychological model suggests YES.
Actually, there's a thought. I didn't think much of it at the time, but the way Shatterbird and Taylor were playing off each other was... odd. "On a related note, what was up with you and Shatterbird there? She was all flattered and offended and it was really confusing listening in 'cause like I was expecting her to be gleefully attacking and reveling in your pain and I just have no idea what to make of that." If I didn't know any better, I'd think Taylor was hitting on Shatterbird and Shatterbird appreciated the implied compliment but hated that it was Taylor making a move on her. My working theory is that Shatterbird was flattered by Taylor doing something particularly impressive/risky/whatever on the basis of feeling like Taylor was taking her seriously but offended 'cause it... I dunno... lacked class? I mean, it's not terribly important, but we're killing time anyway, and hey maybe Taylor will enjoy getting to brag and so we'll grow closer or something!
Taylor stares at me like she just realized God exists and hates her, personally. So, no. The accompanying orchestra of despair is actually kind of hilarious given how she's been so difficult to get anything resembling this kind of response over. What, did she kill a puppy and get horrified at not feeling bad about it? Now I really wanna know. "Dish! It's gotta be interesting if you're reacting like this!" Taylor proceeds to do her best to stare resolutely at a point on the wall just behind me and pretend she can't hear me. What are you, five? "Oh come oooon it's not like we're doing anything anyway." Okay admittedly I'm not really acting like a bastion of maturity here, but whatever. Seriously, what's got her wanting a hole to open up beneath her and swallow her?
Taylor proceeds to try to distract me from the question by asking if there's help nearby, but before I can get started-
"Y-you actually killed him!"
-another fucking person appears out of nowhere. Literally the only good part to this is that Haunt is also startled, which isn't much recompense for her being ULTRABITCH. And doesn't make me feel particularly better at how many people are beating my power today.
"Who are you?" I ask of this nerdlord. Clearly a tinker, gear's decaying right now, I guess the netting was some kind of invisibility effect that even blocked my power from sensing him what the fuck tinkers are BULLSHIT. I'll admit I didn't pay a lot of attention when Taylor was babbling about the booming cape population of Chicago, but this rings no bells at all.
Nerdlord gets all apologetic. "Oh. I'm sorry, I just- Jack Slash is dead. It's- manners, right. I... well, Lou says I'm supposed to introduce myself as Fab?" Oh hell no, you are not fabulous. I don't believe it for a second! You are wearing orange goggles! And overalls! Your boss is shit! "And you girls would be?..."
I glare at him non-plussed. I didn't want your fucking name, I wanted your power. You're a cape! You should already know this! Nobody gives a fuck about your name, it's all about your power!... at least until you've done something sufficiently impressive and not directly based on your power to justify respect for you as a person.
And yes I realize I was just complaining about Taylor objectifying me via my power but we know each other!
"Monster," Taylor proceeds to obligingly provide. I get the impression she's too confused to really be all that offended.
Okay, fine, I'll play along. Partially. "I'm just the boss's anonymous assistant." If you're not going to give me your goddamn powers I'm not even sharing my name, jerk!
Anyway, blah blah blah we talk to this jerk, he wants help finding his boss, we eventually get rid of his wimpy crybaby butt, then Taylor goes back to trying to get me to find helpful capes but now we are out of time, Bonesaw and company are nearly here. So unless Haunt is going to get off her sorry butt and bring somebody to us... and she doesn't even though I know her 25% self is staring right at us, right now. Jerk. Don't think I won't get my revenge! I'll... figure out something...
Aaaanyway. Re-focusing on Taylor! "Alright, 'kay. So what's the plan for dealing with Bonesaw, beyond hoping Black Bishop makes everything better?" 'cause she won't. Pretty damn sure.
"Well, first I was going to try to talk to her. She is a young, impressionable girl." I struggle to not smirk at that. "Maybe Shatterbird was acting as a mother fig-" And that's where my self-control slips. Yeah, Shatterbird. As a mommy. The mental images are so ludicrous I just can't help myself, laughing so hard I eventually realize I've got tears running down my eyes!... and ruining some of my makeup. Which was admittedly kind of inevitable somewhere in all this, I'd be surprised if none of it has come off already just from sweat and dust and blah, but I'm still reflexively annoyed and have to fight down the urge to stop the tears. I'm not going to be re-applying them anytime soon anyway.
Eventually I'm able to look at Taylor with just some chuckling, and Taylor pretends like nothing happened even though she was totes irritated with me. "Point being, Bonesaw might be resolvable by being kind." Pffff- "It would deal with the whole thing of her using plagues as a deterrent, and honestly if we can turn her to good use that would be pretty impressive." Oh. Oh. That's... actually a pretty good point. Don't try to cheat past her boobytraps, make her not want to use them. That's... that's downright Cherie thinking right there. What the hell, Taylor. I've gotten so used to you stabbing your problems even when it makes things worse! "I... sort of figured we'd turn her over to the Protectorate and they'd sort her out, but I'm not sure how they handle people with Kill Orders who turn themselves in."
Oh, the memories. "They kill them and say they couldn't risk the possibility of it being a trap."
"Oh." Taylor has a moment of just taking me at my word and then gets weirded out. "How do you know that?" She says in the tone of someone who knows their friend quite well and is convinced they would never be interested in the subject she just learned they know something about.
Which. Yeah, okay, fair. "Daddy wanted to know. He was wondering if he could turn himself in to get close to somebody like Narwhal, and was reeeeal disappointed when Guillaume dug up that piece of info. Settled for a non-parahuman bimbo." I think that was the porn star?
