Monarch 16.13

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With Grue’s help, I seated myself on the intact edge of the destroyed swarmbox, scattering my insects to the walls and ceiling of the room.  Grue paced a little, while I eyed Imp and Bitch.  My female teammates didn’t look entirely convinced, and I couldn’t blame them.  They’d just seen someone who matched my description attacking them.  The nighttime darkness and the lack of city lights hadn’t helped, and the obscuring swarm of bugs had helped hide the details from the moment the impostor gave them reason to suspect her.

“What happened?” Grue asked me.

“We arrived at the place he was keeping Dinah, she grabbed my hand, we turned around, and the headlights flashed.  Then I was somewhere else.”

“He switched to his highbeams, momentarily.  Don’t know about the others, but my eyes had adjusted to the dark.  I couldn’t see anything, used my darkness to try to cover us in case he was pulling something, but nothing happened.  Turned around and you were fine.”

“Except it wasn’t me.”

Grue nodded slowly.  “Looked like you, sounded like you.”

“I don’t know how.  Genesis?”

“Didn’t strike me as much of an actor.”

“Then I don’t know,” I said, feeling lame.  I knew I didn’t sound convincing.

“What happened?  Was he only trying to separate you from us?”

“I’m ninety-five percent sure he tried to kill me.”

“What’s the other five percent?”  Grue asked.

“I’m not a hundred percent sure of anything.  But he didn’t have a bomb waiting to go off when I arrived, so that leaves me with some doubt.  He did shoot me, and set the building on fire around me.  And he had soldiers waiting to gun me down if I stepped outside.”

“Did he want you to come here, to frame you?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head.  “Doesn’t make sense.  Just as easy for ‘Skitter’ to disappear with Dinah, leaving you guys angry but still loyal.  I think the way he wanted it, I’d die of the gunshot or burn up in a housefire, and he could use the lack of living reporters in Brockton Bay alongside some bribe money for the Travelers to ensure you guys didn’t know what he’d pulled.  Maybe something comes out later about me betraying you, to put it in perspective and put any lingering doubts to rest.”

“He teleported you into a burning house, shot you, surrounded you with soldiers.  And you escaped,” Imp said.

“Barely.”  I touched the knot of metal where the bullet had settled in my armor.  “I guess it’s bulletproof after all.  I got away because of stuff he wasn’t aware of, mainly.  My costume, tactics I’ve been using in the field, the fact I had a gun.  Don’t know if Calvert knew about that.  Are you okay, Rachel?”

Rachel didn’t respond.  Her head was turned my way, and I could imagine her staring, trying to read me.  Her hand gripped the chain at Bastard’s neck.

“It wasn’t me,” I told her.

“It wasn’t her,” Grue confirmed.  “I saw with her power.  That box was controlling the bugs.”

Bitch nodded slowly.  I couldn’t see her expression to know whether she was glaring at me or narrowing her eyes behind her mask.

“If you have any doubts,” I said, “You can stay in a position to attack me if something happens.  One whistle or one hand signal away from commanding Bastard or Bentley to tear me apart.  I hope you won’t leap to any conclusions, but-“

“It’s fine.”

“Are you sure?  Because I don’t want there to be any hard feelings or… I don’t want there to be hard feelings.”  I’d almost said retaliation, but I’d decided I didn’t want to bring that up.

“It’s fine,” she said, and there was a touch of anger to the words.  “This shadow and dagger shit pisses me off.”

“Cloak and dagger,” Imp offered.

Bitch made a low, grunting noise in her throat that fell somewhere between a huff of anger, a belch and a grunt.  “The way you acted before, the way that person acted when she shot me and the way you’re acting now, none of it makes sense, and maybe that’s ’cause I’m stupid.  But I’m going to handle this my way.  Next time someone shoots at me, I kill them.  Or I have Bastard eat their hands and feet.”

“You shouldn’t maim people,” I said.

“Says the person who just emptied a gun clip at us,” Imp said.  When Grue and I turned her way, she raised her hands, “Kidding.  I’m just kidding.”

“…Want me to kill them instead?”  Bitch asked.

“No!  No.  Just… nevermind.  But hold back a bit for now.  And don’t call yourself stupid.  You think in a different way, that’s all.”

She offered a noncommittal grunt in response.

“We should talk rescue plans,” I said.  “Calvert invited Tattletale to join him, probably so she wouldn’t tip us off about the body double.  That means she’s probably caught.  Regent too, since we sent him to look after her.  This is the kind of situation we were hoping to avoid by playing along with his grand plan.”

“Having to tackle his full forces to save Tattletale, Regent and Dinah.”

“Right.  If we go charging into this, we or one of his hostages will get killed.”

“I could go in,” Imp said.  “Get them, walk them out.”

“No.  He knows us.  He’s anticipated something like this.  Probably has for the Travelers, too.  He’ll have planned around our powers, with counters in mind for each of us.  That means video cameras to keep an eye out for you.”

“Pain in the ass.”

“Indirect attack?”  Grue suggested.

“It won’t work if he’s holed up somewhere safe.  Not with the countermeasures he’ll have put in place.  If he’s in his underground base until this all blows over, then he’ll be impossible to access,” I said.  I had to stop to cough.

Nobody chimed in with an answer or idea while I recovered.

I went on.  “If he’s in the PRT offices, then we’ll probably have to get past the Travelers, his soldiers, his PRT officers, any countermeasures he’s put in place and any countermeasures the PRT put in place.  It’d be a question of staggering out his various lines of defense so the more questionable ones are out of sight of the good guys.”

“And he still has his hostages,” Grue said.

Fuck it,” I groaned, then I coughed more.

“You need a hospital,” Grue told me.

I shook my head, then regretted it.  I felt dizzy.  Vaguely nauseous.  It was as though simply stopping and letting the adrenaline kick down a notch was letting symptoms emerge.  “Can’t.  Not now.”

“You’re nearly dead on your feet.”

“I’ll manage,” I said.  I turned my eyes to the place I’d been lying while Imp stood over me.  “What if I was dead?”

“Hm?”

“Calvert doesn’t have a way to know how this turned out.  Do you have phone service?”

Grue reached for his phone, but Imp had hers out first.  “Sure.”

“He cut my phone off.  I threw it away in case it could be used to track me, or in case it was how he was getting a hold on me with that teleportation device.  If he suspected you, wouldn’t he do the same, limit your options?”

“So you think he thinks maybe something happened.  Or he’s waiting to see if we bought his ruse.”

“He knows I was in the area.  I attacked his men trying to save you guys.  He had gunmen and explosives teams ready to wipe you off the map if you caught on to what that impostor was doing.  So what happens if you call him and tell him you killed me?”

“He asks us to meet him at one of those secure locations you mentioned, and we can’t refuse without revealing that we know what he tried to pull.  And destroying that box might have clued him in anyways.”

“Fuck,” I muttered.

“When the other Skitter disappeared with the girl, how did she do it?  Exactly.”

“Teleporting,” I said.  “Threw the first flashbang, teleported out, leaving rubble and another flashbang behind.”

“Mm,” he said, “Okay.”

“Why are you so curious about that?”

“Just thinking something through.  Give me a second to think.”  He pointed at me, “Make sure you’re taking deep breaths in the meantime.  Even if it hurts.”

I nodded and did as he asked.  For a little while, I ignored my bugs and focused on tallying the damage I’d sustained.  My breath wheezed and rattled, my chest hurt every time it or something attached to it moved, and my eyes stung when I opened them.  Not that there was any point.

Grue was pacing, breathing hard, while Imp and Bitch stood by.  It was a bit of a reversal of the norm.  I could sense Bitch scratching around Bastard’s ears, her fingernails digging in deep to get past the areas with armor and bony spikes.  Imp was on the other side of the room, leaning against one of the wooden pillars and watching her brother.

“I’m calling him,” Grue announced, still panting a bit.  Before any of us could protest, he said, “Quiet.”

I closed my mouth.

He put the phone on speaker.  I could hear it ring.

Funny how something so mundane as the ring of a phone could sound so ominous and eerie, given the context of a situation.

“Grue,” It was Calvert’s voice.  “What-“

When Grue spoke, his words were growls, barks.  “You better not have had anything to do with this, or I swear, this is over.  We’re done, gone.”

I could virtually hear Calvert switching mental gears to try to adapt to this.  “Slow down and then explain.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Skitter attacked us and then she used your technology to leave the scene.  I know you wanted to keep that girl, but going so far as to fucking turn on us-“

“Grue,” Calvert’s voice was hard, firm, “Slow down.  It doesn’t make sense that I’d arrange things that way.  Why go through the motions of giving my pet to Skitter, only to… you haven’t fully explained what happened.  You said she attacked you?  Are you sure?”

“Pretty fucking sure, Coil.  She shot Rachel and then turned on me.  Imp disarmed her.  Then she teleported away using the same device you described to us an hour ago.”

“I… I see.  Is Rachel all right?  And who else was with you, my driver?  You’re all unharmed?”

“Your driver went ahead.  No, we’re all fine, except for Skitter.”

“You said she teleported away.”

“She didn’t get more than two blocks away.  We chased her down and stopped her.”

My eyes widened a bit.  I could imagine Calvert’s next words before he spoke them, was already moving.

“Show me.  Send a picture through the phone.”

I shifted position so I lay in the depression that Bastard’s front paws had made in the swarm box.  It was a scene I had to stage in seconds, using dragonflies and wasps to carry hairs across my mask, moving my hand so my wrist bent at an awkward angle where the metal folded.  The final touch was bringing all the bugs from around the swarm box to carpet me and the floor.

Not a half second after I finished, I heard the digitized camera sound.

“I see.  That’s quite unfortunate.  Where’s Dinah?”

You know where Dinah is.

“I don’t know,” Grue said.  “I’m far more interested in hearing how Skitter managed to use your technology to do this.”

“You’re sure?”

“I saw it with my own two eyes,” Grue said.  “She threw a flashbang, but light and darkness don’t affect me the way they do others.  You know that much.”

Grue was lying, adding an element Calvert wasn’t aware of, to throw him off track.  Good.

