Snare 13.9

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“With the shoulder bone connected to the,” she paused, “Hip bone…”

Bonesaw sang to herself as she drew a scalpel from her sleeve, investigated it, then laid it on the counter.

“And the hip bone connected to the… back bone.”

She drew a pair of forceps from beneath her dress, another two pairs of forceps were retrieved, joining the first.

“And the back bone connected to the… knee bone.  And the knee bone connected to the… hand bone.”

I was scared.  I could admit that.  I could barely think straight, I couldn’t move, and whatever she’d dosed me with was rendering me unable to use my power.  It was there, it wasn’t like what Panacea had done; it hadn’t shut it down entirely.  I could sense what my bugs did, and I could maybe give them crude instructions, but I couldn’t do anything even remotely complicated or delicate.

“And the neck bone connected to the-” She rocked her head to either side as she finished, “Head bone.”

I could see the open door of the refrigerator out of the corner of my eye, but couldn’t turn my head to get a better look.  Brian could see us from where he hung.

I didn’t want to go down without a fight.  I couldn’t give specific directions to my bugs, but if I tried, maybe I could give one.  Maybe, just maybe, I could rely on my subconscious to guide them, even if my conscious mind wasn’t up to it.

I controlled my breathing, in then out, and gave the order.

Attack!

If the commands could be analogous to words in my head, this was a shout.  There was no control, no guidance or direction.  I didn’t have the facility.  Still, every bug in reach, within a range of five or so city blocks in every direction, began to converge on our location, veering towards Bonesaw.

She noticed almost immediately, drawing the can of aerosol spray she’d used to wipe out the first swarm I’d set on her.  One hornet managed to sting her, and with my power as limited as it was, I couldn’t stop it from contracting its body in such a way as to inject its venom into her.  I wouldn’t have if I could.

The rest of the bugs died on contact with the spray, their bodies shutting down.

Except my order was a continuous directive, much as my calling my bugs to me had been when I’d passed out while fighting Bakuda.  It worked on its own, without my direction.  It was eerie to track their movements, to see just how much initiative they took without my conscious mind guiding them.  They spread out, navigated past obstacles, they organized into ranks and tried to attack her from behind, while she was spraying the ones in front of her.  Some of the flying insects were even dropping spiders onto Bonesaw.

“This is annoying,” I heard Bonesaw comment.  I couldn’t see her in my field of view, which was primarily limited to the floor, Imp’s mask and if I looked as far to my left as I could manage, the fridge that held Brian.  Few of the bugs were getting past that spray, and even the droplets of the spray that had settled lingered on Bonesaw’s skin, hair and clothing were enough to kill or incapacitate them on contact.

I was unable to respond to her statement.  I focused on breathing, and taking in every detail I could.  My eyes could still move, my fingertips could twitch, but nothing else.

“Just so you know, I’ve rendered myself immune to all those pesky little venoms and allergens,” she said.  “And I can turn pain off like I’m flicking a switch.  Don’t want to do that on a permanent basis, but it does make this easier to deal with.”

So I wasn’t even hurting her.  Damn it.

“It’s still annoying.”

I could feel my bugs congregating on her as she put the aerosol down and fumbled around inside her pockets.  Test tubes: I could feel the long, smooth glass. She dropped something into each, then stabbed the aerosol can.  The smoke that plumed out killed most of the bugs in the area.  I couldn’t follow what she did with the can and the test tubes.

“It’s interesting,” she said.  I felt small hands on me, and she heaved me over so I was staring at the ceiling, and at her.  Clouds of what looked like steam were rising around her.  From the test tubes?  It was having the same effect on my bugs that the aerosol had.  She’d erected some kind of gaseous barrier.

“See, there’s this part of the brain that people who study parahumans call the Corona Pollentia, not to be confused with the Corona Radiata.  It’s a part of the brain that’s different in parahumans, and it’s the part that’s used to manage powers, when the powers can be managed.  More specifically, there’s this part of the Corona they call the Gemma, that controls the active use of the power, the same way there are parts of the brain that allow us to coordinate and move our hands.”

She ran her fingers over my exposed scalp, massaging it, as if she were feeling the shape of my head.  “The size, shape and location of the Corona and the Gemma changes from parahuman to parahuman, but it tends to sit between the frontal and the parietal lobe.  Beneath the ‘crown’ of the head, if you will.  They can’t really lobotomize the Corona in criminals.  Some of that’s because the location and shape of the Corona depends on the powers and how they work, and trial and error doesn’t work with the scary bad guys who can melt flesh or breathe lasers.”

She tilted my head back and felt around the edges of my mask, trying to find the part where she could pull it off.   “I’m really good at figuring out where the Corona and the Gemma are.  I can even guess most of the time, if I know what powers the person has.  And I can pry it wide open, make it so the powers can’t be turned off, or I can temporarily disable it, or modify it.  The powder I blew into your face?  It has the same prions I put in the darts I shot your friends with.  Cripples the Gemma, but it leaves your powers intact.  Can’t experiment with your abilities if I’ve fried your whole Corona Pollentia, right?  Right.”

She angled my head and stared into my goggles with her mismatched eyes.  “Dealio is, the Corona’s way too small to be doing what it’s doing.  As parahumans, our brains are doing these amazing things.  The framework, all the details our minds are using to decide what works and what doesn’t, the sheer potential, even the energy we’re using, it’s too much for our brains to process, and it’s waaaay too much for a growth that’s no bigger than a kiwi.  All of that?  It’s got to come from somewhere.  And the other reason you can’t just carve out the Corona?  If you do, the powers still work on their own.  The person just can’t control them.  It becomes instinctive, instead.”

She began feeling around my mask for a seam, buckle or zipper, searching.  She talked as she grabbed the part of my mask that bordered my scalp and tried to peel my mask down towards my chin.  “So you can see why I find it very interesting that you still have the ability to control bugs, even when your Gemma is out of order.”

She gave up on pulling my mask down.  The armor panels made it too difficult, and the fabric wouldn’t tear.  She snapped her fingers, and one of her mechanical spiders stepped close.  She removed one of the tools at the tip of the spider’s leg – a small mechanical circular saw.  It buzzed like a dentist’s drill as she turned it on.  She began taking my mask apart, thread by thread.

“I’m ten times as excited to take your brain apart, now!  You might give me a clue about the passenger.  See, I think it’s something that’s hooked into your brain.  It was alive up until your powers kicked in, it helped form the Corona, then it broke down.  I’ve seen it at work when I’ve provoked and recorded trigger events, seen it die after.  But I’m pretty sure some kind of trace is still there, linked in, cooperating with us and tapping into all those outside forces you and I can’t even comprehend, to make our power work.”

Breathe in, breathe out.  I was having to consciously maintain my breathing.  Whatever her dust had done to me, it had also jammed up the part that handled the more automatic things.  My pounding heart wasn’t in sync with the speed of my breathing, and I was beginning to feel dizzy and disoriented.  Or maybe that was the powder.  Or fear.

“But I haven’t been able to find it.  It’s not physically there, or it’s so small that I haven’t been able to track it down.  If your ‘passenger’ is strong enough to let you work around a disabled Gemma, if your powers work without your say-so, maybe it’ll be easier to spot.”

Her progress through the fabric of my mask was slow.  She stopped to clear loose material from around the tool.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll put your skull’s contents back when I’m done looking.  Then we can get to the real fun.”

She peeled my mask off.

Breathe in, breathe out.  Don’t want to pass out.  Or maybe I should?  Maybe I didn’t want to be conscious for what came next.

Her scalpel slid across my forehead, so fast and precise that it barely hurt.  I caught a glimpse of her untangling her fingers and her scalpel from my long hair before the first dribbles of blood flooded down into my eyes.  It stung, and I was momentarily blind before I managed to blink the worst of it away.  I wanted to blink more, faster, but the response was sluggish at best.  I couldn’t tell if my contacts were helping or hurting matters.

I was put in mind of the incident just days before I’d gone out in costume.  The bathroom stall, the showering in juice.  It had started with cranberry juice in my eyes and hair.  How had I gotten from there to here?

“I can’t tell you how excited I am.  It’s like Christmas, opening a present!  Thank you!”  She bent down and kissed me squarely in the center of the forehead.  When she sat up, there was crimson all over her lips and chin.  She wiped most of it away with the back of her hand, uncaring.

She glanced at the circular saw, and it started up with that high-pitched whine.

Then it stopped.

“Clogged up with teensy-weensy bits of silk and whatever that armor’s made of, too slow.  But don’t worry!  I have a bigger saw somewhere else.  I was using it for one of the other surgeries I did earlier.  Let me see if I can find it.”  She stood, then stepped out of my field of vision.  My bugs couldn’t feel her, but I could tell that she was carrying one of the steaming, smoking vials with her, as bugs died on the other side of the room, then the hallway, then a nearby room.

I tried to move and failed.  My fingertips twitched, I could blink if I focused on it to the exclusion of everything else.  My eyes, at least, moved readily enough.

I couldn’t do anything.  Even an instruction as basic as ‘find Bitch’ was beyond my abilities at present.

Bonesaw had talked about this ‘passenger’.  My ally, my partner, after a fashion.  Was there some way to use it?  To put more power in its hands?

Help!  I tried, putting every iota of willpower into the command that I could.

Nothing.  Too vague.  Whatever aid my ‘passenger’ provided, it wouldn’t think of something I couldn’t.  My bugs didn’t respond.

It was the perfect time for a rescuer to show up.  My bugs had stopped going after Bonesaw because we weren’t aware about her current location, so they hovered in place, clinging to walls and feeling around for people who might be their target.  There was a chance that they would bump into someone else.  If a rescuer was coming, my bugs would see them.

There was nobody.  No people on their way.

None of my teammates were moving, either.

If I had the ability to use my power properly, I might have done something with the smoking vials that Bonesaw had left behind.  Used loops of silk to drag them away, perhaps.  I didn’t.  My power was clumsy, now, a brute force weapon at best.

And hell, I was just so tired.  Physically, mentally, emotionally.  So many burdens on my shoulders, so many failures that had cost so much.  We had fucked up here, had underestimated Bonesaw.  I’d gone with Trickster’s plan to set Hookwolf’s contingent against the Nine and buy us the chance to infiltrate and rescue Brian, even though I’d known the strategy had too many holes, too many unpredictable variables.  I’d been too tired to think of something else, too preoccupied and impatient because Brian was in enemy hands.

I would have resigned myself to a fate worse than death, but how did one do that?  How was I supposed to convince myself to give up?  It would be so easy, on a level.  It was alluring, the idea that I could stop worrying, stop caring, after so much pressure for so many weeks and months.  After so many years, if I counted the bullying.  I wanted to give up, but a bigger, more stubborn, stupider part of my brain refused to let me.

Bonesaw returned all too soon.  “Threads, Skitter?  These yours, or leftovers from before?”