Taylor has a whole thing of regret and agitation and then goes back to trying to pretend whatever just happened didn't. With a big put-upon sigh. "Okay, I guess... if that works we'll be watching over Bonesaw ourselves." Delivered in the tone of one talking about going to the gallows. Okay. Admittedly, it's Bonesaw, but I'm not sure why she's so het up over this and not... any number of other things to get worked up over.
Though I'm kinda reminded of how reluctant she was to let me aboard, back when I was a willing recruit. "You were refusing to trust me when all I do is emotional manipulation. Bonesaw can easily one-up me in control. And, you know, body horror." And isn't coming here to try to throw herself at you. Wait, is that the issue? Is she more willing to give Bonesaw a chance than she was willing to give me because she expects Bonesaw to be kicking and screaming the whole way? That's... twisted logic, but if I squint at it I certainly think it feels like Taylor logic.
Though to Taylor's credit, she reacts like a kid with their hand caught in the cookie jar. She's actually not unaware of what she's doing here! Holy shit, progress! "I don't really have a better answer. I might be able to take her in a fight, but if I do, her backup plagues will just go off, and neither of us can do anything about that. It's basically either hope Black Bishop comes through, try to befriend Bonesaw, or give up and flee, hope somebody else handles the problem." Okay, that's all fair- "I don't run away from situations I helped create."
Yes you do! That is exactly what you do! You killed Daddy and then zipped off to let everyone else deal with the consequences! When one of those consequences showed up on your doorstep, you tried to keep it well beyond arm's length! You killed the Dragonslayers, then fucked off with their stuff and didn't really try to get the law updated on the sitch or anything!
I spend like a full minute struggling to come up with the words for how totally wrong Taylor is, and finally give up. It'd probably just start a fucking fight and we're about to get into life-and-death struggles again so let's just put up a united front, god. "Okay fine whatever. So you don't plan on killing her? What's my role, then?"
Taylor gets very, very awkward, aaaaallllmost as awkward as when she was trying to dodge the subject of the Shatterbird thing. "I was thinking you could brainwash her."
I take a moment to stare at her, which is made hard by her staring at her feet like they're the most interesting thing in the world. And I listen in on her feelings. She's telling the totally unabridged truth? Wow. Wow, I can't help smiling. Finally, a chance to cut loose without worrying about Taylor breathing down my neck in completely the wrong way! "Oh Boss, you really know how to please a girl." Taylor has no idea what the fuck, and I do not give a FUCK. Freedom! Endorsed freedom to have fun, even if there's some parameters but they're basically what I'd want to do anyway so whatever! Eventually I realize that reveling in the endorphin rush is maaaybe not the thing to do given Bonesaw is on her way and we still don't have a concrete plan. So; "Okay, in that case, what's the angle here? I need to have an idea of your script before we get started."
"Script?" Taylor continues to have no idea what the fuck. And -wait, why is Haunt's 25% gone? When did that happen? God, I hate her.
Anyway, that's okay, I like talking about this! Nobody in the 'fam really got it, except kinda Jean-Paul a little, and anybody outside the 'fam certainly didn't get it assuming I was willing to let them know at all. "Yeah, your script! I gotta know where you're going with this, how you're presenting yourself, what you're angling for Bonesaw to think of you. Are you going to try to impress her, play up your accomplishments while I'm encouraging her to feel all 'wow!' in response? Are you going to take a soft touch, offer acceptance and affection while I make her feel lonely and sad up until she gets a hug out of you? Are you going to appeal to her curiosity, while I ramp that up subtly? Play to her ego?" Aaaand then Taylor starts getting freaked out and hostile. "Oh don't ask me to do this and then get all judgmental about how it works." Seriously. It's bad enough having you freaked out by what I can do through no fault of my own, do you see me getting on your case for turning into a murdermonster? Do you see me trying to point you at an enemy and then getting pissed when I'm not happy with the murder- okay bad example there's the Jean-Paul thing fuck fuck MOVING ON.
And then Taylor catches me completely off-guard. "I can't control how I feel, Cherie. You should know that better than anyone." That's... like, okay, there's the whole 'you do realize that sounds an awful lot like a love confession' thing to it, but it's also astounding progress. She's creeped out, she knows she's creeped out, but she's holding those feelings at arm's length instead of standing by them and judging me for them. She's trying to be empathic. Actually TRYING! I- it honestly never occurred to me that such might ever happen. "Honestly, I was just thinking I'd ask her if she was willing to repent or not and... yeah."
Aaaaand now we're back to derp-Taylor. "Oh my god. Who taught you how to social, was it friggin' Behemoth?" Taylor is offended, but in that sort of way people get when they agree what you're saying is true but still don't want to hear it. So... with my new good mood at Taylor becoming slowly less awful a potential friend and/or romantic partner, I let it slide and move on. Plus... "We've got I think like three minutes, we gotta hurry." That. "Seriously boss, that's a terrible way to operate. Nobody does anything because you make demands, not unless you've got the force to back it up, and you just told me you're not going to try to kill Bonesaw if she refuses."