“I didn’t, believe it or not,” Calvert said.  “And I don’t know how she would have gotten access to the controls.  One moment.  I’ll have to call you right back.”

My swarm felt Grue stiffen.  He raised his voice, “Don’t hang up on me!”

The speaker phone buzzed with the dial tone.

We stared at each other.  Or the others stared and I used my swarm sense to observe.  As a group, we were still and quiet for long seconds, the dial tone still blaring.

Grue hit the button.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Being aggressive, keeping him on his heels.  If he’s constantly defending himself, he won’t be able to turn things back on us.”

“Except he hung up.  He’s going to think through his options and give you an excuse when he’s ready.”

“I didn’t think he’d hang up.”

I frowned.  I was thinking back to the meeting I’d had with the school, when my dad had been with me and we’d accused the trio of bullying.  Both Emma’s dad and the school had played their little power games.

“It’s a tactic,” I said.  “He regains control of the situation by being the one who can call back, and it helps establish the idea of him being an authority figure.”

“Damn,” he said.  “Sorry.  It made sense in my head, but I didn’t think it through, I’m tired.  Didn’t sleep last night.  I figured it was better to call sooner than later.”

“It’s okay.  Maybe call him back?”

He didn’t get a chance.  The phone rang.

“This wasn’t the kind of response I wanted, Coil,” Grue growled into the phone, the second he’d answered.

I heard the beep as he switched it to speaker phone.  Calvert was already talking.  “- have sequestered Regent in my custody, out of concern that he controlled Victor to have the young man hack into my systems.”

“You and I both know that Victor didn’t have that kind of access, and we didn’t know about your teleportation technology until an hour ago.”

“I fear Skitter may have known, and I’m simply covering my bases.  Once we’ve verified what happened and that Regent wasn’t complicit, I’ll release him.  You can understand where I’m wanting to be careful, given this turn of events.”

“I don’t understand anything, Coil,” I heard a tremor of emotion in Grue’s voice.  “I liked Skitter, and she’s dead.  The use of the teleporter says you’re complicit.  I want to look you in the eye and believe you weren’t a part of this.”

“We’ll sort this matter out.  If you’ll come to my headquarters, we can discuss this.”

“No.  Not your headquarters.  Not with the possibility you pulled this shit on us.  We’ll meet somewhere else.  Somewhere open.”

There was a pause.  “As you wish.  Name a location.”

Grue, this time, was the one caught off guard.  Calvert’s response was fast, and Grue clearly didn’t have an area in mind.

A place where we’d be able to set up faster than Calvert, ideally open, not riddled with attack routes and vantage points for his soldiers

I thought of a spot, and the air caught in my throat as I suppressed a small noise.  I almost coughed.  I drew the word in the air with my bugs.

“The market, north end,” Grue said, reading it.  “You know it?”

“I do.  It’s shut down at present.”

“Right.  You come with only one small squad of soldiers, bring Tattletale and Regent.”

“If-”  Calvert started.

Grue hung up on him.  He looked at me, “Authority, right?”

“Right,” I said.  But all I could hear was the emotion in his voice when he’d been talking about the idea that I’d been dead.  Pretending.  Grue wasn’t a guy who showed his emotions, he didn’t strike me as an actor.  Hearing that had affected me more than I thought it would.  I didn’t want to ask if it was because he really cared or if it was because he’d tapped into something else, some vulnerability that his recent trauma had left open to him.

I coughed lightly.  “The market’s a good spot.  His people were at the south end of town.  It’ll take him a bit to get there, so he won’t be able to stage any kind of ambush.”

“It works.  But if we’re meeting him, what are you doing?”

“Staying nearby,” I said.  “I’ll wait in the wings.  In the meantime, we should see if we can get our hands on something that we could have Bastard maul to the point that it looks like my mutilated remains.”

“There a butcher still in service anywhere?” Grue asked.

“We’ll figure something out,” I replied.

The market was almost empty, an expanse of asphalt devoid of cars, surrounded by tall grass.  There were still faint marks where the treads and scoops of bulldozers had pushed the dirt and debris to the far side of the lot.  Only a few stalls were standing, but the displays were empty.

I felt exposed, naked.  I was wearing only my old costume and the built-in makeshift skirt to cover me where the fire had eaten away at the leggings.  My utility compartment was the one that had been damaged during our altercation with the Nine, holding the bare essentials, while my new mask and the upper half of my remade costume were presently being worn by the fake we’d made.  The sacrifice of the costume hurt, and the process of putting the fake together hadn’t been pretty.

The head, upper body and arms were simply taken from a child’s mannequin we’d salvaged from the inside of a store display and stuffed into the top of my costume.  To get the meat for the torn midsection, I’d had to use my bugs to root out and kill a raccoon from the bins of a dumpster.  I’d cut it open and tied the entrails to the base of the mannequin’s torso with my spiders.  A wig that vaguely matched my own hair was simply bound to the head.  We soaked the body, the wig in particular, with the blood of the dead raccoon.

Bentley’s tail wagged as he carried the thing delicately in his heavy jaws, one arm and a bloody mess of hair dangling from the left side of his mouth, raccoon intestines hanging out the other.

I headed into the tall grass and hunkered down.  Volumes of insects and arachnids that I’d picked up during our trek to the market settled around me, hidden at the base of the grass.

Adrenaline kept me awake, despite the fatigue that I was experiencing.  It had been an intense few days, an intense few weeks, with minimal chance to rest.  My body was probably struggling to heal, and draining what little reserves I had remaining.  Still, I wasn’t about to doze off.

Calvert arrived after ten or fifteen minutes, pulling up with one armored van.  All in all, he had only four soldiers with him.  He walked within twenty feet of me as he crossed the tall grass.  I was aware of his footsteps crushing my bugs as he passed over the swarm.

Oblivious, he approached Grue, Imp, Bitch and the dogs.

“Ah.  You brought Skitter.  It seems there’s little doubt she’s dead.  A terrible shame.”

“No kidding,” Imp said.

“I’d suggest my man look over the body, verify that it was her, but I suppose there’s no point trying.”

“Bentley wouldn’t let you get that close to his treat,” Bitch said.

Bentley growled, as if he understood the words and wanted to make it absolutely clear.

“Don’t talk about her like that,” Grue said.  “Calling her a treat?”

“She betrayed us,” Imp said.  “Why do you care?”

“Enough,” Calvert said, his voice hard.  “Enough bickering.  My time is valuable, and I’m not willing to waste it on entertaining this ruse.”

I didn’t have many bugs deployed on my allies or on Calvert, but I could still feel the others tense in surprise.

“Yes, I know.  I commend you for trying, I might have believed you, but I do have other resources on hand.”

“Then-” Grue started.

“Ah, bup bup,” Calvert raised a hand, “I was talking.  As I was saying, I have other resources available.  I have a small cadre of supervillains, a small group of heroes, all the resources of the PRT and PRT computer systems, and all of their tools.”

He snapped his fingers, and soldiers began to teleport down to the edges of the market.  Most were positioned so that the Undersiders would have to run off the edge of the pavement, over the grass and into the water if they wanted to get away.  Surrounding a target while holding guns only promised to get people shot.  The effect, as it was, was good enough.

The Travelers teleported in behind Calvert, followed by Chariot, Circus, Über and Leet, and a few of his lieutenants.  People in suits.  One held a laptop while the other typed on it.

Every gun, tinker made or otherwise, was pointed at my teammates.

Another gun pressed against the back of my head.  Soldiers had teleported in behind me.

I felt despair sweep through me.  No.  Too many.  Didn’t think he could teleport this many in.

The gun barrel prodded me, and I stood.  I walked with the gun pressed between my shoulderblades, just above the spot where my utility compartment hung.

“Skitter.  How nice of you to join us.”

“Cut the fake civility,” I said.  “Where are our teammates?”

“Regent and Tattletale are safe and locked up, rest assured.  I must say, I’m quite disappointed.  I really had hoped this would work out, and the loss of the Undersiders sets me back by weeks or months in the grand scheme of my plan.  Imp, you can cease trying to run.  My men have cameras on you,” Calvert gestured toward the laptop.

Imp moved her mask to spit on the ground, just to my right.  It was a bit of a shock to find her standing there.

“Farewell, Under-“

“Wait.” I said.  Raising my voice made me cough.

“I don’t see any point to waiting.”

I hurried to recover and speak before he could give the order.  “Dead man’s switch.”

Calvert sighed.  “Ah.  You are irritating, you know?  On more than one occasion, I know, you’ve argued for the sake of the greater good.  I’ve viewed the recordings the PRT has of your appearances at major events and I’ve come to know you fairly well.  It’s rather hypocritical that you’re now working so hard to fight against the greater good.”

“Against your rule.”

“Essentially so.  If you simply would have died quietly, the Undersiders wouldn’t have been stirred to rebellion, I could have established a peace we haven’t seen since the day Scion arrived and everyone involved here could have walked away happier and healthier.  Your friends included.”

“Tattletale excepted,” I responded.

“Tattletale excepted, I admit.  Too dangerous to be left unchecked.  A shame.  Now, you were saying?”

“I arranged a dead man’s switch.  Kind of.  Unless one of my subordinates receives a message from me every twenty minutes, she’ll mass-send emails to everyone important and even a few unimportant people.”

“Detailing the true nature of Thomas Calvert, I suspect?”

“Yeah.”

“I hate to break it to you, dear Skitter, but this isn’t enough leverage for me to let you walk away.”

I turned my head in the direction of my teammates.  With my power, I noted their presence.  Grue, Imp, Bitch, her dog.

“None of us?” I asked.

“No.  I’m more confident in my ability to handle the chaos that any email creates than I am in my ability to get you and your teammates under my thumb again.”

“Okay,” I said.  I could feel sweat running cold down the back of my neck.  “Then I have a few questions, and a couple of requests.  Satisfy that, and I can disable the dead man’s switch.”

“The requests first, if you please.”

“Dinah goes free when you’re done.  You don’t keep her forever.”

“Agreed.”

“My dad, you don’t touch him.”