Threads?  I hadn’t set any tripwires.  I should have, but I’d been more focused on a quick rescue mission than preparations for a potential fight.

My bugs felt movement.  Except nobody had entered the building, to the best of my knowledge.  It was in one of the hallways.  Big.

The huge stuffed animal I’d noted in the hallway.

Of course.  Parian’s creations had deflated without her power to sustain them, hadn’t they?  The stuffed thing was inflated, heavy, so she was here.  My bugs couldn’t detect her, but she was here.

“Outlet, outlet, need an outlet.  You’d think there’d be more in a kitchen, but nooooo,” Bonesaw muttered.  She passed through my field of view, holding a saw twice the size of the one she’d held before.

The stuffed animal moved forward clumsily.  My swarm’s contact with it was intermittent as it made its way towards us, then past us, venturing into a hallway.

“Gonna have to cut a hole in your skull, Skitter.  Unavoidable.  I’d go up through your nose, but I couldn’t reach the top of your brain with the equipment I have.  Going to make a little window.  Just big enough to get my hand through.”

She turned on the saw, and it screamed, a shrill whine on par with nails on a blackboard, but unending, ceaseless.

The stuffed animal was turning around, coming back down the hallway, towards us.

Have to stall her.

I looked up at her, then deliberately blinked three times in a row.

The saw stopped.

“Trying to say something?”

I blinked once, hard.

“Is that one blink for yes, two for no?”

I blinked twice.  Just to confuse matters.

“That’s confusing.  You’re not just trying to delay the part where I carve up your brain, are you?”

I blinked twice.

“Not getting what you’re trying to say.  One blink for yes, two for no, okay?  Now, do you actually have something meaningful to communicate?”

I blinked once, hard.

“Are you going to tell me to stop?”

I blinked twice.  She wouldn’t listen if I did, and then it would be right back to the surgery.  I trembled, but I didn’t take my eyes off her.

“Tell me when to stop.  Last requests, threats, your friends, um… science, art-“

I blinked once.

“Art?  Yours?  Mine?”

Another blink.  If anything would get her talking, it was her ‘art’.

“What do you want to know.  About your friend there?  It’s more research than anything else.  Or maybe about you?”

I blinked.  The stuffed animal was close.

“Art and you, huh.  You want to know what I’m gonna do when we’re done with my investigation?”

Why not?  Knowing had to be better than wondering.  One blink.

“I’m going to go all out.  Way I figure it, I set your Gemma lobe to attract bugs around you, then remove it, so you’ve got no conscious control over it.  But there’s a point to it!  I make some physical modifications to you, see.  Implant some of Mannequin’s equipment so you’ve got enough sustenance to keep you going, and sustenance to keep the bugs you bring to you alive.  You become a living hive, see?  We could even make it so they crawl inside you and build nests there.”

The stuffed animal pushed the door open and walked into the cafeteria.  The room darkened as it passed in front of a window.

Please don’t notice it.

“I’ve got a regular mod for your amygdala, to make sure you behave, and a frame I implant to your skeleton and heart to help control you, make you stronger, more durable.  I figure we’ll try to go for a cosmetic shift.  I have to say I admire this armor, so why not let take that to the logical conclusion?  We’ll give you an exoskeleton.  It’d be awesome.  Compound eyes, claws.  We’ll see how far we can go.  Won’t that be fun?”

The stuffed animal had stopped in the middle of the cafeteria.  Either it didn’t hear Bonesaw or something else had its attention.

I could feel that not unfamiliar sensation of darkness creeping in around the edges of my vision.  Was I passing out?  How much blood was I losing?

I blinked three times.  Stall.

“No, no.”  She stroked my hair, and my forehead lit up with a burning pain where she’d cut.  “We should get this done before you drop dead.  Don’t think I can’t see the changes in your breathing and pupil dilation.”

She started up the saw and pressed it against my skull.  The horror of what she was doing was compounded by the most god-awful noise, and a grinding vibration of my skull.

If it hurt, I didn’t register it, because the noise of the tool had drawn the stuffed animal’s attention.  It charged for us, slamming through the glass sneeze guard of the dining hall’s serving counter.  It struck Bonesaw, hard, and the saw slid across my head, cutting through my hairline.  I didn’t care.

My rescuer was some kind of cartoonish dinosaur made of black and blue fabric.  I could see the logo of this health club repeated several times over the stuffed animal’s exterior.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Bonesaw slowly stand.  The two combatants were at opposite points in my peripheral vision; Bonesaw stood to the far left, Parian’s creation to the far right.

“That’s really rude,” Bonesaw said, putting inflection on each word.  “I was having a nice conversation with Skitter, and you interrupt?”

She snapped her fingers, and mechanical spiders leaped from a spot I couldn’t see to latch onto the stuffed dinosaur, much as they’d done with me.

Needles, saws, scalpels and drills attacked the dinosaur, and it, in turn, smashed the spiders to the best of its ability.  Though it clubbed the spiders into pieces with its hands, feet and tail, it still continued to march steadily towards Bonesaw, moving over me and the others.

Bonesaw, for her part, was retreating, holding a pair of test tubes in one hand, dropping what looked like color-coded sugar cubes into them with the other.  She glanced around quickly, then lunged for a nearby counter, grabbing a bottle of water.  She upended it over the test tubes, going for haste over precision.  More than half of the water splashed around her feet.

Parian’s creation struck the villainess a second time.  Bonesaw was thrown into a metal shelf unit with enough force that she dented it.  One test tube slipped from her fingers.

The other, she whipped at the stuffed dinosaur.  It hit with enough force that it shattered on impact.

The dinosaur struck Bonesaw a third time.  Heavy as the impact was, Bonesaw was cornered and she couldn’t go flying as she’d done before.  My view of the scene was limited to the back of the Dinosaur’s head, and the occasional view of an stubby-fingered arm as it was drawn back for a haymaker punch.  It pounded her, one hit after another.

My heart sank as I saw the stuffed dinosaur begin to deflate.  It backed away from Bonesaw, and I saw a spreading area on its side where the fabric was thinning out, bleaching.  Once the first holes appeared in the fabric, the rest of the process was swift.  It crumpled almost explosively, revealing a figure inside.

Parian threw off the cloth that had covered her and used her power to rip away her sleeve and part of her dress where it was disintegrating; whatever had eaten at the fabric of her dinosaur armor was continuing the process with her clothing.

I could see Bonesaw too.  Her face was bloodied, her nose gushing blood, and her cheek was a ruined, abraded mess.  Whatever had eaten at Parian’s dinosaur had gotten on her too, devouring the edges of her dress, one sock and part of the shoe on the same foot.

Rude.”

“You killed my mom,” Parian’s voice sounded hollow.

“My teammates did most of the actual killing, so I don’t think I did, if that makes you feel any better.”

“My aunt, my best friend, my cousin… they were all here.”

“Wrong place, wrong time?” Bonesaw shrugged.  She slapped at a wasp that had managed to get in position to sting her.  She wasn’t in the area of her anti-bug smoke anymore.

“They told me to run, to protect the kids.  But they were supposed to escape while I handled that,” Parian sounded lost, dazed.  “I thought they’d get away, so I played dead.  I didn’t know.”

She wasn’t a fighter, I remembered.  She had held her own against Leviathan, but she didn’t have experience.  I wanted to scream at her, to make her stop talking, to do something to Bonesaw.

“If it makes you feel any better, some of them might still be alive.  We didn’t kill them all.”

Parian snapped her attention to Bonesaw, “What?”

“Some we left alive, so I could give them five-minute plastic surgery.  My spiders handled most of it.  Implants under the skin, some chemical dyes for hair…”

“Plastic surgery?”  Parian shook her head.  “What?  Why?”

“To make them look like us.  They’re all running around out there, drawing enemy fire and freaking out.  It’s funny.  And of course, it’ll take a dozen visits with doctors less talented than I to get something even resembling their old faces back.  Can you imagine how many people are going to double take when they look at them, before they’ve all been fixed?  Like, ‘Oh no, it’s Siberian!’, except it isn’t.”

Parian flung one hand in Bonesaw’s direction.  I didn’t see what happened next, but the bugs that were still drifting in Bonesaw’s direction to attack her were telling me that there were threads stretching between the two of them.  A bug settled on the point of a needle where it had impaled the side of Bonesaw’s neck.  Twenty or thirty needles with attached threads extending between them and Parian’s sleeve.

Bonesaw crunched something in her mouth, “You’re playing so rough.  Ow.  I think you broke one of my teeth, with your dinosaur.”

Parian ignored her.  A twist of her hands, and Bonesaw was lifted into the air, spread-eagled.  Bonesaw’s skin stretched where the needles pulled at it.  Parian advanced towards the villain.

Broken tooth?  No.  When I’d kicked Cherish earlier, hadn’t she said that Bonesaw had reinforced her teeth?  Surely the psycho would have done the same for herself.

She was lying.

And there was nothing I could do to alert Parian.

Parian picked up one of the scalpels Bonesaw had placed near me.  Her hand was trembling even after she had it in a white-knuckled grip.  “I don’t want to do this.  I never wanted to fight.  But I can’t let you walk away.  That’s the most important thing.  I’m willing to compromise what I believe in, compromise myself, to do that.”

Bonesaw rolled her eyes.

Wall!  Barrier!

My bugs left Bonesaw’s presence to form a barrier between her and Parian, but they were too few.  Too many had died against Bonesaw’s bug killing smoke.  Parian ignored them.

In one motion, Parian stepped close and stabbed the scalpel into Bonesaw’s throat.  Then she did it again, and again, stabbing over and over, hysterical.

It wasn’t enough blood.  I knew it, and Parian had to know it.

Bonesaw spat into Parian’s face.  Her own flesh burned as whatever chemical she had been holding in her mouth spilled down her lip.

Parian, for her part, dropped the scalpel, tore her mask off and staggered blindly in the general direction of the sink, her hands over her eyes.

No.

What I wouldn’t give for the chance to change this, to act, to offer even one word of assistance.

Bonesaw turned her head and spat again, some residual chemical directed at the threads. When that didn’t achieve the desired result, she repeated the process.  The threads snapped and she dropped to the ground.

“Burned mah tongue,” Bonesaw said, to nobody in particular.  Or to me?  She stuck it out to demonstrate.  It was scalded, blistered and covered with dead white flesh in much the same way her lip was.  She spat again.

Parian reached the sink, cranked on the tap.  There was no water.  She threw herself to one side, feeling along the counter for something, anything to wash out her eyes.

“You’re lucky I’m so nice,” Bonesaw said.  She lifted up the tattered bottom of her dress to dab at her lip and tongue.  I could make out test tubes, equipment and pouches, all belted to her thighs and stomach.  “If I was a less forgiving person, I’d make you regret that.”

Parian sagged to her knees, hands still on the counter, heaving for breath.

