Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

News: More stylish University uniforms and supplies for our dear students!

Author Topic: Let's Read Twig  (Read 18233 times)

Offline Eluvatar

  • Tech Monkey
  • Citizen
  • *
  • Posts: 3111
  • O_O
    • Taijitu.org
Let's Read Twig
« on: April 04, 2017, 10:43:56 AM »
What's a Let's Read?

A Let's Read is a discussion around one person's reaction, piece by piece, to a work of fiction. A bit like a Let's Play, but with a written work.

What's Twig?

Twig is the current web serial being written by Wildbow, the author of Worm, previously discussed here. Scuttlebutt is that it's better than Pact, which was the work he wrote in between Worm and Twig.


1. Please don't spoil me: please don't mention anything whatsoever regarding any part of Twig I haven't read yet.
2. Please, if you don't want to be spoiled, don't read my reaction to a chapter you haven't read yet, nor people's replies to my reaction.
« Last Edit: April 04, 2017, 10:48:23 AM by Eluvatar »
(click to show/hide)

Offline Eluvatar

  • Tech Monkey
  • Citizen
  • *
  • Posts: 3111
  • O_O
    • Taijitu.org
Re: Let's Read Twig
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2017, 01:46:03 PM »
Taking Root 1.1

How does it go?  The first lesson, something even the uninitiated know.  For life to flourish on the most basic level, it requires four elements.  Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen.
Looks like we're headed in a this-world-is-like-our-world-and-mostly-makes-sense direction. I approve of this direction.

The mention of "uninitiated" seems to imply there is some "initiation" which is important to the context the quote is from, important enough to need no specific identification. It may or may not imply a religious organization. Let's keep reading.

We were doing fine on that count.  The air around us was stale, but it was still oxygen.  Water ran around and below us, flowing over our bare feet, redirected from gutters to the building’s inside.

Presumably the stale air contains oxygen, otherwise I'd expect things to get very... interesting... very quickly.

That water is draining into and not around this building is worth paying attention to.

What had once been a barn had been made into a warehouse, then abandoned partway through a third set of changes.  A floor of old wooden slats reached only halfway down the length of the old building, what had once been a hayloft.  If we stood on the edge, we could look down at the floor below to see uneven floorboards on top of compacted dirt.  The original barn’s door was still there, mounted on rollers.  I leaned over to get a better look.  I could see a table, some scattered papers, books, and a blackboard.  The only light was that which came in through windows.  A scattered set placed on the upper floor, and more well above head height on the lower one.

1. Third set of changes to what? Presumably we're to find out.
2. Presumably these wooden slats are high up, if they were once a hayloft.
3. How can we tell, from above, that the uneven floorboards are on top of compacted dirt?
4. Is the protagonist up on those slats?

Aside from the four of us, one other thing occupied the hayloft.  It was hard to make out in the dim light that filtered in through the window, like an eel in dark water, and if it weren’t for the fact that we’d seen it approach, we might not have noticed it at all.  Sleek, four-legged, and tall enough I couldn’t have reached its shoulder if I stood on my toes, it was wound around the pillar as a snake might be.  Unlike a snake, though, it had four long limbs, each with four long digits, tipped with claws.  Head flowed into neck, which flowed into shoulder and body without a without prominent ridge, bump, bone or muscle to interrupt the sequence.

Okay, freaky snakebeast thingy. The neutral description suggests that this might be normal to the protagonist. Not sure what its height has to do with its being wound around the pillar. (Also, which pillar is the pillar? Is it round like I'd expect for a pillar something thicker than a ribbon is wound around or square like I'd expect in a barn?) The described lack of visible muscles may be important. I'll want to see.

It uncoiled, setting a claw on the floor, and the old floorboards didn’t elicit an audible creak.  Large as it was, it managed to distribute weight too evenly, and used its tail to suspend some of its weight.

If the floorboards are on top of compacted dirt, rather than laid on a wooden frame, why would they squeak in the first place? But okay, this creature is sinously smooth, got it.

It didn’t walk, but slinked, each foot falling in front of the last as it passed within three feet of us.  Its wide mouth parted, showing just a hint of narrow white teeth.

Slinkything is sinuously smooth, understood. Also, protagonist thinks in feet, not meters or, for that matter, yards. Hopefully it's not going to bite the protagonist right away.

There was no cover, nothing to hide us from it.

So the protagonist doesn't know there's nothing to worry about. I'm concerned this is the first hint of their being concerned, however. Maybe our protagonist doesn't react to things much?

I saw its nostrils flare.  It opened its mouth to taste the air with a flick of a thin tongue.

Further snake-like characteristics shown to us: Slinkything smells the air like a snake does, too.

The way things looked, we were very close to doing the opposite of ‘flourishing’.

I'm going to suppose 'flourish' is some kind of a key word here. Anyway, it's to be expected our protagonist isn't in a great place. Let's see how they deal with this.

It was hard to put into words, but my thoughts connected with that thought, and it was funny.

Hmm. Maybe it's not a key word, the protagonists's just weird? Nah I still think the word 'flourish' is going to come up again in a meaningful way.

I grinned, and flakes of wax fell from my face at the movement.  I watched the thing continue onward, toward the back of the hayloft, head turning as it sniffed the surroundings.  It unwound its long tail from the wooden pillar that held up the one end of the overhanging hayloft, and it moved with a slow carefulness.

1. #WhenWaxFallsOffYourFaceAmIRight -- okay, I imagine we're going to know why the protagonist has wax (a mask?) on their face soon.
2. Ah, so the protagonist is in the former hayloft which we're calling a hayloft for brevity now. Was Slinkything up there to start with or did it climb up from the floor below? Ah, when introduced it was described as occupying the hayloft. That explains a few things, including the attention paid to a lack of squeaking boards.
3. Hm, if it's passing by the protagonist, maybe the wax is keeping it from smelling them? But then how is protagonist breathing... are they breathing? Hm.

I stared at its eye, and saw how it didn’t move as the head swept from one side to the next, the slit of the iris barely changing in response as the faint light from the window swept over its head.

Well, motionless eyes aren't a great sign-

“It’s blind,” I whispered.