And, amazingly, Taylor gets it! I can tell because she gets that horrified contemplative response people get when they realize They Dun Fucked Up. So I keep going! "You gotta have an angle for why she should want to join us, a motive." Put like that, I'm wondering how much thought Taylor has given to her own motives. She's... not really talked about them, and now that I think about it I have difficulty buying that she's as aware as I am of her weird-ass psychology. Anyway, grin! Grin like you mean it, Cherie! "Like how we can be a family for her, two mommies with their daughter." Taylor is legit unimpressed, but still doesn't strike me down for daring to indirectly sort of hit on her.
Clearly, I need to hit on her right after she's killed someone more often.
Anyway! "Gotta hurry, clock is ticking." Seriously, we are almost out of time.
Annoyingly, instead of getting right to things, Taylor stops, and gets weirdly contemplative, and- "You'll handle it." Wait, what? "Whatever you think works best, so long as it isn't convincing Bonesaw we'll be a new Slaughterhouse Nine or otherwise transparently lie to her." Oh yeah, that's totes a-
She's not letting me even think the joke.
Fine, whatever, get back to talking we're almost out of time!
"I'll be nearby, to fight if that proves necessary or practical, and to back you up if she doesn't believe you're working with Monster or something of the sort, but this is your show Cherie."
So... not only do I get to brainwash the kid with barely any leash at all... but I get to handle initial recruitment, too? No Taylor glaring at me? No readying to stab me on a moment's notice? Just... do the thing, Cherie?
I don't think she's ever shown me anything resembling this level of trust before, bar maybe sharing her trigger, and that was clearly a herculean effort for her whereas this is... almost casual.
Holy shit, what did I miss?
"Cherie, come on. You said we're nearly out of time, where do I stand out of sight that's nearby, given where Bonesaw is coming from?"
I point out a pillar, and try to get my head back into the game in the like 20 seconds before Bonesaw is going to be in sight.
Okay Cherie, you can do this. The Boss trusts you, suddenly, out of nowhere, what the fuck. No no, focus! What's my spiel? Uh, okay, um.
Fuck, I got nothing.
"Uncle Jack, I got him! I'm calling him Tricksy! Oh, and I let Haunt know you were nominating her, but she just laughed. I'm thinking she's some kinda projector-" That's when Bonesaw spots me. She's instantly suspicious, though it doesn't show on her face at all, looking me up and down in a manner that is kiiinda jarring coming from someone as youthful-looking as her, though it helps that she's got a couple gloves soaked with blood and a bizarrely adorable little apron also soaked in blood. And with bits of meat sticking to it, ew.
Focus, Cherie! Uh. Words! "Jack ain't here, kid."
Great, fuckin' wonderful Cherie, you are the master.
Though for some reason Taylor seems impressed by me anyway. Oh right! Learned social from friggin' Behemoth! It's like being complimented by a fish for your astounding and downright magical ability to stand on two legs.
And, interestingly, there was a bit of a spike of loathing when Jack's name came up. Hmmm.
"Don't be silly. Of course he's here. Uncle Jack-" There it is again! It's actually worse than when I just said 'Jack'. "-never breaks his word." Huh. Huh. She actually believes that. That's... actually useful as a starting point. If Jack was arranging certain 'inviolate truths' to control her, and then one of them is broken right off the bat, that's a chink in the armor of her worldview. Whatever the fuck her worldview is.
Heh. Okay, little girl, let's play. On my ground. "You know, you're right, he is here, in the strictest of senses." Leading around to the idea without spelling it out. I don't think she'd believe me if I said outright that he's dead, especially after how damn hard he was to finally put down. So instead of saying something she might read as a lie to rattle her, say something that's true, that jives with what she believes, but makes more sense in retrospect once she spots the body. Aaaand her stupid dog-robot things are still advancing in the shadows. Awwww, the little girl thinks she can sneak one past Cherie Vasil. Wrong! "You're not going to ambush me with your toys, Bonesaw. I know exactly where they are and can turn them off anytime I like." 'Turn off', 'sink into an eternal pit of despair and depression so they can barely imagine a reason to keep on living let alone do anything', same thing. They may be partially mechanical, but they're very much feeling creatures. If fucked-up ones.
Interestingly, she seems to believe me right off the bat. Odd. "Oh fine. Meany. Spoil my fun. Where is Uncle Jack-" Yeah, she's still hating him. "-then? Didya talk him into letting you join?"
I don't even try to control the laughter. Yeah, not in this life, kid. "Actually, I'm here to see if you want to move on to greener pastures." This is not exactly my most subtle moment but frankly Bonesaw is coming across sufficiently genuine that I'm not sure real subtlety would work that well on her. If she's got something close to the psychology of a kid her apparent age, a lot of that stuff would go right over her head. And I am so tired of shit going over Taylor's head, and while Bonesaw doesn't turn into a whirlwind of blades and blood anytime you're not looking at her, that doesn't mean her power hasn't affected the way she thinks.
"Uncle Jack would be sad if I left." And that is a straight-up lie on her part. Not only was there the usual spike of loathing for Jack she's still hiding, but she is going through the phrase by rote. An empty statement, devoid of real feeling, delivered for the benefit of the world around her and not because it's an accurate reflection of what's in her skull.
She honestly thinks Jack wouldn't care at all, I think. Or... would kill her for trying? There wasn't any fear there, but frankly if Bonesaw allowed herself to be afraid of Jack she'd probably undergo a nervous breakdown, so... yeah.
"I can tell every time you say his name there's a little surge of loathing and hatred." Yeah, she's fully aware of it, no surprise or disbelief or anything. "No point in pretending with me. Come on, k-" Oop, she's getting pissed off before I've even said the word. Doesn't like being treated like a child? "-Bonesaw. You can move on."