“But instead, I’ll leave you alone to think about what you’ve done,” Bonesaw said.  She plucked some of the needles out of her skin.  “I’ll finish with these guys, and later, I can show you what can do with a needle and thread.  It’ll be fun.  Common interests!”

“Making friends, Bonesaw?”

No.  Any vestige of hope I’d had disappeared.

Jack leaned over the counter.  Burnscar stood beside him, looking troubled.

“Jack!  Yes!  I’m having lots of fun!  These people are so interesting,”  Bonesaw smiled.

“You hurt yourself,” Jack frowned.  “Your mouth.”

“The doll-girl ambushed me.  But I’m okay.  I can fix myself after I’m done here.”

“You’ll have to finish fast.  We’re going.”

“No!”

“Yes.  The enemy’s recouping from the first few hits, and they’re stalling Siberian and Crawler.  Only a matter of time before they engage in one good flank and blindside one of us three.  We leave now, and all they remember is how hard we hit them and how little they could do.”

“But I have research!”

“Bring three.  We won’t be able to bring them all along, and you know they get messy if you leave them like that for too long.”

“Only three?”  Bonesaw pouted.

“Only three.”

“Then, um.  Skitter…”

I felt hands seize my feet and pull me away from my teammates.  Burnscar.  She held me under one arm, my head and arms dangling.  Beads of blood dripped down to the floor.

“Um, um.  Tattletale.  I want to see what her brain looks like, too.”

“Tattletale it is.”

“And Trickster!  Because Ball-of-fire girl killed Hack Job.  I want another.”

Hack Job?

“Trickster it is.  Finish off the rest.”

“Can I leave Brian there?  I have to show my art to people to get known.”

“Brian, is it?  Hm.  I think that’s a very good idea.”

“Yes!  Then we’ll go from first to last.  The girl with the horns.”

Imp?

The small circular saw started up with its high-pitched whine.

Then it stopped.  I could hear a strangled noise.

“Aw.  Look at his heart beating!  So fast!”

Burnscar turned, and I could tell they were looking at Brian.

Another strangled noise, trying and failing to form words.  It was so forced and ragged that it made my own throat seize up in sympathy.

“You don’t want to see your sister die, huh?  That’s sweet,” Bonesaw said.  “Maybe you should have taught her the basics.  Don’t have to see her if she’s going to walk straight into a modified wolf trap.  Did you know?  She turned off her power just so she could beg for help.  From us.  She’s not very bright.”

He made a sound that might have been a growl or a howl of rage, but there was no volume to it, and it was more high-pitched than anything else.

“Don’t worry!”  Bonesaw said, “I’ll take good care of your friends.”

I felt a hand pat my cheek.

“Come now, Bonesaw,” Jack said.

“It’s just so funny, watching him react.  His heart beat faster when I touched her.”

“It did.  But we should go.  Burnscar?  Torch the ones we’re not bringing.”

“I wanted to!”

“You had your chance, little b.  You got distracted.”

I could feel the heat of nearby flame as Burnscar manifested a fireball in one hand.

Darkness rolled over Burnscar’s feet, a carpet.  There was no direction to it, and very little volume.  It pooled on the ground and spread.

“Yes!  He’s doing it!  Can I look?  I just want to get the hard drive!”

“No.”

“But-“

I could feel my heart pounding, pounding, then stop.  The pain was gone.  I was gone too.  I had no body, only perception.

The scene was familiar.  At the same time, I couldn’t have said what happened next.  It was like a book I’d read years ago and promptly forgotten, too strange to commit to memory.

Two beings spiraled through an airless void, past suns, stars and moons.  They rode the ebbs and flows of gravity, ate ambient radiation and light and drew on other things I couldn’t perceive.  They slipped portions of themselves in and out of reality to reshape themselves.  Push further into this reality to ride the pull of one planet, shift into another to ride that slingshot momentum, or to find some other source of momentum elsewhere.  Ten thousand thousands of each of the two entities existed simultaneously, complemented each other, drew each other forward.  They shrugged off even the physical laws that limited the movement of light, moving faster with every instant. The only thing that slowed them was their own desire to stay close, to keep each other in sight and match their speeds.  Yet somehow this movement was graceful, fluid, beautiful even.  Two impossible creatures moving in absolute harmony with the universe, leaving a trail of essence in their wakes.

I focused on one of them, and I got the sensation that this wasn’t a scene I’d seen before.

I could see what it saw.  It was looking forward, but not in distance.  Ten thousand pictures at once.  Seeing situations where it arrived at its final destination.  Earth.  The farther forward it looked, the broader the possibilities.  It was looking for something.  Paring away the branches where the possibilities were few.  An Earth in a perpetual winter.  An Earth with a population of hundreds.  An earth with a population of more than twelve billion, that had stalled culturally, a modern dark age with a singular religion.

And it communicated with its partner.  Signals transmitted not through noise, but wavelengths transmitted across the most fundamental forces of the universe.  In the same way, it received information, it worked with its partner to decide the destination.

It viewed a world, one point in time in the present, and in a heartbeat, it took in trillions of images.  Billions of individuals, viewed separately and as a tableau.  Innumerable scenes, landscapes, fragments of text, even ideas.  In that one heartbeat, I saw people who were somehow familiar.  A young man, a teenager, out of place among his peers, men who were burly with muscle.  They were drinking.  He was tan, with narrow hips, his forehead creased in worry above thick glasses, but his mouth was curled in the smallest of wry smiles over something one of the men was saying.  A snapshot, an image of a moment.

It was my world, my Earth it was looking at.

Coming to a consensus, it transmitted a decision.  Destination.

The reply was almost immediate.  Agreement.

More signals passed between them, blatant and subtle.  A melding of minds, a sharing of ideas, as intimate as anything I’d seen.  They continued to communicate, focusing on that one world, on the possible futures that could unfold, committing to none, but explored the possibilities that lay before them.

They broke apart, the two massive beings that spiralled together, and I gradually lost my glimpse into what they were thinking, what they were communicating.  Whatever view they’d had of the future, they were losing it.  It was too much to pick through on their own.

Where have I seen this before?  I thought.

But somewhere in the course of forming and finishing the thought, I’d broken away from whatever it was I’d seen.  It was slipping from my mind.  The void I was in was not the world of the entities, but Brian’s world.  Brian’s power.

The darkness coiled around me, through me.  It was different, slithering past my skin to brush against my heart, tracing the edges of my wounds, the gouge in my skull that Bonesaw had made with her saw, slithering over and through my brain.

I could feel my power slip just a little out of my reach, my range dropping, my control over the bugs just a touch weaker.

But I could still see through my bugs.  I could still feel what they felt.  They’d gathered for the barrier I’d tried to erect between Parian and Bonesaw, and they’d dispersed in the time since, touching everyone present.  Burnscar had put out her flame, was cradling her hand to her chest.  I could feel Bonesaw and Jack, standing a short distance away.  I could feel Trickster, Sundancer, Tattletale, Parian, Ballistic and Imp.  I could feel Grue, hanging from the wall of the walk-in freezer.

I could feel another person, someone who hadn’t been there a moment ago.  A man standing in the darkness.

The man strode forward, uncaring about the darkness.  He caught Burnscar around the face with one broad hand, and he brought it down hard against the counter.  I was dropped to the ground.  Burnscar fell across me, limp and unmoving, and the man flickered out of existence.

The darkness slipped away, retracing its steps through my body, undoing its passage between my organs and joints, through and inside my blood vessels.

A clearing formed.  An expanse of dim light, lit only by one shaft of light that managed to come in through the corner of a window.  Burnscar’s head was pulverized, unrecognizable.  She lay limp, unmoving, dead.

“Interesting,” Jack said, looking down at his fallen teammate.

“Yes!  I’m almost positive I got this on record!” Bonesaw squealed.

“Which you’ll have to leave behind.  We’ll retreat.”

“I just need the hard drive!  I’ve been trying to get data like this for ages, and it’s a new system!”

Bonesaw started to head for the walk-in fridge where Brian was, but Jack grabbed her by the back of the neck.  “No.”

“It’s ‘kay!  Two seconds!  I’ll be right back!”  She slipped out of his grip, running into the freezer, opening one of the cases that looked Mannequin-made.

The darkness continued to dissipate around Brian, and I was aware as a masculine figure flickered into existence in the midst of the cloud, in one corner of the walk-in freezer.

It was Brian, but it wasn’t.  It was colored in monochrome, with one eye open, the other half-formed.  Markings in white covered his flesh, spiraling out from one pectoral, covering his chest and stomach.  His hands were white to the elbow, and he was sexless.  A ken doll with only more white patterns between his legs.

Or maybe he was white and the markings were in black?

Almost casually, he reached out and seized Bonesaw’s hands, which gripped the drive.  He raised her off of the ground, her feet kicking, and she grunted as his grip tightened.

“The things I put up with,” Jack said, seemingly unconcerned.  He whipped out his knife, slashing at the pseudo-Brian.  There was no effect.  “Hm.”

Grabbing a meat cleaver from the kitchen counter, he hacked at Bonesaw instead.  It took three swings to sever her arms at the wrists.  She hit the ground running, her stumps jammed into her armpits.  They disappeared over the counter of the dining hall, Jack helping Bonesaw up.

Monochrome Brian lunged after them, but the floor of the freezer shattered beneath one foot.  He lost his orientation, then flickered out of existence once more.

I could see Brian from where I lay, as I struggled to breathe with the one-hundred and whatever pounds that were piled on top of me.  He hung there, haggard, glaring at nothing in particular.  The man didn’t reappear, but the stream of incongruent events continued; I could see one of Brian’s ribs twitch like the limb of a dying insect.

With a glacial slowness, his body parts began retracting back into place.  The metal frames holding his intestines and organs into place bent, then gave way in the face of the inexorable pull.

It took a long time.  Five minutes, maybe ten.  But his skin crept back, tearing where it had been pinned to the wall, joining back together, then healing.  Even the scratches that had criss-crossed his chest since he’d fought Cricket began to mend.

The healing stopped before it was entirely finished.  I saw the figure appear again.  The monochrome, half-formed Brian.  Mercilessly, it tore out the metal studs that had impaled Brian’s limbs to the wall.  It caught Brian, then laid him carefully on the ground.

He couldn’t walk, so he dragged himself towards us.

He had another trigger eventTwo new powers?  Three, if I counted the way his power was diminishing my own?

He touched my hand, held it between his own.  I could feel something thrumming through me, willing me to take hold of it.

It took me a minute to figure out how.  The exposed bone of my forehead itched, then sang in an exquisite agony as it mended.  My skin was next.  My seized up muscles were last.  My power was last to mend, and I regained my control, though the diminished effect continued.

I clenched my fist, struggled into a standing position.  Brian hurried to Aisha’s side, grabbing her.

Four new powers?

I hadn’t heard about anything like this.

“Come on,” he said, his voice hoarse, “Don’t have long.  I-  Damn it!”