-for being able to see. Yeah.

The movements of the creature came to a halt.  It froze, nostrils wide.

Hey, blind doesn't mean-

Gordon, just to my left, put out a hand, covering my mouth.  He was tense, lines on his neck standing out.  Trying to put on a brave face, as our leader.  Gordon, strong, handsome, likeable, talented.  A veneer covered his face, as it did all of us, almost clear, cracked and white at the corners of his lips where he’d changed his expression, coming away in flakes at his hairline, where his hair was covered by the same substance.

-deaf. Yeah. Okay.

Protagonist thinks Gordon is trying to put on a brave face. Implicitly he's failing somehow. I wonder if this is meant literally.

Wax veneer in the hair seems to suggest an anti-smell measure more than a mask, to me, for some reason.

Oh also the use of the name "Gordon" suggests this setting has some English heritage.

The creature turned, and as it did its tail moved around until it touched the outside edge of the makeshift gutter that we were all standing in, fine emerald scales rasping against wood.

They're standing in a gutter? I thought they were standing in the 'hayloft'. Hmph.

When Gordon whispered his response, I could barely hear him utter, “It’s not deaf.”


I nodded, and he pulled his hand away.

[me] nods

I had a glimpse of the girls.  Helen and Lillian.  As different as night and day.  Lillian was bent over, hood up and over her head, hiding her face, hands clutching the straps of her bag, white knuckled.  Terrified, and rightly so.  The coating on her face was flaking badly.

In contrast, Helen’s face didn’t betray a flicker of emotion.  Her golden hair, normally well cared for, cultivated into tight rolls, was damp and falling out of place.  Water ran down her face, splashing in through the side of the window where the makeshift gutter came in, and the droplets didn’t provoke one flinch or batted eyelash.  She could have been a statue, and she’d kept her face still enough that the wax that covered it hadn’t broken, which only helped the effect.

1. More english names, and no visible diversity of names just yet.
2. Lillian of unknown hair color is scared, and this is the right condition to be in according to our protagonist. Looks like Slinkything is not to be expected to be Friendly. Snakes get a bad rap :(
3. Helen is blonde. Helen doesn't care about these MFing snakes in this MFing hayloft.

Still and silent, we watched as the creature moved to the far corner of the hayloft.

So far so good... [me] waits for other shoe to slip off and fall.

It snapped, and the four curved fangs were the only ones that were any wider than a pencil, visible for only an instant before the head disappeared into detritus piled in the corner.  A furred form struggled before the creature could raise its head.  No swallowing, per se.  Gravity did the work, as teeth parted and the prey fell down its long throat.

A second bite let it collect another, small and young enough it couldn’t even struggle.  Tiny morsels.

Furry creatures are eaten. This is normal, I'm sure.

“Kitties,” Lillian whispered, horror overtaking fear in her expression.

Gotta prevent the catsplosion and keep the cat population down, Lillian, every Dwarf knows that. More seriously, we now know that Lillian likes kitties. Lillian may or may not be young.

Mama kitty shouldn’t have had her babies in the same building as the monster, I thought.  Wallace’s law at work.

1. It seems italics indicate thoughts, not quotes? Or maybe that depends on context.
2. Protagonist is less empathetic toward kitties than Lillian is.
3. There is a thing called "Wallace's law" and it has to do with furry creatures eaten by slinkything. More evidence that we're not in Kansas.

Gordon nudged me.  He pointed.

The window.

I nodded.

Semi-spoken plan, partial guarantee?

The makeshift gutter was little more than a trough, with little care given for the leaks here and there, and it fed into wooden barrels at the edge of the upper floor, with more channels and troughs leading into sub-chambers and tanks below.  It had been running long enough for debris and grime to accumulate, a combination of silt and scum collecting at the very bottom to make it treacherous.  Our progress was slow, and I had to remind myself that anything faster threatened to make noise, or risked a fall.

1. If the builder of this setup didn't care about leaks, presumably rain is pretty common in this locale. Good to know.
2. Rube Goldberg Aqueduct? Not sure why there are barrels feeding further troughs rather than a sequence of troughs.
3. Gordon looked at the window, and now they're coming down the trough(s) inside? Were they outside the window to begin with? I am a little lost.

As if to follow the thought, Lillian’s foot skidded on the bottom of the trough, and she tipped forward, straight into Helen’s arms.  The creature stopped its slow consumption of the cat’s litter.

Shouldn't have even hinted at a plan to the readers, Gordon. You should respect Murphy more.

We were frozen, waiting, while the creature sniffed the air.

It returned to its meal.

Okay, okay, Murphy may be generous to you Gordon but I'd still worry. Maybe you should go outside, turn around three times, and spit.

We made our way out, everyone but me flipping up their hoods to ward off the rain.  I let the droplets fall where they would, on hair that refused to be bound down beneath a thick layer of waterproofing wax.

Oh, they were leaving the building formerly known as a barn. That makes more sense.

Unrelated but I'm wondering, if the wax is smell-proofing them, how our protagonist and company are breathing without releasing odors. Maybe they aren't breathing...

There was no ledge outside the window, only the real gutter.  Bigger and more solid, if still treacherous with seasons of accumulated grime.  The roof loomed above us, more up than over, as barn roofs were wont to be.  Red leaves collected here and there.

I have no idea what "more up than over" means. Maybe I need to read Twig later in the day...

“I stay,” Helen murmured.

There was no questioning it, no argument.  We couldn’t afford to make the noise, and it made a degree of sense.

Is Helen perhaps less good at doing what they're about to do without making noise?

“I’ll go first,” I volunteered, craning my head a bit to see the way down.  Being the sort of building it was, the barn-turned-warehouse-turned-something-else was tall, with a long way to the bottom.  The gutter pointed groundward at the corner, fixed to the brick exterior at regular points by lengths of metal.  It worked as a ladder, but not one that was fun to use.  The ‘rungs’ were too far apart, too close to the wall.

The building formerly known as a barn is also called the barn-turned-warehouse-turned-something-else. I stand by the building formerly known as a barn.

If water's being redirected to the interior... are there unmentioned blocks in the gutter?