“I haven’t and I won’t have reason to.”

“And you take care of Rachel’s dogs.”

Calvert nodded, but I could sense his patience was running out.

“You do what you can to stop Jack from doing what he can to end the world.  If you have capes at your disposal, you give them some job related to that.  To stopping it.”

“Fine.  Is that it?”

“If none of us here get to live, at least promise Tattletale gets to.”

“Fine.  That can be arranged.”

“I’ll need to see her, to verify she’s okay.  I get that you can’t prove you haven’t gone after my dad in retaliation for earlier, but you can bring her here.”

Calvert nodded at Chariot, who pressed a button on his wrist.

Tattletale appeared in a flash of light, arms bound behind her, legs shackled.  She wore headgear that had her blindfolded and gagged.  I couldn’t quite tell, but it looked like the ears were plugged too.

“Satisfied?” Calvert asked.

“No.  It could be a body double, like you arranged for me.  I’d like to confirm with her.”

“No.  The restraints are in place for a reason.”

“Then it’s a body double,” I said.  “And I’ll let the timer run down on this damaging piece of email.”

“I’m willing to run that risk.”

“Use your power,” I told him.  “I’m going to say the words rose-L.  She’ll reply with something green, followed by the letter A.”

“I’m familiar with your codes.”

“Great.  And if she doesn’t, shoot us.  If there’s a problem, go with your other world.”

“You know how my power works?” Calvert sighed.  “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised in the end, with the name she chose.  No.”

“It’s all I’m asking for.  You can send your computer experts to the destination I name, they’ll check the computer memory to verify no messages were sent, check the phones of everyone on my call history that you don’t already know, and then you’ll know you’re in the clear.  That’s what I’m offering you in exchange for the assurance that at least Tattletale will get to live.  Peace of mind.”

“I could kill your liaison, you realize.  She’s a loose end.”

I thought of Charlotte, hoped I wouldn’t regret getting her involved.  “I hope you won’t.  All I’ve told her is that she should await my message and send the file I composed if she doesn’t hear from me regularly.  I hope you’ll let Tattletale and my civilian live, but if you won’t, if you break your word, I guess I’ll have to live with you looking a little worse in the eyes of the people who work for you.  Like the Travelers.”

“Don’t bring us into this, Skitter,” Trickster said.  “This is your mess.  Your consequences.”

“I didn’t do anything.  He was the one who turned on us first,” I protested.

I sensed Trickster turn Calvert’s way.

Calvert sighed audibly.  “As Skitter knows about my power and ever so kindly revealed the broad strokes of it to everyone in earshot, I suppose there’s no loss in explaining.  I tortured one member of the Undersiders for information, in another world, days ago.  They revealed that you were plotting to turn on me if I refused to release Dinah.  I cannot afford to release her, so my hand was forced.”

“So it’s our fault?” Imp asked.

“Ultimately, yes.”

“How did you make those body doubles?  Genesis?”

“The old-fashioned way.  The one that replaced you was a Sudanese child soldier.  I was preparing for the eventuality of your betrayal since the day after Leviathan attacked and your… wobbly allegiances became perfectly clear.  It’s amusing, but the files you stole from the PRT offices after rejoining the Undersiders supplied much of the video footage my hired experts used to coach her in the particulars of how you move and speak.  When you went to convince the Mayor of our way of thinking, Trickster carried the devices Leet designed to record the particular signals you use to command your bugs.”

“Which is how you built the swarm box.”

“The Famine Engine,” Leet said.

“Whatever.”

“Any further questions?”

“Why didn’t you drop me on top of a bomb?”

“An unfortunate side effect of Leet’s power.  Leet believes it was the proximity to the bomb or the particular signature of the vat of acid that made it so likely to occur, but with my power I observed that it wasn’t merely a chance that the teleportation would fail and your well-trained body double would be caught instead, but a surety.  No less than twelve tries with the variables changed slightly.  Leet’s power sabotages him, it seems.”

“Is that Leet’s passenger at work?”

“Passenger?  Ah, that’s what Bonesaw calls the agents.  Yes, I suppose that might be the case.  In any event, we nearly ran out of time before verifying that guns, fire and alcohol wouldn’t skew his power.  Whatever the cause of the errors was.”

“Okay.  So I don’t suppose you want to let me confirm it’s Tattletale and tell you who to contact to cancel the dead man’s switch?”

“No.”

“You’ve been careful every step of the way.  Thinking five steps ahead, amassing resources, amassing top-notch underlings, getting us working for you, getting the Travelers.  I’m surprised you’re willing to let things go ass-backwards when you’re so close to tying up the last loose end.”

“It’s precisely because I’m careful that I’m not willing to let Tattletale open her mouth and speak.”

“You’re still pretending it’s Tattletale,” I said.

“It is.  I had no reason to arrange a body double for her as I did for you.”

“You had every reason.  Like you said, you didn’t trust her, you couldn’t let her work unchecked, and it would have been too unusual if the two members of the Undersiders that posed the biggest threat to your goals happened to disappear at once.”

Calvert shook his head and touched fingers to his forehead, as if exasperated.  “Your underling and Tattletale can live.  That’s all I’m willing to offer.  You’ll have to take my word on both points”

“Your word is worth nothing,” Bitch spat the words.

Calvert reacted as if he’d been slapped.

“You promised me safety, security, so long as I joined this team.  I’ve never been less safe, less secure.  Everybody lies through their teeth.  Maybe there’s a couple of them I can stand anyways, but they’re still liars, they’ve made me a liar, and you’re the worst liar of them all.  It’s fitting you wear a snake on your costume.”

Enough,” Calvert said, “Anything more and I’ll order my men to shoot you.”

“Shoot her and you’ll never get the info you need from me,” I said.

“You’re a cheat, Coil!” Bitch barked.

“I’ll have your dogs shot if you say another word,” Calvert said.

Bitch fell silent.

Silence reigned for long seconds.  I was aware of my bugs, knew that I couldn’t have them attack without us getting shot.  I knew my armor was bulletproof, Bitch’s armored jacket was the same way, but the thinner fabric, or a bullet through the lens or eyehole of a mask?  There were a lot of soldiers here.  Even if the suits could stop the bullets from penetrating, we could be pulverized anyways.

I heard a wave crash against the shore, not far away.  Long seconds passed.

“If it settles the matter, then fine,” Calvert said.  He signaled Chariot.

Another Tattletale appeared.  She dropped to her knees the second she materialized.  She wore a similar headset and bindings.

“Free her mouth and one ear.  Be ready to gag her again the second she speaks.”

One of his soldiers approached the kneeling Tattletale.  He undid the gag and freed her ear of the plug that was held in place with wire.

“Rose-L,” I called out.

“Stringbean-A,” she replied.  She grunted as the soldier forced the gag back into her mouth.

“She gets to live,” I told Calvert.  “If nothing else, you guys are going to need her help to figure out how Jack Slash ends the world in twenty-three months.”

“It’s amusing,” Calvert said, “That you keep asking me for things I was already prepared to do.  You wanted me to improve the city, to restore it to a working state.  Already planned.  And this?  Killing Tattletale was never in the cards.  I intend to keep her like I do my pet.  Her power will be invaluable.  Rest assured, I will offer every bit of assistance I can when the end of the world approaches.”

“I suppose it was too much to expect that you’d let her go,” I said.  My heart pounded in my chest.  I wasn’t exactly feeling top-notch, so simply standing was feeling like a bit of a challenge.  Fighting back, acting?  No.  No use.  “Her name is Charlotte.  She’s staying in the red brick house a block to the east of my dad’s place.  She has a laptop, but she doesn’t know what I put on it.”

“Very well.  Men?  Ready-“

“-You’re not going to check?”

“Aim…”

“Calvert!” I said, “Coil!”

“Fire.”

The sound of the gunshots was deafening, debilitating when I was already missing my sense of sight, my bugs not present enough to give me a sense of the surroundings.  I sensed Grue get hit, then Bentley… I took one in the stomach and folded over.

When the smoke cleared, for lack of a better term, we were still standing.  There was the sound of a few isolated scuffles in the ranks of the soldiers.  My bugs moved to the ends of gun barrels and to the soldiers themselves, noting their postures and positions.

Roughly half of the soldiers that surrounded us were holding the other half hostage.  A few had managed to get shots off, but a quick feel-around with my bugs verified that nobody had been hurt enough to be knocked to the ground.  Most of the bullets had gone over our heads.

“What is this?” Calvert asked.  “Travelers-“

“Don’t do a thing, Travelers,” Grue boomed out, in his eerie, hollow voice.  “Someone remove Tattletale’s bindings.”

One of the soldiers approached Tattletale and began undoing the restrictive binding.  She wobbled slightly as she stood, working her jaw in the absence of the gag.

“Glad to see the stringbean plan worked out in the end,” she said.  “Those of you I haven’t been in contact with, please hear me out.  I’m paying twice what Calvert is for a year’s salary, and I’m paying it all upfront.  Look to the other team captains if you don’t believe me.  Fish, Minor, Richards, Meck, I’ve talked to them, and they’ve agreed.”

There was a slight shift in the tension among the soldiers.  The ones at gunpoint began slowly lowering their weapons, and the ones holding them there similarly let it calm a notch.

“Lies,” Calvert said.  There was an uncharacteristic degree of emotion in his voice.  “I’ve tracked your funding.  I know exactly how much money you have.”

“Not exactly.  See, I revealed this to my team, just a little while ago, but I’ve sort of been skimming.”

“From me?”

“A bit.  Not as much as you’d think.  You keep good accounts.  But our targets?  For sure.  Like, we go rob the Brockton Bay central bank, and maybe I skip off for five minutes to go visit the CEO’s room, use his computer to get access to more funds, and shift them into a personal account.  Or I keep a few of the more valuable pieces of paperwork, or I pocket something expensive during a job.  Funny thing about a power like mine, it helps me figure out what I can get away with.”

“You haven’t taken enough to pay twice what I can.”