His darkness flowed out from his skin, heavier than I’d ever seen it, slow to expand, but it seemed to generate itself.  It slithered through me yet again.  Slithered through my bugs.

It was minutes before the darkness dissipated.  When it did, Tattletale was standing.  Parian was standing on the other side of the room, eyes wide.  The three Travellers were huddled together.

“What the hell was that?” I asked.  “Brian, hey-“

I stopped.  He was on all fours, his head hung, his cheeks wet with tears.

I reached out for him, but a hand seized my wrist.  Tattletale.  She shook her head at me.

While I backed off, Tattletale reached for Imp, whispered something in her ear.

Imp bent down and took off her mask.  In a voice far gentler than any I’d heard from her before, she said, “Hey.  Big brother?  Let’s get out of here.”

Brian nodded, mute.

Aisha could approach him, but I couldn’t?

He stood, refusing Imp’s offer for help in standing.  He clutched one elbow with one hand, the arm dangling; it wasn’t an injury, I was pretty sure.  He’d healed the worst of it.  It was something else, some kind of security in the posture or something like that.

Darkness boiled out of his skin, a thin layer.  It moved slower than it had before, thicker, more like tendrils sliding against one another than smoke.  Just like the arm he had across his chest, gripping his elbow for stability, it was a kind of barrier, armor or a wall erected against the world.  He walked slowly.  Nobody complained, despite the proximity of our enemies and the fact that the darkness he’d spread out had to have alerted Hookwolf’s contingent about our existence.

I watched Brian as I walked behind him.  I’d just been paralyzed, about to receive involuntary brain surgery.  Now, in a much different way and for different reasons than before, I was again unable to offer him a hand.  I couldn’t even talk to him without being afraid I’d say the wrong thing.

Even compared to being in Bonesaw’s clutches, I felt more helpless as ever.

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

121 thoughts on “Snare 13.9

  1. Hmm. The thought had occured to me before, but now I’m much more certain. The Nine do at least some of what they do with the intent of causing trigger events-and being there to witness them. And now the main characters have a record of a double-trigger event.

    • Just finished this chapter. My guess? Brian bought his powers from Cauldron, and was one of the people who was capable of experiencing a trigger event, but had not actually yet experienced one.

      If this ends up being a spoiler, feel free to delete the comment ;)

      • Early in the story he relates the circumstances of his trigger event in detail. Details which Aisha would be able to corroborate. Also, second trigger events have been mentioned prior to this.

    • I somehow don’t think that Brian got away from this unscanted with a permanent major power boost. Whatever Lisa figured out and told Aisha can’t be good. This might go beyond some mental damage and mere tiredness. His “don’t have long” comment could be interpreted in a number of very bad ways. Either his powers will soon settle down again to a more normal level or he might even be dieing….

      On a different note I would like to point out that if Jack ever loses his genial disposition of general unconcerned amusedness there will be real trouble. Even when Tattletale revealed Cherish’s plan and ruined his fun he die not do more than frown and express disappointment. He takes the death of a teammate without doing much more than batting an eye and generally acts like the father of an old time family sit come putting up with everyones antics.

      If Jack ever starts shouting in anger or gibbering in fear or running or is speechless from panic, you will know that the situation really is that bad and the shit has hit the fan.

      • Mannequin: Down. Burnscar: Dead. Shatterbird: Presumed to be dead by the Nine, and will be KoS. Cherish: If not dead soon, definitely not Nine any longer. Leaving Siberian, Crawler, Jack, and a fore-arm-less Bonesaw. 4 of 9.

        Other side of the coin, if Jack ‘escapes’ and this ‘shadowy goop’/Grue/Brian takes it upon itself to hunt Jack…

  2. I was hoping Skitter was the one about to experience a second trigger event but I suppose Brian more than deserves it after what he’s been through. Great chapter as always.

    • so you think she didn’t? (stil hoping)
      it was sad some chapters back that someone gets more powers if at the same time someone nearby gets powers and he got 3 of 4 new powers, so it is possible that skitter got some but just didn’t jet notice

      • What if Brian only got one new power and three other Undersiders/Travelers got one each? Maybe Brian got powers like Rogue from the X-Men, only he could use them through his darkness, and three others got regeneration, healing, and cloning themselves. They couldn’t use the new powers because they were paralyzed, but Brian could.

  3. Okay great chapter! Is Parian going with them? Very curious about Brian and the things. I’m sure plenty of people will analyze it better than I can! Now I gotta go donate again after a chapter like that!

  4. I really hope that Brian’s powerup is only temporary- and preferably mysterious, though the mystery and the deus ex machina factor have to be balanced carefully.

    I’ll admit that I didn’t really enjoy the rescue as much as what came before it, some of which was incredibly pulse pounding.

    The Dexter music started playing in my head, incidentally, once bonesaw’s little ditty left it(The serial killer, not the child scientist who is also surprisingly appropriate) and she started talking about passengers.

    “provided, it think of something” – Not sure what to suggest exactly; seems to be missing a word?

  5. Haven’t posted for a while, but I’ve been reading the whole time. With every chapter I think it can’t get any better, but then you manage to exceed my expectations.

  6. I remember it!

    Ah yes, what with everything being connected atomically, humanity being the descendants of long-dead stars in a sense, because the atoms that were part of them were cast off when they died. So you have planets that form, and then you have things on the planets that form. Eventually, intelligent life with a bond to the entire rest of the universe. But certain forces present in the universe can affect time as well, can make something instantaneous from the other side of the universe perhaps under the correct circumstances, or even affect their past. So people who were normal suddenly have had a new section of their brain set aside that handles different functions, set to go off now during this trigger event and bolstered by these odd links, this passenger, that is part of these two beings (possibly a child? Interesting take on sacrificing a “child” for another’s salvation)

    Perhaps they’re all linked in ways we don’t know either. The first guy saves a boat, some people on the boat gain powers, so on and so forth. Regent gains powers after exposure to a powered parent. All such kids from powered parents get them more easily. Taylor was affected by Sophia. Imp was affected by Grue. There are gaps, but it could be people who the individual didn’t know had powers, or even didn’t have powers yet as the trigger event could be a future event for which they’ve already been altered. Maybe, tracing it all the way back, there was some first cause and every new empowerment is an attempt to make up for it in some way. Maybe related to the Endbringers?

    Ah, but this is me going all inspired again, and while it makes for some interesting babbling, I doubt any of it is correct as far as Wildbow is concerned. Probably more relevant in this situation is Chuang Tzu, a daoist, who had a that he was a butterfly flying around all happy as could be, not knowing he was Chuant Tzu. Then he woke up, and couldn’t tell if he had been a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man.

    The important thing is that once and for all I have figured it out: the Undie Gun!

    *He blasts random passerby with the gun, which drastically shrinks any undergarments worn by the person and incapacitates them in the process, then runs off into the night repeatedly shouting “Undie undie undie undie undie!” to himself*

    • i thought of it more as of a blood donation not as of a child
      how propable is it that the endbringers are failed experiments of claudrin (didn’t find how it is spelled so … hope this works)

    • In regard to the origin of trigger events, if I remember correctly Scion was stated to be the first observed parahuman in the Wormverse. However, I don’t remember if he came before the Endbringers.

      Also, your Undie Gun has sort of already been done. Maybe you should go watch Mystery Men again :P

      • Scion came before the Endbringers. He was the first to make themselves known.

        If he hadn’t come before the Endbringers, the world probably wouldn’t be standing.

      • *Bangs on the Undie Gun with a hammer a few times, then presents the Undie Gun 2! He test fires it on people, the gun now teleporting a grouchy weasel into their undergarments.* I thought the concept was familiar. This will have to be an appropriate substitute then.

    • It seems that superpowers are like sitcoms, with the entities watching granting spinoffs to background characters that interest them.

      So Skitter is like Carl Winslow to Sophia’s Balki Bartokomous…

      • Ah, but are they Skitter, Brian, and Bonesaw occasionally having visions of the two entities, or are they the two entities whose dream of being Skitter, Brian, and Bonesaw are interrupted every once in awhile?

        Probably neither. My hypotheses make for interesting considerations, but I doubt it’s what Wildbow thought up. I’m always just off enough. Like thinking, based on one interlude, that Siberian wasn’t actually a super strong type who had speed as part of it, when instead that was later confirmed as what she is. Or in thinking that Skitter would get a second powerup due to how she was paralyzed and trapped. Somebody did, just not her. I’m just right enough to be wrong.

  7. Hmm story is made by struggle by limitations set upon our protagonists and the way they deal with them, thats why it would have been unwise to power up our main protagonist to much and empowering a secondary char “Brain/Grue” which was very low in the power scale to begin with is the better choice.
    On another note it seems to me wildbow likes to go with the smallest possible win in a situation, feeding us just enough that our hope and want for the story keeps on but not enough that any potential for conflict and struggle, for story is wasted.
    Can be very frustrating for us consumist readers XD who like to overeat.

    Feed us more you greedy little bastard ;P we want to DEVOUR, TO FEED, TO CONSUME
    –>slaps the hive mind,bad hive mind, bad

    As for Brian I think his new powerset might be dangerous for those around him, maybe making it impossible for him to touch people or making continious control necessary in order not to hurt,
    would fit into the requirements of drama and explains why Aisha might be a better choice to speak to him cause she can slip from the attention of his new power if it tries to lash out.

    Concerning Aisha I am really worried about her team role, her power makes it really hard to be a team player and its use is difficult, spying is made hard by other ways to detect, she has no additional defensive or offensive capabilities to use in a fight, no enhanced mobility
    and using it in specific ways is hard cause it slips when you focus on it.
    If not for this last point if I had her powers I would probably try to filter who my power targets and to manipulate the content of what is forgotten, maybe try to extend it to team mates, maybe try to reverse it so people pay attention only to me and no one else, try just to hide a weapon or armor so people underestimate what I can do etc.

    • Ah, but see, I love tormenting people. I’ve got a bit of a mean streak. I’ve seen people on Spacebattles & other forums saying they want Taylor to have a power boost. I know that there’s readers of ‘shounen’ series that are so used to the protagonist getting that next power increase (The week of training in an isolated location, learning that special technique, going super saiyan, whatever). I also know the traps inherent in going down that road.

      So it’s fun to tweak people’s noses just a little, knowing what they’re hoping for.

        • Agreed. The longest running drama/action shows on television and in comics don’t have that. I don’t like the “powering up” idea in my stories, certain exceptions aside, such as this chapter. It’s cheap cop out usually. It would be interesting to see an epilogue of sorts at the end to see how far Skitter has come. Her bugs can act on her direction fairly independently already. Creative uses of power, such as in the fight with Mannequin, among other things, are much better for the story.