"You don't know me." She actually means that. Not... sure what to make of her feelings beyond that, there. "You don't know him." Hope mixed with horror and despair and desperation and a bunch of other complicated shit. I'm thinking she wants away from Jack, but is convinced it's impossible to escape and that trying would just make things harder on her? So she kinda wants to believe me but doesn't want to really because she's sure she'll be disappointed and her tiny probably-actually-tinkertech heart would break.
You know what, let's start on the manipulating. Amp up that hope. Get her believing me, simplify things so she just comes with. "His insides are now his outsides. Nothing to know, and don't think I didn't notice that bit of hope."
In the most casually happy 10-year-old tone ever, Bonesaw says, "You know, if you don't back off on the Mastering, you're going to activate my berserk mode, and nobody will be happy." I gape at her for a moment. How the fuck. Goddamn -fucking -tinkers! And fuck all the people who are immune to or partially immune to or otherwise circumventing my power! I am so tired of this shit! "So you manipulate emotions and can read them... oooh, you must be one of Nikos'!"
Yeah yeah, whatever. You figured out the obvious. Go you. Let's... draw attention away from the manipulating, and ease off on it. Don't stop, not yet, but go subtler. Maybe whatever bullshit sensors she's got can only detect Sufficiently Obvious Manipulation? "Yyyyeep. Cherie Vasil, here to do things that supposedly aren't fit for your ears but I'm pretty sure you know more things that would make me blanch than the other way around, right?" Ha ha, I am joking, it is funny.
Odd thing is, she does find it legit funny. She's not even faking the squeal of excitement, pretty sure. "Oh, I like you. Can we keep her, Jack?" She is still spiking the loathing. "She's funny and I haven't gotten to play with too many Masters."
Okay I'm not Taylor, I know what the hell she actually means by 'play' in this context and fuck that you're not getting your scalpels on me! Wait, is she seriously still on that? Come on, I'm standing nearly on top of his cooled corpse! You should be able to see it even if you don't have bullshit telescopic sight or whatever! "Okay seriously, the dude's dead. He is like twenty feet to my left, torn apart. I meant it when I said his insides were his outsides. Can you stop dancing around the topic?"
Bonesaw hmphs at me. It's... weirdly fake-sounding. "I can think of two capes who could do that and actually destroy the brain casing in this city, and the Protectorate knows better than to call in outsiders. You don't have either of the two in here. I'd know." Ah. So I was right. She's stuck on the idea that Jack is alive because of her enhancements. That... raises other questions... would Crawler kill her if she abandoned Jack to die, or something? 'cause really I'd expect her to just surgically install a kill-switch on him and take him out, given how much she hates him.
But hey, I know something she doesn't know. It still rhymes with 'murder'. I still can't fucking think of something that rhymes with murder! "Oh, you have me all figur-" And, glory be, that is the exact moment there is a shriek of twisting and tearing metal, the gory sounds of violence done unto flesh, as Taylor murders one of Bonesaw's stupid pet things. "-ed out, dontcha?" Thank you, Taylor. Bonesaw doesn't let on a single thing, but I know. She's doubting, really doubting, and me feeding that ember of hope in her still hasn't triggered a 'berserk mode' or whatever, so brainwashing is not off the table, just... trickier. Slower.
"Mind games are our thing!" That is a surprisingly lame comeback. Bonesaw is losing track of her... script, I guess? It's really striking me now that I'm talking to her how much what she does is actually kinda an act. Not all of it, there's genuineness in there, but it's mixed in with her... living up to expectations, or something?
Let's get pushy. "You're not one of the Nine, Bonesaw. I mean, for one thing, right now they're more like the Four, but more importantly I've been listening in on you for a while now, and you're just not into this the way the others are. Well, okay, Burnscar wasn't really into it either when nothing was on fire, but you know what I mean. But anyway! The point is that-"
Bonesaw starts giggling. Which is surprising, because she's not amused. Like, at all. Nadda. Nothing. Could be just my power fucking failing me again, but it's been pretty on-target with Bonesaw so far. It's so jarring I lose my train of thought, and by the time I recall to go looking for it she gets in her own words. "Oh, you just don't understand the pure experience of art." Fake. Lying. Not... entirely. Art provokes a complicated morass of feelings, some of each even are positive... but the rest of it is a script she doesn't believe in. "Uncle Jack says I'm not so, um, crass-"
Yeah let's just cut off this spiel before she gets back to reinforcing Jack's own brainwashing. It's... really blatant brainwashing, if I'm honest. How long has he had this kid, and why is he so shit at manipulating an underage girl? Also interesting is... "I know you're faking that hesitation." 'Crassness' doesn't seem to bother her. Just a word to throw at me. "The innocent little girl routine is just an act." She doesn't like hearing that, though it doesn't show on her face. "One you never drop out of?" There's a... biting bit of nostalgia there. A longing for days long lost, and I'm pretty sure it means she's remembering a time she didn't need to put up such an act. "One you never drop out of, got it in one."
Bonesaw lets out a huff, and- fuck, she's mad! Legit mad, not faking mad! "This isn't fun anymore," And her goddamn things are on the offense how is she controlling them come on!
I'm already scrambling away and trying to call out to Taylor about the situation, and thankfully Taylor is quick to respond and then-
is that a fucking green basketball that just cracked her on the head
yes it just bounced up, hit the ceiling, and vanished on cracking her in the head again
god, why is there a cape who launches deadly bouncing basketballs of doom?