“You’d be surprised.  And some of your assets are in a position to be picked up by yours truly.  Safe deposit boxes and safes don’t mean much against me.  So that’s a bit more funding of yours that I can borrow to pay these guys.  A year up front, and I’m not asking them to do a single thing.  Most of them, anyways.  I’m just asking that they ship out of Brockton Bay or they stay on the down-low.”
“I’ll pay triple,” Calvert said.

“You can’t pay triple,” Tattletale said, stretching as the chains around her wrists and ankles were undone.  “You’ve dented your coffers too much with the city revitalization.  Didn’t help that you paid such an exorbitant sum to the Dragonslayers for the information they were offering.”

“That was your idea.”

“Yeah,” Tattletale said.  “You were desperate enough to deal with the Dragon threat before your big show at the debate that you didn’t make too big an issue of it.  Either way, you forgot the cardinal rule of employing mercenaries.  They follow the person with the money.”

“I didn’t forget,” Calvert said, “I had that in mind every step of the way.  I was exceedingly careful of how much funding I provided.”

“Okay,” Tattletale sounded almost chirpy.  “But you didn’t account for the possibility that I was picking up as much on my own as I was.”

Calvert made a noise that was a borderline snarl.

“Undersiders,” Trickster said.  “This goes no further.  Call it a stalemate, but we need his assistance.”

“Calvert’s lying, you know,” Tattletale said.  “He can maybe help you, but he can’t help Noelle.  None of the plans he’s been talking about will work, and he knows they won’t work.  He wants Noelle for entirely different reasons.  He thinks he can get her on a leash, so he’s got firepower even if he gets rid of the supervillains working under him.  A threat that only the great PRT leader Thomas Calvert can address.”

“I’d rather see the truth of that for myself.  You touch him and we kill you.”

“You guys aren’t wearing the same kind of durable costume we are,” Tattletale said.  “If you want to make a point of it, my soldiers can gun you down.”

“I can swap your group with mine the second the gunshots happen,” Trickster replied, unfazed.  “You don’t want to do that.”

I tried to speak, coughed once instead.  When I finally had my voice, I said, “Ballistic.  Sundancer.  Any other Traveler with doubts, I know you guys aren’t happy with the status quo.  If you want to stop running, stop moving constantly and move to Brockton Bay permanently, we’ll have you.  We need you, even.”

A long pause stretched out, then Ballistic stepped forward.

“Hey, man,” Trickster said.  “No.”

“I’m done.  This was a doomed quest from the start,” Ballistic said.  He stopped at Grue’s side, turned around to face his teammates.

“Sundancer?” I asked.  “You said before that you were lonely, that all of this was too intense for you.  Even the stuff I’ve done, it didn’t sit right with you.  I get that.  Don’t you want to stop?  To say goodbye to this life?”

Trickster looked at Sundancer, “Mars.”

She shook her head.  “No.  No, Skitter.  I’m staying.  Don’t have another choice.”

“Genesis?”

She was in the form of a girl, but wore a simple mask.  “Someone’s got to stay and be a real leader to this team.  No.  I’m standing by Trickster.”

“Teleport me to safety,” Calvert said.  “Escort me away, and everything I have is yours.”

“Everything you have is mine already,” Tattletale cut in.  “You’ve been dethroned, C-man.  I’m going to rule as the mastermind behind the scene in Brockton Bay, organize the territories, pay the bills.  My partners will see to the territories themselves.  I suppose I won’t be head of the PRT, but I’m suspicious we’ll be able to work out a truce of sorts with the good guys.  Hopefully we’ll get someone more sensible than Piggot and less shady than you.”

“Trickster,” Calvert said.  “I can put you in touch with the woman who can cure her.  Someone who knows as much or more about Parahumans than anyone on the planet.  It won’t be free, but I can subsidize the costs.  But I have to be alive to-“

Trickster collapsed to the ground.  Sundancer and Genesis turned, confused, and Ballistic caught Genesis with a spray of pellets.  She dissipated into gory wisps of whatever substance formed her body.

Sundancer was only just creating her sun when she collapsed as well.  I could see Imp bending over, prodding the bodies.  Über, Leet and Chariot backed away as guns turned to point at them.

“Anyone who shoots one of the Undersiders will receive one million dollars!”  Calvert shouted.

I waited for the inevitable bullet.  It didn’t come.

“Skitter and I had a little talk,” Tattletale said.  “Way back when the city had been freshly sieged by the Endbringer and rejoining the team wasn’t even a consideration.  I raised the idea of going after you, of taking you down.  We knew that if you were going to let down your guard, if you were going to slip up at all, it would be when you were closest to achieving your goals.”

Calvert only glared.

“If you made any one mistake, it was keeping me at your base towards the end of the fiasco with the Nine.  The problem with keeping your friends close and your enemies closer?  It puts your enemies in the midst of your friends, so they can discuss better means of payment with the right team captains.  Or they can maybe arrange to put something in Noelle’s vault during one of the feeding times, a few fire alarms with a low battery, tucked in where the door meets the wall.  Irritate her, so she’s awake that much more, and she then costs you sleep.”

“That metaphor fell apart,” Imp commented.

Tattletale shrugged.  “Not so much a metaphor, but I got off track.”

“Pettiness,” Calvert said.

“Strategic.  Lots of little things add up.  Seeding doubts.  Making you second guess plans.  Keep you up at night wondering, planning just a bit more, in both your realities.  You were too focused on the big picture, on the thing I could find out, keeping me off-balance, that you missed out on my ability to see the little things, to exploit them.  And it wore on you.  You didn’t realize how much, but it did, and maybe that’s why you were that much more susceptible to making the critical mistake here.”

“Damn you,” Calvert said.

“But you made the mistake we needed you to make, using your power here, while you were talking to us.  There’s no escape routes, now.  The only loyalty you have is bought with coin, and I have more cash than you do.”

“Then send me to the Birdcage and be done with it,” Calvert said.

“To jail?” Tattletale asked.  “No, no no no.  I know you have contingency plans.  Arrangements.  We send you to prison and someone breaks you out before you get there.”

I took a step forward, then made myself take another.

“It doesn’t have to be you,” Tattletale told me.

“No,” I told her.  “I think it does.”

Calvert turned my way, let his head sink back so it rested against the ground.  “So it comes down to this.”

I thought of the countless lives I’d put at risk, if not directly, then indirectly: the ABB blowing up parts of the city, the ensuing gang war, Purity leveling buildings because she blamed us for the loss of her daughter.

There was the fat superhero I’d left to die when the tidal wave was incoming.  I recalled leaving the dying Merchant to bleed out when I’d rescued Bryce from the merchant’s festival of blood.  There were the people in my territory, the old doctor who’d had her throat cut because I hadn’t realized Mannequin was close until it was too late.  The gas attack that killed nearly twenty people and the fires Burnscar had set in my territory, both because I’d provoked them and failed to consider how readily they’d go after the vulnerable point that was all the people I’d been trying to protect.

I remembered trying to kill Mannequin with grenades, going all-out in attempting to end a man’s life.  A madman, a monster, but it was what it was.

And, much more recently, there was the case of me bringing Triumph so close to death that he’d needed life support.

I’d come to terms with so much of that by telling myself it was leading to this.  I’d known deep down it would happen.  That my fight against Calvert would have to end here.

I walked forward until Calvert was beneath me.  I drew my gun, checked there was ammo in the clip.

“You’re not a killer,” Calvert said.

“No…” I replied.  I couldn’t see, so I screwed my eyes closed, felt the moisture of tears threatening to spill forth.  I took in a deep breath.

“…But I suppose, in a roundabout way, you made me into one,” I finished.  I aimed the gun and fired.

The gun dropped from my hand as the recoil jarred it.  It clattered to the pavement.  It was quiet enough that I could only hear the ocean water crashing against the shore, just off the beach.

As an afterthought, I kicked the gun a distance away from where Calvert lay.  Not that there was much point.  I tried to learn from my mistakes.

I felt Tattletale’s arm settle around my shoulders.  “We’re done.  This is over.”

“The Travelers will be pissed.  I can’t- we can’t kill them,” I said.

“We won’t.  They’ll move on.  They have no more reason to stay.”

Grue stepped around my left side, bent down, took Calvert’s cell phone from the man’s belt and then tossed it to Tattletale.  As Tattletale withdrew her arm from my shoulders, he stepped forward to give me a hug.  “Let’s go.”

I nodded into his shoulder.

We turned away.  With my swarm sense I was able to recognize Minor, Tattletale’s man, helmetless, opening the doors of one van for us.  I took a seat.

It wasn’t Tattletale or Grue that sat down beside me, but Rachel.  She took my hand in hers, held it fiercely.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I simply accepted it.

We stopped at Coil’s underground base.  Tattletale’s underground base.  It was a relief to escape the silence of the van, surreal to be in the dim noise of downtown again.  Much of the area still lacked power, but there were the noises of the occasional car, of people clamoring on the bottom floor of an apartment building.  City noises.

“You okay?” Grue asked.

“More bothered by the fact that I’m not bothered,” I said.  I knew how little sense I was making, but I didn’t feel like elaborating.

“But you’re okay?”

I nodded, coughed fiercely for a few seconds.

“Our next stop after this is the hospital.”

“Okay,” I agreed.

As it had been at sunset, the base was empty.  The metal walkway sang with my footsteps as I walked to the far end of the complex.  I stopped at a door without a handle.

“Here,” Tattletale said.  She held Calvert’s cell phone.  Held it up and pressed a sequence of buttons.

The door clicked open.  I forced my fingers into the gap and hauled it open.  Heavy and metal.

There was one more door, one with a key lock.  Tattletale stepped over to the desk and got the key, opened it.

Dinah was inside with an unassuming man in a turtleneck sweater and corduroy pants.

“Go,” Tattletale told the man.  “Your boss is dead.  Just go.”

He fled.

“I’m going to get Regent,” she said.  “Think we’ll leave Shatterbird in her soundproof cage for now, just to be safe.”

I nodded absently.  I was holding on to Grue for support, watched as Dinah stood from the bed and slowly approached.

Her voice was barely above a whisper as she stared down at the ground between us, “I’ve been waiting for this for so very long.”