      • it is good that the doesn’t get powers thrown after her but i sometimes miss the power growth
        (ever since one of the early chapters where it is speculated that her power controles creatures with very low, basic brain functions I am waiting for her to get the power to controle rats and scorpions and maybe snakes^^, she still cant here or listen with the insects)

          • Word of God says Skitter can only control invertebrates. So I’m sorry to ruin that for you, unless Wildbow charges that, we’ll have no Swarms of plague proportions. As far as rats and snakes go. Scorpions however fall with in her realm of control. So there is that.

          • Though the question is left about whether various unknown nervous systems such as an Endbringer’s could end up under her control should she get enough of a power boost. That’s probably a bit too unlikely though.

          • To quote the Cast page.

            “Taylor Hebert – A 10th grade student at Winslow High, Taylor is a bullied teen and aspiring superhero. Her powers manifested in January 2011, giving her the ability to psychically command invertebrates: insects, arachnids, worms, crustaceans and the like.” There you go, Word of God.

      • What really drew me to the series and to Skitter and the undersiders is that they aren’t brimming with cosmic power and aren’t constantly getting powered up , I rather like them as the B or c listers that are kicking but and taking names .

  8. Great chapter as always. For a moment, I thought it was Skitter getting the powers, but it makes sense that it is not her. The only reason I even suspected that was the thought that the aborted brain surgery might have done something.

    Other things. Great suspense there, and while some may accuse the rescue of being a bit Deus Ex Machina, I would wholeheartedly disagree. That great trauma creates powers is well known in this universe, and considering how horrified at what happened to Grue everyone was, I’m sure we can all agree that qualifies as ‘great trauma.’

    Two things. I’m assuming that even Bonesaw can’t bring someone back–at least not with powers–once their head is smashed? All of that talk of parts of the brain makes me assume that hitting the brain is the go-to way of making sure someone is dead?

    Second. You sly dog. When you were explaining last chapter why you made it so explicit, you said something about ‘so nobody expects Brian to just get up and save the group’ or something to that effect. And then he does just that.

    • Woof woof.

      Cue the rambling response to that last paragraph of yours:

      I was a reader of web serials before I was a writer of one, and one thing that caught me by surprise was how hard it is to communicate with an audience.

      It’s not that I don’t like/love you guys, or that I’m not hugely thankful for your support and continued reading. It’s more about the power/knowledge imbalance of being a writer vs. being a reader.

      It’s like talking with friends who are excited as heck to be watching the Game of Thrones TV series, when you’ve read all of the books so far. It’s so hard not to let something slip, and everything has to be phrased just so, so you don’t spoil that next big event or the next revelation (let alone the big ones!). Except it’s doubly, triply tricky, because you’re the #1 expert, there’s nobody else out there who has the spoilers in hand. As a writer you’ve been thinking about the story for hours a day for the past year and a half; You’re so intimately familiar with everything that’s going on that it’s second nature to you, and all it takes is one tired moment to let a crucial detail slip.

      But at the same time, if you ignore those people who are getting excited about the story, or if you default to not saying anything at all to be safe, then you risk losing that connection with your friend (or in the writer’s case, the audience).

      And all that said, readers have their own power, once the material is out there & read. One well placed word of criticism can be felt, and there’s that bittersweet reality when a reader understands a setting well enough to guess at what’s going to happen next, but simultaneously spoils something for themselves or others, when you’re just itching for that ‘woah’ moment when they get to the part in the story that you’ve been leading up to and everything comes together for them.

      So the sly dog comment makes me happy, because it means I’ve done something right. :D

      • Indeed. If you read the comments, everyone who was speculating was speculating on things like ‘maybe this is all a part of the plan’ or ‘Maybe Trickster will save them.’ Nobody, or at least nobody who wrote a comment, even got close.
        So yeah, great job on that!

        • To quote Psycho Gecko from the last section:

          “Now then, hopefully I shouldn’t be worried here. After all, we just took the girl who gained her powers when she was trapped in a dark, confined, disgusting space by someone she hated with a vengeance, and who gains increases to her powers in similar situations, and she’s now been stuck in the same room as Grue who has been flayed and vivisected and otherwise Gray’s anatomied, trapped in her own body, angry and scared at the person who did that to her and Grue, stuck in a cramped, dark space with nerve endings running over the walls and a flayed person hanging up.”

          I was expecting an increase to Taylor’s power. I was just wrong on the person. And on which room they were in too. And I phrased the end of that badly. I’ve noticed that I fall into the trap of “it all revolves around Taylor” lately, such as in expecting her to be a Nine Nominee.

      • When people are reading my serial, and speculating about what comes next, I’m often thinking, “But isn’t it totally obvious?”

        Usually, it isn’t, but because I’ve been planning things, everything feels inevitable to me.

        And that’s one reason I’m very careful about how I talk about what comes next. I’ve totally lost perspective on what’s obvious and what isn’t.

        • I think, -I hope-, that I still have a grasp on what my readers are expecting, for the most part.

          But my story’s shorter than LoN, and I’m expecting it to end before it gets to the same length. It ultimately depends on how fast I want to progress to the ending. I’ve been plotting out the last 33-10% of the story, and I’m wondering if I want to extend it considerably. I had story ideas in mind that I was thinking I’d move on to, but test writes haven’t really brought them alive the way I want, so why rush to a conclusion, right?

          • This is quite greedy and selfish to say, but PLEASE EXTEND IT CONSIDERABLY. I can plainly see that there are many stories to be told that haven’t really been touched yet, and won’t get the opportunity if the story is as close to being finished as you said it is. I stay up late every Monday and Friday night to read your story and judging by how fast the comments pour in, so do most of these people.

            I understand that you don’t want to write a story that gets too long for its own good (especially since that would make a book adaptation difficult), but I’m sure it’ll be a long time before we start leaving comments like “Ugh, a Flechette interlude AGAIN?”

            But you are the author so it’s your call. As long as you’re writing Worm, I’ll be staying up late on Monday and Friday nights.

          • Well, as a personal rule, I don’t repeat characters in interludes. Once we see things from one character’s perspective, that’s probably it. Probably.

            I don’t know exactly how to phrase it, but I suppose my concern is that if I do extend Worm, the tone, themes and/or atmosphere may get diluted over time.

            The story also gets harder to write as I progress. That’s partially because I tend to write enough to fill my free time, and while that wound up being 1.5 to 3k words at the beginning of Worm, it’s veering closer to somewhere between 4k and 10k words now. It’s also because I’m having to keep details consistent with prior events, and because there’s a limited degree to which the challenge or threats can ramp up before suspension of disbelief is left bleeding on the sidewalk and the story changes drastically. Lastly, it’s because keeping things interesting means I either have to move the story forward or parcel out information you guys want. In both cases, that’s something of a limited quantity.

            So, just going by my gut, I’d say there’s only a certain distance I can cover before I start stumbling.

            • I’ve begun keeping a section of character and building notes so I avoid messing up. That and I often reread sections of older stories and remind myself what happened.

          • You know, given that your normal installment is 3 times as long as mine (about 1K), Worm may already as long as LoN.

            That said, I’d say take as long as it feels comfortable. I’ve got two more major storylines planned. When they’re done, Legion of Nothing ends. It won’t be for a while though. They’re both roughly trilogy sized.

          • When I write my next story, I might try doing it with Scrivener. It’s built to allow you to collect notes, connect stuff, build timelines and break down the story by scene/chapter for easy searching and reference.

            A bit too much of an involved process to convert the existing story over to there, though, and if I can’t, there’s no real point.

            • I started using Scrivener last year. It’s still in beta and thus free on Linux.

              When it’s officially released, I’ll be happy to pay.

              For what it’s worth, I copied the entire LoN archive into it. It did take a while, but it made it easier to edit for the ebook/print version.

        • is there a collection / wiki where the different characters are collected (name capname abilety team famaly etc)?
          one question to scrivener would it be possible for us to read the timeline etc of what already happened
          it is good to hear that you will do another story,
          just got the thougth have you written other storys before (if yes where do i find them?)
          i am curious for the end of this story (even if i hope it is still fare away)
          is it possible to make the replys shorter one one side only not on both sides?
          13.x (bonus interlud) is placed last at the main page and chronological in the table of contents

          • On the front page, on the sidebar, there’s a link to the story’s wiki. It’s currently incomplete. I add what I can when I can, but there’s lots of missing details. Just putting it out there to my readers, but if you’re craving to do something to support the story and you don’t have money to donate and you don’t have any friends to recommend the story to (either because you’re a lone wolf or because your friends wouldn’t be interested)… stuff like writing reviews for Webfictionguide or setting aside 30 minutes to write a character description every week would be a huge help.

            Scrivener: I think you can view the timeline. I only have a little experience with it, so I can’t say for sure. I dabbled with it for an hour or so before getting back to work on Worm.

            I have written other stories before, but nothing I’ve made public. Worm is my first true offering to the world at large.

            Not sure what you mean by replies.

            And yeah, the placement of the interlude is sadly unavoidable. The main page automatically sorts it, and it requires all sorts of finangling to get things in the right order. I’ve given up as far as that particular one.

          • sry didn’t see the wiki and the cast page (not jet a long time reader^^)
            replies <– when i am reading it the replay has 0,5 cm less on both sides than the coment or reply it is refering to this makes the last replays smaler on other sides it is only on one side (left) that the replay is getting shorter [isn't realy important, just gets me wondering everytime i reply or read other replies]

          • It depends on what you reply to. As is, it forms into threads, where (if you reply to an individual), it forms a sub-branch, up to a certain # (5 or 6?).

            If you want to start a new thread, (as in, you’re not replying to something someone else said), you should see a box at the very bottom of the page.

  9. …My head hurts.

    Also I’m not totally sold on Brian getting healing powers, though I’m holding off on deciding my opinion of these new powers until we get more information on them. For now it seems ever so slightly kitchen sink, I’d expected more some expansion of existing powers then this. Not to mention that this is the second time I’ve thought you gave Taylor some new powers and it didn’t happen, just a little bug form stuff is all I need. She could fly!

    Yeah, all that out the way, now I can get to what I really want to say. Which is that this was incredible. I meant what I said last chapter, I’ve even started typing out -as in twelve pages and counting- my own headfanon (it is a crime that this story isn’t more popular and thus I cannot read fanfics of it for even more Worm verse joy, there’s so many branching paths I want to see) and generally once I hit that point with a story I find that I have lost emotional connection to the main continuity.

    Not in this case! I can say with full grammatical correctness that my pulse was pounding for most of this one. It hit somewhere in the feels, then expanded out to the excitement spleen and started that thing into overdrive (trust me, I’m a doctor of stuff) with extra excitiom receptors. I was on the edge of my seat for everything between Bonesaw singing and Jack arriving, and then I switched to cold acceptance only for Brian to fall out the awesome tree and hit every damn branch he could find.

    I will admit to being genuinely disappointed (as opposed to preposterously disappointed that my fanon doesn’t match the canon) that Taylor didn’t simultaneously trigger for some tag team badassery. But then I love the battle couple trope like a twisted mutant sibling. I will content myself with wild delusions about Brian’s heart beating when Bonesaw had her hand on Taylor. Oh why isn’t tuesday next to saturday!

