Queen 18.8

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I signalled Bitch to stop so I could communicate with the others.

“I fucked up,” I said.

“What?”  Grue asked.  “How?”

“She’s been absorbing my bugs.  She’s spitting out some, and I can’t control them.  They’re methodically destroying my swarm, and they’re hunting down people and attacking them.”

“She probably absorbed some before she even ran into us,” Tattletale said.  “And she just needs one of a given type to make copies.  I wouldn’t blame yourself.”

“Did she absorb hornets, black widows, brown recluses?”

“Maybe not,” Tattletale admitted.

“Okay,” I said.  “Because there’s homicidal hornets and spiders out there now.  Because of my fuck-up.”

“Don’t focus on the mistake,” Grue said, “Let’s focus on making up for it.”

I took a deep breath.  “Okay.  Bitch and I will be going ahead to deal with some unpowered clones.  I’ll be in touch through the swarm.  You guys keep moving forward, and I’ll signal you about any clones that Eidolon or my bugs aren’t able to take down.”

“Eidolon’s gone quiet,” Tattletale said.  “He might be changing powers, chasing at a distance to safely keep track of her while he adjusts.”

“I’ll try to signal him,” I said.  “Let him know we’re here, and that we’re engaging Noelle if and when we’ve managed the clones and we see an opportunity.”

“Hopefully he doesn’t accidentally wipe us off the face of the planet,” Regent joked.

“Hopefully,” I echoed him, except I wasn’t joking.

“Then I’ll suggest that this can be where we part ways,” Tattletale said.  “I’ll take Imp, I can do more good with a phone and computer, and she’s no good to anyone right now.”

I nodded.  I helped Imp climb down to the others.

“Good luck.”

Bitch whistled, and Bentley sprang into motion once more.

The people inside the building lobby were only now starting to recover from whatever Noelle’s power had done to them.  Their clones hadn’t suffered any such drawbacks, though, and the abuse that had been heaped on the victims was more than making up for their recovery speed.  They were helpless.

None of the victims were standing.  I reached forward, putting one hand on the chain that Rachel was using to keep Bastard close.

She looked back at me.

“Clothesline!” I raised my voice to be heard over the rushing wind.

Rachel let some chain out and caught it under her left foot, forcing it lower.  She managed to hook it on one of the growths of bone of Bentley’s ribcage.

We stampeded into the building lobby, through the hole Noelle had made, and Bitch whistled, flicking the chain as Bentley and Bastard passed through the space.

“Left!” she shouted, while steering Bentley right.

The chain was just low enough to catch the standing and crouching clones.  The clones were caught by either the chain or by the bodies of their fellow clones, pulled back en-masse, drawn together into a tangle of bodies and distorted body parts.  I moved my bugs through their midst to ensure they were all mutants.  There was only one innocent who’d been dragged long with them.  His clone had a grip on his clothing, and hadn’t let go when the chain had caught it.

“Getting down,” I said, sliding off the dog’s back.  I hurried to the mass of clones before they could get themselves in order, drew my knife and slashed the hand that gripped the one innocent.  I managed to pull him free without any of the clones hitting or grabbing me.

I was left coughing by the exertion and the pain in my side.  Bitch steered Bentley to put his bulk between me and the clones.

“I got ‘em,” she said.

“I’ll handle the others,” I told her.

“Right,” she grunted the word. “Bastard, hurt ‘em!  Bentley, kill!  Kill!”

The canines threw themselves into the mass of clones the chain had caught.

There were three clones in the remaining group.  One continued thrashing her alter-ego, while the other two stood to face me.  I held my knife in one hand, drew my baton with the other and flicked it out to its full length.  Not nearly as threatening as either of the canines, but I’d make do.

It was odd that Rachel was having Bastard hold back, being limited only to a ‘hurt’ command.  Come to think of it, she’d had Bentley do the killing when fighting the Vista-clone, too.

My rib throbbed even now, just from riding Bentley and hauling the one victim out of the mass.  I was left breathing hard, though the exertion had been mild.  My stamina wasn’t a tenth of what it might otherwise be, to the point that I was worried I might get dizzy, start coughing or wind up too tired to fight if it came down to a straight hand-to-hand brawl.

I couldn’t afford to take it easy, though.  Where I might otherwise have tried to distract them or buy enough time for Bentley to finish off the others and deal with these guys, the person that the female clone at the back was thrashing wasn’t going to last long.  The two who were facing me were both men, both bigger and tougher than they might have been as humans, one fat, the other tall and broad-shouldered and narrow-waisted to the point of being a caricature.

My swarm was my best offense and my best defense, here.  My bugs went for eyes and ears, and that was excuse enough for the two mutants to charge me.

They were half blind, and the mass of bugs that clung to me billowed out to mask my location.  I started to move to my left, but I felt the fat one veer slightly in that direction and chose to head between them, instead.

The pair stumbled forward into my swarm, arms swinging wildly in a blind attempt to hit me.  I ducked low, then moved forward to the mass of fallen and wounded.  The female clone had her more normal self by the neck, and was repeatedly raising her and slamming her down.  If someone else’s leg wasn’t in the way, she might have had her head dashed against the ground.  As it was, a beating was still a beating, and something vital was bound to give sooner or later.

The clone looked up at me as I approached, still cloaked in a thick cloud of bugs. I realized why she hadn’t stood to face me.  Her left leg was gone, barely a flipper.  She raised her arms in self defense, and I batted one aside with my baton before stabbing her just above the collarbone.

They’re not people.  They’re mockeries.

The small, helpless sounds she made as blood bubbled around the throat-wound weren’t helping my attempts to assuage conscience.

Damn Noelle, damn her for making me do this.

“You leave Steph alone!” the fat clone bellowed.

The words caught me off guard as much as the fact that he’d seen the attack.  He charged, and I swiftly backed up, bringing my weapons to the ready.

He didn’t come after me.  He stopped by ‘Steph’, the one-legged clone with the fatal throat wound.

“You care about her?” I asked.

“She’s Steph,” he said.

“I… what?”  My train of thought was interrupted further by the snarling and gnashing of Bentley fighting the clones.  One tried to break away from the group to come after me, but Bentley caught him, striking him flat against the ground with both front paws, like how a cat might pounce on a mouse.

“She’s Steph.  She’s Steph.  Of course I care.  Fucking bugs!”  He lashed out with one arm, as if he could hurt the swarm, drive them away.  His arms folded around the clone-Steph.

I pulled the attacking bugs away, leaving only enough to track his movements.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to open up a line of dialogue, but my conscience couldn’t afford to let me not.  “But… what about the person she was beating up?  You don’t care about the real Steph?”

“Ignored me.  Looked down on me because I was fat.  Fuck her,” he spoke with such force that my bugs could feel the spit flying from his mouth.

“She’s still Steph, isn’t she?”

“Bitch.  Brushing me off.  Made it so we were friends, not boyfriend and girlfriend.  Bitch,” he said.

He let the mutant-clone Steph drop limp to the ground, clenched and unclenched a fist.  “Fuck her.  Fuck you for killing Steph.”

“Why do this?  Why hurt people?”

“I’m a soldier,” he said, his words dull.  “It’s what I am.”

I sensed his girth, used my swarm to sense his equally heavy alter-ego.  “You… don’t strike me as a soldier.”

“It’s what I am.”

“Is… is he a soldier?” I gestured in the direction of his other self.

“No.  Fat fuck could never be a soldier.  Kill him.  Dig my fingers into that gut and rip and tear until he dies.  Strangle him.  No willpower, hide from the world behind that disgusting fat.  Choke the life out of him.  He’s useless anyways.  Waste of air, waste of a life.”