It didn’t sound like an accusation.  More the words of someone who had been forced to watch the clock for days, weeks, months.  Anticipating a possible moment that might never come.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I’m sorry it took so long.”

She shook her head, “I’m the one who’s sorry, you were trying hard and I set you up, so you’d go the way where your friends tried to kill you.  I shouldn’t have-“

“Hey, it’s okay.  It offered us the best chances in the end, right?”

She bobbed her head in a nod.

A second later, she was running to me, wrapping her arms around my midsection.  I winced in pain as her forehead banged against my chest.

“Medical care,” Grue said.

“For both of us,” I replied.  “Dinah and me.”

“Yeah.”

As a trio, we stepped out onto the walkway, where Tattletale and Regent should have been waiting.

But I could see Regent at the end of the walkway, and Tattletale wasn’t with him.  She was hurrying down the spiral stairs just to Regent’s left.

I leaned over the walkway, as much as I was able with the pain in my chest and Dinah clinging to my midsection.  My eyes went wide.  A moment later, I was hurrying after Tattletale, holding Dinah’s hand in one of my own and Grue’s elbow in the other.

We stopped when we reached Tattletale.  She stood facing the vault door.  The one that was used to seal Noelle within.

There were two vault doors, one set behind the other, and both were ruined, the one closest to us nearly folded in half, hanging by one hinge.

“A final act of spite,” Tattletale said.  She looked at the phone in her hand.  “He made sure she heard our conversation.”

“You didn’t notice?”

“He was using his ability to create alternate worlds to throw my power for a bit of a loop.  I was more focused on the possibility that he had a loyal soldier in the ranks or a sniper waiting in the distance, ready to take a shot at one of us.”

The odor that wafted from the open vault was like sweat and rotten meat.  It was dark.  Nothing about it gave the sense of a teenage girl’s living space.

“On a scale of one to ten,” I asked, “Just how bad is this?”

“Let me answer your question with another question,” Tattletale said.  “You think we could convince the PRT to turn on the air raid sirens?”

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147 thoughts on “Monarch 16.13

  1. “Mm,” he said, “I remember.”

    “Why do you ask?”

    “I’m thinking. Stay quiet for a second. You,” he pointed at me, “Should lean back and make sure you’re breathing deep. Even if it hurts.”

    In this little bit Taylor asked why he asked right? It just seems awkward for him to be addressing her about staying quiet, and then to point out he was adressing her for leaning back. That might just be in my head though.

  2. Wow, the Undersiders now control the city’s underworld… nominally speaking. I’m guessing Noelle is gonna turn out just as dangerous as any Endbringer. Can’t wait for the next chapter!

  3. Wow! That was an amazing chapter! Once again, did not see any of that coming, and yet it all fits so perfectly,

    Noelle on the loose is a pretty terrifying setup for the next chapter, but the bit that hit me the most? Bitch grabbing Taylor’s hand after the final showdown. That one sentence spoke volumes and was pitch perfect for the moment.

    • As soon as it looked like Taylor convinced Coil to use his power, I knew they were going to at least TRY to kill him, I just couldn’t come up with any of the specifics.

    • Some kind of brute/breaker/changer combo, most likely, has something to do with cannibalism, and Dinah reckoned she could fight the Siberian toe-to-toe and live, which should tell you all you need to know.

    • This.

      I’m abit more confused what happened to the other Travelers. It says they’re alive, so Did Ballistic figure out how to reduce the velocity of his projectiles, or was he using rubber rounds or something?

      I’d feel pretty bad if Genesis and Sundancer ended up dead. Not so much Trickster, screw that guy.

      • Is genesis dead? I thought ballistic just destroyed her temporary body. I didn’t realize Sundancer was dead Thought she was just knocked out I agree that is a shame. Besides those three who is left?

  4. Around the time the Undersiders were surrounded with by soldiers and villains I was very seriously considering the idea that this might have all been one giant ruse. That this was the final chapter of the story, with a bunch of little epilogues for event week. I didn’t think it was likely, but it seemed possible that everyone would die there.

  5. Absolutely amazing. They were incredibly lucky- but they made enough of their own luck the hard way to… Oh man, this was just great. And then that ending. You’ve answered the question, “What do you get the reader who has everything?” in a few lines.

    “The Famine Engine,” Leet said. “Whatever.” Perfect.
    “It’s fitting you wear a snake on your costume.”” I love when Rachel bursts out with comments like that. They are much more powerful coming from her.

  6. This chapter feels a bit rushed. The only one who did any good here was Bitch. So glad she told Coil about himself, got it where he hurts. Skitter talks too much sometimes. Like someone you once trusted is attempting to kill you for the second time that day, and that’s what you say to them? Calmly managing your affairs? Weird to me her insistence to get the real tattletale especially since she/we didn’t know tattletale’s plan? Or did she? And the thing with Bitch, telling her to feel free to keep her dogs in an attack position if it makes her feel better. That sounds so….I dunno. But I’m really tired of skitter being seriously injured and still running around trying to save the world. The whole Dinah affair feels a bit hollow to me. What about her Dad? She’s always choosing something else over her dad. So much to say, can’t even think of it all. But I do very much love Bitch.

  7. I’d feel bad about Skitter ending up killing someone, but the words “child soldier” kind of nix that.

    And honestly, the way he plotted everything, backed his enemies into a corner, and the way he was hoodwinked by Tattletale there’s no real way he could have lost the gambit and kept his head. H brought this all on himself, and it didn’t matter who eventually pulled the trigger.

    Rest in piece, you rat bastard.

    • Yeah, the bit about him torturing one of the Undersiders was the end point for him.

      Grue, Skitter and Bitch would have given him nothing. Tattletale would only have given him false info. Assuming he’s at least part way to sociopathic Regent would also have been a dead end.

      Which leaves one member who we know is much less smart when heavily wounded. And as tough as she acts, Imp is their youngest member…torturing her is unforgivable.

      • If Regent’s a sociopath, which he pretty much is, he would feel no remorse over turning on his teammates. But Coil probably wasn’t willing to take that chance, and tortured Imp instead. She’s less likely to use her power to escape, too.

        • True sociopathy is often associated with a great deal of resistance to pain, the same brain chemistry that nulls empathetic reactions makes such people extremely hard to torture.

          Furthermore remorse is not a factor, which is different from it simply being absent. We know Regent values his teammates and will put himself at risk for them. Thus we can safely assume that his actions are drive by something other then whether or not he will feel bad over them getting hurt.

          End result, torturing him would be ineffective, he doesn’t want to give them away and wouldn’t be as…duressed by the pain as a normal person.

          • If psycopathy is innate, not learned, and Regent really was psychologically damaged by Heartbreaker to the point that he started exhibiting psycopathic tendencies, then he might not have the pain resistance.

          • Innate doesn’t match psych damage. However this is a point, though in any case the emotional deadening could easily also come with something like that, what’s more remember how he mentioned his own sensations seeming distant after how hedonistic he once was.

            On a side note his current interests (art etc) struck me as a fascinating take on this. Akin to the evolution from lower to higher pleasures discussed in Mill’s expansion on hedonic calculus, it suggests that Regent responded to the deadening of base joys by seeking (on some level) more cerebral pursuits which would remain open to him.

      • This makes me wonder how many other times he did horrible things in his other timeline, killing Taylor’s dad, killing Rachel’s dogs etc. While whatever he did never technically “happened” the nature of his powers means that he’s still the same person who tortured a teenager for information.

        I’m a bit disappointed that Calvert’s wasn’t outed to the heroes, but there’s still time for that. With Coil’s resources and Tattletale’s general contempt for secrecy she should probably lift the fog of war on the Siders scary rep before things get more out of hand.

        Well, once Noelle is stopped, anyway.

        • I thought this point was well-made during one of the bonus chapters from Coil’s perspective. In it, if you’ll recall, Coil starts a reality in which he kills the not-so-good doctor, simply because he can. It was written to suggest that this was how Coil ‘relaxed’. Any possibility of him being anything but a psycho pretty much went out the window after that, in my mind.

          • Now I’m wondering whether he was always this way, or if he’s like Bitch or Burnscar in that the nature of his powers changed the way his mind works.

            The ability to do whatever horrible things you want in a separate reality and collapse it with no remaining damage and consequences might turn any of us into a monster. It makes too much sense considering how ultimately willing he is to throw lives away like they’re nothing.

  8. Well, that didn’t go at all like I expected.

    Now Taylor who wanted to be superhero is a killer. It might have been necessary, but it doesn’t stop the fact that she killed in cold blood. It is a major turning point.

    If words get out that she killed the new PRT-director she will have a hard time ever getting one of the good guys or neutral to cooperate with her ever again.

    Also since Tattletale expects to rule from the shadows, they will need a face to present as the leader of the underworld to the outside world. Skitter recently got promoted to team leader by Grue so that means, she will likely become the one everyone thinks is running things.

    On the plus side, she seems to finally be bonding with bitch and Dinah is free and everyone she cares about appears to be safe for now except for that thing with Noelle going on a killing spree.

    On the minus side Coil was part of Cauldron’s plan and they are going to be upset about this. They might use their influence to at least discredit her if they don’t simply send in A-List capes to deal with her.

    From the perspective of an outside Skitter has since her début dealt with rival gang leaders like Lung in a brutal way, and chased the remaining gangs out of town. She was involved in the downfall of Armsmaster, Glorygirl, Panacea, Shadowstalker and will probably get Blamed for some deaths like Battery. Her attack against Triumph in his civilian identity combined with her previous infractions against the code also will count against her. Add in her abduction of one PRT-Director and her assassination of her successor and you don’t really get a pretty picture.

    Getting the good guys help for whatever is going on with Noelle and dealing with Jack’s end of the world and the Endbringers will be hard. Once she finds out that the major heroes are under control or part of a sinister organisation that she has to confront she will get a real PR problem for who would support notorious Evil Villain Skitter against the good guys….

    • To be fair getting the good guys to help with Noelle should actually be pretty easy. She is going to be running around eating people all over the place, the heroes HAVE to try to stop her, and if she is as dangerous as people keep saying she is they will end up taking any help they can get. They already have experience allying with villains, they are sure to do it again if things get bad enough.