The barn was built of brick? Huh. One wonders if the setting is a timber-poor place, or perhaps clay-rich.

I'm (once again) getting a feeling our protagonist is smaller than a human being. (First got this thought back when it was first mentioned they were all in a gutter trough. A bit puzzling that Lillian would like kitties then, though, as I'd imagine they'd be a serious danger...)

Someone grabbed my arm.  I thought it would be Gordon or Helen, as they had the personalities to be arm-grabbers.  It wasn’t.

“You go second,” Lillian whispered to me.  “I know you well enough to know that If you go before me you’ll look up my skirt.”

Hm, either Lillian has gotten over being scared, at least a bit, or she really doesn't like protagonist looking up her skirt.

“Me?” I tried to sound innocent.

Gordon jabbed me.  His expression was no-nonsense, his green eyes a steely grey beneath his hood, absorbing the colors of the clouds above.  His mouth was a grim line.

“Okay,” I conceded.

We know know Gordon is wearing a hood. Maybe the others are too. Who knows?

Also, strong silent type is forceful and does not speak.

“I’ll take your bag,” Gordon whispered.  Again, there was no argument.  Lillian handed over the backpack, loaded down with tools and supplies.

Bah, Gordon speaks after all.

She accepted Gordon’s support in getting down to the downspout, and began her slow descent.

So much for the building formerly known as a barn. Eh, we might not be done with it yet.

I fidgeted.  My eye traveled over our surroundings, buildings scattered like they’d been blown around by strong winds and planted where they lay.  Older structures had a charm to them, simplicity and a character that came with age and gentle wear and tear.  The oldest and the newest buildings had been shored up by strategic plant growth, branches weaving into and through damaged sections, growing to complement masonry, around bricks and supports.  The very newest growths had a characteristic red tint to the leaves.  The rest were dead, left to petrify.

Red leaves is somehow meaningful. Is that the color of blood, or is it autumn? Or some other reason?

Ironic, that things so overgrown and reeking of decay were the parts of the city charged with progress.

We're in a city. Huh.

You’d think the rain would wash away the smell.

Smell of decay?

I checked.  Lillian had moved down one rung.  I shifted my weight from one foot to the next, annoyed.

She wasn’t one of us.  She was new.  Allowances had to be made.

Ah, perhaps this is why Lillian was less composed than Helen confronting Slinkything the kitteneater.

It wasn’t the first time I had told myself any of those things.  I’d heard it from Gordon.  It didn’t make it any less annoying.

Dear protagonist, reminding yourself that something is annoying is unlikely to help you get over the annoyance. Sincerely, this reader. PS: My hopes that you will be a nice guy are gradually dwindling. Maybe you'll surprise me yet.

I bent down, peering over the edge of the gutter to the road below.  I could see the windows, the boxes further down.

These boxes, are they inside or outside the building formerly known as a barn?

“Sy,” Gordon hissed the words, “What are you doing?”

Huzzah! The protagonist is known as "Sy," which may be a nickname. Also, I don't think Gordon trusts Sy all that much.

Gripping the ledge, I swung myself over.

Here I realized I'd skipped two paragraphs earlier...

The Academy loomed above it all, those same elements taken to an extreme.  It had been an old collection of buildings once.  A rush to grow and meet surging demand had led to a lot of the same haphazard growth.

It all had an odor.  There were smells that became second nature, and there were smells that were ingrained in the psyche as bad smells.  Ones that spoke of death, of long sickness, and of violence.  Rendered fat, decay, and blood.  Each were heavy on the air.

1. We are near a place which was known as The Academy, which was built up quickly.
2. Bad smell. Clearly the Academy did some of that not-flourishing too.

Anyway, I thought there was no ledge. Scrolling up, I see that we're explicitly told there's no ledge outside the window. I'm a little confused.

I let go, and enjoyed both the moment of utter terror and Lillian’s gasp of horror, before my fingers caught hold of the window frame below.

Action Protagonist enjoys the lamentation of women. I'm sure this is fine.

My right foot slipped on the damp windowsill, scraping peeling paint off and away before I brought it back up to the sill.  Water and paint flakes sprayed below.

Hm. It seems Sy caught the top of the window frame, and is now standing on the windowsill. Either the window's pretty tall or Sy's pretty short. However, I think we can rule out Sy being kitten-sized now. Good to know.

When I looked up, Gordon’s head was poking over the edge, looking down at me.

He moved his head, and I could hear him speak, very patiently, to Lillian, “Keep going.  Don’t mind him.”

Okay, so Gordon is not going to be freaked out by this.. Cool.

Peering in the window, I could see the interior, the lower floor.  The desk, the notes on the experiment.  Another table was heavy with lines of bottles, vials, jugs, and yet more papers, scattered.  Rain poured down on me, tracing its way down the back of my neck, beneath my shirt.  The waxed and waterproof cowl and short cloak had kept my shirt dry, and I shivered at the sensation.

Why is the waterproof cowl and short cloak no longer protecting Sy's back from the rain?

I tested the window, and was utterly surprised to find it latched.  I drew a key from my pocket, trying to fit it into the gap, hoping to lift the latch, but it proved too thick.

Why is the latching of the window of this freaky laboratory formerly known as a barn surprising? Maybe Sy expects more recklessness of mad scientists of days past? I wonder what that says of Sy's attitudes toward risk...

The key went back in place.  I removed my hands from the windowsill one at a time, to dry them in my armpits and then reposition my grip.

Gripping the windowsill, I strained my body, reaching down and to the right.  The doorframe that bounded the large sliding door was just out of reach…

What... Does Sy want to set Slinkything the kitteneater free? Why? Or maybe he wants to explore another part of the building formerly known as a barn. That probably makes more sense.

Were it any other door, I wouldn’t have fussed, but I was still just high enough off the ground to have cause to worry.  This had been a barn, and this door was the type that let wagons or draft horses inside.

Points to climbing interpretation over opening interpretation, for sure.

I paused on top of the door, cleaning my hands of wet and grit.

“Watching you do that is making me nervous,” Lillian said, looking down at me.  She’d progressed two more ‘rungs’.  She was the shortest of us, next to me, it didn’t make it easier for her.