Projecting much?

“And when he’s dead?  What will you do?”

He moved toward me, and I backed away a step, bringing my bugs closer to him.  He went still again, glanced around.  “Kill others.  Kill Dad and Mom and Sammy and the cats.  Kill teachers and classmates and burn my house and burn the school.  Fuckers.  All of them.  Looking down on me.”

His words struck a chord, and it was the closest experience I’d ever had to the sort of flashback that happened in the movies.  I could remember being in the school bathroom, dripping with juice.  Being so frustrated, so angry, so hurt that I just wanted to lash out.

Was that all he had left?  Was that all he was?

“And if they all die?”

“Kill others.  Burn this fucking disgusting city.  Burn this fucking country.  Keep burning, keep killing.”

“Do you really think that’ll make anything better?”

“No.”

“Then why?  Is there any way I can get you to stop?”

“No.  Won’t stop.  I’m a soldier.”

“Whose soldier?  Hers? Noelle’s?  The monster who spat you out?”

“No.”

“And you?” I asked, turning so my back wasn’t to the broad shouldered one in the midst of my swarm.

He didn’t answer.  He charged for me instead.  The obese one took the opportunity to come after me from a different angle.

Again, I drew my swarm around me, put each of my bugs on the offensive to distract, and used my swarm-sense to figure out where they were moving, getting out of the way.

Ducking low, I felt a sharp pain in my side.  I grunted in pain and barked out a cough.  The cough made me need to cough more, which only helped inform them of my position.

The coughing fit took the strength out of me at a time when I needed to move most.  Swimging blindly, the fat one struck me across the face.  My mask absorbed the worst of the impact, and I stuck my knife out in his general direction, sticking it into the general area of his chest, hitting bone rather than anything substantial.

“Bugs fucking hurt,” he growled, apparently oblivious to the pain of the knife wound.  “Stop it!”

He swung again, but I managed to get out of the way.  With the stinging, biting insects in his eyes, crawling into his mouth and nose as he talked to gag him, I managed to distract him enough that I could safely retreat.  My entire body shook as I suppressed coughs, and I dropped to one knee to try and catch my breath.  I hoped that being closer to the ground would mean I didn’t get hit; I was too breathless to move out of the way if he swung a punch at me.

The broad-shouldered one stepped close, his cheeks wet with the vitreous fluids of torn eyeballs and blood where my swarm had dug in deep.  I suppressed another cough and slid my knife’s blade against the back of his knees.  It might not have cut deep enough if he’d been wearing clothes, but he was naked, and there was nothing to stop the knife.

He collapsed just in front of me.  I hesitated a moment, then stabbed my knife into the side of his throat.

They’re not realNot real people.

Bentley had finished tearing apart the other eight or so clones, and at Rachel’s instruction was closing in on the fat clone.  I moved my bugs to give her a clearer view.

I was ready for him to make a break for it.  He didn’t.  He turned toward us, clenching and unclenching his fist.

There’s no saving them.  Whatever had happened to their heads while they were grown inside Noelle, they’re twisted.  Their perspectives are warped.

“Stop him,” I said.  “Finish them, Rachel.”

Rachel whistled, and Bentley leaped.  The clone tried to come after me, but didn’t make it two steps before the dog got to him.

“Feels wrong,” I said.  Rachel gave me a hand in climbing back up.

She didn’t offer a reply.  It wouldn’t feel wrong to her.

I started searching with my bugs, looking in the direction Noelle had last gone.

Without even the ability to tentatively feel Noelle out with my bugs, I was having trouble keeping track of her.  Every passing minute meant that there was more sunlight, but even with that I couldn’t see Noelle.  It was as though a painter was working with white and black paint, throwing handfuls of it onto a canvas from three feet away.  It didn’t convey a picture so much as a blurry, indistinct abstract.

I should have been able to follow movement, to track Noelle by the way the patches of light and dark changed.  The issue was that there were countless things moving across my radius.  Water was running where some streets were still draining, plastic bags blew in the wind and shadows shifted as the sun and clouds moved.  Each changed the canvas, altered the blurry, muddy blotches of light and dark.

I could hear Grue give an order, and his group started moving with purpose.

“Grue just saw her, I think,” I said.  I pointed the way.

I’d started another coughing fit by the time we caught up with the others, and I could feel my skull pounding as if it had a three pound heart inside of it instead of a brain.

“She found some of the other capes who were holding position,” Grue said, when I’d managed to get my breath.  “Lights in the distance.”

“Fuck,” I said.  I was about to comment on how we were too close to Ballistic’s headquarters for comfort, but remembered that Grace and Tecton were listening.  I stopped myself before the words left my mouth and coughed instead.

“You okay?” Tecton asked.

“Little worse for wear.”

“Sounds like more than a little.”

I shook my head.

As we got closer, I tentatively moved the bugs closer, until I had them on the flying heroes.  I made an effort to discover and eliminate the hostile bugs that Noelle had created, and tried to find identifying details on the capes we were approaching.

“One of the heroes is a guy with an emblem, I think it’s a book with chains around it,” I said.

“Maybe Chronicler,” Tecton said.

“Three more flying ones,” I said.  “One with antlers on his chest emblem.”

“All guys?” Tecton asked.  When I nodded, he said, “That’d be Strapping Lad, Intrepid, and Young Buck.  And the one you mentioned before would definitely be Chronicler.”

“Seriously?” Regent asked.  “Strapping Lad?”

“They’re from the Texas Wards team,” Tecton said, as if that was explanation enough.  “Lad, Intrepid and Buck are all about the harassment.  Flying, teamwork, hitting hard and adjusting their battle plans to match the enemy threat level, staying out of danger.”

“Up until they get too close and she grabs one,” I said.

“Could happen,” Tecton replied.  “Eidolon’s probably up there too, too quiet.  Might be waiting for new powers to finish manifesting before he makes any moves.”

“What can we do?” Grace asked.

“I remember those Wards from the Leviathan fight.  Some of them,” I said.  “They fly?  All of them?”

“Yeah,” Tecton said.

“Then we support on the ground,” I said.  “You, Grue and maybe Regent can slow her down.  Bitch keeps us mobile.  We stay ready to move at a moment’s notice if it comes down to it.  Staying safe is a bigger priority than anything else.”

Noelle was limited to moving on the ground.  It gave the young heroes a natural advantage: each of them flew, and two of the three were armed with long ranged tinker-made weapons.  The guns weren’t anything flashy or spectacular, more the kind of laser weapon that a fan of science fiction might create, but the young heroes apparently thought it was worth keeping up the onslaught, and the guns didn’t appear to rely on any ammunition or reloading.

The one without the gun was apparently Young Buck, going by the raised image of antlers on his chest emblem.  He would fly around Noelle, close to the ground, then turn himself, his gear and the bugs I’d placed on him into a living projectile.  Or, maybe, he was using some kind of uncontrolled breaker power to go faster than the speed of sound, unable to change course or take any action while he traveled.  Whatever he was doing, he flashed across the battlefield as a straight, living projectile before materializing again.  The ground shook with his impacts he delivered to Noelle.

The one I took to be Chronicler was casting out a hazy field around himself and the other two with the guns.  The field shifted, drifting closer to the ground, and then solidified in a semisolid image of the heroes, complete with the laser fire.  A quick check with my bugs verified that the shots were just as real as what the real selves were creating.  The aim wasn’t so hot.  It was more of a replay of the actions they’d just taken than proper clones.