    Wildbow, you are incredible. Honestly incredible.

  10. Wild Mass Guessing Time: Grue didn’t actually get that many powers, he’s just copying other people’s powers into his clone thing. I.E. Hatchet Face and Panacea.

    (So happy Taylor didn’t get murdered.)

  11. I have to say, when Taylor said she could feel Grue’s darkness inside her, I thought “cool, he got through the Manton effect”. The proxy body with super-strength surprised me. The healing? Making his own organs go through something built by Mannequin? I frankly have no idea where that came from or how it relates with his other powers. I’ll be looking forward to how it all goes.

    • Thanks Bobby, I now cannot read that chunk of this chapter without sniggering.

      In fact I will bet that if Alec finds out about these events one of his first comments will be dirty. My bets are:

      20%-“You were inside your sister? Dude that’s not good.”

      30%-“You were inside two guys at once? I guess we now know why you didn’t notice Taylor pining for you.”

      50%-“Oh? Well I bet Skitter was pretty happy about that. Hope you used some protection.”

      Honestly that might be pretty helpful for Brian, a spot of normalicy in a very bad day.

  12. Updated the donate button on the front page to be a little clearer (It was a bit blurry & I’d forgotten to change the size allowed for the image to accommodate the bar on the bottom, so it was resized into a smaller frame, too). You can also hover over it for the actual numbers. I erred in favor of minimalist and non-distracting over the extra text.

    Thank you to those who’ve donated recently.

  13. I hope Brian’s trigger event isn’t the world-ending thing that Dinah warned of–it seems very outside the scope of his previous “power set,” so to speak, which is ominous (particularly given Taylor’s more detailed vision of the power-granting beings). Also, I wonder if only Aisha can approach him on a permanent basis. His arm of darkness thing suggests that the trigger event gave physical form to his emotional trauma in a variety of ways. I think it’d be cool if some of them altered his relationships with the characters. Particularly because (as another commenter noted) he’s been less involved in Taylor’s story as of late.

    Speaking of the power-granting people, what Castronaut (was it you?) said about people with powers have access to a larger variety of laws than we’re aware of seems to be mostly accurate. Perhaps their access to other realities (or unknown-by-humans facets of this one, or a combination of those factors) is mediated by the “passenger” Bonesaw mentioned.

  14. We also learned a lot about Jack in this chapter!

    Part 1. He keeps his cool. Very good skill to have.
    Part 2. When he’s not sure about something he acts in ways he is sure of. Cut or stab Brian? No idea what will happen, but he knows what will happen if he hacks at Bonesaw’s limbs.
    Part 3. His power IS limited. He grabbed a meat cleaver instead of using his knife and it took three cuts.

    That last part is pretty interesting to me. I think I misunderstood his power. Skitter mentioned he could “Cut through crowds” I think, which I took to be basically an invisible long range Light Sabre type of effect.

    Does he feel resistance when he cuts? The chapter isn’t clear. He needed some chopping power though, so weight evidently matters to him. I would guess armor protects you from him as well, which is why Hookwolf wasn’t worried about Jack.

    It does make you realize how vulnerable he really is though. If, say, Glory Girl fought him, he’d have to get creative, and would probably lose in a straight fight. It helps reenforce the idea that he has to play it smart. At first I thought he was just blatantly overpowered, because I thought Purity was Super-Tough as well, so I figured he could cut through anything and was also three steps ahead of everybody else. Nope, he’s three steps ahead of everyone, cause if he isn’t even Skitter would rough him up. Good luck cutting her costume up Jack. Or have fun trying to stab or slash bugs.

    Also, he was in full on “Dad mode” with Bonesaw, which I found to be humorous. Black Comedy of course, but the way he acted was too mundane lol.

    JS: “No!”
    B: “Just a sec!”
    JS:”I said no!” *Sighs* “The things I do for this family.”

    It’s kind of humanizing for a very twisted monstrous character. I liked it very much.

    I feel kind of bad about Burnscar, but given how she explained her power to Labyrinth, she is probably in a better place. I don’t think she liked being one of the Nine.

    Is it interlude time already? This chapter had a good finish. I think it was a good ending spot. I wonder if we’ll get a bit of a gap between it and the next, like when Skitter rejoined the Undersiders and recounted what happened only afterwards.

    Author! Take 5 man, you deserve it.


    •    \ (._.)

      Funny thing. The first incarnation of the Nine, I think I’ve mentioned, was in ‘Guts & Glory’, which was a superhero story I wrote prior to coming up with Taylor/Skitter, based around Glory Girl and Panacea. Keep in mind that my memory’s a little rusty here – I wrote it years ago, and I don’t have access to it atm, as it’s on my old laptop, and my puppy chewed through the cord (ages ago).

      Anyways, Glory Girl had her powers, Panacea didn’t, and Panacea was perfectly happy as such. The Nine come to town, and they happen to attack the mall where Panacea and Glory Girl are shopping. Jack, a very different Crawler (then called ‘Skitter’, humorously enough), Siberian, Shatterbird (‘Breaker’), Nice Guy (a guy with Imp’s powers) and a few others.

      And Jack, being very much the same as he is here, trashed Glory Girl. Her forcefield protects her against even the heaviest hits, but it doesn’t protect her against multiple hits in close succession. Nice Guy ambushes Panacea, Breaker starts hurting civilians, and Panacea gets her powers. Boom.

      Just something that I found humorous when I read your line about Glory Girl.

    • I believe the cutting through crowds thing would work in the way you interpreted it whenever Siberian is touching Jack and granting her power to him. He could also cut through buildings, cars, the ground, etc…

      This has reminded me of the guy in Johnny Dangerously with the gun that can “shoot through a school”.

        • His power’s supposed to be about extending a blade, right? His power is limited by what kind of blade he’s using. Some blades are designed to go through heavier hunks of meat in a slice, or even to handle bone. Others are designed for stabbing, which is generally a very effective tactic. To paraphrase Vegetius, you can slash someone all day long with a Roman sword and only do superficial damage, but if you stab them just a couple of inches deep they’ll die. Similar to that is a trench knife, which was designed to penetrate thicker clothing and even helmets of soldiers in trench warfare. Basically a spike on a set of knuckledusters. But then, some meat cleavers have more heft and are designed for slicing instead. The curved shapes of katanas and sabers make them better suited to slicing as well, which is related to their roles as cavalry weapons. And still others include little serrated teeth that are meant more for sawing through things. However, you sould avoid such knives in the event of a zombie apocalypse as they tend to get caught in things.

          As for why he didn’t attack Taylor during the ambush, I don’t know if that was a case of too far a distance or one of not having them sighted very well.

          I’ve wondered what he could do with a ballistic knife, actually. It’s not too much of a knife on its own, but then you press a button and the blade shoots off. A little tough to aim, perhaps, but a good surprise tactic.

        • So Siberian’s influence wouldn’t allow Jack to be immune to changes in the momentum of his knife swinging arc that might otherwise be caused by the presense of matter in its path?

          Also, interesting idea. I’m not sure what the amount of radioactive material required for a fission reaction is, but if it’s small enough to hold between your hands I wonder if Siberian could compress it and cause a nuclear explosion.

          Hm. I wonder if Siberian has to breathe.

  15. I’m guessing one of the mysterious beings mentioned manifested a bit here (or maybe all powers are a manifestation) as Brain’s new powers, and he wasn’t controlling them at the time since his conscious control was disabled. so some of those powers might be temporary? idk.

    Also, odd that these beings would choose to manifest this way, instead of directly fix or achieve whatever it is that they want, and that we would see these memories instead of whatever the being connected to Skitter and Brian here is currently thinking of. epileptic tree theory: Perhaps the two space-warping travelers got into trouble and are… in a coma, unconsciously trying to do good.

  16. I gotta admit that I was one of those people who saw this as a Deus Ex Machina. Yes, it was previously explained that people can indeed reach for super powers. I also suspected that there would be a “second form” thanks to the contempt that Scion showed during that Endbringer scene. Still, I thought this form did seem OP. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens later.

    In a way, though, it makes sense that we hadn’t really explored Grue’s true potential. We definitely had hints that Grue’s power was deeper than it at first appears.

  17. wildbow,
    your talent with this series is absolutely amazing. i cannot say enough how great this story is and how i look forward to reading about taylor/skitter each week. As someone who reads alot, (as in 2 to 4 books a day) i whole heartedly agree that you should refrane from extending Taylor’s story past what you have planned.

    However, don’t you DARE discard the Wormverse!

    A new story with a new protagonist and maybe even a new location, same universe. You’ve done to much world building to throw this away.

    And i like where you’re going with the development of Skitter’s power. Skill over power. Constant power increase makes for a crappy character, but when the character slowly becomes more skilled with even the lowest of power; they become much much more. Aqua man is an odd example, but good in this case. before writers got creative with his abilities and he starts using fish as weapons rather than gimmicks. (ie, shark-punching assholes)

    • It’s because I’ve done so much world building that I’m thinking of putting the setting to bed after I’m done. I might return to it for a novella (~50,000 words) centered around one character or another, but the motivations for writing that kind of story would be different.

      That’s the main thing. Motivations. Now, I’m pretty sure most would agree that Worm is a very setting-driven story. What really gets me excited as an author are the moments where I’m bringing things together, those clarifying moments when stuff that readers overlooked or details that seemed inconsistent come together. One of the things I write for are the moments when the reader goes “Ohhhh” and then they want to read back through the story to see everything in a new light. Or when some revelation (big or small) occurs and the reader can say “That makes sense.” Pretty sure the readers like them too, due to the ongoing speculation and the fact that chapters like that tend to be the most commented-on.

      Here’s the thing: those moments are a currency of sorts, and by the end of Worm, I’ll be spent. Maybe there’ll be one or two minor details, or I could raise smaller questions that could be answered at a later date. But will there be anything big for me to look forward to writing? If there isn’t, I suspect my own enjoyment will die, and that’ll be reflected in the writing.

      I’m an idea driven writer. I’d like to think I’m pretty creative. There was a 12 year period where I couldn’t write much farther than 20 pages before getting stalled, caught up in the next exciting idea I had. In the end, I do want to move on to something else. I’m pretty confident it’ll be cool.

      • As painful as it might be to your readers, Wildbow, end the story where *you* think it needs to end. Ursula Vernon did that with ‘Digger’ and I have to say despite the ending of the story it was *good* to see the adventure end, to have an idea that the protagonist had finished a significant journey.

        I hope it doesn’t happen for a while, but do what the Muses are guiding you towards, and leave no regrets on the table.

      • I’m in favor of you ending when you like, Wildbow. I think the reason people want more is because there are so many unanswered questions. As long as the story ends, and most of those questions are answered (nature of powers etc), I’m down. I do think it should be paced out, though, to give us readers time to play in your sandbox and really enjoy the world you’ve built before we leave it.