Sy is short. Also, Lillian probably doesn't want Sy to die.

I flashed her a grin, and more of the waterproofing wax that I’d caked onto my face cracked.

I'm sure nothing will possibly go wrong from this wax cracking. Nothing at all.

I worked my way down to a crouch, still on top of the door, then slid down, draping my front against the door itself.  I let myself drop the rest of the way, landing bare-footed in mud.

Let's hope the squish isn't too loud.

I couldn’t get the smile off my face as I passed beneath the drain pipe, making a point of looking up at Lillian, who was making a point of her own in turn, glaring down at me, very clearly annoyed.

The geometry is confusing me here. Is Sy looking up through the window? Is Lillian inside the building formerly known as a barn? Did Sy climb up from the drain pipe before finding the window? I suppose it's not of the greatest importance.

“You had an audience,” a soft voice stated.


I turned.

Amid empty crates and a door that had been taken off its hinges, jumbled together as trash and detritus, I could make out the fifth member of our contingent.  Jamie had a book in his lap, our collected boots and shoes neatly organized around him, and he had company.  A black-skinned boy with a hood and cloak far too large for him, tattered enough that it had probably been a hand-me-down for the last person to own it.  His eyes were wide.

Door taken off hinges? This isn't the barn door, so... there are or were interior partitions in the building formerly known as a barn? How did Jamie and... Oh.

Sy descended outside. So presumably he opened the window from inside... with a key. Puzzling.

“I thought you were keeping lookout,” I said.

“I was.”

“The whole point of being lookout is that you tell us if there’s trouble.”

“Is he trouble?”  Jamie asked.

“I’m no trouble,” the boy’s words flowed right off the back of Jamie’s, without a heartbeat of hesitation.  “The trouble is inside.”

Yeah I think we know the inside is not a great place to be at this point.

“The snake thing,” I said.

“You saw it?” he asked.  His eyes went wider.  “Then you should know if you’re going to steal something, you shouldn’t steal from there.”

Hm. The boy refers to stealing. Presumably that means the building and/or its contents have an owner and are not abandoned. There goes my conclusion from earlier...

“We’re not stealing,” I said.  “We’re just looking.”


The boy didn’t respond.  He watched Lillian’s glacially slow descent.

People aren't yelling at the boy for looking up at Lillian. >_>

I met Jamie’s eyes.  If it weren’t for Helen, who was a special case, I might have called Jamie the quiet one.  He wore eyeglasses, though there were all sorts of ways to fix or replace bad eyes, and his hair was long beneath his hood.  Not out of any style or affectation.  He simply never liked how it looked when it was short.  His face was narrow, his eyes large as he shifted his gaze to look from me to Lillian.  His hands held firm to a book that sat across his knees.

Hm, obviously this setting has a lot of biotech going on, if fixing or replacing eyes is a commonly available option (and given the other stuff we've seen so far). Well, maybe not commonly, but available. Also, Jamie is a reader. I want to like Jamie.

“Helen?” he asked.

“Stayed upstairs.”

A nod.


I wanted him to figure out how to deal with our bystander, given how he’d failed to warn us about the boy in the first place, but Jamie was silent.

Please don't be that much of an asshole please don't be that much of an asshole...

“What’s your name?” I asked.


“I know his,” I said, striving to not sound as annoyed at the question as I felt.  I pointed at Jamie to make myself as clear as possible.

“Thomas.  My friends call me Thom.”

Sy's patience is not infinite.

“Did you hear about the crying man of Butcher’s Row?”

“Sly,” Jamie said, suddenly paying attention to the issue.  The name was a warning.

Uh... is our protagonist's name Sy, Sly, both?

But Thom gave an answer, “That stitched that went crazy.  Remembered things.”

“That’s the one.  Do you remember Mother Hen?”

Thom nodded.  “That nurse who- the babies.”

He looked rather uneasy now.

This is apparently some unsettling urban folklore.

“That’s right,” I said, doing my best to sound calm, reassuring.  “The nurse.  Yes.  Both got caught, right?  Everything got tied up neatly?”

“Yeah,” Thom said.  He couldn’t meet my eyes, so he focused on Lillian instead.  “The authorities from the Academy got them.”

Protagonist scares children and doesn't afraid of anything. Well, at least we know he scares children.

“Exactly, Thom,” I said, “But who told the authorities?”

His eyes moved.  To me, then Jamie, to Lillian, and then the barn-turned-warehouse.

I was nodding before the word came out of his mouth.  “You.”

“You’re clever,” I praised him.

I have to wonder if this is true or a lie. Jamie's attention seems to indicate it's more likely to be true, to me.

Also, it seems the Academy is a going concern as well. I guess a smell of decay does not necessarily mean there is no life.


I made the universal gesture for money, rubbing thumb against two fingers.


I nodded.

Money makes the world go round. At least, the people in it.

The gears were shifting in his head.  Processing, calculating.

“I’ve heard things,” he said.

“I bet.”

“Useful things.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said.

“I can get money for it?  For telling people?”

“If you know who to tell, and how to sell it,” I said.

His expression changed, a frown.  Disappointment.

Tick, tick, turn turn.  The gears in his head were still moving.

Um. Okay.

He wasn’t dumb, even if he wasn’t much of an actor.  Then again, he was only ten or so.

If you say so, Sy, Sly, or whatever your name is.

I could guess what he was going to ask, and I knew I might lose him if I turned him down too many times.

My mind ticked over possibilities.  What I needed, what I had to do.

We want information. Are we willing to part with money for it?

Before he could venture a question, I interrupted him.  “You want in?”

“In?” he asked.  Now he was wary.

I reached beneath my cloak, and I fished out a coinpurse.  Two fingers reached in, and came out fully extended, two dollars in coins pressed between the tips.

The wariness subsided.

Wondering if this kid's a street urchin.

“I’ll give you this on good faith.  Eight whole dollars if you follow through.  I need you to do something for me.”

He reached for and claimed the money without any hesitation.

Hm. Kid certainly wants some money.

“You said you had friends?” I asked.