I try to narrow in on where the fuck it came from while scrambling to the nearest -currently dead- escalator because none of Bonesaw's damn contraptions is on the second floor right now and I doubt they can follow me up readily, but there's... no... okay, yes, there's a really faint emotional signal, and it's basically just a nonstop torrent of barely-readable horror and despair. Some kinda... horrible meatpuppet, I guess? Wait, she mentioned something-or-other about a 'Tricksy', was the violent corpse what she was talking about? Hey! I think I kinda remember Taylor mentioning some dude called Trickshot who had a bouncy power!
Wait okay focus, still trying to get some control over the situation. Bonesaw's dog-spider-steel things... jamming them with apathy and shit... causes them to pause for a moment and then get back to working. Uh. Fear? No, similar result. Anger, lust, jealousy, just cycle through everything... well shit. I was bluffing and didn't know it. Messing with their emotions doesn't influence their behavior particularly much. So why the fuck did Bonesaw give them significant feelings? What purpose does that serve? What, do they get to ignore them when in the middle of something important or something?
Fuck, okay, focus on Bonesaw herself. Gotta be careful or she'll supposedly enter a 'berserk mode'. Hmmmm. Do I try to get her liking Taylor? Maybe a bit of awe would be a good start. Yeah, I think I'll sneak just a tiny bit of awe in there, and a little bit of like... respect or admiration or something, I'm just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. I can't really hear what they're saying given my distance and the racket of the damn meat robots so I'm not sure it's working, but while Taylor is freaking the fuck out Bonesaw hasn't gone straight for the kill and doesn't seem inclined to...
... oh. Pretty sure she finally noticed Jack's remains. Oh, hey! Taylor is tearing apart the meatbots! That helps. Okay, let's push that ember of hope and whatnot a bit more on Bonesaw, try to edge down her sorrow and blah, carefully trying to get her not to see this as a tragedy but as opportunity. Well, less tragic and more of an opportunity, I guess. Aaaand I've got line of sight! Bonesaw is... sitting right amid the gore and is crying. Wait, really? 'cause yeah she does read sad and all, but at a level where I'd expect maybe sniffling. Is she... oh my god she's faking! Of course she's faking, she's a biotinker who modifies herself! Those are crocodile tears that... happen to be smoking like acid now that I'm looking closer, yikes. Hahaha holy shit she's not actually stonewalling me as bad as I thought she was! In fact, now that I'm paying closer attention to the details of her soundscape, there's a complicated mess threading itself through things -regrets I work on subtly easing off, fear I work on subtly easing off, pride I end up leaving alone because I have no idea what it's pride in, surprisingly minor anger I actually squelch entirely it's such a tiny ember and she doesn't notice ha ha fuck you I'm Cherie Fucking Vasil, that weird combination I don't really understand I usually only get off of kids who are freaking out because they've lost their parents which after some careful thought I decide to magnify in hopes that it means she'll latch onto a replacement parental figure, jealousy of all things as a loud thrumming I end up leaving alone because my theories could go either way as to whether it's good to exaggerate or bad to do so, and there's a host of other things some of which I've never bothered to come up with names for and I tune all that as well.
The concert of your mind will please me, Bonesaw.
Half on impulse half-calculating, I decide to contribute verbally as well. "I hear your mixed feelings~"
There's no spike of suspicion. No paranoia. The anger comes back, high enough I'm not willing to crush it entirely, but mostly she's panicking which means this is working whi-
I'm clutching at my bruised chest, gasping for air and half-wondering if I've got injuries to my goddamn ribs while Bonesaw calls out, "Stop messing with my head! Stop making things complicated! Stop making my head hurt!" I didn't hear the goddamn thing coming, I had like a tenth of a second of warning, a brief glimpse of something green hitting the ground in front of me before it slammed right into my chest and that fucking hurts and it vanished, and I a-fucking-gain got no warning from the corpse. I didn't get warning from Bonesaw! How is she even directing the dude and why is it I can't read either of them in relation to it?
Also: seriously. Ow. Struggling for air. Struggling to push past the pain. Can't really hear what Bonesaw is saying, ears roaring, but Taylor doesn't like it. Taylor really doesn't like it. Taylor is- she's panicking. Bonesaw's own panic is leveling off, something about what she's doing has the comfort of a familiar routine to her and fuck that I'm edging off her comfort and making her feel bad for whatever the fuck she's doing to Taylor -keep it subtle, Cherie, keep it subtle- you're not going back to your Little Miss Nine routine girl, it won't cleanly make you feel better, I'm ruining that life for you. Hell, let's add a stab of guilt when Taylor has a particularly strong freak-out-
-aaaaand now I'm on my side, still clutching at the stabbing pain in my chest and I don't remember how I got here. Struggling slightly less badly for breath, though.
"-d-darn it I didn't have the monitors on her!" Huh. That's like the most genuine, unadulterated spike of emotion from Bonesaw I've ever felt. She's genuinely upset about... whatever she's complaining about. What just happened? What have I missed? Did Bonesaw do something to knock me out? Why aren't I already dead or captured already, then?
"You are going to fix this, and we are going to be friends." Taylor says it like 'friends' means 'I'm going to torture you and destroy everything you love'. Her actual emotional profile is a bit flat, though. Wait, wasn't she panicking before... whatever the hell happened? What's going on down there? Why is she suddenly unconcerned? Well, maybe not unconcerned per se, but definitely unafraid. Odd. I really need information.