  9. Oh the irony of how he died. So Skitter is officially a killer, but the scum sucker more than deserved it. Bitch is her wonderful self, with a huge step of holding Taylor’s hand in comfort. Now they have to deal with someone who A. Eats people, B. The Endbringers specifically targeted to cause widespread death/destruction and C. Is VERY pissed off. I like that Dinah knew very well who did so much for her. If she ever joins the PRT, she will have an interesting relationship with the criminals of Brockton Bay.

  10. First of all, they should have shot him first, then monologued (to his subordinates or themselves) later – like he did to Skitter.

    Secondly – I really, really hope and pray that he’s dead and IS GOING TO STAY DEAD.

    • This is especially worrying since it goes against the Evil Overlord List rules but also because as Terry Prarchett wrote:

      If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you’re going to die. So they’ll talk. They’ll gloat.

      They’ll watch you squirm. They’ll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar.

      So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.”

      In their defence they had to talk everyone else around first and skitter probably had to psych herself up for it and lets not forget Coil’s power.

      Once he was trapped with both realities in a timeline without an escape all he could do is try to shift things around and create splits to ensure that he survived longer. In one timeline he would say things and in another he would stay silent and every time one of them ended with him getting killed he created another split. The final actual timeline is the one where he lived the longest and he was probably still splitting timelines as she fired in hopes that one of them would miss.

  11. For the people doubting that he is dead, he absolutely has to be. If Coil had an alternate timeline where he was still alive he would have defaulted over to it, and so this entire event wouldn’t have happened. He already used his body double and my suspension of disbelief would be absolutely shattered if Tattletale didn’t check the body to be absolutely sure it was him. It doesn’t make sense for him to still be alive.

  12. Now that I think about it, I can’t help but wonder if Dinah is even going to want to go back to her parents. She couldn’t convince them she had a power, and they couldn’t protect her when Coil came calling. Skitter is a pretty big heroic figure for her right now, especially when you consider just how long Dinah has known she was her only hope for freedom. I can very easily see Dinah latching onto Skitter as a protector/parent/sister figure and not wanting to leave her.

    • Well there is the fact that she is also still a drug addict. Hopefully she can use her powers to realize that her own chances of survival are better if she kicks the habit, but addicts are not always rational, she might very well choose to go where there is the highest chance of getting more ‘candy’.

      There is also the danger that in another extreme situation Skitter might be forced to use her like Coil used her. If there is another attack by an Endbringer or somebody like the nine or even Noelle if it gets bad enough. Skitter might have to pressure Dinah to use her powers even if it hurts her ‘for the greater good’.

      Then again, if Dinah is smart enough she might even look at the really big picture and try to figure out which move was better not just for herself but also for the world. If staying and supporting the Undersiders will affect the end of the world she might go for that.

      • Depends on what happened to her parents. But yeah I can see her deciding to stay at least for a little while. I can’t wait to see where we go next after Noelle. Will they join Dragon in hunting the 9 to save the world? How will the Undersiders rule the city now that they are in charge? How will the heroes/world react to them now? WIll Taylor ever tell her Dad? Will Cauldron decide to seek revenge of some kind? The fact that Taylor has finally killed someone, and felt no real difference is a big step. A Skitter who isn’t afraid to kill is a very scary proposition.
        So Dinah will feel much safer with her.

  13. Well, so when Coil teleported the real Tatetale in, he lost. I could bet that Taylor’s dad is dead or about to die, after all, Coil can make his own dead man switch.
    Trickster gained the title of most stupid ever.

    • It was beautiful wasn’t it.

      “No! I (who lacks any people skills, just lost a supposedly firm ally and generally sucks at this entire thing) will take control of the city from all of these incredibly scary people.” And then he’s knocked out, hahahahahaha.

      But more interestingly, he didn’t express a single thing about leaving the city. Seems like Trickster is mainly concerned with the power that he has gained due to this situation, not Noelle.

  14. Magnificiently played, Tattle. Stealing out his city and private army from right under his nose. Looks like there will be a new Director needed.

    About Noelle, I take it her running free qualifies as something like an Endbringer Level Event?
    Sure seems like team-ups between Heroes and Villains are becoming something of a common occurence in Brockton Bay.

  15. You know, I think the Undersiders would do well to publicly announce that Coil was Calvert. Ideally provide some proof (account information, timeline of his locations, this kind of corroborating stuff).

    They shouldn’t tell that he was killed, but instead tell that he escaped and is at large. That he tried to double-cross them (and broke the Rules), and that they are exposing him as the retaliation.

  16. Aw man, I liked Coil, he was a magnificent bastard and grandmaster of the Xanatos Gambit, unfortunately Tattletale plays Xanatos Speed Chess.

    • Tattletale is so dangerous because she can play Xanatos Speed Chess as well as the more sedate regular variety, in addition to having super information gathering to work with.

      Interestingly, there’s virtually no limit to what Tattletale and Dinah could accomplish together. And no limit whatsoever to what they could accomplish if they got working with Dragon.

      • Add in Skitter and these four are ludicrously difficult to deal with.

        Skitter-Rapid fire planning and adaptation.

        Tattletale and Dinah-Absolute information capacity.

        Dragon-Global scale manipulation.

        • You forgot Skitters field coordination capabilities.
          As long as you’re within her range, you got GPS’ older brother, near perfect scouting, and multitasking mission control all together on a line that’s very difficult to intercept.

    • Coil was definitely a bastard, but really, there really wasn’t anything magnificent about him. Quite frankly, he had all the charisma of a wet blanket.

      • Guy had style though, and smarts, and fractal plans-within-plans and all that goodness that a decent mastermind villain should have. I’m fine with him dying though, especially as Taylor was the one who pulled the trigger, which just cements Worm as the Breaking Bad of superhero stories.

        Skitter – The One Who Knocks

  17. Well damn, this is the reason why all the characters in the interludes are more worried about Tattletale than Skitter. She fucked up Coil’s shit pretty badly and did it so cleanly Coil hadn’t suspected a thing until it happened.

    It was a nice touch that Taylor was the one that pulled the trigger. Tattletale wouldn’t have come up with the plan if it wasn’t for Taylor anyway. It’s a line she can’t uncross and it’d be interesting to see how this will effect her in the long run.

    Cool to see Bitch softening up finally, all Taylor’s work on befriending her wasn’t wasted.

    Now that Coil’s dead, I wonder how that’s going to effect this end of the world thing. He was apparently their only hope and now he’s dead.

    But yeah, awesome update.

  18. Don’t know if it’s still around at this point, but “Cut the fake civility,” I said. Where are our teammates?”

    missing a quotation mark there.

    Very interesting chapter. Good job at the credible death attempt. And I’m tempted to say Coil is really dead. After all this time, the speculation on how to kill Coil missed this possibility. At least we were right on how bad it is to fry your own mercenaries and expect them to stay especially loyal to you. Not sure if that comment I made on that actually got past moderation, but whatever. I don’t make a big deal over those.

    Because money is a powerful motivator, sure, but it’s a loyalty that can be bought, ESPECIALLY if the boss might just kill one of them when a plan starts to go sour. You want expendable minions, you have to make sure they’re willing to give their life for you. They damn sure know you can’t spend a dime when you’re dead. And for mercenaries, you can’t rely on fear if love fails because they guard you and can up and fucking let someone kill you if they don’t like you. Fear can make people rather unpredictable.

    Of course, having a power like Tattletale’s also helps to amass a lot of cash if needed, and Coil’s just been outspent in part thanks to the pricey necessity of dealing with Dragon. Looks like Dragon was good for something after all.

    Damn, Coil really knew how to almost go the distance. I guess we can still give him a trophy for trying. How about something made of silver? No, no, too fancy. Maybe bronze? No, he’s not even in third place as a threat here now. I know, we’ll get him something made of lead!
    He really should have taken pills for that premature assassination problem though. And with that snake in the grass gone, things are about to get way more interesting in Brockton Bay.

    Oh, and by the way Coil? Bad move saying you’d keep Tattletale around as your pet the same way you kept Dinah. When I’m typing this, I don’t think I noticed too many people pointing out the implications, but that wasn’t a smart thing to say in any universe. Shouldn’t pick on Skitter’s girlfriend like that.

    But if you’re done with that other lookalike who’s ok with being bound and gagged, and I know you are, maybe I can find a job for her. I’m just saying, not too many people are ok being paid to be bound, gagged, and unable to hear. Ok, not too many people outside of those websites.

    • I’m more thinking that it was a dumbass move not to realise that Tattletale would be better with people then him.

      He did pretty much run down the list of scumbag options in that encounter.

      • Less a dumbass move and more a dumbass mindset. Coil see’s people as tools to be used and disposed of when he doesn’t need them anymore and doesn’t see the use in having friend and partners.

        I like to think that this arc as a big deconstruction of the kind of villain that operates from that kind of self-centered, unprincipled attitude.

        There are lots of baddies like that in fiction who unfortunately go unheadshotted because of a perception that cold, brutal pragmatism = smart.

        • A pretty good point, if he’d been a smidge more principled and tried to build something more positive then this would have all worked out much more in his favour. Heck, even just not trying to kill Skitter might have been enough.

          I think that deconstruction is furthered by the winners being the ones who cultivated people instead of just resources.

          Though you also have to love Tattletale’s constant schemings. She just loves playing the long game. Now then Lisa, please go play Go with Dinah.

          • The same message has shown up somewhat recently. Mass Effect (and probably a few of Bioware’s other games) and Fallout: New Vegas for example.

            And if you want to see something funny, have Tattletale and Dinah play rock, paper, scissors. Long tie streak ever.

          • Even better, play poker. No-one else would be willing to…

            Actually, thinking on their powers I think the Undersiders’ poker game would be more like a game of who could cheat the best ;)

  19. Oh snap, Coil, looks like it got a little hot in that brain of yours thinking up ways out of this. Here, let Skitter ventilate that for you.