Young Buck moved beneath Chronicler, and passed through the field as he turned into a beam.  When the images appeared, they mimicked the same beam attack, their paths a perfect parallel to the real Young Buck.

We stopped as she came into view.  For the others, anyways.

“Fuck me,” Regent said.  “Anyone else noticing what I notice?”

“Bitch’s dogs,” Grue said.

“Not that similar,” Rachel grumbled, but she didn’t sound confident.

“Pretty fucking similar,” Regent said.

I leaned forward, hand on Rachel’s shoulder, whispered, “What is it?”

“Her entire lower half, it looks like my dogs.  Bit on the back doesn’t look like it, though.  More like a hand, but same look.”

“Thanks,” I replied.

“We good to go?” Grue asked.

“Go,” I gave the order.

Tecton slammed his piledriver-gauntlets into the ground, and a fissure opened beneath Noelle.  The ground shattered around her, denying her the footing to move out of the way as Chronicler and Young Buck worked together to multiply Young Buck’s offensive power.  Tecton repeated the process, disintegrating the ground beneath her.

“I can’t do a lot to her,” Regent said.  “Only some of her is normal, and it doesn’t really connect together.”

“Try, or focus on the clones,” Grue ordered.  He sent a blast of darkness my way, enveloping me.  I could feel the quality of my bug-senses decline, my degree of control degrading.

A moment later, he withdrew the darkness.  Did he just want the view?  The sense of what was where?

Raising his hands above his head, Grue fired a thick stream of darkness at Eidolon.

The hero moved out of the way before the beam made contact.

“Work with me!” Grue growled.  “Damn.  I can’t throw darkness over Noelle without hurting our side as much as we hurt her.  I need powers.  Grace?”

“You want to copy my power?”

There was a rumble as Tecton shattered more road beneath Noelle.  With the way he’d directed the attack to place it off to one side, I suspected she was trying to climb out of the funnel-shaped depression the explosions had made.  Given her speed from before, it was surprising how slowly she was climbing.

Then it struck me.  An antlion pit.  The sides of the pit weren’t giving her any traction.  Any time she set her weight down, she only pushed the sand to the bottom.

“Let me test it, see what I can get,” Grue told Grace.

“Fine.”

I scouted the area with my bugs, and accidentally ran into Noelle with a handful of houseflies as she slid backwards into the pit.  I wasn’t going to agonize over the fact, but I didn’t want to give her any more ammunition.  My bugs did find a mess of vomit at the very bottom of the shallow crater.

“There’s vomit, but no clones,” I said.  “She’s trying something.”

“The two-dimensional Vista.  She’s ambushing,” Grue said.

“Ambushing who?”  Tecton asked.

“I don’t know.  Can you see them?” I asked.  “When they’re moving on a surface, are they visible?”

“Why are you asking us?” Grace asked.

“Tecton,” I said, “As much ground as you can affect, now!”

He didn’t hesitate, punching the ground and driving both piledrivers into it.  There were no fissures, this time.  The entire area rumbled, and the ground spiderwebbed with cracks in every direction, not leaving two square feet of ground untouched.  Bentley nearly lost his footing, and Bastard growled, until Rachel pulled on his chain.

The first clone stepped out of a piece of plywood that had been placed across a shattered balcony door.  An Über.  He pulled the plywood free and disappeared into the apartment, swatting at the bugs that I’d set on him.

A Circus emerged beneath the flying heroes, cradling a shattered arm.  Bugs began drifting toward her, as if a strong wind were pulling them in.  The normal Circus packed a pocket dimension she could put things into.  This one was only storing air, forming a strong vacuum around herself.  Chronicler’s cloud dissipated as it was sucked in, and the heroes with weaker flying abilities were swiftly being dragged her way.  Regent hit her with his power, and the effect slowed, but she recovered faster than the fliers did.

My swarm could see a large blob of shadow, Noelle, taking advantage of the distraction to climb free of Tecton’s antlion pit.

“Now!” Grue said.

Grace ran forward, having little trouble moving on the shattered road.  She leaped and kicked Noelle, no doubt putting her invincibility in one foot.  As the kick was delivered, Grace used Noelle as a foothold and thrust herself away.  Grue chased her attack with a stream of darkness, enveloping Grace as she stuck her landing, leaped, and did very much the same thing Grace had, slamming one fist into Noelle.

Noelle toppled with a rumble my bugs could feel, then slowly slid back into the crater Tecton had made before she could get her feet under her again.

The Über stepped out onto the balcony with a block of kitchen knives in hand.  Though they weren’t weighted for throwing, he had no problem throwing a knife to hit Young Buck as the hero flew by.  Young Buck spiralled out of the air, stopping himself only a moment before he hit the ground.  When he righted himself, his hands were pressed around the knife that had embedded in his stomach.

I sent more bugs after the Über, my bugs tearing at his eyes and hands in earnest.  He threw another knife blind, hitting Chronicler in the arm before he collapsed and started thrashing to get the bugs off himself.

The Circus, for her part, had used her pocket-dimension vacuum to draw one of the fliers close enough to get her hands on him.  The hero, Intrepid or Strapping Lad, was set aflame from head to toe, his costume ignited in entirety.  He kicked out, blind in the midst of the flames that were immolating him, and she ducked out of the way.

Grace saw the flames of the burning hero as Grue banished his darkness.  She made a break for the Circus.  Regent knocked the Circus off balance, momentarily interrupting the suction yet again, and Grace punched with enough force to cave in the clone’s chest.  The Circus dropped to the ground, dead.

Grace couldn’t see in Grue’s darkness, so they were limited as far as their partnership went.  He backed away slowly, searching for another opportunity or another power he could borrow.  Without Grace’s natural agility, the individual pieces of road made for unsteady footing, each tilting and sliding as weight was placed on them.

Noelle screamed with frustration and rage.  As far as I could tell, she was still at the bottom of the pit.

I couldn’t follow what was happening, not without giving her more bugs to work with, but then again, I wasn’t sure that anyone else was having more luck on that front.  Not with the pit around her.

“She’s pulling something!” Tecton shouted.  He raised his voice to be heard by the other capes, “Get back!”

Everyone moved away, excepting Young Buck, who was frozen, hands to his wound.  Grace retreated, holding onto the incinerated young hero.

When Noelle vomited, the slurry came out as one stream, a geyser that extended six or seven hundred feet.  Rachel steered Bentley out of the way before it hit, and the others danced off to either side to avoid getting splashed.  Grace got clipped, and went sprawling, almost glued to the ground under the weight of the fluid, the cape in her arms falling.

A dozen bodies began climbing free of the vomit.  Ten or so clones had been deposited on the street, along with a real Leet in civilian clothes.  One of the clones was a Circus, folding herself into her pocket dimension.

“She’s walking on the bodies,” Tecton said.  “Incoming!”

The bodies.  She vomited bodies into the pit to keep stuff from sliding underfoot.

Young Buck charged through Noelle, but he wasn’t flying when he finished his maneuver.  He tumbled to the ground, rolling after he landed.

I could hear armbands informing others of the fallen.

My arm jerked in pain, and I slapped at a hornet.  One of Noelle’s.

Noelle advanced on the burned cape and Grace.  Tecton slammed the ground, but the effect was muffled.  He’d shattered the ground for blocks around, had maybe killed or eliminated several of the two dimensional clones, but his piledriver gauntlets wouldn’t be as effective on this soft surface.