In any event, I decide I would like to express my support for Taylor's course of action!
"Y-you tell'er boss!"
That come out a lot more slurred than it was in my head.
My hands go for my head. Did I hit my head during the bit I don't remember? Ow, yes, there's... a tender spot. I doubt it's a real concussion, but I think I hit my head on the railing. Or maybe this is a side effect of whatever the hell led to me waking up on my side, unable to remember how I got there? 'cause that sure sounds like the kind of situation in which brain badness has happened, and from what I recall those kinds of problems don't tend to go away instantly. Seriously, what happened? I've had some pretty serious issues before, but I can't recall the last time I just blacked out without it involving actual factual drugs, when I've been clean for a few months now, thanks to Taylor.
Oh, and Bonesaw is talking. "You want me to ruin art!" Surprisingly genuine. She actually does care about 'art'. Too bad her definition of 'art' is horrible. "You can't make me do anything! No one ca-"
That is a lie she wants to believe is true. "'cept yer 'Uncle Jack' righ'? 'e can make ya do anythin'."
Bonesaw is... actually having a panic attack again. A real one, pretty closely correlated to the tantrum she's visibly throwing. She knows I'm right, doesn't want to admit I'm right- "Shut up shut up!" -and doesn't have even a crappy deflection or defense. And she resents... not sure if she's resenting me pointing it out or resenting Jack or resenting the universe for this state of existence being true.
I'm still too woozy to follow the details, but Taylor is zippy and her silhouette is weird and hold up I see tentacles even though I'm looking right at her. What happened?
Bonesaw and Taylor are talking, but I only really catch the tail end of Taylor's surprisingly calm threat. "I'm making it happen. Bend, or you will break." As awesomely useful, Taylor means it, totally unyieldingly.
Actually, she sounds like something out of a horror movie. I mean, more so than she usually does. Ah, fuck, I've been too caught up in this shit, Hatchet Face is nearly here- "I'm reaaaaly likin' the horror monster routine ya got goin' on Boss, but Hatchet Face is nearly here."
Why I am slurring like I'm drunk! I don't fucking feel drunk! I don't fucking feel high! The head injury is sensitive, but there isn't even any blood!
Taylor heads off with a little direction from me and kills... the Trickshot dude, I guess... while I work on needling Bonesaw some more emotionally. Subtly, still. And one time, verbally. "Nowher' to 'un. We're nice' 'an Jack 'nyway'." Did I bite my tongue? Is that what happened? I take a moment to feel around in my mouth, but my tongue feels fine and then I realize I don't taste blood. Bonesaw tries to run, and this time she doesn't even try to respond to me. I'm still working on edging her emotions to our ends, and I'm pretty sure it's working, and I'm fine with her being a wee bit afraid of Taylor.
Especially since Taylor shows right up and lays down the fucking law while I do my best to fiddle with Bonesaw's emotions so she's more inclined to play along going forward. Complicated by the fact that I can't hear most of their conversation. Having to rely on emotional cues, and I've already long established that this by itself isn't actually that reliable a tool. I need context and shit to use my power effectively. Still, the emotional back and forth between her and Taylor gives me enough of an idea to suspect my guesswork-tweaks are probably helpful. Like, Taylor is trying to get Bonesaw to... behave or whatever, Bonesaw is still trying to resist, it's irritating, the whole shebang. I do manage to drag myself to a standing-ish position, leaning against the railing, and so see Taylor tear up one of Bonesaw's hands after it unfolds like a demented flower into... spiky things, I don't even know.
"He's here, Boss, and I can't fuckin' dissuade him."
-Hatchet Face is here and while I don't think he's immune to my power he's been shrugging off my attempts to do Pavlovian conditioning for some reason. I'm having trouble forming theories on what's up with him because goddammit I still can't think clearly and I'm distracted by the question of what the hell is going on, why is Taylor able to be half a squid now even while people are looking at her, why am I missing time, what the hell is all this shit?!
Still focusing on Bonesaw. Okay, do I say anything while Taylor is off doing her thing? I kinda feel like this is working, the shaping I'm doing seems like it's getting Bonesaw away from sticking with her current momentum and actually embracing her buried feelings of 'fuck Jack'. Difficult to be entirely certain, especially since I know for a fact that she's partially faking. I have to wonder how much she's modified herself, and how relevant that is. Maybe she's got, I dunno, computer chips sitting inside her brain that are doing thinking my power can't read?
I haven't made up my mind by the time Taylor gets back from utterly fucking up Hatchet Face. No idea what she did, but he's clearly in pain and Very Sad and not moving. Taylor gets back, says something-or-other to Bonesaw, and Bonesaw... "I'm not stupid. I already know I have a Kill Order on me. I ruin Uncle Nilbog's art, and you'll just kill me afterward, if you can." Hmmm. I think she's being genuine here. Feeling like maybe I've miscalculated here. Was Jack enough of an... fuck... an anchor, like Taylor for me was for a bit there, that Bonesaw accepting his death and all equates to suicide? Is that what's going on here? She says something else, but not loud enough for me to catch it, and then shouts, "Just kill me already!"
Before I can scramble for how to fix this, Taylor says what turns out to be the perfect thing. "I had considered the possibility that you were an innocent child twisted by those older and wilier than you, and was inclined to give you a second chance." Which, yeah, we discussed this, so it's not like Bonesaw can catch her out in a lie, 'cause it's not one.