        If you write something else, will it also be posted online at some point? I’d be interested in reading it, and I’m sure many other folks would as well.

  18. Incidentally, I forgot to mention before that this chapter reminded me of a different Roger Zelazny story- “The Game of Blood and Dust,” where two alien intelligences toy with Earth’s history.

    Also, I wanted to say that though I’m not entirely sold(YET) on how this affects the plot, the imagery and the scene itself was excellent. Very satisfying on a sensory, visceral level.

  19. Question. Which Territory is Danny Herbert’s house in? What I’m pretty sure is a mention of him in this chapter got me wondering.

    Is there any chance you could give us a quick sketch map (as in literally a sketch, a doodle) of Brocton Bay. Because I’m still really confused as to the layout.

    • Brockton Bay

      Legend:
      1. The Docks/North End
      2. The Bay
      3. Downtown
      4. Boat Graveyard
      5. The Market
      6. Trainyard, Bitch’s Territory
      7. Boardwalk/Eastern Docks, Taylor’s Territory
      8. Boardwalk/Ferry station north
      9. Tattletale’s Territory, Docks Central
      10. Taylor’s House (In Grue’s territory)
      11. Captain’s Hill. Everything west of there is mountains.
      12. Grue’s Territory
      13. The College, Regent’s Territory
      14. Leviathan’s Crater
      15. Upper Downtown, Ballistic’s Territory
      16. Coil’s base
      17. Ferry station south
      18. The Towers, Trickster’s Territory, Purity’s place of residence
      19. Downtown Coast, Genesis’ Territory
      20. Shopping District, Sundancer’s Territory

      • Wow.

        Just Wow.

        How long did it take you to make this? How did you make this?
        It looks great!

        Any chance you could post it somewhere more accessible? So new readers can look at it and see the city?

        Thanks for the picture!

  20. You know, Taylor needs to start using parasitic worms. Those little pests that eat you alive.
    Foot worm, foot bug (don´t know if the name is this in english), geographical worm (leaves a map in your skin).
    I doubt that bonesaw is imune to bugs eating her flesh.

  21. Wilbow, I gotta say. If something is cool enough to keep the attention of an easily bored ADD riddled living trainwreck like me… well it’s somethin’ special.

  22. I just realised there could’ve even been a ninth possibility for saving our heroes if you’d changed a few things in the previous chapter (although it kinda makes Bonesaw look stupid, so I’d treat it as a longshot). This would’ve pleased all the Skitter fans out there too. Skitter could’ve saved them using her bugs if you’d just tweaked the effects of Bonesaws’ darts and powder to make it a simple paralytic. Bonesaw would’ve still had defenses against her bugs and Skitter would’ve been unable to move, so it still could’ve proved to be an interesting battle. She’d have had to find a way around Bonesaw’s defenses without fighting herself. As for leaving, as outlined in the options, someone could’ve come in and dragged them away. Or the Nine could’ve been driven off (Bonesaw having run so they didn’t come back for her), giving our heroes time to recover. Or, simpler still, you could’ve just made the paralytic temporary and short-lived (Bonesaw probably using a second substance before surgery, in this case. It would make sense for an instant paralytic to have a drawback to balance it out. Here it would’ve been its longevity).

    • Bonesaw being stupid is a major plot hole. She has had years to hone this stuff, guided by Jack Slash, who has years more. And that would have been anticlimatic, assuming that the bugs worked, or completely pointless if they hadn’t.
      If they had worked, it would have gone against how even stabbing Bonesaw in the eye only caused surprise, half-blindness, and (until turned off) pain. Besides, it would have lasted all of until Siberian investigated Bonesaw’s screams of pain, or Mannequin/Crawler/Jack did so, or until any of the Undersiders inside decided to go outside into a battle between the Nine (who hate them), the Chosen and such (who hate or dislike them), and the Protectorate (who certainly don’t like them).

    • I’m interested enough to take a crack at this:
      1. I think Parian’s failure is fairly realistic, due to her lack of combat experience and the various protections Bonesaw has built into herself. The tinker may tend to hang around Jack and the others, but she’s not weak or unable to look after herself in any survival sense. As we see in the chapter, Parian is trying to muster the will to kill, but she is dazed by the sheer horror and loss she has experienced – and then she learns that some of her loved ones might still be alive, or could be dying right then at the hands of the S9 or the Brockton Bay local supers. That’s a hell of a distraction for her to cope with.
      2. Imp could have “appeared” and acted to help out our heroes; this one is fairly reasonable. That said, her tendency to go cowboy is a liability, and her prior attack means that the S9 likely updated their security arrangements. Given what we’ve seen in the past, my guess would be that Bonesaw upgraded her spider bots or tweaked their programming, and that is how Imp was caught. This would fit with the fact that Imp doesn’t have a history of planning, patience, or caution that we’ve seen.
      3. Regent indicated that he was having some trouble using Shatterbird and her power effectively, and we know that his power doesn’t give him the multitasking advantages Skitter seems to have. For him to come help would likely require that both he and Shatterbird successfully disengage from their opponents, particularly difficult since Shatterbird was distracting the Hookwolf & Purity’s forces and trying to avoid leading them to Grue and company. Again, not impossible, but it would be surprising.
      4. Bitch is all about brute force; her arrival would likely bring unfriendly company and make the situation worse. That said, there is a small chance that she could have closed the distance rapidly enough to surprise Bonesaw, thus creating an opening for a more conventional escape…except that she could never load all of the captives onto dogs by herself (or even with Parian’s help). She may not even have enough transportation for everyone, since the group at that point includes Grue, Imp, and possibly Parian in addition to the initial team. I’d rate this one more difficult than Imp helping, about even with Regent.
      5. Genesis is an interesting possibility, but has many of the same problems as Regent and Bitch. She has to get there, in a helpful form, soon enough to stop Bonesaw and Burnscar. Then she has to hold out on her own until more help arrives, or beat 1-3 of the S9 singlehanded, which would be stupid. As Taylor sort-of observed in the past, Genesis doesn’t necessarily make the best use of the powers she has, so this would be a surprising success.
      6. You yourself say this seems unlikely, so I won’t belabor the point. It is possible that, say, Hookwolf following Jack and Burnscar into the building could turn the situation on its head for our heroes, or that Purity destroying a couple walls could merge the indoor and outdoor battlefields. Some options there, but I’m not sure there’s anything that could reasonably save them from imminent incineration except for the roof collapsing on top of Burnscar without hurting the Undersiders/Travellers. That would have been a real Looney Tunes-style Deus Ex Machina. Could be hilarious in a humorous cartoon-logic Worm fanfic, I suppose.
      7. There are two main issues with this one. First, the heroes have just indicated that they don’t trust the Undersiders, and we know they don’t really trust any of the villains. Their procedure thus far has been very cautious, so a sudden shift would require some explanation to make sense. Second issue is response time. The fight hasn’t been going all that long when this chapter ends. I can conceive of the heroes showing up if, say, they got word that the S9 were in Dolltown in general, or had passed through at least. But that would likely make things more confusing, with impostor S9 and super-powered white supremacists running around. Could be helpful, could make it worse; it’s a bit of a toss-up.
      8. As you say, this would be pretty blatant, especially since Panacea seems more inclined to run away from trouble than toward it based on what we last saw of her. Not a significant option unless they can secure the area first and then track her down and convince her to help, I think. That would be a bit much to believe, given that the fight outside involves the S9 and the remnants of E88.
      9. The paralytic idea isn’t too bad, but since Bonesaw also has a gas to kill the bugs, I’m not sure it would really help much. I suppose that option would also leave others potentially free to use their powers, but that seems like a bit much for Bonesaw to miss; keep in mind that she’s done this before. She created Murder Rat from Ravager and Mouse Protector, among other mashups, and has had lots of people to experiment on. She may be the best in the world when it comes to Parahuman test subject security, so a screwup like that would seem out of character to me.
      Overall, I don’t think any one of these ideas quite holds up, but combining two of them – say, Imp arriving to help as Purity accidentally blew in a wall while aiming at Jack – could plausibly have created circumstances allowing our people a chance to escape. They would probably have to suffer some injuries in the process, but it could be believable, I think, so you’re not totally off base. 1, 3, 8, and 9 seem like the least reasonable to me, while combining some combination of 2, 4 ,6, and 7 would be the most believable. Not sure what I think of 5. I think you successfully make a case that there could have been other ways out of this, at least.
      That said, I’m not sure I agree with the idea that this is a Deus Ex Machina. Trigger events and their timing and nature have been touched on before, and are an important part of the setting. Brian, in this case, is being pushed almost as far as it is possible to be pushed. He is in excruciating pain (and has been for hours, possibly) with no quick death in sight, several friends and his sister are looking at either immediate death or later, lingering unpleasantness, and Bonesaw is terrifying as can be. What happens to Parian may also be a factor, along with the general accumulated stress since the story began and particularly since the S9 arrived. The main point, I think, is that Brian became a supervillain to provide and care for his sister. You can say that’s a dumb choice, but it was the central choice of his life, and has defined him and mandated his actions ever since. In this moment, at this place, she is about to die. I’d say that if he were to have a second trigger event under any circumstance, this should be it. It would almost be stranger if he didn’t, really. I mean, if this doesn’t trigger him, what the heck could?
      Generally, none of our main characters are at their best. Everything Brockton Bay has been through and their personal tragedies have taken a massive toll. Taylor is exhausted and not thinking straight, and she’s the most level-headed person on the team in a crisis. The way Scrub (the kid from the Merchants) had his first trigger event laid some groundwork for this, as have other past events. As noted by others, Grue’s powers have always had some interesting effects beyond simple darkness, such as interfering (somehow) with Shadow Stalker’s parahuman ability. Miss Militia’s interlude also comes to mind – she got her powers precisely when she needed them, and that seems to be almost the rule rather than the exception.
      Lastly, I think it’s a mistake to assume that the author is using this power-up as a contrivance to move the plot in certain directions. You can say that about anything that happens in any story, and there’s no way to obtain proof without reading the author’s mind. Having finished the story, I was satisfied that the characters develop in ways I believe and the logic of the powers is internally consistent, which is about all you can ask for. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think Brian gaining a new ability is a contrivance in the context of the Wormverse. I take it as part of that initial story conceit that we must accept in order to read Worm, just as I accept magic when reading a Fantasy story, even when everything about that magic isn’t explained to me at the very beginning. I also think the Wildbow’s general tendency toward worldbuilding and foreshadowing serves as compelling evidence that contrivances aren’t likely to be a problem in this story. With all the said, you are entitled to your own opinion.