Two of the Southern Wards opened fire from above, pelting Noelle with laser fire.  I could sense her growing tall, or rearing up on her hind legs, and she vomited a stream into the air.  Chronicler and the other cape were splashed, caught by the clotted liquid and a flying body.  Chronicler’s power remained, the hologram images sustaining the same fire at the same angle, not adjusting as Noelle moved to one side.

Eidolon made his move.  My bugs could sense the air growing heavy and humid.  Vomit dried, and clones staggered and fell.

The humidity increased to the point that I could feel the moisture flowing through the air in thick clouds, rising from every surface, heavy off the bodies of the clone, off Noelle and the streams of vomit.

My bugs were dying.  The flying insects were first to die, their wings crinkling.  The ones closest to me were alive, but they were suffering too.

Dessication.

“You’re killing Grace!” Tecton bellowed at the sky.  I doubted Eidolon would hear from his vantage point.  I had only his word to go by.  Grace was in an area my bugs couldn’t reach.

“Acceptable losses,” Grue said.  Tecton whirled around to face him.  Grue’s voice was calm, “His plan isn’t working.  Tattletale said he wanted to experience enough danger to get a power boost, and I’m not getting the feeling he’s had that.  He’s too experienced to panic, but with everything he’s seen, everything he’s done over the past decades of work, maybe he’s thinking he has to do something here, and he’s decided he can’t let there be another Endbringer.  Can’t let there be another monster in this world.”

“She’s on our side!  She’s one of the good ones!”

“If it makes you feel any better,” I said, “Eidolon might be assuming she’s already dead.”

I’d positioned some bugs so that they could distinguish Noelle’s vague lumbering frame against the background of the dimly lit sky.  Her flesh was drying and flaking off in chunks as the moisture was pulled out with force.

But the ground still rumbled with the vibrations of her steady advance, and for all the dried flesh that was falling free, she wasn’t getting noticeably smaller to my bugs’ senses.

Eidolon hit her with a gravity slam.  More flesh came free.  I saw a change, with that, but the edges of the silhouette filled in.

“She isn’t dying?” I asked, my voice a murmur.

“She’s regenerating,” Grue said.

The effects of Eidolon’s dessication were starting to get to me.  The air was too dry.  I coughed once and briefly held my breath to keep from succumbing to another fit.

There was a sound like a firecracker taking flight, and Noelle lurched.  Even with my bug’s less than stellar sight, I could see the aftermath.  A hundred slightly different angles.  Noelle’s true body, the human half perched on top of the monster, arched her back, her chest out, head turning toward the sky.  A spray of blood and gore marked a small explosion ripping out the front of her chest.

And another, a shot from behind, tearing through her cranium.

My bugs ventured into the dessicated area.  They would only last for a minute at best, but they’d serve to scout, to give me eyes.  They found Ballistic.

He hadn’t come alone.  Scrub was with him, and Trickster swapped rubble out of the area to move his teammates in.  He swapped himself in for Grace, appearing in the middle of the vomit-slurry.

I opened my mouth to speak, coughed at the dry air instead.

“You decided to help?” Grue called out.

“She’s our responsibility,” Genesis said, “We made a promise to each other.  To get home, no matter what it took.  But there were other parts to it.  Things we added on when the whole situation became clear.  Fixing Noelle was one of those additions.”

Getting home?

“We knew it was fucked up,” Sundancer said.  “But we promised ourselves that if it came down to it, we’d step in before it got bad.  And this is bad.  So we’re acting on it.”

Her orb burned above her head.  Its crackle sounded slightly different in the dry air.

Noelle’s growl was accented by a noise from one of the larger canine mouths.  “Traitors.”

She’s alive.  Shot through the heart and brain, and she’s talking.

“If you were thinking straight, you’d agree with us,” Genesis said.  “You’d agree this is right.  That we can’t let people get hurt, just for your revenge.”

“I didn’t ask for this,” Noelle said.

“I know,” Trickster spoke.  He looked up toward the sky, tilted his head, and then Eidolon disappeared.  I could sense Eidolon’s new location, a few blocks away.  He tried to fly closer, and Trickster teleported him again, keeping him a distance away.  Eidolon had given up his power invulnerability.

“I… I’ll use my sun, Noelle,” Sundancer said.  “We’ll burn you.  It’ll be complete, thorough.  And this ends.  There’ll be no more hurting people.  And we put all this behind us, remember you the way you were.  It’s better if it’s us.”

“I don’t want to be a memory,” Noelle said.

“You already are,” Ballistic said, from behind her.

She turned, and a low growl sounded from one of her lower mouths, deep enough I could feel the rumble of it.

Ballistic shook his head.  “The old Noelle’s long gone.  Do you think she would have survived getting shot like that?”

Noelle didn’t answer.

“You have her memories, nothing more,” Trickster said.

“Krouse,” Noelle said.  “You turn on me like this?”

“I don’t know what else to do.”  He teleported Eidolon away again.  This time Eidolon stayed put.  Choosing a new power?

“You did this to me.  This?  The old Noelle disappearing?  It’s your fault.  You know it.  You created me.”

He’d created her?

He’d dosed her.

“Yeah,” Trickster said.  He lit a cigarette, put it in the mouth-hole of his mask.

“And I listened to you.  I bought your promises.  Your hollow assurances.  I listened and cooperated when you said I should be locked up.  I listened when they shut me in that vault, in the dark, alone, with that fucking beeping that wouldn’t let me sleep.  I waited all this time because you said I could get better.”

“I know.  It eats away at me.  But I don’t know what else to do.”

“I spent the past two years listening to you.  Doing what you wanted.  Just do what I want here, and I’ll let it all end.  I’ll let her burn me, and then you guys can find your own way home.”

“I know what you want,” he said, “But the consequences-“

“-Don’t matter,” she said.  “It’s not our world.  It’s… it’s as screwed up as the things I make.  They’re just dark twisted copies of people in this dark, twisted, fucked up world.”

“No’-” He started.

“You owe me this.”

Trickster sighed, spat out the barely-touched cigarette.  Even though I couldn’t identify tone, I felt a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Shit,” I said.  “Grue-“

Trickster was already turning.  Grue was only beginning to raise a cloud of darkness around us when he disappeared, Trickster standing in his place.

“Grue!” I screamed.  He was where Trickster had been, half a city block away from Noelle.

Noelle lunged.  Trickster could have moved out of the way fast enough.  Grue wasn’t so lucky.  The shattered ground under her feet shifted, and she slammed into him, her lower body catching Grue, adhering to him.

He was giving her us.

Trickster was already gone from the midst of our group. There was gunfire and incoherent shouting as people tried to identify his location.  Ballistic was gone, replaced by a piece of rubble.  He was taking the most immediate threats out of the picture.  Eidolon, Ballistic, Grue…

Who came next on that hierarchy?

Me.

I found myself only five paces away from Noelle, plucked from the midst of my cloud of bugs.  There were too few to hide me from Trickster’s sight, with the way the dessication had thinned their ranks.

She caught me with the back of one claw.  There was a sound like a gunshot going off, my ribs feeling like my bones had turned to white-hot brands, and I stuck.  She set her claw down on the ground, and my back exploded with pain as I struggled to contort my body, get in a position where I wasn’t being folded in half under the weight of an eight ton monstrosity.

I was spared being snapped in two not by my own struggles, but by the pull of her flesh as it folded around me.  It simultaneously consumed me and pulled on me, as if by a hundred hands.  The process was smooth and inevitable, flesh flowing around me like hot candlewax, even as I was drawn upward and inward.