That hits Bonesaw hard. Right in the heart. Taylor is apparently on target, and Bonesaw knows it. But! There's suspicion and hey there's Taylor-style paranoia! Let's round some of that off and throw some words out to boot! "Boss ain' lyin', Bonesaaaaw." WHY ARE YOU SO UNCOOPERATIVE TALKING PART OF MY BRAIN. "Sooo funny. Heh." It takes me a second to realize I actually said that. You know, aloud. With my mouth and vocal chords. I mean it is funny because the idea of Taylor giving one of the worst members of the Nine a second chance is hilarious after stuff like killing Leet accidentally-intentionally, but I clamp my lips shut anyway because oh god what is wrong with me.
And it's a good thing I do, though I can't stop giggling. Taylor's weird new crap just feels weird- it is a good thing I am quiet, I was just thinking to myself, because Bonesaw finally... bends? Snaps? Gives in? There's a cautious hope, more than anything she let herself feel before -and I prop it up that bit more, of course- and she says whatever she says that's clearly an agreement and. God. I dunno. My head is starting to pound and I'm reconsidering the possibility that I do have a concussion and fucking fuck argh.
... it's probably a really terrible idea to suggest Bonesaw try to fix my brain. I'm finding myself considering it anyway. Partially because oh god the pain, partially because I'm Cherie Fucking Vasil and so all my decisions are awesome and/or terrible, and partially because... it would be a show of trust. That did eventually work on Taylor, kinda. Though Bonesaw really isn't as mistrustful as Taylor is, either. She's being cautious, but it's not like Taylor's constant stabs of paranoia and insistent need to stab things to death just in case they're maybe not completely trustworthy. Bonesaw puts me more in mind of some of the experienced criminals and cops I people-watched, the ones who were reasonably confident they could handle things if they went very badly but were still trying to avoid them going badly and/or minimize the fallout if they did go bad. It has me wondering if Bonesaw has an angle. I don't think she's plotting to betray us or something per se and go back to the Nine. If I had to guess, I'd say she probably expects us to turn out like Jack, different name and faces but basically the same dynamic, only she feels more confident in her ability to cut and run from us.
Which would be very silly of her if so, but it's my guess. I wonder if it's my fault? I've been subtly massaging her feelings this whole time, and while I wasn't specifically trying to prop up her confidence I was trying to undermine the stuff that had her convinced Jack was some inescapable truth and shit. It occurs to me that possibly Jack was tearing down her confidence in general as part of keeping her entrapped, in which case undermining his hooks in her might well be incidentally pushing her into a more confident state of mind. She is one of the scariest members of the Nine. She did approach us with a fairly absolute confidence, it's just she hung a certain amount of it on Jack. Not even the other Nine, just Jack.
Taylor leans down and mutters something to Bonesaw before whoa jumping up toward me and doing a tentacle-thingy to grab me and get me on her back. She doesn't say anything, just trusting me to get what she wants, and I'm happy to oblige! I'm half-expecting her to, like, warn me about hand placement or something, but no, she doesn't say anything. I decide not to risk anything anyway since I don't have a handle on what's going on with Taylor. Her power has changed, I'm wondering if anything else has. Like, I already know her power gutted out her guilt, maybe whatever the hell is going on did something else I haven't figured out yet? Like she was panicking before The Missing Time and then she wasn't, and maybe it's just a natural flow of events having to do with circumstances or maybe she won't give me any warnings before stabbing me over being annoying anymore because of some invisible-to-me-change in her thinking meats.
Taylor leans down to grab Bonesaw, too, and I point out that Bonesaw has a fairly distinctive look, but then Bonesaw shrugs and her hair turns fucking brown before my eyes.
I gawp at her for a moment, and then have to resist the urge to slap myself on the forehead. "N' w'nder n'body could find you!"
Bonesaw gives me this weird, shy little smile, and while her feelings don't fully jive with that -it's an act in part- she is genuinely a bit pleased by the implied compliment. I mean, I think she's taking it as an implied compliment. Mostly I'm feeling like an idiot. People already know she can do some kind of ridiculous plastic surgery, that Jack has been retroactively identified as having wandered through cities without his regular face, and regular hair dye is a thing. Hell, for all I know she looked at chameleons and did some Tinker bullshit to translate that into hair!
... I want hair that can naturally give me a red stripe instead of periodically messing with fucking hair dye.
Taylor takes the exchange in silence, and then goes right back to leaning over to pick up Bonesaw, holding her like an overly-large baby. I notice her arms turn tendril-y inside the clothes, though her gloves outright vanish. Leveraging her monstery strength and shit to make it easier to carry Bonesaw? Or just paranoidly trying to avoid letting Bonesaw have ready access to merely human flesh? Wait, since when can she do that what the hell happened? I'm not reading paranoia off Taylor anymore, but I'm not reading anything conventional off her so that doesn't mean anything. The latter is what the Taylor I know would be doing.
I, meanwhile, grin at Bonesaw -she's held so she's facing backward, and I'm not sure if that was accident or intentional on either of their parts, it would make sense to hide Bonesaw's face but I'm really not sure either thought about it- and ask her, "Wha' would you need to give me hair that could do that."
Taylor doesn't comment to tell me I'm an idiot. She doesn't try to give me a sharp look. She doesn't feel anything in response. She just starts moving, heading out the mall, not even bothering to avoid stepping on bodies initially -she pauses briefly when a tendril-y limb shunks right into someone's leg, looks down at herself, and apparently decides she shouldn't be doing that, leg briefly reverting to something human and clothed and shoed before going back to the tendril-y limb but with no blood in the goo around it.