    It’s ok if you didn’t make it through the boss fight with two lives. You got the game set on Skitter difficulty.

    By the way, while you’re down there, how about you shine my shoes. You know, with that bit of brain hanging out.

    I haven’t had as much motivation to find this site again in a long time, but here is a small montage in memory of our dear departed Coil.

    http://coil.just.got.owned.aninote.com/

  20. “Teleport me to safety,” Calvert said. ”Escort me away, and everything I have is yours. Even the base.”

    “All your base are belong to us,” Tattletale cut in. ”You have no chance to survive make your time.”

    “Trickster,” Calvert said. ”Move Zig. For great justice-.”

    Trickster collapsed to the ground. Sundancer and Genesis turned, confused, and Genesis dissipated into gory wisps of whatever substance formed her body.

    Sundancer was only just creating her sun when she collapsed as well. I could see Imp bending over, prodding the bodies. Über, Leet and Chariot backed away as guns turned to point at them.

    “I knew I shouldn’t have let you cook the chili last night, Tattletale. Anyone who shoots one of the Undersiders will receive one million dollars!” Calvert shouted.

    I waited for the inevitable bullet. Like a guy being told to “Fuck me like my grandpa’s seeing-eye dog” in bed, it didn’t come.

    One of the guards called out in response, “Hey fuck you, man, you killed Charlie back at the warehouse. Now who am I going to tell dick jokes with?”

    “Skitter and I had a little talk,” Tattletale said. ”Way back when the city had been freshly sieged by the Endbringer and rejoining the team wasn’t even a consideration. We discussed flowers, Durian fruit, pearl polishing, and spelunking, then I raised the idea of going after you, of taking you down. We knew that if you were going to let down your guard, if you were going to slip up at all, it would be when you were closest to achieving your goals and too busy watching those tapes from the women’s locker room.”

    Calvert only glared.

    “If you made any one mistake, it was keeping me at your base towards the end of the fiasco with the Nine. The problem with keeping your friends close and your enemies closer? It puts your enemies in the midst of your friends, so they can discuss better means of payment with the right team captains. Or they can maybe arrange to put something in Noelle’s vault during one of the feeding times, a talkative Jar Jar Binks figure with long battery life, a Furby, tucked in where the door meets the wall. Irritate her, so she’s awake that much more, and she then costs you sleep.”

    “That’s metaphorgotten,” Imp commented.

    Tattletale shrugged. ”It was like a metaphor, but actually a simile.”

    “Pettiness,” Calvert said.

    “Bitchiness. I know what every one of my periods is going to be like ahead of time. Lots of little things add up. Seeding doubts. Making you second guess plans. Keep you up at night wondering, planning just a bit more, in both your realities. Replacing that hand lotion on your night stand with poison ivy extract. Yeah, that was me. You were too focused on the big picture, on the thing I could find out, keeping me off-balance, that you missed out on my ability to see the little things, to exploit them. That’s how I found out you had a dick, after all.” She was briefly interrupted by some of the soliders going “Ooooooh,” “Oh snap!,” and “You need some more lotion for that burn, needledick!” She gave them a moment, then continued, “And it wore on you like an itch you can’t scratch in public. You didn’t realize how much, but it did, and maybe that’s why you were that much more susceptible to making the critical mistake here.”

    “Damn you,” Calvert said.

    “Everybody here who’s going to be alive in 10 minutes, raise your hand.” said Tattletale. Grue, Imp, Bitch, everyone really, we all raised our hands. Including Calvert. Tattle tale motioned to him, “Ok now Coil, put your hand down.”

    * * *

    “You’re not a killer,” Calvert said.

    “No…” I replied. I couldn’t see, so I screwed my eyes closed, felt the moisture of tears threatening to spill forth. I took in a deep breath.

    “…pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,” I finished.

    He said “What?”

    I aimed the gun and fired.

    (or take 2!)

    “You’re not a killer,” Calvert said.

    “No…” I replied. I couldn’t see, so I screwed my eyes closed, felt the moisture of tears threatening to spill forth. I took in a deep breath.

    “deadguysayswhat?,” I finished quickly. He said, “What?” I aimed the gun and fired.

      • Flowers are often said to look like some anatomy in some situations. Durian fruit smells quite pungent and unappealing, but supposedly tastes great and in at lease one instance that I read, like certain anatomy. Polishing a pearl is a term for actions directed at certain anatomy. And spelunking is when someone explores a cave.

        All perfectly innocent. Just like that phrase “Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo” which I chose because it is the nickname and opening line of a poem from the time of the Roman Republic.

        I believe it translates, quite innocently remember, as “I will sodomize you and facefuck you.”

        Remember, kids, Latin is a wonderful thing if you want to insult someone who doesn’t know it at all right to their face.

    • “That’s how I found out you had a dick, after all.”

      Headcannon. Tattletale now said this. I don’t care how much it would kill the moment or be out of character, it is too damn funny not to have happened. So from now on it did.

      Oh god time travel tense trouble…

    • I’ve always enjoyed that Tattletale is way more “classic villain” in this sense–except that long monologues are almost part of her power.

      Which is awesome.

    • Almost? She set off a chain reaction of events that doomed two heroes to a fate worse than death by just talking for less than five minutes. Then she called off a supervillain group destroying the city neighborhood by talking. Then she convinced the Nine to play by some rules by just talking. Then she performed a hostile takeover of a citywide villain network by just talking.

      Monologues ARE her power.

      Leave her ungagged and she’s potentially the most dangerous member of the group!

  21. You know, I wonder if Tattletale’s power was bought from Cauldron. Her family was rich enough to afford it probably and it would explain why she didn’t want to tell anyone her trigger event.

  22. Well, Undersiders have faced tragedy and grit and mishaps together. Now they are facing the worst challenge of them all – victory. How long will their friendship continue, I wonder?

  23. One reason for Telltale monlouge could have been she was using her power to see, if Coil had any more plans. When he is dead, she can’t read any more information from him.

    • I am sure that Coil was using his power too.

      He might have been trapped in a hopeless situation no matter what he did, but he was probably splitting time-lines like crazy towards the end. If he spawned a new time line every time he got killed, the one time line that became reality is the one where he lived the longest.

  24. Absolutely devastating! Well done, very well done.

    I imagine that the reason we didn’t see the reality in which Coil aimed the deadman’s switch threat at Skitter’s Dad is that Tattletale had hired Coil’s assasin in advance to negate that tactic. And Skitter would kill him even faster in that timeline.

    It had to be easier to pull the trigger while blind.

    • I would think it would be *harder* to pull the trigger while blind. Not mechanically, but making sure that the round was going to go where one wanted it to.

      Overall, though, honestly relieved Calvert ‘got his’. Far too often in this setting morally and ethically challenged folks are given a ‘pass’ for things they have done… it was nice to see someone who had no qualms about slaughtering his superior become undone by underlings.

  25. Coil looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog.
    And then at twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry, ’cause Coil came to the realization that it was a typical case of American blind justice, and there wasn’t nothing he could do about it!

  26. If this is what happens when you run into a moment of writer’s block, I’m going to have to nitpick more ;) Seriously, though, awesome chapter.

  27. I leaned over the walkway, as much as I was able with the pain in my chest and Dinah clinging to my midsection. My eyes went wide. A moment later, I was hurrying after Tattletale, holding Dinah’s hand in one of my own and Grue’s elbow in the other.

    —-

    Another continuity bobble – guessing this should say she probed with her swarm.

  28. So what really happened to coil? In the past interlude, coill was a LABORER in the vincinity of that city. Him having an identity as a prt officer doesn’t make sense.

  29. Hope they double tapped Coil, people don’t do that enough, leads to trouble.

    If I was Coil I would have tortured Tattledale, not whoever he choose to torture, unless we’re meant to believe that she flipped every captain within a couple of days.

  30. Hi, I’ve been enjoying this series since the beginning ! :)

    This is the first time I’m commenting, and that’s because to me this chapter is specially significant.
    Here one of the highest antagonists throughout the series has been defeated.
    One of the protagonist’s main goals throughout the series has been achieved.

    If Worm were a TV serial, this will be a fitting finale to Season One.
    The Simurgh’s awakening, Noelle’s escape etc are the mysteries that arouse the audience’s anticipation for Season Two.
    Indeed, I am excited to read the following arcs :)

    One small disappointment:
    How come Coil only gets a bullet to the head? imo he deserves a more brutal end ! :(

    Anyways,
    All the best ! :)

    • “One small disappointment:
      How come Coil only gets a bullet to the head? imo he deserves a more brutal end ! :(”
      Yes, maybe Skitter should try burning a building down around him. Oh wait.
      Coil’s smart, and his power basically lets him save scum. He could escape from complicated, brutal, or whatever scenarios. Taylor’s only shot (ha ha) is to shoot him now.

      And this wouldn’t be the end of Season 1, not unless it was an oddly long season. Lung’s capture would be a good season-1-ender; the ABB were the antagonists for a while. That was what, arc 6? Then maybe the Nine through here would be a season, so this would end Season 3.

  31. “It wasn’t Tattletale or Grue that sat down beside me, but Rachel. She took my hand in hers, held it fiercely. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I simply accepted it.”

    Dead. I was reading this in the middle of work, and I died. Had to excuse myself for a bit and fix my mascara.

  32. My heart breaks for Taylor here, but I’m glad she has the moral courage not to pass the buck when the time comes, even if I’m not glad that taking out Coil is necessary.
    Then the scene with Dinah happens. I’m not going to lie, I cried a bit at that. For both Taylor and Dinah, I think. This may be my single favorite chapter in all of Worm; it’s certainly up there.
    Between Grue, Bitch, and Imp last chapter and Tattletale, Bitch, and Dinah this chapter, there’s a hell of a lot of emotional stuff happening. I mean that in a good way.

    “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry it took so long.”
    This is the answer to anyone who thinks that Taylor has left her morals behind, I think. This one moment. And I like Dinah a lot more because she apologized, too.

    It seems to me that Taylor has come pretty far in terms of saving the souls of the Undersiders. That’s no small feat.