“On top of the grocer’s place. Corner of Oxbow and Halls.  Wait there.  Take turns keeping an eye out.  You’re looking for a black coach, led by two stitched horses, heading toward the Academy.  You’ll know they’re stitched because they’re wearing raincoats.  Won’t be more than two hours’ wait.”

“Uh huh?”

“There’s a rain barrel up there.  They’re going to have to stop to wait for the way to clear before they can carry on their way.  What you’re going to do is tip over the barrel.  Send water off the edge of the roof, onto the horses if you can.  Might want to prop some things up around the barrel, to make sure it happens.”

...what? I'm sure this strange plan will have an explanation soon. Seems a very roundabout way to gather evidence to me, though. :P

He frowned a bit.

“Ten dollars, all in all, for you and your friends, for one afternoon’s work.  Pretty good deal.  Don’t think you can do it?”

“I can do it,” Thom said.

“You sure?” I asked.

“I can do it,” he said, voice firm.

I studied him, head to toe, taking it all in.

Reaching beneath my cloak, I collected a note from a pocket.  I pressed it into his hands.

He looked down at the money, stunned.

“If you don’t follow through, you won’t get a deal like this again,” I said.  “Think hard before you try cheating me.  A big part of what we do is find people.”

Carrot and stick, right.
(click to show/hide)

Offline Eluvatar

  • Tech Monkey
  • Citizen
  • *
  • Posts: 3111
  • O_O
    • Taijitu.org
Re: Let's Read Twig
« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2017, 01:46:27 PM »
Mute, he nodded.

“Go,” I said.

He went, running, feet splashing in puddles of water.

Lillian was about halfway down.

“You lied to him,” Jamie said.

There's a big surprise.

“Would you rather I told the truth?” I asked.

“If you’re going to get him involved.”

I shook my head.

Hm. Jamie likes truth and/or ethics to some extent. Moreso than our protagonist, by implication.

“Which leads me to ask… what are you up to?” Jamie asked.  “You weren’t just getting rid of him or making trouble.”

Jamie agrees with me that the plan has some unclear purpose. Okay.

“I’m going inside,” I said, starting for the door.  “Tell the others if they’re wondering.”

“That’s not what I’m asking,” Jamie said.

Indeed not. (Inside where, though? The building formerly known as a barn??)

But he didn’t move from his spot, and I was already gone.

I passed under Lillian a second time, peeking up her skirt a second time, more to needle her than out of any lingering curiosity.  The big door was, as it turned out, locked, and I wasn’t able to bypass the big padlock any more than I could bypass the latch of the window above.  But the door rolled on wheels, and the wheels fit in ruts, a long, shallow channel.

Oh, he tried to get through the window and failed. Okay. Makes more sense now.

I headed to the end of the door opposite the lock, and I pushed the full weight of my body against it.  The lock rattled, heavy.

I tried a bit more pressure, pushing, and the door tilted, the bottom corner closest to me rising out of the channel.  Gripping the door, I lifted it up and away, wood scraping concrete as I created a triangular gap.

Not the most secure of arrangements, for sure.

I slipped inside, my eyes immediately going to the hayloft, the upper floor.

Helen was there, sitting with one foot propped up, both hands in her lap to keep her skirt pressed down.  Her face was still expressionless.  Half of her attention was on me.  Half was on the creature.  There was a rain barrel beside her, rigged so it hung over the edge of the hayloft, collecting the water that ran in through the makeshift gutter, feeding a steady stream down into containers below.  Runoff from those containers fed into the corner of the building.  A drain from when the building had been a warehouse, keeping the goods dry.

1. Helen's wearing a skirt, despite climbing around stuff. Odd. Perhaps a cultural thing.
2. Water is important here, and being distributed to multiple things.

I studied the papers on the desk.  Water from one of the windows above spat down.  Barely large enough to qualify as drops, but they dotted one paper, making ink bleed.  Sketches of the beast.  Notations on structure and anatomy.

The paper can't have been here for very long if this is happening but it is still legible.

One of the texts on a table beside the desk was hand-made.  Pages had holes in them, and a cord was laced through, tying them to the heavy leather cover.  With care, I paged through the thing.

I'm sure this won't be a problem.

One being, knit together from several.  The better traits of each, all drawn together.  References to Wollstone’s texts, to the ratios of life, and to the volumes of genetic code for Felidae and Eunectes Murinus.

Eunectes Murinus is the linnaean name for the green anaconda. Figures.

Wollstone is presumably a notable historical biotech figure here.

A whole chapter on digestive enzymes.  Diagrams of the thing’s fangs, which I had glimpsed as it devoured the mother cat, with labels for the reservoirs of venom that wasn’t true venom.  It was enzymes, much like the ones bugs used to dissolve their meals before supping them.  Notes suggested that the feature helped with the digestion of any and all food.


Little doubt of what this thing had been engineered for.

Preventing catsplosions?

My finger traced the labels of glass containers, bottles and vials.  Blood, bile, cerebral fluid…

Venom.  I’d expected it to be green, but it was clear, in a glass container with a murky exterior, about as tall and wide as a wine bottle, though more cylindrical.

Is this the venom which the snake had, before it was turned into Slinkything the kitteneater?

There was a noise at the door, and I took a long step to the side, toward the shadows beside one of the big wooden containers for water.

Only Lillian, followed by Gordon, passing through the gap.  Gordon was the largest of us, and it was a particularly tight fit for him.

I continued paging through the text.

Is our protagonist reading in the dark? Tsk tsk.


My eye traveled down the list.  Meal times, meal sources, meal sizes.

Pig carcass.
Dog carcass.
Pig carcass.
Scavenged meal, unknown type.
Pig carcass.
Pig carcass.
Scavenged meal, dog.

Has Slinkything the kitteneater been scavenging food from outside?

It wasn’t fully grown, but it was close, and it grew fast.  Two meals a week.

I recalled that it had eaten the cat, and then looked back at the entries.

Forty pounds, sixty pounds, forty pounds, est. one hundred pounds…  I noted the numbers, and tried to find the pattern between those numbers and the meals.

Huh? Pattern? Do constructs commonly eat in specific patterns?