I could sense Regent appearing nearby.  Noelle turned to face him.  He didn’t fight, didn’t try to run.  He said something, but I couldn’t make out the words, couldn’t hear them with the dark, hot, rancid-smelling flesh that had enveloped me.

The last of the flesh closed behind me, my power stopped working, and I was left with only absolute darkness and the pounding flow of Noelle’s blood in my ears.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

162 thoughts on “Queen 18.8

    • The arc? Come on, this is the perfect end to the serial! Worm ends in exactly the right place if it ends here. At most have a followup where we see how the world ends.

      • I do hope you are joking, as that would be the most rediculous buzzkill ever.

        In other news, Trickster may have just doomed everyone. Why Eidolon? Why anyone? Even though he did cause her to become what she is, he shouldn’t be stupid enough to think that he owes her anything. She was his mistake, so he should’ve manned up and taken responsibility for his monster; he should not have decided that feeding the angry beast was in any way just. Also, now that Noelle doesn’t have anyone direct her sentient anger into, what is to stop her from letting go of that part of her psyche and just going full beastmode?

    • Worm’s a good story, isn’t it? Be a shame if anything happened to it because it wasn’t voted up enough. An awful shame.

      That’s why you’re going to send 100 votes, unmarked, to topwebfiction by the next update, or else you might find worm sleeping with the fishes. And you know how much fish like worms.

      That’s why you don’t mess with La Typo Nostra.

    • I’m just really curious what evil Taylor will be like. The clones seem to lay everyone’s resentment flat.
      By the way, the clones kind of remind me of the monsters that came with Simurgh’s attack. Any relation?

  1. F….fuck…I…I….Wildbow you great mad genius! My God! I’ll need to reread this. Trickster you ass I hope you die of incurable cancer…..and oh God…….Taylors dad….so much went wrong so fast…

    • It didn’t seem like Eidolon was trying. And “move him away from the fight” doesn’t seem much like “defeat” to me.

  2. Well the heroes are boned. Clone Grues/Skitters are BAD news. Looks like we will get that BIzarro Undersiders fight people predicted. I am hoping that Taylor has a new trigger event. She is trapped in a cramped, dark, suffocating, and disgusting place. Great chapter Wildbow.

  3. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU
    UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
    uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
    uuu……………………………..
    ……………………………..ck.

  4. I can’t imagine ANYTHING more similar to Taylor’s original trigger. Being sealed into a mess of organic material that she can’t escape? There is nothing else that could be a better second trigger for her. Not only does it perfectly mirror her original, now she also has people to save to go along with it. I wasn’t sure that Taylor was ever going to have a second trigger after Grue did, but now the setup is just too perfect.

      • Second Trigger event Skitter can fix Noelle somehow? Eat Noelle? End the world?

        Yeah, the Travellers are pretty deep in the dog house after this. Ballistic is going to yell at Krouse as well, about how much he needs to stop making incredibly stupid calls all by himself.

        Heck, I think the entire rest of the Travellers will have commentary on this being a dumb move. I suppose Francis loved her too much to deny her last wish, even if it was filtered through crazytown.

      • Well, she was EATEN as one-trigger-Skitter, so maybe her clones (or the first one, at least) will lack whatever the second trigger event gives. (Modified, of course, by Noelle’s warping.)

        If Worm was a roleplaying campaign I was in, I know I’d use that argument.

    • And they have a theory that the nature of the trigger affects the powers that come from it. Im wondering if Skitter will be able to overcome the Manton effect if she does have a second trigger.

      “It is unknown why the Manton effect exists or how to bypass it, but bypassing it is often linked to a second trigger event. Faultline surmises that the rule might be a mental block set in place when an individual gets their powers, protecting them from hurting themselves with their abilities, which is overgeneralized to include all living things rather than just the user. Her attempts to retrain and circumvent this mental block prove futile.”

  5. I don’t even think it’s a good place to end the chapter. I mean I can handle a cliffhanger or two, but…

    YOU’RE FREAKING ME OUT HERE!!!!

  6. Trickster is is desperate of a boot the face, preferably the kind with a lot of sharp and point cleats.

    Also, I agree TheAnt. If Taylor’s going to have another trigger event, it’s probably going to be now.

    • Well we have had this conversation numerous times but I wonder what she will get if she has a trigger event? Wildbow is amazing at coming up with new and interesting powers so I am curious what he could come up with. If she does trigger, can’t be 100% sure with Wildbow, it will have to be something very specific to deal with Noelle one way or another.

        • Not the same Taylor? Ah, yes “you are different” line.

          That’s an easy answer. Given the “transfers part of her mind / expands her mind into the swarm” theory of Taylor’s power…

          She’ll be able to transfer between her clones at will. Or all her clones will share one consciousness.

          This may not even need secondary trigger to happen.

      • My personal favourite is dissolving into and reforming out of insect swarms, not necessarily the same one. Since trigger events usually give powers suited to escaping from the cause, that one doesn’t seem entirely unplausible to me either.

        • Doesn’t really give more combat options besides making her almost impossible to catch/kill. In the end her bugs are still going to get absorbed. While I could see it allowing her to escape, she can’t stop Noelle with it. I prefer some kind of transformation ability as well but maybe one where she becomes a bug hybrid. Makes her tougher/freakier and Taylor has always been self-conscious about the way she looks.

          • Personally, I think her main offense should continue to consist of her bugs. She is an extremely tactical fighter, turning into a heavy hitter herself would kind of take away from that.

            Alternatives however would be extinding the ‘reforming from swarm’ route to formbigger insects out of smaller ones, or maybe go Bitch on them.

          • I like the idea of her ending up like Noelle. A minion controller with heavy combat function herself. Basically the classic Overlord role.

            Makes her into a Queen piece, however in both cases their personal capacity really only avoids a quick defeat, their strength remains focused in the minions.

      • Chances are, she’ll gain the superpower of being a broken shell of a human being prone to flashbacks and doomed to insomnia because sleep finds her thrust into nightmare fo being encompassed in her worst fears, over and over again, with no escape until her inevitable death that rides toward her at quickened pace because of her scarred psyche edging her on to self destruction.

        Penis.

          • The tools in my nefarious arsenal are many. I can store a lot up in that arsenal, even more if I oil everything up properly. On top of my ability to compel victims toward self-inflicted head trauma, I can also induce neck injury.

            Sometimes the best way to cause neck injury is with a sudden onslaught of penis.

        • Well your comment gives me ideas for a telepathy sort of thing. Maybe she can send a signal to people like her bugs that disorients and causes terrifying hallucinations to those near her. Sort of like scarecrow’s fear gas. But I had forgotten about the negative mental damage she will probably have to go through from another trigger event. So Taylor has to again go through terrible crap even if she wins. The power that would probably be ideal for Wildbow would be something like Genesis’s power which gives alot of variety and allows him to showcase Taylor’s imagination/tactical thinking.
          Vagina.

          • Supernatural creepiness on top of the normal one. Heh. I like.

            You do raise a valid point there though. Even if she triggers and they win, she kind of loses too.

          • In Gargoyles, whenever Xanatos lost he still won. In the Wormverse, everyone loses no matter how well they’re doing.

            I’ve never really said it, but Worm is one of three media I follow that is truly “GRIMDARK AS FUCK.” The other two being Dwarf Fortress and Fallout: Equestria. Success is really a question of how far you get before dying horribly like everyone else.

            (40K is too bogged down in maintaining the status quo for it to be on that list.)

          • This continues to be my one real dislike about this series. I just don’t think it adds to the story, rather it feels like it degrades the setting ever closer to an inevitable point where nothing matters any more.