Bonesaw, meanwhile, lifts her head up to look at me, feeling a bit of surprise, then a stab of suspicion I try to edge off, and then answers the question with chemical names that don't mean anything to me.
I wave a hand at her, or try anyway before remembering I'm clinging for my life to Taylor. "N', I dun mean logistics. I mean what do you want in 'xchange."
Taylor still ignores the conversation, though... something... I can't quite put a name to ripples through my power's feedback. Hmmm. Is her being partially squid-y messing with my power's feedback? Would I be able to cleanly identify this if she wasn't partially squid-y right now?
Bonesaw, on the other hand, is even more surprised, and I grin at her and ask, "Wha', n'body on the Nine ever c'mpensated you?"
She sort of blankly tells me, "We're a family. Family helps each other."
That gets a fairly strong response out of Taylor, though if I didn't have some vague idea of how she physically reacts in murdermode I'm not sure I'd attribute any significance to how her legs stab a little bit harder into the ground, punching minor holes into the ground. Power feedback indicates anger and shame and shit, which is consistent with what I know of her so I'm pretty sure being partially a squid isn't foiling my power? Though on the other hand she's fully squid now to pick up speed, so I suppose it's possible half-squid gives me weird pings while full squid and no-squid don't? In any event we're nearly outside the indoor portion of the mall, I'm gonna need to start guiding her in a minute, so I just shake my head at Bonesaw and say, "N't my family."
Which has a double-meaning I'm not going to bother to explain to either of them. The Vasil family was cutthroat and mostly centered around Doing What Daddy Wants. Me and Taylor is another layer I'm talking about -while Taylor is shittastically bad at consciously playing along, we've been slowly developing a bit of give-and-take. Sometimes it feels like I'm doing most of the giving, and hey maybe that's not surprising given the family I grew up in, but Taylor has tried to apologize for shittiness by being nice afterward and I've made it clear to her The Call Of Adventure is waaaaaay better a payment. She's doing better than Daddy, who was more likely to punish me when I did exactly what he told me to do and the world just conspired to make it so it didn't work out exactly the way he wanted.
Point being, I'm not just taking from Bonesaw.
She just sort of stares at me and fails to respond. I think I'd feel bad for her if I was most people. Instead I'm retracting my low opinion of Jack's ability to manipulate her. He's leveraged good ol' family, uh, family-ness, and made it so being a good little girl means letting psycho nutjobs tap you for fuckin' nothing, seems like. Has me wondering if he even bothered to smile at her as a 'reward', or if he got her to the point where she was reinforcing the brainwashing herself.
Though it also occurs to me that if Taylor suspected this was done to Bonesaw... that miiight explain why she was willing to let me go nuts on Bonesaw. Undo brainwashing with brainwashing. It's kinda like her stopping murders with murders.
And then I'm out of time to think and have to keep a running monologue for Taylor's benefit so we can avoid the various capes, minimize how many civilians see us too, and especially avoid the faster capes. I... think someone is watching us, but they don't seem to be doing anything about it. I slip in commentary about how we should try to hurry when we get to the truck, just in case they're intending to track us in short order. Not sure who it is. They're a flying cape, though, they got involved in the whole Mimi/Shatterbird debacle and were flying theeeeeeen-
why are you still telling me Mimi is alive and feeling angry feelings
she hasn't moved for like an hour
Fuck, is this something to do with the weirdness with Taylor? Like, Taylor's power changed, and my power changed, and... I dunno... I feel fucking ghosts now?
And then she moves. Following us. That.
That can't be right. She died. Like Jean-Paul. All my fault all over again because I'm shitty and just keep getting people close to me killed, fuck I even got Taylor killed that one time it just didn't stick. Mimi isn't Taylor, though, she just like throws fire and teleports and shit. Right? She... she couldn't be alive, right? She couldn't... couldn't have been fatally injured and powered through and be fine... right?
She keeps teleporting closer, following our trail, and I abruptly notice Taylor is still stabbing holes into the ground in a manner that would historically have meant She Mad Yo, and my power is telling me still means that so cool I guess? I open my mouth to tell Taylor she's leaving a trail and shouldn't, then close my mouth. Mimi is dead... but if she isn't.. if I'm not imagining her... if she's following our kinda blatant trail... I mean, yeah, it means other people can track us too, but... I want to not fuck up this kinda thing. And we can handle enemies if they chase us.
So I keep quiet.
Amazingly, making it to the truck isn't difficult. Like no I wasn't expecting Crawler to manage to break away from his shindig or anything, but given the thing with Haunt and all I was all keyed up and totally expecting someone to teleport or sneak up or something anyway. Taylor lets me off her back, pauses for a moment while looking at Bonesaw, and eventually shoves her wordlessly into the passenger seat and murmurs something threatening-sounding (Real anger backing it too, power says) Bonesaw takes in stride before hopping into the back of the truck and getting out of her costume under the tarp, apparently trusting me to keep witnesses away.
Which, you know, I'm doing. It's kinda nice how Taylor is just trusting me!
And then Mimi gets close enough I hesitantly turn to face her and she notices something and her anger spikes but I'm already throwing myself at her sobbing and declare, "Ohmygod you're alive I thought I'd gotten you killed! I- I thought I was hallucinating you! Have I mentioned I have a head injury?"
And I think back to Jean-Paul and breathe just a little bit easier.