I moved ahead a few pages until I reached the first partial page.  Room left for more entries.

Last meal, just over two days ago, goat carcass.  It was hungry already.  Quite possibly getting ready for one last growth spurt.  The more recent meals were larger.


Gordon was crouched, peering at labels on bottles.  He saw me looking, and tapped his nose, then pointed at the bottles

I nodded.

I tapped the book, getting his attention, and stepped away while he read the entries.

Sharing information is good...

He didn’t have much of a chance to read.

There was a sound outside, violent, of things falling over.  Chaos.

All part of the mysterious plan, right?

I could picture Jamie’s hiding spot, the way the door had been propped up.  This was a warning.

Oh, different plan. Okay.

“Hide,” Gordon whispered.

You don’t have to tell me, I thought, but I held my tongue.

Yes, further communication is not the solution to a problem (if it is one) of excess communication. Not in the short term, at least.

Very carefully, I closed the book.  I shifted the angle to return it to the position it had been in.  My eye swept over the room.

Water on the floor.  Did it matter?

No.  There was no time, besides.

Hopefully this isn't Chekhov's puddle, here.

I slipped into the shadowy crevice between the water tank and the wall.  Gordon and Lillian were already gone.  Helen, who had been above, watching everything, was now gone.  No doubt hiding behind the water barrel, a step away from where she had been.


Four seconds passed before I heard the lock rattle.

The door’s wheel slammed back down into the rut as it was pulled to one side, but there was no sign of concern or suspicion.

He closed the door behind him, and the sound of something being dragged joined the sound of hard shoe soles on the wooden floor, marking his progress across his makeshift laboratory.

It appears our new arrival to the scene is a He. As informed attributes go, gender is forgivable I suppose.

“Damned beast,” he muttered.  “Where are you?”

He made seemingly deliberate noise as he cleared a table, then dropped his burden on top of it.

I note that this fellow does not appear to be afraid of his own creation.

I heard a grunt, his, and the smell of blood filled the air.

The amount of light in the room shifted.  I judged it to be the beast’s bulk blocking the light from the windows above.

“There you are,” he said.

Did the new guy cut open a carcass to attract Slinkything's attention?

With swift strides, he crossed to the water tank I crouched beside.  He wasted no time in dipping his hands inside, splashing water as he swished his hands inside.  Some of the water that slopped around the top of the tank splashed down on top of me.

I was close enough to touch him.

It appears the man is not concerned about contaminating this water tank.

There was a scuffle and a thud as the cat-snake creature touched ground, eager to get to its meal.  Its creator was already at the desk, picking select vials, dabbing a bit on his wrist, then rubbing his wrists together.

I thought of Gordon’s gesture.  Touching his nose.



It was how he controlled the beast he had made.

Makes sense. Not necessarily super reliable, I would fear.

I could see him as he tidied papers, only periodically glancing over his shoulder.  He hummed.  But for some stubble on his chin, he looked like a gentleman, with a four-button vest under a butcher’s apron and an ankle-length raincoat.  His hair was sandy, parted to one side.

Finally! Some information on our mad scientist friend.

I could see the creature raise its head.  The meal was in its mouth, and it was angling its head to let it all slide down its gullet.

Its creator used a pair of tongs to collect a bloody sack.  I took it to be the sack the creature’s meal had been in.  Another pig, perhaps.

He may not be afraid, but he does appear to be cautious.

He disappeared from view.

A rustle.

Then the tongs clanged to the floor.  The beast changed the angle of its head.

“A child?” the man’s voice was touched with incredulity.

Uh-oh. Not sure if I should be more concerned about Slinkything or its creator, here.

There was a commotion, a scrape of steel on concrete as a foot dragged on the tongs.

I remained where I was.

Are the tongs dragging someone by their feet?

The struggle continued, intermittent, as he backed up, the desk of papers to one side, the table of bottles to the other.  He had a carving knife to Gordon’s throat.  Presumably the same one he’d used to cut open the creature’s meal and get its attention.

Seems my interpretation of the grunt and smell of blood was correct. No consolation for Gordon, of course.

“Two of you.  Are there more?”

So he sees Gordon and another of them.

Gordon was silent.

“I’m asking you!” the man was angry, outraged.  “Are there more?  Girl!  How many?  Tell me or I cut him!”

“A few,” Lillian said.  “Four.”

Ah. Probably spotted Lillian first, what with her having less experience.

This man does not appear to be a nice guy.

“The noise outside.  That was one?”

“Five, if you count him,” she said, her voice small.

Oh, Lillian.

“Do not play games with me!” the man roared.  “Show yourselves!  Each of you!”

I exhaled slowly.

I stepped out of the gap by the water tank.

It appears our protagonist does not want Gordon to die.

Helen was above, at the hayloft.  Standing by the edge.  Lillian was closer to the door.  She and Gordon had been hiding in or near a garbage bin.

The beast was relaxed, having just eaten its fill.

Children?” the man sounded incredulous.

I don't imagine Doc Shelley here has read Ender's Game. :P

He wasn’t wrong.  At thirteen, Lillian was the oldest of us.  Gordon was only twelve as of last month.

The oldest but with the least experience, eh?

“Yeah,” Gordon said, his voice strained.  The man had his throat caught in the crook of one arm, exposing his lower throat.

“An infestation,” the man said.  “My experiment didn’t root you out?”

Not nice, indeed.

His eye traveled over each of us in turn.  I saw the faintest crease appear between his eyebrows.

He seemed to come to a realization.  “You’ve covered yourself in something.  So it can’t smell you.  This was premeditated.”

Indeed. This guy doesn't seem to be the most observant.

I met Lillian’s eyes.  I jerked my chin.  Pointed at her with my hand.

The easy, natural interactions and cooperation that followed from years of working together weren’t there with Lil.  She was new.  A recent addition to the group.

I almost thought she got the wrong idea, until she opened her mouth.

“Yes,” she said.  “We… heard about you.”

Interesting. How the heck did he communicate that much in a chin jerk?

“Heard what?”

“That there was something loose in the slums.  It was eating pets.  It ate a man that was sleeping outside.”