            I guess I just like endings that are on the happy side of ambiguous. Then again I also like lots of loose ends. XD

          • I don’t think Worm is really “GRIMDARK” or even “GRIM”. It’s not light fluffy happy bunnies, but it’s also not a world where there is no hope and everyone is violated at every possible opportunity.

            Grimdark, in my view, is where the misery and crappiness of the world is the end-all-be-all of existence. The whole point of a Grimdark story is to argue that the world is crap and nothing but crap. People in those worlds who think there’s something good about the world are demonstrably wrong and all anyone ever gets is misery piled on top of misery.

            Read “1984” if you haven’t yet for Grimdark. Or (as best as I can recall) the Elric of Melnibone series (or any of the rest of Moorcock’s Champion Eternal books).

            It’s a fairly juvenile sort of storytelling because there’s no nuance in Grimdark stories, no sense that the world’s anything more than what a pouty, angst-obsessed teenager might be capable of believing it to be.

            Worm’s not like that. Taylor’s been through a lot, but, seriously, she’s been winning too. That doesn’t happen in a Grimdark world.

            In a true Grimdark setting, the Nine would have brutally murdered, on screen, nearly every character we, the audience, had any connection to. Our heroine would have been torture-porn murdered to death after being forced to murder her own helpless newborn or something.

            Instead of that Taylor kicked the asses of a group no other team of heroes in the world have been able to stop. She didn’t do it alone, and she didn’t do it without cost because victories come at a price in the Wormverse, but in the end the Nine were gone and she was still standing.

            Hell, she even gave Godzilla an anti-matter enema and lived to fight another day. If that’s not absurdly out of the realm of Grimdark I don’t know what is.

            I’ve got no idea where Wildbow’s going to go from here. Every single chapter has been a surprise. He could choose to go straight into the Grimdarkest territory ever for the rest of the story. Sometimes authors just go nuts after all. From what we’ve gotten so far though, I’m willing to trust that the story will have more to it than that. Wildbow’s earned that and more with what he’s given us so far.

        • Yeah, that’s a pretty good assessment of things Pat.

          In alot of poorly done grimdark stories I find that the characters are always at the mercy of the utter crapness of the world. Even the most badass characters become helpless when the angst gremlin comes along to give them their designated dose of rape/torture/dead loved ones. They can’t successfully resist or fight it an it often feels like the author considers them foolish for trying. Worm isn’t really like that, the Taylor and the “good guys” give as good as they get. The only characters who sort of fit that grimdark mold are Amy, GG and the Dallon’s, and they we’re fucked up on a pretty fundamental level.

          Also, I think Worms level of darkness is more about writing tone than content (barring the S9, but they’re an extreme case for the setting). Alot of “dark” fiction is dark because the author hits the reader over the head with fucked up shit over and over again. I mean, Taylor hasn’t been raped/attempted raped at any point, that definitely puts it above alot of dark stories in my book.



  7. Damn.



    Great chapter, but the ending was one heck of a gut-punch. Right after we think the Calvary has arrived, they stab ‘em in the back. And now Noelle has the Undersiders. Guess this was what Dinah predicted would happen. They can only hope that Triumph will do something after reading that note. But what happened to Tecton? It feels a bit unclear in the story, like it just stopped mentioning him.

    Anyways, while I hate the arc ending on such a note, you really had to. Now that the Undersiders are taken, you need one or two Interludes to show other capes’ view of the action, since our normal perspective is…unavailable.

    “can’t let people get hut,” instead of “hurt” was the only spelling mistake I caught with one read through. Action sequences were a bit confusing, but given Skitter’s need to use her swarm in a new, more careful way, that’s understandable. I’m surprised, though, that she only got stung once. I figured she’d have been attacked sooner.

    What will happen next time? Let the comment section WMG begin!

    • *Right after we think the Calvary has arrived, they stab ‘em in the back.*

      “Rohirrim! Ride… on MINAS TIRITH! Death! Death to the foes of Sauron! DEEAAAATH!”

      • Trickster: Well, look at this! Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?
        Sundancer: Big damn backstabbers, Trickster!
        Trickster: Ain’t we just? *starts to teleport the good guys around*

  8. If a second trigger occurs or not, there’s enough evidence either way that I’ll be surprised. Grraagh. And I’m supposed to take a test in the morning. There goes that sleep.

  9. If not for the tendency for longstanding protagonists like Taylor to not be killed off, I think most of us who don’t want a second trigger event would be worried right about now. Because the Undersiders just became acceptable casualties.

    Happens so soon after Taylor’s reasonable moral quandary over the cloned people. Their reasoning loses some potency when they wish to burn the world, however. At the same time, I feel for them. Just not completely. Fuck you and I apologize for the inconvenience.

    The way Eidolon’s sucking moisture out, you’d wonder if he has some practice, eh? Eh? He’ll go to desperate lengths for a little power booster.

    Let’s see, for Hobbes’ step 4, you have to replace HG with mc2rpg and for the reason of not being humorous enough, with steps 5, 6, and 7 not applicable.

    Don’t know where you got 8.

  10. Sooo…
    Trigger or No Trigger, Ladies and Gentlemen, place your bets.
    Really, the conditions are perfect.

    The clones in the beginning of chapter, yes, that’s pretty twisted.
    The Sandlion trap was a cool idea.
    I can kind of understand Trickster, but I still don’t really like it. Question is, will Noelle keep her word?
    Eidolon’s an ass.
    Tecton and Grace seem to be set up perfectly for losing their faith, and the ‘joining the Undersiders’ idea that’s been proposed.

    Great chapter. Only bad thing about it that I can see is the dammned cliffhanger that we’ll have to wait for until the end of the week.

      • Beware! That pun path leads to the Gecko side!

        Truthfully, if there’s some shared mindscape inside Noelle, they might understand them better and may join up. No matter what, seeing everyone sharing dream, especially the nonsensical ones, would be an interesting read.

        • And here is the 4.25th circle of hell. It is made up of nothing but lovely clifffaces where the damned are forced to hang on for the rest of their existence while listening to stories that end abruptly at dramatic moments. Those who are too weak to hold on or who are shocked at the interruption enough to let go and grab their head are forced to plummet until they either grab the cliff again, or land below in the 4.35th circle of hell which we like to call “Warhammer 40k/My Little Pony/Twilight/James Bond Slashfic Central”

          Pirates of Dark Water, No Country for Old Men, thousands of unfinished blogs or stories, all without an ending, all will show up here. We’ve even managed to make the damned souls hate porno night.

  11. And there goes Noelle, recreating Taylor’s trigger event.

    But damn, that was good. Poor Taylor, I wonder if she’ll think surviving was worth the cost. Assuming she does survive; It is entirely reasonable to suggest Noelle hasn’t, after all.

    Edge of my seat, the whole time. I’m a bit unsure about the bug-sense, sometimes, in this update, but at other points the visualization was quite strong.

    ““I got ‘em”” missing comma.
    “I’d make to.” make do.
    “I eralized why she” Realized.
    “The Über appeared in the window once again…” This paragraph confused me; it wasn’t clear whether he was poking out of an opening(in which case it would be weird for Skitter to phrase it like he was emerging into her view, since she seemed to already have bugs on him) or if he was literally emerging from a 2d surface(in which case it was weird both that she caught him so fast and got bugs on him immediately).
    “almost gued to the ground under the weight of the fluid the cape in her arms falling.” ‘Glued,’ and needs a comma or something between fluid and the cape.
    “point that I coul feel” Could.
    “people get hut, just” Hurt.
    “iron brands” Bands?