    CG

  33. …Guess he was really trying to kill her. Guess she’s better at it than he is. Really I think the decision that sealed his fate was thinking he could keep Tattletale as a pet.

    Sweet end to many of the arcs, sweet beginning to new ones! We finally get to see Noelle in action! I also can’t wait to see just how deep Tattletale’s scheming goes–we haven’t even come close to figuring her out, I don’t think.

    Can’t wait!

  34. Calvert turned my way, let his head sink back so it rested against the ground. ”So it comes down to this.”

    I think I missed the part where Coil fell down?

  35. I’m late to this game, and reading this after it is complete. I won’t pretend I’ve read all the comments as I am addicted to this story too desperately to spend much time reading the comments. If someone else already expressed similar thoughts, apologies.
    Having said that, I am SO glad that Coil is dead! Right after I read the scene where he created a separate world for the express purpose of commiting some horrid act on one of his subordinates, I have had multiple nightmares about him getting ahold of Taylor and repeatedly abusing her, over and over without her ever becoming aware of it.
    A few times in the actual story, I imagined it was happening, but not being shown to us. I finally realized that Tattletale would probay figure it out if it was happening. Though I remain suspicious of her ultimate motives.
    Either way, I’m glad the freak is dead. And congratulations Wildbow for creating the spookiest villan ever, even if some of the spooky was only in my mind!

  36. Absolutely fantastic climax. I did think something was off about Skitter really wanting to have Tattletale present… and then when she described the code to Coil I thought “Wait, Lisa would answer with something green? When she’s bound, gagged, and going to be kept as a prisoner?” It certainly wasn’t enough to figure out the dénouement ahead of time, but just to have a little hint of the area it was in was satisfying.

    Wow… that was a magnificent ending. To a magnificent villain who thoroughly deserved what came to him.

    And then you had to have a cliffhanger even after a victory like that, hahaha :) I reckon I can count the number of non-Interlude chapters that didn’t end with cliffhangers on one hand. (And if I’ve underestimated, well, I can count to 31 on one hand if I need to…)

    Fantastic stuff, wildbow. I really hope to find out when we can buy this story in hardcopy form.

  37. This was fantastic. Tattletale is absolutely brilliant; the twist was totally unexpected but completely justified. How long did you have this planned out?
    ”Your underling and Tattletale can live. That’s all I’m willing to offer. You’ll have to take my word on both points” is missing punctuation.

  38. Eh, it’s moments like these that I start to lose interest in the story. You set up an interesting villain that’s supposedly very intelligent, but the heroes win by him acting stupidly rather than through them really outsmarting him. The only thing that got me this far was interpreting Skitter’s escape from his “trap” to kill her as him having planned for her to escape and think he wanted her dead for whatever reason. Instead he’s just massively incompetent.

  39. One small error:

    He raised his voice, “Don’t hang up on me!”
    The speaker phone buzzed with the dial tone.

    Phones don’t do that. Especially not cell phones! It’s a TV/Movie cliche.
    “made a small beep and turned off” could work, some phones do that.

  40. Ok, so explain em something:

    Coil slipts realities, in one of them he tells Chariot to bring the real TT. In the other… what?
    Logically, in the other he just doesn’t risk it and simply orders for the Undersiders to be killed.
    But that reality had to have been worse for Coil to cancel it.

    So what? How to the Undersiders win in the reality where Tattletale is not present? Maybe the traitor mercenaries betray Coil faster, more aggressively.
    Maybe Skitter had planned to kamikaze in that reality where Tattletale is not present.

    I am seriously confused of how they managed to fuck Coil in both realities here. I mean, I get it that they managed to get him to be in the same place both times, but how is the reality with TT present *worse* for him?

  41. It’s not worse, that’s the point. He’s constantly using his power after the mercenaries betray him, and it always results in failure, probably he dies each time. The universe where he survives longest is the one where he stands there trying to talk Skitter out of killing him.
    The critical thing is, how does Tattletale know that he arrived at the meeting in bi universes? If, in one universe, he did not come to the meeting at all, or came late, he could collapse the universe where the betrayal happened as planned. The fact that he knew that Skitter was alive and hiding nearby implies that he probably used his spare universe to counter Skitter’s surprise attack. But that does not guarantee that he is attending the meeting in both universes.
    Here’s how Coil should have played it. Arrive near the meeting place but out of sight, split universes, in one universe proceed, in the other stay put. Collapse the universe where he gets surprised by Skitter, split universes again, go capture Skitter, again leaving one universe where he is out of range. Go through the negotiation, find out he was betrayed, collapse that universe. Now he knows he is in trouble, I’m not sure what he should do. Somehow he needs to deal with the disloyal mercs and the Undersiders. If he takes Trickster, Chariot, and the least disloyal mercs back to his lair and kills Tattletale, he is still in trouble, but at least he is still alive. Or he could pull the “torture Tattletale in an alternate universe” trick?
    Maybe Skitter would notice that Coil had arrived in the “stay put” universe, if he’s within her bugs’ range. She figures out that Coil is probing their plans in another universe, so they need to attack immediately, or change tactics at the least.
    Maybe Wildbow could come up with some time constraint, so Coil *must* arrive on time?

  42. “Calvert turned my way, let his head sink back so it rested against the ground.” This was the first I realized he was not standing. You might want to be more specific about where he is before/during/after the shooting.
    ~~~
    I’m really amazed at how relentlessly the Wormverse just gets more snarled and dark and tangled in its own webs. Though, like many of the commenters above, I’m still a bit stuck about how Coil didn’t slip the noose in another split reality in this scene.

    I’m still a little fuzzy about his power, and TT’s, and Dinah’s for that matter. I guess I’m just going to have to read on … and then re-read the archive, for Gaia’s sake! See ya in a few years, Life!

  43. Firstly, props on having been leading to this since before Taylor rejoined the Undersiders. Those are some seriously mad planning skillz!

    I think I’m just going to decide that Dinah knew about the switcheroo (Taylor was teleported away while holding her hand, after all) but deemed it too risky to let the Undersiders know.

    So Taylor *did* go with my “Dead Man’s switch” idea after all. :D I’m going to assume that the main reason she didn’t use that ploy *before* going to get Dinah was specifically to overextend Coil and lure him into this trap.

    Still not clear about how Taylor being captured and coming within a hair’s breadth of being killed by Coil fits in, though. If that was part of their plan it’s a *serious* gamble to take. But without it, how were they planning to feint Coil out so he could be killed? Did Lisa just consider Taylor’s likely death an acceptable risk for pulling off the plan?

  44. Reading this for the third time, and having paid attention to all the small details ahead of time, makes Coil’s comeuppance here easily one of the most satisfying moments in the series.

    Well done.

  45. Hi! I assume/hope you get notified for posts on old content like this one…

    Just finished the second arc after discovering “Worm” a month+ or so ago. ****THANK YOU**** for reminding me why I spent the first 25+ years of my life reading (before the internet helped ruin my attention span :-P), which is sorta ironic, since I’m reading your story online ;-)

    I can’t tell you how much I’ve been enjoying this story. I’m finding excuses all day long, every day, to read a page or two (or more) of Worm. I’m occasionally skipping work to read it, I’m staying up late to read just one… more… page…., only to wake up early, and read another ;-) Every time I go to take a ‘break’, there’s a cliff-hanger that *forces* me to click “Next” (“What? Another ‘bonus interlude’?!?! Guess I have to read that first too!!!!!” ;-))

    So again, as a life-long sci-fi/fantasy/super-hero fan, who has read/watched *countless* stories/plots/etc., *THANK YOU* for what is one of the most interesting, unpredictable, well-written and captivating stories with characters so real and believable I feel like I’ve actually met some of them.

    I know it’s going to take me looong time to read from here to Chapter 27, but I’m already starting to feel sad that I’m halfway done one of the greatest stories I’ve ever read! No real comments or questions from me, I just can’t finish another arc without leaving a message behind to let you know this amazing story is still bringing joy to people out in the world :-)

    — your newest life-long fan, Zach :-)

  46. i love how leet’s power basically saved skitter. i think that any plan that would have killed skitter is instead foiled by leet’s power. that’s just adorable.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    “I could see Regent at the end of the walkway, and Tattletale wasn’t with him. She was hurrying down the spiral stairs just to Regent’s left.

    I leaned over the walkway, as much as I was able with the pain in my chest and Dinah clinging to my midsection”
    skitter should still be blind here, leaning over walkways is for people who need eyes.

  47. What vat of acid? This sounds like a dangling reference to something that didn’t actually happen. Or is it a hypothetical vat of acid, ie, “Why didn’t you drop me on top of a bomb or a vat of acid?”

  48. Wow way to go Tattletale! Talk about thinking ahead. I was hoping that maybe they had swayed people like Minor and Fish by shear charisma but knew that had little chance of succeeding so skimming for however long they were in existence was friggin brilliant. As smart as Coil is I can totally see him being arrogant enough to decide to use his powers right there and trap himself. It’s a bit idiotic but considering the day he’s had I can believe it. I find myself wondering just how much of that final part was planned. I know it didn’t exactly go as expected considering everything but Tattle and Skitter obviously had the secret plan worked out since she was so adamant about letting her speak.

    I was a little disappointed that neither Genesis nor Sundancer joined the Undersiders. They both seemed the most moral/tired in that group and I’ve felt that Ballistic really hasn’t had enough characterization to swap sides while both of those two have.

    I wonder which Undersider Coil tortured. Not Rachel, she wouldn’t break. Probably not Regent since he would hold out just to be a dick. I’d say Grue but considering the man made it through Bonesaw I don’t think Coil could do much. Not Skitter. Likely not Imp since while I can see her breaking easily, her power would seemingly make actual interrogation hard even with cameras and such. Was it Tattle?

    It was nice to see Bitch pretty much default to believing Taylor almost immediately rather than spending tons of time hating her again when they had finally started to be actual friends. It was very sweet that the socially incapable one was the one to comfort Taylor after the mess went down.

    Dick move Coil, dick move. Really just because you lost the game doesn’t mean you have to destroy the playground out of spite.

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