There seem to be some problems with this story, but let us continue.

“No,” the man said.

“Yes,” Lillian said.  “There are witnesses.”

“The witnesses are wrong,” the man said.

Interesting. The man was fine with threatening a child with a knife, but is not fine with the idea that Slinkything ate somebody.

“You let it go out to find its own food,” Gordon said, his voice still strangled.  “You couldn’t afford to keep it fed as it grew this large.  You let it feed on strays.  Which it did.  Except one of those strays was human.  It’s in the book.  Meal, unknown type.”

I suspect Gordon has some skills in the field known as "acting". That or they're telling the truth... But then how and why was what Sy/Sly told the street kid a lie?

I edged around behind the man.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.  I’ve studied its leavings,” the man said, ignoring the label.  “Nothing human.”

Ignoring what label?

“Nothing conclusively human, you mean,” Gordon said.  “But you aren’t able to identify all of what it ate.”

Concerning, that would be.

“You!”  The man raised his voice.  He sounded more emotional than before.  “Up there!  Girl!  Stay put.”

Helen froze where she was.

Their story appears to have some effect. What was Helen doing that he stopped her doing, I wonder.

“You’re a killer,” Gordon said, more insistent.  “We were calling you the snake charmer.”

I don't think I'd like to be called that. Either killer or snake charmer, actually.

I edged closer to the table.

Go Go Action Protagonist. Save the day. Preferably without Murphy's help.

I didn’t make a sound, but the snake charmer sensed trouble before it arrived.  He wheeled on me, the knife dangerously close to Gordon’s throat.

That protagonist's narrative is referring to the man as the snake charmer leads me to believe they may be using the truth as a distraction rather than inventing a story.

I lunged in the same movement, seizing the big bottle.  The venom.  I held it high.

“You don’t care what happens to him?” the snake charmer asked.

“I care,” I said.  “That’s why, if you cut him, and if it looks like he isn’t going to be okay, I’m going to throw this at the both of you.”

Looks like we have ourselves a standoff.

The snake charmer’s eyes darted around.  He couldn’t watch all of us at once.

“Move!” he said.  “Go around.  I want you as a group.”

I didn’t budge.


No,” I said.

I have to wonder why our protagonists weren't armed in the first place.

“It’s over, snake charmer,” Gordon said.

“That is not my name!”

“It’s a name they’ll give you,” Gordon said.  “They’ll make you a monster.  It’s what the Academy does.  Dehumanizes the dangerous ones.  You can’t get all of us, not with the way things are, here.  Some are bound to escape.  They’ll tell people, and those people will find you.  You know the resources the Academy has.”

Okay, things are getting ambiguous again, good.

“No,” the snake charmer said.

“You don’t know?” Gordon asked.

“This is not my fault,” the snake charmer said.  “The Academy… this rests on their shoulders, not mine.  You can’t enroll without showing your skill, and you can’t show your skill without experimenting, but oh, no, they don’t allow that, do they?”

Concerning. The Academy seems... overweeningly powerful.

“There are ways,” Lillian said.

“No!” the man barked, “No!  Not nearly enough.  The world is changing, and they’re deciding the course.  They’re putting us in this situation, where risks have to be taken.  Gambles have to be made, or history will continue to be made, names attached to great discoveries, and the rest of us?  If we’re lucky, we get left by the wayside.  If we’re not, we’re just fuel for what they’re setting in motion.”

He does not appear to have a great respect for their ethics, I must say.

“I’m a student there,” Lillian said.  “I just started, but… I’m enrolled.  First year of study.  Not them.  Just me.”

I could see the man’s expression twist.  Incomprehension.  Comprehension, which was almost worse.  Hatred for a thirteen year old girl.

Teenagers, prudence, you know the rest.

Then rage, not a clean, pure kind, but one that only drove him further into a corner.

Flavors of rage, our newest product. FDA tested.

His hand tightened on the grip of the knife.

I figured out the destination he was arriving at before he did.

I arrived at my own, and I mustered up some courage.

Very deliberately, I grunted, heaving the bottle of acid at the snake charmer.

Action Protagonist uses Violence -

He heard the grunt, but so did Gordon.  With the snake charmer’s attention caught between Lillian and me, Gordon found a chance to protect his throat, keeping the knife from cutting.

The bottle flew lazily through the air.  Gordon ducked, head down, and the snake charmer released him.

The man caught the bottle in a bear hug.

He stared down at the container.

It's pretty effective?

All the same emotions he’d felt for Lillian, now aimed at me, progressing much faster this time.  Incomprehension, comprehension, hatred, rage.

Directed at me.

Well, our protagonist's gone and made himself a target.

I backed away, stumbling, falling.  I covered my face as he swung, using the waterproof cloth to try and shield my body.

He didn’t throw at me, but at the floor.  The chance of me catching it was small, but by throwing it at the floor, he could guarantee that the bottle would shatter into a spray I couldn’t possibly shield all of myself from.

The pain was sharp, at first, droplets touching skin, immediately breaking it down.  Then it burned.

The horrible coldness was worse, because it suggested dying nerves.  All down my arms, and one side of my face.

I screamed.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda brought a gun. (Yes I realize I don't know if this setting even has firearms).

The creature turned its head, but didn’t move.

The man turned, wheeling on the others.  Gordon was ready, already closing in, taking advantage of the short moment it took the snake charmer to adjust his grip on the knife, so soon after heaving the bottle.

A tackle, shoulder into the man’s gut, taking advantage of smaller size and a good physique.  Gordon drove the man back.

Gordon was the hero, golden haired, noble, likeable.  Talented.

I sense envy for Gordon. Again. Now I'm more sure of it, though.

When he broke away, letting the snake charmer stumble back two steps, recovering balance, Gordon had the knife in hand.

Grapple successful. Kudos to Gordon. The grapple rules are hard.

The beast rose to its feet.  Sniffing.

I managed to stop screaming, going as still as possible.

It still edged closer to me.  Interested.

Still hungry,  I noted.

No good deed (by the protagonist) goes unpunished :)

Helen acted.  Tipping over the barrel.

Drenching the snake charmer, washing away his charm, the pheromones.