    I will be officially on the edge of my seat till the next update.

  12. Okay I have to ask how sentient/in control the clones are. I assume that the Travelers didn’t kill them right away at the start, at least a normal civilian. I picture them capturing them and trying to test their intelligence. They seem to be naturally psychotic but I wonder if Panacea could have fixed their brain to make them normal. Or what would happen if one escaped and survived long enough. I can picture Wildbow letting a Taylor clone get away only to reappear years later and attack her dad.

    • The fat one appears to be someone who was friendzoned and who felt a greater connection to the clone of Steph. He had feelings for her anyway and now he has a chance with her because they are deformed together.

      But can you really blame a guy for wanting to destroy the world because of an epic spurning?

      • I think that the clones generated lack Egos and instead had them replaced with Psychosis, therefore creating 3D reflections of the Originl’s worst mental aspect.

  13. If a Skitter clone—or Skitter, but it seems a useless powerup in this one circumstance—can get past the Manton effect, or is on the other side of it, I wonder if routers act as relay bugs.

  14. Wow.

    I kinda hope the next intermission is a vignette from a clone-Skitter’s POV.

    Here’s another thing — granted, we already know that Noelle’s manipulations can create bugs Taylor can’t control, but wouldn’t a clone’s nervous system be… Well, Taylor’s nervous system? A version of it, anyway? Maybe the familiarity would allow her to interface with ‘herselves’?

    I’ve been wrong on pretty much all my speculation, but that’s what occured to me.

    I take it that either Sundancer’s attempt to burn her fails, or Noelle doesn’t really let them take her down that cleanly.

    I wonder how long of a time gap Taylor is going to have before she gets out, assuming she does…

    I’ll say it again — wow.

  15. Necessary sacrifices and collateral damage… Hah! A person’s true nature is revealed in the face of adversity, how do Tecton & Grace feel now that they have seen the true face of the “Hero” Eidolon? On a more homorous note, I’m surprised that the Texas Wards team that has someone calling himself Strapping Lad isn’t labelled unofficially as “Team Brokeback” (no offence to anyone homosexual).

  16. Oh.

    Shit.

    Well, I’m sure about one thing atleast. Fucking Trickster.

    Uh… bright side? Let’s see; I can’t see clone Skiittters being THAT problematic, Taylor’s at her best thinking quickly and clearly, something that the clones obviously aren’t good at. Taaylor may inherit her forbears mind, but she’ll be too much of a reckleass screwup to really be anymore of a threat than the Vistaas.

    Also, maybe we’ll get some interaction between Skitter, Vista and the other clonees? People in Noelle get dumped out of the same orifices so they probably share a “cell”. Soooo, character development in the belly of a semi-insane teenage hellbeast from another dimension! Yay?

    • If all the Skitters (I’m going to call them Worms) controlled the same swarm, they’d just get in each others’ way. But given the variety we’ve seen in the Vista clones…

      It’s interesting that the Travelers were basically created by an alternate universe world-shifting event, and Noelle’s power is to create alternate versions of people.

  17. And my brain just went to a weird place (well, weirder than usual after reading one of these.)

    There’s more than one ‘dawn’ approaching. If Sundancer really pours it on, not realizing quite what Trickster is doing before it is too late…

  18. This is kind of a side note… But None of the clones come out with clothes if my understanding is correct. And Dragon is an AI… And probably has Satellites all over looking at this right now, as well as access to all of the cameras. So when Team Undersiders pops out of Noelle, they will have the real faces of all of the members.

    And also: Why is it that I enjoy seeing characters I like get into bad situations? Am I evil like PG? Or is that just a hope on my part.

    • If they are as mutated as the other clones were she probably won’t see too much to attempt facial recognition on. Clone-Grue will immeditely clad himself in darkness and Clone-Skitter will cover herself in insects immeditely anyway. However psychopatic the clones were they all seemed to consider clothing a priority.

      That might either be a leftover of Noelle’s issues or something from the clone people or possible something like the comic code authority at work at higher level.

  19. “She’s pulling something!” Tecton shouted. He raised her voice to be heard by the other capes, “Get back!”

    Damn, Tecton sure does change gender quickly.

  20. Well I don’t know what I was expecting, with the “everything always gets worse” theme of the story this was practically ineviatble.

    On a postive note Skitter is now in a prime location to attempt to rescue Vista or at least be close by as the young hero tries to take down Noelle in a suicidal attack from within and gets killed in the process. Naturally Skitter would be blamed for this.

    Another positive thing might be that clone-skitter likely won’t be able to control cloned insects anymore than the original did and that thanks to Eidolon there aren’t too many of the original insects left. On the other hand, a clone might well have a twisted version of her power that does not necessarily just work by controling insects.

    I expect that Noelle has some sort of protection that prevents people she has absorbed from fighting her or using their powers, but perhaps this will only physically disable skitter and allow her to communicate with the outside. (proving that its her and not a clone that is communicating might be a problem)

    At the very least none of the clones so far have exhibited any confusion about their identity so we likely won’t have to content with clones beliving they are the original.

    Hopefully Tecton hasn’t gotten the idea that Skitter is blind and to attempt to exploit that weakness in her fully healed clones.

    Skitter Clones who are fully healed and want to see the world burn are a bit frightening even without many insects left to control. Her twisted mind alone will be a formidable weapon.

    I can’t wait for the next update to see what else will go wrong.

  21. I just thought of the worst thing that might happen:

    One of Taylor’s clones goes after her dad!

    In such a scenario Lisa might be the only one who would know enough to help, but she appears to be lacking in trustworthy muscle that she might dispatch to the correct location.

    It would of course be even worse if Skitter somehow through her powers (boosted in range by her helplessness or in a weird resonance though her clone) could sense what her clone was doing and was powerless to help.

    • The villains controling the city, banes to the heroes, are now trapped inside an S class threat where acceptable casualties are allowed when heroes are inside it.

      One fell swoop, anybody?

      • Nuke ‘em all to Hell and give each other a pat on the back for a job well done.

        In the authorities’ position, I’d give that order.

      • No-one seems to have pointed this out so I’ll say it.

        The three people inside Noelle are the three absolute worst possible people.

        Power Copying.

        Total Human Control.

        Mass Total Non-Human Control.

        Variations on these themes are utterly terrifying. No wonder things don’t really get bad until the dawn. Grue alone could potentially lead to everyone dying. Skitter? I really doubt her dad’s making it out of this…

        The darkness in this setting is getting downright overwhelming. Even our back-up comedy villains have been destroyed by the latest of it.

  22. nice ending

    could you make a sequel following an evil skitter clone trying to destroy the world and everyone the original cared for?

      • “The hills are alive!”
        “With the sound of music?” asked Eidolon.
        “No, you don’t understand. It’s Evil Skitter’s new power. The hills are alive and they’re coming this way! You have to save us!” said Tecton.

        An ominous shadow looms over the stage.
        “Crushing the heroes under a landslide.
        Morals that have been cast aside.
        Taking Slaughterhouse 9 under my wings.
        These are a few of my favorite things.”

  23. They might still have an option: Regent might be able to control his own clones. After all, he should know his own nervous system. Maybe the distortions will be too big, but there’s still that hope.

    I wonder how Bitch is going to handle her dogs. Will she have them attack or run away? Would the cloned dogs still be monstrous or regular dogs?

    At least Skitter’s getting the rest that she needs ;)

  24. So, let’s see. Is Imp going to murder Trickster horribly, or just do the job right quick-like? I can’t decide. I mean, she clearly likes to take her time, but circumstances aren’t ideal.

      • He needs to be blind if you’re taking your time, so first we remove the eyes. From there, I suggest taking either a cigarette or a cigarette lighter to his genitals.

        Then we give him an oxygen mask and IV drip and proceed to have his ticklish spots tickled for 24-48 hours. Then we pour teriyaki sauce on him and let him marinate a minimum of 3 hours alone in a dark and soundproofed room. Who wants to take it from here?

  25. This is a great story Wildbow. It has kept me interested longer than any other web fiction that I have read. Do you have anything else, web or bookstore, that I can read?

    • Thanks for saying so, Gabe.

      I do not have anything else I could point you to. Worm is the only thing thus far that I’ve written, and I’ve yet to publish anything.

      When I finish worm, I hope to get it edited and put it out there, then move on to another work. Hope I’ll have you as a reader when I’ve gotten that far.

  26. So Tecton’s whole team may be dead at this point- I didn’t think he would be joining the Undersiders but it seems more likely at this point.

    On another note, are the clones directly under Simurgh’s control? The fat guy said he was a soldier and didn’t serve Noelle, and these clones seem like what Simurgh was bringing through her portal. Is Noelle somehow tapping into that dimension or is something even weirder going on?

  27. I can’t help but suddenly (randomly) think, “What is Noelle isn’t actually spewing out evil copies, but bringing the alternate versions from other worlds?” I mean, we pretty much got confirmation that the Travelers are from somewhere, and then what if when Noel’s victims get ‘used’ up it means they get sent to a random other world from one of the ‘evil clones’. (Noel might not know it herself too.) (And then Skitter has to deal with being targetted for the random Other!Skitter’s villainy or somethings like that for the next arc while trying to return to her old world.)

    (Maybe this is too ‘out there’? What do you guys think?)

    • Of course not. A giant-winged, far future seeing angel with no known origin ripping an apartment block in half with her mind and flinging it through time and relative dimensions in space into an alternate universe/dimension is perfectly plausible, but your idea is way too out there.

      Now let’s get back to the character who acts as an organic wireless router unconsciously utilizing some unknown form of energy or wavelength to override basic nervous impulses of the planet’s most numerous species and bend them to her will without having to lift a finger.

      Superhero fiction is able to get away with things that would be far fetched in other media, casually mentioning “I’ve seen weirder.”

  28. In a way, I am reminded by something brought up in a great horror deconstruction recently. Is the world worth saving that makes those kinds of sacrifices cor its own survival. That time, of course, yes. Will Skitter change her mind on tbis when fqced with her own near death in Noelle?

    After all, slasher movies make a point of safety in a womblike area, only for the survivor girl to come out to survive and fight back. Already done that once in a less deadly way though.

  29. Two words: Plausible Deniability. As demonstrated earlier in the arc, the “heroes” only just barely sided with the Undersiders against Noelle in the first place. The “good guys” couldn’t just off them or hand them over to Noelle w/o it being a PR fiasco (the Endbringer accord would probably take a serious hit). On the other hand, if a rougue element/villian (Trickster) were to hand them over, then the heroes avoid the majority of the PR fallout.

    Also, remember the conversations between Coil and Dinah. Dinah states at one point that a different group of Undersiders has a higher chance of success than the group at that time. Predictions 1. Sundancer proves useless once again. She just doesn’t have the mental fortitude necessary. 2. PRT forces suffer a schism in the near future. Think Marvel civil war. 3. We get to see the new Undersiders next arc (been waiting for this one for a long time).

    As always, excellent job WB. Publish this thing so I can buy a copy.

    • My prediction is that the less cynical heroes will realize their idols don’t deserve the pedestals or the gold plating when they try to kill the Undersiders too.

      Also, they’ll fail because Noelle will pop out Undersider clones that make it more difficult to stop them and wind up causing all that damage that was predicted while simultaneously killing off Skitter’s good name by controlling bugs the way they do.

      More WMG: the clones would be perfectly well-made copies except the power juice in Noelle’s system mutates them similar to the case 53s. And the other thing in Noelle that they are soldiers of is either Noelle’s chimera or Krouse had sex with her a short time before that fateful day of gaming. Which leads us to the possibility that the Endbringers are what happens when embryos are exposed to that stuff in perhaps some attempt by Cauldron to create someone with powers all their life.

  30. Noelle with multiple clones of Krous would be formidable. Any threat would be swapped into range as easy prey. And Noelle could suddenly appear in the midst of a crowd and feed/absorb people as fuel.

  31. since Noel absorbed skitter i find myself wondering how much her costum protects against stomach acid.
    noel is absorbing organic material and either “uses it for herself” or “stores them to copy”,… what are the undersiders costumes made of again? if she absorbes the cloth they will think of the undersiders as of clones (they threw away the non spidersilk identification armband form dragon)

    • Most clothes are made of organic materials, cotton, wool, …
      Ok, there are also synthetic fibers, but I still don`t think that taking out the organics will leave anything that is wearable.

  32. One thing that occurred to me as a Crazy Fan Theory:

    These things have personalities, memories. The one guy recognized “Steph”. Could Noelle be getting the people from alternate universes? Perhaps something like the monsters that Smiurgh was pulling through the portal?

    Like I said, Crazy Fan Theory.

  33. Hey. Been re-reading Worm, and, good gosh this is epic shit.
    You must feel real happy, wildbow.
    Also, typo, not corrected yet, if you wanna:
    “Who came next on that heirarchy?” (near the end of this part)
    Should be hierarchy that one.

  34. >Dessication, Dessicated
    ->Desiccation, Desiccated

    Just got to this series about 3 weeks ago and rapidly worked my way though it. I love it. :D

  35. Wow. Awesome! I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen to our friends but I bet it’s going to be amazing. And geez, Trickster, sacrificing an entire team of quasi-allies just to grant your girlfriend’s dying wish? You just never stop being a dick, do you?

  36. “She’s our responsibility,” Genesis said,
    Where’d she come from? Needs more description of where she is and her current form. Sundancer appears pretty abruptly too.

    Typos:
    “Just do what I want here, and I’ll let it all end.” – Somethings missing, could be intentional.
    “The ground shook with his impacts he delivered to Noelle.” – not technically incorrect, just awkward.

  37. Why would there be cloned spiders if she was just using bugs to scout?

    I thought she saved her more deadly bugs as trump cards. I don’t know, the deadly clones struck me as weird. I’d have expected flies and wasps.

    • That occurred to me as well. My best guess is that Skitter kept the deadlier bugs with her in case they were needed for attacking, and sent them out to supplement her swarm as those in the field died off.

      Although, she got rid of all her personal bugs on the ride to the PRT building, so she should only have local ones now. Unless the rest just followed outside or hitched along with the rest of the Undersiders, but I can’t imagine a swarm of bugs following the van could be seen as entirely non-aggressive.

  38. Sorry for the Necro-comment but I can’t help imagining something very, very disturbing.

    Skitter never notices, obviously, but everyone else can see that Noelle is wearing an “I Beat Anorexia” novelty t-shirt. Maybe the one with the ever-stylish “Junk In The Trunk” across the back.

    Mostly because I had a fridge-horror moment wherein I realized that Wildbow made bulimia a superpower. And then made it apocalyptic.

    Dude… Gross.

  39. There are those moments when you just have to stop and marvel at the beauty of the world. Here, halfway through the chapter with the six legged monster elephant projectile vomiting naked evil mutant twins at people, was one of those moments.

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