      -CG

      • Thanks for the considered response. You do make a convincing case against any of my options (at least, any of them alone). If you’re interested, I have defended them against another critique by ‘greatwyrmgold’ (see above). My point was here was simply that the situation did not seem as hopeless as it was made out to be and so the second trigger event didn’t seem necessary to extricate them i.e. in terms of plausibility of those ideas, I was weighing them against the plausibility of Brians’ second trigger event. Perhaps that solution is more plausible than I gave it credit for. I suppose that comes down to opinion.

        All that said, I did end up reading ahead anyway. Though I’ve taken a hiatus for a while owing to life concerns, I might very well end up returning to the story in due time. I was just very upset at this turn of events and so felt compelled to comment on it. Thanks again for taking the time to consider my ideas. :)

        • I have read through your other comments, and greawyrmgold’s, and found both interesting. I did think you both raised some good/interesting points, which is why I replied at such length; it caught my interest, and I didn’t want to make a half-ass reply. I won’t repeat my earlier points or lay down another massive block of text here, but have a gander at my latest thoughts if you’re so inclined:

          As far as the hopelessness of the situation and Brian’s triggering, I think it’s important to remember that trigger events seem to be predicated on the situation as people perceive it, not necessarily the situation that actually exists. Even if Regent, Shatterbird, Imp, Bitch, and Genesis were about to burst into the room and stop Bonesaw, and we knew it, I don’t think the reasonable-ness or Deus Ex Machina-ness of Brian triggering would be affected, since he wouldn’t be aware of the fact, so that may be something worth keeping in mind. Also, Brian has been in that closet for a while; he’s going to feel far more hopeless than Taylor does, and she’s close to despair here.

          Secondly, I think a lot of the objections to anyone intervening to save the captives from Bonesaw can be summed up in the following four points:
          1. They would be hard-pressed to defeat Bonesaw one-on-one without her doing something horrible and escaping. This is especially true since Bonesaw doesn’t have to finish whatever she decides to do in order to completely traumatize someone for life, and interrupting her mid-surgery could easily be worse than letting her finish, or simply result in the patient’s immediate death. Also, while she is not a front-line combatant, Bonesaw is difficult to face because she fights like Taylor, always doing something unexpected. She has a broader bag of tricks and more prep work, but less tactical brilliance than Taylor, of course, but she’s similarly hard to anticipate. Plus, the fact that she’s a kid is unnerving to people, even if they know better intellectually. I imagine this may also account for some of Parian’s hesitation.

          2. Any aid, especially from the people available, seems (to me) unlikely to have a meaningful impact on the situation without drawing the attention of the rest of the S9. Keep in mind that they do this sort of thing on a regular basis, and remember how sharp Jack Slash is (pun unintentional).

          3. In any rescue, one of two things needs to happen. Either the paralyzed captives have to be moved by the unparalyzed rescuers, or the area must be secured until the paralysis wears off or can be counteracted. Frankly, I’m having a hard time thinking of alternate solutions to the simple issue of transportation, though I won’t claim it can’t be done; the Undersiders and Travellers are pretty resourceful, and people tend to underestimate Bitch’s ability to improvise despite the fact that she avoided capture on her own for a substantial period of time.

          4 (Which I hadn’t thought of before). Assuming that the people we’re talking about as possible saviors (Regent, Bitch, Genesis, or even the Pure/Chosen) are engaged with the S9, one or more of them disengaging from the fight could quickly cause the tide to turn in the S9’s favor. That might cause the S9 to stay outside longer (because they don’t feel the need to run or b/c they are enjoying taking out/chasing their opponents) or could cause more of them to return sooner (to check on Bonesaw or b/c they are under less pressure). Not sure which is more likely, but food for thought.

          So now that I’ve accidentally made another wall’o text, there you are. Hope it clarifies some of what I meant before, and my new additions. And I have to say, I’ve enjoyed considering the hypotheticals, even though I somewhat disagree with your initial point. I try to keep my comments civil regardless of differences in opinion, and I like finding someone who’s willing to tackle me head-on verbally. Keeps things interesting, and tends to make me consider my opinions and why I hold them, which is to my net benefit.

          In a broader sense, I’ll just say that I’ve finished Worm and I believe it was a rewarding read from this point, even though there were one or two points when I doubted whether Wildbow could write something satisfying; I chose to continue, and my leap of faith was rewarded, so I do think it’s worth your time when you have a chance.

          CG

          • I’m impressed that you actually read all of that. All together that exchange is probably as long as a full chapter, if not more. And yes, it did degenerate a bit (both of us are at fault for that), but thankfully it hasn’t come down to simply insulting each other or name-calling. I’ll try to keep this brief:

            Brian triggering at that point is certainly right. If we was going to trigger, that would be when it would happen. Mt solutions were all meant to happen before that point, however i.e. before Brian was staring ar the imminent dissection of Taylor and his sister. Parian attacked earlier, for instance. I was not suggesting she attack again, but that her first attack could have achieved something. All the others would’ve come in earlier as well.

            1. Bonesaw is difficult to face, but she doesn’t even need to be beaten, only driven off or distracted. This is an escape, not a battle. Also, as mentioned above, any rescue attempt would be occurring well before she had started surgery.

            2. It probably would. greatwyrmgold has made a lot of that. But it would also attract the attention of the other parties involved here. If the Nine turn, so will their attackers. And remember that our captives aren’t their priority. The rest of them don’t even know they’re there. They’ll come to save Bonesaw. They’ll be followed back by their attackers. If a cure is found (see the above comment train), then our guys might also be back in play. So things gets messy. Which is good for an escape, which is what this is. They haven’t shown any particular inclination to kill our captives before, despite being able to, so I doubt that desire would suddenly overtake them now. Bonesaw would be their main concern.

            3. Both Bitch and Genesis present options for moving our guys. And, as I’ve pointed out in the comment train, it would make sense for Bonesaw to keep an anti-paralytic around, which would negate the need for such transport. As for securing the area, that actually did happen. The Nine scarpered at the end of the chapter. So it is possible for them to leave, it seems. Brian didn’t seem to need to fight anyone else when they left.

            4. It might change the battle, yes. How that goes is anyone’s guess. Though not all options lead to that. Parian and Imp aren’t part of the battle. The ‘bad army’ idea was more of a piling on of pressure rather than a disengagement. The ‘good army’ idea obviously turns the tide against the Nine and makes it likely they’d not just return soon (to collect Bonesaw), but scarper. As I said, it isn’t assured they’d just kill our guys if they returned. If they wanted that, they’ve had plenty of opportunities already. They might want to keep them as captives (Bonesaw would, at any rate), but that would slow them down (Note that they made no attempt to do that in the actual chapter either). The Nine survive not just because of overwhelming power (like the Endbringers), but because of a certain level of tactical (and strategic in Jacks’ case) brilliance. Killing or capturing our guys serves no purpose to anyone but Bonesaw. They’re not viable hostages, and the Nine don’t use hostages (for protection, not decoys) anyway. It’d be more “fun” to let them live.

            Well, so much for keeping it brief. :P Anyway, I’ll keep your vote of confidence for the story in mind. :)

            • You make good counterpoints, and fairly convincing ones. It’s been a pleasure examining and talking over this stuff, but I think at this point we’ve about talked it as far as we can, so I think I’ll let it rest. Between the two of us and greatwyrmgold, I don’t think there are any possibilities left to raise other than the truly outlandish. I hope to see you further on in the comments some time, or around the internet somewhere. It’s a small world sometimes.

              As for the overall quality of Worm, I think it’s worth noting that my favorite parts of the story are probably the emotional/moral components (though I certainly enjoy the action as well). I think if I did a top ten favorite moments of the story, most of them wouldn’t have come up yet at this point – and I definitely like the story up to here.

              CG

  23. I remember the first time I read this chapter, wondering what the heck Brian was doing. Knowing what’s revealed next chapter, it all makes sense…so keep reading, true skeptics. There should only be one notable loose end after that, and it gets cleared up before the arc ends.

    • I’m not sure if that was intended as a reply to my comment. In case it was, I’ll just say that I have read ahead to find out what his new ability is. My point wasn’t that his new ability makes no sense, but rather that it came out of the blue (Deus Ex Machina). The convention of people just getting new powers when the situation calls for it is what I have issue with. It’s too convenient. Also, as outlined in my comments, in this situation it wasn’t even necessary. I mentioned NINE possible ways in which the writer could have extricated them from this mess without having to invent a new power. In fact, later chapters suggest that this getting into this mess (which was Taylor’s fault, really, since they could’ve just left/killed Brian and escaped) was solely ENGINEERED by the the writer in order to give him a new power. In case the idea of killing Brian doesn’t appeal to the writer, it would’ve been entirely possible for the him to simply make his situation less hopeless so that he could’ve been rescued without such a plot device. Less horror impact that way, of course, but it does allow you to save him without relying on new powers. As other readers have commented, this wasn’t the most horrific scene they’ve ever read, so the loss of horror might not have been too bad. Or it could’ve been quite the challenge to create a situation which was horrific, but not rendering Brian irrecoverable. Perhaps something connected to pain rather than outright bodily harm. I hope my critiques aren’t taken negatively. I still loved the story. :)

      • It was not in reply to your comment. It was talking about the chapter in general, to future readers; if I wanted to reply to you, I would have done so.

        And there were a number of considerations that this opened up. It gave exposition on the nature of powers, a slight but additive amount. It shed light on the nature of…well, you-know-what, I presume. And it isn’t like there were no hints that Brian’s power could do this–it wasn’t completely out of the blue. Grue’s darkness has been affecting powers since the story’s start, some more obviously than others. It set up additional considerations for Brian’s interactions with the team, and kicked off a brief new development in that vein…remember how Brian re-triggered because of Taylor? And so on, and so forth; now let me locate these nine ways to beat the Nine.

  24. Whoa. Wacky, weird stuff going on here. The healing does seem awfully convenient… I guess I’ll wait a couple of chapters before I form a conclusion whether it’s deus ex machina or not.

  25. Whoa. Wacky, weird stuff going on here. The healing does seem awfully convenient… I guess I’ll wait a couple of chapters before I form a conclusion whether it’s deus ex machina or not.

  26. Thoughts:

    This *does* come across as a deus ex machina but honestly that doesn’t bother me. The Undersiders have had the odds stacked against them for so long at this point that it’s about *time* luck was on their side for a change.

    BTW, I read some of the back and forth about whether this was the most appropriate way for the Undersiders to get out of this pickle. I wonder if it’s worth looking at this from another perspective. This advances the mysterious giant creatures plotline and the source of superpowers plotline. Odds are good that Wildbow had to slip a development like this into the plot somewhere. So why not insert a trigger event at the point where it makes most sense – when they are in inescapable need?

    I have *not* read ahead so this is pure speculation, but to me this smacks more of laying groundwork for future developments than of an author desperately scrambling to get his characters out of a jam…

    • should be ‘more helpless than ever’. I try to mention these things when I see them, in case it ever goes into an official book form, though there are a few I’ve seen and didn’t mention and couldn’t find when I went back to look for them.

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