Yay Helen.

“Brats!” the snake charmer spat the word.  “You little shits!  You think you have control of this situation?”

Yeah... this does seem a bit chaotic.

“Your experiment is trying to decide between you and Sylvester over there,” Gordon said.  “You smell, he’s bleeding.  Both are tempting.”

The snake charmer made an incoherent noise.

“Thing is, if you start bleeding…” Gordon said, trailing off.  “You’ll suddenly be a lot more tempting.”

Lovely. Lifeboat ethics, here we go.

“Try it,” the snake charmer said.

Gordon did.  He approached, and the snake charmer tried to grab him.

The man’s hands only grabbed clothes.  A hood and cloak meant to keep the rain off.  Gordon let him, and ducked low, the clothing bunching up around his neck and upper chest.

Gordon sliced the snake charmer’s stomach.  A shallow cut.

Gordon uses Violence.

Another grab, wrestling Gordon, trying to overpower with strength, seizing one arm.

Gordon let the knife drop out of one hand, falling into the palm of another.

Seems very dangerous to let this adult hold Gordon's arm, but perhaps he won't have enough time to do mischief.

He cut the back of the man’s left knee.  When the man fell, screaming, Gordon cut the other knee.  He skipped back as the snake charmer fell.

The snake stirred, its attention no longer predominantly on me.

This seems a touch too predictable. But perhaps 'stitched' creatures tend to be predictable.

I could see the snake charmer realizing the same thing I had minutes ago.  He knew his experiment.  He knew how it hunted.  It scavenged, sniffing out prey.  Blind, it reacted to noise and smell.  Minimizing the noise one made was vital.

Given the situation, however, staying silent spelled the man’s doom.  Already, his creation was sniffing him out.  He smelled of blood.

Quite predictable. I wonder how the man who does not wish to be called snake charmer will react.

“Pheromones,” he said, knowing how dangerous it was to speak, that every sound helped him lose the tug of war that let the creature decide between devouring him and devouring me.  “Let me- I’ll come with you.  You can take me in.  You win.”

I... somehow don't expect them to be merciful.

Nobody moved or responded.

Indeed not.

He used his arms to pull himself forward, progressing toward the table.  Each motion drew more attention from his beast.

Foot by foot, he closed on the table, and each sound was akin to a fisherman’s line, reeling in the beast.

He reached the table, struggling, and he raised himself up, using one hand to drag a leg forward, propping it under him.  Reaching across the table-

Gordon kicked the leg of the table, hard.  The table shifted a foot, and the snake charmer collapsed.

“No.  Please.”

Gordon appears to be merciless, here.

The snake charmer looked at us.  At Gordon, then Helen, who loomed above, perched on the hayloft.  At me, as I glared at him, my face burned.  At Lillian, who was sitting in the corner, hands over her head.

Who was not one of us.

Concerning, that.

“Please,” he said.  “Not like this.”

Helen’s expression didn’t change.  Gordon shifted his position, placing himself between the snake charmer and the table, arms folded.  I remained where I was, limp and breathing hard.

I could see it dawn on the man.  Comprehension settling in as he realized what he was dealing with.

Sociopaths? (I kid. But honestly, I'm not sure what we're supposed to think he's realizing, exactly. His imminent death? I think he realized that a while ago...)

The snake seized the man’s feet, and began the very slow process of swallowing him.

This part I don't quite get: why can't he resist Slinkything? It's not like he doesn't have some physical advantages over it... Unless I'm greatly misconstruing things, anyway. Sure it's big (not that I have any idea exactly how big), but it can't actually see him, nor is it necessarily prepared to deal with his punching it, or grabbing its neck, etc.

The snake charmer’s screams became frantic.


“Lillian,” Gordon said, raising his voice to be heard over the screams.

“I don’t want to see.”

“Then shield your eyes.  But your job is to keep us in one piece.  Sly is hurt.  Focus, and make sure he doesn’t die.”

I felt the burning stop as Lillian tended to me.  By the time she was done, the screams had stopped.  The powder that dusted me made it hard to see, but that was fine.  I was lifted to my feet.

Presumably Sylvester didn't see or hear Lillian come over to him. Makes sense, as he's rather injured.

“I have to say, I’m very interested in what the fuck you were doing, faking that fall, setting yourself up to get hurt just now,” Gordon said.  “You’ll have to tell me later, when you can talk again.”

I managed a nod.

Faking what fall? Perhaps not literal- using an inferior tactic against snake charmer?

“Off we go,” he said.

I could hear the door open.

Helen spoke for the first time in a while.  Her voice was cute.  “The Academy sends its regards, Mr. Snake Charmer.”

This whole thing seems a bit ad-hoc for such an overweeningly powerful entity. Oh well.

Given that it took me about three hours to do this chapter's Let's Read altogether, I may not address future chapters with such detail.

So far, I'm curious about where this is going, and about what kind of person Sylvester and his friends (colleagues?) are.

I don't know if I have time to look at the comments later.
(click to show/hide)

Offline Khem

  • Pha bless you.
  • Citizen
  • *
  • Posts: 6171
  • OG-Citizen
    • Khem
Re: Let's Read Twig
« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2017, 05:20:10 PM »
Such a good series. I don't want to spoil anything so I'll just say I love it immensely.

Peoples Confederation of Holy Isles of al'Khem
:tai: Persona :tai: Worldbuilding Guide :tai: Nation of al'Khem :tai:

Offline Wast

  • Citizen
  • *
  • Posts: 930
  • Will post an RP once I finish that novel
    • www.wast.biz
Re: Let's Read Twig
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2017, 09:44:01 PM »
Oh no is this another thing I have to put on my To Read list?

Offline Khem

  • Pha bless you.
  • Citizen
  • *
  • Posts: 6171
  • OG-Citizen
    • Khem
Re: Let's Read Twig
« Reply #5 on: April 25, 2017, 09:24:01 AM »
Oh no is this another thing I have to put on my To Read list?
At the top of the list.

Peoples Confederation of Holy Isles of al'Khem
:tai: Persona :tai: Worldbuilding Guide :tai: Nation of al'Khem :tai: